By Beverley Ford
A STATE parliamentary Economics and Industry Standing Committee has released its long-awaited report into short-stay accommodation in Western Australia.
The report contains 45 findings and makes ten recommendations to government to deal with the contentious issue of non-hosted short-term accommodation providers in WA.
The committee, chaired by member for Swan Hills Jessica Shaw, included Warren-Blackwood MLA Terry Redman, who was instrumental in the establishing the inquiry.
Mr Redman’s motion in parliament last September to investigate ‘the risks to consumers and operators of non-registered and non-compliant accommodation utilising online booking platforms’ led to the inquiry, which attracted a record number of submissions from businesses, local government and other organisations across WA, including a number from the Great Southern.
Typical of sentiments expressed by commercial tourism operators was the comment from Denmark accommodation owner Kim Gardner of Tree Elle Retreat, that ‘the increase of non-classified Airbnbtype accommodation … has been equivalent to multiple small hotels being built without extra rates being collected, planning fees paid [or] funds contributed to our community and industry’.
A submission from Anna Ramrath of Windrose B&B, near Ocean Beach, noted that, ‘while we are not able to quantify the impact that Airbnb providers have on our business – though customer numbers have dropped, for diverse reasons – we feel it is important to campaign for a fairer playing field for all accommodation providers [who] follow the rules for regulation and accreditation’.
“The consistent message the committee received was that there is an uneven playing field in the accommodation sector,” committee member Terry Redman told The Voice.
“Among the report’s recommendations is the establishment of an interdepartmental working group to determine the legal mechanisms through which the government can implement a registration scheme, including consequences for non-compliance.”
The report’s central recommendation is that the government establish a statewide registration scheme for short-term rentals, to apply to both hosted and non-hosted properties, to ensure that complete information is available and to manage avoidance behaviours.
How such a registration scheme was put together, by whom and how compliance would be resourced has been questioned by shadow minister for Tourism and Small Business, Alyssa Hayden.
“My biggest concern is that the report asks the government to establish another working group to formulate a strategy [because] the industry needs certainty sooner rather than later,” Mrs Hayden said.
The report also calls for amendments by June 2020 to the Planning and Development (Local Planning Schemes) Regulations 2015 to definitions for short-stay accommodation, and to provide guidance to local governments about how to regulate them.
“I am concerned that the report’s recommendation that local government authorities (LGAs) oversee the registration and approvals,” Mrs Hayden said.
“LGAs are already under-resourced, so unless the government funds them [the costs of implementing] this recommendation could be swept under the carpet or forced upon ratepayers.”
The Denmark Chamber of Commerce submission to the inquiry noted that the Denmark shire was about to undertake a review of its Local Planning Scheme and Town Planning Scheme, and hoped that the planning issues around short-stay accommodation would be resolved in time to be incorporated.
Plantagenet shire president Chris Pavlovich said that what happened yesterday would not be the same tomorrow.
The shire has a substantial tourism industry based on wineries and natural attractions.
“Times are changing, and we have to make sure that we look after existing businesses while we transition into the future,” he said.
The executive officer of regional tourism marketing body The Amazing South Coast, Peter Griggs, submitted that competition was good, but an industry in which a particular sector stood outside state or local regulations and enforcement, and thereby gained a competitive advantage, was not good.
In its submission to the inquiry Airbnb said it preferred a code of conduct rather than regulation.
‘The Western Australian government should establish a statewide planning framework which makes it clear that individuals are allowed to rent out the homes they live in without the need for any burdensome approvals or licenses (sic),’ it said.
Recommendation six of the report recommends that the ministers for Commerce, Local Government, Planning and Tourism establish an interdepartmental working group to coordinate whole-of-government policy responses for short-stay accommodation but does not give direction on how this could be achieved.
The government now has a month to report to parliament any actions it will take on the inquiry’s recommendations.
There are 20,000 operators of short-stay accommodation and many LGAs in Western Australia are keenly anticipating the government’s response.