Thursday, October 22, 2020

Warning Perth in 'rental crisis' as residential vacancy rate slumps to lowest level in 13 years

Covid inspired laws that protect tenants but burden landlords have driven many landlords out of the business. Being inconsiderate of landlords always has that effect

Western Australia's peak real estate body has warned Perth is in a "rental crisis" after the city's residential vacancy rate fell below 1 per cent for only the third time in 40 years.

The "rental crisis" is being stoked by a lack of investors
Real Estate Institute of WA (REIWA) figures show the home vacancy rate has dropped to 0.96 per cent, the lowest level in 13 years.

REIWA President Damian Collins said the rate was declining rapidly and was on track to reach the 0.8 per cent all-time low, recorded in March 2007.

"With rental listings in Perth falling eight per cent to 2,926 over the month, we have certainly hit a rental crisis," he said. "Tenants looking for a rental will potentially find themselves unable to find a home.

"We're seeing sometimes dozens and dozens of people looking at properties and that many tenants are finding out they can't get into a home."

Mr Collins said the COVID-19 pandemic had seen many people abroad return to WA at once, all looking for homes to either rent or buy.

"I suspect that coming into early 2021, it's likely we're going to run out of all properties available in totality," he said.

Low property investment fuelling shortage
Mr Collins suggested the problems being experienced in the rental market were largely due to low levels of investor activity.

"Typically during this time we would see investors enter the market and increase stock levels, however we are seeing investors are not as confident," he said.

"Western Australia has approximately 17 per cent of properties purchased by investors, whereas we would normally expect to see investors buying 30 per cent or more of the available properties."

An aerial view of the inner city Perth suburb of Inglewood.
REIWA says the rental crisis will only get worse if investors are not lured back into the market.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)
Mr Collins said one factor spooking investors was the extension of the COVID-19 emergency residential tenancy laws until the end of March next year.

The State Government introduced the legislation earlier this year in response to the global pandemic, protecting tenants from being evicted from their rental properties and banning rent increases on existing tenancies.

Mr Collins said it disregarded the needs of landlords and would ultimately lead to higher rental prices and fewer rental properties being available when the emergency period came to an end.

He said the rental crisis would only get worse if investors were not encouraged back into the market.

"The Government needs to send a clear signal to the market that they have no intention of extending the legislation further if we remain relatively COVID-19 free," he said.

"That might give some confidence back to investors to come back into the market when they have some clarity about the outlook of their investment property, otherwise investors will continue to sit on their hands and make a bad situation even worse."

Wollongong Coal says Russell Vale mine expansion 'no risk' to Sydney's drinking water, but locals are wary

There's no such thing as a happy Greenie. They make themselves feel significant by opposing things

A New South Wales coal mining company that wants to expand a mothballed operation beneath Sydney's drinking water catchment says it has "engineered out" any risk to the environment.

Wollongong Coal is seeking approval from the State Government to extract 3.7 million tonnes of coal over five years from its Russell Vale mine.

During a two-day public hearing of the Independent Planning Commission (IPC), chief executive Warwick Lidbury said the company would use a bord-and-pillar mining method to mitigate subsidence.

"The board of Wollongong Coal has committed to complete this project and future projects utilising an environmentally friendly process," he said.

"It excludes longwall mining and has engineered out the risk associated with mining under the water catchment, as well as the noise generated, air quality, and the visual impacts on the pit top area.

"The extraction plan will ensure no cracking of the strata, no additional loss of water from the catchment, no adverse effects of the water quality on the surface, no adverse effects on the upland swamps, no effects that will increase bushfire risk and no effects on any Aboriginal sites."

The colliery has been in care and maintenance since 2015 and its owners are $1 billion in debt.

It is the third time Wollongong Coal, which is owned by Indian business Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL), has significantly amended its expansion proposal since 2009.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) has now recommended the IPC approve the project after what it described as an "exhaustive process".

"The revised bord-and-pillar mining method addressed the key concerns raised in previous reports, in relation to the uncertainty around subsidence and groundwater impacts," director of resource assessments, Steven O'Donoghue, said.

"There'll be economic benefits to the Illawarra and overall, considering that the benefits outweigh the residual costs."

More than 80 parties, including residents, community organisations and businesses, made presentations to the commission on Monday and Tuesday, with fewer than a quarter in favour of the proposal.

Opposition to the project included concerns for water loss from Sydney's drinking supply and climate change, as well as truck movements, noise pollution, and the impact on air quality.

"We're constantly having coal dust descending on our homes," said Illawarra Residents for Responsible Mining spokesperson Alison Edwards.

"As soon as the mine starts up again, with its dropping coal from a high conveyer onto stockpiles, on unsealed roads, we will again be beset by heavy loads of coal dust falling in the vicinity."

Lock the Gate spokesperson Nic Clyde used his presentation to refute claims the bord-and-pillar technique would remove the risk to the water catchment.

"[The project] will cause the loss of about 10 million litres a year to surface waters, which adds up to 50 million litres of water over the five years," he said.

Members of the Seacliff Coasters running group also questioned the mine's impact on public amenity and recreational use of the Illawarra escarpment.

"We've been running for a very long time, but a virtual wall has now been imposed by Wollongong Coal on the Lower Escarpment Trail," said runner Tim Siegenbeek van Heukelom.

"A gate and a newly erected sign indicate no access and threaten prosecution for those who do.

"I call for you to reject the coal mine expansion proposal to enable us to keep enjoying and caring for this magical natural environment."

