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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1683


Mr BEALE(3.02) —For some days now, in one of the most hypocritical and flagrantly cynical exercises of recent times, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has been floating the idea of an early election. He is apparently under the misapprehension that the current political climate is such as to create a window of opportunity that would enable the Government's electoral opportunities to be optimised. Mr Deputy Speaker, I say to you, to the Prime Minister and to the people of Australia that for this Government there is no window of opportunity. The Opposition is not only ready for an election but we would welcome it. We would welcome it because the people of Australia are sick to death of the Hawke Government. Our candidates in the field tell me that in their doorknocking, in their meeting of community groups and in their shopping centres, there is an overwhelming feeling that the Hawke Government has failed the people of Australia.

We would welcome an election because we know that the election would be fought not on spurious an extraneous issues but on the central issues or economic management and the fact that this Government's policies have started to tear at the fabric of Australia's social structures. The election issues will be about taxes. This Government is the highest taxing government in Australia's peacetime history. They will be about expenditure. This Government is the highest spending government in Australia's peacetime history. The election will be fought about the use of coercive power by the trade union hierarchy. This Government has institutionalised that power in the ill-fated accord and proposes to institutionalise it further by implementing the major recommendations of the report of the Hancock Committee of Review of the Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems. The election issues will be about the break-down in Australia's health system, our rigid education structures and the misuse of our social security system.

The Liberal and National parties are dedicated to the creation of a just and compassionate society in Australia. We are dedicated to seeing that those truly in need in our community are protected, but we will not tolerate the blatant misuse of our social security system as it has evolved under this failed Government. The election will be about the failure of the Government's economic policies and, in particular, about the housing crisis. That is why today we bring before the House this matter of public importance about the housing crisis and its effect on Australian families.

That there is a housing crisis there can be no doubt. I show to the House a four page lift-out from last monday's Sydney Morning Herald. What is the heading? It states: `The Housing crisis'. It is not only the newspapers in this country that are talking about housing; the statistics speak for themselves. In the last two years housing starts have dropped from about 154,000 to a level estimated by the Indicative Planning Council for the Housing Industry in the year to June 1987 of 118,000. This figure of 118,000 has been revised downwards several times by the Indicative Planning Council but may still be optimistic because last week Monier Ltd, a major supplier to the new housing industry, in comments made on that company's recent interim report, said that housing starts for the current year are considerably below expectations at 114,000 units. What a damning indictment of this Government that, in the last two years, housing starts will have fallen by up to 40,000 units! What a damning indictment it is of this Government and of its inability to create an economic environment that will enable young couples to purchase their first home. What a damning indictment it is of this Government that housing starts are running at about 30,000 units a year below the underlying demand. What a damning indictment it is that next year, according to the Indicative Planning Council, the housing situation will hardly improve at all.

Will the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West), who has at last come to the table, tell the House whether he regards the 2 April housing package of last year as a success? Will the Minister tell the House what he, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Keating) are going to do on 2 April this year? On 2 April last year the Prime Minister promised that there would be 135,000 starts this year, and the Treasurer reiterated that promise in September. Now, only a few months later, we learn that the figure may be as low as 114,000 starts-and this, on the Prime Minister's own admission, means a loss of 30,000 jobs from the housing industry.

Incidentally, the Government now intends to bestow a wonderful additional benefit on those subcontractors that remain in the industry. By implementing recommendation 19 of the Hancock report, it proposes to bring those subcontractors under the umbrella of the arbitration tribunals, thus diminishing their efficiency and forcing them to become union members. This craven action, taken in response to pressure from the trade union hierarchy, would add, according to the Housing Industry Association, between $7,000 and $15,000 to the price of a house and would further exacerbate the housing crisis in Australia.

The housing rental market is also in torment. Rents around Australia are skyrocketing. Only last Saturday came the news that the average weekly rent paid in Perth in the 12 months to 31 December last year increased by 27 per cent, and was worse than in Sydney. Can honourable members imagine that something could be worse than Sydney's rental upheaval? My colleague the honourable member for Gilmore (Mr Sharp) will be saying much more about the rental situation in his remarks that will follow. Is it any wonder, with dwelling commencements at such a low level and with rents skyrocketing, that public housing waiting lists have increased by over 60 per cent over the last four years? Is it any wonder that an additional 60,000 Australian families have applied for home purchase assistance? Is it any wonder that 400,000 Australians live in caravans-not because they want to but because they cannot afford to move into a house or to rent? Is it any wonder that 40,000 of our young Australians sleep outdoors every night?

