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The Canberra Times

Barr wants Albanese to waive ACT's $100 million housing debt

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Discussions with the newly-elected federal Labor government about waiving the territory's $100 million-plus housing debt are "on the agenda", but ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr avoided weighing in on the likelihood of such a move under the Albanese government.

The chief minister has previously lobbied the Morrison government to waive historic debt from loans for housing, land and building purposes.

In 2020 Mr Barr said his government had written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg five times regarding the debt.

"[We've] raised this at least a dozen times with the previous government so it's on the agenda, we'll have those discussions with the Commonwealth once things have settled down a little," said Mr Barr, adding finance minister and ACT Senator Katy Gallagher was "across the detail of the issue".

Slashing the debt would also waive an expected $33 million in interest payments set to build over the next 19 years, money the territory government said it would instead spend on "building more social and affordable housing in the ACT".

The chief minister stayed vague on the details of how likely an agreement on the debt was, adding there were numerous ways a federal Labor government could support housing in Canberra.

"There are variety of different ways that they can provide support to us," he said.

"That's one way that would certainly assist us to stop making interest payments to them and redirect that money into social housing, so that's a clear pathway but it's not the only one."

The chief minister has pushed for removing the debt since Tasmania's $150 million housing debt was set aside in September 2019, one of the conditions behind Senator Jacqui Lambie's support for the government's repeal of Medevac laws.

Mr Barr was enthusiastic about a chance to work together with Senate candidate David Pocock on the issue.

Mr Pocock has said, if elected, he would use his Senate crossbench power to push the government to waive the debt.

Though counting continues, he appears on track to deliver a historic upset, unseating Liberal incumbent Senator Zed Seselja.

"We'll need to see the final Senate count. I know David is very interested in pursuing outcomes in this area, they're shared passions that we have," Mr Barr said.

"David and I have a lot in common, and I really look forward to working with him, should he be successful. I think he will be based on the current count."

Mr Pocock has said he would work collaboratively with Ms Gallagher and the territory government to ensure the interests of Canberrans were represented.

"I think that the two ACT senators both need to be standing up for the ACT," he said.

"We clearly need more collaboration between the federal and the territory government. I'll work with whoever forms the next government to ensure that we we stop missing out and there is more of a focus on Canberra," he said.