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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) .- In reading the Governor-General's Speech one is conscious, in the main, of the grave omissions, or of the things that His Excellency did not say, rather than the things he did say. I refer particularly to the all-too-brief statement that he made in regard to housing. He said: -

There has been a remarkable achievement in housing in recent years by public authorities and private citizens. My Government's policy has contributed notably to this achievement.

With that we can all agree; the Government has contributed notably to the achievement in housing. Let us have a look, then, at what has or has not been achieved. The most masterly understatement in the Governor-General's Speech is contained in the next sentence, in which he said -

There are nevertheless still some arrears in home building.

The Opposition, as ever, has been quick to seize upon the weaknesses of the case presented by the Government. Having in mind the theory and basis of parliamentary government, one would have thought that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) would admit the weakness of his own case and handsomely concede the strength of the Opposition's case, and remedy the grave housing defect by giving an undertaking to have appropriate action taken. Instead, he has chosen to be political. In this he has been wilfully stubborn and obstinate. All responsible bodies, including Liberal party interests in New South Wales and Victoria, have been unanimous in condemning the Prime Minister's uncomprising attitude in this regard. He has continued to maintain that there is, in effect, no shortage of money for housing, or for the purchase of new homes, and that the difficulty lies in an alleged shortage of man-power and materials. la my electorate of Darebin, there is a number of brick-works, and on a recent inspection of one of these works I saw piles of bricks stacked high awaiting buyers. In addition, only half of the kilns were operating, so that the output of the brick-works was reduced by half. The same conditions apply in numerous other industries associated with the building trade throughout my electorate. Work does not exist for carpenters, builders' labourers, painters and other building workers; the minimum estimate of those who are out of work at the moment in the City of Preston is 400 people. Unfortunately, the majority of those displaced workers are new settlers from overseas who have come here under the Government's immigration policy-Or should I say lack of immigration policy.

Sufficient has already been said during the course of this debate to indicate the complete baselessness of the Prime Minister's absurd and cynical assertion that there is no housing crisis, but only a shortage of man-power and materials. The Liberal Premier of Victoria, Mr. Bolte, according to a report in the Melbourne " Age " of 1 9th March, has asked the Prime Minister for additional money for home-building in Victoria. The report states -

The Premier (Mr. Bolte) yesterday called on the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to make available an additional £2,000,000 to £3,000,000 for housing in Victoria. ... lt would tend to stabilize the building industry, rather than cause inflation -

Mr Hulme - Where would he get it?

Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Apparently, it is the opinion of the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) that to make money available now would cause inflation. I suppose that Mr. Bolte is as good a Liberal as is the honorable member for Petrie, and Mr. Bolte has said, in contradiction of the honorable member, that the availability of such money would stabilize the building industry rather than cause inflation.

On the day following that report in the " Age " we find, in the same newspaper, the following report: -

Building recession seen by States. Shortage of finance blamed for decline. State Housing Ministers agreed at a conference in Melbourne yesterday that a recession was developing in the building industry throughout Australia because of the shortage of finance for homes.

I do not see any reference in that report", to a shortage of man-power and materials. The article went on -

The conference expressed this view in deciding to appeal to the Commonwealth for increased finance for homes.

At the same time, a protest was sent by Mr. Monk, the president of the Australian. Council of Trades Unions, to the Prime Minister, urging a review of the Government's housing policy. In the same newspaper, on 4th March, it is reported that Mr. Gilmour, the secretary of the Victorian Employers Federation in Melbourne, sought a review of the general policy in regard to housing, particularly that of savings banks, including the State Savings Bank of Victoria. The report read -

A review of post-war policy had indicated that the low-income earner was being refused banking accommodation to build a home. It was clear that more and more of the bank's money had been released to provide housing for comparatively high-income borrowers, he said.

These reports and quotations could be continued at length, as evidence of the unanimous disapproval of the Prime Minister's cynicism in this regard.

The State of Victoria has felt, most acutely, the impact of the Prime Minister's restrictive credit policy. Although the State has the largest intake of immigrants in the Commonwealth, and there is a shortage of 35,000 houses, the building industry to-day is in a parlous condition. The recently concluded Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, imposed upon the States by the Commonwealth, has further aggravated the position. By allocating for co-operative building societies £2,000,000 of the £10,000,000 made available to the housing commissions, this Government has merely indulged in the process of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it has prevented those people who are least able to provide houses for themselves from being housed. Secondly, by increasing the interest rate on housing loans to the States, the Government has added further to the difficulties of young families and immigrants in their vain and weary search for homes.

