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Tuesday, 16 October 1956

Mr CRAMER (Bennelong) (Minister for the Army) . - I was rather sorry for the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds), who apparently was flung into the breach to take up the debate on this subject which he had not studied very much and which he obviously knows very little about. He dealt with it in a cursory way and picked out bits and pieces of catchcries that he thought might appeal to the cupidity of the people who do not know much about housing, lt is very easy to utter those catchcries. It all sounds well, but, of course, it is not the true story in relation to housing. The honorable member said that the Government ought to be ashamed because it has not made more money available to the States. This Government has made more money available to the States1 than the Labour government did. Does the honorable member imply that the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement will not be in the interests of the people and that it will not enable them to obtain more homes? All that the honorable member has done has been to indicate to the people of Australia, plainly and clearly - it was really an act of self-confession - something that we have known for a long time: The Australian Labour party's policy is to give governments all the money and let them build all the houses for the people. Let me tell him that the people do not want governments to build the houses, and would rather build their own. They do not want to have to queue up and be allocated a number which will entitle them, when their turn comes, to a home of the kind that the government says they must have in a place where the government says they must live. That is not what the people of Australia want. They want to retain some individuality and the right to select their own home in a suburb of their own choosing.

Mr Edmonds - Why does the Government not give them that opportunity?

Mr CRAMER - We are giving them that opportunity. It is the very purpose of this bill.

I do not want to waste time discussing the details of the speech of the honorable member for Herbert, but I shall refute some of his statements as I proceed with my remarks. This bill is the first under which funds will be provided for housing in accordance with the terms of the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement which was approved by the Parliament in June of this year to replace the old agreement which was entered into by the Labour government for a period of ten years which expired on 30th June last. Under the new agreement, 20 per cent, of the £32,150,000 provided for in this measure will be allocated to building societies in the States for the specific purpose of encouraging homeownership, and 80 per cent, will be allocated to State instrumentalities for the provision of homes. I remind .the honorable member for Herbert and other honorable members that there will be no dictation to the States about the use of this money. They will be able to use it for housing as they think fit. There are no conditions attached except that the money must not be used for the construction of shops, or for the construction of huge blocks of flats without consultation with the Commonwealth.

I want to refute now a false statement made by the honorable member for Herbert in relation to rebates. We know that under the old agreement the Commonwealth provided certain rebates to permit some rents to be reduced.

Mr Edmonds - Sixty per cent.

Mr CRAMER - Sixty per cent, of the rebate was met by the Commonwealth and 40 per cent, by the State. But the honorable member did not mention that under the new agreement the States will receive a subsidy representing an interest rebate of three quarters of 1 per cent, on rates of interest up to 4i per cent., and 1 per cent, on rates of interest in excess of 41 per cent. The State governments will receive those subsidies, and they will be able to pass them on to the people in whatever form they think will meet the people's needs. So, although the agreement does not dictate to the States in relation to these subsidies, provision for people to receive the benefit of them is made in the financial arrangements entered into between the Commonwealth and the States under the agreement. The honorable member for Herbert obviously knew nothing about that.

Mr Edmonds - Phony!

Mr CRAMER - It is not phony.

Mr Edmonds - Does the Minister think that no one else in the chamber knows anything?

Mr CRAMER - If the honorable member had examined the agreement he would have known that a subsidy is to be paid by the Commonwealth for the purposes of the States. Opposition members should not be so ready to criticize this Government, which has a magnificent record in the provision of funds for the States to construct homes, in the field of war service homes, and in other fields of home construction. More homes have been built since this Government took office than ever before. On the other hand, the Labour government had an utterly disgraceful record. I shall give the House, in round figures, some accurate statistics in this connexion. From June, 1945, to June, 1949- the period immediately following the war, up to just before the time when the present Government took office - Australia's population increased by 621,000. Under the Labour administration, which the honorable member for Herbert supported, 145,000 homes were built. To put it another way, the Labour government built one house for every 4.3 persons by which the population increased in that period. From January, 1950 - shortly after the present Government took office - to March, 1956, the population increased by 1,250,000, and 485,000 dwellings were built. This represents one house for every 2.6 persons by which the population increased. If those figures do not dispose of the arguments that the Labour government's record was better than the record of this Government, I should like to know what can dispose of them. Labour governments have such a bad record in housing, and have so destroyed the chances of the people to obtain homes, that those who belong to the Australian Labour party should be ashamed of themselves and should never dare to criticize the present Government's housing record.

