Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 5 Hansard (11 May) . . Page.. 1554..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
the way in which services are delivered in the ACT to make sure that the budget is strengthened to meet future challenges.
I am hopeful that the surplus which we now anticipate will be delivered. Of course, we will have to wait another couple of weeks to guarantee that but, on the strength and basis of this report—this dramatic change as a result of unanticipated superannuation revenue—we will celebrate, and I am sure the Liberal Party will celebrate with us, a fifth consecutive budget surplus.
MRS BURKE: My question is to the Minister for Housing. On pages 35 and 36 of the Auditor-General's report on public housing of May 2006 reference is made to fraud control and the point that currently there are no penalties for fraud or for providing false information by applicants to Housing ACT under the Housing Assistance Act 1987. Minister, what are you doing to make sure that Housing ACT staff are adequately trained to detect incidences of fraud and consequently are provided with the resources to vigorously pursue cases of fraud against the department?
MR HARGREAVES: The picture that Mrs Burke seems to be trying to paint here is that there is a stack of people in the community who would knowingly provide false information to get themselves onto the housing list or people on the housing list who, through using wholesale or large-scale fraudulent processes, are making sure that they maintain things such as their rebates.
The incidence of fraud against any sort of government service is, of course, of concern to us. I am confident that the processes within housing are applied with integrity and with a reasonable amount of vigour. I do undertake to have that looked at to see how it can be strengthened. However, I reject any notion that our officers do not have the wherewithal there.
One thing is for sure, Mr Speaker: by the time people actually come to housing these days they are usually in such a state, having a low income and a whole series of other issues, that they are already at a pretty low ebb. There is no way in the world that I am going to allow my department to treat these people as guilty without trial and to presume that these people are actually crooks. That seems to be the suggestion which is coming from Mrs Burke. I reject that absolutely and completely.
We employ empathetic experts, people who in the context of our housing managers and our applicant services are skilled in dealing with people's problems. I have no intention whatsoever of sending the housing managers and their staff on ASIO-type courses to determine whether they are dealing with financial terrorists, with people out there who are hell-bent on ripping off the public purse.
Mrs Burke: Have you read the report?
MR HARGREAVES: For the edification of Mrs Burke, the people who front at the counters of housing are people in need, and we will treat those people with the respect that they are due, with the empathy that they deserve. We are there to assist. We are not there to put every single piece of their private information on the counter for everybody