BOARDING HOUSES BILL 2012
The Hon. GREG PEARCE
(Minister for Finance and Services, and Minister for the Illawarra) [3.28 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Government is pleased to introduce the Boarding Houses Bill 2012, the key purpose of which is to protect the rights of residents living in all boarding houses in New South Wales through the introduction of major reform to the industry. As my speech is the same as that given in the other House, I seek leave to incorporate the remainder in Hansard
The Government is pleased to introduce the Boarding Houses Bill 2012.
The key purpose of the Boarding Houses Bill 2012 is to protect the rights of residents living in all boarding houses in New South Wales through the introduction of major reform to the industry.
Though there is no clear data available on the exact number of boarding houses in New South Wales, it is estimated that there are around 750 boarding houses operating, the vast majority of which are located in the Sydney metropolitan region.
In New South Wales the boarding house industry is largely unregulated.
Boarding houses accommodating two or more people with a disability are regulated under the Youth and Community Services Act. Since the Act came into place over 30 years ago it has largely remained unchanged, while the number of boarding houses licensed under it has been steadily diminishing. Today there are only 23 boarding houses licensed under this Act providing 526 beds.
The unlicensed sector, on the other hand, is only partially regulated. It is estimated that around 7,000 people live in unlicensed boarding houses. While some aspects of these boarding houses are regulated, such as fire safety and food preparation, many smaller boarding houses do not have to comply with accommodation or operating standards. There is also a lack of information about the sector, making it difficult for local councils to monitor and enforce any standards that do apply.
People living in boarding houses are some of the most disadvantaged in our society: people who are reliant on low incomes or pensions, people with mental health issues or an intellectual disability, people who are frail aged and have multiple and complex health needs, and people who are socially isolated.
Many boarding house residents pay fees similar to those in the private rental market. Despite this, they have fewer rights or protections than tenants and no formal mechanisms to assert their rights. Residents commonly face problems with inadequate security and concerns for their personal safety. Many, despite having significant needs, struggle to access health, social, legal and financial support services, which can impact significantly on their quality of life.
This bill will address longstanding issues in the industry and decades of inaction by the previous Government—issues impacting on the safety, welfare and wellbeing of boarding house residents and on the viability and quality of boarding houses—inadequate information about the unlicensed sector, an outmoded and inadequate regulatory framework, gaps in protections for residents and a lack of occupancy rights.
In report after report the NSW Ombudsman, and more recently the State Coroner, have highlighted these issues and found the current system wanting. We owe it to the residents of the 300 Hostel and their families to remedy this situation.
This bill has not come out of the blue. It is the result of an extensive analysis of the issues and consultation with key stakeholders. Since October last year, the Government has been working hard to develop a final reform proposal which strikes a balance between the need to maintain the viability of the boarding house industry and the need to provide appropriate protections for some of the most disadvantaged people in our community.
In July and August this year, an exposure draft bill was released for consultation with key stakeholders. Face-to-face consultations were also held, providing an opportunity for stakeholders to inform the Government about potential impacts and possible improvements. Over 126 submissions and comments were received, the majority of which demonstrated strong support for the reforms from peak bodies, advocacy groups, service providers and key stakeholders, many of whom consider the reforms to be long overdue.
The bill being introduced today is the culmination of this process.
The Boarding Houses Bill 2012 provides a comprehensive, contemporary and robust legislative framework for the regulation of all boarding houses in New South Wales which consists of the following elements—central registration with the Register of Boarding Houses, common accommodation standards, mandatory inspections by local councils, the introduction of occupancy rights and an enhanced replacement scheme for the licensing and operation of boarding houses for people with additional needs.
All "registrable boarding houses" as defined in the bill will have to comply with the central registration and inspection requirements in part 2 of the bill while boarding house proprietors and residents will be required to abide by their obligations under the occupancy principles scheme, which is contained in part 3. Accommodation standards, which previously only applied to boarding houses accommodating 12 people or more, will apply to smaller boarding houses.
I will leave it to my colleague the Minister for Fair Trading, who will be responsible for administering parts 2 and 3, to explain these aspects of the bill in more detail.
The bill also divides boarding houses into two categories—"general boarding houses" and "assisted boarding houses".
