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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2707

Mr ANDREW(3.32) —I rise to respond to the comments made by the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West), and I am just a little disappointed. We in this place have become accustomed to the Minister coming in here and enthusiastically defending his Government's record in the housing area. What have we seen this afternoon? We have seen a Minister who, one would be kind to say, was subdued in his delivery. We have seen a Minister who clearly knows that he will not find what is in next week's economic statement very easy to sell and whose whole perspective in the debate this afternoon has reflected that truth.

In introducing the matter of public importance the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) referred to the devastating effect on living standards that the Government's housing and high interest rate policies are having. His sentiments were foreshadowed by the honour- able member for Tangney (Mr Shack) who came in here to address the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill and cognate Bills and who said that the Opposition would be spending the rest of the day focusing on the two key issues most affecting Australian families-in the case of the honourable member for Tangney, the issue of education and, in the case of the matter of public importance, the issue of housing and the related issue of interest rates. As recently as midday today on the news we heard the simple fact that close to Canberra in the Snowy Mountains area, a number of people will be forced out of accommodation and will have nowhere to go because the policies of this Government, particularly in the area of interest rates, have made it no longer attractive for people to construct homes. The housing market has been destroyed by the capital gains tax and the withdrawal of negative gearing.

Most disappointing of all was the audacity and the capacity that the Minister showed so willingly to mislead the House, which was out of character for him, when he referred to the performance of his Government and tried to compare it with the performance of the Fraser Government. The Minister conveniently used only three years of the seven years of Fraser Government management. If we compare the numbers of new housing starts for the entire period of the Fraser Government and the entire period of this Government as a percentage per head of population-I would have thought that was a realistic and fair way to look at them-we discover that the Fraser Government's record was to have 8.8 new houses for every 1,000 head of population a year while this Government has managed only 8.6 new houses for every 1,000 head of population a year and every indication is that that figure is falling. If we look at a graph showing housing constructions since 1965 we discover that only under Liberal Administration-with the exception of one year under the Labor Administration-have housing constructions exceeded one house for every 100 head of population.

I am afraid that the Minister has chosen to use less than accurate figures. He has not been prepared, frankly, to compare apples with apples. It has been popular for the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) to come into this place and talk about how, under the present Hawke Administration, the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer. The honourable member is not quite right. A few have got richer-a select few, a few paper shufflers-but the vast majority of the population have got poorer under the tax burden foisted on us by this Government. Let us look at the lot of a university professor, the highest academic achiever, earning around $65,000, or three times the average weekly earnings. His housing costs have gone through the sky, just as they have for everyone, but look at how he has been crippled by tax. In 1978-79 he took home $40,867; now he is taking home only $36,748. Take a classic middle class family in which the husband is on twice the average weekly earnings, with his wife in a part time job. He is not getting ahead. In 1978-79 they brought home an after-tax combined income of $48,360 and they spent $7,350 on housing. They are now bringing home $46,375 but they are spending $9,500 on housing each year.

Whereas in the late 1960s middle class home owners retained 60 per cent of their income after tax, now they retain only 40 to 45 per cent. This is the record for which the Minister has to answer to the Australian electorate. By any measure, a most fundamental middle class freedom, the freedom to spend, has been drastically reduced. We simply cannot escape the truth that housing costs as a proportion of after-tax income have gone from 13 per cent in 1968-69 to 28 per cent in 1985-86 under the administration of this Hawke socialist Government.

Mr Donald Cameron —It is crippling people.

Mr ANDREW —It is crippling people, as the honourable member for Moreton has said. I have addressed only the way in which this Government has affected middle class Australians. What happens if we take those not as fortunate as those of us gathered in this House? I want to use an illustration from the Advertiser news- paper last year of a couple who lived in my electorate, in the city of Gawler adjacent to Adelaide. This couple, the Keoghs, as reported in the Advertiser of 2 June, found that they were caught in the impossible mortgage squeeze. Mr Keogh said that their mortgage repayments had risen from $520 a month to $630 a month. Although they consider themselves an average couple, they say that they have been impossibly caught by this increase. If this was the case in June last year, what will it be like in June this year and what is it likely to be like in June next year? The entire record of this Government has been one of increasing tax takes, increasing interest rates and disadvantaging middle income and poor Australians.

I turn now to something that directly affects my electorate-that is, interest rates-and tell honourable members of my experience when I was visiting briefly the electorate that is represented by the honourable member for Grey (Mr O'Neil). I was near a spot in the electorate of Grey called, incidentally and coincidentally, Port Neill. The gentleman who was with me in the car said as we drove past one house `Look at that house'-and I did. There it was, a neat little red-brick house on a farming property. He said nothing else until we had driven two or three kilometres. Then he said `Look at that gate', and I did so. It was a tidy little gate leading to another house. This went on until we had passed five houses and five properties. Finally, he said `Look at that house', which, once again, I did. Then he said: `Every one of the five houses we have passed in the last five or 10 minutes is unoccupied'. The majority of them were owned by the Freemans. Those same unoccupied houses and properties in the electorate of Grey were advertised in last week's South Australian stock journal for auction.

They are unoccupied because the people who ought to be living in those houses have left them. They have walked off because of the interest rate policies of this Government. They have bought land or plant, having been advised by their bank to do so, and now they find themselves totally embarrassed by the interest rate policies of this Government. With nothing more than the car and the trailer, and the furniture they can load on it, these people-to mention one case-have made their way into the city of Gawler in my electorate, where I met them.

These people have their properties advertised for sale and they know that they will get nothing from that sale. They have walked off knowing that to stay is to be declared bankrupt, not because they are bad managers but because this Government has foisted on them an interest rate policy they cannot tolerate. That same interest rate policy is destroying the housing industry. One can ask anyone in Australia about it and be told the same story. If we are destroying the housing industry, if we are destroying the opportunity of all Australians to have a roof over their heads, and if, frankly, Australians are no longer able to have their own homes, how do we hope to create stable families?