Sunday, February 17, 2019

Airbnb crackdown stalls after fierce backlash

The NSW Government has come down with a serious case of cold feet over proposed regulations for Airbnb and the home-sharing industry, after pushback from the coalition party room.

Fair trading minister Matt Kean has been left with egg on his face, after calling a press conference to announce the changes, only to cancel it shortly before it was due to take place.

After years of consultation Mr Kean had been planning to announce regulations, including a cap on the number of nights that some home-owners can let out their home for short-term holidays, as well as bans for misbehaving hosts and guests.

But the proposal was met with strong opposition in the party room, with so many MPs wanting to speak that the premier was forced to put the policy announcement on ice.

A spokeswoman for Mr Kean said the announcement was being delayed “while more work is done”.

MPs understood to have concerns about the policy include backbenchers John Sidoti, Melanie Gibbons, Damien Tudehope, Alister Henskens and Geoff Lee.

The government has been grappling for a number of years to strike a balance between the rights of property owners and their neighbours, amid fierce lobbying from the hotel industry, strata owners corporations and companies like Airbnb.

A key sticking point appears to be the Government’s refusal to legislate to allow building owners to vote and ban the use of Airbnb in their buildings.

One MP has previously told the ABC that introducing the plan in the lead-up to next year’s election would be “political suicide.”

Airbnb Australia’s country manager Sam McDonagh said he was “confident” the government would deliver “fair and progressive regulations” but it should follow the lead of other states.

“In South Australia there are no caps, in Tasmania there are no caps and we think that’s been really successful for those Governments,” he said.

“The time has come for the New South Wales government to make a decision on short-term rentals,” he said. “We certainly need clarity and certainty.”

Deputy opposition leader Michael Daley said the premier had been “rolled” by backbench members and she “humiliated” her minister by forcing him to pull the scheduled announcement.

“Gladys Berejiklian today has been rolled in a joint party room on a policy they’ve been working on for three years,” he said.

Mr Daley said the government had time to consult widely over the last three years and it was time people were given certainty.

“This is a really important policy,” he said.

“There are issues relating to housing affordability at stake here, about democracy in strata units, about party houses, about people from non-English speaking backgrounds being paid $10 to clean peoples’ houses.”

He said the government had made a “complete and utter debacle” of road infrastructure and had backtracked on policies around greyhounds, council amalgamations and stadiums.

“How can anyone have any confidence that this government can manage growth of Australia’s most important city properly when they can’t even get something through the joint party room like Airbnb,” Mr Daley said.

Tourism accommodation advocates said the government should avoid any changes that would make it more attractive to put residential investment properties on the commercial short-term letting market.

Tourism Accommodation Australia chief executive Carol Giuseppi said the wrong decision could turn residential apartment blocks into “quasi hotels”.

“We have no concerns with genuine home-sharing,” she said.

“We have real concerns at any government regulation which supports the growth of quasi-hotels operating commercially without any of the controls required of our industry [like] insurances, fire and safety provisions, security, liquor licencing taxation and employment under fair work.”

Stephen Goddard from the Owners Corporation Network said he was relieved backbenchers did not support the proposed changes.

“It is a relief to hear the government backbench is taken by the view that owners in general meetings should have the democratic right to decide how their building should be used,” he said.

“It is fortunate for us and the community to see our local members hearing what’s being said on the streets rather than being held captive by the likes of Airbnb.”

About Sarah Gerathy

NSW political reporter, ABC News

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