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Thursday, 21 March 1957

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- It is great good fortune that a temperate, moderate democratic socialist fellow like me should follow in debate such a rip-roaring, hellraising, rabid, United Nations busting fellow like the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), who is so keen on expelling those with whom he does not agree from the United Nations. I should like to point out to the people that it is rather a dangerous thing to advocate in the Parliament of the nation the expulsion from the United Nations of another country. We of the Labour party believe that representatives of all countries should sit in the United Nations, even the sort of people who would vote for the honorable member for Hume. We believe that conciliation and arbitration of this nature, leading to a friendly gettogether and consultation, is the only way to solve the world's problems. That is the point that I should like to deal with in addressing myself to the remarks of the honorable member for Hume in the last part of his speech.

I was a little struck by the honorable member's lack of appreciation for Russian society. I have never been in Russia, nor am I anxious to go there, but I think that the honorable member showed a slight touch of naivete when he said that he thought a little change of opinion on the part of the Russians would change their character. I have no illusions about the government of Russia. I think it is rough and tough, and not the sort of government I should like to live under. I do not like governments that shoot people in the streets. Nor do I like governments like Australian Country party and Liberal party governments that hang people, although we have to put up with them in this country.

Mr Davis - What governments does the honorable member like?

Mr BRYANT - I like socialist governments. I should like also to say that there is only one Labour party, although honorable members opposite may be labouring under delusions on that matter. There is one true Labour party and four anti-Labour parties, and the true Labour party is led by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). The anti-Labour parties are the Australian Country party, the Liberal party, the Anti-Communist Labour party and the Communist party.

We believe that the answers to the problems of this nation can be found only in the democratic socialist concept. We have been a little astounded by the failure of the people opposite to take up the challenge which we have laid down in the matter of housing. One would at least expect that when the party in opposition has chosen to issue a challenge on housing, honorable members on the Government side would rush to the defence of their leader and either explain that his words or actions did not mean quite what they seemed to mean, or point out the weaknesses in our arguments. This, of course, honorable members opposite who have spoken so far have failed to do.

There was one point in the speech of the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston) which ought to be answered. He made some remarks about the federal conference of the Labour party in Brisbane. One pleasing feature about being a member of the Labour party is that its constitutional and democratic practices are open to the public view, and do get into the news. The press is allowed to attend the conferences. These conferences are not like the Liberal party's secret conferences whose decisions never become known and, consequently, never have to be carried out. The point about the Brisbane conference of the Labour party was that the decision on the White Australia policy was unanimous. If honorable members opposite want to be in a position to make some properly founded observations on Labour procedures and practices, I am sure that, when the next biennial conference comes around, if they make proper application and get a couple of members of the Labour party to sponsor them, we may let them in so that they can see what is going on. That would enable them to tell the truth instead of repeating hearsay and false evidence and prejudice in this place or anywhere else.

I do not think that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was at his best last night. He got away to a rather sneering start. That was quite in character. I assume, after all, that certain courtesies are due even to the Opposition. The right honorable gentleman arrived in the House two or three minutes after the Leader of the Opposition had begun his speech, and departed immediately after the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) had started his speech in reply to the right honorable gentleman. I do not blame him for that because, unfortunately for him, he was unable to answer the arguments advanced. Some of the general points about housing that the Prime Minister apparently neglected to deal with are its importance to the social life of the community and the fact that it is the duty of this Government to deal with the problem and solve it if it can. In fact, as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) said, the Prime Minister is high up in his ivory tower and does not acknowledge that there are any problems under his Government. He is busy creating further problems. Housing is not a business proposition, lt is a social need which is part of our social life of the community. It should be treated as a social service. Part of the housing activities of the Government were indeed transferred to the Department of Social Services until, for some unexplained reason, they were removed from its control.

The first thing that is needed to assist in a solution of the housing problem now is a change of attitude on the part of the Government. The ideal basis of family life in this country is a good home. There is no reason why every Australian should not live in a good home. I think that that is a reasonable objective, and that we should bend all our efforts towards solving the housing problem. Its solution is the key to the further expansion of the community.

The Labour party is not biased against immigration. This party, as the Prime Minister pointed out, is proud of its record in the early post-war years in creating the immigration policy, but the point is that, unless we can supply homes for the immigrants that we bring in, the time has come to do something about restricting the flow and getting to work and doing something about supplying homes for the people already here. The Labour party believes in the expansion and development of Australia. In the whole of our history since federation - and any historically minded person will admit this - it has been Labour governments which have expanded and developed the country's resources.

The Labour party has a proper appreciation of the fact that housing plays an important part in the development of family life and the encouragement of bigger families. A notable example of this is to be seen at West Heidelberg, a suburb of Melbourne. There, any one can see the result of planned housing, suitable housing and good housing in the development of families, lt is a great place for children. The families which arrived there from the congested inner areas of Melbourne have embarked on a family expansion programme.

