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Tuesday, 16 October 1956

Mr WIGHT (Lilley) .- I am sure that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) would not disagree with me if I suggested that the housing policy of the Australian Labour party is the same in every State which is controlled by a Labour government, and has been the same for many decades. Yet, the honorable member suggested to the House that he, as a Labour man, deplored the fact that so many people were unable to obtain their own homes. He said that the policy of the

Labour party was that people should own their own homes, and then tie instanced the situation that exists in Victoria. Therefore, I think it is only right that we should analyse his statement with a view to estimating his sincerity, and also determining whether the Labour party generally is sincere in contending that people should have their own homes. To do this, let us go to the honorable member's State, Victoria, where, he claims, many thousands of people are waiting to obtain homes. He said that he wished to see them accommodated in their own homes. Whilst Victoria was administered by a Labour government during the years 1953-54 and 1954-55, that government sold only six of all the houses that were built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. In July of last year, however, the complexion of the Victorian administration changed, and a Liberal government took office. That government, during the financial year 1955-56, sold not six houses, but no less than 1,289 of the houses built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. If the Labour party sincerely desires that people should own their own homes, how does the honorable member for Batman explain the fact that, in two years, under a Labour government, only six Victorians were able to buy housing commission homes, whereas under a Liberal government, in half that period. 1,289 houses were sold?

However, do not let us examine only the Victorian position. As I have said, the position is the same in every State where the Labour party is in control. In Queensland, the State from which I come, it is a well-known fact that the Government will in no circumstances sell a home which has been built with State moneys to an exserviceman who wants to buy it through the war service homes scheme. At no time in the history of Queensland, whilst it has been under the administration of a Labour government, has an ex-serviceman been able to buy himself a State home with financial assistance from the Commonwealth through the war service homes scheme. Since the inception of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, the Queensland Government has sold only 5.71 per cent, of the total number of houses built under the agreement. In other words, the Queensland Labour Government has adopted a similar course to that of every other Labour government in Australia. Such governments believe that the State should own the homes and that individuals should pay rent to the State; that the only landlord should be the State; and that nobody should have the privilege of owning his home.

Mr Makin - That is not correct.

Mr WIGHT - Therefore, I say that the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Batman are completely unsound. Now, we have an interjection from the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin), who was a member of a Labour government which appointed a commission to investigate the housing position and determine the steps that should be taken to ensure that the Australian people were adequately housed after the termination of World War II. He will remember clearly that that government, with commendable forethought, appointed the commission to see what could be done to house exservicemen when they returned from service with the forces, and to investigate means of overtaking the lag which had developed during the war, when so few houses had been built. He will, perhaps, recollect with shame the reports of the commission that were tendered to the Labour government at the time, and how those reports stressed the necessity for the government of the Commonwealth to ensure that finance was made available to the people so that they would be able to buy their own homes. What happened? In 1945, Mr. Dedman, the Minister in charge of housing at the time, introduced legislation embodying the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, which expired in July last. The honorable member for Bonython supported that legislation. He knows that, under the terms of the agreement, it was virtually impossible for any man to buy a home with moneys advanced by the Commonwealth to the States. Therefore, I suggest that the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Batman to support his contention that the Labour party believes that people should own their homes, were insincere. Although the honorable member for Bonython has interjected, it is clear that he, too.: does not really believe that people should own their homes; otherwise, in the light of the report of the Commonwealth Housing Commission, tabled in this Parliament during the last war, he would have opposed the Commonwealth and State

Housing Agreement legislation introduced subsequently by Mr. Dedman. But he voted for it! That being so, how sincere can he be? Was he not in the House when, in answer to an interjection, Mr. Dedman made a statement to the effect that the Labour party did not believe in people owning their homes because that would only make them little capitalists, and the Labour party was not interested in little capitalists?

We can see, therefore, the real reason why the Labour party is opposing this bill, which provides that the Commonwealth shall make available to the States the sum of £32,150,000 for housing purposes during the ensuing twelve months. Honorable members opposite are opposed to the bill principally because, under the terms of the new agreement, which was put before the States by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) some time ago, it is mandatory on the States that, this year and next year, a minimum of 20 per cent, of the money advanced to them shall be made available for people who desire to own their homes. In the following three years of the agreement, which will expire after five years, no less than 30 per cent, of the total amount of money made available by the Commonwealth to the States must be used to assist people who wish to own their homes. I point out that the agreement will enable people to purchase houses on deposits as low as 10 per cent. Do the honorable members for Batman and Bonython suggest that, by making available this money to people on such deposits, we are catering for the wealthy section of the community? No! We are catering for the working class - for the people on wages, who are able to save only a moderate amount of money. We are giving them the opportunity to acquire homes on small deposits.

