Sunday, February 20, 2022

Thousands of homes left empty in Tasmania despite critical rental shortage

Now why would owners with a second house leave it empty? A major reason is poor protection for landlords. Destructive tenants can leave owners with repair bills in the tens of thousands of dollars. And there is nothing to be done about it. Many owners experiencing that will simply withdraw from the rental market

An analysis of Taswater data suggests up to 2,000 homes could be sitting empty across Tasmania, despite Hobart having the tightest rental market in the country.

The Tenants' Union used water consumption data to estimate how many empty houses there were within three inner-city council areas.

If a property used less than 10 per cent of the annual average water consumption over three consecutive years, it was deemed empty.

"It's extremely disheartening that we have up to 2,000 empty homes across Tasmania during a housing crisis," Ben Bartl from the Tenants Union of Tasmania said.

"Not shacks. Not Airbnbs. Just empty."

The data found there were 192 vacant residential properties in the Hobart City Council area, 115 in the Glenorchy municipality and 256 in Launceston.

The Tenants Union excluded areas with a high number of shacks, and calculated that across Tasmania there could be between 1,486 and 1,932 empty homes.

"That is homes that are just sitting there while we have a housing crisis," said Mr Bartl.

"There are thousands of people looking for affordable rental properties.

"It just beggars belief that we have people that are prepared to sit on investment properties."

Hobart has the lowest rental vacancy rate of any Australian capital at 0.9 per cent.

Launceston's vacancy rate is 0.8 per cent.

Calls to introduce 'empty house' tax

Mr Bartl wants the state government to introduce an empty home tax to act as disincentive to investors.

"In Vancouver and Melbourne, if you leave your home empty for more than six months without a reasonable excuse you are charged 1 per cent of the value of the property."

He said the revenue could be invested in affordable housing.

"With the average house price in Hobart $675,000 and in Launceston $461,000, a 1-per-cent tax on empty homes in the Launceston, Hobart and Glenorchy municipalities would have raised $3.2 million for affordable housing each year or almost $10 million for affordable housing over the past three years."

Mr Bartl argues it would also put downward pressure on rents.

The Rental Affordability Index found Hobart is the least affordable capital city in Australia.

"We need to be pulling all levers [so] that everybody that does [need to] have a roof over their head has one."

Matt Haubrick from the Housing Alliance Tasmania supports the idea. "It's a bit of a disgrace," he said.

"The majority of people are just having to stay living at home, living with friends, living on couches, living in lounge rooms or in their vehicles.

"Those are the lucky people who have some sort of support network and aren't forced to live on the streets or in crisis accommodation."

The Minister for Housing, Michael Ferguson, ruled out imposing an empty house tax.

"Without clarification on what is captured in their statistics regarding vacant lots, houses under construction or in the planning phase or other factors that might result in low water usage, it is very difficult to say how relevant the statistics provided by the Tenant's Union are," he said.

He said the government's priority was addressing housing supply issues.

"This is the only way to combat the rising housing [prices] and put downwards pressure on home prices and rentals," Mr Ferguson said.

The Tasmanian government plans to build 3,500 new social and affordable houses by 2027.


Shorter, fewer school suspensions under controversial behaviour policy

The length of school suspensions will be halved and students cannot be sent home more than three times a year under a new behaviour strategy designed to reduce the high number of sanctions against vulnerable children in NSW public schools.

Parents support the policy, but the teachers union says it will increase safety risks for staff and students by constraining teachers’ ability to manage disruptive and dangerous behaviour.

The changes come amid concerns that 40 per cent of suspensions – including around two-thirds of the hundreds of kindergarten suspensions each year – involve students with disabilities. Indigenous students are also more likely to be sent home from school.

Under the new policy, to begin next term, principals must give a warning – valid for 50 days –if a student’s behaviour is raising the prospect of suspension, and can only send them home immediately if there is a threat to the safety of others.

Students from kindergarten to year 2 can be sent home for a maximum of five days instead of the previous 20, although the government abandoned an earlier plan to ban all suspensions in that age group. A principal must take in the student’s circumstances – including any disability or background of trauma – before making the decision.

