17 June 2015
On the second floor of an unassuming building on Beaumont Street in Hamilton, Justin Hales and his team (he’s the one inside the caravan in the photograph) are trying to shape the future of self-drive holidays. Their start-up, Camplify.com.au, lets owners of caravans and campervans rent them directly to other users.
Justin’s family used to take camping holidays when he was a child, and he fondly recalls their annual trips to the Breakers Caravan Park in Port Macquarie, where his family would park their blue and white Viscount caravan amid their neighbours, and enjoy the sense of community and freedom. His favourite part of it, Justin says, was knowing he was sleeping on the kitchen table every night.
When he got married, Justin and his wife decided they wanted to take a caravan holiday, but they couldn’t afford to buy one and didn’t have a place to store it. Unable to find a caravan to rent, Justin decided to invent Camplify. Because the typical caravan is used only six weeks a year, the site offers a way for owners to make money from an expensive asset, and holidaymakers to take a caravan holiday without buying a caravan.
As they talk us through the business, the team are bustling with energy. Less than a year old, Camplify got its start through the Jumpstart accelerator program, run by Slingshot in conjunction with the NRMA. On the day we visited their offices, the website had just launched its next stage. Soon, they hope to be facilitating hundreds of rentals a week. If that goes well, their next ambition is to take the idea global.
Camplify is just one example of what’s known as the ‘‘sharing economy’’. Based on the amalgam of fast broadband, ubiquitous smartphones and clever ideas, sharing-economy firms aim to connect service providers directly with customers. Such services have proven popular: in the first year of Uber’s operation, one in 10 Sydneysiders reported that they had used the ride-sharing service. One in 300 Australian dwellings are listed for rent on AirBNB.
Labor believes that the sharing economy offers the promise of improving our lives. But we are not uncritical cheerleaders. That’s why we’ve been consulting with service providers, consumers and unions to get their ideas on the rules that should govern the sharing economy. Australians have a right to assume that safety standards are being met, that they’re covered by insurance, and that the appropriate taxes are being paid. These are important parts of the conversation over the sharing economy.
What distinguishes Labor’s position on sharing-economy services is that we don’t just see people as consumers. An odd-jobs app like Airtasker is great for busy professionals who need tasks done around the home, but we also need to think about the quality of the jobs that are emerging from the sharing economy. Are these jobs that allow people to raise a family and pay a mortgage? Or are they the kinds of temporary, low-paid positions that make us a more unfair society?
Amid all this, it’s vital to recognise the value of having innovative sharing-economy services being built right here at home. Like sharing-economy apps ParkHound, Pawshake and DriveMyCar, Camplify is proudly Australian. As policymakers tackle the hard questions about the rules that should govern the sharing economy, we need to think of Australia as a place that doesn’t just play with apps, but designs them too. That’s why Bill Shorten has called for all school students to have the chance to learn coding – the computer languages that underpin online innovation.
Whether Camplify ultimately transforms caravanning remains to be seen. Trying to create a world-beating start-up is a tough road, but there’s no reason why the same region that produced Mark Richards, Silverchair and Kurt Fearnley shouldn’t also create the next killer app.
This piece originally appeared as a joint article with the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Dr Andrew Leigh MP, Member for Fraser, in the Newcastle Herald on Wednesday, 17 June 2015.