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Thursday, 28 March 1957


Mr CLAREY (Bendigo) .- I support the amendment that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). Two things have become clear from this debate; first, that there is a shortage of houses for rental purposes and, secondly, that there is an unsatisfied demand for homes for purchase, particularly on a low deposit. Several honorable members have suggested that the shortage of houses for rental purposes is attributable entirely to rent control, to the inability of owners to obtain possession, and other factors. 1 entirely disagree and, in order to demonstrate my reasons for so doing, I should like to relate my own experiences before World War I., when, as a youth, I was in the employ of a real estate agent. I have some idea of the conditions which then operated in respect of rental homes. Building regulations were far from perfect. Those who intended to invest in rental houses purchased blocks of land and erected on them as many homes as they possibly could, as terraces, singlefronted brick houses, single-fronted weatherboard houses, or single-fronted brick two-story houses. These offered very little accommodation and few conveniences. In the light of present-day standards they would be considered far from satisfactory. These conditions brought about what we now call the slum areas of Melbourne. Many of those homes did not have a bath, a copper or a trough. Very often the only lighting available to tenants was by candle or kerosene lamp. From an investment stand-point, the homes were good, but from a living stand-point they were extremely bad.

After World War I a decided change took place in housing standards and in the attitude to home ownership. Investment for rental purposes declined considerably. Such homes as were built were usually semidetached brick structures, and the balance of investment was devoted to the construction of flats. There was a distinct trend towards building for home ownership. But whatever had been the difficulties in regard to investment for rental purposes, as a consequence of the depression the building of homes for rental purposes almost entirely ceased and the responsibility to provide accommodation for the people was thrown on the States themselves. At that stage, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia had vigorously tackled the problem and were building houses in large numbers, some for rental and some for sale.

It was about 1937 that the question of the States actively undertaking the construction of homes for rental purposes was considered.

I know that in 1937, the first Victorian Housing Commission Bill was introduced so as enable the State itself to use the resources and man-power available to enable rental homes to be constructed. Our task was not an easy one. The bill was brought in by a Country party government which was supported by the Labour party. Fo- nome reason or other, the Liberal party opposed the measure in the Legislative Assembly. However, the bill was passed by that chamber, and came before the Legislative Council, of which 1 was a member. The bill was passed, but the Liberal party in that House used its majority to deprive the Housing Commission of the right to raise money to carry out this function. So, for twelve months, until the act was amended in a later session, we had a housing commission but it had no power to raise money for the purpose of building homes.

New South Wales, at that time, introduced legislation of a different character. What little efforts were made to relieve the housing position at that period were frustrated as a consequence of World War II., because the building of homes for sale or rental almost entirely ceased. By the time the war was over it was estimated that there was a shortage in Australia of between 250,000 and 350,000 houses. I want to pay tribute, at this stage, to the Chifley Government, because it introduced the first housing agreement between the States and the Commonwealth to enable the problem of building homes for the people to be tackled in a scientific manner. In introducing this legislation the Chifley Government was embarking on an uncharted sea, with no precedent to guide it. But eventually, the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Bill was passed and I know that we in Victoria then had the problem of trying to put that act into operation.

During the course of this debate, I have heard many sneers at the Labour party because of what was regarded as the poor headway made in respect of housing between 1945 and 1949. I have some idea of the problems which faced the States at that particular time. These problems, I emphasize, faced, not only Labour-governed States, but also Liberal-governed States during that period. I know that in Victoria, when the war ended and Labour was in power for two years, we had three problems to consider. The first was the finding of emergency housing for people who were being evicted because the owners were able to show that their necessity for housing was greater than that of the tenant. People were being evicted by the score every week, and accommodation had to be found quickly in order to relieve the distress. So in Victoria emergency housing had to be constructed, mostly from army huts.

Secondly we had the task of redirecting the industrial section of the State from wartime activity to peace-time activity. That meant re-establishing and putting into operation all the industries that were connected with building. As a member of that Government, I know of the many conferences that we called between the employers in the brick trade, the cement trade and the tile trade, and with the unions concerned in order to find labour power and see that conditions of employment were made reasonable. I recall the problems of obtaining the raw materials needed by those industries. There was a general shortage of coal which prevented us from producing enough bricks, tiles, and cement. Because the equipment in many factories was out of date, there was a constant struggle to obtain the new equipment and plant that was needed. In addition to the problems of our own Australian people, the constant influx of immigrants between 1946 and 1949 greatly aggravated the position. I do not for one moment deny that immigrants, by entering these industries in which labour was short, helped greatly in increasing the supply of many of the materials that were scarce. Those problems confronted all the States at that time. Three States had Labour governments, and three had Liberal governments, and all were frustrated by these conditions. Now. more than eleven years later, we still have not solved the housing problem.

The Opposition has proposed the amendment, which is in essence a censure motion, because it considers that this Government has failed to honour its obligation to overcome the back-lag of housing and to ensure that the Australian people are adequately housed. The housing problem is intensely human, because, as we have been told on many occasions, it deeply affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who are living under conditions that are considered most undesirable by Australians generally. 1 could give hundreds of illustrations of the hi J .'fill conditions under which so many people are living to-day. In Victoria, inquiries have been made recently about overcrowding in tenement houses and overcharging for the letting of rooms in such establishments. A graphic indication of the acuteness of the problem is the existence of no fewer than 715 apartment and lodging houses in the area administered by the Melbourne City Council, and the naming and subjecting to rigid control of five or six of these establishments. Evidence given indicated that, in many instances, four or five people were living in one small room for which a rent of between £3 and £5 a week was charged, and that some people were buying homes for the purpose of housing immigrants a family to a room at exorbitant rents for accommodation that entirely lacked the normal amenities for a family. One can readily appreciate why pressure is being brought to bear upon the authorities that are in a position to act in the matter to solve the housing problem promptly, and so remove these evils.

