A Canberra Liberals push to crackdown on hoarding has sparked alarm among community organisations and the ACT government, who have described it as a "simplistic approach to a complex issue".
Opposition leader Alistair Coe introduced proposed laws into the ACT Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, which would strengthen the government's power to force squalid properties to be cleaned up.
Frequent inspections, strict timeframes for properties to be cleaned up and hefty penalties for repeat offenders would all be brought in under proposed amendments to the territory's Planning and Development Act 2007.
Mr Coe told the Assembly that the proposed crackdown was responding to a problem which, while not widespread across Canberra, was causing distress to many residents.
He estimated there were about "a dozen or two cases" of extreme hoarding in the city.
He read out emails and other correspondence from residents who lived next to squalid properties, including one which described a front yarn filled with whitegoods, weeds and rat-infested junk.
Mr Coe acknowledged that mental health concerns were often "at the heart of the problem", saying that the enforcement measures proposed in his bill should not come at the expense of services which treat underlying illnesses.
"[But] we must remember that whilst there may be mental health concerns for the person or people responsible, we also have a duty of care for the mental health concerns of neighbours," Mr Coe said.
While residents living near squalid properties have welcomed the proposed crackdown, community and welfare groups have raised concerns about the approach.
Woden Community Service mental health and wellbeing senior manager Pam Boyer, whose organisation provides a hoarding support service, said a punitive approach "usually didn't work".
"We know that people experience hoarding behaviours have often very difficult life circumstances, there is often grief, loss and associated mental illness that gets overlooked," Ms Boyer said.
"Enforcement does not work, people tend to shy away and it increases their shame."
Ms Boyer said the organisation had not received the "sustained" government funding it needed to provide a holistic service to support individuals, their families and neighbours.
'We know that recovery is possible, but it requires a sensitive long-term approach," she said.
ACT Council of Social Services executive director Susan Heylar warned that fining people who hoarded items would not change their behaviour.
Enforcement does not work, people tend to shy away and it increases their shame.Woden Community Services Pam Boyer
Ms Heylar again reiterated calls for the introduction of income-based fines.
An ACT government spokesman said the Opposition's proposal was a "simplistic approach to a complex social issue".
The spokesman said the government was cautious about introducing penalties for hoarding, arguing it could be used as a "blunt tool against the most vulnerable in our society".
"Imposing inflexible and strict conditions on compliance orders as suggested by the Canberra Liberals fails to account for the needs of the vulnerable," the spokesman said.
The spokesman said the government's proposed new litter laws included measures to deal with the cleanliness of private properties.
"Importantly, this framework does not criminalise the mental health issue of hoarding," he said.