A "general boarding house" is defined in clause 5 as a boarding house accommodating five or more residents for fee or reward, which does not fall within a list of exclusions in the bill, such as hotels and motels, backpackers hostels, aged care homes and retirement villages—premises that provide temporary accommodation or which are regulated in some other way.
General boarding houses will be required to comply with the requirements I have just described—registration, accommodation standards, inspections and occupancy principles.
An "assisted boarding house" is defined in clause 37 as a boarding house which accommodates two or more "persons with additional needs". Assisted boarding houses will also be required to be authorised and to comply with standards and protections specifically designed to ensure the safety, welfare and wellbeing of boarding house residents with additional needs.
Part 4 of the bill deals with the regulation of assisted boarding houses and is consistent with contemporary approaches to regulation. These provisions will be under my administration with Ageing, Disability and Home Care responsible for ensuring their effective operation.
Guiding the provisions in part 4 are specific articles from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified in 2008. Clause 34 which references those articles relevant to boarding houses expresses the Government's commitment to the convention. It also provides guidance on the scope of the provisions and will help ensure that the new scheme is clearly focussed on better outcomes for boarding house residents.
Under clause 36, a "person with additional needs" is defined as someone who is frail aged, has a mental illness and/or an intellectual, psychiatric, sensory or physical disability and, and I emphasise and, the person also needs support or supervision with daily tasks and personal care such as showering, preparing meals, or managing their medication. A person who is able to manage without such support will not be considered a "person with additional needs".
It is not the Government's intention to intervene in the lives of people with a disability who can manage independently. Rather, our aim is to ensure that people with additional needs living in boarding houses receive additional protections and the assistance they need to promote and protect their rights and their dignity.
Clause 39 enables the director general to declare premises to be an assisted boarding house if they are satisfied that the premises accommodate two or more persons with additional needs and the premises do not fall within the list of exemptions.
Premises can be exempted from the Act, with or without conditions, such as accommodation and service standards and inspections and investigations of the premises by the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care and the NSW Ombudsman, but only for a period of 12 months, after which a final determination has to be made.
Under clause 41 it will be an offence for a person to operate an assisted boarding house without proper authorisation. The maximum penalty for such an offence will be 120 penalty units or $13,200 in the case of a corporation and 20 penalty units for each day the offence continues, or 60 penalty units or $6,600 in the case of an individual and 10 penalty units for each day the offence continues. Under the old Act, the penalty is a mere $500 and $200 for each subsequent day, hardly a disincentive to running an illegal operation.
All penalties under the old Act have been updated and are now expressed in penalty units, allowing penalties to be increased appropriately over time.
Boarding house authorisations can be made subject to conditions and will be subject to various requirements prescribed by the regulations, which will be prepared immediately after the passage of the bill.
The regulations will deal with a whole range of requirements in greater detail, such as standards for services provided to residents including standards to ensure privacy, personal protection and meals; and standards for accommodation provided to residents including standards for bedrooms, bathrooms and other rooms used by the residents.
Clauses 44 to 53 deal with applications for authorisations for assisted boarding houses. An authorisation may only be granted to an applicant that is considered to be suitable to be involved in the management or operation of a boarding house and has the financial capacity to operate one.
Under these provisions, boarding house licence applicants will be required to undergo probity checks—including criminal record checks and financial probity checks. A person who has been convicted of a "serious criminal offence" such as murder, a prescribed sexual offence or an assault for which the offender has been sentenced to imprisonment, will not be able to hold a licence. The regulations enable other offences to be taken into account in considering an application.
These checks also apply, where the applicant is not an individual or a partner or close associate or, in the case of a corporation, to any person involved in the control or management of the corporation such as a director or majority shareholder.
Boarding house managers and staff will also be required to undergo criminal record checks every three years. A potential or current staff member who has committed a serious criminal offence cannot be employed or continue to be employed.
The provisions also deal with the variation, suspension, cancellation and surrender of licences and provide clear time frames for these processes. Clause 49 provides that a licence can be suspended or cancelled where the licensee or a close associate is no longer considered to be a suitable person, or where the continued operation of the boarding house would pose an unacceptable risk to the safety, welfare or wellbeing of the residents, or where there has been a breach of the Act or regulations or licence conditions.
Clause 48 also allows the director general to appoint a substitute licensee where there has been a change of circumstances or where the existing licensee has died.
