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When it comes to NSW Fire and Rescue, Senior Staff state that their priority is first and foremost the safety of their crew members, and on the community and environment. Assistant Commissioner Mark Whybro confirmed (10/09/19) that NSW Fire and Rescue has made a submission to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s (DPIE) Have Your Say’ on Short-Term Rentals.

One would also expect that short-term rental operators’ priority would be the safety of their platform users. Clearly it is not. Yesterday’s AccomNews reports that plans to regulate the short-stay Industry in NSW are, according to the Australian Short Term Rental Association (ASTRA), “overly restrictive and make compliance too expensive”. In the same article, Brent Thomas is quoted as saying that Airbnb wants to be “a responsible player and ensure that everyone…stays safe…(but) there is always a balance. We are built on trust…” On the critical issue of building code compliance and fire safety, Airbnb’s Terms of Service say:

“Airbnb has no control over and does not guarantee (i) the existence, quality, safety, suitability, or legality of any Listings or Host Services, (ii) the truth or accuracy of any Listing descriptions, Ratings, Reviews, or other Member Content or (iii) the performance or conduct of any Member or third party…Airbnb believes in good faith that such action is reasonably necessary to protect the personal safety or property of Airbnb.”

NSW has and should be following a clear national planning and building regulations framework; these are critical in managing risks. Fire Safety is a fundamental issue for the built environment. And it must be stressed that Fire Safety does not begin and end with a functioning ‘fire alarm’ or ‘good faith’. The vulnerability of building occupants to fire risk is influenced by the type and characteristics of occupants, building design, construction and location. There is a marked difference between clients of short stay accommodation properties compared to residents in residential dwellings. Plus, clients staying in bushfire-prone zones are considered to be particularly vulnerable, and one must add to this, non-English speaking clients.

When it comes to insurance, it must again be stated that those in Strata have unlimited liability - building replacement costs often runs into the $ hundreds of millions. And as noted by the General Manager of the Insurance Council of Australia during the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into short-term rentals: “In the commercial space if you are a landlord you would typically have landlord insurance, but there is obviously still that gap where someone just has their home on a platform.”

Senior Staff from NSW Fire and Rescue attended the Coroner’s Inquiry into the death of Connie Zhang at Bankstown and spoke personally with Ms Zhang’s parents. The Coroner made direct recommendations to the NSW Ministers for Planning, Health, Fair Trading and Emergency Services. In the case of a four-year-old child burnt to death in a holiday home at Anglers Reach, NSW Police submitted reports to the Coroner. (These documents have been submitted by Neighbours Not Strangers to the DPIE.) The Queensland State Coroner Michael Barnes, in respect of the Palace Backpackers Hostel fire in Childers, wrote the following.

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.”

So many young lives have been lost. The financial objectives of Destination NSW, Airbnb, Expedia/Stayz and ASTRA must not see our Coroners’ recommendations ignored, or those who have died forgotten.

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