Generally speaking, the housing problem is the key to our further development. This Government has failed to appreciate that, and it also has failed to do anything constructive about it. We on this side of the House maintain that it is not a shortage of labour and materials that is holding up solution of the housing problem. We say that the financial side of housing is the main stumbling block in the way of the development of a proper housing plan. We point out that the employment position is becoming grim indeed. We have grown up during the last ten years and in that time we have seen full employment. It has become part and parcel of our way of thinking. The dreaded insecurity of unemployment has been practically banished from our lives during recent years; but in the last six months an increasing number of people have been looking for work. They may not have been unemployed over long periods, but it cannot be denied that in every sector of the economy there are people who are on the verge of being dismissed, others who have been dismissed and are looking for work, and still others who are in casual employment. Instead of people being able to walk from one job to another, if they lose their jobs they are out of work for weeks on end. lt is not just an accident that whereas when this Government took office in 1949 there were 703 people in receipt of the unemployment benefit, after the Government had been in office for seven years there were 15.000 people in receipt of the unemployment benefit. It is not just an accident that trade union representatives in Melbourne, whom I rang this morning, have given me examples of increased unemployment in their industries. The building workers' union, which covers carpenters, has nine to twelve people a day coming in looking for work at the moment, and the union is finding difficulty in placing them. The painters' union has five applications for work each day, whilst the Builders Labourers Union has fifteen. These are average figures for the last few weeks. lt is important to note that many of the people seeking work are immigrants who are unable to speak our language and whom the unions find particular difficulty in placing for that reason. It is not a matter of racial prejudice, or of prejudice against immigrants. It is a simple illustration of the incapacity of industry, in moments of crisis, to absorb people who have just been brought to this country. In the case of the bricklayers union, an average of three people report each day looking for work, and the union has been unable to place any of them during the last week or so.

Mr Chaney - Has the honorable member worked out the percentages of unemployment?

Mr BRYANT - I am not interested in that. 1 am thinking of people, noi percentages. The outlook for the winter is grim. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated last night -

It will suffice to show that talk, of crisis and of slump is grossly exaggerated. I deny a crisis. I deny a slump.

So far as the Australian Labour party is concerned, any man out of work is a national problem. It is a crisis when an man is out of work and unable to find work. I happen to be one of those who have been out of work. In this matter, I echo the words of the late Mr. Chifley, who said thai if he could do anything about it nobody in this country should ever have to walk the streets looking for work again. I do not care whether it is only one man who is unepmloyed, or whether it is 100 men or 1.000.000 men. Perhaps honorable members opposite support the words, written bv a columnist some years ago, to the effect that there is no crisis in employment until you are out of work yourself.

The attitude that has been adopted by the Opposition is the one that the people who are running the country - or who are supposed to be running it - will have to adopt. The fact of unemployment is the thing that matters; percentages do not mean a thing when men are out of work. Talk of percentages i$ the kind of thing that can be expected from this Government. It ought to know better and it should do better, lt should know that unemployment is a crisis of the first magnitude. It does not need many people to come to a federal member looking for work to make him appreciate the heartbreak of it all. Unemployment is one of the greatest tragedies that can happen in everyday life, and in many cases is surpassed only by the loss through death of the breadwinner. In the last ten years some people have become complacent about unemployment. The fact that men cannot find work is, in my opinion, the most serious indictment of a government. I believe in the opportunity for employment, just as I believe that other people should have the opportunity to expand their personal interests. Over-full employment is the only condition that enables the worker to increase his opportunities, and that is the only standard that we of the Labour party are prepared to accept. It is important for the whole nation to appreciate that the collapse of the building industry heralds the collapse of the economic structure of the country, and that it must be stopped.

During the last few weeks we have read a good deal, and there has been considerable argument, concerning the housing position generally, the causes of the shortage, its extent, and so on. The figures quoted in the report I have before me indicate that we are approximately 115,000 houses short. My friends in Sydney, imbued with a sense of public duty, recently carried out an inquiry and arrived at a figure of something over 200,000. Unfortunately, we have no consistent standards on which to work. I should like to point out one aspect of this matter which, perhaps, ha« been overlooked. The City of Canberra has a population of approximately 34,000, and there are 7,250 homes here. The minimum acceptable land area is 6,000 square feet, or roughly an allotment 50 feet by 120 feet. That is the minimum, but the average is much higher than that. The population density in the new areas is about fifteen to the acre, whilst in the older areas it is about twelve to the acre. Those figures do not allow for the great spaces occupied by public buildings, parks, and so on. They refer only to the actual housing areas.

By way of comparison, let us take the City of Brunswick, a large part of which I represent in this place. The people of Brunswick have the same social and other aspirations as have the people of Canberra. In fact, I suppose they could reasonably claim that they contribute something towards the cost of Canberra. Brunswick has a population, at present, of 55,000. It covers an area of 2,7 1 9 acres, nearly 600 of which are taken up by streets. There are 12,979 homes and 2,500 other buildings in the area. Brunswick is not a slum, but simply a congested area. One hundred houses have been condemned. The frontages are down to as little as 16 feet, and they average between 20 feet and 30 feet. The depth of some of the allotments is only about 100 feet, and the population density over the whole area, taking public buildings, parks, schools and everything else into account is 26 persons to the acre. That is twice the density in Canberra, a city that has been planned with a standard in view. It is a standard, that we ought to demand for the whole of Australia.

