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Tuesday, 26 March 1957

Mr L R JOHNSON (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) .- I am pleased to follow the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) in his reckless ramblings - in his desperate endeavour to boost the fast-flagging morale of his colleague, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight), lt will be appreciated that, a short time ago in this House, the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) dealt very effectively with the honorable member for Lilley. Of course, ii is impossible for any one to detract from the enormous job which has been accomplished by the housing commissions in Queensland and New South Wales. The answer to the honorable member for Petrie is probably best represented by the attitude of the various State Ministers for Housings, which was demonstrated very clearly only a couple of days ago in Melbourne when the Ministers met to consider the housing problem.

T point out to the honorable member for Petrie - and also to the honorable member for Lilley, who has been so demoralized so far as his attack on the Queensland Government is concerned - that the following article, appeared after the gathering of the various housing ministers: -

Australia's home-building industry would disintegrate unless the Commonwealth made more money available, the Victorian. Housing Minister (Mr. Petty) said to-day.

Mr. Petty,a Liberal Minister, is. not accustomed to support the policies of the Australian Labour party, nor to criticize this Government. The article continued -

Even a few more months with insufficient work would seriously harm the industry, he said. The industry could deteriorate so much that it would take five years to regain its present production standards.

The article went on to say that a- statement issued on behalf of all Ministers, released after the conference, said -

Senator Spoonerwas personally" invited to be present at the Housing Ministers' Conference. He failed to attend any session.

The Minister is notoriously inclined to go on his own way and he is most reluctant to attend, sessions of conferences, convened to discuss these matters. Some time ago, I asked him to receive a deputation in relation to the retrenchment of a large number of building workers from our one and only reactor project, at Lucas Heights, but many weeks went by before I was able to extract any kind of a reply from the Minister. He likes to adopt a Greta Garbo attitude - he wants to be alone. This statement said that he was invited to be present at the housing Ministers' conference, but that he failed to attend. The article continued -

Ministers remained in Melbourne until today for the specific object of giving him the opportunity of being present, when Federal Parliament was not sitting.

They did everything to suit the Minister's convenience. Surely they, as responsible people, are entitled to some consideration from the Minister, whose job it is to assist housing Ministers in their great endeavours. The article went on -

It is very easy for Senator Spooner to attack responsible State Ministers, but everyone in Australia knows that State Governments are dependent for finance for housing, as well as for all other services, on money made available by the Commonwealth either directly as loans and grants, or through release of bank credit. The six State Ministers, representing Governments of varying political outlook, were unanimous in the decision-, which, they conveyed to the Prime Minister,, and which. Senator Spooner treats in such cavalier fashion.

I am sure that that is a complete answer to- the honorable member for Petrie and the honorable member for Lilley. The Commonwealth- must recognize that, it is responsible for the fact that 400 men were retrenched in Queensland only a few days ago, because of the reduction of the funds made available for housing purposes.

The honorable member for Petrie went on to talk about immigration and he challenged the attitude of the Opposition to this problem. The- Australian Labour party can claim great credit for the fact that it initiated and instigated the greatest immigration programme known to the world. It was justifiably said of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) by the Prime Minister (Mr: Menzies), in his speech the other night, that the honorable member for Melbourne will go down in. history as the man. who initiated, such a wonderful, humane, immigration programme. Of course, the Labour party is interested in the discharge of the great obligation which Australia and all the other countries in the new world have to alleviate the problems which exist in other parts of the world, where the war took such a dreadful toll of the people. Just as we initiated that programme, so we intend to do our utmost to maintain a constant flow of immigrants to Australia, but it is important that the Government should appreciate that Labour's attitude to immigration is associated with its great determination to ensure that economic stability will prevail in Australia.

It is useless for the Government to continue the present rate of immigration when we know that to import immigrants is to import unemployment, or to import slumhousing conditions. Unless the Government can act in a far more effective fashion in the future than it has done in the past so far as these important, humane considerations are concerned, it will do a great disservice, not only to the immigrants whom it intends to bring to this country, but also to the large number of, so to speak, old Australians who, through the years, have worked desperately hard, particularly through the trade union movement, to establish an Australian standard of living. That standard of living will not be undermined without fierce opposition from the members of the Labour party in this Parliament.

It is wrong, futile and useless for Government spokesmen to say that we on this side of the House are divided on the immigration question. We have set out our view very clearly, unlike the Government parties. There are several Government parties, and there is every indication that in the near future there will be more. As a united Opposition, we are unanimous in our attitude to immigration. An immigration programme was submitted to the Federal Parliamentary Labour party just before the Parliament went into recess. For the education of Government supporters, it would be as well to refer to it now. The preamble to the statement which came before the Federal Parliamentary Labour party, and which was endorsed unanimously, read as follows - labour is disturbed at the decline in the proportion -of new arrivals from the British Isles.

There has been some mention of the attitude of the honorable member for Melbourne. Let it be said that he vigorously supported this programme. The statement continued -

This Executive expresses the gravest concern at the deterioration of the Australian economy which is vitally affecting the nation's capacity to absorb migrants at a rate consistent with developmental requirements and the welfare of the community.

