Federal Housing Minister Michael Sukkar leaves door open on retiring state’s housing debt
FEDERAL Housing Minister Michael Sukkar has not closed the door on waiving a historic debt that has Tasmania hand back about half its Commonwealth housing grant every year.
Mr Sukkar has instructed state Housing Minister Roger Jaensch to come up with ways the Federal Government can help ease Tasmania’s housing crisis — including coming to an agreement on the payment of the $157 million debt racked up last century.
Tasmania returns about $15 million of the $30 million Commonwealth housing grant each year as debt repayment.
“There are some obvious practical challenges around [forgiving the debt],” Mr Sukkar said.
“The Tasmanian State Government have made their position known very forcefully and I’m happy to hear and take any proposals from them.”
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In the meantime, Mr Sukkar, in Hobart on Thursday to attend the Hobart City Council’s emergency homelessness summit, said he had directed the National Housing Finance Investment Corporation chief executive to meet with Mr Jaensch next week.
The corporation has a $1 billion infrastructure fund available to projects that can prove they cannot proceed without financial assistance — and Tasmania has been made a priority.
“I’ve asked the CEO to come down, meet with Minister Jaensch and asked that he prioritise Tasmania as part of that $1 billion facility,” Mr Sukkar said.
“I’m not suggesting the full $1 billion will be spent here, but it’s a first-in, best-dressed fund, and Tasmania’s really well-placed to get access to it — and Minister Jaensch and I will continue to discuss not just the debt but ongoing issues.”
Mr Jaensch vowed to approach his Canberra colleagues with proposals on waiving the debt and other ways to address homelessness in Tasmania within “the next couple of weeks”.
“I’ll be talking to the Premier and the Treasurer about what options we think we could put forward to him,” Mr Jaensch said.
“He’s left the door open and invited us back to the table. We’re going to take him at his word and we’re not going to waste that opportunity, we’ll take a good proposal back to Canberra.”
Labor housing spokeswoman Alison Standen accused Mr Sukkar of visiting Tasmania empty-handed.
“It was disappointing that in his brief time at today’s forum and after getting Tasmania’s hopes up, the Federal Housing Minister was unable to make any commitment on abolishing Tasmania’s housing debt — cheered on by Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz,” Ms Standen said.