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Thursday, 6 May 1920


Mr BLUNDELL (Adelaide) .- I desire to make clear that, in bringing under the notice of honorable members the establishment of a branch of the "War Service Homes Department in South Australia, I am not doing so "with any idea of opposing the building of homes for soldiers, but because I believe that the inauguration of the Federal Department in Adelaide will lead to a waste of public money, and will make it more difficult for soldiers to secure homes for themselves. I realize, of course, that if action is to be taken it must be taken very early, for the reason that already applications have been called for the filling of quite a number of positions; and honorable members know full well that from the moment when an individual has been, appointed to a Government position, and he has dipped his pen in departmental ink, nothing under the sun will ever shift him. We have in South Australia a system, to which I shall presently refer, for the building of soldiers' homes; but I desire first to direct attention to what is proposed to be done by the Federal authorities. The Commonwealth Government, obviously recognising that in South Australia there was already in operation a system for the con struction of houses for soldiers, appointed. Captain Bell, of theRepatriation Department, as Deputy Commissioner. At first,. I considered that that was a very good and economical arrangement. Working, as it did, in conjunction with the State Bank, it entailed very little, if any, increased expenditure to the Commonwealth. Later, however, Colonel Baker, who had been originally Deputy Commissioner, was appointed to represent the architects, Messrs. Kirkpatrick Brothers. This arrangement, however, continued for only a brief period. A Mr. Duckmartin was sent over to represent the architects, and he has since been replaced by Mr. Milne, an Adelaide architect, to represent Messrs Kirkpatrick. The very latest situation is that a Captain Earle has been appointed Deputy Commissioner. Following his establishment in office, and having taken premises in Franklin-street, the Deputy Commissioner invited applications for the filling of a number of minor positions. Honorable members will perceive, by the following list, that it is intended to establish a Department of considerable strength : -

 

The list does not include the salary of the Deputy Commissioner or touch on the outlay upon rent. It is fair to suggest that the Department will cost more than £7,000 per annum; and we know that when 'it has been established it will extend its scope and influence from this comparatively small beginning. I would raise no objection, in fact, it would bo my duty to assist and support the project, but that there is already in existence' in South Australia a Department which is efficiently and satisfactorily meeting requirements. The South Australian Government, in 1916, passed an Act for the building of soldiers' homes, and since that period they have been carrying on with remarkably few complaints; generally, indeed, the Department has given very great satisfaction. Since the inception of this activity the State Bank has built and bought, and paid off mortgages upon houses, representing a total of 3,574 dwellings. In addition, there are about 600 houses in the course of construction, and their total approximate cost is £381,060. The average cost of each house built in South Australia has been £577 10s. lid.; that includes cost of land. The material in every instance is brick and stone. I invite honorable members to inspect photographs of some of the homes, which are on view in the Queen's Hall. They will note that the dwellings are of four and five, and, in some instances, more, rooms; and that they vary in appearance, all of them being modestly attractive. The lowest wall of any of the houses yet built measures, from floor to ceiling, 10 feet. The total amount spent by the State Government in building, to date, represents £2,064,139. The Act provides that the sum of £700 can be expended in the buying of land and the building of a soldier's home. Honorable members will agree, I am sure, that the price compares more than favorably with that for similar work, carried out in any other part of the Commonwealth. The South Australian Government have also very wisely purchased large areas of land, which have been specially town-planned, as the basis of future garden cities. These localities before very long will' rank among the finest assets which any State could possess. The areas are laid out with ample recreation reserves, and the streets are already planted with trees. The houses in the town-planned areas will cost only a little more than £500 each.


Mr Riley - Does the Commonwealth Bank assist in financing the State Government project?


Mr BLUNDELL - No ; the State is raising the money from its own resources. The advances are made for a term not exceeding fifty years and carry interest at the rate of 4£ per cent, per annum. Those are a great deal better terms than the Commonwealth authorities are offering. In addition, the State Government provide that soldiers' homes shall be free of all rates and taxes, including water rates, for the 'first period of five years. Assistance of that nature, it must be admitted, amounts to a very considerable allowance.


Mr Fenton - And the State is getting no financial backing from the Commonwealth?


Mr BLUNDELL - None whatever. Instead of receiving financial assistance, indeed, the State has now to face active competition in carrying out its work on behalf of South Australian soldiers.


Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - That is to say, the State authority is still continuing to build these homes ?


Mr BLUNDELL - Yes, both for soldiers and for soldiers' widows. The maximum amount of rent required from those assisted is 7s. per week; the amount varies, of course, with the size of the house. The average rent which a widow is required to pay for her home, which is given to her for life, amounts to 5s.


Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I take it that both the State and Federal Departments are competing in respect to land, material, and labour.


