RESIDENTIAL TENANCIES AND OTHER CONSUMER ACTS AMENDMENT BILL 2012

 I am pleased to rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Residential Tenancies and Other Consumer Acts Amendment Bill 2012. I am honoured to do so on behalf of the people of Brunswick.

As we know, this bill has arisen out of a process that included a coronial inquest and a subsequent high-level task force into rooming houses that came about because of the tragic deaths of Leigh Sinclair and Christopher Giorgi in a fire in a rooming house in Sydney Road, in my electorate of Brunswick. At this time I think it is appropriate — and I am sure all members of the house will join me — to remember those two young lives lost and the devastation that has resulted for their families and friends.

Rooming housing is an issue that is all too familiar in inner city suburbs like Brunswick and Coburg and all through the city of Yarra, in Richmond and Fitzroy, and unfortunately there are many unscrupulous operators who prey on vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community and provide substandard conditions at high cost to desperate people.

While this bill goes some way towards addressing the many issues surrounding rooming houses, as my colleague, friend and key advocate in this area the member for Albert Park put it so eloquently a short time ago, this bill fails in a number of key respects. Most importantly it fails in that it has not seized the opportunity to fully implement the recommendations of both the coroner and the task force.

While the opposition will not oppose this bill and welcomes the minimum standards and the requirement for local councils to upload the location of rooming houses and other data, we make the point that the government and the state have missed a vital and important opportunity to occupy a space, to take the initiative and stand up and look after some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community.

We know that the use and abuse of rooming houses by rooming house operators is a growing problem in our community, not a shrinking one. The member for Sandringham ably described the need for social housing. People can find themselves in difficult circumstances. Unfortunately at a time when these issues are being raised the government seems determined to lay the hack into public housing. We only have to look at what is happening in Heidelberg West, in the electorate of Ivanhoe, to know this government’s stance on public housing. If this approach continues, the pressure on the rooming house sector will only grow.

Honourable members interjecting.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Weller) — Order! The member for Albert Park and the member for Burwood can carry on their conversation outside, if they would like to.

Ms GARRETT — I appreciate the member for Albert Park’s passion on this issue, given his close involvement. Coronial recommendation 3 states:

That the director, CAV, implement a licensing system for all rooming house operators with each such business to be managed by a nominee who shall be the person in charge, with such persons to be fit and proper persons having regard to criteria to be established by the director.

This is an absolutely fundamental recommendation, which has been ignored by this government.

Recommendation 15 of the high-level task force, which had bipartisan support prior to this election — —

Mr Watt interjected.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Weller) — Order! The member for Burwood will desist.

Ms GARRETT — The former government made a commitment to implement all of the recommendations. Recommendation 15 again reinforces the need for a registration and licensing system for rooming houses in Victoria. Such a licensing system would address the key issues of the identity of rooming house operators and the conduct of such operators. We know that many rooming houses are substandard and that many of their operators are exploitative.

We have heard about the attitude of the Tenants Union of Victoria towards this bill and the attitudes of other housing and homelessness organisations. They are concerned that the government has failed to seize this opportunity to implement all of the recommendations of the Rooming House Standards Taskforce.

We believe this leaves many people in Victoria still open to abuse and exploitation and still living in substandard and desperate accommodation. We call on the government to get its skates on and to act in the interests of all Victorians, including those who are suffering under terrible conditions in these rooming houses.

Hansard, 2012