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Thursday, 12 April 1973
Page: 1456

Mr THORBURN (Cook) - The honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) has just presented an interesting philosophy. But, of course, it holds no truth in fact. Today, according to housing commission applications alone, more than 93,000 families in Australia are waiting for a home. Almost half of these families are in my own state of New South Wales. This figure does not represent all people who are waiting for homes. Many people are deterred from applying to the State housing commissions because of the long waiting list for homes. The real number of families waiting for homes must be almost half a million. Most of these people are in the low income group. Possibly the greatest single problem that faces any Australian family is the attainment of a home.

In the area where I reside and which the Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson) represents in Sydney, over the last few months a charitable organisation has constructed an experimental home of a certain type. When it did this I asked the people concerned with that organisation whether they would mind keeping a record of the people who came to view that home. They obtained statistical details from the visitors. In Sydney on Monday I was approached by a deputation from the people involved with the construction of the home and since then, by priority mail, I have received details of the people who had visited the home. Over 800 young couples have viewed this home because, supposedly, it is a cheap home. It is a small home at a cheap price. But it is a daily occurrence for the visitors to be in tears as they explain to the people involved in this project that it is impossible for them, paying $35 a week for a rental home, possibly with a bring home pay of $65 a week and with one or two children, ever to look forward to the possibility of owing their own home.

What the honourable member for Bennelong said in some respects was right. But I do not believe that the Minister for Housing or any other honourable member on this side of the House does not want to see everybody owing his own home, if possible. But we have to face facts. One reason why the price of Australian homes has risen out of all proportion is that land costs are so high. In addition there are the actions of agents and developers. The price of land in the Sydney region has risen to such an extent that nobody can reasonably expect to be able to afford a home. This is something that we must look at more seriously. In all other industries we have endeavoured to raise productivity so that people who work in the industry might enjoy the benefits of a productive industry, including higher salary and reasonable working conditions. Higher productivity also means that the employers in industry receive a reasonable return on their investment. In the housing industry for about the last half century no real progress has been made towards better methods of building homes and providing shelter for people. The old bricks and mortal concept is still with us.

Honourable members will be aware that some cities in Australia are importing trades men from the other side of Australia in order to meet the great need for bricklayers and other building workers. Yet in other parts of the world, notably in the United States of America, efforts have been made to mass produce homes in factories and to bring the price down so that everybody might enjoy the benefit of living in reasonable accommodation. The purpose of this Bill is to provide for an urgent need. I suggest that any honourable member who is not inundated with people in his electorate making requests for assistance with housing does not make himself available to the members of his constituency. The constituency which I represent is, by one measure or another, a middle class to higher income area. Yet, daily in my office people ask me to make representations to the New South Wales Housing Commission and other organisations.

Just prior to the recent election, while I was President of a local council in my electorate, I was asked to make representation on behalf of a young couple who were in dire circumstances. They had 3 children, one of whom was very ill and required expensive medical treatment. Some years before the family had applied for consideration from the New South Wales Housing Commission. I used my personal friendship with the Director of the Housing Commission on their behalf. I wrote to him and asked whether these people could be given some priority. After 6 months, the other day they received a reply. Unfortunately the reply was: 'No, no further priority can be given'. The position in New South Wales is that about 12 months ago there were 36,000 applicants for houses. There are now about 47,000 families waiting for homes in New South Wales. It is absolute rot to say that there is no housing shortage in New South Wales. Of course there is a shortage of the type of housing that people can afford. If people are able to pay $50, $60 and $70 a week in rent, there is no shortage of houses, but the average person can in no way afford to pay that sort of money.

I want to draw the attention of the House to another matter which has concerned me greatly over a long period. I refer to false advertising and the high cost of money for people who want to avail themselves of a house. I cannot see why money, which is a non-productive sort of commodity, should be as expensive as it is to people today. People are having to pay an enormous. price. for money.

I draw the attention of honourable members to an advertisement which appeared in the Sydney 'Sun' of Friday, 30th March, which slates:

Starr-Bowkett Interest Free Home Loans.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the type of false advertising that has been inflicted on a great number of people, especially in New South Wales, in recent years. Let me read to the House the report of the Registrar of Co-operative Societies for the year ended 30th June 1963 - a long way back. The Registrar stated:

Several years ago 1 reported misgivings entertained by the Government Actuary and by me regarding accelerated activity in what we felt was the artificial promotion of Star-Bowkett societies.

To people who are their natural followers the gamble for the elusive 'interest-free' loan by ballot (which, however, may not become available for 15 or 20 years) is no doubt some attraction. Such societies also lend on types of securities that are not always acceptable to other institutions. It is even acknowledged that there are people who would never have saved at all but for membership in a Starr-Bowkett. Against this there are people who have lost on the deal and who have withdrawn in disillusionment; it is of no avail to say that they should have looked more carefully before entering upon membership.

