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Wednesday, 7 April 1965

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) . - While it is unusual to debate a bill immediately the Minister has made his second reading speech, the Opposition is doing so on this occasion because we appreciate the urgency of the measure. Opposition members are just as anxious as Government supporters to rectify anomalies in the Homes Savings Grant Act and to give benefits to those who would not obtain benefits without the proposed amendments to the legislation. The Australian Labour Party is prepared to do everything possible to hasten the passage of the Bill, but this does not mean that we will neglect our responsibilities as guardians of those who do not now qualify and of applicants whom we believe are in need of additional support.

From the outset, the Labour Party has not accepted the homes savings grant scheme as one that will contribute to the building of more homes in Australia. The shortage of homes in Australia has at all times raised problems for governments. To my knowledge, at no time have there been sufficient homes. The scarcity has reached alarming proportions, although perhaps not a record. The annual reports of State housing authorities show that about 75,000 people are waiting for homes to be made available by those authorities.

Although we contend that the scheme will not provide more homes, we accepted it for what it was - an election promise which sought the support of young people to whom it offered a gift of taxpayers' money to assist in acquiring homes. For that reason we . supported the principal Act and will on this occasion support the proposed legislation. However, at the Committee stage, we shall seek leave to move amendments.

The Labour Party has said, at least from the time of the 1961 general election, that the means of providing more homes and promoting home ownership is to make available more money for home construction, for longer periods of repayments, and by lending a bigger percentage of the valuation of a home. We say that interest rates should be reduced and that the skyrocketing prices of land should be controlled as they cannot be absorbed into the prices for which homes can be purchased. The Opposition regards the homes savings grants, not as a contribution towards increased home construction, but as a gift to home buyers who find it difficult to obtain a home.

Opposition speakers may attack the Government's policy on home construction. I desire to review the Act, rather than refer to the limitations of the Government in the field of home building. I think the Act is so complicated that it prevents eligible applicants from ascertaining their entitlements. It can be understood by very few people, and in that number I do not include the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury), nor the heads of his Department, nor myself. I believe that the principal Act will be made more confusing by the proposed amendments.

In the Minister's second reading speech, reference was made to the number of applicants who had been processed and who had received grants. I have received correspondence from the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association of the Commonwealth Public Service. The Association has written to the Minister to protest that applicants must wait 10 weeks to receive replies to their applications and that the administration and policing of the Act is so difficult that an officer can process only four applications a day.

The Department of Housing is unable to attract suitable officers and is forced to borrow them from other departments. This has been made necessary by the refusal of the Public Service Board, from the commencement of the scheme, to approve of the Department's recommendations as to the number of staff required and the salary grades to be accorded to grants examiners. The result is that the Association has requested its members working for the Department of Housing to observe the regulations, because the excessive hours of overtime and time worked during the luncheon break have caused officers to absent themselves on sick leave. While officers are borrowed from other sections of the Public Service such as the War Service Homes Division, shortages of staff arc created in those other sections. I am informed that many borrowed officers are seeking to return to their original jobs because of the great amount of work causing long hours to be worked in the new department.

The Act seeks to pay married couples, one of whom is under the age of 36 years, a grant of one-third of their savings over a period to purchase their first matrimonial home. That promise was made by the Prime Minister and was included in the second reading speech of the Minister when the Homes Savings Grant Bill was introduced. If nothing more had been said, everyone would know his entitlement. Applications would be easily processed and no delays would be incurred. We would not be far removed from the position we are in today, with a complicated Act which, looking after certain vested interests, provides that savings must be placed in certain accounts. It is an Act that few can understand and it causes delays in administration. We should seek by all means to simplify it so that it may more easily be understood and the day hastened for fulfilment of the Government's promise.

If there is any doubt in the minds of those administering the Act, an application is not granted. The arbitrary action by the Department in insisting upon the payment of 10 per cent, of the contract price before making a grant prejudices those who sought a loan for the purpose of bridging the deposit gap and makes grants available only to those people who have sufficient finance to obtain a block of land, arrange their mortgages and pay 10 per cent, of the price. The Department, by arbitrary action in 1964, was limiting to £560 the amount of savings in any one year which would attract a grant. This is quite contrary to the wording of the Act.

