Dear Review Team,
I write regarding the ‘Review of Property Law in Queensland’ conducted by QUT’s Commercial and Property Law Research Centre.
I write to raise my strong concerns about the review process – particularly the lack of meaningful promotion and publicity which this consultation process has received – and to object specifically to proposed changes which (as I understand them) would make it easier for owners of strata titled properties to be forced to sell against their wishes.
The proposed changes which are the subject of this review are complex and significant. Some of the changes would have major ramifications for the property rights of individual owner-occupiers and on the lives of tenants. As a city councillor representing well over 30 000 inner-city residents, I’m concerned that the vast majority of my constituents (many of whom own strata titled property and/or live in properties that will be affected by these changes) have no idea that the changes have been proposed, or what they mean. The consultation process for this review has not been sufficiently promoted beyond what we might call the ‘property industry circle’, and descriptions of the proposed changes are often technical, jargon-heavy and legalistic, meaning that many ordinary residents who would be affected cannot understand them, and do not feel sufficiently informed to make comment one way or the other.
While I do not doubt or dispute the need for reforms to property law in Queensland, I consider this review process deeply flawed and lacking in legitimacy due to its failure to meaningfully engage the general public and offer accessible pathways to give feedback. It seems that the scope of the review is in many senses quite narrow. The parameters of debate and possible reform appear to have been pre-defined. Much has been left off the table, thereby precluding a range of possible reforms that would materially benefit ordinary citizens.
I’m also confused as to why the government chose to outsource this consultation and review process to the Commercial and Property Law Research Centre of QUT, rather than conducting the review itself. I would like to receive more information as to why this decision to outsource the review was made. I would also like more information about where the Commercial and Property Law Research Centre gets its funding, and what checks and balances are in place to ensure its independence from the property industry as a whole. I am concerned that the Research Centre may not be sufficiently independent and objective to be providing advice to government decision-makers.
In a context where the majority of Queenslanders are unaware that this review is underway, the voices of those stakeholders and individuals who do engage with this process are likely to be accorded undue weight and persuasiveness. My concern is that many of these changes may primarily benefit the big end of town – large property developers, investment funds, big banks etc. – while disadvantaging ordinary owner-occupiers and renters, and that the voices of property industry heavy hitters will be over-represented in this process.
I also object in particular to proposed changes which will make it easier for the majority of owners within an apartment complex to force the minority to sell their homes against their wishes, as they do not strike the right balance. I am familiar with the property industry’s concerns about ‘hold-out’ owners – those few owners who might refuse to sell to a developer, thereby preventing the rest of the owners of an apartment complex from selling off the whole building as a package. However it is incorrect to characterise hold-outs as restricting the property rights of their neighbours – the laws as they stand do not prevent a person from selling their strata titled property. The practical effect of the proposed changes would be to prioritise the interests of property investors who wish to buy and sell their apartments for a profit, and to deprioritise the interests of owner-occupiers who buy an apartment in order to make it their home and live there long-term. It is not right or just that a big developer or investor could buy up three quarters of the properties in a strata title scheme, and then force the remaining residents to sell their homes.
If there is a strong public interest in compulsorily acquiring and knocking down medium-density strata titled properties in order to build new dwellings, this process should only be carried out by a democratically accountable government, and not by profit-driven private developers and investors. I understand the arguments that a single hold-out should not be able to prevent a derelict property from being demolished and redeveloped, but the proposed changes are very broad in their application, and would likely also end up being used to acquire, knock down and redevelop properties which are structurally sound.
These issues are clearly complex and debatable, ultimately depending upon a person’s values and core ideologies. The nature and scale of these changes is such that the general public should be widely and meaningfully involved in the discussion. This conversation should not be restricted to politicians, profit-driven developers, industry ‘experts’ and a few citizens who happen to cotton on to what’s happening and make submissions in time. From what I’ve seen of this process so far, I do not believe it can accurately be described as ‘public consultation’. Although members of the public are technically entitled to make submissions, if they do not understand the proposed changes and are not aware that their views are being sought, the fact that the process is technically open to the public is irrelevant.
I look forward to a written response to the concerns I’ve raised.