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Tragically Short Lives - Even Shorter Memories

Ask those with experience of exploitative landlords: short-term letting and overcrowding go hand-in-hand.

On 6 September 2012 a blaze took hold of an apartment block. The heat was so intense that friends Ginger Jiang and Connie Zhang jumped from the building, resulting in Connie Zhang’s death. When the Parliamentary Inquiry into the adequacy of legislation covering short-term letting of residential housing was announced, Assistant Director for NSW Fire & Rescue Greg Buckley stated: “The issue of short-term letting is an important and live issue which should come under close scrutiny, especially in light of the Coroner’s Inquiry and Inquest into the death of Connie Zhang at Bankstown.”

On the morning of 2 July 2014, a fire at an industrial site in Alexandria destroyed shipping contains being used to accommodate overseas visitors who had chosen to live there, “despite the shocking conditions and safety risk”, simply because it was affordable. City of Sydney’s Lord Mayor wrote: “Overcrowding and illegal accommodation is a difficult problem faced by councils across Sydney because its underlying cause is a lack of affordable housing options. The City...seeks the State Government’s active engagement to find solutions for this important issue.”

State Coroner Michael Barnes wrote on 7 July 2006 of the Backpackers Hostel fire in Childers, Queensland:

“It is apparent that since the fire there has been a very high level of commitment and activity across numerous State Government departments and local authorities that has seen a metamorphosis in building fire safety. However, there is always a risk that as the horror of the Palace Backpackers Hostel fire fades from the public consciousness, and new priorities demand the commitment of extra financial and human resources, these reforms will be allowed to degrade. I know the professional and volunteer fire fighters of this State who risk their lives when fires occur would prefer sufficient resources continue to be devoted to prevention. It is incumbent on their superiors and the State Government to continue to provide the leadership and the resources to enable that to happen."

The recent NSW Inquiry into short-term letting sought no input from Fire & Rescue or the Building Codes of Australia. In his final report to Parliament, Committee Chair Mark Coure MP wrote: “The Committee finds that, subject to appropriate definitions and conditions, short-term letting should be regarded as a residential use and as such, should not trigger any Building Codes of Australia requirements.”

Connie Zhang, our Shipping Containers of Shame, and Childers’ 15 young backpackers – all forgotten.

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