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Tuesday, 15 March 1932

Mr SPEAKER (Hon G H Mackay (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) - If the honorable member for Balaclava regards the statement as offensive, I am' sure the Minister will withdraw it.

Mr FRANCIS - I am glad to withdraw the statement, and I agree with the honorable member that there has been nothing wild in connexion with the administration of the act. It is true that, when group settlements were being carried out under the War Service Homes Act, the administration did get considerably astray. That was recognized by the Bruce-Page Government in 1923, and a policy was framed to rectify the extraordinary and unfortunate position into which the administration of the department had drifted. At that time the department did not know what was the cost of many of the homes erected on the group system. Soldiers were returning in great numbers, and were being placed in homes before the group to which the homes belonged was finished, and before it was possible to ascertain the costThings became so tangled at that time that timber, bricks, and other material were being borrowed from one group for use in another, and no record wa3 kept of such transactions. Recognizing the manner in which the administration had become confused, the Government of the day decided that it would not charge soldiers a penny more than they had believed they would have to pay. It was arranged that the soldiers should be charged a maximum of £800 for homes, although many of the houses had cost £900, £1,000, and £1,100, and as much as £1,150. All of them were written down to £800, at a cost to the Commonwealth of £230,000. These points have, of course, been dealt with before. They are ancient history, as is the matter referred to by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll), who mentioned the unfortunate incident which took place at Goulburn. The homes at Goulburn were built thirteen years ago, not by the War Service Homes Commissioner, but by the Commonwealth Bank for the department. The architect in charge was proceeded against, and agreed to pay £10,000 as damages, which offer was accepted by the Government. Every soldier concerned was given the opportunity of going into a hew home built to his own design. Only two preferred to remain in their original homes, and they had the cost written down to £600 each.

This bill does not deal with those matters at all. It is a small measure designed to rectify the position created by a recent Full Court judgment. The problem of arrears in payments was mentioned by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway), but that matter will be dealt with by the committee of inquiry which has been set up by the Government. The terms of reference to the committee make it clear that all those economic problems which agitate the returned soldiers, the commissioner, and myself, as Minister, will be submitted to the committee for inquiry. When the committee brings down its report, Parliament will be asked to take into consideration its recommendations.

The honorable member for Hunter objected to the last clause of the bill, which gives the Commissioner power to serve notice on the executors of deceased soldiers. He suggested that the department was taking power to pursue the soldier, through his dependants, even beyond the grave. That is not the intention of the bill. This clause is designed merely to deal with a technical situation. It is necessary that the department shall serve notice on somebody in order legally to take possession of the house. There is no intention to claim any payment and none has been claimed. Every State housing act contains powers similar to those included in this bill, directly or indirectly bearing on repairs to properties, particulars of which I have before me, but which I do not think it necessary to quote.

The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) objected to what he termed the retrospective nature of this legislation. There is nothing retrospective in the bill. It provides the commission with those powers which the original act was intended to confer upon it.

Mr White - Does it not provide the power to let a property?

Mr FRANCIS - I have definitely stated that, apart from the right to let a house, and to serve a notice under section 42, for which provision had not previously been made, no additional powers are granted. Under this measure no additional burdens are placed upon returned soldiers; the sole object of the bill is to assist the occupants of war service homes. Provision has been made for effecting repairs in order to ensure a better sale. If, when the property market is glutted, the Commissioner endeavoured to sell a home in a state of disrepear or semi-disrepair, a prospective buyer, who has so many properties from which to make a selection, would probably decline the offer. By placing a cottage in a good tenantable condition, a better price should be obtainable. The better the price obtained, the greater is the probability of the original borrower securing more than his equity in the property. This legislation has been submitted in the interest of returned soldier occupants. It is not the policy of the Government to harass a returned soldier who is in arrears in his payments.

The commission gives the following benefits to mortgagors and purchasers who vacate their homes : -

1.   In mortgage cases, when the home is resold and a surplus results, such is paid to the ex-mortgagor when the commission has a sufficient margin of security. If a loss occurs this is borne by the commission.

2.   In rent purchase cases, i.e., where the security is a contract of sale and purchase, where the home is re-sold and a surplus occurs, the ex-purchaser is accorded the following concessions: -

(a)   Ifhe had a 10 per cent. equity made up of deposits and principal repayments, arrears of instalments to the extent of the surplus are written off and the balance claimed from the ex-purchaser.

(b)   If he lodged a deposit but did not have a 10 per cent. equity, arrears to the extent of the deposit, but not exceeding the difference between the loan granted to him and the new sale price are written off and any balance claimed from the expurchaser.

In every instance the utmost consideration has been shown to the purchasers of war service homes. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) complained because the United War Service Homes Purchasers Association is not to be represented on the committee.

Mr Martens - In what State is that organization operating?

Mr FRANCIS - In Victoria only. It is impossible for all such organizations to be represented on a committee which is to consist of three members; but I hope that that organization will avail itself of the opportunity to submit points for consideration by the committee, which I feel sure will give them the fullest consideration. The federal secretary of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia has advised me that every State branch of the league was supplied with a copy of the bill shortly after the date upon which the bill was introduced, the 26th February last. The only objection to the bill was that raised by the Victorian branch, which is opposed to one matter. The objections of certain soldiers' organizations raised by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) were contained in a letter dated the 8th of March, but the provisions of the bill were not explained until the 10th of March. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) made some suggestion which, generally speaking, dealt with subjects which come within the scope of the inquiry to be conducted by the committee. I shall see that the members of that committee are supplied with a copy of the debate on this measure so that they will have an opportunity to study the points raised. There is, as I have stated, nothing in the bill to extend the powers of the commission beyond that of giving legal power to serve a notice upon the executor of a deceased tenant, the letting of properties by the commissioner, and provision to enable repairs to be undertaken to preserve the equity of the original borrower. The amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll) is at present under consideration and will be dealt with in committee.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Mr James - I rise to a point of order. I desired, Mr. Chairman, to move an amendment to clause 2.

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