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Tuesday, 11 October 1983
Page: 1553

Mr RONALD EDWARDS(4.53) —I understand that in the context of this sort of debate it is pertinent for honourable members opposite to make comments to try to reflect upon the initiatives in the Budget. I take those comments in good measure. I want to take some issue with one of the comments of the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore). He said that it appeared that we were only preoccupied with the public housing sector. Obviously, we have had to do a lot of work in the public sector because there has been a substantial increase in the homeless population in Australia, not just because of government policy but because of a number of other circumstances such as the economic recession and so on. Honourable members opposite have to acknowledge that some of the initiatives we have taken in the public sector have been necessary and quite important for the State governments in meeting their goals.

It is wrong to say that that has been our only target. We certainly have also had a target in developing the private sector. I say to the honourable member that the initiative that is embodied in the first home owners scheme, which goes back to the previous Goverment's home deposit assistance scheme, directs itself to the private sector. We are providing substantial catalyst money for the private sector to build houses. As the honourable member indicated in his remarks, that amounts to something like $7,000.

We are acting on the evidence of the industry. At the launch of the first home owners scheme-I was fortunate to be at that launch in Perth last Friday week-the Director of the Housing Industry Association in Western Australia said that this was the best housing package he had ever seen. That is not some socialist conspiracy; that is a piece of reality that the Housing Industry Association acknowledges. This comes about because the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Hurford) has consulted with his State counterparts and with the industry. The industry now recognises that the goods are being delivered. All the credit is not due to the Government. We recognise that in this sort of work we have a co-operative role to play. But it is true to say that we have really come up with a policy to which the Housing Industry Association has contributed. There have been extensive consultations with the industry. I compliment the Western Australia industry for its willingness to work with us on this matter.

I have spoken in this place previously about the sorts of people we work through. I can talk about people such as Harvey McLeod of the Master Builders Association in Perth, Jack Richards of the building societies and Bill Brewer of Westpac. I have already mentioned David Stephens. I mention also Gavin Forster of the Master Builders Association and David Fisher of the Rural and Industries Bank. We can go on and talk about the co-operation that was engendered. This is not imaginary co-operation; this is substantial support for a policy. I mention also John Hawkins of the Perth Building Society, Ron Smith of Collier Homes, Bruce Brotherson and Derek Park of REIWA. Bruce Brotherson is the Registrar of the Building Societies.

The evidence since we amended the previous Government's scheme-that is since we removed the savings component in August-shows a substantial increase in activity , so much so that the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia in the month of August had sales in excess of 400. That was the first time in its history that it had had such a sales performance. I think that is a fair indication performance. It is easy to get up in this place and say it is all due to our winning the America's Cup. Obviously some performance in the future will be due to that, but at the moment the foundations have been laid for a substantial increase in housing performance. That comes about because we have a Minister who is prepared to consult and to do things that the previous Government, in its time, was not prepared to do.

Honourable members opposite have taken issue with the removal of the savings component. We are not trying to get people into housing who are spendthrifts. Look at economic experience. There was a decline in overtime worked in industry. When there is a decline in overtime worked, there is a decline in people's savings. Consequent upon that decline in savings locked out of the housing market were many people we would very much want to get into housing. The experience since that time and the level of inquiries at the storefront offices of the Department of Housing and Construction show that there has been a substantial increase in activity. That activity is coming from exactly the income groups whom we have targeted.

We need to understand in the context of this debate that if people at that level buy houses, we get a demand for the materials that are provided in housing and we have a substantial multiplier effect. That multiplier effect is being felt in the Australian community at the moment. It is coming through the housing arena. I believe that is a very important initiative. The Minister deserves congratulations because it certainly has been an area where he has put in a substantial amount of work. We are not saying everything we are now doing is wonderful and everything the previous Government did is appalling. That is not so. We have consulted in good faith. We have worked with the industry, the private sector, and we are getting the results. It is true that some things have worked in our favour. The interest rate reduction of half of one per cent recently has been a substantial boon to us. One can only hope that there will be further interest rate reductions. With the overall acceptance of the Australian Budget by the financial community, it is not beyond possibility that a further half of one per cent reduction will occur before the end of this year.

With all that we have a substantial foundation laid in housing. I say to honourable members opposite that the policy has been designed to meet some targets-a social target because we believe it is important to get people into housing and an economic target because we believe it is important in both the public and private sectors to generate activity in housing. We have looked at the figures. The figures when we came into government were not altogether promising. The projections on private sector investment were very gloomy. As a consequence of that we recognise that we, in the public sector, had to generate some spending, and that spending would flow through to the private sector and do something to overcome those projected downturns in private sector investment.

That leads me to make a couple of remarks about spending by the Department of Administrative Services. One of the crucial points, and one of the things I have to commend the Government on, is that the expenditure is designed to do very similar things to the expenditures I have spoken about in housing. We are trying to provide a substantial base of expenditure to overcome the declines that one can foresee in private sector investment. The initiatives taken with respect to the purchase of buildings and certainly with respect to the purchase and lease back arrangements that will occur in the future on Commonwealth buildings are important initiatives. It pleases me that the Minister for Administrative Services (Mr John Brown) is looking at running the Department as a commercial enterprise. In the remarks about the Budget it is important to see that attention is being paid to the operation of the motor vehicle fleet so that it works much more in terms of commercial practice. The Minister deserves considerable support for that initiative and also deserves support for our program of office construction and maintenance. Honourable members opposite unfortunately let Commonwealth buildings run down in terms of both maintenance and numbers. That has not been good. We are trying to overcome the disadvantages that we have inherited. A review has been announced of office accommodation standards, which is important. I might refer just for a moment to this. One of the problems we currently face is that we have substantial difficulties with people in office accommodation in Western Australia. The Government is to be commended for taking a new look at this matter and for saying that some important initiatives are to be generated in this area.

One of the difficulties we face is restrictive guidelines. The local social security manager in Albany in Western Australia currently is experiencing great difficulty in trying to purchase a house through the Department of Administrative Services because the guidelines are too restrictive. We have to begin to look at running the Department of Administrative Services much more as a commercial operation. We should not look at it in the way in which the former Government looked at it and try to wind it down and cast it into the backwater. We should try to look at the stock of buildings, the maintenance of those buildings, the stock of motor vehicles and the maintenance and turnover of those motor vehicles as a proper commercial enterprise. When we do that Australian taxpayers will not be paying out in terms of costs all the time but in fact they will be investing dollars in a very large and effective enterprise which, in turn, will generate jobs.

It is very important to see these initiatives in the area of housing and in the first home owners scheme. We are trying to operate this Department as a commercial enterprise, another very important initiative. We do not hold the view that was held at the time of the razor gang that we should cut these things away and that we should do without them. We do hold that they are there. They provide an important social infrastructure. They are the sorts of things that we will try to run and manage as an effective operation.