A copy of the licence must be displayed in a conspicuous position in the boarding house.
Clauses 54 to 58 provide for interim permits to be issued for a period of six months to enable an assisted boarding house to operate on a short-term basis, such as where a licence applicant is waiting for a final determination—for example, where the premises have been sold to someone else—or where it is necessary to appoint a temporary licensee, but only to a person who is considered suitable.
Clauses 59 to 65 provide for the requirement for managers of assisted boarding houses to be approved, subject to probity checks, and for manager approvals to be made subject to conditions, varied, suspended and revoked.
Clauses 66 to 86 detail the various powers that will be available for ensuring compliance and enforcement of assisted boarding houses with the Act and regulations.
Clause 66 provides for the appointment of enforcement officers, who must be employees of the Department of Family and Community Services, whose role it will be to investigate and enforce compliance issues.
Enforcement officers will be required to carry an identity card and produce it when carrying out their duties. Enforcement officers will have the power to request the provision of documents and information and to require answers to questions. Obstruction of an enforcement officer or failure to comply with a request to produce documents or information or answer questions will be an offence. When exercising these powers they will be required to warn the person that failure to comply is an offence.
Enforcement officers will now be able to enter an authorised boarding house without consent or a warrant to make inquiries and ensure the premises comply with relevant conditions, and can do this with the assistance of others such as a police officer or medical practitioner. Clause 78 details the circumstances in which a search warrant is required.
Where an authorised boarding house is in breach of these conditions, a compliance notice can be issued—clause 79. Failure to comply with a compliance notice is an offence which carries with it a penalty of 40 penalty units for a corporation and 10 penalty units for each day the offence continues, and 20 penalty units for an individual and 5 penalty units for each day afterwards.
Under the current Act, residents who wish to access support or advocacy services must be assisted by the operator to access them. In the past, some licensed boarding house operators have been reluctant to allow support and advocacy services to enter premises.
Clause 78 allows authorised service providers, such as support, legal, financial or advocacy services to enter premises without the operator's consent or a warrant to talk to residents about the services they can provide and provide them to any resident who would like to access them.
Before entering the premises, an authorised service provider must identify himself or herself to the manager or anyone else in charge and produce their authorisation if requested.
As with the current Act, the bill requires the manager of an authorised boarding house to notify certain incidents, such as the death of a resident and a sexual assault or allegation of sexual assault, to the director general and the police.
The manager will also be required to notify the director general if a resident goes absent for more than 24 hours and has not told the manager of their whereabouts. The intention of the provision is to ensure that where a resident with additional needs appears to have gone missing, prompt action is taken to find them and ensure they are safe.
Clauses 85 and 86 provide for the removal of young persons with additional needs from unauthorised boarding houses and for the department to be compensated for removal and other expenses where the department has had to move a person with additional needs from an unauthorised boarding house.
Clause 87 provides for the review of a range of decisions by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal including authorisation and exemption decisions, a declaration that premises are an assisted boarding house and compliance notices.
Clause 91 details a broad range of matters that can be dealt with in the regulations including applications for authorisations and manager approvals, probity checks, service and accommodation standards, screening of staff members and residents, the assessment of persons as persons with additional needs, the qualifications and skills required of staff members of assisted boarding houses, complaints handling procedures for assisted boarding houses, inspections, compliance notices, record keeping and returns. This will address previous concerns about limitations on the regulation-making power under the Youth and Community Services Act.
Part 5 of the bill, which applies to both general and assisted boarding houses, deals with a variety of matters aimed at facilitating the operation of the Act—the ability of agencies to exchange of information to carry out their functions, the issuing of penalty notices and proceedings for offences under the Act.
Proceedings for offences can be brought either in the Local Court or the Land and Environment Court. Clause 100 adopts circumstantial evidence provisions similar to those found in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 in relation to backpackers' hostels and brothels which explicitly allow a court to consider circumstantial evidence in proceedings to obtain a search warrant or to remedy or restrain an unregistered or unauthorised boarding house from operating.
The kinds of evidence a court can take into account can include evidence that the premises are advertising themselves as a boarding house, evidence of the layout of the premises and the layout of beds and evidence relating to people entering and leaving the premises in a way which suggests that the premises are operating as a boarding house.
