Thursday 7 April 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council
HOMES AMENDMENT BILL 2016 (No. 6)
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, how can it be that one of the leading charitable organisations dealing with accommodation for the needy speaks of a lack of consultation during the drafting of this bill?
A portion of my speech is going to be about consultation. Members will remember that much of my time was spent in here during the previous government's opportunity at being the government, talking about consultation, and the fact that they gave lip service to consultation, saying they were doing it. I remember when I was on the Subordinate Legislation Committee, we were there to tick off that there had been public consultation. It would come to us, yes, there has been public consultation. When we brought in new regulations, all of a sudden, those affected would jump up and down and say, 'We weren't consulted', but hang on, the government had told us you were.
Through this Chamber, I often had to, in my own way, castigate the government because that was the feedback that I got from affected parties, from organisations, from the community: that proper consultation had not taken place even though there was the suggestion that came through to us as members, that we have consulted. We have done this, we have done that. When you drill down, you find no, lip service has been paid to consultation. The suggestion has been made that there has been consultation.
Anglicare had concerns about this bill. They emailed me, and I am sure fellow members, with a request that we give close scrutiny to ensure that this bill meets good governance principles and to be able to assure the Tasmanian people of the best possible outcomes in terms of an increased supply of affordable housing. Anglicare had expressed surprise at the lack of consultation over the bill. I will quote from the email -
We would draw your attention to the lack of open and public consultation on this legislation during the drafting process. This is unusual for a piece of legislation that relates to matters that will have a significant impact on the public assets of the State.
The lack of appropriate consultation and scrutiny of the Bill to date can now be addressed by the Legislative Council. Anglicare requests you take steps to have the Bill examined by Committee to ensure that it receives the analysis and review required to meet good governance standards and achieve the best outcomes for the Tasmanian people.
Anglicare was not the only organisation criticising the drafting of this bill and a lack of consultation. I do not want to go too deeply into other criticisms because I think I have made my point, and many of the concerns have been addressed.
While I talk about the lack of consultation, the member for Mersey mentioned the Tenants' Union, another organisation that felt it had not been consulted with. When we look at the landscape of the organisations that are going to be affected, one of the first you would deal with is the Tenants' Union. They will have their chance to put their thoughts forward, maybe helpful thoughts and advice. At least they would have the chance, to say what they think about the unfolding process.
We have had extensive briefings, and appreciate that opportunity, not only to hear what the Government is trying to achieve but also to ask questions. The Government has, on this occasion, demonstrated a great deal of flexibility and cooperation to us. Still, some of those measures are at the last minute. We may have been witnessing a new age of consultation - hopefully at the beginning of the drafting process rather than at the last minute. We need to be assured with that process and trust the Government that it is going through due diligence in the process of consultation. So we do not have to worry and complain about it. It is a new Government, let us see a new attitude.
This bill was always well intentioned. It is glaringly obvious that Tasmania needs more affordable housing, particularly for disadvantaged people. As we heard in the briefings, 3 000 is the figure that is mentioned. Many people are on waiting lists for affordable, adequate and safe housing. It is an ideal but to think 3 000 people are out there in a zone of uncertainty about their future, their stability. There are those with children, wanting to set good foundations so that they can go about their lives in a good way. They are in a land of uncertainty at the moment.
I had given weight earlier to Anglicare's criticism expressed before the last-minute changes. After those changes, I would like to quote correspondence we received from the Tasmanian Council of Social Service -
When the draft amendments to this Act were first circulated for our comment, we undertook a comprehensive analysis of the draft and provided feedback to the department on a range of areas of concern.
We expressed these concerns directly to Housing Tasmania and the drafters, to the Ministers office, as well as in our letter to you of 15 March 2016. The main basis for these concerns stemmed from the lack of definition of an eligible person and the lack of clear articulation of the purpose of the Act. We also had concerns about some of the power to sell large scale house or land developments rested with the Director of Housing, not with the Minister.
These concerns can be summarised by saying we did not feel that the Bill offered the appropriate protections into the future and left a degree of ambiguity that could result in unintended consequences in future interpretations.
In the intervening days, we have worked closely with Housing Tasmania in relation to these concerns, and appreciate their good will and collegiality. We believe that the amendments and additions made substantially address our concerns.
That is pleasing to hear. If you have satisfied TasCOSS over an issue like this, I think you have had a win.
