The ACT’s $100 million-plus historic housing debts should be waived by whichever party forms a Federal Government on Saturday, ACT Senate candidate David Pocock says.
According to the high-profile independent, the move would free up funds for social housing as the Territory grapples with an affordability crisis.
The former Wallabies captain has pledged that, if elected, he would use his position on the crossbench to call on the government to review the GST redistribution and waive the Territory’s housing, land and building debts owed to the Federal Government.
The $100 million-plus debt was inherited when self-government was granted in 1989.
The debt means the local government has to pay back around half of the money it receives under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement every year.
“On the current trajectory, the ACT’s housing debt won’t be paid off until 2041-42, during which time close to $33 million will be paid in interest payments alone,” Mr Pocock said.
“That’s money that could be much better spent actually building new social and affordable housing, especially given the ACT Government’s limited capacity to raise revenue.”
What Mr Pocock has promised to do has some precedent.
In 2019, the Federal Government agreed to waive Tasmania’s $150 million housing debt as part of a deal in exchange for Senator Jacquie Lambie’s support for income tax cuts.
In the same year, it wiped South Australia’s $320 million housing debt.
As part of the Tasmanian deal, the state government was required to spend all the money it saved on public and affordable housing.
Since then, the ACT Government has been calling on the Commonwealth to step up to the plate and offer similar concessions to the ACT.
Following the Tasmania deal in 2019, Chief Minister Andrew Barr began arguing the case for the ACT.
The ACT did not have a crossbench senator at the time, nor does it currently have one, but Mr Barr argued that political bargaining power should not be relevant to waiving the debt.
“It is entirely untenable for the Commonwealth to do one special deal with Tasmania and leave the rest of the country out. That just won’t stand politically,” he said.
At the handing down of the last Federal Budget, the ACT Government again called on their Commonwealth counterparts to forgive the historic debt, arguing the money would be better spent on social housing.
Labor Senator Katy Gallagher has repeatedly been critical of the government for not having waived the historic housing debt or accepted the local government’s calls for refinancing it.