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Monday, 15 October 1973
Page: 2080

Mr HOLTEN (Indi) - As the Minister for Housing and Minister for Works (Mr Les Johnson) said in his second reading speech, the purpose of this Bill is to authorise the Treasurer (Mr Crean) to make advances to the States for welfare housing during 1973-74 and the first 6 months of 1974-75 in accordance with the provisions of the 1973 Housing Agreement. The short title of the Bill interests me. The Bill is entitled 'States Grants (Housing Assistance Bill (No. 2)'. I direct attention to the words 'States Grants'. The money is to be provided by way of loan. This is the usual procedure and Bills for this purpose use the words States Grants'. But I must admit that the words seem to be a bit of a misnomer. Perhaps it would be more appropriate if the Bill were entitled 'Loan (Housing Assistance) Bill (No. 2)'. There may be some technical explanation for the use of the words 'States Grants'. The point that occurs to me is that the Bill proposes not a grant of money but a loan at a low rate of interest to the State housing authorities.

The Housing Agreement Bill 1973 was introduced on 16 May 1973 by the Minister for Housing, together with 2 other Bills - the States Grants (Housing) Bill 1973 and the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill 1973. As the Minister stated in his introductory remarks, these Bills are all inter-related. The purpose of the Housing Agreement Bill was to obtain parliamentary approval for the Commonwealth to execute an agreement with each State, substantially in accordance with the form contained in the Schedule to the Bill. The Agreement provided that in. each of the 5 years commencing 1973-74 the Commonwealth would make advances at low interest rates to the States for welfare housing purposes. It differed from previous CommonwealthState housing agreements in that it placed a limit on the number of houses that the various States could sell to those who wished to achieve what most Australians aim for, that is, to own their own homes. The limit placed on the States in the Bill was that they could sell no more than 30 per cent of the homes built by the various State housing commissions.

This limitation, which represented an unprecedented dictation to the States as to the disposal of housing, was hotly resented by all States. This feeling of resentment was demonstrated by all States at a meeting in Adelaide passing a unanimous resolution asking that the 30 per cent limitation be increased to 50 per cent. However, the Minister held to his hard line that the States had to accept his terms that only 30 per cent of the houses could be sold and that the remaining 70 per cent were for rental only. At least the States, which were to receive a total of $3*27,975,000 under this Agreement, were able to force the Minister to depart from his original proposal that the houses constructed with this money should all be available for rental only. As many people said at the time, this was a classic example of the socialist philosophy being carried out as the proposal was that rental homes only should be provided by the expenditure of this Commonwealth money by State housing authorities.

The Premiers and the State Ministers for Housing - Labor, Liberal and Country Party - really dug their toes in when the Minister proposed this course of action, which went against all the traditions, birthrights and ambitions of the average Australian family to own their own home. This desire for people to own their own homes is deeply seated in the majority of Australian people, no matter what their incomes or backgrounds are. Yet, we had the frightening spectacle of a Labor Minister for Housing proposing to the States that the huge sum of $327,975,000 over a period of 18 months could be spent on providing houses for rental only. He was proposing that none of the houses to be built from those funds was to be sold to people who, in order to qualify for such houses, could not earn more than average weekly earnings. Thousands of people could see their chance of ever owning a home disappearing completely.

Members of this Parliament and members of the public were shocked and amazed that the Australian Labor Party, through the Minister for Housing, was proposing that these houses would be available for rental only. This action came from the Party which professes that it will do everything possible to encourage people to own their own homes. The huge sum of $327,975,000 was provided for housing with the provision that none of the homes built from those funds was to be for sale. However, the States were able to make the Minister back off from his socialist approach. The 1973 Housing Agreement now allows for the sale of 30 per cent of the homes constructed from this allocation.

The money referred to in this Bill is an increase of 26 per cent on the amount spent by the States in providing housing commission homes last financial year. However, I suggest that the increase does not represent as much as it appears to represent. As a result of the galloping inflation which has been experienced since the Labor Party came to government, the actual number of homes that will be constructed with this amount, despite the 26 per cent increase probably will be not many more than were built last financial year. The roaring inflation that Australia is experiencing has hit the building industry and the home buyers probably harder than any other area. Much of this inflation has been caused by shortages of basic materials, which in turn have been caused to a degree by strikes and the demand for homes. The rate of house building completions has slowed down under this Government because of these factors. Home construction has become more expensive. Yet, a 35-hour week is still being sought. The States will need, I suggest, every cent of this extra money just to keep pace with the previous rate of construction and the demand and, perhaps, these funds will not make much impression at all on the waiting list for housing commission homes.

