Mr GEPP (Northern Victoria) (11:25): It is my pleasure to rise today to make a contribution also to the Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. Having listened to some of the contributions this morning, it is very pleasing that there would seem to be cross-chamber support for this bill. As my friend and colleague Dr Kieu just said in his contribution, whilst the amendments to the act that the bill is making are relatively small, they are nonetheless critically important because we are dealing with and we are thinking about people with special needs living in specialist disability accommodation (SDA) or some of our older Victorians living in retirement arrangements. They, as we know, are often the most vulnerable in our community and are very deserving of the very best support that we can provide them in all aspects of their life, but of course we all know the critical nature that housing plays, particularly for people who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons. If you have not got that safe, secure, protective roof over your head, then trouble begins from that point.
So I am very pleased to rise to make my contribution to the bill that makes amendments to the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2018 (RTAA) and the Retirement Villages Act 1986 to address important stakeholder issues, as I said, which includes assisting retirement village residents and their estates to recover their unpaid ingoing contributions. You can imagine when you get to that phase in your life that, having made all of the major, significant decisions in your life to that point where you are entering retirement home circumstances, it is probably the biggest decision that you will have made in your life. It is likely to be one of the last major decisions that you will make on a financial basis, and this bill seeks to address some of those critical areas.
The bill also makes amendments to the residential tenancies legislation to clarify certain arrangements in relation to social housing as well as specialist disability accommodation. I might begin my contribution at that point. What is the purpose of the amendments to specialist disability accommodation? Well, the amendments replicate what we say are the ineffective amendments to the RTA, the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 included in the Disability (National Disability Insurance Scheme Transition) Amendment Act 2019, which failed due to the delayed commencement of the RTAA. That NDIS transition act made a number of amendments to the RTA to enhance residency rights for SDA residents, including protections relating to unreasonable evictions and keeping pets, with the aim of more closely aligning the rights of specialist disability accommodation residents with renters under the RTA. The house would be familiar with the amendments that we brought to the RTA some time ago in relation to unreasonable evictions and indeed the keeping of pets, and this is an important area of reform. We should not have different standards in terms of things such as housing availability and the capacity for someone to live with a pet simply because they are living in specialist disability accommodation.
Why are these amendments being progressed now? Members will recall that the NDIS transition act passed this Parliament on 18 June 2019—so a little bit more than 12 months ago—and received royal assent on 25 June. The provisions of that transition act commenced on 1 July. Sections 215 and 216, which contained the relevant specialist disability accommodation provisions, purported to make amendments to new division 9 of part 2 of the RTA regarding the termination of residential rental agreements, which would be inserted by the RTAA. Commencement of the RTAA has been deferred from 1 July this year to 27 April 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary emergency measures that have been put in place. As the RTAA has not commenced, there is no division 9 of part 2 of the RTA. Accordingly, the amendments that we made under sections 215 and 216 of the NDIS transition act have failed. The proposed amendments in this bill will insert the provisions directly into the RTAA so that they will commence alongside the remainder of division 9 of part 2 of the RTA upon the commencement of the RTAA. There are a few too many RTAs and RTAAs there, but I hope the house has followed the bouncing ball. I can see Mr Finn nodding in the affirmative. Thank you for keeping up with those very important changes, Mr Finn.
The amendments make two key changes. What are they? They provide for the termination and the remaking of residential rental agreements where there has been coercion or deception of an SDA resident, and they allow a renter who is an SDA resident to issue a 14-day notice of intention to vacate in circumstances where the dwelling provider’s NDIS registration has been revoked. These are very important amendments for the protection of SDA residents.
Of course, as I talked about earlier, there were some other amendments in the NDIS transition act, and it is reasonable to pose the question: have those also been impacted by the delay due to COVID-19 or have they taken effect? Some of the things that were included in the amendments to the RTA to meet Victoria’s obligations under the national quality and safeguards framework were to ensure the residential rights of NDIS participants residing in SDA are fully protected and that the duties of SDA providers are clearly set out, including penalties for non-compliance. These amendments were made to part 12 of the RTA and were therefore not contingent upon the commencement of the RTAA, so those amendments that were put in place in fact have progressed.
What is SDA accommodation? It is a very good question for the house to ask and have answered. Specialist disability accommodation refers to accommodation for people who require—
Mr Finn: That’ll be the phone, Reg. Tell them you’ll be free in 5 minutes. Call them back.
Mr GEPP: It is one of the problems with modern technology. When one has so many pieces of technology, inevitably one of them will fall foul. Can I thank Mr Bourman—at least we know that he is in his office watching me make this contribution. I thank him for making contact, and I am sure I will be greeted in a few minutes with some mirth and merriment from him when I get back to my office.
Specialist disability accommodation refers to the accommodation for people who require specialist housing solutions, including to assist with the delivery of supports that cater for their extreme functional impairment or very high support needs. The SDA residential agreements became part of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997, and CAV—or Consumer Affairs Victoria—regulate these agreements under existing Victorian rental laws.
I touched on briefly at the start of my contribution—and I will quickly address these—the amendments for social and affordable housing. Why are they needed? Well, the RTA is generally focused on the private rental market, as we know. It sometimes does not really reflect the particular sets of circumstances that apply to our social housing sector, such as, for example, the income-based rent model and prioritisation of housing to those in greatest need. So the amendments address any unintended consequences of any of the RTA reforms that do not reflect these differences clearly.
These amendments—and I think Dr Kieu touched on these—are very important, and it is worth just repeating them very, very quickly. They are about maintaining current practice—that is, ensuring that rental rebates for social housing tenants can be adjusted, continuing to allocate housing to the people who need it most and ensuring that the director of housing can use existing arrangements with Centrelink to collect tenants’ rents. We do know that there is a difference between social housing and private rental, and there are a couple of key features which do differentiate the two models. One is an income-based approach to the setting of rent, not a market-based approach, which is obviously the model in the private sector. This means that social and affordable housing rent is based on the assessment of the renter’s capacity to pay, and that is very, very important. One is a market-driven formula, and the other is based on the renter’s capacity to pay. Then the second aspect is applying the eligibility criteria to prospective renters that are based on housing need, so that available social and affordable housing priorities are leased to the renters who need it most, such as people who are experiencing homelessness or people with disabilities.
I will not go through all of the changes to the amendment to the Retirement Villages Act. Dr Kieu and indeed Mr Ondarchie covered off most of those in their contributions and did so very, very thoroughly, which is why I have focused more on the specialist disability accommodation and the social housing aspects of the amendments to the act, but it is important. The amendments to the Retirement Villages Act are no less important of course. They are very, very important. We know, as I said at the beginning of my contribution, that for older Victorians when they enter into retirement villages it is a significant financial decision, as well as a social decision, that they are making at a very late stage in their life. I think as Mr Ondarchie commented, they have reached the stage where they have contributed through the workforce for many, many years, and this is the opportunity for them to enjoy their retirement in the sun and often in a resort-style environment. But most importantly, what we need to ensure is that their retirement money—that last big decision that they will make—has as much protection as we possibly can give it, and that is what these amendments do.
- On that note, again I thank Mr Bourman for the earlier interruption. I thank the house and apologise to the house for my technology getting the better of me, but I do want to commend this, whilst very small, very important bill to the house.