Thursday, June 08, 2023

Will regulating short-term accommodation help to ease the rental crisis?

There are few things more moronic than a Leftist government. First they create a shortage of properties to rent by imposing ever more onerous regulations that drive owners out of the long term rental business.

Now they want to regulate the short term market. Can we guess that increased regulation will drive owners out of that market too? Houses and apartments are fetching high prices these days so the temptation for owners to sell up and leave the government to its problems will be strong. The one thing governments are provably good at is REDUCING the number of properties available for rent

Australian rental market listings declined 18.9% in April, according to recent PropTrack data – the largest decline since December 2017. Now, there are calls for limits to be put on short stay accommodation as a potential solution to the problem.

Melbourne, Perth and Sydney are facing the toughest rental market conditions in the entire country, with total rental listings over the year falling 31.3%, 19.2% and 15.7%, respectively.

While some markets saw an increase in rental supply (mainly regional), total stock for rent remains significantly lower than at the start of the pandemic in both capital cities (-40.2%) and regional areas (-36.1%).

And with rental prices at the end of March 2023 sitting at a median of $500 per week in capital cities, an increase of 11.1% over the past 12 months, it’s like renters are being dealt a double blow.

The question of how to sustainably fix the rental supply issue and provide secure housing to the millions of Aussies who rent is now more pertinent than ever.

Is ending short-stay accommodation the answer?

“If the short stays industry is allowed to go unregulated, we just can’t have a healthy long-term rental market,” Gabrielle de Vietri Greens MP and State Member for Richmond said.

This has led the Greens to introduce a bill to parliament which would place strict regulations on the short stays industry in Victoria, with the aim to bring more properties back to the regular rental market.

“Some of the things we’re proposing is a 90-day cap on how many days someone can rent out a property on the short stays market,” de Vietri said.

Similar restrictions have already been placed on short-term stays in the cities of London and Amsterdam.

If this bill was passed, it could mean thousands of short stay accommodation listings on sites like Airbnb would potentially return to the long-term rental market, helping to ease the current rental crunch.

However, many oppose the bill, including Robynne Young who owns two Airbnbs in the Dandenong Ranges and Mornington Peninsula. Ms Young and partner Nick are using the income from these properties to self-fund their retirement. “They’re taking away our livelihood,” she said.

“I think we lose sight of the fact the tourism industry is integral to the Dandenong Ranges [and] neighbouring communities rely on it for their existence.”

Experts suggest a nuanced approach

A more balanced approach is needed according to Dr Tom Alves from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute:

“This form of accommodation can be a positive contribution to local economies and tourism in some places. However, at the same time, it’s harder for low-income earners who are a permanent part of a community to access affordable rental houses,” he explained.

As a response to the rental crisis Airbnb last year proposed state and territory governments introduce state-wide registration schemes and codes of conduct.

A tourism levy to fund housing and community projects, and a review of eviction protections have also been suggested by the accommodation listings site.

The NSW government has already introduced a 180-day cap on using empty properties for Airbnb-style letting in Sydney and other tourist hotspots.

And in October, the Queensland government announced an investigation into the impacts the short-term rental market was having on housing stock.

The long-term solution

Dr Alves suggested Australian lawmakers look to borrow from what the EU is doing and consider harmonised regulations across all states.

That could mean a nationwide cap on the number of days a property can be rented out on short-term accommodation sites, which may see more properties returning to the long-term rental market for the millions of Aussies struggling to find affordable rentals.


British cardiologist calls for mRNA vaccines to be suspended due to heart risks

A British cardiologist has called for Covid vaccines to be suspended in Australia due to heart risks, accusing the TGA of a “cover-up”.

A controversial British cardiologist has called for the Pfizer and Moderna Covid shots to be suspended in Australia until the risk of heart complications is better understood, saying prior vaccines “have been pulled for much less”.

Dr Aseem Malhotra, who has emerged as one of the most high-profile figures in the anti-vaccine movement and is currently in Australia on a speaking tour, said it was a “no-brainer” and accused the medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), of ignoring the clear safety signal from its own reporting system once the rollout was well under way.

“People can be forgiving if new information comes in, we know people make mistakes — but once you get that information back, them not acting on it … the problem is the cover-up is worse than the crime,” he said.

The 45-year-old boasts an impressive resume but has become a polarising figure since last year, when he first called for the suspension of mRNA Covid vaccines and started making claims — which have been disputed by fact checkers — about their dangers.

Professor Marc Dweck, chair of clinical cardiology at the University of Edinburgh, told The Guardian in January that Dr Malhotra’s opinions were “misguided and in fact dangerous”.

“The vast majority of cardiologists do not agree with his views and they are not based upon robust science,” he said. “I would strongly urge patients to disregard his comments, which seem to be more concerned with furthering his profile … rather than the wellbeing of the public.”

