Housing Improvement Bill 2016

Tuesday 09 February, 2016

Mr TARZIA ( Hartley ) ( 12:30 :28 ): I rise to also speak in favour of the Housing Improvement Bill 2015. As the member for Schubert has pointed out, we on this side of the chamber believe that the bill should be supported, whilst being slightly amended.

As he has pointed out, there are a number of sections which we have pointed to. I would like to reiterate those concerns and also suggest that members opposite in the government also look to amend these sections. As we have pointed out this morning, we would like to amend section 11 to ensure that the bill only applies to tenanted properties and not owner-occupied, for the reasons that my colleagues on this side of the chamber have pointed out.

We also believe that the penalties in various sections of the bill are excessive. Whilst we on this side of the chamber understand that sometimes you do put in such penalties to serve as a deterrent, I would ask the government to consider and reflect on who exactly they might be hitting with these penalties and, really, is that the ultimate outcome they want? I would ask them to reflect on that, and I would suggest that some of these penalties should be slightly watered down. Penalties, obviously, are important to serve as a deterrent, but I think they are exacerbated and excessive at some points.

Section 41 also should be amended to state that the SACAT should provide all decisions in writing. As a member of parliament, when you have a disgruntled constituent—obviously, I do not have any disgruntled constituents in my electorate, but when they come to me from other electorates—

The Hon. J.M. Rankine interjecting:

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Member for Wright.

Mr TARZIA: When they come to me from other electorates, some of them have been to SACAT and sometimes I see their frustration when they may not have some of these decisions in writing. I think someone who has a dispute and seeks their day not in court but in the tribunal should have proper closure and should seek that in writing, so I would agree with that amendment.

We also have suggested looking at section 52. That should be amended to ensure that a reasonable attempt is made to serve all the relevant parties to any dispute as well. It has been spoken of how the original Housing Improvement Act 1940 was a long time ago, and it was. It was a very long time ago. Many things were different back then. I believe Winston Churchill became prime minister of the UK in 1940, so they were very different times: economically, socially, for health care, and world-wide events. As has been pointed out on this side of the chamber, dwellings were made out of completely different materials, and climates were different as well.

I have many builders who reside in my electorate and also are in the business of building, and they often tell me how the technology has changed and how what they did many years ago simply would not apply today. It is essential that this sort of legislation is updated from time to time, for various reasons, to make sure that there are checks and balances on housing to ensure that safety, which is paramount, is maintained. Some of the materials that were used in 1940, and I can think of a couple, have been found to pose health issues, and so obviously the same materials that were used back then are not used in all cases.

There are property prices as well. Obviously, if we allow these dwellings to get into such disarray and decay it also can have an effect on neighbouring dwellings as well. It is also the right thing to do to maintain housing to a quality standard. We are pretty lucky in South Australia. If you go to other parts of the world you soon find out how lucky we are, but I think that is a benefit of South Australia and Australia and we should work to maintain the quality that we have. It also applies to investment. If investors and business know that the levels of housing are at such a good standard, it will also flow through to that part of the economy as well.

In the early stages of the 19th century we know that South Australia had high demand and the standard of living and housing certainly was not as high as it is now. Obviously, this legislation has been put forward to ensure that there are safe and appropriate housing standards in our state. There has been a review of the act and a number of minimum safety standards have been put forward to ensure that owners carry out the maintenance that is necessary. As I pointed out, I think that if we do not continue to monitor this sort of thing and in this type of legislation, we run the risk that people in our state could be exposed to significant safety issues, health hazards, unfair rent or substandard homes.

There was a discussion paper that was released in 2010, as has been pointed out, about this type of legislation and it did receive strong endorsement by the people who are in tenancy support organisations as well. There have also been—I believe, 16—a number of submissions supporting the Housing Improvement Bill as well. Of course, the housing bill 2015 will repeal the Housing Improvement Act 1940.

