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Wednesday, 8 December 1976
Page: 3509

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -The honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) could easily give the unsuspecting the impression that nothing of significance is involved in this legislation. He seemed to convey the idea that we are dealing with an innocuous matter, whereas, in fact, the Parliament at this time is actually taking a decision to abolish the Australian Housing Corporation as it has been known and understood. There is nothing provided for in this legislation at the present time which brings advantage to ex-servicemen in any way. The Bill is designed simply to take that Housing Corporation, with all its great objectivity and characteristics designed to assist people to obtain houses in Australia and to whittle it down to an authority which will do nothing more than administer the Defence Service Homes Scheme. That is the whole essence of the Bill. In other words, we are involved in the Government's pursuance of devolution, this attempt to brush out of the records the reforms of the Labor Government. We have seen this happen in respect to many other matters. We have seen the mutilation of Medibank and the destruction of the Australian Assistance Plan. This insidious campaign is going on and on.

I remember the great debates that look place when the legislation to establish the Australian Housing Corporation was introduced. I was the Minister for Housing and Construction who introduced the Bill in 1975. On that occasion I said:

The Australian Housing Corporation proposed in this Bill permits us to explore a fresh field of endeavour, that of direct relations between government and private enterprise, and between government and non-prom organisations, in the housing of the large number of ordinary Australian families.

I went on:

It is an anomaly of policy in this country that although the Australian Government possesses a substantial reserve of power in the housing field, that power has never been fully gathered together, concentrated and mobilised for the benefit of the people.

Through the Housing Corporation the Labor Government was attempting to do just that. It was the most significant legislation since the Chifley Government negotiated the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement in 1945. Honourable gentlemen know that over 280 000 houses have been built as a result of that legislation. But, of course, much more remains to be done. The Housing Commissions have concentrated on caring for poorer families, but other forms of assistance for housing are needed in Australia at the present time. I will not go into the figures because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren), who spoke earlier, has outlined the difficulty faced by people, even people who are comparatively well off, in obtaining a housing loan.

The Labor Government looked at the constitutionality that was available to it. It was to the effect that nobody would quibble about an Australian Government asserting its role and rights in regard to the housing needs of migrants, servicemen, ex-servicemen, persons living in the Territories, students, employees of the Australian Government or contractors to the Government and their employees. The former Government saw that responsibility and legislation in respect of those categories of people were spread amongst different departments and different enactments. There was a need to contrive a corporation which would be the housing authority of the Australian Government so that this area could be run effectively and so that there would be some consistency of philosophy and benefit. In addition to assisting those categories of people, the Labor Government was able to establish that under the family allowances powers of the Constitution, it was competent for an Australian Government to provide a very wide range of assistance to the average home seeker in the Australian community. That view, which I contrived, nurtured and pursued was finally endorsed by the Attorney-General of the day and, under that general umbrella, the

Housing Corporation came into being. The purpose of the Corporation was to strengthen AustralianGovernment machinery to perform those housing functions for which it has constitutional power. The Labor Government wanted to provide the Government with a vehicle capable of flexible and energetic initiatives to enable current housing problems to be overcome.

The Corporation was primarily to be a lending institution to make housing loans to home seekers within the Australian Government's constitutional responsibilities, including the categories of people I have mentioned. It was to have powers similar to those contained in the Defence Service Homes Act. Indeed, it was to administer the Defence Service Homes Act. Among the initiatives which the Labor Government had in mind and which I certainly had under active consideration by officers of the Department at the time I ceased to be Minister for Housing and Construction, were initiatives to provide second mortgage loans to cover the deposit gap for young couples; to direct loans to special hardship cases; to provide loans for private enterprise building and to assist in limiting rentals. The Labor Government intended to provide loans to co-operative building societies providing middle income housing. Today, this Government is abdicating its responsibilities in this regard. The Labor Government wanted to do the things I have mentioned. It wanted to cooperate with private enterprise directly and openly and without inhibition in the creation of good standard housing for people with moderate incomes.

All honourable members will be aware of the conditions that prevail at the present time. The predominance of financial resources available for housing from the Australian Government goes to people on a limited income- people whose income does not exceed 85 per cent of average weekly earnings, and people who qualify for assistance from the State housing authorities. Those people whose income does not exceed 95 per cent of average weekly earnings can qualify for loans from the terminating building societies which are financed by the Australian Government. Today there are people whose income is higher than the levels to which I have referred- people who are on the average weekly earnings and even above the average weekly earningswho are unable to attract a building loan for reasons enunciated in detail by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren). For example, if one had a loan of $22,500 from a building society repayable over 20 years to 25 years at 1 1 per cent, the repayment rate is $220 a month. In order to pay $220 a month a family would need to have an income of $220 a week if the objective of not requiring people to pay more than 25 per cent of their income for housing purposes is to apply. Of course, there are many people whose income does not reach that level and they will need assistance.

The contention has been made that the Australian Housing Corporation would duplicate the efforts of the States, despite the repeated assurances that I gave on behalf of the Government when I introduced the Australian Housing Corporation legislation that that would not be the case. We readily acknowledged the important work being done by the States and greatly increased allocations for housing commission purposes from about $160m to $385m a year. We recognised that there was another tier of people who needed assistance. The Housing Corporation was going to set about that kind of process. The Labor Government would have supported people -

Mr Graham - How big do you think that tier was?

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -I think it is the predominant tier in Australia at the present time. It is probably about 80 per cent -

Mr Graham - Eighty per cent of all people seeking homes?

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would say so, yes. I notice that the Government Whip is looking impatiently at me and I suppose he will want me to conclude my speech in about 5 minutes from now. The Labor Government certainly wanted to assist people overcome the deposit gap because one in five of Australian families at present have to go to finance companies. There are many ways of providing second mortgages. We could have provided second mortgages up to $5,000 to first home buyers who were unable to bridge the deposit gap. Those people could have paid back the loan at low interest rates over an extended period of time. We would have assisted people who are suffering hardship as a result of interest rates increasing or as a result of unemployment.

In short, the many initiatives that the Labor Government had in mind were emulative of the initiatives being taken in other parts of the world. Before I introduced legislation dealing with this matter in 1975 I went to the United States of America and to Canada to study the bodies which were operating in those countries and which were comparable to the Australian Housing Corporation. The proposition that is being put by this Government seems to me to be incredible. It is to the effect that Australia can go it alone as a country without competent Federal authorities to fulfil the housing needs of the Australian people. In many respects the Corporation that I proposed was similar to the corporation that operates in Ontario and similar to bodies operating in the United States of America. I say to the Minister that he cannot continue on this destructive course. Australia will face grave housing problems unless this Government starts to show initiative and take effective action in relation to the housing problems in Australia.

This legislation is disastrous in that it takes away from the Australian Government and the Australian people an instrument which could have been extremely effective in moderating housing activity around Australia, sustaining a degree of construction buoyancy and levelling out the funding of housing by way of assisting those people with the type of support they need to get into the home buying and home renting processes. I deplore what is happening today and I am sorry that we do not have more time to deal with this matter. I assure the Parliament and the people that on the re-election of a Labor government the Austraiian Housing Corporation will be re-instituted. It will be supported generously with government funds and it will assist young people and others in Australia to obtain adequate housing.

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