Sunday, September 25, 2022

Why would anyone bother being a landlord these days?

Like most businesses, being a landlord can have both big rewards and big losses. One unscrupulous tenant can send a small landlord broke.

A crucial factor is government. Only a government could implement policies that harm both landlords and tenants. Yet they often do just that.

Part of the reason why is seen in an old saying among economists: "All the worlld loves a farmer and hates a landlord". It's pretty true. Governments subsidise farmers and harass landlords. Yet both food and housing are essentials

“We are now asking Queenslanders out there – business, organisations, church groups – if you have any properties or land that can help us, we will work with you.”

That was Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last week, quoted in this newspaper, delivering a laugh-out-loud moment to those familiar with the issue.

Words are cheap, action counts, and when it comes to action Queensland is doing the exact opposite of working with people who own property or land to help them provide rental accommodation. The state has just changed its laws so as to effectively levy tax on land owned in other states.

The move has shocked and angered the property and investment sector, and is predicted to cause more landlords to sell out of the Queensland private rental market, and make the current rental shortage worse.

However, Queensland isn’t the only state in the grip of a rental shortage and it isn’t the only jurisdiction that has driven private investors out of the housing market.

Propertyology research data says more than two million individual investors fund 27 per cent of our current housing stock, and more than 70 per cent of them have a taxable income under $100,000. Ninety per cent of these investors own one or two investment properties, and only 0.9 per cent own more than six.

Yet in recent years various levels of government, local councils, banks and insurers have acted on the assumption that these small-time investors can tolerate being slugged with ever higher levels of interest, rates, fees and taxes, and being asked to meet ever higher levels of compliance and obligation. There also has been the assumption that these investors will always continue to carry the cost, the risk and the hassle of the provision of accommodation for others while being on the receiving end of community hostility due to being portrayed as taking houses off first-time home buyers and otherwise being greedy, immoral and terrible to tenants.

In February last year, the Australian Landlords Association produced a paper, Safe as Houses, on the topic that forecast the rental shortage across our nation. Our national vacancy rate is less than 1 per cent, the lowest level on record, and rent, nationally, has risen almost 14 per cent in the past year.

“Being a landlord is becoming increasingly less attractive,” the ALA said back then. “With less landlords, there are fewer rental properties, increasing competition between tenants, resulting in increased rent and in some case homelessness.”

Whether dwellings are for rent or sale, there simply are not enough of them to meet our needs.

The Grattan Institute points out that heading into the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia had just over 400 dwellings per 1000 people, which was among the least housing stock per adult in the developed world. We also had experienced the second greatest decline in housing stock relative to the adult population across the 20 years leading into the pandemic.

During the pandemic, many people felt the need for more space. The Reserve Bank estimates this created demand for an extra 140,000 homes, offsetting the temporary fall in population growth.

In a recent address called The Great Australian Nightmare, researchers from the Grattan Institute put forward several solutions to the rental crisis. One idea is that industry super funds such as Cbus and AustralianSuper should buy swathes of houses and rent them out at market rates, to step in and fill the gaps left by the individual investors who have abandoned the market.

According to the Grattan Institute, ordinary investors often make “terrible landlords” anyway. As they have mostly small holdings, they apparently prefer shorter leases and relaxed tenancy laws and often are reluctant to make simple repairs.

However, if an industry super fund were the landlord, the theory is they would have “a brand to protect”. They also could use “economies of scale across thousands of properties to offer a higher-quality service directly – think professional tradies on call 24 hours a day – rather than sit behind traditional property managers”.

The only problem with all this is the current regime of land taxes, which “simply make it uneconomic for large investors to own residential property rented at market rates”. These land taxes need to be reduced dramatically so the super funds can viably invest. However, taxes on ordinary landlords should be increased by abolishing negative gearing.

I approached Cbus and AustralianSuper for comment. Are they interested in dipping into their cash reserves to buy thousands of houses to rent? Neither fund would expressly rule it out, although both funds emphasised that their role was to create a return for their members.

I do not agree with the theory that institutional landlords are generally better than individual ones. Australia has a high cost base and buying a house is difficult. There are no longer enough rental properties to go around because there are no longer enough people willing to be landlords. It has been made all too hard for too long.

Yet the governments that punish landlords will not step up themselves and provide enough rental accommodation to meet our needs. As a society, we do need private individuals to take the risk, make the effort, buy a house and rent it out. Before too long, and after enough pain has been felt, governments will have to make being a landlord attractive again.


Australia’s disastrous ‘Zero Covid’ experiment

What if I told you that lockdowns and zero-Covid mania did far more harm than good to human life?

Unlike sharp lockdowns in Europe and the Americas, Australia’s early lockdown in March 2020 did reduce Covid cases to zero for a time. Flush with this success, Australia imposed sharp travel restrictions on Covid-ravaged countries around the world. Australian ex-pat citizens were barred from coming home, even if their visit was to care for elderly parents suffering from isolation.

