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Wednesday, 27 March 1957

Mr RIORDAN (Kennedy) .- The House is debating the Address-in-Reply, to which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has moved an amendment which is tantamount to a motion of censure of the Government. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) has given the House an account of what transpired as a result of the visit of a Parliamentary delegation to Bangkok. I offer no comment. I return to the virtual motion of censure of the Government, which I support.

The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) who preceded, on the Government side, the honorable member for Robertson, came into the chamber earlier this evening, and into the field of controversy he walked with a demeanour that indicated very forcibly that we were getting a demonstration of a doctor's bedside manner at its best. The right honorable gentleman said that he wanted to keep the discussion on a non-party basis. Later, he told the House of a wonderful housing bill that the BrucePage Government introduced in 1927. The right honorable member told us what a wonderful bill it was, but I challenge him to prove that even one house was built as a result of that measure. At the general election of 1925 the Bruce-Page Government promised the people of Australia a housing bill, and in 1927 the people got that housing bill. In 1928 the right honorable gentleman and his fellow members of the BrucePage Government got their marching orders, although they had gone on to the hustings and told the people that they had honoured their promise by introducing the bill. But the bill was all that the people had got in the way of a fulfilment of the government's promise.

To-day, the right honorable gentleman propounds a scheme - a very complicated scheme, to say the least. I will read all about it in " Hansard " to-morrow. " All I want to ask at this stage is whether he propounded this scheme to the government he supports. Or did he only think it up because he realizes that as this debate has proceeded the Government has been losing ground fast? Now history is repeating itself. The right honorable gentleman wants to go to the hustings and say to the people of Cowper, and perhaps the people of the Commonwealth, " I have this great scheme which I have propounded, a scheme which will build houses ". If his scheme is anything like his act of 1927 the people of Australia will know how many houses they will get out of it. I say that the scheme that he has propounded here to-day would never have seen the light of day had not the Leader of the Opposition moved an amendment censuring the Government because of the housing crisis confronting this country. This is the first opportunity that the Labour party has had, after an almost record recess of four months, to draw the attention of the Government to the housing crisis, which it has apparently overlooked. The Prime Minister, in the worst speech that I have ever heard him make - and he has made a few bad ones - denied the existence of a housing crisis. The next day the press of the Commonwealth were very caustic on the subject of his denial. Indeed, Government back-benchers alone have supported him.

The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) admitted that there was a crisis, but blamed it on the State Governments. The provision of housing is a matter of major importance, especially in time of peace. If we can find the money that we need to prosecute a war surely, when conditions once more approach normality, we can find the money required for housing which is, in turn, bound up with the matter of health and should be of paramount importance to any government. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) admitted this afternoon that there was no constitutional difficulty in regard to this question. Of course there is not. He explained that he had introduced a bill on the subject in 1927, and had had it passed. In 1949, when we were on the hustings, the present Prime Minister promised the people of Australia that young couples would get houses - in fact, pie in the sky - if his Government were returned to office. All that the people have now are fowl houses, sheds and barns. The Prime Minister told us how many houses had been built, and assured us that there was no unemployment in the building industry. At the very moment that he was speaking 452 housing workers - two-thirds of the Queensland Housing Commission's building team - were under threat of the sack. On Friday night they were sacked. At least 25 clerks will follow them in the next few days. At the time of these dismissals 300 houses had been partly constructed and others were to have been built. Nearly 11,000 applications for houses have been lodged with the Queensland Housing Commission.

The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) said, in one of his numerous statements, that the housing scheme had been so successful that the housing difficulty had almost been eliminated. Let him tell that to the people who are living in these fowl houses, sheds and barns, or to the young couples who are living with their parents. Apparently the Prime Minister and the Minister for National Development are simply unconscious of the fact that numbers of sawmills, brickyards and timber yards have closed down. They do not seem to be aware that the people who have been supplying hardware for homes have reported that business is falling off. What is coming over this country? The Minister for National Development and the Prime Minister do not know what is happening in this most vital building industry. No wonder the country is in such a mess.

