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Thursday, 8 April 1965

Senator PROWSE (Western Australia) .- At the outset I wish to thank Senator Cohen for his courtesy and cooperation in enabling me to speak at this time in the debate. The purpose of the Bill we are considering is well known, as are the reasons for its introduction. To a great extent the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury), when he introduced the Homes Savings Grant Bill, on which these amendments are based, assured us that legislation would be introduced if and when it was found necessary in the operation of the Act. Tt is pioneering legislation in the housing field in Australia. It was a new venture and therefore only reasonable to assume that as the new machinery went into operation in the field adjustments would be necessary. The adjustments are now before us in the shape of several amendments which. T think, are acceptable to both sides of the House.

I have heard no material criticism of the proposed amendments, although I believe some amendments will be proposed at the Committee stage. However, in the main we are agreed that the Minister is bringing in desirable amendments. I shall not traverse those amendments, but I do wish to say that the Minister is carrying out the policy that he has developed throughout his administration of the Act, of working very hard to make the legislation worthwhile and desirable.

The main purpose of the legislation is to encourage young people to save by giving them a measurable incentive for a very desirable objective; that is to enable them to put down a substantial deposit upon a home. The effect is to reduce the deposit gap and lessen the subsequent strain upon the finances of a young couple endeavouring to pay for a home. This was agreed to be a very desirable objective, although some criticism has been made of the limitations imposed. However, I believe we must all admit that limitations were necessary and that a definition of the area to be covered by the legislation was necessary. Tn attempting to act positively difficulties must be encountered. It is often easier to do nothing than to do something constructive. Tha! is true not only in the field of legislation but in the ordinary activities of everyday life. It is often easier to take the road of masterly inactivity.

The Act has thrown up some anomalies. The Opposition has brought to the notice of the Senate anomalies that will not be rectified by the proposed legislation. I believe that for some time there will continue to be anomalies of a more or less serious nature. Senator Sir William Spooner said last evening that he believed further amendments would be necessary. I join him in that opinion. Senator Cohen regretted the great area of discretion incorporated in the Bill. When the Minister introduced the Homes Savings Grant Bill he outlined the necessity in administering legislation of this type to have an area of discretion. I am sure that as we progress from the opening period of the legislation, in many cases the exercise of discretion will no longer be necessary. I join with Senator Cohen in his expression of distastes for permanent legislation that is propped up. as it were, with great areas of discretion about which the Parliament can have little to say or do, but T do believe that these areas of discretion have been necessary and have been administered intelligently.

I should like to hark back to two criticisms that I offered when the original Homes Savings Grant Bill was introduced. First, I said that in my opinion the Bill did not cover a wide enough section of the population, that it did not adequately fill the need. The then Minister for National Development, Senator Sir William Spooner, had a reply to this, but I am still of the opinion that the usefulness of this legislation can be further expanded by bringing its effect to people in lower income groups who would otherwise seek the benefit of State and Federal housing schemes. Admittedly, they have a benefit in regard to the long terms that they can secure and the lower rate of interest. This is a very real advantage, but I do think it would be a very real advantage to the Commonwealth if they could be induced at an early age to commence saving so that they would qualify. This legislation covers a field of young people to whom the advantages of saving need to be brought. These are the very people who would benefit most by an expansion of the legislation in this way. I hope that in time the Government will see its way clear to expand the field in this connection.

The other criticism I had was that the legislation would not apply to any great extent to people engaged in agriculture or living in small country communities. All the experience of the legislation has borne out this second contention. This is not a matter that the Bill itself or any amendment that is foreshadowed will rectify. This is a fundamental problem with regard to rural housing. The effect of this deficiency in our rural housing policies with regard to agriculture has been shown up in a very clear light by the operation of this legislation. Many anomalies produced by attempting to do something have been cited. I should like to bring before the Senate a particular case. This is an example of how difficult it is to meet all of the conditions that arise in matters of this kind.

I had a letter from a young man farming at Darkan, who had a problem with regard to his application, which was rejected because he commenced to build before the Act came into operation. The circumstances are these: He went onto a farm and, like other young fellows in similar circumstances, found that it was a bit lonely out there and he decided to take unto himself a wife. A man can live in a tent or a miamia when he is developing a farm but when he brings a wife onto the scene he has to make some sort of attempt to provide a habitable dwelling. This man did just that, instead of doing what the Act allows. He was not to know what was to happen later. Had he built a temporary structure, he would have qualified when he subsequently attempted to build a home. But he very intelligently tried to incorporate his temporary dwelling in what was to be his subsequent home. In so doing, he fell on the wrong side of the line that was cast in providing that if he commenced to build his permanent home before the operational date, 2nd December, he was disqualified.

