Greens call for review of whether tax breaks are delivering housing supply

The Greens’ spokesperson on Housing, Tourism and the North Coast, Jan Barham MLC, has called for a review of tax concessions for investment properties and whether they are in fact improving the availability of rental housing stock.

“As a North Coast resident I am concerned at the evidence of 900 homes in both the Byron and Tweed local government areas being used for tourism purposes,” said Ms Barham.

“It is possible that many of these properties are being claimed as investment properties and despite the use being unapproved at this time, there hasn’t been an examination of whether the Federal Government’s negative gearing and capital gains tax provisions are supporting a loss of housing stock and the erosion of community.”

For many years the Byron Shire community has raised concerns about the impact of holiday letting on the availability and affordability of housing in the shire. Recently the Tweed council staff presented a report to alert council to the use of dwellings in that shire for tourism rather than the approved permanent residential use.

“The Land and Environment Court decision in 2013 about a case in Gosford made it very clear that the use for tourism accommodation of approved dwellings in residential areas was prohibited. Now councils have to reconcile this decision with what is happening in each council area.

“The Federal Government’s tax discussion paper, which was released earlier this week, shows that the total tax deductions claimed for investment properties have grown and are now larger than the total rental income earned by Australian property owners.

“If this substantial tax break is being used on the North Coast for commercial gain by turning residential properties into tourist accommodation, it is actually working against the desired outcome of providing more rental housing stock.

“Some form of review and regulation is needed to ensure that generous bonus to property investors delivers some form of social benefit,” Ms Barham concluded.

For further comment, contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Incoming Government must support a fairer and more caring society

Jan Barham, the Greens’ spokesperson for the North Coast, Aboriginal Affairs, Housing, Ageing, Disabilty and Community Services, has called on the re-elected Coalition Government to adopt a more caring and strategic approach with a priority focus on housing and community services for areas of high vulnerability and disadvantage such as the North Coast.

“The high levels of people who are unemployed, aged, have a disability and receiving income and parenting support payments is an indication of the disadvantage and vulnerability in our region. The risk is that if priorities don’t change with the next government we will see a continuation of vulnerability that can result in intergenerational disadvantage. Without changes there could be more people living in poverty and excluded from full participation in society,” said Ms Barham.

“There must be a focus on investing in communities to deliver fairness and improved opportunity to participate in all aspects of life. It’s time to look at the needs of this community and prepare for the future, with a more caring and compassionate approach.

“In this election campaign the Greens prioritised a boost in social housing with funding of $4.5 billion to build 20,000 homes over 4 years. With some of the longest waiting lists in NSW, there should be a significant increase on the north coast. The lack of affordable housing is threatening the health and wellbeing of the community and putting many at risk of homelessness, especially the young, the elderly and Aboriginal community members.

“Many older people living in caravan parks are facing unaffordable rent increases or eviction, with no other options available. NSW needs new legislation to provide the security and affordability required for our valued older citizens living in parks and villages.”

The Greens are also calling for secondary dwellings grants to assist property owners to build for the aged and disabled.

“We need to deliver appropriately designed and dedicated housing to allow people to stay living in community rather than being forced to move away from their neighbours and families. Funding support at a local level would grow the stock of housing needed and retain community cohesion,” said Ms Barham.

Ms Barham noted that with an ageing population, the NDIS, domestic violence, child protection concerns and a significant Aboriginal population, the region needs additional workers in the community services area to address and prevent risk for the most vulnerable in our community.

“Some of the disadvantage experienced in the region could be overcome with a greater investment in early intervention services and additional workers. The community service sector is in need of additional staff and the Greens are calling for a training financial assistance scheme to encourage and support more people entering the caring workforce. The need for increased Aboriginal specialist services is crucial and would create much needed employment opportunities as well as culturally appropriate services,” said Ms Barham.

Taxis are the main form of transport for some residents who have significant disabilities to allow them to access medical, health and work opportunities.

“The Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme has not been increased for 16 years and this is grossly unfair. An increase in this vital service would benefit inclusion for those who are otherwise disadvantaged, especially in the regions,” Ms Barham said.

Ms Barham also warned that recent funding cuts by the Federal Government to parent and youth services have shown a lack of foresight and investment in the future, which the NSW Government must work to rectify.

“The Greens call on the State Government to lobby against the Federal Government funding cuts to important programs that support young people at risk and that provide skills for the transition to adulthood and independent living, and to make up for any shortfall in federal funding as they have done for pensioner concessions. The funding cuts to important programs that support new parents are a dangerous move that puts child welfare at risk, and which will end up creating additional social harms and put pressure on state services in child protection, juvenile justice and other sectors,” said Ms Barham.

