Sunday, April 16, 2023

Blaming Australia’s rental crisis on immigrants doesn’t tell the real story

The article below adds the effects of the pandemic lockdowns to immigration as the cause of the rental property shortage. He overlooks the supply side of the problem.

There is in fact no shortage of supply. There are very large numbers of dwellings available for rent in most big Australian cities. The catch is that they are "holiday" rentals administered by the likes of AirBnb.

What has has happened is that many property owners have moved their properties out of the long-term to the short term market. If all the short-term lets were moved onto the long term market there would be NO rental shortage

Governments fulminate about that and contemplate more regulations to solve the problem but ignore the fact that they are the cause of the problem. Governments have made life so difficult for landlords that short-term lets are a better deal for them despite the much greater management requirements of short term lets.

So where exactly have governments gone wrong? They have ratcheted up tenant "protection" to a very intrusive degree. The universal truth that favouring one group disadvantages another seems unknown to them. Tenant protection is landlord restriction. Control over their properties is greatly reduced by tenant protection. And landlords stand to lose significantly from that.

A notable watershed in Queensland was when the State government introduced new pro-tenant laws about a year ago. Part of those "reforms" was to compel landlords to accept tenants with pets. Landlords could no longer say "no pets" as a condition to renting out their properties. That seems kind, humane and reasonable but it imposes large potential costs on landlords.

In my past career as a landlord, I did from time to time have tenants who brought in pets despite not being allowed to. What was the result? In one word: stink. Pets emptying their bladders and bowels on my carpet made it stink in such a way that no cleaning could remove the smell. The stink made the property unlettable to subsequent tenants. As a result I had on such occasions to throw out all the carpets and spend thousands of dollars replacing them. That often wiped out every cent that the pet-owning tenants had paid

No wonder property owners went for an escape from that government-created trap! Tenants have to have MUCH LESS "protection" if availability of long term rental accommodation is to increase. What good is a protected tenancy if you cannot get ANY property at all to live in?

As the rental crisis continues to unfold throughout much of the nation, it has left many of us wondering how this could have occurred in a nation as cumulatively wealthy as Australia. By going through some of the data from the ABS, RBA and various private providers that’s what we’ll attempt to determine today and provide a bit of insight on how things may transpire from here.

When the pandemic arrived on our shores in early 2020, the size of the average Australian household rose from 2.51 people per home to 2.55 people. While this may not sound like a lot, it in essence reduced the number of households nationally by 162,000 based on the average household size nationally, playing a significant role in falling rental demand during the early months of the pandemic.

But as lockdowns dragged on and close quarters began to take their toll, more and more Australians wanted a place of their own. Between Q3 2020 and Q2 2022, the average household size fell from 2.55 persons to 2.48. This saw demand for homes rise by 288,000, more than cancelling out the reduction in demand seen in the early months of the pandemic.

Capital city rents took a similar path. As demand faded between March and September 2020, capital city asking rents fell by 5.4 per cent according to data from SQM Research. Once demand began to pick up significantly, rents rose by 8.5 per cent during 2021, all while the nation’s borders remained largely closed.

The migration factor

Over the past three years migration has been something of a double-edged sword for capital city rental markets. Between March 2020 and December 2021, the number of temporary visa holders in categories likely to require some form of housing fell by 328,000. Based on the average Australian household size demand for homes fell by 131,000.

During 2021 when rents began take off, the number of temporary visa holders in categories likely to require housing fell by 147,000. This helped to put significant downward pressure on rents at a time when demand from existing households was skyrocketing and more Australians than ever were looking to get their own place.

But once this headwind putting downward pressure on rents was removed when the nation’s borders reopened in early 2022, capital city rents began to surge in short order. During 2021 quarterly rental price growth sat between 1.5 and 2.5 per cent. In the first quarter of 2022 capital city rents surged by 5.5 per cent, the largest increase in the history of SQM’s data series at the time.

Between the start of 2022 and the most recent data from the Department of Home Affairs, which covers up until the end of February, the number of temporary visa holders in categories likely to require housing rose by 444,000.

With a little over 2.03 million people currently in these categories, more temporary visa holders than ever require some form of housing, a figure 116,000 higher than this time in 2020.

