David Leyonhjelm: Regulate first, ask questions later

Living in Australia sometimes feels like living in a bureaucrats’ version of a spaghetti western. The heroes are the brave and all-knowing public servants, while the villains are the naughty people who are too foolish to realise that government knows best.

Politicians and bureaucrats alike want to regulate first, ask questions later. It seems barely a week passes without someone trumpeting the expansion of the nanny state. And with each new crackdown, ban or tax, our freedom gets that little bit smaller.

Whereas once the government would at least go through the motions of citing things like market failure, all it takes now is for a politician to want to look tough or be seen ‘doing something’. So it is with the proposed regulation of short-term accommodation platforms like Airbnb and Stayz.
Sharing our home with someone is as old as time. Who has not stayed with a family member or friend, or the friend of a friend? The difference these days is that it is much easier. Technology allows us to stay in someone’s home nearly anywhere in the world.

The immense popularity of these platforms is simply staggering. Globally, Airbnb has just passed four million listings, more than the rooms of the top five hotel brands worldwide. Australia is particularly fertile ground for the company, with almost one in five adults having an account. The company claims Airbnb is the “most penetrated market in the world”.

For government, the platforms are confronting. With no red tape or government involvement, travellers are protected, bad apples ejected and quality maintained via hosts and guests providing reviews of each other using sophisticated technology and a trusted online marketplace. Airbnb says that, on average, a host could have a new reservation every day for over 27 years before experiencing a single bad incident. A track record like that would be the envy of any pub, hotel, motel or caravan park in the country.

The so-called sharing economy challenges the idea that people need red tape, regulations or government to keep them safe from harm. But that does not stop some from trying. Currently, the NSW Government is toying with a grab bag of Big Brother and nanny-state policies ranging from new taxes and caps, to licences, planning approval and complete bans.

Loudly cheering them on is the hotel industry, which sees the sharing economy as a competitor. Since Airbnb opened its Australian operations in 2012, the Australian Hotels Association, which represents big hotel owners through its Tourism Accommodation Australia division, has donated more than half a million dollars to the two major political parties at both state and federal levels.

The hotel industry argues there isn’t a level playing field between them and these new competitors, insisting that ordinary people sharing their homes should be subject to the same red tape burdens as they are. They claim that these homes are death traps for unwitting guests, and say it is the fault of the government that people are choosing to stay in these homes rather than their hotels.

They are wrong. As US President Ronald Reagan said, “Government is not the solution to our problem – government IS the problem”. There is nothing wrong with people sharing homes to make ends meet, or for travellers to enjoy a different form of holiday or business trip.

This debate goes to the heart of the role of government and property rights. Does government, your neighbour or even your strata committee have the right to tell you what you can or cannot do with your own home?

What if politicians, public servants and staffers were all encouraged to use the sharing economy on their work travels? Taxpayers would save a lot of money and policy-makers would quickly understand how safe and efficient the sharing economy is. Goodbye to the rent-seekers, hello to the rent-sharers.

My fear is that the end of this argument is just as predictable as those old time spaghetti westerns. The brave and all-knowing public servants will prevail, leaving a raft of restrictive and invasive policies.

David Leyonhjelm is a Senator for the Liberal Democrats

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35 Responses to David Leyonhjelm: Regulate first, ask questions later

  1. Kneel

    “Does government, […] have the right to tell you what you can or cannot do with your own home?”

    Hmm, apparently, they do!
    Try:
    * knocking it down, renovating it or extending it WITHOUT getting approval first!
    * painting it a colour the local council doesn’t like!

    Apparently, they are looking at taxing you for daring to own a place that you are not living in and then failing to rent it out!

    All to “protect” other owners/residents of course.

  2. DB

    Leyonhjelm is a lone voice in Parliament against creeping regulation and interference from Government.
    I have not heard a single Coalition MP raise their voice.

  3. a host could have a new reservation every day for over 27 years before experiencing a single bad incident. A track record like that would be the envy of any pub, hotel, motel or caravan park in the country.

    If any pub, hotel, motel, or caravan park, had just one room/lot to let, they’d likely have the same average.
    That airbnb host, had they 100 rooms, and a kind heart that will take anybody who walks up, and that 27 years average would become 27 days.

    But yeah, the playing field is not level.
    The costs to me for each room are (round numbers): $20,000 in council rates (I’m “commercial” y’see), $15,000 for insurance (a sick joke), commercial rubbish pick-up rates ($70 per week per wheelie bin).

    Stick every airbnb host with $35,000 per room, up front before they start renting for the year, and watch their comfort zone change.
    They’d require new underwear at the first Fire Brigade inspection, and they’d be then questioning the meaning of life before the Fire Brigade arsehole had left the premises.

