Mentone Gardens aged-care facility (11.06.2014)

Written on the 24 June 2014

Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- I move:


That this house notes --
(1) that the registered supported residential service, operated by Parklane Assets Pty Ltd and trading as Mentone Gardens, was placed into voluntary administration on 12 June 2013 and subsequently into liquidation on 18 September 2013;

(2) the responses to questions without notice from Ms Jenny Mikakos, MLC, to the Minister for Ageing, Mr David Davis, MLC, in respect of Mentone Gardens on 17 October 2013, 28 May 2014 and 29 May 2014; and

(3) that the minister has shown a complete lack of empathy and compassion to individuals who have lost significant amounts of money by way of security deposits due to the collapse of Mentone Gardens;

and calls on the minister to cooperate with the liquidator's investigation into the collapse of Mentone Gardens by releasing important documents sought.

 

At the outset I say that it is important to understand the background before coming to the supported residential service (SRS) that is at the centre of this motion today -- that is, Mentone Gardens. On 12 June 2013 Parklane Assets Pty Limited, trading as Mentone Gardens, was placed into voluntary administration with debts of more than $4 million. On 18 September 2013 the company went into liquidation. As a result of this collapse, approximately 30 unsecured creditors, mostly residents, are at risk of losing security deposits of up to $400 000 each.
I have brought this motion before the house because I am very concerned about the plight of the residents affected by the Mentone Gardens collapse and the subsequent obfuscation by the responsible minister, the Minister for Ageing, David Davis, in responding to questions I have asked in the house about this issue.

I want to highlight the minister's complete lack of empathy and compassion for the great number of individuals who have lost significant amounts of money due to this collapse.

More recently concerns were raised by the liquidator himself about being denied access to documents being pursued through freedom of information legislation. It will mean the liquidator will have greater difficulty completing his investigations into the circumstances relating to the collapse of this company and following the money trail, so to speak, to assist the affected individuals to recover funds if they are able to be recovered.

Before I go into further detail regarding Mentone Gardens, it is useful to give a brief overview of supported residential services as, unlike many other types of supported accommodation, they are very diverse.

Supported residential services are privately operated services providing accommodation and personal support for people of varying ages and support needs. They vary in size, resident profile, fees charged and the range of services offered. Despite being privately operated, they are registered and regulated by the state government so that the care and accommodation needs of the residents are met. This is because the sector houses a large number of quite vulnerable Victorians, both seniors and people with disabilities. According to the 2013 Census of Supported Residential Services (SRS) in Victoria final report, an estimated 4275 Victorians called supported residential services home. As I have said, these are vulnerable people who need to be protected.

In response to the evolving needs of this sector the previous government commenced a review of SRS regulations in 2007, and after extensive consultation with residents and their families, proprietors and many other stakeholders, the Supported Residential Services (Private Proprietors) Bill 2010 was introduced and passed. The act has as one of its key purposes to protect the rights of residents living in supported residential services by establishing a registration system and imposing minimum standards on service providers. It aims to ensure that people living in supported residential services are protected from neglect or abuse and are cared for properly.

The new legislation introduced new tenancy rights, limits on fees and charges a resident may pay on entry to an SRS, minimum notice periods and rights of appeal against eviction to give residents better protections and rights when residing in an SRS. It also strengthened financial protections for residents' money to ensure it remains safe and secure while they reside at an SRS. It established statutory limits on the amounts that can be charged for security deposits, fees paid in advance and reservation set-up fees, and it set requirements for the repayment of those amounts. It also established that deposits and some other fees be placed in a trust account. The proposed new regulations included further protections for residents. The Labor government also invested $40.4 million over five years towards a supporting accommodation for vulnerable Victorians initiative, which provided funding to improve the viability of pension-level SRSs, as well as contributing to making improvements to the care, safety and amenity provided to residents.

I return to the situation at Mentone Gardens. As I said earlier, approximately 30 residents have each lost a significant amount of money in this company's collapse. I also point out that 12 staff lost jobs and are owed about $40 000 in superannuation. A number of individuals have been affected by this collapse, and a number of them have contacted me, Mr Lenders and other members of the opposition about this issue. They have also been very active in contacting members of the government.

Leonie Roberts and her siblings placed their 92-year-old mother at Mentone Gardens in 2012. They paid a $30 000 down payment on a $250 000 deposit that the family thought was a bond being placed into a trust account for their mother's care. When their mother passed away a few months later, the family was unable to get in touch with the former owners of Mentone Gardens or find out what had happened to their money.

Alan and Rose Lorraine have lost an extraordinary amount of money, which I understand is of the order of about $400 000 in security deposits. As a result they can no longer afford to live in this accommodation. Mr Lorraine has had a number of communications with Mr Lenders, who, as a member for Southern Metropolitan Region, is a local member and has been supporting Mr Lorraine and his family in their plight.

Mr Lorraine has had a number of communications directly with the minister and his department, and I note that in some of the correspondence, and in fact in response to the very first letter Mr Lorraine wrote to the minister, there was absolutely no empathy for his plight. There was no suggestion of any meeting occurring. There was no suggestion in that correspondence that the minister was concerned at the plight of Mr Lorraine and many other individuals. I thought it was a very perfunctory response, and no doubt Mr Lorraine and others who have received similar responses would have been concerned by the lack of empathy and sympathy shown by the minister for their plight.

