Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 26 March 1957

Mr FAILES (Lawson) .- The motion expressing our loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen and our thanks to His Excellency the Government-General for his Address to this Parliament was very ably moved by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and very ably seconded by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury). I congratulate those gentlemen, who are newcomers to this House, on the excellence of their thoughts and the delivery of their speeches. I was particularly impressed by the speech of the honorable member for Barker. I am sure, sir, that you are proud that he comes from your State. He stressed the productivity and the potential productivity of that State. He explained how primary production can be of great assistance to Australia and that it is, in fact, one of the reasons for the very high standard of prosperity that we enjoy to-day.

I was struck by the sharp contrast provided by the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). It refers in no way to the position of the primary producers and shows gross ignorance of their worth to the prosperity of the country. The view implicit in the amendment is supported by many members of the Opposition - members of the socialist party, or the Democratic Socialist party, as I think we must call them now. To my mind, the amendment is not a censure of this Government.

Mr Peters - Oh!

Mr FAILES - I am, no doubt, entitled to my opinion. If the amendment were a censure of this Government, and if it were carried, the Opposition would be expected to take over the treasury bench. What does the Opposition offer? In the amendment, very little is offered to solve the problem that the House is discussing. I shall read in a moment the proposition put forward by the Opposition. It is not hard to read; there is nothing to it. First, we must consider the constitutional position. Is this rightly a censure of this Government, or is it a censure of the State governments, particularly the New South Wales Government? L hope, sir, to satisfy you before I have finished speaking that it is a censure of the State governments, particularly the New South Wales Government. I shall not speak about other governments, because I believe many other honorable members Cun speak on that issue.

When the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was entered into some years ago, the Leader of the Opposition, as he is. now, no doubt advised the Minister who introduced the relevant bill, because at that time he was the Attorney-General. Yet we find that the author of this act, Mr.. Dedman, who was then Minister for Postwar Reconstruction, said in his secondreading speech -

The Commonwealth Government is limited by the Australian Constitution. In peace-time the States exercise all powers over the physical side of housing.

He mentioned that there were exceptions! for instance, in regard to war service homes and Commonwealth property, but he said that, despite the restriction to the States of powers over the physical side of housing, the Commonwealth Government can, by financial assistance, encourage the States to undertake certain activities. This Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was one of the activities. It was a postwar agreement which followed a realization of the need of the States for additional finance to recommence housing activities which had, of necessity, been suspended during the war. The Minister further said that the Commonwealth Government can do research. I suggest to you, in defiance of the censure amendment which asserts the failure of the Government to look after this housing problem and to establish a national housing plan in conjunction with the States, that the research that the Commonwealth Government has undertaken, through its research laboratories, one of which is located at Ryde, in New South Wales, has been very valuable indeed to the building industry. Further, the Minister said, the Commonwealth Government can assist in this housing, problem by laying down principles, such as whether the money to be provided under the agree ment shall be invested with building societies, whether the homes shall be for rent or for sale, and so on. At a later stage in the same debate the Minister said -

The Commonwealth Government has no power in regard to the construction of houses in a State, and can act only by agreement with a State.

I have not heard that disputed in this House. In fact, I think all honorable members who are properly informed agree that this is not a Commonwealth problem at all, and that it is a matter entirely for the States. We do not make it a national matter simply by calling it a national matter. A person does not create a housing crisis merely by saying that there is one, and we have been arguing here for a day and a half only on the name of something. We have been engaged in this argument because it has been said that there is a crisis in housing. It might even be said, and equally well, that there is a crisis in the position of the States' hospitals.

Opposition Members. - So there is!

Mr FAILES - And that there is a crisis in the States' schools.

Opposition Members. - So there is!

Mr FAILES - And that there is a crisis in road construction in the States.

Opposition Members. - So there is!

Mr FAILES - 1 am glad to hear the agreement of the Opposition, but do not forget that all those matters, hospitals, schools and roads, are essentially State activities and not activities of the Commonwealth. The sooner that fact is thoroughly driven home to the public the better, because I find that members of the public are being misled, as my electors are being misled. The director of a hospital board in my area made a statement at a meeting - and sent me a copy of it - to the effect that he felt that the whole onus of hospitals finance should rest on the Commonwealth.

