Tenants’ Union ACT has launched a grassroots protest campaign in a bid to overturn a government decision to put its services to tender.
It says those services are being short-changed by a government that has passed on little from the 150 per cent increase in rental bond deposits it has enjoyed over the past 10 years alone.
The shock decision has galvanised the union into seeking support from some of the 50,000 people it has assisted since its establishment in 1981.
Tenants’ Union ACT executive officer Deb Pippen says the Australian Services Union has created a website to help coordinate the campaign, including an online petition.
“It launched in late October and has quickly generated 1220 signatories and there are further printed petitions within the community,” she says.
“And we have 25 organisational supporters, with more being added. They are assisting us in getting our message out in a variety of ways.”
They include the ANU Students’ Association and the Postgraduate and Research Students’ Association.
Pippen says the union was blindsided by the government decision that came at a meeting where a “modest increase” in funding was being sought.
“It came as a shock and is a pretty unusual decision by the ACT government, particularly considering there have never been any issues raised in relation to the quality of our work,” she says.
“They are saying it [the decision to go to tender] is about ‘sound management’ of the bond interest money.”
Funding for the union is derived from the interest paid on lodged rental bonds and interest rates on deposits have been falling as a consequence of continuing interest rate cuts.
However, the union says the number of people renting in Canberra has increased by 150 per cent in the past 10 years, but funding has only increased by 30 per cent. The government, it says, is holding onto more of the money instead of passing it on.
Pippen says the fear is that a bigger organisation might win the tender and that could be bad news for renters.
“The issue is we are the only community legal centre specialising in tenancy law,” she says.
“A call to tender is a call to bigger organisations that might be able to provide a cheaper service, but who are not tenancy specialists with as comprehensive a service as ours.”
Pippen says the union is “pretty much” fully funded by the bond interest and there will be a price to pay if the decision goes to the cheapest option.
“Staff will lose their jobs and the ACT will lose years of tenancy expertise,” she says.
Pippen says Tenants’ Union ACT will tender if the government decides to go ahead with the process.
An ACT government spokesperson emphasised that it was the provision of the Tenants Advisory Service (TAS) that was being put to tender.
“Regardless of the outcome of the tender process, there will be no gap in service delivery,” the spokesperson says.
“Canberra renters will be able to access an improved service when they need advice in relation to rental agreements.”
Tender documents will be released soon. Tenants’ Union ACT has been invited and “encouraged” by the government to participate in the tender process for provision of the TAS with the new contract taking effect from April 1, 2020.