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Appointment of a Select Committee - Short-Stay Accommodation

[3.31 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I move -

That a Select Committee be appointed, with power to send for persons and papers, with leave to sit during any adjournment of the Council and with leave to adjourn from place to place to inquire into and report upon the short stay accommodation industry in Tasmania with particular reference to -

(1) The growth of short stay accommodation in Tasmania and the changing character of the market including recent trends in online letting of short stay accommodation;

(2) The impact of short stay accommodation on the residential housing sector;

(3) The impact of short stay accommodation on the tourism sector;

(4) Regulatory issues including customer safety, land use planning, neighbourhood amenity and licensing conditions compared to other jurisdictions in Australia and worldwide; and

(5) Any other matter incidental thereto.

And that Mr Armstrong, Ms Rattray, Mr Valentine, Mr Willie and the Mover be of the Committee.

Mr President, tourism is one of the major industries in our state, if not the largest. Thousands of Tasmanians rely upon tourism to earn their living. It is an ever-expanding industry where competition is fierce, all reaching for the ever-important tourist dollar. I was told recently that several years ago there were four short-stay accommodation places in one small east coast town but now close to 40 are listed on various sites. With today's changing world of unlimited access to information, the world is growing smaller every day.

We now have the ability to go online and book accommodation in even the remotest regions of the world. Our options are abundant - we can be as choosy as we like and we will still likely find a venue that ticks all our boxes. Tasmania is a beautiful state with hundreds of accommodation options to select from. We have modern multistorey strata accommodation right in the heart of our cities, as well as remote bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation hidden in faraway valleys and everything in between.

Last year, the government reformed the legislation for some short-stay accommodation providers - the mum-and-dad providers who rent out a room within their homes for visitors to stay a day, a week or a month. The purpose of the reforms was to reduce red tape, which we all support, but reducing the red tape can also come with its own issues and problems - inequality, statutory requirements, legalities and questions around etiquette, to name a few.

We need to know who is operating short-stay accommodation or Airbnbs; how many there are, and in what areas; and whether safety and liability are covered, both for providers and guests. I was concerned to read that earlier this year the Hobart City Council Deputy Mayor called on residents to dob in their neighbours if they suspect they were running an unregistered Airbnb. Surely there must be a better way to do this?

Within this growth industry, accommodation types are varied. As politicians we need to ensure every accommodation type and every person involved has been considered and that legislative reform is fair and equitable for everyone. Since the planning reform was announced last July, many media articles have questioned the fairness of the reform and the logistics of the regulatory issues. A select committee would provide the perfect platform for this state to ensure this growth industry is sufficiently, but not overly regulated to guarantee fairness. It would provide accommodation providers with the opportunity to have their say and discuss issues not considered previously.

Short-stay or visitor accommodation, as it is referred to under the planning reform, relates to accommodation provided in a private dwelling on a short-term basis for things such as holidays. Websites such as Airbnb and Stayz are examples of accommodation sites where individuals can advertise rooms in their private homes for short-term rentals. In July 2017, the Tasmanian Planning Commission released its Interim Planning Directive No. 2 – Exemption and Standards for Visitor Accommodation in Planning Schemes. This interim directive makes visitor accommodation in the person's main residence exempt from requiring a planning permit under certain conditions. In all current interim planning schemes under the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993, including the Flinders Planning Scheme 2000 and the Sullivans Cove Planning Scheme 1997, the directive has been active from 1 July 2017 for 12 months. This allows all local planning schemes to be amended to include the revisions. Under section 3.1(b) of this directive, owners of private residences do not require a planning permit to rent out rooms for visitor accommodation if the following criteria are met -

(i) the dwelling is used by the owner or occupier as their main place of residence, and only let while the owner or occupier is on vacation or temporarily absent; or

(ii) the dwelling is used by the owner or occupier as their main place of residence and visitors are accommodated in not more than 4 bedrooms.

The planning zones that have been amended to reflect the change in policy on visitor accommodation or zones are - 8.0, the General Residential Zone; 9.0, Inner residential Zone; 10.0, Low Density Residential Zone, and 11.0, Rural Living Zone.

What does this mean for the layperson? Basically, under the current planning directive, if you are renting out fewer than four bedrooms and if you are renting out rooms in your primary place of residence that are already built and require no additional construction, you do not require a permit from any local council to operate an Airbnb or Stayz, et cetera.

If you are not exempt because you are renting out more than four bedrooms or renting out a holiday home or shack, you need a planning permit from local council. However, this process has also been revised to be simpler because it now requires filling out of one form, which should be approved almost instantly if it meets certain criteria. Now this reform, as with any reform, has benefits and disadvantages. A perceived benefit could be that the exemption classification removes any permit process for residences that meet the required criteria. For those that are not exempt, it appears to be a simple process to apply for a permit.

This reform allows individuals who have spare rooms in their homes to make some money. In Hobart in 2017, an average weekly income for home owners listed on Airbnb was $247, or $12 850 per year. It brings additional revenue to areas that may not have other types of accommodation, such as regional areas of the state. It allows tourists to stay in out-of-the-way places, off the regular tourist path, and promotes a different type of Tassie tourism that brings more tourist dollars into the state. For example, Airbnb brought in an additional $55 million to Tasmania's gross state product and 600 jobs in 2015-16. Stayz contributed up to $22.1 million and 185 jobs in the Launceston region in 2016.

Some of the disadvantages of the reform, or questions that need clarifying, could include: With no regulation, do these properties adhere to the minimum standards in the Residential Tenancy Act? Are all requirements dealing with fire hazards met? Do the home owners have appropriate levels of insurance should they need public liability? Will hotels and motels that have many staff be disadvantaged because they have legislation and standards to adhere to and higher overhead costs? Is there a difference between short-stay accommodation providers and established B&Bs? If so, should the regulations for B&Bs also be loosened? Do short-stay accommodation rentals result in fewer properties being offered for long-term rental, or should there be upper cap for how many nights per year short-stay accommodation can be rented out? Many of these and similar questions have been investigated in other Australian states.

In 2016, the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales inquired into the adequacy of the regulation of short-term holiday letting in that state. That inquiry's terms of reference included comparing traditional accommodation and online platforms, the economic impacts on local and state economies and the regulatory issues surrounding short-term letting. The resulting report included seven findings and 12 recommendations. In April 2017, the New South Wales government gave the green light to many of these recommendations, and in July it released an options paper suggesting different ways to execute these recommendations.

In 2017, the Legislative Council of Victoria held a similar inquiry through its Environment and Planning Committee into the Owners Corporations Amendment (Short-Stay Accommodation) Bill 2016. A main focus of this inquiry was the impact of short-stay lettings in apartment buildings where common property is shared and whether the regulatory framework was in place to support such cases. The Victorian inquiry also looked at honing a better regulatory balance between short-stay and traditional accommodation providers.

Importantly, one aspect excluded from this committee's current terms of reference is the Commonwealth requirement around taxes and declaration of income. The Australian Taxation Office makes its requirements very clear, and they are out of our jurisdiction as state members. I recommend the Legislative Council follows the other Australian parliaments in this respect and reviews the short-stay accommodation industry in this state. I therefore seek the in-principle support of members to refer this matter to a select committee for its consideration and recommendations. I seek the support of the House.

Motion agreed to.

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