Estate Agents, Residential Tenancies and Other Acts Amendment (Funding) Bill 2024

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It is a pleasure to rise in support of the Estate Agents, Residential Tenancies and Other Acts Amendment (Funding) Bill 2024. From the outset I would like to thank the Minister for Consumer Affairs for her important work in this space and her advocacy in implementing stronger protections for Victorian renters and consumers across the economy. I would also like to give a shout-out to the minister’s team for their ongoing work to set this reform agenda in motion.

The bill before the house is a critical piece of legislation, one of many I am sure this place will be debating and passing this term, to strengthen the rights and protections for Victoria’s renters. The Allan Labor government knows that there are more people renting in Victoria than ever before, and unlike those opposite, we know it is our responsibility to make sure renters are treated with dignity and the respect they deserve.

For the benefit of the house, I thought I would take a look back through the reforms in this space. I started my research looking into the purgatory of policy inaction that was the Victorian Liberal government, and as expected, I could not find much in the way of rental rights reforms. Fast-forward through the Andrews–Allan governments and the contrast could not be clearer. I am proud to be part of a Labor government that takes action to protect and strengthen the rights of renters in this state. We know that more Victorians are renting than ever before, and it is incumbent upon us to take action. Back in 2021 we passed 130 strengthened protections for renters into law, improving the process of renting every step of the way from before the paperwork is signed to when the bond is paid back. Some highlights of the package of reforms included stronger antidiscrimination provisions, maximum bond amounts and limits to rents paid in advance, plus the rent increases capped to once a year. We introduced mandatory new minimum standards and expanded the definition of ‘urgent repair’. These 130 rental reforms ensure that Victorian renters can make their house a home, giving them and their landlords peace of mind.

It is important work, and I am proud to be part of the Allan Labor government that has made it a reality. But in doing so, we recognise that there is always more to do. That is why we have published the Victorian housing statement, which charts the course for the next decade across planning reform, housing construction, investment into social housing and, most relevant to the house today, strengthened rights for Victorian renters. It is a bold plan because we know the pressure Victorians are under when it comes to housing and housing affordability. If we do not take decisive policy action, that pressure will only grow as Victoria’s population soars beyond 10 million in the coming decades. It is why we will be using every lever available to government to create the conditions for the construction of 800,000 homes over the next decade. Whether it be streamlining planning decisions to make good decisions faster, building more housing close to jobs and amenities, investing in social housing or strengthening the rights of renters, there is no shortage of work before us.

I am proud to be part of the Allan Labor government, which is committed to doing the work and getting results for Victorian families. The Estate Agents, Residential Tenancies and Other Acts Amendment (Funding) Bill 2024 before the house today is the first piece of the puzzle. It is critical, with more Victorians renting than ever before, that the Allan Labor government takes action to strengthen renters rights. That is why we will ban all types of rental bidding and close the loopholes to make it illegal; we will restrict rent increases between successive fixed-term rental agreements; we will make rental applications easier and increase privacy protections; we will strengthen regulation of real estate agents, property managers and owners corporations; we will make rental bonds portable, rather than renters having to pay a new bond time each time; we will increase the notice required for rent increases and evictions to 90 days; we will deliver a $2 million rental stress support package; and we will create Rental Dispute Resolutions Victoria to make it faster and easier to solve issues and disputes. Put together, these changes are about protecting Victoria’s renters and making the system fairer and more reliable for all Victorians.

In particular I would like to focus on the creation of Rental Dispute Resolutions Victoria. The bill that is being debated before the house is crucial to achieving this goal. With more Victorians renting than ever before, we know that the number of rental disputes has increased, and of course that process is stressful, expensive and time consuming. For many renters the cost of this process adds to the already increased cost of living. The way the system currently works means that VCAT is often the method of first resort for resolving rental disputes, but it really should not have to be like that. Renters should not have to end up in a protracted VCAT case to get simple repairs done or have their bond returned. That is exactly why we are establishing Rental Disputes Resolution Victoria – to make dispute resolutions faster, fairer and cheaper for Victorian renters and landlords.

The bill before the house today makes amendments to the existing legislation which governs the Victorian Property Fund and the Residential Tenancies Fund, the two pools of money which underpin the state’s investment in rental dispute resolution services. In short, it will allow the Allan Labor government to use these funds to establish and operate Rental Dispute Resolutions Victoria. That is great news and a positive step towards meaningful change to Victoria’s rental dispute resolution landscape so that Victorian renters and rental providers have access to these dispute resolution services that they need and deserve. Quick, affordable, proportionate access to justice in these situations matters deeply, and I am proud to be part of the Allan Labor government, which is committed to these rental dispute reforms.

But more than just these reforms, I am proud of all the work being done to realise the aims and ambitions of Victoria’s housing statement. Whether it be the Minister for Consumer Affairs, the Minister for Planning and Minister for the Suburbs, the Minister for Precincts and Minister for Development Victoria or the Minister for the Suburban Rail Loop, there is a power of work in this space. We recognise that having an affordable, secure and reliable roof over one’s head is the top priority for all Victorians, and I am proud to be part of a progressive government that takes this issue seriously and is willing to grapple with the complex policy reforms needed to take meaningful action for Victorians.

I know that there are many speakers in this house who would like to speak on this bill, so for that reason and for many more, I commend the bill to the house.

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