Residential Parks (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (20:37):  I rise to speak on the Residential Parks (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2017. The bill was introduced by the minister in his role as Minister for Consumer and Business Services on 28 September. I will be the lead speaker and the member for Hammond will be a star performer in this debate and will be making a contribution. I know that you are going to be waiting with bated breath to hear that contribution, because I am sure it will be excellent.

The situation is that the government had released a discussion paper in 2016 to deal with the question of security of people living in residential parks. Largely, they are people who live on low incomes and are frequently retirees. I think it is fair to say that the controversy that prevailed around the Holdfast Bay council asking 40 residents of the Brighton Caravan Park to leave their property, when they decided to redevelop that site, brought this matter to a head. Back in January 2013, the response from a number of these residents was illustrative of their distress and a number of them took legal action.

I recall meeting with Mr Xenophon, formerly of the Legislative Council, who had supported them in the Supreme Court. My recollection is that he had attached their handwritten statements to cover sheet affidavits, which is rather a cheat's way of lodging documents, but I am not here to make comment on his legal skills. Nevertheless, he assisted them. Those proceedings, unsurprisingly, went nowhere and were ultimately withdrawn, but they did at least precipitate some discussion.

I think it is fair to say and appropriate to recognise that the Holdfast Bay council had, both initially and at all material times, placed on the table an offer of compensation to assist the residents to relocate. I say the word 'compensation' in a fairly loose form, in the sense that, whilst there was denial of an obligation to provide compensation to people who were being asked to move, I think they were cognisant of the importance of assisting people who had been resident in their area and had been duly paying their tenancy to be relocated and that this was both reasonable and appropriate.

Ultimately, the negotiations resolved in a settlement between the council and the Brighton Caravan Park residents. That issue was itself resolved, but it highlighted the question of how one should properly deal with these matters. I think it is fair to say (and there was general media around this) that there were concerned people who resided in the area who felt that they were lawful owners of property, that they paid their rates and were paying all their state taxes and the like and that they had rights of occupancy of the interests, whether in fee simple or otherwise, in property they owned.

They felt that it was rather unfair, from their perspective, that people who lived in the caravan park should be presenting to argue that they should have some permanency and, in the absence of it being continued or it being interrupted, should be given some significant compensation for what had not been a legal right but for which there was felt to be some need to provide some assistance, as I have said.

Not unreasonably, the government issued this discussion paper to talk about how these matters might be dealt with in the future, with the security of tenure being the primary concern. Other issues such as the disclosure of information, safety plans in parks and the payment of compensation were all matters that were raised during that consultation. The key aspects of this bill are, first, to provide an obligation to disclose information on establishing residential park agreements, that machinery provisions include being in writing, that a sound copy of the written park rules is to be provided to the residents and that penalties are to apply for default.

Secondly, it is to provide security of tenure at the end of a fixed-term agreement. Currently, this continues for a periodic tenancy only. It can be terminated on no specific grounds with 90 days' notice. Residents of more than five years are entitled to renew terms at expiration unless there is a statutory ground not to do so. Park owners also have to give 90 days' notice prior to expiry of any changes in the terms proposed.

Thirdly, the bill will mandate residents' committees for parks, with more than 20 long-term residents and obligations on park owners to facilitate meetings and to respond to issues raised; and, fourthly, it will provide improved safety measures, including a mandatory safety evacuation plan, with copies to be provided to residents and to be reviewed annually.

The consultation provided by members of the government on 9 October this year is noted and appreciated by the opposition. There were members of the Consumer and Business Services offices available to provide machinery information. The government claims that they had consulted the relevant stakeholders, with general approval from the South Australian Residential Parks Residents Association, SA Parks and other state government agencies and park residents.

SA Parks is an organisation representing caravan parks in South Australia. They presented a number of submissions to commissioners Soulio and Chapman and proposed a number of amendments. We understand that ultimately these were incorporated into the bill. As usual, we have not seen any draft regulations, but this is always problematic because we are expected to assume that these will be able to be resolved.

The government also provided a number of residential park listings that we had sought, and I appreciate that information being provided. I also sought information in relation to residents' access to advice. There are 19 advice and conciliation officers in the advice and conciliation section of CBS. They are available to provide advice in respect of owners' rights and responsibilities and assisting in dispute resolution. My recollection, on consultation, is that no extra staff are to be allocated for this purpose, but we are yet to see whether that is going to be a matter that can be accommodated in CBS.

Clearly, residential parks provide a level of low-cost accommodation to a number in our community who are probably the least likely to be in a position to have other alternative accommodation and whose options therefore are extremely limited. Not long after coming into this parliament, when the Hon. Kevin Foley was treasurer, I can recall visiting a residential park in the northern districts. I will not name it, but I make the point that it was a residential park where the purchase of interests had been subject to very significant payments of stamp duty and the obligation to pay was challenged.

It took a long time for the government to accept that these people did not have a legal interest as a registered proprietor, that they were acquiring a right to occupy and that was it and that they ought be relieved from the obligation to meet the significant stamp duty that the former treasurer demanded. It was a long fight, but eventually the government, through the former premier, agreed that that would not prevail and that these people would be provided with some relief, thankfully, because to me it was like stealing from the most vulnerable and, frequently, the poorest. I certainly hope that practice does not prevail in any other way in relation to those who are living in residential parks and, if it does, it should cease immediately.

Nevertheless, we commend the government for having progressed the review of tenancy arrangements generally. I hope that the formality of this legislation will help as some guide and that there will be assistance for those who will need support in mediating resolutions to some of the protocols that will be enforced under this legislation. With that, I support the passage of the bill.