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Friday, 25 May 1973
Page: 2702

Mr THORBURN (Cook) - The purpose of this Bill has been well covered by the Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson) in his second reading speech and by other honourable members who have spoken in the debate. To the 93,000 families now on the waiting list of the various State housing commissions, or whatever they are called in the respective States, this probably is the most important Bill that will come before this Parliament. It also represents for this Government one of the major items of expenditure. When one considers the money spent over the years by the Commonwealth Government and also the aspirations of the present Government to provide people with housing, it is not inconceivable that$ 1,000m may be required over the next 5 years to provide housing for people in urgent need of it. This money will be lent at a much lower rate of interest than was the policy of the previous Government in an endeavour to come as close as possible to providing people with housing and meet the aim of the United Nations which is that people should pay only 20 per cent of their income for shelter.

The Government is concerned about infusing this very large amount of money into the economy. While it will make the economy buoyant, undoubtedly it will also have some inflationary trends. There is a great need for private enterprise to have some consideration in this regard, not only because of the inflationary trend but also because there are such enormous demands on building materials and the services of building workers generally. In 1967 about$1 44m was spent on building commercial premises throughout the cities of Australia. Last year the figure rose to $ 1,043m and goodness knows how much will be spent this year. The insurance companies and other people who are trying to diversify the enormous reserves that they have accumulated have misread the situation, particularly in the city of Sydney with which I am familiar. There the cost of rental accommodation for office premises and commercial premises is falling sharply, so much so that it is freely predicted - I think correctly predicted - that we will have an abundance of such accommodation in the centre of Sydney. There is a great need for the building industry to understand that this is the position and to divert its resources into the sector of the industry that so urgently needs assistance. That, of course, is the housing sector. That is a responsibility that the industry owes to the 70,000 young people who will be married each year in this great country.

I wish to make only a few remarks but 1 want to refer to the dedication of the Minister for Housing and to that of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) in attacking this great problem facing the Australian Government, the problem of providing housing, particularly for the low income group of people in our community. Since this Government took office last December and these honourable gentlemen being elected to the Ministry they have tackled this problem with a great deal of zeal and enterprise. I believe that they have brought radical policies to government, policies that will overcome the problems that seemed to be quite beyond the ability of the previous Government.

I have said before in this House that as part of this endeavour to provide housing there is a very great need for the building industry to took at new methods of technology. Over 100 years ago people were placing brick upon brick as a method of providing shelter for people in this country. Today we are still using basically the same building practices as were used hundreds of years ago. The industry generally has to look at this problem and try to overcome it. There is a great need for houses to be made in factories out of more modern materials so that they will be more adaptable and more suitable to our modern way of life. There is a very urgent need for the Government to give some incentive to people to look at new methods and to participate in this way.

It seems, however, that the Opposition will never learn. I listened to the speeches made during this debate, particularly that of the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) last night, and it seems that the position will be allowed to go on and on if the Opposition has its way. Fortunately it does not have its way. The Opposition seems to regard everything as a matter of political expediency instead of political responsibility. It is an unarguable fact that the policies adopted by the previous Government and the State governments have contributed to the enormous housing problem that faces us today. I refer to the practice of selling a great proportion of the low income houses made available from public money over recent years. This Government realises that probably it would be a popular political move to sell houses to people because that is what the people want. The Australian Labor Party would hope to see eventually that everybody has the right to own his own house. However, at this time it would be completely wrong for the Government to adopt that policy. This Government is attacking the problem in the manner in which it should be attacked.

In New South Wales today the Housing Commission has 22,700 houses available for rental and, on its estimation, it cost SI 27m to provide those houses. If those houses are sold it will cost over $500m to replace them and that would have to come out of public moneys. Therefore the policy adopted by the Minister for Housing is correct, although it has not been freely accepted by the responsible Ministers in the various States - probably in all States. The States have to amend their thinking. The States will have to accept the political responsibility they should accept if we are to overcome this problem to any degree. In any case, it is interesting to note that under the provisions of this Bill 30 per cent of the houses can be sold throughout all States, and in some States the proportion is greater because over the years they have made certain commitments and these have to be rationalised. The Minister has taken them into account.

In addition 30 per cent of the homes will be made available for sale through the Home Builders Account advances. Of course this will be through banks, terminating building societies and whoever else a State Government uses to disburse these funds. I was very interested to hear the honourable member for Indi last night state that if Victoria, the State he represents, did not accept the Minister's recommendations it could get Commonwealth money only at a higher interest rate and this would cost Victoria a considerable amount of money. Let me tell him that under this Government Victoria will benefit to the amount of about $1.5m because of the reduction that we have given it in the interest rate which it has paid over the years and which has increased over the years since this scheme commenced.

I want to make some brief reference to the policies of housing commissions, particularly in New South Wales. Over a long period the New South Wales Housing Commission provided emergency housing. When I speak of emergency housing I mean true emergency housing that could be made available at an instant's notice when a crisis arose, whether it be flood, bush fire, some domestic dispute or something else that might cause a family to be immediately evicted and left without proper shelter. Over a number of years this housing was provided but was done away with some years ago when the Government in New South Wales was changed. This has caused a considerable embarrassment. I do not doubt that it has caused embarrassment to members on both sides of this House when people have come to their offices with problems of this nature. Certainly the Minister, as I have said, approached me one Boxing Day when I was shire president of the shire in which I live to provide emergency housing for people who had their house de-roofed in a gale and had absolutely nowhere to go. The New South Wales Housing Commission says that it can provide emergency housing but it takes a considerable period for it to become available. I think that there is a great need for the Commission, in view of the revised policies of the Government and the fact that the State is so much better off under the deal that it is getting from this Government than it was under the deal it got in previous years, once again to establish some real emergency housing in which people who find themselves in the position I have mentioned might be accommodated.

One other important aspect of this Bill which has never been provided for in any other Bills of this nature and which makes a significant advance, is that the States through their housing authorities may provide to local government areas bridging finance so that community facilities can be provided. This is a significant advance because in the past when we have built public housing that is what we have done: We have built public housing with no consideration whatsoever for the community in which the people had to live, the environment in which they had to live. This Bill allows the housing authorities - and I hope that each of the States will exercise its prerogative in this regard - to provide to the local government area responsible the bridging finance so that it can immediately provide the community amenities that are so urgently needed if we are to have communities rather than groups of housing for people to live in.

I commend this Bill to the House. It is progressive legislation that will over a period of years overcome the enormous problem that wc have in the Australian community. I realise that people would like houses that they can own. We all appreciate this, but at this point of time that is the wrong attitude to adopt. We must provide a large pool of low rental housing that will be available to those people who are on the lower incomes.

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