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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr GRIFFITHS (Shortland) .- If it is true, as the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) declares, that immigrants have made a major contribution towards solving the housing shortage, it must be clear that a scarcity of finance, and not of material or labour, has produced our present crisis. It is therefore the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to give the States sufficient finance to overcome this position. I congratulate the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) on their excellent speeches as mover and seconder of the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply. The honorable member for Barker spoilt a fine address on primary production in his own electorate by handing bouquets to the Government for the content of His Excellency's Speech. He said, in effect, that he was filled with pride as he listened because it sounded like the programme of a government coming fresh into the fray instead of one that had been in office for a long period. He said that it disproved the old dictum that a government which had long been in office became moribund and barren of ideas. 1 assure the honorable member that it was the worst opening speech that 1 have heard since I have been in this Parliament. The Government is not only moribund and barren of ideas; it has also lost the confidence of the electors. It has betrayed their confidence. It has failed to deal with inflation and provide finance for houses, lt has failed to put value back into the £1 or to maintain full employment. It has failed to get rid of controls, as it was pledged to do. Indeed, in certain directions, it has increased them.

It has failed to reduce taxation or maintain standards of living. It stands condemned because it allows interest rates to rise, thereby diverting finance from government securities to hire-purchase business. His Excellency's Speech occupied approximately five and a quarter pages. Two of these were devoted to international and defence problems. The remaining three were devoted to the balance of the Government's programme as it affected such important matters as defence, trade, inflation, housing, the general economic state of the Commonwealth, immigration, social services and so on. It brushed aside the most important functions of government and failed completely to tell the Parliament what the Government intended to do about its administrative programme. That is why Parliament is to-day debating an Opposition motion of censure on the Government for its failure to provide finance for housing.

The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) dealt with the problems of government, and, throughout his speech, he referred to the need for continued expansion and development of the Commonwealth. The honorable member also related how our vast immigration policy had greatly contributed to the growth of inflation, and he stressed the need for the exercise of care in the measures to be taken in the expansion of the economy if we are to obtain a balanced result. I believe that it is as a result of the Government's lopsided and unbalanced immigration programme that, in the words of the honorable member, there is " a long line of rotten fruit of inflation " standing to the discredit of this Government, and the Government should be censured for it.

I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition who seeks to censure the Government for its failure to provide the necessary finance for the States and for ancilliary home-building establishments which are amply equipped to deal with and control applications for finance for home-building. The Government must also be censured for its failure to co-operate with the States in the formulation of a national housing plan. Labour leaders have already said that if the Government considers thai the Commonwealth has not the constitutional authority to formulate a national housing plan, Labour will support the Government in a referendum to obtain this power. However, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) told the House yesterday that the Government has ample power to deal with this important matter. I believe that the housing crisis in Australia is far more acute than honorable members realize, and that the shortage of houses throughout Australia is thousands worse than statistics reveal.

I refuse to place very much reliance in statistics, because they have been proved wrong time and time again. In this debate, a mass of figures has been produced and some figures contradict others as to the shortage of houses in this Commonwealth. I understand that the figures produced in this debate have been taken from the Commonwealth " Year-Book Last year, when speaking on the Commonwealth and State bousing agreement legislation I pointed out to the House that the Statistician, in collating figures for a census, regarded many different kinds of dwellings as houses. The "Year-Book" says -

For the purpose of a census a "dwelling" is defined as a room or collection of rooms occupied by a household group living together as a " family unit " whether comprising the whole or only part of a house or other building (including temporary structures). Included in this definition are private houses, flats, tenements, hotels, boarding nouses, hospitals, institutions, and any other structure used for the purpose of human habitation.

Then, the " Year-Book " dennes a flat and a tenement as follows: -

For Census purposes a " flat " is defined as part of a house or other building ordinarily intended for occupation by a separate family group, and is a self-contained dwelling unit with both cooking and bathing facilities. A " tenement " is part of a house or other building ordinarily intended for occupation by a separate family group but is not a self-contained unit, and consists in the main of a room or rooms with cooking facilities.

It will be seen that any number of people can be housed as a family group in a room or number of rooms in the same house and their family needs would not be recorded as part of the housing shortage. Nor would they, in many instances, be qualified for inclusion in the State housing ballot because housing authorities would have consideredthat such families were properly housed. If we accept as factual the " Year-Book " version or people housed in any sort of structure for the purpose of home habitation; such as fowl-houses and stables, as being properly housed, it is easy to accept the figures given to the Parliament to the effect that there is a house for every 2.66 people in Australia. It is those people who live by the dozen in small houses and in fowlhouses, sheds, stables, tents, concrete pipes, gun-pits and old shacks that I am concerned with.