I shall endeavour to cite many other cases where, although in my humble opinion an applicant has been entitled to a grant, the grant has been refused, without any redress in law for the applicant, because there are clauses which provide that the Secretary may pay an amount not exceeding one-third of the savings. He may pay, and he may not pay. We might show that an applicant complied with the qualification, but the Department still has the provision that it may or may not pay. Although an applicant may be entitled to a grant equal to one-third of his savings, the provision states that the Department shall pay an amount not exceeding one-third. A lesser amount may be paid and the applicant has no redress.

During the second reading stage of the original Bill, I tried to interpret its meaning. Senator Sir William Spooner, who was then Leader of the Government in this chamber and in charge of the Bill, referred to my efforts to interpret as a most pathetic attempt. I admit my limitations and the fact that I am a layman. The honorable senator has a trained legal mind and a wealth of experience and I was prepared to accept that I had made a mistake, and that mine was a pathetic interpretation. He put me right by saying: " I will give you an assurance that this is not the interpretation." This related to one particular point. I was happy with that assurance, and I refrained from moving an amendment that I had proposed to move, knowing my limitations on interpretation. I would be happy today except that the Department administering the Act has pathetically interpreted it in a way which is contrary to the assurance given to me by the then Leader of the Government.

At the committee stage I shall seek to move an amendment to do justice in two respects. The intention will be to make grants to those persons, in respect of whose savings the prescribed date was 1964, who had their savings in banks other than the prescribed banks and who were justified in keeping them there on the assurance given by the responsible Minister in this chamber. The intention will be to honour the assurance given by that Minister. I hope that if it can bc shown that an assurance that persons would be eligible for grants was given but not carried out, irrespective of party politics the Senate will be big enough to say: " We must honour the assurance of a responsible Minister and carry out any assurance that he has given ". I submitted to the Minister for Housing that Senator Sir William Spooner did give an assurance that moneys, in respect of which the prescribed date was 1964 would be counted as acceptable savings no matter where they were invested and I received a reply from Mr. Bury, which reads -

You also refer to the so-called assurance given you by the then Minister representing me in the Senate that money saved and held in any form in Australia would be acceptable as savings if it were converted into one of the acceptable forms by 31st December 1964. The reply he gave to your interjection indicates that he obviously had in mind persons with prescribed dates later than 31st December 1964. Section IS of the Act makes it quite clear that savings previously held in the form of an investment or otherwise before the prescribed date must be held at the prescribed date in certain specified forms where the prescribed date is on or before 31st December 1964.

I realise that if this assurance was only a so-called assurance and the Minister was under the impression that I was referring to a date after 31st December 1964, those persons who have been deprived of a grant have no further claim on the Department. Of four cases that 1 know, I have raised three in this chamber from time to time. One accepted my advice that the Minister had given this assurance that it was not necessary to transfer savings.

It will be recalled that section 15 of the Act relates to acceptable savings for the year 1964. Sub-section (3.) states that irrespective of where they are invested before the prescribed date, on the prescribed date they must be in certain accounts. We debated the measure in May 1964. It was to be retrospective to 2nd December 1963. People seeking benefits under an Act have some responsibility to find out the provisions with which they must comply. After the measure had gone through the Parliament in May there would be no justification for applicants not to have savings in a prescribed bank on a prescribed date, but what about the position of persons in February, before the Bill was drafted, before anyone knew what would be its provisions? One who, by a fluke, had his money in a prescribed bank, would get a grant, and one who had not would not get a grant. My speech related to the period from 2nd December 1963 to 21st May 1964, when we were debating the Bill. I refer to "Hansard" of 21st May 1964 at page 1432. 1 stated -

I am concerned about sub-clause (2.) of clause 15, which reads -

I then quoted the relevant portions of subclauses (2.) and (3.) and said -

I want to know what happens to those persons who have entered into contracts between the date of operation of this legislation - 2nd December, 1963 - and the present date.

The present date referred to was the 2nd May 1964. There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that in that question I was referring to the period between 2nd December 1963 and the date of consideration of that Bill. I went on to say -

Those who have entered into contracts as at the prescribed date are obviously entitled to the grant if they fulfil the other requirements, but those who had their money invested at the prescribed date in something other than one of the institutions mentioned in the legislation are not eligible for a grant. Will the Minister for National Development (Senator Sir William Spooner) say whether this distinction is fair and whether there is any way of overcoming the anomaly?

