Aurora Central Melbourne and SCA (Vic)’s Strong Advocacy Program

In what may have been the largest meeting of its kind in Melbourne’s history, the recent decision of the Aurora Melbourne Central owners corporation to elect a new committee following a turbulent and higher-profile series of internal disputes serves as the most high-profile example of the urgency for Victorian strata sector reform.

The chronic issues exposed by recent reporting in the Herald Sun newspaper of the Aurora Tower disputes include an inability for owners and occupiers to seek information and advice about their owners corporation, unprecedented strain on dispute resolution services, and lack of an effective benchmark for entry into Victoria’s strata management sector.

At last year’s state election, SCA (Vic) took a Stronger, Smarter Strata agenda to the election which included a landmark proposal for creating a strata helpline within Consumer Affairs Victoria. This helpline would, to provide answers and advice to common questions by owners and residents, prior to seeking costly legal advice or escalation to dispute resolution, typically via the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

At VCAT alone, pending owners corporation list cases increased by 4 per cent to a total of 1,153 in 2021-22, with no further signs of this backlog being eased, as evidenced by hearings being opened for pending cases as early as 2025.

As the proportion of Victorians living in strata will continue to grow to as much as 50 per cent by 2050, there is no time to waste in securing consumer confidence in strata living, and better equipping owners and occupiers with the knowledge they need to ensure the harmonious, respectful and efficient operation of their owners corporation.

Strata living, in townhouses and apartments is an answer to the question of housing affordability and the cost of living crisis, offering more affordable, well-located housing to a rapidly growing number of Victorians.

Establishing a minimum standard of education for Victorian strata managers will also ensure that rogue operators will have nowhere to turn, and that more qualified, experienced and professional managers are recognised and appointed solely on the basis of merit, and value for money to an owners corporation.

Establishing a Strata Ombudsman or Commissioner model, along the lines of what already exists in Queensland, should also be investigated within this term of government as a means of reinforcing the aforementioned policies, and bringing about better regulation and accountability to the strata sector.

While reporting of the dispute at Aurora has only recently come to light, the need for better policy intervention into the Victorian owners corporation sector by government is long overdue.

It will ultimately be a proactive government pulling together community stakeholders to solve these issues that will propel us forward, and until then situations such as the Aurora debacle may become all too common.

Julie McLean, President, Strata Community Association (Vic)

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