The Labour government boosted the old Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement as the great salvation of the people, and said it would provide them with homes. What did that agreement amount to? It was introduced for a period of ten years which, as I have said, expired on 30th June last. The whole purpose of the agreement and the associated measures was to socialize housing. That was intended from the very outset. Prior to the advent of that agreement the Labour government attempted to alter the Australian Constitution to establish a Commonwealth housing commission with branches in every State. Opposition members know that is the truth. The purpose was to provide money to build houses for the people to rent. They were not to be given the chance to become home-owners. The agreement specifically provided that they were not to become home-owners. Following the failure of its attempt to have the Constitution changed, the Labour government laid down in the agreement entered into with the States conditions which required them to sell homes built with money provided under the agreement only for cash, which was to be repaid to the Commonwealth. That meant that the people could not get terms under which to pay for their homes. That condition was laid down by the Labour government. It meant, in effect, that it was trying to discourage, as much as it could, the purchase of homes that had been built by the various States under the agreement. As I have said, the people had to pay cash.

Facilities were not made available in any other way for the people to get money. As a result, only a very small percentage of the houses built while the Labour government was in power were sold to the people in order to enable them to become the owners of their homes. Almost all of the homes built under the Labour government were rented to the people. In one or two cases, the difference between the attitude of the Labour government and the attitude of this type of government is obvious. It was indicated in two States at that time. One was the State of Western Australia which was under the control of a Liberal government. There the government made arrangements for a great number of the houses built to be sold to the people. At one stage, while the Liberal government was in power, at least 40 per cent, of the houses that were built were sold to the people. After Labour took charge in Western Australia that figure decreased, until now it is about 10 or 15 per cent, lt began to decrease immediately Labour came into power.

The other State that sold a great percentage of its houses was South Australia, under the Playford Government. But in every other State, Labour being in power, the number of houses sold did not exceed 5 per cent, of those which were built. That is a clear indication that the whole purpose of the Labour party was to create a tenancy community with houses built by governments. The whole tenor of the speech which the honorable member for Herbert made to-night indicates to the House quite clearly that the purpose of the Labour party is that houses should be built by governments in Australia. Never mind about the freedom of the people! Never mind about the rights of the people to be able to select their homes!

The whole purpose of the new agreement with which this bill deals is gradually to reverse that policy and give the people an opportunity to become the owners of their homes and to encourage the building society movement, which has done a magnificent job. Opposition members oppose that idea. They say, " Give more money ". What do they mean? Do they want to encourage further inflation in this country? The building trade has been fully occupied in the last few years - ever since this Government has been in power. The provision of extra money would only feed the fire of inflation.

Mr Edmonds - Does the Minister say that building houses for the people causes inflation?

Mr CRAMER - One cannot build more houses, even if tens of millions more pounds were available, without more men and material. Apparently the honorable member for Herbert has in mind certain conditions in certain places. No one can deny that over the last several years the whole of the building trade in Australia has been fully occupied. I say that Labour's record on housing is shocking. I think it deserves repetition in any speech on this subject, because the people should be reminded of it, that when Mr. Dedman, who was in charge of the bill concerning the agreement was challenged about it, he said that his government did not wish to make little capitalists out of the people of Australia. The people will never forget that.

In addition, the Labour party destroyed confidence in investment. It destroyed confidence by its system of control. Prior to Labour getting into office one could go to any trust office in any capital city or to lawyers all over Australia and one could find that people were investing their savings in mortgages and other fields of investment. But when Labour got into power, it destroyed the confidence of the people because of the controlled system that it operated. People would no longer put their money into that sort of investment. As a result, the Labour government deprived the people of Australia of sources of money for the purchase of homes to rent. It was Labour's policy that completely destroyed that confidence; so much so, that confidence has even been reduced in government securities because Labour wanted to take control of everything away from the people. It even wanted to take their freedom away.

As the honorable member for Herbert, who has left the chamber, knows, the legislation which the States have introduced. If honorable members compare the census legislation which the States have introduced. If honorable members compare the census of 1947 with the census of 1954 they will find that many more homes have been built in Australia than have been necessary to cope with the increase in the population. But notwithstanding that fact, the apparent shortage of houses appears to become more acute year by year. The honorable member for Herbert himself said that the shortage appears to get greater. In the State of New South Wales there was one house for every four people in 1947, at the time of the census To-day, there is one house foi every 3.5 people in New South Wales, and yet the shortage appears to be great. The strange fact is that in Western Australia, which has the same proportion of houses to population, there is no apparent shortage of houses.

