There are also some great fact sheets on the Tenants Queensland website, including info on starting and ending a lease, landlords’ obligations to maintain the property, and what to do to ensure you get your bond refunded when you move out.
A new campaign for rent controls and stronger renters’ rights is building in Brisbane.
Residents are calling on the State Government to enact meaningful policy reforms that ensure greater stability for renters, moderate the negative impacts of gentrification, and help smooth out the peaks and troughs of the boom-bust property development industry.
In particular, we want the State Government to legislate a ‘right to remain’. This would mean that a landlord must renew a tenant’s lease unless the landlord or their family wants to move into the property themselves, or needs the property vacant in order to make major renovations. Even if a property changes ownership, the tenants would be entitled to remain and have their lease renewed unless the new owner actually wants to move in themselves.
We also believe the State Government needs to enforce a cap on how quickly rents can rise. This would give renters greater stability and financial security, and would help reduce the number of people who are made homeless when a neighbourhood becomes trendy and property values start rising rapidly.
For years now, the burden of advocacy, both in helping tenants with immediate issues like getting their bond back, and in terms of pushing governments to enact broader policy change, has been carried by the hard-working activists over at Tenants Queensland.
As a government-funded, non-party political advocacy organisation, Tenants Queensland has scored some big wins over the years, and I am strongly supportive of the work they do.
But there’s a gap in the Queensland political landscape. The Labor Party continues to pay lip service to tenants’ rights, supporting only modest policy reforms while bowing to pressure from the property industry. Simply put, the two major parties aren’t worried about losing votes on this issue, so there’s not enough impetus for positive change.
A new advocacy group called Brisbane Renters Alliance has formed to fill this gap. Brisbane Renters Alliance does not rely on government funding, so it has more scope to directly criticise and put pressure on the major political parties. Brisbane Renters Alliance is not controlled by or directly connected to any political party, but it actively supports political parties and candidates who are committed to introducing rent controls and a right to remain.
If you support the struggle for stronger renters, you can join Brisbane Renters Alliance via this link.
There's also a public Facebook page that you can follow for updates and announcements, and a closed Facebook group that renters are welcome to join to discuss policy demands and seek advice on dealing with real estate agents.
I intend to support the Brisbane Renters Alliance by co-hosting policy forums, co-ordinating direct action responses to unjust evictions, and directly supporting renters' rights campaigners. I've also decided to use my position as an elected representative to name and shame bad real estate agents.
If current trends continue, pretty soon 3/4 of Brisbane's inner-city population will be renters, most of whom are on short-term leases with very little stability, and who will likely remain renter for most of their lives. This makes the community especially vulnerable to the vagaries of the property market. A sudden spike in real estate values can result in thousands of people being forced out of their homes.
Right now, renters in Queensland have pretty weak rights. But renting doesn't have to suck. If we advocate collectively, we can follow other developed nations in introducing stronger rights and protections for rents, and create a better, fairer housing system for renters and home-owners alike.
The State Government’s South-East Queensland Regional Plan suggests Brisbane needs to build 188 000 dwellings over the next 25 years in order to cater for a population increase of 386 800 residents. This is obviously a pretty big number. The 188 000 dwellings figure is often used by LNP city councillors to justify why they are approving so many big new development projects. When I ask questions about whether all these new apartments are really necessary, the council's response is that the State Government has set the dwelling targets and they have no choice but to try to meet them.
I would argue that more government investment in regional towns could help spread this population growth around the State, encouraging more people to settle in rural communities that are currently experiencing workforce shortages and population decline. But even if you accept that a certain number of new residents simply must be housed in Brisbane, it’s worth recognising that the government’s 188 000-dwelling figure is based on the assumption that each dwelling will only hold an average of 2 residents, and does not appear to contemplate more efficient use of existing dwellings. So instead of focussing on how many standard dwellings we need, let’s talk about housing human beings instead.
The following paragraphs use some approximate figures and make a few broad assumptions, but my hope in writing this is that it will prompt further thinking and detailed research about what alternatives might be possible.
Right now, tens of thousands of homes in Brisbane are sitting empty long-term (some estimates put the number as high as 60 000 or 70 000). Unfortunately, some investors prefer to leave homes vacant rather than renting them out cheaply. When thousands of people are homeless, and over-development pressures are worsening, allowing so much housing to sit empty is not in the public interest.
A straightforward vacancy tax would encourage investors to rent out properties that are identified as long-term empty. Some investors would simply choose to pay the vacancy tax, and this revenue could fund local infrastructure. Others would sell their investment properties, giving first homebuyers a chance to own their own home. A broader-based investment property tax could have a similar impact. If a vacancy tax freed up even 20 000 homes across Brisbane for rent or purchase, this could house another 60 000 residents without anyone having to build a single new dwelling.