The housing problem is more acute and destructive than is realized. I believe that the whole fabric of our civilized society is being quickly undermined as a result of the shortage of homes. The closing of country timber mills is causing the separation of families. Husbands are being forced, as they were in the dole days, to leave home and search for work. There is a growing band of uncontrollable young people who are a positive disgrace to a civilized community. There are the bodgies and the widgies. There are those who refuse to obey the law and order of the States. One hears of them playing what they call " chicken ". I understand that these types of people steal cars and race along a road up to one another to see who gives way first and whoever gives way first is called the " chicken ". What other destruction they do, I do not know, but they are a menace to society. Then there are sex perverts who prowl around corners and molest people and raid young women's bedrooms at night. There are those who assault young and old alike. I suggest that the responsibility for much of that sort of thing must be placed on the shortage of good homes.

In industrial cities, shortages and overcrowding of homes are more pronounced than in the country, and the problem has become really bad. Not long ago, a lady called at my office pleading to be found a home. She said that she and her two children, a girl of fourteen and a boy much younger, were occupying a home with four other couples and their children. She and her children were sleeping on the floor in a room with two other couples and their small children. That woman asked me to imagine, if I could, the humiliation that she bad felt by having to put up with such conditions, especially with her adolescent daughter having to live under such conditions and bearing witness to what went on. I. suggest that conditions of that kind are undermining the lives of girls and boys who are compelled to live in overcrowded premises and in slum areas.

In this debate many Government supporters have admitted that there is a housing shortage. Last year, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), in speaking on the housing agreement legislation, referred to me and said -

He and other Opposition members seem to think that the electorates that they represent have a monopoly of bad housing but I should say that in the electorate of Fawkner housing is as bad as anywhere else in Australia. I know of a condemned house consisting of five rooms in which 29 persons are living, and of another in which thirteen people are living in two rooms.

It will be seen that the housing shortage is not confined to New South Wales, although I know that Government supporters wish that it were. The problem that confronts all governments is how to overcome the terrible shortage of homes, and 1 suggest that the application of the Opposition's proposed amendment could provide the answer.

The honorable member for Wentworth drew attention to the effect that immigration had had on the inflationary spiral and our economic expansion. That effect, I suggest, must have been ever so much more severe in relation to the construction of homes, hospitals, schools, water supply, sewerage, electricity reticulation and the maintenance of roads and other public utilities. It has been suggested, time and time again in this House, and in this debate by the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) that housing, hospitals, transport, water supplies, sewerage, electricity, roads and all other public undertakings are the responsibility of the State governments. In ordinary circumstances, I would agree. But I suggest when any government dumps in the country within seven or eight years some 800,000 people without having provided the finance necessary to house them or look after them in any way, its action beggars description. I contend that that is where a big mistake was made.

It stands to reason, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, after six years of war, which were preceded by almost ten years of depression, any country would have been hard pressed to rehabilitate its own people. Australia has not only rehabilitated its own people but also taken in more than 1,000,000 immigrants, thereby adding further to our troubles. This Government has failed to consider how those newcomers would adjust themselves in their new land or how the economy could absorb them. Many Australians guaranteed accommodation for relatives whose entry into Australia they desired to sponsor, but in many instances the accommodation did not prove satisfactory. Many such families had disagreements, and the accommodation arrangements were abandoned, with the result that another family was forced to look for a home. Thousands of these immigrant families have returned to the United Kingdom and Europe because of the lack of housing in Australia.

I suggest that this Government could have overcome many of our present housing problems had it retained for some years control over prices and materials, and adopted a bold financial policy in relation to housing. It could have avoided much of the present distress had it been bold enough to enunciate a financial policy designed to provide finance for housing and essential State instrumentalities such as I have mentioned. Credit for home-building could have been made available in a number of ways. The allocation to housing of funds standing to the credit of trust accounts would have helped considerably. The Government could also have requested the private banks to allow it to use some of their funds standing in the special accounts with the Commonwealth Bank. I suggest that, within limits, national credit could have been used for housing. I know of no better investment that the Government could make than an efficient housing programme, but, of course, that is outside the hire-purchase racket. In almost every State, there is already available the machinery needed for the distribution of housing finance, in the form of StarrBowkett societies, co-operative building societies, and State instrumentalities.

