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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) .- In the course of the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) which was delivered in the House to rebut the Opposition case charging the Government with neglect of housing the right honorable gentleman, as his central claim to vindicate the record of his Government, made the statement that in five post-war years the Labour party built 202,000 houses and that in the first five years of office of the present Govern:ment, it built 388,000 houses. In that sense, building by the government means that during the period of office of a government, that number of houses was built in Australia. They were not all CommonwealthState built homes. So the statement has that element of falsity in it to begin with.

The second thing about it is that if honorable members will give their attention to the date of the fall of the Labour Government, they will recognize instantly that there were not five post-war years of Labour in office. The last five years of office of the Labour Government included the whole of the year 1945, nine months of which were months of war. Even if one were to say that in the three months in which men were being brought back to civil life there ought to have been a full labour force engaged in building houses, which I suggest would be an absurd proposition, one could still not claim that there were five post-war years of Labour government. I have sufficient respect for the Prime Minister's acuteness of mind to believe that he would recognize that fact.

The next point is that in the first five years of office of the Liberal Government is included a period of nine months in respect of which the housing programme in operation was that which was laid down by the outgoing Labour government. The Menzies Government effectively assumed office in January, 1950, and it ran on the last budget of the Labour government until September, 1950. I do not want to bandy words with the Prime Minister. There is no question but that there has been an increase in the number of houses built. But the Prime Minister himself has always been very sensitive to one charge, and he has always made a pretty fair case in answering it. He has always been sensitive to the charge that when he fell from office in 1941, the country was in a parlous plight in terms of defence. He has always pointed to the immense amount of tooling up and the immense amount of defence construction which went on under the Liberal Government before its fall.

The Prime Minister, who is aware of that fact, is equally aware of the situation in housing. He knows very well that when he assumed office, there came to him in the course of time all the builders who were trained under the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme years before he took office. He also benefited from all the investment that had gone into building materials in the years before he took office. However, to me, the vital thing is not this arguing as to which group of politicians should get the most credit for the number of houses built, but one simple fact - that every year from 1945 to 1949 the number of houses being built in Australia was increasing and that every year since about 1952 the number of houses being built in Australia has been decreasing. It is difficult to argue that that is a justifiable trend at the present time.

The Labour party's long-term proposal in connexion with housing was quite simple. It believed that 800,000 houses should be constructed in ten post-war years, an average of 80,000 houses a year. To have attained that average, many more than 80.000 houses would have had to have been built each year in the second period of five years. The figure was arrived at from an estimate that the war had caused a lag of 400,000 houses in construction, that that lag had to be overtaken, and that, in relation to new needs, another 400,000 must be constructed.

Mr Freeth - It was a pretty wild guess.

Mr BEAZLEY - I am not aware whether it was a wild guess or not, as I have not access to the estimates of marriages or other such figures. I am merely stating a fact. It is extremely doubtful whether an average of 80,000 houses a year has been built in the ten years from 1945 to 1955; and I do not think that an average of 80,000 houses has been built during the years in which the Government has been in office.

The point has been made as to the preference of the Labour party for the rental home as against the home that is owned by the occupier. In connexion with this matter, a great deal of play has been made on Mr. Dedman's statement in the course of a debate. If we chose to use those methods, we could take the statement of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) about 40.000 houses in Sydney being each occupied by one person. We gathered from his speech that they "didn't oughter " and that this was opposed to the policy of the Government. If every silly statement that I have made in this House were to be visited on the Labour party it would be in a sad plight; and if every silly statement made by honorable members opposite were to be visited on the Liberal party it would be in a sad plight. The statement of Mr. Dedman never expressed the policy of the Labour party. Honorable members opposite have drawn attention to the fact that there was provision for the purchase of homes. They have suggested that that was never adequately allowed for.

The reason for the preference for rental homes in the year 1945 and for a year or two afterwards is very simple. There had been a lag in housing in the war years. There had been a greatly increased number of marriages of men in the services during the war years. There was a tremendous demand for houses. The problem that faced the Chifley Government was: How do you propose to satisfy that demand? There was one very simple way. That was to allow the person with lots of money to have the first claim on building materials and labour. That was inflationary, because it meant a period of shortage and intensely competitive purchase. It also meant thai the man with a large family who was unable to build his home but who had the greatest need of accommodation would be in the worst position in the competition for such houses as there were.

Therefore, to provide housing on a needs basis, the question of whether a person having the savings could make a purchase had to be set aside. If houses were to bo assigned according to need, the only basis upon which they could be so assigned was on the basis of rental. We may agree or disagree with that decision. We may argue that laisser-faire would ultimately have led to a better result, but what is not true is that there was a deliberate discrimination against home-ownership as a policy. All I can say about the people who went into these rental homes in 1945 is that if they are now able to purchase them at the 1945 prices of building when the basic wage was £4 5s. a week, they are extremely lucky to be able to pay off, with inflated moneytoday, a house which was built with much better money in 1945.

