Thank you, Shane

Thank you, Shane

By Barbara Francis & Rus Littleson

We were saddened to hear of the passing of Shane Scanlan, erstwhile editor of this masthead, and we readily recall how first we became involved with him.

The November 2015 issue of this newspaper’s sister publication Docklands News contained an article about the owners’ corporation (OC) at Watergate apartments in Docklands mounting a Supreme Court appeal against a VCAT decision that meant OCs did not have the power to make rules prohibiting short stays.

A few days after the release of that issue, Shane saw our group having coffees and stopped to chat. Shane told us that in light of the Supreme Court action, which had required a special resolution to proceed, he recognised how committed we were to our goals. Before our lattes had cooled, it was decided that our group would be writing a regular column.

Two weeks later, We Live Here was launched, and it was under the aegis of this community group that we have been contributing monthly columns ever since.

In the following years, Shane actively demonstrated his own commitment both to the community and to fair and balanced coverage by continuing to publish alternative viewpoints. We are grateful to Shane for headlining apartment living issues including short stays. And we are delighted that since Shane’s retirement two years ago, editor Sean Car has continued to provide residents with a voice through the We Live Here column published in three inner city newspapers.

We will always remember and respect Shane as a leading member of the community, consummate editor, and friend. Vale Shane. 

Lessons learned

The Watergate case, which was actually launched by the City of Melbourne, is something that is often misunderstood. The council wanted to stop apartments from being used as quasi-hotel accommodation, and issued building orders against 45 owners, who, mostly through commercial operators, were renting out their apartments for less than 30 days. The council’s orders were contested at the Building Appeals Board by the operators. The case eventually made its way to the Appeals Court with Watergate OC adjoined as an interested third party. It was only when the City of Melbourne case was overturned in the courts that the Watergate committee voted to test out its 30-day rule in VCAT – a rule that had been inherited from the developer.

In spite of this, and until the intervention of COVID, short stays proliferated. Airbnb and other commercial operators took over the city supported by the state government and City of Melbourne in the name of the “sharing economy” to the point where Melbourne became the most penetrated city in the world.

As we have reported, the COVID pandemic shut down the short-stay industry almost overnight in March 2020, simply because tourism to Melbourne and Victoria dried up.

When stage three lockdown was imposed in July 2020 Airbnb was listed by the Victorian Government Health Department as banned, with very few exemptions allowed.

With the gradual coming out of lockdown late last year, attempts were made by some diehard operators to restart their businesses. However, by then, buildings had adopted COVID-safe building practices that were fundamentally incompatible with the modus operandi of short-stay operators. It was obvious that at a minimum, a registration system was essential.

Frustratingly, nothing has eventuated despite being promised by the incoming council that a new residents’ forum would be established to give everyone a voice, including We Live Here.

Entire Melbourne apartment block in lockdown

So, violent parties have once again been reported, some with knives. Airbnb has cosied up to the police, while We Live Here has been trying for months to get a meeting with the new Minister for Consumer Affairs.

In the meantime, Melbourne is again emerging from lockdown for the fourth time and now in very recent news a complex of about 100 townhouse apartments in Southbank is home to at least six confirmed cases of COVID-19. Everyone is being tested and quarantined for 14 days.

The Health Department’s management of a relatively small complex of townhouses has been a huge undertaking.

Imagine trying to manage a 40-storey apartment building with large common areas, multiple entrances, stairwells and lifts, housing COVID-positive patients and unknown short-stay visitors.

Surely now it must be made mandatory to have a register of all occupants in residential apartment buildings. How can this critical need be met when you have short-term visitors occupying apartments belonging to an absentee host?

It is frighteningly obvious that short stays should not be permitted into Class 3 residential buildings.

Adopt the 14+14 rule now!

The whole world knows that travellers can actually be infected with COVID while quarantined in a hotel. It has happened everywhere that hotel quarantine is practised. The federal government knows, the state government knows, the mainstream media knows, we all know.

And yet here in Australia, we keep trying the same quarantine protocols, expecting a different result. Isn’t that the cliched definition of stupidity?

And people living in apartments are the most likely demographic to suffer from the consequences of this stupidity.

We put people in a hotel, with a percentage chance of catching COVID in the hotel, then after 14 days, the quarantine staff say, “See you later, off you go to the football and the shops!”

In other jurisdictions, travellers returning from overseas must spend 14 days in hotel quarantine and then another 14 days in self-isolation at home, with another negative COVID test before you can step outside the door.

This 14+14 solution imposes a little more inconvenience on the hundreds of travellers affected and allows millions of people to keep going about their lives without a lockdown.

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