The Executive draws attention to the policy of the Labour party, which initiated the greatest influx of migrants known to this country. We also draw attention to the financial and economic policies of labour which enable migrants to be absorbed under conditions of full employment. Having regard to the foregoing and the problem of increasing unemployment, we state as follows: -

1.   That migrant intake must be regulated so as not to impose undue strain upon the economy and lay insupportable burdens upon the States.

2.   That immediate attention should be given to the unduly large proportion of semi-skilled and unskilled, migrants, which cannot be readily absorbed into industry.

3.   We warn as to the growing national problem of migrant Australians competing with Australian workers in a situation where full employment is not the policy of the present Federal Government.

There need be no speculation about the Opposition's attitude to the grave immigration problem. But we consider that immigration is inseparably associated with the censure voiced in the amendment, because there is great need for the Government to examine the immigration intake in the present situation, when the housing problem is so grave. Therefore, it was with considerable gratification that so many old and new Australians last Wednesday evening heard the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) propose the amendment, which constituted a dramatic censure motion. For thousands of old Australians, and many thousands of new Australians, the words, " The Government is censured ", with which the amendment begins represented some kind of justice and retribution. No doubt this will have to suffice the people until the next elections are held. It was invigorating for people to listen to the attack upon the Government made by the Leader of the Opposition, and for them to appreciate that the Government is not going to get away with its complete disregard of the needs of the Australian people. Many people considered the fantastically absurd pronouncement made by the Prime Minister on 7th March last that adequate funds were available and that shortages of man-power and materials represented the housing bugbear, too irresponsible to be taken seriously. They have since learned that it is the Government's considered intention to give full effect to the Prime Minister's negative housing policy, and that as a consequence nothing will be done to alleviate the difficulties of the homeless and end their dilemma. Surely this classic example of the Government's inability to serve the best interests of .the Australian people will solidify the rock upon which it must ultimately perish.

Apparently, the Prime Minister does not even recognize that a crisis exists in the building industry. On 20th March, he said -

.   . there has been a sudden campaign in some sections of the press and elsewhere designed to convince the people that there is a housing crisis.

He described the campaign as one of exaggeration.

Mr Ward - He has not been in the House since he spoke on 20th March.

Mr L R JOHNSON (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He has not been in the House since, as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) says. The Prime Minister made his speech, and when the honorable member rose to reply most effectively, the right honorable gentleman decided to leave the chamber. He is so unconcerned about the censure to which the amendment gives effect that he has not returned since. The Prime Minister stated that the campaign to which he referred could, of course, be ignored, because it was intemperate advocacy.

Those of us who, during the last recess, took time to examine housing problems, are obsessed by a firm conviction that the Government is failing to serve the best interests of the Australian people. During the recess, 1 spend considerable time investigating the housing problems of people in my electorate, and as a member of the Australian Labour party's fact-finding committee, which Government supporters were invited to join if they wished, I was able to obtain first-hand information and advice based on the experience of people whose job it is to know something about the building industry. I have been convinced that a human tragedy on a large scale is being perpetrated upon thousands of Australian families, and that as a direct consequence this Government stands indicted and condemned.

The Hughes electorate, which I have the honour to represent, extends from Botany Bay south to Thirroul, on the northern outskirts of Wollongong. This electorate embraces a considerable part of Sydney's southern perimeter, and includes a number of suburbs in which much development has taken place in recent years. It contains the Sutherland Shire, which is the birthplace of Australia, and in which 1,681 homes were built last year. The rate of development in the shire is second only, to that in the municipality of Bankstown, which is part of the electorate represented by my colleague the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan). If the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) were to visit the Sutherland Shire, which is second in New South Wales in the rate of development, they could see in the Royal National Park something like 60 families, in which there are several hundred children, living in primitive conditions in tents, huts, and humpies made out of flattened-out kerosene tins. Many of these people see me about their problems from time to time, but I am unable to do much to help them because the finance available at the present time is so inadequate. In one busy morning during my regular interviewing period at Sutherland, twelve of fifteen people who interviewed me came about housing problems.

I remember clearly the pathetic appeal of one mother who lives with five young children in a one-room shack with an earth floor. This mother of five Australian-born boys and girls was becoming most concerned and agitated at the prospect of spending another winter in the shack, which has no garbage or sanitary services, and no water, gas, or electricity supply, lt lacks all the facilities which the vast majority of the constituents of Kooyong have probably come to take for granted. I was interviewed a fortnight ago by a widow who lives with five children in a caravan the walls of which are made of pressed-wood sheets. The ages of the children range from 21 to 11 years. The family is in. a tragic situation, which gives the lie direct to the Prime Minister's contention that there is no crisis in the building industry. This mother had been driven to desperation by the condition of her elevenyearold son who had been discharged from hospital only the day before after treatment for glandular fever. She will be forced to spend another winter in the caravan, which is entirely lacking in amenities, hoping desperately that more housing funds will be provided and that her position will be alleviated. Her fruitless quest for housing finance gives the lie direct to any one who endeavours to detract from the censure to which the amendment gives effect.

