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Wednesday, 20 March 1957

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- We have heard many speeches from the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in the years during which he has occupied his position in this House, but I believe that we have never heard one containing so much specious argument, if it can be termed argument at all, as the one that we have heard from the right honorable gentleman this evening. It would appear from what the Prime Minister said that he has now joined me on at least one point. He now claims that he has been misrepresented by the daily newspapers - not just one newspaper, but all of them in New South Wales, and probably those of other States - because he said, " There have been many odd versions published of what I said at my conference on 7th March". He then went on to admit that he had stated to that gathering that there was no crisis in housing in Australia. But there was one other charge that was made against the right honorable gentleman by the press, to which he has made no reference. It was stated in the newspapers that the Prime Minister is contemptuous of the whole requirements of the Australian people with regard to housing. The right honorable gentleman shows his contempt this evening to the Australian community, because, after having taken up 45 minutes of the time of this Parliament, he now departs from the chamber and will probably dismiss this problem entirely from his mind.

The Prime Minister did, however, make some rather remarkable admissions, when trying to belittle the committee of which I acted as chairman for over a week in Sydney. It was a fact-finding committee, which invited not only members of the Australian Labour party but any one who had any information at all on this problem to come before it, so that it would have the full facts. The Prime Minister said that if a committee is appointed to come to a certain finding, for instance that there is gross unemployment, there is nothing strange in the fact that it discovers that such is the case. It was not the committee that discovered and stated that there was unemployment in the building trades; that was stated by the responsible officials of the trade unions and the employers in the build- ing industry, by the timber merchants, and by the representatives of the Associated Country Sawmillers of New South Wales. These gentlemen came forward and told us of the conditions in the industry, as did secretaries of co-operative building societies. They advised the committee, and the people of this country, that a crisis does exist, first in respect of the lack of homes for the people, and secondly because of the effect that the failure of the Government to deal with the housing shortage is having upon industry.

The Prime Minister does not admit that there is any unemployment of any consequence in the community, because every one knows that Liberal party politicians regard 10 per cent, of unemployed workers as a normal condition in any industry. Therefore, when the Prime Minister talks about a position of over-full employment, he means that no less than 10 per cent, of the total work force is unemployed. Then the Prime Minister said that the position has come into balance. Does he regard from 5 per cent, to 12 per cent, of unemployment, as was stated by the responsible persons, employers and employees, in the building trades, as indicating that the economy is coming into balance? I believe that the Australian community will be shocked to hear the Prime Minister make such a statement. He cited figures provided by the Department of Labour and National Service. Let me inform him that when I interjected and said that they were false figures I was not implying that the officials of the department had falsified them, but the Prime Minister knows, as does the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), that these figures are compiled in such a way as not to show the realistic position with regard to employment in any industry in Australia. I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service to ascertain whether it is a fact that my committee tried to get some authoritative figures from officers of the Department of Labour and National Service, but that those officers were unable to give any information to the committee, because they had received an instruction from their Minister not to appear before the committee. The Minister was afraid to have these officers questioned, because they would have confirmed the story that was told to us by other persons who appeared before the committee.

The Prime Minister is contemptuous, and he is smug in his approach to this great problem. When he was first asked about it he said, " All this business about housing puzzles me ". One would have imagined that the problem had been solved, and that there was not a person in Australia looking for a home. He referred to his critics. He said that their arguments and ideas were quaint, ignorant and stupid. Who are the people who criticize the Prime Minister and the Government? They are not only members of the Australian Labour party, and it does not matter if Government supporters claim that their critics come only from the ranks of the Australian Labour party. The gentlemen who have criticized the Government and asked it to do something about the housing problem include Mr. E. H. Tytherleigh, president of the Associated Co-operative Building Societies, and Mr. C. R. McKerihan, president of the Rural Bank of New South Wales. Both of these gentlemen have asked the Prime Minister to call a conference of all building authorities in the country, both private and public, so that they may deal with the problem. The Prime Minister, however, in his customary manner, dismisses the request as being worthy of no consideration whatsoever.

