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Thursday, 18 November 1976

Mr NEWMAN (Bass) (Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development)

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill gives effect to the Government's proposals for a new home savings grant scheme, which were announced in a Ministerial statement delivered in the Parliament on 3 1 March by the late Senator Ivor Greenwood who had done so much to bring the new scheme to fruition. The purpose of the home savings grant scheme, when introduced in 1964, was to help young married couples obtain their first matrimonial home, by authorising payment to them of tax-free grants to supplement their own savings. It was later expanded to provide assistance to young widowed or divorced persons with dependent children. The purpose of this Bill is to authorise a new home savings grant scheme, to apply to a broad range of people without limitation as to age or marital status.

The limitations of the present scheme- that applicants must be married or widowed or divorced with dependent children and under the age of 36, that migrants must have lived in Australia for 3 years; and that the value of the home must not exceed $22,500- have all been discarded. Married couples who do not obtain home ownership until after they reach the age of 36, and single people, young and old alike, will be assisted under the new scheme to attain the security that owning one's home can provide. The requirement under the present scheme that migrants live in Australia for 3 years before they qualify for a grant is removed, and the minimum savings period will be reduced to 12 months. Honourable members will be aware that the Homes Savings Grant Act Amendment Bill has been passed by the Parliament in this session.

The purpose of that Bill was to make some improvements to the Homes Savings Grant Act 1964. That Act will remain in force to permit the payment of grants in 1977 and subsequent years to persons who contracted to buy or build their homes no later then 31 December 1976. The Bill which is now before the House provides for grants to persons who contract to buy or build their homes after 3 1 December 1976.

The Bill provides that applications for grants shall be made jointly by all the persons who enter into the contract to buy or build the home, and their spouses. If both parties agree, a person who has entered into a contract may be joined in the application by his intended spouse, thus preserving the situation under the existing Act whereby engaged couples may apply for a grant. Under this Bill, a grant may be paid to an engaged couple on application, but under the existing Act the grant is not paid until marriage. To be eligible for a grant, each of the applicants must be Australian citizens, or have permanent resident status. They must be at least 18 years of age, but a spouse or intended spouse who is younger will also be eligible. A person who has owned a home in Australia before, or who has received a grant under either the new or the current schemes, will not be eligible.

The Bill, although separate and self-contained follows the philosophy of the current Act and borrows many of its provisions. The provisions of the current Act, whereby a person affected by a decision of an officer of my Department may appeal to the Secretary, are retained. The Bill provides in addition that appeals against the Secretary's decisions may be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The forms of acceptable savings which are specified in the current Act are repeated in the Bill now before the House. They are deposits with savings banks, except savings bank cheque accounts; fixed deposits with trading banks; deposits and shares with building societies; deposits with credit unions; and moneys paid towards the purchase of land or the construction of a home. They do not include moneys borrowed.

The maximum grant provided for in the Bill is $2,000, which is payable on a $1 for $3 basis in respect of the total acceptable savings held 3 years before the applicant contracts to buy or build his home, plus the amount the applicant saves during the 3 year savings period. There is a limit of $1,200 in respect of the increase in the applicant's savings in each 6 months in the savings period, but excess savings in any period may be applied to offset decreases in savings in a subsequent period. Where there is more than one applicant, the savings of the joint applicants are aggregated and treated as though they were the savings of one person. It will be for the applicants jointly to determine to whom the grant will be payable. For savings periods of less than 3 years- that is, where the applicant held no acceptable savings on a date 3 years before the date of the contract to buy or build the homethe current Act provides no reward. This Bill provides a maximum grant of $667 where the savings period is at least one year, and $1,333 where the savings period is at least 2 years.

The Bill provides that savings periods shall not commence before 1 January 1976. Consequently, during 1977 the maximum grant payable will be $667. Grants of up to $1,333 will become payable from 1978, and the full $2,000 grants will become available from 1979. As a concession to those people who were not holding their savings in the acceptable forms at the time the scheme was announced on 31 March, and to give them time to convert savings not held in the acceptable forms, the ministerial statement undertook that savings held at 31 May 1976 would be deemed to have been held since 1 January 1976, and the Bill gives effect to that undertaking.

Honourable members may recall that the Home Savings Grant Act 1964 provides that grants under that Act are paid from the National Welfare Fund under a special appropriation. The Government has decided that grants payable from I July 1977 under the new home savings grant scheme will be funded by way of an annual appropriation. This step has been taken solely for the purpose of enabling parliamentary scrutiny of home savings grant expenditure, and is not to be construed as implying any intention on the part of the Government to limit the level of expenditure on grants. Since the Appropriation Acts do not provide for funds for grants to be paid under the new scheme in this financial year, the Bill provides a special appropriation from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in respect of grants payable up to 30 June 1977 only.

Mr Deputy Speaker,in the 12 years of operation of the current home savings grant scheme, more than 360 000 grants have been made to assist people to acquire their first homes. I confidently expect the new scheme to assist a far greater number, and to be of real and continuing benefit to the people of Australia. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Scholes) adjourned.

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