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Thursday, 29 October 1964

Senator PROWSE (Western Australia) . - I have been wondering whether Senator Poke's speech had anything to do with the fact that there were very few senators in the chamber or whether there was some soporific quality of the subject under discussion that induced some degree of somnolence even in the usually alert Press Gallery. The apparent lack of interest in the Bill could be due, of course, to another cause. I suggest that the splendid work done by the Government over the past years has brought about such a great improvement in the housing of the people and the availability of houses that this is no longer a matter of great political importance. It is, of course, of great concern to the people who are directly connected with a need for housing, but the degree of that concern obviously has been lessened by this Government's activity in the field of housing.

As has been indicated by Senator Poke, the legislation now before the Senate is not opposed. It is supported by both sides of the chamber. The proposed allocation to the States continues the annual contributions which provide such substantial assistance to the State Governments in the provision of housing. The States themselves determine the importance that they apportion to housing in relation to other expenditures. Although the Commonwealth proposes to allocate £51,350,000 to the States, which is an increase on last year's allocation, the relative amount apportioned by the States to housing has declined, so the States too must feel that they are catching up with the housing needs of the people.

The relevant figures for the last two years are interesting. In the twelve months ended in September 1963, 98,163 houses were completed whereas in the twelve months ended in September 1964, 121,346 houses were completed. This supports the view that I have advanced that the Government is substantially meeting the housing needs of the people. The Minister has said that over the past three years the State housing authorities have used £100 million for the erection of 31,900 dwellings, and £50 million has been advanced through the home builders account to make loans to some 19,700 individuals to acquire their own homes. In other words, £150 million of public money has resulted in the acqusition of some 51,600 homes. I suggest that this is a massive contribution to the overall total of 121,346 homes built last year.

There has been criticism of the policy which some of the State housing authorities have adopted in selling houses rather than renting them, or in selling at least a large proportion of the houses built by them. I feel that that policy is entirely commendable. Wherever possible we should encourage people to buy their own homes. It has been said that they may not get the title deeds, but at least they have an investment, and the fact that they are purchasing their homes gives stability to their financial affairs. In any community it is always evident that people who own their homes or are attempting to do so take a much greater pride in the appearance of their homes. In' turn, this is reflected in the general appearance of a town or city. I repeat that home ownership is entirely commendable.

My particular interest in this Bill and in the question of housing generally relates to rural housing. The other aspects of housing have, I feel, been adequately covered, but the matter of rural housing receives far less attention in this and other legislative places than it deserves. In considering the housing position generally, it is advisable to have a look at the statistical situation regarding the distribution of population. The latest figures available show that in the areas classed as metropolitan in our statistical documents, Australia is deemed to have 56 per cent, of its population. That is to say, 56 per cent, of the population lives in the capital cities and suburbs. In areas which are classed as other urban areas, such as country towns with a population of more than 1,000 people, 27 per cent, of Australia's popula-tion is to be found. In rural areas - that is, in areas where people live on farms and in country towns with a population of up to 1,000 people - 17 per cent, of the total population is to be found. This distribution varies, of course, from State to State. In Western Australia the corresponding figures are 57 per cent, in metropolitan areas, 17 per cent, in other urban areas, and 26 per cent, in rural areas.

It is, I think, important to remember this distribution of population when we are considering the home building activities of the nation in general. It is very difficult to obtain accurate figures for housing, allocations based on this population analysis, but there is much evidence to show that the needs of the rural population are virtually being neglected! When speaking during the debate on the Homes Saving Grant Bill in the previous sessional period I said -

At present, with the best will in the world I cannot see how this legislation will operate in the field of rural finance except in the case of a man who docs not need it because he is relatively wealthy.

Having said that, I watched with interest the development of legislation. Earlier in this sessional period I asked a question on this subject, and on 22nd September I received an answer which stated that throughout the Commonwealth, by 21st August, 1,219 metropolitan applications had been approved and only 184 nonmetropolitan applications had been approved. If we relate those figures to the statistical fact that 56 per cent, of the people are classed as metropolitan dwellers unci 44 per cent, non-metropolitan dwellers, the number of successful applications for homes savings grants represents 87 per cent, for metropolitan dwellers and 13 per cent, for non-metropolitan dwellers.

Apparently there are no available Australiawide figures regarding the allocation of (he 13 per cent, of grants made to nonmetropolitan applicants, but I have been given some figures for Western Australia which, I believe, would not be substantially different from the Australian figures. As I explained earlier, the Western Australian figures are divided into other urban and rural categories. They show that despite the division of population on the basis of 56 per cent, and 44 per cent, for metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas respectively, 144 grants were made in metropolitan areas and only three in nonmetropolitan areas. This means that approximately 98 per cent, of the allocations were made in metropolitan areas and only 2 per cent, in non-metropolitan areas.

When we examine, as I did, the two per cent, for non-metropolitan areas, we discover that one of the three rural grants was made in Albany, one in Byford and one in Northam, all of which would be classed statistically as other urban areas. At that time, not one grant had been made in the whole of the rural areas of Western Australia which contain 26 per cent, of the population of the State. Surely the opinion which I expressed earlier, that the rural areas were not receiving a fair deal in the application of our housing policies, was fully justified.

When one examines the reason for this disparity in building in rural areas and metropolitan areas one wonders why it is that 17 per cent, of the Australian population apparently does not have any entitlement at all to available public moneys for housing. The 44 per cent, who are nonmetropolitan Australians apparently have much less need proportionately for housing than have the 56 per cent, who are metropolitan dwellers. Surely it is not because there is no need for new housing in rural areas. Even the most casual observer will find many sub-standard homes in country towns - homes that would never be tolerated in the cities. Is it because country people are now regarded by housing authorities generally as second-class citizens? Are we placidly to contemplate this situation in housing that is accentuating the drift to the cities and militating against the development of industries in rural areas? Certainly, the absence of long term finance and, of public or private money for agricultural workers, whether self-employed or not, is militating against the development of our agricultural industries.

I should like at this stage to quote what Mr. Grant McDonald, who is' President of the Farmers Union of Western Australia, had to say in relation to this matter in a recent letter published in the " Farmers Weekly " and in other newspapers in Western Australia. He said -

With the opening up of vast areas of new land and the introduction of new techniques in farming there is a demand for skilled farm labour.

Because of the increasing costs and the reticence of lending firms to finance such ventures, many farmers are not able to provide finance for suitable housing. In fact, they were beginning to wonder why this section of industry should be one of the very few, in the main, to house ils own work force. "It is hoped", said Mr. McDonald, "that some means may be found whereby long term loans for housing of farm workers on similar conditions as provided by the State Housing Commission (the principal aim of which is to provide housing for the work force in the community) could be arranged.

Or that the Housing Commission could arrange for the provision of houses in country centres for farm workers under similar conditions to those arranged in the case of housing requirements for the work force of secondary industry."

I submit that this problem deserves the urgent attention of the Minister for Housing and the State housing authorities. It should certainly be of concern to banks and other lending institutions because the lack of adequate long term finance for rural areas is having a retarding effect upon our agricultural development generally. Consequently, Australia's economic stability is jeopardised by this apparent neglect of what is a socio-economic problem of the greatest magnitude.

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