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Housing – Residential Tenancy Act Proposed Changes


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tags: Tenant Rights, Evictions

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, we have found out this morning that you delegated the decision on Aboriginal Heritage at Wirksworth to the Attorney-General.

Mr JAENSCH - No, the Premier did.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, so the decision was delegated to the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General when asked this morning about the fate of young people who are sent to Ashley buck passed to you, which you sought to do in return.

Mr JAENSCH - No. If the Attorney-General referred to me about what happens to young people at Ashley, I answered those questions. You asked me about what happens in the courts, which is not my area of portfolio.

Ms O'CONNOR - We asked about the courts. We asked about the lack of a magistrate and legal representation for young people in the north.

Mr JAENSCH - Strike two.

Ms O'CONNOR - No. Minister, I am not the one who has a problem with the truth. Minister, I am interested in exploring how you worked with the Attorney-General on proposed changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, which you denied knowledge of in parliament last month. Can you tell the committee, this is the first opportunity we have had to properly ask you, why the decision was made to weaken the protections in a Residential Tenancy Act to remove the genuine or just provision following the Supreme Court's decision in relation to Gregory Parsons?

Mr JAENSCH - This matter has been debated in the parliament at great length.

Ms O'CONNOR - You answer the question.

Mr JAENSCH - There have been debates and votes on this matter in this parliament which I do not -

CHAIR - It has been debated in the House in the last 12 months, so you are going to be reflecting on a debate in the House in the last 12 months.

Ms O'CONNOR - With respect, Chair, I am not reflecting on a debate in the House. The minister can look to you for protection, but the question was: why was a decision made to weaken the tenancy protections and remove the 'genuine or just' provision in response to the Gregory Parsons decision of the Supreme Court when you said at last year's Estimates that you were seeking advice from Housing Tasmania on how to respond to the Supreme Court's judgment?

There's been no attempt by you or any member of the Government to answer the question as to why the decision was made to make it easier to evict tenants, and we're asking you to do that now.

Mr JAENSCH - This question and various versions of it have been raised in the parliament by -

Ms O'CONNOR - That's a lie.

Mr JAENSCH - and I have answered them.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is an outright untruth.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor, I ask that you allow the minister to respond. The minister can respond with the words he has to say today, but I ask you to allow the minister to finish what he was about to say.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Chair, but it is a matter of Hansard record that no explanation has been given by either you or the Attorney-General, the Minister for Building and Construction, or the Premier, as to the rationale for amending the Residential Tenancy Act 1997 to remove the 'genuine or just' provision so that it is easier to evict tenants. Nowhere on the Hansard or public record is an explanation of that decision, and you are being asked to make it now, not to look to the Chair for cover but to be honest with the committee.

Mr JAENSCH - As I said, these questions have been raised, answers have been given. I am happy to stand by the answers that I have previously given in this place.

Ms O'CONNOR - There was no explanation. You big sook!

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

 

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, as you know we have the Cabinet decision that relates to the decision to reverse a previous decision to amend the Residential Tenancy Act to remove the genuine or just provisions in response to the Supreme Court decision in the Gregory Parsons matter. Do you agree that no justification or rationale for the decision which, was later reversed, has been provided to the parliament, the people of Tasmania or tenants?

Mr JAENSCH - This matter has had thorough treatment in the parliament on the record. It has been the subject of debates and votes.

Ms O'CONNOR - You coward.

CHAIR -Ms O'Connor, that is totally inappropriate.

Mr JAENSCH - I do not intend to revisit it and I stand by what I have on the record by way of answers to this and related questions.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you were not truthful with the parliament about the original decision, which was later reversed, and we had the Cabinet evidence of it. You have not been open, transparent or truthful with this Committee about the decision. You were just asked a really straightforward question. Do you agree that no rationale or justification has ever been given to the parliament, to this Committee, to everyday Tasmanians but most importantly to Tasmanian tenants for that decision that you were part of, to change the law to make it easier to evict tenants?

You have never, ever and nor has any other minister in the Government explained the rationale for that decision which was made during a housing and homelessness crisis. Are you going to explain yourself, ever?

Mr JAENSCH - The circumstances around the issues that Ms O'Connor is raising have been thoroughly examined in the parliament. They have been subject of debate and decisions. I do not intend to provide any further answers on those matters. Any comment I stand by what I am on the record with already. Thank you.

