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The Age ran a story on Monday expressing concern that the proposed redevelopment of Fishermans Bend looks like it might turn out to be as bad as soulless Docklands.

The nub of the story is the Government is out chasing down potential investors ahead of having prepared its master plan for Fishermans Bend.

Whether that’s a fair point or a beat-up is an interesting question, but what struck me about the story is these aren’t ordinary investors. These are “Asian investors”, from places like “Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Bahrain”.

Moreover, we’re warned that “the type of Malaysian investors you’ll get will want high rise and the bigger the better.” I count more than ten foreign-related references in the article.

The role of investors and their attitude towards developments is relevant, but the relevance of where they come from, although emphasised by The Age, is much less clear.

Later that morning, the host of the Morning program on ABC 774, John Faine, sought comments from experts and listeners on the developer “feeding frenzy” in Melbourne’s city centre.

The discussion focussed on the market for new apartment towers and the demand from foreign students. Mr Faine pursued the issue of foreign students seeking to enrol in universities for the primary purpose of gaining permanent residence in Australia.

During an interview with one of his expert guests, Greville Pabst from WBE Property Group, Mr Faine concluded that “we haven’t got a developer frenzy at all, we’ve got an immigration scam dressed up as development.”

Then Mr Faine made this remarkable point in relation to new buildings:

If I was buying into one of these and I’m thinking aloud here, I’m not in the slightest bit interested but if I was, I’d want to know who my neighbours were going to be……..and if I’m going to end up with a whole lot of students who’ve come to Australia from overseas, you know the children of well-to-do Chinese, Singaporean, Indian or wherever else ……..cashed-up middle class students who’re coming over here to enrol in subjects at universities and then apply for permanent residence to stay, I’d want to know if that’s the nature and character of my neighbourhood or not.

You can listen to the recording here (best to download the audio for 19 November – the segment starts at the 10 minute mark and the quote above is at 21minutes).

I can appreciate if someone were contemplating buying into an apartment tower they’d want to understand the likely demographics of their neighbours.

For example, older folk might want to avoid young singles who they’d expect would make noise. In turn, millennials might prefer the company of their peers and might want to minimise contact with potentially curmudgeonly baby-boomers.

It’s not clear to me though why the nationality or country of origin of one’s neighbours would matter. Or why the socioeconomic status of their parents, or their motivation for living in Australia, would be of any concern when it comes to choosing where to live.

Mr Faine says these are matters that he’d want to know about beforehand if he were buying into a building and he’s entitled to his personal view. But in this instance he wasn’t talking in private but to an audience of hundreds of thousands of listeners.

Anyone who writes a lot of words in a hurry knows how easy it is to slip-up inadvertantly on a fact or the way something’s expressed. It must be an order of magnitude harder for radio hosts who’re talking in real time.

Given his public record, I don’t believe Mr Faine intended to be discriminatory, but I think his comments are open to that interpretation. I also think there’s the possibility they might reinforce the prejudices of some listeners.

 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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