Wednesday 24 June 2009

Legislative Council

Estimates Committee B (Singh) - Part 1


Mr FINCH - Yes.  Just a point I would like to raise is an issue I dealt with Mr McConville over in respect of people who live on caravan park sites.

Ms SINGH - Right.

Mr FINCH - They have a situation where they do not have many rights as caravan park dwellers.  I believe their circumstance is being dealt with by consumer affairs, and I am just wondering whether we are progressing towards legislation or maybe some changes there.

Ms SINGH - Thank you, Mr Finch.  There has been a range of issues relating the operation of caravan parks that has arisen out of changes in this market in recent years.  In 2007 CAFT, in consultation with the Caravan Industry Association of Tasmania, developed a voluntary code of practice for park operators.  CIAT represents the majority of caravan and cabin park operators within Tasmania.  Operators within the industry generally support that code of practice.  So, CAFT has monitored compliance with that code of practice.  Since its development, there have been only a few complaints.  So the code of practice represents the accepted standards for members of CIAT in their dealings with park occupants.  The code increases certainty for tenants and licensees and provides some level of protection for caravan park residents that you refer to.  But Mr Batt could give you further advice in relation to CAFT's role in that.

Mr BATT - The situations are difficult, because often people have short-term licenses of only a year.  That has been renewed for a long period of time, and you often find that people have very elaborate structures on land over which they have a very tenuous legal claim.  What usually happens is the caravan park is sold and the new owner wants to build all sorts of new innovative things, and the first thing they want to do is to get rid of the long-term occupants.  It is very difficult without creating law with retrospective affect to do anything about establishing rights.  The role of the office has been to develop this code of conduct, but also to go in and actively negotiate on behalf of the parties.  We have negotiated successful outcomes for about six or so people so far, and that is probably about as much as we can do.  That has been successful.

If we were to introduce, for example, legislation, unless it had retrospective effect, it would probably need to clean out the caravan parks in order to do that.  It is a little bit of a balancing act at the moment.  We are confident that we are doing the best we can on behalf of the consumer.

Mr FINCH - Can I just ask minister - this might also come back to Mr Batt - just in respect to how we compare legislatively in protecting the rights of people who live in caravan parks to other States?

Ms SINGH - I may ask Chris to respond to that.

Mr BATT - It is interesting, because we are often told through the media that we should get legislation equivalent to other jurisdictions, but our research indicates that there are no other jurisdictions that have greater protections for these circumstances than what we do.  We have actually looked with interest to see what is happening, so I think that we have comparable protections for people within caravan parks as other jurisdictions.

Mr FINCH - So this code of practice, voluntary code of practice, is that likely to be reviewed or updated, or will there be a revisit to this code of practice to just see if circumstances are changing? We are living in a climate of people looking for different types of lifestyles.  Certainly caravan parks offer that.  People, once they go there and are ensconced there, they think they would like to have more certainty about this type of lifestyle.

Ms SINGH - Well, Mr Finch, I think if there is ongoing change in the market, which there has been, which has led to us developing the code of practice and so on, there could be potential for need to review in time.  I think that the monitoring plays a role there in determining at what stage we do do any kind of change or review, because if we are only having a few complaints, perhaps it is still going okay.  If that changes and if time has moved on, and the market has changed again, if any of those factors come to the fore, there could be a need to review.  I think Mr Batt raised an important part, though, about when you raised about legislation.  There is a risk of all the tenants being basically cleaned out is a worry.  It is a concern, because these are people's homes.  We do need to tread carefully when we deal with this issue.

Mr FINCH - My advice to people who have these concerns is to contact consumer affairs -

Ms SINGH - Absolutely.

Mr FINCH - About the voluntary code of practice in respect of this.

Ms SINGH - That is right.

Mr FINCH - It is available to them.