Clause 104 provides for the repeal of the Youth and Community Services Act and Youth and Community Services Regulation. This will only be done when the new Boarding Houses Regulation is in place. Schedule 2 provides for the conversion of orders, exemptions, licenses, permits and approvals made under the Youth and Community Services Act to remain valid under the new Act.
Schedule 3 provides for various protections under the Youth and Community Services Act to be retained: powers under the Coroner's Act 2009 which enable the Coroner to hold an inquest into the death of a person in declared or licensed premises and provisions under the Community Services (Complaints, Reviews and Monitoring) Act 1993 which provides for the resolution of complaints about boarding houses; inspections by Official Community Visitors; reviews by the NSW Ombudsman into boarding house services; and investigations into the deaths of boarding house residents.
Clause 105 provides for the review of the Act after five years of operation to determine whether the Act and its objects are still appropriate.
The introduction of this bill is but the first step in the reform process.
The next step will be to establish an Implementation Committee, comprising relevant government agencies and non-government organisations, residents and boarding house proprietors to oversee the required changes to the boarding house industry as well as to policies, programs and services across administering government agencies. Effective implementation and commitment by all involved will be critical to the success of the reforms. I am pleased to be able to lead this process.
The Minister for Family and Community Services, together with me, the Minister for Fair Trading and the Minister for Local Government, will also be required 18 months after the commencement of the bill to report back on the impact of the reform process on the boarding house industry.
This will commence with an examination of the need for further incentives and assistance to support the supply of boarding house accommodation.
I will also be working closely with the Ministers for Family and Community Services, Health and Mental Health to identify the needs of boarding house residents, and the need for any additional incentives to improve resident access to services.
The Government acknowledges that well-run boarding houses can provide safe, affordable accommodation for people who would otherwise struggle to rent in the private market. I will quote the words of one resident who wrote to us during the consultation process:
I am a Pensioner living in a boarding house in Surrey Hills. As Pensioners we are old and some of us have health concerns. However, we have all been looking after ourselves for over forty odd years. We take pride in our independence ... All common areas are clean as are the bathrooms and are kept so fervently. Every room has smoke detectors and sprinkler system. There are no vermin and regular checks are made to keep it so. We share a pleasant garden at the rear of the house. We enjoy these conditions because the owners are humane and responsible and know their business will run smoothly with happy tenants. Boarding houses are essential to people like myself and my friends ...
The Government's attention is not on these boarding houses, but on those who are exploiting disadvantaged residents in need of urgent or affordable accommodation. Our focus is on developing a better understanding of the "unlicensed" sector of the industry, the conditions which have allowed this sector to proliferate and on regulating the industry to bring poor performing operators to a higher level of professionalism and quality of service.
In designing these reforms, the Government has been cognisant of the need to take a "light touch", positive approach to regulation. The reforms should assist proprietors to streamline their operations, become better informed about government incentives and become more viable, thereby improving the profile and legitimacy of the boarding house industry as a whole.
I end finally with a quote from Winston Churchill which I believe is apt: "I never worry about action, but only inaction."
I commend this bill to the House.
The Hon. MICK VEITCH [3.29 p.m.]: The Opposition supports the Boarding Houses Bill 2012. This is a good piece of legislation. We all are aware of the issues facing people in boarding houses, whether they be international students or people with disabilities. This legislation will do much to improve the lives of some of our State's most vulnerable people. Sadly, the sector has become characterised by exploitative operators operating for profit, taking what little their residents have and giving back very little in exchange. I acknowledge the good boarding house operators who provide important services. But as the shadow Minister, Barbara Perry, said in the other place, there have been too many tragic examples where the balance of power has been firmly in the hands of owners at the expense of many of our most marginalised citizens.
The Opposition is pleased that this bill clearly has been informed and improved by extensive submissions that both the Government and the Opposition received, and I commend the Government. The bill has two strengths. Firstly, registration will provide information to the Government and stakeholders about a sector. The Minister in the other place pointed out the lack of data relating to the unlicensed sector, but much will be gained through the registration process. Secondly, the bill's use of occupancy agreements is modelled on the Australian Capital Territory's successful Residential Tenancy Act 1997. This legislation upholds occupancy agreements between occupants and grantors where residential tenancies legislation does not otherwise apply. Amongst other things, the Australian Capital Territory legislation proved that the sectors do not fall over and the sky does not fall in when occupancy agreements for marginal tenants are upheld. Some are backed up by penalties and residents are given access to dispute resolution through the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal.
