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