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Tuesday, 26 March 1957

Mr HULME (Petrie) .- We have had a very interesting dissertation on smog from the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor). It is my intention to remove some of the smog from the thinking of the members of the Opposition in relation to the important question of housing. I want, quite definitely and unequivocally, to say to the House that I support the remarks of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) in the House last Thursday. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) has referred to them this afternoon, and I hope to show that honorable member, in the course of a few comments, that some of the statements he made do not accord with the facts of the housing problem. The discussion on housing in Queensland was begun by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) last Thursday, when he denied that the sum of £2,750,000 devoted to the Queensland Housing Commission this year was the amount that the Queensland Government requested at the last meeting of the Australian Loan Council. He said that the -Queensland Government had, in fact, asked for an amount of £3,040,000.

Mr George Lawson - That is true.

Mr HULME - It may be, but I intend to explain this matter in my own way, and I require no assistance from the honorable member for Brisbane on it. When the Premiers met with the representatives of the

Commonwealth recently they requested the Commonwealth to make available to State loan works programmes an amount of £210,000,000, including an amount for housing. It has been usual, in recent years, for the Premiers to ask for an amount considerably higher than that which the Commonwealth is prepared to give. The Commonwealth was not prepared to give the amount requested for the simple reason - and I do not want to go into all the details of this - that the loan market will nol supply all the money sought, some oi which, therefore, would have to come from funds supplied by the Commonwealth from its receipts of revenue. In the current year the Commonwealth restricted the amount to £190,000,000, which was the same as the amount provided, or guaranteed, by the Commonwealth in the previous year. The Premiers then went on to consider the distribution of this amount, and they decided that the amount to be provided for housing would be £32,150,000, which compares with an amount of £33,200,000 that they allocated to housing in the previous year. Therefore, the Premiers sought an overall reduction, throughout Australia, of £1,050,000 for the purposes of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement in this year, knowing full well that the new agreement to be produced by the Commonwealth would provide that 20 per cent, of the money to be made available for housing was to go to building societies. As a result, the Queensland Government asked for £290,000 less than the £3,040,000 for which it had asked in the first place.

Mr George Lawson - What did the Minister for National Development say in answer to a question asked by a member of this House?

Mr HULME - I do not mind what the Minister said. I am telling the honorable member the facts as given to me by the Treasurer, who should know them, as he was chairman of the meeting of the Loan Council. I say quite definitely that there has been gross mismanagement of the housing situation in Queensland.

Mr George Lawson - Another knocker!

Mr HULME - The honorable member says "Another knocker". Let me indicate the expenditure by the Queensland Government under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement over the last five years. In 1953, the amount spent was £5,200,000. lt dropped in the following year to £3,700,000, and in the year after that it rose to £5,000,000. In the succeeding year it receded to £4,700,000, and this year it has dropped to a fraction over £3,000,000. If that does not indicate that the Queensland Government has been prepared to sacrifice its housing situation from the point of view of rental homes, I do not know what does. The amount that is made available this year is made up in a certain way, and I think this should be mentioned because of the figures that have been given in the House in this debate. The balance at the beginning of July last was £465,000. The proportion from the £2,750,000 available to the Queensland Housing Commission for rental homes is £2,200,000. Additionally, there is available from the Commonwealth for housing ex-servicemen £110,000. The amount from the allocation for building societies is £164,000, and there is also an amount of about £100,000 which represents repayments in relation to homes already sold in previous periods - an amount that is never mentioned by Mr, McCathie or anybody else on the Labour side as available to the State Government for building in this particular year. That gives a total of just over £3,000,000 for the current year.

So we come to the situation where the Queensland Government, in February, makes a demand for £278,000. It is remarkable that this amount of £278,000 is only £12,000 short of the reduced amount that the Queensland Government asked for when it met with representatives of the Commonwealth and the other States and decided the total amount that the States wanted for housing in this year. But the information which has been given does noi disclose an additional fact. I have been approached by members of the Queensland Merchants Association. The Queensland Housing Commission has said to contractors in Brisbane, " We cannot pay you until July". In turn the contractors have gone to the merchants and said, " We cannot pay you until July". Therefore, there has not been a complete disclosure by the Queensland Housing Minister of the seriousness of the problem in Queensland at the present time.