The 12 occupancy agreements seek to remedy many current issues with boarding houses. For example, an issue for international students, namely, excessive penalties and charges, which are placed on students who want to leave mid-semester, are dealt with under principle 3. Principle 6 provides that four weeks' notice must be given before occupancy fees are increased. The prevalent issue of evictions without notice are dealt with by principle 9, which states that reasonable written notice must be given. Excessive utility charges are looked at through principle 7. The Opposition discussed a number of its concerns in detail with the Minister's office and some of the minor parties. We appreciate the thought and manner with which those concerns have been dealt. We thank Louise Blazejowska from the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care [ADHC] for her work on this bill, and for discussing our concerns with us. As the shadow Minister outlined in her speech in the other place, given that the Opposition supported Clover Moore's bill it would be logical that those concerns extend to residents of boarding premises rather than just residents of registrable boarding houses only. After much consideration, we believe this should be dealt with in separate legislation rather than this boarding house legislation.
The Opposition has told the Government about its concerns regarding children in boarding houses and appreciates the attention given to this issue. Many stakeholders also are very concerned and make a strong argument that children should be allowed in boarding houses. We propose moving an amendment to the bill to ensure that unaccompanied children are not allowed to live in assisted boarding houses. We do not believe that the bill is strong enough in this area. The basis for our amendment is that registration and notification do not necessarily provide safety nets for vulnerable children. The legislation will be reviewed in 18 months. We look forward to playing a part in that review, as do many community groups. It will be a time to revisit some of the potential issues the Opposition raises with this legislation. As I stated at the outset, this is a good piece of legislation. The Opposition will support the bill, but indicates that it will be moving a single amendment regarding unaccompanied children not being allowed to live in assisted boarding houses.
The Hon. MARIE FICARRA
(Parliamentary Secretary) [3.33 p.m.]: I welcome Minister Constance's introduction of the Boarding Houses Bill 2012. I commend Ministers Constance, Roberts and Page for their collaborative and cooperative work to develop a comprehensive reform package for the regulation of boarding houses in New South Wales. Boarding houses play an integral role in providing flexible, low-cost affordable housing, particularly for those who might otherwise struggle to afford private accommodation. However, the Government has long been concerned that residents, many of whom are disadvantaged, frequently are exposed to unacceptable risks in relation to their safety and wellbeing. This was the case regarding the 300 Hostel inquiry regarding the deaths of six residents in a notorious Marrickville boarding house, in what the State Coroner, Mary Jerram, described as Dickensian circumstances.
The Marrickville boarding house was licensed by the then New South Wales State Government to provide accommodation and support to people with a disability—which for the vast majority was a mental illness. After the five-day inquest earlier this year, the New South Wales State Coroner delivered a scathing report finding that poor hygiene, malnutrition and overprescription of antipsychotic medication had contributed to the deaths of six Sydney boarding house residents. In an ABC
interview with Sister Harris on 24 June 2012 Wendy Carlisle stated:
No-one was held responsible or accountable for the deaths: not the doctors, and certainly not the authorities that were meant to be regulating it. Indeed, the coronial inquest itself was almost accidental. It was the police who referred all six deaths to the coroner after putting two and two together and realising that half a dozen different police officers had been to 300 Hostel, investigating the six deaths. The Marrickville police thought it was fishy and brought the lot before the state coroner.
Sister Myree Harris, a long-time community advocate for people in boarding houses said the scandal had been a long time coming.
I commend and honour Sister Myree Harris, OAM, a contemporary Josephite nun acting in the spirit of Mary MacKillop by responding to the needs of the homeless in inner Sydney since 1990. In 1880 Mary MacKillop opened a house in The Rocks, called Providence, for women and their children who were living on the streets of Sydney. Sister Myree Harris has continued in that same spread with the Gethsemane community and works continuously for the poor, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. Further in that ABC
interview Wendy Carlisle stated:
Myree Harris has been campaigning against dodgy boarding houses for years. Using freedom of information laws, she obtained reports which showed that hostels like 300 had been on the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care's radar for a long time. She sent all these documents off to the state ombudsman.
