Page 3158 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 22 August 2017

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We recently completed an exhaustive estimates committee examination of the budget, and I was most pleased to participate in this process. Although I concede that I am a novice to the estimates process, the hearings and evidence provided much food for thought and enabled me to contribute to the recommendations made by the committee. I was further delighted to see that the government responded with an in-principle agreement to a few of these. The government’s response was encouraging. With the wellbeing and future of many thousands of people at stake in this area, I will continue to advocate for improved transparency and accountability.

There is no doubt about the challenges confronting the government in this area. Of course, they are challenges that are confronted by all governments in this country. According to Homelessness Australia, more than 1,750 people are experiencing homelessness in the ACT, with over half these being 35 years of age or less. While this figure is a few years old now, it illustrates the magnitude of the problem. Despite record low interest rates, we have significant affordability pressures on houses and units supplied by the market. We also have rent levels out of reach or in the rental stress zone for many thousands of Canberrans.

On the positive side, we have housing stock of around 11,600 dwellings estimated for 2017-18 that are managed under the Housing ACT appropriation. But, according to the published waiting list, those in need of priority housing will have to wait a bit more than a year for a housing solution and those applicants classified as being in high need for public housing will have to wait just on two years. These two categories account for about 850 applicants, so we cannot understate the gravity of this situation.

In this regard the statement of purpose set by the government for Housing ACT is instructive. The housing appropriations in this bill serve a number of purposes; namely, to provide social housing that is affordable, meets the needs and circumstances of low income and disadvantaged people, prevents people from becoming homeless, provides stable and secure long-term accommodation and assists vulnerable families to improve their social inclusion through secure and long-term sustainable housing and, in doing so, builds foundation skills, capacity and resilience.

In some respects the ACT does fairly well and punches above its weight, with a high proportion of public housing per capita, but I think this disguises some pretty deep concerns. Compared with the rest of Australia we have the second highest level of unmet need for short-term, emergency and transitional accommodation and also for medium and long-term housing accommodation. We have a high rate of repeat periods of homelessness, despite the resources that are ploughed into the social housing sector.

The level of housing stress in Canberra is reflected in the concerns of various advocacy groups. For example, a recent examination by Anglicare indicates that Canberra and Queanbeyan families face the worst rental affordability rates in the country, with only 2.3 per cent of rental properties within the affordability threshold. This compares with four per cent in Sydney and more than 40 per cent in some other metro areas. They also observed that 2017 reflected no improvement on previous years.

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