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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3226

Mr JULL(3.15) —The family unit has always been regarded as being the very basis of Australian society. Indeed we on this side of the House have always regarded the family unit as being the most important part of any policy package that we have ever put together. Australia is all about families, and I think that it is appropriate that today we bring on this matter of public importance, following the performance of this Government not only in this House during the past week but indeed over the last 12 months. Most honourable members on this side of the House have been horrified at the attitude that has been taken this week by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and a number of his Ministers in terms of questions that the Opposition has raised about the situation of Australian families. That has been added to by last night's economic statement by the Treasurer (Mr Keating). It provided absolutely nothing at all to support families in Australia.

I refer to some of the measures announced in the statement. Dole payments for 16- and 17-year-olds has been ditched; it has been replaced with a job search allowance, of $25 per week. Assets tests for unemployment and sickness benefits have been brought in. Income testing has been brought in on family allowances. There has been an abolition of Commonwealth employment programs. Hospital service benefits available to private patients have been cut from 85 per cent to 75 per cent. Further, already we are hearing about higher postal and Telecom charges as a result of the sales tax and Customs exemption tax. In one case those charges have been announced already today.

While many of us on this side of the House applaud some of those moves, no counter whatsoever has been provided in terms of making life a little more palatable for ordinary Australians. In fact, throughout the economic statement there was no positive discrimination in favour of families whatsoever. However, the Government did manage to put together $5m to ensure that it could get the landscaping of the new Parliament House in order. But there was not one mention of families at all. During Question Time today we heard quite brazen responses from the Prime Minister in terms of what this side of the House would do to support families. He did not acknowledge once that Australian families are so much worse off now under his Administration than they have ever been in the past. I suppose that one of the highlights of Question Time today concerns the whole situation pertaining to interest rates, and I want to dedicate part of my speech today to that topic.

Despite all the posturing that we have heard from honourable members opposite, it is interesting to read the comments made by the financial commentators who have been analysing last night's economic statement. The economic commentators are saying that, at the very best, we can expect to look forward to a one per cent-at the very most, 1 1/2 per cent-reduction in interest rates. Unfortunately, this move is far too late for many Australian families who have been suffering now for so many years. For weeks and weeks the Prime Minister and his Ministers have refused to answer questions concerning the real needs of Australian families. This was particularly so last Monday when time after time the Prime Minister launched into tirades against us when we questioned his Government's so-called economic achievements, and we heard dorothy dix questions that achieved absolutely nothing. But the human factor involved was not mentioned once, especially in relation to home ownership.

One good thing that came out of the proceedings of this House last Monday was that at least a couple of the major Australian newspapers started to pick up the plight of the ordinary Australian who is trying to buy his own home. It is certainly appropriate for me to refer in particular to an editorial in one of the newspapers, as that editorial really hits the nail on the head. While the Prime Minister does not like the criticism, I think that he should hear this once again, as indeed should every member of this House and everyone around Australia who is listening. This is really what the situation is all about. I refer to the editorial in the Daily Telegraph, from Sydney, on Tuesday 12 May 1987. Headed `Hawke ignores the burden of interest rates', it states:

Prime Minister Bob Hawke appears to have forgotten that there are two sides to the economy.

There is the technical side: the world of figures, theories and policies.

And there is the human side: the real world, where people have to cope with-among other things-the conditions imposed by those who control the technicalities.

Mr Hawke ignored the real world yesterday when he defended the Government's record on interest rates.

Indeed, he went further by saying he would not apologise for his Government's high interest rates policy.

Mr Hawke's defence was provoked by a survey showing that average home loan repayments last year were $124 a month higher than in 1985.

The survey figures probably overstate the present situation. Banks are no longer rationing housing funds so tightly and new buyers are less likely to have to top up loans with costly second mortgages.

But the facts remain that housing interest rates are very high, that homes are expensive and that paying for the basic requirement of housing is heartbreaking for all but the rich.

Mr Hawke ignored this and concentrated on the technicalities.

He referred to `the economic crisis imposed from outside on this country'-and, in fact, some of the blame can be placed there.

But his statement in Parliament had the hallmarks of a knee-jerk reaction to what he saw as criticism.

Mr Hawke may merely have been parading his tough-guy credentials before tomorrow's mini-budget.

But perhaps he has simply forgotten what it's like outside Canberra.

It has been a long time since Mr Hawke had to worry about paying off a mortgage.

And it's showing.

That must be the most truthful editorial that could be written and I am sure that honourable members on this side of the House congratulate the Daily Telegraph for at last telling it like it really is. Today the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West) came into the House and told us all the good news about the amount of money that will be lent out for housing. But the point is that there are thousands and thousands of Australians out in the real world who will have no benefit from that and who are really suffering. We have to look at what the real story is for families trying to get into or even to maintain a home. Frankly, the answer is hopeless. As we have heard time and again, the interest rate situation is out of control.

We have the lowest number of rental vacancies ever. The latest figures show that in Sydney only six in every 1,000 rental properties are now available. This will get worse because more and more people are just walking out and leaving their homes. I believe that my electorate of Fadden is fairly typical of dozens of electorates around Australia. It is known as one of those sandbelt areas where young people are trying to establish their families and set up their first home. The tragedy is that in my area people are walking out. They are just closing the doors of their homes, never to return, because they cannot maintain the repayments which have increased as a result of the high interest rate regime of this Government. The sad thing is that those people will never again own their own home. That situation is reflected right around Australia.

