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Wednesday, 27 March 1957


Mr CHANEY (Perth) .- After listening for some time to the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), I am more than ever convinced that I live in the best State in Australia. We have certain difficulties and troubles, and, like most States, we always lay the troubles at the door of the Commonwealth. The only thing for which the Commonwealth has not been blamed in the administration and government of Western Australia during the last few years is the mysterious stones that have been falling somewhere in the electorate of the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth). It is only a matter of time before some one will blame the Commonwealth for that, too.

In this debate on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply and on the amendment moved by the Opposition, I join with others in the congratulations that have been extended to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury), who moved and seconded the motion. At the outset, I wish to make a slight correction to the speeches of two honorable members from my State. The honorable member for- Canning (Mr. Hamilton), in the heat of the debate, made a statement about our hardwoods. That statement is definitely untrue and could be extremely damaging to the timber trade of Western Australia. It is a fact that white ants are attracted to karri, but the attraction of white ants to karri could not be compared with the attraction of white ants to Oregon. In this building, I believe that the second floor is of Oregon, but nothing has happened to it because of the situation of the timber. Jarrah is most white ant resistant. I hope that any impression formed in the minds of members of the public will be dispelled by evidence that can be produced. Such evidence will prove conclusively that the statement was made in error or that the honorable member was misquoted in " Hansard ".

The other thing I want to correct is a statement by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) who said last week that a very snide trick was being employed in Western Australia. I assume that he means it is being used by officers of the Commonwealth Employment Service. I say categorically that the officers of the Commonwealth Employment Service in Western Australia at all times act in the best interests of the unemployed and cannot on any account be accused of snide tricks. The statement was made under Parliamentary privilege and is one that should be corrected by the honorable member. It does a grave injustice to some very loyal people in Western Australia who are doing their utmost to relieve the hardships that exist because of certain unemployment in the State.


Mr Webb - The honorable member should ask the Minister to show him the letter which bears 51 signatures, as I said.


Mr CHANEY - I do not have to ask the Minister, because I have seen the letter. I am sure that if I took a petition to people and said, " Will you sign this petition which says that black is white " I could get 51 signatures on it. The easiest thing in the world is to get 51 signatures from amongst 400,000 people. The honorable member for Stirling should stand by . his statement - outside this House - that the officers of the Commonwealth Employment Service are using very snide tricks in the performance of their duties.

I pass now to the question of employment in Western Australia. It is true that Western Australia is suffering from a slight recession of employment. The figures given by the Department of Labour and National Service show a fluctuation from time to time and at present show an improvement in the employment situation. I know that the figures given by this department can be used only as a guide, because they never indicate the true position, due to the fact that certain tests are applied before people can qualify for unemployment benefits. However, they can at least be used as a guide. The indications are that the situa tion, which before Christmas was unsatisfactory, has shown some improvement.I should like to read a passage from the " Industrial News ", although I know that some honorable members opposite will say that this is a biased publication because it is issued by the Western Australian Employers Federation Incorporated. It reads -

The capacity of Perth business concerns to increase employment after the downturn of 1956 is steadily improving and the proportion of employers who are putting on labour again considerably exceeds that which has retrenched personnel since Christmas.

The publication gives figures concerninga review undertaken among employers of labour in Perth. A series of questions was asked of 80 employers who were employing work forces of between six and 1,000. The questions and answers were as follows: -

 

It is obvious, in the kind of economy to which this country must become accustomed, that if we are to rely upon expansion we must expect some sort of indigestion from that expansion. I think, and I hope, that Western Australia has passed the worst of the troubles that beset it over the last few months. I refuse to believe that a depression can be brought upon this nation except when that depression springs from a considerable fall in the prices of our primary products. I believe that the economy of the country will be sound if primary production is kept at a high level and the prices obtained for that produce remain at a reasonably high level. If we study all the depression periods through which we have passed, we will find that the worst periods occurred when the primary products of the country began to become surplus and their prices dropped considerably. We may have our minor recessions in the industrial fields, but since ours is primarily a country that depends upon its exports, and exports that are won from the soil, there is no need for any one to rush into print with statements that Australia is bound for a depression. Unfortunately, newspapers can bring on a semidepression simply by making such statements. In the field of private enterprise businessmen are not inclined to take bold forward steps to assist the development of the country when they read in the newspapers of the likelihood of a depression. We should look forward with confidence and encourage a belief in the future of the nation while the overseas prices of our primary products remain at a reasonable level. The newspapers themselves have a duty to the workers of this country, and should not influence people throughout the community into believing in the inevitability of a depression.

