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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 7 Hansard (16 August) . . Page.. 2240..


MR HARGREAVES (continuing):

Program changes include a significant reduction in the qualifying income criteria; a tightening of residency requirements to ensure that only ACT residents who have lived here for at least six months qualify; and a complete overhaul of the priority needs system. The income eligibility criteria for Housing ACT has been tightened to 60 per cent of Australian average weekly earnings for singles and 75 per cent of Australian average weekly earnings for couples. With the reduced income tests the ACT's income eligibility is consistent with other states, including New South Wales and Queensland.

Under the new priority system it is expected that applicants with the most pressing needs will be housed within three months. Prior to this it was 12 months. I believe that 12 months is far too long a period for people in such dire straits. Housing ACT will focus on the following people as a priority: individuals with families facing homelessness; Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders with complex needs; women and children fleeing domestic violence; the frail aged; and people with disabilities where natural support mechanisms are in danger of failing.

While this is an ambitious goal it recognises that people with critical and urgent needs cannot reasonably be asked to wait lengthy periods to be housed, as they were under the previous system. The program has also been amended to prioritise transfers to enable tenants to downsize or move to areas of lesser demand. For instance, an elderly couple still living in a four-bedroom house after their children have moved away may no longer want to pay for or maintain such a large property.

The changes to the program make it easier for that elderly couple to move, freeing up the four-bedroom house for a large family. Applicants on the waiting list are currently being reassessed. The new system will take full effect in October. I am still waiting to see any policy from the ACT Liberal Party on public housing, or on how it intends to help those in need. All I hear is criticism of what this government is doing. I never hear any statements from opposition members about what they would do in our place.

Schools-closures

MRS DUNNE: Mr Speaker, my question is to the minister for education. Does the minister agree that forcing young children to walk long distances to school, away from their local neighbourhoods, is both unsafe and unwise? Does the minister also agree that parent participation and local community involvement in schooling is facilitated by our system of neighbourhood schools and should not be undermined by wholesale closure?

MR BARR: In responding to Mrs Dunne's question it is perhaps worth observing, as my colleague has, that the majority of students now do not walk to school. Approaching 50 per cent of students in our public system in fact do not even attend their local school and go past often eight to 10 other government schools to attend a particular school that their parents have chosen or that they have chosen. So I think it is already the case that parents and students are making the choice not to attend local schools.

This highlights the difficult public policy challenge governments face in relation to seeking to maintain a system of neighbourhood schooling that was developed in the sixties and seventies that does not now reflect the modern day realities of this city and the way in which parents and students are approaching the decisions about which schools


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