As someone who is interested in how we can make more efficient use of existing assets and help families with their cost of living, I'm excited by the potential posed by the emerging 'sharing economy'. In this op-ed for the Daily Telegraph, I've explained how I reckon services like AirBnB can help make a difference.
Nine million empty bedrooms a waste, Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 6 January
How many bedrooms would you say are going spare right now across Australia? How many perfectly good rooms are being used for storing disused dumb-bells and dusty DVDs?
The latest Census says the answer is about nine million more than one for every three Australians.
That's nine million spare rooms which could be put to productive use if only there was some way to match people who own rooms with people who'd like to stay in them.
As it turns out, there is. AirBnB is one of a host of new "sharing economy'' services linking people who own stuff they're not using with those willing to pay to do so.
Other examples include Uber and Lyft ride-sharing apps which let you catch a lift with drivers going your way and Fon which lets travellers connect to Wi-Fi networks anywhere in the world in exchange for some of their bandwidth.
The common idea behind these services is that sharing around extra capacity is the most efficient and sustainable way to make use of the goods we've got. These services also offer a way to help people keep their heads above water in tight financial times.
Nowhere is the potential greater than in the case of all those spare rooms.
The price of housing in Australia has been rising steeply, pushing affordability out of reach of many.
In just a generation the price of a typical home has risen from three times median earnings to nearly seven times median earnings.
Renting out the spare room for a couple of nights a month not only helps make ends meet but also offers a way of bridging the gap between housing supply and housing demand.
If our society can't build the homes we need as fast as the market demands, at least we can make better use of the bedrooms we have.
The discussion about the sharing economy often focuses on what it does for consumers. But it's time we started thinking about the benefits for people providing the service. There are few people with a mortgage who couldn't do with a few hundred extra dollars a month.
These services help make useful assets out of our excess stuff, and there may be real benefits here for ordinary Australian families.