Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2018

Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) (14:28:12) — I am very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2018. This government stands for fairness. We stand for equality, and we stand for giving every Victorian the best possible chance in life as they move through society. We on this side of the house know that what is required for people to have that opportunity in life — the best opportunity — is a high-quality education, affordable health care, world-class public transport and of course the core of this bill, and that is a roof over their head.

A person’s home is very much reflective of their life. A person’s home, where they live, impacts how they live, their health, their wellbeing, the health and wellbeing of their families, the educational opportunities that are provided to them and of course their opportunity for a quality life. What we know and what we understand is that not every person can live in the biggest house on the street. I sure do not. My place in Sunbury is certainly not the biggest house in the street, I have to say, but it is a place that I am very proud of and a place that I am very proud to call home. It is safe, it is warm and —

An honourable member interjected.

Mr J. BULL — It is. It is my castle. And, as I said, it is a place that I am very proud of. Every Victorian should have the right to a safe home — a home free of danger, a home free of harm and of course a home free of violence. This in itself is reflective of a society that is equal, a society that is fair and a society that cares for each and every Victorian. The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill is of course the culmination of a four-year broad-based review of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revisit the regulatory settings that have been in place since 1997 to ensure that they meet the needs of participants in today’s modern rental housing market.

That is a dynamic market. We have heard this afternoon a number of members discuss the changing nature of the market and the various pressures and strains that are in place on the family budget. What we know and what other members have spoken about is that there has been a significant increase in population — more people wanting to come to this state each and every year, and 140 000 each year over the last couple of years —

Mr Edbrooke — Why wouldn’t you?

Mr J. BULL — Absolutely, member for Frankston, why wouldn’t you? But what we need to ensure is that fairness and equality are at the forefront of not just the residential tenancy market but each and every piece of legislation, each and every bill, that comes before the house. This government must ensure the rights and the values of those people we represent — each and every Victorian, whether you live in the city, whether you live in the suburbs or whether you live in the great parts of rural and regional Victoria. We must ensure that the bills that come before this house are underpinned by values that represent fairness, equality and of course safety.

This bill is a watershed moment in Victoria’s regulation of the residential tenancy market. There are some 130 reforms that are in place to ensure that the Residential Tenancy Act meets the existing needs of the residential rental market participants while remaining adaptable of course to future change. We know that in October 2017 the Andrews Labor government foreshadowed the Rent Fair campaign. This included a whole suite of reforms around how individuals can live and have the best opportunities and how those that rent are given the protections, the safeguards and the quality of life that each person is rightfully entitled to.

These include a whole range of measures. There are those that have been mentioned, including allowing animals to be kept in rented premises; allowing renters to make prescribed minor modifications to the rental property; bolstering security of tenure; establishing a non-compliance register, blacklisting residential rental providers and agents who fail to meet those obligations; providing for the early release of bonds, with the consent of both parties to the tenancy agreement; restricting the solicitation of rental bids by residential rental providers and agents; and providing for yearly instead of six-monthly rent increases. This is really important stuff.

I had the opportunity yesterday in the house to discuss the impacts of penalty rate cuts through an inquiry that was conducted, and I spoke in that contribution about the ability to pay rent and the ability to pay other costs, whether they be gas, water, electricity, uniform costs, school fees or sporting fees. These are core issues to people’s lives. If this house, if this government, does not take action to support those who find these bills tough — and we know there are significant amounts of Victorians that do — then unfortunately our society is worse off for it.

The bill goes on to provide for faster reimbursement where tenants have paid for urgent repairs. There are a whole series of provisions that work to give protections and to support renters. We know these provisions are rounded out with other important changes aimed at improving the state of rental premises and ensuring that renters have a safe and sustainable living environment. That comes to mandatory condition reporting; mandatory safety-related obligations, notably electrical and gas appliance servicing every two years and compliance with smoke alarm and pool fencing regulations; and the power to prescribe regulations for minimum standards for residential rental properties. Minimum standards that are prescribed, yet critical, include vermin-proof bins; functioning toilets; adequate hot water connections in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry; external windows that have functioning latches; a functioning cooktop; functioning single-action deadlocks; functioning heating in the main living area; and window coverings to ensure privacy in every room.

We know that if you live in good surrounds, there is the chance that these things are just taken for granted — that people can more than often afford repairs, more than often would not worry about a lack of heating, a broken-down cooktop or window latch or whatever it might be in your home. These are really important items that you are rightfully entitled to that make your quality of life better. This is why I support the bill. It is why it is a very important piece of legislation to ensure that there is a higher standard, a better standard of care and a better standard of minimum safeguards that ensure that those who rent have the very best opportunities to have a minimum set of standards in place that have not previously existed.

This is certainly a significant and comprehensive piece of legislation, with those 130 reforms that I mentioned, to ensure that the government’s Fairer Safer Housing plan works for each and every Victorian — that it works for those who come to our state as new arrivals or those who have been in our state for a very long time. I am incredibly pleased to support this bill because it is a bill that stands for fairness, for equity and for equality, and this government stands to give every Victorian the very best possible chance at life.