Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 30 March 1966

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,this is the last Bill which the Parliament will debate under the present housing agreement between the Commonwealth and the States which was made five years ago and which will expire at the end of next June. In order to express the view of the Opposition concerning what should be included in the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, I move -

That all words after "That" beomitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - "whilst not in any way opposing the passage of this Bill, the House is of opinion that the existing Housing Agreement has not fully met the housing requirements of the Australian people and that before a new Agreement (to which part of the money to be provided by this Bill may be applied) is entered into, an allParty Committee should be appointed to investigate all its aspects with particular regard to -

(1)   rental rebates,

(2)   slum clearance,

(3)   housing for pensioners,

(4)   land development, and

(5)   town planning."

The main objective of the Loan (Housing) Bill 1966 is to carry out the intentions of the Government as announced by the Treasurer (Mr. McMahon) on 16th March 1966 and which were put more briefly by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Bury) who, in this House, represents the Minister for Housing (Senator

Dame Annabelle Rankin) and who, himself, was the first Minister for Housing since 1954. This Bill provides for an additional allocation to the States which it has been necessary to make because to an increasing extent and over the whole of this financial year generally there has been a decline in home building. I do not propose to quote statistics extensively on this matter. Most people realise that it is possible to select housing statistics to establish any proposition. At a time when housing finance is restricted, those who wish to give a rosy picture of the situation quote the figures relating to housing completions. They know that when money is not coming forward for the erection of new home buildings the rate of completing dwellings is accelerated. The whole of the building work force is engaged in finishing the jobs in hand. When housing finance is coming forward in increased supply, a person who wishes to give a dark picture of the housing situation will quote the same figures in relation to completions because those figures decline as the work force turns more to the commencement of new buildings.

The general building picture can be adequately assessed only by realising the difference between those forms of construction that depend on investment, such as commercial building, very large apartments, home units, &c, on the one hand, and those forms of construction which depend on government advances or government regulation, on the other hand. Government regulation is responsible under our Constitution for the advances made by savings banks and insurance companies. This Bill covers the direct field of Government advance which is responsible for all the construction by State housing commissions, building trusts, housing departments and for over half the construction under the auspices of building societies.

Mr Bury - That does not apply to all State constructions now.

Mr WHITLAM - Well, virtually all.

Mr Bury - There is a bit outside now.

Mr WHITLAM - It is true that funds do come to some of the housing commissions and that these funds are spent on new construction. These funds are derived from poker machines in New South Wales, resales of land in estates which have been acquired or from the sale, more prompt than expected, of houses. Nevertheless it is true to say, I think the Minister will concede, that nearly all the building activities by the State housing commissions are financed from funds allocated by this Bill and bills of the same title which have preceded it. Furthermore, approximately half the finance for housing construction under the auspices of the building societies - that is of terminating building societies as distinct from permanent building societies - comes from money allocated to those bodies by the Commonwealth via the States.

Accordingly, when one looks at the construction industry in general, one sees that most of the individual houses in Australia are built with finance allocated under this type of legislation, provided by the Commonwealth Government under the war service homes legislation, or provided by the savings banks and, to a lesser extent, by the insurance companies under powers which the Commonwealth has to a greater or lesser extent exercised under the Constitution. Therefore, where there are fluctuations in housing construction they are fluctuations for which the Commonwealth is primarily responsible. There has been in the Treasury, and there apparently still is, the attitude that the level of house building should be determined by short term economic considerations rather than the continuing social considerations. The additional $15 million which is being allocated for the present financial quarter for government and building society housing under this Bill is being allocated because it is necessary to stimulate the home construction industry. The demand for housing has been quite steady. The difference in circumstance is that some sources of finance have dried up.

The demand for housing, and in particular the demand for housing supplied by housing commissions and building societies under this legislation, has always been greater than this Bill admits. It is going to continue to be much greater than the Government acknowledges in the Bill or has acknowledged in the similar Bills that have preceded this one. There has been some recovery in the last month in the construction of private houses and flats. For the three months ended February last the total number of houses and flats approved was below the level for the same quarter of the two previous years. The number was 22,293 for the three months ended February of this year. It was 25,681 for the corresponding period a year before, and 24,144 for the earlier corresponding period. Accordingly, during that period unquestionably there was a decline in the number of approvals. Most people arrange finance before seeking approval, so it is clear therefore that in the quarter ended February of this year the amount of finance available for houses and flats was less than it had been in the corresponding periods one year and two years before.