Encouraging different kinds of sharehousing
Although many of us have been socialised to lead individualistic lifestyles, and are losing the skills of cohabiting and sharing spaces, there are a lot of benefits to sharehousing or taking in boarders, particularly for demographics at risk of social isolation. A lot of older retirees have one or more spare bedrooms in their home. Providing incentives for some of these people to offer one of their spare bedrooms to a younger housemate would yield the twin benefits of providing affordable housing, and giving elderly people the emotional and practical support they need to remain living in their own homes. This homesharing approach has proven successful in a range of cities around the world (e.g. Melbourne, London, New York), and is preferable to building massive for-profit retirement villages that charge through the nose and cut elderly people off from the broader community.
There are a range of legislative and regulatory barriers that could easily be tweaked to make sharehousing more attractive both for renters and owners. While it’s true that household sizes have declined in recent years, this has been driven in part by housing designs that aren’t suitable for sharehousing. If we broaden our thinking about how we design and retrofit homes (including really simple stuff like having a separate toilet and bathroom) and what forms of property ownership we allow, sharehousing would be a lot more viable for more people. Brisbane City Council has given away millions of dollars in incentives to big developers to build new for-profit student accommodation. Much of this new student accommodation has been of poor quality, and will not be easy to adapt for other purposes if demand from international students ever decreases. There’s no reason the council couldn’t also offer various incentives to encourage renovating older properties to make them more suitable for sharehousing.
Census data suggests roughly three quarters of Australian homes have one or more spare bedrooms. There are currently about 465 000 dwellings in the Brisbane local government area. Around 70% of Brisbane dwellings have three or more bedrooms, but the average household size in 2016 was only 2.6 people, showing that even in a growing city like Brisbane, there are hundreds of thousands of empty bedrooms. Obviously a lot of people like their spare bedrooms and put them to other uses, but tens of thousands of Brisbane homes actually have two or even three spare rooms. And over the coming two decades, as households change and people move in and out of different kinds of properties, we could gradually make much better use of all that dwelling space.
It’s not inconceivable that by 2041 we could have housed an additional 150 000 residents via better sharehousing of existing homes, again without building a single new highrise tower.
Cohousing and granny flats
Cohousing differs slightly from sharehousing, in that while households might share facilities like laundries, gardens and entertainment areas, each household is largely self-contained and has slightly more private space to itself.
There are a range of different cohousing models out there, from concepts like the Nightingale Apartments, where private apartments make more efficient use of space via shared laundries and rooftop gardens; to eco-village communes, where different households cook together, garden together and maybe even share responsibility for looking after each other’s kids. Cohousing models create stronger local communities, are more resilient in times of crisis, and can save money through shared ownership of assets like carshare schemes and collectively-owned solar power systems.
Cohousing tends to be much more space-efficient than other forms of housing. Nightingale-style apartments typically house 30 to 60 people in a block which is only four or five storeys tall on a block that’s only 15m x 50m. In contrast, this new ‘conventional’ highrise development proposed for Kangaroo Point is 16 storeys tall on a similar site footprint, but only includes 15 separate dwellings. If we were to rely purely on buildings like that to meet the State Government’s target of 188 000 new dwellings by 2045, we would need to find room for more than 12 000 of these towers across the city. Cohousing is definitely a better approach.
The humble granny flat is one of the simplest cohousing forms, but current laws and regulations make constructing granny flats and tiny homes in the backyards of existing properties very difficult, particularly if you wish to subdivide and sell the granny flat or rent it out to someone who isn’t related to you.
Apart from older inner-city suburbs, Brisbane homes have traditionally had quite large backyards. Some of these are used for gardening, trees and recreation, but a lot of backyard space is under-utilised.
There are currently about 270 000 detached private dwellings in Brisbane. Many property owners would prefer to leave their backyards as they are, but if even 1 in 5 of these properties found room in their backyard for an additional small-footprint dwelling like a granny flat, and each of these held an average of 1.5 residents (i.e. roughly half were for individuals and half were for couples) we could accommodate around 80 000 additional residents.
Greater support for tiny homes and granny flats would also yield the additional benefit of increasing density in extremely low-density sprawling suburbs, allowing for the more efficient provision of public transport and other services. Although some people might be concerned about slight losses to private green space in suburban backyards, this is clearly preferable to the ongoing conversion of farmland and bushland into sprawling residential developments. Converting a small proportion of private backyards towards housing means more land can be set aside for bushland reserve and larger public parks, and fewer highrises crowding the skyline.