I have also been contacted by another family member, Jennifer, whose mother, Una, is living at the facility.

To protect their privacy I will not use the family's surname. Jennifer advised me that Una turned 99 years of age last week. Since entering Mentone Gardens she has developed dementia and is unable to make clear decisions. Una has lost her security deposit of approximately $100 000 and her family now worries about how she will continue to be provided with the care she needs in the manner to which she has become accustomed.

Jennifer has also been speaking to Mr Lorraine. Obviously there are a number of people affected by this situation who are in constant communication with each other and who show concern for each other's plight. Jennifer has also expressed concerns about the plight of Mr Lorraine, who I referred to earlier. She says he is tirelessly working at the age of 91 to compensate for the money he has lost. She is very concerned about Mr Lorraine and his wife and worries a great deal for them.

There are many human faces and many cases behind the collapse of Mentone Gardens. I do not want to spend all my time going through all the cases, but approximately 30 residents have been affected by this. They are all in similar situations to the individuals I have already referred to. They are all quite elderly people who in some cases are suffering dementia. It is unfortunate that at this point in their lives these individuals are concerned about their financial futures and how they are going to continue to pay for their accommodation, let alone get by. The reason I have brought this motion to the Parliament is due to my concern that in asking the minister a number of questions around these circumstances, what we have seen from the minister is really -- --

Ms Tierney -- Where is the minister?

Ms MIKAKOS -- That is a good question. Where is the minister?

I hope he is listening to the debate in his office. What we have seen from the minister to date is a lack of sympathy and empathy for the affected individuals. He has also been very light on in terms of the details regarding the circumstances surrounding the situation at Mentone Gardens. The minister has been unprepared to take responsibility on behalf of his department for the circumstances relating to the collapse of Mentone Gardens, which took place under his watch, or provide any information about what his department knew about the company's collapse, which has caused so many people so much financial strife.

As I said earlier, on 18 September 2013 the company went into liquidation. On 17 October 2013 I asked the minister my first question about when his department first became aware of the financial troubles at Mentone Gardens. The minister was not able to respond at the time but took the question on notice.

I subsequently received a letter dated 22 October 2013 in which he advised that his department was notified by a family of a deceased resident that they were pursuing a refund from the then proprietary company on 11 January 2013. On 11 February 2013 the family was subsequently advised that the refund had not been made. Despite media reports at the time in which the department indicated that it had been investigating Mentone Gardens prior to its having gone into voluntary administration, the minister refused to indicate whether his department had any reason to investigate it or its proprietary company in respect of any financial troubles prior to 11 January 2013. Nevertheless I am concerned that there may have been further contacts with the department prior to this date. The department did not take action at that time to ensure that these individuals did not lose their security deposits, and it did not appear to have monitored the company in terms of its financial soundness in any way to ensure that those obligations to keep funds in a trust account were actually being complied with.

On 28 May I again asked the minister about Mentone Gardens and in particular about his cooperation with the liquidator, Mr Roger Darren Grant, in the course of his investigation. Despite the minister's assurances last year that his department had 'sought to do everything that it can to assist', I was advised by the liquidator that the minister's department had not released all relevant documentation and that the matter was now the subject of a complaint to the FOI commissioner. The liquidator further advised me that when the minister wrote to him on 13 November last year seeking a copy of his report, the report was provided. Despite the liquidator writing to the minister on both 13 March and 20 April this year outlining the difficulties he was experiencing in obtaining a response to his FOI request, he has not received a response. This is a display of arrogance on the part of the minister.

In a letter of 28 May that the liquidator sent to me he notes that he has:... reasonable grounds to question whether the above request for details of my investigation are in good faith in circumstances where I am unable to obtain timely responses from the Department of Health.

We have a situation where the liquidator himself is questioning whether the minister is acting in good faith when he is refusing to release relevant documents to assist the liquidator in his investigations. This is not the cooperative approach the minister has claimed he is undertaking -- quite the contrary. The minister even sought to shift responsibility for furnishing those documents onto the liquidator himself when he said that it was a 'challenge' for documents to be released from the liquidator to the department. Questions had to be asked in the Parliament before the minister furnished a small number of documents to the liquidator, but all the relevant documents are yet to be provided.

In response to the questions I raised in the Parliament, I received a subsequent letter from the liquidator dated 6 June. This is a letter that the liquidator, Mr Grant, wrote directly to the minister and in which he copied me in, so the minister has a copy of this letter.

I will quote extensively from this letter because I think it is important to put it on the public record:

I refer to previous correspondence regarding the above named company --
this being Parklane Assets Pty Ltd --

Jenny Mikakos has highlighted a number of references to the discussion of the company in liquidation in the Hansard.

You have informed Parliament that you have sought documents from me, and I would not provide those documents to the department. You have characterised this as a 'challenge'.

I am informed that on 3 June 2014 that you communicated to Bob Lorraine that freedom of information documents were being withheld by your office as I had not furnished my reports to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to your office.