On 22nd March the Sydney "Daily Telegraph " published a statement by Mr. Stewart Fraser, the executive director of the Australian Master Builders Association. I understand that he is not a member of the Labour party. He said that his association had evidence that wall-board manufacturers were operating at 60 per cent, capacity; that tiles, scarce for years, were now available for immediate delivery; that a plaster mill in Sydney was working at 50 per cent, capacity and had had to dismiss staff; that stocks' were mounting in the timber yards and timber mills were closing down; that the fibrous plaster industry had cut production by 20 per cent, and put men off; that sanitary ware manufacturers were reducing production by half and cutting staff; and that brickworks were stacking bricks.

All this is evidence that there is in the building industry a depression of widespread dimensions. In Queensland saw mills are closing down. In the Brisbane " Courier-Mail " there is an advertisement about 5 inches square offering a brickyard for sale. If there were no depression in the building industry, would the owner of a brickyard think of selling it? Of course he would not. Men are being dismissed in every section of the building industry, yet the Prime Minister says that there is no crisis. As has been pointed out, there is a shortage, not of men, materials or land, but of finance.

Let me refer now to the financial question. Only a fortnight ago the figures of bank advances were released. They showed that private bank advances for home building had declined by £7,400,000 in the six months ended December, 1956, and by £18,500,000 in the eighteen months ended December, 1956. No doubt that decline has been brought about by the credit restriction policy of this Government. We were told that it was necessary in order to fight inflation. Instead, it has taken us well along the road to an economic depression. Apparently the Government does not care a rap about those who are being sacked, about those whose businesses are being ruined, or about the young people who are being denied homes. If the Government's financial policy was designed to fight inflation, why was there such a weak protest when the overseas shipping combine pushed up freight rates between this country and Europe? The " Sydney Morning Herald " said that it would cost this country £28,000,000 and give a further fillip to inflation. Was there a loud protest from this Government? All that was done was to call a conference and work out a formula. We can rest assured that any such formula would be based not upon what the people of Australia wanted, but upon what the overseas shipping combine wanted.

This Government had no objection to the oil cartel pushing up prices everywhere. In Queensland Mr. Gair took a stand, arid in the United States a supreme court jury indicted members of the cartel for taking advantage of a situation in that country in order to push up prices. We have had from this Government no protest at all about the actions of the oil cartel, a weak protest about shipping freight rates, and credit restrictions for the people of Australia. All *f this fits into the grand picture of a government policy, which is sympathetically disposed to monopolies and cartels, and inimical to the best interests of the community. Apparently the Government is of the opinion that, in restricting credit for home-building, it is limiting inflation. The latest banking figures show a reduction in advances in eighteen months of £18,500,000. The Prime Minister said that he did not know anything about it. Apparently every one but the Prime Minister knew - especially those of his supporters who were trying to get bank advances or financial accommodation in order to purchase a home. An easing of restrictions upon home-building finance would give real hope to those who are to-day waiting to build or buy homes. It would certainly give a financial blood transfusion to a languishing building industry.

I am glad that the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) is in the chamber. He is a self-appointed housing expert who hears all, reads all, sees all and knows nothing. He made much of the fact that about £500,000 had not been collected from the Federal Treasurer by the Queensland Government.

Mr Wight - The honorable member should speak up.

Mr RIORDAN - I can promise that the honorable member for Lilley will hear everything that I have to say. From his interjection it is plain that he believes that the only good thing that comes out of Queensland is himself. He knows more about the financing of housing schemes than the Queensland Treasurer!

Two days before the honorable member rose in his place a question was asked of the Queensland Treasurer regarding the Commonwealth's advances for housing and for loan works. The Treasurer told the questioner that the whole of the loan money due to Queensland for the current financial year had been collected. Much has been said about what is happening in Queensland, and I want to touch on one or two matters which the State Treasurer discussed in reply to that question. At a meeting held in July, 1956, the Loan Council resolved - that is, all the States with the Commonwealth dissenting - that loan raisings would be £210,000,000. Of that sum, Queensland was to get £3,040,000 under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The Commonwealth undertook to make advances to the States based on a total borrowing of £190,000,000. The States had been unanimous in deciding that £210,000,000 would be borrowed but the Commonwealth said, "We will cut it to £190,000,000". In wiping off that £20,000,000, the Government gave a further fillip to a depression in the building industry. It restricted home-building funds, not only in Quensland, but in the other States.

