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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 8 Hansard (8 August) . . Page.. 2615 ..

MR WOOD (continuing):

The minister acknowledged that he had made a mistake when he said that reviews had not been carried out. Reviews have been carried out but over the last three or four years following a review, there has been no rent increase. Reviews seem to be a requirement; a subsequent rent increase or decrease seems not to have been a requirement.

As I have indicated, people were notified of very large rent increases. Tenants who receive a notice of an increase and believe it to be excessive can apply to the Residential Tenancy Tribunal to have that increase reviewed. I understand that, after the present round of rent increases, the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre is considering mounting a group action in the Tribunal to help tenants who believe their increase has been excessive.

In any case, I believe the minister has acknowledged that many of the rent increases are excessive. I have heard him say in the media, "Well, if people are concerned about it they can appeal immediately to the department for a review of that rental increase." If he is saying that, it is surely a recognition that there is a problem, and that problem is that the increases were excessive.

The Labor Party does not oppose rent increases but we feel that the proposed increases should have been in line with the provisions of the RTA. After all, the RTA only passed through the Assembly after extensive consultation with both landlord and tenant groups.

These excessive increases could be seen as part of the government's plan to force market rent payers out of their properties. The minister denies this. The circumstances ignore the fact that many market rent payers are still on low incomes and often do not have secure employment. I am not talking about rich people. Even those paying full market rent are usually struggling financially. Forcing these people into the private rental market is not a viable option.

Canberra has the third highest rents of capital cities. Only Sydney and Darwin, with its rapid expansion at the moment, are higher. Many ACT Housing tenants simply do not fit the private rental profile. They are often single mothers or fathers who do not have a great rental history, are too young or have casual employment and hence are knocked back when they apply to rent privately.

This group of tenants is already under attack by the government's decision late last year to abandon security of tenure and in future to evict tenants whose incomes fall outside very rigid guidelines. The minister has used the excuse that the increased rent will be used for maintenance purposes. Even if I accept this argument, once this group of tenants have either been evicted or have left of their own accord to brave the precarious world of private rentals, where will the money for maintenance come from?

If the government had acted responsibly and put up the rents by small amounts over the last four years, tenants would have had time to adjust. To do it in one hit is to act irresponsibly. Some tenants, who are not rich, have been put in great danger of financial hardship. In effect, the government is taking from the poor to give to the poverty stricken.

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