Let us have a look at this problem, because it illustrates the many difficulties that the Minister is trying to overcome. Here is a chap who had no alternative because of his occupation. He is a farmer and he has to Jive on his farm. He must have somewhere to live. How is he to save for a home and still provide the wherewithal to cover his head? There is not any answer to this, except in an extension of the area of discretion about which Senator Cohen complains. No principle set out in the legislation is being breached in this case. It seeks to encourage saving. Had this man been in a position to put money into a savings bank for the ultimate purpose of building a house, he would have complied with the conditions of the Act. He could have saved for a period of years before the commencement, but for him this was impossible: he had to have somewhere to live. To my mind, at any rate, there is no breach of the principle. He was in effect saving to build a house. He put that saving, instead of into a bank, into the preliminary structure.

Among the amendments that are proposed is one by which paragraph (b) of the new sub-section (7.) of section 4, read in conjunction with the new sub-section (8.) and the definition of the " prescribed date ". will provide that the prescribed date of a person who purchases land with a partly completed home on it and enters into a building contract to complete the home, or completes it himself as an owner-builder, will be the date on which the applicant enters into a contract for the completion of the home or the date on which the work of completing it begins, whichever is the earlier. This means that had this young man bought a farm on which there was a partly completed home and did not start to complete the work before the prescribed date, he would be eligible: Because he built a portion of his home before the prescribed date, he was ineligible, but had be bought it in that state he would have been eligible. Here there is a definite, hiatus. There was a commencement of a home, but because of the man's circumstances he could not proceed continuously with the operation. He brought his home to a state in which he could live in it. If that place had been built within the confines of a municipality, it is doubtful whether he would have been allowed to live in it; but he did occupy it and he is now beyond the scope of the scheme because of a definition in that Act.

I have discussed this with the Minister, who was very sympathetic, but I am putting it before the Senate now to illustrate the difficult decisions that have to be made and the anomalies that must arise when a commencement date is specified in legislation of this kind. I feel sure that as time goes on the anomalies associated with the commencement date will disappear and that the administration of the Act will become more concise and clear cut.

Senator Pokereferred to the operation of the Act so far. I should like to add to what he had to say. I was interested to read that the Minister, when introducing the original legislation, said he hoped that some 40,000 people would receive the benefit of it in the first year and that he expected that the cost in that year would be about £10 million, because of the backlag of people eligible to receive assistance. He estimated that when the Act became fully operational and the backlag of applications had been eliminated, the cost of meeting current applications would be about £7 million or £8 million a year. It now appears that the estimate of the number of people who would benefit from the legislation in the first year will not be reached. The latest information we have is that some 17.300 grants, representing an expenditure approaching £4 million, have been paid. Something over three-quarters of the first year has now elapsed. If future grants are made at the same rate as in the past, the total expenditure will fall far short of the estimated £10 million. It may reach £6 million.

This is evidence of the difficulty of gauging the effect of the restrictions imposed by the legislation, with a consequent reduc tion in the expected scope of .the Act. However, it encourages us to hope that, without exceeding the anticipated cost to the Treasury, there can be some liberalisation of the restrictions. I mention this in the hope that the Minister will look at these aspects and do something to ease the position of people who feel that to some extent the legislation has dealt with them unjustly. On each occasion that I have spoken on this and other housing measures I have paid a tribute to the Minister's unfailing courtesy in dealing with the numerous requests that members and senators make to him following representations to them by their constituents. It is very good to be able to record the way in which the Minister is helping us to help the people to resolve the difficulties that we have outlined.

Again let me stress that this is good legislation. Its objectives are sound and desirable. It is a very interesting piece of legislation. I believe that over the years it will do a great deal towards helping to solve many of the problems - it will not solve all the problems - that young people encounter in obtaining their own homes. It will have a positive and very beneficial effect on the character of our young people. By inducing the habit of saving early in life, it will have a beneficial effect not only in the field of housing but also on the whole structure of our economy. If Australian people learn the habit of saving constructively at an early age so that they can put money into worthwhile objectives, they will learn something that goes far beyond the scope of this legislation and right into the structure of their own characters. I have great pleasure in supporting the amending legislation. I hope that it will make a useful measure still more useful, and that it will expand and extend the scope of the scheme.

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