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Tuesday, 16 October 1956

Mr EDMONDS (Herbert) .- The bill before the House is designed to provide for the raising and expending of moneys for the purpose of housing, and to authorize the allocation of moneys to the States for that purpose. As every honorable member is aware, the problem of housing the Australian people has become of great national significance. I submit that it is a problem that has not been faced squarely by this Government, and I confess to the personal view that it was not faced as it should have been by the predecessor of the Government, either, but there is the difference that, to-day. thousands of Australians are seeking homes - I use the word " homes " rather than " houses " because many of them are living in the most dire circumstances due to the failure of this Government to make available sufficient funds for housing and to accept its responsibility in this respect. Those people are seeking homes, rather than just houses.

We in this House often hear members of the Government and other honorable gentlemen opposite excusing the failure of the Government in regard to housing by saying that, under the terms of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, the provision of houses is the responsibility of the States. I appreciate that what I am about to say is not strictly relevant, and for that reason I do not propose to go into detail and thus put you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the trouble of interrupting me, but I point ou; that if this Government were really sincere in relation to housing - and I submit that ii is not - it could help to overcome the difficulties iri two material ways. First, it could make available the necessary finance to overtake the lag in war service homes. I understand that, at the 30th June last, there were in Australia 24,655 unsatisfied applications for war service homes. If the Government really wanted to do something tangible towards solving the housing problem, 1 suggest that, as a first step, it could ensure that those 24,655 exservicemen were provided with homes. That would go a long way towards solving the housing problem. Incidentally, there would be no constitutional difficulties involved. T say that because whenever the subject of housing is raised in this chamber members of the Government speak of constitutional barriers which, they say, prevent the Government from doing anything. I point out that there are no constitutional barriers in the way of the Government so far as war service homes are concerned.

There is another way in which the Government could help to solve the housing problem - and again, there are no constitutional barriers to prevent it from doing so. I refer to the housing problem in the Australian Capital Territory. I am not aware of the actual figure, but I know that many hundreds, if not thousands of people in the Territory are waiting for houses or flats.

Mr J R FRASER - There are about 3,500.

Mr EDMONDS - I am grateful to the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) for the information that 3,500 people in the Territory are unable to secure either a house or a flat. Does the Government propose to argue that there are constitutional barriers which prevent it from providing houses for those people? There are in this building people who have been dismissed from their employment with the Department of Works because work was not available to them in the Government's building programme. It is time that honorable members opposite dropped the phoney argument that constitutional barriers prevent the Government from making a greater effort to overcome the housing problem.

The bill before the House seeks to authorize the raising of loan moneys totalling £32,150,000 for financial assistance to the States in respect of housing. Of that amount, £6,430,000 is to be allocated by the States to building societies. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I appear parochial in speaking of the housing position in Queensland. That is the State from which I come, although when 1 am in this Parliament I am not a Queenslander but an Australian. However, I am more conversant with the housing position in Queensland than I am with that of the other States, and for that reason I think I am entitled to deal with the Queensland position. I took the opportunity to-day to get in touch with the Queensland Housing Commission to find out the circumstances of that State, and I submit that similar circumstances will apply in the other States of the Commonwealth.

Mr Howson - No! If the honorable member goes to Victoria he will get a very different picture.

Mr EDMONDS - I could tell the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson> something about the position in Victoria, but I do not propose to do so to-night, because I have no doubt that honorable members who come from that State will explain the housing position there. So far as the proposed allocation for building societies is concerned, the Queensland Minister for Housing informed me to-day - and I do not want anybody to misconstrue my remarks about building societies, because I believe that, as such, they are to be respected - that because of the financial policy of this Government, the building societies are unable any longer to obtain finance from the banks. Supporters of this Government are staunch supporters of societies of this kind, and for that reason they have made the necessary arrangements to keep the building societies in business. Therefore, we find in this bill the proposal to allocate more than £6,000,000 to building societies.

What effect will that have on the actual provision of homes for the people who need them? I put it to the House that, in the final analysis, all that matters is what we propose to do to ensure that the people who need homes get them. The political humbug associated with the housing problem should not concern us. If this allocation of funds to building societies will provide more homes for those who need them, then I am sure that every member of this Parliament will be all for it. But the people who will go to the building societies for loans will not be the people with a wife and five, six or seven children. Those people have a very small deposit and, consequently, will not be attracted to the building societies. The people who will go to the building societies will be those who want dearer and better homes. They will not be the type of person who would apply to a housing commission. I venture to say that under this proposal, fewer homes will be built during the period covered by this measure than would be built if the whole amount was handed to the housing commissions. The housing commission in each State is entitled to ask, " What is it that the building societies can do that we, as a housing commission, are unable to do? "

Mr Pearce - Build better homes more cheaply.

