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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr ROBERTON (Riverina) (Minister for Social Services) (1:14 AM) . - in reply - I should have thought that at this early hour of the morning honorable members would confine themselves to the four corners of the bill that is under discussion. I am grateful to the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) and the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) because they confined themselves to the four corners of the bill. Other honorable members reserved the right - and I suppose they had a right - to discuss the entire terms of war service homes in the broadest possible aspects, except, of course, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), who referred only to what the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) had to say.

I had intended to confine my remarks in reply to the reference by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) to the waiting period. But the honorable member for Werriwa gave the honorable member for Bass, if he were listening, the information that perhaps he should have had and that no doubt he now has. The waiting period for the purchase of a home is fifteen months. The waiting period for the building of a home in all States except New South Wales is fourteen months, and in New South Wales it is twenty months. Every applicant for a war service home is informed of the waiting period as soon as his application has been investigated and approved.

It is a remarkable thing - and honorable members should take this into consideration when they apply themselves to a study of the War Service Homes Act - that because of the popularity of the scheme under this Government, the number of applications has increased substantially during the last seven years. However, whether the applications number 20,000, 25,000 or 30,000 a year, honorable members should appreciate that there is a considerable wastage throughout the year, and that that has always been the case. Withdrawals of applications for war service homes subsequent to World War I.; for example, were as high as 50 per cent. That is to say, 50 per cent, of the applicants either withdrew their applications when they were about to get an allotment, or had their applications refused for a variety of technical reasons. Similarly, subsequent to World War H., the withdrawals have been no less than 42 per cent.; so that the impressive number of applicants who are considered to be waiting for homes from time to time must be viewed in relation to these traditional wastages, if I may so describe them.

The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser), who is no longer in the chamber, was worried about the restriction that is imposed by virtue of the fact that applicants have to satisfy the Director that they are married, or about to be married. That, of course, ls a condition that was introduced into the act to give a degree of merited priority to married persons and those about to be married, and so far as I am in a position to judge, a priority of that kind is entirely justified. So long as 1 can exert any influence in the Government, that priority will remain while there is a homeless married ex-serviceman. I am indebted to the honorable members for Bowman (Mr. McColm) and Bruce (Mr. Snedden) for their gracious references to the Minister in charge of war service homes. I have no doubt that he will be greatly interested in what they had to say. Both honorable gentlemen are members of the Government members ex-servicemen's committee which, of course, has examined this question very closely, as it has examined all questions which affect ex-servicemen and exservicewomen. Its advice has always been available to the Government.

I conclude with a brief reference to the remarks of the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam). He had a number of complaints, of the kind that one expects from him when he addresses himself to a bill of this description, but only two of them were of any importance or value either to the House or to the people interested in the provision of war service homes. The first complaint concerned the policy in relation to section 20 of the act, which provides in paragraph (f) for assistance to be given to discharge mortgages on old homes, a facility that was discontinued as long ago as December, 1951. The honorable member's second complaint concerned the discontinuance, for the time being - for which I myself accept full personal responsibility - of favorable consideration being given to second applications for assistance under the War Service Homes Act. The discontinuance of assistance for the discharge of mortgages on old homes was rendered necessary because of the number of applications from people who were without homes, and because the primary purpose of the act was to provide homes, or to build homes, and not to discharge mortgages.

If the division decided to renew the practice of discharging mortgages, it could happen that a large proportion of the resources that are available to the division would be used for that purpose. In my opinion, and I am sure it is also the opinion of the Government, it would be nothing short of a stark tragedy if 25 per cent., 50 per cent. or perhaps 75 per cent. of the resources available to the division were used to discharge mortgages, to the prejudice of people waiting for homes to be built or to be purchased. Precisely the same arguments apply in respect of second applications. Those who have had successful first applications naturally appreciate the value of their homes. In some instances -I do not say in all instances - their cupidity is excited and they find it a very profitable business to submit a second application, but the granting of second applications prejudices the chances of those who have been waiting patiently for years for favorable consideration of their first applications. So, again, as long as I can exert influence in this matter, no serious consideration will be given to second applications, except in cases of extreme urgency, until first applications have been dealt with satisfactorily.

This bill confines itself to broadening the scope of the act so that the number of persons eligible may be increased, and at this early hour of the morning I leave the measure to the good sense of the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 and 2 - by leave - taken together and agreed to.

Clause 3 -

Section four of the Principal Act is amended -

(d)   by omitting from sub-section (2.) all the words after the words " by virtue of this sub-section " and inserting in their stead the words - " unless -

(d)   that person or a dependant of that person is, . .

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