Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (12 March) . . Page.. 979 ..
MRS BURKE (continuing):
However, this situation has now caused the family to fall back into debt. The father now has to travel twice the distance to work, children have to catch two buses to school, and so on and so forth. Up until the bushfires and being moved they had worked very hard at getting out of their debt situation.
I sincerely congratulate the Minister and his department on doing the best they could to relocate as quickly as they did not only this family but all people affected by the bushfires. What I am calling on the Minister to do in this motion will ensure that people are not disadvantaged unduly during such traumatic times. I am wondering why such things as continuity of tenancy do not apply. Why do people have to sign up for new agreements? Surely the Minister has the power and the ability under the acts, both Commonwealth and territory, to do something about this. I am wondering why people who are in advance of their rent are forced back into a situation of debt because of events over which they have no direct control.
Mr Wood is aware of this problem. I am hopeful that he and this Assembly will look favourably upon the idea and that he will use his discretionary power to create a waiver or exemption, for a period to be determined by him, in relation to rental charges during and after natural disasters. It could be argued that such a small number of people have been affected. But does this make it right to allow them to fall through the net? Have we not been debating issues in this very place this week affecting the minority? I do not have any problem with that. Let us not forget people or groups.
Barring a miracle, Mr Speaker, I am not sure I have the numbers to have my motion passed. But no-one can knock me for trying to speak up for those who need our help in times of crisis. I thank members for their time, and I ask them to support my motion.
MR WOOD (Minister for Disability, Housing and Community Services, Minister for Urban Services, Minister for the Arts and Heritage and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (6.03): On the surface, this is a nice motion. It feels good and it sounds good. But is it good? I am particularly concerned that Mrs Burke is asking us to take some significant action on the basis of one case, and a case which I question anyway.
Let us go back to the legalities of this matter. I do not remember exactly what I said on the day Mrs Burke asked her question-we were looking at it; I am constrained but I did look at the question of rents and fairness. I said to her that I thought we were actively considering it, and I was. I went through it in very great detail and it became clear to me that what we are doing is absolutely fair.
Mrs Burke has gone through the legislation. Indeed, she has gone beyond the points that are contained in her motion. I have also looked at other points that she raised. It is probably possible to work through the various terms to look at the way rental assistance is given. But this is a difficult process, and it would need to be done in line with the principles which we apply.
Let me ask one overwhelming question, and I will come back to it from time to time: are we or are we not fair? In public housing, tenants pay the market rent or 25 per cent of