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Thursday, 21 March 1957

Mr DAVIDSON (Dawson) (PostmasterGeneral and Minister for the Navy) . - At the outset of my remarks, I desire to associate myself with the message of loyalty to our most gracious sovereign which is contained in the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply to the GovernorGeneral's Speech, and also with the expression of thanks to His Excellency the Governor-General for the Speech that he addressed to the Parliament last Tuesday. If I may say so, with respect, that Speech aptly and clearly outlined to the people of Australia the methods that have been em- ployed by this Government in recent years in fulfilling the various undertakings it has given. The Speech also indicates the Government's planning for the future. I think it was the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) who stated, in his maiden speech, when proposing the motion, that the planning for the future outlined in Hi;. Excellency's Speech shows very clearly thai this Government, as a result of its experience, is still capable of constructive and forward planning, and that there is no suggestion in its actions that it is growing old, as other governments have done in the past. The Government's experience in control of the affairs of the nation during the last seven years is being used to plan for greater things and to work for higher achievements.

I should also like to associate myself with the expressions of appreciation tendered by other honorable members on both sides of the House to the honorable member for Barker who proposed and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) who seconded the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply for the terms in which they did so. I think it is correct to say that they initiated the debate on a very high plane, which we all appreciate, in a manner that augurs well for their future contributions to the debates in thi*. House.

However, having said that, I must say that I fear that the amendment submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has fallen somewhat below that high level. I feel that it has been moved primarily for the specific purpose of distracting public attention from various aspects of the Australian Labour party's internal affairs. I refer, for instance, to the hopeless disunity within the ranks of that party, which has split into various factions, and, more particularly, to the amazing disclosure of the dangerous policies that apparently are now to be re-adopted, by the party. We all know that the policy of socialism which has been a plank of the Australian Labour party's platform for very many years had not really been put aside in recent years. It had only been played down because the leaders of the party felt that it was a dangerout plank to have in their platform. But at the biennial conference of the party held in Brisbane recently, the federal president publicly avowed that socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange is again to be brought to the forefront of Labour policy, and that Labour will fight the next election on it. There is no need for me to remind honorable members, and, I think, the people of Australia, that such a policy means simply that all incentive for any one in the community to develop the country and to improve the nation's standards will be killed, and that eventually we shall sink to the depths desired by the socialists in which the individual will become completely, subservient to the State. That is the meaning of socialism, and it is just as well to state it.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Labour's policy is democratic socialism.

Mr DAVIDSON - The honorable member should not make me laugh. What a conflict of terms is to be found in the expression " democratic socialism "! How many people will be misled by this sort of thing? I believe that there are many solid and sober men in the Labour movement - though they are not at present in command of it - who realize the danger inherent in this policy, and I am of the opinion that the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition as a censure on the Government is designed to distract public attention from that fact. For me, and, I hope, for the people of Australia - for the people of Queensland, I am certain - there is a frightening significance in the fact that the amazing statement of policy by the federal president of the Australian Labour party was made at a conference in Queensland, the State that has such a long history of the disastrous failures of State socialist enterprises. It would be an immense help if ever Labour were in a position to put it into effect! Irrespective of what may have been the object of this amendment, a challenge has been thrown out to the Government and it has been accepted. Whether it was intended or not, the amendment amounts to a censure on both the Federal Government and the State governments in this matter of housing. The first paragraph of the amendment reads -

That the Government is censured ... for the acute social ills caused by its continued failure to establish, in conjunction with the States, a national housing plan.

That is an acknowledgment from the Leader of the Opposition that the States have an equal responsibility in this matter, and, indeed, have fallen down on that responsibility.

Mr Ward - Rubbish!

Mr DAVIDSON - It may not have been intended, but if that is so the Leader of the Opposition should be careful of the terms that he uses. This debate is proving that the Government has not failed to carry its share of the responsibility. If there has been any failure on the part of some of the States - as I believe there has been - the Leader of the Opposition should direct his criticism at the housing policies of those States.

Let us look now at the overall housing position in Australia. Sufficient figures have been quoted' to demonstrate the inaccuracy of the suggestion that there is a disastrous housing situation in Australia. I do not propose to re-state all these facts and figures, but I would remind the House of several significant comparisons which were made last night by my colleague, the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton). They indicated just how housing has developed in Australia. The honorable member showed that, in comparison with other leading nations, Australia had a very good record in 1955-56 so far as the completion of dwellings was concerned. Indeed, it was second only to New Zealand.

