Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 21 March 1957

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- I am sure all members of the Opposition will agree with me when I say that we are very glad to see the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) back again in this Parliament after suffering a very serious accident. We were all caused a good, deal of anxiety. It does not seem nine months since the honorable member was last in his seat, but he has gone through an awful lot since he was here. I wish to say how glad I am to see him back, fighting fit, in this Parliament, and trust that he has had no permanent ill effects from his accident. Indeed, after recovering from that accident, I imagine he could recover from anything.

I want to refer to two other honorable members, perhaps not in such a friendly way. I wish to say how much all decentminded people would deplore the vicious personal attack on the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) this week. This attack is part of a deliberately fostered press campaign to destroy our leader and any other person who fights vested interests in this country. They tried to destroy the late Ben Chifley in 1949. These honorable members, though they are personal friends of mine, are degrading the Parliament by such persistent attacks as they levelled last night and this morning. They are revealing not their bigness of mind but their smallness of mind and complete lack of stature. They are jeopardizing the respect of their own electorates. The deliberate, cold-blooded tactics of character assassination employed against our leader-


Order! The honorable member will withdraw the remark that it was' a deliberate attack - a character assassination.

Mr DUTHIE - I withdraw the word " deliberate ". They have all the hall-marks of the tactics of a regime we knew well in Europe a few years ago when certain people set out to cut down men and destroy people whom they regarded as standing in their way or in the way of the triumph of their programme. Now, in this country, by straightout falsehoods, by misrepresentation of the situation, by inaccurate reporting, by innuendo and by directing all their poisonous weapons on one man, our leader's opponents seek to destroy him. Many of these attackers, in my opinion, will themselves be destroyed long before they destroy either the Labour party or our leader.

Our re-statement of policy at Brisbane has caused much concern on the other side of the House, but one leading member of the present Cabinet said to some of us a few nights ago, " I am glad that you chaps have clearly stated what you believe in and where you are going, without fear or favour and without collaboration with any other parly or group ". To me, that is a complete answer to the sniping we have had from i hose who have not even read the decisions of the Brisbane conference and who rely only on the scrappy reports they have read in the newspapers. Because it is the most united conference Labour has ever conducted, the newspapers could not find anything else to do but connect Dr. Burton with the conference. They pounded that item day after day and expected to destroy the effect of the conference by such tactics. 1 shall refer to the speech made last night by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). Despite all the evidence that has piled up in recent months showing that finance is the key to the lack of homes and to the general housing shortage throughout the States, I am amazed that the Prime Minister can persist in saying that finance is not the main item. In fact, the State Ministers for Housing, who are meeting in Melbourne at present - and they include Liberal Ministers - have made a joint statement on the issue. They sent it to the Prime Minister in a telegram but he did not reveal that to us last night. He was supposed to receive i he telegram yesterday. It was signed by all the State Ministers at the meeting in Melbourne and they have given the completely opposite view to that given by the Prime Minister to the House last night. I wonder who the Prime Minister is trying to fool by such an insistence on an argument that has no weight and no evidence to support it! The Prime Minister should bring the telegram to the Parliament and let us all know exactly what the State Ministers said.

I have it from absolute authority that the State Ministers have said in a unanimous message that finance is the thing that has weakened the housing programmes of the States. But the Prime Minister will not believe that the situation is serious. He dealt with it in a cavalier fashion last night. I am quite sure that his advisers have not yet given him the facts of the situation. Victoria alone has 3,000 registered unemployed in the building trades at the present moment. In that State the claim is made that the real figure is about four times that number because men leaving the building industry have gone into other fields of employment and did not register as unemployed builders. It is claimed that about 12.000 men have left the building industry in Victoria in recent months and that thereare 1,200 evictions a month. What a colossal drain that is on building societies, government housing schemes and so on! The Housing Ministers have said that materials are available and that men obviously are available but that lack of finance is preventing the bridging of the gap between demand and supply. The Housing Ministers hope that the Minister foi National Development (Senator Spooner) will be to-morrow in Melbourne to speak to them, but they are not sure whether he will be there.

A copy of the telegram to which 1 referred was sent to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and to the Minister foi National Development. To-morrow, unless some miracle happens, Mr. McCathie, in Queensland, will have to dismiss 400 building workers. These are very serious matters indeed. The Prime Minister said that finance is not the key to the situation, but I shall quote what the State Ministers said in a Melbourne press report. The report reads -

State Housing Ministers to-day called unanimously on the Federal Government to release more money for housing.