Mr EDMONDS - I invite the honorable member to give, during the course of this debate, one tittle of evidence that these societies are able to build houses better and cheaper than a housing commission. If he is able to do so, and if he is able to convince me - and I am easily convinced - I will be the first to admit that I am wrong. Until he or some other member speaking on behalf of the Government does so, I put this proposition: If the Government wanted to support the building societies by making an allocation of funds to them, why in the name of heaven did it not allocate the full amount to the States and then make an additional allocation to the building societies!

Another problem that flows from the allocation of funds to building societies is that contractors who are working for the housing commissions will be taken by the building societies. Consequently, much less work will be done by the housing commissions because it is being done for the building societies. I assert with complete and utter sincerity that, whatever might be the position in other States - and I do not speak for them - the Queensland Government through the Queensland Housing Commission has done a magnificent job with housing.

Mr Wight - Nonsense!

Mr EDMONDS - I like every one to have his say, even if he accuses me of talking nonsense, but some facts that I have here will prove that my statement is not so nonsensical after all. In 1950 in Queensland some 2,000 people were living in housing centres - huts, ex-service dormitories and that sort of thing. This afternoon, when I checked, I found that that number has been reduced to 631. I include the " 1 " so that I will not be accused of being conservative in respect of the figure that I have submitted to the House. If that 631 is subtracted from the 2,000, the result will be the number of people who have obtained homes in Queensland during that period.

We frequently hear the comment thai Labour governments do not believe in these people owning their homes. We in Queensland have the reply to that. The percentage of people owning their homes is higher in Queensland than in any other State. In New South Wales, 66.8 per cent, of the population own or are purchasing their homes; in Victoria, 70 per cent.; in Queensland, 74 per cent.; in South Australia, 69.4 per cent.; in Western Australia, 69.1 per cent.; and in Tasmania, 65.7 per cent. The figures for Queensland prove quite conclusively that the Housing Commission and the Labour Government of Queensland have not only endeavoured to provide houses for the people but have gone even further than that, and encouraged and assisted the people to own their homes. That figure will stand comparison with the figure for any other State; indeed, it will stand comparison with the figure for any part of the world.

Queensland has various schemes. There is a free life insurance scheme for borrowers under the State housing acts, lt was brought into force in 1949. This cover is applicable to borrowers under the age of 40 years who are in normal good health and whose net income does not exceed £1,040 per annum. The maximum amount of cover at the present time is £2,250. Remember, this is free! Such a generous scheme as this is not provided by any other State, the Commonwealth, indeed, any other country. The Queensland Government has acquired land, built miles and miles of roads and kerbing and provided sewerage wherever possible. All this is done in connexion with the Commonwealth and State housing projects. I know that supporters ot the Government do not like to give credit to a Labour government, but I suggest that they should be big enough to appreciate when a job has been done.

Government supporters often argue that this Government makes available more cash than did the Chifley Government. It might. I do not deny that. But so it should! If the value of money to-day is considered, it is essential that more money be given to the States now than was given to them when the Chifley Government was in office. What is the difference between the cost of a house to-day and the cost of a house in 1949? What would have been the purchase price in 1949 of a house that costs £3,000 to-day under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement?

Mr Davis - But a person could not buy one or build one in 1949.

Mr EDMONDS - The honorable member says a house could not be bought in 1949. That might be so. I am comparing the value of the currency in 1949 with its value to-day. If the honorable member wishes, we shall take the first year when a house could be purchased. The same comparison exists. It is futile and it is humbug for supporters of the Government to say that this Government is making more money available for State housing than the Chifley Government did. Of course it does! But what worries the Australian people is not the silly fighting that goes on here between one side and the other about whether this government gave more than that government; all that the thousands of people who want homes and are unable to get them are concerned about is what will be done to make homes available to them. I think that every one will agree that, after health and education, housing is the most serious and the most responsible problem that any government has to face. What is the good of all this bickering when year after year the position gets worse and worse? The housing lag is worse to-day than ever it has been since the end of the war.

Mr Hulme - That is not right!

Mr EDMONDS - I wish I could agree that it is not right, but the fact is that it is right and all the denials of Government supporters will not alter that fact. All their denials will not give any comfort to the people of this country who cannot obtain homes.

