Page 2690 - Week 07 - Thursday, 3 July 2008
accept that they will be followed as they are described then they address most of my concerns.
I also have a few comments regarding the amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act. I am pleased to see this amendment, and the government’s amendment to this amendment, as they address an unfortunate problem which has, in effect, prevented the Residential Tenancies Tribunal from exploring more thorough ways to keep vulnerable people in secure housing, while at the same time mediating their impacts on their neighbours and others. A problem arose when the Supreme Court found that conditional orders under section 42 may only be used in cases of rental arrears. That stopped the tribunal making conditional orders that in effect promised an eviction if tenants could not control their behaviour or the behaviour of friends or family.
We have seen a number of cases where people have been evicted because they continually breach the right of quiet enjoyment of nearby residents. That can be an issue of great significance when little children, for example, are involved, or when the loss of secure accommodation for a parent is likely to result in their children being taken into care. Certainly, such orders are no guarantee of success but it makes sense to give the Residential Tenancies Tribunal the scope to use them.
Indeed, I think that more can be done to integrate the tribunals into a whole-of-government framework. Often, situations arise that are not merely residential in nature but may relate to mental health and substance health issues, children and child support, family violence and so on. It seems foolish to limit a tribunal to dealing with a mere subset of the symptoms of a problem without giving it the power to deal with other symptoms and the causes of the problem.
The ACT government has not, as yet, grasped the nettle on this one. Housing ACT, for example, tends to act in its own interests without being required to consider the wider impacts of its decisions on its residents in the ACT community. It also appears to be the case that Housing ACT is not fully informed about child protection issues relating to the families which are adversely impacted by its decisions. Whether this is the fault of Housing ACT or some section of JACS which has oversight of child protection matters, or children and young people protection areas, I am not sure. But regardless of where the fault lies, it has been the case that the best interests of children have not been at the forefront as a primary consideration when Housing ACT has made decisions in the past which have adversely impacted on the wellbeing of children.
I hope and expect, and will be doing all I can to ensure, that the government is reviewing its procedures and guidelines to ensure that this kind of blinkered decision making will not happen again. It should not escape the government’s notice that this kind of decision making, which ignores the best interests of children, probably renders the government in breach of its responsibility under the Human Rights Act. Breaches of the Human Rights Act will soon be actionable as a basis for overturning government decisions, so the consequences of making decisions without a broader consideration of their human rights implications will soon be that much more serious.
To return to my comments about the inadequacy of the powers of tribunals, tribunals and courts should be empowered to consider the holistic implications of their