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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 8 Hansard (8 August) . . Page.. 2617 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

Public tenants are in a more stressful situation. Some tenants have been presented with an increase which may well turn out to be unacceptable under the Residential Tenancies Act, but the tenants will have to take the case to the tribunal and go through a hearing in order to get the increase changed. As the minister states that Housing is bound by the act when setting rent increases, it is all a question of the market. This is a cumbersome process which I think would be unlikely to apply in a private rental situation, especially on such a large scale, involving one landlord and so many tenants. It seems that a private landlord would be unlikely to initiate such a steep rent increase because they know that it would be judged excessive.

Individual public housing tenants will need to take their individual cases to the tribunal for assessment. There are two barriers to this happening. The first is fear of reprisal from Housing. I am not saying there is a basis for this kind of fear. However, it may exist and so it needs to be acknowledged and addressed if there is to be any solution. The second barrier is the cost of taking a case to the tribunal, which is $46 for all rent increase applications.

The tribunal, I understand, assesses cases on an individual basis, looking at the market rent for the area, state of the premises, maintenance, et cetera. Maintenance of housing properties is likely to be an important factor, and the minister is bound by the act to effect those increases for all tenants. So tenants, and to some extent the minister, are in a bit of a bind. We are creating unnecessary work and unnecessary stress in the lives of public housing tenants. It is obviously not an ideal situation. Perhaps the government needs to look at a legislative remedy. They could also reassure tenants that they will not be penalised for taking their rent increase to the tribunal for review.

But there is still a legal question: if the tribunal orders rent to be reduced, will the minister or ACT Housing still be bound by the Housing Assistance Act to charge the market rent as assessed? Which law has precedence? The motion expresses an important principle. I am not sure whether, according to the language of the legislation, any particular changes will be required to what has occurred. What I think we are expressing, however, is the mismatch between the two acts. Public housing tenants should not be left in this situation.

In supporting the motion, I put forward this idea for the minister to consider: what if Housing Assistance Act rent setting were made more flexible by adding to the legislation a reference to the excessive increase formula set out in the Residential Tenancies Act, so that the rents can be set in a non-excessive way to begin with?

MR MOORE (Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services) (5.45): I thank members for their contribution. I thank Mr Wood for his motion, which the government is quite happy to accept and to agree with. After all, it is basically a motherhood statement.

Mr Speaker, as Ms Tucker rightly identified in a broad and appropriate way, I am bound, as Housing is bound, by not just the Residential Tenancies Act, which Mr Wood likes to refer to, but by the Housing Assistance Act 1987. I think Mr Wood would do very well to look very carefully at that act. I indicated to him yesterday in question time, and I have said so publicly, that I am bound by the law. I would be horrified if Mr Wood were to urge me to break the law, which is the very thing that on many occasions he and his

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