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Wednesday, 2 May 1973
Page: 1604

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson (PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Order! The debate will proceed through the Chair and not across the table. The honourable member for Indi will control himself, please.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In addition to this, the legislation goes on to provide eligibility for serving members of the forces. It also has provisions to accommodate those national servicemen who were serving at 7th December. It includes those women who served in the forces who have been the subject of many amendments here over the years. As a side effect the Government has decided, appropriately, to change the name of the legislation because one does not have to be involved in a war any more to become eligible under the provisions of this legislation. Instead of being called the War Service Homes Act, as it has been for years - I understand the nostalgic sense that pervades honourable members in this respect - we have to recognise the need to contemporise or bring things up to date. All of us in this Parliament sincerely hope that there will be no more wars, but we would like to have the benefits of the War Service Homes Act continuing for a long time.

I do not want to give the impression that the Government is content with the things that it has done. It is expending a considerable amount of money but it feels that there is a long way yet to go before it gives effect to all the things it would like to see attended to in this field. It does not have to be a secret that I have stood on the other side of this House for years and have contended that the war service homes legislation is actuarially sound, that it is of high principle and it is of such merit that we ought to extend it, as we are extending it, in its application to members of the forces. But it ought to be extended even beyond that. The principle of 3i per cent money is a good one. In the long term we stand to establish a revolving fund so that we can go on to extend eligibility under this kind of legislation.

Mr Martin - You are the best Minister for Housing we have ever had.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have regard to the fact, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you said that interjections were out of order; otherwise I would respond to that remark. We believe that these areas of extension are the starting point for subsequent areas of extension. One does not have to quibble about the fact that we have extended the legislation to permanent members of the forces. I would dearly love to extend it to all members of the national service as well. I regard the contribution made by the honourable member for Herbert (Mr

Bonnett) as responsible and useful. I greatly appreciate the sentiments that he expressed. He said: 'I have no quarrel whatsoever with the principle behind the Bill' and he went on to commend to the Parliament generally that it should expedite the passage of this legislation. He knows that, because of the interruptions that have occurred in the parliamentary procedure here, this legislation has been delayed unduly. It was not the intention of the Government that it should wait as long as it has waited. This matter was one of the first to receive attention from the new Cabinet. It was one of the very early pieces of legislation brought into this Parliament. It is no making of mine or the Government's that honourable members opposite have initiated all kinds of processes which have caused this legislation to be delayed. I will be frank. I have been inundated with expressions of concern from all over the country. The Returned Services League likes this legislation. I am receiving letters from the sub-branches, as are many of my colleagues, telling me of their favour for this legislation and that they want it to be given effect to. I am unhappy that it has taken so long for any effect to be given to it.

Mr Holten - I rise to a point of order. One of the reasons that this Bill was delayed was that the Minister for Housing was away on holiday for a week when Parliament was sitting.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson)Order!There is no point of order involved.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honourable member for Indi, the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) and other honourable members have made extravagant contentions about the cost of this legislation.

Mr Holten - What about the cost?

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honourable member for Griffith said it would cost $400m a year.

Mr Holten - What about the cost?

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have told the honourable member that it is extravagant-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! I have already asked the honourable member for Indi to restrain himself. I think that he has had more than his share of interjections during the current speech. I ask him again to restrain himself.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are only a few former Ministers who cannot accept with good grace the new role that has been thrust upon them, and regrettably we are confronted with one this evening. I was making the point that there has been an extravagant contention about the cost of the benefits provided by this legislation and one honourable gentleman opposite said the cost would be $400m a year. 1 would like to know from where the honourable member obtained that figure. I know, for example, that the honourable member for indi has felt free, as he should, to speak to officers of my Department and he has received reliable information. All the members, of the Parliament are free to do that in respect to my administration. They do not have to cite distorting figures at all. I have a schedule showing the cost of all the benefits which are the subject of this legislation and the total estimate of the cost of all these provisions is $4lm in a full year. That is a long way from the extravagant contention of $400m. This kind of irresponsibility makes a mockery of parliamentary debates. We ought to be a little more responsible because we are talking to the nation at large.

One of the matters about which I was interested was that the honourable member for Herbert was contending that this legislation is good. I think he mentioned that 33,000 persons have been assisted under the legislation to become home owners. I suppose, in a general sense, there is a unity ticket about the War Service Homes Act as it has been known. Parliamentarians and the people of the nation generally uphold it and approve of it.

Mr Holten - 1 am reluctant to take another point of order, but I really feel I have to help the Minister. He just said-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! What is the point of order?

Mr Holten - The Minister said 33,000 people were helped under this scheme. I want to say to the Minister-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member will not say anything to the Minister. 1 ask him to state his point of order.

Mr Holten - I am sorry. The Minister said 33,000. I want to help him-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - No point of order can be taken to help a Minister or the Speaker. The honourable member will please resume his seat. There is no point of order involved.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - After the honourable member for Herbert had generally eulogised the spirit of the war service legislation he went on to say that it was of such a high order that the provision ought to be extended to cover members of the Citizen Military Forces. The only point I wish to make here is that this contention is at sharp variance with the point that has been made by several other speakers in this debate who have contended that it is disgraceful that the Government has extended the eligibility to people other than those who have served overseas. I pay regard to the honourable member for Herbert who has led for the Opposition.

