RESIDENTIAL PARKS AMENDMENT (REGISTER) BILL 2011
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 24 August 2011.
Mr JAI ROWELL
(Wollondilly) [10.02 a.m.]: I am very pleased to speak in support of the Residential Parks Amendment (Register) Bill 2011. I applaud the Minister for Fair Trading for his diligence and hard work in his portfolio. In presenting this bill he has taken the all-important first steps in delivering on the Government's commitment to review and reform the residential parks sector. As we have already heard, this bill will enable the creation of a register of all the residential parks across the State, allowing the Government to identify exactly where these parks are located and who the operators are. In my electorate of Wollondilly we have such parks as the Avon Caravan Village located at beautiful Bargo, and many others as well as many destinations to visit.
I would like to highlight how important this bill is not just to the park operators but also to the many people who live in residential parks in different areas across New South Wales. As the member for Terrigal said earlier in the debate, many people in New South Wales have made a lifestyle choice to live in a residential park. This is particularly so in rural and regional areas, where parks are seen as an affordable housing option. However, inland residential parks are quite different from those in coastal areas. The same may be said of the types of occupants who live in them, and their reasons for doing so.
I recently came across a report titled "Getting to Residents of Inland Parks" produced by the Park and Village Service, better known as PAVS, in association with the Gunyah Aboriginal Tenancy Advice Service. Although the report was published in 2001, its contents are still relevant today in highlighting the many differences between residents of coastal and inland parks. The report found that the people living in inland parks were quite different from residents in coastal parks, who are mainly retirees or older people who own their dwelling and rent the site in the park. For many people in inland parks, park living is not a lifestyle choice or retirement haven; they simply have no alternative as they cannot access other types of rental accommodation. Many inland park residents do not own their own dwelling but rent it from the park operator. They often comprise casual itinerant workers, people on low incomes or Centrelink benefits, and sometimes, unfortunately, people with mental health issues. Many inland park residents have been unable to sustain tenancies elsewhere and cannot find a house to rent. In other words, many residents of inland residential parks have simply no other housing option.
The Park and Village Service report found that inland park residents stay for a relatively short time compared with residents of coastal parks. Only 35 per cent of residents had lived on their present park for more than 12 months. Coastal parks are predominantly occupied by retirees over 60 years of age whereas inland parks are mostly occupied by people in their 30s and 40s. The study also found that there were no resident advocacy groups for inland parks whereas there were many active resident associations in parks in coastal areas. This makes consultation difficult and means there is no network to support education initiatives. I know this firsthand because for a time in a former life I worked for the Western Sydney Tenants Service and on very much an ad hoc basis represented people in residential parks, so I know some of the problems they face.
I also know that the Park and Village Service is a resource service and provides training, resources, advocacy and information on the rights and responsibilities of residential park and manufactured home estate residents. The service receives and addresses inquiries on all aspects of residential park tenancies. All its services are provided free and include casework support and referral; training and resources for tenants advice and advocacy services and other organisations throughout New South Wales; community education and resources for residents of residential parks throughout New South Wales; advice on legislation—the Park and Village Service team provides paralegal services but does not include legal services; and input to policy that affects residential parks.
The Park and Village Service facilitates the New South Wales Residential Parks Forum and the Parks Legal Working Group and is an active member of many policy committees, including the Residential Parks Operation Committee of the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal; the Utilities Consumers Advocacy Group; and the Tenancy Legal Working Party. The service also produces many other documents and newsletters to support residents and I encourage residents to speak to the service for further information. Around half of the known residential parks are west of the Great Divide yet very little is known of them. Few residents or operators of inland parks contact Fair Trading for advice on their rights and responsibilities. Even fewer take disputes to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal. It is unclear whether this means that inland parks are so well run that there is little need for residents and owners to seek outside help or advice, or whether there are other issues at play.
It is important that the views of inland parks be heard. The register will provide an opportunity for the Government to identify and consult with people living in residential parks in inland areas of New South Wales. This will enable a more comprehensive review of the legislation than has ever been undertaken. It is important to find out, firstly, where the inland park residents and owners are, to let them know that the Government is doing a review and to hear about the issues that are important to them. Registration of the inland parks will provide a channel for a two-way flow of information and will allow the Government to target information where it is needed by providing information more directly to residents and operators. The register will be an extremely useful tool to identify the location of all residential parks and ensure the Government consults with park residents and owners across New South Wales, not just those along our coastline that have dominated previous reviews.
I will deal briefly now with some of the proposed new sections of the Act. Proposed section 142A gives the Director General of the Department of Finance and Services the power to require a park owner or park manager to provide registrable information about the residential park within the period specified in the notice. Failure to comply with this requirement attracts a maximum penalty of five penalty units. Proposed section 142B imposes an obligation on the park owner to give the director general notice of a registrable event within 30 days of the park owner becoming aware that the event has occurred. Failure to comply with this requirement also attracts a penalty of five units.