While the figures I’ve quoted so far are rough and approximate, they are also conservative estimates. They assume that most households would continue to leave spare bedrooms empty, that most properties would not build a second dwelling in the backyard, and that most vacant properties would remain empty despite a new vacancy tax. What I hope the figures demonstrate is that there are many ways to accommodate a growing population, and that the State Government and Brisbane City Council have been too hasty in assuming that the need to accommodate an additional 386 000 residents inevitably means we have to build new highrises right across the city.
Encourage small second dwellings on existing properties – 80 000 residents
Encourage more efficient use of empty bedrooms via sharehousing – 150 000 residents
Vacancy tax to reduce the number of homes sitting empty long-term – 60 000 residents.
80 000 + 150 000 + 60 000 = 290 000 additional residents
Rather than the 386 800 residents described in the State Government’s regional plan, we will actually only need to accommodate around 100 000 residents via wholly new development between now and 2041.
Medium-Density rather than Highrise
I take the view that encouraging more medium-density development is preferable to extremely dense highrises, and that this is where the majority of new housing supply should come from to cater for the anticipated additional 100 000 residents over the next 25 years.
The term ‘medium-density’ is ambiguous, and definitions vary widely. The State Government’s regional plan talks briefly about the importance of the ‘missing middle,’ referring to townhouses, terrace homes, flats and low-rise apartments of 2 to 6 storeys in height.
Height obviously isn’t the only key factor. There’s a big difference between a six-storey building that has no setbacks and is built right to the boundary, and a six-storey building that includes open space, room for trees, good cross-ventilation, and contributes positively to the streetscape. But if new developments include ample deep-planted trees and proper setbacks to neighbouring properties, the negative impacts of 4, 5 and 6-storey buildings on the streetscape can be greatly minimised.
In contrast, highrise towers extend well above the natural treeline, and have a much more significant impact on a street, particularly in terms of blocking sunlight and creating a wind tunnel effect. They also tend to be much more disruptive to the surrounding neighbourhood during their lengthy construction periods, and place a far greater ongoing strain on local transport infrastructure.
While in some parts of Brisbane, there is an understandable aversion to the proliferation of townhouses and low-rise apartment developments, this is primarily due to the anticipated negative traffic congestion impacts, which can be addressed through greater funding and support for public transport and active transport. Personally, if it’s a choice between townhouses and highrises, I’ll take the townhouses.
The takeaway from all this is that we don't actually need to build anywhere near as many new dwellings in Brisbane as the State Government has suggested. Those new dwellings that we do need to build can take the form of granny flats in backyards and medium-density townhouses and apartments, rather than highrises.
Media Release: Residents Blockade Major Intersection to Call for Pedestrian Crossings and Public Transport Infrastructure
On Saturday morning (3 March) from 8:30am, frustrated West End residents will blockade the intersection of Vulture St and Montague Rd for 90 minutes, calling for more investment in pedestrian crossings and public transport services and to protest a 14-storey mega-development at 117 Victoria Street.
The Vulture Street blockade is expected to cause major traffic disruption along Montague Road, but residents say this is nothing compared to what will happen if the council keeps approving highrises without investing in public transport.
Local resident and architect Toby Robinson says he is supportive of urban densification that creates liveable neighbourhoods rather than just maximising developer profits. But he’s concerned that Brisbane City Council is currently doing a poor job of planning for growth. “Building extreme high density without basic infrastructure like public transport, pedestrian crossings and green space is not as sustainable as the property industry would have you believe,” he says. “Low-income apartment dwellers are being forced to accept sub-standard design and planning outcomes - most new inner-city apartments are designed to maximise developer profits rather than maximise quality of life for long-term residents.”
“BCC promised to build a new CityCat terminal near Victoria Street back in 2011 to cater for rapid population growth but it never happened, and now thousands of new apartment residents are stuck in traffic,” Mr Robinson says. “You’re gambling with your life just crossing the road to get to the bus stop because council won’t install a pedestrian crossing.”
“If the council keeps ignoring residents, we’ll have to keep blockading, because the system gives us no other option to have our voices heard.”
Local Councillor Jonathan Sri says BCC has been negligent in failing to install traffic lights at the intersection of Victoria St and Montague Rd, and that it’s only a matter of time before someone is killed. “This is a symptom of a broader problem across the city, where council approves developers to ignore the neighbourhood plan and cram in thousands of new apartments, but then wastes all its money widening roads instead of improving local infrastructure.”
“I am calling for a temporary halt to further high-density development in South Brisbane until BCC delivers basic essential infrastructure like pedestrian crossings, bike lanes and high-capacity public transport.”
“Contrary to government propaganda, mega-developments like the one we see at 117 Victoria Street do not significantly improve affordability for low-income residents,” Councillor Sri says. “We need medium-density public housing – not luxury highrises built for private profit.”
