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Housing Improvement Bill

Second Reading Adjourned debate on second reading

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 16:50 :06 ): The bill reworks the current Housing Improvement Act, which deals with unsafe and unsanitary housing. Currently, complaints about the condition of housing can be made to the housing improvements branch at Housing SA. These complaints are being triaged and assessed accordingly. If a house is deemed to be substandard, an order can be made which outlines the work that is required to be undertaken by the owner. In briefings, the housing improvement branch indicated that currently most complaints are received from tenants who are concerned about the rental property they are tenanting. They expect this to continue to be the case under the new provisions as well.

I understand that there is some contention over allowing the bill to include properties that are owner occupied. On the one hand, there are many circumstances where a person may be living in a property which many may consider to be substandard. The most obvious is if the property is being renovated, but there may also be circumstances where owners are living in a property while waiting for demolition approval, or they simply cannot afford to renovate the property.

In these cases, owners would be very unhappy to receive an improvement notice. However, I understand that this provision is more targeted towards matters which have been identified as dangerous, especially if they pose a risk to the general public or neighbours. For example, wiring may be dangerous and be at risk of starting a fire which could affect neighbouring properties, or a wall may be at risk of collapsing and could endanger those walking past on the street. In these circumstances, the community expectation would be for some sort of intervention to protect their safety. However, there is an issue of balancing the overall needs of the community versus an individual's right to live in their property without interference from the government.

I understand that in cases where owners are unable to undertake improvement works, the improvement order remains against the property, that is to say that action is not necessarily taken against the owner for failing to comply with the notice. If this is the case, there may be an argument that government intervention into the homes of owner occupiers is not warranted. If the owner is unable or refuses to do the work, the public safety issue remains.

The bill provides additional opportunities for orders to be reviewed through SACAT. At the moment, owners are usually only made aware of the problem once a matter has been investigated and an order made. The new provisions allow for the housing improvement branch to contact an owner earlier and work collaboratively with the owner to find a solution. Allowing owners the opportunity to have the decision of the housing improvement branch reviewed by SACAT is an improvement on the current act. Personally, I would have thought that a more appropriate avenue for administering issues relating to owner-occupied properties would be local councils. As such, I would ask the minister if any consideration was given to this, particularly in view of the fact that there have been very minimal examples of intervention in the past.

I note that the Hon. Jing Lee has a number of amendments aimed at removing those provisions regarding owner-occupied properties from this bill, and I am certainly considering those in the context of this debate. Lastly, I am concerned that the bill takes away a person's right to remain silent. As honourable members would know, removing a person's right to remain silent has been a common theme in many of the bills presented to this place over recent years, based on the argument that, whilst a person's right to silence is removed, the information provided cannot be used to assist in prosecuting that person for an offence. I have not supported such provisions in the past and I do not intend to on this occasion either.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola .