It is a great privilege to be writing the 2020 Annual Wrap up for SCA (ACT). I was elected to the presidency in the ACT only a short month ago, and as such, my reflections on the past year are from the point of view of a board member on an exceptionally busy board in the Territory. I am grateful to Chris Miller for his energetic contribution to the SCA (ACT) over the last two years. I am really pleased he will remain on our board and an active contributor to our work in the ACT, in his role as immediate past president.
And what a year it has been. For Canberra, 2020 commenced with the tail end of significant, highly destructive fire events in our region. In January, out of control bushfires were ravaging the Orroral Valley; fires approached Canberra’s southernmost suburbs and ACT Emergency Services were door knocking Canberra residents to ensure our residents were ready to act. Of course, certain regions outside Canberra were affected far more seriously. Places Canberrans hold dear to their hearts such as the South Coast were hit hard, and it would take until March 2020 for fires to be fully extinguished in NSW. As fires ravaged the areas surrounding Canberra, some of the worst and most toxic smoke haze in the world came to settle over the city. As people returned to Canberra for 2020, the air quality index was sitting at daily levels that were considered hazardous. Those air quality levels were the worst since monitoring had commenced in the Territory. Justin Garrick, head of Canberra Grammar School took to twitter and expressed what was then a widely held sentiment in the Territory he said: “My lungs sting but my heart breaks for those actually facing and fighting the fires. Thinking of family, friends, students and colleagues at risk. May everyone please be safe as can be and make it through this. And may 2020 be a turning point.”
2020 was indeed a turning point. As the smoke receded, coronavirus cases began to arise close to home. Private business in large part responded very quickly to remote working arrangements. Canberra’s spacious suburbs became one of our best protections against the spread of the virus within ACT. During this, SCA (ACT) remained highly active and engaged with the ACT Government’s legislation reform process in relation to our unit titles legislation. These reforms were the third significant raft of reforms since our legislation commenced in the 1970’s. We were keeping a close eye on our neighbours in NSW and we were very pleased to see the progress made in that state with respect to flammable cladding removal programs and funding for the same. In Canberra, a lobby group was formed between the Master Builders Association (ACT), the Owners Corporation Network, Proctor Legal (which is headed by long time strata lawyer and advocate Susan Proctor) and the SCA (ACT). Together, this group has been active in engaging the ACT Government on the issues we face in the Territory with respect to the flammable cladding situation here, particularly with respect to privately owned building assets. As President, I am looking forward to continuing this work in 2021 and I am hopeful that we will be able to draw sufficient attention to the issue to motivate the ACT Government to bring an appropriate level of support to these matters of personal safety for our owners, managers and members.
I was personally pleased to be again involved in the SCA (ACT)’s annual “Legal Matters” seminar, hosted by McInnes Wilson Lawyers and held at the Novotel in Canberra in November, shortly after our legislative reforms had commenced. “Legal Matters” is a chance for members to gather, network and learn. This year I presented alongside Matthew Carmody (Commercial and Property Principal at McInnes Wilson), Sarah Hendry, John Hill and Silas Otto – where the focus on the forum was squarely on the recent legislative reforms in ACT (which were largely implemented and effective from 1 November 2020). It was really gratifying to have such strong engagement from our members who in large part are the faces of the new legislation, understanding, adopting and implementing these reforms on a daily basis. In an increasingly complex legislative landscape, I am proud of the SCA and its real commitment to the ongoing professional development of its members.
The Board in the ACT currently comprises Nina Cannell, Vice President (Signature Strata), Rhonda Yates (City Strata), Craig Bowditch (Bridge Strata), Steve Wiebe (Raine & Horne), Chris Miller (Vantage Strata) and Nicole Robb (Independent) as well as Claire Farmer (CHU Insurance). I have been particularly pleased to have Claire join the board, her practical understanding of both risk and strata insurance generally have added significant depth to our Board in Canberra.
Change does not tend to come quickly to the Nation’s capital. It is to the great credit of our immediate past president Chris Miller (and others involved in the consultation process) that the Stage 1 legislative reforms mentioned earlier were passed into law in 2020. As with most legislative reform, there comes an interesting period of learning, improvement and operational adjustment where we test and challenge our new laws, within ECs, OCs and the Tribunal. I am looking forward to seeing the ACAT respond to these significant changes to strata law. There is sometimes a perception held that the ACAT is an “owner friendly” jurisdiction. Being prepared to uphold and protect private rights is of course very important. However, the structure, governance and operation of owners corporations is critical to the peaceful co-existence of private rights holds in strata and community living. As such, I am interested to see the development of ACAT decisions which I expect will bring further balance between the private rights of owners and the need to regulate and support the structures which underpin community living.
Nina and I are optimistic about the challenges ahead for the ACT in 2021. We are determined to see a scheme established by the ACT Government which will adequately address the flammable cladding issues we face in the Territory. We are looking forward to engaging in consultation and discussion with our colleagues in Canberra about the Stage 2 reforms to unit titles legislation and land titles legislation in the ACT and to continue to raise the profile of our organisation within the strata profession in the ACT. Stay in touch with us during 2021 via #scaact.