Monday, August 27, 2012

Much Debate about Occupancy Agreements


As we mentioned last week, independent MP Clover Moore's Residential Tenancies Amendment (Occupancy Agreements) Bill was the subject of debate in Parliament on Thursday. We took along a little piece of the brown couch and watched our parliamentary process unfold.



Predictably, and a little disappointingly it seems the readership of the Brown Couch does not include many parliamentarians and the opportunity to have the best of both bills was lost, at least for now. However, there were some encouraging signs that there is still room for the Government's own Boarding Houses Bill to grow in to an effective piece of legislation.

Much of the Government's response to the Bill debate centred around two points. Firstly, and unsurprisingly, that the Government's own Bill was their preferred option.

Member for Port Stephens, Mr Craig Baumann mentioned,
"I note that, unlike the very responsible legislation that the O'Farrell-Stoner Government is developing to make New South Wales number one again, this bill has not been subject to public consultation."
He later went on to say,
"The Government's reforms have been tested through a comprehensive consultation process involving key stakeholders. The Government has ensured that the views of both boarding house residents and operators were considered in its reform proposals."

If we'd been given the floor, we might have pointed out that although there has been targetted consultation on the Government's Bill, any views of boarding house residents that have been considered were entirely through the work of various community groups, including the Tenants' Union, to gather those views.

All but one of the government's speakers took the opportunity to point out the 16 years Labor had whilst in government to introduce some reform to marginal renters. Not an unfair point, but not one that had much bearing on the merits of the Bill before the house.

More relevant were the various case studies that Labor members, and Clover Moore read to the house of people who will remain uncovered by any accessible dispute resolution if the Boarding Houses Bill proceeds without amendment. A choice study, as entered into Hansard,
"G and H are Chinese students attending university in regional New South Wales and sharing a room rented from a private landlord. The landlord charges each of them $140 a week for the room plus $84 for internet access and $70 for electricity and a bond. When the landlord informed them that the rent would increase the following week by $45 these Chinese students objected to the increase and queried the amounts they are being charged for internet access and electricity. The landlord told them, "This is the law in Australia. You better get used to it", and he gave them four days notice of termination.



Minister for Disability and Aging. Andrew Constance gave some positive indications that the Boarding House Bill was not yet set in stone. He told the House:
"I will go away and examine it more closely, beyond this parliamentary debate, to see whether it contains elements that could be incorporated in those consultations as they relate to the boarding house reform that we have embarked upon."

"The private member's bill introduced by the member for Sydney extends beyond boarding houses, and I am happy to look at those provisions and engage further with the member."

A particularly impressive few lines, to which we give a resounding "hear hear!":
"I know there are people in the sector who are deadset against this process. I say to them that government—regardless of whether it is Labor, Liberal, Independent or The Greens—must ensure that protections are in place for people in vulnerable situations. I do not think the proposals in this bill are particularly onerous."

"I reiterate that I do not see this being a reason for boarding houses to close."

Much of the discussion was in fact a precursor to the debate on the Boarding Houses Bill. Whilst disappointing that this Bill was opposed, it highlights the value of bills such as Clover's, which while they may not have strong hopes of becoming statute, can stimulate debate and hopefully help to create better law in Government hands.

We'll leave the last line to the Member for Sydney, Clover Moore:
"Home is our respite from the world; it is the place we long for when we are travelling, sick, cold or tired. It is a place where we grow and where we can be ourselves. Having a safe and comfortable home is essential to our wellbeing and is the reason we have laws to protect people's right to live in their home, particularly if they do not own their residence."

In memoriam, we commend the bill to the House.

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