Seniors living boom in Port Stephens sparks fresh calls for Ombudsman service

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington with Port Stephens Park Residents Association president and tribunal advocate Trevor Sullivan.

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington with Port Stephens Park Residents Association president and tribunal advocate Trevor Sullivan.

The proliferation of seniors living in Port Stephens has reignited the area’s peak advocacy group amid calls for an Ombudsman’s office to ensure the rights of residents are protected against unscrupulous operators.

Port Stephens Park Residents Association (PRA), which represents some 3000 residents, say complaints of bullying and intimidation by park owners are becoming more common and that they welcomed Labor’s commitment to establish an Ombudsman service.

The government, however, says an independent inquiry headed up by Kathryn Greiner earlier this year recommended against appointing an Ombudsman in favour of delivering stronger powers to NSW Fair Trading.

PRA president and tribunal advocate Trevor Sullivan said that issues of concern for residents also related to unreasonable rental hikes, exploitation of power prices, reduced office hours and residents not being provided copies of the Residential Tenancies Act.

Mr Sullivan said that an Ombudsman would be an important protection for residents being mistreated or taken advantage of by rogue operators.

“An Ombudsman will be able to assist residents to know their rights and identify how best to raise complaints with management,” he said. 

“Our association has been working hard to represent residents for many years, and the workload has increased since changes to the Act were passed in 2015.”

Kathryn Greiner AO, chair for the NSW Ministerial Committee on Ageing. Picture: Sean Davey

Kathryn Greiner AO, chair for the NSW Ministerial Committee on Ageing. Picture: Sean Davey

Minister for Better Regulation, Matt Kean, said that the government understood the anger and frustration of retirees and their families, which was the reason behind the establishment of an independent inquiry.

“We were sick of residents being taken for a ride and wanted to give them a say, instead of making a knee-jerk reaction,” he said.

“In June we announced our intention to implement a majority of Mrs Greiner’s recommendations, including addressing residents’ concerns to improve dispute resolutions.

“Mrs Greiner found that appointing a dedicated Ombudsman would over-complicate the dispute resolution process – the opposite of what residents want. Instead she recommended stronger dispute resolution powers for NSW Fair Trading, and that’s exactly what we’ve delivered.

“The government will also shortly reveal the Retirement Village ambassador who will have the authority to act for residents and take their concerns directly to Fair Trading.”

NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Matt Kean during Question Time in the Legislative Assembly at NSW Parliament House in October. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Matt Kean during Question Time in the Legislative Assembly at NSW Parliament House in October. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington was critical of the Berejillian Government’s ‘ambassador’ option, saying “an ambassador would only be responsible for enforcing a not yet drafted code of conduct”.

“Labor’s commitment for the creation of an Ombudsman to oversee these communities would provide oversight and investigation and help keep cases out of the courts,” Ms Washington said.

“There are many thousands of Port Stephens residents either currently living in, or about to purchase homes in, retirement villages and seniors parks but may be unaware of their rights.

“An Ombudsman’s office will ensure that their rights are protected.

Quoting the same Greiner report, Ms Washington said that “there is broad support for a retirement village Ombudsman after it was suggested in 40 submissions”. 

“Otherwise residents risk excessive rent increases and additional charges that they cannot anticipate,” she said.

An Ombudsman appointed by Labor Government would be empowered to consider disputes related to the Australian Consumer Law, the Retirement Villages Act, the Residential Communities Act, and associated regulations. 

The service will also report to the NSW Parliament identifying systemic problems in the sector.

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