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Thursday, 20 April 1961

Mr BIRD (Batman) .- All I want to say about the remarks of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) is that his reference to intimidation of honorable members were extremely humorous. In view of the vast intimidation that was levelled at Labour members during the time of bank nationalization - the Treasurer made no comment on that intimidation - it ill becomes him when his Government is allegedly being intimidated to criticize any group of people who attempt to make representations to the Government. It was a death-bed repentance by the Treasurer, and his remarks will not convince anybody.

This morning I want to criticize the Government because of its marked refusal to include in the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement any special provision for slum reclamation. After the great public outcry in every capital city in the past two years and in view of the representations that have been made to the Government at the official level, I would have thought that the Government would have seen fit to recognize that allied to the housing problem is the problem of slum reclamation. Every body knows of the social evils that are associated with slums. They are an accepted fact, but this Government just resolutely closes both eyes to what is fast becoming one of the greatest social evils in the Commonwealth. When we look at Melbourne, the capital city with which I am very well acquainted, we find that a survey by the Victorian Housing Commission a couple of years ago assessed that 1,000 acres in the inner suburbs of Melbourne can be labelled as slum areas. The survey further showed that to reclaim those areas it would cost between £40,000 and £50,000 per acre. Unfortunately, these prices are somewhat inflated because people, particularly migrants, paid inflated prices for housing near the city and naturally that inflation must be reflected in the price of acquisition. Where to find this money is a basic problem for the State governments.

The State governments, as everybody knows, have not the wherewithal to carry out this most desirable proposition. The Victorian Housing Commission - I can only speak of Victoria although the other State housing commissions, I take it, would be in a parallel position - has all the necessary power and experience to acquire and clear areas and the re-development of those areas presents no great problem. At the present time the Victorian Housing Commission receives a grant of £500,000 a year from the State Government for the service of slum acquisition and finds an additional £150,000, or, in all, £650,000 per year. This is nowhere near sufficient to tackle the job adequately, and to-day, I regret to say, that housing commission has reached a position where the proclamation of new areas for slum reclamation is practically at a standstill. To-day we find that the commission has sites in Melbourne half cleared and is not able to complete them quickly as sites suitable for re-building.

What are the present achievements of the Victorian Housing Commission? Of the 1,000 acres which are slum areas we find that it has reclaimed 47 areas, totalling 100 acres, or one-tenth of the total reclamation. But of these 100 acres only 80 acres have been acquired, although hundreds of acres have been proclaimed. Of the 80 acres acquired only 42 acres have been re-developed - 42 acres of 1,000 acres. So it can be seen that under the present set-up there is no hope whatever of tackling slum reclamation on a large scale. The Victorian Housing Commission's reclamation in Melbourne has involved 4,000 people, and it has not met with any great problem in their rehousing. The question of compensation has not caused any ructions. When we talk about a government instrumentality acquiring land it is frequently said that such instrumentalities pay very low prices, but the Victorian Housing Commission's experience in Melbourne has been that it pays full market values which are arrived at by taking the higher of two sworn private valuations. If the owner is not satisfied he can go to arbitration, but that course is very seldom taken by any owner. It is quite apparent, therefore, that an additional source of finance must be obtained.

It has been suggested that the municipal council should come to the party, and I am pleased to state that only two or three weeks ago the Melbourne City Council decided to pay, for slum clearance, £100,000 a year for three years. This, in itself, was very desirable; but it is merely tackling the problem in a minute manner when we look at its magnitude. The Commonwealth Government must interest itself in making grants for this purpose because it is the only authority with the requisite money to face up to the situation adequately. A number of problems are involved in acquisition which are beyond the capacity of the Victorian Housing Commission to tackle adequately, because the value of a house that is demolished cannot be recovered and only reclaimed land has any value. When it pulls a house down, despite the fact that it has had to pay for it, the house is of no value at all.

Overseas experience has shown that reclaimed land after clearance has a value of about SO per cent, of the acquisition cost, and therefore it can be seen that a great deal of money is lost at the original stage as the result of acquisition; but it is the only way in which this problem can be solved. This is a problem of truly national importance. In the United States of America the Federal Government makes a contribution of 50 per cent, of the cost. The Federal Government has done it in America and the United Kingdom Government has made very large contributions to slum clearance in Great Britain. I, therefore, suggest that the Commonwealth Government, even at this late stage, when it examines the proposed new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement should undertake to contribute large sums of money to the various States for slum acquisition. Any contribution by the Commonwealth should not be at the expense of the existing housing funds which are needed for the re-development of the acquired sites.

A further point which I would like to make is that the problem is not stationary. More houses are reaching the demolition category all the time, and therefore it is a matter of urgency to deal with the present position within a reasonable space of time before further slums appear. Otherwise the task will become unmanageable. I am afraid that in Melbourne the present efforts, although they are commendable and admirable, are so puny that the problem in the inner areas will become incapable of solution. Other countries are tackling this problem with commendable enterprise. In England a five-year plan was inaugurated by the United Kingdom Government to deal with the worst of the slums. It was not adhered to 100 per cent., but was substantially adhered to. In Great Britain to-day there is going on slum clearance and re-development which gladdens the heart of anybody interested in this vital problem.

The Victorian Housing Commission has very limited funds available for re-building. This year it will build 2,300 housing units, and the number will be lower next year, because the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement will give to cooperative housing societies 33i per cent, of the total housing funds instead of 30 per cent., as at the present time. As the result of this very reactionary proposal the commission will have £300,000 less next vear to spend on housing units than it has had over the last three years. The Victorian Housing Commission builds 1,000 country units a year as well as additional housing units in suburban areas; and what is left for the re-development of reclaimed areas is not a very large amount. I point out to the House that the commission has the responsibility of re-housing all families displaced from clearance areas. Therefore, the demand is made on the commission to accelerate. If any slum re-housing programme-

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member's time has expired.

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