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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (12 March) . . Page.. 977 ..

MRS BURKE (continuing):

Services to exercise his powers pursuant to subsection 12 (9) of the Housing

Assistance Act 1987

to develop and approve a 'Natural Disaster Program', that will create a waiver or exception, for a reasonable period of time to be determined by the Minister, in relation to rental charges for ACT Housing tenants in such times of natural disaster.

Mr Speaker, I would like to give a little background to the reason for and the purpose of this motion. Following a media release on 5 March 2003 headed "Public housing fire victims hit with rent hike", concern was raised when it was realised that some tenants, after being relocated to new accommodation after the January fires, were being placed under unnecessary financial pressure as a result of paying higher rates of rent and other up-front costs such as rent paid in advance.

The housing minister indicated to the Assembly on 5 March that the government was considering the issue of increased rents and how they were impacting upon public housing tenants who were affected by the fires. Further reference was made to the constraints placed on Mr Wood by the Housing Assistance Determination 1999, and more particularly the apparent inability to do anything under the ACT Housing Assistance Act 1987 that would protect tenants from being charged market rental rates or to provide subsidies during a time of crisis or disaster.

The key features of this proposal include establishing the distinct need to protect ACT Housing tenants from any forms of financial pressure in times of natural disaster, with consideration being given to sections 12 and 15 of part 3, housing assistance, of the Housing Assistance Act 1987. Under schedule 1, recital C, of the determination, a point of recognition is made by both the Commonwealth and states/territories on the basic understanding of the provision of housing assistance. Access to "affordable and appropriate housing"is essential to reduce poverty and its effects on individuals and the community as a whole.

The aim of the agreement is to provide appropriate, affordable and secure housing assistance for those who most need it, for the duration of their need. Such a statement indicates that a fundamental tenet of the agreement is to ensure that those who access housing assistance are protected. Under the guiding principles of the agreement, reference is also made to the funding arrangements that should promote efficiency and cost-effective management, including longer term planning and alternative methods of housing provision.

Mr Speaker, I am sad to say that I believe the Minister is being a bit disingenuous if he cannot agree to this motion. If that is the case-and I hope it is not-I am really disappointed at his lack of commitment.

Section 15 of the Housing Assistance Act 1987 provides for market rents to be charged-Mr Wood is quite right about this-and section 12 (5) provides for the Minister to approve a program, or an amendment, or revocation of a program. So contrary to what the Minister said in answer to my question on Wednesday 5 March 2003, he is not constrained by the Housing Assistance Act, and I cannot believe that someone of Mr Wood's experience does not know this. I might look like a lamb but you cannot pull the wool over my eyes on this one. Mr Speaker, if I am wrong, I stand corrected.

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