Notwithstanding I have now thankfully received a small number of documents. I clarify as follows:

For the avoidance of doubt, as I have set out in previous correspondence, you have requested copies of my reports to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission under section 533 of the Corporations Act 2001.

Those reports are subject to privilege and do not contain the conclusions of my investigation.

Those reports are required to be submitted within six months of the commencement of the liquidation and to include details of offences that it 'appears' to me that 'may' have occurred. The Corporations Act 2001 therefore requires me to be quite liberal in the content of this report, to report that when my investigations are not yet complete, and to run ahead of the evidence, so to speak. Accordingly, to release such a report to your department at this time, when my investigations have not been completed, would be inflammatory, misleading and further would open me to libel, as well as causing other problems.

I request that you clarify where the 'challenge' for your department lies in this matter.

However, I have been taking steps to try to bring certain investigative actions to a close, which would hopefully provide material which could inform a report to the department.

More particularly, I am preparing to conduct public examination (partially funded by former residents) to obtain further information in respect of the conduct of the company. Ordinarily, a liquidator will enter a public examination with questions they wish to propose. The materials your department was requested to provide under freedom of information would inform such questions, to ensure that investigations can be complete and relevant as possible, which will then put a liquidator in a position to be able to issue final reports.

I request that you provide content to your advice to Parliament that your department has worked as closely as possible with my office.

What did you mean by this statement? In what manner have our respective offices worked as closely as possible?

I request that you clarify why it is a complex legal matter to respond to my freedom of information requests? I would have thought there would be policies and procedures in place to make such a request quite procedural and ordinary.
The liquidator has expressed considerable concerns regarding statements the minister has made in the Parliament claiming that in some way the liquidator has not been forthcoming in providing information for the department. Mr Grant explained the limitations that he has had imposed on him by the Corporations Act in terms of his reports to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), but he has provided advice to the department where possible.

He has raised concerns regarding the minister's claim that his department has been working as closely as possible with the liquidator: the liquidator is clearly saying that has not been the case.

The minister and the government understand full well that, whilst the minister and the department have the ability to withhold documents under the freedom of information legislation, the minister still has the discretion to release documents. Just because they can withhold documents does not mean they have to withhold documents. The minister still has the ability to direct his department to release documents to the liquidator to enable the liquidator to complete his investigation. Clearly the liquidator feels there are further questions to be asked and further issues to be examined in terms of the circumstances relating to this company's collapse. These circumstances have led many of the affected residents -- not just the liquidator himself -- to question the minister's interests and his bona fides in claiming that his department is assisting the liquidator to get to the bottom of these matters. Clearly the minister has not been forthcoming in providing information to the liquidator that would assist the liquidator to complete his task.

This motion calls on the minister to cooperate with the liquidator's investigation into the collapse of Mentone Gardens by releasing important documents sought to enable the liquidator to complete his task. I conclude by saying that there are clearly a lot of questions to be raised here arising from the collapse of Mentone Gardens. As I said, a number of vulnerable Victorians live in similar accommodation that is similarly regulated by the department under the relevant legislation. It is important that we get to the bottom of this, not only to assist the affected residents of Mentone Gardens but also to take the lessons that can be learnt here in terms of what potential further changes need to be made to the legislation and what further protections need to be looked at to ensure that we do not get similar situations in future where other vulnerable Victorians lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in security deposits.

I call on the minister to come in here, and he is yet to appear during the course of my contribution to the debate, and to give some further explanation regarding the circumstances of the collapse of Mentone Gardens. He needs to explain when his department knew about the financial difficulties facing the company prior to the collapse of Mentone Gardens, and he needs to give a clear explanation as to what his department is going to do to ensure that we get to the bottom of the circumstances here, what his department is going to do to ensure we do not see similar situations in the future, and what he is going to do to ensure that the liquidator is provided with all the relevant documents it is seeking to complete its investigation.
 

 

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) -- I am keen to speak on the motion moved by Ms Mikakos this morning because it is an important issue.

I know she has raised it with the Minister for Ageing a number of times in question time, and I want to make some comments about her motion in relation to the issues surrounding Mentone Gardens. People facing financial difficulties in the elderly stages of their lives is always very concerning, and obviously families have been embroiled in this issue.

It is not correct to say that the minister has shown a complete lack of empathy and compassion in this matter. Anyone who understands the issues that have been raised and anyone who has elderly parents, relatives or friends in the aged-care sector knows how important it is to give as much security to people as possible when they are in an aged-care facility. Our aged-care facilities do a tremendous job in caring for our elderly relatives, parents, friends and loved ones.

To go to the heart of the motion, Ms Mikakos has given a bit of background about Mentone Gardens, which is a supported residential service (SRS). Supported residential services are private businesses governed in Victoria by the Supported Residential Services (Private Proprietors) Act 2010. Pursuant to the Administration of Acts, General Order, dated 22 February 2011 the Minister for Ageing and the Minister for Community Services jointly and severally administer that act. The act received royal assent on 24 August 2010 under the Labor government, and that is an important point to understand in this debate. In the questions that have been raised with the minister by Ms Mikakos in question time this has been shown to be a somewhat complex area, and it is important in this debate to understand the time lines.