The value of other new buildings - that is, new buildings apart from houses and flats - was very well down in the same three months ended February last compared with the same periods one and two years before. For the three months ended February this year the value of other new buildings approved was $129 million. For the three months ended February last year it was $202 million. Accordingly, Sir, it has been claimed that for some months past it has been necessary to restore the level of construction in general by increasing the amount of finance available for domestic building to compensate for the decline in the finance apparently available, or being used, for building outside the domestic field.

The fluctuations which have occurred in home building have been most marked at times of what we call " horror Budgets ". Home building is the principal form of investment - apart from those industries which depend on imports - where governments can achieve a quick change in expenditure and investment. With few exceptions the only people who really do not need to borrow money to build or buy houses are those who have sold houses they have already occupied. They do not directly depend on the availability of finance but they indirectly depend upon it. Accordingly, when insurance, bank or government funds decline for home building then, undoubtedly, the whole of this industry declines. This has an evil social effect, as we all know, but it also has an evil industrial or economic effect. This is seen in particular in the fact that a great number of small builders go to the wall on these occasions, a great number of sub-contractors go to the wall and a great number of skilled artisans lose their employment. The construction industry in Australia, and in particular the domestic building industry in Australia, would be very much more efficient if the flow of funds for home building were consistent.

The Minister for Housing stated only last week in another place, in a debate on the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) on Government policy, that there is certainly negligible unemployment in home building and in other sectors of the building industry. This statement conflicts with that made only a fortnight before by the Premier of South Australia, who presided at the meeting of housing Ministers which was held in Adelaide, in his State, at the beginning of the month. He stated on behalf of housing Ministers, State and Commonwealth, that with the exception of Tasmania unemployment existed in the building industry. Accordingly, for economic reasons it has been necessary to restore continuing employment in the home building field.

The amendment that I have moved will deal with two of the matters on which housing Ministers agreed at their meeting in Adelaide at the beginning of the month. The State Ministers unanimously asked, first, for more attention to be given to the housing needs of pensioners and other aged persons and, secondly, that assistance be given for slum clearance. The Ministers were making their proposals to the Commonwealth Minister for Housing and discussing with her proposals for the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement which will come into force on 1st July this year for five years, or maybe ten years. The Ministers urged in particular that they needed, as I have said in my amendment, funds for slum clearance and housing for pensioners. The States do not spend the money for purposes other than those set out in the Housing Agreement, as it is called. The Housing Agreement, of course, is really a proposal, lt sets out the conditions which the Commonwealth attaches to the grants it makes to the States for housing under section 96 of the Constitution. It is not an agreement in the ordinary sense at all. It is a set of conditions which the Commonwealth makes and which the States can take or leave. There is not under the present Housing Agreement - the one that came into force in 1961 and virtually continued the Agreement made in 1956 - provision for housing for pensioners or provision for slum clearance. The State Housing Commissions have done a remarkably successful job in providing housing at the lowest possible cost. They have done so, however, within the terms laid down by the Commonwealth. Those are, first, that the persons who undertake to rent or buy those houses shall be able to pay enough to pay back the Commonwealth's advance as well as to meet interest and maintenance charges, and secondly, that the maximum number of houses shall be provided. 1 shall deal with the first condition. It is impossible now to build houses such as the Housing Commissions build and sell or rent them to pensioners. Because the rental rebate system was cancelled in 1956, it is not now economically possible for pensioners or for most retired persons to buy or rent houses built by the Housing Commissions and made available for occupation for the first time since 1st July 1956. On the second point, it has been impossible for the States to provide the maximum number of houses with the moneys provided for them by the Commonwealth under the Housing Agreement except by going into new suburbs where land is cheap. By contrast, in the United States, under Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, the Federal Administration has made money available especially to assist persons who otherwise could not afford to occupy new houses - that is, pensioners and other retired persons. The United States Federal Administration has also made money available for slum clearance or urban renewal, to use the euphemism. lt i$ understood in every industrial community in the world that housing is always conducted without any of the principles of depreciation in mind. We never write off the value of a house. Accordingly, when a house has to be rebuilt, those who want to resume it often have to pay more money than the house originally cost to build. So in every industrial society the national government now makes money available for slum clearance or urban renewal. This applies in all unitary systems of Western Europe. It applies in the federal system of West Germany; it applies in the federal system of the United States. If we want to renew the most convenient and often the most beautiful parts of the cities of Australia, topographically, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, this can be achieved only if the National Government makes available money for renewal of the industrial centres in the same way as other countries on each side of the North Atlantic already make money available on a national level. The State Governments in the United States, as well as in Australia, usually carry out resumption. The Federal Government provides the funds or guarantees the advances made by insurance companies or banks for redevelopment.