The Minister said in his second reading speech that the 1973 Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement is still awaiting formal ratification by the States. I understand that it will be only a matter of time before this is formally achieved and that some States have already passed the necessary legislation. The Minister also said that about 30 per cent of the amount advanced will be made available to terminating building societies and similar institutions. I have been informed that the figure may be nearer 20 per cent. Perhaps the Minister will state whether it will be a definite figure of, say, 28 per cent or 30 per cent. The Minister may be able to clarify that situation during his reply.

I understand that many terminating building societies are having the obligations to them discharged more quickly than was anticipated when the debts were first undertaken by their clients and that this is causing some problems because of the under use of staff. Perhaps consideration could be given to making a greater share of the money available to terminating building societies and similar institutions in the future. It is maintained by some people that because the clients of building societies use private enterprise builders the money, balanced with the quality of the house, is used more efficiently by these societies than by government authorities. I am not technically qualified to support or reject that statement. However, it does seem that it could have some weight to it. Perhaps this aspect will be considered at a future time.

Under the terms of this Bill, New South Wales will receive $86m this financial year and $43m in the first 6 months of the next financial year. The corresponding figures for the other States are: Victoria, $53.5m and $26.7 5m: Queensland, Sl7.4m and $8.7m; South Australia, $32.75m and $16. 375m; Western Australia, $13m and $6.5m; and Tasmania, $16m and 8m. The respective totals are $2 18.65m for this financial year and $109.325m for the first 6 months of next year. Twenty per cent te 30 per cent of that is to go to the terminating building societies and similar institutions. The remaining 70 per cent to 80 per cent is to go to the State housing commission authorities. Thirty per cent of the houses that are built with that 70 per cent or 80 per cent of the money will be available for sale and 70 per cent for rental. That will hit some people hard, particularly in Victoria, where the sale of housing commission homes has been running at the rate of about 60 per cent since 1955. That number will be halved. Whilst it must be conceded that a certain number of houses must be available for rental to persons for a variety of reasons, it is most regrettable that many people who are, judging on past figures, battlers - average working men - will be denied the chance to purchase a home at a cost within their means and ambitions because of the restriction on the sale of housing commission homes. I submit, as did the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett), that the State governments should have been allowed to continue to use their own judgment, taking into account the differing circumstances in the different States.

I wish to refer briefly to the urgent need for housing outside the capital cities. I hope that a substantial part of the total of $328m to be made available will be spent on houses in areas outside the capital cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne. In fact, if any conditions are to be placed on, in particular, the expenditure of this money and the use of the homes they should be that a certain percentage has to be spent on housing in country areas. Practically all of the towns and cities in my electorate of Indi, particularly Wodonga, Wangaratta and Benalla, are experiencing a housing shortage. I think this position obtains almost everywhere outside the capital cities. I register the fact that this housing problem does exist in non-metropolitan areas and hope that urgent and high priority will be given by the States to the overcoming of this situation, thereby assisting the population and economic development of areas outside our capital cities.

The honourable member for Herbert mentioned the problems of an Army establishment in his electorate. I echo his words and support them. There is a large Army establishment in the electorate which I represent. A similar position exists there as far as Army housing is concerned. It is to be hoped that this matter will be taken into consideration in the future by the appropriate authorities. I conclude by saying that I am sure that this unprecedented restriction upon the selling of housing commission homes will upset and alienate a lot of the Australians who believed that the Australian Labor Party would encourage people to own their own homes, with the resultant care and maintenance which would be given to these homes by the people who have invested their money in Hum. In spite of the imposition of certain restrictions on the expenditure cf this large amount of money - S327.95m - it is recognised by the Australian Country Party and the other Opposition party that the passage of this Bill is essential to the housing commissions in the States. Therefore the Bill has the support of the Country Party and the other Opposition party, but with the reservations I have expressed.

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