The suggestion made not only by the honorable member for Batman, but also by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds), that in fact there will be less money available for people to own their homes, is ridiculous. If we study the terms of the agreement, we find that the allocations of 20 per cent, and 30 per cent., which are to be made to enable people to own their homes, will go into a revolving fund. As people purchase their homes, the repayments go into a revolving fund so that there is an accumulating source of finance for people to purchase their homes. That money is not required to be repaid to the Commonwealth by the States for a period of 53 years. Therefore, this is the biggest single contribution to solving the housing problem that has been made.

I say that most emphatically because, as we all know, great queues of people are waiting to obtain housing commission homes. Why are large queues of people making application to obtain these rental homes? The answer is quite evident. It is because the Labour party, of which the honorable member for Bonython is a member, failed to implement the suggestion of the commission that money be made available to enable people to own homes. Under the terms of the agreement, which has run for ten years, people have found that the resources of that section of the building industry which is devoted to the construction of residential type buildings has been concentrated to a large extent on the construction of housing commission homes; in other words, houses owned by the governments and rented to the people, but houses which were not for sale because the States were administered by Labour governments.

No other opportunity to find accommodation exists, because people cannot obtain financial assistance to buy their homes. With no alternative, they have queued up at the housing commission and put their names down for some sort of shelter. With reluctance, I remind the honorable member for Bonython that if he had any knowledge of people who live in housing commission areas, if he were to canvass those people for their opinions, or if he were to take a gallup poll, he would find that between 80 per cent, and 90 per cent, of people who live in housing commission homes would much prefer to have the opportunity to buy their homes on a 10 per cent, deposit and to pay the balance over a period of years. Recognizing that, this Government has introduced the new housing agreement and this bill is to give the Government the opportunity to make that money available to the people. They will have the opportunity to buy homes, after the vain effort of the Labour party to socialize \the industry completely and prevent these people from owing their homes.

The Labour party claims that it represents the little man. It must claim also that it represents the little builder - the little man in industry. What is the situation of these people? In the last financial year, more money has been made available to the building industry than at any time in Australia's history. I can confirm that assertion by citing statements that have been made by responsible members of the industry. For instance, Mr. R. J. Hornibrook, who is the president of the Master Builders Association, has made an important statement on this matter. Another interesting report is as follows: -

Value of buildings erected in Brisbane last year was a record, the Property Owners' Association of Queensland stated in an annual report released yesterday.

The sum of £12,044,000 spent on city buildings during the year was an increase of 50 per cent, on the amount spent in 1954.

The fact is that more money has been available to the building industry in the last financial year than at any time in Australia's history. It is also true that a most unfortunate trend has developed in the building industry. It needs rectification urgently. This trend is that, whilst this vast volume of money is available to the building industry, it is so channelled at the present time that the small builder, who builds only two, three or four houses a year, has been unable to get access to sufficient finance to support him in his business. Unless a man has vast capital resources, it is not now possible for him to continue in the building industry. It means that the small home builder is being forced out of the industry. This bill will provide a source of funds which will be available to that section of the building industry. Twenty per cent, of the money available this year will be taken up by the little man. But the 80 per cent, that is to go to the housing commissions - housing commissions administered largely by Labour governments in the various States - will not be taken up by the little man. That money will be available to the big contractor with vast financial resources who is able to accept a tender for £1,000,000 or £1,250,000.

Only recently we read in the Brisbane newspapers of a new project of the Queensland Housing Commission and how it had let a contract for £1,250,000 to a firm in that city. Of course, the building contractor would not have available to him immediately sufficient man-power unless he was able to recruit small contractors who have been contracting in their own right in the industry over a period of years and who now find that, because of economic conditions largely brought about by the old housing agreement, they are being forced out of the industry. The only chance of resuscitating these people and of keeping the small home builder in the industry is to see that some finance is made available to him. The resources from which he can draw to-day are largely from the War Service Homes Division or from money that will be made available under the terms of this agreement insofar as 20 per cent, of the total amount is concerned.

If the Labour party suggests that it is interested in the little man, then surely the Labour party should applaud the suggestion that 20 per cent, of the fund will be taken out of the hands of the States and will go into channels through which the little man, the working man, will be able to borrow 90 per cent, of the cost of his home. He will then be able to go to the little builder who is able to accept a small contract and say, " Will you build me a home for £1,500 or £3.000?". The contractor will have the financial resources available to him to build houses in that category. Not only will this 20 per cent, be most important to the little builders; it will also be most important to the little people of Australia.

I want to refer now to some arguments that were put forward by the honorable member for Herbert. He deplored the fact that the Commonwealth was not making sufficient money available to the building industry for home-building. 1 remind him that he. as a Queenslander, should be perfectly aware of a statement made by the former Queensland Minister for Housing, Mr. Hilton. He is a prominent member of the right wing of the Labour party in Queensland, and he was relieved of his portfolio immediately subsequent to the last election. When he was Minister for Housing, he made a statement in the Queensland Parliament in which he said that the housing shortage in the State had been overtaken. Tt had been overtaken in the few years that this Government had been in office with the money that this Government made available to the Queensland Government. I believe that Mr. Hilton was right when he said that the housing shortage had been largely over taken, but I disagree with his statement that the housing needs of the people have been overtaken. I believe that we must be very wary in our approach to this building problem, because we could find that we had, not a shortage, but a vast surplus of houses.