The housing problem is becoming a major issue for thought and discussion by the trade union movement, progress associations, and all other associations in which men and women gather together to discuss their social conditions with the object of improving them. Resentment at the continued existence of these deplorable conditions is growing ever greater throughout the community as the days pass. As if these things were not bad enough, the shortage of homes is being seriously aggravated by the demolition of dwellings in all the capital cities to make room for new and expanding factories, warehouses, and other business premises. On top of that, one finds that many apartment houses are being purchased by business interests in order to convert them into offices and for use as professional chambers. Recently in Melbourne twelve families were evicted from one apartment house. The law in Victoria provides that if an owner can show to the court that he desires the house either for demolition or for reconstruction, an eviction order must be granted. So, in order to convert an apartment house into professional chambers twelve families were evicted. That type of demolition and reconstruction for business purposes is adding considerably to the difficulties which are being experienced by those who are seeking home accommodation.

In my own constituency I am meeting the same trouble. Some two years ago, in order to try to overcome the housing problem and the shocking conditions under which some of my constituents were living, I helped to form a co-operative housing society. For two years we had to go from institution to' institution, endeavouring to secure the necessary finance to enable the society to be established. After two years we got money - not as much as we wanted - but enough to enable us to make some sort of a start. As a consequence of that, at least 62 people in the Bendigo district now have a possibility of securing a home within the next four years. We have a waiting list of 50 to 60 people, and if finance were available another co-operative housing society could be formed without any difficulty. It is apparent that we are up against a very great and serious problem and that something has to be done in the matter by this Parliament, because the Commonwealth Parliament, through its financial powers, is the only authority in Australia that is able to make the necessary financial provision to enable this housing shortage to be overcome.

I agree with speakers on this side of the House that at the present moment the only problem in respect of housing is finance. There is no difficulty whatever in respect of either materials or man-power. That is proved not only by the statements which have been made by my colleagues during the course of this debate, but also by documents issued by Government departments. Take the question of employment. In September, 1951, the number of tradesmen and others engaged on new buildings was 126,483. Today that labour force is down to just on 120,000. In other words almost 6,500 fewer men are employed in the building industry to-day than in September, 1951. In my own electorate of Bendigo I know of five carpenters, skilled tradesmen, who, because they are unable to secure work in housing construction in the Bendigo district, are working in food processing factories. I do submit to this House that the skilled carpenter is of much more value to the State employed as a carpenter, building homes for" the people, than employed as a factory hand in a food processing factory, no matter how important and valuable that work may be.

With respect to materials, let me quote from the Monthly Bulletin of Production Statistics, which is issued by the Commonwealth Statistician. This shows that for the six months ended June, 19S6, as compared with the six months ended December, 1955, in every industry concerned in the manufacture of raw materials for housing construction, there was a considerable fall in production. That applies to clay bricks, cement building sheets, fibrous plaster sheets, all types of roofing tiles and sawn native timber. The only product used in the building industry that shows an increase is cement, and that is probably because there is unprecedented activity in the building of factories, service stations, warehouses, stores and other classes of buildings that rely principally upon cement as the raw material. But the production of the other important materials such as bricks to sawn timber has been declining steadily over the past eight or nine months and, as has been pointed out by my colleagues, stockpiling of all those materials is taking place on an unprecedented scale at the present moment.

What applies to basic raw materials for buildings applies also to building fittings. The same problem arises in respect of building fittings. The capacity to produce the materials that are required is there and the labour required to be harnessed to those materials is available.

In the five minutes that I have left to me, J want to submit to the House that the problem of the shortage of houses can be solved, provided the Government is prepared to tackle it in the way in which it should be tackled. I agree that Australia has many problems to-day. Housing, hospitals, education and roads are all important matters and present problems that need solution. But I submit to the Government, as the Government submitted to the States during the lean years of 1952 and 1953, that all problems cannot be solved at the one time. What is required at the present moment is leadership by the Commonwealth to inspire and lead the States, and to formulate a plan that would enable the housing problem, at least, to be solved within a stated period of time.

According to the Spooner report, we are 115,000 houses short at present and the annual rate of construction for the next four years, in order to meet the current and increasing demands, will be roughly 52,000 or 53,000 houses. If we are to solve the problem in four years, it will be necessary for us to construct 332,000 houses or an average of 88,000 houses a year. That can be done. The building statistics show that in 1951 84,879 houses were started. If it were possible in 1951 to commence the construction of 84,000 houses, then I submit that, in 1957, with the added manpower and the added materials available, it should not be beyond the capacity of either industry or the governments to see that for four years 88,000 houses are constructed, so that at the end of 1960 the housing problem will be solved. From then onwards the construction of houses could be stabilized at the estimated requirement for each year. With the increase in population, annual requirements will gradually become larger and larger. I suggest that the States should receive leadership from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has supreme power over finance, controls income taxation, and customs and excise, and has the final decision in Loan Council matters. If the Government acts on the lines I have suggested, the housing problem can be solved within four years.

I say this in conclusion: Let us, above all, concentrate on a plan to end the housing shortage. All of our citizens .have the right to decent and comfortable shelter. Unless we give it to them we have failed properly to represent the people who have elected us.







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