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Thursday, 17 February 1977
Page: 226

Mr NEWMAN (Bass) -(by leave)-I was disappointed and surprised to hear the statements by Opposition members in the grievance debate today. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren), the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) and the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) have all deliberately distorted the true position in respect of the existing and proposed new Commonwealth-State housing agreements. I was particularly disappointed to note that the honourable member for Fremantle, whom I had previously considered to be a person of absolute integrity, had descended to cheap political tricks in order to try to mislead people who would be listening to the parliamentary broadcasts in Western Australia. It is obvious that these 3 Labor members who have spoken today are making a last ditch stand in a vain attempt to influence the State election in Western Australia. I am troubled that in doing so they may spread anxiety and fear amongst the needy and the poor- the very people for whom they pretend to fight.

Let me make it clear from the beginning that the present arrangements introduced by the previous Labor Government in the 1973-74 CommonwealthState Housing Agreement are inefficient and inadequate. Although many millions of dollars are being spent on welfare housing, thousands and thousands of people on or below the poverty line do not receive the benefit of this money and aU the honourable members who spoke today well know it. These people are simply not receiving State housing assistance. Worse, there are people on very high incomes who do receive the benefit of the money. The taxpayer is supplementing their already high incomes while needy people go without. I have previously given examples of abuses under the present Agreement. May I add yet another. In New South Wales a man who bought a Housing Commission home used the rent from it to build himself a home of what could only be described as luxurious standards. The man bought the Commission home at 4.5 per cent interest on long repayment terms and then let it at $55 a week. This helped him to finance his new home. Meanwhile, his tennant, because of the high rent and his poor circumstances, was forced to go to the Housing Commission to apply for a Commission house. Examples like this are intolerable and I am staggered that they could be defended by the Opposition.

At the Premiers Conference last year the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) outlined the Government's concern for welfare housing and the broad guidelines that it intended to adopt to build a new agreement. This was confirmed after the Conference by telex to aU States. The Premiers were well aware of the Government's intentions as long ago as that For example, Premier Wran replied by telex on 24 May agreeing that an effort had to be made to get money to those people now missing out. He agreed that the best way to do this was to proceed to a ministerial conference. Since then formal and informal talks and negotiations have commenced with the States. Officials of the Commonwealth met with officials of all States in November last year. Today they have been meeting again to thrash out the details of recommendations that could be put to Ministers for their consideration at an April meeting. There has been, and I hope there will continue to be, close co-operation with the States in working out the new agreement. This particularly gives the lie to the assertions of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Let me make clear the position regarding the present Agreement. False claims have been made by the speakers today that rents would rise because of Commonwealth actions. In a letter to the Financial Review yesterday Premier Wran falsely implied that the Commonwealth would force rises immediately. It is the prerogative of the States to consider whether rents should rise and, if they do, in what manner they should rise. The Commonwealth will not attempt to impose any new conditions on the States in this matter. Again, claims have been made that those purchasing Housing Commission homes will be forced to pay higher interest rates. I reject these allegations as completely without foundation. The Commonwealth's broad objectives for the new agreement are as follows: Firstly, regarding rental policy, they are to introduce market rents for public housing- a move already begun by the New South Wales Labor Government- and by way of rent rebates to assist moderate and low income earners who are in need. Secondly, with regard to the purchase of housing, the broad objectives are that houses should be sold for cash. Where a person can afford to purchase a house, for example by using the resources of permanent building societies or savings banks, he should do so as any other person is required to do. Where moderate and low income earners need assistance, help will be provided at subsidised rates through the home builders' account. The Commonwealth and State Ministers are now working on how the guidelines might be implemented. We have yet to determine what will be the levels of rent rebates, what families will be offered assistance, what assistance will be offered for home purchase -

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