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Wednesday, 27 March 1957

Mr STEWART (Lang) .- The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) is known in this House as a member who would talk under water. Quite often his gurgling, disjointed and incoherent remarks would make one believe that he was; practicing this accomplishment. His Excellency's Speech, which we are now debating, was most disappointing. It gave no indication of the Government's intention to come to grips with any of the major problems with which this nation is confronted. It was dull and uninteresting. I could not help but feel that His Excellency shared the disappointment of the general public with the context of his Speech. His Excellency has, since he has been appointed Governor-General, demonstrated his faith in the future of this great south land of ours. In a number of his public speeches he has given illustrations of the future that he sees for Australia. Therefore, it must have been most disappointing, to have to deliver, on behalf of his Government, a speech which lacked enterprise, which lacked foresight, which lacked initiative and which lacked confidence and faith in Australia. I sympathize with him.

I support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition, the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt). It points to the need for a national housing plan in Australia. Many Government supporters, from Ministers down to back-benchers, have devoted portion of their time during this debate to discussing. housing. Many Ministers have indicated that they do nol believe that there is a housing crisis in Australia. 1 challenge the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), and members of the Government to come to the housing settlements at Herne Bay and Bradfield, in the metropolitan area of Sydney, and see what is going on there. I urge them to leave their ivory tower in Canberra, where the autumn leaves are falling and the air is clear and exhilarating; to come out of their offices, where they are busily engaged signing documents and policy statements prepared by members of the Public Service, and get to grips with the problems of the ordinary men and women who were willing to sacrifice their lives in World War II., and who have done so much in the post-war era to develop our great land. I ask these gentlemen to examine some of the housing conditions that the ordinary man and woman have to tolerate. T feel that, no matter how far removed the Prime Minister and his Cabinet may be from the real sufferings of the people of Australia, they cannot but be impressed with the disastrous effects of the naring down of finance for housing.

The Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army indicated in their speeches that they were quite satisfied with the efforts of this Government in the field of housing.

Members of the Ministry have indicated that in England, in the United States of America, in Canada and in other nations, the housing situation is worse than it is in Australia. I remind these honorable gentlemen that this is Australia, and that this is the Australian Parliament. I do not care whether people in England, America or Canada, have not as good housing as the majority of citizens in Australia. We, as representatives of the Australian people, have a duty to our own Australian citizens, and while there is one person in Australia who is not adequately housed we, as a Christian nation and as Christians in the Australian Parliament, should see that that person has every opportunity to obtain adequate housing.

The members of the Government have gone to some trouble to quote statistics to prove that this government or that government, this bank or that bank, is to blame for the housing situation in Australia. Statistics do not count one iota with the men, women and children who have not adequate housing. There is an editorial in to-day's " Daily Mirror " which I feel sums up the situation adequately. It reads as follows: -


The debate on housing in the House of Representatives yesterday revealed one thing. Every one is prepared te blame some one else for the shortage. Mr. Wheeler attacked Dr. Coombs, governor of the Commonwealth Bank. Mr. Calwell blamed the private banks. The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) blamed the Cahill Government for the shortage in New South Wales.

For a long time the State Governments have been blaming the Commonwealth for not making more money available under the Housing Agreement. The Commonwealth Government, on the other hand, has been blaming the State Governments - especially that in New South Wales - for misusing their loan funds.

All this buck-passing is not resulting in the building of one more home. The people, particularly the homeless, are sick and tired of it. They look for statesmanlike action, not childlike bickering.

What about all concerned - Commonwealth, States, financial institutions, building societies, builders, and unions - getting together and trying to devise a long-range plan? That would be better than the present hurdy-gurdy of noisy words thai is going in a perpetual circle and getting nowhere.

I feel that a great deal of the time in this debate has been devoted to blaming this man or that man, this government or that government, but, as I have said, it does not get one more home for the people who need homes.

