Page 2770 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 16 August 2005

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individual’s circumstances. This work is ongoing and should be allowed to identify better processes in this area without this change to legislation. While I am opposed to clause 15, part 5 in principle, I accept that my opposition alone is unlikely to prevent the introduction of the change. The government’s amendment clarifying that the tribunal must be satisfied that the tenant owes an amount to the Commissioner for Housing does improve the operation of clause 15, part 5 but problems remain.

There is ambiguity regarding how the tribunal would establish that the debt has been substantiated. I have therefore proposed a more comprehensive amendment to ensure that a fair debt review process is applied and that ACT Housing agrees to repayment terms that are not going to cause substantial hardship to the tenant or their dependants. I remind the government that it has made many brave statements regarding poverty reduction and preventing homelessness in the ACT and that here is an opportunity for the government to recognise the impact that its own proposal might have in both of these areas.

Imagine the circumstance where a family on very low income recently granted public housing may be in a position of choosing between paying off debt to ACT Housing or putting food on the table. If they do make the debt repayment they risk eviction from their housing. How is this conducive to reducing poverty or homelessness? If the government wants to ensure that past debt payment is a condition of new public housing agreements, it should take every step available to ensure that this does not inadvertently lead to exacerbating financial hardship or increasing evictions. The amendments that I have put forward provide the government with practical strategies to poverty proof the way it deals with past debt.

MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs) (5.33): The government will oppose Dr Foskey’s amendment to my amendment. As I indicated, the government has proposed an amendment to clause 10, consistent with discussions that the government has had with the stakeholders who, I acknowledge, as Dr Foskey has, did have some concerns with the original provision. The amendment which the government has proposed, which Dr Foskey seeks to amend, makes it quite clear that the tribunal must not endorse a term unless it is satisfied that the tenant owes, in the first instant, an amount to the Commissioner for Housing. Dr Foskey’s proposed amendment adds a further requirement that the tribunal should not only be satisfied that a tenant owes an amount but that the tribunal should be satisfied that the fair debt review process has been applied and that the proposed arrangements for the debt are fair and reasonable.

I acknowledge that—like a number of the amendments that Dr Foskey has proposed with this particular amendment and other foreshadowed amendments—the proposal seeks to effectively expand the jurisdiction of the tenancies tribunal to consider new types of disputes or issues. In this case, Dr Foskey’s proposal is that the tenancies tribunal should have its jurisdiction expanded so that it can consider whether proposed repayment levels make for significant financial hardship. Certainly it can be argued that it is desirable that there be a simple and straightforward remedy in circumstances such as that.

The reason the government opposes this amendment is not that we disagree with the sentiment but it is our contention, and it is a position we have put, that this issue that Dr Foskey seeks to have determined by the Residential Tenancies Tribunal—essentially,

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