I note that in her concluding remarks Ms Mikakos spoke about lessons to be learnt, the challenges and further protections being needed.

It was actually under this government that regulations were developed following extensive consultation with the sector to effect the act's provisions relating to financial and money management matters, including a requirement for any fees and deposits paid to be held in a trust account and a specification of retention and refund requirements in relation to fees and deposits.

The regulations were subject to a regulatory impact statement, submissions and consultation with stakeholders including the Office of the Public Advocate, SRS proprietors, residents and residents' families, guardians, medical and health-care practitioners, the Tenants Union of Victoria, the health services commissioner, the disability services commissioner, the Victorian Council of Social Services, State Trustees, the Royal District Nursing Service, VICSERV -- a peak body representing community management health services in Victoria -- the Law Institute of Victoria and the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel. All were consulted for the purposes of making the regulations.

Members can see from that list that there was extensive consultation with the relevant bodies and authorities. In fact the regulations came into effect on 1 July 2012, but they did not apply to the full suite of payments made to the proprietors prior to that date. It is fair to say that we do have the issue of the various time lines and dates, but again I point to the fact that it was the coalition government that put in those extra regulations to safeguard money in trust.

The objective and primary focus of the Supported Residential Services (Private Proprietors) Act is to protect the safety and wellbeing of residents.

The financial provisions under the act do not replace the broader protections, penalties and remedies available under consumer law, criminal law and the Corporations Act 2001, which is a commonwealth act. That is relevant to this debate, and a number of issues arise out of it.

I note that in a question to the minister about the liquidator Ms Mikakos extensively referred to the letter from the liquidator to the minister. I had a copy of that letter and I was following it as she was reading it into Hansard. At the time the President noted:

I make the observation that it is unusual to have a liquidator's letter introduced into Parliament and raised as part of a question process. It is not just about the obligations of the state government; there are also implications for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in particular in terms of the liquidator's processes.

Members can see that the situation is complex. Did Ms Mikakos raise this issue with the former federal Labor government because of the implications of the commonwealth law in this particular area?

To get back to the issue surrounding Mentone Gardens -- --

Ms Mikakos -- It is regulated under the state act. Is that going to be your defence today -- --

Ms CROZIER -- It is not a defence at all.

Ms Mikakos -- That it was the federal Labor government's responsibility?

Ms CROZIER -- No. It is a fact that this is a complex area.

It involves consumer law, criminal law and the Corporations Act -- and that is a commonwealth act.

I note that the bulk of payments made by the Mentone Gardens residents to the old proprietor, which was Parklane Assets Pty Ltd, as is noted in the letter that was read, were made under the old regime which was operational under the previous state Labor government, of which Ms Mikakos was a member. Therefore they are not likely to be covered by the new regulations.

Mentone Gardens was placed into voluntary administration in June 2013 and a liquidator was subsequently appointed in September 2013. The liquidator is currently undertaking investigations, and when those investigations conclude the Australian Securities and Investments Commission will determine any action under the Corporations Act 2001. Again, that is a commonwealth requirement. I make the point again that this is not a simple issue but a complex matter.

As has been highlighted, Mentone Gardens was sold in September 2013 to a new proprietor, CPN Assets Pty Ltd. That meant that the 36 elderly residents did not need to be relocated, although I understand that a number have since opted of their own accord to move from the facility.

I note again that Ms Mikakos raised concerns about the liquidator, and that I was following the letter while she was reading it into Hansard. She quoted the third paragraph of the letter to the minister:

You have informed Parliament that you have sought documents from me, and I would not provide those documents to the department. You have characterised this as a 'challenge'.

I think that has been taken somewhat out of context.

Hansard reports the minister as saying:

I am sorry, but there is obviously a proper process that the department would undertake. I have to also say that this is a complex area. The liquidator has a set of processes, and I know that in a different context the department actually sought documents from the liquidator and the liquidator would not provide those documents to the department, so I think there is a challenge -- --
It is pretty clear, and in this situation it is a challenge. As I have highlighted, it is a complex issue requiring different elements from different authorities and under different regulations.

The point is that there is a proper process for the freedom of information requests that the liquidator has sought, and the department follows this. Decisions under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 are made by officers of the department with the appropriate delegation to perform this function.

The Department of Health's freedom of information unit processed a request for documents from the liquidator, Mr Roger Grant of Dye & Co., under the FOI act. Mr Grant's request was processed in accordance with the act without interference and in a manner which would protect privacy in accordance with the FOI legislation. It is also very important to point out that the processes that need to be followed are there to protect privacy issues in future FOI requests.

It is my understanding that the applicant has sought an independent review by the freedom of information commissioner of this decision and that the review before the commissioner has not yet been finalised. Accordingly it would be highly inappropriate for the Minister for Ageing, Mr Davis, to comment on the case before the commissioner or to interfere with the established procedures and processes under the FOI act.Ms Mikakos has used some language in the debate to suggest that the minister has no empathy or sympathy for the individuals concerned.