The average annual population increase in the Commonwealth is approximately 2i per cent., which is high according to any Western standards. If the increase from immigration alone is 1± per cent., it can be seen that at least 100,000 immigrants need to be housed annually. Allowing the economic figure of £2,000 a head for the capital requirements to house immigrants, it is obvious that the capital necessary to absorb immigrants into our economy just does not exist. On top of that again, we have our own natural increase of li per cent., which further aggravates this position. The attitude of new settlers to continued large-scale immigration is, to say the least, interesting. If the Prime Minister would deign to discuss this matter with some of our new settlers, regardless of the countries from which they come, he would find that they themselves were opposed to further immigration of the kind that is now being advocated by this Government.

Briefly, the Australian Labour party says that, in the interests of the immigrants and of young Australians, we must do one of two things. We must either make available sufficient money to provide gainful employment and adequate housing for the immigrants who are already here, as well as for our own people, or, if that is not possible, we must reduce the intake of immigrants to ' enable the capital that is available to be used to raise living standards for- those coming here, rather than to lower it. Of latter years, the immigration policy has been carried out by this Government on the cheap. It has been carried out at the expense of the immigrants themselves. It has been given effect with a total disregard of the human elements involved. Moreover, it has been pursued with a cynical disregard of the plight of the immigrants. Indeed, the Government has grossly exploited the fact that immigrants come from depressed areas, or from countries with lower living standards than we have.

How have we housed the immigrants? In Carlton and other suburbs of Melbourne we can see as many as 28 people living in a sixroomed house and as many as 24 people living in a five-roomed house. Will the skilled artisan come to this country when he knows that he cannot obtain housing, and when he knows that there is no certainty of tenure of employment? Of course he will not! After all, skilled labour for which a high price is paid is cheap labour, whilst unskilled labour at a low price is dear labour, as any responsible trade unionist or employer will acknowledge. It has been my unpleasant lot on all too many occasions to interview disillusioned immigrants who were returning to the countries from which they came. If we desire to attract the immigrants that Australia needs, and which are necessary for our economic well-being, then we must not exploit them and cut the ground from under their feet once they arrive here. The present housing crisis is but one of the many warnings which this Government has received for some time now. The Opposition has constantly pressed the matter and kept it before the Government.

The Leader of the House, who rudely chided the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) about an alleged reversal of his immigration policy, was only creating a divertissement to cover up the paucity of the Government's policy. Nothing is farther from the truth than what the Minister said. The immigration policy administered by the last Labour government, in conjunction with its economic policy, did ensure that reasonable living conditions and jobs would be available for immigrants. In fact, the complaint made in those days by members of the present Government parties, then in opposition, was that there was over-full employment. They seemed to blame the Labour Government for that. Now, when we have unemployment and an acute shortage of houses, members of the Government say that they are still pursuing the immigration policy of the honorable member for Melbourne. They are not doing anything of the sort. In fact, the immigration policy of this Government is the complete antithesis of the immigration policy of the Government of which the honorable member for Melbourne was a member.

What, then, does the Prime Minister offer to the disillusioned home-seekers? He offers fewer homes for rental and a policy of dear money. This policy of dear money, T would say, received its final condemnation in the minds of most honest and honorable people when a report appeared in the Melbourne " Sun " to the effect that the Custom Credit Corporation was prepared to provide £2,000,000 in housing loans to help to overcome the housing shortage, the rate of interest to be 10 per cent, a year on the amount owing in each year. It was stated that Mr. Jacoby, the chairman of the corporation, had said that members of the depressed building trades had enthusiastically supported the project.

In that corporation, 40 per cent, of the snares are held by the National Bank of Australia. Is it any wonder that the farmers of this country cannot raise loans at 5i per cent., when that bank lends money at per cent, to its own hirepurchase company and receives a dividend of 121 per cent, on its investment in the company? In those circumstances, are the farmers going to get money to improve their holdings and bring new land under cultivation? Of course they are not! Is the prospective home-builder going to get money to enable him to pay a deposit on a low-cost house that he will have some chance of owning before he dies? The position is absolutely hopeless. The fact that money required for home-building is being invested in less-essential activities that produce more lucrative returns does not appear to worry this Government one iota. This is the much-vaunted system of unfettered free enterprise, about which we hear so much and which is so ignobly espoused by members of the Government.