Mr BLUNDELL - Yes, that is one of the chief points which I have in mind. An advance of £600 is repayable by equal monthly instalments of principal and interest as follows: -

 

South Australia ought to be very proud Ot those terms, and the system ought not to be jeopardized by the establishment of a competing Department by another Government; because the moment the Commonwealth establishes a Department in South Australia for the building of homes for soldiers, it is only natural the officers of that Department will push matters for all they are worth to justify themselves, which means that they will be out to buy land and secure contracts for the building of houses. Thus they will considerably increase the cost of land and building material, thereby creating difficulty for the State in carrying out its work. The establishment of a Commonwealth Department for the building of soldiers' homes in South Australia will have a bad effect on the soldiers.


Mr Riley - What are the Commonwealth officers doing in South Australia now?


Mr BLUNDELL - They are making preparations to build homes for soldiers; but what soldier is likely to accept the conditions of the Commonwealth War Service Homes Act, liberal as it is, in preference to the South Australian system?


Mr Poynton - But the honorable member has not stated the whole case.


Mr BLUNDELL - No ; I intend to explain it further. The Commonwealth Act extends its advantages to classes of men not embraced by the South Australian Act. The latter is restricted to men in receipt of a salary of not more than £300 a year. And the Commonwealth will build houses for practically any returned soldier.


Mr Riley - Is not that an improvement ?


Mr BLUNDELL - I admit that it is an improvement on the South Australian Act. The Commonwealth Act also includes munition workers. However, the State Government, through their efficient Department, which has been established for twenty years, are prepared to administer that portion of the Commonwealth Act which makes provision for the classes of persons not covered by the State Act. There is no justification for creating a new Department simply to cover the classes of persons not covered by the South Australian legislation. It ought to be possible for the Commonwealth to act in cooperation with the State Governments, and, if necessary, appoint one officer to act conjointly with the State Bank in order to carry out the work of building houses for munition workers and others and soldiers in receipt of a bigger income than £300 a year.


Mr Brennan - Is not the Commonwealth Office in South Australia a branch of the Federal War Service Homes Department?


Mr BLUNDELL - It is; but, as there is already is operation in South Australia a State system of building soldiers' homes, there is no need for the creation of another Department in that State for this purpose. We ought to be able to co-ordinate the work, and avoid the unnecessary building up of a new Department.


Mr Brennan - Would it not be the better form of co-ordination to allow the Commonwealth Government to control the whole of the work throughout Australia ?


Mr BLUNDELL - The honorable member's interjection raises another issue. On an appeal to the electors, both the South Australian Government then in power and the Opposition pledged themselves that if they were returned to power t hey would establish a system of home building, and the Government, which was returned to power, carried out its pledge, and now feels it an obligation to carry on the work which it undertook. In any case, if the State Act were repealed, and the whole of the activities of building soldiers' home3 were handed over to the Commonwealth, the soldier who builds in the future in South Australia will be placed at a disadvantage as compared with one whose house has already been built by the State Government. In South Australia we have already felt the competition of the Commonwealth. Contractors are beginning to withdraw their contracts ; in fact, one contract has already been withdrawn because the claim is made that since the Commonwealth have come into the business, the cost of bricks and material and so forth, has increased beyond the prices on which their tender was originally based. One contract now under consideration deals with the building of 1,000 houses. The contractors are now finding out that they cannot carry on their contracts at the present prices.


Mr Fenton - Have the State Government the same right of land resumption as the Commonwealth has, at reasonable rates?


Mr BLUNDELL - The State legislation authorizing the resumption of land for public utilities does not cover the acquisition of blocks for soldiers' homes, but the State Government purchase the land in the ordinary way, and find no difficulty in getting plenty of it at reasonable prices. If a soldier wishes to build a house in a particular locality, such as Park Terrace, Unley, where land is considerably higher in value than elsewhere, the State Bank will assist him in effecting the purchase if he is prepared to put down a little of his own money. The State Government do not insist on all the soldiers living in these garden cities they are building; they are prepared to build elsewhere, wherever a man thinks it advantageous for him to live. I do not submit this matter as a carping critic. If the Minister doubts what I say, I ask him to send a reliable officer to South Australia to make an investigation; and, if as the result of that visit the officer is satisfied with the manner in which the State are undertaking this work, then let us have common-sense co-ordination between the Commonwealth and the State iu this regard, and avoid the expense of building up a new Department. I am sure that if these inquires are made, the Minister will find that it will be beneficial to the soldier and the taxpayer alike not to create a new Department in South Australia for the building of soldiers' homes. I submit this matter to-day because it is urgent that it should be dealt with before applications for the advertised positions close. Otherwise, these officers will be appointed, and there will be great difficulty in getting them out of their positions. I hope that the House will give the matter the serious consideration it deserves, in the interests of the soldiers; and I confidently appeal to my honorable friends in the Economy corner.


Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - Does the same thing apply in all the States?


Mr BLUNDELL - No. Some of the States are not undertaking the work of building soldiers' homes. If the Commonwealth is doing this work in New SoUth Wales and Victoria, there is no need for the States to step in, but where the States are already doing it, the Commonwealth should not interfere. Where, however, the States are not building these houses, let the Commonwealth do so.







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