That is far from the truth. This is a complex matter, and proper processes are being followed in relation to the requests by those who have been directly affected and by the liquidator, who has raised this issue. Acting President, I ask that an amendment be circulated to members in the chamber.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Tarlamis) -- Order! For clarification, is Ms Crozier moving this amendment?

Ms CROZIER -- It is not the process that the government would move an amendment to opposition business.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Tarlamis) -- Order! If the amendment is not being formally moved, we would not circulate it in the house.

Ms CROZIER -- I will read it into the record then.

I know it has been a longstanding practice as part of opposition business, but if I were to circulate an amendment to the motion that Ms Mikakos has brought before the house, it would be as follows:

That all the words after paragraph (2) be omitted with the view of inserting in their place --
(3) the irresponsible campaign being run by Ms Jenny Mikakos, MLC, concerning Mentone Gardens;

(4) that despite leading on those parties impacted by the liquidation, Ms Mikakos has not committed to a financial solution; and

(5) that Ms Mikakos has inappropriately sought to influence the freedom of information process.

The point is Ms Mikakos has not provided a financial solution to this issue. She has raised the issue but has not shown an understanding of the process in her subsequent questions to the minister at question time. On that basis the government will certainly not be supporting the motion. The department is undertaking the correct and proper process in relation to FOI. We understand this is a difficult issue for the residents involved, but I reiterate that the government will not be supporting the motion moved by Ms Mikakos.

 

Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- The Greens support this motion because we think it is an appropriate motion. This is a very difficult situation that the residents have ended up in, and having listened to the questions that Ms Mikakos has asked over several weeks, we do not believe she has received satisfactory information from the government. My experience in dealing with the government over issues of FOI and documents is that there is a continual lack of transparency.

It would be in the government's best interests to hand over these documents and get on with it, because we are talking about vulnerable elderly people, who should be the first concern of government.

Mr LENDERS (Southern Metropolitan) -- I rise to speak in favour of Ms Mikakos's motion. In doing so I would like to rebut the comments stoically made by Ms Crozier on behalf of the minister for whom she is parliamentary secretary. We could have a debate here over whether or not the legislation passed in 2010 was appropriate. We could have a debate over who did the legislation. We could have a debate about who to blame. But we need to be conscious that 32 elderly constituents of Ms Crozier, myself and the Minister for Ageing, Mr Davis, are affected by this, a number of whom have already died. The remaining people are distressed and are seeking some remedy to their problem and empathy from the minister, who is a local member.

I have visited Mr Alan Lorraine, one of the affected people. Alan Lorraine is a man I am in awe of. He is 91 years old, physically vigorous and has an awesome intellect. He is a citizen who has done more work than most we normally find. Acting President, you know and every member of this house knows that people come to us as members of Parliament with different reasons. They come to us because they do not know where to go. They come to us because they do not know where to start. They have problems with the system, the state, rogue businesses, bad neighbours, whatever it may be. This is a man who has done every single thing you could expect a citizen to do to look after his own interests. He has come not just to me but to a series of his local members of Parliament seeking redress for what is a gross inequity at Mentone Gardens.

What we have is an aged-care facility, a supported residential service, that has gone wrong. Ms Crozier may want to do a St Augustine by saying how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and who is responsible, but relevant legislation went through this Parliament in 2010, supported by all parties. There was a change of government and the new government did nothing about proclaiming the legislation. It did nothing about getting the regulations in place other than talking a lot about it and saying, 'It is complex'. It should not be a wake-up call for Mr David Davis that government is complex and that the job is to fix the problems.

What followed was a long period when nothing happened while the consultation was going on. Those in this house who have worked with this minister know what consultation means. He gets to his feet and says, 'We're looking into it'.

You raise the issue again six months later and he says, 'We're looking into it'. You then get the earnestness -- I would have the boldness to say it is a look of oozing insincerity -- as he says, 'We're looking into it'. That is what Ms Mikakos got when she asked a question on this last year, and it is what she got when she asked a question this year. At least Ms Mikakos got an answer; when I raised the issue in the debate on the adjournment, the minister was nowhere to be seen.

We have here a problem, and Ms Crozier and the Minister for Ageing are correct in saying it is not a simple problem. It is a complex problem, but it is one the minister by his actions appears to be hoping will go away. The answer Mr Lorraine and other residents get, the answer Ms Mikakos and I get and the answer that anyone gets, including presumably the two Liberal Party members of Parliament who have been approached by the residents, is that it is complex.

Of course it is complex, but government is complex, and ministers have an obligation to look after vulnerable citizens and try to address the complexity.

In Ms Crozier's contribution she said, 'Oh, it's complex, and, you know, there's a bill that Labor brought in'. Yes, there is. But that bill was also one that Mr Davis voted for. In fact he spoke on that bill in the Legislative Council, and I will briefly take members through what he said in his very brief contribution. As Ms Mikakos said, the crux of this issue is that residents paid bonds of $300 000 or $400 000, the facility has gone belly up and the bonds have been taken by other creditors. Those creditors are doing what they think they should be entitled to do under company law. That is the reality. In the case of Mr Lorraine, who I met with, there was a string of correspondence between him and the company, which effectively acknowledged the money was a bond, that it was in an account as a bond and that it could only be drawn down on for residential purposes.

