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Thursday, 20 June 1996
Page: 1897


Senator STOTT DESPOJA(10.39 a.m.) —I would like to put on record today the disappointment the Australian Democrats feel at the government's decision. We are of a mind to press the request for amendments, but obviously there is little point in that it will go through. We made it clear in the second reading debate of this bill as well as in the committee stage that we found it a little outrageous that the Housing Assistance Bill provides funding for the Commonwealth-state housing agreement for only one year.

There are a number of reasons why we are concerned about that. Some of those have already been put forward. It smacks of the intention to pare back public housing. It also smacks of the coalition government once again breaking an election promise. In their election promises the coalition foreshadowed no funding cuts to public housing, yet they are now dishonouring a commitment, a commitment that Senator Faulkner said they made when they were in opposition. I do not believe this government can go around revisiting the terms of agreements that have been made previously.

As Senator Faulkner pointed out in yesterday's question time, Senator Newman was quite happy to read out a list of groups she had consulted with. Certainly, I think she was getting very different responses from those we were getting. Not only has ACOSS expressed its disappointment but groups such as National Shelter and the National Youth Coalition for Housing have expressed their concern and they are scared about what is happening to the provision of public housing in this country. I think it is sad that this government today fails to honour a promise that has been made, an agreement that was being discussed back in December and January in regard to the Commonwealth-state housing agreement.

I said also in the committee stage of this bill that the commitments the previous government had made were not extreme. When you look at the number of people who are on waiting lists for public housing, you see that there are 235,000 people waiting for housing assistance in this country. Yet the previous government had agreed to a maintenance of the dollar value of specific purpose payments for three years. They even then allowed for a cut in real terms equivalent to the inflation rate for three years. It is sad that this coalition government cannot even maintain or honour those commitments.

Again, the Democrats express our concern at the fact that we are moving down a path where public housing looks like being pared back. I don't think it is a particularly glorious start for the coalition government in regard to housing and its relations with some of those housing groups that I mentioned.