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Thursday, 21 March 1957

Mr MAKIN (Bonython) .- The most devastating reply that can be made to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) is that State Ministers for Housing have been required to assemble this week in Melbourne to discuss the urgency of the housing problem and the inadequacy of the assistance that has been given by the Menzies Government. Labour housing Ministers are not alone concerned; Liberal Ministers have also attended the meeting so that all housing Ministers can use all the influence they can possibly exert to move this Government to action. It is quite evident that the Government is satisfied to amble along leisurely and complacently, serving but one purpose, the furtherance of individual private profitmaking, and disregarding the urgency of the social and economic problems that require adequate and immediate treatment by the Government.

The Governor-General's Speech and the speech made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last evening did not show any appreciation of these urgent problems. Two very important matters, those of housing and increased living costs, were dismissed with the briefest of reference in His Excellency's Speech. It is a demonstration of Labour's watchfulness on questions affecting the wellbeing of the great majority of the people of Australia that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has brought before the Parliament and the public the gravity of the housing situation and the hardships that are being suffered by the Australian people because of inadequate housing and eversoaring price levels, and which are burning into the very flesh of our people. The Prime Minister airily dismissed this subject with a gesture of his arms as though he were measuring the matter, and then he brought his hands together and said, with apparent smugness, " The situation is balanced ". Of all the fantastic conjectures by men in high places, surely this is the most incredible, in the light of the facts that are so immediately apparent.

Only this week further emphasis has been laid on the urgency of this problem by the conference of State Ministers for Housing, lt may be of assistance to honorable members if I read to them the. unanimous declarations that these Ministers for Housing have made in regard to this most important matter. The statement that emanated from that conference was in the following terms: -

A conference of Housing Ministers was held in Melbourne during this week, and resolved to make representations to the Federal Treasurer and the Commonwealth Minister for Housing to make more money immediately available for all phases of house building. In a joint statement after .the conference, Ministers said that they agreed unanimously that a recession was developing in the building industry throughout the Commonwealth because of the lack of finance. The rate of building was declining at a time when material resources and man-power were becoming unused and idle.

A representative of Australian manufacturers, who is here to-day and who represents the great body of people engaged in manufacturing industries, has assured me that from 10 per cent, to 15 per cent, of available capacity in certain building trades, particularly that of brickmaking, is not being used to-day. That extra capacity should bc employed in an endeavour to increase the rate of home building. The fact that it is not employed indicates that a recession is approaching in these industries. I. submit that lack of finance is the vital factor retarding the progress of home construction in Australia, and thus denying to our people the standard of home life that they are entitled to enjoy.

Government supporters seek to justify their inactivity, or their lack of appreciation of this problem, by making comparisons with home-building achievements of previous years, but, no matter how these figures may compare, this Government is not absolved from the responsibility to ensure that the Australian people are adequately housed at the present time, and that provision is made to house the many immigrants who are coming to this country. Every member of this House is aware of the fact that many of our people are living in sub-standard conditions. Even in South Australia, which probably has as good a record of house construction as any State, people are living in garages and caravans, and in circumstances far different from those that they have a right to expect. That being so, it is obvious that condemnation is certainly due to someone who has been guilty of neglect in this matter and has failed to accept responsibility in the matter of housing, whether in regard to the provision of finance or in some other way. Governments cannot dismiss their responsibilities with airy eloquence and a comparison with what has been done by previous governments. What we want to know is what this Government is doing about it. and we feel that it has not given this question sufficient consideration. Throughout the country the opinion is held, almost unanimously, that the problem has not been properly dealt with. In this regard I shall read to the House a letter that I received from the Federation of Co-operative Housing Societies of Victoria. It is dated 18th March, 1957, and reads -

In view of the public, press and political interest which is being demonstrated at the present time, may I bring to your attention the 1956 Annual Report of this Federation for your information.

It is the hope of the Federation that the need for home finance will receive more sympathetic consideration from all quarters in the next months.

Further finance released for this purpose by lending authorities and other agencies is vital to offset the slowing down of the building industry, in the villa building field, which manifests itself more and more with the passing of time and which can be attributed only to a dearth of finance. .