To get to the crux, the legislation concerned started to entrench some of these bond issues into law but it was not proclaimed after the change of government, meaning some protections that would have been in place did not come into place, because the government was procrastinating. It was consulting. It was having round tables. It was taking month after month to do something. That reminds me a little bit of this place. We who deal with this minister constantly know that he always gets up, whether when responding to a question on notice that has not been answered, or to an adjournment matter that has not been answered, or to a commitment to introducing legislation that has not been acted on, and says, 'We're looking into it' and, earnestly, 'It's complex'. The answer seems to be 'Trust me. I'm David Davis'.

We in this place do not blink at these responses, because we know that is what the minister is like. If it is a complex problem, he will ignore it.

But we have 32 vulnerable senior Victorians -- and that number is dropping, because they are dying while this matter goes on -- who get told about this problem that 'It's complex'. Acting President, they know it is complex. They want some support from government.

What did Mr David Davis say in the debate about that bill in 2010? He went on about it being important. He said that it established trust accounts to hold certain fees and that these were important things. He said it put in place rights and that these were important things. He said of course that Labor had been slow and negligent and all the rest of it. He went on with the normal stuff, and then he spent the rest of his speech praising his colleague Mary Wooldridge, the then shadow Minister for Community Services and now Minister for Community Services.

In a speech in which he acknowledged that the piece of legislation was overdue and was good and would reduce red tape and protect people's rights, he subsequently went into this whole political David Davis routine of saying what a fantastic person Mary Wooldridge is. He went on and on, spending more time praising Mary Wooldridge than talking about the legislation. Then he voted for the bill, and it was done and dusted.

Later he came into government, and he did nothing. In her contribution Ms Crozier dutifully tried to hold the party line and protect the person she is parliamentary secretary to, saying that it was complex consultation.

She has done her brief -- she acted as a barrister -- and she will get the day's pay. She has probably done as well as anyone could in defending the indefensible, but in the end Mr David Davis has done nothing.
I will just quote a few statistics, and this goes to the last point of the motion. These statistics are from Mr Alan Lorraine, one of the 32 victims in this case. On 15 August he writes a six-page letter to the minister. On 18 September he gets a one-and-a-half page response. On 23 September nothing much has happened, and he writes another eight-page letter to the minister. On 3 October he gets a four-line response from the minister's office. Okay, that sounds familiar. On 28 October he writes a 20-page letter -- and I will come to the 20-page letter in a moment -- and on 20 December he gets a 10-line response from the minister. On 4 February he writes a two-page letter, and on 5 February -- by now the minister has got the message about a lack of empathy -- he gets a four-line response. That is the next day -- not bad.

On 22 February he writes a 15-page letter to the minister. He is still awaiting a response.

This matter may be complex, and some of the correspondence that has gone to the minister from Mr Lorraine and others is of the nature, 'Here is a problem'. Ms Crozier said, 'What is the Labor Party proposing?'. Mr Lorraine and the other residents or their estates have asked the minister to consider ex gratia relief. They have come to him with a proposition that deals with the financial pressures they are under. Ex gratia relief is not something any government should deal with lightly. I am not going to blithely say governments should offer ex gratia relief to anybody in any circumstances who wants it. But there is no consideration of it. The residents or their estates are just told, 'It's complex'.

If you are one of these residents, legislation introduced in relation to supported residential services protects your deposit more than the previous legislation. The government has done nothing more than have another round table consultation, while Mr Davis is probably spending his time doing things that are more exciting for him. He is probably scheming the latest plot in the Legislative Council, planning the latest wacky reference to give to a committee or intervening in something -- goodness knows what he does. Perhaps he has been writing a treatise on the devastating effects of the federal carbon tax, which is not in place, on some health service.

The Minister for Ageing does not have time for this. People have said to him, 'Give us ex gratia relief'. Why do they want ex gratia relief? If the relevant clauses of the legislation that have since been enacted had been proclaimed when the bill was assented to, these bonds would have been protected.

I can go through the correspondence. I am happy to give it to the minister -- even though he has it all -- and I am happy to give it to the house. The Newitt family, who run the Mentone Gardens facility, have run several other aged-care facilities that have gone into liquidation and have gone belly up. This family has engaged in a whole series of practices that the residents of this facility believe to be corrupt, as they have indicated in their letters. The residents have said, 'Send an inspector. Come and look at it'. However, according to the minister, 'It is very complex'. The regulator is involved, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission is involved and there is federal and state legislation. Government members have blamed Labor, and the minister is saying, 'I am looking into it'. The residents have asked for ex gratia relief because from their perspective the actions or inactions of the government have exacerbated their situation. Have they been given a hearing by the minister? They have been told, 'It is very complex'.

Ms Mikakos has thoroughly outlined where the liquidator stands in this. I take up Ms Crozier's comments -- the valiant effort by the barrister! I refer to Ms Crozier's, dare I say it, wacky comments that Ms Mikakos somehow or other does not understand the FOI legislation. The FOI legislation has never been designed to stop a minister handing out information they want to hand out. The FOI legislation was designed to protect a minister from an inappropriate request for information. At any time Mr Davis, within the law -- obviously there are some legal constraints on him -- can err to help the liquidator and to give them information. Mr Davis could load up 50 semitrailers of information if he thought it might help.

