SALE OF LAND AMENDMENT BILL 2014
Ms Garrett (Brunswick) – Thank you, Acting Speaker. It is good that there are some acting speakers left after today! It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on the Sale of Land Amendment Bill 2014. It gives me even more pleasure to rise following the contribution of the National’s Whip, the member for Lowan. He spent an enormous amount of time, as have many of those opposite, speaking in quite a defensive tone about the coalition’s fundamental failure, particularly by the Nationals, to consult with what you would imagine would be its core constituency — a trade union of sorts — the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF). The farmers union is a very strong association, and it is not happy. That seems very clear.
The farmers union is particularly unhappy that the Victorian government has, in its opinion, backflipped on its 2010 election commitment to strengthen the right to farm. That the right to farm would be strengthened was a core commitment of the then opposition. Members in this house would remember that not long ago those on this side spoke strongly and passionately — and, in the case of the member for Broadmeadows, very articulately as well — about the right to protest and the horrific move-on laws and what they would mean for people in our constituencies and communities who were going to be deeply affected by such draconian legislation. Does anyone in this house see that same passion from those opposite, particularly the Nationals, defending the right to farm? Where are they?
The piece of legislation before the house has resulted in a statement — a media statement, a public statement — from the core constituency of those opposite saying that this legislation undermines the right to farm. Those opposite should hang their heads in shame on this. This is shoddy work. It is the work of a dysfunctional government. It is the work of a government that has lost control of the house. Those opposite are so busy trying to maintain some semblance of control and decency within this chamber that they have forgotten to consult with the farmers union. It is just another example of a government in absolute crisis. It is worth noting the shambles of this government.
The Minister for Water has been too busy with the Office of Living It Up Victoria and having a great time there, trying to unpack all of that.
An honourable member — There was no water at the opening.
Ms Garrett– There was no water at the opening there, no. The only water was that which had gone into the bubbles, and I am sure the bubbles were the absolute finest. There certainly was not any water. There were a few contracts up apparently, which were discussed over those bubbly drinks. Instead of being out there on the farms defending the right to farm and ensuring that the VFF received the right to consult, government members were on the sauce in a different way, were they not? Yes, they were, Acting Speaker.
What does the VFF say? I know others in this house have pointed out in a very meaningful way what it has said.
The farmers union believes this government is a very long way from delivering on its election promises about the right to farm. These are extremely serious issues, because this is a perennial problem in rural and regional Victoria. The important notice to purchasers said that the property those people may be looking at:
- … may be located in an area where commercial agricultural production activity may affect your enjoyment of your property.
Mr Andrews interjected.
Ms Garrett — And we do hope those guns are registered, but sometimes they apparently are not. We would like to know what the VFF says about that too. I think that may well impact also on the right to farm, because these regulations are important. The warning continues:
- It is therefore in your interest to undertake an investigation of the possible amenity and other impacts from nearby properties and the agricultural practices and processes conducted there.
I think it is really interesting at this juncture to make an analogy with some of the issues that happen where I live. We have had a lot of discussion around live music and the amenity impacts there, with people coming into the inner city and buying homes near pubs and clubs where live music has been a way of life and then getting very upset about that. I therefore certainly understand these issues in a very personal way, and they absolutely involve the livelihoods of those affected in regional and rural areas. The winding back of that protection, even though there is some concern that it probably or possibly was not as effective as it should have been, is therefore clearly of concern to the VFF and should have been of concern to this shambolic government before this legislation was introduced to the house.
Government members not being able to get it right for their core constituency — government members not even being able to consult with their core constituency — is a cue to wonder what on earth they are doing in relation to the broader Victorian community.
I come now to the other clauses in the bill which seek to ‘re-enact, reform and modernise’ provisions relating to section 32 statements. As we all know, and as my great colleague the member for Thomastown pointed out, the section 32 statement is for most or many people the biggest legal document they ever see. It can sometimes be the most complex to navigate, but it is an extremely significant document as they make what is the biggest purchase of their lives. In many cases they have taken out mortgages they will be paying off for a good duration of their lives to invest in their futures and those of their children. These are therefore documents not to be tampered with lightly.
This bill proposes to remove some of the existing requirements relating to the section 32 statements. These include the requirement to list all connected services, the requirement to specify particulars of any water supply or sewerage service connected to the land that is not of the standard available in the locality and the requirement to provide notice of any prohibition by a planning instrument on the construction of a dwelling house on land outside the metropolitan area and the requirement to attach a copy of the section 32 statement to the contract of sale.
There has been some discussion of this, and people have different views about it, but we would make the point that tampering with or changing protections that are vital for consumers is something that should never, ever be done lightly. I remember standing in this very place not that long ago when we were discussing changes to the travel agents legislation and expressing deep concern about the removal of consumer protections in that case. We say that is a symbol of this government not properly consulting or considering the various needs of key stakeholders. It appears we may be going down a similar path, or a path of concern, and we are raising those concerns in relation to the changes involving the winding back of protections, particularly for vulnerable consumers.
Often these are individuals, mums and dads or single people, who are making this massive investment they will need to finance for the rest of their lives — hopefully not the rest of their lives but for a good chunk of them. Protections around these investments must be absolutely paramount.
Whilst we are not opposing the bill, certainly not at this stage, we would highlight just those concerns around making sure that the protections are as rigorous as possible.
That really does bring me — and this is slightly off topic — to refer to what the federal Liberal government is doing in relation to issues around disclosure and financial advisers, which we as a community are deeply concerned about.
Mr Andrews interjected.
Ms Garrett – Indeed. I mean, really, the federal minister who introduced that legislation has now stood aside for various reasons. This is about consumer protection. I have seen the other side of dodgy financial planners who take secret commissions from consumers — for example, in the Storm case in Queensland.
That is just one of many cases where the entire savings of struggling and working families have been wiped out as a result of the greed of others, and to be winding back protections in that sphere is absolutely to be condemned.
In conclusion on this piece of legislation, while we do not oppose it, we raise some serious concerns about these matters. We call on the government to consider those concerns as part of the process. We note the concerns raised in strong language by the Victorian Farmers Federation. Those issues need to be addressed, and they most definitely should have been addressed before the bill was brought into the house. Clearly people were busy doing other things. Having said that, we reiterate that it is of paramount importance to have consumer protections in these important contracts, and we will be keeping a very close watch on the bill as it progresses through the Parliament.
Hansard, 2 April 2014