Harry harpoons the government again

Sep 8, 2022

By Tina Perinotto, The Fifth Estate

There’s been more outings than usual recently at The Fifth Estate. And getting way more frequent these days now that we’ve moved onto the UTS campus and knocking about with some interesting types such as academics who are provoking ever deeper questions and inklings of wonderful research in building construction methodologies, materials and supply chains and urban greening.

This time we took the plunge into development central.

It was a sold out lunchtime event on Wednesday for about 400 people hosted by Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce for its annual property lunch.

The big attraction was to hear what keynote speaker Harry Triguboff might pronounce for his minions, with moderator Turi Condon former property editor for The Australian.

Condon did a great job asking the big questions with the moderation of the subsequent panel session with Simon Owen of Ingenia Communities, Adrian Pozzo of Cbus Property, Tom Mackellar of Lendlease, and Nerida Conisbee of Ray White.

But Harry, starting exactly at 12, (or “he gets cranky”) was happy to spin his tales of glory in the property world dropping one or two gems amid a stream of colourful and sometimes outlandish pronouncements as he always tends to do to ever-attentive audience in general and media in particular. A bit like the property world’s very own Gerry Harvey, rolling out next week’s government policy.

Among the “bon mots” sometimes eliciting roars of laughter from the crowd were Triguboff’s views on government and apartment building. When he started people didn’t want apartments, neither did the government, he said. How did he deal with that NIMBYism?

“I dealt with it [like this]: I built them all. It doesn’t matter what the politicians want.

“They can only delay, they cannot change.”

The opposition to apartments favoured houses, or “cottages” as he called them.

“In their minds [the politicians] wanted “cottages”, right? The fact is that many people don’t want cottages…So I always had a big problem. And so the first thing that they have to realise is that it’s not such a clever thing to attack apartments.

“Apartments is the only way out anyway [we presume he means out of Sydney’s landlocked urban footprint, maybe.]

“See what happens with the new cottages, they burn, flood, [there’s] all kinds of problems.]”

Apartments by contrast might have just “a few scratches”, he said.

Point there, but certainly this didn’t include sympathy for sustainability. At question time when we asked what his attitude was to sustainability or green buildings, Condon needed to explain, given he seemed to be not familiar with the word.

Triguboff shot back that we shouldn’t worry about that, build more buildings first – then worry about sustainability later. (Roars of laughter).

At Little Bay where Triguboff is asking for a massive increase in density for a site he owns there, he lamented that there was hardly anyone living there at present.

The site was zoned for 450 dwellings in buildings of two to five storeys but Meriton wanted 1,909 apartments and 17 storeys. A proposal knocked back by the relevant panel assessment panel.

Let’s guess Triguboff won’t give up. A lot of people would like to live there, he said, but they don’t get a vote because they don’t live there. [The irony was exquisite and we’re waiting for this argument to make its way to the Land and Environment Court.]

Councils were something to keep an eye on, he said, sharing some of his modus operandi in development. Occasionally you’d get a good councillor or bunch of councillors in one local government, and you’d work with them.

“There was a time I could go to the city [and build] and now I don’t go to the city. There was a time I could build in Mascot and there was a time I could build at Ryde. But to do that one has to be in the business for many years and know the situation and unfortunately the Chinese developers came here and they could not possibly know [the local situation] and they fell into the trap. And that’s it.”

On prices he was more than perplexing, claiming Surfers Paradise prices had gone up 30 per cent – and was Australia’s “best kept secret”. There he was lifting prices, he said against all the media reports calling a downturn and some predicting a rout as interest rates rise and slash affordability.

He also said Sydney in particular and Melbourne too would lose population as ageing folk opted for warmer climes. Panellists later said Sydney and other unaffordable places would struggle to keep key workers and in holiday locations struggled to get barrista or bar staff.

Trigboff admitted the mainly Chinese buyers for his apartments had departed along with the developers, but these had been replaced by local citizens of Chinese heritage and their partners.

The panellist later said Queensland was increasingly attractive and developers were now moving north to cheaper locations in Townsville and even Cairns.

But if Triguboff is at all interested in sustainability and cares to educate himself in the phenomenon that will define our future, willingly or not, he might want to have a chat with James Dibble living still in Ballarat on his farm, and from there trying to shake up the green building agenda with an amazingly ambitious high rise apartment project in Perth.

Not only might this building be the world’s tallest timber building as hoped and carbon negative, but it won’t have any parking at all. Instead, there will be 80 Teslas on call for the residents to go where they will, carbon emissions free.

So how about that to shake up the market like you’ve done for the past near 60 years, Mr Triguboff? It looks like you’ve still got enough kick!