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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1753


Mr BEDDALL —I ask the Minister for Housing and Construction: What has been the reaction of industry groups, banks and permanent building societies to the Government's housing package as announced by the Minister last night? Have they conveyed support of the package to the Government?


Mr WEST —I am pleased to report to the House that the package has been very well received--


Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, on a point of order: The Minister was asked about the reaction of banks and building societies. The Minister should be asked about matters of policy within his portfolio. That is the way in which the ruling has been in the past, Madam Speaker, and that is the way in which the ruling should be now.


Madam SPEAKER —The Minister will answer the question. I find the question in order. The Minister has been asked to comment on matters which come within his responsibility.


Mr WEST —I am pleased to report to the House that the package as announced last night by the Treasurer and me has been extremely well received, and all significant industry organisations have conveyed their support to the Government. I am particularly encouraged by the attitude of two private savings banks-the Westpac Banking Corporation and the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd-both of which said publicly that they should be able to maintain the 15 1/2 per cent deregulated housing industry rate and also sustain lending levels. I am encouraged by the support from permanent building societies across Australia and from organisations such as the Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders Association. Prominent trade unions in the industry have offered their support and so have the State Ministers of at least three States. I am particularly encouraged by this reaction.

The House will recall that the package ceases the subsidy to the banks and retains the 13.5 per cent ceiling on loans made before April 1986. There are also changes to the savings banks reserve asset ratio, which will allow them flexibility in lending up to $900m. This should support bank lending for housing and enable the banks to maintain very high levels of new loan approvals for 1987-88. The decision to lift the income limits for the first home owners scheme has been particularly well received. So too has been the decision to maintain funding of public housing to the extent of $700m in 1987-88, an offer which will continue for the following two years.

The States are very supportive of the decision to nominate up to 60 per cent of the loan component of the State government borrowing program for public housing at the concessional interest rate of 4 1/2 per cent. Public housing funding at that level is exceptionally good news for the pensioners and low income earners of Australia.

It is essential that funding continue for capital expenditure on public housing because 90 per cent of the current placements in public housing are eligible for the rental rebate. Of the total current placements, 20 per cent are going to pensioners, 40 per cent to single parent families and 40 per cent to low income families. Our commitment to public housing is extremely warranted and well timed because it gives the elements of continuity and certainty that the States desire for their programs.

Compare this policy of continuity and certainty of funding to public housing with that put forward by the Opposition spokesman to terminate Federal Government public housing funding in this country. His is a heartless policy, a confused policy and a duplicitous policy because at the same time as honourable members opposite complain about the numbers on the public housing waiting lists they are talking about terminating the funding of public housing.

The policy of this Government on public housing, and right across the whole housing area, offers stability. I want to give this message straight to the people of Australia-not to the non-members of the Opposition front bench, those stupefied people who just sit there and make comments about our policy when they have no policy themselves to offer but to terminate Federal Government public housing funding: This Opposition would terminate funding for public housing; but we will continue it.


Mr Tim Fischer —On a point of order--


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Minister will resume his seat.


Mr WEST —Our policy offers stability, it offers encouragement to industry--


Madam SPEAKER —The Minister will resume his seat. I think he is getting carried away by his own eloquence.


Mr Tim Fischer —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. In accordance with the precedent you established on 12 February 1986 when you directed `The Prime Minister will finish his answer'-a precedent you fortified yesterday-I ask that you direct the Minister to come to the end of his answer because of its length.


Madam SPEAKER —I thank the honourable member. I was under the impression that the Minister had reached a crescendo.


Mr WEST —This is a worthwhile crescendo to finish on: These people opposite would terminate public housing funding by the Federal Government. We have a commitment to continue it. So our policy offers stability and a humane response to those who suffer housing-related poverty in this country.