Events which constitute registrable events include a change in the trading name of the park, a change in park owner or manager, the closure or opening of a park or a significant change in the number of sites in the residential park used for permanent occupancy. Proposed section 142C prohibits a person from providing false or misleading information. Proposed section 142D requires the director general to establish and maintain a register of residential parks in which the director general must enter all the information provided to him under the proposed part. The trading name, address and contact details for residential parks may be made available to the public for inspection. The bill is an essential starting point to improve the framework and governance of residential parks. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr CHRIS PATTERSON
(Camden) [10.10 a.m.]: I support the Residential Parks Amendment (Register) Bill 2011. I congratulate the Minister for Fair Trading on his efforts in the Fair Trading portfolio and on introducing this important bill to provide for a register of residential parks. I put on record my appreciation for the Minister's guidance in this issue and others. The Government's commitment to reform the residential parks sector begins with this bill. In many areas of New South Wales, especially in our rural and regional areas, residential parks offer an affordable housing choice for many people.
In my electorate of Camden, for example, the Four Lanterns Estate at Leppington has been a family-run business for 40 years providing a community atmosphere for many retired people to live the lifestyle they have chosen. Closer to the township of Camden itself, along the Nepean River, is the Poplar Tourist Park in Elderslie, which provides residential sites in addition to holiday accommodation. However, we have heard about the complexity of the law that currently governs residential parks in New South Wales. The Government's planned review will examine the Residential Parks Act. A better governance framework will help provide a fair and equitable playing field for park owners and residents.
As with other close community living environments, such as retirement villages and strata schemes, those living in a residential park sometimes do not see eye-to-eye with the owner or manager. Sometimes problems occur, and sometimes the way to resolve them is far from clear. With the correct information on their rights and responsibilities both sides are able to resolve issues before they become a serious problem. This bill kickstarts an effective game plan that will give them that information. The bill will provide information on where residential parks are located, who is running them and how many people live there permanently. Only when the Government knows who and where the players are will it be able to get the ball rolling on reform.
The process for establishing a register of residential parks is really quite simple and uncomplicated. There will be no additional costs for operators such as registration fees or charges. Residential park operators will only need to supply certain details about their park to the Commissioner for Fair Trading using a simple, one-off registration form. A few minutes of their time are all that will be required—it is that easy. The Government made a pledge to conduct an extensive review of the Residential Parks Act. This register will ensure that the review will be conducted in a balanced manner. With an up-to-date list of where the parks are situated, who is running them, and how many people live in them the Government can ensure that no-one misses out on having their say.
The register will identify park operators, residents and their representatives, who will be invited to bring their broad range of knowledge and experience from across the sector to the review process. There will be many benefits from having this register. Registration of park operators is a way of helping to raise the standards for those operating residential parks in New South Wales. It will protect residents and assist operators by maintaining and improving the integrity of the industry. The register will provide a focus for the essential services the Government provides to residential parks, as well as education and information initiatives for operators and residents. Residents will be empowered as they will be able to receive information directly. Fair Trading will be able to keep park operators up to date with information on the legislation and any requirements. Having better informed operators can only benefit residents.
The information will be used by Fair Trading to support its educational and information programs, such as free information seminars, workshops, and in producing printed resources, such as fact sheets, publications, manuals and guides. In conclusion, this bill sets the foundation to source information that is essential for the Government to commence the review of the Residential Parks Act. This bill will ensure that such parks will continue to benefit my community and the electorates where the parks exist. I mentioned the Four Lanterns Caravan Park at Leppington and the Poplar Tourist Park at Elderslie. Both of these parks are extremely well-run and renowned parks: that they have such a high patronage and are always full are great indications of how well they are run.
The bill will enable such parks to ensure that if there are any incidents between operators and residents they can be ironed out in a simple and timely manner. The other point I would make is that I assume that not all parks across the State are run as well as the two in my electorate. This bill will ensure residents of all parks have a consistent framework to work with to ensure their rights are upheld. I commend the Minister for Fair Trading for the introduction of this bill and its intention. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr KEVIN CONOLLY
(Riverstone) [10.18 a.m.]: I am proud to give my support to the Residential Parks Amendment (Register) Bill 2011. The Government made a promise to the people of New South Wales to improve the governance of residential parks. The promise was made in the lead-up to the State election and I applaud the Minister for Fair Trading for acting so quickly on this promise in introducing this bill to Parliament. Residential parks are an integral part of our community. The bill represents the first step towards a comprehensive examination and assessment of the current laws governing the residential parks industry. It will help to identify those areas in need of reform so that the industry can thrive and residents can feel safe and secure in their residential park environment.
For the park owners and residents in my electorate of Riverstone this bill will bring many opportunities and benefits. As the Minister said when introducing the bill, today's residential parks industry offers a broad range of options for tourists and holidaymakers as well as those who want to live permanently in what are now known as residential parks. Residential parks provide an attractive and affordable lifestyle choice, especially for many retirees. The dwellings that exist in these parks are not all the traditional simple caravans of days gone by but in many respects mirror modern homes—those that are manufactured off-site and transportable—but they do form the basis of a real and lasting community for many people: it is their only home.
