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Thursday, 27 February 1975
Page: 848

Mr KEOGH (Bowman) -From what we have heard from Opposition speakers so far in this debate it is not surprising to find that the Opposition still has no policy on housing. For almost a quarter of a century while the Opposition parties were in office they failed dismally to overcome the problems of housing in this nation. Never at any time did they reach a situation in which they were able to house Australian people at an economic purchase or rental price. This Government is to be complimented for the bold steps it has taken in the short time that it has been in office. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) has done a fine job in moving ahead with the implementation of the Labor policy on housing. Surely it is very difficult for Opposition parties to be critical of policy in anything but a most illogical fashion when they themselves found over the long period of time in which they were in office that they could not solve the housing problems of this nation. We heard the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bouchier) talking today again, as honourable members opposite always do, about the fear and threat to the Australian people of nationalisation of the housing industry. What a ridiculous claim that is. Although the honourable member has been in this House for only a short time, had he been involved in political affairs in this nation for a long time he would know that that sort of thing cannot be accomplished in Australia. It could not be accomplished even if it were the wish of this Government to do so.

We heard the Opposition spokesman on housing, the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay), cite examples of how this legislation poses a threat for the various State housing authorities. The Minister made the position very clear in his second reading speech but it is not surprising that the honourable member did not bother to listen or even to read it before he got to his feet. The Minister said:

Elsewhere I have said that the new Corporation is intended not to duplicate or supplant, but to complement State housing authorities. Our Government sees the work of those authorities as of cardinal importance in the creation of good living conditions for the lowest income strata of the population.

It is a pity that something cannot be done about some of the State housing authorities. It is a pity, particularly as far as the housing authority that operates in my State of Queensland is concerned, that something cannot be done by this Government to set housing authorities on the path that they have failed to tread. In the whole of the time that the Queensland Housing Commission has operated under Liberal, Country Party, CountryNational Party or whatever governments held office in Queensland, it is my considered opinion that it has failed dismally to do the job that it should be doing in that State.


Mr KEOGH - An interjection from the honourable member for Darling Downs suggests that that is not so. Let him deny that as far as the people in Queensland who are seeking rental accommodation from the Housing Commission are concerned, their situation is absolutely hopeless. The lies that have to be told by people and the collusion that is forced on people before they are even considered, before they are even placed on the list of that Commission for consideration to receive low cost rental accommodation, has to be seen to be believed. The Queensland Housing Commission, might I say, is the most inept organisation that I know of operating under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. It has failed dismally to provide attractive homes for rental or for sale to the people in that State. The most unimaginative architectural designs that I have ever seen throughout this country exist in Queensland. If through this legislation or by some other means the Minister for Housing and Construction can do something to smarten up the operations of the Queensland Housing Commission he will do a service not only to the people of Queensland but also to the people of the whole of Australia. I implore him to do whatever is possible to straighten out that Commission to show it the error of its ways and to prove to it that unless it starts to adopt a more modern approach than it has in the past it will never fulfil the role that is should be fulfilling under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. Whether it be the provision of rental accommodation, homes for low income families or pensioner units, whatever aspect of the implementation of that Agreement that one looks at, the most inept administration in the Queensland Housing Commission stands out clearly in my mind. Surely it is an organisation that could well do with a bit of an example being set by this Government towards overcoming the housing needs of the people of Queensland, but that is not what this legislation is intended to do.

I have heard again around some of the Returned Services League Clubs in Brisbane the story of the fear that is injected into the minds of people about how this legislation spells doom for the defence service homes organisation, suggesting to ex-servicemen that the Labor Government is not really interested in giving them homes under the favourable conditions which had been available in the past and that this, as has been described, is the thin end of the wedge as far as ex-servicemen are concerned; that before long defence service homes, as ex-servicemen know them today, will no longer exist. That, of course, cannot be further from the truth. The fact is that the defence service homes scheme has expanded under this Government. Provisions which have been incorporated in legislation since this Government has been in office have resulted in the taking of some bold steps that were never attempted by the last government.

Mr McLeay - Changed the whole philosophy.

Mr KEOGH - We have changed the whole philosophy and righly so because we have enabled people who were previously discriminated against, men and women who have served their country well, to come within the provisions of the defence service homes scheme. We have lifted expenditure on defence service homes from about $70m when we came into office to approximately $ 1 30m at the present time. This is a clear example of where the interest of this Governmernt lies in providing facilities for retirement to those who have given service to their country whether overseas in a theatre of war or in this country.

Perhaps it is more appropriate for me at this stage, rather than to illustrate to the House just how much off the beam Opposition members are in their criticism of this legislation and how illogical that criticism of it is, to concentrate on and mention some aspects of the legislation through which worthwhile programs could be undertaken for the benefit of the people of Australia who for so long were neglected by the previous Governmernt when it was in office. In his second reading speech in introducing this Bill, the Minister for Housing and Construction referred to the fact that the Australian Housing Corporation would primarily be a lending institution. He also said that the Corporation would seek particularly to assist the low income earner and that its operations would not clash with those of the State housing authorities. I have already illustrated that point. But given these parameters, there is a number of areas where the Corporation could usefully become engaged.

Firstly, it could provide finance both directly and indirectly to those people who are not properly serviced by the present financial system. In particular, it could assist the group of people whose incomes are such that they do not qualify for a loan from terminating building societies financed from home builders account money but who also are unable to afford a loan from a savings bank or a permanent building society. The Australian Housing Corporation could channel funds into terminating building societies which in turn could lend to individuals above the present cut-off limit at rates of interest above those presently charged by the terminating societies. Such action would not duplicate Australian Government welfare housing assistance which is presently provided under the housing agreement with the States. However, it would be a quick efficient means of helping the group referred to.

