Jenny Leong MP, member for Newtown was pleased to support a bill that allow consumers to settle small matters without the need to go through intimidating NCAT processes.
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (17:32): I speak on behalf of The Greens on the Fair Trading Legislation Amendment (Consumer Guarantee Directions) Bill 2018 and offer The Greens' support for this bill. As others have mentioned, and I will not go over the details again, the bill makes a number of changes that will assist consumers dealing with faulty or problematic goods and will enable them to avoid the sometimes intimidating, sometimes stressful and sometimes inaccessible processes of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal [NCAT] to resolve small claim disputes by issuing a consumer guarantee direction. It will apply to goods with a value over $25 and less than $3,000, and there are a number of other requirements.
I also note that the bill will introduce new powers for an investigator to seize and remove goods that are noncompliant with safety standards, subject to a recall or ban, or otherwise deemed unsafe by the investigator. That is a particularly welcome change and is something that has been raised in a number of different forums. The consumption of various goods that may or may not have safety warnings is a regular and hot topic of discussion by the Inner West Mums group. I angsted for a long time over which pram to buy and eventually let CHOICE make the decision for me because I did not trust any of the corporate communications around the pram that I bought for my daughter. I note that this legislation and its improvements for consumers have the support of CHOICE. The multi‑partisan support and the support of CHOICE—the leading consumer advocacy organisation which is consulted and provides support for consumers—for this legislation demonstrates that this is a change that is in the interests of the people who live this State.
I share the surprise of the member for Heffron that legislation has been introduced into this Chamber that appears to be in the interests of the people who live in New South Wales rather than—as we usually see—legislation that is in the interests of the corporate vested interests, which are usually favoured by the Liberals and The Nationals. It is rare that that occurs, but all credit to them for the fact that we are here standing up for those vulnerable people. The Greens acknowledge that giving the commissioner the power to introduce consumer guarantee directions is a positive and efficient method to enhance consumer protection. Hopefully, we suppliers and corporations will be held to account and, as a result, they will not try to get away with providing dodgy goods in the first place.
That leads us to consider the challenges that our community faces with consumer waste when people who buy cheap goods that are faulty get rid of them because of their low cost. The cost to the environment and to our society is huge. Hopefully, we will see changes that will improve the quality of goods so that, over time, consumers will not need to use the legislation. I acknowledge that the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal [NCAT] is, in many cases, a barrier for consumers and others who have to engage in that process. NCAT has been notoriously neglected and under-resourced by successive governments that have ignored its role in ensuring justice for a broad range of issues ranging from consumer protection to antidiscrimination, employment, equal opportunity, tenancy, guardianship, gaming and liquor, health, child protection and water—the list goes on.
The Greens recognise that NCAT plays a crucial role in providing the community with access to justice, and we will continue to advocate for increased investment in NCAT in recognition of its role in administering civil justice. I highlight two important issues with NCAT. The Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation has identified that the NCAT process can be hugely intimidating for a range of reasons. We have heard Government speakers talk about the risks to people from diverse communities where English might not be the first language. There may be a range of other reasons that NCAT is a very intimidating and challenging process.
I urge the Minister and his department to recognise that public housing tenants often have to go through the NCAT process to deal with maintenance requests and other issues. Vulnerable renters are also required to go through the NCAT process to stand up to dodgy landlords. They face the same issues. The NCAT process is very intimidating. It can be quite stressful and confronting for people to have to stand up for their own rights through that process. Anything that can be done to recognise that some of the most vulnerable people in our community—public housing tenants—have to engage with this process on a regular basis would be very welcome.
Similarly, people who try to request information under the Government Information (Public Access) Act and freedom of information have to go to NCAT. The resourcing of NCAT is crucial. Although I appreciate that this bill is trying to make it easier for some people to not have to engage in that process, the reasons for supporting this bill are similar to those for supporting public housing tenants, and those who are facing unfair evictions and rent increases. A range of people are still vulnerable under these processes. Part of the solution lies in strengthening the resources and providing support within the NCAT system to make it more efficient—to make it work for people. Part of the solution is in recognising that some individuals need support, recognition and assistance from the Government to enable them to resolve their complaints outside of that tribunal process.
The Greens support the bill. I hope that the intimidatory nature of NCAT is considered when dealing with the many public housing tenants who have to use NCAT to have basic maintenance done on their properties because the Minister for Family and Community Services, and Minister for Social Housing and her department have failed in their responsibilities to public housing tenants. The introduction of this bill has shown the willingness of the Minister and his department to stand up in the interests of the community against what would be loud opposition from certain interest groups. Many renters in this State would love it if the Minister and his department were to show the same strength, courage and commitment to reform the Residential Tenancies Act to end no-grounds evictions in this State. I urge them to take the enthusiasm with which they have dealt with consumer protections and to do the same for renters in this State. I commend the bill to the House.