They said materials and manpower were plentiful but the building rate was declining.

In fact, it is declining rapidly. How can the Prime Minister persist in the argument that finance is not the key to the situation?

We all realize the great importance ot having every Australian living in his own home, whether he owns it himself or whether he must rent it because he cannot afford to buy it. We are all committed to this principle, no matter what our political affiliations may be. It is silly to make :> political issue of the matter. It is ever more than an issue for the States; it is a national issue. The importance of housing in a nation is appreciated by all. It is too big a question for the States to handle separately. It is a Commonwealth responsibility.

There has been an enormous increase in immigration during recent years. Almost 1,200.000 immigrants have come to thicountry. Some of these immigrants have helped to build homes, it is true, but the", have come here in such numbers that adequate housing for them has not been made available, and many have been forced to live in shockingly crowded conditions. There has been a great increase in the number of marriages, and this also has caused a big demand for new homes. Homes mean families, and home life is vital to a nation. A nation's real strength is not in its military armaments; it is in the strength of its home life and the character of its homes. Good -citizenship and good character spring from lessons and examples given in the home. When I visited Japan two years ago 1 quickly saw the secret of the strength of that nation; it is centred in its home life. This is true of every nation. Defeat in the home means disaster in the nation, anc) when, through lack of homes, families have to live like animals in crowded, unhealthy conditions, the nation's health is sapped. All past civilizations have fallen through the destruction of home life. From homelessness or sub-standard housing stem the shocking evils of to-day, such as divorce, crime, larrikinism, child delinquency, bodgieism and widgieism and social disaster.

The home-building industry employs the largest work force of any industry in our nation. When we think of home building we are inclined to think only of the buildins of houses and the people employed on that work. We must go beyond that, however, and consider all the ancillary activities. Then we must include the vast timber industry, the transport and furniture industries, electrical production, floor covering manufacture, plastering, paint production, curtain making, the manufacture of kitchen amenities, glassware, refrigerators, blankets and sheeting, mattresses and the like. All these activities are dependent on the regular construction of homes. Once home building ceases the effect is felt through all these industries, in the same way as a stone thrown into a pool causes waves which extend right to the shore. Therefore, members on this side of the House claim that although we may survive the failure of other industries, we cannot survive the failure of the housing industry Such a failure could cause a disastrous ^cession in a very quick time. For this reason we must do something within the next few -months towards the provision of adequate finance. A reduction in the number of homes built means a consequent reduction in the output of all the other items that I have mentioned, and consequently results in a slow strangulation of those industries, and loss of employment for thousands of men.

Mr Curtin - It breeds communism.

Mr DUTHIE - Of course it does. If one goes into some of the slums of Melbourne or Sydney or the other capital cities, one sees the breeding grounds of other ideologies than ours, including communism, which breeds in this foetid, poisonous atmosphere, in which children have not a chance from birth, and are condemned to a life of delinquency or malnutrition.

The fact that a crisis exists in the timber industry has been denied by the Prime Minister. He more or less laughed at the suggestion. I wondered last night whether he was at all serious about this matter. Let us consider the position in Tasmania. In that State twenty timber mills have closed down already, 26 are on reduced production, and 450 men have already left the industry. Millions and millions of super, feet of timber are piled up at the mills that are still in operation. The Tasmanian production of timber is about 250,000,000 super, feet a year, but 60,000,000 super, feet of hardwood is imported from Malaya and Borneo annually, and this has competed with our production. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) and I have sent numerous telegrams during the last few months to the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), giving details of the importation of this timber and requesting certain information. The Minister has not had the decency to answer our telegrams. By this kind of neglect, the Government reveals to the people of Australia how contemptuous it is of their difficulties regarding housing. We are responsible members of this Parliament, representing thousands of electors, and when we make represent:itions to a Minister we expect a reply. In fact, we demand a reply. Failure to reply demonstrates complete discourtesy and it is a disgrace to an elected government. We have hundreds of men being thrown out of employment. We put the position before the Minister and we urged a reduction in the importation of this timber from Malaya and Borneo, but he does not even acknowledge a telegram.

Mr Cope - The honorable member for Capricornia referred to coolie labour this morning.

