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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 571

Senator COONEY —I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Housing and Construction: Does the Government see a need, firstly, to improve the standard of public housing presently available for rental in Australia and, secondly, to increase the number of units presently available for rental in the public housing sector of Australia? If the Government sees a need to increase the number of such units, what does it see as the appropriate increment?

Senator RYAN —The Government's commitment to providing adequate and affordable housing for all Australians is clearly demonstrated in the new Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. This historic Agreement provides fresh hope for those low income Australians in need of housing assistance whose plight was ignored during the Fraser years. The Government has substantially increased the level of funding for public housing and it has used the new Agreement to extend the benefits of home ownership to public tenants. In 1984-85 total Federal and State funding for public housing will be almost $1,600m, a record even in real terms. Additionally, the eligibility criteria for housing assistance have been changed to ensure that all Australians, irrespective of their life situation, can apply for assistance with priority to be based on need. The new Agreement caters for a range of housing needs, including Aboriginal and pensioner housing, crisis accommodation and housing for singles.

Having pointed to the excellent record of our Government in respect of public housing, to answer the specific questions of Senator Cooney, I would think, given the backlog of needs in the area which we inherited from the neglectful Fraser Government, there is a need still to improve the standard of public housing. I believe that there would be a need also to increase the number of units available. As to what level of increment will be available for those most fundamental priorities, obviously at this stage of the budgetary discussions I am in no position to predict. But I say to Senator Cooney, to all people like him and to all members of our Government who appreciate the basic importance of providing a decent roof over the head of all Australians, that I think our record to date gives grounds for optimism that the public housing budget will be given a very high priority by our Government.