Residential Parks (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

I thank all members for their contribution to the debate in considering the Residential Parks (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2018. Particularly, as the contributions have identified some areas of concern, I will traverse a number of these in the contribution I am about to make.

Whether those matters raised reflect a mistaken understanding of what is before the parliament, and what has been before the parliament previously, or whether there is some mischievous intent, I do not know. But I will try as best I can to deal with a number of them. The legislation is important. It is essentially to amend 2007 statutory law that was established to protect the interests and define the entitlements of both the occupiers and owners of property in this form of accommodation.

Residential parks, put simply—and this has been much more eruditely identified in previous contributions, especially by the member for Morphett, who was the former mayor of Holdfast Bay, and what a spectacular mayor he was—relate to people who live in their own dwelling on someone else's land. They are quite distinctive as a type of accommodation arrangement. They are probably best described as an affordable option of housing arrangement, particularly more accessible because generally they are cheaper than a number of others for those who are in limited financial circumstances.

However, if one looks at where the residential parks are around South Australia, they enjoy an opportunity to reside often in lovely rural and/or coastal locations, which means they have an amenity of looking at scenery which is often idyllic and which in itself, I am sure, has a therapeutic value if nothing else. This is where, I suppose, it is a type of accommodation which, because of this combination, attracts some interesting dynamics; that is, the dwelling itself may be seen as relatively basic, some might even argue substandard, but in a circumstance where it is utilitarian and where the caravan or transportable is the more common example of the type of dwelling that is on these parks.

In the contributions in debate, we heard that they can go across to a three-bedroom brick home, as applies in some of the facilities explained by the member for Finniss in his electorate, and have the look and feel more of retirement village rather than a residential park. So the observation of these arrangements, together with how they apply and what agreements and licensing or permit arrangements sit behind them, is quite diverse. However, I think it is fair to say that on balance they are modest accommodation in great locations for an affordable price.

As I say, the complication comes with these because sometimes the transfer of ownership of the entitlement enjoyed by the owner at any one time to a new owner may in fact reflect a higher value than one might expect for the value of the dwelling itself; that is, the caravan might, if sold on its own, attract a value of $2,000 but, because it is already in situ in a residential park, in a desirable location, the price that is paid for that in consideration of the transfer of the interest in the residential park to a new owner maybe we would see as inflated relative to the value of the dwelling that one would otherwise receive.

This is where it starts to unravel when we start to look at some of the recommendations put by the member for Taylor, for example, who wants us to add in 'market value' to the bill. Anyway, let's just go to the bill itself.

The residential park laws that are being changed largely are as follows, and there are only a few of them, so I want to recount them for when we look at how they were to be amended under the previous bill. Firstly, under the current law, we have residential site agreements for a fixed term that can be terminated at the end of an agreement with only 28 days' notice. These new reforms will ensure that residential site agreements for a fixed term will no longer be able to be terminated at the end of the agreement, if those agreements had been for more than five years or if the resident had been a resident of the park for more than five years. That is a major change in relation to security of occupancy.

Under the current law, at the end of a fixed-term agreement, residents are placed on a periodic tenancy agreement which can be terminated on no specific grounds with 90 days' notice. To some degree, it is a little bit like residential tenancy arrangements for tenants otherwise under different forms. This new reform proposes that for residents of more than five years, agreements will only be able to be terminated under statutory grounds and must be reviewed and reissued on the same terms and conditions, or new agreed conditions if they seek to, with a further review date.

If the owner proposes to change the terms of agreement, 90 days' notice will be required prior to the expiry of the agreement. Penalties are proposed to ensure the agreements comply with the act. It is proposed under this bill to expand the available statutory grounds for termination of agreements to include a breach of the park rules, which would form part of all site agreements, or if the park closes or intends to be redeveloped.

If the park owner intends to redevelop a site, it is proposed that homes may be relocated to another site in the park or in a park owned by the same owner, if the resident agrees. The park owner may also offer to buy a home for an agreed price. If the resident and owner are not able to reach an agreement, the resident or owner may apply to the tribunal for resolution of the dispute. Of course, the bill proposes to introduce a waiver to this section if the resident and owner agree. So this is a major area of reform, providing for a substantial rewrite in favour of the security of the tenant.

Thirdly, under the current law, if the residential park is sold the new owner may terminate a residential park site agreement without specifying a ground of termination. Under this new law, it will no longer be a ground for termination if a residential park is sold or otherwise transferred to new owners. Similarly, agreements are terminated under current law, if the mortgagee takes possession of the residential park. Under the new law, the mortgagee takes on the obligations as if they were the park owner. Again, I think they are two very important initiatives in favour of the tenancy.

Following the death of a resident, the agreement is assigned with the park owner's consent under current law. Under the new law, it is proposed that if the dwelling is to be sold by the estate the park owners will be given the first option to purchase the dwelling for an agreed amount. The estate does not have to accept the offer. Next, under current law, prospective residents are given a Form J and a copy of any park rules, if in writing, and this may only happen at the time of signing the agreement. The new strict obligations that are going to be under this new law require a detailed disclosure statement and site condition report in the form approved by the commissioner together with the new education publications to be given to all prospective residents before signing a new agreement or taking over an existing agreement.

