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Wednesday, 30 March 1966

Mr COUTTS (Griffith) .- The Bill which we are debating is a very simple one dealing with a very important facet of Australian national life. By this measure it is proposed to make available to State Housing authorities $15 million to be spent to improve the housing position in Australia. This, pf course, is in addition to the $102 million allocated under the Agreement for the financial year 1965-66. So the introduction of this measure amounts to an admission by the Government of the claims that have been made for a long time by members of the Australian Labour Party who have suggested that the housing position in Australia is deteriorating. I know that the new Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) is aware of this and that she has made some quite stinging statements that no doubt huw; stung the Government into action. The new Minister, being aware of the difficulties of young people in obtaining homes, has made the point that the home is one of the most important aspects of life in the community and that' everything possible should be done to help solve the problems with which the Australian people are confronted in obtaining homes. I am happy to say that the Government has at last decided to make this additional sum available to the States. This is in addition also to the injection of $24 million into the economy for housing which was provided through bank loans early in the year. By the actions that it has taken, the Government has at long last admitted the claims made on these matters by members of the Australian Labour Party. I may say that when Opposition speakers make these charges we hear nothing but denials by Government supporters. But I am too big a man to quibble about who makes charges and who denies them. The fact is that the need for additional funds for housing has now been admitted by the Treasurer (Mr. McMahon), the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) and the Minister for Housing.

The amendment proposed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam), if its terms were put into effect, would greatly improve the operation of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Since a new Agreement is to operate from 1st July for five years, I would like to see the amendment agreed to and its terms embodied in the new Agreement. We have been told, reliably, I am afraid - I would hope not, but I am afraid that we have been correctly informed - that there is to be no variation in the new Agreement and that it will be merely a continuation of the one that has been operating for the last five years. I hoped that the new Minister for Housing would inject her personality into the new Agreement, but I am led to believe by Press reports that this has not happened. I must admit that Press reports about events in the Government's ranks are usually reliable. The leakages of information to the Press from the Government caucus rooms are pretty reliable. So I take it that we may accept as correct Press reports about the provisions of the new Housing Agreement.

I want' to mention some of the statements about the housing situation that have appeared from time to time in the Brisbane newspapers. I am concerned primarily with housing in the Brisbane metropolitan area. First, I should like to quote some statistics relating to building in Queensland, particularly in its capital city, Brisbane. These have been published in a statistical bulletin issued by the Commonwealth Statistician. The most recent figures available are those for the month of January. They show that there has been an alarming decline in the number of approvals for home construction in January 1966 compared to January 1965. The number of houses approved for construction in the Brisbane metropolitan area in January 1965 totalled 298, having a value of $2,392,250. There was a decline to 252 with a total value of $2,202,038 in January 1966. In view of the growth in the population of the city, one would expect an increase in the number of houses built even if no attempt were being made to make up the backlog that has developed over the years during which the present Commonwealth Government and the Menzies Government have been in office. But the figures show that we are slipping steadily further behind. This is an alarming situation for Brisbane. The blame for it falls largely on the government which authorises the grants made to the State housing authorities - in this instance, the Queensland Housing Commission - and which controls banking policy in Australia. That government, of course, is the present Commonwealth Government, which is led by Mr. Harold Holt.

Let me quote a few more figures from this illuminating publication of the Commonwealth Statistician, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Referring to Queensland it states -

During January 1966, 939 dwelling units were approved for construction in Queensland. A relatively low level of proposed dwelling construction is characteristic of the month of January and this total was 23 per cent, below that for December 1965, but it was 5 per cent, above the number approved during January 1965, and was the highest January total for 13 years.

Of the 939 dwellings approved in January of this year, 673 were houses, of which 626 were to be privately owned and 47 government owned, 29 of these being for the Queensland Housing Commission. This is an alarming state of affairs. Comparing the figures for January 1966 with those for January 1965, this publication of the Commonwealth Statistician goes on -

Although the number of houses approved was less than in the previous January, the total number of dwellings approved was up because of a large number of flats outside- the Metropolitan Area, particularly in Gold Coast

The flats being constructed on the Gold Coast, of course, are not being built for permanent residents of Queensland who are endeavouring to establish themselves in their own homes. Those flats are intended to provide luxury accommodation for visitors who will flock to the Gold Coast from the cold cities of southern Australia seeking the warm, inviting sunshine and the surf of that wonderful resort. I suppose that somebody will receive some consolation and no doubt a great deal of profit from the flats that are being constructed on the Gold Coast. I emphasise that those flats, though included in the total figures, are merely to provide luxury accommodation for visitors and not to provide much needed housing for permanent residents of the State.