In that interview Sister Harris said:
It highlighted the evidence that came out of the freedom of information documentation which had gone back from '95 to 2000 and it demonstrated the unsanitary, dirty, unmaintained conditions of the hostel, it looked at the neglect of residents, it looked at poor health outcomes for residents, poor quality of life, no privacy, no access to drinks or food in between meals, poor quality food—I think it just documented most things. And the evidence of massive neglect was there way back then.
... The Ombudsman put out a report in 2004 which was not officially released. Nothing much happened. They then did a two-year follow-up and at the end of the two-year follow-up they released a report in parliament in 2006. This was always the answer: "Oh yes, things will be fine. We just need new legislation. Once we have that everything will be fine."
Wendy Carlisle: But the promised reforms, which would have given the government the power to actually enforce licence conditions, never arrived. So fragile was the relationship between 300 Hostel and the local services that the licensee ... was able to lock them out.
[Sister] Harris: They allowed the boarding house owner to refuse entry to specialised nursing and occupational therapy and all those other services provided by a specialised boarding house team.
I wanted to place those comments on record. They are indicative of many of the tragic and heartbreaking circumstances that have occurred. The legislation before the House is much needed. It has been a long time coming. It does not stop here; it will continue. The Minister for Ageing, and Minister for Disability Services, it has been acknowledged, is a true believer in the portfolio that he manages.
Mr David Shoebridge:
He is a light in the boarding house window.
The Hon. MARIE FICARRA:
I acknowledge the interjection by Mr David Shoebridge: He is a light in the boarding house window. There is a significant boarding house industry in New South Wales consisting of both licensed and unlicensed boarding houses. Those that accommodate two or more people with a disability are required to be licensed under the Youth and Community Services Act 1973. Under the Youth and Community Services Act proprietors are required to apply to Ageing, Disability and Home Care for a licence to operate. Attached to each licence is a set of conditions with which the licensee is required to comply.
Currently, there are 23 licensed boarding houses providing 526 beds, which is a significant decline since 1994 when there were 187 licensed boarding houses operating. I place on record that many of those boarding houses should have been shut down years ago. I understand that once those vulnerable people are on the streets we then have to supply the services they need to keep them healthy and functioning, both physically and mentally. The Government is responsible for their wellbeing. There is no central database of unlicensed boarding houses in New South Wales, which makes monitoring of the size and nature of the industry and standards of accommodation difficult.
The New South Wales Government's new legislative framework will provide protections for all boarding house residents through: the introduction of a central register with New South Wales Fair Trading; mandatory compliance investigations to be carried out by local council; expanded coverage of accommodation standards from boarding houses accommodating 12 or more people to smaller boarding houses; the introduction of occupancy rights; an enhanced scheme for boarding houses for people with additional needs; and contemporary penalties for offences.
The introduction of occupancy rights for boarding house residents—rights that are long overdue—will address gaps in protections for residents which may be compromising their health, safety and wellbeing. The consultation process for the draft Boarding Houses Bill has provided the industry with an opportunity to examine the Government's proposed reforms and has identified potential impacts and improvements. This bill adds further protections for residents identified through this process. The reforms strike a balance between maintaining the viability of the boarding house sector, the need to provide appropriate protections for some of the most disadvantaged people in our communities and the need for consumers and the Government to obtain better information about the boarding house sector.
The reasonable regulatory approach of the reforms should minimise any potentially negative impacts on the industry. Indeed, they should have a positive impact by requiring proprietors to streamline their operations, to become better informed about government incentives and therefore more viable, and to improve the standing and legitimacy of the boarding house industry generally. The bill divides registrable boarding houses into two categories: a general boarding house which provides accommodation for five or more residents for a fee or reward; and an assisted boarding house which accommodates two or more persons with additional needs. I note that a number of accommodation types, such as backpacker hostels, hotels and motels and aged care facilities, are excluded from this definition.
Both types of boarding houses will be required to register, undergo compliance inspections by council and comply with the occupancy scheme in their dealings with residents. Assisted boarding houses will also be required to be authorised and to comply with standards and protections specific to assisted boarding houses, which will be monitored by the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care. The bill defines a person with additional needs as someone who is usually mobile but needs support or supervision with daily tasks and personal care such as showering, preparing meals or managing medication. Some residents require support because they have mental health issues and an intellectual or other disability or age related frailty. A person who is able to manage without such support will not be considered a person with additional needs.
