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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr FREETH (Forrest) .- I wish to join in the congratulations to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) that have been widely expressed. These honorable members set a very high standard in the opening of this debate. It was inevitable that the high national outlook evident in the speeches of the two distinguished new members did not characterize all the other speeches that have been made in this debate. The right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) quickly brought the debate down to a more familiar routine.

I wish to speak to-day on some aspects of the Opposition's attack on the Government with regard to housing and immigration. Honorable members opposite, by means of their amendment, have called for a national plan on housing at this time, when our housing deficiency is of the order of 115,000 homes-

Mr Ward - Many more than that!

Mr FREETH - As against 250,000 in 1947 when the honorable member for East Sydney and his colleagues were in power.

Mr Ward -Rubbish!

Mr FREETH - Whether or not the honorable member likes these figures - and it is a habit of his to deny any figures that do not agree with his point of view - they were based on similar sets of statistics, and they are, therefore, comparable, whether they are precisely accurate or not. If ever there was a time when a national plan on housing was needed it was obviously during the regime of the Labour Government. The honorable gentlemen who are now calling on this Government to implement a national plan had themselves a very much greater problem to face when they were in government. If ever there was a crisis in housing it was the crisis that they faced in the immediate post-war years. I do not blame them for that crisis. It was inevitable that after a war of the magnitude of the one in which we had been engaged there would be a crisis in home building. But what national plan did they produce in those days? If there is a crisis to-day, how much more serious was the crisis in 1947? The Labour Government at that time produced the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. It is true that this was a good measure, and we have carried it on and improved on it.

Honorable members opposite now call for a reduction of our intake of immigrants. What did they do in 1947? They had a vastly different idea at that time. They inaugurated the great Commonwealth immigration programme because at that stage their views were much sounder on the contribution that immigrants make to the solution of these problems of shortages. They introduced the immigration programme which, according to our present analysis, has made an immense contribution to housing in Australia, and without which our housing shortage to-day would have been immeasurably greater.

Mr Ward - Don't be stupid!

Mr FREETH - The honorable member for East Sydney may think it very clever to make these passing remarks. He is the wise and upright judge of these housing matters. He conducted an inquiry into the matter in New South Wales, about which I shall have a little to say later. At this moment I am engaged in dealing with the contributions that immigrants have made to house-building in Australia. We have been told that 41,000 immigrants who are building tradesmen have been brought to this country, and that they include foremen, carpenters, bricklayers, painters, plasterers, tilers, and glaziers, but not electricians. In total, it has been calculated - and I am indebted to the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) for his analysis of these figures - that immigrants contribute to the availability of houses rather than add to the demand for housing. There are many reasons for that, the first being that in the early years after their arrival immigrants make very little demand for houses.

Mr Cairns - Rubbish!

Mr FREETH - It is easy for the honorable member to say that that is rubbish, but 1 am giving the facts. If he will only wait, he will see some light thrown on this subject.

Mr Davis - Do not be misled by the Oxford accent.

Mr FREETH - I am sorry. I had forgotten that the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) was educated at Oxford.

In the first place, if an immigrant comes from Europe, he comes as the result of nomination by a sponsor who has guaranteed him accommodation. If honorable members opposite could see the way in which friends and relatives of these Europeans share their accommodation with their nominees I am sure they would appreciate that this makes a very great contribution to solution of the housing problem. In many instances they set an example which Australians would do well to emulate. The second factor is that British immigrants are allowed to stay for up to two years in immigrant hostels, and during their first years in this country most of them are busily engaged in saving their money in order eventually to acquire a home. I make the point, therefore, that during their early years in Australia, immigrants do not make a great demand for housing, but they make a very great contribution to housing. To cut down on the intake of immigrants would merely aggravate the housing shortage because there would not be the same intake of building tradesmen to contribute to a solution of the problem, whilst, on the other hand, there would be a build-up of the demand for houses on the part of immigrants already in the country.

If evidence is needed to support that contention, I ask honorable members to look at the housing situation in Western Australia, in relation to the intake of immigrants in that State. In post-war years, the population of Western Australia has increased by more than 40 per cent., whilst the average increase for Australia has been something like 20 per cent.

Sir Philip McBride - New South Wales has had the lowest percentage increase.

