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Thursday, 28 March 1957


Mr BOWDEN - The honorable member for Kennedy also said that the right honorable member for Cowper had introduced that housing bill just before a general election in 1928 when the government in which he was Treasurer was defeated. The answer to that statement is that the BrucePage Government was not defeated in 1 928. It was defeated in 1929. The honorable gentleman said that not one house had been built as a result of that measure and that all the people got was an act of Parliament. Here are the facts. An official statement of the Commonwealth Bank states that there were five housing authorities prescribed in 1929. Loans were made providing for repayment in 25 years by the New South Wales Savings Bank and in 35 years by other authorities. The purpose of these loans was to finance home construction. These loans have been repaid as follows: - By South Australia in 1942, by New South Wales in 1954, and by the Australian Capital Territory in 1954. The loans to the Workers' Homes Board of Western Australia will mature in 1964. Loans were made as late as 1940 and 1941 to the Housing Commission of the Australian Capital Territory. The Scullin Government refused to carry out the terms of the act when it was in office, and the Chifley Government repealed the act in 1945. I think that the honorable member for Kennedy might show a little more regard for the virtue of truth when he makes statements that are intended to discredit another honorable member.

Mr Peters - Whom was he discrediting?

Mr BOWDEN - Himself. There are many policy proposals in the GovernorGeneral's Speech which, despite the brevity of their presentation, can have, and will have, far-reaching effects and significance on the welfare of this country. But many of those things, important though they be, have not been able to be debated at any length because of their being overshadowed by what has been called a censure motion - that is, by an attack on the Government for not having produced greater prosperity and greater development in a period of prosperity and development which is unprecedented in this or any other country. That is the truth. The censure amendment is all the more ludicrous because it was launched by a party which itself was severely censured by the people quite recently for having advocated a policy which, if it had been implemented, would have meant economic paralysis, not merely for this time, but for all time.

We know that there is nothing novel in this censure amendment. The public also should know that a censure amendment follows automatically on the opening of every new parliament or at the beginning of every new session. It is submitted as a matter of form, and not as a matter of principle. The piece de resistance in every case is the subject which has the greatest political value at the moment to the Opposition, and the political stalking-horse in this case is the subject of housing. I am one who will admit that there is a housing problem. I will also admit that there is a housing shortage - that is, if we account the shortage of housing according to the demand for houses by people who are already housed in some way or another. But I want to say, in addition, that every intelligent person in the world would regard it as extraordinary if there were not a housing shortage in a country in which the population was increasing as rapidly as Australia's population is increasing.

There has been much irrelevant nonsense talked on this subject, and there have also been some notable contributions made to the debate by a few members of the Opposition, including the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Bruce) and, possibly, some others whose speeches I did not hear. But some statements were made which, for the sake of Australia and its welfare, could have been well left unsaid. There was glib talk by one honorable member from Queensland, where a Labour government has been in office for 35 years, and by an honorable member from New South Wales, where a Labour government has been in office for seventeen years, about people living in fowlhouses. That is the best the governments of those States can do for the homeless! I say frankly that I do not believe for one moment that that is occurring. If such a case in my electorate came to my knowledge I would help the deserving person out of the fowl-house before I would come bursting into this House to show up the political shortcomings and negligence of a government of my own political colour. All that honorable members opposite who spoke in that vein succeeded in doing was to show up the shame of their political friends in the States. However, I have said that 1 do not believe these statements about many people living in fowl-houses.

The amendment moved by the Opposition to the Address-in-Reply cannot be treated in a cavalier manner. We might ask in what degree the Government has been negligent in respect of the provision of houses. We ask ourselves, " Should we have produced more houses, and, if so, what are the factors that have militated against our doing so? If we can build more houses, why do we not build them " ? Those are the questions we want to approach and deal with, not the question of two or three unfortunate people who may be living in fowl-houses. What has that to do with the national problem? What has it to do with the National Government? It is a great truism, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) once pointed out, that money, of itself, will not build houses. There must also be material and man-power. It is equally true that less than a year ago, every unit of equipment and man-power available was fully committed. If, in such circumstances, more millions had been injected into the building finance pool not one more house would have been built. Instead, there would have been greater competition for goods in short supply and the price of houses, which is already too high, would have been boosted still further. The price is too high for a variety of reasons, which I have not time to enumerate in detail. I would only say, deliberately, that until we get value for our money we will continue to have shortages of everything. I do not like to cite the old " brickie ", and I only do so by way of illustration. I learn that the average wage in the building trade is £22 a week. The skilled bricklayer would obviously receive well above that, yet he does no more work in a week than he could comfortably do in two days. The Labour party cannot escape, either industrially or politically, its share of responsibility for that state of affairs, lt is one of the reasons why houses are so dear, and why the Government dare not pour more money into the building field, where goods are in short supply. If I had time to give a few more of the reasons why costs are so high honorable members opposite might not interject so glibly.

On the credit side, let Labour be fair enough to admit that Australia has far more houses in proportion to population than has any other modern country in the world except New Zealand. We have a greater number of houses per capita than has either Great Britain or the United States of America. Australia has a house for every 3.52 people. The nearest that either Great Britain or America can come to this is America's figure of 3.54, despite the fact that our immigration intake is immeasurably greater. The building position has eased somewhat. It is now possible to build more houses. More material is available, and in some States at least building operatives are also available. I believe that we could now build more houses without adding to the inflationary trends in the economy, or to the cost of those houses. I am equally certain that, in those circumstances, money to do this will be made available. A favourite trick of Opposition members is to attack a government which is on the eve of implementing something so that they can claim to have forced the hand of the government.