Looking ahead

Despite surging numbers of temporary visa holders and a budget forecasting a record high level of permanent non-humanitarian migration, the origin of the rental crisis was not immigration, but instead the swift changes brought about by the pandemic in the way we live and work.

However, since the border reopened in early 2022 the normalisation of temporary visa holder numbers has exacerbated the rental crisis significantly.

It ultimately comes down to numbers, there are 444,000 more people in need of homes in this category than at the start of 2022. This has left many Australians asking an important and profound question, where are all Australia’s renters both citizens and visa holders going to live?

In recent months of data which covers up until the end of February, the shift has become more pronounced, with 198,000 temporary visa holders likely to require some form of housing arriving in the country in the past two months.

To say that it was a challenging set of circumstances would be understatement. According to forecasts from the RBA, the situation may not significantly improve any time soon. In a recent speech RBA Governor Philip Lowe shared the bank’s prediction that Australia’s population would continue to grow faster than the nation’s dwelling stock until at least 2025.

While there are signs that sharehousing is on the rise and more people are moving in with family and friends, overcoming the ongoing increase in demand in capital city areas most heavily impacted by domestic and international migration may take quite some time.

Ultimately, it is the federal government’s decision to grow the population faster than the RBA forecasts that housing can be built, not that of individual migrant households.

As the rental crisis becomes increasingly challenging for many Australians, one hopes that this is kept in mind as frustration continues to build amid the nation’s worst rental crisis in living memory.


Grave doubts about the accuracy of BOM records

They are frantically trying to cover up the distortions in what they have done

A dispute over how the Bureau of Meteorology records daily temperatures is hotting up, with the release of more than 1000 pages of data that show new probes can record different temperatures to mercury thermometers in the same location at the same time.

The documents, released after a years-long Freedom of Information campaign, show temperature measurements taken using updated BOM probes in automatic weather stations at the Brisbane Airport site could be up to 0.7C warmer than the temperature taken using a traditional thermometer at the same time at the same site.

More than three years after a FOI request for parallel data was lodged by scientist John Abbot, the BOM released three years of data on Easter eve after the matter was taken to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

In the end, the BOM released only limited data, paving the way for a wave of FOI demands that full records be released in the public interest.

Release of the data is the first opportunity to analyse the performance of BOM probes alongside mercury thermometers. The bureau has long claimed the readings are identical but critics have said the BOM was not following World Met­eor­­ological Organisation guidelines on how they should be used.

Given that even small variations in temperature recordings can have an impact on the long-term record, accuracy is vital.

The main issue is how well temperatures recorded by new technologies can be compared to earlier methods to establish a continuous record.

The BOM maintains that an assessment of the full 2019-22 period at Brisbane Airport finds no significant difference between the probe and mercury thermometers.

Yet analysis of the data by scientist Jennifer Marohasy has found a statistically significant difference exists. Over the three-year period for which records have been made available, probes returned temperatures higher than the mercury thermometers placed alongside them 41 per cent of the time.

Recordings were the same 32.8 per cent of the time and lower 25.9 per cent of the time.

Dr Marohasy said the BOM had not disputed that the probe at Brisbane Airport had recorded up to 0.7C warmer than the ­mercury at the same site at the same time.

She said the bureau had not provided comment on the ­actual difference daily between temperatures as measured by the probe and the mercury, nor the average monthly or annual difference between the probe and the mercury.

In response to questions from The Weekend Australian, the ­bureau said it “verifies temperature probes to ensure that they are within specification”. The BOM said the temperature measurement system at Brisbane Airport was verified 24 times between January 2008 and July last year.

“Probes undergo a verification test in situ to ensure the probe is operating within specification”, it said. “If the result of this test is that the probe is outside of its operating specification, it is replaced with a laboratory-verified probe.

“A second verification test is undertaken to ensure it is compliant with the specification. “This verification process is more rigorous and reliable than recalibration.”

The documents released by the BOM under the FOI request included 1094 A8 reports with the handwritten daily maximum and minimum temperatures from both probes and traditional ­liquid-in-glass thermometers recorded from instruments in the same shelter/Stevenson screen.

They represent about 20 per cent of the parallel records held for the Brisbane airport site, one of 38 sites originally requested under FOI.