Mcn and materials are available, the demand is ever present but finance falls far short of demand.

That is signed by the secretary of the organization. I have received its annual report and in it the president states -

In a country which is proud of its freedom, it seems to us that much of this freedom is slipping away under the guise of credit restriction and economic stringency. The freedom to own a home should not be abrogated by policy nor diminished by theory. To withhold funds from a Movement such as ours, at the present time, undoubtedly is removing the freedom of home-ownership from hundreds, even thousands of citizens, who by their own thrift and diligence have saved what should be an adequate amount of money for the purchase of land and/or the provision of a reasonable deposit for a home. The fact is that these people are being completely frustrated by their inability to obtain an adequate housing loan.

The Federation of Co-operative Housing Societies of Victoria is a very responsible body and the report is signed by the president, Mr. H. C. Holmes. I understand that all members of this House have received a copy of this document and we might well study closely what is referred to herein, because these people are experts in this particular field. I say that the attitude adopted by the Prime Minister is inexcusable and incredible. Even though he is challenged with the facts he is unwilling to face up to the responsibility of this hour in regard to this most pressing problem.

I have here a statement from the "News" of 13th March, 1957, that rebuts certain of the Prime Minister's declarations of the 7th March -

The Associated Chambers of Manufactures are challenging the Commonwealth Government's claim that man-power and materials in the building industry are fully employed and that housebuilding cannot safely be expanded.

The Federal Director of the Associated Chambers, Mr. Latham Withall, quoted figures to-day to illustrate his claim that the demand for building materials had fallen.

He said the output of bricks in the JulyDecember period of 1955 was 441,000,000 but that in the corresponding period of 1956 it was only 405,000,000.

The output of cement building sheets, fibrous plaster sheets, tiles, timber, bath-heaters, sinkheaters, wash basins, baths, coppers, and stoves had also decreased.

This is. all the reverse of what should be happening at this hour in the economy of this country. If we invite people to come and share in the freedom of this country we owe it to them to prepare the way so that they will have an opportunity to become assimilated into our community life to enjoy standards of living that will improve the national morale, and so to help to develop our national life and character in such a way that Australia will continue to give the best of impressions, both at home and abroad. But if we fail in this responsibility we are likely to be subjected to the most unfortunate references which could easily deny to us some of the best and most deserving people that could wish to make Australia their new home. The Government has the vast responsibility of helping to prepare the way in the direction I have indicated.

Here in this very capital city there is a lack of housing to a degree that has become most alarming, particularly at a time when the Government is suggesting the transfer of departments from Melbourne. That can only accentuate the problem in Canberra. No matter how many houses the Government has built, it is not sufficient to meet the great and important needs of a growing community such as Canberra.

Another very important phase of this subject which I earnestly ask the Government to review in the light of its urgency is the way in which this Government is denying to a most deserving section of our Australian community, namely, the exservicemen, the help that is essential to provide them with war service homes. I have always challenged this remarkable attitude of the Government in being prepared to deny to ex-servicemen the finance that they require. Whereas at one time there was a nine-month wait for finance, that waiting period has now doubled. Exservicemen are told that they can get private financial accommodation in the meantime. Thus they are driven into the hands of private money lenders, who are charging exorbitant rates of interest for the short-term financial accommodation. This has to be borne by the ex-serviceman who wants a home and who has received from the Government an intimation that it will ultimately be prepared to lend the money. Why cannot surpluses in various Commonwealth funds be made available immediately? In other circumstances, money would be found readily enough. I want to know why men who risked their lives in the defence of this country do not receive greater consideration than they are receiving now. It is scandalous that such men are being driven to accept financial accommodation at exorbitant rates of interest from grasping and rapacious money-lending institutions because this Government has fallen down on its job and is evading definite responsibilities that no government should try to evade. The time has come for this House to give a definite expression of its view on this matter, and I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition has proposed an amendment which indicates the feelings of the people generally.

I should not like to finish my remarks without indicating to the mover and seconder of the motion my appreciation of the speeches that they delivered. I am sure that they made a good impression on the House. Having said that, I express the hope that honorable members will be prepared to register a vote that will bring to the notice of the Government the urgency and the serious nature of the problem that presents itself to the nation.

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