John Storey Discussing Squatting And Property Rights 3AW Afternoons – 15 April 2024

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15 April 2024
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The Institute of Public Affairs’ John Storey was on 3AW Afternoons with Tony Moclair to discuss the IPA’s research into Australia’s housing shortage.

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Below is a transcript of the interview.


Tony Moclair:

So Gordon Ramsay, squatters is in the pub. He’s not taken it well, I’ll tell you that much.

Gordon Ramsay:

This is not possible. Come here. All of you, come here. This is not (beep) possible. This cannot be true. What is that there? What is that there? What is that?

Tony Moclair:

It’s squatters is in your pub, Gordon. Thought you’d know that. 133-693. Do you know of squatting going on? Is it something you have done or has it happened to you? You may have a vacant property waiting for council approvals to knock it down and build something. Or do you sympathise with people who squat because of the state of the housing market? Do you think it’s, well, it breaks a moral law of a kind to have a house just sitting vacant when there are so many people in need of accommodation? 133-693. To get a bead on where we sit legally with this, John Storey, director of Law and Policy at the IPA. Good afternoon, John.

John Storey:

Hi Tony. How’s it going?

Tony Moclair:

Very well. Well, private property, it’s one of the cornerstones of civilised society and from a whole bunch of other things, beneficial things happen. Do you see private property as being undermined with the current attitude to squatting?

John Storey:

Oh, absolutely. I think it’s a very concerning time for people who believe in private property and the crucial role it’s played in Western civilization in Victoria. The law has been changed in numerous ways in recent years to be quite hostile to landlords. The tenant is the one that has the majority of rights, and this is something we’re seeing around the world where squatters move into these places and they seem to have more rights than the lawful owners.

Tony Moclair:

Okay. Well, give us some context then, because that’s a grand statement, western civilization and private property. Link the two. Why is it so important? Because it’s something a lot of us take for granted.

John Storey:

Yeah, well, I mean, there are places that the state doesn’t enforce property rights and then it’s self-help, it’s just the law of the jungle and force of power. I mean, think of places like Somalia. There are no property rights in Somalia. It’s just who’s got more AK-47s. And that’s not the way we want to go. We want to have our rights as citizens clearly demarcated to avoid violence and to avoid recourse to force. And when a squatter moves into a property and claims it as their own and the landlord is left pulling their hair out like Gordon Ramsay is, it undermines that principle. Squatting, I mean, maybe I’ll give your listeners some context. Squatting is illegal. It’s a little bit of a grey area, but certainly breaking into a property is illegal and staying in a property without the consent of the owner is also illegal.

So the law is technically on the landlord’s side, but it’s a problem when it comes to enforcing those rights. And what you’re seeing in the UK case of Gordon Ramsay is the police will say, “This is a private matter, none of our business.” And so you have to go through the courts and have a civil action to remove the squatters. And eventually that can be done, but it can take months or years. And in the meantime, I’m sure Gordon Ramsay’s got deep pockets. But for your average mum and dad investor, it could be crippling to go through a legal process to evict a squatter.

Tony Moclair:

What’s very odd about that is the British police, who I don’t have a terribly high opinion of, they’ve decided that’s a civil matter. So Gordon Ramsay can say, “I’ve got the paperwork right here, it’s my pub. People are there. I don’t know them and I don’t want them there.” And the police say that’s a civil matter. If one of the squatters though, I believe, was to like what had been deemed a transphobic tweet, the police would be there with battering rams in a heartbeat in Britain, or am I mischaracterizing that?

John Storey:

Oh Tony, don’t get me started about British law enforcement. You’re absolutely right. I mean, they’re devoting enormous resources to ramping up to enforce these new Scottish hate speech laws. But someone breaks into a house and says, “Well, this is mine,” the police don’t want to go near it, let alone interfere with a pro-Palestine protest. They’re not going to touch that no matter what’s said.

Tony Moclair:

So we are saying there’s some politically influenced discrimination going on in the application of police resources?

John Storey:

Well, I think certainly in the UK I think it would be reasonable for an observer to sort of say that the police have become politicised. And in that politicised world view, a landowner is somehow illegitimate, they’re somehow exploiting a tenant or something. And the opposite is the case. If you undermine property rights, if you undermine the rights of landlords, that actually diminishes the supply of rental properties and create the sort of, I mean, a scenario we’ve got in Victoria. Victoria has a housing crisis right now. We’ve got record rent, record high property prices, yet building approvals are at 10-year lows. And at the same time, our net migration is the highest it’s ever been. It’s the time we actually need investors investing in property. But all the signals are that if you invest in property, the tenant has all the rights, it’s going to cost you a fortune. You’re a cow to be milked for taxes.

And so a lot of people are just saying, “Well, I’m not going to bother leasing or I’m not going to bother investing.” And that ultimately undermines the people who want to rent. It diminishes the supply of rent.

Tony Moclair:

But can that argument not be subject to the counter argument that in the current environment where housing is at a premium, to leave empty houses just sitting there unoccupied either invite squatting or is ethically not a great thing to do?

John Storey:

Yeah, I’m sympathetic to that argument. There is something that feels wrong about a property just left vacant, but what I would say is that we already have new land tax rules that impose premiums of land tax of several percentage points for people who don’t actively rent out their property or live in it. So there is already a cost imposed.

But ultimately, if we want to live in a free society where if you buy something with your own money, it’s your choice what you do with it, you have to ultimately respect the fact that if it’s your property, you can do what you wish with it. Otherwise, it’s effectively the government’s property. And that is not the free market private property civilization that our country’s been built on.

Tony Moclair:

John Storey, director of Law and Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs. Thanks for your time.

John Storey:

No problem, Tony. Thanks for having me.

This transcript from 3AW Afternoons from 15 April 2024 has been edited for clarity.

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