The people of Brunswick, like the rest of us, may move away if they wish to do so, and, no doubt, some of them would move if they could obtain financial assisttance. We have not carried out any research to find out how many of 'them would want to leave the area. Given a proper housing scheme, it is the kind of place where you could probably build one house on three blocks, and make accommodation available elsewhere for the other two families. They are all good people and capable of working and looking after themselves. As I have said, it is not a slum or a depressed area in the strict sense, but a place where the ordinary, reasonable housing aspirations of the people cannot find expression. The only way in which they can find expression is through the availability of additional financial assistance.

Mr. friend. Mr. CampbellTurnbull, the State member of Parliament for the area, has three or four people callins; on him every day - elderly people, youn? couples and others who are being evicted from rooms, all looking for housing accommodadation. Yet the Prime Minister will stand up in this chamber and say that there is no housing crisis and that, in fact, there is no shortage of homes! 1 rang the co-operative housing societies of Victoria this morning and was informed that there are approximately 10,000 people on their waiting lists. We have about 400 co-operative societies in Victoria. The Commonwealth Bank, which has been the basis of their financial accommodation, has lent £17,000,000 to 97 societies. In January of this year it lent £500,000, whereas in January of last year it lent £1,600,000, a fall of over £1,000,000 for one month. To one house building instrumentality from one lending authority alone, there was a drop in advances equivalent to the value of 460 houses. It will only be necessary to keep up that trend for another couple of years and the whole building industry will be at a standstill. The housing position will be chaotic and tragic. These are the things we have to discuss.

It is no use the Prime Minister or anybody else trying to lay the responsibility on the States. The responsibility, the initiative, the power and the authority lie in the Parliament. We on this side of the House accept it. Let us take war service homes, f believe that the whole concept of housing finance has to be changed. I would abolish the interest concept. War service homes were financed last year from taxation to the extent of £30,000,0.00. Turning to the report we find that the lucky players who were supported by the War Service Homes Division paid off £5,863,931 16s. Id. in principal, but that they paid off £6,025,087 15s. 7d. in interest. Interest is the killer. A total of 100,013 homes are being administered by the' War Service Homes Division at an administrative cost of £947,742 lis. a year, which is equal to £9 a house a year. The profit on war service homes, which represent a social service, was £5,000,000. Honorable members opposite can work that out from the figures and if they are short of arithmetic instruction I can give them some.

The Government raised £30,000,000 and received back about £12,000,000 in repayments of principal and interest. It is in the housing business in a big way as a big business. I believe that that is the wrong attitude. If the Government is to raise money from general taxation, the charge should not be based on an interest concept. This is something that has been inherited over the centuries and it should be replaced by some - administrative charge. The repayment should cover principal plus an administrative charge plus some amount that might be arrived at for a particular purpose or a particular reason. People who are paying back a loan of £2,000 to the War Service Homes Division over a period of 40 years have to pay about £7 a month. That should be reduced to about £4 a month. I put that forward as a proposition.

No one claims that this problem is easy of solution. We have the job of finding new buildings for new people. We have the job of taking up the backlog of years in which we were unable to build because of depression or war. Another factor is the developing attitude of the people towards home ownership. We also have to take into consideration what might be called the internal immigration of people if we are to give them the sort of living standards that I believe Australians ought to have in a community such as this. There is no doubt that the environment in which people are brought up plays a most important part in the moulding of their lives. The Government has plenty of authority to do as I have suggested. Section 96 of the Constitution allows the Government to allot money to the States for particular purposes. Section 10 of the Commonwealth Bank Act gives the Government the power to instruct the bank as to what its policy should be. Section 26 (2.) of the Banking Act reads as follows: -

Without limiting the generality of the last preceding sub-section, the Commonwealth Bank may give directions as to the classes of purposes for which advances may or may not be made by banks and each bank shall comply with any directions so given.

So the power, the authority, the initiative and responsibility lie here. I believe that the administrative arrangements for housing finance should be simplified. The Government could work through the local branches of the Commonwealth Bank, the State banks and even, perhaps, the trading banks. lt should decentralize to the bank managers and local authorities as much as possible the administration of the scheme. There could also be advisory officers who would go out and encourage people to build their homes. There is no solution of this problem unless we mobilize the people who are prepared, able and willing to do the work themselves. Thousands have done it. I suppose that over 50 per cent, of the people who live within a quarter of a mile of my house have built their homes. The administrative system should be simplified to encourage and stimulate that trend. It is only by the mobilization of these people that we will overcome this backlog of 250,000 homes. After all, that is a total of nearly £750,000,000, equivalent to the defence vote for four years, and it should not be treated lightly. The large projects such as those of the Housing Commission should be extended. The Beaufort housing project, in Victoria, which was abandoned when the Liberal Government came to power, and the present home-building project - concrete homes - has never been allowed to go at full pace. I suggest that honorable members on both sides of the House should give very serious consideration to the amendment. The most vital thing in the life of every couple is their home. We on this side of the House will do everything in our power to ensure that there is no unemployment and that people live in decent conditions and in an environment worthy of the nation.

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