Mr Ward - Hear, hear!

Mr FAILES - The honorable member might suggest to Mr. Cahill that the whole onus of hospitals finance and administration should rest on the Commonwealth, and see what Mr. Cahill's reaction would be.

Mr Ward - He would agree with me.

Mr FAILES - I suggest that honorable members opposite put it to Mr. Cahill that the whole responsibility for schools should rest with the Commonwealth.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr FAILES - Now I hear the unificationists talking, the men who want the whole of the power in the Commonwealth concentrated in one parliament. They are becoming vocal at last. They have been trying to come in under the mat and get their unificationist ideas adopted in this Parliament, by arguing that the whole responsibility for these domestic matters, lies with the Commonwealth Government, when they know full well that under the Constitution, and until that Constitution h changed, the responsibility for these matters lies entirely at the door of the States, ami it is up to the States to pick up their own babies and nourish them. lt has been said by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) that the Commonwealth Government has failed to establish a national housing plan in conjunction with the States. I am glad that he did not say. " In co-operation with the States ", because, since I have been in this House, very Huie co-operation has been shown by any State government in matters that are the joint concern of the Commonwealth and the States. The basis of federation is that the Commonwealth and States should work together as a unit. But what do we have? Every time the States are asked - and I am referring particularly to New South Wales - to get on with construction of their dams, water supplies and all the other projects that they have on hand, they say, " If the Federal Government will give us more money we shall be able to complete them ". I even heard one State Minister say that if the Commonwealth would give New South Wales £10,000.000 from the defence vote. New South Wales would be able to build the Burrendong dam, but that that could not be done until the Glenbawn dam was completed. The Glenbawn dam has been in course of construction for eight years already and is not nearly completed.

One of the complaints laid at the door of this Government relates to finance for home-building. The position in this respect is the same as that in relation to the construction of schools, hospitals, roads and everything else with which the State governments muddle. It has been said time and again in this House and will bear repeating that every penny that comes from the Australian Loan Council is given to the States for their use and then heavily subsidized by the Commonwealth to make up deficiencies in public subscriptions.

Mr J R FRASER - What does the honorable member mean by " gwen to the States "?

Mr FAILES - I shall not stand on words. I shall say that it is lent to the Slates, if the honorable member prefers it that way. It is lent to the States, just as other money is lent to them for the benefit of the people. The honorable member is right in saying that the money is not given to the States in the strict sense, but the fact remains that the Commonwealth Government has had to use revenue moneys for its own public works. We have had complaints from the Opposition to the effect that the Government should not do that. How inconsistent can this Opposition be!

Then the Opposition complains that there are insufficient funds for war service homes. 1 do not think 1 need dwell on this subject, because the record of this Government in relation to war service homes is that it has provided finance for more homes than has any other government since the inception of the scheme. There may be a shortage of war service homes, but one of the main reasons for the rush for such homes is that the States have not been providing houses under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Naturally, there has been a tendency for people to go somewhere else to try to obtain homes. As I say, however, this Government has a proud record in respect of war service homes.

Then we have a complaint that we have not provided adequate finance for the cooperative building societies. Heavens above! When we proposed last year that some of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement money should be diverted to cooperative building societies we met the greatest opposition from New South Wales, and it was only after the respective Ministers had debated the matter for a long time that New South Wales was persuaded to take it up. It adopted the proposal late in the piece.

Another charge is that we have not made sufficient finance available for Australians who are seeking to build homes. What a change of face this is! We have the Leader of the Opposition saying, in one part of his speech, that we must get back to the purpose of the original agreement, which was, as honorable members will recall, put forward by Mr. Dedman - the man who said he was not going to turn the workers into little capitalists, for which statement he will go down in history. The purpose of the agreement then was to provide housing on a rental basis. Much of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was devoted to the need to provide money for people to buy homes. Yet, in the same breath he said that we should get back to the purpose of the original agreement. I suggest there is every justification for people writing to the newspapers and saying that the speech of the right honorable gentleman was the greatest muddle that he has delivered in this House.