The position in respect of costs is just as alarming, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The statistical bulletin states that the average estimated cost per house in Brisbane increased from $8,028 in January 1965 to $8,738 in January 1966 - a rise of $710. This represents a steep increase in the cost of homes over 12 months. So you can see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this extra $15 million which will be distributed between the six States will be absorbed, to a large extent, in the increased costs of home construction.

The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement provides that at least 30 per cent, of the money made available to State Governments shall be placed at the disposal of building societies. Before this provision was included in the Agreement the money required by building societies was provided by insurance offices. The inclusion of this provision in the Agreement has enabled the insurance offices to reduce their contributions towards the provision of housing. They no longer make large sums available for home construction. Their money is used for building, certainly, but not for building homes. Palatial office blocks are being built by insurance companies in all our capital cities, my own city of Brisbane being no exception. There has been a building boom in the heart of Brisbane, where enormous office blocks are being built by insurance societies with money that should really be available for home construction.

I was amazed and alarmed to see in one of today's newspapers a statement that the State Government Insurance Office, which is a Queensland Government instrumentality, has received approval for the construction of a $10 million office block in the heart of Brisbane, using money that I should think any Government concerned with the welfare of the people would certainly want to have diverted to home construction instead of being used to build a palatial block of offices which I understand will be rented to members of the general public. I should say that, having in mind the number of office blocks being built by insurance companies in Brisbane, there will eventually be an oversupply of office space in that city. The T. and G.

Mutual Life Assurance Society is proposing to demolish its near-skyscraper building in the heart of Brisbane and put up another one in its stead which will be of about 27 storeys. These facts lend colour to the statement made previously by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L, R. Johnson) that the money that is being used by insurance companies to construct these offices is money which under the old housing agreement would have been made available to building societies for home construction.

One of the difficulties faced by people in buying or building homes is the finding of a sufficient deposit. As a result of the increase in housing costs, about which I have already spoken, the deposit gap has become a real problem. The honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Irwin) told us, of course, how bank managers will come to the aid of people wishing to obtain homes. I must say that my experience has not been the same as that of the honorable member for Mitchell, and I believe that in this connection I am by no means unusual. I find that while bank managers do make money available they do so with some reluctance. A story is told of a young man who asked a bank manager for a loan in order to build a home. The bank manager told him how difficult it was to obtain money and that he did not think he would be able to give him the necessary advance. But he decided to give the young man a sporting chance and said: " I have one glass eye and one natural eye, and if you can tell me which is the glass eye I will give you the advance." The young man said: " The glass eye is your right eye ". The manager asked: " How did you know that? " And the young man replied: " Your right eye has the kindlier expression." It is a fact, in any case, that it is very difficult to get past a bank manager.

I would like to bring to the attention of the House a statement made by a Minister in the Queensland State Government. He is a very good Liberal who really expresses the policy of the Liberal Party. He is Liberal-minded through and through. I refer to the Minister for Transport, Mr. Knox, who sees great virtue in the difficulty of obtaining finance for home construction. In a recent issue of the " Courier-Mail " an article appeared under the heading " Don't Growl Over Housing Finance ". The article commenced -

People should not growl if finance for home building is sometimes difficult to find - it is a good sign, according to the Transport Minister (Mr. Knox).

I have no fight with Mr. Knox but I hope that the citizens of Queensland will remember that the Liberal Party believes it is a very good sign when finance for home construction is difficult to obtain.

