Property industry leader John McGrath has lashed out at prospective Queensland legislation that will fine any agent who provides guidance on an auction price to a journalist.
Mr McGrath, chief executive of McGrath Estate Agents and a popular TV pundit, has joined forces with The Newspaper Works to express outrage at Queensland’s attack on freedom of expression and a free press.
According to a flyer that representatives of his real estate company handed out to prospective buyers at the weekend, the fine for breaking the law will be up to $49,500.
The flyer pictured a woman gagged with masking tape and the headline, “We’d love to talk to you about the price, but the Government is about to make that illegal”, as well as a single page letter written by Mr McGrath addressing the legislation, called the Property Occupations Bill.
Chief executive of The Newspaper Works (TNW), Mark Hollands, welcomed Mr McGrath’s response and said any attack on freedom of expression had to be defended.
“The idea that an agent could be prevented by law from disclosing to a journalist guidance about an auction is an outrage,” said Mr Hollands. “Ample fair trading and consumer protection exists. This is just censorship, plain and simple.”
The legislation, due to pass later this month, would be a terrible outcome for consumers, Mr Hollands said.
“Websites will no longer be able to state price guidance for Queensland properties in drop down menus, or searches,” he said. “While our media are always ready to provide such basic information to consumers, this proposed legislation demands that it be censored.”
Mr McGrath’s open letter, distributed at property inspections across south-east Queensland, says: “As unbelievable as it seems, the Queensland Government are in the process of passing a piece of legislation that will make it illegal for an agent and a buyer to discuss their price expectations.
“A seller will not be able to promote their auction property in any media ever again . . . [not in] local papers, metropolitan papers, the internet.
“A buyer will not be able to have a discussion with an agent about price in person, on the phone or via email. You will be met with a blank stare.”
“In the age of information, in a country of free speech, this seems incredible to me.”
Mr McGrath said buyers’ top search criteria were price, and budget was their most important consideration.
According to Residential Consumer Omnibus Independent research, up to 91 per cent of buyers do not click on properties that have no price guide.
In January TNW made a submission to the Queensland Parliament’s Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee inquiry into the Property Occupations Bill (2013).
In the submission, TNW states government failed to prevent evidence of an existing problem, and the information it sought to censor is “an important part of an effectively functioning market”.
TNW stated buyers and sellers were covered in existing consumer protection legislation, including state-based fair trading provisions, which address false and misleading activities.
The submission says: “We encourage the Queensland Government to allow price guidance, including for properties offered for sale by auction, and that price guide information should be advertised or incorporated in editorial content.”
The submission further argues that the prospective legislation would, “artificially move or skew sellers and buyers into fixed price sale, or negotiated price arrangements, because they would be unable to exercise free speech and provide or obtain price guide information due to prohibition”.
For more news from The Newspaper Works click here