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Wednesday, 23 November 1927

Senator FINDLEY (VICTORIA) - This so-called scheme cannot be put into operation until the State Governments have amended their legislation. One would think that if the Government was anxious to assist the people to obtain homes, it would first have entered into negotiations with the authorities in the several States. But it did nothing of the kind. Instead, it in effect said to them : " The Government proposes to introduce a bill to provide for a housing scheme. If you want to participate, you may do so provided you first pass certain amending legislation, and that you are prepared to undertake the work involved." The Government itself does not propose to build even one house. To do so would bo to enter the domain of private enterprise. Moreover, for the Government to embark upon such a scheme would be to contravene the Constitution. Nevertheless, the people were misled into believing that the Government intended to go in for house building. I do not think that such a measure has ever previously been introduced into any Parliament.

Senator Cox - Does the honorable senator think that the States will reject the scheme?

Senator FINDLEY (VICTORIA) - There is no evidence that they will accept it. At least one State will not be very enthusiastic about it. The Minister, when introducing the measure, said that the census of 1921 showed that only 40 per cent, of the homes in Ausralia were owned by their occupiers, that 12 per cent, were being purchased on the instalment system, and that the remainder were occupied by persons who paid rent . to landlords. I do not question the correctness of his statement, but I remind honorable senators that six years have passed since those figures were obtained. In the meantime, many changes have taken place. In 1921, and for some time thereafter, there was anacute shortage of houses in all the States. In consequence of that shortage there was a building boom throughout Australia. All persons engaged in the building trade were then fully employed. I well remember the present Leader of the Government in this chamber expressing a desire to import artisans, because of the shortage of labour in the building trade. At that time I expressed the opinion that the' boom was of a temporary nature, and that there was no necessity to import artisans. The demand for houses was so great from 1921 until about two years ago, that many houses in Melbourne and suburbs were sold before the roofs were placed on them. Many men engaged in the house and land agency business did exceptionally well. A " To Let " notice was indeed a rare sight. A person who went to a land agent to obtain a house to rent was not taken seriously. We know that high premiums were paid for the keys of vacant houses by those who desired to secure occupation, but in every suburb of Melbourne there are now large numbers of houses for sale and to let. During the period to which I first referred there were no vacant houses, and new houses being erected were sold before the roof was on. During that time there were very few advertisements in the daily press of houses to let or for sale. In the Age, which has probably the largest circulation of any daily newspaper in Victoria, and certainly has the greatest number of small advertisements, there were then not more than a few inches each day devoted to advertisements of houses and land for sale. But last Saturday I noticed that thirteen columns were devoted to small advertisements under that heading, while under the heading of "Houses and laud to let," there were nearly five columns. This shows that the acute shortage of houses to which the Minister referred has no application to-day as for as Victoria is concerned. Moreover, the State Savings Bank of Victoria has done much to further house building, and its scheme is a liberal one. That instititution, if it is created an authority under this act, will not, in my opinion, be too anxious to undertake some of the business contemplated by the Government. Under the bill it is proposed to advance up to 90 per cent. ; that is to say, on every £100 value £90 will be advanced. Compare that with the scheme at present in operation under the State Savings

Bank in Victoria. For wooden houses, costing up to £850, the intending housebuilder is required to pay down only £50, but if he came under this so-called liberal scheme of the Commonwealth, he would have to pay down £85. The intending builder in Victoria can build a brick house costing £950 on a £50 deposit; but under the Commonwealth scheme he would have to find £95 on a similar house. That deposit also provides for purchasing the land. The Treasurer made a statement that the States were handicapped because of a shortage of money, and were unable, for that reason, to proceed rapidly with house building. Again I say that statement is not true as far as Victoria is concerned. Building operations are not hampered there because of any shortage of money. Recently there was introduced and passed in the Victorian Legislative Assembly an amendment of the Housing Bill authorizing the building of wooden houses to a value of £1,000, and of brick houses to a. value of £1,800. Intending house-builders may have either a £1,000 house or a £1,300 house built for them for a deposit of only £50, but under the Commonwealth scheme it would be necessary to pay down £100 for a £1,000 house, and £130 for a £1,300 house. But that is not the whole story. The Commonwealth scheme makes no provision for those with families. The Labour party is always anxious to do its best to help those with families. Under the new Victorian scheme a man with two children is allowed a reduction of £5 per child on the deposit which he is required to pay on a house costing up to £1,300. That reduces his deposit to £40. If he has four children his deposit is reduced to £30, and if he has five children the deposit is still further reduced to £25.

