Second Reading-Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2019
Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (12:29:36): I rise with great delight to speak on the Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. I would like to thank the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation for all the work that has been done in bringing forth these changes. As mentioned, this is an omnibus bill, but I like to think of it as a sort of group hug for consumer protection and red tape reduction. What we are all about here is protecting consumers. This amendment bill amends a variety of different pieces of consumer legislation, with the key objectives being to correct minor and technical errors in these acts to improve their utilisation and effectiveness, cut red tape for charitable fundraisers in the Fundraising Act 1988 and kickstart the early commencement of our pet reforms and the Solar Homes program, as we have heard from members on our side, the member for Buninyong and the member for Geelong, with their great contributions. If we look at the changes to the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012, the bill will amend that act to implement recommendations in the final report of the review of the Australian Consumer Law. The amendments will enable the director of Consumer Affairs Victoria to use their investigatory powers under the act to inquire into alleged unfair contract terms and to inform the director as to whether to commence proceedings under the Australian Consumer Law in respect of those terms. It is very important for anyone who enters into any sort of business or other contract to know that there is some protection on being dudded by someone who is just going to take advantage of them. The bill also enables a private litigant in an action commenced subsequent to proceedings under the Australian Consumer Law to rely on any admissions of fact made before a court by the respondent in an earlier proceeding. That is quite encouraging because it would be a great shame if in some proceeding someone said one thing that they had said before in a previous court of law and there was no response to actually review that or make them answer to that. I note the commonwealth has already amended its Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to give equivalent powers to the ACCC, so that is some good work there. This bill also affects the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995, and I will just highlight some of the key amendments. It makes a number of minor technical amendments to the Domestic Building Contracts Act to enable Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria, or the DBDRV, to better discharge its objectives in resolving domestic building disputes as quickly, as efficiently and as cheaply as possible, especially in the interest of fairness. Since its inception in April 2017 the DBDRV has received more than 11 500 dispute resolution applications and closed almost 9000 cases, and I think that is a great strike rate. The things that we can do to improve that will be to reduce the processing time involved in determining whether or not to accept a dispute for conciliation and to provide greater flexibility to the chief dispute resolution officer to issue a certificate of conciliation with a dispute not being resolved. I would also like to mention that the changes to the Fundraising Act 1998 will be very well received, especially by our small fundraising organisations. After lobbying from the not-for-profit charity sector for a reduction of red tape, this amendment will streamline the process for charities to register their organisations. The bill will also simplify the reporting requirements so that registered charities are no longer required to lodge separate reports with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and the director of Consumer Affairs Victoria. It will require half the work, and especially with smaller not-for-profit charities that will be very well received from an administration point of view. The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and Consumer Affairs Victoria will now have better exchange of information between each other. In Mount Waverley we have so many charities who will benefit from these amendments and importantly for our smaller charities, as I said, this streamlining will mean more time to go back to doing charitable work for the community, raising funds, getting the word out about who they are and what they do, and helping others. I would just like to mention a couple of our local groups who are on the list of these organisations. There is Kerrie Neighbourhood House; the Monash Men’s Shed, which I am a big fan of; Mount Street Neighbourhood House; Neighbourhood Watch, a fantastic group that is very active in our area; South East Volunteers; St Theresa’s Aged and Retired Services, which is mostly run out of a house so any less administration will allow them to reach out more to their many members, which is great; the Waverley RSL is another on the list; our Victorian Tamil Association—a big shout-out to the Tamils in our area, you are a very, very important part of our community in Mount Waverley; Wavlink; and Monash-Waverley Community Information and Support, who do fantastic work helping those in need in our community in Mount Waverley. I would now like to move on to our changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997, which we have discussed at some length. This bill amends both the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 and the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2018. The most significant changes to the 1997 act will be the regulation of pets under residential tenancy agreements. This amendment will in effect enable the early introduction of the pet reforms that we flagged in 2018, which was very enthusiastically received by renters and tenancy advocacy groups. I note that the member for Buninyong said earlier she had never had to convince a landlord to allow her to bring her children into the house. I think that is a great point. A member interjected. Mr FREGON: It is a very good point because your dog, your cat, your budgie—not necessarily your cow as a member on the other side was talking about. I am not really quite sure how that works— Mr Fowles interjected. Mr FREGON: A crocodile might be a bit far. But they are members of the family and the fact that you need to try and convince a real estate agent that maybe, you know, a cat is somehow a chattel or something or some sort of bit of property that you are bringing in does not really quite make sense. So I think it is great that we are bringing this forward. I note that especially in Mount Waverley but all through the state we have an ageing population. We have got an ageing population who as they grow older sometimes will downsize, and some of them inevitably end up in rental accommodation. So I think you need to think about people entering the rental market that may not have been in it, and those people may already have pets and those pets might be the only company they have in the house. When I turn up at home usually my groodle, Rosie, the being of chaos that she is, will hear the car turn up, and when I get to the front door she is there. The rest of the house are all busy doing what they are doing—I am lucky to get a look up from the boys and Sophie. Having that pet at home for many, many of us—I would say the majority of us—is what gives us our first smile when we arrive home, so anything we can do to decrease social isolation, especially for our aged but for anyone, is great work that this government is doing. I am running a little bit light on time, but I definitely want to talk about allowing renters and landlords to come to agreements for our fantastic Solar Homes program. I note the member for Forest Hill earlier was giving some figures, but I think his clock is running about two months behind, because I would just like to point out that in September 9750 applications were available and in October there are currently 6500, so he might want to update his figures there. In closing, this big group, this big hug of amendments for consumer protection— Mr Fowles: A consumer cuddle! Mr FREGON: It is a consumer cuddle—that is right. Thank you, member for Burwood. It is just another show of empathy for people in real-life situations from the Andrews Labor government. I am excited to see the pet rental reforms, the solar rental reforms and also the charity fundraising reforms. It is great to see our government giving back to the people of Victoria and making sure they know we are getting it done.