Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — I rise to speak on the Residential Tenancies Amendment (Public Housing) 2011. We have heard from the circus tonight. It is evident that we on this side of the house went to the election with a very clear message. That message was that we were going to go hard on crime, we were going to protect families and we were going to protect each and every Victorian.
On the other side we have heard nothing but ‘soft’ — soft on crime and an attitude of looking after the drug dealers. That is very unfortunate.
Mr Wynne — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, the member has made some nice introductory comments and that is fine, but how about we get onto the bill and hear less of the rhetoric?
The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Beattie) — Order! I ask the member for Caulfield to continue, on the bill.
Mr SOUTHWICK — It is very clear that this bill is all about protecting vulnerable families. The Baillieu government supports the most vulnerable Victorians, and some of the most vulnerable Victorians live in public housing, as the member for Richmond would quite rightly know.
What we are hearing about from the opposition tonight is the protection of people who live in public housing, those who we on this side of the house also care about. In fact we probably care more about those people than opposition members do, because we are looking at doing something about this issue. The opposition had a long time in government to look into this issue and do some trials.
I draw the attention of the house to an article in the Age of 21 March 2010. It is very interesting. In his speech the member for Richmond spoke about the concern of people being evicted when they had not even been charged. However, in this article in the Age he said that in his term as minister he ran a pilot program in Fitzroy to see how this would work and that rather than waiting for residents to be charged by police or found guilty of trafficking by the court the former government planned to proceed with this. The member for Richmond was quite concerned about the issue at the time he was the Minister for Housing.
Now that he is sitting on the other side of the house he has swapped his position; he has changed sides. We have heard tonight that the opposition is supporting the bill and it may not be supporting the bill. It is just like it was when the opposition was in government; opposition members have no idea what they are doing and no idea where they are going.
The bill we have put before this house is very clear. What it seeks to do is tidy up the loopholes and the mess. New section 250A, inserted by clause 3 of the bill, specifies behaviours that can see the tenant evicted — for instance, if they engage in drug trafficking, supply or cultivation of drugs on the property. However, if a tenant happens to be doing illegal activities such as drug trafficking off their property — that is, in the common areas, in the corridors, in the playgrounds or in the areas where these vulnerable people live — under the current law we have to wait 120 days before we can do anything about it. That is 120 days for those drug dealers to continue to push drugs and make vulnerable families even more vulnerable.
This bill seeks to tidy up the law and make it consistent — and it seeks to protect families. It seeks to protect the most vulnerable, and that is what we are about. If someone were dealing drugs on the common property, under section 263 of the principal act they would be given at least 120 days notice of eviction if no specific reason was given. Imagine what someone can do in 120 days. We have to do something about it, and that is what we are seeking to do by changing the law.
I want to relay a story I was involved in. It occurred in my local area where we have a child-care centre underneath some commission flats in South Yarra. One of the drug dealers stormed into the common area and into the child-care centre. They upturned the whole child-care centre and put the kids, the carers and other families at risk. When that sort of behaviour happens the kids are traumatised for life. This bill seeks to deal with that.
We have heard tonight about indictable offences. The other side of the house is concerned about what we might seek to do in the future under the bill. This bill will give us the opportunity to move in quickly when there is a problem that we need to rectify. The member for Richmond quite rightly pointed to — although he was a bit unsure of the riots he was alluding to — the Redfern riots. We all saw at that time that if we do not have a chance to repeal a law and to put something in place to fix a problem, then unfortunately we are going to put people at risk for a long time. That is what this law seeks to do; it seeks to tidy up the legislation and ensure that the government is being responsible. It will also ensure that future governments — not just our government, although given the actions of the opposition it seems we will be here for a long time — will be able to move swiftly if problems in housing estates other than drug offences become significant. That is what this bill seeks to do.
New regulations under proposed section 250B will not be made lightly and will need to pass a rigorous regulatory impact statement process and satisfy the human rights charter as well as face parliamentary scrutiny, which may lead to the tabling of a disallowance motion. We are not just making laws and changing things willy-nilly. The law will apply to indictable offences — I underline that: indictable offences. They are serious offences. The laws will not apply to just leaving your laundry at home; they are for indictable offences. They are for serious crimes. We have to ensure that our families are protected. We have to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected, and that is what this bill seeks to do. The new provisions and any operational guidelines relating to them will be firm but fair, and that is what the government has intended from the very first day it came to office. Every single one of our policies has been firm but fair. Our policies are to ensure that we are protecting individuals and the rights of each and every Victorian.
Proposed sections 250A and 250B both state that the director ‘may’ — not ‘shall’ — remove a tenant in the case of an illegal act in a common area. It is a discretionary power. It does not mean it will be used all the time. The discretionary power will allow the director to make the decision as to whether there is the potential for someone to be harmed. The director will make a decision on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant factors, including the consequences for the residents and their families. Any decisions will be based on hard evidence of a prescribed illegal activity, especially charges laid by police and facts supporting those charges.
The crux of this matter is that the law-abiding tenants have nothing to fear from this bill. If you are not doing anything wrong, then you should have no problem at all with this bill. That is the crux of this bill. It is about protecting families, not about protecting drug traffickers and making people scared out of their wits.
It is about ensuring that if you are in public housing, you are going to be looked after and not scared out of your wits by drug traffickers. If the opposition had been serious about this when it was in office, it would have done something about it. But, as per usual, it has been all talk and no action. That is unfortunate, and that is why we are sitting on this side of the house and Labor members are over there — because they did not act. We are about to change that. That is what this bill and every other bill is about.
I am confident that we will make a real change and make housing facilities safe. We will do that by evicting drug traffickers and allowing vulnerable members of our community to get on with their lives.