25 October 2022

'Reeks of hypocrisy': Parton's pushback against housing debt waiver 'backflip' rejected

| Lottie Twyford
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Mark Parton

Opposition spokesperson for housing Mark Parton accused the government of hypocrisy for its refusal to condemn the Federal Government’s failure to waive the ACT’s historic housing debt. Photo: Region.

Last week’s news that the Territory’s $100-million housing debt wouldn’t be waived in the upcoming Federal Budget drew only “disappointment” from Chief Minister Andrew Barr.

But it’s drawn more than a heaping of criticism from the Opposition, who accused Mr Barr and his government of hypocrisy for not condemning the decision.

On Wednesday (19 October), Opposition spokesperson for housing Mark Parton moved a motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly which would have forced each party leader to write to Finance Minister and ACT Senator Katy Gallagher to condemn this decision and her perceived “backflip”.

That did not succeed.

Senator Katy Gallagher

Senator Katy Gallagher said last week the government was not currently in a position to waive the ACT’s housing debt. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Senator Gallagher last week said forgiving the loan was “not that easy” and the government was “not currently in the position to do so”.

This is despite the fact she had previously criticised the former Coalition government, including former ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja, for not having worked on a loan waiver while in power.

Mr Barr has also previously advocated for the ACT’s debt to be waived in the wake of a 2019 deal struck with Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie when that state’s housing debt was waived in return for her support on another matter.

However, he has also argued political bargaining power should not matter and a nationwide arrangement should be reached.

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A fired-up Mr Parton said the government could not have it both ways.

“The $100 million housing debt was so important when Scott Morrison was the prime minister … it was the Federal Liberals who were stopping the ACT from reaching its full potential in the housing space,” he told the Assembly.

“Now, all of a sudden, it’s not so important.”

Mr Parton said this “reeked of the most extreme political hypocrisy” and must be called out.

“Despite all of the rhetoric about the utopia Canberra would become once we got rid of Senator Seselja, nothing has changed. This is unacceptable,” he said.

Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he would continue working with the Commonwealth to waive the Territory’s housing debt. Photo: Region.

Mr Barr rebuffed the Opposition’s rhetoric.

He said the government was still advocating for the historic housing debt to be waived and, if that occurred, remained committed to directing money it would otherwise have spent on servicing the loan on social housing.

“We’re not the only jurisdiction with a historic housing debt and what we are trying to do is work with the Commonwealth,” Mr Barr explained.

“What shouldn’t happen is what happened with Tasmania – where it was only about Tasmania and not the other states and territories.”

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Mr Barr then went on to sing the praises of the current Federal Labor government’s commitment to action on social housing, saying the former Coalition government had not even believed it had to play a role in the provision of social housing across the country.

“What we are seeking to do is work collectively with [the Commonwealth government] … we will work in partnership … to deliver more diverse and affordable housing options,” Mr Barr told the Assembly.

“What’s different now is that we have a partner; we didn’t have that before.”

Mr Barr amended Mr Parton’s motion to instead call on the government to continue working with the Commonwealth and progressing these discussions.

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Independent Senator David Pocock remains optimistic about using his powerful position on the Senate crossbench to force the Federal Government’s hand into waiving the Territory’s housing debt.

This is despite Senator Gallagher suggesting a Tasmanian-style deal was not on the table.

Senator Pocock has pointed out the government does not have a majority in the Senate.

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Greens cross-bencher Johnathan Davis questioned why the Opposition had not made any comments on this issue in the last nine years.

He said the real issue was the ongoing housing affordability crisis and it was time for the “piddling contest on debt and who owns it and owes it” to end.

Mr Davis said it was disappointing that neither party in the Assembly could influence federal government decisions, but he welcomed Senator Pocock’s ongoing commitment to working on a solution to the debt waiver, whether or not that meant political deals.

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Barr has accepted the reality of a world that has changed, with an economy under pressure. It’s a pity that he didn’t use the ACT’s money more effectively to focus on housing instead of personal and political pet projects.

Perhaps Mark Parton missed the fact that the world has changed recently. The Federal government is much less wealthy and more heavily in debt than at any time in history. Wiping the debt could have been done more easily over the past decade, if not for spending on coalition and marginal seats for political purposes. Now we have their debt to service and a future that needs to be recalibrated so it is brighter for all, not just coalition mates.

Oh it’s Mark Parton again! This funny boy. Always the showman bllustering away on the sidelines with nothing to offer. Where are the Liberal party policies Mr Parton?

HiddenDragon10:18 pm 20 Oct 22

“Senator Gallagher last week said forgiving the loan was “not that easy” and the government was “not currently in the position to do so”.

That’s hardly a surprising response from the Finance Minister in a government which is going through a line-by-line review of its spending and presumably facing some very difficult decisions as a result.

It is well past time for the ACT government to conduct a similar comprehensive review – not just the usual annual budget process, which typically seems to assume that we can go on having our cake and eating it too – with a view to re-ordering priorities to reflect changing circumstances such as the housing crisis.

Parto is right. The ALP/Greens Government were quick to turn up the blowtorch when the LNP we’re in control of the big house in the hill, but they’re rather submissive now.
Sadly, I guess that’s politics!

He is right, but he is doing the exact same thing he is criticizing the Government for.. changing his public position with the political tide. Where was all this enthusiasm for wiping the debt with the Libs were in control? Where were his criticisms of the then treasure for refusing to wipe the debt? He is just making opportunistic political points on a position the Canberra Liberals have been SILENT on for the last decade when their mates were in control.

Gallagher should be held to account for this – she openly supported this idea while in opposition, and attacked the then Government over its refusal to act in this space. Now she is refusing to do so, saying “its not so easy”, while at the same time continuing to support tax cuts for the highest earners that a majority of Australians would like to see axed.

But the rhetoric and cries of hypocrisy coming from Parton and the Canberra Liberals is too much of the “pot calling the kettle black” for my tastes.

While Parton may genuinely care about the issue, it obviously wasn’t enough for him to stand up to the Feds publicly for it when the shoe was on the other foot.

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