I notice that the Minister for the Army is sitting at the table. He is the man who has said that there are ample houses in Australia to accommodate the citizens of Australia who desire homes. I can tell him that in my electorate there are very few homes which are not occupied or which are occupied by only one or two persons. 1 feel certain that if we were to travel through the electorate of the Minister or through the electorates of other Ministers, we would find that there are many homes which are not filled with people or in which the fullest use is not being made of the accommodation available. The Minister for the Army is a member of a government that believes in free enterprise and in the rights of the individual to own property and do with that property what he will. , For him to suggest that persons owning homes should make room available in order that other people may live in them, seems to rae ridiculous.

Mr Cramer - 1 did not say that.

Mr STEWART - The Minister denies he said that, but that was the only conclusion that could be drawn from his remarks.

I say that every individual who owns a home should have the right to live in it alone or with any number of people that he desires. I would not suggest that any person should be compelled to take into his home any other person who desired better housing.

Mr Cramer - I agree with that. I did not say anything to the contrary.

Mr STEWART - Then it is a pity that the Minister, when he was making his speech, did not make that quite clear. There is no doubt that the interpretation that could be placed on his remarks is the interpretation that I have placed upon them.

The Prime Minister has indicated that he does not believe that there is a housing crisis. He believes that not the lack of finance but shortages of materials and manpower are the cause of the lack of housing in Australia. For the information of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), who is twittering away like a tomtit on a stump, I shall quote statistics showing the fall in demand for building materials and building fittings. The following table sets out the position: -


Mr Anderson - Thai proves what the Prime Minister said.

Mr STEWART - The Prime Minister said that the shortage of housing was due not to lack of finance but to the shortage of labour and materials. From July to December, 1955, the manufacturers of building materials and building fittings were able to manufacture much more than they are manufacturing at the present time. The honorable member cannot tell me that those manufacturers would have reduced their output if the demand was present The demand was not there, and that can prove only one thing - that fewer houses are being built now than in the period JulyDecember, 1955. The reason houses are not being built is the lack of finance, not the lack of suplies. The supply has existed and production could be stepped up at any time that the demand calls for it.

The same applies to the drop in homecompletion. The statistician's figures show that the number of new houses completed in New South Wales last year was 23,754, a drop of about 12 per cent, on the 27,413 homes completed in 1955. The latest official estimate of the housing shortage among the States is as follows: -


This means that 115,350 families in Australia are not adequately housed. Even if the total were only one-quarter of that figure, the National Parliament should be doing everything possible to house those people adequately.

No fewer than 12,000 of the 30,000 outstanding applications for housing commission homes in New South Wales have been made by ex-servicemen. Why are there so many ex-servicemen applicants for assistance from the New South Wales Housing Commission? Is it because most of them are not in a position to pay the large deposit needed for the construction of a home by the War Service Homes Division.

Mr Barnard - Or they cannot afford to wait for two years.

Mr STEWART - Even if they were inclined to wait for the two years they would have to wait for an advance to become available from the division, they could not provide the deposit required. Unless this Government allocates to the States for housing more than it is providing at the present time, thousands of people throughout Australia will still be looking for homes for many years. It is of no use for the Government to give all the available money solely to the banks and the building societies for them to lend to people to build their own homes. Many decent and upright families in which there are two or more children will never be able to save the money needed to buy a block of land and pay a deposit on a home out of the bread-winner's wage of not more than £16 or £20 a week.

The War Service Homes Division will make a maximum loan of £2,750. If the Minister for the Army were able, through his estate agency business, to show me any home offered for £2,750, or even £3,000, that was worth buying, I would buy it to-morrow. We in this Parliament must remember that many decent and upright families, through no fault of their own, cannot buy a home. It is the responsibility of both Commonwealth and State Governments to ensure that homes will always be provided for people in such a position. The Australian Labour party would like to see every citizen of Australia with a home of his own to take an interest in, and with a valuable stake in our great land.

Mr Cramer - Mr. Dedman did not say that.