What happens to those people? They go to government and ask for support. What is happening in the public housing sector? There are problems with waiting lists. In June 1986 there were 157,000 people waiting for public housing. Government members may say that it is all the fault of the previous Liberal Government. But what was the position when we went out of office? The answer is that only 124,000 people were on the waiting list.

What is the situation with private dwellings? In just 12 months rents have increased by 10.2 per cent. We have heard all these great things about negative gearing and the capital gains tax. The plain fact is that nobody is building homes for those people to rent. This week I did a survey of builders in my electorate. The situation is very sad. The project builders have certainly been the hardest hit; they have virtually gone out of business. The provision of low cost homes for people to buy has come to a screaming halt. It is the lower end of the market that has been hit. Housing start approvals in south-east Queensland in the last 12 months are down by 25 per cent. On top of this, and in spite of the fact that we hear that Government members are the greatest economic managers in the world, the cost of building materials in Australia has gone up by about 9 per cent in the last 12 months.

In my electorate, as in so many electorates right across Australia, the real estate industry tells me that land sales have come to a virtual halt. Neither existing nor new houses are selling. The only sales being reported are those in the upper price bracket-homes of $100,000 or more. This has been the case for the last 12 months. The builders say that to stay in business they have to cut their costs to an absolute minimum. They say that, yes, plenty of people are coming and asking for quotes but that these days nobody seems to have the capacity to be able to get up and go ahead with a quote. The staff of so many of these building companies are taking compulsory leave. At Sunnybank in my electorate there is a Housing Industry Association display-home village. Twelve months ago 18 builders were represented in that display-home village. Now there are seven; 11 of those builders have gone out of business; they were small businessmen.

Let us turn to the money situation. We heard again today about how so much money is to be made available for housing. I took the opportunity to ring bank managers and building society managers in my electorate. They all agree that there is plenty of money available. But today they have said that even the latest government initiatives are not inspiring too much confidence. Very few inquiries for loans are being made. Single income earners who are earning less than $50,000 per year have very little hope of being able to afford a loan, especially if a wife and two children are involved. Both partners must be working; the two jobs are definitely needed if couples want the prospect of being able to buy a home. In many cases the managers report that wives have to take a second job so that there are in fact three incomes coming into a family. One bank manager made the point that the Tupperware organisation has never had it so good because so many wives are forced to go into direct door to door selling in order to try to get together enough money to make ends meet. Perhaps I should not tell honourable members this, but that same bank manager said that one woman was in such a desperate situation that she was going from door to door selling lingerie and sex aids in order to make enough money to meet her family's housing repayments. That is a sad reflection on the current situation. The managers also report that even a small increase of about half a per cent in the interest rate means that more and more people are in trouble.

The bank managers in my electorate cannot remember when things were so bad. Indeed, one bank manager said he really cannot remember when he last granted a housing loan to a newly married couple. But we must never forget that at the last election the home mortgage rate was 11.5 per cent and that now it is sitting at 15.5 per cent. We must never forget that on a loan of $50,000 over 25 years the repayments have increased by $152 per month since the last election. This shows the compassion being shown by this Labor Government.

What has the Government done in terms of family assistance? In dollar terms, the answer is nothing. The family allowance remains unchanged despite the fact that consumer prices have risen by 35 per cent. In real terms the family allowance has now declined by 25 per cent. The dependent spouse rebate is unchanged at $1,030. There was no mention of that in last night's economic statement. At least when the Liberals were in government, they doubled that dependent spouse rebate. In money terms a single income family with two children now needs $11 a week more just to get back to the situation they were in in March 1983.

In terms of tax reform, the fact is that single income families will be paying more tax after 1 July than they were under the previous Liberal Government. Families on average weekly earnings-now at $495 a week-will be $15 worse off than they were on average weekly earnings in March 1983. Even the low income earners are being hit. Those earning 75 per cent of average weekly earnings are paying $3 per week more. Someone earning as little as $185 per week will still be $4 a week worse off under Mr Keating's tax reform. The average tax rate for people on average weekly earnings or less now sits at 24.5 per cent whereas in March 1983 it was 17.5 per cent.

Today we have heard about the fringe benefits tax. The real point about the fringe benefits tax is that it is probably the little man who has been hit harder than the wealthy people in our community as a result of the fringe benefits tax.

The unemployment position is still bad. What has been happening? In 1984 and 1985 many small businessmen went to the wall. So many of the average families of Australia were headed by small businessmen. Last year we had the highest level of bankruptcy. The figure was 6,408 and it will be higher this year as there have been 6,187 in the first nine months of the year. The plain facts are that this Labor Government has forgotten the average Australian and has forgotten the need to support the family unit. It has brought about a situation in which families are breaking up in every electorate in Australia and yet it shows no compassion. There is no real financial help. People are worse off and there is only one solution: At the next election, whenever it may be-we hear it may be sooner rather than later-the families of Australia will unite to scrub this Government out of existence and to bring back the sound economic policies of the Liberals which will discriminate in favour of the Australian family, the most important unit, the very foundation of Australian society.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rocher) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.