“It’s time to overcome the history of the major parties ignoring the needs of the regions. While North Coast seats were a major focus in this election and coal seam gas was an especially crucial issue, the wellbeing of North Coast communities has been off the radar for too long.

“Without a commitment to social infrastructure investment for the region, there will be continuing disadvantage. The true test of a progressive society is how well we care for those in need and plan for the future wellbeing of all of our residents.

“The Greens are committed to caring for the most vulnerable in our society. I will be focusing on these issues when Parliament resumes, hopefully with two new North Coast Greens members in the Legislative Assembly to echo the focus for the region’s communities,” Ms Barham concluded.

For further comment, contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Planning for a more caring community

  1. Investment in social housing – announced $4.5 billion to deliver 20,000 new homes in NSW over 4 years
  2. Financial grants for the delivery of appropriately designed secondary dwellings for older and disabled people – $20,000 per property
  3. Care Workforce Strategy – grants to assist people in training in the community sector – aged, disability and child protection and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
  4. Residential Parks protection – legislation to secure the rights of people living in residential parks against high fees and eviction
  5. Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme – increase funding that has been stagnant for 16 years
  6. Youth programs – return funding to crucial youth programs that have been cut by federal government eg. Links to Learning, Youth Connections and REALskills – approx. $700,000 for region

Holiday letting eroding community

The Greens NSW Tourism spokesperson and Byron Shire resident, Jan Barham MLC, has warned that Byron Shire Council’s Draft Short Term Holiday Accommodation Strategy is a recipe for the erosion of community in Byron Shire.

“The changes to the planning process proposed by Byron Shire Council would allow holiday letting in all residential areas and diminish the already limited stock of available housing and change the character of Byron Shire,” said Ms Barham.

“The proposal makes a mockery of strategic planning and has had no Social Impact Assessment, which would be required for rezoning residential land for tourism. The council is already under pressure to deliver more residential housing and that was evident in the State Government’s recent approval of the West Byron development.

“The problem with the unapproved use of dwellings for tourism purposes has been an issue in Byron Shire for over a decade and has caused great concern in the community. Currently there are estimates of at least 900 houses approved as residential dwellings being used for tourism purposes. This unapproved use means that permanent residents are deprived access to housing and equates to about 2500 people unable to be housed.”

Ms Barham noted that the legal situation prohibiting holiday letting was clear and that the NSW Government needed to support councils to act in enforcing the law as it stands.

“A recent Land and Environment Court judgment relating to holiday letting in the Gosford area makes clear that the use of dwellings for short term tourism purposes in residential zoned areas is prohibited. Byron Shire Council has tried to deal with the problems with the unapproved use but has been thwarted by the state government in the regulation of the use or taking legal action.

“In the past when Byron council sought to take action it was requested to desist by the State Government with an assurance that they were addressing the issue. What eventuated was Government support for industry regulation. It is outrageous for the same Government that imposes unwanted development on communities to fail to support councils’ efforts to ensure existing housing is available for residential use.

“While tourism is an important economic benefit to the shire, it should not come at the erosion of the community that has protected and created this iconic destination. Council should be acting on the current legal situation rather than considering an approach that would contribute to the lack of affordability and availability of properties and change the character of the community,” Ms Barham concluded.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Motions put on record in the NSW Legislative Council by Jan Barham

Unapproved Tourism Use of Residential Dwellings, Notice given 19 November 2014

1. That this House notes that:

(a) legislation and court decisions define the distinction between the use of residential dwellings for the purpose of permanent occupation and short term tourism uses such as holiday let and serviced apartments, and

(b) court decisions have determined that the use of approved dwellings or dwelling houses for the purpose of tourism use is an unlawful purpose and contrary to the zone objectives and therefore prohibited.

2. That this House notes that many court cases have addressed the use of residential-zoned buildings and land for uses other than residential dwellings, including the following:

(a) in the judgement of Reynolds JA in South Sydney Council v James (1979) 35 LGRA 432 the critical element of reasoning was that some level of permanence is required in that a dwelling requires “at the very least, a significant degree of permanence or habitation or occupation”,

(b) in the Land and Environment Court case of the Sydney Council and the Waldorf Apartments in March 2008, Paine J’s judgment focussed on the question of whether the use of the rooms “is for the purpose of ‘residential accommodation’ or for other purpose, namely short term accommodation” and ruled that consent to use the building for serviced apartments had not been given,

