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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1683

Mr GRIFFITHS(7.19) —This evening I wish to address my remarks to that part of the States (Works and Housing) Assistance Bill which is directed to the provision of public housing. Of course the Government's objective is not only to increase in absolute terms the amount provided by the Commonwealth for public housing but also to provide an incentive to the States to increase the amounts they would normally have allocated to public housing programs. The Commonwealth, of course, increased direct funding under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement to $500m in 1983-84. This represented a 50 per cent increase on that provided by the Fraser Government in 1982-83.

Recent events in Melbourne, where a large number of homeless young were gaoled for squatting in a government-owned property, merely highlighted the tip of an iceberg in terms of the disgraceful housing situation inherited by this Government. Let me give some examples of what this Government inherited from the present Opposition. Estimates show that, on seasonally adjusted figures, approximately 24,800 dwellings were commenced in March this year. That figure represented the lowest commencement for dwellings since 1963, that is, the lowest commencement for 20 years. This indicates clearly the Liberal Party's contribution to housing in this country. The existing national housing stock is some 80,000 below requirements, thus contributing significantly to the current pressure on the private rental market, and hence contributing significantly to the sort of situation where homeless people are forced to squat merely to survive. In the last year of the Fraser Government the States received only one- seventh or 15 per cent of what they received during the last year of the Whitlam Government.

More than 100,000 Australian families are currently on the waiting lists of State housing authorities. The Housing Industry Association estimates that 300, 000 persons in the private rental market are urgently in need of housing assistance, the vast majority of whom are in fact eligible under existing guidelines for public housing. No wonder. During 1981-82 public sector housing commencements throughout Australia numbered 9,326, or less than half the number for 1975-76. Perhaps members of the Opposition are the guilty people more appropriately subject to legal proceedings resulting from the homelessness experienced by the Bona Vista squatters.

When one reflects for a moment on the dimensions of the crisis confronting our homeless it seems that the negligence of the Liberal Government in this area was almost criminal. Interest rates went out of control. The trend to larger individual loans began to restrict the large number of moderate loan seekers. These and the other statitistics I have quoted give only a general impression of how the previous Government failed those Australians in need of secure, adequate housing.

In my own western region of Melbourne last year there were more than 6,000 requests for emergency accommodation. One thousand five hundred and fifty persons resided permanently in caravan parks, paying often as much as $85 per week for usually sub-standard accommodation. On the local Housing Commission waiting lists were some 1,204 applicants, whilst there existed a total stock of public housing units of only 3,474 in the region. The waiting periods for this accommodation are 18 months for two-bedroom units, extending to two to three years and increasing for those people who, because of the size of their families , need three-bedroom units. The Western Region Standing Committee on Housing has indicated that there are some 7,020 persons facing homelessness in my region alone. Some 9,790, nearly 10,000, pensioners rent in the private market-surely a recipe for poverty, having regard to the relatively high rents and the commensurate low levels of pensions.

Whilst the crisis confronting our homeless is, of course, the most serious aspect of the housing crisis, another important matter addressed by our policies is the crisis of unemployment. During 1981-82 some 25,000 jobs were lost in the building industry with thousands more in 1982-83. The multiplier effect meant that this figure represented only a part of the unemployment caused by the collapse of the housing industry. Our housing program is designed to recoup these many thousands of jobs and to return the labour intensive home building industry to its proper place in a healthy economy.

This Government inherited an economic shambles from the present Opposition. Any government that increases funds made available to housing at a time of such economic stringency clearly sees that area as a priority. This is not to say that these measures of themselves will be sufficient. They are very much the beginning of a long term housing program. However, this first stage of our public housing program represents a much needed change in direction, a change that at least provides some hope for the great many Australians now without adequate shelter. I commend the Bill to the House.