Residents will assemble in Davies Park on Montague Road from 8am, stepping onto the road and occupying the intersection of Vulture Street and Montague Road, West End from 8:30am to 10am. A permit for the blockade has been issued by police. Journalists are advised that traffic will be pretty bad, so we suggest arriving before 8am if travelling by car.
For further comments, contact Toby Robinson on 0423 766 046 or Jonathan Sri on 3403 2165.
Further concerns about the development at 117 Victoria St are outlined at this link.
Footage of the unsafe intersection of Victoria St and Montague Rd is online at this link.
Brisbane City Council is currently running a ‘consultation’ process called ‘Plan Your Brisbane’ where they seek resident input into future trajectories for the development of our city. Their marketing and messaging borrows a lot from the rhetoric of radical urban planners and community activists who argue that people should have more of a say in how their city changes and evolves.
But the main problem with this process is that there is no tangible connection or direct relationship between the feedback that residents provide and practical outcomes. The council is not giving residents a binding vote in how infrastructure budgets are allocated or meaningful input into the drafting of the city plan and neighbourhood plans themselves. It is not offering us a vote as to whether new neighbourhood plans that change an area should actually be introduced, or giving us a say as to alternative policy measures that could make more efficient use of existing buildings.
This whole consultation process seems to me like little more than sophisticated propaganda which seeks to shape values and harvest data for the LNP prior to the next council election. It contrasts starkly with true collaborative consultation where you empower residents to actually make the decisions that shape their city. Surveying people and then ignoring the results is not consultation.
A deeper problem with Plan Your Brisbane is that it purports to be a holistic conversation about urban planning, but artificially narrows the parameters of debate and oversimplifies many complex issues to the point of being outright misleading.
This deceptive over-simplification is perhaps most obvious in the Plan Your Brisbane game. Using games and apps to engage and educate residents about urban planning is a great idea if done well. Town planning can be a difficult thing to get people interested in (at least until there’s a skyscraper going up next door) so I’m supportive of using a range of avenues and processes to raise awareness and seek feedback. But this particular game is so simplistic and flawed that I think on balance it does a disservice to the goal of fostering a deeper understanding of complex urban planning issues.
The game revolves around the idea of trade-offs i.e. you have to accommodate people somewhere, so you can either choose high density with more public green space, better transport networks and better services, or low density with less efficient services, less green space, and more expensive housing. This is essentially the ‘tall vs sprawl’ line that the property industry has been running for a long time now to justify cramming more and more people into neighbourhoods that don’t have the infrastructure to handle rapidly growing populations.
It’s clearly unsustainable to continue our recent trend of car-centric suburban sprawl, where we keep replacing bushland and farmland with low-rise residential estates. But BCC’s implicit suggestion that the only viable alternative is to cram people into highrise concrete shoeboxes completely ignores all the great work that so many forward-thinking architects and town planners have been doing to flesh out alternative ways to design housing and develop cities sustainably.
The game quietly omits the fact that although Brisbane is now densifying rapidly, even in the inner-city our transport network planning continues to revolve around cars, with very little investment in bike lanes, pedestrian crossings, traffic calming or affordable public transport. It’s all well and good to argue that higher-density makes it more cost-effective to provide public infrastructure, but that’s not what’s happening in practice. Both Labor and the LNP continue to resist suggestions for lowering speed limits and prioritising active transport. We’re getting higher-density apartment towers, but most of the residents are still driving.
I’ve written in a separate post about how we can sustainably accommodate a growing population without building so many highrises. Contrary to the rhetoric of both Brisbane City Council and the State Government, it may not actually be necessary to build 188 000 new dwellings over the next twenty-five years. In fact, Brisbane could easily accommodate over 200 000 new residents simply by making more efficient use of existing housing stock.
But this isn’t just about how many new dwellings we need. It’s also about where in the city we concentrate growth, how much space per person we think people need to live a comfortable life, and what sort of transport network we develop. None of these questions are open for discussion via council’s Plan Your Brisbane process.
Where’s the conversation about decentralised nodal development that doesn’t concentrate commerce and job opportunities in the city centre, but instead creates medium-density eco villages where everyone lives within walking distance of their workplace? Where’s the conversation about making developers pay their fair share for the cost of infrastructure?
Perhaps the biggest myth perpetuated by this Plan Your Brisbane game is the idea that increasing the supply of private dwellings will significantly improve housing affordability, which is not necessarily true in the Australian context. The failure to even mention the important roles that stronger renters’ rights, vacancy taxes and government-funded social housing can play in improving affordability is a glaring omission from this discussion.
Unfortunately, my version of the game didn’t seem to include the button that lets you compulsorily acquire the sprawling backyards of inner-city mansions and turn them into public soccer fields and community gardens.
