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Monday, 12 November 1973
Page: 3116

Mr KEOGH (Bowman) - One would be excused for believing as one listened to the remarks of the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) that he had been asleep for the last 23 years and that he has suddenly become awake, alive and concerned about the plight of Australians. About the only reasonable comment that he made in the course of his remarks was with respect to young Australians who today seek to own their own homes. What a shameful and shocking record the Government which he supported had over almost a quarter of a century because of its failure to carry out any semblance of a decent policy directed to providing housing at a reasonable rental or purchase price for young Australians.

The legacy of despair that was left by the former Government to so many young couples and young people seeking housing is one of the reasons why in a time of prosperity in the building industry, as there has been in the term of office of this Government, every opportunity has been taken to catch up with the backlog. Those people who went out of office last December could have ensured that a great many more houses were constructed in their term of office if the 130,000 people whom they cast into the unemployment ranks had been used in the building industry to provide, additional housing. Yet now we hear accusations made about all the terrible things that this Government has done to cause a shortage of building materials and a shortage of labour. One would be led to believe by the remarks of the honourable member for Isaacs that the cause of all the problems of the building industry should be laid at the feet of this Government and its policies, including the responsible attitude that it has taken to the Australian immigration scheme which a former Labor Government introduced in the early years after World War II.

No doubt exists that the problems that remain for us in the building industry as a legacy from the previous Government are similar to the problems that we have been left in a great variety of different industries which are important in the economy of this nation. It is only the responsible attitude of this Government in tackling these problems that will overcome them and provide a better way of life for Australians whether they be young or old Australians, they can be reassured that, under this Government, their problems, such as the lack of housing, will be tackled in a responsible manner and will not be treated in the irresponsible fashion adopted by the previous Government, which, as I said, for almost a quarter of a century failed to meet the needs and requirements of Australians who sought housing.

I wish to direct my remarks now to the responsibilities of the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly). I refer to that section of his portfolio which deals with the provision of the office accommodation for Commonwealth departments. I noted his remarks in the Press statement he issued at the opening of the new Australian Government offices in Cairns on 27 October. He said that that excellent building was designed by the Australian Department of Works to the requirements of the Department of Services and Property, that it would provide about 20,000 square feet of office space and that the overall cost was approximately $775,000. He referred to the policy of the Australian Government to continue its efforts to provide accommodation for Australian Government departments. He said that accommodation would be provided in buildings constructed on land owned by the Australian Government or in office blocks that would be purchased by the Australian Government for the purpose of accommodating the various Government departments.

Earlier this year I was present at the opening of a very fine complex of offices in Brisbane which cost approximately $9m and which will house about 1,600 public servants. I refer to the new Australian Government centre at the corner of Ann and Creek Streets in Brisbane. The great saving to the Australian taxpayer that will result from the Government's policy can be seen from the fact that $32m was spent last year in renting the office space used by the various Government departments throughout Australia. The extraordinarily high sum of $11,767,000 was spent in New South Wales last year and of this amount $1 1,486,000 was spent in Sydney alone. The next highest expenditure of $9,305,000 was incurred in Victoria. An amount of more than $32. 5m was spent on the rental and leasing of office accommodation throughout the nation. Even in Canberra an amount of $3,566,000 was spent on renting office accommodation.

The practice of the previous Government was to allow such organisations as John McEwen House Pty Ltd to build office accommodation which was suitable for Government departments to lease from the constructing company. The many friends of the previous Government are listed in an answer to a question asked by Senator Gietzelt and answered by Senator Willesee on 6 June. John McEwen House Pty Ltd is listed as one of the companies to which this Government is paying rent for office space in Canberra. Other companies such as the Australian Mutual Provident Society, the Australian-New Zealand Bank Ltd, the City Mutual Life Assurance Society, the English, Scottish and Australian Bank Ltd and Kalamazoo (Aus.) Ltd are listed. These companies are included among the 200-odd companies throughout Australia that are reaping the benefits of the short-sighted policies of the previous Government in respect of the provision of office accommodation for Government departments.

I congratulate the Minister for Services and Property for the policy that he and the Government have adopted. I congratulate also Senator Cavanagh for the outspokenness of his remarks earlier this year, when he made it clear that he would conduct a survey to learn the position. Of course, the position has been revealed in the figures which I have just cited. I congratulate the Minister for Services and Property for his efforts to concentrate on the provision of Australian Government accommodation in buildings owned by this Government so that the drain on the taxpayers money - obviously, $32m was wastefully spent last year - will become a thing of the past, and this money will not be directed at filling the coffers of the companies which have owned the buildings and in some instances completely paying off the mortgages that were established to provide the accommodation. The accommodation was provided supposedly for the companies themselves but in most instances only a small amount of accommodation was for the companies' own use. These companies provided this accommodation safe in the knowledge that they had the sure tenancy of a friendly and favourable Government. I hope one day that the true story concerning the construction of John McEwen House and how the Country Party financed it from the Australian taxpayers' funds will be revealed. The honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) is anxiously waiting to get to his feet. Perhaps he will reveal to the people a few of these previously undisclosed facts. The people of Australia will then know some of the tricks that the previous coalition Government got up to in the provision of accommodation for Government departments. It was for the benefit of their own political parties.

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