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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 511

Mr SLIPPER(3.33) —I thank the honourable member. What an unconvincing performance by an ineffective Minister. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West) cannot even read what we are supposed to be discussing in this matter of public importance. I remind him and the House that the topic is the failure of the Hawke-Keating Government, because of its high interest rate and high taxation policies, to address the critical housing situation facing millions of Australian families. The shadow Minister for Housing and Construction, the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Beale), very effectively and very obviously put forward the matters which are concerning the Opposition and the people of Australia. He drew to our attention how the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has day after day after day in this place refused to answer pertinent questions. He pointed out that earlier in this sitting the Prime Minister refused to tell us why new housing commencements have dropped from 153,000 two years ago to the current level of 118,000. He has also refused to tell us why home loan repayments as a percentage of median family income have increased by 45 per cent in the last two years. He has failed to come to grips with the real problems facing this nation and the housing industry in particular.

The Minister was his usual evasive and ineffectual self when he stood up in this House and responded to the shadow Minister. Labor's housing interest rates and taxation policies have failed dismally. Everyone knows that they have failed dismally. The nation is calling for a solution and an explanation, but what is coming forward? We are getting more pious platitudes from the Minister. Hardship is being experienced by all sectors of the community, particularly the disadvantaged among us who are supposedly looked after by the policies of socialist governments. Interest rates have gone up and up; home loan repayments have consequently gone up and up. Today, the Prime Minister failed to tell the House and the people of Australia why this has happened. He has ignored the question again and again.

The rental market is a problem. People cannot find homes to rent and the private rental market situation is continuing to worsen. Vacancy rates are down and rents are increasing to levels that people are not able to afford. Over the past disastrous four years of socialism, investor housing has declined from 25 per cent to 9 per cent of the market and this, in part, is reflecting the Government's anti-investment policies. The Government's capital gains tax policies--

Mr Braithwaite —And the fringe benefits tax.

Mr SLIPPER —Yes, and the Government's fringe benefits tax policies are hurting business in so many ways-but the Government's negative gearing policies are frightening investors out of the market. When we return to office we will throw the Government's capital gains tax out the window lock, stock and barrel.

Dr Theophanous —So you can help the rich.

Mr SLIPPER —Let us look at the ballooning of the public housing waiting lists. The honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous) claims that we wish to help the rich. Why cannot the Government help the poor? The waiting list for public housing has gone up from about 100,000 four years ago to virtually 160,000 today. Where will it all end? This Government is a complete and abject failure; this Government is on the skids, and this Government is on the way out well and truly.

The Government stands before the people of Australia and promises the world. Let us look at the Prime Minister's 1984 policy speech. When referring to the first home owners grant, he said:

We introduced the first home owners scheme to bring home ownership within the reach of thousands of young Australians of limited means . . .

He continued:

and we are going to keep it that way.

The whole situation has become a joke because of the Government's emasculation of the scheme. The Prime Minister went on to say:

. . . and beyond the next year, we will maintain at least this level of housing activity and ensure that our housing industry never again slumps into the contraction and despair of the year before we were called to office.

The shadow Minister pointed out that that last year was a year of international recession and, indeed, a year of one of the worst droughts this country has ever faced. This Government, with the tremendous opportunities which were available to it, has failed. Its policies have been a charade. The Government is discredited and it does not seem interested in ordinary average Australians. The former shadow Minister for Housing and Construction, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), said:

The Hawke socialist Government has betrayed the first home owners of Australia. With premeditation they have torn up their election pledges and cut the throats of their own scheme.

This Government has a lot to answer for. This Government will not tell the people of Australia why it will not improve the situation.

The Government's promises regarding interest rates are another thing that we should look at. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Keating) have told the people over and over again that interest rates will come down. Not long ago the Prime Minister said:

At present the outlook for interest rates is as bright as it has been for more than a decade.

He also said:

We will continue our work of putting the public finances of this nation back in order and creating the conditions where further interest rate reductions can occur.

Mr Hunt —When did he say that?

Mr SLIPPER —Not long ago. He went on to say:

Australia and Australians will during 1985 reap the interest rate rewards that are flowing from the successful policies of the past 20 months.

He then continued:

We've ploughed the field and sown the seeds. In the very near future we will harvest the crop.

What a barren crop the Government has reaped! What a barren crop for the people of Australia! The Minister for Housing and Construction has failed to answer the questions asked by the honourable member for Deakin. The Minister has run away once again in a cowardly fashion. The Minister had the opportunity to tell us what was wrong and why the Government will not fix up the mistakes of the last four years. So we find more inactivity and we find more Australians thrown out on to the streets because they are unable to pay the current high repayments on housing loans. In 1986 the Courier-Mail stated:

The Government must tackle high interest rates now.

Australia is facing a crisis of mammoth proportions. Marriages are being destroyed and the family unit is being threatened. People are being thrown out on to the streets. People have to sleep under the stars every night because this Government is not assisting them to obtain accommodation. Alternative housing numbers continue to climb with almost half a million people living in caravan parks and up to 100,000 Australians permanently or temporarily homeless. The Government's policies have failed. The Government is a dismal disaster.

The shadow Minister for housing asked the Minister to give to the House his excuses for the low level of housing commencements-some 20 per cent down since he took over the Department-for the subdued level of bank lending for housing, and for the fact that more of these funds are being channelled into existing dwellings rather than into new dwellings compared with six months ago. The Minister was asked why new home loan interest rates have risen from 11 1/2 per cent to 15 1/2 per cent and, in some cases, to 17 1/2 per cent. He has been asked to give a reason for the rundown in the first home owners scheme, for the crisis in the private rental market, and so on and he has not given any reasons.

The Government is a disaster. The Government is in trouble. The Government stands condemned in the eyes of all Australians. Its record is shocking. Its mismanagement has affected the living standards of millions of Australians. The housing industry is in crisis and the situation is critical. In conclusion, I ask the Minister: What is his excuse for all this?