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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr BARNARD (Bass) (12:10 PM) .The Opposition approves of this measure. We congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), first, because the bill will adjust several anomalies that have been apparent for some years in the administration of the war service homes legislation, and secondly, because it will extend the operation of the legislation - and that is in conformity with the policy of the Labour party. ft is proposed that there shall be extended to Australian troops now serving in Malaya the benefits under the War Service Homes Act now enjoyed by servicemen of World War I. and World War II. In addition, provision is made for certain people who served in World War II., but who hitherto have not been eligible for benefits under the War Service Homes Act. I refer to the crews of certain transport ships who served in theatres of war, and to people who served in hospital ships and as canteen workers on naval vessels. It can be said in all sincerity that if provision is made under the war service homes legislation for members of the gun crew of a ship who served in a theatre of war, similar provision should be made for people who performed other duties on the ship. One passage in the Minister's second-reading speech caused me some concern. He said -

The amendment provides that eligibility for war service homes will be available to those who become entitled to a repatriation benefit in consequence of an incapacity, or to their dependants in case of death.

My first reaction to that statement was that the entitlement would be enjoyed only by those who became eligible for a repatriation benefit, or to their dependants in case of death. We feel that the benefits of the legislation should be extended to all service personnel serving in Malaya, not only to a specific group. Perhaps the Minister will clear that matter up later.

Since the legislation will extend the benefits of the war service homes legislation to certain personnel now serving in Malaya', and also to other people by virtue of their service during World War II., I believe that I should state the present position. The extension of these benefits will mean that many more people will become entitled to the consideration that has been extended so far only to servicemen of the two world wars. Normally, the war service homes legislation is regarded as being above party politics, but I believe that some things ought to be said, and I shall not hesitate to say them.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to make comparisons. My studies of the " Hansard " reports of debates on the war service homes legislation have shown me that very frequently comparisons are made of the achievements of various governments. Ex-servicemen are very much concerned about the waiting period for assistance, which in recent years has increased from twelve months to two years, and, in some instances, to three years. Ex-servicemen, of course, are not concerned about what was achieved by previous governments. I have served in only two parliaments, and I am not concerned about the achievements of previous governments, whether nonLabour or otherwise.

Ex-servicemen know that 556 war service homes were provided in 1945-46, the immediate post-war year. As labour and materials became more readily available the figure progressively increased, and by 1948-49 a total of 6,287 homes had been provided for ex-servicemen under the provisions of the principal act. Ex-servicemen know also that in that financial year £16,200,000 was allocated to war service homes. In 1954-55 the present Government increased the allocation to £30,000,000, at which figure it has remained since. That is almost twice the amount allocated in 1948-49, but I think I should say in passing, Mr. Speaker, that in those days the average cost of a home was £1,658, whereas to-day it is £3,173. Therefore, it is apparent that in 1948-49 £16,200,000 would provide the same number of homes as can be built for £30,000,000 to-day.

Mr Aston - That is not true.

Mr BARNARD - The honorable member is entitled to dispute the matter if he wishes. I contend that the War Service Homes Division is falling further behind in the provision of homes for exservicemen, as is clearly indicated by the increase of the waiting period for assistance. I said only a few moments ago that less than three years ago the waiting period was twelve months, whereas to-day it is two years, and, in many instances, three years.

I suggest that the number of homes provided in recent years substantiates my statement that the funds allocated by the present Government are not sufficient to prevent the War Service Homes Division from falling further behind in the provision of homes for ex-servicemen. In 1953-54, 12,399 homes were provided. The number increased to 12,788 in 1954-55, and declined to only 11,803 in 1955-56. It is obvious that the number of new homes being provided for applicants by the division is now declining steadily. In 1953-54, 24,951 applications for assistance were received, and, as I have said, 12,399 homes were provided. Twelve thousand five hundred and fifty-two applications were not dealt with in that financial year and were carried over into the financial year 1954-55. In 1955-56, 22,131 applications were received by the division, and only 11,803 homes were provided. So 10,328 applications were carried over into 1956-57. As I have said, in 1953-54, 24,951 applications were received. The number increased to 28,931 in 1954-55. I have heard it said in this House on occasions that the number of applications has increased because the scheme is so popular.

I concede at once that it is popular, but 1 emphasize that, under the administration of the present Government, it is rapidly losing its popularity. In 1955-56, only 22,131 applications were received.

