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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1897

Senator SCOTT (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(8.20) -I address my remarks to the State (Works and Housing) Assistance Bill 1984 and the Housing Assistance Bill 1984. I preface my remarks by indicating that the Opposition does not oppose this legislation. Indeed, any legislation that is relevant to the development of housing in this country is important, and this legislation is important for another reason.

Senator Button —Mr Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order. I ask that Senator Chaney be asked to withdraw a remark he has made for the second time this evening, which was directed at Senator Grimes and me. He said that we were just a bunch of shysters. That is not parliamentary language. It may well be Senator Chaney's views but this is the second time Senator Chaney has said it this evening. A gentleman of Senator Chaney's perspicacity should relax.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Collard) —Order! There is no point of order . We are in the middle of a debate. Senator Scott is speaking. Neither the Minister nor Senator Chaney had the floor. I call Senator Scott.

Senator SCOTT —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I was making the point that any Bill that concerns housing in this country is important and the Housing Assistance Bill is directed towards providing housing assistance for the low and middle income earner. There can be no doubt that Bills which deal with the housing industry are of significance in a number of ways. They are significant because they contribute to the impact that a successful housing and building industry has on the community. These Bills are important in that in this circumstance they represent basically a continuance of the legislation that was brought in in 1981 in the coalition Government era. I refer to legislation which contributed a great deal to the success of the housing industry in recent years. The Government's move in this case is based on that of the previous legislation.

The Liberal and National parties have always been concerned about the provision of housing assistance because one of their basic philosophical stances is to enable a large measure of home ownership in the community. The history of the industry suggests that that aim has been brought about. In 1949 or thereabouts there was approximately 57 per cent or 58 per cent home ownership in this country. By the early 1970s home ownership had risen to 68 per cent, one of the highest levels of any country in the world. That occurred after 20 years of Liberal-National Party government. In the next two or three years of socialism, that figure fell, unfortunately, to 65 per cent or 66 per cent. In the years that followed the coalition again raised the level of home ownership in Australia to approximately 69 per cent, which is a very high figure for any country.

The Housing Assistance Bill authorises the Government to enter into a 10-year agreement with the States and the Northern Territory for the provision of home purchase and rental assistance for low and moderate income earners. It seeks to provide some sort of permanence in that area in that it covers a 10-year period. The Bill provides for funding of some $623m in the first year and base funding of $500m for the next two years. Of course, those figures will need to be monitored because they take no cognisance of the inflation rate or of general costs as they rise or even fall in the period involved. Nevertheless, that amount is to be provided. The other matter that I think is worthy of mention is that the base figure will be observed from year to year. It is only for the current year and for the two following years that we have anything specific. Those figures do not take into account the effect of inflation on the housing industry and on the community that depends very much on it, not only members of the community who are seeking to build and own houses but also that vast range of people who are in some measure dependent on a successful building industry for their own economic survival.

The legislation also provides for specific housing assistance in a number of areas which are of concern, I am sure, not only to the Government but certainly also to the Opposition parties. Those areas are pensioner and Aboriginal housing , crisis accommodation, mortgage and rent relief and local government and community housing. The Bill seeks to establish low start loans, the repayment of those loans to be linked to income. The Federal funding of this project is to be matched on a dollar for dollar basis by the States and by the Northern Territory . The funds will be allocated to the States on a basis that was set out in the 1981 legislation to which I referred previously. The legislation seeks to move towards per capita funding of public housing in the States with the exception that consideration will be given to population and the problems of the smaller States. So although the basis will be per capita, there is to be a recognition of the problems of the less populated States.

Youth and single people will now be eligible for public housing, although I am afraid that already other provisions for single people have been withdrawn from this legislation. Under this legislation rents for public housing will be based on the cost of provision and not on market rents. That is an interesting proposition. An argument can be advanced that that is a good thing. Up to a point it is a good thing. It may be cheaper in the short term but in the long term I suppose that market value is significant if the taxpayer is to get a reasonable return for the moneys that he or she invests in the public housing field. The proposition that rents for public housing should be related to cost and not to market rents needs to be examined very carefully. It certainly needs to be monitored. There is provision in the legislation for a rental purchase program. The legislation also makes provision for local government and community organisations to become involved in public housing.

Basically the Bills cover the areas that were established in 1981. They seek to provide housing accommodation for low and middle income groups at rentals or payments that are related in some way to income, in other words, to people's capacity to pay. The Opposition supports this legislation for what it seeks to do, even though there are some elements in it, to which I have referred, that at the very least will need very close monitoring. But we support the legislation and we will observe its performance over the coming months as it is legislation in an extraordinarily important area of the Australian economy, and particularly of Australian society.

I suppose that home ownership provides not only a measure of pride and involvement in the community; it is also in no small way relevant to the family standard and the family capacity to remain, as I believe it is, the basic unit of this society. Any legislation that seeks genuinely to establish a better circumstance in the area of home ownership-an area in which the Liberal and National parties have been very prominent indeed in the political history of this country-is a good and proper piece of legislation. I indicate the support of the Opposition for this legislation.