Dr Malhotra, a National Health Service-trained consultant cardiologist and prominent public health commentator for many years in the UK — particularly on diet-related illnesses and the pharmaceutical industry — appeared on breakfast TV in 2021 to encourage Britons to get vaccinated.

But last July, his father, Dr Kailash Chand, former deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) died unexpectedly of a cardiac arrest at 73.

“At the time people were trolling me, saying it was the vaccine, and I got really angry and blocked them, because that was not my mindset — but then I started to notice increased incidences in cardiac deaths and I started to wonder,” he told The Telegraph earlier this year.

He would come to attribute the death of his father, who he described as “one of the fittest guys I knew”, to the Covid booster shot six months earlier.

“Previous scans showed he had nothing significant, no underlying conditions,” he said.

Dr Malhotra has since courted controversy with inflammatory statements on social media linking high-profile deaths or injuries to the vaccine, such as the on-field cardiac arrest of American football player Damar Hamlin in January.

In April, Hamlin told reporters that “the diagnosis of what happened to me was commotio cordis”, or a “direct blow at a specific point in your heartbeat that causes cardiac arrest”.

Dr Malhotra has also linked unusually high excess death rates in many developed countries to the vaccination rollout.

That claim has been widely disputed by experts, who instead attribute the rise in deaths to factors including Covid itself, undiagnosed illnesses after lockdowns, and strain on health services.

In January, the BBC was forced to apologise after Dr Malhotra “hijacked” a live TV interview to claim that “Covid mRNA vaccines do carry a cardiovascular risk” and call for the rollout to be suspended pending an inquiry into excess deaths.

But Dr Malhotra is unrepentant.

“Basically, all patients with unexpected heart attacks or cardiac arrests have to be seen as being caused by the vaccine until proven otherwise — even several months later, so even, I would say, up to two years since having the vax,” he said.

“As a cardiologist, it is unusual to see sudden cardiac death. We have a mechanism of action, it would be unscientific not to include it as a potential cause. What the vaccine does is it accelerates the progress of coronary artery disease, so someone who otherwise wouldn’t have is going to present several months or a year later.”

In recent months Dr Malhotra has been on a “world tour of activism”, even making an appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience in April.

The description for his Australian tour says he will be “raising public awareness about vaccine injuries and providing a risk-benefit, evidence-based analysis of the Covid vaccines with special emphasis on cardiovascular complications and solutions”.

Despite speaking at a series of sold-out events in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth and the Gold Coast, Dr Malhotra’s Australian tour has been met with a virtual media blackout.

Save for an appearance on Sky News Australia and an article in the small local publication Canberra Weekly about his speech there, most media outlets have steered well clear.

Dr Malhotra said it only highlighted the disconnect between the public and institutions including government, health and media.

“What’s really interesting is everyone comes up to me and is aware, and doctors are seeing stuff, but they are generally afraid to say anything,” he said, adding he was meeting many doctors at his talks.

“You could argue I’m speaking to an echo chamber … [but] the professionals are very supportive — they’re horrified, sad. When you speak to people on the ground, taxi drivers, shopkeepers, everyone is aware of someone they know, either a family member or friend, who suffered a serious adverse event.”

Dr Malhotra said the “objective evidence to support the fact there is a disconnect between the public and the establishment is people are not turning up” to get boosters.

According to the most recent Health Department figures, 16.5 million Australians, or 82 per cent, had their last Covid vaccine more than six months ago, making them “out of date” under the new definition.

Just under 3.1 million, or 15 per cent, have had a vaccine within the last six months.

“There is a massive drop among people who are recommended to have boosters,” he said. “That [loss of trust] is not a good recipe — where does that lead us next?”

Myocarditis and pericarditis — inflammation of the heart or lining around the heart — are known but rare side effects of the mRNA vaccines.

According to the TGA, myocarditis is reported in one to two out of every 100,000 people who receive Pfizer or Moderna, but young men and boys are more at risk.

“These are usually temporary conditions, with most people getting better within a few days,” the TGA says. “Vaccination against Covid-19 is the most effective way to reduce deaths and severe illness from infection. The protective benefits of vaccination far outweigh the potential risks.”

As of May 28, 2023, the TGA has received 138,730 total adverse event reports from 67.4 million doses administered, a rate of 0.2 per cent.

The medicines regulator has identified 14 reports where the cause of death was linked to vaccination, from 986 reports received and reviewed.

But Dr Malhotra is one of a growing number of health professionals arguing the true rate of serious adverse events is far higher than reported.

He accused the TGA of “wilful blindness”.

