18 October 2016

2nd Reading Speech

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE ( 15:02 ): I lead for the Opposition on the Housing Legislation Amendment Bill 2016. I say at the outset that the Opposition does not oppose the legislation, although we have one amendment, which has been placed with the Clerks. The amendment will provide for more rigour and transparency to be applied in the process. In his contribution on the last occasion, the Minister was replete with the usual self‑congratulations that have become a hallmark of this Government—most undeservedly. They appropriate credit to themselves for what is really the implementation of a national scheme. The bill seeks to amend the Housing Act 2001 to enable the Land and Housing Corporation, which is the owner of social housing assets in this State, to enter into concurrent leases with registered community housing providers. 

The second feature of the bill is to amend the Community Housing Providers (Adoption of National Law) Act 2012 to allow the establishment of local registration schemes for community housing providers that are unable to register under the existing national scheme. I will come back to that second point because it concerns the second aspect to which our amendment is directed. The Housing Act 2001, which was introduced by the Carr Labor Government, provides the legislative framework for social housing in this State. The Land and Housing Corporation was established under the Act as a body to own and manage the New South Wales Government’s social housing portfolio, including all land, buildings and other assets. Currently, it comprises approximately 130,000 properties valued conservatively at $35 billion. 

The Community Housing Providers (Adoption of National Law) Act 2012 was adopted to create uniform State provisions consistent with Commonwealth legislation regarding the registration, monitoring and regulation of community housing providers. As all members in this Chamber would understand, community housing providers are part of the housing fabric and landscape, not only in New South Wales but across the nation. There are approximately 37,000 community housing tenancies in New South Wales. At present, certain entities such as Aboriginal land councils and local government authorities are unable to register as part of the national scheme because they are unable to insert wind-up clauses into their governing documents. I note that the Minister in his second reading speech particularly referred to the wind-up provisions governed by the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983. The ability to register as a housing provider is important because it enables organisations such as local Aboriginal land councils to deliver housing services and to be provided with assistance as housing providers when they meet the criteria for registration. 

Schedule 1 of the bill will amend the Housing Act 2001 to enable the Land and Housing Corporation to enter into current leases with registered community housing providers. If the current lease is a transfer of the rights and obligations of the landlord under a lease to a different new party, these amendments will enable the Land and Housing Corporation to transfer its obligations as a landlord to a community housing provider. This would result in the tenant paying rent to the community housing provider rather than to the State. The community housing authority would also be responsible for property maintenance. The Land and Housing Corporation will be enabled by this legislation to transfer a tenant’s file and tenancy to a community housing provider without the requirement of the consent of the tenant. A tenant’s personal and health information can only be transferred by the Land and Housing Corporation if it is satisfied that the community housing provider has procedures in place to ensure privacy. So there are checks and balances. 

Schedule 2 of the bill will allow the Community Housing Provider (Adoption of National Act) 2012 to require the Minister for Family and Community Services or the Minister for Social Housing—I note this Government does not have a portfolio designated to housing—to establish a local registration scheme. The legislative amendment in the bill would enable entities previously unable to register as a community housing provider under the national scheme to do so under the local scheme. The bill is said to be intended for the local scheme to follow the national scheme with consistent measures relating to registration, monitoring and regulation of community housing providers under the national scheme.

We have had feedback from the broader community and we have noticed that the Minister is not required under the legislation or this bill to provide any reasons why an entity would be registered under the local scheme rather than the national scheme, leaving aside the examples where, for legislative reasons, they are simply not able to be registered. An onus should be placed on the Minister to ensure that only organisations unable to be registered under the national scheme due to structural and legislative reasons are registered under the local scheme. I refer again to the example that was given by the Minister about Aboriginal land councils and local government authorities rather than other non-compliant entities. 

The amendment we propose simply requires that in establishing a local registration scheme the Minister must, when determining whether or not to register an entity under the scheme, have regard to the reasons the entity was unable to be registered under the national law and that those reasons should be published in the Government Gazette. This is important. If there are reasons that an entity should be a community housing provider in this State and it can fulfil a good and useful function in the social housing space but is prevented by provisions and other legislation, then it should be registered under this legislation and be permitted to bring forward those activities. 

However, there needs to be a safeguard—a further check and balance and a little bit of transparency—which requires the Minister to have regard to the reason an entity is not able to be registered under the national scheme. That is simply a prompt to the Minister to look at the reasons because the reasons may not relate to structural or legislative impediments. 

We would not want an entity registered in this State to interact with families and individuals in the social housing space if, for example, there was a question mark over that entity’s track record. I am not saying that The Government would rush into registering such entities, but if there is any such controversy in an organisation’s history this amendment will result in a little prompt for the Minister to pause and think about why the entity was not able to be registered under the national scheme. I note that our amendment would not stop the Minister from ultimately registering an entity.

The Opposition believes this amendment is necessary because the people to whom services are provided are often vulnerable and suffering hardships. This modest proposal is a precautionary additional safeguard for them. As I said, this amendment is not to impugn the motives of the Minister or the Government; it simply says that all caution should be taken. We accept the example given by the Minister, but the legislation would go further and would permit entities to be registered in New South Wales that were not able to be registered under the national law for other reasons. We invite the Government to accept that we also are engaging constructively and in good faith with the legislative proposal but that we are simply providing a small, additional safeguard.