    I don’t blame the airbnb hosts for this. I do blame the govt. And I do blame those who see this “one-rule for thee & another for them” as a fair go.

  4. Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Cheer up, David! At least you can still say whatever you like around your kitchen table, according to Gillian Triggs!

  5. Arky

    Everyones homes are going to catch bed bugs.
    who wants go share their home with strangers?
    there is something disgusting and communist about airbnb.

  6. Arky

    The general population is manky and unhygienic.
    I wouldn’t let most of the people out there into my home without boiling them first.

  7. mh

    David, if you were a politician other than a Senator, you would get bombarded with communication from your constituents whining about all the strangers that are suddenly turning up in units where they are living, or the next door neighbour should be forced to take down a tree which has bats nesting in it, or can’t you do something about the dog poop in the area.

  8. Howard Hill

    The trouble is we’ve let them get away with it for too long and now they think they can do whatever they like without question, which is pretty much right. Unless we really start to push back, this will only get worse.

    I knew it was all over for us in Victoriastan when I traveled out of Melbourne up the Hume and passed through the prison barricade of cameras all those years ago. I’ve often thought of taking a picture of them all and having a bumper sticker made up titled “Welcome to Victoria, The Prison State”.

    I’ve committed no crime yet I feel like I’m doing a life sentence in maximum security with the amount of restrictions, rules and surveillance I’m subjected to everyday.

    I never thought I’d live to see the day I’d despise my country so much and wanted to get out, sad but true.

  9. Indigo

    The PC Taliban have won the war.

  10. tgs

    there is something disgusting and communist about airbnb.

    Weapons-grade levels of stupidity in this comment.

  11. Rabz

    airbnb are a bunch of sanctimonious virtue signalling wankers and deserve every piece of monstrous nanny state idiocy that is foisted on them courtesy of equally noxious politicians.

  12. mh

    What is the Community Commitment?

    You commit to treat everyone—regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age—with respect, and without judgement or bias.

    What if I decline the commitment?

    If you decline the commitment, you won’t be able to host or book using Airbnb, and you have the option to cancel your account. Once your account is cancelled, future booked trips will be cancelled.

    They can keep their Community Commitment to silicon valley. Wankers.

  13. C.L.

    Given the reference to westerns, I can’t resist posting this …
    Ideally, this should be the default response to ever-expanding government tyranny:

  14. Chris M

    So why didn’t you oppose the recent anti-free speech legislation? Got anything better than the lame-ass reason you gave at the time?

  15. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t AirBnB the outfit which barred “Trump voters” from making bookings?

  16. A Lurker

    So why didn’t you oppose the recent anti-free speech legislation? Got anything better than the lame-ass reason you gave at the time?

    The Senator is great with words.
    Actions not so much.

  17. NB

    ‘It seems barely a week passes without someone trumpeting the expansion of the nanny state.’
    Good gracious, Senator. I can see you don’t listen to government-Radio National. Every day another billion or so of wish items added to the list.

  18. Arky

    Weapons-grade levels of stupidity in this comment.

    ..
    Good argument and reasoning.
    Cock.

  19. mareeS

    We used to have a cottage in pre-airbnb days that we used for short-stay accommodation. At the time it was exempt from all the approvals, red tape and regulation by State and local govt affecting normal b&b, we just did it off our own bat. Good little earner as one of my small business projects.

    It’s all good while you’re under the radar, but that’s not the case with airbnb any longer.

  20. Driftforge

    Does government, your neighbour or even your strata committee have the right to tell you what you can or cannot do with your own home?

    ‘Should they’ is the far more interesting question; it’s obvious they currently do.

    And.. they probably should, to the extent that what you do with with your own home impacts upon the value of the community, the neighbour, the complex.

    Ideally, you should be liable for the reduction in value your actions impose, and benefit from any increase in value your actions bring. However the calculation of such is difficult, and below some statistical bound, impossible. Still, movement towards the ideal is good.

  21. Sfw

    I’d love to leave Australia I just don’t know where on earth to find a place where the gov isn’t way to the left.

  22. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    Friends of ours ended up with bedbugs in all bedrooms and from a short-term arrangement (don’t know if it was AirBnB or not). The awful bloodsucking things came in on backpackers’ luggage; a group of young people who stayed a month. It’s OK if it’s not your home, you can call in exterminators and get rid of the bugs (but it’s costly to do this and some bedding just has to be dumped) but why would you open your own home to such things and other intrusions by people you don’t know? Arky has a point there.

  23. Tom

    David Leyonhjelm, I implore you to time-limit these encroachments on our liberty: we must require that every one of these so-called national security measures needs re-authorisation every year and isn’t automatically approved without end.