Surely if the Government's housing policy had failed that would not have been possible.

Also, the number of persons per occupied dwelling, compared with the number in other countries, showed that in this respect we were just behind New Zealand, in second place. How can it be contended that the Government has failed to deal adequately with the housing problem? These figures show that Australia compares very well with other countries which have tackled this problem just as keenly, and which feel just as much compassion for their people. Indeed, they have been unable to match our record.

That there is a common shortage of housing throughout the world is not denied, but it must be realized that in a country like Australia there must, as a result of the rapidly expanding economy, and the aboveaverage increase in population, be a continuing housing shortage. We have deliberately planned to increase our population. Most thinking people acknowledge that this is needed to build up our productive capacity and our ability to defend ourselves. Our population has been increasing at a rate far in excess of that of other countries. Obviously, this must bring certain problems in its train. One of these is housing. To suggest that, notwithstanding the constant increase in population, there should always be a home immediately available for every one, is tantamount to saying that the Government should have something in the nature of a pool of unoccupied dwellings. That would be a highly inflationary measure. Finance directed to such ends could be much better spent in other ways.

I have stated that Australia is one of the most rapidly expanding nations in the world. I could go further and say that it is the most rapidly expanding nation. If that is conceded, the contention that the Government's housing policy has been a failure cannot be sustained when it is seen that we are so far ahead of other nations in supplying houses.

The Leader of the Opposition has claimed that this Government has provided inadequate finance for home-building. During 1955-56 the total investment in homebuilding was £232,000,000. Of that the Government, through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement provided £63,000,000. This sum includes the amount provided for war service homes. On the other hand, the contribution to that total figure by the State governments outside the agreement, was only £8,500,000. Thus no charge can be levelled that the Commonwealth has not played its part in providing finance. I repeat, an equal if not greater responsibility rests on the States, and the figures that I have just given clearly show how the Federal Government is fulfilling its obligation.

The Leader of the Opposition also referred to the finance made available for war service homes. Perhaps I might repeat the statement that during the first 30 years of the operation of the scheme 54,541 houses were built at a total cost of £52,750,000. In the seven years in which this Government has been in office, almost 91,000 homes, costing £190,000,000, have been built. Honorable members thus may compare the achievements of the Opposition, when in government, with those of the present Government. Any suggestion that the Federal Government has failed to do its utmost with the finance available to it is not borne out by the figures.

An honorable member has referred, by way of interjection, to the large number of unsatisfied applicants for war service homes. We all know that in the last twelve months the waiting period has increased but I submit, in all sincerity, that that has resulted very largely from this Government's action in liberalizing the terms of advances. It is well known that we have made more money available, by way of loan, to each applicant so that the ex-serviceman can, in accordance with the development in building, buy a home of better quality. Also, we have extended the availability of loans by approving types of buildings which have not been accepted previously. As a result, we find that, having widened the scope of the scheme, there are a greater number of applications and, though we have increased the amount available each year from £18,000.000 when this Government came into office to £30,000,000 now, there are still outstanding applications. In these circumstances, iit would be quite unfair to attribute the present situation to failure on the part of the Government. That is completely unfair and cannot be sustained. When the treatment that I have just outlined is compared with the niggardly treatment which was available to ex-servicemen under the war services homes plan of the previous Government, I say again that a charge on this basis cannot be sustained.

Let me turn now to other sources of revenue available to a State, because the essence of this charge is that we have not made enough revenue available. One such source is the tax reimbursement grants. There was some criticism in the early stages of this debate of the amounts made available by the Menzies Government through the tax reimbursements. The suggestion was that the formula was not elastic enough, and the grants were not big enough. Let us examine that aspect. I remind the House that these grants are made by the Commonwealth in accordance with a definite formula. The Commonwealth does not decide that it will give away £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 to this State or that State. A formula is there for its guidance. That formula is stated in the States Grants (Tax Reimbursement) Act 1946-1948. I emphasize those dates - 1946-1948. The act was passed during the period that the previous Labour Government was in office. Therefore, any criticism of the operation of the tax reimbursement formula flows directly back to those offering criticism.