It’s all well and good to talk about trade-offs, but any consultation process that expects you to rank desired outcomes like ‘greenspace’, ‘affordability’, ‘lifestyle’ and ‘travel time’ as though they are mutually exclusive options has clearly succumbed to arbitrary and illusory constraints promoted by a profit-hungry property development industry. Where’s the survey question that asks me whether I would prefer to place higher taxes on big banks, multinational corporations or predatory land speculators?
Call me cynical, but I feel like this consultation process is a huge missed opportunity. I worry that a lot of residents who engage with it will feel frustrated and disempowered at being presented with such a narrow range of options. This in turn reinforces nimbyism, making people distrustful and apprehensive of any kind of development – even the well-designed medium-density mixed-use stuff that we need more of. Others will play the game and be completely suckered in by the false binaries, believing that there really aren’t any other alternatives and that the only future they can aspire to is working 50-hour weeks to pay off a 30-year mortgage on a 60m2 apartment.
The main question we should all be turning our minds to is “who makes the real decisions?” This Plan Your Brisbane game and the attached survey do not in any way connect to the city plan or the other laws and policies that actually shape our city. The endless pages of results and feedback will end up being condensed into an over-simplified table from which establishment politicians cherrypick data to justify whatever decisions their corporate financiers want them to make at the time. Behind closed doors, a small group of powerful people are carving up our metropolis and remoulding it to suit their own values and financial interests, while using ‘Plan Your Brisbane’ to gather information on how best to dupe the populace into passively accepting the status quo.
Rather than sham consultations, we need to demand genuine control over the future of our neighbourhoods and our entire region. If we quietly accept whatever they serve us, they’ll keep cooking up the same old shit.
Last week at UQ we held the first of many public forums about renters rights.
We had a solid turnout (about 30 in total) of both local and international uni students, as well as other residents who weren’t connected to UQ but cared deeply about renters rights.
The discussion covered a range of topics including inadequate repairs and maintenance, landlords conducting surprise inspections without proper notice, and the tendency for real estate agents to give minimal notice before seeking to jack up the rent.
It was particularly interesting (but not surprising) to learn that a lot of the international students were paying as much as $150/week per bedroom more than what domestic renters would consider reasonable for the same standard of home. It seems obvious to me that new migrants who know less about Queensland tenancy law and have less access to information about average market rents are particularly prone to exploitation and rent-gouging by landlords and real estate agents.
Through small and large group conversations, we are beginning to crystalise a few key policy demands that seem to go to the core of the many varied issues that renters are concerned about. In particular, there’s a lot of support for some form of rent controls, and for rules against no-grounds evictions (i.e. landlords shouldn’t be able to end your lease if you don’t want to move out unless they’re moving into the home themselves, or are undertaking major renovations). I think we should be pushing for the rule against no-grounds evictions to extend to new owners, so that even if an investor sells a tenanted property, the lease should automatically continue unless the new owner wants to move in themselves or the tenants want to move out. I’m interested to know what other people think of this.
Rules against sharp rent increases and no-grounds evictions would help shift the power balance between tenants and landlords, giving renters more power to insist that landlords fulfil their existing legal obligations in terms of property maintenance etc.
In the immediate term, we have identified a couple of key tactics to put pressure on the political establishment and on landlords/real estate agents directly.
Resisting Evictions into Homelessness
Where we as a collective feel that a particular tenant is being forcibly evicted unfairly and has no safe home to move to, we will engage in civil disobedience to try to prevent such evictions. We need to address the tactical question of whether we will use direct action to resist evictions from privately owned dwellings or only evictions from government housing and community housing.
We also need further discussions about the best ways to organise such actions, because they are often required at very short notice. From time to time, we will need to mobilise activists quickly, and Facebook events/mass text messaging may not be the most efficient way to do this (although public facebook events with a large number of attendees do help manifest power and put pressure on the police).
Naming and Shaming Dodgy Real Estate Agents
Publicly outing the most exploitative real estate agents was widely agreed as an effective tactic, with the caveat that we need to be very certain that our public criticisms are legitimate and fair. It’s almost certain that some of the agents we shame publicly will sue for defamation. I’m happy to put my name to public statements naming dodgy estate agents as long as we’re confident that the criticisms of them are valid.
A suggested process is that when someone complains about a particular agent, we put the word out through various channels to see if other tenants have had similar bad experiences with that agent, then once we have enough stories about bad behaviour (e.g. at least five), we go public.
