Greens in Parliament: Improving Fair Trading

Today The Greens proposed changes to Fair Trading legislation aimed at ensuring cuts to red tape don't create confusion or cause disadvantage to those who are already disadvantaged by their circumstances.


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) [5.09 p.m.]: I speak on the Fair Trading Legislation (Repeal and Amendment) Bill 2015 as The Greens spokesperson for tenancy and rental housing. The Greens do not oppose the bill, although there are aspects that give us cause for concern that I will raise here and, depending on the Minister's reply, about which The Greens may seek to move amendments when the bill moves to the Legislative Council. This bill provides for the repeal of four Acts, which the Government states are no longer required, and amends the Fair Trading Act. The Greens appreciate that NSW Fair Trading is attempting to reduce areas of unnecessary red tape and regulation from the large amount of legislation that it administers. We support such measures when they improve systems but not when they create confusion or cause disadvantage to those who are already disadvantaged by their circumstances.

The Greens appreciate that NSW Fair Trading has engaged in consultation, in the form of one 2013 review of regulatory burden, before introducing this legislation and has appeared to take on board some of the concerns raised by the various interested parties. I flag concerns with respect to the repeal of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1899. The first function of this Act relates to a small class of residential tenancies that are excluded from the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. This includes 99-year tenancies, social housing head tenancies, heritage property tenancies and life tenancies. It provides landlords with procedures for the recovery of possession through the courts. The second function of the Act relates to dwelling houses as defined under the Act and allows for the prohibition of, and penalty for, recovery of these dwellings other than through the courts. We understand that the Government believes that these functions of the 1899 Act are now covered by the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 and by the functions of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

In respect of the legislation, The Greens have consulted with the Tenants Union of New South Wales. The Tenants Union has provided initial feedback via its submission to Fair Trading's 2013 review of regulatory burden. The Tenants Union noted that it was originally on the table to repeal the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1948. In its submission to the 2013 process it strongly opposed the repeal of the 1948 Act. The Government appears to have taken this on board. However, the Tenants Union still has concerns regarding the repeal of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1899 and has submitted that the legislation we are currently discussing be amended to remove schedule 3.4. The Greens share the concerns raised by the Tenants Union and ask that the Minister, in his reply, address the following concerns.

In the crossbench briefing provided by the Government on this legislation it was noted that the Government had been unable to find a tenant that had recently used the Landlord and Tenant Act. This might be the case in relation to tenants. However, we have been informed by the Tenants Union that the Landlord and Tenant Act 1899 has been referred to and relied upon in court on three occasions in the past five years. I ask the Minister to address how repealing the Act will affect those who would rely upon it in this way. Additionally, in relation to the reduction of red tape and regulation, if those landlords and tenants who currently fall under that Act are not sufficiently informed of the new arrangements there is the potential that repealing the Act could cause confusion for those needing to seek remedy and thus add to rather than reduce red tape.

I ask what measures the Government will take to inform all affected landlords and tenants of this change and seek a commitment that all parties affected by the repeal of the Act are provided with clear information about the processes they should follow, should the need arise. The most serious concern raised by the Tenants Union is in relation to how the repeal of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1899 affects those covered by the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1948. In particular, the 1899 Act provides an important protection against unlawful eviction for those covered under the 1948 Act.

It is concerning that this repeal could result in these tenants losing their protection against eviction. In particular, section 2AA of the 1899 Act, which prevents an eviction in these cases without a court order, has no equivalent in the 1948 Act. Tenants covered under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 are protected against interference of their quiet enjoyment and also a prohibition on repossession of their premises without a warrant. It would follow that tenants not covered by the Residential Tenancies Act should be afforded similar protections. Therefore, I ask the Minister to outline how these would be addressed in relation to this repeal.

The Government has effectively grandfathered the part of the legislation relating to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1899, and we appreciate that the Government has done this. I request that the Minister, in his reply, commit to maintaining the Act under these provisions until the issues I have outlined are fully addressed and the Minister is satisfied that no-one covered under the 1899 or 1948 Acts are losing any of the existing rights. As stated earlier, The Greens do not oppose the bill but, depending on the Minister's responses to our concerns, we reserve the right to move amendments in the upper House.

The Greens make it a priority to address affordable housing and rental stress in Sydney and across New South Wales. During the recent election campaign I promised that, if elected, I would introduce an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act to provide protection to renters, especially in the electorate of Newtown where more than half the residents are renters. They are getting the short end of the stick in relation to the overstressed New South Wales housing market. Given skyrocketing house and rental prices and the fact that the State Government has a poor track record on protecting renters' rights, we will do everything we can in this place to provide them with those protections.

I note the media coverage of activities today in Berlin in relation to rental caps. As a member of this place, I will continue to raise the issues of rental prices and protection to renters. The Greens and the community look to the State Government to address housing affordability and, in particular, the undue pressures placed on people who rent. Sydney is one of the least affordable places to live in this country. It is important for us to look at long-term renters and the provision of rental security in order to make communities more liveable, more vibrant and healthier. This will give people the security to rent long term, send their kids to the local school, join the community local garden and participate and live as a genuine, good community member within their own neighbourhood.

While the repeal of centuries-old legislation, such as the Government is doing with the Fair Trading Legislation (Repeal and Amendment) Bill 2015, is important to reduce red tape and unnecessary regulation, it must never come at the expense of tenants' rights. New South Wales residential tenancy laws are outdated. We have some of the weakest residential tenancy laws in the developed world. This means excessive rent increases, limited security of tenure and increased numbers of long-term renters. The Greens will work with the community sector and the Tenants Union to bring forward positive changes to ensure that renters have the same security as others within our community.


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