The formula provides, first, that the grants for 1946-47 were to be £40,000,000 and in 1947-48, £45,000,000. That really became the basic year. After those years, the act provides for the aggregate grant of £45,000,000 to be varied in accordance with a formula which takes into account variations in the States' populations since 1st July, 1947, and the percentage increase in the level of average wages per person employed over the level of 1945-46. The formula makes provision for the various factors which, unless that provision had been made, could seriously hamper a State's capacity to develop. Increases in population and increases in the level of average wages are taken into account. Any criticisms of the formula are ill-founded. But let us look at what has been received by the States and see whether they could have obtained more money for housing projects under the reimbursements than have been made.

Under this formula, the Commonwealth would have been responsible, in this financial year, for distributing £153,600,000 to the States. In actual fact, it will distribute a total of £174,000,000. In other words, the amount distributed will be £20,500,000 more than the Commonwealth is required to grant in this year under the tax formula. That is because the Government has realized that the States require more money to enable them to keep pace with development, and has deprived some of its own departments of money to enable that to be done. I speak with feeling on this matter, because I know full well how the activities of some of our own government departments have had to be curtailed somewhat in order to help the States to the utmost of our capacity. Therefore, it is rather a poor return for some honorable members on the other side to say that the States are not getting enough money for housing.

Let us consider the position of New South Wales and Queensland and dissect the relevant figures. For the financial year 1956-57, New South Wales is entitled under the formula to £58,000,000. It will receive an extra £7,000,000 by way of a supplementary grant, making a total of £65,000,000. I am speaking in round figures. Queensland is entitled to £24,000,000. It will receive a supplementary grant of £3,000,000, bringing the total to £27,000,000. Surely, that indicates beyond any possibility of challenge that the Menzies Government is doing all it can to make the largest possible amounts available lo the States. Let that fact be remembered. It is a fact of which honorable members opposite are either unaware or which they are deliberately hiding in this debate.

These moneys, in addition to moneys obtained by way of loan funds, are to be allocated by the States to various purposes as they see fit. The Federal Government does not say to them, "You shall devote so much of these moneys to housing ". At meetings of the Australian Loan Council, the States stipulate the total amount required, including an amount for housing. The total amount which the States stipulate for housing is treated as the Commonwealth's share of the loan fund and is paid by the Commonwealth to the States under the housing agreement. The Commonwealth has the right to claim as its share up to 20 per cent, of the loan funds raised in a year, but it does not do so. It could allocate the amount to the States and say, "This money is ear-marked for housing ". It does not do so. lt could retain the amount for its own purposes, but it does not do so. It leaves the allocation of the money to the States themselves. 1 think that is a proper thing.

When the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) makes a plea to me and to the Government, and says, " We want another £300,000 in order to ensure that there will not be wholesale dismissals in the building industry in Queensland ", I invite him to explain why, at the last allocation of loan funds, the Queensland Government, of its own volition, asked that the amount to be allocated to housing in this financial year be £250,000 less than the amount allocated in the last financial year. It did so at a time when it was receiving from total allocations over £2,000,000 more than in the previous year. That is a question to be answered. Yet we hear the plea, " We are being bled by the Menzies Government; give us another £300,000 ". But the State government, of its own volition and exercising its own prerogative, determined to cut by £250,000 its loan allocations from an increased vote. Let the people understand these things and let them realize that a lot of Opposition members speak with tongue in cheek in this debate. The Queensland Government should explain why it allocated only 10 per cent, of its total loan funds in 1954-55 for housing compared with, say, 23.8 per cent, by Victoria. It should explain why in 1955-56 it allocated only 15.7 per cent, as against 37.3 per cent, in Western Australia and why in this year it has allocated only 13 per cent, as against a total of 22.7 per cent, by Victoria. I quote those figures to show that the remedy is clearly in the hands of the State governments. The amounts of money have been made available and are still there.

My time has nearly expired, so I make one final point. I shall give a brief example of the perfidy implicit in some of the representations from the other side. Only a few weeks ago there was a great splurge in the Queensland papers about the fact that the State Government was being denied the money it needed for its housing programme and that there must be wholesale dismissals. At that time the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) drew attention to the fact that, in the federal Treasury, Queensland had an undrawn entitlement under the housing agreement of £500,000. That was denied, but within four days the Government had drawn that £500,000.

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