The Opposition's amendment to the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply concerns the housing question. The early part of the debate resolved itself into an argument as to whether or not there is a crisis in housing. I believe that the dictionary defines a crisis as something concerned with a peak. It has to do with something that happens of an extremely drastic nature. I venture to say that there is no crisis in housing, even though it may be shown that there is a shortage of housing. A crisis in housing in this country was reached about the year 1948. Many honorable members of. this Parliament were themselves badly affected by that housing crisis, and have painful memories of that period. During a debate in this House last year on the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Bill, I pointed out that of all the houses built in Western Australia and offered to members of the public under the rental provisions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, one-third were rejected because their locality was unsuitable, or because they were not of a satisfactory design, or for some other such reason. It is true that those houses did not go untenanted. Other persons were given the opportunity to occupy them. But when we reach the point where a house is offered to a person and is rejected because of its location, or its distance from a person's place of work, it can hardly be claimed that there is a housing crisis.

I believe that Western Australia has had a good deal of advantage over other States in the matter of housing. As has been mentioned in this House, the rents and tenancies legislation was completely struck off the statute-book five or six years ago. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) made the point that the immediate result of this was that rents rose from about £1 10s. to about £4 4s. It is true that rents were increased, but surely it must be accepted that persons can agree on an economic rental for a property or for any other possession, and while the rents and tenancies legislation was in existence, and a person could not evict a tenant, and could not charge an economic rental, thousands of tenants would not move from large homes that had become too big for their purposes, their families having grown up. They remained in those homes, to the detriment of families that required larger homes. The position changed, however, as soon as the amending legislation was passed. People then began to move into smaller houses or flats, thus making available to larger families accommodation that was readily accepted. The rents then started to level off.

I think that in 1948, when the present Opposition was in government, rentals in Western Australia, under the rental provisions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, were based on the economic rentals, which could be taken roughly as £1 a week for each £1,000 of the cost of building a home. In other words, if a house cost £1,500 to build, the rent was £1 10s. a week. The person occupying a home was called upon to pay an economic rental, either an amount based on a fair return for investment or else one-fifth of that person's total family income, whichever was the less. The system worked quite well. Now that house building costs have increased so greatly, I believe that a different system has been instituted, under which rentals are paid according to a sliding scale. This sliding scale constitutes the reply to those who say that men will not accept a couple of days' work because that would endanger their rent rebates. I think that if a man has been unemployed for a certain period in Western Australia, and he occupies a rental home under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, his rent is reduced to something like 9s. a week. But under the agreement that he signs when he enters the home, if his income is £4 a week the maximum rent is 8s. a week, regardless of the cost of the home. When his income is £5 the rent is 12s.; when it is £6 the rent is 17s., and with an income of £7 a week the occupier pays £1 2s. a week in rent. The sliding scale is worked out on that basis, and if the family income is £20 a week the rent charged can be as high as £4 18s. a week.

There is only one feature of this system with which I disagree. That is the provision that includes a war pension in the total income. I found out only recently that this was the case, and I shall make some representations to the State Government in regard to this matter. I do not criticize that Government for something that it has not had a chance to correct. The family income, for rental purposes, is based on the whole income of the person receiving the highest income, two-thirds of the second highest income in the house, and one-third of the income of the remaining members of the family, or £1 10s. a week, whichever is the lower. If the income is less than 10s., it is excluded. It will be seen, therefore, that anybody who was receiving unemployment benefits, or who was engaged in casual labour, would qualify for one of these homes, and that would be the only way in which he would be eligible to qualify, regardless of whether he accepted it or not.

