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Thursday, 11 November 1948


Mr THOMPSON (Hindmarsh) . - I listened with interest to the speech of the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison), particularly to his remarks in connexion with what he referred to as the powers and responsibilities of this Government. He dwelt upon the fact: finding commission, as he termed it, that was appointed by the Treasurer in 1943 to inquire into housing in Australia and to report to the Government. That so-called fact finding committee was the Commonwealth Housing Commission. I had the honour to be appointed a member of that body. When my appointment was announced, I was a member of the South Australian Parliament. The Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, congratulated me upon -my appointment and went to great pains to explain that housing was the responsibility of the State governments. He told me that when the State Premiers met the Prime Minister to discuss the transference of powers from the States to the Commonwealth and housing was mentioned, every State Premier insisted that it should be the responsibility of the States. That was the first fact brought to my notice by the Premier of South Australia following my appointment to the commission. After examining the terms of reference the commission ascertained that, so far as the Commonwealth was concerned, it could only inform the Australian Government about the. housing position in Australia and furnish advice upon the financial aspects of the home-building schemes submitted by the States. That is still the position. The purpose of the bill now before us is to authorize the raising of a loan of £14,000,000 to finance activities under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. That agreement was the outcome of recommendations made by the commission. After examining its terms of reference the commission realized that it had no authority to construct houses and that its function was limited to bringing pressure to bear on the States to meet the housing position and to raise the standards of housing generally. If honorable members will refer to the report of the Commonwealth Housing Commission they will see that it amply bears out what I have said. The sole responsibility of the Commonwealth, under the scheme is to provide the requisite finance and to lay down housing standards and conditions under which advances may be made to the States to finance the construction of homes. The Acting Leader of the Opposition has said that the Commonwealth is opposed to private home ownership. That is not so. The commission ascertained that the basic wage earner was not in a position to finance the purchase of his own home, and accordingly it recommended that the State housing authorities should institute group building schemes to provide houses for low-wage earners at a reasonable rental. The commission also laid down conditions relating to the sale of homes to home purchasers. The Commonwealth is not able to build a home for the ordi nary member of the community. Its activities in this field are confined to the building of homes in the Australian Capital Territory, war-service homes for ex-service personnel and for certain of ite officers in Commonwealth employment. The Acting Leader of the Opposition referred to letters he had received from people seeking to purchase their own homes. I receive letters every week from such people. About a fortnight ago a man whom I know well wrote to me asking what the Australian Government could do to enable his married son to obtain a home. In reply I informed him that if his son was an ex-serviceman he could obtain a war-service home, or he could secure an advance from the Commonwealth Bank to finance the building of a home, but that apart from those two courses the Australian Government had no power to help him. The Acting Leader of the Opposition has charged the Government with having fallen down on the job of providing homes for the people. The honorable gentleman knows very well that, apart from war-service homes and homes for its own officers, the Commonwealth has no responsibility or authority. He is well aware that responsibility for housing the people rests solely upon the States and that the States refused to hand thai responsibility to the Commonwealth. He was most unfair in attempting to blame the Australian Government for the acute housing position which exists in Australia to-day. The honorable gentleman quoted certain figures relating to the number of homes constructed. Those figures refer only to the States which are working under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. South Australia, which, in common with other States, suffers from an acute housing position, is not working under that agreement. That State government has not received any money from the Commonwealth for the building of homes. It is financing and undertaking its own home-building programmes. It is co-operating with the Commonwealth, however, in adopting the standards laid down by the Commonwealth in the agreement.