“Think about it from a psychological perspective — they are responsible in a way for approving and the mandating of these vaccines for all Australian citizens — it’s not easy to suddenly acknowledge what they’ve done is harm people to such a significant degree,” he said.

“It’s much easier to bury your head in the sand. I would be mortified to know what I’d done, even accidentally. But having said that, it is their job — there has to be accountability.”

He stressed he was a supporter of vaccines, and that’s why “people have to believe in the safety of vaccines”.

“Historically, traditional vaccines have a serious adverse event rate of one in one million — other vaccines have been pulled for much less,” he said, citing the 1976 swine flu vaccine which carried a one in 100,000 risk of Guillain-BarrĂ© Syndrome, and the 1999 rotavirus vaccine which was linked to bowel obstruction at a rate of one in 10,000.

In December, former AMA president Dr Kerryn Phelps broke her silence about the “devastating” vaccine injury she and her wife suffered after Pfizer.

In a bombshell submission to parliament’s Long Covid inquiry, the former federal MP revealed she had spoken with other doctors “who have themselves experienced a serious and persistent adverse event” but that “vaccine injury is a subject that few in the medical profession have wanted to talk about”.

“Regulators of the medical profession have censored public discussion about adverse events following immunisation, with threats to doctors not to make any public statements about anything that ‘might undermine the government’s vaccine rollout’ or risk suspension or loss of their registration,” she said.

Last week, Dr Phelps lent her tacit support to Dr Malhotra’s visit, sharing the Canberra Weekly article on social media in which he called for an inquiry into mRNA vaccines.

She declined to comment, however, saying she had not attended his talk in person.

Another high-profile physician, 2020 Australian of the Year Dr James Muecke, attended Dr Malhotra’s Adelaide talk over the weekend, happily posing for a photo afterwards.

But Dr Malhotra said there was a “culture of fear” with some people reluctant to even be seen attending his talks.

“All of this is suppression of free speech — Australians need to know their democracy is under attack,” he said.

The speaking tour is being arranged by the Australian Medical Professionals’ Society (AMPS) — one of several splinter organisations born out of opposition to Covid vaccine mandates in 2021 — and sponsored by Gold Coast-based internet radio station TNT Radio, which the website Crikey recently described as “a home for Australia’s fringe political figures and international conspiracy theorists”.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus in 2021 branded AMPS and other groups under the umbrella of Queensland-based Red Union as “fake unions run by LNP members and their associates set up to try and divide working people”.

Dr Malhotra countered that the smearing of anyone raising concerns as anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists or “cookers” was “part of the playbook” of the drug industry.

“One of the ways is through opposition fragmentation — it involves smearing and deplatforming those who are countering their narrative,” he said.

“This is not unusual. This is deliberate. If there are people who are in opposition, this is how we discredit them, this is how we frame them to other people in society. Big tobacco did it for many years — this is not new.”


Trucks stuck in tunnels face deregistration after tunnel chaos prompts crackdown

It's not the trucks that are at fault. It's the drivers. Such drivers should face a lifetime ban on driving trucks

Trucks more than 30 centimetres overheight that get stuck in tunnels would automatically be referred for deregistration under a proposed crackdown after the Harbour Tunnel was blocked three times in two days.

Premier Chris Minns called the situation “intolerable” and said the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator needed to get tough or NSW would seize back the power to suspend registrations.

NHVR acting chief executive Ray Hassall told the Herald the regulator wanted severe overheight offences – those exceeding 300 millimetres above the limit – to automatically trigger a referral to suspend the truck’s registration. “We want the problem to be fixed as soon as possible,” he said.

Roads Minister John Graham will meet regulator chairman Duncan Gay, himself a former roads minister, on Thursday to discuss the 57 overheight incidents in Sydney tunnels so far this year.

About half of those were in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, including two on Tuesday – one in the morning peak and one in the afternoon – that caused traffic chaos. The southbound entrance was briefly closed again at lunchtime on Wednesday when another truck set off the warning system.

In that case, Road Freight NSW said the truck was under the limit but a twisted piece of plastic protruding from the top of the truck – of unknown provenance – triggered the sensor.

The government is also looking at repositioning warning systems further back from the southbound tunnel entrance, to give drivers earlier notice they are above the limit, and introducing personalised warning signs with the truck’s number plate.

“The infrastructure in the run-up to the Harbour Tunnel is a mess,” Minns told Nine’s 2GB radio on Wednesday. “The slip lane that trucks can pull into if they’re overheight apparently is in front of the final stop sign. Once you pass that final stop sign you’re in the mouth of the tunnel.”

Minns said only three offending trucks had been taken off the road since August and a fourth attempt was derailed in court. He warned the regulator that if it did not toughen up, the NSW government would take back the power to suspend registrations.