Senator Payne - And what if he has ten children?

Senator FINDLEY - The maximum is five children. No further reductions are made for children in excess of that number.

Senator Foll - That is a restriction on families.

Senator FINDLEY - I wish some scheme as fair as that were introduced in this chamber. It would have the wholehearted support of honorable senators on this side. Further, the Victorian State Savings Banks discourages land booming, and it protects the interests of those who intend to build. The nab issuketaoininn intend to build. The bank issues this warning from its head-office in Elizabeth street, Melbourne : -

Do not buy land without first consulting the bank. We advise you not to sign any contract or pay any deposit until the bank has approved of the purchase. The bank will not take over land purchased within six months of the date of application if the price paid is in excess of the bank's estimate of value.

Is that not good advice to intending house builders ?

Senator Foll - That is not in the act; that is a regulation.

Senator FINDLEY - No regulation can contravene the act, as we know. But this is not a regulation; it is an instruction issued by the bank itself.

Senator Foll - What is to stop the Commonwealth Government from framing similar regulations?

Senator FINDLEY - This Government could not do the same thing, because it is not going in for house-building. The Savings Bank in Victoria not only protects the purchaser of land from exploitation, but also takes care that the land selected shall be suitable for building. It watches carefully over the interests of the intending builder from first to last. The suitability of the land for building purposes is as important as that the price paid should he reasonable. The bank also provides plans and specifications for the building, and sees that it is not jerry-built. Its architects supervise the building of the homes. Under that system thousands of houses have been built in Victoria during the last few years. Honorable senators from other States can inform the Senate what is being done in their States in connexion with home-building. I am satisfied that the working man in Victoria who desires a house costing anything from £850 to £1,300 will, under no circumstances, touch the present Commonwealth proposal, because he will be much better off under the State scheme. If Victoria is to take over the building of homes costing more than the £1,300, it will be necessary for the Commonwealth, first of all, to obtain the consent of the State Government and of the State authority, which in this case is the State Savings Bank. The latter institution will then be administering two schemes, one the very liberal scheme at present in operation, and the other the Commonwealth scheme designed to meet the requirements of those who are in receipt of salaries up to £12 per week.

Senator Payne - What are the restrictions in Victoria in regard to salary?

Senator FINDLEY - The limit fixed there is £400 a year.

Senator Payne - Is that why the honorable senator is criticizing this measure?

