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Friday, 1 June 1984
Page: 2371

Senator ELSTOB —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Housing and Construction. Has the Government yet made an assessment of the first home owners scheme? If so, can the Minister convey to the Senate any results of this assessment? For instance, is the Government satisfied with the participation rate in the scheme by lower income groups?

Senator GRIMES —As Senator Elstob says, we have been monitoring the first home owners scheme and we believe the results have been very satisfactory. There were 522,900-odd inquiries and 80,000 applications for assistance from 1 October to 25 May. In the three weeks up to the end of May there were about 2,800 applications a week, compared with 950 applications a week in 1982-83 under the home deposit assistance scheme. Our scheme has been strongly supported by the housing industry and has been seen as a major contributor to the recovery in that industry, which has had an important part to play in increasing employment in this country. I think it is fair to say that the high application rates reflect the effectiveness of the first home owners scheme. The improvements in the economy and the lower interest rates have assisted, but there is also an improvement in consumer confidence and a high level of home loan lending.

Senator Messner —But the grant has not met the increase in the prices of houses.

Senator GRIMES —Senator Messner again demonstrates that he opposes something. He opposes the first home owners scheme, which has obviously been so successful, not only for those who want to buy homes but also for those in the building industry. So I think someday, Mr President, we will have to get Messner up to tell us something he is in favour of.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister should not refer to the honourable senator by his surname but should refer to him as Senator Messner.

Senator GRIMES —I am sorry, Mr President, I should say the honourable Senator Messner. There has been a backlog of unprocessed claims, but these claims have been delayed largely because of applicants providing insufficient documentation in their initial application. The situation is being closely monitored. Staff levels have been upgraded to cope with the high level of applications, and 69 staff members, who were taken on to work on the previous assets test, have actually been seconded from the Department of Social Security. The Department will continue to review the matter. As a result of a review of the first six months, changes have been made in the administrative structure to make sure that the scheme is more efficient. I think everyone in the community, and probably every member of the Parliament, except Senator Messner, will accept that it has been a very successful scheme.