COULD YOU LIVE A MONTH IN A SHARING ECONOMY?
Claire Marshall's goal was simple: to see if she could live for a month in the "sharing economy".
Emerging in recent years, the sharing economy connects suppliers of goods and services with people who need them. More than one in 10 of us have used a ride-sharing service like Uber.
More than one in 200 homes are on apartment rental sites like AirBNB. If you need a parking spot, Parkhound lets you rent a nearby driveway. If you'd like a caravan for a week, Camplify lets you lease one.
According to one estimate, the sharing economy is growing at 140 per cent per year, driven by the combination of smartphones, fast internet and clever entrepreneurs. But like most advances, it isn't all upside.
US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton refers to the risks of the "gig economy", in which workers can't obtain a job that's secure enough to support a mortgage and raise a family.
A 33-year-old Aussie living in London, Claire experienced the full lows and highs of living via peer-to-peer transactions. To make money, she tried Fiverr, a site where every job pays 5. After deducting the site's 1 fee, Claire found it was tricky to find tasks that could be completed quickly enough to make the job worthwhile. The story was much the same at Copyify, a copywriting site that often paid 6 for a job.
Through Vayable, Claire offered walking tours of local neighbourhoods. On Rentez-Vous, she tried to hire out some of her possessions (though as she wryly noted to me, it might have worked better if she'd had more to offer than a collection of funky dresses).
In the end, Claire's main source of funds was gifts via GoFundMe, a site that takes 17 per cent of all donations. Alongside this, she managed to secure house-sitting engagements, which saved her from having to pay rent.
The month was tiring, Claire told me. But she found that most people were generous, especially when there was no money involved. During the day, she even helped out by volunteering with the Good Gym, a platform that pairs up runners with isolated elderly people. Participants get a training plan and are more likely to exercise because they know there's a vulnerable person counting on them.
Properly regulating the sharing economy isn't easy. Will an activity work better or worse when there's money involved? Where wages are being paid, how do we make sure that they don't fall below the mandated minimum? Can governments protect against safety risks to the public, like food contamination or fire danger, without stifling the sharing economy in bureaucracy?
Unfortunately, we're yet to hear anything of substance from the Abbott-Turnbull government about how governments should respond to the rapid rise of the sharing economy. To fill this void, Labor has engaged in an extensive consultation process around the sharing economy. From more than 500 submissions, we developed six principles that will guide a Shorten government's response.
First, primary property is yours to share. When Australians use their own cars, homes or goods to deliver services, rules and regulations specific to the sharing economy should apply.
Second, new services must support good wages and working conditions. When offering services which involve human labour, sharing economy companies should ensure their pricing and contracting arrangements allow Australians to achieve work outcomes at least equivalent to the prevailing industry standard.
Third, everyone pays their fair share of tax. Just because you're using an app, it doesn't mean you can undercut regular businesses by failing to contribute to the public services we all need.
Fourth, proper protection for public safety. Sharing economy services must have the right insurance to protect Australians if anything goes wrong. Consumers should also be protected by the Australian Consumer Law and light-touch licensing and inspection rules at the state level.
Fifth, sharing economy services should be accessible to Australians with a disability. Sharing economy companies should negotiate service levels and needs through accessibility agreements with disability peak bodies.
Sixth, sharing economy providers must play by the rules.
Once tailored, light-touch rules exist for the sharing economy, there should be zero tolerance for companies that continue to flout Australian laws.
Living for a month in the London sharing economy "restored my faith in humanity", Claire told me. She made friends and realised that most people are both trusting and trustworthy.
Her next challenge will be to live for a year in an Australian sharing economy. For policymakers, the challenge is to make sure we're updating the laws to encourage innovation, help consumers, protect workers and avoid punching loopholes in the tax system. Labor understands the sharing economy and we're ready to make it work for everyone.
Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com.This Opinion Piece was first published in the Herald Sun on Monday, 27 June 2016.