Dr Marohasy said analysis of the Brisbane airport data proved the BOM claim that the new probes had been specially developed to measure exactly the same temperatures as the mercury thermometers was wrong. Dr Marohasy has had a years long dispute with the BOM over the accuracy of the new probes and what she says is a failure by it to adhere to WMO guidelines to average the data recorded and maintain mercury thermometers alongside new technologies for an extended period.

“Readings from the probe are taken every second, and the highest value in a 24-hour period becomes the maximum temp­erature for that day. WMO guidelines recommend that instantaneous readings from probes be averaged over at least one minute”, she said.

Dr Marohasy said the difference in readings between probes and mercury thermometers was significant.

“Given new ‘hottest ever’ days are often called and make newspaper headlines when the temperature is only some fractions of a degree warmer, future new record hot days could be a consequence of the probe rather than global warming”.

“This has implications for the artificial generation of new record hot temperatures”, she said.

The other key issue was that Brisbane Airport parallel data showed a dramatic change in the difference between the mercury and probe temperature readings after December 2019.

“It is important to know whether this average difference of 0.35C had been caused by a recalibration of the probe that is the official recording instrument at Brisbane Airport”, she said.

Dr Abbot said he would request further parallel data sets from the BOM and was hopeful that previous barriers to access in regard of the existence of these records and costs would not reoccur. “Under FOI legislation, fee waivers should be granted as the information derived is clearly in the public interest” Dr Abbot said.

“We hope previous assertions from the BOM that analysis of parallel temperature data is only of benefit to John Abbot personally and has no public interest will not reoccur,” he said.

“The public is constantly being told of impending global catastrophe should temperatures rise by more than 1.5C. Discrepancies of more than 0.5C because of instrumentation differences are therefore very significant, and certainly should satisfy the public interest test”, Dr Abbot said.

“Different measuring instruments have been used to record temperatures at Brisbane Airport. Given the importance of reliable continuous records, it is important to know whether these instruments are recording the same temperatures, or not. The parallel data so far made available constitutes only a small portion of what the BOM holds.

“It is important to extend the analyses to longer periods and for other geographical locations.”

Dr Abbot first requested the parallel data for Brisbane Airport on December 12, 2019.

The case eventually went before the AAT on February 3, 2023, and was subsequently resolved with the bureau agreeing to provide three years of data.

Dr Marohasy said the data represented just three of the 14.5 years (January 2008 to July 2022) of parallel data that the bureau held for Brisbane Airport.

“It is also just a fraction of the 760 years of parallel data the bureau holds for 38 different locations spread across the landmass of Australia,” she said.

Probes in automatic weather stations began replacing mercury thermometers across Australia and the world 30 years ago.

Dr Marohasy said the probes were generally more sensitive to changes in temperature, so they could measure extremes of temperatures that traditional mercury thermometers with slower response times could not detect.

Most meteorological offices tried to achieve equivalence between the probes and mercury by averaging instantaneous recordings from probes over 1-5 minutes.

Dr Marohasy said the BOM adopted took instantaneous readings every second from custom-designed probes with longer time constants purported to mimic mercury thermometers.

The bureau has claimed in correspondence with Dr Marohasy that it never averaged measurements from probes.

Bureau chief executive Andrew Johnson has told her the probes were specifically designed to have a long response time to mirror the behaviour of mercury in glass, making numerical averaging unnecessary.

Dr Marohasy said the lack of numerical averaging despite the use of probes made the BOM measurements unique in the world.

She said equivalence was important for the construction of reliable historical temperature datasets, for understanding temperature trends and for knowing whether a record hot day as measured automatically by a probe­­ ­really was hotter than what might have been read manually from a mercury thermomete


Australia’s Labor Dark Ages will end in a Liberal victory

Albanese will get only one term

These are dark days for the Liberal Party. Labor governments now dominate the Australian continent while deeply divided Oppositions are in the political doldrums. When safe seats like Aston suffer big by-election defeats, some Liberal backbenchers are bound to wet their beds.

However, notwithstanding the very real problems that afflict today’s party – just what is the point of the Liberals? It’s facile to over-read the significance of by-elections and to conclude, as many members of the Fourth Estate do, that Australia is set irrevocably on a ‘progressive’ direction. Anyone who follows modern politics knows that political predictions are as reliable as a 12-month weather forecast.

