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Thursday, 11 November 1948

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) (Acting Leader of the Opposition) .- The purpose of this bill is to authorize the making of a further advance totalling £14,000,000 to the States for the purpose of housing. This affords honorable mem- bers an opportunity to discuss what is generally accepted as the greatest human problem confronting any government - that is, the housing of the people. The Government has been so smugly complacent about housing that it is time some one drew attention to its failure to obtain the best return for the money that has been -advanced to the States. The latest available report of the Housing commission is dated June, 1946, and no other official or authentic information about its activities is abtainable. Having regard to the great difficulty experienced by many people in securing homes, it seems to me that it is time the matter was ventilated on the floor of the House. The housing of the people is a matter of tremendous importance. Without adequate housing, it is impossible to inculcate in the people a proper pride in themselves, their country and their way of life. Housing is seen to be particularly important when we consider the present disturbed condition of the world, and the effect of bad living conditions in breeding discontent among the people. Living conditions are far from good for many people in Australia to-day, particularly for newlymarried couples and young mothers who are compelled to live with parents in houses that were designed to accommodate one family only. In common with other honorable members, I have received many letters from constituents which describe the difficulties encountered by those who are seeking to obtain homes. I propose to quote from a letter written by Mr. Frederick M. Gray. of 60 Victoria-street, Lewisham, who is almost completely Wind. Four years ago, he obtained a permit from the Department of War Organization of Industry to build a house. A government advance was obtained, and documents were signed by a builder and himself. Later, when the builder could not fulfil his obligations, difficulties arose. Mr. Gray states in his letter -

Wc have spent years trying to get a house in Sydney and pounds on mug promises and interviews and still although owning this ground for four years, wo still have no house. We have a heap of correspondence from politicians and Housing Commission officers.. . . . Moreton, Secretary of the Housing Commission sent us a wire offering us temporary accommodation at Hargreaves Park which although 1. was struck instantly blind some time early last year and had been in a lot of pain during last year and still suffer a fair lot, the so-called emergency accommodation supplied by the commission turned out to be a converted morgue for which we were charged 1 5s. .per week. My wife was disgusted and we had to. lea ve it and are now in one room here at Lewisham which the Sun procured for us with two deaf and dumb folk.

I have received numerous letters from young married people living with their " in-laws ". The discontent and domestic strife which arises from such situations is shattering many marriages. I propose later to cite figures which prove that housing conditions in New South Wale9, and, indeed, throughout Australia generally, have improved very little. One wonders whether the immense amounts of money which have been made available for housing are being used to the best advantage. Because essential commodities are scarce, a great many houses remain in an unfinished state. That freezes the materials which have been used basically in the construction of the framework of homes. The commission has failed to make available the essential requirements for completing homes once the building* have been commenced. Another factor is the inability of salary and wageearners to keep pace with the unending increases of the cost of living. We must take those- facts into consideration when we are making plans to house the people. The Minister said, in his second-reading speech -

The main aim of the agreement is the pro vision of good standard housing for the lower income groups.

If that objective can be achieved, members of the Opposition will not be at variance with the Minister, because the policy which he has enunciated goes to the crux of the housing situation. The success or' failure of the Government to provide homes for that section of the community forms the basis of my criticism to-day. An examination of facts and figures shows the utter failure of the Government to house those people Although hostilities ceased more than three years ago, housing remains the major unsolved problem, and disillusioned home-seekers are bitterly critical of the Government's unfulfilled promises to provide them with dwellings. Soaring building costs prevent persons on the lower ranges of income from building their own homes, and, therefore, they must look to the Government for assistance to obtain homes. Records relating to the progress of housing, which a rr always conservative, show the extraordinary increase of the price per square for standard homes. The Government has accepted the responsibility to provide bornes for the people in the lower income groups, it has made large sums of money available to the States, and it has endeavoured to obtain priorities for its building projects. However, the net result of all that effort has been complete failure to achieve the building target which the Government set itself after the war. It has failed lamentably and miserably not only to provide sufficient homes but also to train sufficient skilled labour through the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme. Home-building was a wartime casualty, and should be rehabilitated. The magnitude of the Government's failure is revealed in figures. In 1944, the Commonwealth Housing Commission fixed a target of 50,000 homes in the first post-war year, rising to 80,000 homes in the third year. The setting of that target followed a fact-finding inquiry which assessed the housing shortage throughout the Commonwealth at 300,000 homes. The commission also recommended the construction of an additional 4j0,000 homes a year after 1945 in order to meet the normal requirements. We can judge the success or failure of the Government's venture by the results that had been achieved. In 1945-46, when the target was 50,000 dwellings, only 15,376 homes were completed. In the next year, 32,607 homes were built. In 1947-48, the number was 42,867.

Mr Lemmon - An Australian record.

Mr HARRISON - I shall show how, and by whom, those 42,867 houses were constructed. The Government may seek to take the credit for the building of those homes, but when we analyse the figures showing the number built by private enterprise and the number built by government instrumentalities, respectively, the true story is revealed. The rate of construction is sufficient to meet only normal requirements. The lag of 300,000 homes is net being overtaken. In other words, the Government's scheme has not made any impact upon the major problem. That is not the whole story. Official statistics, for reasons which may be known to th>Government, no longer show the number? of homes built by private enterprise and the number built by government instrumentalities. Only the total number of houses constructed h shown. That fact is significant. Unles an honorable member is prepared to dig deeply beneath the surface, he is unable to ascertain the number of homes which are being built by government instrumentalities. I have succeeded in digging a little below the surface, and I should like to know why the details of construction are no longer shown. Is it because the Government is ashamed to reveal itfailure to build homes compared with the achievements of private enterprise? Does not the Government desire to disclose the increasing number of home? which are being privately built? Doesit wish to conceal the lag in home building on the part of its own instrumentalities? I should like to know the reason. From July, 1945, to September, 1947, 70 per cent, of the homescommenced by private enterprise were completed, but government instrumentalities completed only 55 per cent, of the homes which they commenced. The Minister, in his second-reading speech said that between April, 1944, and June. 1948, 15,271 dwellings had been completed under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The Commonwealth Statistician has disclosed that 42,867 new houses were completed in 1947-48. Of that number, 6,370 were built by government instrumentalities and about 36,500 by private builders. That means that, in spite of steadily advancing building costs, six times more homes are being built by private builder? than are being built by government instrumentalities, notwithstanding the priority in building materials taken by the Government, and the making available of huge amounts of money to the States to carry out their building projects. Professor Copland, a former economic adviser of the Government and the former Prices Commissioner, recently wrote a pamphlet called Bach to Earth in Economics. He bluntly stated. -

At the present rate of housing construction the housing. crisis will become almost a permanent feature of the Australian economy, a disquieting thought and a desperate prospect for large scale immigration on which we made such a commendable start since the war.

He stated further -

The Minister for Immigration hopes this year to attain his goal of 70,000 immigrants per annum. If he does it will be an astonishing achievement in the face of post-war transport difficulties in the world and the shortage >f houses in Australia

He then, added -

In fact, in housing, it would appear that u condition of stability (better described as stagnation) in the level of housing construction has been reached. The explanation of this is again partly shortage of basic materials more than low output per man in building construction. But the high and rising costs of construction act as a powerful deterrent to enterprise in the building industry.

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