Rooming House Operators Bill 2015

MS GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises that everyone — everyone — has the right to housing, and it is my really strong personal belief that everyone should have a place to call home. So it is a pleasure to rise this afternoon to speak on the Rooming House Operators Bill 2015.

When I think of rooming houses, I am prompted by a number of recent experiences I have had. One of them is a number of irate residents in my electorate opposing the establishment of a rooming house in the local area. The second one is when I walk down Bourke Street and see many homeless men and women sleeping rough, the numbers of which seem to be increasing. I find that a very disturbing vista for Melbourne, the world’s most livable city. The third one is that when I think of rooming houses, I am often taken to the movies where you see those very overcrowded dark rooms, with inadequate facilities that are often the context for some criminal activity or violent crime. I wish this was not the reality of what rooming houses often are, but the fact is it has been and still is.

Sadly, I think that we as a government, we as a Parliament, really need to make a strenuous and concerted effort to make sure that rooming houses are comfortable, adequate, affordable and safe places for people who need that sort of accommodation. And who knows, there are many people who we maybe have as friends who might end up needing rooming houses: women escaping from family violence, people who take the wrong turn in life and people who find that their families break down and they have nowhere to go but to find a rooming house. And that rooming house should be a welcoming, safe, clean place.

So it is very pleasing to see this bill before us in the house and, as we know, the Rooming House Operators Bill 2015 establishes a licensing scheme to protect against exploitative practices within the rooming house sector. This licensing scheme is to be administered by the Business Licensing Authority and monitored and enforced by the director of Consumer Affairs Victoria. It is very important that we have a licensing scheme — not just because of the pictures I have portrayed here today but because we want to make sure that the accommodation that is provided to people who really need this sort of accommodation is provided by good operators, by people who are respected and responsible.

That is why the Rooming House Operators Bill 2015 is really about making sure that the people who operate these facilities are the right people, are fit and proper people. I have heard from those opposite some concerns about the licensing of this sector. We do not want to see good rooming homes being closed down. We want to make sure that the best ones get better, that they operate within the law and that respectable and responsible operators can in fact expand their services and their facilities because as we know — as I have said at the outset — we have many people living rough and we have many people searching for these sorts of facilities.

There has been an increasing trend for people to seek this sort of accommodation. One of the things that I want to highlight in my presentation is the fact that, in this week when we are celebrating International Women’s Day, we have an increasing number of women who, through forced retirement, divorce, lack of economic opportunity or family violence, are also finding themselves in rooming houses. When we think of rooming houses, we often think of older men — you know, destitute and doing it tough — but in fact we have an increasing number of women who are having to seek out this sort of accommodation because they have not got enough money to live elsewhere. I think this particular issue itself really does require a detailed examination of why women are increasingly finding themselves in this position. It is not enough for us to say, ‘Let’s build more rooming houses where they can go’ — why, at certain stages of our lives, do women find themselves so vulnerable that they have to seek out rooming house accommodation?

The question often asked when we are speaking about family violence is, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave him?’. One of the reasons women do not leave men, even though they are suffering incredibly from intimidation, violence and bullying — not to mention the fact that they often do not have the money — is the fact that they do not have anywhere to go. Rooming houses, I think, are a last alternative for women, especially if they are taking children out of the family home as well, but there should be the situation where we say. ‘Why doesn’t he leave and leave the female in the home with the family?’. Unless we have a change of attitude about the way we view family violence and the way we view the importance of economic opportunity and economic independence for women, we are increasingly going to find women turning up in rooming houses.

In concluding, I would like to draw the attention of members to a case mentioned in the reference notes provided by the parliamentary library. It mentions the coroner’s report of the investigation into the deaths of Leigh Sinclair and Christopher Giorgi. The coroner found that the deaths could have been prevented had the rooming house operators complied with fire safety measures. You would think at the very least that that would be happening in every rooming house in Victoria. I have heard those on the other side of the house talking about over-licensing and over-regulating, but this bill is about providing basic measures of safety and providing a safe and hygienic environment for people to live in. This is not about over-regulation or about over-licensing, as the Institute of Public Affairs members across the chamber — the great followers of Donald Trump who seem to be increasingly finding their way to the benches of the Liberal Party — might say. This is actually about making sure that the right people, the responsible people, the people who are providing a safe haven for a person to live in — a last-resort accommodation in many circumstances — are the right people to provide that accommodation and that the person in those circumstances is living in a safe and clean environment.

This bill is very welcome. As previous speakers have said, this does fulfil an election commitment. I heard the former minister speaking in the house yesterday as though she had done a lot in the four years that she was in that role, and I have got to say, it is only when we made this election commitment to fix this problem that we have been able to hear that those opposite ‘mainly’ support this bill. It fulfils an election commitment. It means we will see very much-needed action. We certainly do not want to see any further deaths in rooming houses that could be prevented in the future. It means that responsible operators can continue to operate. I finish by commending the minister for bringing this bill to the house in such a manner. I know there are a number of amendments before us, but that is just about making sure that this very important piece of legislation is framed correctly. I would encourage all those in the house to support it. I fully commend the progress of this bill through the Parliament.