As Queen Elizabeth – played brilliantly by Helen Mirren in the Oscar-winning film The Queen – told the young and energetic Tony Blair, political circumstances can change ‘quite suddenly, and without warning’. Her late Majesty was right.

In 1997, the UK Prime Minister was the hero of the hour: having captivated the British electorate, he captured the moment of Dianna’s death by lamenting the passing of ‘the people’s princess’. But six years later, Blair presided over a deeply unpopular war and was given the pariah treatment in his own country. No modern British Prime Minister has left office eventually left office more disliked and distrusted.

The Blair odyssey reminds one of many famous episodes in political history when seemingly invincible leaders and governments are brought down in the most spectacular and unpredictable ways.

Take Richard Nixon. In 1972 ‘Tricky Dick’ won 49 out of 50 states in one of the largest landslides in American history: the Democrat candidate, the darling of the hippies and metropolitan sophisticates, was roundly defeated and demoralised. Yet in less than two years, Nixon resigned in disgrace and two years later a little-known peanut farmer from Georgia won the White House.

After America’s Gulf War victory in early 1991, George Bush Sr’s approval ratings surged about 90 per cent. The Democrat front-runner was so sure the Republican President was unbeatable that he pulled out of the election race, instead setting his sights on 1996. Yet a year later, in 1992, the war hero Bush lost to a womanising, draft -dodging, marijuana-smoking governor of a backwater state.

Australian politics is even more magical!

Following Gough Whitlam’s election in 1972, the Liberal party had barely registered a pulse under the hapless leader Billy Snedden. The conventional wisdom was that Labor would be in power for a very long time. So disillusioned with his successors was party founder, Robert Menzies, it’s unlikely he voted Liberal in the early to mid-70s.

‘The idiots who now run the Liberal Party will drive me around the bend,’ he privately lamented in 1974. ‘The so-called little-l liberals who run the Victorian Liberal party believe in nothing but still believe in anything if they think it worth a few votes. The whole thing is quite tragic.’ (Sound familiar?) Snedden was, among other things, ‘politically, an idiot. He always says the wrong thing, at the wrong time’.

Yet a year later, Malcolm Fraser came from nowhere to defeat Whitlam in the one of the greatest electoral landslides – only to repeat the effort two years later, in 1977.

Fast-forward to 1993. Following the Coalition’s fifth consecutive election loss, the eminent historian Judith Brett declared: ‘The Liberal Party in the 1990s seems doomed.’ A year later, in 1994, NSW Liberal senator Chris Puplick warned the party was ‘still seen as exclusionist, hostile to new ideas and new people and too concerned with trying to bring back the “good old days”.’ Yet within two years John Howard, who’d been widely dismissed as yesterday’s man, annihilated Paul Keating, defeated Labor in three more elections, and stayed in power for about a dozen years.

In 2006, Howard and the Liberals were on top of the highest mountain while the Labor Party sunk in the deepest valley. The Wall Street Journal editorialised: ‘Somewhere, Ronald Reagan is smiling.’ And yet a year later Howard lost power to a nerd from Nambour who dined on his own ear wax.

Kevin Rudd himself was then in the political stratosphere for a couple of years before his own deputy Julia Gillard toppled him in one of those premeditated and ruthless coups that made Australian politics a global joke. The Labor Party then resembled nothing so much as a pub brawl: the assassin herself was ultimately fatally knifed – by the very man she backstabbed a few years earlier.

Tony Abbott faced a barrage of nasty media and intellectual criticism. Shortly after he won the Liberal leadership in late 2009, the distinguished intellectual Robert Manne predicted ‘the destruction of the Liberal Party’ because the party’s ‘troglodyte-denialist wing’ was in control. Laurie Oakes, the then doyen of the Canberra press gallery, predicted Abbott as leader would be ‘electoral poison’. Brett warned that ‘the Liberals risk becoming a down-market protest party of angry old men in the outer suburbs.’

Yet within a few months, the ‘troglodyte-chief’ knocked off Rudd and his signature emissions trading scheme policy before pushing Gillard’s Labor into minority government. He went on to win a landslide election three years later on a pledge to repeal the carbon tax.