We can turn to a little socialist country - I use the word " socialist " without apology - called Norway. If we like, we can turn to Sweden, another socialist country. In Norway, there is an act which permits of loans up to 100 per cent, of the rateable value of a house, with a rent which the bank finds reasonable over long periods, such as 100 years for brick and concrete houses and 75 years for timber houses. The interest rate is only 2i per cent, and is guaranteed unalterable for a period of fifteen years. That system is adopted, not only in Norway, but in Scandinavia generally.

Mr Bowden - How is the value assessed?

Mr R W HOLT (WANNON, VICTORIA) - It depends on the system of rating that operates in Scandinavia. I should imagine that it would be far nearer to reality than here. At least, each Scandinavian country has a uniform valuing system.

In spite of the temptation to ignore the Prime Minister's alleged defence of his policy, one does look to see his reasons for it. Apparently, he believes that even if more money were made available for housing, more houses would not be built, because the extra money would be absorbed by increased costs and increased prices. In other words, he believes that the same number of houses would continue to be built, because the rapacious builders would absorb the extra money. If that is so, surely he condemns outright his own financial policy. Apparently, he believes that depressed living conditions, with homeless families, are now the only answers to inflation. Apparently, he believes now that it is not increased wages and cost of living adjustments of the basic wage which cause inflation, as he alleged only twelve months ago. The alternatives, therefore, are inflation with housing and depression with no housing.

Last September, the Labour party, quick as ever to appreciate the real difficulty of the Government in this matter, came to the Government's rescue when the Leader of the Opposition repeated his offer of support for the Government in an endeavour to seek from the people the necessary constitutional powers to direct capital investment. I refer to capital issues control. That is the crux of the whole matter. If the Prime Minister fears that if extra money were made available for housing, the Government would be unable, as he alleges - which is not so - to direct capital investment to the things which should come first, including housing, why has not be accepted the offer made by the Leader of the Opposition to support him in seeking the necessary constitutional powers for the Commonwealth? Why, I ask again, has the Prime Minister not accepted that offer? Obviously, he knows that if he did accept it, the constitutional powers sought would be given to the Commonwealth, and that if he used those powers he would bite, as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) put it, the hand that feeds him. In other words, he would lose caste and b*. out of favour with his supporters.

The last matter with which I want to deal concerns the social implications of housing. I refer to the provision of houses for the aged, the invalid, the indigent and those in the lowest income groups with large families. Recently, I had the misfortune to be interested in a case which involved the eviction from a Victorian Housing Commission house of a man and wife with ten children. The man. who earned only the basic wage, was £130 in arrears with his rent. Sickness had dogged that family of twelve people all told. What is the future for them? Eviction means that at least six of the children will become Wards of the State and that the State will have to look after them. 1 have said that the arrears of rent amounted to £130. At £12 a week for one child, in two weeks the arrears of rent will be absorbed by the cost to the State of maintaining those six children. So we are faced withtheabsurd position that a family is to be evicted because it owes £130 in rent to a housing commission, but the State will be required to find £72 a week to maintain the children.

The question is: Who is to bear that cost? Is it fair to ask the State Government concerned to bear it? Or is it a responsibility of the Commonwealth under its social services power? In such circumstances, is not the provision of housing accommodation a social service, the cost of which should be borne by the Commonwealth? If we look at America, we find that that principle is well and truly recognized. The federal Government of America finds two-thirds of the total cost of slum reclamation. But this Commonwealth Government, apparently, is not sufficiently aware of its social obligations to contribute anything to the cost of slum abolition. That is regarded as the responsibility of the States, who are already grossly starved financially. It is clearly a federal responsibility to provide that type of social service and also to provide houses for people who have no hope of getting them otherwise. In Norway - if I may be again forgiven for referring to a horrible socialist state - a family of thirteen does not pay any rent for its home, so much importance is placed in that country on the family unit.

A similar responsibility exists in relation to the aged and indigent. In Victoria, one third of the total requirement of homes is for single-bedroom units, yet the Victorian Housing Commission, though it is doing an excellent job with the limited resources available to it, can build only 1.7 per cent. of that requirement. The provision of homes for aged persons is more advanced in more civilized countries than Australia, where it is the responsibility of one government. The considerations that apply in those countries apply equally in this Commonwealth. We, as a Commonwealth, should assume full responsibility for the housing of the aged and the invalid, and see that these people are given sufficient money to provide them with some dignity.

I fail to see, therefore, how any rightthinking man can oppose the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition in respect of housing, which forthrightly condemns yet again the complete lack of policy of the Government and the cynical disregard that the Prime Minister has shown for this very great need.

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