Page 3036 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 14 August 2013

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MR GENTLEMAN (Brindabella) (4.58): I rise today to support this motion. In all of the debate occurring around the budget this week, this motion provides a good opportunity to take a calm look at many components of our budget and the policy agenda which are often overlooked. There are hundreds of different initiatives all targeting important needs in the community and are all part of our commitment to fairness and opportunity across the ACT.

The initiatives being delivered under the targeted assistance strategy are a perfect example. They are supporting Canberrans who struggle to meet everyday living costs and unforeseen expenses. The Chief Minister recently signed off on the second progress report on implementation of the strategy. And it is good to see we are making important progress.

In 2012-13, we have seen a great awareness and uptake of the energy and utility concessions. Energy concessions are available to pensioners, veterans and healthcare card holders and cover both electricity and natural gas, providing an annual rebate of up to $292.82 last financial year. Utility concessions provide eligible concession cardholders an additional $82 rebate for the 2012-2013 year to offset the rise in the basic utility costs, including water bills.

These rebates make a big difference to the quality of life of some of the poorest people in our community, which is why the 2013-14 budget provided a 10 per cent increase in the energy rebate and a 2.5 per cent increase in the utility rebate, bringing the total to $406.15, quite a strong support base there for those people who are amongst the poorest in our community.

The 2012-13 budget also provided $714,000 over four years for the expansion of a no-interest loan scheme and a further $40,000 for Care Inc. to provide financial hardship and the no-interest loan program. The no-interest loan program targets individuals on low to middle incomes who do not meet the criteria for the scheme but who find themselves unable to cope financially with changes in their circumstances. This could be the result of a loss of a job, illness, financial stress or some other significant change in their circumstances. Both the no-interest loan scheme and the financial hardship no-interest loan program offer no-interest loans of up to $1,500 for necessities such as whitegoods, furniture or health aids.

In micro credit, the budget establishes an advice and support system worth more than $400,000 over four years for eligible people from a range of targeted groups, including migrants, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, young people, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals. The program will provide interest-free and fee-free loans to eligible low income earners who want to establish or expand a small business and builds on the successful brilliant ideas program currently managed by Lighthouse.

This micro credit program fills the gap in the business finance area through loans which will range from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the scale of the businesses and the viability of the proposal. The program will also provide business workshops, training, one-to-one mentoring, peer support and networking events.

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