Mr Kearney - Rubbish!

Mr CRAMER - It is a fact. No one can deny these things because they are self-evident to any one who wishes to look at them. Notwithstanding all the houses that the housing commissions have built throughout Australia, there are now fewer rented houses than when the housing commissions commenced to build. The reason is that a greater number of houses has been sold by people who previously owned and rented them than there have been houses built by the housing commissions. The reason, again, has been that the value of houses as an investment has been completely destroyed by Labour legislation. The net result of that trend has been very simple to appreciate if people would only follow it through. But Labour will never face up to facts in these matters. In the capital cities of States which have Labour governments, there are just as many houses in proportion to population as there were when there was no shortage of houses. But as a result of Labour's control system, tens of thousands less people are living in the same number of houses. That position has created a shortage. One has only to look at the record of vacant houses to see that that is so. It is not an over-estimation to say that there are at least 150,000 vacant houses in Australia to-day.

Mr Cope - Where are they?

Mr CRAMER - They are in Australia. The people who own them will not let themselves become entangled with the control laws laid down by Labour governments. They are not available to be rented. They are held vacant until sold.

Mr Kearney - Where are they?

Mr CRAMER - They are everywhere The truth of the matter is that Labour is crying out about a shortage of houses when, in fact, it has created an apparent shortage itself. It is not a real shortage in the sense that houses do not exist. There are thousands of houses in any of the big capital cities which are not fully occupied. People will not sub-let or let their houses while rent control exists. They would not do that now even if some of those controls were removed, because Labour has destroyed the confidence of potential lettors of homes. So Labour, instead of helping the workers, has, in fact, injured the workers, because the people who are protected by Labour's controls are not the people who need such protection. More than 80 per cent, of the people protected by certain rent control laws in Australia to-day are well-to-do people who have made lots of money and can well afford to pay an economic rent. The people whom those controls hit hardest are young people who wish to get married but cannot do so because they cannot find a home to live in, because the available homes are occupied by others who are benefiting at the expense of the rest of the community. The provision of all the money in the world to the State governments to permit them to go on building houses will not cure the immediate problem, because, however many houses the State governments built, they would not catch up with the demand as a result of the effects of these obnoxious laws which are operating against the rights of the people. So unless complete socialism is brought in, and all the properties in Australia are taken over, the problem will not be cured in the way that Labour desires to cure it. What we have to do is to restore the freedom of the people so that they may decide where they wish to live and the kind of home they wish to live in; we must also give them the right to own homes. That is the only way it can be done.

I know that there are people in a community who cannot pay economic rent, and I have no objection to their being helped. But that problem should not be dealt with in the way suggested by Labour. When people cannot pay economic rent, governmental assistance to them becomes a social service, and the problem may well be dealt with on that basis. But there are people all over Australia obtaining the benefit of this system of controls and subsidies who do not need such assistance, and this is affecting the whole housing position in this country. The plain fact is that Labour, by its interference with our economic laws, has distorted the housing position in Australia to the point where tens of thousands of young people are suffering tragedy because they cannot find homes for themselves. It is quite impossible for anybody to go into Sydney or, if it comes to that, Melbourne, where I hope the position will improve very shortly, and get a home to live in, either for rent or under any other arrangement. People do not understand why they cannot get homes to rent, because they know there has been ample building going on. They see figures which indicate that there have been more houses built than there has been increase of population. They see all these things, and they wonder why they cannot get homes. The reason is quite obvious. It is that Labour in the various States has completely distorted the economy by its approach to this very important matter. I do not want it to be thought, however, that a solution would be simply a matter of wiping out all these controls at once in, for instance, New South Wales. That should be done by a gradual process, as it was done in Western Australia, where to-day there are virtually no controls, and where there is no shortage of houses; whereas in the other States where controls operate the shortage continues. If the State Labour governments had allowed the investment market, or the renting of houses, to keep pace with the economy in the normal way, there would be no shortage of houses in Australia to-day, because the houses are here. That is a terrible denunciation of Labour. It is a terrible tragedy, responsibility for which must be laid at Labour's door. But the only answer to the problem that the Opposition can suggest is to inflate the economy further by pumping more money into the States to allow them to go on building housing commission homes. Let me say now that nobody in the States wants to live in houses built by housing commissions. Somebody has challenged us as to whether such houses are good houses. I say that they are not good houses. They are not the kind of houses people want to live in.

Mr Pollard - They are splendid houses.

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