The Register of Boarding Houses, which will be administered by the Minister for Fair Trading, will help to provide consumers and the Government with information about the sector and enable monitoring of supply in the industry. A range of information will be collected for the purposes of the register, including the type of boarding house, the number of residents, the number of residents under 18 and the total number of bedrooms. Information from the register will also be available to the public. The bill introduces an amendment to the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005, that is, the shared accommodation standards which currently apply to larger boarding houses will apply to all registrable boarding houses. Within 12 months of registration a boarding house that has not had an inspection done by council in the previous 12 months will be required to undergo an initial compliance investigation to ensure the premises meet relevant planning, building and fire safety requirements and standards.
I note that the bill introduces principles on occupancy rights based on the Australian Capital Territory regime but with additional principles for New South Wales residents. The new scheme of occupancy rights also contains provisions that allow for the introduction of a standard occupancy agreement and for the resolution of disputes by the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal. The bill requires proprietors, boarding house managers and staff to undergo regular criminal record checks. This will provide an important safeguard for the identification and management of potential risks to the safety, welfare and wellbeing of residents.
Significantly, the bill also includes provisions that will enable authorised service providers, services that provide support, financial, legal or advocacy services to enter an assisted boarding house without consent or warrant to speak with residents about the services they provide and to provide those services to the residents if they wish. The bill includes a circumstantial evidence provision, based on existing provisions in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, which will enable circumstantial evidence to be relied upon by a court in proceedings for a search warrant or to remedy or restrain unregistered or unauthorised premises from operating.
The bill updates penalties under the Youth and Community Services Act 1973 which have not been updated since 1979, and expresses them in penalty units, with penalties for corporations being twice that for individuals, and it introduces new offences in relation to the register. Under the bill the Coroner will still have the power to hold an inquest into the death of a person in an assisted boarding house. Protections under the Community Services (Complaints, Reviews and Monitoring) Act 1993, which provide for the resolution of complaints about boarding houses, inspections by official community visitors and reviews and investigations by the New South Wales Ombudsman into boarding houses, will be retained. I am very pleased to support the Minister for Ageing, and Minister for Disability Services in introducing this bill to the House. With my final comments I will return to the ABC interview conducted by journalist Wendy Carlisle. Ms Carlisle states:
The coroner recommended the sector be much more tightly regulated, and one of her more important recommendations was that there be annual reviews for residents with disabilities in boarding houses … In the last few years there's been a rapid restructuring of the boarding house scene. Licensed facilities have been closing down rapidly and in New South Wales just 30 remain. The people who used to live in them—many thousands of residents—seem to have disappeared into the unlicensed sector. Myree Harris says any new laws have to give these people protection as well.
Sister Myree Harris had the final comment in this interview:
So we cannot allow people with severe mental illness or other disabilities to land in the unlicensed sector without support. We cannot allow them to develop into hellholes.
In the bill before the House the Government goes a long way. However, there is much more to be done. We will monitor and provide feedback to the people of New South Wales and continue to improve legislation regulating the operation of boarding houses for the most vulnerable in our society. I commend the bill to the House.
The President (The Hon. Donald Thomas Harwin)
took the chair at 3.50 p.m.
The Hon. PAUL GREEN
[3.50 p.m.]: I speak on the Boarding Houses Bill 2012. The primary purpose of this bill is to protect the rights of residents living in all boarding houses. The bill introduces major reform to the boarding house industry in New South Wales. Many people simply cannot afford private accommodation. This is a sad reality, but unfortunately it is all too common. Boarding houses play a vital role by providing low-cost, affordable housing. It is estimated that there are around 750 boarding houses operating in New South Wales, the vast majority of which are located in the Sydney metropolitan region. A crucial problem is the lack of regulation surrounding boarding houses. This bill is a welcome step, and one which community activists have sought for around 35 years. Minister Constance said:
We have seen situations where residents have been subjected to abuse and neglect, highlighting the inadequacy of the existing legislation and the need for reform.
He also said:
The Ombudsman has also produced three reports in seven years that have been critical of the slow pace of legislative reform in this sector.
