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Neighbours Not Strangers ask questions around Air BnB fire responsibilities

AIRBNB:  CASH FOR COMMENT COINCIDING WITH A NATIONAL DISASTER   Neighbours Not Strangers media release

For over three weeks the NSW Department of Planning, Industry & Environment (DPIE) has ignored our written requests for a copy of the 2019 submission by Fire & Rescue NSW on Parliament’s proposed changes to short-term rental legislation.  The DPIE’s intention is to gift open access to every NSW home to  AirbnbStayz and the State Government’s DestinationNSW.  It has also proven impossible to leave a voice mail message with the DPIE or place a request for a return call.  

The NSW Government’s 2018 Explanation of Intended Effect – Short-term Rental Accommodation Planning Framework proposed permitting short-term rental accommodation (STRA) in every residential dwelling, including those on bushfire prone land.  The DPIE received feedback that, in addition to requiring Development Approval, (Bushfire Attack Level) BAL40 properties must meet additional standards relating to road access, evacuation plans, fire fighting equipment etc.  It was also stated that the safety risk on BAL40 properties is too high and Development Approval to operate as STRA is unlikely.   At that time, the  NSW Rural Fire Service submitted six paragraphs to the DPIE.  November 2019, with fires burning, contrast 115 pages from NSW Rural Fire Service:  “Planning for Bush Fire Protection – A guide for councils, planners, fire authorities and developers.”

The NSW Government’s August 2019 Short-Term Rental Accommodation – A new regulatory framework – Discussion paper (page 7) states that the DPIE’s intended alterations to the State Environment Planning Policy [SEPP] will make STRAs on bushfire prone land complying development and “will not provide a development application pathway for STRA on bushfire prone land > BAL40 risk rating”.

In the midst of our current national bushfire crisis, Former NSW Fire Commissioner Greg Mullins told ABC Radio (@ 04:00):  

“The facts are, we’re no match for Mother Nature and we have to look at new ways, after this is all over, to keep communities safe.  It goes to building standards, planning standards, fuel reduction and fuel management…”

On New Years Eve a Sydney family was forced to flee on foot after flames consumed their South Coast Airbnb (oops! Link has been removed): “Tarbuck Road.  Fire is engulfing the house!”  (See Video).  And the ABC’s photo shows the same property completely surrounded by bush.

A Victorian short-term rental operator confirmed to Radio National’s AM program that he carried no insurance – listen from 12:33 minutes.  His Banksia Mudbrick Holiday Units at Mallacoota were destroyed by fire and are no longer available for bookings on Airbnb.

Two days ago the Sydney Morning Herald’s Domain published:  ‘Grateful to be able to help’:  The homestay auctions for bushfire relief’.  Each of the seven properties featured by the author of the article, Pauline Morrissey, are listed on Airbnb’s platforms.  Ms Morrissey confirmed in an email that all are “private stays”; they are not operating as accredited B&Bs.  Ms Morrissey, lists on her website amongst her Clients & CollaboratorsAirbnb, DestinationNSW, the Sydney Morning Herald, Domain, the Financial Review, The Age, Commercial Real Estate, Traveller and many others. Today’s SMH/Domain article by Morrissey again links one immediately to Airbnb.   

Yesterday, yet another SMH/Domain article – ‘Caring for others is contagious’: Australians open up their homes for bushfire survivors – also promotes Airbnb.  And here is Forbes magazine’s Purpose At Work:  How Airbnb Supports Australia’s Fire Victims by Simon Mainwaring, CEO at We First, “…a leading brand consultancy that builds purpose-driven brands.  We deliver purpose-driven strategy, content...” 

Users of Airbnb’s platform have been critical of the company turning natural disasters into marketing and profit generating exercises, with all costs borne by others and next to nil expense to Airbnb.  And the current persistent rollout of Airbnb articles in the Australian Media has one North American commentator noting:  “Airbnb spin doctors fan the flames in a country on fire.”

In 1999, reporters from the ABC’s Media Watch program revealed that talk radio hosts John Laws and Alan Jones had been paid to give favourable comment to companies including Qantas, Optus, Foxtel, Mirvac and major banks.  Laws and Jones had failed in their duty of disclosure.  At the time, the Australian Broadcasting Authority estimated that the value of these arrangements was $18 million.  Another scalp in the Cash for Comment scandal was ABC Chairman David Flint.  Further information can be found here.

The NSW Government is still reviewing demands from the short-term rental industry for the deregulation of residential housing.   Will NSW Ministers and the DPIE ignore advice from Fire & Rescue NSW and the NSW Rural Fire Service?   Will Fire Risk Management, National Construction Codes Deemed-to-Satisfy provisions and Federal Disability Access Legislation be circumvented?   Will NSW homeowners’ certainty of title be blindsided? As the front-runner, and with its IPO looming, how many $millions is a ‘win’ under such circumstances worth to Airbnb?   And to what extent is the deliberate commercial endorsement of Airbnb misleading the public, our regulators and Ministers of the NSW Parliament, and is anyone at the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) even interested?   Let’s see if the Media starts asking questions…

"How many Airbnb landlords will see any connection with those unable to find affordable rentals and their own illegal commercial profiteering? "

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