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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3243

Mr KEOGH —Can the Minister for Housing and Construction give the House information on the number of applications which have been received under the first home owners assistance scheme? Furthermore, is it a fact that his Department has been virtually deluged by the number of applications received to date and that in Queensland for example, more than three times the expected number have been lodged? If so, is the Minister able firstly to assure honourable members that action will be taken to overcome the tremendous work load which I believe is currently and seriously affecting the morale of the officers handling the applications and, secondly, to ensure that the time for processing applications will not be allowed to increase because of this heavy work load?

Mr HURFORD —My answer to the honourable member's question is a mixture of good news and some indifferent news. The good news is that there have been 17,000 applications from over 180,000 first home owners scheme inquiries to my Department's offices alone in only nine weeks. To use the honourable member's word, that is a deluge in some regions but not greater than was expected in others. I hasten to add that there is no evidence at all of this excellent scheme overheating the building industry. The combination of that first home owners scheme and the Government's excellent economic management, which has led to lower interest rates, has caused the number of dwelling commencements to rise from the miserably low level of 105,000 in the last financial year. I hope that we will achieve our target of between 125,000 and 130,000 in the current year. The Government, in short, is very proud of its achievement through this scheme, and it is making a big contribution to the employment growth of over 80,000 net new jobs that have been created since last April.

The less than good news is that the large number of applications in some regions has caused my Department's offices to be severely taxed. I take this opportunity of extending my thanks to so many officers who have given such wonderful service to the public. As I have moved around from Townsville to Perth in the last few weeks there has been nothing but praise from the general public, builders, bankers and building society people for the quality of the service being given in spite of the resources of the officers being taxed. We have already turned our minds to overcoming the problem. We are in negotiation with the Public Service Board for some more permanent positions; we are redeploying staff from other areas on a temporary basis; we are retaining staff on loan from the Department of Social Security in relation to the home savings grant scheme; and we have engaged a number of temporary staff. We are very keen that the good service that has been given should continue and that the turnaround target of about two weeks for applications should be achieved. In other words, we want to convert even the indifferent news to good news because this scheme is a great success. The public is pleased with it and it is helping to get this country moving again.