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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (20 February) . . Page.. 329 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

In the annual reports hearings in November, I think it was, when we were looking at the Essential Services Committee, I asked the chair about questions of debt and housing. He commented that they see individual people come in; that a lot of their clients are in the hardship area, and that they are Housing tenants. He said that, in a number of cases, you can identify a fundamental problem with the house itself and, in other cases, you can identify an educational issue.

The chair also suggested that you can be almost sure that, if a person has an arrears debt with ACT Housing, they will also be one of the hardship clients of the Essential Services Committee. These are very closely linked. It comes down to the fact that the people are in poverty-they are on pensions or whatever-and cannot afford to meet their commitments.

I will summarise what the chair said, from the Hansard draft. Basically, he said that ACT Housing, at the end, will threaten eviction in order to secure the agreement of the person to repay not only their current debt, but also for recovery of arrears. His experience at the council was that Housing will take all it can get when it is in those negotiations and does not leave enough room for the fact that the person faces a lot of debts that are not theirs.

The suggestion was made by the chair that it could be useful to have Housing set up a fairly equivalent mechanism to negotiate the problem of debts, and to make sure that that mechanism liaises well with the council. That is one suggestion that has been made which fits with the recommendation we made in the Select Committee on the Role of Public Housing. Recommendation 12 said that the committee recommends that the government amend the Essential Services (continuity of Supply) Act 1992 to provide an avenue for public housing tenants facing eviction because of arrears or debts.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I think this is indeed a matter of public importance. I raise it in a constructive spirit, so we can discuss the issues. I look forward to the response from government and other members.

MR WOOD (Minister for Disability, Housing and Community Services, Minister for Urban Services, Minister for the Arts and Heritage, Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (3.59): Ms Tucker says she raised that in a constructive spirit, but I was very disappointed with it. I saw it as a fairly solid attack on officers in ACT Housing.

I will quote an incident last week. I will preface it with the comment that I think that, generally, we work very well with Ms Tucker, and other members, as difficult circumstances arise for some of our tenants. Last week, we received an email from Ms Tucker's office, accusing us of being uncaring. I could track the email down if you wanted it. That email was unusual because it did not say, "Look, we have had the story-what is the story?"It suggested that ACT Housing was uncaring in general.

The Housing DLO had to spend some time. There was quite a deal of background history of all the things ACT Housing had done to try to help that tenant, so we were not very happy. No-I will speak for myself. I was not very happy that we were accused-and in fact unfairly so.

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