Mr STEWART - Mr. Dedmanmay not have said that. But what he said is not in issue now; it is what 1 am saying that counts, and I have as much right to express my opinion of Labour's policy as Mr. Dedman had. In any event, he is no longer a member of this House; so the policy that he enunciated apparently was not acceptable to the people he represented. The majority of Opposition members are firmly convinced that every Australian who wants to buy a home should be able to get the money to do so, and that those who find it impossible to buy homes should be able to live in houses provided by the State Government.

Mr Cramer - That was not Labour's policy when it was in office.

Mr STEWART - Government supporters continually hark back to the policy of the Australian Labour party when it was in office. I remind the Minister that Labour held office during World War II. and the immediate post-war years. It is utterly ridiculous, totally insincere, and completely laughable for Ministers and other Government supporters to say that the present Government built more homes in five years than the Labour government built in five years, because no one in his right senses who had any sincerity or desire to develop Australia, would expect any government to do in the post-war years the things that have been done in the years of plenty since 1949. A further point that I might mention is that the planning of the Chifley Government was responsible for the high rate of home-construction in 1951 and 1952. In this respect, housing is akin to the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, which was initiated by the Labour government.

Mr Russell - It was boycotted by the Liberal party.

Mr STEWART - It was boycotted by members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party who sat in the Parliament at the time. But to hear Ministers and Government supporters talk of the Snowy Mountains scheme to-day, one would think the Liberal party and the Australian Country party fathered it. In the same manner, Government supporters take credit for the rate of home construction in 1951 and 1952, which was achieved only as a result of the planning of the Chifley Government, which was given effect in the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945.

Mr Cramer - That agreement gave effect to a socialist scheme. It did not provide for home-ownership.

Mr STEWART - The sooner the Minister forgets his partisan attitude as a Minister of the Government, looks at things from an Australian stand-point, and gives credit where it is due, the sooner he will be able to administer his portfolio more justly and efficiently than he has done up to the present time.

I want to make the further point that many of our citizens are expected to live in rented rooms in large homes, and in sheds and garages, in back-yards. The housing situation is responsible for many evils. Many marriages have been broken by the intolerable conditions endured by husband, wife, and children living in cramped quarters and all sleeping in the same room. Under such conditions, people naturally become impatient and quick-tempered, and often have domestic squabbles. A great deal of unhappiness occurs as a result of wives having to cook, eat, sleep, and care for children in the one room, with wedding presents and clothing stored under the beds, a crib for a baby in one corner, and a cot in another corner for a child two or three years of age. Under these conditions, it is utterly impossible to preserve reasonable living standards and maintain one's temper. Again, many homes accommodate ten or fifteen children and adults. In many instances, teenage boys and girls are expected to dress and undress in the same room, and they would have to be super-human to resist all the temptations placed in their way in the inadequate and sub-standard dwellings in which they are forced to live. If we regard ourselves as a Christian nation, we should do our best to provide more adequate housing so long as there is one person who requires better accommodation than he already has. We should not blame this government or that government, or this bank or that bank. We should endeavour to achieve co-operation between the Commonwealth and States, housing institutions, and the banks, come to grips with the housing problem, and provide homes for people who desire them.

The subject of housing is close to the hearts of all Opposition members, because they are representatives of the ordinary men and women. They know the conditions, under which the ordinary people live, and the kind of accommodation they have to endure. Because Opposition members are well versed in those things, they are much better fitted to speak for the people about housing than are the representatives of Liberal constituencies in which there are large homes that are almost castles, set in spacious grounds, and accommodating only one or two people whose wants are attended to by several servants.

In conclusion, I issue a challenge once more to the Prime Minister, to the Minister for the Army, who regards himself as the Government's expert on housing, and to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) to come to some of the industrial suburbs of Sydney and get hold of some of the files of the Housing Commission of New South Wales so that they may learn for themselves the living conditions of many of the people of Australia. Realistic and hard-hearted as they would have us believe they are, they could not but be moved by the housing conditions of many Australians. I make an earnest appeal to them to do everything possible to see that this housing situation is tackled immediately and that the 115,000 people are given homes.

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