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Thursday, 21 March 1957

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for Herbert will remain silent.

Mr WIGHT - The honorable member for Herbert cannot conceal the fact that Queensland has the worst record of any State. All the interjections in the world will not conceal that fact. Let me cite, in proof of my statement, the housing appropriations made by the Queensland Government over the last few years. In 1944-45, the Queensland Government laid aside 10 per cent, of its total loan allocation for housing.

Mr Riordan - There was a war on then.

Mr WIGHT - I thank the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) for the correction. I meant to say J954-55. In 1955-56, the Queensland Government allocated, out of its loan moneys, 15.7 per cent, for housing - an increase of 5.7 per cent. - as against an allocation of 37 per cent, by Western Australia. This year, I remind the honorable gentleman, instead of an allocation of 15.7 per cent, for housing, the figure has dropped to 13 per cent., notwithstanding the fact that the Queensland Government had obtained an increase of more than £2,000,000 in the total loan allocations for the year. Thus, although Queensland got more loan money to spend this year than last, it allocated less for housing. I believe that it deliberately conspired to create a housing situation in Queensland which has resulted in the dismissal of 400 men in what I claim to be a treacherous, political plot. The honorable member for Herbert smiles at that statement. Let me remind him that when the Queensland Government determined that its housing allocation would be reduced this year from £3,000,000 to £2,750,000, it knew that £550,000 had to be made available to building societies. The Queensland Government, like the Labour party, does not really believe in home ownership. The only home ownership it believes in is ownership of housing commission homes. It believes in construction by the State of houses that are so disgraceful that people refuse to buy them. It asked the Commonwealth to amend the housing agreement in order to give Queensland permission to sell the housing commission houses so that the Queensland Government could get them off its hands.

With an allocation of £3,000,000 last year, the Queensland Government, knowing it intended £2,750,000 for housing this year, also that it would have to allocate £550,000 of that amount to building societies, which would leave it with £2,200,000 plus its carry-over of £461,350, deliberately reduced the allocation. Now we are faced with the situation that 400 families in Queensland are to lose their livelihood. Four hundred people are to be dismissed from the Queensland Housing Commission to-morrow. Why are they to be dismissed? Let us examine the facts. The Queensland Government started off this year with a loan allocation of £2,750,000 for housing. Under the agreement with the Commonwealth, £550,000 of that amount was to go to building societies. For six months, the Queensland Government held up the passage of the legislation to ratify the agreement, and so, for six months, the building societies were unable to borrow. Therefore, under the terms of Queensland's Friendly Societies Act, the societies were prevented from taking advantage of the housing agreement. It was not until December of last year that this agreement received the royal assent. Because of that, £150,000 which would normally have gone to building societies went to the housing commission. The building societies therefore commenced operations and were able to borrow only as from January of this year, arid so were able to absorb only £61,000 out of a total of £75,000. This means that £14,000 extra went to the Queensland Housing Commission, making a total of £164,000, which would have normally gone into the field of private home ownership.

In addition, the Queensland Housing Commission is entitled to receive from the Commonwealth £110.000 to provide houses for serving members of the forces. That would make a total of £2.464,000 up to date. To that, we have to add the carryover held by the housing commission from last year which, on the figures provided by the Queensland Minister for Housing, and which are confirmed in the Queensland Treasurer's financial statement, total £461,350. So that portion left to the Queensland Government, for rental homes only, was a sum of £2,935,350. On 9th March it was publicly announced that 400 men were to be dismissed by the Queensland Housing Commission because the Queensland Government alleged that it did not have sufficient money to carry on. Yet, out of a total of £2,935,350 the Queensland Government had drawn from the Commonwealth fund only £1,575,000 up to 13 th March last. If Queensland was short of money for housing why did it not draw the money it required from the Commonwealth fund?

Mr Riordan - lt does not withdraw until the 15th of the month.

