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Adjournment: VCAT reform

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
16 September 2021

My adjournment matter this afternoon is for the Attorney-General, and my ask is that she commit to VCAT reform to allow urgent matters to be properly fast-tracked and enforced, as well as to urgently provide additional resources to address the current backlog.

I was recently contacted by a constituent who has been engaged in a long and drawn-out VCAT process in their attempt to resolve a building issue within their block.

My constituent owns an apartment that has experienced significant water ingress from the apartment above for the past two years. The water leak has caused significant damage to the apartment, as well as putting the health and safety of the current tenant at serious risk.

Their neighbour has refused to respond to repeated requests to make the necessary repairs to prevent the continuing water leaks. And while my constituent ultimately sought and received a VCAT order for the works, the neighbour has also failed to respond to this order, and as of yet no works or repairs have been started.

While my constituent has requested an urgent hearing at VCAT, this was set at the end of this year, meaning the damage to the apartment and to the health and safety of the current tenant will continue for months.

This experience has highlighted that, if one party deliberately and wilfully refuses to comply with a VCAT order, there is little recourse for the other party except to return to VCAT and seek another hearing or attempt to enforce the order through the traditional court system.

This means again waiting months for either a VCAT slot or a court hearing, and potentially racking up thousands in legal fees by going through the courts.

In this instance, the refusal to comply with the order and the long wait time is putting the health and safety of my constituent’s tenant at risk, as well as causing a significant amount of distress to my constituent.

My constituent is seeking a circuit-breaker within the system to prevent urgent matters from becoming stuck in the system when one party fails to respond to a VCAT order. Where a respondent deliberately refuses to comply with a VCAT order or terms of settlement, there needs to be a better way to enforce the order without having to cycle back through the VCAT system.

Right now, there are many other Victorians waiting months on end for their matters to be heard by VCAT—especially on the residential tenancies list. The Age reported on the weekend that VCAT’s backlog has blown out to more than 130 per cent compared to pre the pandemic.

The system needs to be urgently improved so that nobody is stuck waiting months, or even years, for their matters to be dealt with.

I ask the Attorney-General to commit to VCAT reform to allow urgent matters to be properly expedited and urgent orders enforced and to increase resources for VCAT to address the current backlog.

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
16 September 2021
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