29 July 2022

Opposition and Government at loggerheads over public housing spend; Berry says 'do your homework'

| Lottie Twyford
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Public Housing Reid, Ainslie Ave. Photo: Michelle Kroll

The Government and Opposition are unable to agree on public housing maths. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Minister for Housing and Suburban Development Yvette Berry has lashed out at the Opposition who claimed earlier this week the ACT Government had underspent on public housing by more than $600 million over five years, telling them to do their homework on the subject.

According to Canberra Liberals Leader Elizabeth Lee and the party’s spokesperson for housing Mark Parton, the bulk of the public housing funding promised in successive Territory Budgets between 2015 to 2018 was not delivered in the promised timeframe.

Their figures say the government spent only $81 million when its three successive budgets promised almost $700 million.

But the government has hit back hard at that assertion.

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It says the Canberra Liberals aren’t doing the maths correctly and don’t understand how the first public housing renewal program was run.

“This has to be one of the worst examples of [their] ineptitude we have seen. It’s an embarrassing display of their understanding of how government works,” Ms Berry argued.

Yvette Berry

Minister for Housing and Suburban Development Yvette Berry says the Canberra Liberals need to do their homework. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

According to the government, the Liberals have made at least two significant errors.

First, the initial public housing renewal program was based on the asset recycling program – a scheme under which the ACT Government sold off public housing sites to get a 15 per cent bonus from the Commonwealth and then reinvested that money into the construction and purchase of new houses.

Treasury officials were unable to ascertain how much of the housing renewal program was funded by the asset recycling program as the sale of those sites has been underway for years and, for some sites, is ongoing.

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According to the government, the first program was based on ‘growth funding’ from capital injections and the proceeds from the sales of the assets went back to the central budget funding pool. But the new program, which has been underway since 2019-20 is different as all sales revenue is held by Housing ACT.

The government says the Liberals haven’t accounted for the first Public Housing Renewal Taskforce being delivered by Housing ACT.

Instead, funding was provided to the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate (CMTEDD) and subsequently the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD) to both construct and procure new public dwellings.

According to these directorates’ budget papers, the annual spending on capital works totalled $454 million. But the caveat is that additional funds have not been accounted for, which were essential for delivering the entire program.

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Once properties were completed and ready to take tenants, they were transferred to Housing ACT through equity movements rather than large capital injections. The government says the Liberals have only looked at the latter in the housing papers.

For example, in the 2019-20 financial year, $81 million of completed properties were transferred to Housing.

In the years from 2015-16 onwards, this figure was around $36 million, followed by $128 million (2016-17), $95 million (2017-18) and $117 million (2018-19), amounting to $457 million in transferred properties.

The government also confirmed that the initial tranche of the renewal program delivered the promised 1288 new or renewed social housing properties.

The government says it will make further public housing funding commitments in the upcoming ACT Budget, which will be delivered by Chief Minister Andrew Barr on 2 August.

The Canberra Liberals say they have more questions for the Minister.

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Is it the Oppositions job to do it’s homework? I thought it was the Government’s job to answer questions about how it spends our money?

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