Again, this is very much modelled on the consumer protection laws that were established way back under the Residential Tenancies Act, which has had a number of iterations since which require absolute full disclosure—identification of what is there, what is damaged, what is not, who owns what—and a very clear notice in that regard. At present, there is no cooling-off period. The new law provides for a 14-day cooling-off period, proposed to ensure prospective residents are not pressured and can seek advice.

Currently, there is no requirement for park rules to be in writing or residents to be notified of any changes when they are amended. Under the new regime, if there are any park rules in place, they need to be in writing, they have to form part of the agreement and residents will be advised of any changes to the park rules. Two other important initiatives are that at present there is no requirement for a written plan regarding the safety evacuation of the park under the act, as has been pointed out by a number of the contributors to this debate. That produces major problems, especially if someone is frail or aged, in the event of an evacuation or other emergency. The provision in this bill is to introduce measures to ensure a safety evacuation is in place and reviewed once a year.

At present, residents committees may be formed under the current provision. Under the new rules, there will be amendments to mandate residents committees in all parks where there are more than 20 long-term residents, and it is proposed that any matter raised through a committee and brought to the attention of the owner will need to be considered and responded to by the owner in writing within one month. There are penalties that apply to all these, and I urge members to view them.

Let's quickly consider what happened with this bill, and why I am a little puzzled about why some of these issues have been raised late by members of the opposition. First, this bill combines the previous 2017 bill that the former Labor government introduced to the parliament last year, which did not pass the upper house before the conclusion of the parliament and caretaker mode commenced. Amendments to that bill, which are in this bill, consistent with the then Liberal opposition's position and which have been added back in, do four things:

1. They redraft section 70A to make the provision clearer to understand regarding options to be offered by the owner and the right of either party to make an application to SACAT if agreement cannot be reached.

2. They insert section 14(1b) to allow for an exemption from providing a resident with the disclosure documents within the 14-day cooling-off period if the agreement is for a short term and, due to unforeseen circumstances, a resident may need to move in immediately.

3. They insert section 17B(3a), that a party to an agreement subject to review does not withhold consent to a variation in terms unreasonably, and if one of the parties thinks consent has been unreasonably withheld they may make application for an order from SACAT.

4. They make some other minor administrative changes.

Even then, since the change of government and the further consultation with park owners and residents in respect of the current bill, there are three more amendments. One is for a provision of sections 17B(8) and (9), which allows a resident who would prefer to have or remain on a periodical agreement to later change their mind and enter into a fixed-term agreement. A waiver in accordance with section 17B(7) will also no longer apply to an agreement assigned to a new resident.

Secondly, new sections 48(12) to (15) have been inserted to ensure that a prospective purchaser of a dwelling is advised to contact the park owner to request the disclosure information. Thirdly, section 70A(4) has been inserted regarding terminating an agreement for redevelopment to ensure that a resident does not unreasonably refuse an offer made by the park owner.

This is a bill that had its birth and gestation in the era of the Labor administration. There are changes in it that reflect what the then opposition proposed to support if the then government had progressed this bill with any diligence at the time. They did not; for whatever reason they saw fit, this was not important enough and they let it lapse. Bear in mind the last day of the 2017 legislative agenda, when we spent almost the entire day arguing about whether or not we had the fairness clause in relation to electoral boundaries. That was the priority of the then government.

This was legislation that we had largely agreed on, largely supported back in 2007, and the amendment of which we supported. We were happy to move it on, but the former government did not.

That is why I find it rather galling to find circumstances before us, presented again here today, that suggest that in some way there needs to be further protection or that it is a situation where people are left vulnerable because of our not progressing this bill.

We have not only progressed the bill but have done everything responsible that the previous government failed to do. To give the best example of that, I found it laughable when I read the member for Kaurna's comments in the local paper just before the state election in relation to a local residential park in his electorate, the Moana caravan park, where the permanent residents were worried about their continued occupancy entitlement immediately prior to the election.

The situation is that it is a residential park, obviously it is a caravan park as well, in the member for Kaurna's electorate, but there were residents who had been residents for some time and who were going to be offered a two-year continuation of tenancy agreement to enable them to continue to occupy. According to media reports, they apparently went off to the member for Kaurna to get some advice about this because they were worried about their long-term occupancy. Some of them had been there for many years. Quite reasonably, they go to their local member.

He does not say, 'I am terribly sorry. We didn't give this much priority when we were in government. We sort of let it lapse. I sat in the cabinet and this was such a big deal and so important to you that we do it.' No. According to the local paper at the time, he talks to them about the council's agenda and what they might be doing and makes the point:

We've been in the process of introducing new legislation of these parks to provide greater rights for residents so when their contracts come to an end, there will be automatic renewal of their contracts.

This is what he told the people in his electorate via the media in March 2018, minutes before the election. This is after they have dumped it the year before. How obscene. That is not what he had done. He had sat in a government that had sat on its hands that did bugger-all for these people and failed to give them the protection—

The member presents publicly and to his electorate as though in some way he is progressing the support for these people. If his government had progressed this through the parliament, this would have been law and these people in March 2018 would have been protected.

And, for the benefit of the member, remember that the parliament does comprise two houses of parliament and legislation also requires the approval of Executive Council. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.