Several residential parks within the great electorate of Riverstone provide permanent accommodation to residents. The Parklea Garden Village, in the suburb of Parklea, is situated on 45 acres and has more than 400 sites. Several hundred sites accommodate residents on a permanent basis. The park is located just 38 kilometres from Sydney and is even closer to the major centres of Parramatta, Westmead and Blacktown. The Town and Country Estate is located approximately 40 kilometres from Sydney in the bushland setting of Marsden Park. Spread across approximately 25 acres, the Town and Country Estate has several hundred sites and a high percentage of permanent residents.
The OK Caravan Park is located in Rouse Hill, in a quiet rural setting, although set back only a couple of minutes from Windsor Road. It encompasses cabins, caravan sites and camping grounds. Just outside the boundaries of Riverstone, in the rural setting of Vineyard, the family-owned Avina Van Village is home to a mix of tourist and permanent residents. In my visits to these parks I have been impressed by both the professional manner in which they are run and the sense of community that clearly exists among the residents. The promise of greater certainty in the law and of striking the right balance between the interests of park owners and residents is welcomed by the residents and owners of these parks and the many hundreds of residential parks outside the borders of my electorate. Members have already heard of the laudable efforts made by Coalition members last year to connect with residents and operators and to listen to the issues that matter at the grassroots.
I was fortunate to be joined by the member for Albury, who is in the Chamber at the moment—then shadow Minister for Fair Trading—when I met with residents and the operator of the Town and Country Estate at Marsden Park. In Riverstone a key issue is the future of residents who may be displaced when their parks are located in areas that may be rezoned for urban development. This is a particular issue for the Town and Country Estate. I look forward to working with the Minister for Fair Trading to safeguard the interests of residents affected in this way. I hope that the residents and operators within my electorate will have much to contribute during the review of the Residential Parks Act.
This important consultation with the community would not be possible without the creation of a register of residential parks. I understand that the Minister has already consulted on the proposed register, and I am not surprised to hear that it is broadly supported by park resident advocacy groups and the industry. This bill will not increase the costs of operating a residential park, and it will not place unreasonable burdens on the park operator. As members have already heard, this bill is not about bureaucracy or pointless red tape; it is a necessary step forward for the Minister to implement a proper and thorough review of the sector. The registration process will be quick and easy. Park operators will simply be required to lodge certain basic details of their residential park with the Commissioner for Fair Trading. Fair Trading will provide the form and the registration process will be free. The information gained through registration will then be used by Fair Trading to create a register of residential parks in New South Wales.
The bill provides for basic information, such as names, addresses and contact details, of all registered residential parks to be included in a public register. This recognises the value to society of making this type of information available to members of the public who may be considering moving into a residential park and would like to know which parks are located in their area. Given today's rental situation in the metropolitan area —I am most familiar with that but it may also be more general and apply in regional New South Wales—it is difficult for people to find rental accommodation. Residential parks provide an important fallback position for many people in our community who otherwise would be facing homelessness.
The register will have many other benefits too, including benefits to government agencies that may be considering policy proposals that could impact on residential parks. Access to information in the register will ensure that affected park owners and residents are made aware of any proposed changes and given an opportunity to be consulted. One of the immediate benefits of creating a register is that it will give all operators and residents the opportunity to have their say on any proposed changes to the laws regulating residential parks. It will ensure residents and owners know about options being considered by the Government and have an opportunity to provide feedback on those options from a practical point of view.
The upcoming review is about ensuring that the laws governing the residential parks sector strike an appropriate balance between the needs of park residents and those of owners. It is not about apportioning blame or looking for fault; it is about identifying the key issues affecting residential parks in this State and looking at ways to make the law clearer and reduce the likelihood of disputes. That will be in everybody's interests. The bill marks the first step towards a comprehensive review of the system of regulation of residential parks. It is a step forward for park residents and owners in the electorate of Riverstone and more generally across New South Wales. I am honoured to lend my support to the bill. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr JOHN SIDOTI
(Drummoyne) [10.25 a.m.]: I support the Residential Parks Amendment (Register) Bill 2011. This is a great news story for park residents. Residential parks are an important part of the varying choices available in the New South Wales housing mix. What was originally designed for holiday accommodation predominantly has changed to suit the varying needs of many residents. Caravans were often used for holidays and temporary accommodation but are now often used as permanent accommodation.
Ms Noreen Hay:
Don't call them caravans.
Mr JOHN SIDOTI:
Residential parks often consisted of mobile homes sited in land-lease communities—known as caravan parks for the member for Wollongong—or mobile home parks and manufactured home parks. In these communities homeowners rent the space on which to place a home. In addition to space, the community is provided with utilities such as water, sewer, electricity, gas and other amenities such as community rooms, pools, playgrounds and so on. In the United States there are some 38,000 trailer parks containing from five to more than 1,000 home sites. Although most parks meet basic housing needs, there is a tendency overseas to pitch this market to seniors and the over 55s as well as seasonal holiday makers and people who are waiting for social housing.
