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Monday, 14 October 1985
Page: 1196

Senator REID(10.21) —I want to make some comments on a statement which was put out by the Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes) earlier today. It was a statement which I welcomed. The only comment about it which I would make is that it is a pity the Minister was forced to make it. That came about by the actions of his predecessor, the former Minister for Territories and Local Government. The statement which has been put out today indicates that the Minister is reviewing the practice of enforcing the tenancy provisions in relation to rental housing in the Australian Capital Territory.

I need to go back a little. The previous Minister for Territories and Local Government made it plain that while he was Minister no steps would be taken to evict any tenant in the Australian Capital Territory for any reason. What we have had to put up with since then is a considerable growth in the arrears of tenants in the Australian Capital Territory. I understand that some people are up to $3,000 to $4,000 in arrears of rent. About $1m is now owing as a consequence of the previous Minister's attitude to the responsibility of administering the housing scheme. Tenants of government houses have had to put up with the most appalling conduct from others in their blocks of flats and there has been nothing the Department has been able to do about it. It reached the stage where rent was something one paid if one felt like paying it.

I have not the slightest doubt that amongst some of those who have got into arrears there are hardship cases. I have not the slightest doubt that the Department, as the Minister has now said, will deal sympathetically with them in making arrangements for paying off the arrears. But that has always been the case. There has never been a time when the Department of Territories has taken a harsh attitude towards those who went to it and indicated that they had difficulties in maintaining their rental payments. In fact, there were always most generous arrangements for concessions on rent for those who needed that sort of concession.

The previous Minister's attitude had really no regard for the rights of other tenants or for his responsibilities towards these properties. The $1m that is owing represents perhaps 15 houses that could have been purchased to provide housing for those people on the long waiting list for housing. It is money that could have been used to do up a number of flats and houses that need doing up and need maintenance before they can be reoccupied. Therefore, I welcome the statement by Mr Scholes indicating that an effort will be made to collect the arrears, that there will be better management of the government housing stock in the future and that those who do behave badly and do behave in a way that causes disruption to the lives of other tenants run the risk of being evicted from the properties that they now occupy.

The Minister has also said that he is abolishing the Housing Branch Advisory Committee and that Committee is to be replaced by a new body. He indicated that he will make an announcement as to what that will be shortly. So I shall await with interest what he intends to do in that respect. I felt that it should be placed on record that I think he is taking a responsible attitude to try to redress what has occurred. The pity of it is that he has been put in a position in which he has to do this. I know that the Department will deal properly with those who have difficulties, but I hope that it will take a very firm line with those who, it can be shown, have deliberately not paid rent from the time in which the previous Minister indicated that rent was virtually an option for tenants.