Second Reading-CONSUMER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2020

Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (15:15): I am very happy to rise as we come to the close of the day to speak on the Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. This bill makes amendments to the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2018 and the Retirement Villages Act 1986 to address important and enduring stakeholder issues. This includes assisting retirement village residents and their estates recovering unpaid ingoing contributions, as many of my colleagues have mentioned. I would like to join the member for Carrum in thanking the previous Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation for her work building up to this, and of course I thank the minister at the table, the current Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, and the Minister for Housing as well, as it affects his portfolio, for the considerable work that they have done in getting us to this important stage. But also, while we are at it, I think we should always spare a moment to thank the numerous staff at the ministerial adviser level and in government and departments that beaver along tirelessly day after day in the process of government. The winners out of all that work are the people of Victoria. Today we are obviously affecting for their benefit the lives of senior Victorians, vulnerable Victorians, and these are all I think the reason that we are all here. Government is a work in progress. We do not ever finish; we keep going. The problems that arise on a day-to-day basis we deal with and we move on. This year has seen things arise that none of us would have expected to see, but again we keep going and we keep working.

 

Before I go into the bill, I would also like to note the member for Hawthorn’s contribution, because I would not presume to speak with the same sort of authority or experience as the member for Hawthorn might have in regard to retirement villages. I think his erudite speech came from a place of understanding that I am sure we will all get to—and he will still be there, giving us all his wisdom for a very, very long time, I would say.

 

Now, this might not be the most contentious bill, and I was very happy to see that the opposition are supporting this bill. I will also note the absence of the Greens on this bill, though. I would have thought that as it touches on social housing issues, very important social housing issues, it would be something that they might want to at least speak to in this house. But there is still time. Maybe they will turn up. We will see.

 

The amendments that this bill contains are nonetheless vitally important for the protection of our Victorian community, and they further show this government’s commitment to protecting Victorians who find themselves in vulnerable situations. The member for Oakleigh put it that way, and I think it was very apt. It is not so much that we are protecting vulnerable Victorians, because it is not the Victorians themselves that are vulnerable; they are in a vulnerable situation. He spoke about the pre-COVID normal that I guess we want to get back to, and we will. There is an opportunity here to create our post-COVID normal to be a better normal. We may be some time away from that. It might be months, it might be weeks—however long it is going to be until we are not wearing masks and we are back to a full house here—but nonetheless now is a good time to reflect on what we can do better, and this bill is something that we are doing better, once it passes, which I hope it does.

 

The pandemic has only proved to me how much our community and Victorians as a whole value our seniors and those Victorians who are in vulnerable situations. Now, there are some who may not feel this way or argue that there is some zero-sum game or some bargaining on life and health versus other things. I am not here to judge or talk about that too much, but what I see and what I would hope everyone in this chamber would share in is the fact that the health of Victorians does come first. I do not think that would be contentious, and I would encourage us all to keep reinforcing that, because it is the health of Victorians that we are focusing on, and we will continue to do so.

 

The bill aims to further protect and assist in the consumer affairs area so that people have a better situation in retirement villages or social housing in regard to their day-to-day life, much the same as we are focusing on those people in our public health response. Now more than ever the people that we are talking about here are the members of our community who need security and reassurance that they are protected when it comes to navigating retirement living, social housing or specialist disability accommodation. Independent retirement living is a critical part of the seniors housing mix. It enables senior Australians to remain independent for longer, which keeps them out of aged care for longer. Obviously a retirement village setting where they are amongst friends and neighbours is better for social inclusion as well, which is something we have all got on the back of our minds at the moment with isolation and having ways of people getting together more. We will see over the coming weeks that we have more and more people being able to get back in touch with each other, and I think we are all looking forward to that. And given the growth and I guess evolution of the retirement village sector over the last number of decades, the passing of this bill aims to just tighten up some of those protections that we saw highlighted in regard to Berkeley Living, the Patterson Lakes retirement village situation, where that village is now in liquidation.

 

This bill is happening at the same time that we have a review into the Retirement Villages Act 1986, which is still ongoing, and I am awaiting the options paper very eagerly, as a number of my constituents are, but I think it is important that this is done now, because it is a much-needed piece of legislation and very, very timely to get this done. It is a time when people, as the member for Carrum said, move on with their lives with retirement villages. They go to aged care, they need bonds. The house for most of us will be the greatest asset we ever own. I remember when my grandmother moved from their house in Glen Iris—it would be 40 years ago now—she bought into a retirement village. She obviously sold the house and went into a retirement village. So that asset that she and my grandfather had built for their whole life went into that retirement village, and that is the crucial nature of this.

 

I would also like to touch on during this time, as we are talking about our seniors, that in my district in Mount Waverley 35 per cent are over the age of 60. Since the start of the pandemic my office has been calling seniors on a daily basis, and we have called almost 7000 of those seniors. Just in regard to the nature of those conversations, people take the pandemic seriously and they are concerned. Now, people are fatigued and are tired and some are angry, and these are all very understandable, very normal reactions to what we are all dealing with. But I spoke to a lady who was 97, and we had a fantastic conversation. She lives in a retirement village just in my area, and I said, ‘How are you going? How are you coping?’. This was around the time that people were hoarding toilet paper and no-one really knew what we were getting into.

 

She said, ‘Oh look, Matt, my parents got me through the Depression. I have survived a world war. We got through polio. This ain’t gonna get me’. It is the stoicism of our seniors at this time that I look to. These are the people who understand that our health response must be a health-first response, that our government response must be a health-first response, and that is what we are giving them. Today we also give them some more security in their contractual negotiations with retirement villages who might not be acting properly, and I commend the bill to the house.