    As you know, the only reason modern governments exist is to get bigger, which is a recipe to kill democracy.

  24. Driftforge

    As you know, the only reason modern governments exist is to get bigger, which is a recipe to kill democracy.

    That’s just democracy doing its thing; feature not bug.

  25. Snoopy

    Politicians and bureaucrats alike want to regulate first, ask questions later.

    This is a man who supports Yes in the SS’M’ plebiscite. Amiright?

  26. Ubique

    Things are likely to get a lot worse. Visiting my mum in the UK, she tells me she can’t put her bin out for collection before 5:00 pm lest she be fined by the local council’s “Bin Police”.
    The left’s Nirvana is when everything that is not prohibited is compulsory.

  27. Entropy

    The left’s Nirvana is when everything that is not prohibited is compulsory.

    Liberty quote right there!

  28. Natural Instinct

    Serena at the Pub #2515469, posted on October 5, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    .
    You forgot the state Health Department inspectors = Private Water Supply guidlines (29 pages) and the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (1,153 pages)
    .
    and the local council inspectors = Approval to Operate a Sewage Management System + Food Premises Inspection + general building code checking
    .
    and insurance loss adjusters = did the operator meet their duty of care requirements, or will claim be uninsured
    .
    Hey hell, let’s go open slather. After all, I really do get pissed off buying a double pole water proof GPO outlet for $65 when Bunnings sells a perfectly good electric outlet for $10. It’ll work almost always. Except once.

  29. Yea Natural Instinct. The full compliance regime is extensive.
    There is one person on my payroll whose job title is: Compliance Officer.
    This self-explanatory role handles all state, federal, and council compliance. We still get caught about once a year with something obscure.

    I think the most recent was the “signed in Manager on Duty” was suspected by police of conducting a foot patrol of the top floor at Ten minutes past midnight. (We’ve been fined $1,000 for that twice before, so we should have known).
    Thankfully it was only “suspected” and they only dished out a good talking to.

    AirBnB hosts would neck themselves if they had a fraction of the compliance businesses have to bend over for and take, sans lube.

  30. “Compliance Officer” as a job title in a country pub is just bullshit. This country is stuffed.

  31. Whalehunt Fun

    Does government, your neighbour or even your strata committee have the right to tell you what you can or cannot do with your own home?

    Yes they do. Our body corporate has flexed its legal muscle and banned airbnb use by owners. Violators, both lessee and lessor will be dragged into the relevant hearings and screwed over with joyous vindictiveness. Airbnb customers are a cancor that needs to be exterminated as brutally and inhumanly as possible.

  32. OldOzzie

    Serena at the Pub
    #2515469, posted on October 5, 2017 at 12:21 pm
    a host could have a new reservation every day for over 27 years before experiencing a single bad incident. A track record like that would be the envy of any pub, hotel, motel or caravan park in the country.

    If any pub, hotel, motel, or caravan park, had just one room/lot to let, they’d likely have the same average.
    That airbnb host, had they 100 rooms, and a kind heart that will take anybody who walks up, and that 27 years average would become 27 days.

    But yeah, the playing field is not level.
    The costs to me for each room are (round numbers): $20,000 in council rates (I’m “commercial” y’see), $15,000 for insurance (a sick joke), commercial rubbish pick-up rates ($70 per week per wheelie bin).

    Stick every airbnb host with $35,000 per room, up front before they start renting for the year, and watch their comfort zone change.
    They’d require new underwear at the first Fire Brigade inspection, and they’d be then questioning the meaning of life before the Fire Brigade arsehole had left the premises.

    I don’t blame the airbnb hosts for this. I do blame the govt. And I do blame those who see this “one-rule for thee & another for them” as a fair go.

    Dead simple for State Governments – if you rent out your house/home/apartment using Airbnb, then it is not your primary place of residence – and then hit them with Land Tax

    The Land Tax on UCVs in NSW would scare the pants of any potential Airbnb Lessor

  33. Oops, knock a zero off those numbers. * embarrassed *
    That should be $3,700 per room per year (inclusive of land tax).

    Valid point Old Ozzi. Land tax on the entire primary domicile would put an arch into most people’s eyebrows.

  34. Rococo Liberal

    I think the problem is that no-one would care if a there were lots of informal arrangements where people received a bit of cash for letting out their homes/properties on a temporary basis. But once the practice becomes widespread and the more business-like, government s do have to take notice.
    But maybe they should look at reducing the impact of regulation on hotels rather than overly increasing regulation of Air BNB.
    Of course the strat coporation has a right to limit what you do in the copration’s building. You enter into that agreement when you buty a unit. If a majority of the owners agree that there should be no AirBnB in the building, then that is a fair result.

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