The advertisement which appeared in the

Sydney 'Sun' to which I have already referred is most enticing and any young couple trying to get a house of their own would be attracted to it. I hope the House will bear with me, because 1 believe this is a very important matter. The Registrar continued:

In enlightened times societies of this type, the pattern of which originated early in the last century, quite definitely find no favour officially as a pure medium of housing finance, despite refinements they have been persuaded to adopt.

Regardless of all pros and cons my personal inclination after a life-time study of these societies is to view the system itself as one of the 'horseandbuggy' variety in a motor-car age. It is regrettable, in my opinion, that expansion of the system should have been featured in a series of broadcasts by a director as 'one of the real solutions to the problem' of housing finance.

The report explained that a member of these societies might, if he is very fortunate, obtain an interest free loan but that over a period of 15 years he may not get an interest free loan until right at the end of the period. But he can avail himself of a loan at 4 per cent interest. Many of these people, disillusioned as they are with the ballot system, not being able to have their names drawn and wishing, of course, to get a home while they are still able to enjoy it, embark on this 4 per cent loan. The Registrar sets out in detail in the report from which I quoted just what happens in the first year if a member of the society holding 2 shares takes a loan. The position gets worse as time goes by and it is interesting to note that, in the eleventh year, the interest rate is 56 per cent. A person is being forced to pay 56 per cent, in my opinion, as a result of false advertising. I think it is a matter that the Minister for Housing should examine because surely housing finance is an integral part of the owning of homes.

The matter before the House is an important one. It is a matter of great urgency. I said a few weeks ago that the Government possibly should look at starter homes, homes for young people in their first few years of marriage. I notice that the Minister for Housing has made a number of statements already on this matter. It is possible that the Government may introduce legislation to make available to young couples a cheaper type of housing in the first few years of their marriage in order that they might be able to get on their feet and not be forced to pay exorbitant rents, never getting out of the woods, being forced to live in rented accommodation for life, and in most cases paying a higher rent than they can afford. This Bill will provide for my State alone $3. 5m to be spent in a very short period on the building of houses that otherwise would not be started in that period and I am convinced that this will go some of the way to relieve the great problem that exists.

The honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) said that this Government can. not accept the whole blame. He is very charitable indeed, considering that the Government has been in office for only about 120 days. But certainly some governments must accept responsibility for the housing crisis that exists in Australia today. These include State governments of various political persuasions. Surely one of the things we should have learned over this period is that selling off all of our cheap rentable houses is not the solution to the problem. We must keep reserves of cheap rentable housing for people to move into. It is fair enough to assume that a person who, through the natural accretion of his income is able to accrue more morey than he would have had if he had not moved into the rented accommodation will, if he buys a block of land, elect to go ahead and build a home so that he can build up some equity. There will always be those people who, unfortunately, are never able to earn sufficient money to acquire a home of their own. These people are in another category. Possibly, these are the people who the honourable member for Bennelong thought should have homes made available at a reasonable rate.

But there are other people involved and it is important that the housing authorities in the States consider this. Unfortunately, the State Liberal Government in New South Wales has done away with all emergency housing. This is a matter that I have taken up in deputations on a number of occasions and through many social welfare organisations. If a person in Sydney loses his house by fire or some other misadventure, there is nothing that the Housing Commissioner can do to accommodate him and his family. I am pleased to say that under a State Labor government, this was not the case; there was available some emergency housing for people. I have had such people approach me for accommodation. The Minister for Housing who is sitting at the table telephoned me on Boxing Day last year, to have a family whose house had been de-roofed in a violent gale accommodated in a council house which, fortunately, we were able to provide. The State authorities could do nothing on that day to accommodate them. It is a pretty pitiful situation when one finds that on an occasion such as that the St Vincent de Paul Society is the only organisation able to assist these people. The local council fortunately happened to have a vacant home at that time. We were the only people who could provide that family with some accommodation.

So there is a great need for the sort of measure that the Minister for Housing has brought before this House tonight. I compliment the Minister on his swift action and the way that the Cabinet has assisted him and the Treasury in making money available, because I believe that in Australia today there could be no greater crisis than the crisis of providing people with proper homes and accommodation. I certainly hope that this measure will be carried unanimously and we can get on with the job of giving the Australian people what they are justly entitled to - homes of their own to live in.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bury) adjourned.

House adjourned at 9.41 p.m. until Tuesday, 1st May at 2 p.m. unless Mr Speaker shall, by telegram addressed to each member of the House, fix an earlier date of meeting.

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