Mr Freeth - The Western Australian Government is selling houses at a profit.

Mr BEAZLEY - If the Western Australian Government is selling them at a profit, it is a matter for another analysis to determine whether that is right or wrong. It may be that the profits can be applied to the construction of more homes.

Mr Freeth - I am just pointing out that the honorable member has not stated the facts correctly.

Mr BEAZLEY - I have stated them correctly. I am explaining the motives of the government of the day. No one could foresee what has happened since 1945. I do not think any one could foresee in that year a basic wage of £13 a week in 1955.

I should like to make a point also about the design of the homes built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. As structures, they are largely unimaginative. They are extremely well built, and in the main are of brick and tile construction, but they are not very well designed. By and large, the allotments of land on which they stand are too small, and I think the rooms also are too small. However, that would have been understandable in 1945 when the government of the day was fighting this voracious demand for accommodation. I think it is now time for us to recognize that even in public housing projects one wall can be entirely of glass and not mainly of brick, and that it is possible to use mediums of construction other than the almost universal bricks and tiles. It would also be a good thing if more imaginative and more modern designs were used in these homes.

A great many interesting points have been made in this debate. I do not agree with the view that only the Commonwealth or a State Government should have the responsibility for providing homes. However, it is wrong for a government to apply a credit restriction policy to housing. If people are prepared to seek an advance from a bank in order to construct a home, and can offer the necessary collateral, it is unsound business to allow a policy of credit restriction to impede their efforts to obtain homes. I think it is true that in the Australian community there could be a great deal more home-ownership than there is, but I do not think that the responsibility for any lack of it always rests upon governments. The wages, salaries and dividends paid out in the community enable the Australian people to spend £700,000,000 a year on alcohol, tobacco and gambling. My colleague the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) put the average cost of a house at £2,500. I should have thought that £5,000 would be a better estimate. At his estimate of £2,500, the annual expenditure on alcohol, tobacco and gambling is sufficient to provide 280,000 houses, a number much greater than we could build. At my figure of £5,000 a house, 140,000 homes could be provided for an expediture of £700,000,000. No economic system - not even a perfectly working form of socialism which appropriated every element of profit and put it into the pockets of the people in wages - could sustain an adequate building programme in addition to an annual expenditure of the magnitude of 700,000,000 on things that do not matter two hoots and often represent complete irresponsibility on the part of heads of families.

I am impressed by this fact, because I have as a close friend a clergyman who gave up his position in a parish when he became physically exhausted by his efforts as an enforced matrimonial reconciliation bureau. His chief statement about the position was that the universal reason for the matrimonial troubles with which he had dealt was the number of Australian heads of families who expected to continue living as bachelors after they had married, and who, out of a wage of £15 or £16 a week, gave their wives only £7 or £8, even when there were two or three children, and maintained a level of personal expenditure that absorbed about half the family income. There are perhaps 3,500,000 families in Australia. Therefore, an annual expenditure of £700,000,000 on alcohol, tobacco, and gambling represents about £200 for each head of a family. This is an inordinate expenditure on such things. I would say that it is a sign of a wealthy community, not of a poor one. But it is a real cost in terms of education and home ownership, which it tends to destroy. As the representative of an electorate in an industrial city in which a great many members of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia reside, 1 am impressed by the number of waterside workers who, though dependent entirely on their wages, educate their children at universities and technical schools, and buy their own homes, and who will tell one that the decisive difference between those who do these things and those who do not is to be found in the degree of responsibility that a man exercises towards his own family.

There are two forms of democracy, and when we have in every section of the Labour movement the second and higher form, the movement will cut through every element of opposition as a knife cuts through butter. The first form of democracy is epitomized by saying to one's boss, " I am as good as you are ". The second form is epitomized by saying to aborigines, one's wife and children, and other people. " You are as good as I am ". That is a higher level of democracy, and if we can get in the Labour movement that discipline upon which it depends, nothing will be able to resist Labour.

Government supporters have discussed at some length the subject of unemployment in the building trade. We have in Western

Australia at the present time 5,600 unemployed. I do not suggest that that is the figure for unemployment in the building trade.

Mr Freeth - How does the honorable member work that out?

Mr BEAZLEY - On 28th September last, the number was 5,399. I do not propose to tell the honorable member how I work it out. I accept completely the reliability of the figures, and neither the honorable member nor I could get them from a source more accurate than that from which I have obtained them.

Mr Hasluck - Since the honorable member asks us to accept those figures, he must prove them to us as well as to himself.

Mr BEAZLEY - I suggest that the Minister for Territories inquire from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), who obtains his information from the same source as I get mine. The figures that I have given show a deterioration by about 200 in the employment position in Western Australia.

Mr Freeth - The Minister for Labour and National Service says he cannot find out how many workers are unemployed.

Mr BEAZLEY - No one can ascertain the number with certainty, but the competent officials make estimates.

Mr Freeth - What sort of estimates?

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