Abbott was eventually dispatched by Malcolm Turnbull, and the media had a field day lionising the new Liberal (sic) leader as the ‘new Whitlam.’ The Sydney Morning Herald columnist Elizabeth Farrelly predicted: ‘Malcolm – who like Beyonce is known universally by his first name – will be the longest-serving prime minister since Menzies. Possibly ever.’ A new era of progressive reform beckoned.

However, it was not long before Turnbull himself came to resemble old Billy Snedden: adrift and at the mercy of events. As a result, his enemies circled, and he was also defenestrated. Mind you, to say that the knives came out for Turnbull would be wrong. Some never put them away in the first place!


Liberals fight against Labor ‘purge’ on tribunal stacking

Liberal appointees facing the sack from the tribunal that reviews government decisions are pushing to limit the scale of a Labor overhaul the opposition has labelled a McCarthyist partisan purge.

A potential target of Labor’s push to end political appointments insists the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) has performed above expectations and should be spared from wholesale changes that could dump dozens of Liberal-aligned tribunal members.

The Albanese government announced in December that the AAT would be abolished and its 128 members – who make decisions on migration cases, NDIS applications and veterans compensation claims – would have to re-apply and prove their qualifications to work at a reshaped tribunal.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has declared that the AAT lacked quality, efficiency and independence, partly resulting from the appointment of a slew of former Liberal MPs, candidates and party members.

But Liberal MP Julian Leeser, speaking last month in his then-role as shadow attorney-general, and AAT deputy president Denis Dragovic, a former Liberal preselection candidate who earns more than $500,000, have argued against what they describe as radical reform proposals.

“It is important to ask the question, why have thousands of surveyed users experienced a substantially improved interaction with members and staff of the tribunal?” Dragovic said in a leaked submission to the government’s review, that has been circulating in the legal community.

Dragovic is not a trained lawyer and is arguing against a proposal to mandate legal qualifications for senior tribunal members. This change has been floated by the Law Council of Australia, the Centre for Public Integrity and a government consultation paper, but Dreyfus has stated those without legal qualifications would still have a role in the new body.

The AAT deputy president, who has outperformed the caseload benchmark in his time on the tribunal, said members without law degrees brought invaluable experience as specialists. As an example, he argued those who had worked in war-torn countries better understood concepts of refugee law than a lawyer who had not worked in the field.

“It is easy to see a hard swing in the composition of the membership away from the diverse profile of decision makers appointed by the previous government towards a more homogenous one,” Dragovic wrote in his submission.

“Some may applaud this as righting a past wrong, but while opinions may differ on the Coalition’s approach to appointments, the data shows substantial improvements and impressive outcomes through this period that aligns with an increased diversity of membership.”

Reforming the tribunal is a key plank in Labor’s agenda to weed out cronyism, which it argues was rampant under previous Coalition governments and spurred the creation of the first national anti-corruption agency, which was central to Labor’s 2022 election pitch.

A spokesman for Dreyfus pledged the AAT’s successor would appoint people based on merit and attacked the opposition for “using it as a Liberal Party employment agency, appointing at least 85 of their mates to cushy, very highly paid, secure jobs”.

Dragovic wants to reduce Dreyfus’ influence in the recruitment of new members by substituting an independent community member for a panel member picked by Dreyfus, whose vision for reforming the tribunal was panned by Leeser in a speech last month.

Leeser, who quit his role as shadow attorney-general this week over the opposition’s stance on the Voice to parliament, invoked Stalin, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and former Chinese president Hu Jintao as he argued against the changes, and cited data showing the AAT had out-performed benchmarks on the number of decisions it published and user satisfaction.

“The Attorney (Dreyfus) is like Stalin’s henchman, Lavrenty Beria, who says, ‘You find me the man I’ll find you the crime’,” Leeser said in a March 7 speech, and also described Labor’s approach as a McCarthyist purge.

“He doesn’t care whether the people he is targeting are qualified or not. What he really wants is a supine tribunal that will rubber stamp the decisions of the Labor Party.”

The AAT had 128 full-time members, 172 part-time members and 11 judges as of June 30 and many could be paid out parts of their salaries if they are not appointed to the new body.

The AAT had 67,720 cases awaiting finalisation as of the middle of last year. The government has allocated $63.4 million to hire 75 members to address the backlog of cases as the new body is established.




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