Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 5 Hansard (6 May) . . Page.. 1568 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
This signals an important shift in the balance of power between consumers and agents. Many existing practices are clarified or, on occasion, ruled out by this bill. Agency agreements between agents and sellers must be in writing. Benefits accruing to agents must be disclosed prior to contracts being entered into, although no sooner than that, as it happens. Real estate agents are prohibited from acting for buyer and seller. Estimated selling prices must be justifiable. All expenditure and all funds held on trust must be properly accounted for.
This bill establishes a consumer compensation fund so that, if any agency collapses, for example, and cannot account for funds, consumers are eligible to apply to the fund for compensation. Decisions are reviewable by the Consumer and Trader Tribunal.
There are some issues and concerns. Rules of conduct for agents and salespeople may be prescribed by regulation, and I understand that is the government's intent. Similarly, I understand the regulations will require real estate agents to disclose all offers made to purchase properties, up to the point of contracts being agreed.
Our preference would be to have these rules as a schedule to the act. It is an ongoing difference of perspective. In this case, as these regulations are disallowable in the Assembly and the act is passed, it will not be able to come into force until the regulations are complete. We will give them close scrutiny when they are tabled.
Most of the penalties in this bill are strict liability offences. That makes sense when it comes to issues such as allowing others to use your licence, for example; failing to comply with a notice to produce evidence; or engaging an unregistered salesperson. However, the increasing reliance on strict liability offences does raise issues of fairness.
In the context of the introduction of a new scheme for licensing of operations, governing trade and representing the interests of consumers, of which this bill is the second stage, we probably need to take a longer-term view. At the next stage of this project, I will consider introducing a requirement for the scheme to be reviewed after two or three years, with particular focus on the efficacy of the new tribunal arrangement, the acceptability of the strict liability offences, and overall effectiveness of this regime of business regulation and governance.
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for the Environment) (11.41), in reply: Mr Speaker, the Agents Bill replaces the old Agents Act 1968 and represents the first major revision of this legislation since 1968. The bill recognises, for the first time, the significant part consumers play in the dynamic of real estate property transactions. The bill modernises the regulatory regime and delivers a cost-effective, streamlined, independent licensing and disciplinary system that is more accessible, transparent, and accountable to the ACT community.
Members have touched on many aspects of the bill but, for the sake of completeness, I will repeat the range of significant reforms contained within this legislation. The licensing and registration of real estate, stock and station, business agents, and travel and employment agents will now be done by the Commissioner for Fair Trading. Salespeople