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Origins - a brief History

Kingston Tower, Kingston

In 1970, the then federal government authorities that administered the ACT perceived a need for legislation to regulate the construction and occupancy of multi level and multi unit dwellings. It decided that the ACT should have similar legislation to that in use in the various States, with one major difference to accommodate the lease system that had been adopted in the ACT as opposed to the freehold tenure used in the States. The Unit Titles Ordinance that began in 1970 had its name changed from Ordinance to Act with Self- Government in 1989, and with sundry minor refinements, it served the Strata sector in the ACT for nigh on thirty years.

But as the twentieth century drew to a close, so too did dissatisfaction with the by then pretty well out dated provisions of the 1970 Act. This led to a review, conducted with little public consultation, that led ultimately to the repeal of the 1970 Act and the adoption of an up-dated version under the guise of the Unit Titles Act 2001. This Act, however, still covered all the planning and construction aspects as well as how people might plan to live in units and townhouses, which left us with about as many or more complaints as before, and the Government was eventually persuaded of the need for further review.

The story of the Owners Corporation Network began in 2008, when the Government was first drafting the Unit Titles Amendment Bill (2008) that was destined extensively to change the way life would be lived in unit plans in the future. There was some limited public consultation, but many unit owners all around Canberra became concerned about some of the proposals being mooted and the limited time being allowed for discussing their implications. Many representations were made to Government and substantial coverage in the letters pages of the Canberra Times reflected the breadth and depth of unit owners' concerns, but notwithstanding that there were many issues not addressed, and unresolved when the Amendment Bill was rushed through the ACT Legislative Assembly in the last days before the 2008 election. However flawed, the Bill became law, set to commence in early 2009, and most of its provisions were to take effect on March 31 2009.

Law the Bill might have become, but the apprehensions of owners about the adequacy of the revised Act were undiminished, and a group of them formed the view that Government might be more receptive to suggestions if they came from an organisation representing unit owners. The idea was floated among wide range of unit owners, executive committees and owners corporations, and favourably received. Government officials encouraged the concept, on the basis that it would potentially be easier for them to deal with a representative organisation than large numbers of individuals.

In Canberra on 11 October 2008 a public meeting of unit owners was addressed by Stephen Goddard, the Chairman of the OCN that had been operating in NSW for some years. His account of experience in NSW, plus concerns about the operation of the then current unit title law in the ACT led to a resolution that the Chairman of that meeting be authorised to establish a local owners corporation network with rules and procedures to be submitted for approval to another general meeting early in 2009.

A draft constitution was presented to and adopted by our inaugural general meeting on 14 March 2009 and an Executive Committee was elected. A significant number of members were recruited to join those foundation members who had anticipated the approval of the constitution.

That meeting was attended by Government officials and representatives and spokespersons from the Liberal and Greens parties, and after the official business of establishing the association had been dealt with, the visitors were invited to address the meeting. The lively questioning and debate that followed gave the OCN plenty of fronts to focus on.

Almost the first decision taken by the new committee was that the OCN should have a website on which it could publicise its work, and which could provide members with avenues to exchange information about their experiences. This was done and can be accessed at web.ocnact.org.au

It was recognised that however unsatisfactory the Unit Titles Act was, it had in fact become law, and unit owners were going to have to learn to live with it. Substantial effort was spent on preparing a series of papers for the website under the heading “Living with the Unit Titles Act”, each aimed at explaining how to live with a particular aspect of the law as it then was. The OCN contributed significantly to yet another review, of the 2008-9 amendments, which led to the division of unit titles legislation, all of the provisions relating to planning and construction remaining in the old Unit Titles Act 2001, and everything to do with living in and managing a unit plan provided for in the new Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011. A major ongoing task has been bringing those documents up to date, to reflect the changes made to the law as it has applied to unit dwelling since the passage of that Act, as well as keeping abreast of developments.

The OCN works tirelessly to establish effective relationships with the other stakeholders and meets regularly with the regulators of the construction and administrative agencies involved in the provision and operation of unit plans. We believe that as our membership grows, so too will our voice be heard. We will continue our efforts, and we will report our progress in this place.