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Thursday, 27 February 1975
Page: 843

Mr DAWKINS (Tangney) -We have heard another of those speeches from the Opposition's spokesman on housing affairs, the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay), which are full of slogans and meaningless propaganda. He is an expert at the technique of putting forward matters of public importance about the plight of the housing industry, and as soon as the Government introduces a measure to assist the industry all he can do is oppose it. There was not a single constructive suggestion in the whole boring 30 minutes of his speech. He is so good at opposing that I hope he enjoys the very many more years that he will spend on that side of the House.

However, we are dealing with a Bill to set up the Australian Housing Corporation. Everybody accepts and recognises the fact that shelter is a fundamental need of mankind and that it is quite proper for governments to have a role and a responsibility in providing that shelter for people, particularly for those people on whom the provision of shelter imposes an excessive and unreasonable burden. The provision of this need by governments has been complicated in Australia by considerations of so-called free choice and socalled private ownership. These are the 2 issues which have continued to hold back government participation in this field and government attempts to solve the problems.

Because owning one's own house has become fundamental to the realisation of every Australian's dream, any rational debate has succumbed to the use of emotional slogans mainly by the vested interests who have for so long used the cry of home ownership as their plaything. Considerations of rational planning and innovative and cost cutting building techniques have always played second fiddle to the interests of the developers, the builders and local government authorities who in so many cases play an important role in the housing field. The whole question of the provision of shelter cannot be separated in these circumstances from the mechanics of the market place where the prospective customers are not only captive but also vulnerable. Because private enterprise plays such an important role in the provision of housing, the vagaries of the market place tend to influence the prospects of people who are seeking housing.

In saying this I do not want to give the impression that I am opposed to private home ownership. I think it is quite a legitimate and understandable ambition for people who live in this sort of competitive society which until recently has provided very inadequately for their security. It is very understandable that they should seek to own their own houses and to make sure that there is some security, at least of having a roof over their heads. However, we should avoidbeing blinded by this obsession with private ownership. We should not be blinded to the considerations of better housing in better environments. Quite clearly there are many situations in which the goal of private home ownership is inappropriate. For instance, for those people who need to move from place to place in order to maintain a job owning their own home is an imposition. What is needed for these sorts of people is some easy rental situation so that they can move easily from one place to another. (Quorum formed)

We have just seen another of the inane contributions of the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) who called for a quorum. I noticed the Deputy Opposition Whip standing outside the door preventing Liberal and Country Party members from entering the House. I thank the Australian Labor Party members for coming in and providing an audience. I was saying that it is not appropriate in all situations for us to be obsessed with the ideas of private home ownership. The changing needs of people throughout their lives are not necessarily served by owning their homes. They start as a couple, have a family and then gradually withdraw to the position again of one or two people living in the house. It is not appropriate to have the same sized house with the same sort of facilities for the whole of their lifetime. When we consider that these days in order to obtain one's own house one has to obtain finance over a very long period, it is particularly relevant that we should be considering other forms of housing besides simply home ownership. It seems to me that too many people are chained by long term commitments for housing which may or may not be appropriate to their changing needs.

One of the important factors influencing private ownership is the recognition that prices of housing and prices of land are increasing interminably. It is only sensible that if people are to buy houses and land it is better to do so now than later because less money is involved. However the increase in land prices particularly has Utile to do with this Government and is largely beyond its jurisdiction. So this Government cannot be blamed for the problems of increasing land prices. Similarly the increase in building costs is largely a problem of the private sector. It is a problem of excess demand outstripping the supply of building materials and building labour. This process is not influenced by this Government. It is much more influenced by the capital market in this country, over which this Government until recently has had very little control.

Even if one wants to emphasise private home ownership beyond all else, it is vitally important for those on small incomes to be assisted financially by governments in a more successful way than has been the case in the past. It is also important for governments to take a role in influencing the variables which determine the cost of housing. If one thinks that the attempts in the past have been satisfactory or successful one needs only to look at the long lists of people waiting for housing commission houses in the States, or at some of the more dismal attempts by those authorities to provide housing for these people, to realise that there is a great deal of room for improvement. Everybody knows that this Government has already done a lot to assist home ownership and housing in all fields. It recently introduced a scheme of tax deductibility for mortgage repayments. It has increased very largely the finance available through the home builders' account and through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. As well it has tried to assist in the stabilisation of land prices by helping the States to establish Lands Commissions. Now it is proposed to go further with this legislation and provide machinery through which assistance, such as low interest rate loans and second mortgage loans, can be provided to bridge the deposit gap. This sort of assistance is required because of the inevitability that interest rates will always be too high to allow all people to build their own homes. Yet it is not in the best interests of the economy simply to gear interest rates to the needs of the housing industry. Governments must always adjust interest rates to cope with the circumstances of the economy as a whole. Inevitably this will, on occasions, mitigate against the best interests of home seekers.