Honorable senators will note that 1 specifically mentioned the date and asked whether there was any way of overcoming the anomaly. Senator Sir William Spooner replied in these terms -

Taking the last point first while it is fresh in my mind, I point out that the period between now and the end of December, 1964, is in the nature of a transitional period. In that transitional period savings, no matter in what form they are evidenced, become eligible for the grant. So if the couple marry and build a home they become eligible for the grant by virtue of the department accepting their savings in any form, investment or otherwise. That, I think, is the foundation for the answer to Senator Cavanagh's query.

But Senator Cavanagh did not desire the Minister to make such a statement unless he knew the full implications. In my pathetic simplicity I interjected -

But their savings must be in a particular bank at the prescribed date.

Sir WilliamSpooner replied ;

Not until 31st December, 1964. When you get to 31st December, 1964, by and large, with certain exceptions, your savings must be in a narrow group of savings banks, permanent building societies or trading banks. That proviso becomes operative from 1st January, 1965, with an exception in the case of credit unions and friendly societies,. which may continue the even tenor of their ways until 1967.

Reading that, I defy anyone to say that the assurance was not given to me. In my simplicity I accepted that assurance, despite the fact that my interpretation of the Act Icd me to believe that it was not correct. 1 accepted the Minister's assurance because I believed it had legal basis and it went out to the world. As I have stated, I was concerned about four cases in my own State. I gave certain advice to the people involved after having the Minister's assurance, but I now find that they are ineligible for the grant because they had savings, had signed the contract but had not transferred their savings to another account. Surely if there is any justice, if members of Parliament are to place any reliance on assurances given by Ministers, an amendment to overcome the anomaly that now exists and to make 1964 savings, wherever they may have been, acceptable savings, will be supported by every self-respecting senator in this place.

In making certain accusations that there is a lack of knowledge on the part of the Department, I want to direct attention to one clause in particular. I realise that it is very difficult for an inexperienced or inexpert advocate to explain such a complicated Bill. Honorable senators may have difficulty in following my argument so, in view of the lateness of the hour, I suggest that they read my remarks in " Hansard " tomorrow to see for themselves whether there is any substance in them. Perhaps with the legal talent in the Senate we will be able to get a proper interpretation of some of the clauses that I shall mention.

I believe that to interpret the Act correctly one must consider section 4 which relates to the prescribed date, section 14 which relates to eligibility for the grant, sections 15 and 16 which together indicate acceptable savings for a particular year and section 22 which relates to the amount that the Government will allow in the form of a grant based on acceptable savings as prescribed in sections 15 and 16.

The prescribed date is important. It is the date on which the contract is signed. Everything extends back 12 months from that particular date. Before the provisions of section 22 operate, an applicant must submit to certain eligibility tests prescribed by section 14. Most of this section is being amended, but I point out that one of the conditions of eligibility is contained in paragraph (d). The section states -

14.   A person is an eligible person for the purposes of this Act if -

(d)   the Secretary is satisfied that the person has saved moneys in Australia throughout a period of not less than three years preceding the prescribed dote.

The important words are " the person has saved moneys ". Section 14 (c) relates to residential qualifications and provides that an Australian applicant must have resided in Australia for three months immediately preceding the prescribed date, and that a new Australian must have been a resident of Australia for three years immediately preceding the prescribed date. Obviously the draftsman's attention was directed to the importance of the words " immediately preceding" because section 14(d) deliberately omits the word " immediately ". Therefore, the qualification is that you save money - not that you have acceptable savings - for three years preceding the prescribed date. As I have an elector who was knocked back on this particular question I wrote to the Minister for Housing and asked him whether he was putting the wrong interpretation on the Act. With a knowledge of what the elector had saved over the seven year period, I suggested to the Minister that the three year period of saving had to be preceding the prescribed date but that it could be any three years within the seven year period. The Minister replied as follows on 24th December 1964 -

Regarding your comments on the provisions of Section 14 (d) of the Homes Savings Grant Act 1964, I must point out that it was always intended, first, that a person must have saved over a period of three consecutive years and, second, that this period must have been the three years immediately preceding the prescribed date.