The Acting Leader of the Opposition referred to the decline in the production of bricks and tiles since 1938-39 and said that he was afraid to refer to the galvanized .iron position. Honorable members who know anything about the building industry are well aware that in 1938-39 tile production was limited almost entirely to terra cotta tiles. [Quorum formed.'] To-day in almost every suburb of every city are to be found factories engaged in the production of cement tiles. The volume of cement tile production to-day is very great. The monthly average production of bricks in 1938-39 was 60,000,000. In June of this year the production was 5.2,100,000, and in July, 50,100,000. I am sure that when the Acting Leader of the Opposition made his criticism of the brick making industry, he did not realize that his argument was likely to rebound on him. Any one who knows anything about brickmaking is well aware that there were very few up-to-date brickmaking plants in Australia in 193S-39. Brickmakers had to go down into the muck and slush, dig out clay and after forming and firing the bricks, manually handle them. Brickmaking was one of the heaviest and dirtiest of jobs. Many brickmakers enlisted during the war years and after their, discharge from the armed forces, sought . more congenial employment. They would not return to the mush and slush of the pug holes. That is why brick production has declined. Brickmakers are not prepared to install modern machinery in their works. A few months ago the South Australian Government brought out a number of migrants to work in the brickyards. It agreed to provide homes for them on their arrival. "When the migrants arrived here they were established in newlyfinished Housing Trust homes. Immediately complaints were made by other people that the newcomers had been given homes while they themselves had been waiting for five or six years for a home without obtaining one. When I spoke to the State authorities about the matter [ was informed that as the migrants had come to Australia to make bricks for the building of homes they had been :1 VeIl priority in the allotment of homes. After working two or three weeks in the brickyards and experiencing the conditions of employment there the migrants said, " We did not 'think that we would be asked to make bricks under these conditions. We made bricks in England under very much better conditions. We shall seek other employment". They left -their jobs and engaged in other .work, but they stayed in their homes. They could not be evicted. The Acting Leader of the 'Opposition blamed the Government for not bringing about more production, but I remind him that he is the representative of the employers, including the manufacturers oi bricks, so that he must -accept some of the responsibility for the 'present position.

The honorable member cited figures in connexion with the production of tiles, "but the figures do not indicate the true position. It may be that they refer only to terra-cotta tiles, and not to cement tiles, also. In 1938-39, the average monthly production of both terra-cotta and concrete tiles was 3,680,000, whereas production in June of this year was 6,040,000. If the building of houses if lagging, the responsibility does not rest upon the Commonwealth, which has advanced money to the States to build homes, on .the condition that they comply with a prescribed standard. The Acting Leader of the Opposition said that he could not obtain information about the activities of housing authorities. I have here a statement issued by Mr. L. P. D. O'Connor, deputy director of the Housing Division of the Department of Works and Housing, at the direction of Mr. Welch, the Director of Housing. In this statement complete figures are given about the houses begun and completed, and no attempt has been made to conceal the part played by government housing authorities as compared with private enterprise. The figures are as follows :-

 

 

The Commonwealth Housing Commission reported in 1944 that we should set a target of 50,000 houses to be completed or' in the course, of completion in the first year that active building' operations' were resumed, this number to be increased to 80,000 a year in three years' time. The commission estimated that there was a shortage of 300,000 houses. As the Acting Leader of the Opposition correctly stated, 40,000 new houses are needed every year to provide for increased population and to replace old buildings. The commission allowed for this, and estimated that the shortage would be made good in ten years' time if the programme could be adhered to. No provision was made in the estimate for the housing of immigrants, because the commission had no way of estimating the number that would be entering, the. country, but it pointed out that one dwelling, unit would be needed for every four immigrants. Until the making of the. present agreement with the States, the responsibility for building houses rested, entirely upon State authorities and private enterprise. Apart from building war service homes, and homes for Commonwealth employees, the

Commonwealth was not' concerned. When the commission set the target' of- 50,000 houses for the first year; and. 80^000 for subsequent years> after .three years;, iti recognized- that the houses would be built by Commonwealth and State housing authorities, municipalities and private enterprise, and it recom' mended that- the States should seek the co-operation of municipalities. ] am not prepared to throw mud at the States for any delay that may have occurred in putting the housing programme into effect. Building in al' States has been limited by the labour and materials available. Some time ago: the Premier of South Australia said thai building in that State was held up, not by lack of money, but by the scarcity of materials and labour.

The Acting Leader of the Opposition criticized the Department of. Post-wai Reconstruction in connexion with the training of ex-servicemen for the building industry..' I have kept myself in> formed about what is being done under the training scheme, and master builder. have, told me of their difficulties in finding employment, for trained or parti* trained men. It is all very well foi honorable members to say that they have seen advertisements in the newspaper.' seeking bricklayers, carpenters and plumbers, but the builders themselves find it hard, to keep their men in constant employment because of the difficulty in obtaining regular supplies of materials* They often have to take men away from ohe job and put them on another, or rather1 than risk losing them, just keep them pottering about doing odd jobs.


Mr Spender - Why are material:scarce ?


