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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 6 Hansard (2 September) . . Page.. 1842 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

The Government has also chosen to build the new visitor centre at Tidbinbilla not through capital works funding but via an internal loan of $800,000 to be repaid by Environment ACT over nine years, including interest of $267,000. I have grave doubts about the ability of Environment ACT to repay this amount just through revenue raised by the visitor centre and entry fees, given that visitor numbers have dropped dramatically since the entry fees were imposed. I have serious concerns that Environment ACT will end up paying the bill for this centre through cuts to other parts of its operations.

Housing is another part of Urban Services. The budget states that as part of an objective of DUS it will "develop plans to implement key directives in `Canberra's Housing - Strategic Directions for Housing in Canberra' ". I wonder how this is to happen and how effective it will be when the Government is not managing ACT Housing effectively. Access to public housing has become more difficult. The figures on waiting lists are greater. Public housing tenants are now required to pay 25 per cent of their income on rent. This includes those on pensions, and the fear of those tenants is that their pensions will not be indexed to cope with these increases.

The Government relies on the private rental market as a comparison, and this is definitely not appropriate. The Smith Family report, "The Housing Factor", states that those on a low income pay around 39 per cent on private rental, not 30 per cent, and that the average mortgage payment is 16 per cent. Those on low incomes who pay upward of 40 per cent for rental alone simply cannot afford other things, food being one of them.

The Smith Family used the budget standards research project completed by the University of New South Wales and commissioned by the Department of Social Security. This survey provides costings on food for a very frugal but nutritionally sound diet for families, couples and singles. The Smith Family found that their clients were spending less than half that amount. Public housing is there for people in financial need, often with special needs. The private rental market is not there for this purpose. These people exist in the ACT. They may be fewer in number, but they are there; and there is a growing number of them, according to the Smith Family, and they do need government support now. Accessible public housing is an essential part of this.

Another issue in housing is the development of a study into solar passive design and related energy costs in public housing. The control and test houses have been built and occupied for some 12 to 18 months. One would think that, with the hard work done, the results of the study could be published and perhaps future design could reflect a favourable result. This is a really important way to reduce the living costs of those on low incomes and be environmentally responsible at the same time. This could constitute a strategic direction, but it seems to have been missed.

The Government cannot treat public housing in the way they would a business enterprise. If they do this there will only be a transfer in the social cost to other areas such as justice and health and community services. The recent economic climate in Canberra and federal attacks on welfare and community services necessitate that the Government plan for and provide for public housing to relieve the existing levels of housing-related poverty.

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