If the Commonwealth intends to decide the amount of borrowing, why have the Loan Council meet at all? Why not have the Commonwealth advise the State Treasurers how much loan money will be available? The States might as well then tell the Commonwealth to cut it up as it likes. In July, 1956, the Commonwealth offered a monthly advance of £1,833,000 to Queensland, based on a total loan programme of £190,000,000. The Queensland Treasurer has stated that these advances have been paid on the fifteenth day of each month. The honorable member for Lilley - this colossus, who knows all about everything - has played on the fact that this sum of £500,000 was uncollected on the thirteenth. Either he did not take the trouble to check it or his own personal calendar is eight days behind, because he was talking on the 21st day. The amount would have been paid, as usual, on the fifteenth. If the right honorable member did check the calendar, then the leader of the Liberal party in the Queensland Parliament who briefs him did not tell him about the situation. So, in boxing parlance, he walked in, with his guard down. At the end of March, £2,562,500 will have been collected for housing from the Commonwealth by this State. I say to the honorable member for Lilley that, instead of being underdrawn, the Queensland Government's housing account will be over-drawn by £12,500 on the basis of the proportionate monthly drawings. That is the answer to his story. That is the answer to his concoction about £500,000 not being drawn.

The honorable member for Lilley is a very versatile man, He is also a legal luminary. During the course of his speech, he talked about the constitutional difficulties which confront this Government in the field of housing. He got his reply this afternoon from the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). So much knowledge has the honorable member for Lilley of the legislation of this Parliament that he apparently did not know anything of the act of 1927. The Queensland Government wanted a special grant to enable the 452 men to whom reference has been made to be kept in employment. There was no constitutional difficulty, because section 96 of the Constitution provides for the making of special grants, and special grants are made under that section. But no special grant was available for work, and no special grant was available for the construction of houses. Of the defence vote, £86,000,000 is unexpended, but the Queensland Government cannot get £278,000 to enable it to continue its programme of home-building and keep the 452 men employed.

There are 10,362 families who have made urgent application to the Queensland Housing Commission for homes. These people urgently require this accommodation for the reason that some of them are facing eviction, some are living in fowl-houses, and some are sharing accommodation with their relations. Thousands are living in similar conditions in other States. Even the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) has admitted that the position is worse in New South Wales and Victoria. In Queensland, master builders and hardware merchants are very worried. How do employees feel as a result of the credit restrictions and the unavailability of finance which is necessary to enable this industry to function in the way that it should if people are to get the homes that are so desirable and so necessary? Never have profits been so high in big business. Never has so much wealth flowed from rutile and uranium. The wool industry is holding its financial position. Yet there is no money for Queensland to keep 452 building tradesmen in employment and to save the jobs of at least 25 clerks!

The sum of £2,000,000 was made available to the Western Australian Government because of the employment position in that State, but the Commonwealth is not prepared to advance £278,000 to keep those men in work. Queensland receives a lower per capita allocation of loan moneys than any other State although it is crying out for the development of its unsurpassed resources. Yet the Federal Government will not make available the £278,000 that is required. All that I can say to the honorable member for Lilley, who has been persistent in his interjections, is that apparently his influence and the influence of those Ministers who come from Queensland is at such a low ebb that they cannot do anything about the matter; or the influence of southern Ministers and members is so strong that the Queenslanders have to take what they like to offer them, in other words, the crumbs from the rich man's table.

Criticism has been levelled at the Queensland Labour party and its housing policy, particularly by the housing expert from Lilley. If he had taken the trouble to refer to the records of the 1954 census, he would have found that 74.4 per cent, of the total number of private dwellings in Queensland are either owned by the occupiers or are being purchased by them. This is an improvement of 8 per cent, on the proportion at the 1947 census. That answers the smears that the honorable member has directed against the Labour Government of Queensland.

Interest rates have been dealt with at some length. The Government was not slow to follow the lead given by the bankers in Great Britain who wanted to alter the policy of cheap money, and who persuaded the United Kingdom Government to adopt a dear money policy. This Government danced to the tune called by the British bankers, and up went interest rates in Australia. Dear money became the Australian Government's policy. Why did the Government turn to the United Kingdom? In the United States of America, there is a body known as the Federal Housing Administration. This mighty organization, which has been in existence for 22 years, was established under the provisions of a constitution similar to our own. It does not build houses or lend money, but guarantees mortgages and' ensures that those who lend money for housing will be repaid. Why did the Government not follow the United States example? Time does not permit me to discuss the matter further.

If the Government is anxious to house the people properly, why does it not do what is being done in other countries?

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