The FOI legislation is not designed to stop a minister helping an aggrieved constituent or a liquidator who is trying to get information to protect vulnerable citizens.

It is designed to protect the minister from crazy, capricious, inappropriate, uninformed or whatever requests, and it is designed to protect a minister from releasing something that is not in the public interest. It is not designed to stop the minister giving information to a liquidator. Heaven forbid the Clayton's amendment, which says that Ms Mikakos does not understand FOI.

This goes back to my central premise, which is that this is a government that lacks empathy, this is a minister who thinks that if you just go into denial, say, 'It is complex' and avoid talking about it, the problem will go away. If the minister is listening to this or if he reads Hansard, let me assure him that the problem will not go away, because 32 citizens have been affected by this. These citizens will not let go, and even if some of the citizens have died, their estates will not let go, their families will not let go and, let me assure the minister, if he bothers to read Hansard or listen to this debate, Mr Alan Lorraine will not let go.

We had a debate relating to the Supported Residential Services (Private Proprietors) Bill 2010, and the minister said that he had to protect these citizens, that the bill was overdue and that a parliamentary committee had said the government needed to protect the citizens, yadda, yadda -- 'I will vote for it'. The minister hardly talked about it, but he mentioned the bonds, which is the issue here, and then he spent most of his time praising his political colleague the Minister for Community Services, Mary Wooldridge.We go then to the citizens who were affected. The government dithered, dallied, delayed, had round tables, consulted and did absolutely nothing. Meanwhile citizens were contacting the government, pointing out examples of a string of companies with records of dodgy practices. That is what they say to the minister, and what happens? Is there an investigation? No. Is there any empathy? No. Is there a response to the request for ex gratia payments? No.

I can go through some examples residents have used with me. You can look at the situation in Ventnor where an ex gratia payment was made to a single taxpayer. There is no similar payment here. Governments have to use discretion in these matters. However, the frustrating thing for the residents here is that they get no response. They have sent letters on the bonds. They have sent letters on the adequacy of the Newitt family, who run the place, and letters on the Newitts' background. There has been no serious response to any of these letters other than the minister telling us, 'It is very, very complex'.

That is the only answer they have received.

If we go through all of this, the department has been asked to intervene. It has not intervened. It is looking at the complex issues. It has not sent anyone down there. We have a debate here that it is somehow or other a political problem or that Labor did not do anything. If Labor did not do anything, Labor ought to stand condemned, but this has happened on the watch of this minister and this government and ministers can act under whatever legislation they have. The legislation would be a lot tougher if the relevant sections had been proclaimed rather than just sitting there while other consultation proceeded. We have heard tales of complexities and proper process, but these people have followed proper process. They have come to their MPs and the Parliament because they have been getting no relief.

I could go on endlessly through the material that has been presented to me.

The residents are looking for a way they can get relief. There are looking for a way they can get any interest from the minister. They are looking for a way they can get any action from the department other than a mealy-mouthed response, such as, 'It is complex. Do not bother us. We understand these things. Trust us'. From the point of view of the residents and their families, they have waited too long. They are suffering -- and I use that word deliberately. They are suffering financially, but they are also suffering from the stress. They are suffering from what they see as a betrayal of trust, and they are suffering because they believe the government's response has indicated a total lack of interest in their situation.

This is a mild motion. In the end it notes a number of things, and it simply seeks that the documents sought be given to the liquidator now. It also seeks that the minister show greater empathy or, dare I say it, any empathy. The motion should be supported. These 32 Victorians deserve our support.

I could go through the tales of their having fought the wars, fought the battles, paid the taxes and their having done all the things we would expect of citizens. They have done those things, and they feel they have been betrayed by this government. The motion should be passed.

 

Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- I am not going to say a great deal more because Mr Lenders has covered a lot of ground in his contribution to this debate, and I commend him for his contribution. The contrast could not be any clearer between the contribution from the government and the very empathetic and compassionate contribution that Mr Lenders made on behalf of his local constituents, outlining how I think all of us feel for his constituent Mr Lorraine. I have seen the file that Mr Lenders has, and it is a massive file. Mr Lorraine has written a huge number of letters directly to the minister, pleading for some interest from the minister and from the government.

He has sought a response to his plight and that of many others affected by the Mentone Gardens collapse.

In contrast to Mr Lenders's empathetic and compassionate contribution stands Ms Crozier's contribution. She has drawn the short straw; she has been asked as the parliamentary secretary to come in here and defend the indefensible. Basically, on behalf of the government her task today has been to wash her hands of this whole matter and to try to blame-shift. Apparently it is the fault of the previous state Labor government; apparently it is the fault of the previous federal Labor government. It is everybody's fault, but it is not the responsibility of this minister. As Mr Lenders has pointed out, we are all tired of having Mr Davis come in here and simply attempt to wash his hands of responsibility. Public aged-care facilities have closed, but they are never his responsibility. It is always somebody else's decision, somebody else's fault, but never his responsibility.

