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Wednesday, 11 November 1959

Mr COPE (Watson) .- I should like to refer to a matter concerning the resumption of many homes in the Redfern district which is in the Watson electorate. It is the intention of the Department of the Interior in the very near future to issue notices to approximately 50 tenants to vacate their homes by February, 1960, for the purpose of erecting a mail sorting branch for the Postmaster-General's Department. This will result in over 200 people, including some pensioners, being thrown out of their homes. I have been in touch with the New South Wales Minister for Housing, Mr. Landa, and the State member for Redfern, Mr. Fred Green, regarding the provision of alternative housing for the people affected. Those two gentlemen have informed me that, as this is a Commonwealth resumption of considerable magnitude with a large number of people involved, the New South Wales Government and the New South Wales Housing Commission firmly believe that the Commonwealth Government should make a special allocation of loan money available to provide the alternative housing.

I agree with and entirely support the view expressed by the New South Wales Government, bearing in mind that over 28,000 applicants for homes are registered with the New South Wales housing authorities. To expect the New South Wales Government to provide the money required out of its present inadequate housing allocation is grossly unfair and unjust, particularly to many of the 28,000 applicants who have been waiting many years for homes and are still waiting. I suggested to the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) some time ago that the Commonwealth Government should make the necessary loan money available. T!"e Postmaster-General seemed very sympathetic to my view but he said that it was a matter for Cabinet to decide.

I received no concrete answer, with the result that I spoke to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) a few weeks ago and he promised to look into the matter. Subsequently, I received correspondence from the Prime Minister's Department, signed by the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) for the Prime Minister. The substance of that correspondence reveals a final and conclusive decision. The relevant portion of the correspondence reads as follows: -

When the Commonwealth resumed ownership of the properties on the site it was explained to the tenants that the land would be required eventually for Commonwealth purposes and occupancy of the buildings was placed on a weekly tenancy basis to encourage tenants to find alternative accommodation. It is now proposed to issue "Notices to Quit" to the present tenants in order to obtain vacant possession by early 1960 when construction of the new buildings is due to commence.

The problem of re-housing the present tenants is regarded by the Commonwealth as being a State Government responsibility and this was explained at a recent conference between the Commonwealth Minister of National Development and the Postmaster-General and the State Minister for Housing. The New South Wales Government has been kept well informed over the years as to the Commonwealth's intention to build a Mail Exchange building at Redfern, and as the tenants in the buildings on the site have been aware of the temporary nature of their tenancy the Commonwealth feels that it cannot accept the responsibility for finding alternative accommodation for the present occupants. I understand that efforts are being made to make accommodation available through the New South Wales Housing Commission so that vacant possession of the buildings in question will be available to allow construction work to commence as planned in early 1960.

I do not dispute the claim that the tenants were notified that eventually their homes would be required to make way for the mail sorting branch. A few of the tenants were lucky enough to find other accommodation and have moved from their homes. Since then, those homes have been demolished. Perhaps some honorable members wonder why the Housing Commission has not done something to find these people homes. The position is this: When a person makes application to the Housing Commission, an officer of the department visits the applicant's residence to make an inspection. If the officer is satisfied that the premises are suitable to the applicant's needs the applicant is then given a file number which gives him very little chance of obtaining a home unless he is evicted by a court order. That is due to the priority given to urgent cases such as families living in overcrowded homes or single rooms.

Another very serious problem emerges from this resumption. I refer to the pensioners involved. Due to this Government's 1956 housing agreement which abolished the rebate system, pensioners, if allotted Housing Commission homes would have to pay £4 a week or more in rent, which I am sure honorable members will agree is beyond their means.

One would imagine that the Commonwealth Government would be giving something away if it made money for rehousing available. That is not so because it receives 4 per cent, interest on loan moneys made available to State authorities. The Commonwealth Public Works Committee's recommendation on this matter reads as follows: -

Progress of this important project will be greatly facilitated if the Commonwealth Government lends its influence to those authorities in a position to take action to supply alternative accommodation for the people to be displaced from their homes on the site.

I would also like to quote what the Liberal Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales said on this matter.

Mr Curtin - What is his name?

Mr COPE - His name is Askin, and he said -

It seems now that there is a stalemate between the Commonwealth and State Governments as to who is responsible for re-housing them. Housing is primarily a State Government matter, but where such a large number of houses and people are affected I think the Commonwealth Government might reasonably be expected to co-operate with the State Government in finding a satisfactory solution.

Mr Curtin - Who said that?

Mr COPE - Mr. Askin,the Liberal Leader of the Opposition in the New South Wales Parliament. I venture to suggest that if a similar Commonwealth resumption of homes were necessary in a swing seat occupied by a Government supporter, there would be no hesitation in making a special allocation available. But, of course, the working people and pensioners of Redfern are of no importance to this Government. It seems strange that there is no restriction on the amount of money spent by this Government on renovating, re-modelling, re-furnishing and maintaining palatial homes used by V.I.P.s and owned by the Commonwealth, such as Admiralty House or Kirribilli House, or on Ministers' suites and bathrooms in hotels, or on suites for former Prime Ministers.

Finally, this Government stands condemned in the eyes of all humane people for not making this money available to the New South Wales Government.

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