“Clearly the system isn’t working,” Minns said. “Something has to change and if necessary we’ll take that responsibility back into state hands and enforce it ourselves. The situation as it currently stands is intolerable.”

Under national laws, the regulator must refer “aggravated” overheight incidents to Transport for NSW for a truck’s registration to be suspended – which is a large financial impost for operators.

Graham wrote to Gay earlier this week asking for the regulator to help make this process easier. “Operators ... should be held accountable,” Graham wrote. “On multiple occasions in the last two weeks, NSW commuters have been left inconvenienced and frustrated.”

Hassall said the regulator was keen to be more stringent. “We want to use severe overheight offences as an automatic trigger for making a referral,” he said.

The NHVR also has four “chain of responsibility” investigations under way that could lead to prosecutions of trucking operators, Hassall said, and is investigating causal factors behind the apparent spate of incidents.

The NSW government rebuffed calls from lobby group Business Sydney to ban large trucks from the tunnel altogether, saying such a move would divert too many heavy trucks to the bridge, and they would clog up the city.

Tuesday morning’s incident in the Harbour Tunnel reportedly had traffic queued back for up to 20 kilometres. The penalty for driving past low clearance signs on NSW tunnels and bridges is $4097 and 12 demerit points, which is the maximum permitted under current legislation.

Minns also flagged a police blitz in coming weeks. He said data indicated inexperienced operators and owner-drivers were the main problem, rather than big logistics companies. Hassall said that made sense.

At the Harbour Tunnel’s southbound entrance, overheight trucks first trip a digital sensor a kilometre away, which triggers a warning sign diverting them to the bridge. There is a second detection point 740 metres from the entrance, a third at 480 metres and fourth at 250 metres.


Alcohol consumption likely to continue, despite harms and parallels with tobacco

Alcohol consumption is declining across the world, including here in Australia.

According to the latest data, 31 per cent of Australians cut down the amount they drank in 2019.

Leading up to that year, the number of those who had stopped drinking altogether grew slightly, too.

Since the 2010s, movements such as "sober curious" have been increasingly embraced, while the non-alcoholic drinks industry has boomed.

It comes as alcohol's harms are increasingly recognised.

"We know that alcohol and ethanol in particular is considered to be a Class 1 carcinogen," Cancer Council Australia's Clare Hughes tells ABC RN's Future Tense.

"The evidence is really strong of the link between alcohol use and cancer risk."

Alcohol use cost Australia an estimated $66.8 billion in the 2018 financial year, with premature death accounting for almost $26 billion of this sum.

Parallels are being drawn between alcohol and tobacco use in Australia, which — after years of targeted campaigns and initiatives — is among the lowest among of the OECD nations.

But some argue that alcohol's history, and its distinct cultural position, mean it will follow a different trajectory.

A long history of drinking

Since tobacco's risks were recognised in 1950, its cultural acceptance has shifted drastically. Between 1993 and 2019, the number of Australians who smoked daily dropped from 25 per cent to 11.2 per cent.

But Carl Erik Fisher, an addiction physician and author of The Urge: Our History of Addiction, argues that alcohol is rooted in human civilisation.

Though sentiments have changed over time, including the 20th century's temperance movement, Dr Fisher says alcohol is "deeper in our cultural and social consciousness" due to how long humans have been drinking.

Sobriety here to stay with alcohol-free business booming
From non-alcoholic drink stores to booze-free beers, businesses are cashing in on the growing movement to go sober.

Some research indicates that humans have been consuming alcohol since 7,000 BC. By comparison, Dr Fisher says our understanding of tobacco as a widespread commodity, particularly cigarettes, is "young" and therefore less cemented in our cultural DNA.

He argues the prevalence of alcohol in human history makes it less likely to fade away.

Neurologically, alcohol is like a "shotgun spring across many different neural receptor systems, some of which are very powerfully sedative", Dr Fisher says.

Because of its range of effects, including an anticipation or sense of "chase" attached to wanting it, people will continue to drink alcohol compulsively, despite the risks, Dr Fisher says.

"That's where things turn from an impulsive, enjoyment-oriented or ... rewards-oriented pattern of use, to a more compulsive pattern of use."

Cognitive dissonance a barriers to change

The prevalence of alcohol in society could also be reducing appetites for policy change similar to that faced by tobacco.

There are social barriers to new policies, says Terry Slevin, the CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia.

He says policymakers are unlikely to introduce measures that confront their own alcohol consumption behaviours.

"These are people who understand science and know it very well but still don't like being made to feel uncomfortable and reflecting upon their own consumption behaviour," he says.

"And that's certainly the case for decision makers, politicians [and] policymakers in government.

"That cognitive dissonance is a very real fact that I've seen loud and clear for more than 30 years."




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