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Thursday, 8 April 1965

Senator McKENNA (Tasmania) .- I wish to enter briefly into the debate. When replying to honorable senators, the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) said that section 15 of the Act was crystal clear. It is crystal clear to anybody who studies it at length and who has the acute perception of a very acute lawyer, but I confess that one of the hardest tasks I have undertaken in the Parliament was undertaken in May last when I had to give this legislation hours and hours of study. There was no precedent for it. It was a bill of most novel type. I think I admitted, when I spoke in the debate at that time, that it was one of the most difficult bills I had had to face. I believe I understood it thoroughly by the time I stood up . to speak on it, but that was only after many long hours of very close study. To indicate how difficult the measure is, it is quite clear that in May last the then Leader of the Government in the Senate, Sir William Spooner, was misled, either by his own reading or by misunderstanding the advice tendered to him, but I think he gave himself 99 per cent, marks for his answer to Senator Cavanagh. I do not think I would give him a pass on it. In fact, on reviewing it I do not think I would give him 51 per cent. I want to look carefully at it again.

What does section 15 of the Act do? It deals with people who may be eligible during the period which ended at 31st December 1964. Sub-section 2 of that section deals with the position of acceptable savings before the prescribed date - before a person enters into a contract to buy a house or, if he intends to build, commences his building. At any time prior to the prescribed date his investment or savings could be held in any form whatsoever. This applied whether the money was in the form of an investment or otherwise. The provision could not be wider.

Section 15 (3.) of the Act deals with one point of time and the form in which specified acceptable savings are to be held at that precise point of time - the date of the signing of the contract. At that point of time, the applicant must have translated any investments or deposits with bodies not recognised under the Act into some other form. The money must go into one or other of the banks or institutions named in the Act and it must be in that institution on one day.

I say that even at this stage and after thinking about this a lot I had to read and re-read section 15 before I understood all its implications. It is not a simple section. It is simple enough when you understand it thoroughly and have done your homework on it. But I want to point out how Senator Cavanagh was misled. I do not say he was misled deliberately. How it happened is completely understandable; but at least no blame can be attached to Senator Cavanagh for making a desperate effort to get the best answer. This, is what Senator Sir William Spooner, who was then Minister for National Development, said on 21st May 1964 as reported at page 1432 of " Hansard "-

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 ยป home they become eligible for the grant by virtue of the Department accepting their savings in any form, investment or otherwise. That, T think, is the foundation for the answer to Senator Cavanagh's query.

That is completely unexceptionable. Senator Cavanagh interjected -

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

It is at that point that Senator Sir William Spooner got off the track. He denied that proposition and said -

Not until 31st December 1964.

It is quite clear that Senator Cavanagh had in his mind what I have just explained that the section states. When he got that broad answer from Senator Sir William Spooner, he tried to put to the Minister what was troubling his mind - that at the prescribed date, the time of contract, the acceptable savings had to be in a restricted class of institution. There is an expressed negation of that by Senator Sir William Spooner. He said -

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.

Listen to the next sentence -

That proviso becomes operative from 1st January 1965 . . .

It is quite clear that Senator Sir William Spooner induced Senator Cavanagh to believe that the savings could be held in any form up to 31st December. I am not complaining about a mistake being made. Secondly, I do not blame the honorable senator for not putting the position with the precision of a lawyer and of one who had given close study to it. But the fact remains on Senator Cavanagh's word- and it should not be questioned - that on the basis of that statement by the Minister of the day, he advised a number of people in South Australia that they could continue to hold their investments in the Superannuation Fund until the end of 1964. One of these persons entered into a contract, leaving the money where it was, and has said that this deposit was rejected as part of his acceptable savings.

All I say is that I hope the discretions vested in the Department of Housing and the Secretary of the Department are wide enough to enable that situation to be rectified. It should be rectified. Senator Cavanagh should be rescued from the false position into which he put a person who consulted him. I do not know whether the discretion available to the Secretary will permit that to be done. I ask: Can it be done? I certainly assert that it ought to be done.

Now, let that stand aside. On the merits of the amendment proposed by the Opposition, we seek to get established the position that at all times up to 31st December 1964 savings should be acceptable no matter in what form they are. It was recognised that the Bill which was assented to in May had operative effect back to the preceding December and that provision had to be made to deal with situations where persons had qualified under the Act, had already entered into contracts and accordingly had to be protected. The Act itself by section 17 provided that in that situation moneys, no matter how they were invested, were deemed acceptable savings so long as they were expended in entering into a contract to buy or build a house. All those people were protected during that period.

Let me come now to the position of persons who had investments or deposits in an institution not recognised under the Act at the point of time that it became law. The Bill was assented to on 28th May. We took it that on 29th May - the very next day and before the terms of the Act would be known in the community - there would be thousands of people entering into contracts on that very day as happens every day. Among them would be a number of eligible people. Their investments would be in the usual form of deposits with nonrecognised institutions, in shares or that sort of thing. The money might not have been expended at the time the contract was signed. The position might be that the contract would provide that a deposit was payable within a week or a month so a person could realise on his investment. In the Bill as it was drawn a particular clause prescribed the date - 29th May-when if investments were in their original form, an applicant would not qualify for the grant.

I see no provision in this Bill to guard against this anomaly. In this novel matter we are dealing with a transitional period. In proposing this amendment the Opposition asserts that right to the end of December 1964 no matter in what form acceptable savings were held, they should be recognised. It should be understood that it takes a while to acquire exact knowledge of the terms of this legislation and to circulate the information in the community. People do not follow what transpires in this Parliament and the terms of every bill with exactitude or certainty. I should like to see more elbow room as to the forms of investment up to the end of 1964.

Let us have the position as Senator Sir William Spooner apparently understood it and as he put it to the Senate. Let us have savings in any form treated as acceptable savings up to the end of December. That would remove any anomalies. Apart altogether from the misunderstanding that cropped up and the difficult position into which Senator Cavanagh was unwittingly led I think there is real ground on its merits for the amendment that Senator Cavanagh has moved.

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