The Minister said " it was always intended ". Who always intended? Must we read into the Act what the author has intended? Is that the proper way of interpreting the Act? Apparently that is the way in which the Department interpreted it in this particular case? The Minister continued -

The Act is, of course, administered on that basis. lt does not matter what the Act says, apparently. The Act is administered on that basis because it was always intended that that should be so. The Minister went on -

You will agree, I feel sure, that it would hardly be in keeping with the objective of regular and consistent saving for the home to apply any other rule.

I can see, of course, that Section .14 (d) of the Act could be read in isolation to give the interpretation you claim - namely, that a person could bc eligible if he has saved for a period of three years other than the three years immediately preceding the prescribed date. However, having regard to the Act as a whole, this would be a "' forced " interpretation and would be quite inconsistent with what has already been our intention and the principle underlying it. Carried to extremes, it would mean that a person approaching 36 years of age, who had saved for a period of three years as a child, but not subsequently, would be eligible for a grant! You will be aware that I recently announced several amendments to the Act which I propose introducing into Parliament early in the new session. I shall take the opportunity at the same time to seek amendment to Section 14 (d) to remove any possibility of further misunderstanding of the meaning of this Section.

The Minister said, in effect, that although the Act could be read in that way, that was not the intention and therefore this- particular applicant would not receive his grant. While 1 said that the period had to be three years in seven years the Minister said that this could mean three years in the person's childhood. I am inclined to agree that that would be a true interpretation in view of the fact that the Act does not state what are the acceptable savings which would be accumulated in seven years. The Act does not state the position and the Minister could be correct in that regard. 1 am still protesting about the rejection of this particular applicant on this occasion. Again I would ask that the legal brains consider whether that is not the true interpretation of the Act - that the period need not be three years.

Honorable senators can sense the desire of the Minister to amend this Act in order to get over any difficulty and so that it will fill the objective of encouraging regular and consistent savings in order to buy or build a home. Let us consider how the Minister does deal with this question of regular and consistent savings, lt may be that people seeking the grant do not have to save for the three years immediately preceding their prescribed date. The Minister, in this amending Bill, proposes to deal with section 14 (d) of the Act by inserting in its place the following clause - the Secretary is satisfied that the person held acceptable savings throughout the period of three years immediately preceding the prescribed date;

You will notice that the word " acceptable " is included. The Minister, with all sincerity, is trying to overcome a difficulty that has been raised. He proposes to insert a clause in the Act stating that the savings must be " acceptable savings " within the meaning of sections 15 and 16 of the Act. This means that they must be savings made within seven years. But the person concerned does not have to save within the three years before the prescribed date. He has to hold that money for three years before the prescribed date. Section 15 and section 16 make provision for acceptable savings made in any one year. Provision has been made for a loss of savings in any one year to be made up in another year. Under section 14 it is not necessary to save for three years to become eligible for the grant. You have to save for one year within the seven years and possibly it has to be the fourth year or previous years before the prescribed date because the money has to be held for three years. If you save in the fourth year before the prescribed date and hold (he amount for three years you are eligible for a third of the grant.

This is what the draftsman has done to a Minister and the officers of his Department who, 1 think, are sincerely trying to operate this Act. Perhaps the trouble is due to inexperience, or lack of knowledge; or my interpretation may be incorrect. However, I bring this matter under notice in order to hear the opinion of the legally trained mind on this question. If I am right about this matter it will show the inability of the Minister, and of his Department, to understand their own Act. On page 11 of the explanatory memorandum circulated by the Minister concerning this Bill it is stated -

The existing paragraph (d) of Section 14 is to be re-stated to make it clear that the savings period required to achieve eligibility-

Honorable senators will notice the words " saving period " - must include the three years immediately preceding an eligible person's prescribed date and that the person must have held savings in an acceptable form or forms during that period.

At page 12 of the memorandum the Minister referred to section 16 and said -

Evidence of savings over a period of years is necessary to determine whether the amount saved in any savings year exceeds the limit of £250 on annual savings, and also to determine whether the person has saved in an acceptable form for at least three years.

