I am also pleased to rise to speak in support of the Fair Trading and Other Acts
Amendment Bill 2008. I would clearly argue that the bill does a number of key
things. Firstly, it strengthens enforcement capacity and it updates and amends
definitions in the Fair Trading Act 1999. It also inserts an unfair contract
term scheme in part 2B of the Fair Trading Act (FTA) to credit contracts, and it
strengthens protections for students in section 21 of the Residential Tenancies
Act 1997. It also amends the Consumer Credit (Victoria) and Other Acts Amendment
Act in line with other developments that have been occurring at a national level
in working towards a more consistent approach to consumer credit issues.
The bill does all of that through a number of proposed changes.
For example, it enables the Victorian courts to make non-punitive orders
requiring corrective advertising to take place.
It also ensures that the courts can make orders prohibiting a
person subject to litigation from divesting his or her assets or property and
thereby potentially frustrating a court’s judgement. It also provides for
increasing the compensation able to be awarded for those who have been
humiliated or distressed arising from conduct which is an offence under the FTA.
Also, amongst other things the bill enables the director of
Consumer Affairs Victoria to choose whether to pursue part 2B proceedings in
VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal), as is currently the case, or
the County or Supreme courts.
It also provides courts and VCAT with the capacity to make
orders, for example, for a restitution or refund under part 2B. The bill also
deals with a number of issues in respect of student accommodation as they affect
the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), as it enables regulations to be made
specifying criteria that must be used in educational institutions in determining
whether to formally affiliate residential premises under section 21 of the RTA,
thereby exempting those premises from complying with the RTA.
The bill also removes the existing exemption for credit
contracts from the operation of the unfair contract terms scheme set out in part
2B of the FTA. As I have previously mentioned, the amendments to the Consumer
Credit (Victoria) and Other Acts Amendment Act are a mechanism to ensure that
there is acknowledgement and therefore consistency towards a common set of
arrangements that will apply nationally.
All the amendments before us tonight have had different
histories that have taken us down this path or on this journey to arrive at this
bill. Some of them have been reflected in statements made by the Premier, and
that was particularly the case in respect of strengthening the protection of
student accommodation provisions. He most recently made mention of that,
specifically in the 2008 annual statement of government intentions, but also in
2007 the government published an accommodation issues paper which contained a
section specifically on student accommodation issues.
Many members would be aware of and would recall a number of
articles that have appeared in the media that expose cases of really poor
student accommodation conditions and essentially situations where people were
almost forced to live in squalor and overcrowding.
All in all, we have before the house tonight a set of
amendments that deserve our support. There has been substantial consultation on
the amendments over a considerable period of time. A part of those consultations
would have been with various stakeholders in the lead-up to the issues paper as
well, but in terms of the enforcement-related amendments to the FTA, the Law
Institute of Victoria was consulted, as were the Consumer Action Law Centre, the
Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders Association Australia.
In respect of the residential tenancy issues, the major
metropolitan universities — that is, Monash University, the University of
Melbourne, Victoria University, La Trobe University and RMIT — were consulted.
Also consulted were stakeholders representing international students, including
the Australian Federation of International Students, the Tenants Union of Victoria, the Victorian TAFE Association,
the Australian Council for Private Education and Training and the Multifaith
Multicultural Youth Network.
As I said, the amendments contained in this bill are
straightforward. They deserve our support, and they deserve a speedy passage
through this house.