Mr FREETH - As the Minister rightly reminds me, New South Wales has had a far lower percentage increase. In Western Australia, the percentage intake of immigrants has been far higher than it has been in any other State. In 1951, Western Australia took 7.21 per cent, of all immigrants. In 1952, the figure was 10 per cent., and in 1953 it was 13 per cent. In the five years from 1951 to 1956, that State took an average ot 9.52 per cent, of all immigrants. Yet the population of Western Australia is only between 6 per cent, and 7 per cent, of the total population of the nation.

If immigrants were responsible for an excessive demand for housing, one would expect that Western Australia would be in far greater housing difficulties than any other State of the Commonwealth. Yet the plain fact is that the housing shortage in Western Australia is less acute than that of any other State, whilst the progress made in housing the people, which is the important thing, has been the most pronounced. There may not necessarily be any connexion between these two things, but the plain facts are that New South Wales had the lowest percentage intake of immigrants, and although its total population increase was lower than that of any other State, the housing shortage there is the worst in Australia.

Mr Cairns - That is what is called a non sequitur.

Mr FREETH - That is true. I am just pointing out that those are the facts. Therefore, honorable members opposite have failed to establish that there is any direct connexion between immigration and housing. It is a non sequitur, as the honorable gentleman from Oxford has so rightly reminded me. The point is that the State governments have a responsibility in this matter. It is the policy of the Government in each State that has led to the housing situation that exists, immigration notwithstanding.

We have the interesting situation that since 1951 successive State governments in Western Australia have spent £8 12s. per head of population on housing, notwithstanding that there had been a 40 per cent, increase of population there, whilst the New South Wales Government has spent the comparatively miserable sum of £3 6s. per head of population on housing. Therefore, the position seems to be that it is quite impossible to say logically that a housing crisis has arisen at this time. It is true to say that there has been a post-war housing shortage. It is true to say also that, in total, great progress has been made in overcoming that shortage and that, according to their lights, the various State governments have made greater or lesser contribution to the job of overcoming it. Under those circumstances, it seems to be complete folly for honorable members opposite to suggest that the full responsibility for overcoming the shortage - overnight, as it were - now lies on the Commonwealth. The present position in Western Australia was not reached without great difficulty. We have had shortages in other directions, caused by our effort to overcome the housing shortage. I do not think it can be denied that for a time the building rate in Western Australia was too high. That points the moral that in all these things there can be excesses as well as deficiencies.

Mr Peters - There has been a housing shortage through the ages here.

Mr FREETH - The honorable member for Scullin may know the conditions in his own State, but I can assure him that for a time in Western Australia there were vacant

Housing Commission homes - rental homes - for which no tenants could be found. There were some in my electorate, in the township of Albany. The concentration of funds on housing has affected, for instance, hospitals. The public hospital, or the government hospital, in Albany has been due for renovation almost within living memory, lt was the subject of a promise made by the Labour party at several State elections. But the people of Albany have now been told that they must wait at least until 1958 for that very necessary work to be done. In other words, the Western Australian Government deliberately set itself a target for housing at the expense of other very urgent public works.

On Christmas Eve last year the State Government sacked 40 men from the State brickyards, quite unnecessarily. The secretary of the brickyard workers' union, Mr. F. W. French, was, rightly, incensed by that action. Honorable members may have heard of him. He wrote a letter to the press saying that he had " had " socialism - this new democratic socialism which is the light that the Labour party is now following. A few days ago Mr. French, after having been expelled from the Australian Labour party again, wrote a letter to that press saying that there was a Statewide shortage of bricks. He wrote -

Enquiries reveal that an acute shortage of bricks now exists and that several brickyards have waiting lists as far ahead as three months. One company has stated that it can supply only the regular builders and cannot take an outside order. . . .

This should prove a shortage does exist and that is what the Minister was told would happen in 1957. It would appear that someone has blundered and that an explanation should be given the public, especially those people who are househungry. It is to be hoped that this matter will be thoroughly investigated. If this is done, there is no doubt that it will mean the re-opening of both sections of the State brickworks and the re-employment of the 40 men unnecessarily sacked on Christmas Eve, 1956.

That sacking was by a Labour government.

To show what democratic freedom of speech exists in the Labour party to-day I need only mention that there was a gentleman named Symons who was the secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering Union in Western Australia. He was concerned at the fate of members of his union employed in timber mills.

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