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Why Flat Chat moved house
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JimmyT
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06/08/2017 - 11:14 am
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After 13 years in the Domain section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Flat Chat has flitted to the Saturday edition of the Australia Financial Review and new readership, new challenges … but the same philosophy.

It’s not such a huge cultural change – moving from a property supplement to the Smart Investor section is just like finding yourself in different room in the same boutique hotel.

But for the first time we will have to address a national readership with all the myriad subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between different states’ strata laws.  My mind is already boggling.

Life had become a bit of a struggle at Domain of late.  Being dropped earlier this year from the print section – which is basically just ‘property porn’ these days – was fair enough; it had not been a comfortable fit for quite some time.

The column could have survived quite happily online, but that was a shifting landscape too and regular readers will know it was moved around a lot – different days, different times – and sometimes even I couldn’t find it.

Ironically enough (or perhaps predictably) at the same time readership of this website has grown steadily to the point where it is consistently 10 to 20 percent higher than during the same period last year.  You join the dots.

There were, however, a couple of other incidents that had me heading for the door. A high-powered deputation from Airbnb visited the Herald and, I was told, accused me of being an “activist rather than a journalist”.

This may well be true; as one of the few journalists who wasn’t blindly accepting Airbnb’s “we are only helping ordinary Australians rent a room in their home” fantasy then I was always going to stand out from the crowd.

I was also accused of taking money from sponsors to attack the multi-billion-dollar online holiday letting agency – what utter, venal, disgusting, disgraceful crap. But that is the level the debate will descend to if you dare to stick your head above the parapet.

By the way, that entirely spurious argument was somewhat diminished when I pointed out that one of this website’s sponsors had, just the week before, had a piece published in Domain that largely supported Airbnb.

Perhaps it was being named in parliament as “one of the best writers in the Herald” was what did me in.  I’m not – far from it –  but, like a contestant in Survivor who is known to have a hidden immunity idol, I didn’t need that target on my back.

I’m joking, of course. Flat Chat had run its course in Domain and it was time to seek pastures new. I am delighted, therefore, that the AFR has given me the opportunity to appear in print again, as well as online.

For Flat Chat’s loyal readers who don’t take the AFR, the column and all the bits and bobs that go with it will still appear here every week.

If you don’t want to miss any of the fun, subscribe to the newsletter and it will be waiting for you in your email inbox every Tuesday morning. And send a link to a friend – the internet can give us problems, like Airbnb, but it also provides solutions

It’s early days at the AFR, and it will be interesting to see how Flat Chat evolves in its new home. I’m looking forward to it. Here’s to the next 13 years!

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Austman
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06/08/2017 - 3:22 pm
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JimmyT said

But for the first time we will have to address a national readership with all the myriad subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between different states’ strata laws.  My mind is already boggling.

Great news!

I realise that NSW is around 30% of the Australian population but there's still around 70% left!  🙂

One day (and it won't be soon) there might even be "harmonised" strata laws.  The state and territory governments have actually done that in several other important areas, so it's not an absolutely impossible dream.

But until then we have at least 8 versions of strata law ...

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Sir Humphrey
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06/08/2017 - 5:10 pm
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Austman said

JimmyT said
But for the first time we will have to address a national readership with all the myriad subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between different states’ strata laws.  My mind is already boggling.

Great news!

I realise that NSW is around 30% of the Australian population but there's still around 70% left!  🙂

One day (and it won't be soon) there might even be "harmonised" strata laws.  The state and territory governments have actually done that in several other important areas, so it's not an absolutely impossible dream.

But until then we have at least 8 versions of strata law ...  

When I was young, I thought the states were a useless anachronism and we really only needed two levels of government, national and local, not three. [At that time I was entirely unaware of the 4th tier of government, the Owners Corporation.] 

Now I think the states serve several useful functions. They provide safe-guards. For example, individual states can push on with renewable energy even while we have a federal government doing all it can to discourage investment. 

A state government can try something without disrupting the entire country. If it works well, the rest can follow. It can be easier for some sorts of grass-roots proposals to get up initially eg. s.23 of the ACT's Unit Titles (Management) Act is essentially my submission to a review of the Act based on the experience of just one OC. However, it is there now for other states to follow if they care to. I doubt I would have had the same influence on a national strata law. 

That said, my experience is of the 2nd and 3rd tier of government being collapsed to one (ACT's legislative assembly is both the local council and state functions). It can neatly bypass some matters that are difficult to handle across tiers of government. 

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Austman
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06/08/2017 - 6:46 pm
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Perhaps have a look at how harmonised legislation as been introduced in other areas?

The states/territories still need their own individual acts. But those acts copy or refer to the national act. So the states/territories still have room for individual variances but the bulk of the legislation is harmonised.

WHS/OH&S legislation is an example of harmonised legislation. The national WHS act was apparently mostly based on the Victorian state OH&S act.  But when it came to introduce it, the Victorian government was the only one that actually backed out.

Anyway, I doubt harmonisation will happen in strataland anytime soon.  So we still will have the 8 (?) versions of strata law for many years to come.

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JimmyT
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07/08/2017 - 11:49 am
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It would be a start if NSW and Victoria could reach some sort of agreement (although there are huge disparities, such as the thresholds for agreeing to legal action and the "forced sales" provisions).

However, you can forget about ever getting Queensland on board as long as the legalised corruption of developers being able to pre-sell management rights contracts over which strata owners have no say is maintained.

Is there any other area of life where a contract is sold for no other reason than to fill the coffers of a business and then the people who have to service that contract have no say in its terms and no chance of rescinding it regardless of how bad the service is?

Imagine buying a car and being told you had to have it serviced for the next 25 years at a garage chosen by the dealer at rates set by the garage and with no comeback if their work was sub-standard.  Incredible!

Oh, and by the way, the Queensland branch of Strata Community Australia (the strata managers' professional body) thinks this is a brilliant system that the rest of Australia should adopt.

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Anthony Cordato
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09/08/2017 - 10:26 am
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Congratulations - What you were far too polite to say was that Domain / SMH Property coverage is nothing more than a medium for selling real estate, a fantasy world where smiling purchasers are over the moon to pay over the top prices in a market that is always growing.
The Fin has a more grounded view, with markets going down as well as up, and with more policy and less populism.

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BONNIE L
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09/08/2017 - 10:26 am
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Hi Jimmy, Can I please say congratulations, and best of luck on your move.

Thanks too again for all the news and responses. Most
enlightening for a newbie.

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mfm0000
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12/08/2017 - 1:43 pm
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Jimmy, your voice is critical to the over 2 million of us who are living in strata. Your independence is also crucial in ensuring that large, well funded corporates voices aren't the only ones heard.

The loss for the SMH is AFR's gain.

Thanks
Michael Mangan
Director
Owners Corporation Network(OCN)

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LionQld
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14/08/2017 - 2:51 pm
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I saw your column in the Financial Review, i read every day, a source of informative diverse subjects !.

with reference to the Management Rights situation, you are so right !!

However it is up to the State Government to make the changes to stop Developers selling an agreement that the Owners cannot change, except within the first 3 years (limited) which no-one advises the Owners.

The only opportunity after that is when an extension is requested maybe a chance to bargain. With Standard 10 year agreements that had some chance. However NO Developer these days sells a 10 year standard (residential !) agreement regardless of occupancy. They all sell the 25 year "accommodation' agreement, which severely limits the chance of negotiating any adjustment.

Look forward to you providing help to us in Queensland with our different laws.

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