What solution of our problems does the Opposition offer? First, Labour advocates a reduction of the immigration intake. Instead of building houses to meet the demand we must, they say, stop the demand. We must keep these people out. lt reminds me of the Irish politician who always used to take a roughneck around with him to throw out any one who asked an awkward question. In the same way, the Labour party would rather end the demand for houses than fulfil that demand. It is so simple that it is a wonder some one has nol thought of it before!

The Opposition is to be severely censured for painting a completely false picture of the relative responsibility of the States and the Commonwealth. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and one other Labour supporter, admitted that the States had some responsibility. Backbenchers - and some frontbenchers - have been anxious to plaster mud on this Government because that is the only way that they can hope to rise to high places. They may do so one day. but only if they adopt different tactics.

The necessary money is already being made available to the States. After all. the Commonwealth is the custodian of the Commonwealth purse and is responsible for the economic stability of the country. The money that is made available to the States should be limited strictly to their capacity to spend it without aggravating the inflationary situation. That is already taken into consideration by the Government, but I see little disposition on the part of some States to show any concern at all for this branch of the economy. As long as they, backed by their marionettes in this Parliament, are able to blame the Federal Government for everything that goes wrong, and as long as uniform taxation is with us, they will continue to show complete irresponsibility in matters of national finance.

It is amazing to contemplate that the Opposition has complained of industrial building activity - which must keep thousands of building operatives in employment. If there were no such activity we should perhaps have unemployment of the kind that we have seen in Western Australia. What inference is to be drawn from this attack? Is Labour trying to convince the people that the Federal Government finds the money for this industrial building, or that the Government should seize power in order to prevent it continuing? As a matter of fact, little of the material used in these huge steel-framed buildings, with glass walls, would affect the materials position so far as State housing is concerned. The quickest answer one can give is that the Federal Government has nothing whatever to do with it. At least private enterprise, in putting up these buildings, is expanding and developing our economy and giving employment to thousands of building operatives.

Another moan heard from the Opposition is that in New South Wales timber mills are closing down. But the New South Wales Government is importing timber from Singapore! Last session we learned that, because of high freight rates and road taxes, it was cheaper to do this than to bring timber from the northern mills. Those mills tried to find an outlet by road hauling their timber to Brisbane, but the market there was limited. They had no alternative to closing down - their own Government was bringing timber in from Malaya! In making these accusations the Opposition is sowing seed in the hope that some of it will fall on fertile ground. At the same time, it is resolutely determined, lest any seed should fall on barren ground, to absolve the State governments from responsibility in this matter. There has been an attempt to create in the public mind the feeling that if Labour were in office it could do so much better.

I want to examine briefly what the public can expect from the newly exposed democratic socialism of what was once the Australian Labour party. Its new policy, if it is to be democratic socialist as we have read in the press, contains these things, some of which are not new. It contains the nationalization of banking and of major industries. That is not new. But it also contains items which one would not expect to find in the policy of any party which seeks the honour of governing this country. One such item involves no opposition to Communists in the industrial field.

Mr Peters - Do not talk rubbish!

Mr BOWDEN - Wait a while.

Mr Peters - Do not tell little lies.

Mr BOWDEN - I do not object to a man who does not know how to tell anything else but lies making that statement. This is definitely a point in the policy - no opposition to communism in the industrial field. In the press the statement is attributed to Mr. Chamberlain that this new Labour party does not believe in communism. " But ", he said, " we believe that a good union leader should not be debarred because he is a Communist ". That is the way he gets out of it.

I remember sitting in opposition to a Labour government for six years, and three of the six were war years, and the greatest load on the backs of that government was not the enemy but the Communist-dictated and Communist-controlled key unions in this country. Those people did not help the government. They would not co-operate. All that they did was to snipe and to hold stoppages and strikes and form a fifth column here while every nerve in the country was concentrated on self-preservation. Any person with a regard for the welfare of this country would not tolerate the return to those bad old days. Yet the Labour party has the item in its policy that I have mentioned! I want to say deliberately that it is part of a softening-up process. The world, whether it knows it or not, is gradually surrendering to the fifth column. It is surrendering either by pathetic acceptance or by compulsion. I say that there is no room in this country for any one who will offer no opposition to a return of Communist control of the key unions.

Now I want to touch on a few other things. The Governor-General's Speech mentioned an active and balanced immigration policy, which I approve of. lt mentioned continued assistance to primary industry and stated that the Government would try to increase output. Our natural desire is to increase output, and I think that those two items are concomitant. The success of one depends on the success of the other, lt is natural to desire to increase production, but there is no logic in having a cost' structure which will not permit us to sell the surplus in overseas markets. The best market of all is the home market, which can be increased by immigration. Let us take butter as an illustration. The population of Australia consumes 30 lb. of butter per head a year, which means that 100,000 immigrants would use 3,000,000 lb. of butter which would not have to be exported.

I have only time to refer to one other thing. That is the increased export of manufactured goods, which is meeting with great success. This country has been built on a wool economy. We are like a man with all his eggs in one basket - if it drops, he breaks the lot. If a fabric is found that could take the place of wool, our economy will burst like a pricked bubble. I believe we must have another outlet to maintain our prosperity if wool should fail and this could be obtained successfully by getting more markets for our manufactured goods. I am glad that the GovernorGeneral's Speech suggests that efforts in that direction have been meeting with considerable success.

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