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Friday, 3 December 1976


Mr NEWMAN (Bass) (Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development) - I do not want to take up too much time of the House, but there are a few points I should like to answer. First, I should like to respond to the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les

Johnson) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) who said that the last home savings grants scheme-and now this one- was merely an election gimmick and a way to win votes. I find it incredible that they would actually put themselves into the position where they would say such things and suggest an amendment to this Bill so that people would be denied this grant.

Let us examine some of the facts. The honourable member for Hughes said that the 1964 scheme was a gimmick. Some 362 95 1 grants were made under that scheme. It was a long term scheme which benefited many household units and many young families. In no way could that scheme be described as a gimmick. The Deputy Leader of Opposition said that the scheme would spend $90m in any one financial year and that this was a waste of money and a misdirection of Government funds. Again, that statement is silly and inconsistent. The fact is that the $90m will benefit many thousands of young people who are trying to build their first home. My Department estimates that about 50 000 to 60 000 grants will be involved in any one year. The arguments of the honourable member for Hughes and the Deputy Leader of Opposition seem to be based on what the Labor Government did in its 3 years in office for people who wished to own their own homes. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition went to great lengths to show what the Labor Government had achieved in the way of providing houses, reducing the cost of land and so on. The honourable member for Hughes, after an horrendous explanation of the situation that existed in December 1972, did not bother to tell us about the situation that developed in the 3 years in which the Labor Government was in office.

The honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) enlightened us about what happened during the 3 years of Labor Administration: The cost of land had soared in those 3 years and the cost of construction of houses rose. Let us look further at some of the other facts. Let us examine the consumer price index for houses in various areas. First of all, I refer to those people who had to rent houses in 1972. For privately owned dwellings the index figure in 1972 was six. In December 1975 it had risen to 15.3. In December 1972 for Government owned houses which were rented the figure was 4.6; in December 1975 it was 31.1. This is the sort of penalty that those people who owned houses had to pay for 3 years of Labor Administration. In December 1972 the index figure for prices for repairs and maintenance stood at 7.3; in

December 1975 it was 16.3. Another problem associated with home ownership is local government rates and charges. The index figure for local government rates and charges was 7.9 in December 1972 and 29.8 in December 1975. Mention has been made of the long term bond rate. The long term bond rate in December 1972 was about 6 per cent and in August 1975 it had risen to 10 per cent. That is the sorry record of the Labor Administration. That is what the Labor Government did for people who wanted to own a house or simply wanted to live in a house and rent it.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition went to great lengths to tell us what a magnificent scheme had been introduced in the 1973-74 Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. I will not deny that a great deal of money was put into it. I will not deny that many people have been helped. But I will say this: That scheme is not satisfactory. It is abundantly clear that the housing needs of people who really need housing are not being met. The provision of houses, whether for rental or for purchase, is leaking to people who really should not have that benefit. We are negotiating with the States, hopefully, to produce a better scheme. I am able to say that it would seem that the States agree with us. I am very glad to see that the New South Wales Government has taken up the lead given by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) at the Premiers Conference in May of this year when he asked the Premiers to consider this problem that I have just described. The Labor Government in New South Wales has responded. I notice that it is moving now towards charging economic rents and towards selling houses at proper market prices.

Let me summarise what I have said in this way: We have heard the same old tired, weary cries that we always hear in this House, to the effect that this Government somehow or other is directing its endeavours towards helping the silvertails of the community and forgetting those who are really in need. That catalogue of facts which I have just given speaks for itself. I do not know how Opposition members make the deduction that the matters that I have detailed helped people in need. I do not wish to continue talking about the errors made by Opposition speakers in this debate; but I must pick up one more. It is one that has been peddled for too long now to go on any further. Let me try to nail it once and for all. Every time a Labor spokesman speaks about the homes savings grant scheme, he goes on to ask who can afford to save $40 a week or $48 a week over a 3-year period to win a grant. Let me make this point clear: A person does not have to save for 3 years to qualify for the grant. Any savings that a person had in an approved account before the savings period commenced can count towards a grant. Thus, somebody who kept $2,000 or $3,000 of his or her savings in an approved savings account will, in January 1977, immediately qualify for a grant of about $700, provided that that money has been in that approved account since May of this year. That person does not need to have saved one single additional cent in that account between May of this year and January 1977. 1 hope that that explanation makes the position clear. What the Labor Opposition tries to put around the community in this respect is a misconception; it is totally wrong.

I finish on this note. The Homes Savings Grant Bill that we are now considering, as I have pointed out, will benefit many thousands of Australians, whether they are married or single and whether they live in the country or in the cities; but this is not the only initiative that this Government is taking in the housing field. It is one part of a total package that we are offering on housing for the people of this country. Let me spell out what that package involves: First of all, it involves the responsible fiscal management of this country. I stand by what I said 2 or 3 days ago. On the best advice available to me, the effect of devaluation on the cost and availability of finance will be marginal. So, responsible fiscal management is the first point. The second matter to which I refer is the introduction of the housing allowance voucher experiment which is probably one of the most exciting programs initiated in this place for many a long day. It is directed to those most in need, namely low income and medium income earners who deserve decent shelter and who should not be penalised by the cost of getting that shelter. I have great hopes for that experiment.

I mention next the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, We are looking closely at the Corporation, as we promised in the last election campaign we would, to see whether we cannot find ways and means of improving the operations of the HLIC as they affect not only the home purchase market but also the home renting market. As I mentioned, we are continuing our agreements with the States to provide welfare housing. I hope that, in the next year or so, the discussions and negotiations that we are having with the States will result in a much more effective delivery of welfare housing through StateFederal co-operation. That is the total package, the very comprehensive package, that this Government gradually and surely is working towards, in order to improve the ability of all

Australians to achieve an Australian dreamthat is, the ownership of their own home.

Amendment negatived.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.







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