I invite the Minister for Works, when he speaks during the Committee stage, to refer to any provision in the Bill which makes if necessary, any longer, to save for three years. I submit, in all sincerity that the Minister for Housing, or his Department, is unconcerned about the people affected by this Act. I say that because he has said, in effect: " What does it matter what the Act states when the Department has the power to pay or not to pay a sum not exceeding a third and when we are administering the Act in accordance with what we intended should apply? " Why does the Government propose to amend the Act if the Minister for Housing intends to administer it as he intends it should apply?

My time is limited but I would like to refer to other clauses that should be looked into. The provision limiting savings to £250 in one year will induce people to withdraw savings in excess of that sum made in one year, to put them into another account and to return them to the home savings account in another year when they are unable to save a sum of £250. In that way they will receive their full entitlement under this Act. Under the Act, the Secretary of the Department of Housing has power to decide whether a house was valued at more than the limit of £7,000. He could make that decision either on the basis of the actual cost of the house or on his valuation of it. 1 complained of the case of a person who owned a block of land and signed a contract for the construction of a house. In order to obtain a superior house and to keep its cost with that of the land, under £7,000 he did an amount of voluntary hard work at the weekends. This person took particular care with the contractor because he had read the advice freely given by the Department stating how the house would be valued. In a booklet entitled " A Grant for Your Home " the Department gives advice on how houses will be valued. It states -

Where a person buys the land and later builds a home on it, the cost of the land will usually be the actual price paid or being paid. Where land has been acquired by gift or bequest, or is held on lease or under a life interest, the value of the land will be the value as assessed by the Department.

The cost of an existing house and the land, or a home unit, will usually be the purchase price set out in the Contract of Sale.

The cost of a house being erected by a building contractor will usually be the contract price. If the house is being built by an owner-builder, the value of the completed house will be the value as assessed by the Department.

In the case of the person to whom J have referred as having increased the accommodation in the dwelling by his own efforts the Secretary of the Department made his own assessment, as he was entitled to do under the Act. So far, the Secretary has been able to make his assessment on the basis of cost or value. We are now taking that right away from him and the assessment has to be on the basis of value, taking into consideration such things as cost and improvements. During discussion the other day the Minister said that this is necessary because land which may have been bought years ago would have a different value today. Admittedly that is the reason for the method of valuation. But previously the Secretary had the alternative of considering only the cost factor and so assisting the person who put his own effort into building a home, or of making his own valuation and so excluding more elaborate homes. Why withdraw this discretion? The Bill also deals with the position of a person who owns a section of a title. It recognises the right of occupancy of a flat by a person who owns shares in a company which constructs the flats.

This Bill deletes the provision that to be eligible for a grant a person must occupy a dwelling within three months of its completion. The Minister's explanation seemed to have some justification, but I think it is dangerous to give a grant to a person to acquire the whole interest in a property in which he does not intend to live.

I would like the Minister to explain, when replying to the debate, why the savings of children under 21 years of age of persons serving in the forces overseas are acceptable for the purposes of the grant and why the father in such a case can lump his wife's savings and those of his children in for the purpose of obtaining a grant from the Government. It is difficult for me to understand this provision. One would have to study the Bill for a fortnight in order to understand it. 1 have put forward some matters which 1 think need investigation and consideration. In relation to the alleged assurance given to me by Sir William Spooner and to deal wilh institutions for the purpose of savings we shall move amendments at the Committee stage. I would like the Minister to clarify the points I have raised when he replies to the second reading debate.

Senator Sir WILLIAMSPOONER (New South Wales) [10.25].- Following Senator Cavanagh in the debate I think it might be fair for me to divide his speech into three parts. The first two parts contained rather general statements in criticism of the legislation and the third part was a detailed examination of a number of the provisions of the Bill, which I think would be more appropriately replied to by the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) than by me. That applies also to the honorable senator's comments concerning me, because at this stage 1 do not remember the circumstances and cannot by a quick reference to " Hansard " easily follow what happened during the debate to which he referred. The general statements made by Senator Cavanagh were, first that Labour does not accept this legislation as a scheme to help in the building of more homes in Australia, and that it has never done so. The short reply to that is that since the scheme has been in operation grants have amounted to £4 million. If £4 million is not an appreciable contribution to home building in Australia, then I think home building in this country is somewhat out of perspective. I believe it could fairly be claimed that to the sum of £4 million should be added the amount that young people have saved in order to qualify for that £4 million of subsidy.