(c) in the Waldorf Apartments case, Paine J noted the similarities with the case in North Sydney regarding the use of Blues Point Towers where, in the Court of Appeal, Mahoney JA (with the agreement of Handley JA and Priestly JA) held that the use of flats as serviced apartments was unauthorised on the grounds that they did not have “the necessary degree of permanence”,

(d) in the 2005 case relating to the York Apartments in York St Sydney, it was noted that the term ‘serviced apartments’ “was first introduced into the City of Sydney Local Environment Plan in 1996 and described inter alia as ‘used to provide short term accommodation’”, and that Lord J, ruling in the appeal to change usage of the York building to incorporate serviced apartments, found against the appeal on the grounds that “the description of a flat as a ‘dwelling’ or ‘domicile’ carried with it the notion of a degree of permanency of habitation or occupancy” and that the owner must comply with the original consent for use as a ‘residential flat building’,

(e) in the more recent case in the Land and Environment Court, Paine J ruled that a unit in Sutherland Shire had a 1960 development consent for use only as a ‘residential flat building’, and quoted the above Mahoney J Court of Appeal decision, noting that a dwelling or residence carries with it the notion of permanency and ruled that the unit in question was, on the balance of probabilities, being used for holiday letting, as indicated by its advertisement for such in the NRMA Open Road magazine,

(f) in a Byron Shire case in the Land and Environment Court involving the appeal against Council’s refusal to permit a proposed development to be re-categorised as ‘holiday cabins’, Lloyd J considered that by definition, a holiday cabin is a tourist facility and therefore is prohibited in that particular zone of the Council’s LEP, and

(g) in the Land and Environment Court in April/May 2013, hearing a matter involving Gosford City Council brought by the neighbours of a six bedroom holiday let with a history of late night parties, loud music and other disturbances, Pepper J found that holiday letting of this property was prohibited on the grounds that the use was not sufficiently “permanent to comprise a ‘dwelling house’ for the purposes of the relevant zoning” and further Pepper J noted that, unlike other Councils like Byron Shire, this Council had not amended its LEP to resolve any ambiguity regarding holiday letting.

3. That ths House notes that there is considerable confusion in the community regarding the rights of property owners to use buildings and land for short-term letting or tourism purposes when the original consent has been for residential use, and in particular that in the Gosford judgment Pepper J stated that, “Whether a building is a dwelling house is a question of fact and degree,” and further that Councils expecting the courts to rule on these matters “amounts to an effective abrogation by the council of its fundamental duties and responsibilities.”

4. That this House notes that while in April 2012 the then Minister for Planning and Infrastructure the Hon. Brad Hazzard MP announced a Code of Conduct for Holiday Letting, this amounted to the industry essentially regulating the industry and little recourse for either the councils or the residents who may be suffering the negative effects of holiday letting in their towns or suburbs. 
5. That this House notes that:

(a) due to the legal interpretations of the permissible use of a dwelling house and the determinations that short term letting is a prohibited use, there are concerns regarding liability and insurance protection, and

(b) the use of dwellings for an unapproved use such as short term letting and tourism purposes results in a lack of safeguards for the occupants.

6. That this House notes that the current Standard Instrument LEP definition of a residential accommodation:

(a) means a building or place used predominantly as a place of residence, and includes any of the following:
(i) attached dwellings,
(ii) boarding houses,
(iii) dual occupancies,
(iv) dwelling houses,
(v) group homes,
(vi) hostels,
(vii) multi dwelling housing,
(viii) residential flat buildings,
(ix) rural workers’ dwellings,
(x) secondary dwellings,
(xi) semi-detached dwellings,
(xii) seniors housing,
(xiii) shop top housing, but

(b) does not include tourist and visitor accommodation or caravan parks, and therefore identifies that tourism use of a dwelling is a prohibited use.

7. That this House notes that the use of approved dwellings for short term letting and tourism purposes reduces the available permanent housing stock in a locality and can result in a housing supply shortage, and therefore places availability and affordability stresses on a locality and is contrary to strategic planning objectives to define the potential housing stock and meet permanent population targets.

8. That this House calls on the Government to clarify the legal and planning requirements relating to the use of dwellings for short term letting and tourism purposes and note the impacts and consequences.

Legal Issues Relating to Unapproved Tourism Booked via Websites, Notice given 11 November 2014

1. That this House calls on the Government to resolve the legal issues of properties that are used by tourists or visitors secured via internet sites such as Airbnb and Stayz, which constitute a non-compliant use with state planning and/or local council regulations, as considered by the Legislative Council Inquiry into Tourism in Local Communities, especially under Term of Reference 3.