Earlier this month the Ministers for Housing, at the last meeting they had under the Agreement that will expire at the end of June and the first discussion they had with the new Commonwealth Minister for Housing, stressed once again, as they have in fact' stressed at their annual meetings for some years past, that the Commonwealth should make money available for the housing of retired persons, particularly those on pensions or with restricted means. They also said that the Commonwealth should follow the lead of all other national governments in respect of their industrial centres by making moneys specifically available for slum clearance. The Commonwealth Minister has not acceded to these suggestions. I notice from the " Hansard " of the 15th of this month for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly that the New South Wales Minister for Housing said -

The Commonwealth put forward two minor amendments that will be dealt with when the necessary legislation comes before this House.

Two minor amendments are the only differences from the 1961 and 1956 Housing Agreements that are proposed for the 1966 Housing Agreement. Accordingly, the amendment I move refers specifically to the desirability for an all Party committee to discuss slum clearance and housing for pensioners.

My amendment also suggests that the all Party committee should investigate rental rebates. Rental rebates were provided in the original Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945. The Commonwealth refused to continue the system of rebates in the Agreement of 1956. The only Housing Commission houses for which the Commonwealth now shares the cost of making rental rebates are those that were occupied on or before 30th June 1956. It is true that some of the States have continued a system of rental rebates, for which they pay completely out of their own resources. It is also true that some States never collaborated with the Commonwealth in the system of rental rebates that applied to all houses up to the end of June 1956 and did not collaborate wilh the Commonwealth in sharing the cost of rental rebates on houses occupied before that dale. Nevertheless, it is necessary now, socially, to have a system of rental rebates in respect of tenanted properties. The position has been masked to a certain extent in respect of controlled premises under the Landlord and Tenant Acts in many of the States. The position, however, is only masked. Obviously, the system of landlord and tenant rent control applies only to houses that' have been in existence for many years now. I am not suggesting that this is the total answer to the problem which is faced by people who retire, those who are bereaved or those who are incapacitated. Many of the people who are bereaved or incapacitated are paying off their houses and there is no provision in this country to assist them with subsidies. At a time when more and more people are occupying houses which they are paying off, as distinct from houses which they are renting, it is necessary to have some system of subsidy as well as a system of rental rebates.

My amendment suggests the restoration in the new agreement of the rebates which applied in respect of houses which were erected in the first half of the period in which the Commonwealth made money available to the States for housing construction. My amendment then mentions two other subjects for investigation by an allparty committee - land development and town planning. These are necessary, particularly because of the spread of our cities. In order to get the greatest number of houses with the money which the Commonwealth provides, the States have been going out into the suburbs. Our cities have not only a suburban population but also an exurban population now. It takes longer on average for people to get to work now than it ever did before in this country's history.

Mr Irwin - We should take the industries to the homes.

Mr WHITLAM - This is certainly one of the remedies for it and this is included in the second of the matters that I mention - town planning. As the honorable gentleman knows from his electorate, and as I know from my electorate, there is considerable hardship and family disruption.

Mr Irwin - And transport difficulties.

Mr WHITLAM - And transport expense because people have to go so far to work. Also they have to travel far to all the facilities which one expects to be provided such as schools, shopping centres, churches and swimming pools. The cities in Australia are more dispersed than any cities in Europe or any cities in the United States of America, except Los Angeles. We are taking longer and longer to get to work. Furthermore, a great number of the people who are going to new suburbs, and particularly those going to suburbs created by housing commissions, find that the civic amenities are distant or inadequate.

It is not sufficient to build a great number of housing units and separate cottages if they are so distant from work, recreation and civic life in general. There ought to be more town planning in respect of these amenities. This means the encouragement of industries, employment and all the facilities which people use as communities and which they cannot provide out of their own family or individual resources. If we were to renew the heart of our cities we would find employment was close at band, all the reticulation of water, sewerage, telephones and electricity was available, and all the sporting facilities and cultural facilities were at hand. I have dealt with the need to recreate the heart of our cities. But it is also necessary, insofar as we go to new suburbs and create new and distant estates and settlements, to see that the facilities which families need are made available in those communities. We must build housing environments as well as houses.