Senator Cavanaghsaid that the Act was too complicated to be understood and that it was being made more confused by the amendments contained in this measure. My answer is that the Act is not as complicated as that, and that in the short period during which it has been in operation no less than 17,700 people have applied for grants and of that number some 16,000 have actually received them. Whilst a tribute should be paid to Senator Cavanagh for the amount of detailed work he has put into examining the clauses of the Bill, the purpose of his speech was to decry the legislation. Let us examine the legislation and remind ourselves of the opportunity it presents to the young people of Australia. I think this scheme was one of the many very good things contained in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) at the 1963 election. It should not pass unnoticed that Senator Cavanagh referred to a debate on this legislation in the Senate in May 1964. The fact that legislation of this kind and of this consequence was brought into the Parliament within five months after the election and was made retrospective to the date of the election reflects credit on the Government. The legislation was brought into Parliament in May 1964 and was made retrospective to the time of the election in December 1963.

Senator Dittmer - It was not 2nd

December. It was made retrospective to that date, but that was not the election date.

Senator Sir WILLIAM SPOONER - I am sorry; it was somewhere about then. I remind the Senate of the main provisions of the principal Act which this legislation amends. The Act included for the first time a scheme for free grants to young married couples who had saved money to buy a home of their own. It introduced a new principle of encouraging young people to save money so that they could be assisted to purchase a home of their own choice without let or hindrance and without control from the Government. The young couple merely had to save and they became eligible for the grant for the first home they bought.

The Act authorised the payment of a Commonwealth grant of £1 for every £3 either or both of the young couple saved provided they were under 36 years of age; that the grant did not exceed £250 and that the savings were made in a period of at least three years. Three years was not the maximum period. They could take as long as they liked to make the saving. They could start when they were 16, 18 or 19 years old and spread the savings over a period of years, but there had to be a minimum saving period of three years because encouragement of savings is inherent in the scheme. The grant was limited to a house costing not more than £7,000. This was pioneering home finance legislation for Australia.

Senator Cavanaghanalysed the provisions of the measure and criticised it in detail. In the light of his statements, I think it is refreshing to go back and look at the legislation broadly as a whole and not in detail so that we may remind ourselves of the significance of the Act and the extraordinarily valuable contribution it has made towards helping young people to obtain homes. There is no doubt that the scheme has been successful, lt has appealed to young people and has been of great assistance to them just as the Government originally anticipated-

Senator Cavanagh - Why talk platitudes?

Senator Sir WILLIAM SPOONER - lt is a soundly conceived scheme. It has been successful and is continuing to be successful. I shall quote the relevant figures again. 1 do not know why there should be objection on the part of Senator Cavanagh to my quoting these figures and reviewing the scheme. He began his speech by saying that the scheme did not help to build more houses. He said it had made no contribution towards the construction of more houses in Australia; but surely as an Australian he should take satisfaction in legislation of this importance which has been so successful. That is evidenced by the fact that since December 1963 - I refrain from mentioning the exact date because I might be corrected - there have been no fewer than 25,000 applications for assistance under this legislation. No fewer than 17,700 of the applications have been finalised and no fewer than 16,200 young couples have actually been paid in cash the benefits of this scheme. The average grant has been about £230 and the total is close to £4 million. 1 cannot vouch for the accuracy of this statement. I repeat it from a speech made in another place and I do so because it is of fascinating interest. It was stated that between 18 and 20 per cent, of the homes that have changed hands in Australia since this legislation came into operation have been bought under benefits provided through the new legislation.

It must also be admitted and realised that the scheme is only in its infancy at this stage. Honorable senators should remember that the basis of the scheme is that young people have to save for a minimum period of three years to qualify for a grant. The legislation has been effective for only 17 months and all the applications and the work under this scheme relate not so much to new savings. When the legislation was implemented, the Government made a proviso in association with its election promise. It staled that the scheme would be made retrospective and that those who had saved for three years before the legislation became operative could obtain the benefits provided by it. So we are seeing the scheme operate so far only in its retrospective character. We have yet to see the scheme in operation as it gathers momentum and attracts young people of the future.

Senator Laught - It will be straightforward then.