Then we come to Shelter Tasmania, which has sent us an email this morning. I am not sure how many have had a chance to read it. It is really a letter that explains a lot. With your indulgence, I will read that letter into Hansard because it covers many of the issues, and where Shelter Tasmania stands at the moment. The letter is from the executive officer, Pattie Chugg -
Shelter Tas is the peak body for affordable housing providers, homelessness services, low-income housing consumers and people experiencing or at risk of homelessness across Tasmania. Our perspective on the proposed amendments reflects 40 years of representing the affordable housing sector.
As you are aware, Shelter Tas wrote to all members of the Legislative Council on 1 April, explaining our initial concerns that have now been addressed in subsequent amendments. This letter is to provide you with notes from the briefing we presented yesterday, for your reference.
As you are now aware, the proposed amendments now include new clauses at 6B Purposes to be taken into account by the Director.
These new clauses address some of the initial concerns we raised in our letter of 1 April. References to safe, secure, affordable, appropriate housing make the intention of the Act much clearer.
The new clause at 6B(h) provides an undertaking that effective scrutiny will be enabled. This is an important additional protection. Affordable housing in the long term is a vital need for the Tasmanian community. This clause will permit oversight so that the actions undertaken within the scope of the Act are made more transparent and accountable.
We are pleased to see that Housing Tas has taken our concerns into account and has introduced these improvements in response.
We understand that Housing Tas and the providers in the Better Housing Futures program are committed to increasing the supply of social housing to disadvantaged Tasmanians. We would like to see the amended Homes Act continue and strengthen this commitment.
Shelter Tas has supported the transfer of title (of up to 30 per cent) of Housing Tasmania properties to Better Housing Futures providers (who are not-for-profit community housing providers) with the proviso that these properties are retained as affordable housing in the long term and that providers are registered under the National Regulatory System for Community Housing.
We would prefer to see these registered housing providers as the provider of first choice for any large scale transfers and developments due to their record in the Better Housing Futures program and because of their higher accountability, through registration with the National Regulatory System for Community Housing.
These protections include that in the event of ceasing to operate in Tasmania, registered Community Housing Providers are obliged to dispose of their assets in a way that is consistent with their aims and purposes - this would mean transferring housing stock to another affordable housing provider. This secures the public interest in the event of unforeseen circumstances, such as bankruptcy or departure from the State. Shelter Tas is pleased to see that Clause 29 in the Act also has the potential to secure protection of affordable housing in the longer term. We would like to see this used consistently in all major title transfer programs.
Shelter Tas has consistently called for protection for tenants who remain in public housing and those who have transferred to Community Housing. This becomes increasingly important with any large scale stock transfers. It would be an advantage to secure an external review mechanism for tenants of transferred dwellings in the same way that public housing tenants have access to the Ombudsman at present, to provide equity to all tenants.
We do not see this as tied to the current Act but we would like to see this pursued in consultation with the community sector and the Ombudsman. As future work has been flagged for incremental bonds, we think this could follow a similar process. Both would be beneficial for tenants.
In summing up, we are happy to see these further amendments have been made. The intention of the Act is much clearer now, and there are benefits that will flow from this legislation.
Thanks again to Pattie Chugg, Executive Officer of Shelter Tasmania, for her opinion and good summation of what has gone on and the changes that have been made.
I have had my opportunity to talk about consultation but I am hoping for a new frontier from this Government; that we can feel safe when we come into this place, knowing that this Government, through their operatives, their ministers, have strongly taken into account consultation and we do not have to have concern about it.
Like the member for Mersey, I am interested to hear what other members have to say because I am either way on this. I support the bill and what it is trying to achieve. However, I have not appreciated that we have had to deal with amendments at the last minute. We are doing the work that should have bene done downstairs. We are probably in the best place to do that, might be the argument, and scrutiny is what we are about but we do not want to be rushed, we do not want to be pushed. There was one comment, 'If you do not do this straight away, there are four areas which are going to be under the pump'. We do not want to hear that.
Ms Forrest - That is not our problem.
Mr FINCH - That is not our problem. We do not want to hear that. We want to hear the things have been sighted, the process is okay, and give due consideration of this bill, and then give us the opportunity to make a good, clear decision without any pressure. We rail against that sort of pressure. That is a signal I would like to give. If somebody cares to move and say that they have concerns about the last-minute changes and that pressure coming on us to make a quick decision without having the opportunity to explore the unattended consequences, I am likely to support that. I would be interested to hear what other members have to say. In principle, I support what is trying to be achieved by the Government.