This form of accommodation has become popular in our community, particularly with the ever-increasing prices of the Sydney real estate market and individuals' differing circumstances. These communities have many positive aspects. One tends to develop strong networks of support within the parks and they provide a valuable alternative to those who have been locked out of the Sydney rental market or those who cannot afford to buy a home. The facts gathered in the register are important because they can be documented and used as a database to monitor and improve the process of resolving problems. All relevant information about particular parks will be maintained on the register. Park management will have to provide certain information.
Some of the things that will be required for the register include, but will not be limited to, the trading name, address and contact details of the residential park; the name and contact details of the park owners or managers; information relating to the qualifications, experience and training of the park managers or owners; whether the residential park has a committee and the details of at least one member of that committee; and information relating to the occupation and use of the site. All this information has not been provided to date, so much information about the industry was purely speculative. Collecting this information will lead to a more efficient industry and will protect the rights of individuals against a possible small minority of rogue operators.
The information will also provide accurate statistical data and will give the Government an opportunity to consult widely with the industry, park owners and residents directly affected by government proposals. The bill will also facilitate government consultation with residents and operators on possible reforms to laws. This bill is a great step forward. I commend the Minister for Fair Trading on his research for the bill and his consultation with the different parties. This is yet another example of the Government delivering on its pre-election promises. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr ANDREW FRASER
(Coffs Harbour—The Assistant-Speaker) [10.29 a.m.]: I contribute briefly to debate on the Residential Parks Amendment (Register) Bill 2011 and join the member for Drummoyne in congratulating the Minister on introducing this legislation, which seeks to provide surety and confidence to those who live in residential parks across New South Wales. Prior to becoming a member of Parliament I had a licence on a Lands Department caravan park. On the North Coast people live in caravan parks as a lifestyle choice or because they cannot afford to live anywhere else, but it is important that they receive some security of tenure.
Over the years that I have been the member for Coffs Harbour the president of the Park Residents Association, Mrs Faye Urquhart, and the secretary, Mrs June Hewitt, who both live in my electorate, have made constant representations to me. They are tremendous advocates for people living in caravan parks. During this debate many members have noted that a significant amount of money—of the order of $200,000 to $300,000—is spent on mobile homes by residents in those parks. One could build quite a good home in regional areas for that amount of money. People choose that lifestyle having moved from metropolitan areas and in particular Sydney. Many of these parks are run by private operators as well as councils because they border the seaside. These days it is almost impossible to build a home that has water frontage so people make the decision to invest a lot of money to build a nice residence. They do so in the knowledge that someone will manicure the surrounds of their residence to enable them to have a permanent holiday lifestyle.
Many residential parks have a coastal location and therefore their value increases substantially because the land is more valuable for subdivision or other uses such as resorts and the people who suffer are the permanent residents. With our licence, the winter months were pretty good to us because many Victorians would stay three, four or five months, play bowls and enjoy the North Coast weather but in the season in between September and the school holidays it was pretty quiet and the permanent residents bolstered our income to get us through those quiet periods. However, unscrupulous operators bleed permanent residents, either through onerous regulation or excessive rents. This legislation will licence operators of caravan parks, either through licence or leases such as mine—one owned and operated by someone and one owned by someone and operated by someone else is a great way of providing security to the residents that Mrs Urquhart and Mrs Hewitt represent.
The legislation will allow a tribunal to hear applications for rent increases and to examine what is being provided in residential parks to ensure that residents have protection. Trying to shift the homes is not simply a matter of hooking them onto the back of a car and taking them away, as was the case years ago. These are substantial dwellings and, if my memory serves me correctly, ordinance 71 regulates their construction. Therefore, it is a huge impost to shift these homes from one park to another. When ordinance 71 was introduced many park operators provided little more than a paddock and electricity for permanent residents. There was no sullage, roadways were dirt and people lived in squalid conditions. Operators sat on real estate from which they could gain income in the short term or into the future before turning the property into a resort or residential subdivision.
This bill will provide education to park operators to ensure they deal fairly with tenants and residents, who will have a say as to whether their rents are affordable. Also, residents will have an avenue for appeal if they consider any rent increase to be onerous. I commend the Minister for introducing the bill. I acknowledge the need for ongoing consultation with all stakeholders, including park owners, operators and the Park Residents Association. This will ensure we get it right and that residents have more security of tenure in the future than they have had in the past. Many residents of these parks are retirees or young people with families. We must give them the security of tenure they deserve and ensure that they can afford the rent as many of them are on fixed incomes, such as superannuation pensions or child support. I commend the Minister for introducing the bill, which I commend to the House.
