A QUESTION FOR NSW HEALTH MINISTER BRAD HAZZARD


The Byron Bay Blues Festival has been cancelled today for a second year running after a COVID-19 case has been found. The event was due to start tomorrow, with an estimated 15,000 people expected to attend. “NSW Health advises that the Minister for Health (Brad Hazzard) has signed a public health order cancelling the planned Bluesfest over the Easter period.” One finds what is supposed to be: “A complete list of venues of concern, and the related health advice…available on the NSW Government website.” The Australian newspaper is headlining (pay wall): “Fears Covid horse has bolted after Byron Bay hen’s party… a super-spreading hen’s party in Byron Bay has heightened fears that Brisbane’s Covid-19 outbreak (has) jumped the border after another five partygoers tested positive”, while many other news outlets are focussing on a ‘male entertainer who performed at the Byron Bay Hens Party’ linked to the Covid outbreak. Nowhere in the media, but more notably perhaps on the NSW Government website, can one find details of where the group celebrating an upcoming wedding stayed. 7News reports, “the group that travelled south stayed at a house in Byron Bay”. Neighbours of a Suffolk Park Airbnb “observed a number of women at the property/cleaners were seen doing a very extensive clean on Tuesday.” Minister Hazzard, given that NSW Health has not released details of the place where the party stayed, as a matter of utmost urgency, residents must have confirmation of its exact location. We ask: Why hasn’t the Minister/NSW Health released details of the property?


When last we wrote, we reported that Byron Shire Council had lodged a motion for a Council meeting declaring a “Housing Crisis”. The Minutes of the meeting show the motion carried: “Resolved that Council supports…(the) Motion to be debated at the Australian Local Government Conference: That the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) advocate for Federal and State Governments to acknowledge that all people need a home and that the number of Australians who are homeless or in extreme housing stress is high and rising, and the recent increase in house prices is not only harmful to affordability and accessibility but also an enormous risk to social and economic stability…changing policy and regulatory settings to better support and fund councils in addressing the affordable and accessible housing crisis…This could include enabling controls on existing housing that is kept empty for visitor accommodation.” The Minutes acknowledge, “approximately half the residential rental stock, over 3,500 properties are listed (in the Byron Shire)…year round for short term holiday letting”.


Leilani Farah, former UN special rapporteur (who followed us on Social Media until Twitter deleted our account) asks: Why would landlords buy housing and leave it empty? “It’s called land speculation.” See Official Trailer for #PUSH.


In NSW, more than 37,175 people are homeless while more than 68,000 properties sit vacant. Many would say that it’s unjustifiable for a society to allow some of its members to go without shelter, while others own vacant dwellings. Homelessness Australia has been conducting its own research into water usage data in some of the state’s postcodes. Anecdotal evidence suggests some properties are being reserved simply for short-term renting, such as Airbnb. “If this is the case and properties are being purchased purely for short-term letting, rather than the general letting pool, then tax policy could be amended to address this,” said Digby Hughes, senior policy and research officer at Homelessness NSW.


New research published by Ethical Consumer Magazine, finds that Airbnb is pouring money into ‘grassroots lobbying’…subverting local democracy. Airbnb employees also voiced “concerns about insufficient public transparency about the support offered by the company; and fears that Airbnb’s tactics give them further unfair political advantages over local citizen campaigns and governments”. It might appear that no such expenditure is needed here in NSW, with an unknown number of State MPs and other policy makers profiting directly from illegal short-term rentals.


Local Government NSW will run its ‘Destination & Visitor Economy Conference 2021’, 26-28 May, at Port Macquarie. Strategic Sponsors are the NSW Government and DestinationNSW. Heading its list of commercial Sponsors is ‘Elite’ Sponsor, Stayz, whose parent organisation is HomeAway. HomeAway’s parent organisation is the Expedia Group, one of Airbnb’s biggest competitors. As we have long reported, Stayz is engaged in full-home holiday rentals; it doesn’t even pretend to hide behind the skirt of ‘home sharing’. And our State Government’s DestinationNSW has for many years colluded with Stayz.


There are many other issues we could report, but for now: Minister Hazzard, the highly contagious UK variant of Covid-19 has been identified in Byron Bay. The ‘house’ where the Party linked to reported Covid infections stayed is not listed on the State Government’s website. Why? Residents must know if it was the Airbnb at 1/82/Alcorn Street, Suffolk Park?


Stay safe Byron Bay community members.

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