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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 7 Hansard (16 August) . . Page.. 2239..

MR HARGREAVES (continuing):

Although the person may apply to receive special payments during the withdrawal period to meet his or her essential living costs, there is no guarantee that such payments will be approved. Housing ACT's previous practice for a tenant whose Centrelink payments had been withdrawn following a breach was to deem the person to be receiving his or her normal payments during the period in question. This practice was intended to help maintain public housing revenue and the general viability of the housing system. However, that approach also tended to have a punitive effect on tenants and potentially could push them into rent arrears, impacting negatively on the sustainability of their tenancy.

The ACT government recognises the potential difficulties that could result in these changes. We believe that public housing is there to help tenants in need get back on their feet. Our goal is to help people through a bad period of their lives so they can become independent, not to force people to spiral into debt so great that they are unable to see a way out. The changes to which I have agreed remove these potential negative consequences in the context of the Howard government's welfare-to-work compliance framework.

In future, tenants who have had their payments withdrawn under the Howard government's welfare-to-work compliance framework will be assessed for rent rebate entitlements in accordance with their actual household income during the period in question. In some cases, tenants will be required to pay only as little as $5 per week. This concession will be dependent on their seeking the special payments available under the Commonwealth's new regime to help cover essential living expenses during the withdrawal period.

This generous concession will act as a major incentive for our tenants to pick themselves up and get back on their feet. They will be better able to take control of their lives. They will be given some breathing space from the ACT government while they get their Centrelink payments in order. I am confident that this policy reform will work to the advantage of public housing tenants in special need and will assist them to sustain their tenancies.

I believe this approach is critical to protect public housing tenants at risk from the effects of potential homelessness and poverty. Removing this potential debt trap will give our tenants a fair go and an incentive to become independent of government assistance. If members want to talk about Howard's welfare-to-work legislation as a debt trap I say all power to them.

MS PORTER: I ask a supplementary question. Along with the relaxation on rent rebates for those people who have been caught in the Howard government's draconian welfare-to-work changes, what other progressive steps has the government taken to target public housing to those in need?

MR HARGREAVES: In addition to the changes I have just outlined the ACT government is committed to providing appropriate and affordable housing to people in the ACT community who are unable to obtain housing on the private market. In early June 2006, as Minister for Housing, I approved a range of amendments to the public rental housing assistance program to sharpen its focus on people most in need.

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