Mr WIGHT - 1 am glad to be reminded of the fact that the Queensland Government makes its drawings from the Commonwealth Treasury, as the honorable member states, in the middle of every month. Up to the 9th March the Queensland Government withdrawals were behind schedule to the extent of £500,000. In other words it was £500,000 behind in its expenditure for the first nine months of the financial year. Queensland had only three months of the year left to go, and it knew that it had £500,000 still in reserve. It also had a further reserve of about £1,100,000 in hand. On 9th March, when the Queensland Minister for Housing announced the dismissal of 400 men, who were thereby to be deprived of their livelihood, allegedly because of a shortage of funds, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) publicly announced through the press that Queensland was still £500,000 behind in its withdrawals from the Treasury. On 9th March, the Queensland Treasurer, Mr. Walsh, publicly denied the truth of that statement. I remind the House that again, on 13th March, after the Queensland Treasurer had denied that the money was there, the Federal Minister in charge of housing (Senator Spooner) repeated in the press, publicly for the people to read, that there was a sum of £500.000 in the Commonwealth Treasury which should have been drawn at some time during the previous nine months. On 1 4th March, a letter was received in Canberra from the Queensland Housing Commission asking the Commonwealth if it would let them have the money. That letter was dated 13 th March, four days after the Queensland Treasurer had denied that the money was there.

How honest is the Queensland Government in the dismissal of these men? The money to which I have referred was made available to it. Then, in the Queensland Parliament yesterday, the Acting Minister for Housing stated that expenditure on housing so far this year had exceeded £2,800,000. How can he justify such a statement when, at the present time in the Treasury here in Canberra there is available for Queensland a sum of £675,000. The £500,000 drawn on 13th March together with this £675,000 totals £1,175,000, which cannot yet have been expended. That sum is available to it to carry on the operations of the Queensland Housing Commission from now until the end of June. That, I remind the House, is a greater sum of money than that government has expended on housing during the whole of these last nine months.

How true can it be, then, that these 400 men must be dismissed? It is, as I said at the beginning, the most treacherous political plot that this country has ever witnessed on the part of any political party. I say deliberately that it is a treacherous political plot. Four hundred men are being sacked. Four hundred families are being deprived of their livelihood - for what purpose? So that the Queensland Government can carry on its infamous political plot.

Mr George Lawson - I rise to order. I object to the statement of the honorable member concerning the Queensland Government and I ask that it be withdrawn.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The references of the honorable member to the Queensland Government are in order.

Mr WIGHT - The Treasurer of Queensland denied that the money was there, but four days later he asked for it and got it, so that it is obvious the Queensland Government is not short of money for housing. It must have sufficient money to maintain these men in employment. Therefore, there must be some other motive. I believe that it is a part of an organized attempt by the Australian Labour party to scrape the bottom of the garbage bin to find a stick to wield at the Commonwealth Government. I remind honorable members opposite that, at the present time, the Queensland Government is engaged in a very bitter struggle with the trade union movement. The Government is fighting the trade union movement on the issue of three weeks annual leave. Its argument is that there are not sufficient funds to enable it to pay for three weeks annual leave, and because it is trying to prove to the trade union movement that it has not enough money, it is sacking people wholesale.

If the situation in Queensland is as desperate as honorable members opposite would have us believe, I ask them why the Queensland Government does not call on its reserves to which it referred in a statement issued by the Treasurer, Mr. E. J. Walsh, indicating that there was no less a sum than £20,136,748 2s. 2d. in reserve, trust and special funds. If it is true that the Queensland Government cannot continue to keep 400 men in employment, why does it not draw on those funds and also use the money that is in the Federal Treasury, allocated to Queensland and ready to be used? I suggest that the answer is clear. As I said in the first place, it is a treacherous political plot. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) reminds me that there is a sum of more than £2,000,000 in the Queensland Treasury which has been voted to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and I suggest that that sum also could be drawn on to keep these men in employment. 1 conclude by saying that, so far as the situation in Queensland is concerned, there is money available for housing, and there is money available to keep these men in employment. There are people in Queensland who need homes. Four hundred workers are being dismissed, although there is no need for them to be dismissed. The

Labour party persists in refusing to withdraw money which could be used to keep them in employment. It is doing so for its own political ends, and if that is not political dishonesty, then I do not know what is.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

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