Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 01 Hansard (Wednesday, 3 May 1995) . . Page.. 167 ..
Mr Speaker, the major problems identified by commercial tenants and those representing them were then, as they are now, not in the small shopping centres around Canberra, which by and large seem to operate quite effectively. The landlords of Westfield Belconnen, the landlords at the Woden Plaza, Lend Lease, and more recently the landlords of the Canberra Centre have been involved in what I consider entirely inappropriate conduct. These landlords were and still are responsible for much of the hardship experienced by commercial tenants. These landlords are under pressure to keep raising the profit margins on centres managed as investment properties controlled by shareholders.
Last year, Mr Speaker, Helen Szuty - the then Independent with much less conservative ideas than the Independent who sits next to me now - and I argued strongly for all commercial tenants in the ACT to have access to the tribunal regardless of when they entered into their lease. We believed - and we tried to convince the Assembly - that all tenants should be able to go to an umpire. That was the basis of the argument. I hope that when I have finished my speech today I will have started to persuade some members that that was an appropriate move and, now that we have seen the Act in operation, that we did not go far enough.
We also argued that any tenant should have the right to renew their lease and, if denied, the landlord ought to be compelled to pay compensation. Both the Labor and Liberal parties agreed that access would be allowed only to those who had entered into a lease after 1 January 1994 and to whom the right to renew a lease had been denied. Quite a number of small businesses have suffered because of that decision. Those tenants not covered, they argued, would have access to the tribunal, when needed, if the landlord was shown to be harsh and oppressive. In fact, that simply has not been the case. It is much too hard for them to get to the tribunal in trying to make a case in that way.
The code as it currently stands effectively produces two broad categories of tenants - those who are protected and those who are not. Were past members of the Assembly aware, I wonder, that as a result of omitting a tenant's right to renew and denying some tenants access to the tribunal many small businesses would fold under the most personally devastating circumstances and that others would survive only on monthly rental arrangements, devoid of any security when a landlord decided, for example, to refurbish? Such decisions are made especially if a better offer comes along, usually from one of the chain-stores. I am not holding chain-stores responsible in any way, Mr Speaker. Chain-stores like Katies, Pizza Hut and McDonald's come along and the small local businesses are set aside in favour of those larger, more homogeneous groups.
Mr Speaker, I think in many ways all of us really went to the election with promises to try to assist small business. When we look back at this legislation, I do not deny the good intentions; nor do I deny that what we achieved was a major step forward - and I am not contending that - but we did, if you like, pull our punches. What I am arguing today in this matter of public importance debate is that it is a matter that ought to be reconsidered and that we ought to have a look at it carefully.