The solution, therefore, is to provide flexible arrangements so that when high interest rates do disadvantage home purchasers assistance can be given to those most in need. It is only those who believe in the funny money theories who can possibly believe that a low interest rate structure can exist at a time of high inflation. Low interest rates at this time, in the absence of impossibly restrictive controls, would only fuel inflation and hence take the cost of homes further beyond the reach of the average Australian. What is needed is flexible assistance for those who need it. However, more significantly, what is needed is a new approach to the whole problem. One cannot expect governments continually to underwrite the building industry when that industry suffers so much from the vagaries of the free enterprise system. If we are going to have the aim of providing one house for every Australian family it has to be a public undertaking over which the Government has significant control. In such a situation the Government would have to have regard for a range of matters as well as home finance. It must have some role in the supply and demand management of the whole industry. It must have a role in land development. It must have a role in encouraging new building techniques and new building designs. It also must work towards new forms of tenure.

Of course, as soon as one mentions this sort of action we hear cries from the conservatives of rigid stultification and boring monotony in house designs. But clearly this does not have to be the case. Already there is a colossal sameness amongst the houses which are being built. This is clearly due to a lack of imagination outside fairly rigid constraints. Ironically, it is the existing system of home purchasing which has stifled adventure and imagination in the provision of new homes. It is very much more difficult to get finance for a non-standard design. It is very much more difficult to get building approval for a non-standard design of house. Even if one does manage to get the finance and the building approval, it is likely that the builder will load the price of the house simply because it is not standard and because he may not have experienced some of the problems involved in building it. One cannot pretend, as the Opposition always pretends, that free choice exists in any real sense for any but the most wealthy who can afford to take what many see as a risk in straying beyond the usual building conventions.

What is required is a mix between standard components and flexible design. Surely it is not beyond the wit of a highly advanced society such as ours to incorporate these 2 aspects. It is intended, indeed, that this Housing Corporation when it becomes a reality will encourage this. It will make finance available for those people who are interersted in exploring new designs and it will not put a bar on those people who want to build non-standard houses. Far from being a stultifying influence, it will be a new force for diversification and at the same time, efficiency.

I want briefly to turn to another question which is covered by this Bill and that is the question of student housing, particularly as it affects tertiary and technical students. The Bill provides for the Corporation to provide housing for students as one of those groups of people who fall within the responsibility of the Australian Government. I would hope that such assistance would be made available and could be used to solve a growing problem. Housing of students has, for a very long time, been considered a luxury and an adjunct to the educational process. This is largely a hangover from the days of those universities which had colleges and halls of residences as an extension of the educational process.

The situation has long since changed. Not only are more people from a wider cross-section of the community undertaking educational courses, inevitably involving people who are not able to afford the fees of colleges and halls of residence but there has also been an increasing specialisation in education which has required that people wanting to undertake courses have had to move to institutions away from their normal place of residence. Education is seen as a key to social mobility. This means that often the direction in which a student might be going might be quite different from the pattern and life style of his own home and his own family. This may mean in the interests of his education and development that he moves out of the family home and finds his own accommodation. As well as this, more people return to education later on in life and are, therefore, in need of the sort of student accommodation which previously has not had to be provided. Increasingly, it is inappropriate for student housing to be handled by those bodies which are essentially concerned with educational funding. As I have said, it has become much less an aspect of the educational process and much more a question of providing housing for a group of people which, from time to time, finds itself in need.

It may be argued on this basis that students are less needy or have a lower priority than many other people in the community such as the aged and the low income earners. However, it is worth noting in this context that the allowance which is paid to students is, at the maximum, about the same level as many social security benefits. Yet students are excluded from assistance from the State housing authorities. Whereas they have the same income as many social service beneficiaries, they do not have the parallel assistance available to them from housing authorities. It can be shown that in these days of free- or at least fee-less- education there are many people who are prevented from undertaking education simply because of the financial problems of trying to provide housing for themselves or in some cases their families. If that is the case, if there are still financial impositions on people entering education, then it is, indeed, a failure to meet one of the ambitions which we would all like to see achieved. I know that this is one matter the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) has under consideration. I would urge him very strongly to take this matter very seriously in the hope that we can see a new deal for an increasing range of students who at present are disadvantaged.

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