Is it not rather strange that in his speech to-night the Prime Minister made no reference to Mr. Stewart Fraser? That gentleman is not a member of the Australian Labour party. He happens to be a member of the Liberal party, and is the member for Gordon in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. How did Government supporters deal with that gentleman when he supported the case of the Australian Labour party? The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) said, " You cannot accept Mr. Stewart Fraser as an unbiased witness ". Professor Towndrow, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Technology in Sydney, also joined the critics of the Government. There is not a newspaper in Australia that does not condemn the Government to-day, including newspapers which, sixteen months ago, were asking the people to return this Government to office.

If honorable members opposite require any further evidence, let me say that the State of Queensland was mentioned, and the Prime Minister tried to brush the matter lightly aside by implying that there was something sinister in relation to Queensland. The facts are that within a day or two 452 men in the building industry in Queensland, engaged on home construction, are to be dismissed, because the Commonwealth has refused to provide the money to keep them employed, and in the building industry itself there are just over 2,000 unemployed. Of course, the Prime Minister would regard this as the normal state of affairs. It is a normal state of affairs under an anti-Labour government, but it is not a state of affairs that the Australian Labour party regards as normal.

The Sydney "Daily Telegraph", which is violently anti-Labour and very much proGovernment on most issues, in a recent leader said, " Senator Spooner and the Prime Minister are against the rest of Australia ". To hear the Prime Minister speaking to-night, one would have imagined that he was speaking for the great bulk of opinion in Australia, but it appears to me that what that newspaper said is correct, and that, on the housing situation at least, he and Senator Spooner stand alone. The Prime Minister said that anyone who claimed that the housing programme was going very well was accused of being smug. He said that you must never express pleasure about anything in your country or you will be accused of complacency. He said, "You must go on grizzling about something ". He always becomes irritable when he receives a little criticism. That is why he has left the chamber now. He is not prepared to remain and hear criticism of what he had to say. But what is this normal situation that gives the Prime Minister great pleasure? He has said that it gives him pleasure, although in the 1954 census, which was taken not so very long ago, it was disclosed that in the City of Sydney and its suburbs alone there were 9,275 families living in sheds, huts, &c, and 920 families living in wagons and camps. Recently Mr. Justice Mcclemens, a member of the same profession as the Prime Minister, said, when sitting in judgment on a matter in a Sydney court -

Frequent ejectment proceedings against families were terribly disturbing and distressing.

Does that indicate a normal state of affairs? A member of the bench, a renowned member in his profession, had to make that reference and everybody knows as well as

I do or any other member of this community does, that a great number of the people who are evicted from homes to-day are evicted not because they are bad tenants, or because they are unable to pay their weekly rents, but because somebody - in many cases I regret to say some one who is a comparatively recent arrival in this country - has purchased the home. In this way, the courts are evicting people who have resided in this country for many years.

Immigration, in my opinion, is a factor in creating this problem. Nobody denies that many people who come from overseas enter industries and help to step up production, but no reasonable person will not admit that bringing immigrants in at the present rate is adding to inflation, and is accentuating our housing difficulty. Alderman M. T. Hagen, of Ryde, said -

Scores of immigrants are living in sub-human conditions in packing sheds rented for as much as £4 a week.

I am not suggesting for one moment that all the difficulty stems from immigration; not at all. Many unfortunates who have been encouraged to come to this country find themselves facing the identical difficulties and problems that face ordinary Australian citizens, and they too are frequently exploited, as is indicated by the aldermen of the Ryde Council. But is it not ridiculous that although a housing crisis exists and thousands of our own people and new arrivals are living under intolerable conditions, this Government continues to bring to Australia approximately 2,500 additional settlers every week? I say that until the economy is able to absorb immigrants without further depressing our own living standards, there ought to be a substantial reduction in the intake. Everybody knows the difficulties in regard to emergency housing settlements. In the Australian Capital Territory, where the Commonwealth has complete power, there is a waiting period of two years and four months for government homes. In emergency housing settlements a similar position exists.

