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Tuesday, 4 September 1984
Page: 426

Senator REID(4.36) —I must take up some of the time of the Senate this afternoon to raise the issue of the administration of the Commissioner for Housing loans scheme in the Australian Capital Territory, which has caused such incredible distress to so many people over the last couple of weeks. I had thought that I might get an opportunity to ask a question at Question Time today; I could not let the day pass without referring to this matter. However, I shall not do so in the detail that the matter warrants; I shall do that on another occasion. There are questions that need to be answered. I hope that the Minister will answer them quickly.

One might ask: 'What is happening to the Westminster system as far as this matter is concerned, and who bears the responsibility for the monumental muddle in the Commissioner for Housing loans scheme?' The muddley has existed since the time of the Budget. The muddle was alleviated to some small extent yesterday when the Cabinet, somewhat belatedly, band-aided the issue and gave a further $ 6m to cover loans which had been approved prior to 21 August but for which people could not get money. There were 355 people who had bought land or houses and who had been approved for the Commissioner for Housing loans scheme but who were not able to get the money to settle. Many of them ran the risk of losing their deposits. Many of them were involved in contracts which meant that they would be in serious difficulties if they did not meet them, and many other people were depending on those contracts for other transactions and were being inconvenienced as a result of cheques not being available from the Commissioner for Housing.

Senator Kilgariff —It would have ruined many.

Senator REID —Yes. The fact is that the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) has for a long time been promoting low income people into houses. His rhetoric has been splendid. But it is clear that it was not matched by the money he had available for this scheme. It is clear that the guidelines for the administration of the scheme were not of the same order as the funds available. I want to know from the Minister how far the $6m will go towards redressing the plight of the people whom I have had in and out of my office over the last couple of weeks. Many of them have been very distressed. I also want to know how much money will be available in the Commissioner for Housing loans scheme for the balance of this financial year for people who have applied, who believe that they are entitled, and who believe that their situation is no different from others who are now getting money. What will the position be?

I think that 1,100 blocks of land were sold during June of this year and 650 in July, and 130 blocks of land have been made available for over-the-counter sales at the reserve price to people who have qualified as low income earners. Many of these people believed that they would be able to get a Commissioner for Housing loan to proceed with the purchase. Perhaps some of the most distressing cases are those who have been affected by Family Court settlements and who had approval under their settlements to buy out the family home, to provide a home continuously for the children. These are people who had gone through divorce, obviously, and who, as a result of this, believed that they would at least be able to stay in the same house, but were told that they would not get the money.

It has been a fact for a long time that in many instances Commissioner for Housing loans have been used to save the family home. I think that is a proper use of the funds. The cost to government of throwing a woman out of her house, causing her to come back asking for emergency housing and probably then wanting a low rent house valued at about $60,000, is considerably more expensive than making available an average of $20,000 or $30,000 to save the family home. I could give many examples of that type. Some loans have been approved and applicants will now receive the money. Many are in the midst of settlements. They had expected the money to be available, but they now do not know what will happen or where to turn. There is a need for a close look at the guidelines. For some time the operation has been hit or miss. There have been no clear guidelines under which a person could go into the Department and pick up a piece of paper showing whether he or she was likely to qualify or whether the income was within the appropriate range.

I have raised this matter previously and the Minister for Social Security ( Senator Grimes) knows about it because he referred to it when I raised the subject earlier. He is aware of the fact that maintenance is not taken into account in assessing ability of a person to repay a Commissioner for Housing loan, yet the very pension received by that person is lower because of the receipt of that maintenance. If the person concerned were not receiving maintenance and were on full pension, he or she would qualify. The position is absurd and must be remedied. More land sales will take place within a few weeks and many people, especially first home owners, low income earners, will attend those auctions to buy land and will expect to feel confident that they will qualify for a Commissioner for Housing loan. The Minister has said that there is to be an inquiry and that he wants a report within a couple of months. However, he has not said what is to be inquired into or what he is looking for, he has not said what the guidelines for the future will be. There is a whole range of questions I hope he will answer before this week is out. As I have said, I could go on with examples of people who have been to my office and I could instance issues that arise. Even with the Estimates committee hearings pressing upon us this afternoon, I felt I could not allow this opportunity to pass without referring to this matter which has had such a devastating effect on the very people the Minister says he is hoping to help. They are the ones who have been harmed.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

The PRESIDENT —Before the Senate adjourns, I advise honourable senators that Estimates Committees A, B and C will meet at approximately 5 p.m. Estimates Committee A will meet in the chamber, Estimates Committee B in committee rooms 1 and 2 and Estimates Committee C in committee room 6. The bells will be rung for three minutes prior to the meetings of the Committees.

Senate adjourned at 4.43 p.m.