Alternatively, the Australian Housing Corporation could lend directly to this group of people. It could process applications for finance, advance the money, and control the repayments. By lending directly, the problems of using a financial intermediary would vanish and assistance could be provided in those areas where the need is deemed to be greatest. Another area in which the Australian Housing Corporation could make its presence felt is the provision of second mortgage finance. Today, unfortunately, second mortgages, have become a fact of life. Few people embark upon the purchase of a home without finding the need to involve themselves in securing a second mortgage. It has been estimated that approximately one out of every 5 people who take a first mortgage today also require a second mortgage.

Finance companies have been the major providers of second mortgage finance. Many are now in the position where they will not make new loans for some months hence. Besides, the interest rates that they have been charging are prohibitive and most burdensome to the young people who are in need of them. Therefore, the lending of second mortgage finance to help overcome the deposit gap, or lending to assist in the purchase of land, is probably one of the most useful things that the Australian Housing Corporation will be able to accomplish.

The AHC could also be used to assist in hardship cases. I know that it will be. The direction of assistance towards people who on current incomes find that the sums that they are earning are insufficient to allow them to meet purchase instalments is well justified by the large amount of hardship which is now suffered by home buyers whose interest burden has been increased at a time when their incomes may have fallen, such as during the high level of unemployment that exists today.

The mortgage interest tax deductibility arrangements are relatively of little benefit in the very low income cases. It is as well to note at this stage- this has been brought to my attentionthat probably a great many people who could be taking advantage of this provision are not doing so. It is probably appropriate that rather than criticise the efforts which have been made by this Government- such criticisms have come from the honourable member for Bendigo who criticised the brochure which has been put out by the Department of Housing and Construction- it should be applauded for the efforts which have been made by this Government to let the people of Australia know what is being done for them by the important innovations which have been introduced by this Government to make a great deal less burdensome than it has been in the past the obtaining of a home and paying for it.

I understand that the forms by which the mortgage interest tax deductibility can be claimed are readily available at post offices. I would urge any young people who must meet the commitment of paying off a home today and who come within the income category specified for eligibility for that tax deductibility to obtain a form, fill it in, and make a claim to ensure that they take advantage of this real benefit that is available to them, as a result of the legislation that was passed earlier by this House.

The Australian Housing Corporation could also become involved in the provisions or rental housing for families. Let me refer briefly to the problem facing many people in Queensland today. Perhaps honourable members are not aware that in Queensland, under the guidelines laid down by the Queensland Housing Commission, it does not matter how high is the rent a person is paying for a home, it does not matter how inadequate the accommodation is, provided a person has a roof over his or her head the Queensland Housing Commission will not even consider that person's need for State rental accommodation from Queensland Housing Commission sources.

It is necessary for people to arrange eviction orders, to arrange for their landlords to take them to court, and to go through all the traumas of a court appearance or hearing. People must wait out the time during the period when they find that they are unable to meet their rent commitments before the Housing Commission will consider them eligible for listing on its priority schedule. Of course, many people during this time find that it is impossible to meet their loan commitments. But woe betide them if they fail in one repayment as this gives the Queensland

Housing Commission the letout, that is. the opportunity to turn to such people and say: 'Well, you have not been a good tenant. You have not been paying for the accommodation which you have at the moment. How could we consider you as the type of tenant that we would like to put into the rental accommodation for which you have applied from our sources?' The fact of the matter is that the Queensland Housing Commission has failed to meet the needs of these people. I am very pleased to say that this is one avenue in which the Australian Government may possibly be able to assist through the Australian Housing Corporation.

There is an acute shortage of rental accommodation throughout almost every town and city in Australia. The responsibility of overcoming this shortage, through the resources of the Australian Government, is one that I know the Minister will be only too eager to assist in. The Australian Housing Corporation, in partnership with private enterprise, will do much to alleviate the problems that exist today in providing housing for Australian families. The Australian Housing Corporation could build dwellings for people in disadvantaged groups. I instance migrants in Australia.

It has become apparent in recent times through surveys which have been conducted by this Government that the migrants of Australia have been discriminated against by the providers of houses in most Australian States. Many migrant families find themselves unable to obtain accommodation within the price range that they can afford when they first come to this country. A great service could result from the provision of units for these groups of migrants and other disadvantaged groups within the Australian community. This could be done through the provisions of this legislation. Obviously its ability to perform in the areas that I have outlined will be dependent upon the appropriations that are made available to to it at Budget time. But it would be unrealistic to expect that it will overnight overcome all the problems that present themselves. Certainly in the initial stages it will make serious inroads into the problems that exist and have existed for many years- long before this Government came into office.

I compliment the Minister on introducing this important, forthright and forward-thinking legislation. I am confident that the good officers who are currently operating in various sections of the Department of Housing and Construction- I know some of them associated with the defence service homes in Queensland- will be involved in the implementation of many of these important policy aspects under the new Corporation once this legislation is passed. I have the utmost confidence in the ability of these officers to start to do something to really overcome the problems confronting people today in the provision of housing in Australia. The examples that I have cited demonstrate, I am sure, quite adequately the role that the Corporation will play- a very vital role- in solving the problem of housing the Australian population. I commend the Bill to honourable members.

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