Despite this extraordinary policy, Covid kept coming back to Australia. Over and over again, entire regions were locked down whenever a few cases were found. Through October of 2021, Melbourne’s residents had suffered through nearly 270 days of lockdown – the most in the world.

Schools closed and children suffered. Vital medical treatments were delayed or cancelled, including for cancer patients. The initial purpose of the lockdowns was to protect the Australian healthcare system, but even in 2021, when there was almost no Covid circulating, queues for care lengthened. Depression and anxiety levels skyrocketed, especially among young people. Thousands of small businesses shut down forever.

Australia’s initial zero-Covid ‘success’ created a trap. Official public health exaggerated the risk of death from Covid. This, despite the fact that studies found that Covid infection primarily poses a high 5 per cent+ mortality risk for unvaccinated elderly people. For the young, survival rates exceeded 99.9 per cent. For young and old Australians alike, the lockdowns imposed far more harm than Covid.

Public support for lockdown stayed high in Australia on the heels of public health propaganda that Covid infection posed a high risk of death for all, regardless of age or underlying health condition. And the government obliged, implicitly promising a zero-Covid future that it knew it would never be able to deliver.

The advent of a vaccine in December 2020 should have provided a way out of the zero-Covid trap. At great cost, the lockdown policy had ‘worked’, but there was no endpoint to it that did not involve isolation from the international community forever.

Perhaps complacent because of its zero-Covid ‘success’, the government delayed securing contracts with vaccine manufacturers. Since lockdown was popular, It did not feel the urgency to vaccinate that the rest of the world felt. At the beginning of August 2021, only 16 per cent of Australians were fully vaccinated.

And the public health officials used the vaccination campaign to chase an impossible goal – herd immunity through universal vaccination. Covid spread in many countries with high levels of vaccination, infecting vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike. The vaccine, effective in reducing mortality risk from Covid infection for the elderly, is ineffective at stopping disease spread. Nevertheless, government and public health officials demonised the unvaccinated, often rendering them second-class citizens.

When the Omicron wave arrived, the inevitable happened in Australia. Zero-Covid and lockdowns failed, and the disease spread everywhere. By May 2022, Australia passed America in total Covid cases per capita, and by August 2022, Australia passed the European Union. If Australian policy aimed to keep Australia free of Covid, it failed.

With two and a half years of hindsight, an evaluation of Australia’s lockdown-focused zero-Covid strategy is possible. On the plus side, Australia delayed the inevitable spread of Covid throughout the population to a time after the development, testing, and deployment of a vaccine. Despite having experienced more Covid cases per capita than the US, it has a fraction of the number of Covid-attributable deaths per capita.

On the negative side is the tremendous burden on the Australian population that has come from being isolated from the rest of the world for such a long time and from the intermittent lockdowns the government imposed on the people. All-cause excess deaths – below baseline levels in 2020 – were 3 per cent above baseline in 2021, despite zero-Covid, and are far above baseline thus far in 2022. Among the causes of this spike in excess deaths are the lockdowns themselves.

After the vaccine arrived, Australia’s decision to use it to free itself from its zero-Covid trap was smart. However, Australia failed to vaccinate its population with urgency, exposing its people to a full year of zero-Covid harms. If the government had adopted the strategy of vaccinating for focused protection of older and high-risk populations, Australia could have opened much earlier.

So, the best case for Australia’s Covid strategy is that it delayed the entry of Covid in-country until the development of effective vaccines. However, it’s not even clear whether the strategy saved lives, with cumulative all-cause excess mortality on par with Sweden’s focused protection strategy. And the harm done by disconnecting Australia and other developed economies from the rest of the world included millions of poor people thrown into poverty. Ultimately, Australia’s zero-Covid strategy was a grand, immoral, and incoherent failure.


Transgender worship

It is commendable that the Australian Football community embraces former North Melbourne player and coach Dani Laidley. But it is nauseating to see that embrace transformed into mindless fawning.

It should be possible to accept Dani Laidley as a person without turning the famous footballer into a transgender icon.

Laidley, who admitted to being a deeply troubled person, is trying to rebuild a life after drug abuse and facing criminal charges for stalking and breaking an AVO.

Laidley now identifies as a woman.

Like I said, no one begrudges 55-year-old Dani Laidley happiness, nor the right to live as they choose.

But wanting the best for Laidley is not reason enough to blind ourselves to reality.

Dani Laidley is a biological man – who pleaded guilty to stalking a woman – who has now appropriated womanhood.

The football media would have you believe Dani Laidely is Cinderella.

And no, I’m not exaggerating. That was literally how The Age newspaper described Laidley’s appearance in a long white dress at the Brownlow Medal ceremony on Monday night.

‘Dani Laidley’s Cinderella moment steals the show at the Brownlow,’ the newspaper reported.

