Covid-19 Commercial and Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Extension) Bill 2020 | Bill

I am pleased to rise to speak in support of the COVID-19 Commercial and Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Extension) Bill 2020. Let me begin my contribution today by speaking from the perspective of renters. I have spent many years of my life in Melbourne as a renter. I know how it feels to be stressed about making sure that there is a roof over your family’s heads. Let me tell you that life as a renter can be difficult even when there is not a pandemic.

How many of you have had a rental experience, I ask those opposite. I ask how many MPs on the opposite side have ever held a notice to vacate in their hands; I assume not many. It is a heartbreaking feeling to know that you do not have a roof over your head and your family’s heads. It is a feeling that is difficult to describe. Until you have experienced that feeling, you may not understand the importance of this bill.

Western Metropolitan Region is an extremely diverse region of Victoria. There are many people who rent, many people who are students, many young families and many who are reliant on casual wages. These are some of the people who could be at risk of being evicted if this bill does not pass. Going through those troubles with the consequences of an ongoing pandemic looming over your head is even more stressful. The challenges of budgeting each week are real.

We all, here, are fortunate to have a regular income source, but many are not as lucky as we are. This pandemic has shown us one of the biggest issues plaguing our society: the unequal access to secure housing. We have an opportunity today to help people who could be struggling every day during COVID-19 restrictions. We can give them certainty and security in these uncertain times. This bill will help people keep a place which is stable, safe and secure during this pandemic.

The Victorian government is extending the eviction moratorium until 28 March 2021. This bill includes measures which include a ban on rent increases and blacklisting of tenants impacted by coronavirus during this period; a moratorium on evictions, except in specific circumstances; the establishment of Consumer Affairs Victoria’s front door service for eviction matters; and a separate dispute resolution service making binding determinations when mediating tenant-landlord rental negotiations. We are also making it easier for tenants to end a tenancy, with no lease-break fees for those in financial hardship due to the pandemic.

Giving people some certainty during these uncertain times is vital. If we are to recover from this COVID-19 pandemic, we want people to stay home. If there is no home to stay in, then the point of restrictions becomes moot. My Labor values dictate that we must make sure that the vulnerable population is safe during this pandemic. Many people have lost their lives, and many have lost their families and friends to this deadly disease. My thoughts are with the families of those affected.

It is a fact that this pandemic does not discriminate, but it impacts the lives of some people disproportionately—people who are on casual wages; people with insecure jobs; women; students, domestic or international; people with disability; and people without savings, just to list a few. The Victorian government is supporting those people through this bill, ensuring that we keep everyone safe and housed during this deadly pandemic. Providing support to people who need it the most should always be the first priority.

Now I would like to touch upon the commercial tenancy relief scheme. The Victorian government’s commercial tenancy relief scheme has been a crucial support for many small businesses across Victoria. This scheme gives a strong framework for landowners and commercial tenants to work together during this pandemic. This scheme has helped many small businesses stay protected while they were impacted by the coronavirus. But we have to extend it. It is clear that the small businesses of Victoria need the protections provided by this scheme for longer. Extension of this scheme will greatly improve small business owners’ confidence in rebounding their businesses from the crisis. The government has already invested more than $10 billion in the coronavirus health response and economic support for businesses, for workers and for families. We are not leaving Victorians without support. A further $3 billion support for businesses was just announced. This bill has to pass so that Victorian small businesses continue to have favourable rental arrangements. This bill will also amend the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 to enable the eligibility requirements for rent relief to be determined under the regulations.

The bill also seeks to enhance the protections provided to small businesses that are continuing to suffer as a consequence of the pandemic. Under the scheme the Victorian Small Business Commission is providing commercial tenants and landlords with access to free mediation to support fair tenancy negotiations. Over 90 per cent of the cases reaching mediation have resulted in tenants and landlords getting to a mutual understanding. However, we need to strengthen the measures in limited instances where a landlord refuses to comply with their obligations to provide rent relief. It is in everyone’s best interest to reach a common ground. To mitigate disagreements this bill will provide additional protections for tenants that have met their obligations under the regulations and requested rent relief but whose landlords have not provided the relief or have refused to negotiate in good faith. In these situations the Victorian small business commissioner can make orders on proportionate rent relief in line with the regulations. We hope that these orders will provide incentive for landlords and tenants to negotiate while protecting tenants. The government expects that additional powers to make orders on rent relief will not be used often.

I will also speak about the landlord support, as landlord support is also connected to this bill. There are many people who are not what we picture when we think of landlords. These are people who own a single home or a single shop. We want to support them too. The land tax discount arrangements will continue to apply. In addition an increased land tax discount of 50 per cent will be available to landlords who offer at least a 50 per cent rent waiver to tenants. From 21 August 2020 a new hardship grant of up to $3000 is available to small private landlords with aggregated taxable landholdings site valued at under $1 million.

This bill is giving Victorians a fair go. This bill is supporting small businesses, sole traders, tenants, landlords and many more. During this pandemic people are already going through a very difficult time, so let us give them some certainty. Hence, I strongly commend this bill to the house. Thank you.