CHAIR -Last question.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, can you understand why the Tasmanian Gutwein Government has a reputation for secrecy and a lack of transparency when, one, a minister can get up to the lectern and not tell the truth and then deny he didn't tell the truth; and two, there is no rationale given for a decision that was made that would so adversely impact the lives of tenants, it would have been devastating in a housing and homelessness crisis?

Do you understand why your conduct here at the table today and in parliament when we asked you about the original Cabinet decision has contributed to a public perception that this is a Government which is secretive and doesn't take transparency or its responsibility to be accountable to the people of Tasmania seriously?

Mr JAENSCH - What is your question?

Ms O'CONNOR - That is the question.

Mr JAENSCH - What?

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you understand why there is a public perception, which is growing, that you are part of a secretive government when the conduct of yourself in parliament and now at this Estimates table has been repeated attempts to conceal the truth?

Mr JAENSCH - I know that you have a political narrative that you are trying to run. I won't give it any more oxygen.

Ms O'CONNOR - Look, the narrative is called the truth.

CHAIR -Ms O'Connor, this is your second warning. I advise you to stop.

Mr JAENSCH - I'm done.

 

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, the Greens are pretty old-fashioned and we believe that in life you should have the courage to explain and stand by your decisions. I know that's quaint in this day and age under this Government. I have just been back through the Hansard of the questions, the no confidence motion and the otehre debate. Is the reason that neither you nor any minister in your Government, most specifically the Premier and the Minister for Building and Construction, haven't explained the decision, which was later reversed, to amend the Residential Tenancy Act, is because you are ashamed of it? Or is it because you know that it would be politically damaging that the Government could come across as heartless? How do you explain your lack of courage to justify this decision, which was later reversed?

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, the minister can answer if he chooses, but you are asking questions to do with other ministers' portfolios. I encourage members to ask the question of the respective minister at the time when they are before the committee.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Chair, but in the context of the minister's statement that it had been thoroughly explained and gone through in parliament, I'm saying none of the ministers who were touched by this issue has explained the decision which, to us, points to a lack of courage and a fear of political blowback.

Mr JAENSCH - The question goes to matters that other ministers have responsibilities for; it goes to asking me about deliberations of Cabinet which I will not be discussing here, and it goes to range of matters that have been thoroughly debated in the parliament. I will stand by my responses to those issues at that time.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, what we can assume from that is that you are prepared to stand by the untruth that you told in the first question which was that you are not aware of any changes proposed or undertaken regarding making it more difficult. You are prepared to stand by a statement that you did not know what decision I might be referring to. You are prepared to say that is the extent of your explanation to the parliament, the people of Tasmania and most importantly, tenants.

You are prepared to stand by manifest untruths, demonstrated by the Cabinet decision which shows the reversal of a previous decision. Are you telling this Committee that every word you have told to parliament on this matter is true and that you have provided an explanation or rationale for a decision which would have adversely impacted the lives of thousands of tenants? Why do you keep looking to the Chair for cover?

Mr JAENSCH - Generally when you seek the call, you face the Chair to get the nod.

CHAIR -Permission, it is to speak through the Chair.

Mr JAENSCH - It is respect for the Chair in the debate. As I have said before, I do not intend to re-engage on these matters that have been the subject of debates and votes in the parliament, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - But you know it has not been explained.

CHAIR -Ms O'Connor, the minister is answering.

Mr JAENSCH - I am not going to add any further response to that which is on the record. I am sorry, you do not like that, I know.

Ms O'CONNOR - The culture of cover-up in Tasmania continues.

 

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. I am happy to ask another question.

Minister, I've just been back through the Hansard and back through the correspondence that was exchanged between the Greens and the Premier. I have been back through transcripts of media conferences with yourself and the Premier and I can find no rationale for the decision to change the Residential Tenancy Act. You are misleading this committee by suggesting that the matter has been dealt with by the parliament. It has not been dealt with by the parliament; there's never been a justification or rationale made for that decision. The Attorney-General effectively confirmed the decision had been made because she ruled out in future any changes to the Residential Tenancy Act.

Why aren't you courageous enough to tell us what the rationale was for that decision, which was later reversed during the pandemic?

Mr JAENSCH - My previous answers stand. The member is trying to engage me in a discussion on deliberations of Cabinet which I cannot enter into.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, the rationale for the decision. No wonder Tasmanians are forming a view about this Government's lack of transparency and accountability.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.