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Thursday, 1 December 1960

Mr J R Fraser . - As this is Grievance Day, I seek to grieve on behalf of some hundreds of Canberra families who are suffering difficulties in housing. I grieve also because of the grave social problems that are arising in this city as a result of the shortage of housing. In addressing a question to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on this matter last week, I suggested that he might consider declaring a " holiday " or a deferment in the transfer of defence departments from Melbourne to Canberra so that many of the newly constructed houses at present held vacant - and an increasing proportion of those now under construction - might be made available to Canberra families who are already here and who are on the list waiting for houses. Many of these people are waiting under conditions of extreme distress.

I am as keen as any one else that all Commonwealth departments should be transferred to Canberra. That has always been the policy of the Australian Labour Party which believes in the development of the National Capital. But I feel it my duty, as the representative of the Australian Capital Territory, to call attention to the very grave difficulties that are being created. When I addressed my question to the Prime Minister I said that the question arose from a sincere concern for many hundreds of Canberra families and that there was no party political content in the question. That statement is true. I speak as a representative of this electorate, without any party political bias and with a desire only to see that justice is done to all people equally.

In Canberra, people who wish to secure the tenancy of government homes place their names on a waiting list, the requirements being that they either are engaged to be married or are married, and that they are either living or working in the Australian Capital Territory. That list has existed for a number of years. From time to time, it is proved, checked and pruned by the officers of the Housing Branch of the Department of the Interior to see that the names only of those people who are entitled to be on the list are on it.

Several years ago, when a decision was made to speed up the transfer of departments from Melbourne, the same procedure was adopted as has existed in the Public Service for many years: That is, that once the transfer of a public servant to Canberra, whether he be in Perth, Adelaide or any other part of the Commonwealth, is confirmed he is entitled to have his name placed on the housing list in Canberra. Quite fairly and properly, when the defence move was decided, not necessarily the names of the officers to be transferred, but the positions that they filled, were placed on that list and those of them who are now in Canberra are occupying the houses that were reserved on the housing list at that time.

Because it has not been possible to provide adequate housing for all the people now coming to Canberra, the practical result has been that since April of this year all new construction in housing and flats has been reserved for defence personnel on transfer from Melbourne to Canberra. Quite obviously, if those families are to be transferred, justice and fair treatment demand that there must be houses for them to move into as they arrive. But the transfer of the departments has meant the reservation of all new construction for defence personnel and this has meant that the waitins time for people in Canberra who are already on the waiting list has been very greatly extended.

When the defence move was mooted, the then Minister for the Interior gave an assurance that the housing rights of people already in Canberra and on the list would not be adversely affected. In fact, he mentioned that the waiting time for housing would decrease. That the reverse has been the case is to be deplored. I feel that the Government must accept the responsibility of inquiring into the position to see that justice is done to all people. The waiting time for people on the housing list in Canberra has extended from under two years to two years and nine months for the applicant who is prepared to take the first house offered to him. For those who require a modest detached all brick or brick veneer home of three bedrooms, the waiting time is now over three years. The only new dwellings that are becoming available to people on the ordinary housing list in Canberra are the houses that aTe rejected or, to put it more kindly, not accepted, by defence personnel on transfer. When defence personnel are to be transferred, plans and photographs of houses are sent to Melbourne where they can be viewed by the transferees. A number of houses somewhat in excess of actual requirements is reserved for those subject to transfer. These people enter into a ballot on a fair basis into which rank or position does not enter. All the applicants enter the ballot whether they are brigadiers, corporals or bombardiers. The man who draws first position in the ballot has the right to select a house that he would like to occupy. Obviously, his choice is governed by his salary and position.

The only new houses becoming available to Canberra people are those which are not accepted by defence transferees - in fact, those which are rejected by them. These are the least desirable of the houses that are available. As I have said, people on the housing list in Canberra must wait two years and nine months for the first offer of a house. Then they can get one only if they are prepared to take any house offered to them in any suburb. This means that the only type of new house that they can hope to obtain is what is known as a twostory semi-detached, which is not a popular house.

I would like members of Parliament and particularly members of the Cabinet to look behind the pretty picture of Canberra. And

Canberra is a pretty picture at present. To those who visit here occasionally, and to those who come here just for the sitting of the Parliament, this appears to be a pretty place of wide, tree-lined streets, attractive cottages and pleasant surroundings. But behind that pleasant facade there is real misery, real distress. There are literally hundreds of families in this city living in the most deplorable conditions. There are families living in shacks and in garages. There are families crowded into one room, which might be quite appropriate in eastern European countries, where that is quite common, but it is not appropriate in this country, and most certainly not appropriate in this national capital. The fact is that the people who are coming here to carry out the work of the capital, indeed, the people who are building the houses in this place, are forced - not by Government decision but by circumstances - to live in these conditions while waiting their turn on the housing list. By contrast, defence personnel arriving here move immediately into good housing. I do not quibble at that because I believe it is fair and just to those people, but I do suggest that we have reached the stage at which, in giving justice and fair treatment to the defence personnel being transferred from Melbourne to Canberra, we are denying justice and fair treatment to the many citizens of this Commonwealth who are already here, who are employed in the Public Service, in business, in private enterprise, or in contracting for the work of building this city.

While I am reluctant to see any delay in the transfer of departments, I believe that the Government should consider this question. At the end of last quarter, 190 houses and flats were held vacant. I hope that the Minister will look into the matter.

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