Mr TONY ISSA
(Granville) [10.36 a.m.]: The Residential Parks Amendment (Register) Bill 2011 is positive reform and the Government should be congratulated on introducing it. It is another commitment from the Coalition to review the Residential Parks Act 1998 and make it a priority for the New South Wales Government. Residential parks accommodate permanent residents. I note that there are over 900 caravan parks across the State but it is not known how many people live in them permanently. In order to know the number of residential parks and how many people live there permanently, it is necessary to establish a system of registration before the Government can undertake reform of the sector. I do not have any caravan parks in my electorate, but many of my friends and acquaintances who wish to escape from urban areas for a couple of days to enjoy rural lifestyles or to have a holiday, use them as weekenders.
I understand there is pressure and conflict between operators and owners. At the last election the Liberals-Nationals Coalition promised to improve the governance of residential parks and to review the Residential Parks Act. This includes looking at ways of licensing residential park operators, better education for new park operators and improving the process of resolving excessive rent increase applications currently heard by the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal. Establishing and maintaining a register of residential parks with Fair Trading, as mentioned specifically in our election commitment, is an essential starting point for broader review and reform. For the first time the register of residential parks will provide important statistical data on the residential park industry, establish a mailing list of individual park operators and resident representatives to be consulted during the course of the review, and assist with future compliance, reform implementation and educational initiatives.
The amendments provide that the park owner or manager of each residential park must register with Fair Trading and provide specific information, such as the park's trading name, address and contact details, using an approved registration form. We all know that registration is free of charge and does not add any extra cost to the operator, manager or park owners. The Commissioner for Fair Trading will need to write to each known park owner or manager advising of the need to register and give at least 30 days to do so. Appropriate penalties will be applied for park owners who ignore the request to register or who knowingly give false or misleading information. It is important for the details to be in order so that the Government is able to track down owners, operators and managers if further information is needed.
Fair Trading may make the trading name, address and contact details for each registered residential park publicly available. It is essential that people know who are the owners and managers. As I said earlier, the register will be maintained by the Office of Fair Trading and for the first time government and stakeholders will know who operates the more than 900 parks. The New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government will consult with the industry, residents and other stakeholders to ensure that the new licence scheme is appropriate and does not place unreasonable pressure on the industry. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr RAY WILLIAMS
(Hawkesbury—Parliamentary Secretary) [10.41 a.m.]: It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Residential Parks Amendment (Register) Bill 2011. At the outset I commend the former shadow Minister for Fair Trading and member for Albury, Greg Aplin, who is in the House, for his vision as he is responsible for a large part of this amending bill. Once again the new O'Farrell Government recognises that nothing stays the same and we need to move forward and embrace vision, initiative and technology so things will change. Caravan and residential parks now form such a large aspect of life for our elderly people that any checks and balances within this industry can easily slip through to the keeper unnoticed. It has been stated many times, and it will be repeated in future debates, that we need to recognise our significant ageing population.
This bill recognises that streamlining,licensing and registering and completely understanding the necessity of residential parks will go a long way towards supporting our aged community and all who live permanently in caravan parks as well as those who move around our country helping our tourism industry. Stakeholders assert that New South Wales has approximately 950 caravan parks, but it is not known how many accommodate permanent residents. In order to appreciate the number and location of existing parks, and whether they have permanent or temporary residents, it is necessary to establish a registration system before the Government can take further streamlining action in this industry.
The process is underway and I encourage all park owners of residential parks and caravan parks to take up the opportunity of free registration to enable the Government to have a greater appreciation and understanding of the role of those parks. During the election campaign we promised to improve the governance of residential parks, including in particular a thorough review of the Residential Parks Act, considering licensing residential parks and providing better education for new parks. The Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal currently hears issues of rent increases and improving that process will benefit all those who utilise these parks.
Establishing and maintaining registers of residential parks was mentioned specifically in our election commitment and it is an essential starting point for broader review and reform. For the first time the register will provide important statistical data on the residential park industry, establish a mailing list of individual park operators, resident representatives to be consulted during the course of the review, and assist with future compliance, reform implementation and educational initiatives. Importantly, information gathered from the register will feed into the review of the Act. Of course, a discussion paper for the broader legislative review will be released for public comment towards the end of 2011 once the register process has been completed.
The wonderful Hawkesbury area, known as God's country—we are privileged to live in such a wonderful area—has an extensive number of caravan parks, particularly ski parks, adorning the beautiful Hawkesbury River from Windsor at the southern end of the Hawkesbury electorate all the way to Wiseman's Ferry. These parks provide recreation for people on weekends and other holiday times, adding enormously to the economic benefits of that specific area of my electorate. However, one new visionary initiative undertaken by the Richmond Club, particularly by chief executive officer Kimberley Talbot, was the implementation of Wanderest Travellers Park, which is a temporary parking facility for the grey nomads who travel around our country. The park provides a safe area for travellers and the use of toilet and shower facilities for short stays. Travellers also can access the benefits of wonderful entertainment, reasonably priced meals, et cetera, from our local service clubs.