There’s a clear need for more info sessions and forums where people can learn what their basic rights as a tenant are and how best to get landlords to fulfil their responsibilities. One suggested format is that the first half of a 90-minute event could be a Q&A session with an expert who knows a lot about the Rental Tenancies Act, and the latter half of the group discussion could focus more on direct action and political advocacy. If anyone is keen to help organise one of these forums, it would be great to get together a pool of 5 to 10 volunteers who have the time and energy to put on forums in different neighbourhoods and in partnership with different community groups.
There’s a lot more to talk about, and I think as we all participate in more conversations about these issues through a range of formal and informal discussion spaces, we’ll gradually arrive at a shared understanding of strategic priorities and key policy demands.
Currently the Brisbane Renters Alliance Facebook Group serves as one of many spaces where such discussions can take place, but it could be cool to set up a slightly more secure online forum that’s also accessible to non-Facebook users if anyone has the energy and skills to do so.
Thoughts and feedback on all of the above are very welcome. Thanks to everyone who came along to the first discussion forum. Hopefully we’ll see a few more new faces at the next one.
Open Letter to Minister Steven Miles re: Destruction of Mangroves as part of the Queens Wharf Mega-Casino Development
Dear Minister Miles,
I write to you in your capacity as Minister for the Environment and Heritage Protection to request that you publicly oppose plans to fill in part of the Brisbane River and destroy many of the mangroves growing along the Queens Wharf riverfront in Brisbane’s CBD.
I understand that while you personally are not the final decision-maker in approving the designs for the Queens Wharf mega-casino, the mangroves cannot be removed without your approval as Environment Minister. You will also no doubt be consulted regarding whether you support aspects of the development which involve filling in and building out over parts of the river, and your recommendation for or against this will carry significant weight.
The plans for the Queens Wharf Brisbane Priority Development Area suggest that the casino developer will remove many of the mangroves and other established trees growing along the riverbank between the Goodwill Bridge and the Victoria Bridge, leaving only a few large individual mangrove trees to serve as a hollow reminder of the ecosystem that used to exist here. This application should not be approved.
The development application talks about a ‘mangrove walk’ and makes general statements about preserving mangroves where possible, but when you drill down into the detail of the Foreshore Environmental Management Plan and other associated documents, it becomes quite clear that the vast majority of the mangroves will either be removed or will suffer severe negative impacts from construction work. It seems the development approval would not include any strict conditions requiring the protection of the mangrove forest in its entirety.
These mangroves provide a wide range of crucial ecosystem services. They clean the air and the water. They prevent sediment and rubbish from flowing into the river and ultimately out into Moreton Bay. They are a breeding habitat for a wide range of aquatic species, as well as a hunting ground and refuge for native mammals, reptiles and birds. Their value is reflected in Brisbane City Council’s Biodiversity Overlay, which maps these mangroves as an area of ‘High Ecological Significance’ and the area of bikeway between the trees and the Riverside Expressway as a ‘Biodiversity Interface Area’ - a buffer zone in which high-impact development should be restricted.
This stretch of vegetation - including the larger pine trees on the river below the 1 William Street government building - is a crucial wildlife corridor for a long list of species that travel up and down the Brisbane River. The large water birds which sometimes hunt and rest here are a particular delight to tourists and locals (I’m not just talking about the ibis, but also the herons, egrets, cormorants, owls and tawny frogmouths that pass through this spot).
Mangroves help prevent flood damage by slowing floodwaters and stabilising the riverbank to stop erosion. These mangroves also screen the Riverside Expressway. I’m not sure how much they do to reduce the noise and air pollution, but they definitely improve the view when you’re looking across from South Bank.
Even if you don’t find these arguments persuasive, you must surely acknowledge that the presence of mangroves in the middle of the CBD is part of what makes Brisbane special. There are thousands of cities around the world with casinos and highrises and luxury riverfront restaurants, but relatively few can boast the abundance and diversity of inner-city flora and fauna that most Brisbanites too often take for granted.
Brisbane’s character and identity rests in part on the presence of intact vegetated corridors stretching through the suburbs and right into the heart of the city. It is this feature which attracts and enthrals international tourists and sets us apart. Very few tourists travel to Queensland to see bright lights and big buildings. They are drawn to our state’s many natural wonders, from the Great Barrier Reef to the lush National Parks in the Gold Coast hinterland. The heart of our capital city should also respect and reflect this identity.
When you stroll along the river’s edge early in the morning, or late at night, the stretch of mangroves along the CBD riverfront is a rare and beautiful thing. Other big cities around the world are currently incurring great expense to re-establish wildlife corridors along their rivers, whereas we already have them.
These trees are an important part of the river ecosystem and of the city more generally. They have not been well looked after in recent years. Rubbish has been dumped there. Trees have been hacked away unnecessarily. Pollutants from the expressway and nearby construction sites have been allowed to flow into the river unchecked. But this doesn’t mean these trees are not worth preserving.
