Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Consumer Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2013. I wish to reiterate that the opposition will not be opposing the bill. It has been noted by previous speakers in this debate — in this chamber and indeed in the other place — that the bill before us this evening is an omnibus bill with a total of six acts being amended through this legislation.
While most of them are small technical amendments that must be made, there are some meatier sections in this bill that I would like to address later in my contribution.
I would also like to say in my initial comments that sections of this bill are before us today because of the failure of the Baillieu-Napthine governments to initially consult properly with stakeholder groups and to create legislation that strengthens consumer affairs rather than creating further confusion. It is also fair to say that this is a process of cleaning up the mess in consumer affairs created by the coalition government over the last 18 months. Much of this can be attributed to the coalition government’s inability or refusal to employ good consultation methods.
The bill before us today seeks to rectify the changes made by the government last year to the laws governing incorporated associations through the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012. I am sure that members will remember the haste with which that bill was rushed through both houses by the previous Minister for Consumer Affairs. We are now beginning to clean up the mess with the bill before us this evening. As the shadow minister for consumer protection, the member for Mill Park in the other place, stated in her contribution to this debate, her office, along with consumer advocacy and welfare groups, begged the then minister to ease his dogged attempt to ram the legislation through, but those pleas fell on deaf ears. The new minister is now left with the task of cleaning up the former minister’s mess, and while this bill goes some way in doing that, there is much more to be done.
This bill seeks to correct an oversight of the government when, with very little consultation, it rammed through the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012 and applied a retrospective correction to validate all actions of public officers acting as secretaries. Members will recall that there were issues raised at the time in respect of that.
In terms of the bill’s amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997, which are due in part to a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal decision of 2012, the bill clarifies the process of removing residents from non-operational rooming houses. As the member for Geelong in the other place stated when the bill was before the Legislative Assembly, rooming houses are common around universities. This is certainly the case with Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds and waterfront campuses in Geelong. Three of the four Deakin campuses are in my electorate, so this is of particular interest to me.
I also have the various Federation University — formerly University of Ballarat — campuses in my electorate, as well as the Warrnambool campus of Deakin University.
Rooming houses are not just used by students studying at universities here in Melbourne. There are also rooming houses near campuses in towns and regional centres. The member for Geelong in the Legislative Assembly mentioned that many disadvantaged people, whether their disadvantage is social, financial or both, live in rooming houses. As he said, the protection of these vulnerable Victorians is paramount. A large number of international students study at Deakin University and Federation University, and many of these people are accommodated in rooming houses. A number of these students have no family in Australia and would therefore be particularly vulnerable in the event of losing their room without appropriate notice.
This bill amends the current legislation to state that, if an owner of a building wishes to cease running the building as a rooming home, they must provide the residents of the house with 45 days notice to vacate. Again, the government did not undertake a proper consultation process for this section of the bill. This has led the Tenants Union of Victoria to raise concerns with the government about whether this amendment should go ahead.
In amending the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012, the bill seeks to clarify the fact that safety messages such as interim ban notices, permanent ban notices, compulsory recall notices and product safety and information standards are not legislative instruments. As members of this house would appreciate, this means that these safety messages are not subject to human rights certificates or public consultation, which would delay the process. These safety messages are intended to act in the interests of consumer safety, and their timely release is imperative to ensure their full impact and value.
In concluding, I again wish to reinforce the point that, if there had been proper consultation initially, we would not be in the situation we are in tonight. I also believe it is a waste of time and money to be dealing with a whole range of amendments that could have been fixed up at the point of execution and not 18 months down the track. With those words, I conclude my commentary on this bill.