27.11.2018 at 22:56
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Feud Between REINSW and Fair Trading Continues

Several controversial issues have created a rift between NSW's Real Estate Institute and government regulators.

It all began a few weeks ago, when REINSW withdrew from a real estate advisory board for the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

REINSW head Tim McKibben said they had been working on the board to advise state regulators, but then Better Regulation Minister Matt Kean introduced "surprise" legislation to Parliament which completely ignored their advice.

"They put us in a forum; that essentially gave us the impression we were being listened to and we were being worked with.

"I feel extremely conned and feel they essentially gave me some colouring-in pencils and told me to sit in the corner.

"We met quite regularly but we did not achieve really anything in three and a half years. [Fair Trading] come to these things with the view that they know what they’re doing and they don’t.

"They got us along and we had minutes and meetings and agendas, and we were completely ignored, so the risk of being outside of the conversation is [now] minuscule in my view."

Both sides had more to say, but that is the essence of that particular dispute: REINSW accuses OFT of being incompetent and unprofesssional, while OFT accuses REINSW of acting solely in its own interest and promoting self-regulation for the industry.

More recently, Mr McKibben denounced NSW government and Fair Trading for removing the requirement for agents to logs trust account audits.

He claims this creates loopholes which can be taken advantage of, and called for a parliamentary inquiry into Fair Trading's decision-making process.

"It created the ludicrous situation where only agents who had behaved fraudulently needed to notify Fair Trading that their audit had identified their fraud, and as a result, incidents like the van Wijngaarden case and others cost consumers millions of dollars."

Mr Kean of course has a different view:

"A person may infer ... that either the REINSW does not understand its members' legal obligations or is attempting to deliberately mislead the public.

"Needless to say, having regard to the fact that the bases on which the REINSW calls for a parliamentary inquiry are false, the NSW government will not be supporting an inquiry."

Mr Kean also wrote a letter to REINSW President Leanne Pilkington, suggesting that perhaps REINSW was not a fit and proper body to be training agents.

In turn, Mr McKibben asked why Mr Kean responded to their call for a Parliamentary Inquiry, while it had ignored their earlier letter asking for a dedicated property minister.

"It appears to me that the Minister is sewing on the attack because it's part of a defence strategy. Before taking the decision to request a Parliamentary Inquiry, I wrote to the Minister back in May and said that I have a series of questions which I asked him to respond to so that we could notify our members of his response and the policy decisions of his party. He refuses to respond to that letter.

"I find it entertaining that the Minister is quick to come out and respond to our call for a Parliamentary Inquiry, yet refuses to respond to our letter. That is very difficult to reconcile in my mind."

He went on to say that over the years OFT had made a series of questionable decisions regarding agency practices.

"Fair Trading has removed what they believe is 'red tape'. Unfortunately, their 'red tape' are consumer protection procedures and processes. The cost of these decisions can be counted in the millions of dollars, and continue today to expose consumers to unnecessary risk.

"I implore the NSW Government to urgently commission a Parliamentary Inquiry into Fair Trading’s policy and decision-making processes. Fair Trading continue to make decisions regarding the property market, property services industry and consumer with no subject matter knowledge, competencies or experience."

Regarding the letter from Mr Kean, McKibben responded:

"Firstly it's unsubstantiated, secondly we're calling for a Parliamentary Inquiry, now it doesn't get much more transparent than a Parliamentary Inquiry. I invite the Minister and Premier to convene a Parliamentary Inquiry and I ask them to shed as much light as possible on the industry and the ability Fair Trading have to regulate the industry.

"We invite all the scrutiny, we invite any and all enquiries into the industry and into the institute's calls for reform, and for the ability to work constructively and cooperatively with the industry, which they won't.

"I can't see this being resolved any time soon which is disappointing and I have to say, it is not good government. The electorate will no doubt make its decisions in relation to the Minister's ability to lead this department and influence policy ... All of this could have been avoided if Fair Trading had accepted the advice from REINSW ... and as a result, incidents like the van Wijngaarden case and others cost consumers millions of dollars.

"Fair Trading has done absolutely nothing by way of proactive consumer protection. REINSW seeks to work cooperatively and constructively with a competent Regulator and Minister. Sadly neither currently exist.

"Recently, and alarmingly, Fair Trading announced as part of the Consultation Paper, Easy and Transparent Trading – Empowering Consumers and Small Business - that they would be de-licensing auctioneers – they appear to view an auction as simply a theatrical performance.

"This case provides yet more evidence why a Parliamentary Inquiry needs to be held urgently into the decision-making processes of Fair Trading.

"The property services industry wants to improve the consumer’s experience with the industry and drive consumer protection initiatives.

"It’s ironic that we have to fight Fair Trading and even our own Minister every step of the way to make this happen."

Mr McKibben earlier said the constant reference to the property industry seeking self-regulation in the Minister’s press releases is both incorrect and demonstrates a "desperate clawing for relevance and an attempt to divert attention away from Fair Trading, who is facing a barrage of consumer protection failures".

"Let’s once again be crystal clear - the industry does not seek self-regulation, the industry seeks a cooperative and constructive relationship with a regulatory authority who has competencies and experience in the property industry.

"Attempting to assign blame to the industry while a pandemic of incompetence flushes at Fair Trading strongly suggests that Government is not acting like a model citizen."

We can at least say this feud has become interesting. The outcome remains to be seen.

Photo: Matt Kean, Tim McKibben

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