There is a general belief that information is usually gained from the press, but with two other Queensland members, and three representatives of the workers who were about to become unemployed, I went last week to see Mr. McCathie. Therefore, he had every opportunity to disclose to us the actual situation in Queensland. The facts which I have mentioned were not disclosed. This matter is the responsibility of the State Government. I said to Mr. McCathie, " lt seems a great pity that you have not found out the seriousness of your situation until the end of February and have been able to give the men only about eight days' notice of your intention to dismiss them. Surely you could have found out how the situation was developing last November or December, so that these men could have had at least a month in which to make other arrangements for employment ". For this reason, I put the blame entirely on the Queensland Government, and not even the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) or the1 honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) can deny the truth of what I have said. Nor can they genuinely deny that the blame must be laid upon the Queensland Government. 1 want now to say one or two things in relation to housing in another context. It seems strange to me that although the Labour party decided at a conference in Brisbane only a fortnight ago to do more to attract the immigrant vote, its representatives should come here and immediately try to knock the immigrant. How can they say on the one hand, " We are going to make an appeal for the votes of immigrants " and, on the other, " Cut your immigration programme because of its effect on the housing problem ". I do not understand that line of thought. Immigrants have built more houses than they have occupied. In June. 1947, Australia had a population of 7,500,000. The housing shortage was then 250,000 homes. In June, 1956, the population was 9,500.000 and the shortage of homes was 1 1 5,000. Therefore, in the intervening nine years, we provided homes for the population increase and reduced the backlog, as at 1947, by 135,000 dwellings. In my opinion selective immigration has made a substantial contribution to this. We have not, except just after the war, when displaced persons had to be catered for, haphazardly brought people to this country. Immigrants have been selected with a view to the contribution they could make to the economy of Australia, especially by way of home-building and industrial construction.

Of the 90,000 workers employed in the building industry, about 30,000, or one-third, are immigrants. In fact, we have brought to Australia about 46,000 immigrants for -the building industry. I do not suggest that they are all engaged in the building industry, but I consider it reasonable to suggest that at least 30,000 are. If that is so, I think we may credit them with producing onethird of the total homes built in the postwar period - 669,000 houses and flats. In looking at the number of immigrants who are actually occupying homes, we must pay special attention to those who are at present in hostels, and those who are single - and I may use as an illustration the men brought here to harvest cane in Queensland - and are living in barracks provided by their employers. There are also those who are living in boarding houses and with relatives. 7t is reasonable to say that immigrants have increased the demand for homes by no more than 170,000 or 180,000. That being so, they have contributed no less than 40,000 or 50,000 homes towards meeting the needs of native-born Australians. This is undoubtedly confirmed by the situation which we find in two States. Western Australia, which has received a greater percentage of immigrants than any other State, has the best housing position in Australia. On the other hand, New South Wales, which has received the lowest percentage, has the greatest housing problem. That is a fair indication that immigrants make a substantial contribution to the building programme.

They have also helped substantially in the production of the materials which go into the homes. It may not be generally realized that one brick in every three manufactured in Australia is produced by immigrant labour; that immigrants produce sufficient fibro to sheathe one fibro house in every two; and the plaster required to line one house in every four. They also provide timber for almost one house in four. One could continue to give such illustrations. I do not intend to quote figures that I have given to the House previously, but steel and other basic industries provide even more pointed illustrations. Electricity supply has increased substantially over the last few years. One must give a good deal of the credit to immigrants brought in to deal with this problem especially.

The reference in the censure motion to immigration is an attempt to make it a scapegoat, though the blame properly lies elsewhere. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) have been almost alone in taking up the cudgels of the Leader of the Opposition and endeavouring to damn the immigration programme. I believe it was inserted in the motion by the Leader of the Opposition because he, personally, is opposed to the immigration programme. It was not put there by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and I believe that it did not receive the support of the vast majority of the members of the Opposition who sit behind their leader.

I say that the Labour party has failed dismally in this attack on the immigration programme, particularly as it relates to the housing problem - if we have one in Australia at the present time. I say again, as I said at the beginning, that the immigrants have contributed to the construction of many more homes than they themselves have occupied. 1 believe that they have contributed to the extent of no less than 40,000 to 50,000 homes for native-born Australian people over and above the normal requirements year by year.

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