I mentioned a few minutes ago that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement provides that at least 30 per cent, of the money allocated to State Governments for housing be earmarked for building societies. Queensland will receive $1.8 million of the $15 million extra to be provided for the six States, and the Queensland Government is going to earmark not 30 per cent, of this for building societies but 40 per cent. I understand that this Government bad in mind that increased assistance would be given to those in the lower income brackets who wanted to obtain a home, but it seems that the Queensland Government has let the Commonwealth Government down because it will assist the building societies to an even greater extent than was envisaged. This suggests that the Queensland Government is incapable itself of absorbing the money that the Commonwealth Government is to make available.

We see many different statements made about housing. Various Ministers seem to want to cover up - to duck the question, as it were. For some time past denials have been issued of the charges made by members of my party but, as I have said, the introduction of this measure represents an admission of the charges. Knowing the difficulties that people face in the field of housing, and about which they have frequently told me, I was amazed to read in one of the newspapers a report of a statement made in Adelaide a week ago by the Governor of the Reserve Bank. This is the item that appeared in the newspaper -

The Governor of the Reserve Bank (Dr. H. C. Coombs) suggested ia Adelaide yesterday Australia would have more money than it needed for housing in the next few months.

If that is factual, then the millennium has arrived. I have always had a great deal of respect for statements made by the Governor of the Reserve Bank. I hope that his statement is true, but I am cynical. I am sure that the statement cannot be relied upon, but I will be happy to be proved wrong. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to admit my error in this respect, but, like Mr. Asquith, I shall wait and see.

Included in the terms of the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) are some features which he would like to see incorporated in the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. One such feature is town planning. Another is land development. I am compelled to cross swords with the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Kevin Cairns), who made certain grave charges about town planning which were detrimental to the City of Brisbane. He did the Brisbane City Council a grave injustice when he referred to the proposal to build in the heart of the city a square which he claimed would cost millions of dollars and would deprive citizens in the outer areas of urgently needed services, such as sewerage, water, roads and parks. The honorable member knows that this is not true. He knows as well as I do the circumstances surrounding the building of the city square. First, an arrangement has been entered into for the Reserve Bank to acquire the land which the Council wants for the square. Agreement has been reached as to the purchase price of the land. I understand that it is a substantial price. The Council is very happy with the proposal. A parking station will be built under the square. This will be paid for out of moneys received from parking meters. It is estimated that the maximum cost of the project to the City of Brisbane will be about $60,000. All thanks are due for this project to the Lord Mayor of Brisbane - a hard headed businessman who is acting in the interests of the City of Brisbane and its citizens to obtain this much desired improvement to the heart of the city. To describe the proposal as the honorable member for Lilley did or to sow in the minds of citizens the idea that they will be denied services they urgently need is not worthy of even a member of the Liberal Party, and that is really saying something.

The Commonwealth Government has grand opportunities to play its part in slum clearance and generally to improve the standard of housing. Although I do not say that slum clearance is of major importance in the City of Brisbane, where the standard of housing is pretty high and where the percentage of privately owned homes to the total number of houses is the highest of all States, there is a need for forward planning in relation to housing in the city. Some time ago the Queensland Government and the City Council appointed a committee to survey future transport needs in Brisbane. A scheme known as the Wilbur Smith scheme for the future planning of the city and the handling of traffic problems has been submitted. It is estimated that to implement the scheme will cost $400 million. In its early stages, implementation of the scheme will entail the demolition of a large number of houses. The construction of houses for the people who are displaced because their houses have been resumed under the scheme will create a problem for the City of Brisbane. I know that compensation will be paid to persons so displaced, but new homes must be found for them. This will place an added strain on the building industry and it may be difficult to finance the construction of those homes. The only authority which seems to have money available for housing schemes is the Commonwealth. The City Council and the Queensland Government are at present considering putting the scheme into operation, but the hand of the Commonwealth will have to be seen before the scheme can be implemented. I speak in this strain merely in relation to the construction of houses to accommodate people whose houses will be resumed under the scheme.