Although I am opposed to the Queens Wharf mega-casino, I am not opposed in general to the redevelopment of this site. It will be great to see more of the CBD riverfront opened up to the public for recreation and sightseeing. But whatever uses the site is ultimately put to, it should still be possible to preserve this wildlife corridor. A flourishing mangrove ecosystem in inner-Brisbane could be a tourist attraction in its own right. But one or two lonely remnant trees will not serve as viable habitat and will not be able to regenerate themselves over time.
I’m conscious that letters such as this are sometimes filed away as miscellaneous correspondence because they don’t technically comply with the government-prescribed format for submitting feedback. I’ve found it extremely difficult to access the processes and available avenues for public submissions into the Queens Wharf development, and if I as an elected city councillor find it confusing I can only imagine that many other residents are also being excluded from meaningful input. I request that this letter be incorporated as a public submission regarding the main development application and any other subsequent applications relating to the removal of the mangroves.
I know that you personally have strong environmental values, and that you won’t want to see this mangrove forest destroyed. The question is what you will be able to do about it. Please take a public stand in opposing the removal of these trees. You have the power to stop this.
Councillor for the Gabba Ward
Business South Bank has just released a new report called ‘Vision South Bank’, sketching out possible future trajectories for the South Bank precinct.
As the local councillor for the ward which encompasses South Bank Parklands, I thought I’d share my initial thoughts on the document and some of the key ideas that flow out of it, with a particular focus on how this vision could impact on the broader South Brisbane neighbourhood and what it might mean for local residents.
I hope what I say here doesn’t come off as too negative, because there’s a lot of great stuff in the report. I have a lot of respect for what South Bank does, and in particular for its potential to continue growing as one of Australia’s leading artistic and cultural hotspots. I offer these thoughts in the hope that future detailed planning documents will benefit from constructive criticism at this early stage.
Like many of these big-picture vision documents, Vision South Bank is very light-on in terms of detail. Its intended purpose seems to be to put broad ideas on the table for further discussion rather than explain how they will be delivered or funded.
At first glance, the document is almost too vague to be worthy of much discussion and analysis. Most of the ideas are not new, and have been in the public domain for some time, but putting them all into one place serves as a useful starting point for further planning. Reading between the lines, the report actually reveals a lot about the values, biases, assumptions and goals of the organisations that produced it. In some respects, the issues the report doesn’t talk about are even more interesting than what it actually contains (here’s a link to the full report if you’re interested).
Perhaps most importantly, the release of ‘vision’ documents like this should not be understood as a satisfactory substitute for a proper masterplan of the Kurilpa Peninsula that’s driven by the community itself. There is currently no up-to-date masterplan for the development of the riverside reach to the west of GOMA and the State Library, and so development of this part of 4101 is currently occurring on an ad hoc basis with very little forward planning or coordination. The Vision South Bank report makes visible the fact that right now, development decisions for the Kurilpa Peninsula are being driven by the property industry rather than the needs and interests of the broader citizenry.
The State Government has finally released a bit more info about the proposed new public high school for Brisbane’s inner-south side.
I’ve written previously about overcrowding issues at Brisbane State High School, and late last year I wrote an update raising concerns about the lack of genuine consultation and possible flaws in the government’s process for deciding where the new school should go.
Recent disclosures by the State Government have showed my concerns were not unfounded. While different government sources initially provided somewhat-conflicting information via different forums, here’s some of what we’ve been told…
- the new high school will have a capacity of 1100 to 1400 students
- like Brisbane State High School, the new school may have a merit-based entry component, meaning students from outside the local area will be able to attend it
- the government’s preferred site is at Boggo Road/Dutton Park near the train station
- two other sites – one next to Davies Park, and the other at the northwest end of the Kurilpa Peninsula along Montague Rd – were briefly considered but deemed less viable
- the school is proposed to have exactly the same catchment boundaries as BSHS
- the new high school will have very little green space on site for student sport and recreation, but the government is currently negotiating with UQ for shared access to UQ sports fields on the north side
As a local councillor, it seems to me that the location, the catchment boundaries and the decision to include merit-based selective entry enrolments are all suboptimal, and that the State Government needs to completely reconsider its approach.
When you look at the government's Precinct Selection Report (particularly page 7 and 8) it's obvious that revoking or reducing BSHS's selective entry enrolment was left out of scope for this decision, so it was more-or-less taken for granted that the new school would also include merit-based selective entry. This necessarily influenced how the government evaluated each potential site, particularly in terms of transport and accessibility. It's obvious that the arbitrary deadline of wanting the school to be ready by 2021 also seriously influenced the decision, despite the fact that BSHS could accommodate more local students in the short-term if it tweaked its enrolment policy.
