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Tuesday, 13 September 1983
Page: 697

Mr HAND(8.54) —I will try to restrict my comments to the legislation before us. I firstly take the opportunity to contratulate the Minister for House and Construction (Mr Hurford) on his presentation. It is unfortunate that some people do not read the material that is distributed in this place. The first of the Bills, the First Home Owners Bill, has two great advantages which meet the Government's commitments and philosophy. Firstly, it will stimulate employment in the housing and construction industry and in the industries which benefit from a flow-on of increased activity in that area. Secondly, it will achieve the more obvious objective of making home ownership more accessible for those in the income brackets presently finding that objective most difficult.

In many ways this Bill is an example of how government spending can achieve the dual purpose of meeting a social objective helping thousands of people in this community and at the same time creating numberous jobs in the key industries with major impact on the economy as a whole. If the previous speaker allows the legislation to be enacted he will begin to see its benefits. They will make his arguments appear fairly shallow. The legislation provides an example of how levels of spending budgeted directly to job creation can be misleading when a government has these dual objectives in mind. The creation of jobs must and will remain the prime policy of this Government. The stimulation of key sectors such as the building industry will bring benefits to the people throughout a much broader spectrum. However, other important elements in this legislation differentiate between the philosophy of a democratic socialist party which is committed to redistributing the economy in favour of low income earners and the disadvantaged-which the Opposition seemed to have little regard for when it was in government-and that of an Opposition devoted to serving the interests of capital, the greedy, and widening the economic inequalities within this society.

This Bill removes the requirement on young couples and home buyers to meet certain savings guidelines before being eligible for home buyer assistance. This requirement of the previous Government discriminated against low income earners who were unable to meet the savings requirements. It hits those people at a time of life when their commitments are often higher and they are most in need of the type of assistance provided in this legislation. It is ludicrous to say to young people at a time when they most need assistance that they can have such assistance only if they meet a savings requirement that for many is quite impossible. I ask some of the previous speakers to think back to when they were first married and had the responsibilities of that period and remember how difficult it was for them to save and meet requirements such as these the previous Government placed on young couples.

This Bill realistically confronts that problem and brings all those home buyers under its umbrella. The third of the cognate Bills, the Home Deposit Assistance Amendment Bill, allows for the savings requirements to be removed. But beyond that benefit, the First Home Buyers Bill makes two other important changes. The benefits are available to householders with a taxable income of $24,300 or less. It maintains at reducing levels to a cut off point of $27,900. These figures will be adjusted annually in line with the movements in average weekly earnings. This is a realistic income level ensuring that those most in need in society will receive this assistance.

The second important change is that applicants will have three options under the scheme: An annual subsidy over five years; a lump sum with a lower annual subsidy; or an even higher lump sum with yet lower annual subsidies. As the Minister has stated, these options allow applicants to choose between making higher repayments, offering a higher deposit or being eligible for a higher loan . However, I must point out that there are problems the Government must consider in expanding these types of programs. As I am sure the Minister is aware, we must provide a balance which will not 'disbenefit' our commitment to public housing.

We have made a commitment to double public housing stock over 10 years. This was an election commitment made by the Leader of and spokesman for the Australian Labor Party. The commitment itself will only scratch the surface of the problem which was ignored by the previous Government. From the defeat of the last Labor Government to the election of this one, our free enterprise advocates , now thankfully in opposition, cut public housing funding by 64 per cent. I think that is probably one of the major reasons-it is certainly one reason-why people in the community swung heavily against them at the last election.

As a Government we have a long way to catch up in the public housing area. I would hate to see that catch up retarded by an overcommitment to the private ownership philosophy. That philosophy comes from years of conservative governments at both Federal and State levels in Australia, a period notable for the sharp move away from rental housing to the privatisation of the market. This period saw developers grow rich with the support of governments such as that represented by the Opposition and of governments which imposed few controls. The basic principles of urban planning with provisions of services of public transport and reasonable accessibility were forgotten in the scramble for profits. As a result the governments of today are faced with major cities, particularly Melbourne and Sydney, which have been badly planned outside their immediate urban environments and require massive spending to compensate for the planning disasters of almost half a century.

The carrot of home ownership has also forced average income buyers and young families and householders to spend disproportionate amounts of their incomes on housing. This commitment has served the conservative forces by binding these people to the economic slavery of home repayments. It has served the conservative cause by turning the family into an alienated ghetto using financial commitments as a barrier to militant industrial and political activity . I concede that the alternative today is for most people to be bound to the exploitation of private landlords. They are a group of people in society against whom I hope this Government moves very shortly. In my electorate landlords are probably the biggest offenders against people. The way in which they treat some of these people through evictions and exorbitant rents must be taken account of by this Government. Therefore, a democratic socialist government must make a deep commitment to increasing public housing stocks and providing a real alternative to the present system. Having said that, I believe that employment benefits inherent in this Bill and its commitment to assisting those people most in need-a commitment that this Government made before the election and one which it will continue to carry out-make this Bill most commendable.

I also commend to the House the Housing Loans Insurance Amendment Bill. Its major thrust is to amend legislation from the previous Government to hand the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, a government body, over to its big business mates-its cronies. We saw evidence of the former Government's position when this Government reintroduced bottom of the harbour legislation to get money from the tax avoiders that the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom) tried to defend. Members of the Opposition rejected that legislation. They are the people who tried to flog off the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation to their business mates in the insurance industry. The Corporation was introduced by the previous Labor Government -to serve a public purpose. There is absolutely no reason why it should be handed over to big business other than to hand government established profits to the mates of the previous Government.

The expanded franchise given in this legislation will have the same benefits as I talked of earlier. It will boost employment opportunities in the building and construction areas. Therefore, it is another example of legislation not directly creating or financing employment opportunities nonetheless creating those opportunities. However, again I give a warning. In difficult economic times the great myth of home ownership is threatened as unemployment, high interest rates and the disadvantage of low incomes place pressure on home buyers. In recent years thousands of homes have been repossessed and sold. If one drives through any major city one sees the 'For Sale' signs in front of houses. It has been the habit, particularly of some major building societies, to sell these homes at less than the market value and to claim the difference from the HLIC. The HLIC, or the appropriate insurance body, then claims the difference from the home buyer. I am aware of numerous heartbreaking cases where families who have had their homes repossessed have been literally thrown on to the streets with a huge bill hanging over their heads.

The best interpretation of these activities is that building societies have been too anxious to sell the homes too quickly, knowing that there is an insurance backup but not caring for the disadvantaged persons whom they have evicted from the homes. The worst interpretation is far more sinister. I believe that the Government should use the HLIC to ensure that the best market value is obtained if homes must be sold because of defaulting buyers. However, I believe that we should go further and use the advantages open to us through this public enterprise to prevent buyers being thrown out on to the street when the problem lies with factors outside the purchaser's control-factors such as employment, erosion of real wage values and high interest rates.

The three Bills before the House are a step towards assisting those people in need. From the beginning of the election campaign through to this Government's election we have been committed to assisting those in need. Having listened to the comments of Opposition spokesmen, in particular the honourable member for Braddon, I doubt whether they have read the legislation. I repeat: This legislation will make it easier for people on lower incomes to buy a house, to settle down and to raise their families. In commending the legislation, I point out that I have raised the other matters in the hope that the Minister for Housing and Construction will take them into consideration in the future.