I hope that the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will be carried. It is a far sighted amendment. It is statesmanlike. The ideas embodied in the amendment will be of advantage to the nation. The Parliament will do nothing detrimental to Australia by agreeing to our proposal. Housing constitutes the greatest problem facing Australia today. Many people are not affected by the housing problem because they already have a home, but all young people entering into holy matrimony are faced with this problem. Housing costs are rising rapidly. Inflation has gripped the industry. Young people have great difficulty in obtaining finance even to commence to build a home. The problem of the deposit gap is enormous and is increasing. The banks say that they are helping in housing, but they are doing so reluctantly. There is not much generosity to be had from the banks. They seem to limit their advances and those advances are too low. Young people are desperate. They are being forced to live in flats at high rentals because they cannot obtain the assistance necessary to commence construction of a home, which is the greatest thing they can do in their lifetimes. Building a home is something a man docs perhaps once in a lifetime. Having built his home he stays in it, because it is such a major undertaking. The Government has a great responsibility as far as young Australians commencing married life and wanting to build a home are concerned. There is some generosity in the Bill but it does not go far enough. T hope that soon the Government will realise that it has an even greater responsibility to the young people of Australia than it has so far admitted.

Mr. JAMES(Hunter) fi 0.9]. - T am happy to contribute to the debate on behalf of the Australian Labour Parly. The Parliament is debating a Bill to provide $ I 5 million to the States for home building. 1 support the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) which, in part, reads - . . the House :s 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 all-Party 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

During the next few moments I intend to make submissions on each of these itemised subjects. It is true, as was said by the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts), that one of Australia's greatest social problems is the lack of housing. He said that every person who contemplates matrimony hopes to own his own home. The honorable member is well qualified to make such a statement. Probably doubts of obtaining a home for himself deterred him, in his early years, from becoming bethrothed. No doubt many have wooed him earlier in his life, and still do even now.

We are fully justified in moving this amendment and in suggesting that the $15 million will be a mere drop in the ocean in meeting Australia's housing requirements. In answer to a question in this Parliament a responsible Minister stated that there are 62,586 applicants for homes in Australia today, excluding the number awaiting homes in South Australia. It is a shocking disgrace that so many people should be waiting for homes. Recently I secured from the Parliamentary Library a book titled " Causes of Crime ". The writer referred to English conditions, which are similar to those applying in Australia. He instanced the lack of proper housing as one of the major causes of crime. I suggest that if an honorable member were to conduct a survey of the background of the inmates of our gaols and Borstal institutions he would find that slum housing is a major cause of crime in Australia. Of the 62,586 applicants for homes, 18.96 per cent, are on incomes of less than £12 a week; 13.14 per cent are on incomes of from £12 to £15 a week; 17.97 per cent, on incomes of £15 to £18 a week; 20.54 per cent, on incomes of £18 to £20 a week and 28.24 per cent, on incomes of £20 to £25 a week. How true it is in a capitalist society that when you are down you are down, and no-one wants to lift you up. This applies particularly to the Government, which is not meeting the housing needs of the nation and is not providing for the low income groups. Happy homes lead to happier lives, happier children and a better society.

In the report of the Victorian Housing Commission for the year 1964-65 the following appears -

This financial year is the last year ot the existing Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. It is essential that this Agreement be renewed, and should still provide for a concessional interest rate. Consideration should be given to the reinstatement to the Commission of the 30 per cent, of funds made available under the Agreement presently being diverted to co-operative housing societies. The societies have other sources of funds available,-

Of course they have - from insurance companies, for instance. The report continues - and every effort should be made to expand these sources. Likewise, the diversion of 5 per cent, of the available funds to housing for Defence Force personnel should be reviewed in the light of (he increasing demands of low income applicants.

Has this review been made? Of course not. The report continues -

A provision should be included to make a special contribution to the housing of elderly pensioners. Without some assistance the Commission will bc forced to reduce the rate of construction of these units that has currently been achieved.

The Agreement should provide for a contribution towards the acquisition and clearance of slum areas.

No doubt there are tragic cases arising from the lack of proper housing in your district. Mr. Speaker, just as there are in my electorate of Hunter. I should say there are tragic cases in all electorates. The Hunter electorate is probably not as badly situated as other electorates because in my electorate (here is a spirit of comradeship. People help each other in the proper spirit of Christian brotherhood. They help to relieve each other's problems. This is traditional in coal mining areas, lt was present in the coal mining areas in Great Britain and it has been transposed to the coal mining areas of Australia, particularly in the Hunter electorate.

Mr Curtin - lt is the same in the Kingsford-Smith electorate

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