Let me briefly, because time will not permit me to go into the matter as fully as I would like, reveal to the House some of the housing conditions which, according to the Prime Minister, give him great pleasure. I wonder whether they give the same amount of pleasure to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) who now sits at the table. I have here a number of cuttings taken from Sydney newspapers at random over past weeks. One is headed "21 live in fowl-houses - people at one end of the shed . . . fowls at the other ". Photographs accompany the article. Another heading is " Fowl-house for a home. Huge rats on the beds ". A photograph shows a housewife in tears. In another newspaper, a picture shows children of an Australian family having a bath under the most primitive conditions - housing conditions that the Prime Minister says give him great pleasure. Even Alan Reid, the Canberra correspondent of the " Daily Telegraph ", who usually is out to make excuses for the Government, wrote an article which is headed, " Canberra wastes no tears on the homeless ". That is the exact situation to-day. The Government is not wasting any tears over the homeless. And so I could go on with the story; but let me for a moment say something about the resources that are available in this country.

We had before our fact-finding committee representatives of all the building industry unions. We also had Mr. Kraegen, the secretary of the Country Sawmillers Association, who told us that 64 mills had closed on the North Coast. Timber merchants told us that their sales were down 25 per cent. Other witnesses said that brick-yards were closing and that manufacturers of building accessories were shortening production. Yet the Prime Minister talks about a shortage of manpower and materials! The Minister for Housing in New South Wales, a responsible Minister of the State Government, recently advised our committee that an additional 3,000 homes could be built in the next twelve months by using the available idle resources, without taking materials or manpower from any other avenue of production.

Now let us turn to this question of cheap homes. I admit that what a worker has to pay for a home is of the utmost importance. Did honorable members hear the Prime Minister crying to-night because the workers now had to pay more for their homes? Why did he not tell us of the important part played by the interest rate on housing loans in determining the cost of a home? Is it not a fact that under the

Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement the Commonwealth Government itself raised the interest rate by 1 per cent.? If the Prime Minister were really concerned about keeping down the cost of home construction, instead of increasing the interest rate he would be reducing it. Is it not a fact also that the Commonwealth Government demanded of the States that they must abandon the rental rebate system? Senator Spooner said that the States were free to pay the rebate if they wish to do so; but, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, the Commonwealth Government contributed a considerable sum to the maintenance of these rental rebates.

Mr Calwell - Three-fifths.

Mr WARD - The Commonwealth's contribution was three-fifths, as my deputy leader reminds me. When the Chifley Government introduced the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, the rental rebate system was instituted purposely to assist the lower income group in the community to obtain homes. What happens to-day? With the inflated costs for which this Government is responsible, the worker, without the assistance of a rental rebate, cannot afford to take a new home built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Those homes are within the reach only of those who can be regarded as being in the middle income group. How unrealistic was the Minister for Development, in regard to the difficulties of the New South Wales Government? He said that the New South Wales Government should try to attract funds from private sources to finance housing. Where are those funds to come from? The Prime Minister has told us this evening that the banks will not lend money for housing because they have more profitable avenues of investment. Where else does Senator Spooner suggest homebuilders can go for funds? According to the " Sun " newspaper of the 6th January this year, the principal blame for the woeful housing situation lies at the door of the banks which, following Commonwealth Bank policy, prefer a 12 per cent, return on loans to hire-purchase companies to 6 per cent, on loans to building societies. So how can Senator Spooner regard his suggestion as worthwhile? Everybody knows what Custom Credit did recently. It offered to advance up to £2,000,000 in housing loans over a period of twelve years at an interest rate of 10 per cent., which would have meant to any person foolish enough to accept the offer, repayments of £7 16s. per week. Forty per cent, of this company's share capital, and probably a greater percentage if the truth were known, is owned by the National Bank of Australasia Limited and obviously the bank will not make its money available to the home purchaser at a reasonable rate of interest if it can obtain 10 per cent, interest through Custom Credit. Some of the honorable gentlemen who were so vociferous in their protests when Labour wanted to do something in relation to private banking might tell us whether this is the sort of protection they were seeking in those days through a continuation of private banking. I will make a suggestion to the Government as to how it can have finance provided for home-building. In the special accounts of the private banks held by the Commonwealth Bank in the week ending 6th March last, there was £320,000,000. The Government is prone to have conferences with the banks when it so desires. Why does not it have a further conference with the banks and ask them to accept the release of a certain proportion of the money now held in the special accounts on the undertaking that it will be earmarked specifically for advances for home-ownership and home-construction? The Government could easily do that.

