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Monday, 11 May 1987
Page: 2912

Ms McHUGH(3.54) —I often wonder why Opposition members get up week after week with these matters of public importance on housing when, week after week, all they do is expose their record and enable our Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West) and our members to say that of course we recognise that there are considerable problems in the area of housing but that we are tackling them with sensible policies. Here we go again. The Australian public knows that this Government is tackling the problem and it has every reason to trust in a better deal from us than from a very discredited and divided Opposition. So let us look at some of the things Opposition members have said today and yesterday. Yesterday a Press release on housing was put out by the shadow Minister for Housing, the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey). Amongst other things, he said that, notwithstanding the Government's spending in excess of $200m on the first home owners scheme in the last year, we have seen a major fall in housing approvals.

It is interesting that the Opposition now supports the first home owners scheme and continually gives us credit for the amount of money we have spent on it. To say that we have seen a major fall in housing approvals is simply not true. The latest figures from the Housing Industry Association show that sales of new houses during March 1987 were at their highest level since October 1985. So why on earth issue a Press release saying exactly the opposite? In my electorate of Phillip, an electorate that is often targeted when we are talking about housing problems, already 976 applications have been approved for the first home owners scheme. That will cost $4,473,000 and already $3,374,000 has been paid out to electors in my electorate. The shadow Minister, in his Press release yesterday, said:

Had the government not been so enthusiastic about increasing taxation to fund such schemes as Medicare . . . with significant effects on inflation in the housing market and on interest rates, Australians would now be much better off.

Let us examine that incredible statement. We have not increased taxation. The tax cuts this Government is bringing about will come into effect on 1 July. The tax cuts are one of our major expenditures. They will cost the Government approximately $5 billion, including imputation, in one year. But the money saved by the capital gains tax, the fringe benefits tax and the quarantining of negative gearing will amount to $1,800m in one year. They are the sorts of rorts the Opposition wants continued and expects will help in the housing area. Liberal policies, including Liberal taxation promises, will blow out the deficit to $16 billion. The only thing that really interests the Liberals is continuing the rorts. Claiming that tax shelters such as negative gearing are the only factors responsible for providing a private rental market is an absurdity. This Government will bring in constructive and legitimate tax measures such as the depreciation allowance as an incentive to the provision of private rental accommodation.

Yesterday the shadow Minister for Housing said that we had increased tax to fund schemes such as Medicare, which increased interest rates, which in turn affected housing. The Opposition plans to dismantle Medicare and force the public into the private system. That was tried under the Fraser Government. The effect was that health costs as reflected by the consumer price index were the fastest growing costs to the community in those years. Two million people had no medical or hospital cover whatsoever. Against this, the cost containment for medical services for all Australians under Medicare is right on budget. In a statement yesterday the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard), referred to the appal- ling fact-the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) has also referred to this-that 100,000 people are now either permanently or temporarily homeless, sleeping out of doors and in refuges. It does no one credit, on either side of this House, to stand up and merely relate instances. We all know of the problem. It is an appalling fact. This Government has been trying to do something about it for several years and has had considerable success, whereas the Opposition actually talks about getting rid of the Commonwealth Government's involvement in public housing. The Opposition has declared in its policy that it will abolish the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. As the Minister for Housing and Construction said in Question Time today, that will have the most appalling effect on the homeless of Australia.

Not everyone in Australia is dreaming of his own home. Many people hope, more than anything else in the world, to qualify for public housing. They will not be able to hope for it if members of the Opposition ever get into power because one of the first things they have said they will do is abolish the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. The only provision they intend to make for incentive in the private rental market is by maintaining the tax shelters and the tax rorts.

We are adopting macroeconomic policies which will bring interest rates down. In last year's Budget we slashed the deficit by $3.5 billion. We can show that we are able to cut spending in a thoughtful and careful way. This does not correspond with the Opposition's mad calls for cutting spending. Where would it cut spending? Would its cuts do anything to help the sort of people we are concerned about in this matter of public importance today? Would the Liberals and the Nationals even agree on where to make these cuts? What would be the effect of their cuts on the people this matter of public importance purports to be concerned about? On the other hand, the favourable trend in the balance of payments, our very carefully thought out wages policy, plus the May statement to be brought down this week are all measures that are assisting the fall in interest rates. Sensible policies have now been put in place by a caring and thoughtful government to promote a better climate for interest rates. The timing of any fall in interest rates depends on the current account and international financial conditions. As I have already said, the Liberals' spending promises, together with the tax programs that they have already announced, would probably amount to $16 billion. Housing interest rates would have to go up as a result of their policies.

This Government took major action in April 1986 to assist the housing industry. It has received very general and unanimous praise from the industry for what it has been doing this year. In the March 1987 package the Government confirmed the maintenance of the 13.5 per cent ceiling on existing housing loans. The measures adopted in March 1987 will ensure an adequate supply of housing finance and, through increases in eligibility limits for the first home owners scheme, will improve access to housing by low income earners. As a matter of fact, the number of loans from all major housing lenders in February 1987 is at the highest level since October 1985 in contradiction to what the Opposition has claimed today. The highest ever monthly total in value terms is $1.1 billion, with savings banks accounting for $832m. In number terms this is 21 per cent up on February 1986 and, in value terms, 44 per cent up. This Government is adopting a thoughtful, considered and sensible approach to the problem that it recognises exists for Australians in the housing area.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Blanchard) —Order! The debate is now concluded.