Under Queensland law, landlords and real estate agencies are required to maintain homes to a reasonable standard, carrying out repairs in a timely manner. They’re also required to provide advance written notice before inspecting a home or bringing potential buyers around. Good landlords give tenants plenty of warning (i.e. at least six months) before ending a lease or increasing the rent, and should be open to negotiating rent decreases as market conditions change.
In practice though, many landlords and agents don’t always meet their basic legal responsibilities – some are outright bullies, threatening tenants and abusing their power.
There are a couple of official mechanisms and processes for tenants to make complaints and pressure landlords to not be jerks, but in general the system is pretty weak and skewed in landlords’ favour. A lot of tenants don’t have the skills or time to navigate these processes, particularly when many real estate agents know a lot more about how to use the system to their advantage. It’s possible to intimidate tenants, continually violate their privacy and keep them living in fear of homelessness while still technically complying with the law.
Renters who do stand up for themselves often experience retribution by landlords and agents. They might find that their lease isn’t renewed or their rent is jacked up. Without knowing it, they could be placed on a tenant blacklist. Even after you move out, a former landlord or agent can make your life extremely difficult by giving bad references to other owners who are thinking of renting to you. The potential for revenge evictions mean existing mechanisms for tenants to make complaints are not sufficient.
Now before the high priests of the property industry start threatening me with eternal damnation: Yes, I know there are bad tenants too. Not all landlords are bad people, and not all tenants are angels. But tenants don’t have the power to make their landlords homeless. And despite the ‘nightmare tenant’ stories that sometimes circulate at parties and BBQs, the overwhelming majority of the 580 000 rental households in Queensland pay their rent on time and keep their homes in good order.
Right now, we have a system that encourages conflict – tenants lack long-term stability and security, which means they have less incentive to look after their rental property. Landlords don’t trust their tenants, and so have more incentive to invade renters’ privacy and scrutinise them aggressively. This needs to change.
From what our office has seen, it is quite common for some agents to take revenge by not renewing a lease when tenants make reasonable and legitimate complaints. Renters know this, and so choose not to speak out even when their landlord is bullying them or clearly breaking the law.
This is why I’m going to start naming and shaming some landlords and real estate agents. I’m using my position as an elected representative to amplify the voices of tenants who are too scared to speak out publicly themselves, to warn other renters that they should avoid certain owners and agents.
Obviously I’ll take the time to verify complaints, and will reach out to agents privately before going public. I won’t shame a real estate agency simply on the basis of one or two complaints. I will be measured in my criticisms, refraining from hyperbole, and I will remain mindful of the fact that the low-ranking property managers who work for real estate agencies and get caught in the middle are themselves often over-worked and underpaid.
But if a certain landlord or real estate agency demonstrates a consistent pattern of disrespect and exploitation towards multiple rental households, I will use my mailing list of 9000 Brisbane residents and my substantial social media platform to hold them to account.
My intention here is not to start a war between tenants and landlords, but to ensure that agents who bully tenants and give the whole sector a bad name are called out. We should be working towards a system where renters have greater stability in their tenancies, which will in turn give them greater incentive to look after and respect the homes they live in.
Stronger renters’ rights also benefit neighbouring homeowners. When tenants have longer leases and don’t have to move house every six or twelve months, they are able to form lasting community connections, getting to know their neighbours and joining local community groups and projects.
I am calling out bad landlords because I believe a better world is possible, and that renters shouldn’t tolerate being treated as second-class citizens. I hope that by doing this, I will prompt further discussion and debate about the need for broader improvements to renters’ rights in Australia, and pressure the Queensland Government to lift its game on this issue.
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Brisbane, Australia, 2018
On Wednesday, 7 February, a woman reached out to my office in Woolloongabba for help. She’d come back to her home in Highgate Hill after being out of town for a while visiting family and attending funerals to find a final eviction notice from the police. It said they would be attending with representatives from her landlord at 11am on Thursday, 8 February to forcibly evict her and her five children.
The home is owned by the State Government’s Department of Housing, but like a lot of Queensland public housing, it’s managed and controlled by a community housing provider (a ‘CHP’) which serves as the family’s landlord.
The mum didn’t know exactly why she was being evicted. She remembered receiving a few complaints last year about minor issues like late-night noise and rubbish piling up. And she remembered that she had missed some kind of tribunal hearing a few weeks ago because she had to attend the funeral of a relative, but she didn’t really seem to understand the implications of that.
The warrant for eviction had been issued by QCAT. Apart from a couple of generic contact numbers for homelessness support services in small print at the bottom of the page, the eviction notice was not accompanied by any info about where the family was expected to go after they were forced from their home. This single mum and her five kids were being evicted into homelessness.