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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 1573

Senator REID(5.07) —The matter of public importance this afternoon is the wrong direction that the Australian Labor Party is taking Australia. As there are a few minutes left, it seemed appropriate to deal with some aspects of the direction in which Labor is taking the Australian Capital Territory. There is less time now of course than there would have been because we had a division on the matter. When the Budget was presented we were told by the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) that the Australian Capital Territory had $460m. As I have indicated previously, that is, in fact, not quite the case. A considerably lower amount is available for development of the Territory. Since the Budget we have had the incredible fiasco of the complete breakdown of the Commissioner for Housing loans scheme. Under the Budget a sum of $8m was allocated--

Senator Robert Ray —I raise a point of order. The honourable senator is clearly reading her speech, in breach of standing order 406.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —That matter has been discussed many times. I think Senator Reid is using copious notes.

Senator REID —I do not even have copious notes and I do not have a prepared speech. The Commissioner for Housing loans scheme was allocated some $8m in the Budget and within three days of presentation of the Budget it became apparent that all of the money had been spent and in fact an additional $7.9m had to be subsidised to meet not the 2,000 people who were registered for Commissioner for Housing loans but the 657 people who legally were entitled to the money from the Government because the process had gone wrong that far. At the time of the Estimates committees meetings and subsequently we heard that about 1,300 people who were still eligible for a Commissioner for Housing loan will not be getting the money because there are no funds.

The reason this fiasco came about was that the Minister for Territories and Local Government made speeches and statements to the effect that people were encouraged to believe that if they were financially eligible for a Commissioner for Housing loan they would receive one. Many people in this community are sorely disillusioned by reason of the fact that their hopes of getting a home have been dashed. Many of them are in a very awkward situation indeed. As a result of having applied for a loan and ascertained that they were eligible under the means test, they went ahead and made certain arrangements so that they would then be able to proceed to get a house and they have been left completely up in the air. On the present rate of funding it will be two to three years before some of them will have any opportunity whatever of getting into the market. At least one of the auctions last week indicated quite clearly that there has been a reaction in the market as the result of what has occurred in the area of housing.

The Commissioner for Housing who has held the job for some years has been shifted from his job into another within the Department. At the same time three inquiries are apparently going on, the results of which have not yet been published. It seems to me a very poor show indeed to imply that the whole fiasco is the responsibility of the Commissioner for Housing by moving him out of his job when the reports are not yet available. I believe that the full responsibility of this ought to be borne by the Minister who was the person who encouraged people to believe that they would get housing if they were in the lower income groups. It was a very cruel situation indeed.

We also had a cutback in education funding locally. The Budget was presented initially as though we were getting an increase but the reality is that we are over $1m short and there are three additional schools to be opened in the Territory in 1985. This afternoon I had discussions with the Australian Teachers Federation. It is extremely concerned about the trend in government schools in the Australian Capital Territory, the lack of funding in the area of ancillary staff and the lack of attention to the need to bring primary school class sizes into a better ratio more like those in some of the other States, for example the direction in which the Northern Territory is going at the present time. I believe that we are getting into a crisis in the area of education in the Australian Capital Territory if the sum of just over $1m that we are short is not reinstated and if the Schools Authority does not have the opportunity to prepare its budget on the basis of that money being available. We do not yet know how the Schools Authority will cope with the cutback in funding for the financial year but it is certainly an important issue and parents and teachers are concerned.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The time allotted for the discussion of the matter of public importance has expired.