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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 576

Mr SCOTT —Does the Minister for Housing and Construction endorse the view of the spokesperson for the National Australia Bank Ltd indicating that housing interest rates should be increased?

Mr WEST —Madam Speaker, no, I do not--

Mr Tim Fischer —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order under standing order 144 and remind you that the questioner asked: `Does the Minister hold the view . . .'. He is asking straight out for an opinion and in that circumstance the question should be either rephrased or ruled out of order.

Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member for Farrer is quite correct. Does the honourable member wish to rephrase the question?

Mr SCOTT —Madam Speaker--

Opposition members interjecting-

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will rephrase his question quickly.

Mr SCOTT —The words I used were: `Does the Minister endorse . . .?'.

Madam SPEAKER —There is nothing wrong with that. I call the Minister.

Mr WEST —No, the Minister does not endorse the view of the National Australia Bank Ltd that the deregulated housing interest rate offered by savings banks of 15.5 per cent should be increased. In fact, the National is one out on that issue and is not supported by the other savings banks. For instance, the House will be aware that yesterday the Commonwealth Bank of Australia said that there was no need for the 15.5 per cent to increase, and I note that today the Westpac Banking Corporation has reiterated that view. So the other savings banks are not supporting the National, nor should they because savings bank deposits are currently increasing at an annual rate of over 13 per cent, and savings bank lending during December of $777m represents an annualised rate of over $9 billion. Further, the St George Building Society Ltd has lent over $600m during 1986 at an average rate of 15.5 per cent. So it appears that there are ample funds available from banks and some major building societies at 15.5 per cent. Why would anyone want to borrow from the National Bank at higher rates if that is the case, and it is the case?

This Government's policy on housing is clear. The Prime Minister has said that, unlike the Opposition, we do not advocate sharp, sudden drops in housing interest rates. The intention of this Government is to develop housing policies that are sustainable in the long term. That means that we, unlike the Opposition, are looking for sustainable reductions in interest rates. At the same time we are offering to the housing sector priority assistance which is commensurate with the demands of other portfolios and other programs, still allowing for the fact that we have proved by our policies that housing is a very high priority area.

We have already established that fact by the subsidy that we have paid to the savings banks over the last 12 months. That subsidy has been paid to hold the 13.5 per cent regulated rate and that 13.5 per cent regulated rate will continue to be held. Furthermore, we have maintained, at a cost of some $1,000m, the first home owners scheme which offers assistance and which has already enabled 230,000 households to become home owners. That scheme is being held in place. Unlike the Opposition, we intend to continue our public housing policies. We have offered $1.3 billion in grants or low interest loans to the States in 1986-87. This will result in some 18,000 additions to the public housing rental stock compared with 8,500 additions in the last year of office of the former Government. That is the record that we have on the board. It has resulted in an increase in employment in housing and construction of some 100,000 over the last three years of this Government. This Government will continue to offer to the housing sector housing policies which are commensurate with the highest degree of assistance that we can offer in tough economic times.

I conclude by laying it down to the Opposition spokesman: When will we see the Opposition's housing policy? I understand that the Opposition was about to release its policy last Wednesday but, because of the disruption and discussion in its own ranks, the Opposition spokesman was told to hold it up for another month. The Opposition intends to advocate abolition of the first home owners scheme. Let me put this on record: That scheme is in place and will continue to assist low income home purchasers.