Boarding houses typically house the most poor and vulnerable in our society. This bill provides stronger protection from exploitation for thousands of people. Specifically, the bill: provides for a registration system for certain boarding houses, to be called registrable boarding houses; provides for certain occupancy principles to be observed with respect to registrable boarding houses and for appropriate mechanisms for the enforcement of those principles; replaces the existing licensing and regulatory regime for residential centres for handicapped persons in the Youth and Community Services Act 1973 with a new licensing and regulatory regime for certain boarding houses—to be called assisted boarding houses—and their staff, including providing for service and accommodation standards at such boarding houses; repeals the Youth and Community Services Act 1973 and related legislation; and makes consequential and related amendments to certain other legislation. I note widespread community, industry and bipartisan support for this bill. I also note the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Sister Myree Harris, convenor of the Coalition for Appropriate Supported Accommodation, said the Government had gone up in her estimation. Sister Myree Harris then said:
But they have to carry through. Some owners will scream blue murder and the Government must call their bluff.
The Tenants Union, the State's peak non-governmental organisation for tenants and other renters, strongly supports the bill. In particular it strongly supports the bill's provision relating to occupancy principles and occupancy agreements for boarding house proprietors and residents. It also supports the establishment of a new Register of Boarding Houses. The bill makes a number of improvements on the Government's earlier draft bill, circulated for consultation in June this year. The Tenants Union identified a number of improvements: the loophole relating to premises that are subject to a tenancy agreement is closed; the names of boarding house proprietors will be included on the register; proprietors will be required to provide a written occupancy agreement at the commencement of an occupancy; standard forms of occupancy agreements for different classes of agreements, persons or premises may be prescribed by regulation; the occupancy principles are effective—it is a term of every occupancy agreement that the occupancy principles apply; a new occupancy principle prohibits penalty clauses for breach of house rules; a new occupancy principle allows utility charges to be levied on a reasonable basis only; a new occupancy principle limits bonds to a two weeks occupation fee; and a wider range of remedies, including compensation, is available in the tribunal.
I note that in the other place the Opposition expressed some concerns relating to compliance with inspections, presumably relating to the burden that inspections will place on local council resources. However, I also note that clause 23 enables a council to charge and recover an approved fee under section 608, Council fees for services, of the Local Government Act 1993 for the conduct of an initial compliance investigation. Earlier the House dealt with swimming pool legislation. I think local government would be very happy with this cost recovery measure. However, the costs recovered do not reimburse local government for the total cost of providing these services, such as the cost of man-hours and investigations—expenses that cannot be chalked up within the broad terms of this legislation. We are mindful that the Government is at least allowing local government to receive a fee for some of its compliance work. It needs to go further in addressing the overall cost of resourcing someone to visit these boarding houses to ensure that they are fully compliant, completely safe and able to provide safe services for those who use them.
As I have noted, some of the most vulnerable people in New South Wales use boarding houses, and many of them would not be aware of the risks that some of these substandard properties pose for them. However, this is much-needed reform. Sister Myree Harris, who, it seems, has been trying forever and a day to achieve upgrades of this sort of accommodation, finally feels that something is being done. It is to the credit of the Minister and his staff that this bill is before the House. The bill is a positive step towards much-needed reform of the boarding house industry. There is no doubt that the industry needs to be even further reformed, and it probably will be. The Christian Democratic Party welcomes this bill and commends it to members of this House.
Mr David Shoebridge:
Point of order—
Order! Is the member taking a point of order or rising to take part in the debate?
Mr David Shoebridge:
I am taking a point of order. It was extremely difficult to hear the final part of the member's contribution due to the wall of noise coming from those on the Government benches.
The Hon. Catherine Cusack:
Mr David Shoebridge:
There they go again. The noise was making it almost impossible to do business in the Chamber.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher:
To the point of order: The member would be well advised not to fabricate allegations. If the member wishes his speech to be delivered with continuity and not interrupted by question time that is his prerogative. But he should not make things up about members of the Government talking to such an extent that he could not hear the Hon. Paul Green, just so that his own speech will not be interrupted by question time.
Order! I have heard sufficient on the point of order. Though there was a great deal of noise when the member was concluding his remarks, I did not have difficulty hearing the Hon. Paul Green. However, not all members have the benefit of the audio equipment that I have to pick up the sound coming from the microphones.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted at 4.00 p.m. for questions.
Item of business set down as an order of the day for a later hour.