David Pocock to use Senate balance of power to push for waiving of ACT’s public housing debt

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

The new independent senator David Pocock will use his balance of power position in the Senate to push for the ACT government’s $100m public housing debt to be waived as part of negotiations over Labor’s new housing policy.

Legislation for the government’s new $10bn Housing Australia Future Fund also faces resistance from the Greens, with the party’s housing spokesman Max Chandler-Mather saying the proposal is not “good enough” to secure support in the Senate.

Pocock’s move would mirror a similar deal struck by the Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie in negotiations over the Coalition’s three-stage tax cut plan in 2019, which resulted in Tasmania’s $150m social housing debt being wiped.

Related: Labor plan to ease housing crisis will create just 3% of dwellings needed, Greens warn

Speaking at the national homelessness conference in Canberra on Wednesday, Pocock said he had already raised his concerns about the ACT’s historic social housing debt, which hails back to when self-government was granted to the territory in 1989.

“Over the next decade, the ACT is going to spend $33m just paying interest,” he said. “So we’ve seen South Australia and Tassie have their housing debts wiped. I think there is a really good case for that to happen in the ACT and to actually be able to put that money into social housing.”

While previously indicating he would not engage in horse-trading in his balance of power position, Pocock said that on this issue he was prepared to make it a deal-breaker for support of government legislation.

“This is something I’ve started talking to the government about, I think it’s really important and it makes total sense to me,” he said.

“We’re in a housing crisis here and we have to be looking at every way that we can actually get more money into social housing.”

Andrew Barr, the ACT chief minister, unsuccessfully lobbied the former government to waive the debt, which requires the territory to pay back around half of the money it receives under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement every year.

Chandler-Mather, who has criticised Labor’s housing plan as inadequate, indicated the party would push the government to ramp up its ambition for the future fund pledge, which aims to build 30,000 social and affordable housing properties in its first five years.

Related: When ‘having it good’ leaves you with nothing: life as a renter on the poverty line | Kristin O’Connell

“We have this incredible opportunity right now where we have the balance of power in the Senate, we have a community that recognises we need to do more on housing and I think one of the roles that the broader sector can play is to say the Housing Australian Future Fund and your legislation is not good enough, and we don’t support it until you dial up the number and the funding, at the very least,” he said.

He said getting the sector to oppose the legislation in its current form would provide the “social basis and social power” for the Greens and senator Pocock to demand more in its dealings with government.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to feel betrayed if we can convince Labor to build more public and social housing,” he said.

“If we can come together and provide a collective push, I think that’s actually how we can get things done.”