I rise today to speak in support of the Rooming House Operators Bill 2015.
I suppose it is part of the richness and diversity of life that we all come here and share our experiences, and no doubt many of us had the opportunity during our early years to share houses, whether at university or during our early employment days.
Long before the days when we took on mortgages and home ownership we shared flats, we shared houses and some of the people we lived with were even strangers.
We would complain about the house rules and who had not done their share of the dishes, who had not put the garbage out and trivial things like that.
It was a part of our lives, and it was really pretty simple.
I am confident that the rooming house legislation we are dealing with today targets the experiences of people in much more difficult circumstances. They are not the university days experiences; they are not even probably the backpacker experiences of people who come through my electorate over the summer. While some of their living conditions are fairly basic, they enjoy a fairly carefree lifestyle and they contribute greatly to our local community. We see them in our local supermarkets, they attend a lot of functions, they pick the fruit and they are very valued by our orchardists. They are a different group again, I think, to what we are looking at here.
These dwellings are generally a permanent residence. A person who lives in a rooming house does so only from economic necessity, although I doubt they would use those words themselves. Seventy-five per cent of them, I understand, are older men. Often they have complex issues that include mental health problems, alcoholism and poor health. There were a range of media releases that I looked at in preparing this speech. There have been some really terrible stories of the circumstances that people in these rooming houses have lived in, and there has been a lot of exposure of those really awful conditions.
It is a sad reality that the Australian Bureau of Statistics does not even regard these people as having homes. It does not record people who live in rooming houses as having homes. In fact it regards them as the homeless boarding house population. Let us think about that for a minute. These are people who would not have roofs over their heads unless there was a standard of accommodation such as rooming houses created for them. I think we all agree that everyone should have the dignity of having a roof over their head.
In some ways these homes, these rooming houses, are a part of the accommodation world which we need to see in our community, but it is just so important that there is a level of regulation around them. Living life on the fringes of society, as many of these people do, means they do not have many choices. They are not carefree students as young people who are just passing through often are. They often live quite haphazard existences. We only need to walk down the street to see some of the men who do not even have homes. If you walk down Bourke Street, you often see several homeless men camped with their doonas, blankets and life belongings with them. I think we all want to see people have the opportunity to have roofs over their heads.
They are a group of people who may even consider themselves to be lucky that they have a bed in a rooming house. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports an increase in young people, international students and single mothers now living in rooming houses, and that is another group that we do not always imagine being in that situation. In Victoria 44.5 per cent of low-income households spend more than 30 per cent of their gross income on rent, and in Melbourne that figure is almost 52 per cent.
All these things point to one thing: the rooming house operators have the ball in their court. They have a ready supply of replacements if someone chooses or is forced to leave their premises. Their clients are unlikely to seek legal or any other kind of advice if they have been ripped off or treated unfairly by a rooming house operator.
I regard the Rooming House Operators Bill 2015 as a step in the right direction to regulate the industry. I note that it has been quite a long time in coming and that a task force was charged with looking into this issue and at housing standards generally by the Brumby Labor government back in 2009. There were 32 recommendations, and key among them was the licensing of rooming house operators. There are now significant penalties for non-compliance.
The bill is quite detailed and long in establishing an oversight body and in providing for registration, inspections, penalties and a range of procedures that will ensure that a new standard is introduced into these homes. By registering their premises with local government and complying with the suite of rules in this legislation it is to be hoped that rooming house operators will provide residents with the fair go that they have often been denied and that their futures will be much more secure. I commend the bill to the house.