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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 929

Senator PETER BAUME(7.37) —I want to raise tonight some details of the housing crisis which presently exists in New South Wales and of some administrative foolishness with which the State Government of New South Wales has been associated. One of my constituents in the Illawarra region of New South Wales, Mrs Wendy Stubbs, who was the Liberal Party candidate for Throsby at the last election, has drawn to my attention some inequities in the provision of public housing in New South Wales. Under new rules recently released by the Hon. Frank Walker, the New South Wales Minister for Housing, income eligibility limits have been altered to the extent that a couple with two children earning as much as $572 per week can now obtain a public Housing Commission home. An income of $572 per week is just under $30,000 per year. It is about $27,500 a year. This is well above the average weekly earnings, which are about $446 per week.

Senator Walsh —What was it for?

Senator PETER BAUME —This is for eligibility for public housing.

Senator Walsh —What does the figure before that show?

Senator PETER BAUME —I cannot tell the Minister that. This suggests that people earning up to $27,500 per year, or thereabouts, in New South Wales are eligible for Housing Commission housing. Mrs Stubbs has pointed out to me, quite correctly, that there are many couples in the region in which she lives who are not in public housing, who are paying off their own homes, who have been perhaps on low start mortgages which have not increased enormously with rising interest rates, and who earn much less than these limits of up to $572 per week. She has, for example, advised me of one couple with two children in her own area, which is Albion Park, who earn $402.48 a week. She says that this is a fairly normal family income for the area. This couple are paying off their home. Not only that; they are paying tax, and the tax on their top dollar is being paid at the marginal rate of 44c in the dollar, part of which is used to finance public housing for couples earning up to $572 per week. In the State of Victoria-and this may provide part of the answer that Senator Walsh was asking me for-the upper income eligibility limit is $467 per week, which is of course a much lower figure than the one in New South Wales to which I referred.

Let us go back to that couple earning $402.48 per week. We find that couples earning $178 a week more than that-that is about $8,500 a year more-are benefiting from the taxes paid by their poorer neighbours and are using the public housing which is then made available. It is not surprising that the comparatively poorer couples in the Illawarra trying to own their own homes, trying to pay off their mortgages, wonder whether their sacrifices and their struggles are worth it. With the high incidence of tax impinging upon them all, the high interest rates which are reflected in average rates of mortgage repayments, which have increased by $200 a month in the last four years, they ask: `Why take the hard route of struggle and sacrifice in trying to buy a home when people on higher incomes, perhaps living down the road or next door, are able to get government assistance through public housing?'. Is it the purpose of the Government of New South Wales to make access to public housing the norm and to discourage people from going through the struggle of trying to own their own homes and providing for their own families in homes which they themselves own? It is this type of comparison which takes the heart away from people trying to help themselves. If they lose heart, they give up and of course more people will then turn to welfare.

Further, by allowing the comparatively higher income earners access to welfare housing, which itself is limited-indeed, the public housing stock is limited-we remove the incentive not only for a large group of people to own their own homes, but also we increase the queues of people trying to get public housing and introduce new inequities in who should be at the head of the queue and who should be at the bottom. Today we see couples trying and failing to own their own homes. The number of couples defaulting on their mortgage repayments has increased 150 per cent in the last year. The number of loans more than four months in arrears has increased from 1,000 to 1,600 in one year, and 90 per cent of this increase occurred in my State of New South Wales.

So the figures do support my proposition that people are losing heart. They are finding it impossible to cope. More people are finding it impossible to pay their mortgages, yet we find the Government of New South Wales encouraging more people to take the route to public housing instead of making sure that that public housing stock is restricted to the people on the lower incomes and in greater need.

I come back to the point I made at the beginning about Mrs Stubbs' points. It is the lower income earners who are being disadvantaged by the Labor Government. I recall that when my son first became an apprentice he was on a first year apprentice wages. He was bringing home $120 or $130 a week and paying tax on that money. The tax was being used to pay not only the university fees of the children next door, but apparently, quite properly, to help provide some public housing.

At the moment we have taken a homeless young man into our house. He is a first year apprentice and he clears $117 a week. He is paying tax and his tax is going to provide the housing stock for people earning up to $27,500 a year. It does not seem fair. These people are paying taxes to finance the public housing stock for more wealthy people while other people in great social need are having to wait longer as a consequence of the longer queues for the public housing that they need. Part of that extra wait is because more comparatively wealthy people are ahead of them on the waiting list. Yet Mr Frank Walker had the hide to say when the waiting lists were long:

In fairness to low wage earners the eligibility level has to rise even though it will mean more applicants for public housing at a time of record demand.

That is exactly what has happened. It is the really low wage earners-not Mr Walker's $30,000 or $27,500 wage earners-who are having to bear the brunt, who are having to wait longer for public housing. Comparatively better off people now have access to the public housing stock in my State and this means that the people lower down the income scale are having to wait longer.

In conclusion, Mrs Wendy Stubbs from Albion Park and I are both concerned about the ramifications that all these factors will have upon the women in the area in which she lives. She knows many of the women who wish to take paid employment. That is their choice, and that is fine. But she also knows a large number of other women who, if they had their choice, would not be taking paid employment. But because of the financial pressures upon them and their families, especially if they are trying to buy their own homes, these women are being forced, whether they like it or not, out of their homes and into paid employment, often at a time when they would rather be at home caring for their families and particularly for the young children or the elderly for whom they are so important.

It is my view, and it is my Party's view, that women should be able to make their own choice, but if their choice is to stay at home and to be full time carer at home, we should not place upon them such economic burdens that they can no longer exercise that choice. It is our intention to put into place economic policies that will allow women to make their own choices and to do so without being forced, as they now are, out into the paid work force. Of course, if people want to go out into the paid work force, that is fine and we encourage them so to do. The examples of the inappropriate priorities for public housing in New South Wales are quite relevant to a debate that is going on in this country right now when the housing industry is in crisis, when less Australians are owning their homes, when less houses are being built and when those who turn to the rental market find that there are no houses for them to rent or that those houses that are available are at rents which they can no longer afford to pay.