2. That this House notes that:

(a) the use of internet sites such as Airbnb to locate properties for short term stays by tourists or visitors has been increasing since 2008 when such sites first began,

(b) the use of this form of booking via internet sites results in the true number of tourists or visitors to an area being under-estimated which can mean that government is unable to plan properly for service provision,

(c) most properties listed on such websites are not approved by local government for tourism purposes and are non-compliant with the standards set in the Building Code of Australia for tourist accommodation,

(d) due to the lack of approval these properties may not be covered by insurance while being used by tourists,

(e) fire, safety and other standards of these properties may be inadequate for temporary holiday accommodation,

(f) this type of tourist or visitor accommodation may have negative impacts on neighbours due to issues such as noise, rubbish, parking and anti-social behaviour, and

(g) properties secured via the internet and used by tourists or visitors for short term stays may be competing unfairly with legitimate, approved tourist or visitor accommodation due to lack of:
(i) application approvals and fees,
(ii) compliance with regulation,
(iii) higher cost of commercial property purchase and
(iv) payment of local government commercial rates,

(h) strata managers and strata committees are seeking clarification about the legal issues surrounding the use of residential properties for short term letting.

3. That this House notes that when residential zoned approved dwellings are used for commercial or tourism purposes it diminishes the supply and affordability of housing and therefore contributes to housing affordability pressures.

Petition: Stop the West Byron Mega-Development

The NSW Government is currently considering a massive, inappropriate proposed urban development in West Byron and our community is determined to stop this proposal.

You can help – our petition calls on the Government to defer its decision on the proposal until it has better information about the environmental and social impacts of the development on Byron Shire.

Print, Sign and Send this petition to my office and it will be presented in Parliament. If we can get to 10,000 signatures then there will be a debate in the Legislative Assembly.

Every signature counts, so print the petition, sign it yourself and get your friends and family to do the same, then get those signatures to me so they can all be tabled in Parliament.

Accommodation providers left out of pocket by Bentley back-down should be compensated

North Coast accommodation providers should be compensated for the damage caused by the NSW Government’s plan to send hundreds of police to break up the peaceful protect at Bentley, says Jan Barham, Greens MP and spokesperson for Tourism and the North Coast.

“Until the Government’s last minute suspension of Metgasco’s drilling approval, accommodation providers all over the Northern Rivers region had been booked for up to 800 police who were being brought in to break up the Bentley blockade,” Ms Barham said.

“These businesses, and our local communities, have missed opportunities to host tourists who were unable to book accommodation due to the planned police operation. The least the Government can do is to compensate those operators who were directly affected by the reckless plan to use police force on a peaceful protest.”

Ms Barham noted that the planned police operation to allow gas drilling at Bentley lacked community support.

“It’s especially unfair that the communities who have expressed such strong opposition to unconventional gas might bear the economic impact from a mining operation that lacked a social licence.

“The communities of the Northern Rivers have wanted to remain gasfield-free, and our region’s wellbeing relies on industries such as tourism, not mining.

“I’m relieved that the police operation at Bentley did not proceed as planned following a large amount of community pressure. But the Government must shoulder responsibility for the financial impact on the North Coast accommodation industry caused by their last minute back-down,” Ms Barham concluded.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0447 853 891

Shock at further destruction of irreplaceable Old Growth Forest

North Coast Greens MP, Jan Barham, is shocked and saddened by the planned logging of a stand of Old Growth Forest in Koreelah State Forest.

“Having raised the matter in Parliament and met with the Minister’s staff, I had hoped to secure protection of this significant stand of ancient trees and a comprehensive review by Government, Ms Barham said.

“These trees are known to support many threatened species, including Albert’s Lyrebird, Sooty Owl, Marbled Frogmouth, Yellow-bellied Glider and Fleay’s Barred Frog, all of which will be adversely impacted by logging. I also doubt that many people have seen trees this large and marvelled at their majestic size. It is an unnecessary loss.”

“I understand Forestry Corporation’s regional manager advised yesterday of their intention to commence logging, and that the only protection would be for trees with a diameter of at least 1.8 metres. The Forestry Corporation’s own evidence from studies of Terania Creek in 1981 shows that trees this large could be as much as 1,500 years old.”

“The Government has also made it clear to NEFA representatives that unauthorised persons are not permitted on site. While the Government wants to avoid the public gaze, it has only been through the efforts of forest ecologists and activists that we have been made aware of the loss of these irreplaceable natural treasures,” Ms Barham concluded.

A massive ancient tree from Koreelah State Forest
(Photograph provided by Dailan Pugh.)

Shocking evidence of Old Growth Forest destruction

North Coast Greens MP, Jan Barham, has called for the Government to act on photographs that show the logging of Old Growth Forest in Koreelah State Forest on the Far North Coast.

