Consumer Acts and Other Amendments Bill (2016)

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — I thank the member for Melbourne for her contribution. I was just getting a little bit of advice for the member from Consumer Affairs Victoria concerning the electronic service of documents and some of the concerns raised by the residential tenants union. I thank her for foreshadowing some of the amendments that will be moved in the upper house and also in relation to other matters. My notes, which I have read, do stress that electronic service has occurred in the past, that what is happening now is really just putting it into the legislation and that it is an option that can be considered. It does not mean that electronic service will always occur, but I understand the member for Melbourne’s concerns. Obviously her electorate is one where she would have a lot of tenants and public housing, and it is important that service is done in an equitable manner. What she has foreshadowed will no doubt now be considered and looked at in more detail.

This legislation, though, is incredibly broad. It deals with a whole range of legislation; there are about 10 pieces of legislation on my count. There is the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012, the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012, the Residential Tenancies Act 1997, the Retirement Villages Act 1986, the Sale of Land Act 1962 and even the Sex Work Act 1994. On the one hand it is very much a repair‑and‑amend piece of legislation for a whole range of acts and on the other hand it is also legislation that is very important because it is making our statute book contemporary. I note that with the amendments to the Sex Work Act it is really about making sure that the language in that act reflects this century and not the past century.

This legislation is important. The Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, with the support of Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Department of Justice and Regulation, has really gone some way to ensure that our legislation is of the 21st century. Electronic conveyancing is something that I have always had an interest in. I know that probably for two decades jurisdictions right around the country have been grappling with this issue of electronic conveyancing, because when you are doing an electronic conveyance — you have purchased a home, you are doing a large financial transaction at the same time and a settlement — in this day and age the old paper‑based way of doing such things has become a thing of the past.

I know that Victoria and both sides of politics deserve credit. Victoria has really been a cornerstone in leading the way on electronic conveyancing and developing a national electronic conveyancing system. In fact the Law Institute of Victoria dedicated one of its journals to the subject in an article entitled ‘Farewell to paper — electronic conveyancing to go national’. In that article it says, and I quote:

Electronic conveyancing has been the goal of many property lawyers and Land Victoria (formerly the titles office) for at least a decade and a half. Those awaiting its actualisation with bated breath have been left gagging, notwithstanding that Victoria has its own state‑based system but without adequate take‑up. However, the Victorian model has been a building block on which the design of the national system has been developed, but with significant changes.

Conveyancing is very much the bread and butter of so many people, whether they be property lawyers, town planners or conveyancers themselves. The legislation we are passing today will make sure that all of those occupations are on an equal footing when it comes to property law transactions, ensuring that we have a 21st‑century electronic conveyancing system. As I said earlier, our model has very much become the model that has been seen to be important and adopted by jurisdictions right around Australia.

Importantly though, this legislation ensures that the director of Consumer Affairs Victoria has adequate powers in relation to the storage of information. It is also important legislation in the sense that it gives the director and the inspectors at Consumer Affairs Victoria adequate powers in relation to search and seizure. They are very much powers for the 21st century when it comes to any alleged contravention of any legislation, including search warrants and seizure powers in relation to anything that may be held on an electronic device or a shared drive that we believe could be in contravention. It makes sure that our inspectors have the best and most important powers when it comes to making sure that all Victorians are protected under the law.

We are very much going through a housing boom. The state has been going through what is considered the biggest population boom since the gold rush. We know that both sides of politics have had to grapple with that issue. Housing, tenancy issues and conveyancing are a part of the whole large mix of the economy that is very much the bedrock of the Victorian economy. This includes property transactions, the sale of land, the Conveyancing Act 2006 and people getting advice on their purchase from a solicitor or a conveyancer on what to do next. This legislation very much tidies up the statute book on a whole range of legislative items, whether that be the Property Law Act 1958 or even the state Trustees (State Owned Company) Act 1994, to improve their operation, remove redundant requirements and ensure that any outdated references are done away with.

It is very important, though, not to forget that this legislation, as I said in my introductory remarks, amends the Sex Work Act 1994 to change all references to a ‘sexually transmitted disease’ to the preferred contemporary term ‘sexually transmissible infection’. It will also amend the act to provide, consistently with other business licensing acts in the consumer affairs portfolio, that action may be taken against the person who is not a licensee under the act if the person was a licensee at the time of the grounds for taking the action that existed. This will be important to ensure that any disciplinary action is dealt with immediately.

I think also the amendments to the State Trustees (State Owned Company) Act 1994 are very important to remove the redundant requirement for State Trustees to make a quarterly prudential declaration to the director, as a director now in today’s day and age has no prudential supervisory role in relation to trustee companies.

This legislation is important. It is important that our consumer affairs director has adequate powers. It is important that those powers do reflect more and more in the information age that people are storing information on their shared drives or on their iPads.

I have heard the member for Melbourne’s concerns on behalf of her electorate and her constituency, but I have got to say, I know that this legislation — and I commend the minister and Consumer Affairs Victoria — was consulted widely on. The Law Institute of Victoria and the Australian Institute of Conveyancers were consulted with respect to the amendments to the Sale of Land Act 1962 and the Property Law Act 1958.

Indeed the President of VCAT was also consulted in relation to the amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. The commissioner for privacy and data protection was also consulted in respect of the privacy implications of amendments carried by the bill, in particular the amendments to deal with the enforcement remedies. The Department of Health and Human Services was consulted in making sure that our legislation in relation to the Sex Work Act is contemporary and has the right and appropriate language for the 21st century.

More importantly, though, Consumer Affairs Victoria in doing its job will make sure when this legislation is passed that the consumer affairs website is updated so that anyone who is affected by the changes in the bill will have clear links, whether or not it be the not‑for‑profit organisations. In the consumer affairs newsletter, which is well subscribed to, all that information will now be conveyed to everyone who might be affected by this bill and its many amendments to a range of some 10 pieces of legislation.

Finally, I want to commend the minister and the Department of Justice and Regulation for bringing a wide range of legislation into the 21st century. It is great that it has bipartisan support. The member for Melbourne has foreshadowed some amendments to be moved in the other place, and I look forward to working through with the Greens political party on what we can do to make sure this important legislation is passed soon.