I rise to speak on the Veterans and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015. I am very pleased to make a contribution, particularly given the timely nature of the passage of this bill in the lead-up to the remembrance activities that will occur in relation to Gallipoli later this month. I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to all service personnel who have served this country here and overseas over many years. I thank all the people who are involved in support organisations to make sure that the families of service personnel have their interests met and are supported by both the government and by members of the community.
The bill makes a number of small but significant changes across a number of acts. Some have referred to it as an omnibus bill. It is a wideranging bill, and I intend to speak only to a number of aspects of it. I will comment on clause 8, as I understand it has drawn some attention from various members of the house. I will begin by talking about part 2 of the bill, the amendments to the Veterans Act 2005, which covers some 600 patriotic funds that are administered by the RSL, branches of Legacy, the Victorian branch of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, the Victorian branch of the War Widows Guild of Australia and other organisations. All these patriotic funds were established under the Veterans Act 2005 to raise money for veterans and their dependants.
Many of us have grown up with the fact that on Remembrance Day we wear the Flanders poppy on our lapels, or on our cardigans or jumpers, as a mark of remembrance and respect for those who fought for our freedom. The Flanders poppy is symbolic because it was one of the first plants to grow on the devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium. On Anzac Day we wear the rising sun badge, which has become an integral part of the digger tradition. The badge, with its distinctive shape, is worn by many of our armed forces personnel on the upturned brim of a slouch hat, and it is commonly identified as the spirit of Anzac. The moneys raised by the sale of these important symbols go to the very funds we are dealing with here today. These are just two examples of the monetary support that so many Australians give to patriotic funds each year to assist the families of war veterans.
Along with this support, I am always proud to see the thousands upon thousands of people of all ages attending Anzac ceremonies here and overseas. I am also particularly pleased to see an increasing number of young people coming to a range of these ceremonies — not just the dawn service but also the predawn service in Geelong; it is quite awe inspiring to see young children sitting down and participating in that 4.00 a.m. ceremony. These ceremonies are an important way of connecting with what has happened in our past and engaging in the effort to ensure that there is greater peace in this world.
With that in mind, I commend the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation for bringing this important legislation forward. The amendments outlined will go a long way towards ensuring that veterans and their dependants are supported more easily. The bill essentially means that greater flexibility will be built into the system. It will be easier for the trustees of the funds to provide important support to veterans and their dependants. Presently trustees of patriotic funds are required to seek the approval of the Governor in Council to transfer patriotic fund assets to charitable organisations interstate, which can be a drawn-out process. The bill seeks to change this provision to make it possible for the director of Consumer Affairs Victoria to approve transfers of up to $1000 and for the consumer affairs minister to approve the transfer of up to $5000.
Importantly the bill also enables two or more patriotic funds to be amalgamated. This is especially important today, when we are taking enormous steps to ensure the ongoing financial viability of RSL sub-branches. However, under the Veterans Act 2005 there is no way to enable the amalgamation of two patriotic funds. This has meant that the amalgamated sub-branches are required to keep separate accounts for patriotic funds, imposing unnecessary and challenging burdens on those organisations.
A number of Assembly members and Mr O’Donohue, just prior to my rising to my feet, indicated that there is support across the chamber. A considerable number of contributions in the other place exemplified the pride and support of the Victorian community in relation to our war heroes and their families. It is important that we take time to talk about the infrastructure that is there and how it can be improved. Greater flexibility will make it easier for those close to the situation to do what they are charged with the responsibility for doing.
The second area I want to touch on is the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. This is a section that deals with rooming house owners who fail to comply with record-keeping obligations. Proper record keeping by rooming house operators is essential to ensuring the safety of rooming house occupants and Consumer Affairs Victoria’s ability to monitor the owner’s compliance with safety standards.
At present the only way Consumer Affairs Victoria can verify that the appropriate safety checks have been done at rooming houses is by examining the owner’s records. However, as the law stands today, whilst it is an offence for rooming house operators to fail to conduct safety checks, it is not an offence for them to fail to keep records. This, of course, makes it difficult for Consumer Affairs Victoria to independently verify whether proper safety checks have been conducted. These safety checks include testing of electrical and gas appliances. As we move into the winter months it is important that gas heaters are checked to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and potential fire risks. The amendment will allow Consumer Affairs Victoria to take enforcement action against operators who fail to comply with these record-keeping obligations.
I am pleased that this amendment is making its way through Parliament and into law, as occupants of rooming houses are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. People in rooming houses are often waiting to access public housing or are experiencing difficult times in their lives. Therefore it is vital that we ensure their safety. The proper keeping and retainment of gas and electrical check records will allow Consumer Affairs Victoria to monitor the safety of all rooming house occupants.
I move now to comments that have been made in respect of clause 8 of this bill. It is the position of the government that consumer protections in the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 will not be undermined by clause 8. It was just prior to the bells ringing to signal question time today that I was able to establish some understanding of the discussion that has started to occur amongst the parties. I also had an opportunity to look at the correspondence from the Consumer Action Law Centre and to speak to the Leader of the Government in this house, Mr Jennings.
The position that was read out by Mr O’Donohue earlier today is correct. That information came from the office of the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, Ms Garrett. I understand that Mr O’Donohue is seeking written confirmation from the minister in respect of those aspects. The discussion that Minister Jennings and I had this afternoon focused on the fact that where the bill deals with the subsequent development of the exemption, the National Credit Code has been further amended to include an additional notice that must be served before legal action can be commenced to recover amounts owed under a consumer lease.
We believe there is potential for further protection of the debtor prior to the matter going to the courts. There is potentially another step to be provided before legal proceedings can commence. This is particularly important if we are dealing with people who are in a highly vulnerable situation and are facing very difficult circumstances.
I look forward to hearing contributions that will be made by other members of the chamber, and I think we will be able to see our way clear to clarify this particular section of the bill. I commend the bill to the house.