“During question time in Parliament today, I tabled photographs showing the devastation that has happened to six hectares of Koreelah’s Old Growth Forest. These trees are irreplaceable and their destruction is a travesty,” Ms Barham said.

Old Growth Forest destruction at Koreelah State Forest
Old Growth Forest destruction at Koreelah State Forest
(Photographs provided by David Milledge; Taken at compartment 27 of Kareelah State Forest.)

“I’ve asked whether the Environment Minister is aware that this logging has taken place, and that a further 17 hectares is at risk from planned operations. The Government must investigate and announce what action it will take to protect the biodiversity and heritage of our Old Growth Forests from any further planned destruction.”

The photographs, which were taken during a recent inspection by the North East Forest Alliance, show the aftermath of intensive logging that has felled trees approaching 2.5m in diameter. The forest provides habitat for threatened species and its destruction creates a risk of invasive species such as Lantana taking hold.

“I’m utterly shocked to see evidence that the destruction of Old Growth Forests is still happening. The public puts its trust in government to preserve and protect our natural environment. The loss of these great forests is like stealing from future generations,” Ms Barham said.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0407 065 061

Progress on hospital planning welcome news for Byron Shire

North Coast Greens MP Jan Barham has welcomed the NSW Government’s progress in planning for the Byron Shire Central Hospital project.

Ms Barham has been involved in progressing the hospital since her election to Byron Shire Council in 1999 and was a member of the committee developing the services plan.

Today in the NSW Upper House, Ms Barham asked the Government for clarification about funding allocations for the project in this week’s NSW Budget.

“Last December the Government announced $500,000 to fund the next stage of planning, and I’m pleased that there has already been progress on this stage despite the Budget counting these funds toward the next financial year,” Ms Barham said.

“The community will welcome the news that Health Infrastructure opened tenders for architects and project managers this week and expects to award contracts by mid-July.

“I was informed that planning will be completed by the end of 2013, which will include Treasury review of the funding needed to implement the project.”

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0407 065 061

Feeling groovy: Parliament celebrates 40th anniversary of Aquarius Festival

North Coast Greens MP, Jan Barham, has welcomed NSW Upper House support for her motion recognising the 40th anniversary of the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin.

“The Aquarius Festival was not only an historic event; it was transformative for the Far North of New South Wales,” Ms Barham said.

“The Aquarius Festival brought new people and innovative thinking to the region and contributed to defining the area known to many as the Rainbow Region. Over the last 40 years, the North Coast has been at the forefront of many important issues such Aboriginal respect and reconciliation, biodiversity protection and sustainable architecture.”

“In a moment of harmony and youthful joy that we don’t often see on Macquarie Street, my colleagues in the Legislative Council congratulated the Aquarians and recognised the unique and vibrant culture of the North Coast,” Ms Barham said.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0407 065 061

Motion on Aquarius Festival, passed by NSW Legislative Council 22nd May 2013:

1. That this House notes that:
 (a) May 12 – 23 marks the 40th anniversary of the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin NSW,
 (b) the festival’s organisers planned more than just the fourth Australian Union of Students music festival – they planned a festival of alternative thinking and sustainable living, in a valley where festival goers could stay on and live out their ideals and aspirations,
 (c) the Bundjalung Elders gave their permission and support to holding the festival on their lands, building a respectful connection with traditional owners that has continued to this day,
 (d) the Nimbin Valley and surrounding areas welcomed the boost that the festival offered the region, with traditional industries in a state of decline,
 (e) soon after the Aquarius Festival, Nimbin became identified as a centre for counter-culture and the environmental and sustainable lifestyle movement in Australia,
 (f) the new settlers in the Nimbin community experienced adversities and learned about living on the land with support from local farmers and existing residents,
 (g) from Nimbin the counter-culture revolution reached out locally so that the Far Northern regions of NSW have become known for their innovative and sustainable technologies, ideas and models of community living, and
 (h) the Aquarians and those who were inspired to the area have made diverse contributions including:
  (i) initiating ecological protection of old growth forests and North Coast biodiversity,
  (ii) developing alternative energy systems,
  (iii) establishing sustainable food production practices and promoting healthy lifestyles,
  (iv) promoting innovative architecture in intentional communities,
  (v) encouraging cultural diversity including music, craft and arts,
  (vi) engaging in political activism, and the production of community media including newspapers and radio,
  (vii) supporting alternative economic models, including Local Economic Trading Systems (LETS) and community markets.

2. That this House congratulates the Aquarians and those who have contributed to and maintained a unique and vibrant cultural community in northern NSW for the past 40 years.

1 2 3