A boost to employment

Several speakers argued in favour of the proposal on the basis that it would create 205 direct jobs, 800 indirect jobs and 22 jobs during construction.

"If the Russell Vale mine does go back into full production, it will lead to more jobs and revenue for our office and supporting businesses," said Becker Mining spokesperson Geoff Pollard.

"The project will be required to use many different trades and contractors from many different fields and will continue to need these people for the life of the mine.

"This is a great opportunity for the Illawarra."

Danae Horsey, director of the Little School Preschool at Kembla Grange, said Wollongong Coal also made a significant financial contribution to the local community.

"We've had a very positive relationship with Wollongong Coal over the years," she said.

"They've been very generous in support of our community projects and keeping small services like ours viable.

"They make donations to our programs, they funded our early-learning languages program, they've funded our sustainability projects [by] donating money for water tanks and having those installed.

"I think it's under-reported, the good work that they do, and how they support small businesses like us."

In June 2018, the NSW Resources Regulator accepted an enforceable undertaking from Wollongong Coal to pay donations of $5,000 to a local charity or community group and to lease a portion of its property to the Little School Preschool for $1 per year until 2023.

The decision was made after an investigation into an alleged failure of the company to pay annual rental fees and administrative levies.

The IPC will make a determination on the Russell Vale Expansion Project in the coming months.

New Zealand has elected its most diverse Parliament ever. How does Australia compare?

Why is this Left-wing bigotry condoned? People should be judged on their personal merits, not on what group they belong to

New Zealand has just elected its most diverse Parliament ever — almost half their MPs will be women, and around 10 per cent are from the LGBTQ+ community.

Ms Kerekere said it was vital that "people have the opportunity to take part in the decisions that affect their lives", and she wanted to make sure decisions are viewed through a Māori and rainbow lens.

"In Parliament, that is the highest level, and everybody must be at the table to have those conversations," she said.

"I'm really proud that I can be here to represent."

As votes are still being counted, some seats have not yet been finalised. But it looks like New Zealand's Parliament will have 48 per cent women.

There are also 16 Māori MPs, and the country is also celebrating the election of the country's first MP of African origin, Ibrahim Omer, its first Latin American MP, Ricardo Menéndez March, and its first MP of Sri Lankan heritage, Vanushi Walters.

It also appears as though 12 of the 120 seats have been won by people from the LGBTQ+ community.

How does it compare to Australia?

In Australia, there are 86 women elected at the federal level across the 227 seats in the upper and lower houses, or just under 38 per cent.

In the House of Representatives, there are 47 women MPs, making up just under a third, at 31 per cent.

As of last month, Australia has — for the first time — a majority of women in its Senate, with 39 women and 37 men.

There are six Indigenous people elected at the Federal level, and nine people who identify as LGBTQ+.

After the 2019 election, about 4 per cent of Federal MPs had non-European heritage — far below Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Two Australian High Court judges will be named today – unlike Amy Coney Barrett, we know nothing about them

Most Australians would be unaware the High Court is about to get two new judges, with replacements for the retiring Geoffrey Nettle and Virginia Bell expected to be named today.

Fewer still could explain how those judges will be appointed, and what is involved in the process.

The US Supreme Court and the High Court of Australia perform similar constitutional roles: both courts resolve technical legal cases, as well as those of enormous political significance. Both also have the power to strike down legislation.

But whereas appointments to the US Supreme Court are a highly visible festival of political intrigue and showmanship, the process in Australia is a secretive affair occurring strictly behind closed doors.

Even avid court watchers are left to speculate who will be appointed to replace retiring judges, as well as when such appointments will even be announced.

While our judges may prefer their relative anonymity, the process for choosing who sits on the highest court must be more transparent. Our system is beginning to look outdated.

Huge discretion to appoint any lawyer to the court

When the High Court was created in 1903, it comprised three judges. Over the past 120 years, the size of the bench has expanded to seven. Following a referendum in 1977, a mandatory retirement age of 70 was introduced.

However, the Constitution and subsequent legislation are conspicuously silent on the process to be followed in appointing judges. Section 72 of the Constitution says only

"The justices of the High Court […] shall be appointed by the governor-general in council."

In practice, this means judges are nominated by the prime minister following advice of the cabinet, with significant weight given to the recommendation of the attorney-general.

The Constitution does not mention qualifications for High Court judges. The High Court of Australia Act 1979 does require appointees to have been either a judge of an Australian court or enrolled as a legal practitioner for at least five years. This minimal threshold provides a very low bar for eligibility.

Similarly, the requirements for vetting judges are scarce. The High Court of Australia Act provides a minimum role for consultation with the states:

"Where there is a vacancy in an office of justice, the attorney-general shall, before an appointment is made to the vacant office, consult with the attorneys-general of the states in relation to the appointment."

Such consultations occur in private. There is no requirement for how extensive they must be, nor do they need to factor into the final decision at all. A five-minute session at the end of a National Cabinet video conference would suffice.

In practice, these provisions grant huge discretion to the cabinet to appoint almost any lawyer they wish.

Fortunately, the country has organically developed some strong political conventions to guide the process, including commitments to make appointments based on merit, as well as geographic and (more recently) gender diversity. Unlike in the US, a judge's political leanings are not overtly taken into account.

While a handful of judges have been former politicians, by and large we have been blessed with an apolitical bench populated by the most eminent judges and lawyers in Australia.

However, both the Trump administration in the US and the Johnson government in the UK have shown just how brittle political conventions can be. Once those conventions shatter, the social legitimacy of public institutions — including courts — can quickly evaporate.




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