A new expulsion process will require schools to give the student and their parents seven days’ warning of a decision and to conduct a risk assessment before the student attends another school. If the risk is too great, the minister can ban the student from the public system.

There are also new rules around the use of so-called restrictive practices such as seclusion, which can only be used in an emergency, and mechanical restraint, which requires parental consent and approval from the student’s medical team.

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the new strategy would also come with extra resources, such as behaviour specialists to support schools and training for staff in managing student behaviour.

“Behaviour management in our schools is one of the most important aspects of providing quality education, and we need to get it right,” she said.

“We know that what is currently happening is not working as too many students, particularly those with learning difficulties or from low socio-economic families, are suspended and do not receive the support they need.”

The suspension issue has divided school communities. Parents say students are being suspended for behaviours caused by their disability, but teachers say they don’t have the resources to deal with extreme behaviour that puts other students and staff at risk.

A draft of the policy, released 18 months ago, was welcomed by parent groups but led to tense negotiations with principals and the teachers’ union, who argued it would undermine their ability to protect the safety of staff and students.

One of their chief concerns was the scrapping of a list of grounds for suspension, ranging from physical violence or drug possession - which would result in a long, or 20-day suspension - to continued disobedience or aggressive behaviour, which could lead to a short, 10-day suspension.

The Secondary Principals Council said it had not yet seen the finalised policy so declined to comment.

However, one principal – who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media – said some were angry enough to consider industrial action if their concerns were not met.

The new strategy allows principals to apply to their superior, the regional director, for permission to suspend students for longer than the maximum 10 days, or more often than the three times outlined in the policy.

The Advocate for Children and Young People, Zoe Robinson, welcomed the policy. “We know there is a link between suspensions and youth justice. We welcome this policy reform as a step forward and are glad the department and Minister have worked with and listened to children and young people.”

P&C Federation president Natalie Walker also backed the plan. “This strategy looks to provide a more inclusive and engaging and accessible education for all children and families in NSW public schools.”

Louise Kuchel from Square Peg, Round Whole – a community of parents advocating for children with disabilities – said parents supported reducing the number and length of suspensions but wanted to see them banned for the youngest children.

“Some parents have lost count of how often their kids have been suspended,” she said. “We’re not improving outcomes for young, neurodivergent people when we keep excluding them and sending them away.”

However, the NSW Teachers Federation wrote to the NSW Department of Education on Thursday, warning the policy would increase teachers’ workload and put safety at risk.

“It will constrain the ability of schools to manage and address appropriate student behaviour, denying the vast majority of students a safe and settled learning environment,” deputy president Henry Rajendra told the Herald.


Pronoun email sparks bitter City council row

A councillor in inner-city Melbourne who questioned the use of pronouns in email signatures has been blasted by the mayor for his “harmful” actions.

City of Stonnington councillor Alexander Lew questioned why council managers had started including gender pronouns like “he/him” in their email signatures. He also declared that staff who didn’t want to add their pronouns “may themselves feel ostracised or pressured”.

“Can you please advise of how the adding pronouns to email signatures is consistent with the need for council staff to remain apolitical,” he wrote to Stonnington chief executive Jacqui Weatherill, in emails seen by the Herald Sun.

His email – which was also copied in to other councillors – also included a link to a federal parliamentary committee hearing where a heated exchange between a Victorian Greens senator and a City of Melton councillor over the transgender issue took place.

Mr Lew’s message was met with fury by a number of his colleagues, including Stonnington Mayor Jami Klisaris.

“Your email has caused great offense (sic), and I am deeply concerned that you don’t appreciate the harmful ramifications that your communication is having on many people,” she wrote in response to Mr Lew’s suggestion, the Herald Sun reports.

Ms Klisaris said the council’s leadership team fully supported staff to “choose and share their gender pronouns in the workplace should they wish”.

She also suggested Mr Lew undergo diversity and inclusion training.