There are literally thousands of ownerbuilders who could effectively build their own homes with Commonwealth assistance, but it appears that the banking institutions frown on such ventures. It is my view that the capital wealth of the nation could be increased by millions of pounds if ownerbuilders were encouraged to build their own homes. Scores of young people struggle to purchase a block of land, build a garage on it, and furnish this temporary dwelling with prime-cost items - commonly known as P.C. items - such as an electric stove and a bath, which they hope later to transfer to the home they intend to build. Unfortunately, many of these couples have been unable to make further progress towards the realization of their dreams because of high building costs, and they are now rearing families under deplorable conditions. Many couples have up to ?1,500 worth of assets. Yet the banking institutions refuse to lend them the money they need to either complete a home or start building one. Finance provided through co-operative building societies would assuredly be used properly and effectively.

As I see it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, finance for home-ownership is a most stable form of investment. My own experience bears this out. The value of a home occupied by an owner continues to appreciate for many years, and after ten years or so, is usually much greater than when it was built. My home cost ?600 to build in 1937, and later approximately ?900 was spent on improving it. The ValuerGeneral's valuation is now ?2,750, and it will probably be ?3,000 later this year. The home is worth ?4,000 on the open market, although it cost a total of about ?1,500. The reason for the appreciation of the value of homes in this way is that the owner usually continues to improve his property, and its real value is concealed until he decides to dispose of it. Most homes built 30 years ago are now worth five or six times as much as they cost. These facts show that, if the Government adopted a scheme to provide finance for every one requiring it for the purchase of a home, there would be no doubt about the success of such a venture. The allocation of ?100,000,000 for housing would provide 40,000 homes at a unit cost of ?2,500 including the land. With repayments ranging from ?3 to ?4 a week, which is about the average rental now being paid for homes, the ?100,000,000 could easily be repaid within 25 years. In that period, the capital value of the homes would increase to approximately ?300,000,000.

I suggest that it is essential for State authorities to continue to construct homes for rental, because there are perhaps 3.000,000 Australian who can never hope to own their own homes. I refer to those who are unemployable, pensioners, and workers receiving a margin above the basic wage of ?1 a week or less. Such people are virtually not in the race when it comes to owning their own homes, especially if they are rearing families. I believe thai much could be done to help the man earning a low wage to purchase his own home, perhaps by the establishment of a national housing body which, among other things, could thoroughly examine the housing COS structure. Many housing costs require examination without delay. I suggest thai there is no need for the exorbitant prices that must now be paid for blocks of land for home-construction. To smash the racket in land subdivision, the State governments should, wherever possible, subdivide Crown land for building sites, resume big estates at fair compensation, and allow people who need land for homes to buy building blocks at moderate prices. 1 believe that the profit margin of some builders is out of all proportion to the COS of the homes they construct. I understand that tenders submitted by builders vary by as much as ?700 to ?800 for a given job. Recently, Mr. V. W. Turnbull, secretary of the Newcastle Co-operative Building Societies, in an article in the " Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate " headed "Call For Building Costs Talks", directed attention to the contrast between costs in 1937 and at the present time. He wrote -

A simple example is submitted to establish a comparison between wages and building costs nf some years ago with the present time. In 193" ?600 to ?700 would cover the cost of a comfortable home; the basic wage at that particular period was approximately ?4 a week. The same house to-day would cost no less than ?3.000 or 44 to 5 times the cost in the year referred to. Wages by basic wage and award increases have not increased in the same proportion.

Mr. Turnbullstated also ; and I agree with him ; that a conference should be called to ascertain whether costs are excessive, and. if it was established that they were, to determine by how much they could be reduced. He said that the conference should consider also whether margins of profit were too high, and whether the maximum labour effort was being obtained.

Freight charges and royalties on timber have increased out of all proportion to what they were twenty years ago - in some instances by 620 per cent. 1 suggest that, with the greater mechanization of industry to-day compared with the prewar years, such increases are not justified. Some increase of rail freights may be justified, because the interest burden of more than £10,000,000 a year being paid by the New South Wales railways is crippling them, but this does not apply to the royalties charged for timber. I believe, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this Government should take stock of the position and do everything within its power to provide more finance - the finance necessary to enable State government instrumentalities, StarrBowkett societies, and co-operative building societies, to build homes.

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