Rooming House Operators Bill 2015
10 March 2016
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Community Safety Housing Homelessness Rooming House Operators Bill 2015 Speech by Murray Thompson State MP for Sandringham Victorian Parliament Hansard March 10th 2016
(Sandringham) — In contributing to the debate on the Rooming House Operators Bill 2015, I would just like to correct some earlier statements so that the parliamentary record is accurate. I note that in the parliamentary briefing on the bill, under the heading 'Timeline' it refers to a date of October 2008 when Christopher Giorgi and Leigh Sinclair died in a fire, which was caused by poorly maintained electrical wiring and started in the restaurant on the ground floor of a rooming house on Sydney Road, Brunswick. The house was a two-storey Victorian terrace, which was managed in a business that leased 60 to 70 homes, accommodating some 200 to 300 people.
I draw to the attention of the house a report in the newspaper of 30 September 2009 at page 9, in an article written by Gareth Trickey headed 'Dying couple scream', which notes:
Greed, ignorance and arrogance were to blame for the death of two people in a boarding house fire in 2006, the victims' families say.
Christopher Giorgi, 24, and his New Zealand girlfriend Leigh Sinclair, 25, were heard screaming before they died trying to escape their burning Brunswick boarding house on 1 October 2006.
I make the point for the parliamentary record that the date of the tragic deaths of Christopher Giorgi and Leigh Sinclair occurred not in 2008, but in fact in 2006. Their lawyer was Tim Adams, who was representing the families, and the note was made by him in the context of the immediate relatives of the deceased that they felt that there were three words that might encapsulate what happened in this case: ignorance, arrogance and greed — and they certainly reflect the tragic circumstances at the time.
The purpose of the bill before the house is to foster professionalism and reduce exploitative and undesirable practices within the rooming house sector by establishing a licensing scheme for rooming house operators; by ensuring that licences are only granted to persons who are fit and proper within the meaning of the bill; by holding licensed rooming house operators to account for their conduct and the conduct of persons involved in the management and operation of their rooming houses; by protecting the rights of rooming house residents; and to make a number of consequential amendments.
In recent times I have had numbers of people in my electorate office who have raised concerns regarding access to affordable accommodation. A number of years ago the City of Bayside sought to realise housing accommodation that had been developed under a federal funding scheme with mayoral trust fund support, and in the Sandringham electorate there are at least three accommodation places that were developed with the support of community to provide affordable social housing for Sandringham residents. After a campaign which was supported by 19 former mayors, a decision was made not to realise certain properties, but they were passed on to Mecwacare, with a view to providing redevelopment of the site to bring it up into a contemporary facility.
Unfortunately, as part of that process, a number of people who were once residents at a premises in Sandringham Road, Sandringham, were unable to return as there was a difference in interpretation between what constituted affordable housing and what was social housing, and what proportion of a person's income was required to meet rental payments. A number of people had been long-term residents at a place which was proximate to public transport and local shops — a great area in fact that was the result of the prescient vision of a former Sandringham council that the then Sandringham council had been able to provide for local residents. I also note that the Mecwacare accommodation has assisted some local residents who have had private rental but are no longer able to afford it, and they have been able to get accommodation within the Mecwacare premises. However, I note that some people have not been able to do so. It is an important matter where I believe further work is required.
I have a respected former local constituent who has, through necessity, been required to seek alternative accommodation in a number of areas, including an apartment for backpackers, but also having been referred to crisis accommodation by HomeGround Services and other agencies that provide advice, I am advised, such as the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul Society. He was concerned when he saw alternative accommodation that he was advised, 'We cannot guarantee your safety', and so there are a number of concerns in terms of the safety that this person has experienced in relation to his own circumstances. People can face or confront homelessness for a variety of reasons. There can be aspects of poverty or a person being down on his luck or having a wrong belief — I quote his words — that he 'must have done something wrong'. There is a concern expressed that an ordeal or adversity is bad enough without being demonised. People who might be forced to seek alternative accommodation might be the victims of family violence or be in a situation where they confront homelessness due to a range of other factors.
It can be expressed also that you can have temporary accommodation, but that accommodation may not be a home in the full sense and meaning of that word. It is important that there be a regulatory framework that does provide support to people who confront homelessness and have a need for housing. In a conversation today with this former constituent, he mentioned that numbers of people who are seeking housing are ones to whom the regular system, through real estate agents, may not be open, and it can be a form of last resort. Some of the people who are seeking housing may have had at times to sleep rough or may confront issues pertaining to alcoholism or drug dependency. If someone does confront those challenges, life within the accommodation setting can be very challenging for those who personally have not faced circumstances such as a mix of tenants. Through the winter months in Melbourne it is very, very important that people have good access to housing.
I note also that there are a number of agencies that provide help, and within 150 metres of where I am currently standing there are breakfast opportunities for people who are sleeping rough. On the corner of Gisborne and Albert streets breakfast is served daily for such people, some of whom might be sleeping in parks or in even more adverse circumstances. It is important that there is access to good accommodation for people, where they feel safe until they can obtain a more secure living arrangement, where they have a premises that they can call a home.
I would just like to note too that people who confront homelessness can come from many different walks of life, owing to challenging circumstances that they may confront. That should not stigmatise their life journey circumstances, but there can be good pathways provided for people to gain stable and affordable accommodation. In relation to my former constituent, who has experienced many different forms of accommodation in recent times, his advice recently was that Gumtree can provide another avenue to access accommodation. He himself is looking very much forward to moving into another premises that he has been able to secure in this particular context that will provide safe and affordable accommodation for him.