Mr Martin- I take a point of order. My point of order is that the honourable member for Indi is breaching the Standing Orders by firstly constantly interjecting and secondly not sitting in his proper seal.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! There is no point of order involved.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would like to draw a distinction between the attitude of the honourable gentleman who led for the Opposition and several other speakers, including the honourable member for Indi. I have not been denounced in this debate anywhere near as much as has the spokesman for the Opposition, who said that the Defence Service Homes Bill should be extended to cover members of the CMF. Other honourable members have been saying it is a disgraceful thing, that eligibility should be restricted to those who served overseas during a war. 1 will explain what is involved. Some 25,000 members are serving in the CMF at the present time. J am told that to extend eligibility to those members who are likely to apply would cost approximately $6m. 1 am not sure how my Department arrives at that figure but I am giving it in good faith. In respect to others some $23m could be involved. This is a large amount of money.

We have had in this debate and one of the debates which took place yesterday a contention by honourable members opposite - and I think it is a contention which has a lot of merit - that we have to watch very carefully the extent to which we flood the market with money for housing purposes because of the pressure on the building industry. I think the responsible attitude for the Government to take in this situation is that ex-servicemen should get a fair crack of the whip. I do not think anyone would deny they are getting a fair crack of the whip. To extend eligibility to members of the CMF at the present time would put a strain on our resources which would indeed have inflationary trends having regard to the shortage of tradesmen and so on.

Mr Bonnett - I mentioned the length of service.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is the next point to which 1 wish to refer. The honourable member said that he mentioned the length of service. What he did in this regard was to contend that, though the Government is pro posing that permanent members of the forces would be eligible after 3 years service, he wants to substitute 6 years service. Honourable members have heard what he said. There are many expressions of concern from servicemen all over the country about a suggestion that obviously would have the effect of denying them war service homes eligibility for an additional 3 years. The honourable member mentions 6 years for permanent members o: the forces and then goes on to say that eligibility should be extended to members of the CMF as well. I have made inquiries.

Mr Bonnett - I did not state any qualifying period for the CMF.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I cannot follow up everything the honourable member said now as time is running out and I want to make a few points. I have made some inquiries and 1 am told by one authority that a member of the CMF would have to serve 4 times as long and by another authority that he would have to serve 8 times as long as would a member of the permanent forces to have the same period of effective service. If the honourable member is saying that a permanent member of the forces has to serve 6 years then apparently he is saying that a member of the CMF, if he has to serve 4 times as long, would have to wait 24 years before he became eligible. On the advice of the other authority, who says a member has to serve 8 times as long, a member of the CMF would have to serve for 48 years to have the equivalent of 6 years service in the permanent forces. That would be quite ridiculous.

Mr Bonnett - You are taking the wrong view.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not know whether I am taking the wrong view. I have a conscientious regard for what the honourable member has put. I have made inquiries and I have been told by an eminent and competent authority that a member of the CMF would have to serve 8 times as long as a permanent member of the forces to have the same effective service. The honourable gentleman says permanent members of the forces ought to serve for 6 years before they are eligible. It is reasonable to assume he is saying that a person ought to be in the CMF for 48 years before he qualifies for the benefits.

Mr Bonnett - It is ridiculous.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not know whether it is ridiculous, but it would be ridiculous to make the contention unless some regard was had for the facts I have mentioned. The priority matters arc important to consider. 1 am not quite sure of the number of members of the Citizen Military Forces who could become eligible. We have been told that there were 224,428 men who enlisted for overseas service in the 1939-45 war and that in addition about half of that number - about half of a quarter of a million - were members of the CMF during that war period. The estimate of my Department is that to accommodate them would cost an extra $23m a year.

I have had regard to the complaints made by honourable members opposite that we are pouring money into this in a reckless way. It may be. that they agree with the attitude that the Government is taking in making a number of reforms but consider that to take all of them in one go might be irrational and not quite the sensible thing to do at this point of time. A complaint has also been made by the honourable member for Herbert, I think, or in any case by other honourable members, that this is a sort of a bribe. I do not think the honourable member for Herbert said this but other honourable members did say it with respect to this idea of giving eligibility after 3 years service. It was also contended that people would lake their war service homes loan after 3 years of service and go. As the honourable member for Indi knows - I know that he got these figures from my Department - there are about 65,500 members of the permanent forces and of that number 27,500 already have qualifying service but they have not left the forces. Doubtless many of them could have done so. Their period of engagement could have expired by this time, but they have not left. I think that this is some substantiation of the fact that permanent members of the forces require the benefits of war service homes loans as they have been called even while they are members of the permanent forces and many, in fact, do take advantage of that eligibility. We are told that the number of members of the permanent forces who would qualify under this Bill is estimated to be 38,000 and that this would probably cost about $17m a year.

As honourable members know, many other matters have been contended but let me say because my time in this debate is almost concluded that so far as the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton) is concerned I have had regard for what he said about eligibility for those members of the forces who come from Thursday Island and also the Torres Strait islanders. I have made a study of this. I have a fair understanding of the situation. It is my intention to do what I can to contrive ways and means to make these provisions apply to those Torres Strait islanders who are eligible. I have heard the points that have been made. I am prepared to go to Torres Strait, if I am to be received on the islands, to discuss the matter with the Queensland authorities and generally to make an honest endeavour to make those people eligible.

I am unable to accept the amendment moved by the honourable member for Herbert to the motion that the Bill be, read a second time but I intimate to him that so far as another matter is concerned which he has foreshadowed we might be more accommodating in the committee stages of the legislation. I thank everybody for the contributions they have made in the debate.

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