Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (25 June) . . Page.. 1068 ..
MR QUINLAN (continuing):
Much has been said in this place about the increase in the private sector. If we read the Canberra Times today we find that much of that has been a load of nonsense. When you take into consideration the fact that the largest slice of the increase in the private sector comes from a reduction in the public sector through outsourcing, we have gained very little, and these boastful claims that have been made about growth in the private sector are just so much hyperbole. In summary, Mr Speaker, this budget is little more than an attack on the most vulnerable in the community. I can only say to the Government that they had better remember, because I believe that the people of Canberra will remember.
MR WOOD (3.27): Mr Speaker, in this austere budget it is good to see some extra funding in a few areas of need, including dental health, mental health, aged care services and drug rehabilitation. Public dental health urgently needs an injection of funds. Waiting lists have been unacceptably long, causing great distress and pain to those who have no choice but to wait. It is no fun to struggle with ill-fitting dentures or to endure nagging tooth pain that does not count as urgent but is nevertheless debilitating. Similarly, recent incidents have highlighted current deficiencies in the community health services. Considerable funds have now been allocated for a new secure care facility and to improve community mental health services. That is further good news. One election promise is being kept with the start of a three-year program to construct 200 new aged persons units. During 1998-99 the first 40 units should be constructed, leaving 160 to be built during the following two years. Given the ageing of our population, these units are urgently needed. I understand that for most areas the present waiting time for an APU is about seven years. Like most waiting times, it needs to be reduced.
Since the end of April I have had a motion on the notice paper calling on the Government to report back to the Assembly on the means by which additional support services will be provided to ACT Housing tenants, both to care for the needs of specific tenants and to protect Government assets - the houses. In this budget $50,000 has been allocated to assist people in need of financial advice; to help tenants manage and to reduce their debts. Many of the constituents who ring my office with housing problems have problems in managing their money. Without these problems being identified and addressed at an early stage, they are often facing eviction by the time they ring.
Recent changes have seen notices being sent more promptly to those in difficulty, but simply sending out letters is not the best way of maintaining rental payments. A more personal and direct approach is needed, and this is a small start. ACT Legal Aid and CARE are also trying to help in this area by publishing a fortnightly column in the Chronicle giving people advice on common financial problems and traps. Tenants with financial problems cost ACT Housing a lot of time and money, and give themselves much agony. The $50,000 is only a start in dealing with this problem - it probably equates to one person - but future budgets can build on this start.
Now for the downside, and I will focus on just one sector, the sector which provides support to some of the neediest in our community. The Smith Family is calling this our cruellest ever winter. The local general manager says - and I quote from a newspaper report: