Sale of Land Amendment Bill 2019 – Second Reading
Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (17:13:10): I am proud to stand in support of the Sale of Land Amendment Bill 2019, and I thank the minister for her work on this issue. Like my good friends the Member for Tarneit and the Member for Cranbourne, this is the first bill that I am speaking on in this place, and I welcome the opportunity to participate in this important debate.
I am pleased that the heart of this bill reflects the values of the Andrews Labor government: a commitment to fairness for all Victorians. The package of reforms being proposed will have positive effects for many members of my community across Ballarat in the district of Wendouree as well as the whole state.
I welcome the growth of new housing developments and estates in Ballarat, particularly in the west of the Wendouree electorate. Many are first home buyers, young families and new residents to Ballarat. They are investing their life savings and living the Australian dream, building their new home and their future. It is such an exciting time. When I was younger my brother and his wife bought land in Point Cook and I remember the excitement of all the family that they were going to be building their new home and their future. Watching these communities emerge and flourish is great for our local community.
What we want to do as a government is we want to ensure that there are protections in place so that the contracts buyers enter into are fair and transparent. The changes being introduced with this bill will strengthen protections for consumers in the property market and stamp out any deceptive and misleading behaviour.
The aims of this bill are very, very clear. We are introducing significant changes for vendors, developers and purchasers as a result of the outcomes of the consumer property law review’s examination of the Land Act 1962.
This bill is about making things fair, with better protection for consumers, by addressing predatory behaviours in the alternative housing finance sector, prohibiting certain terms in contracts and rent-to-buy arrangements and cracking down on dodgy operators. This package of reform addresses loopholes in the form of sunset clauses that have previously been exploited by some developers, and by that I certainly am not referring to all developers, just some developers. This bill will strengthen the existing requirements for vendors or real estate agents to disclose material facts about a property and will prohibit auctions on Anzac Day before 1.00 p.m., in line with community standards and expectations. This bill will bring about significant change for our community.
I am pleased that sunset clauses must be exercised in accordance with this new bill. This bill will mean that property developers in Victoria will no longer be able to invoke sunset clauses to delay construction.
Imagine the frustration of wanting to start building your new home and unscrupulous operators delaying construction by invoking sunset clauses. Changes under the Sale of Land Amendment Bill 2019 will mean developers will need written consent from the buyer or an order of the Supreme Court of Victoria to exercise sunset clauses. These changes have been made to stop developers from potentially exploiting the clauses to delay construction of their projects in order to terminate signed contracts of sale and then resell the properties at higher prices, because we know that is not fair.
This will provide better protection for purchasers by giving power to the purchaser, because vendors will no longer be able to terminate signed contracts pursuant to a sunset clause without the purchaser’s written consent or an order of the Supreme Court, as I previously mentioned, thus creating an incentive for developers to complete their project. So it is very, very clear the days of misusing sunset clauses to increase profits are over.
The changes being put forward in this bill are in line with similar reforms introduced to New South Wales a few years ago. I am confident that these changes will deliver positive outcomes for Victorians like we have witnessed in New South Wales. As a result, these changes will give confidence and comfort, and comfort is very important to new residential off-the-plan purchasers into the future, but we will look after people who have already entered into contracts by backdating this legislation and the new laws to 23 October 2018, the day the bill was to apply from if it had been passed by the 58th Parliament.
I am also very pleased that this bill will prohibit certain terms, contracts and rent-to-buy arrangements. We will put a prohibition on selling residential land under a rent-to-buy arrangement, and I do note there are certain exemptions. But the reason we are making this change is that rent-to-buy arrangements have been sold by finance brokers as financial solutions to people who have often been unable to access mainstream credit. Some people who have signed up for these rent-to-buy arrangements have been desperate to enter the property market, and they believed that this was going to be their way of achieving home ownership. However, sadly this was not always the case. Instead these people have suffered. They have suffered significant loss and they have suffered personal distress as a result of these rent-to-buy transactions. Sadly, their dream of achieving home ownership rarely occurs. The winners in these transactions tend to be financial brokers, and the losers are renters seeking to be buyers.
This issue is particularly significant to me, as many of these deals are in lower value housing in regional and remote areas. As a regional MP I want to ensure these arrangements, with their negative outcomes, are ceased and that my community members are protected.
This bill will also make it important to provide adequate information about a property. This bill will strengthen the existing requirement for vendors and real estate agents to disclose what we call material facts about the property. It is currently an offence for any person, as my colleague from Cranbourne explained, to fraudulently conceal misleading facts to induce another person to buy land, but we believe that this is not adequate, and that is why we are making the changes. We will make it an offence to knowingly conceal.
Therefore you will find that this bill replaces the word ‘fraudulently’ with ‘knowingly’, a very important change because we believe that buyers have a right to know the material facts about a property’s past—for example, if it has been the site of a clandestine drug laboratory or the site of a homicide. This is about improving consumer protections and restoring balance so that hardworking families can enter the property market with confidence. It is more than reasonable to expect a high level of transparency when making a purchase, and that is what this bill will ensure.
This bill will also protect the sacredness of Anzac Day. Anzac Day is our most solemn national day of remembrance. As a history teacher before entering this place, I am passionate about our national story and identity and ensuring that the younger generations have a strong understanding of Anzac Day. Anzac Day must be a day to honour our past and present service men and women. It is a special day for our community, and evidence of this strong support can be seen in the high numbers of people attending Anzac Day dawn services, wreath-laying services, marches and commemorative services. It is a day for Australia to reflect on the sacrifice of our diggers, not only at the beaches of Gallipoli in 1915 but in all conflicts and peacekeeping tours since.
The last time Anzac Day fell on a Saturday was in 2015, and figures show that 18 auctions were held that day. Interestingly Anzac Day will fall on a Saturday next year, and we are going to ensure that there will be no auctions next year on Anzac Day, 25 April, before 1.00 p.m. This bill will come into effect, and we will make sure that what happened the last time Anzac Day fell on a Saturday will not happen again. I believe that this is appropriate, and I am very proud that this bill is addressing this.
In conclusion, the Andrews Labor government once again is protecting Victorians by supporting those buying property off the plan from delaying tactics used by some property developers to rip people off. Property developers will no longer be able to invoke sunset courses to delay construction. We are increasing further protections by strengthening existing requirements for vendors and real estate agents to disclose facts about the property, and we will stop auctions on Anzac Day.