The Daily Mail went further, reporting that Laidley ‘brought a touch of old Hollywood glamour to the carpet’.

image from

Both newspapers went into great detail about Laidley’s dress, shoes, makeup, and handbag.

Laidley wore a ‘stunning off-the-shoulder white gown’ and ‘was all glammed up for the outing, her makeup palette consisted of dewy foundation and a smoky eye’ reported the Daily Mail breathlessly.

Seven Network presenter Emma Freedman gushed that Laidley was the highlight of the Brownlow Medal red carpet.

Many said Laidley ‘stole the show’, suggesting that Laidley looked better in a dress than the women.

Of course, the media coverage insists that Laidley is a woman.

But the public is not so easily convinced, and the backlash on social media was enormous.

People are prepared to quietly accept grown adults living as they please. What they are not prepared to do – or not yet anyway – is to be gaslighted by Woke sporting organisations or journalists.

Many people questioned Laidley’s invitation to the Brownlow Medal ceremony considering Laidley had never won the award and was not a current player or a coach. Invitations to the black tie event are strictly limited.

Perhaps the AFL invited Laidley as a gesture of goodwill, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Again, it’s commendable that people go out of their way to include a much-loved former player who has lost their way.

And Dani Laidely can wear whatever Dani Laidley wants.

But for the AFL, the Seven Network, and major news outlets to pretend Laidely is a glamorous woman, bringing style and glamour to the event as if Laidley were some kind of later-day Grace Kelly is just silly.

And for the public to then be chided for failing to play along is sillier still.

Women’s rights campaigner Sally Grover wrote:

‘To be honest, I can’t imagine a man getting a “Cinderella moment” after drug, stalking and DV charges *unless* he claimed he was a woman, and therefore is “stunning & brave”.’

Grover is right, of course. If Laidley had still identified as a man it is highly unlikely there would have been an invite to the Brownlow, even if Laidley did qualify with on-field deeds.

The double standards of the media and the AFL are as obvious.

You have to feel for Laidley’s former teammate Wayne Carey. Carey, regarded by many as the greatest player the game has seen, was kicked out of a Perth casino last month after he was found to be in possession of white powder.

Carey has insisted he was not carrying any illicit substances, and that it was an anti-inflammatory drug to help manage pain.

Nevertheless, he has been dumped from a radio role, his regular column in The Age has gone missing, and a recent speaking engagement at the annual St Kevin’s Old Boys grand final luncheon in Melbourne was cancelled at the last minute. Perhaps he should have gone in a dress…

If that comment seems nasty, it’s not intended to be. Many people on social media made the connection. It’s the obvious conclusion from watching the carry on around Dani Laidley; a carry on that invites incredulity.

Dani Laidley deserves compassion because Dani Laidley is a fellow human being and none of us are immune to the vicissitudes of life.

But compassion that demands everybody lie, and that chides those who don’t, is no longer compassion; it has become something else altogether.


Courts lift suppression orders on Tax Office whistleblower Richard Boyle’s landmark case

The South Australian courts have lifted suppression orders that would have stymied the media’s ability to report on a landmark case launched by tax office whistleblower Richard Boyle.

The decision, which follows an intervention by Guardian Australia, paves the way for media to more freely report on the first major test of Australia’s whistleblowing laws, which will likely have significant consequences for the protections available to others who speak out about government wrongdoing.

Boyle, an Adelaide-based tax office employee, blew the whistle in 2018 on his agency’s aggressive use of extraordinary garnishee powers to claw back debts from taxpayers and businesses, which devastated small businesses and destroyed livelihoods.

Boyle is now facing 24 charges, including the alleged disclosure of protected information and unlawful use of listening devices to record conversations with other ATO employees. He faces a potentially lengthy term of imprisonment if convicted.

Boyle has taken the unprecedented step of invoking Australia’s whistleblower protections to shield himself against prosecution.

It is the first time the Public Interest Disclosure Act has been used in such a way, and Boyle’s case is widely regarded as a major test of the nation’s whistleblower laws, which are already overdue for reform.

Our Australian morning briefing email breaks down the key national and international stories of the day and why they matter

Last month, after Guardian Australia and other outlets requested access to documents in the case, commonwealth prosecutors sought suppression orders, which would have hindered the ability to report on the whistleblower case.

Prosecutors argued such reporting would have prejudiced Boyle’s criminal trial, should it proceed.

Guardian Australia, represented by Stephen McDonald SC, intervened to argue the suppressions were too broad and unnecessarily infringed on the principles of open justice.

District court judge Liesl Kudelka on Friday decided to revoke the existing suppression order and grant access to key documents supporting Boyle’s case.

She did so after Boyle indicated he opposed the making of the suppression order.

The PID Act hearing is expected to begin on 4 October in Adelaide.

Labor has publicly committed to overhauling the PID Act, though the scope of those reforms are not yet clear.




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