Let me turn again to Mr. Stewart Fraser, the Liberal party member of the New South Wales Parliament for Gordon. He was reported in the " Sydney Morning Herald " of 7th March as having said that the Prime Minister had given him an assurance that enough money would be made available to keep the building industry busy. The report also stated -

Mr. Menzies'assurance was given notwithstanding the Government's credit restrictions.

If the Prime Minister gave that solemn undertaking, why does not he honour it? Why does not he provide adequate money for the States? It is idle for honorable members opposite to talk about inefficiency in New South Wales. We challenge them to produce evidence of any inefficiency in connexion with housing construction by the New South Wales Government. That Government has produced homes under the agreement for £2,300. 1 venture the opinion that there is, most likely, not another State in the Commonwealth that could match that performance. But the New South Wales Government can build only the number of homes for which this Government will provide the finance. If the New South Wales Government is given a certain sum by way of a tax reimbursement or a special housing grant, it can build only as many homes as that sum will provide. lt is perfectly true that a Labour government was in office when the tax reimbursement proposal was adopted, but it was something of which neither that government nor any other government in this country had had any previous experience. It was a new venture. We recognize to-day that the formula, as it is termed, for tax reimbursements must be reviewed and that the Commonwealth must adopt a more generous attitude to the States in helping them to deal with the problems which they are facing.

This is a dishonest government. The Prime Minister has talked about the Constitution. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) will confirm that, under the Constitution, the Commonwealth is entitled to raise by taxation only sufficient revenue to meet ils own requirements and purposes. But it has been taxing the people of this country more heavily than necessary. What has it done with the money that it has raised in addition to the money needed to meet its requirements? It has not handed that money back to the States, as it is required to do under the Constitution. To avoid compliance with the provisions of the Constitution, it has placed surplus moneys in trust funds. Then it has raised special loans, into which it has deposited the trust fund moneys, which were collected from the community by taxes, and subsequently it has lent those moneys to the States at an interest rate of 4 per cent. That is the type of action for which this Government has been responsible.

Let me turn to one or two of the election promises of the Prime Minister. He said in his speech to-night that he would refer to what he said in 1955, but, conveniently for him. he forgot to do so. In his policy speech he referred to -

A new housing agreement, with more money for the States at a favorable interest rate.

He knows that this Government has put up the interest rate. When the Government's credit restrictions were first imposed, there were 85,417 homes under construction, but to-day there are fewer than 60,000 under construction. Our population is growing and our need for homes is becoming greater, but the Government is not providing additional finance to enable homebuilding to keep abreast of the demand.

Let me show honorable members the difference between the policy of the Labour party and that of the anti-Labour parties. Tn 1949, under a Labour government, the expenditure on homes represented 80 per cent, of the total expenditure on all types of building, but to-day the expenditure on home-building represents only 53 per cent, of the total expenditure. Some of the balance is being expended on essential building, but a great deal is being used for luxury and unnecessary building.

In the few minutes that remain to me, let me make one other reference to the promises of the Prime Minister. I have here an advertisement which the Liberal party inserted in the press during the general election campaign of 1949. Tt is fortunate that I kept this advertisement, tt contains an excellent photograph of the right honorable gentleman. It shows him minus one or two chins, but otherwise it is quite a good likeness of him. The advertisement stated -

We give this firm promise to young couples. The Liberal parly, when returned to office, will regard as its paramount and most vital responsibility the speeding-up of the housing programme. We will not allow any other public works, other than those of the most extreme urgency, to be given priority over home-building. . . . You are penalised to-day by the Chifley Government . . the very government which claims to be the champion of the average man and woman is the government that is depriving you of a home and. by starving State governments of funds, preventing even your State government from helping you.

That was in 1949. There was no mention of constitutional difficulties then. The Prime Minister did not say in 1949 that homes could not be built because there were constitutional difficulties. He said that, so long as there was an anti-Labour govern.ment, the way would be clear. The fact is that if this Government adopted a realistic approach to the housing problem, the problem could be solved.

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