Greens councillor Mike Scott denied that using gender pronouns in emails was political, telling the paper it was “a small step in making people feel accepted for who they are, welcomed at council and that they are safe to participate as their full selves


Koalas not endangered

Vic Jurskis

The Long March has reached its destination. Our world is governed by mass hysteria and Australia’s a world leader. There’s the Climate Crisis, the climate-driven Bushfire Crisis, the Reef Crisis and – it’s finally official – a Koala Crisis.

The Environment Minister has listed koalas with postcodes in the 2000s or 4000s as an endangered species. The same species with postcodes in the 3000s or 5000s are not officially endangered because everyone knows there’s plenty of them. Supposedly because they’re inbred, with limited genetic diversity.

Minister Ley has this on good authority – our Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC). TSSC, in turn, were informed by our leading koala experts. These scientists are so confident in their abilities that they didn’t need any empirical data to make their assessment. In their own words: ‘A quantitative, scientific method for deriving estimates of koala populations and trends was possible, in the absence of empirical data on abundances.’

An ‘elicitation specialist’ helped the experts make up the numbers using ‘a modified version of the Delphi process’. I assume the process is named after the famous Oracle. These quotes aren’t from Monty Python, they’re from Diversity and Distributions – A Journal of Conservation Biogeography.

Their numbers are wrong. I pointed this out in Ecological history of the koala and implications for management, published in CSIRO’s Wildlife Research journal. It was available to TSSC, but peer-reviewed science is seemingly irrelevant unless it gives the Scientific Committee the answer it wants.

Koalas are in absolutely no danger of extinction. There are more koalas over a much wider area than there were when Europeans arrived in Australia. They are naturally rare because they eat soft young shoots which are scarce in healthy mature forests.

Koalas have big noses and strong limbs to aid their nightly quest for edible and nutritious browse in their large ~ 100 ha home ranges containing thousands of trees. Natural, stable populations have chlamydia but no disease and they are invisible. Koalas didn’t live in the open grassy woodlands sought by explorers and pastoralists.

Strzelecki was the only explorer to see koalas. There were plagues in the ranges that now bear his name. Struggling for 26 days through 50 miles of dense young forest, he ate koalas. There were no kangaroos, emus or small game to be had in the scrub. The Yowenjerre had been decimated by smallpox in 1789. Without the firestick, scrub climbed out of deep dark gullies and covered their land. It exploded from lightning in a hot, dry summer around 1820.

European occupation from the 1830s disrupted Aboriginal management across Victoria.

The 1851 Black Thursday holocaust burnt more than 12 million acres. The ranges were also incinerated by Red Tuesday 1898, Black Friday 1939, Black Saturday 2009 and many other un-named disasters. A total of 20 megafires raged in 200 years. The Strzelecki koalas, supposedly the last natural population in Victoria, are still in unnaturally high numbers.

The northern koalas were listed as vulnerable after the Senate Environment Committee accepted that there were 10 million koalas in 1788. The evidence was that millions were shot for fur after 1888. Truth is, koala plagues followed European occupation as dense young forests grew in the hills and mature trees declined in the valleys. Declining trees continuously re-sprouted soft young shoots. Koalas irrupted in the hills, invaded the valleys and outstripped their food.

People shot starving, diseased koalas and sold their fur. But the more adults they shot, the more young survived. When leaves frizzled and trees died in the Federation Drought, koalas crashed back to natural levels.

National Parks expanded and mild burning declined in the late 20th century. People planted eucalypts for timber or amenity. Koalas irrupted again.

The valleys are now occupied by suburbia. As koalas move in, they fall prey to dogs and motor vehicles. Wild dogs and carpet pythons bred up in response to irruptions on the Koala Coast. During the Millennium Drought, dense populations at Pilliga – Gunnedah – Liverpool Plains and on the Koala Coast crashed. Overcrowded koalas in VIC and SA were translocated to die out of sight. The weakest were euthanised.

Koalas are currently breeding like rabbits on all the soft young growth after Black Summer. I showed NSW Koala Inquiry a picture of a young koala in dense scrub south of Eden where they’re supposedly extinct. I explained that lack of mild burning, koala irruptions and megafires go together. I sent them a picture of the same spot after the holocaust. Green Chair Cate Faehrmann wasn’t interested. She likes crises, they’re good for business.




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