The real problem in Australia to-day is largely the creation of the Australian Labour party, caused by the State government instrumentalities enforcing their landlord and tenant regulations. By so doing, they have destroyed the confidence of investors in home building. Persons who have homes available for rental are not prepared to rent them, because they cannot get an adequate return for their investment. As a result, thousands and thousands of homes in Australia are empty, as was proved by the census which was taken only recently. These are the factors that contribute to our housing problem.

Let this Commonwealth Government ensure that it takes no step that will cause a recession in the building industry. If it does, the repercussions will be felt in such a great number of associated industries that we will have a high level of unemployment. We must, therefore, be wary in our approach to this problem, and ensure that we maintain the financial stability of the building industry. We can best do that by channelling more and more money into that field of investment that will allow the small builder to continue to operate, and will allow the little man to build his own home. If we do that, we will find that more and more of the houses that to-day are empty will be purchased; more and more rental homes will become available for sale, more and more people will have money to buy them, and the housing shortage will rapidly be overcome. We will see a general movement of the people from rental homes into homes that they own. The people who the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) says are now queued up at the doors of housing commissions, waiting to obtain rental homes will find themselves in a position to obtain homes of their own through building societies or other financial institutions.

I wish now to refer to another argument of the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds). He said that the Commonwealth Government was neglecting the sect;on of the community that has benefited from the rebate system which operated under the old Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. It is true, in Queensland at any rate, that Labour party spokesmen are trying to create fear and panic in the minds of tenants of housing commission houses built under the old agreement, by informing them that an act of this Parliament will prevent them from obtaining assistance under the rebate scheme. That is completely untrue, and I believe that it should be made widely known to be untrue. Every tenant of every house built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945 will continue to enjoy any benefits that he previously enjoyed under the rebate system. No rentals should be increased, and if they are the State government concerned must explain why it increased them.

The honorable member for Herbert has suggested that we should continue the rebate system in the new agreement. I consider that it is time that the States accepted some responsibility in this connexion. Every member of this Parliament knows that the Commonwealth has no constitutional authority with regard to housing. Housing is the complete prerogative of the States, and responsibility for housing is one matter that the States have jealously preserved to themselves, and have refused to share in any way with the Commonwealth. We have agreed to make extra finance available to the States to help them solve their housing problems, and we have, in the past, subsidized the interest rate on the money borrowed by the Commonwealth on their behalf. We have subsidized the losses that have been suffered. Threefifths of the losses that were incurred in relation to housing commission projects were borne by the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth has borne the brunt of the rebate system. But is it not time that the States accepted some of their own responsibility? If the rebate system ceases to operate in respect of housing commission homes built in the future under this agreement, let us place the blame fairly and squarely where it belongs - on the shoulders of the State governments, which are not prepared to accept their responsibilities to ensure the continuation of the rebate system.

The honorable member for Herbert also suggested that the increase in the interest rate will result in increased home prices and rentals. Let it be clearly understood that we do not intend to increase the interest rate. The money that is to be provided is money borrowed on the loan market by the Commonwealth and made available to the States at the ruling rate of interest, less three-quarters of 1 per cent., which amount represents a subsidy paid by the Commonwealth to the State governments to enable them to provide homes at lower rentals. If, therefore, the rentals are increased, let us place the blame fairly where it belongs - on the State governments. Let us remember that the rentals are computed on a formula that was drawn up by the Labour government which was in office when the old agreement was negotiated, and if the rentals are increased it will be because the State governments have built more lavish homes. The rentals are determined by the amounts of money invested in the particular houses. The State governments, therefore, will have to determine whether they will build houses costing £3,500 or £3,000. I believe that private enterprise can build better houses for less cost than any State government has ever been able to build. So far as Queensland is concerned, I can guarantee the truth of that statement. When we see houses for which the State Government has paid £2,600 or £2,700 valued by valuators at £1,500 or £1,700, it is obvious that there has been inefficiency which must be paid for by the poor people who are forced to live in Stateowned houses.

Let us be quite honest about this matter. If the State governments are efficient, and if they build modest homes, rentals can be kept at a low level. The Commonwealth proposes to provide the States with money under this bill, and all that it asks is that the States use it to build houses for the people, and it says to the States, " Pay us back in 53 years the money that we lend you now, and we shall charge you a rate of interest that we are prepared to subsidise to the extent of three-quarters of 1 per cent. We shall continue to ensure that an adequate amount is made available to that special section of the building industry that caters for people who wish to own their own homes ". For this latter purpose an ever-increasing source of finance will be available, and that money also need not be repaid to the Commonwealth for 53 years. 1 commend the bill to the House.

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