The Richmond Club undertook the Wanderest Travellers Park initiative about 12 months ago. The Minister for Tourism, Major Events, Hospitality and Racing, George Souris, launched Wanderest to great fanfare and it has been an overwhelming success. Wanderest has half a dozen temporary caravan parks situated across the road from the Richmond Club overlooking the beautiful lowlands of Benson's Lane and all the wonderful playing fields—an extremely popular and picturesque area. The Richmond Club has sought to expand the popular Wanderest to other picturesque areas along the Hawkesbury River but has encountered some difficulties. Wanderest is advertised extensively in travelling and tourism magazines. People can ring the Richmond Club and book in for a couple of days—a maximum of only three days—under the requirements as the park is not a permanent site. The Richmond Club has approached council about the expansion of Wanderest but is being stonewalled in the process.
Council quite correctly has asked whether Wanderest is creating caravan parks. The answer to that question is no as the regulations might not have been written into its local environmental plans. The Minister for Fair Trading, who is in the Chamber, has been proactive in this area. A few weeks ago he visited the Richmond Club which plays a vital role in our community in the provision of aged-care facilities. The Minister consulted broadly, visited many recipients of these facilities and was impressed by the fact that they spoke highly about those aged-care facilities. Residents in the Hawkesbury electorate always appreciate the Minister's regular visits. He does not have to be enticed with free meals or excessive alcohol; he recognises the pristine environment of the Hawkesbury electorate and the beautiful scenery along the banks of the Hawkesbury River.
Under these proposed amendments the park owner or manager of each residential park will register with New South Wales Fair Trading and provide specific information such as a park's trading name, address and contact details using an improved registration form and, as I have already said, registration will be free. The Commissioner for Fair Trading will be required to write to each known park owner or manager advising of the need to register a park within 30 days, which I believe to be ample time. We must encourage as many park owners as possible to register as that will enable us to ascertain the number of parks and how many permanent or temporary residents reside in each park. These measures will afford us a greater understanding of what we have in our backyard.
Appropriate penalties will be imposed on park owners who ignore the request register or who knowingly give false or misleading information. I hope that our park owners are honest because at the end of the day this legislation will benefit not only the parks but also those people wishing to move into them. This legislation will also benefit the tourism industry. Fair Trading may subsequently make publicly available the trading name, address and contact details for each registered residential park. Targeted consultation will also be undertaken. This new O'Farrell Government has given an undertaking to consult broadly with key stakeholders. I have noticed in debate on all the bills that have been introduced by this Government in its first 150 days in office that nothing is more important than broad community consultation. Governments cannot put in place appropriate policy and implement changes without knowing what is happening on the ground.
Recently the member for Newcastle and I attended a meeting at Stockton RSL—an area that has never been represented by the Liberal-Nationals Coalition—to consult with and listen to the concerns of 250 residents. Newcastle has been in safe Liberal hands for only 150 days. Community members were appreciative of the fact that we listened to and took on board their concerns, which will result in broad benefits for their area in the future. I commend the Minister for Fair Trading for introducing the Residential Park Amendment (Register) Bill 2011. I commend also the member for Albury, a former shadow Minister for Fair Trading, who made a substantial contribution to formulating policy that will be implemented by this House in the future.
Mr CRAIG BAUMANN
(Port Stephens—Parliamentary Secretary) [10.53 a.m.]: I make a brief contribution to debate on the Residential Parks Amendment (Register) Bill 2011. I commend the Minister for Fair Trading for introducing this bill, which is the first step in delivering on the Government's election commitment to improve the governance of residential parks. In a short space of time the Minister for Fair Trading has achieved a lot on behalf of consumers in this State, and this bill is yet another demonstration of his determination to address the problems left by the former Government. I also commend the member for Albury, a former shadow Minister for Fair Trading, for the extensive work he did on this issue prior to the election. As a number of my colleagues have already pointed out, this bill will enable a register of all the residential parks operating in New South Wales to be established for the first time.
I am aware of a number of residential parks in my electorate, most of which are well-run facilities providing an affordable and enjoyable lifestyle choice for many residents. When the public register becomes available it would not surprise me to see that there are more residential parks in my electorate than in any other electorate in New South Wales. The establishment of a register as proposed by this bill will settle this debate once and for all. More importantly a register will, for the first time, provide accurate statistical data on the size and scale of the residential park industry. It will let the Government know where residential parks are located, who is running them and how many people live in them. The register will provide also a comprehensive mailing list of park owners, park managers and resident representatives. Such a mailing list will be vital in honouring the Government's election commitment to improve the governance of residential parks.
This commitment includes carrying out a thorough review of the Residential Parks Act, in particular, looking at licensing of park operators, better education for new operators and ways to improve the current process for resolving excessive rent increase claims by residents. I want to focus on how to better resolve disputes over rent increases in residential parks. Recently I made representations to the Minister on behalf of residents of the Bayway Village at Fern Bay who are facing a rent increase of close to 40 per cent in some cases. Most of the residents at Bayway are on fixed incomes and will find it very difficult to afford the increase, especially at a time when electricity prices are rising along with the general cost of living.
