March 18, 2015  |  Second reading speech

Veterans and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Veterans and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015. This is important legislation that amends several pieces of legislation, such as the Sale of Land Act 1962, the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 and the Veterans Act 2005, as well as making important reforms in the
rooming house area and dealing with motor car traders. I think it has the fingerprints of the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation all over it, with her background as a lawyer and a person who is very committed to social justice issues. First and foremost, I commend the minister for bringing this legislation forward. I will talk a little bit on different parts of the legislation and what it seeks to achieve.

Beginning with the Veterans Act, it will make it easier for trustees of patriotic funds to provide support to veterans and their dependents. It will enhance the powers of the director of Consumer Affairs Victoria to take investigation, compliance and enforcement
action following breaches of consumer affairs legislation. The bill will also improve the operation of other acts in the consumer affairs portfolio.

When I was looking through the legislation, I reminded myself of exactly what a patriotic fund is. We always hear the term ‘patriotic fund’ when, as local members, we travel to
different RSL sub‑branches in our communities. The Victorian consumer affairs website says:

Patriotic funds are a type of trust fund created after the First World War, when Victorian communities raised money to assist soldiers and their families. They provide welfare services and clubrooms for returned service personnel and their dependants.

In a nutshell, the importance of patriotic funds is in looking after people who have come back from war and any of our forebears who may be in need. There are now more than 600 patriotic funds in Victoria administered by legally appointed trustees. Patriotic fund assets total more than $640 million — a significant amount. I think it is fantastic that we are strengthening the role of the director of Consumer Affairs in dealing with these patriotic funds. It is an important step forward.

I was reading in a recent issue of the Law Institute Journal an article which was titled ‘Lest we forget: World War I centenary 1914–1918’. The idea of the patriotic funds is to look after both veterans who have come back from war and their families. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to go to war and come back maimed or gassed et cetera. The Law Institute of Victoria has embarked on a project for the centenary in which it is researching and compiling details of the names and stories of lawyers who went to war and
what they did with their lives if they came back. It is the brainchild of the staff at the Supreme Court archives, and in particular the records manager, Joanne Boyd. I pay tribute to Joanne for the work she is doing in compiling the stories and the work she has done with the grant she received from the Victorian Law Foundation.

I was struck by a couple of statements Joanne made in the article. She said there were many great stories of Victorian lawyers who went to war and came back, albeit with injuries, including mental trauma. She said:

I was particularly inspired by the story of Ronald Hall. He came back from the war wanting to be a barrister. But because he had been gassed, he did not have the lung capacity to stand up in court for long periods, so he became a solicitor …

She went on to say that it was not easy when someone had been gassed. It was like living with death. It affected their eyes and their lungs. A lot of lawyers who fought in World War
II were dead by the time World War II came around. They were young men who died in their 20s and 30s. The article states:

‘You have to wonder how these lawyers managed when they came back. They had artillery shells exploding in their ears then had to come home and settle down to doing wills and estates’.

These patriotic funds do important work, and we must remember that they look after some of the most vulnerable people. They also have a historical role. The patriotic funds assist RSLs to tell, for example, the story of the battle of Long Tan or the Anzac story. I was pleased to be at the unveiling of the battle of Long Tan memorial at the Keilor East RSL in my electorate last year. I did not know the history of that battle. It was only when I was inspired by the unveiling of the memorial in Niddrie that I thought I would do some research. The battle of Long Tan was one of the heaviest conflicts of the Vietnam War and one of the few battles in recorded history where Australian forces prevailed over incredible odds. There were some 108 Anzacs against a Vietcong force numbering between 1500 and 2500. That is an amazing story.

From a personal perspective, as other members have commented regarding their loved ones and forebears who served in war, I had an uncle, Allin Moore, who served in Vietnam for the United States. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.
The work we are doing with the patriotic funds is very important.

One other area I want to touch on is rooming houses. Both sides of the chamber are aware it has been a long and constant battle for successive governments, and I do not think any
government has got it right. When I worked for the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office and in legal aid, rooming house issues would come up quite regularly. It is a complex area. They are generally overseen by local councils that have a register for them, but Consumer Affairs Victoria has a role in trying to manage them and keep their records up to date. This legislation is very important in that respect because it will amend the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to enable Consumer Affairs Victoria to take enforcement action against rooming house owners who fail to comply with record‑keeping regulations and ensure that rooming house standards are appropriate.

Importantly, the bill will make it an offence for a rooming house operator to fail to maintain the required records. When we are talking about rooming houses, we are not talking about accommodation just down the street. Homelessness affects people in many
ways. You can be homeless staying with a friend, and you can be homeless living on a family member’s couch. Often people living in rooming houses are homeless, and they do not choose to live in a rooming house. It is really a circumstance of financial hardship and possibly of escaping family violence. Even worse, there are families living in rooming houses paying $150 or $200 a week in rent. That is no way for a family to live, but that is what we are faced with.

I was doing a bit of research and found that the Council to Homeless Persons says that rooming houses are booming in popularity. With increasing rent, particularly in inner city areas where there is a mix of public and private housing, there is an influx of people wanting to live in rooming houses. Sadly the statistics say that today only 3 in 100 rental properties are affordable for someone on a single parent payment. At the moment there are more than 34 000 people wanting to live in public housing, but the waiting list is almost a year long. You can see how rooming houses have become increasingly popular. That is something this legislation will address: if you are going to live in a rooming house, it is going to be safe. With 34 600 people waiting often 12 months for public housing in Victoria, this sort of consumer protection to assist people living in rooming houses cannot wait.

I read an article by Beau Donelly in the Age of 5 May 2013 headed ‘Illegal rooming house still runs’. The article comments on how rooming houses and the registration of rooming houses are the responsibility of councils. We have all read unfortunate stories of fires or even murders in rooming houses. This sort of legislation that protects people living in rooming houses by creating a safety net is critical.

Before I conclude I want to put on the record my commendation of the minister for some of the other action she has taken in terms of trying to clean up and improve the legislation
covering the purchasing of a home. The amendments to the Sale of Land Act 1962 are very important, as are the amendments being made to the Motor Car Traders Act 1986. It is important that there are protections for consumers when they purchase second‑hand vehicles or buy homes with or without tenants already renting. It is the role of the government to ensure that people can go about their everyday business of purchasing homes or vehicles and feel safe that the contracts they sign are worth the paper they are written on. I appreciate both sides of this debate. I commend the bill and wish it a speedy passage.