Senator Sir WILLIAM SPOONER - The complications will be removed. We will reach a stage shortly when young people will open their special accounts and the arrangements will flow without complications. Everybody knew when the Government took the decision to make the scheme retrospective that complications would be created in the drafting of the legislation and defining the terms under which the money would be available in respect of past transactions. That was made manifest when the legislation was originally introduced. The experience that has been gained in the time the Act has been operating makes the amendments before the Senate necessary.

The Bill contains 26 amendments to the Act and every one of them confers additional benefits on young people. All these amendments make the scheme more attractive and more valuable to young people who are prepared to save. I do not propose to attempt to discuss the 26 amendments in detail. That will be a task for the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) at the Committee stage. I compliment the Minister for Housing upon the way in which he has presented certain information to the Senate. The explanatory memorandum that has been circulated gives a picture of each of the amendments and presents supplementary information as well.

Three or four of the amendments are of more than passing interest. The one that intrigues me most is that which provides that a grant shall become available in circumstances where there is an oral contract for the purchase of a home. Ever since I have been a boy at school I have thought that evidence of a sale of land had to be in written form. However, I find upon inquiry that the acceptance of oral contracts is apparently used to a greater degree by the trusting residents of Western Australia than in other parts of the Commonwealth. Another amendment deals with the situation in which a contract has been completed but where the transaction has not advanced to the stage where ownership of the land vests in the applicant for a grant. Another amendment, which 1 believe is of greater significance than the one I have just mentioned, covers the situation in which a couple buy a block of land and enter into an arrangement to erect a home on that land, the title not to vest in them until the transaction is concluded. As I read the amendment, they will become eligible for a grant as at the commencement of the transaction rather than towards the end of it.

An interesting series of amendments arc those which make the provisions of the Act more readily applicable to minors. These amendments cover circumstances in which parents or others have opened trust accounts with savings banks or have made settlements or established trusts under which the beneficiaries are persons under the age of 21 years. Frequently people who lend money on real estate do not care to make the advances direct to minors but make them through parents or trustees. The legislation now before us will give to young people who are so situated and who otherwise would be eligible under the Act an opportunity to obtain a grant.

Another interesting amendment, which previously was debarred, will be of benefit to a young couple who have purchased a block of land with the intention of building but who have been attracted by another proposition, have bought a home, and have found themselves in the situation where their savings are locked up in the block of land that they bought originally. The amendment is designed to enable them to have the money that was invested in the original purchase taken into consideration in determining the grant. A further interesting amendment is designed to liberalise the method by which the Department of Housing may assess the limit of £7,000 for capital expenditure. It is proposed that the Department, in assessing that sum, may take into account not the actual value of the land at the time of the transaction but the price at which the applicant purchased it, perhaps some years previously, the land having since appreciated in value to the extent that the value of the asset is taken beyond the limit of £7,000.

I hope that I have given a reasonably accurate description of the proposed amendments to the Act. This is a sphere of activity in which I have taken a great deal of interest, and naturally I read the Bill with some care. 1 have not any doubt at all that this legislation will make an already important contribution to home ownership in Australia even more important. We can proceed in a new sphere such as this only in the light of experience that has been gained, and I should not be surprised to find more amending legislation introduced a year or so hence.

The importance of this measure is emphasised when it is viewed against the background of the Commonwealth's overall housing arrangements. We in Australia have as effective an arrangement for providing finance for home ownership as has any other country. The contribution made by the Commonwealth Government to home ownership is very extensive. That contribution commences with the Government's own responsibility in regard to war service homes. It extends indirectly, through the Government's banking powers, to the great sums of money that are held by the savings banks, a substantial portion of which is, under the banking legislation, invested in homes. From there it proceeds to the provisions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, under which large sums of money are made available each year to the States at subsidised rates of interest, 30 per cent, of the sums having to be made available to building societies. Included in the Commonwealth's contribution are Commonwealth grants for homes for aged persons. In the current sessional period we have passed legislation to set up a new government instrumentality to insure mortgage moneys advanced for home building, and now we have before us this amending homes savings grant legislation. I believe that the Commonwealth is making an effective contribution in the field of housing - a contribution which is evidence of the Government's regard for housing programmes in Australia. Against that background, Mr. President, I have very great pleasure in supporting the Bill.

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