At present all that the residents can do is to take the matter to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal. While the tribunal is a relatively informal process, it is still a daunting prospect for many elderly residents who may never have been to a court. Under the current Act each resident has to apply individually to the tribunal. Some may choose not to fight the increase which could divide the residents and cause further disharmony. Those that apply to the tribunal have the onus of proof. This involves a lot of work investigating and gathering evidence of similar rents in similar parks. The current system is unfair on residents and unnecessarily confrontational. Surely there is a simpler and more effective way of resolving such disputes.
When I wrote to local residents earlier this year outlining the Liberals-Nationals proposed plans for the industry, I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support. People said that finally someone was listening to them and they felt that they would have a chance to have their say without fear of recrimination from the park owners. I have sat in the immaculate but modest lounge rooms of park residents while they pored over documentation regarding their rate increases. They appealed to me for help when it seemed that they had nowhere else to go when the tribunal failed to help them as it was working under the current legislation. I received a letter from a resident in a park in my electorate whom I will not name but to whom the writer refers as "Stalag". That letter states in part:
My wife and I have lived in a residential village for the past 30 years to this month of May. We chose this style of living as this was the only opportunity of affordability available to us at the time due to our circumstances. We were very grateful for the opportunity to make our home in this way of life until the Wran government decided to end this way of life by legislation; this happened in around 1982-83 which set our lives in a new stressful situation.
The ground work was conducted by Kevin Stewart re the Residential Park Act but since then this industry has grown beyond belief and has attracted many rogue and greedy business people who have no conscience in ripping off pensioners financially and by threats and intimidation, or fear by stand over tactics.
Residents all over the State of NSW are relying on your government to strengthen the Act so as to give us peace of mind and a balanced playing field, to give the CTTT the power to stop these rogue owners charging exorbitant rent increases in the fact that we own the residence and we maintain the premises, pay our electricity account and water usage and the only service that they give us is the service supply to our premises and garbage collection every week but they speak to us and treat us without any respect.
There is a great dissatisfaction within this industry that thousands of retired pensioners have chosen to make this style of life to finish out their years because of many reasons but a great many because it appeared to be affordable but is now becoming out of the reach of many. Most of all, the intimidating and threatening attitude to residents and power of park owners over the lives of the elderly is becoming a great threat to the health of the elderly for which the Government have a duty of care.
This is from an advocate who regularly represents park residents at tribunal hearings:
I witness all too often the frustration and sometimes desparation that park residents experience when tribunal members repeatedly ignore or misinterpret the provisions of the Residential Parks Act and other relevant statutes.
May I offer you some examples of the real problems that our members frequently encounter?
In a recent tribunal hearing all 35 park residents of a park claimed that a rent increase was excessive, because the proposed rent was higher than the rents at other local parks that had been identified as "comparable parks" (see section 57 Residential Parks Act 1998).
The residents' advocate—
The writer says "not me"—
argued that their park was not comparable with the other local parks, all of which had a variety of amenities: Community halls, community buses, sporting facilities, such as tennis courts and bowling greens. They provided evidence that their park had no such amenities, other than a swimming pool that they shared with a large adjoining tourist park. All the other parks had a swimming pool but they did not share it with tourists.
The park owner argued that he could not afford to provide any amenities because there were only 35 residents in the park. The tribunal chairperson ruled that the park owner's contention that he could not afford to provide the missing amenities was "reasonable". She then allowed him a rent increase that put his park's rents as much as $8.00 per week above the "comparable parks".
But what could the residents do about the obvious failure of the tribunal chairperson to provide a decision that was, as the CTTT Act requires, "fair and equitable"?
They could apply for a re-hearing of the matter, but their application for a re-hearing would be decided by the Chairperson, with the advice of a senior tribunal member.
Or, they could appeal to the District Court or the Supreme Court, assuming that they had the financial capacity to do so. Legal Aid is not available for most residential parks issues.
There have been only a few appeals by park residents to the Courts. There have been many by park owners.
Right now I am preparing applications for re-hearings of two matters that, as it happens, concern the same residential park. But these are not about rents.
One matter is an attempt by a resident to have the park owner replace his concrete driveway that has broken up because of subsidence caused by the failure of a storm water pipe owned by the park owner. The Residential Parks Act is absolutely clear that the park owner is responsible for the maintenance of a resident's site yet two tribunal members have ruled that the park owner does not have to replace the failed driveway. So we are now trying for a third re-hearing.
In the 2009-2010 financial year the tribunal dealt with some 2,439 residential park applications, which is a record number in the residential parks division. Of those applications 1,741, or more than 70 per cent, involved claims of excessive rent and excessive rent increases. That just shows the extent of this problem in parks and why we need to reform the process. The process could be improved in a number of ways to reduce the incidence of disputes. An intermediate step could be introduced whereby a park operator must present the case for a rent increase to an officer from Fair Trading who would assess whether the increase is either justifiable or excessive and make a recommendation to the parties. Another option could be to retain the existing role of the tribunal but shift the onus of proof from residents to the operator.