Senator FINDLEY - My wish is to see every man, no matter what his salary, in possession of a home of his own. I am, however, more concerned about the breadandbutterman than about the man in receipt of a comfortable salary. I want to see the man on £4 a week in his own home. The man on £12 a week has, for the most part, already made provision for himself. That is shown by the fact that many of the Government servants transferred from Victoria to Canberra have had their houses placed in the auctioneer's hands. Incidentally, this provides another proof that there is not at present a house shortage in Melbourne. In the Age the other day it was stated that the homes of ten public servants were submitted to auction, and though there was keen competition for them, only seven out of the ten homes were sold. Public servants in receipt of £12 a week, who have been transferred to Canberra, will probably derive some advantage from this scheme. I understand that there have been difficulties in the way of getting building propositions financed here in the past, but if this bill is intended only to meet the requirements of men in receipt of £12 a week, there was no need to introduce it. The Federal Commission is in possession of very wide powers, and it could could easily have been given further powers to enable it to finance the building of houses for public servants in the Territory. It has been said that those who to-day live in their own homes are paying high rates of interest for the accommodation that has been provided by private institutions. I believe that statement to be correct. The Labour party has always set its face against exploitation, whether it be in the realms of finance or in any other sphere of activity. But it is an extraordinary circumstance that this Government, which claims to be the upholder of private enterprise, now proposes to fight tooth and claw those private financial institutions which are charging too high a rate of interest. That will be a goodmove if it leads to easier conditions for those whose circumstances necessitate their seeking accommodation from those institutions. We have been informed that loans will be made available at a cheaper rate than that at which the State authorities are advancing money to-day. One honorable senator said that those who come under this scheme will be enabled to secure financial assistance at a rate from1/2 to 1 per cent, lower than they are now required to pay. What justification exists for such a statement? I am convinced that the scheme will handicap rather than advantage working men in Victoria, because they will have to put down a larger deposit than they are at present called upon to pay. The State Savings Bank authorities in Victoria are keenly interested in their scheme, and are doing everything possible to make it a success. They will not display very great enthusiasm for this scheme, which is not comparable with their own. This stands condemned.

Senator Payne - By whom?

Senator FINDLEY - By thinking men.

Senator Needham - It condemns itself.

Senator FINDLEY - I echo that sentiment. The following is a quotation from the Monthly Summary for October, which was issued by the National Bank of Australia : -

Widespread feeling exists among the taxpayers that there is little demand outside political circles for a housing scheme of the magnitude proposed. The shortage in housing has been overtaken, and facilities at present provided by various authorities and by private enterprise, the bank says, are considered ample to meet all reasonable requirements of home builders.

That opinion is held generally. Hundreds of "For Sale" notices are to be seen in the suburbs of Melbourne.

Senator Grant - Ave the houses vacant?

Senator FINDLEY - Many of them are. There are also numerous " To Let " notices. There has been a building boom for quite a long time, arid the shortage of houses has largely been overtaken. Another factor is 'the transfer to Canberra of a large number of public servants. It is perfectly true that many people are still living in houses that they do not own, and that in some cases two families are occupying the one house. That, howover, does not ' indicate lack of a desire to own a house, but rather is due to the inability of those persons to find the money for a deposit on a house. There are many, also, who do not wish to have a. house to themselves. During the boom period, when prices soared, it was not uncommon for owners of homes to dispose of them and go into tenements. That was the beginning of the era of fiat-building. These facts should be considered when figures are quoted showing the large number of people who are not living in their own homes. When this proposition materializes, it will prove a great disappointment to many who believe it to be different from any scheme with which they are acquainted. I have endeavoured to show that it will "be of little advantage to the workers of Victoria. Only those who are in receipt of .-£12 a week are likely to derive any benefit, and in the majority of instances they have already made the necessary provision. Notwithstanding the imperfections of the scheme, however, I shall not vote against the second reading of the bill.

SenatorCHAPMAN (South Australia) [4.9 | . - I heartily agree with the Government that society can be stabilized by satisfying the craving that is inherent in every man to own the house in which he lives. A great deal has already been done by the States, but a large field is not covered by their acts and financial institutions, chiefly because of financial stringency. During and immediately after the war a keen demand set in for the different governments to make provision for home building. That has largely been satisfied, and to-day the consensus of opinion is that we should concentrate upon reproductive public works. The main objection of the Labour party to ' this scheme arises out of the fact that the Government does not propose to establish a new department. At the outset I was afraid that it would. It is much better that it should use institutions that are experienced in the building of houses, and thus supplement their efforts. The proposal of the Labour party would cause additional expenditure and create duplication and useless friction. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) said that the Government would not build one room or lay a single brick. Such criticism is not altogether fair. If he or any other honorable senator proposed to build a large number of houses, would he or they lay the bricks? No; a practical authority would be engaged to do the work. That is exactly what the Government proposes to do.

Senator Needham - The Government does not propose to do even that.

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