The Opposition contends that there should be an immediate reduction of the intake of immigrants. In other words, the Labour party wants to accept all the things that the immigrants have done during recent years and then to say to them, " We have had enough ". I wonder how many houses the immigrant population of Australia has been responsible for, and for how many of the components that go into a house and for how many of the builders. I think it would be found that the immigrants had provided us with the necessaries with which to build a sufficient number of houses to house not only themselves but other people as well. We have seen figures from time to time, which [ do not propose to cite again, showing the number of sheets ot galvanized iron, bags of cement, and so on, that have been produced by immigrant labour. If we were to take the proportion of immigrant labour employed in big factories such as those of the Australian Iron and Steel Company Limited and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, it would be seen that the immigrants had contributed in very large measure to the work force of this country and in providing those things which are essential to a housing project.

So we go on. These complaints are nauseating. Reference has been made * the need to employ the maximum work force in the home-building industry. I think it was the Leader of the Opposition himself who said, in the course of his speech, that there was tremendous unemployment. I do not say that advertisements in newspapers are any criterion in this matter, but I looked through the columns of the " Sydney Morning Herald " on Saturday, and I think the figures are rather interesting. That is the Sydney newspaper in which people who want employment advertise, and it is also the newspaper to which people who want employees refer. In the " Positions Vacant " column, there was one carpenter applying for work, whereas there were 29 situations vacant. Those included situations with companies which were advertising for " carpenters ", without saying how many they wanted. One carpenter and joiner had advertised for work, and there were two who required week-end work. Apparently, they are fully occupied during the week but wish to earn a little more over the week-end. Good luck to them, but they probably want time and a half for such work. There were three persons who were prepared to carry out renovations, additions and repairs.

In other words, in all those categories there were seven men applying for situations, whilst .29 advertisements appeared for situations vacant. We find also that although there were thirteen vacancies for brick workers advertised in these columns, only one brickworker applied. The State Tile and Brick Works was advertising for men also. What are the trade unions doing in not getting in touch with the works in respect of these vacancies? What is the State Labour Government doing in not getting in touch with the unions to point out to them that there are vacancies. As against that position of the lack of men applying for advertised vacancies we have the statement by the Brick, Tile and Pottery Workers Union that it had 5 per cent, of its members out of work. Yet none of these men is advertising for a job. They are apparently living on their fat, as we say in the country.

The Leader of the Opposition says that I'2 per cent, of painters are out of work - but only five painters advertised for work, and one of them wanted £5 a day. He was apparently not very anxious to get work. On the other hand, 21 situations vacant are recorded in the same paper.

Opposition members interjecting,

Mr FAILES - Those figures certainly needle the Opposition. Honorable members opposite talk of the great unemployment that exists, but the actual facts put a different complexion on the matter. There is claimed to be a great shortage of work for plumbers. The " Sydney Morning Herald " advertised nine situations vacant for plumbers, and only one plumber was seeking work. No electrical fitters were asking for work. I am nol surprised at that, because some years ago the trade union representing these men did its level best to keep apprentices out. I am speaking from first-hand knowledge of apprentices who served in the forces during the war and on their return to civil life tried vainly to get into the trade union again so that they could work as electrical titters. We have firms such as Australian Iron and Steel Limited advertising for electrical fitters. They may not want many, but they certainly want more than one. The Public Service Board and other public instrumentalities are also, advertising in the press for such men. The New South Wales Maritime Services Board also wants electrical fitters, as does the repatriation general hospital.

No applications were received for eight situations vacant for builders' labourers. The Leader of the Opposition claimed that there were 100 plasterers out of work. This really rocked me, because the Commonwealth Employment Service was advertising in the " Sydney Morning Herald " for plasterers - at a time when there were supposed to be many out of work, according to the right honorable gentleman. What is the Commonwealth Employment Service for, if not to help to find work for people who are out of work?