If that option were adopted the operator would have to justify a rent increase above the consumer price index and present evidence in support of the rise. These are just two possible options. I am sure that many other options are available to deal with this issue. The register will become particularly useful because it will enable direct consultation with those affected by the legislation. In addition park owners, park managers and resident representatives will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on the various options or suggest alternatives to deal with the rent increase and other matters. I support the Minister's commitment to ensure that the right balance is struck between park residents and operators, so that residents can feel secure within a viable and vibrant industry. The establishment of a register is a simple and practical measure that will provide a range of positive benefits. It is the first step on the road to improving the governance of residential parks. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr ANTHONY ROBERTS
(Lane Cove—Minister for Fair Trading) [11.05 a.m.], in reply: As members have heard, the primary aim of the Residential Parks Amendment (Register) Bill is to amend the Residential Parks Act 1998 in order to establish a register of residential parks in New South Wales. As I outlined earlier, the bill is an essential first step in implementing the Government's election commitments in this area. Once again I would pay tribute to the member for Albury, who has worked long and hard in this area. The register will provide important statistical data on the location of residential parks, the operators of the parks and the number of residents who live in them. The bill has been developed in consultation with resident and industry groups that have an interest in this area.
I take this opportunity to thank the following stakeholders for their input: the Caravan and Camping Industry Association; the Affiliated Residential Park Residents Association, in particular Dr Gary Martin for his support for the bill; the Northern Alliance of Park Residents Association; the Park and Village Service; and, the Tenants' Union of New South Wales. The Government is committed to keeping the lines of communication open and an ongoing and robust consultation process will continue throughout the comprehensive review of the Act. I turn now to some of the specific issues raised during the debate.
The member for Kogarah questioned whether the penalties in the bill are sufficient. I thank her for her comments. I thank the member for her support for the bill. I am confident that the penalties in the bill are adequate to ensure compliance. The bill provides for a $220 penalty notice, but Fair Trading can elect instead to prosecute the owner in the Local Court and seek to have the maximum penalty of $550 imposed. I assure the House that the Department of Fair Trading will follow up on parks that do not register. I would be surprised if any park chose to ignore these requests. It may indicate that other aspects of the law are not being complied with.
Failure to register could result in a full compliance audit and lead to further penalties being imposed for other offences that we would uncover. The member for Shellharbour suggested that by requesting the names and site numbers of resident representatives the bill will allow those individuals to be "targeted" in some way. I find this suggestion a little bit ridiculous and I am not going to dwell on it. Who will target them and how they will be targeted the member for Shellharbour did not say. I compare the member for Shellharbour's comments with those probably more thoughtful and intelligent comments of the member for Kogarah:
I have spoken to a few residential groups who welcome this bill and who are positive about the establishment of the register. They believe it will give them more certainty as permanent residents of caravan parks.
I assure the House that the only targeting that will occur by having the contact details of resident representatives is that it will enable targeted consultation with park residents committees and liaison committees during the review of the Act. The knowledge and experience of residents will be vital to the development of the reforms. Resident representatives are the link between residents and park operators, and we are now linking this process to government to get a clearer picture of all the issues in the industry. As my colleague the member for Terrigal stated in his speech, Dr Gary Martin, the newly elected president of the Affiliated Residential Park Residents Association, recently wrote to the Central Coast Express Advocate
in these terms:
The Liberals-Nationals have done something that Labor failed to do for many, many years. They heard the plea from residents, and they are listening closely. This is the first step in the road to a better legislative framework for park residents.
I note that the member for Northern Tablelands and the member for Lake Macquarie expressed surprise that a register of parks was not already in place. I too share their surprise. How the previous government was able to make and implement policy without knowing the number of parks, their locations and who was running them is surprising to say the least. I thank the members for Kogarah, Albury, Wollongong, Terrigal, Shellharbour, The Entrance, Tweed, Balmain, Port Macquarie, Port Stephens, Wollondilly, Myall lakes, Camden, Riverstone, Lake Macquarie, Drummoyne, Coffs Harbour, Northern Tablelands, Hawkesbury and Granville for their support for the bill. Some 20 members spoke on this bill, which shows the commitment of this House to fixing up the issues surrounding residential parks.
I also thank two of my Fair Trading staff, Leanne Porter and Adam Heydon, who have done tremendous work in developing this legislation and will continue to rise to the challenge of reforming this area of legislation. I also thank two of my staff, Stewart Smith and Belinda Russell, who have worked very hard in ensuring wide consultation across the Parliament on the bill. The road to reform of residential parks legislation in New South Wales will be made easier and more effective with the passing of this bill. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now agreed to in principle—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill agreed to in principle.
Passing of the Bill
Bill declared passed and transmitted to the Legislative Council with a message seeking its concurrence in the bill.