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Wednesday, 4 December 1935

Senator HARDY (New South Wales) . - It is refreshing to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) support a measure introduced by this Government. I welcome this bill, particularly because it is a very generous recognition by the Government of the fact that its responsibility towards the returned soldier does not end with the death of the soldier, but continues in respect of his widow or his widowed mother. The fact that 36,895 war service homes .have been constructed throughout Australia proves the extent and importance of this legislation, and, assuming that the soldier predeceases his wife, this legislation will cover a still larger group of individuals. It is readily recognized that the earning capacity of the widow is less than that of her husband. Thu*. it is only right that the Minister should have the power, if in his wisdom he so decides, to fix a smaller rate of repayment by widows occupying war service homes. lt stands to the credit of this scheme that out of £18,000,000 due in instalments to extinguish finally these loans only £1,003,000, or 5 per cent, of the total, is overdue. A further proof of the way in which the returned soldiers have stood up to their responsibilities is the fact that since the inception of the scheme £23,000,000 of these loans has already been repaid. Having regard to these points, I urge that the Government should, in the current year, and in future years, be a little more generous in granting loans in respect of war service homes. The 1935 report of the commission points out that last year only 24 new homes were built. The amount paid into the sinking fund in 1932-33 was £560,000, and in 1933-34, £419,000. In view of these liberal repayments, and the fact that only 24 homes were built last year, J suggest that the Government is in a position to extend much more generous treatment to returned soldiers by undertaking a greater building programme in the future. Many applications for new homes, even to my own knowledge, are awaiting consideration by the commission. It is only right and proper that tho Government should extend the greatest possible benefits to returned soldiers under this legislation. I endorse the provision empowering the Minister to fix the rate of repayment on war service homes, because in a scheme of such magnitude covering 36,000 homes, many purchasers have been unable to honour their commitments either owing to general economic causes or, in some cases, because of special causes. According to the commission's report for 1935, 2,600 of these homes have reverted to the commission, and of these 2,543 have been sublet, on a rental basis. Oan the Minister assure me that, when a home reverts to the commission, every effort is made on the part of the commission to see that preference is given to returned soldiers when it is looking for a new tenant. I believe the Minister can give me this assurance. It might be argued that the commission should not be so restricted in finding tenants for those homes, but I contend that in this matter the ordinary commercial code cannot be applied, because the principle of war service homes legislation should still hold good here; that is, the first consideration of the commission should be to see that every returned soldier is given proper shelter. In all cases generous treatment should be given to these men.

The second main provision of this measure is that which allows the commission to spend more than £40 on repairs to a home that has reverted to it. That is a reasonable provision, because most homes which are repossessed by the commission will naturally be found to be in a state cif disrepair, and, therefore, .will be an unsaleable unit. In the majority of such cases, more than £40 would be required to repair a home effectively. I assume that this is the reason for this particular provision. The commission will thus be enabled to repair many of these 2,600 homes which it has repossessed, and which are now occupied by new tenants, with the idea of making them more attractive and saleable on the open market. I ask the Minister what is the position in respect of reverted homes which are occupied to-day by returned soldiers if the commission has an opportunity of selling such homes? Are the present tenants to be dispossessed in order that the commission may be able to secure a sale or will a returned soldier now renting a home be given an opportunity to buy it ? I presume that in such cases every opportunity will be given to the returned soldiers to purchase the home rather than that he should be forced to secure another home. Generally speaking, I agree with the bill. It is in accordance with the principles embodied in the amending war pensions legislation, which will extend most, generous treatment to returned soldiers I support this bill; it is most humane and practical legislation.

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