Page 1229 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 9 April 2008
age of 63. There are also 258 aged persons flats, but these can be used by persons aged 45 and older. Housing affordability is a function of income and rent. In relation to elderly Canberrans, we see significant increases in rent at the moment. I believe rents went up by 18 per cent in Canberra last year. That is impinging on a lot of our elderly people who are renting. Those who are lucky enough to own their own home obviously have been slugged with all sorts of taxes and charges, but for those who do not own their own home, an 18 per cent increase in rents is really hurting them. We know that the pension is not going up by anywhere near that amount. We know that the indexation of the pensions of self-funded retirees—commonwealth public service pensions—will not be able to keep up with those kinds of significant cost pressures.
We often talk about young families and the impact of an unaffordable city on them, even though the Chief Minister continues to maintain that the ACT is an affordable jurisdiction. But we know that our elderly are struggling with all of these cost-of-living pressures. A nationwide issue is the increase in food prices. I refer in particular to the increase in the cost of fresh food as a result of drought. That has been compounded by the obscene increases in rent in the territory. The impact of that is not just felt by young people. We often focus on young people, and it is true that it is impacting on those who are young and who are saving to buy a home. But it is also true that the high rents in the ACT, and the massive increases in rent, are significantly affecting our elderly population. A survey last week by AAMI shows that Canberra has the second highest proportion of residents who rent, at 37 per cent.
It is worth looking at public housing tenants and at how some of them have been treated. Last month, Mrs Burke exposed an awful case of the general mismanagement of public housing by the ACT government. She revealed that a frail 71-year-old was being pressured by ACT Housing to pay a debt of $1,200 incurred by a relative several years ago, before she could move to safer accommodation to escape the same relative. This government rewards bad behaviour while punishing good tenants.
This is indicative of the government’s attitude. It is indicative of a government whose policies have hurt the elderly and have hurt some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in our community the most. In particular, we can look at all of the government’s policy changes over the last few years. I have talked about taxes and the disproportionate effect on our elderly population of the significant increases in taxes, but it is worth looking at the decline in ACTION bus services and the effect that has on our elderly residents.
Many of our elderly residents, who have contributed to our community over many years and who have worked for their entire lives, now either do not drive because they cannot afford to own and service a car or because for other physical reasons it is difficult or unsafe for them to drive a car. They rely on our bus service more than anyone. It is a shameful fact that under this government we have seen a serious decline in the quality of our ACTION bus service. We saw it under Minister John Hargreaves. The feedback I get from our elderly is that it has a significant impact. When I was on the planning and environment committee and we inquired into public transport, we certainly heard about some of the difficulties posed by changes to the network. In some cases, for elderly residents of some suburbs of Woden who simply wanted to get to an adjoining suburb in Woden, it took up to three hours under some of the network changes.