It is time for Mr Davis to come in and actually give some explanation. He has chosen today to not even participate in this debate. He has asked his parliamentary secretary to speak on his behalf. Mr Davis could have responded to this motion himself and outlined -- not to us as opposition members, but to the affected residents -- what he proposes to do to assist them. As we have heard, more than 30 affected residents have lost their life savings.
They have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. These are people for whom losing that amount of money is a hugely stressful experience. It is entirely understandable why they are upset and distraught. During their twilight years -- at the point in their life when they should be enjoying themselves -- they are concerned about their financial security and their financial futures.

It is an absolute disgrace that government members come in here and accuse me, in this 'Clayton's amendment' that they have moved, of being irresponsible in taking up the case of the minister's constituents and the parliamentary secretary's constituents. Somehow it is irresponsible for me to be taking up the case on behalf of 30 vulnerable, elderly Victorians who have lost hundreds of thousands dollars. It is just beyond belief that we hear that response from the government. The parliamentary secretary said the opposition should be coming up with financial solutions. Members opposite need to understand that they are the government at the end of the day.

It is in their hands to come up with a financial solution. If they do not want that responsibility, we are very happy to move to their side of the chamber and take this matter out of their hands. We want to come up with some real solutions for these people.

We want the liquidator to complete his investigation, because when he gets to the bottom of the matter there might be some very interesting findings in terms of what has happened. If the department has failed in its responsibility -- if it was aware of financial impropriety by the operators of this company and this supported residential service -- then there may well be a case for these individuals to be compensated, a case for ex-gratia relief to be made to these individuals. But we will never know whether that is in fact justifiable unless the minister actually directs his department to release the relevant documentation.

The minister needs to show some interest in this matter and release the documentation to the liquidator so that the liquidator can get on with the job and conduct his investigation.

The last point Ms Crozier made in her 'Clayton's amendment' that she wishes the house to consider suggested that somehow I was seeking to improperly influence the FOI process. As I pointed out earlier and as Mr Lenders pointed out, the minister does not have to refuse to release documents just because he can. He has the ability to direct his department to release the documentation, and he is choosing to refuse to do so. In opposing my motion today the minister is making it clear that he has absolutely no intention of releasing the relevant documentation to the liquidator. That is the only thing that can be inferred from the government's position today in its opposition to this motion. As Mr Lenders said, it was quite a mild motion in the scheme of things and in comparison to other debates and other motions that we have debated in the past.

We did not use highly inflammatory language in this motion. We did not talk about condemning the minister. We met some very reasonable demands of the government and of the minister.

We highlighted the fact that the minister has not responded in any real detail to a whole range of questions that I have put to him in this house about the circumstances relating to the collapse. He has completely dodged questions asked of him, and has refused to assist the liquidator, whom he claimed last year he was going to give every possible assistance to. The liquidator put the challenge to the minister by asking him why he did not go ahead and release these documents. What we see here is the government opposing our motion today. Clearly we can infer from that, as can the affected residents and the liquidator, that the government and this minister have absolutely no intention of assisting the liquidator.

In concluding this matter, the only things that we are left with are the questions: who is the government protecting here? What does it have to hide? There is a whiff about this; there is a bad smell about this. We have had an operator that has had not just one collapse but numerous collapses over the years. Who are they defending? Who are they protecting? What is the association between the operators and the government? What is really going on here? Why is the minister refusing to release the documentation to the liquidator to enable him to complete his investigation? Who are they protecting? Has the department not done its job properly? Why will the minister not release the documents so Mr Lorraine and all the other affected residents can know exactly what has taken place?
There are clearly issues here that the minister does not want to deal with. We will take up the responsibility if the government fails in its obligation to these vulnerable Victorians. We will continue to ask questions and we will continue to pursue this matter, and I know the affected residents will continue to pursue this matter because clearly the government is hiding something. It is not coming clean. Government members should hang their heads in shame in opposing this motion, which is merely calling on the minister to do his duty and release the documents to assist the liquidator to complete his investigation. I urge all members to support the motion before the house.House divided on motion:

 

Ayes, 15 
Barber, Mr Melhem, Mr (Teller) 
Darveniza, Ms Mikakos, Ms 
Eideh, Mr Scheffer, Mr 
Elasmar, Mr Somyurek, Mr (Teller) 
Hartland, Ms Tarlamis, Mr 
Jennings, Mr Tee, Mr 
Leane, Mr Tierney, Ms 
Lenders, Mr 

 

Noes, 19 
Coote, Mrs Millar, Mrs 
Crozier, Ms O'Brien, Mr D. D. 
Dalla-Riva, Mr (Teller) O'Brien, Mr D. R. J. 
Davis, Mr D. O'Donohue, Mr 
Drum, Mr Ondarchie, Mr 
Elsbury, Mr Peulich, Mrs 
Finn, Mr (Teller) Ramsay, Mr 
Guy, Mr Rich-Phillips, Mr 
Koch, Mr Ronalds, Mr 
Lovell, Ms 


Pairs Pennicuik, Ms Atkinson, Mr 
Viney, Mr Kronberg, Mrs 


Motion negatived.

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