This leaves one matter in my amendment - land development. Increasingly in this century, and particularly since the last war, government has regulated the sources of housing finance. People who have money to invest do not, as they used to do between the wars, very largely, and as they did mostly before the first war, invest their money in housing. There is very little private investment in housing now. We have become an industrial society. Thus, people who have money to invest put their money into shares. Consequently, housing has become more and more a government responsibility in the provision or regulation of the funds. We have now got out of tandem, however, with the development of land. We still say that the development of land is the prerogative of private enterprise, as we used to say before the war that the provision of housing was the prerogative of private enterprise. I am certain that it is necessary, not only in the renewal of the heart of our cities but also in the economic or convenient development of new outer suburbs, for governments to share in the development of new housing land and new community environments. 1 do not say that this should be a government monopoly, but I do say that it should no longer be a private monopoly. Governments should accept an increasing responsibility lor the acquisition and the development of land which can then be used in building government or private houses.

If we leave the development of land entirely in the hands of private developers, the people who build houses from either government or private funds will pay much more for their houses than would otherwise be the case. Governments can not only do this at cost and more efficiently; they can also apply standards of community environment such as we are not getting in Australia. If there is to be any capital appreciation in land, it should accrue to the community rather than to private land speculators. The idea that governments should play some part in developing land upon which houses are constructed and environments created is now accepted in every country with which we compare ourselves. In particular, it is accepted on both sides of the North Atlantic and in Japan.

Mr Irwin - We have done that in Lalor Park, Seven Hills and Mount Druitt.

Mr WHITLAM - But it has to be done much more, I believe. Undoubtedly there is some provision in the centres mentioned by the honorable gentleman - and I refer to Green Valley and other centres in my own electorate - where the Housing Commission has made land available for sale to enterprises. The first, and in many ways the most successful of such instances, was in Elizabeth in South Australia. However, I think it has to be done much more than this. We are getting a string of suburbs, it must be admitted, at the lowest possible cost to governments, but at the same time we are burdening all the people who are going to live in those suburbs with transport, recreation and civic costs. They are paying more to live in those areas than they would pay if proper town planning and land development were undertaken by governments. The Commonwealth provides virtually all the funds which the State housing authorities spend. It should be consulted and should insist that it be consulted much more than has been the case under past Commonwealth and State Housing Agreements in the planning and provision of civic amenities in housing estates which it finances.

I believe that we as parliamentarians should support the proposal that an all party committee be appointed to consider the new Agreement which will come into force on 1st July next. More and more within Australia, activities will be carried out by the States with funds provided by the Commonwealth. More and more internationally, the Australian Government will be making arrangements with foreign governments. Nowadays, any arrangements made between the Federal Government and the State Governments or between the Australian Government and foreign governments come before the respective Parliaments in a cut and dried form. The Parliaments concerned cannot amend the agreements entered into. Those agreements are put before the Parliaments to be either taken or left. One of the significant diminutions in the role of Parliaments is that they can have no meaningful debate about Federal compacts or international conventions. We ought to have public discussion by representative persons about matters relating to Commonwealth and State financial arrangements.

The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement has never been investigated by any Committee of this Parliament. I think I am right in saying also that it has never been investigated by any committee of any State Parliament. The last commission to consider the matter was appointed by the Commonwealth Government and reported to it in 1944. It was the genesis of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945. Two years ago, the party to which I belong proposed the appointment of a committee to investigate these problems after the lapse of 20 years. It would be appropriate to have a committee of both the Government parties and the Opposition party in both Houses of this Parliament to consider the proposals which have already been made and those which bid fair to be rejected under the new Agreement which is to come into force on 1st July of this year. Otherwise, we shall find that all we in this Parliament can do is to accept the Agreement made by Ministers or reject it, and that all that any of the State Parliaments can do is to accept or reject it.

Parliamentarians should urge that there be public discussion and report on the matters which come before them. In a Federal system and, furthermore, in a world in which more and more international agreements are being made, parliamentarians should aim at having some meaningful debate before agreements or treaties are ratified. The appointment of an all party committee to consider the new Housing Agreement would be one way in which we in this Parliament could give effect to this aim. The new Agreement will come into force on 1st July next and there will be good time over the next three months for a committee to inquire into all the matters involved. The fact that the matters which I have mentioned are relevant surely is acknowledged by everybody. In every other country with which we compare ourselves, the national government already allocates and channels funds to these purposes in relation to housing - rental rebates, slum clearance, housing for pensioners, land development and town planning.

Suggest corrections