Mr Hamilton - How many homes did the honorable member's government build in 1949?

Mr EDMONDS - The honorable member for Canning talks about my government in 1949. I have tried to point out that it does not matter a tinker's curse what happened when the Labour Government was in office in 1949. If it pleases honorable members opposite to agree that mistakes were made by the Chifley Government in 1949, what excuse is that for the failure of this Government to provide houses to-day for the Australian people? Government supporters insist on comparing the position to-day with that of 1949. I am simply trying to point out that the amount of money that is allocated to the States for housing is completely and utterly inadequate. Until the Government faces up to its responsibility as a national government, and does something towards providing the States with sufficient money to improve the housing position, it should hang its head in shame. We know that Government supporters say that housing is the responsibility of the States. They say, "We give the States so much money, in accordance with this measure, or measures similar to the one that is before the House to-night. We give the States this money, and it is their responsibility to provide houses for the people who require them ". But honorable members know the position that the States are in. No one knows better than the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) the financial position of the States. It is well known that the States are short of money for all kinds of public works. No one knows better than the Prime Minister and the Treasurer the position of the States with regard to housing, and until the Government gives the States enough money to enable them to pursue an adequate housing and works programme, we will continue to have a shortage of homes in this country.

Let us consider the provision for an increased interest rate under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Does any honorable member opposite say that 1 per cent, increase in the interest rate is justified?

Mr Hulme - Yes.

Mr EDMONDS - I shall tell the House exactly the effect that increase is having on the housing position in Australia. The increase of 1 per cent, in the interest rate means that the rent of a house built in Queensland for £2,750 will be increased by 8s. 8d. a week. The average worker will find his rent increased from £3 12s. to £4 2s. 6d. a week. Government supporters say that the increase is justified, but I cannot agree that it is. The result, of course, will be that people who would otherwise have been able to buy or rent a house will be prevented from doing so. What justification is there for this increase? We know, of course, that building societies have already been adversely affected because of the Government's financial policy in respect of increased interest rates. Many people have been prevented from obtaining homes through those societies.

I now refer to another aspect of government policy that has adversely affected the housing position. Under the old Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, if a tenant was unable to pay the assessed rental, he was allowed a rebate, 60 per cent, of which was borne by the Commonwealth and 40 per cent, by the States. This Government has now decided on an overnight change of policy, and the States are now left with the full burden of that rebate. Honorable members opposite may say that this, too, is justified. I suppose they must say that it is justified. But where is the evidence of justification for this action, or for the increase in the interest rate?

The Government is responsible for the increase in the cost of houses. It has created a state of inflation in this country, as a result of which housing prices have increased to such an extent that it is almost impossible for the ordinary middle-class working man to obtain a house. Now. just for good measure, the Government has increased the interest rate on housing loans granted under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. That is a decision of which this Government cannot be proud.

We know that when a conference was held to consider the renewal of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Senator Spooner put the Government's proposition to the State representatives, and arguments were put forward against that proposition. At the beginning of negotiations every State resisted the Commonwealth's proposition to the fullest extent. What attitude did the Commonwealth adopt? It adopted the same attitude as it always adopts when the States appeal to the Commonwealth for finance. The State Premiers and other representatives resisted, as far as they were able, the attempt by this Government to reduce the amount allocated to the States for housing - and that is what it really amounted to.

Mr Davis - That is not right.

Mr EDMONDS - Despite that resistance, the States eventually found themselves in the position of having to accept or of getting nothing at all. The States had no choice. They took what the Commonwealth Government offered, otherwise they would have been left with nothing. I suggest that honorable members opposite, who seem so eager to bellow their lungs out in this Parliament when any Opposition member is talking on this subject, should read what Senator Spooner said to the State representatives.

Mr Hamilton - When?

Mr EDMONDS - At the conference that I have mentioned. He said, in effect. " You will accept this, or the whole system of Commonwealth and State housing agreements will collapse ". What interpretation can be put on that statement? Only one interpretation can be placed on the statement, and it is this: "You will take what we offer you or you will get nothing at all ". That is precisely what compelled the States to accept the inevitable. 1 repeat, before I resume my seat, that it is to the everlasting discredit and disgrace of this Government that it will not make sufficient money available to the States for housing, and that it will not face up to its responsibility to play an adequate part in relieving the housing situation by reducing the number of outstanding applications for war service homes and by providing homes for the people in Canberra, thus providing employment for workers in the building industry.

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