Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 Second Reading

16 Oct 2019

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I am just going to speak briefly on this bill. It is an omnibus bill that covers a range of legislation: the Residential Tenancies Act 1997, the Sex Work Act 1994, the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012, the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995 and the Fundraising Act 1998. But I want to focus on the changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, which of course follow on from some of the reforms that were made in the last term of the Parliament, in particular the changes in regard to the provision for pets in rental properties. My understanding is this bill allows for the early introduction of those pet reforms.

I am speaking because, first of all, in Prahran we have a significantly high number of renters, of which I am now one, with around 60 per cent of people in the Prahran electorate living in rental accommodation. The changes that were made to the Residential Tenancies Act in the previous Parliament had long been championed by the Greens. They were really a significant change for the better for so many people living in the Prahran electorate. They were announced by the government in late 2017 during the Northcote by-election, and it took a full year for those laws to be introduced into Parliament and now most of those changes are not being implemented until 2020. It has been some time since it was first announced, so I certainly welcome this particular part of the reform being brought forward to ensure that people are not unreasonably refused the opportunity to live with their pets in rental properties.

Renters in Prahran face a number of issues. As a local MP I have looked into this issue quite deeply. They are facing high rents, concerns about the security of their tenancy, the low quality of some of the dwellings, delays in responses from landlords when repairs are requested and significantly, relating to this particular bill, the struggle to find properties because of having a pet. Not only do we have a significant number of renters in the Prahran electorate, we also have a significant number of pet owners. If I do say so myself, we have some of the best behaved pets in the state. I remember when I first stood for Stonnington City Council in 2012 we had attendance voting, and the number of well-behaved, well-groomed pets that would simply sit at the entrance to the polling station while their owner went in and voted was incredibly impressive. A member interjected.

Mr HIBBINS: I am not sure if the pets could vote. There are a significant number of greyhound owners in Prahran as well, which I have certainly noticed over a number of years. Many people in the Prahran electorate are rehoming greyhounds, which I think is fantastic. Just recently the Chapel Street shopping precinct went pet friendly. They are running a campaign with about 300 traders now with the paw sign on their doors saying they are pet friendly. You can shop, you can get your hair done and bring your dog, which I think is really important. That is why I wanted to speak on this bill—the significance of both pet ownership and renting in the Prahran electorate.

But there is more to be done when it comes to renting and improving the rights of renters. I will add that it was disappointing last year when the Liberals opposed changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, opposed improving rights for renters which would benefit so many people in the Prahran electorate and are now again speaking out against those reforms. It tells you where they stand when it comes to looking after the needs of people in Prahran. But there is more to do in terms of improving the rights of renters. One, we do need to look at a cap on rent increases, which would be in line with ensuring that rents do not spiral out of control and out of the reach of so many people.

These are reforms that have been introduced in other areas around the world, and it is something we definitely need to look at in Melbourne to ensure that rents remain affordable, particularly in the inner city. We also need to look at the standards of rental dwellings and ensure that there are minimum standards for rental dwellings when it comes to energy efficiency and the installation of efficient light fixtures, hot water systems and heating. This would save people money and would be very good for the environment too. Minimum standards would really lift the quality of rental properties across the state. So there is more to be done for renters. I also wanted to just address the elements in regard to the Solar Homes program.

These amendments make some changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to assist with the Solar Homes program by clarifying that a landlord and tenant can voluntarily enter into an agreement. Now, the addition of renters to the Solar Homes program was made after the initial announcement of the Solar Homes program by the government last year. The Greens were very keen on pushing to ensure that renters could be included in that program, but currently the number of rental properties that are eligible for the scheme is only 2000 per year. If that is going to continue for the whole 10 years of the scheme, that is about 20 000 dwellings out of about 650 000 dwellings. It is not enough.

Currently I think it is working out to be about 166 per month, and as it stands that is undersubscribed. About 130 or so have been taken up this month, so it is certainly not facing some of the issues that the other side of the scheme, the one for home owners, is facing. What that is telling me is that this change may improve or increase the uptake, but with only 2000 available per year I think the government does need to look at ways of doing more to get renters involved in this scheme. The Greens took a policy for renters to the last election which was a bit innovative and a bit unique in that it gave renters a $1000 grant which would allow them to then buy into solar at a separate location—potentially a community building or a train station or something along those lines.

That is a unique and innovative way to allow renters to engage in the solar market and get solar power, and they would be credited in their energy bill for the energy that that particular solar panel produces. I think that is certainly something that the government does need to look at if it is going to stick with this current allocation of just 2000 rental dwellings per year to be included in the Solar Homes program. The government does need to look at more unique and different ways to allow renters to get involved in solar.

What would also assist, as I mentioned before, are minimum mandatory standards for rental properties to ensure that they are environmentally friendly, and that could involve solar. The Greens will be supporting this bill. We certainly welcome the bringing forward of provisions ensuring that people are not unreasonably refused pets in their rental properties, but there is a lot more to be done to improve the rights of renters, which would be good for so many people in the Prahran electorate, and also to ensure that renters can be involved in solar.

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