Unless the Government is prepared to increase the allocation of funds, the War Service Homes Division will continue to fall further behind in its task of providing homes for ex-servicemen. It is true that from 1945 to 1949 man-power and materials were in short supply. This naturally had a considerable influence over the number of homes constructed, but no one would suggest that there is any shortage of either man-power or materials at the present time. One of the principal factors contributing to the increase of unemployment in Tasmania is the lack of work in the building industry. This is a matter to which the Government should direct its attention. The 22,131 applications for assistance received by the War Service Homes Division in 1955-56 constitute a sound reason why the Government should increase the allocation of funds, which has remained unchanged during the last three financial years.

The maximum advance is at present £2,750, at which figure it has stood for the last two financial years. I have already indicated that the average cost of a home is now £3,173. So an applicant must put down a deposit of £423, or approximately 12 per cent, of the capital cost. I know from representations that have been made to me that it is becoming increasingly difficult for those who are fortunate enough to be offered an advance for the purchase of a home to find the necessary deposit. I suggest that the maximum advance be increased immediately in order to reduce the deposit required to no more than 10 per cent, of the capital cost. Nobody should expect ex-servicemen to put down more than £300 as a deposit on a home. I understand that when the principal act was introduced it was suggested that exservicemen, by virtue of their service, were not in a position to enjoy the same advantages as were available to people who did not serve abroad in the forces in World War I. or World War II. If that is so, surely we ought not to expect those people to provide a deposit of more than 10 per cent. I think that in Australia today it is not possible for a young family man on a moderate income to find the present deposit, which exceeds 12 per cent. So I suggest to the House, for the consideration of the Minister at least, that the Government ought to raise the maximum advance from £2,750 to at least £3,000. That, I believe, would be in conformity with the opinions that have been expressed in recent months by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia.

Recently, I received some information about the war service homes position in Tasmania. I regard the figures that were supplied to me as really alarming. I asked the Minister a series of questions in respect of this matter. The first question concerned the number of war service homes built and occupied under the group system in Tasmania in the financial year 1955-56. The Minister's reply indicated that the number of group homes built and occupied in Tasmania during that year was only 47. My next question referred to the number of group homes now under construction in the City of Launceston and the City of Hobart. The Minister's reply indicated that to-day only seven such homes are being constructed in Hobart and that not one is being constructed in Launceston. I further asked the Minister how many homes will be completed in each of those areas during 1956-57. The Minister has informed me that it is expected that sixteen group homes and 65 individual homes will be completed in Hobart, and four group homes and seventeen individual homes in Launceston during 1956-57. In Tasmania there are now 325 Tasmanian applicants awaiting assistance under either the group home or the individual home programme. I estimate that one-third of those applications would be from Launceston, and with the total number of homes to be completed this year in Launceston standing at 21, it will take at least five years before the last of these applications can receive attention. I suggest that the figures that I have given to the House indicate quite clearly the unsatisfactory position that exists in regard to war service homes throughout Australia, because I have no doubt that what applies to Tasmania applies equally to other States.

Mr Duthie - Tell the Government what the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia congress said in Sydney.

Mr BARNARD - I have already indicated to the House that vigorous protests have been received from ex-servicemen's organizations, not only in recent months but over a period of two years or more. They have pointed out time and time again that the concern of the applicant for a war service home at the moment is the waiting period, which has been extended by this Government from slightly more than twelve months to two years, and in some instances to even longer. We ought to be entitled to expect a more reasonable waiting period because of the conditions that now exist throughout the country. I have already indicated that there was a time when we could not hope to keep pace with the number of applications being received from exservicemen, but to-day, when there is no shortage of materials or man-power, it ought to be possible for the Government to honour its obligations by providing for these people the homes they urgently require.

I have dealt briefly with the situation because I think it is important, now that we are extending the provisions to cover people who are serving in Malaya, that we on this side indicate to the House the position that we can expect to arise in this country unless the amount made available for war service homes is increased substantially. After all, it is all very well to extend to the men serving in Malaya the privileges accorded men who fought in World War I. and World War II., but surely if we extend these privileges to them we ought to make homes available to them without their having to wait for three years or more. I believe that the Minister, in introducing this measure, has made a genuine attempt to remove some of the anomalies of the act which affect the ex-servicemen to whom I have referred, and we give him full credit for that; but I believe that the Government ought to consider immediately the points I have made, particularly in respect of increasing the amount the Commonwealth now makes available. I ask the Minister personally to urge on Cabinet the importance of reducing the waiting period to a more reasonable length.

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