The Government's vicious, vindictive and deliberate high interest rate policies and its taxation policies have created a housing crisis for Australian families. The fact now is that, as a result of those policies, this Government alone has imposed a limit on the aspirations of middle Australia. The rock solid taxpaying middle class Australian family is going nowhere. What an indictment of this Government. What a savage attack on Australian families. The Anglican Church of Australia's Home Mission Society said last week:

. . . crippling home loan mortgages are the major cause of divorce and family breakdown.

This Government's deliberate high interest rate policy and its taxation policies are hitting right at the heart of Australian families.

No doubt we will have a tired, colourless response on this matter of public importance from the Minister at the table. We will get the usual nonsense about the low level of housing starts in the last year of the Fraser Government. We got it from the Prime Minister in Question Time today. We will get a whinge about the Liberal and National parties' exciting and innovative housing and construction policy. However, I am indebted to my friend and colleague the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Miles) for providing me with some figures which compare the Fraser Government's record on housing commencements with that of the Hawke Government. During the seven years of Fraser-including 1982-83, which I remind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, was in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression and during one of Australia's worst droughts-there were 8.8 new houses per thousand head of population. Over four years of the Hawke Government, the number of new houses per thousand head of population per year has been 8.6-less than the Fraser Government's 8.8. Furthermore, if we take into account the forecast of the Indicative Planning Council for the Housing Industry for the 1987-88 year, the Hawke Government record falls to 8.4 new houses per thousand head of population. So the figure for Hawke is 5 per cent less than that for Fraser. No wonder we have a housing crisis. Despite the recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression, despite the recovery in the years 1983-84 and 1984-85, new dwelling commencements under the Hawke Government are 5 per cent less than under the Fraser Government.

As a result of the Government's economic policies-and I remind the House again that it is about those policies that an election will be fought-after tax incomes are falling and yet, for the family on average weekly earnings, over the last four years housing repayments have increased from about 32 per cent to 37 per cent. For a family on three-quarters of average weekly earnings housing costs have risen from 38 per cent to nearly 44 per cent. In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that the Housing Industry Association, in a report released a couple of weeks ago which used the phrase `housing affordability index', has found there has been `a sharp decline in the capacity of many people to buy homes since the middle of last year'.

What does the Government intend to do about this? Does it intend to introduce housing package mark 2 next Thursday to replace the failed housing package mark 1? Are we going to have more of the equivocation that we had from the Minister at the table during Question Time today when he said: `Oh, the Government will introduce housing package mark 2 in due course.'? What does `in due course' mean when Australian families are suffering at the hands of this Government's deliberate high interest rate policies? Will it tinker around the edges of this problem yet again and fiddle with minor changes to the first home owners scheme and to the depreciation allowance on rental property? Does it intend to give a new subsidy to the private lending institutions as a further band-aid measure, or would this be too much to ask? Does it intend to take its courage into both hands and introduce policies that will bring down the average level of interest rates, so making housing more affordable for Australian families?

There can be no sustained recovery in the housing industry unless the general level of interest rates comes down. This Government is deliberately running a high interest rate policy because it is unwilling to make the tough adjustments needed to bring interest rates down. That is another reason that we would welcome an election. We would welcome an election so that we can tell the Australian people how the Liberal and National parties would implement policies that would bring interest rates down. We would welcome the opportunity to tell the Australian people that we would curtail the growth of government expenditure, thus lowering government demand for funds and allowing the price of those funds-that is, interest rates-to come down.

We would welcome the opportunity to tell the Australian people of our plans to deregulate the labour market, to allow employer and employee to enter into contracts-one with the other-and those contracts would be enforceable in the civil courts. That would bring about greater productivity in Australia and enable us to compete more effectively abroad, thus starting the process of bringing our horrendous balance of payments difficulty under control. That is what we would do. We would not fiddle at the edges. We would not take band-aid measures. We would have the political will and the political courage to do what this Government has failed to do, and that is to provide strong, secure economic management for Australia.