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Thursday, 27 February 1975
Page: 851

Mr McVEIGH (Darling Downs) - I support the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) in his opposition to the principles contained in this Bill. In a spirit of generosity one can say that the legislation we are now considering is one of the very few Budget proposals that have not been emasculated. One must, therefore, be somewhat congratulatory to the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) for not being the 'flotsam and jetsam' of the interwing faction fights of his party. There has been wave after wave of change in the Budget proposals. There has been constant shifting of direction. Policies have been duffed. But this one has remained a cleanskin

Housing is a most important aspect of living in the modern era. There is no accurate way of measuring the socio-economic and psychological effects that inadequate housing has on people and families. Too often in the past emphasis has been given to 'house' people rather than to 'create a home environment'. One must condemn, and condemn in the strongest possible terms, the concrete jungles that are proliferated in certain of our cities. They are blueprints for social degradation and this type of housing cannot, and must not, be tolerated. Too often the easy way has been taken and these mortal mistakes must not be repeated.

One must express some amazement at the second reading speech of the Minister in this House and of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) in another place. The comparison is rather notable and it is quite clear that there is a different emphasis as between the two. The Senator's speech goes to some length to make it clear that there is no intention to duplicate or take over the responsibilities of the various State housing authorities. But the Minister for Housing and Construction in his speech just made a fleeting comment on this matter and the general thread running through his speech was one of cutting criticism that Federal power in this field is fragmented and that he wants control. It is a spurious argument, therefore, to advance the case that the new statutory authority will not interfere with but will complement existing State authorities because the whole impulse of Australian Labor Party thinking since December 1972 has been control and aboslute control. We will not be fooled by underhand sleight of hand tricks.

The argument that the whole proposal is unconstitutional can be advanced. But that is a matter for the courts and we need not tarry on this detail. I want to sound a note of caution on the implications of clause 6 (3) (c). A government dedicated to avowed centralism could argue that housing could be provided to anyone as a form of family allowances and the result of this interpretation of section 51 (xxiiiA.) of the Constitution could shatter the very base of the States' rights. It is to be hoped that what is really meant is that the operation is limited to some cash benefit associated with, and part of, family life.

Similarly, from sub-clause (d) of the same clause it would seem that any Commonwealth employee would be entitled by virtue of his employment to be granted money for the purpose of housing. Post Office officials could expect the Commonwealth to enlarge its activities in this field and take over some of the capacity of State housing authorities. The words of the Minister, therefore, come under some scrutiny when he says there will be no decrease in the activities of the State housing authorities. It would appear to be the natural corollary if this Bill becomes law that Commonwealth activity would increase and State activity decrease. We are not happy about this and are firmly opposed to it.

It is accepted that the Commonwealth has power to provide finance pursuant to or incidental to any matter which has been bestowed upon it by the Constitution. The Commonwealth in the area of housing has to rely upon the provision of housing being incidental to its power to make laws with respect to: Family allowances; the Aboriginal people of Australia; immigrants, and Commonwealth employment. It has no power under the Constitution to make specific laws dealing with housing. This, of course, presumes we have left aside Territories and defence aspects. The only way finance can be made available is under section 96 of the Constitution, which allows money to be made available to the States to be applied on such conditions as the Commonwealth attaches to the grant.

Our natural instincts would lead us to believe that a statutory body- the baby of the Minister for Housing and Construction- would impinge on the areas of responsibilities of the State authorities and when the showdown came the Commonwealth could be expected to favour its own creation. The States have made great progress in satisfying the housing needs of the Australian people. But more needs to be done. There is no need for this self-perpetuating octopus of centralised control to be launched when there is a machine adequately handling the position. The States can, and have, efFectively and efficiently administered their responsibilities under the housing Acts. I submit that exactly the same objective could be achieved by making grants to the States under section 96 of the Constitution, as is the practice now in relation to the provision of housing generally.

Clause 10 of the Bill cannot be accepted with outward calm and without questioning. The Corporation shall only have to consult other bodies. With the established practice of Commonwealth precedence where there is conflict, it is abundantly clear that the statutory authority will exercise an iron clad fist of direction when its standards of construction, safety precautions, etc., differ from those of State laws and local authority by-laws even though its standards may be inferior to the latter two.

It is with no Mecca of suspicion that we approach this debate but there is a compelling thought that the scheme is one for swallowing the small by the large. There will be, if the principle of this Bill is agreed to, a progressive enfeeblement of States' administration. The Minister may have a tinge of surprise that we are placing this interpretation on his Bill but if the members of the Government had proved over the last 2 years that they were both consistent and honest in their activities- we saw in this House this morning how consistent and honest they are- we would take them at their word and would not adopt such an intransigent attitude. But it is up to them by example to remove their own stigma; otherwise they will retireignominously into a dismal little word of Opposition. In this debate the Opposition is pouring in constructive material to ensure home ownership for as many Australians as possible. We dislike that aspect of the Bill about which, in his second reading speech, the Minister said:

Honourable members will not find in the Bill a great amount of detail. The functions to be performed by the Corporation will be effected by regulations embodying new schemes as and when they are required.

In our opinion this is a preposterous suggestion. We are not prepared to give the Government an open cheque. Although the Corporation is given power to do all things necessary or convenient for the performance of its functions by clause 7, and has power to do a wide range of actions specifically listed in clause 8, its powers for lending money, granting money and selling, leasing or building dwellings are all limited by the provisions of Part V. Loans may not be granted, except for investing the capital of the Corporation, unless regulations have been made prescribing the persons who are eligible and the type of dwelling for which loans may be given. A maximum amount has to be prescribed. This situation is covered by clause 29. According to clause 30 grants may be made only under similar conditions. Clauses 3 1 and 32 relate to sales and leases by the Corporation. Dwellings may be sold or leased only where regulations have been made setting out the people to whom dwellings may be sold or leased, the type of dwellings that may be sold or leased and the terms and conditions of the contract of sale or lease. Clause 33 provides that the Corporation may build dwellings for sale or lease but where the dwelling is built for a person on his own land, regulations must have been made describing the persons for whom dwellings may be built, the types of dwellings that may be built and the conditions on which dwellings may be built.

Mr Keogh - Say that again.

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