I reflected on who exactly this would affect most and, obviously, unsuitable and unsafe housing can certainly especially affect lower income households and people like students or new migrants. For a lot of these people it is important that the state puts these protections in place for their welfare more so than anything. It is important that people in our state are able to feel safe and are able to be secure in their own homes, and I think it is very clear that this legislation certainly aims to ensure that dwellings that are built are built to a safe and reasonable standard for human habitation.

When I looked at the HIA 1940 it was quite clear that that act was outdated. I think in one section it even refers to pounds, which we obviously do not use anymore in South Australia.

I believe that the bill is relatively explicit. It certainly improves the current legislation and, obviously, what we are here to do on this side of the chamber is to modernise and contemporise our legislation when we can.

There are a number of penalties available under the act for non-compliance. One of them, for example, I believe, is for $20,000 and, as I pointed out earlier on, I think the government should certainly reflect on who these penalties actually could be imposed upon and what sort of effect that will have and how it will affect the housing market. I think they are excessive in parts and they should reflect on those.

I wanted to talk a little bit about a few sections in particular, starting with section 5. Section 5 talks about prescribing minimum housing standards. Members have expressed that perhaps that can be a little bit vague. I would welcome the minister perhaps addressing how exactly we will keep that to an objective level. Will it be advertised? What level will we be looking at when we talk about minimum housing standards?

In relation to section 8—Delegation, delegation is obviously important, and I imagine that there will be bodies or groups set up to ensure that this sort of legislation is implemented. I think that identity cards, as outlined in section 10, are a fantastic idea. I have talked to a lot of tenants, especially in state housing, who sometimes struggle to understand why their housing manager, for example, changes quite often. I think that would be of enormous benefit; it is such a small section, but I think that would be very worthwhile.

In relation to section 12—Housing assessment orders, and section 13—Housing improvement orders, obviously the minister can issue these orders to the owner of the residential premises if the minister would have reason to believe that, say, the premises are unsafe or they are unsuitable for human habitation. There are sections in place to remediate the defects as well. A lot of the time, however, you will not necessarily be dealing with very wealthy owners. I think the intent is there, and hopefully there are deterrents to do the right thing so that you will not have disputes and end up in SACAT.

It looks very front-end, if I can put it another way; there is a lot of good front-end work here, but I question the back end of the legislation. I notice that SACAT would have jurisdiction, for example, for a dispute in this area of up to $40,000. I would have thought that if a place is in need of significant repair, you are not really going to end up with a dispute of under $40,000. It is probably going to be more than that, and it would bypass SACAT; however, I think the intention is good.

The courts are filled at the moment. We know there are enough backlogs in the courts and that the Attorney is obviously not interested in court reform. We have a leaking court at the moment; there are literally holes everywhere in the court system at the moment. But, I think the intention here is good. I think if SACAT can deal with these disputes of under $40,000, that will go a long way to freeing up other parts of the courts system. So, that is a very good suggestion, and I compliment the writers of the bill and the department; I think that is an outstanding initiative.

The tribunal has been given great powers. I believe that they are adequate, and they are wide. I also notice things like restraining orders that can be implemented. Again, that is a very good suggestion. Obviously, we do not want to be ordering restraining orders if we do not need to; however, that is, I suppose, a measure of last resort.

Sometimes we have no other choice but to issue restraining orders to make sure that we protect property owners, landlords, tenants in some cases, and also the property itself. If these properties are allowed to decay, that can impact upon neighbouring properties. Fires and other things can also be started. It is a measure of last resort, but I think it is necessary for this kind of bill.

I have spoken about reasons. If there is a dispute, without a doubt these reasons should be in writing. I cannot understand why you would not want to give someone an opportunity to have their result in writing. What is wrong with that? I think, for transparency, it is important that someone is given an answer to a case in writing. The register is also a very good idea, to ensure that you keep relevant and appropriate records for this legislation.

Overall, I would well and truly support the intention of the bill. I hope that we have been constructive, as part of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, in registering our issues with some sections of the bill. I plead with the minister to take those into consideration for the betterment of the bill, and I commend it to the house.