The sub-standard housing conditions evident in my electorate can hardly be justified in the light of the fact that in the last nine years 5,379 service stations have been built in Australia. This represents 45 per cent, more than the number constructed in the preceding nine years, and I believe that it indicates the scale of values adopted by this Government and demonstrates that it prefers to give priority to the Liberal citadel of profit-making and excessive profiteering rather than to the welfare of human beings. In new areas around the perimeters of large capital cities and provincial cities where young families must necessarily make their homes, the incidence of inferior and substandard accommodation is unprecedently high. In my electorate, which, as I have mentioned, is developing rapidly, many families reside in beautiful homes which, though perhaps not up to the standard of those in staunch Liberal areas, leave nothing to be desired, but many thousands of young Australian couples are not in this happy position. I should know something of their problems, because I experienced them myself not very long ago. I had to build my house the hard way. First, I had to join a long queue in the desperate fight for money. In my electorate, which is so typical of many on the outskirts of large capital cities, I see daily many people who have no prospect of obtaining finance and having a builder proceed methodically and economically with the construction of a home. Instead, they have first to buy a block of land, which may cost £800. They have then to construct a garage on the block, and in the process, they may spend perhaps £150 on prime cost items - commonly known as p.c. items - such as a stove and a bath, in the hope of using them later in the house they intend to build. They probably spend about £200 on furniture. Their total asset is then perhaps £1,200, but when they look for finance for the house their efforts are of no avail, and the asset they have in the property is of no help. It is incredible that this Government should not only create that state of affairs but also that it should be prepared to condone it. It is an incredible and fascinating situation. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) has been talking about immigration. When all is said and done, our best immigrants are Australianborn boys and girls, but there is no incentive for young couples these days to have large families. The wealth of young families is in their capacity to use their hands. They have a future against which we - can surely stake some of the Commonwealth Government's surplus for the express purpose of enabling them to get on with the job of building their homes.

The Labour party's fact-finding committee was a tremendous revelation. It is true that we had evidence from trade union representatives. The Government seems to take the view that to receive any guidance from the trade union movement is to court ill repute. But in addition to trade union representatives the committee on housing, which sat in Sydney under the leadership of the honorable member for East Sydney and the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), was able to hear a large number of Liberals, who spontaneously came forward to give evidence. We had not only employee representatives but also employer representatives and they were all equally enthusiastic in their endeavour to avail themselves of this opportunity to condemn the Government for its complete offhandedness.

The federal secretary of the Building Workers Industrial Union gave evidence and pointed out that in the building industry to-day there were 12 per cent, to 15 per cent, unemployed. In 1951 he said we had reached the peak employment period when 126,483 workers were employed, but by September, 1956, the figure had dropped by 5,572, so that to-day we only had in the building industry 120,911 employees. This is a most regrettable circumstance, because there has been an increase in the population over that period. Rather than a decline in the home-building force, we could justifiably have expected an expansion. On top of those figures we must have regard to the fact that the £23,000,000 munitions factory under construction at St. Mary's has absorbed some 4,400 building employees. In the not-far-distant future, even having regard to the existing unemployment rate, those 4,400 employees will be thrown onto the industrial scrap heap. We are becoming very concerned as a Labour Opposition about the future of these men.

Let us look at some of the figures associated with housing. Let us look at the number of houses under construction today, compared with the last five years. These figures are official and come from the Commonwealth Statistician. They are contained in the " Monthly Review of Business Statistics "' and are vital. They show that in 1950-51 there were 80,000 homes under construction. In 1951-52 there were 82.000; in 1952-53 there were 69,000; in 1953-54 there were 59,000 and a few hundred; in 1954-55 there were 65,000; in 1955-56 the figure fell alarmingly to 60,687, and for the quarter ended December, 1956. it is estimated by the Commonwealth Statistician that the figure dropped to 60,062 houses' under construction - a drop of some 20,000 in the five-year period.

Now let us look at the value of buildings other than houses. In 1950-51 the figure was £91,000,000 worth. In 1951-52 it was £125.000,000; in 1952-53 it was £115,000.000; in 1953-54 it was £133,000.000; in 1954-55 it was £171,000,000, and in 1955-56 it was £220.000,000. Those figures indicate that this Government is placing emphasis on the things which are least important to the welfare of the Australian people. For the quarter ended September, 1956, the figure had risen to £233,897,000, while the value of houses under construction had risen by only £10,000,000 at the end of the five-year period. Of course, there is inflation. The £1 is worth 6s. 8d. or 7s., so the real, value of the houses being built has deteriorated to a very marked degree.

How many houses are needed in Australia to-day? If we look, at the report of the Commonwealth Housing Commission, which accepted the housing occupancy rate of 3.52 persons per dwelling, we get a basis for calculation. The present population is 9,427,000. On the basis of the commission's report we should have 2,678.000 houses. In 1945 we had 1,800,000 dwellings.

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