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Thursday, 21 March 1957

Mr WIGHT (Lilley) .- I am . pleased, indeed honoured, to have the privilege of rising to support the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply, which was so ably moved by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and so ably seconded by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury). I extend to those honorable gentlemen my congratulations on, and my appreciation of the thought and work that went into the speeches that they delivered. I assure them that their contributions tn this debate were of a standard that was appreciated by every member of the House. A pleasing feature of the debate is that, however vicious or acrimonious it may be, it will show that we are united in intense loyalty to our Sovereign, which is expressed in the Address-in-Reply. On that matter, we are as one.

I suggest that the importance to be attached to the remarks just made by the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) can be gauged fairly accurately when we recall that the honorable gentleman was a Minister in the government that introduced the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945. Therefore, he must have been a supporter of the policy enunciated by the Minister who introduced the bill for the ratification of that agreement. I remind honorable members that that Minister told the House that he had no thought for persons who wanted to own their homes, that he was interested only in providing rental homes and that anybody who owned his home became a little capitalist. Yet we heard the honorable member for Bonython say this afternoon that it was important and necessary that everybody should have an opportunity to own his home. Then we heard the honorable member draw attention to the situation in relation to war service homes and suggest that this Government had failed to discharge its responsibilities in that field. If this Government has failed in that way, can anybody suggest a word to describe the record of the Labour party? I remind the House that in five years we were able to build more houses under the war service homes scheme than all other governments in Australia had been able to build since the inception of the scheme. Australia can be proud indeed of the services that this Government has rendered to the ex-servicemen of the nation in that way.

Let us examine the terms of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). He has suggested that there should be a national plan for housing, which should be implemented by the Commonwealth Government.

Mr Curtin - Hear, hear!

Mr WIGHT -" Hear, hear! ", says the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith. Let us see whether the Commonwealth has constitutional power to do such a thing. The powers vested in the Commonwealth by the Constitution are specified deliberately and in legal terms. Any power that is not specified definitely in the Constitution is a power vested, not in the Commonwealth, but in the States. It is constitutionally impossible for the Commonwealth, of its own initiative, to implement a national housing plan.

Let me remind honorable members opposite that honorable members on this side were so alarmed at the manner in which the State governments were handling the finance available for housing that they banded together and formed a housing committee. The whole object of the formation of that committee was to find a solution to the housing problem. We found that the only solution would be for the States to co-operate, because, under the term3 of the Constitution, the Commonwealth had no power to introduce legislation to deal with housing. Indeed, as far back as 1928 the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) investigated the possibility of introducing such a bill, but found that it would be impossible to do so. Honorable members will recall that in that year he introduced a bill to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act, in an attempt to deal with the problem of housing. I repeat that the Commonwealth has no constitutional power to do anything in this matter, responsibility for which is vested entirely in the States.

If housing plans in Australia have been a failure, let us find the root cause of that failure. The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945 was brought into operation by another government, and we inherited it. Let me say that I have always taken the view that it was the worst possible housing agreement that any political party could be saddled with and expected to make operative. It was impossible to make it work. Even the States failed to co-operate in the working of an agreement which they had signed and in the operation of a scheme to the drawing up of which they had been parties.

Recently this Government introduced r. new housing agreement, under which the States would be provided with finance to build rental homes and funds would be available to people who wanted to build or buy homes. Under the terms of that agreement, a man could borrow up to 90 per cent, of the capital cost of a home and so ensure that he and his family had an opportunity to live in a home of their own. It has been suggested that the Commonwealth has starved the States of funds and that that is the reason for the situation which exists now.

Mr Curtin - Hear, hear!

Mr WIGHT - Somebody says, "Hear, hear! " Either that person knows that he is not telling the truth, or he is ignorant of the operations of the Australian Loan Council. Every member of this Parliament who knows anything about the matter realizes that the allocation of finance to the States for housing is determined by the States. It is well known that the funds available from loan raisings are not sufficient to meet the States' works programmes. This Government is the first government in the history of Australia that recognized that fact. Of course, when the Government found that loan raisings would not meet the demands of the States, it acted quickly to overcome the deficiency by advancing money to the States for capital works. That is to say, it supplemented loan funds with money that it raised by socking the taxpayers. As a result of this action to help the States, the Government has had to take abuse in this Parliament from members of the Labour party, acting on behalf of the State governments. The Government has been exposed to this assault simply because it had the courage to exercise its power to take more money from the people in taxes in order to provide capital funds needed by the States so that they could carry out their works programmes.

Where does the money for housing come from? Does the Commonwealth tell the States how much money they may have for housing? No, it does not! After the total volume of money for State works programmes is determined, the States themselves fix the amount that they will allocate to housing and, having determined that, they advise the Commonwealth of the amount and the Commonwealth then makes that money available by direct appropriation.

Mr Edmonds - Do not talk rot.

Mr WIGHT - The honorable member for Herbert advises me not to talk rot. Let me tell him that if he were to examine the situation honestly he would find that what I have said is correct. I will give details of the proportion of loan allocations that has been made available for housing by the States themselves. 1 remind the honorable member for Herbert that Queensland has the worst record among the States in respect of expenditure on housing, and that State has had Labour governments in office for 40 years.

Mr Edmonds - I thought it would have the worst record, because that is the State the honorable member comes from.

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