I do not need to go any further in that particular direction. Now as to the availability of houses. There were about six pages of advertisements of houses for sale, with about 400 houses advertised on each page. It will be found that a great proportion of those houses were for sale with vacant possession. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) gave us the facts of that position last week. The actual position accords with what has been already said in the debate, to the effect that this is not a housing shortage arising from the insufficient number of houses available for people who want them. Although I quite agree that there is a housing shortage, I must point out that there are a great number of houses vacant to-day which would be occupied if we were not hamstrung by such things as the New South

Wales Landlord and Tenant Act. What does the Premier of New South Wales say? He says, " We will have a look at it ". Yet the Opposition in this House accuses the Government of ignoring the housing problem, and for years the newspapers have accused the Government of ignoring the facts. The New South Wales Premier has said, " If the Landlord and Tenant Act is causing trouble, I will have a look at it ".

Mr Edmonds - Why should that be the trouble?

Mr FAILES - Because of its psychological effect. People are frightened to rent houses that they own. Can anybody blame them, because if they let tenants in they would be unable to get them out if they were unsuitable tenants or if the landlords needed their homes for their own purposes. Not only would the landlords face the possibility of not being able to get the tenants out, but they know that they run the chance that the tenants would take them to the Fair Rents Court, which might award rentals that would be, in effect, peppercorn rentals, with which the landlord would have to be satisfied for all time. I say that people who own houses will rent them if they are given a fair go, and that people will also build houses for rental if they do not have a solid fear that they will lose as a result of so doing. As a matter of fact, I am in that position myself. I have a house which I am not prepared to let because I do not know whether I would get a satisfactory rent or a satisfactory tenant. If I sold this house I would buy another one. But that is the position. I will not rent the house and take the risk of getting either an unsatisfactory rental for it or an unsatisfactory tenant in it whom I would be unable to get out of it. I should say that there are hundreds and hundreds of people in the same position. In my own home town there would be at least twenty houses for sale, but not for rent, because of the provisions of the New South Wales Landlord and Tenant Act. In the bigger towns there would probably be from 100 to 150 such houses. Anybody would find it impossible to jump over the piles of books in estate agents' offices in Sydney containing details of houses for sale. That is the problem that Mr. Cahill says he is willing to "look at".

The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition is, in effect, an indictment of the New South Wales Labour Government if ever there was one. The housing shortage is a problem for the States to solve if they will only face up to it. And the first thing that the States have to do is to deal with such legislation as the New SoUth Wales Landlord and Tenant Act. They have to give people the courage and the will to rent vacant houses in their possession. There is a very important personage' in this House who owns three houses. I shall not make any further reference to that? because all honorable members know who he is. There are a great number of people with more than one house who are afraid to rent them for the reasons that I have given. I would be willing to take somebody into my home in the country while I am down here in Canberra, but if I did, I could easily find that I was unable to get them out when I needed the home for myself. Many people are in the same position, so it is obvious that some proper amendment of the New South Wales Landlord and Tenant Act might get us somewhere along the road to providing more accommodation for people who need it.

As I have already mentioned, there U no doubt that if finance is to be made available, it cannot be made available, under present circumstances, through the Australian Loan Council. It could be made available, no doubt, by easing credit restrictions on the private banks. If this is done, it must be a condition that the money so released is to be used for housing alone, and not allowed to be used for other things, as in the past, such as hire-purchase, its use for which would defeat the object for which the restrictions had been eased. But why should it be used for housing entirely, when rural producers are crying out for money to enable them to improve their properties?

I want now, as my time ls running out, to make one reference to a statement of the Leader of the Opposition, echoed by the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin), the absurdity of which requires an answer. They referred to expenditure on commercial and industrial buildings as luxury expenditure. They mentioned the building of hotels, picture theatres, one-brand petrol stations, and so on. What has any of that rubbish to do with the Commonwealth Government? It is just a case of the same old red herring being drawn across the trail in an effort to make it appear that the Commonwealth is solely responsible for housing. If I have not satisfied the House that the Commonwealth Government is not solely responsible for housing, but that it is a matter for the States, I have been wasting my time - but I do not think that I have wasted my time.

Suggest corrections