I wish to say this in reply to the criticism of the Commonwealth Employment Service and its alleged snide trick, that I believe that 98 per cent, of the working people of Australia would prefer to do two days' work and be paid for it than not to work at all and accept unemployment benefits, because I am of the opinion that 98 per cent, of the people in the community still feel that there is some dignity about working and receiving payment for work. I believe that they would prefer to do that in most cases, and if that is so, it completely cuts across the argument that has been presented by honorable members opposite.

On the question of housing and the restriction of credit, I have made several inquiries in Western Australia and have found that the restriction that applies is restriction of the amount of money that is available and the amount of money that is invested in savings banks, and not a restriction that has been imposed by this Government. The Commonwealth Bank, which will still advance £2.500 for a brick house, £2,250 for a timber house, or £2,000 for a timber frame house, on terms of repayments over 25 years for a brick house and over 22 years for other types, is letting out a considerable amount each month. In January, it did not use the quota which it had allocated for home-building loans. Of course, there is a reason for that. I do not know whether this also applies in other States, but in Western Australia a considerable period of the month of January is lost because the whole of the building trades workmen take their annual holidays. I think the holidays extend over approximately three weeks, and the idea is to compensate for certain public holidays that the workers do not take. The arrangement gives them their holidays at a time that is convenient .to all.

Such loans by the Commonwealth Bank bear interest at the rate of 5 per cent., but they certainly will not be given to everybody who walks along to the bank. A person who applies for a loan must have certain assets, and I think that the members of this Parliament, even those who are so vociferous concerning the alleged hard treatment of some people, would not lend their own money, or their own car, or their own house unless they had some security in return. Sometimes we criticize a government for doing something that we ourselves are prone to do. The bank, in the interests of its clients, expects a person who applies for a loan in respect of a brick house to have all the money that is required in excess of £2,500, and even when he has met that requirement the bank would like to see some £200 in the bank, because what happens usually is that on the completion of the house the person concerned goes off and ties himself up with hire-purchase arrangements for furniture, a radio, a refrigerator, and so on, and may not be in a position to meet the repayments of the loan.

I found that one of the private banks, about which I made inquiries, imposes almost identical conditions. Only recently, the Commonwealth Bank brought the level of the advance of £2,000 up to £2,500 for a brick home, following the example set by the trading banks. One bank in Western Australia is lending £500,000 a month, money that has been raised through the establishment of a savings bank. However much we may criticize the trading banks for conducting savings banks, it is well to remember that the establishment of such savings banks did not decrease the overall amount of money available for the uses to which money was being put. It merely increased the number of places where money could be kept. Money which normally would be banked with the Commonwealth Bank is now available to the Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited, the Bank of New South Wales, and other trading banks. The opening of savings banks by the private banks must have encouraged a lot of people who were not operating savings accounts to do so by taking money from their trading bank accounts.

During the course of the debate last night, newspaper advertisements were read to illustrate the claim that amazing rentals were being paid for houses. Once again, it seems to me that we are fortunately situated in Western Australia. I know that there is not a house for everybody who wants one. The most chaotic social condition that could arise in this country would come about when everybody who wanted a house had a house, because the immediate result of that would be cessation of the production of building materials, and cessation of operations by all the builders and the people associated with the building industry.


Mr Beazley - We could entertain ourselves with slum clearance for a few years!


Mr CHANEY - Yes, that is true, but somewhere in between the intensive housing shortage and a complete solution of the housing problem there must be the right road to travel, with a need to build houses for a certain number of people and a guarantee of employment for the building tradesmen, plus a guarantee of employment for the people who are making the building materials.


Mr Beazley - There are always new marriages.


Mr CHANEY - That also is true, but the number of new marriages in this country would not alone keep the labour force in the building industry fully employed, nor would it keep in continuous operation those producing building materials, production that expanded rapidly when the housing situation was at its worst.


Mr Beazley Mr. Beazleyinterjecting,







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