Mr DUTHIE - That is so. The honorable member for Capricornia insulted the people of Formosa this morning by calling them coolies. That is not a very effective way of building up good relations with the countries of South-East Asia. They are human beings, just as we are. Whether or not their standard of living is higher than ours, they are still human beings, and it is wrong for any member of this Parliament to call them coolies, just as it would be wrong to refer to our own Australian aborigines as natives.

There is no doubt that this Government has shown a cavalier attitude towards the question of housing. Consider the situation in New South Wales, to which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) referred last night. Mr. Goodworth, an organizer of the Building Workers Industrial Union, has said that 83 north coast timber mills have closed down in the last three months - not three years but three months - and 800 men have been put out of work in districts where there is no alternative employment. We would not, perhaps, be so concerned if these men could walk out of a timber mill and go straight into a factory, but in this case such is not possible. These districts are isolated, and the mills are the very life-blood of the various towns. Once the mills close down, the storekeepers, the butchers and bakers do not get any money, and the towns commence to die. A survey has shown that between Port Macquarie and the Queensland border there are many places where large stocks of timber are lying unsold, and widespread unemployment throughout the land is approaching. Yet this Government says that finance is not the answer. In respect of the timber that we produce and the competition from overseas I would say this: Since the war our timber industry has had a pretty good run. There has been no outside competition to speak of, but unfortunately the quality of our timber has not been what it could be. I spoke to timber-millers in my State on this point and they said that previously their timber was being bought freely in Melbourne and Adelaide. Quality was not what merchants were after. They were after quantity. They wanted more and more timber to build more and more homes as the great demand warranted. Now, however, the situation is reversed and merchants are saying, " We want quality ". Largely for that reason the timber is not being sold. One man, who is in charge of a very big mill, said to me - " If we had to make quality our primary concern, I would have to halve my men in this mill because it means less of the log would go through the saws. More of the log would be thrown overboard as waste and only the very best would go through and I would have to sack half my men ". So there is a situation of great concern in an industry that is trying to swing over from quantity to quality.

Mr Chaney - Do you like quality in your house?

Mr DUTHIE - I certainly do, and it is a good thing quality is in demand. With respect to the agencies by which housing is being carried out to-day, in Australia we have the private builder, the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement - which was destroyed largely last year when that new legislation was brought down - - the State housing authorities, the building societies - which are doing such a wonderful job in Victoria and New South Wales in particular - bank schemes, and the War Service Homes scheme. That is the way our houses are being built - when those agencies can get the money. The Commonwealth Bank has supplied 72 per cent, of the finance for homes in Victoria through building societies and continues to be the major lending organization, and this Government could, by direction of the Treasurer, have the Commonwealth Bank provide more finance for the homebuilder. The Commonwealth Bank report on page 27 indicates the attitude of the bank to this very important matter and states there that over the whole of Australia 70 per cent, of the total finance approved to the building societies during the past year was made available through the Commonwealth Savings Bank. In Victoria 72 per cent, of the finance made available to the co-operative societies came from the Commonwealth Bank.

In Tasmania we have, in my opinion, an ideal housing set-up which should become a pattern for the Commonwealth. We build approximately 580 to 650 houses a year under the Agricultural Bank scheme. It is financed from Commonwealth funds through the housing loans. We had ?2,000,000 given to Tasmania by the Loan Council for housing this financial year, and that is ?1,000,000 short of what we need to bridge the gap between supply and demand in four years. One-third more finance is needed in each State to bridge the gap and avert a great crisis in the building industry. The Tasmanian scheme is financed from federal sources. We are establishing whole new suburbs throughout the main cities and towns of the island. No deposit is required. A person needing a house in Tasmania does not have to put down one penny deposit. He has 53 years to pay for the home and the qualifications necessary before a man can get a house are, good character, a reasonable wage, present sub-standard accommodation, and a family of more than one child. The requirement used to be more than three children, but we have reduced it. Rentals range from ?3 16s. to ?4 10s. a week. There is a rent purchase system under which the tenant gets an increasing equity in the home every week he pays his rent. After seven years he is able to sell the house if he so wishes.

An American expert, Mr. Samuel B. Gerry, who is in Australia now, had a remedy for our housing troubles. The following report appeared in the "Daily Telegraph " of 20th March, 1957:-

Suggest corrections