Boarding House Accomodation - Verbal Question

(Parliament House)

Ms CLOVER MOORE: My question is directed to the Minister for Fair Trading. Following reports that the State Government will look at occupancy agreements to give boarding house residents basic rights, what action will the New South Wales Government take to increase the viability of boarding houses to ensure that people have access to this essential stopgap between homelessness and other low-cost accommodation?

Mr ANTHONY ROBERTS: I thank the member for Sydney for her sincere interest in this issue. I also pay tribute to and acknowledge the honourable member for Ryde, who is taking a leading role on the issue of boarding houses in this State. As the member for Sydney knows, the previous Labor Government spent 16 years talking but not a lot of doing. The O'Farrell-Stoner Government recognises that boarding houses are as important a part of the accommodation mix in the community today as ever before. Boarding houses provide much-needed housing to many people, particularly vulnerable people, and it is essential that we protect the residents and ensure the ongoing viability of this sector of the housing market. Boarding house residents should be able to expect accommodation that is safe, clean and secure.

[Interruption.]

As long as it is not next to members of the Opposition.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Maroubra will come to order.

Mr ANTHONY ROBERTS: It is also important that regulation of the sector deters unscrupulous operators and provides reasonable and balanced powers for agencies to enforce standards. The Government also recognises that excessive regulation could impose additional and unnecessary costs on the industry, which may result in further closures and leave residents without suitable accommodation. As the member for Sydney has previously noted, this complex issue cuts across many areas of policy responsibility, including housing, planning, fair trading and disability services, among others.

An interdepartmental committee chaired by the Department of Family and Community Services has been examining issues relating to boarding houses from a whole-of-government perspective since 2008. One of the key issues being considered is how to better protect the rights of residents of boarding houses. A principles-based approach may be the most appropriate solution to providing greater security and protection to residents while at the same time ensuring that the viability of boarding house operators is not further diminished. Again, these issues are being considered by the interdepartmental committee as part of a whole-of-government approach to potential reform. Matters relating to social and affordable housing, planning issues, the role of local government and disability service standards make this an extremely complex issue.

Without pre-empting the outcome of that work, I can say that the Government's response will ensure that the needs of vulnerable residents, including those with a disability, are balanced with ensuring a viable boarding house industry. We are determined to move ahead with this key issue and pick up the pieces that we have been left with after 16 years of inaction by those opposite. This is just another instance in a long list of the former Government's dithering and determination to sit on their hands. I am advised that Fair Trading undertook a review of inquiries and complaints received by its customer service division between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2009. A total of 16 inquiries and complaints were specifically identified as relating to boarding houses. Fair Trading provided information and advice to assist these residents. I am pleased to say that, unlike the previous Labor Government, the Liberal-Nationals Government will be carefully considering the interdepartmental committee's proposals.