Mr THOMPSON - I have already explained that bricks are scarce because conditions in some of the brickyards are so bad that men will not work there. Brickmakers who worked under odious conditions before the war. and then entered the Air Force or some Other service where they obtained some mechanical training; were not prepared, upon their discharge, to go' back to the muddy brickyard again, if' they could obtain a mechanic's job some1 where else. The Acting Leader of theOpposition has referred to the shortage of baths and sinks. Admittedly, the SUPply of fittings for houses is not sufficient to meet the demand, but the absence of baths and . sinks has not prevented people from occupying new homes. After having shared accommodation for years, they are content to take a new house, and put up with the inconvenience of having to wait for the installation of a bath or sink at a later date. The housing programme provided for a target of 50,000 houses in 1945-46 and 80,000 a year three years afterwards. As the building programme developed, it was inevitable that some classes of fittings would be in short supply. As I have stated, men are not prepared to work in certain industries where conditions are unhealthy or unpleasant. Whilst that position is difficult to overcome, this Government cannot be blamed for it. Honorable mem.bers opposite may rant as much as they like about the shortage of coal and steel, and I realize that insufficient supplies of those two materials handicap the progress of the housing programme, but again, the Government cannot be held responsible for the position. Honorable members opposite have complained that the Government's policy of appeasing militant unions is one of the causes of the low output of urgently required building materials. I have a thorough knowledge >f industry and of the psychology of workers. In the past, employees in many industries have had to submit to hardships in their jobs, and I can understand why they desire to take advantage of the present shortage of labour in order to improve their conditions. They have not lost the fear that when the supply of labour exceeds the demand in industry they will again he waiting outside the factory gates until vacancies occur. In our speeches in this House we should endeavour to convince the workers that we believe that they should get a fair deal in employment, and that we shall do everything in our power to ensure that they enjoy an adequate standard of living. Honorable members opposite have the right to express their opinions about the reasons for the existing shortages of building materials, but I desire to impress upon them that when TheY " 9ling off " at workers such a.? the " wharfie ", and say that he must do this or that, they have no knowledge of human psychology if they expect their gibes to influence the men to toil hard. A few words of encouragement will often accomplish more than threats. The Prime Minister has stated that the coal-miners and employees in many other basic industries owe a responsibility to the country to increase production. 3 have always expressed that opinion, not only in this House, but also at meeting? of employees. But we shall not encourage them to work harder by throwing stones at them and upbraiding them. I admit that members of the Opposition are just as honest as I am in endeavouring to get the best conditions for the Australian people. The Acting Leader of the Opposition has referred to deplorable housing conditions, and has cited instances of as many as five families sharing a house. I know only too well that people are living under impossible conditions, on verandahs, and even in disused stables, because they are unable to obtain better accommodation. Doubtless, the Acting Leader of the Opposition is as anxious as I am to remove those unfortunate conditions, but the remedy does not. lie in blaming the Government for the housing position. Some years ago, all States except one had Labour governments, and non-Labour parties have endeavoured to make a good deal of political capital out of the fact that State Labour governments at that time did not embark on. housing programmes. To-day. however, non-Labour governments are in office in three of the States, and,' if they fail to use the money which is available for housing, they must accept the responsibility. During the eighteen months I was working on the Commonwealth Housing Commission I devoted 70 or SO hours a week to an examination of housing problems, and, in doing so, I accumulated a good deal of information which I should like to give to the House. However, I do not consider that it will be necessary for me to do so. I urge honorable members not to make the debate on this bill an opportunity te attack the Government, or to blame it for the failure to mee the housing target which the Commonwealth Housing Commission set three .years ago. The States should be encouraged to speed up their building programmes in order to overtake the leeway. I have not travelled extensively in New South "Wales and Victoria during the last two or three years, but I know that new homes are being erected in many parts of South Australia. Those dwellings are additional to the numbers which the Acting Leader of the Opposition has mentioned. Mr. L. P. D. O'Connor, Deputy Director, Housing Division, Department of Works and Housing, has computed the cost per square for brick buildings erected by private enterprise in the various States in 1944 and 1948. The details are a« follows : -

A square is 100 square feet, and the average house, with two or three bedrooms, has approximately 1,000 square feet. On that basis, a brick house which cost £1,200 in New South Wales in 1944 now costs £1,800. A similar dwelling in Victoria, which cost £1,320 four years ago, now costs £1,840.







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