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Thursday, 27 February 1975
Page: 855

Mrs CHILD (Henty) -Mr Deputy Speaker,the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) in opening the debate on this Bill on behalf of the Opposition, attacked the provisions of the Bill, as he and his Party have consistently attacked every move that this Labor Government has made in providing assistance for the low income groups. They have even made attacks on Medibank. Honourable members opposite all seem to have misread the Bill. It is useless for them to insist that the powers already exist for the State housing authorities to do what this Bill will do. The honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) was also under the impression that the States could take over the role of the proposed Australian Housing Corporation. Honourable members opposite show a touching faith in the State housing authorities, one in which I would not join them. The truth of this matter is that the States cannot bridge the gap that exists for so many people between the deposit required to purchase a house and the price of a house. The State housing authorities do not have the authority under the State Acts to provide this money. All too many home buyers are forced to take second mortgages which they cannot afford. The Housing Corporation could help out with a second mortgage at a price that the home buyer could afford. If honourable members opposite have so much faith in the State housing authorities they might try to get the States to use the powers that they already have to control the price of land within their borders. This would be a far greater help to home buyers than consistently opposing the ideas that this Government comes up with to help home buyers. The State housing authorities have done better out of this Government than out of any preceding Liberal-Country Party government. Despite all the talk that we hear from the Liberal and Country Party members, this Government has treated the State housing authorities with a generosity that our predecessors were never interested in showing.

The Australian Government has wide powers in the housing field. For instance, it can directly house migrants, students, Aborigines, persons engaged in work for the Australian Government and residents of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Similarly, by the use of the family allowance provisions in the Australian Constitution, the Australian Government can provide financial assistance to families. While the Australian Government has these powers, previous governments have made no attempt to harness and direct those powers to the benefit of the Australian people. That is a fact; it is not an opinion. Certainly the Australian Government has always been active in providing financial assistance for housing to certain groups in the community, including the poor, the aged, migrants, Aborigines and suitably qualified past and present members of the armed Services.

In addition, the Australian Government also provides relief from high interest rates to mortgage holders through the tax deductibility of mortgage interest scheme. It is interesting to note that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) has never passed an opinion on whether he will or will not continue this tax deductibility of mortgage interest scheme in the unlikely event that he ever leads a government. The Australian Government provides a cash grant to eligible young people obtaining their first home, though this is being phased out in favour of other forms of assistance. But this is where the involvement ends. To say that we are attempting to take over control of the State housing authorities is an extraordinary argument to use in this debate. Why would we give them so much more money each year if we intend to phase them out? If we want to get rid of them, why do not we decrease the amount of money that we are making available? It is a very odd procedure that we have adopted to phase out the State housing authorities.

We have already entered into a 5-year agreement with the State housing authorites in which we have more than doubled the allocations for both State housing homes and homes built under the Home Builders Account, since the allocation was made in 1972-73. There is no intention to supplant or ease out the State housing authorities, or indeed the building societies. There is no intention in this Bill to supplant or usurp the role of private enterprise in the building industry.

Indeed, the provisions of this Bill will take up the slack in housing where private enterprise does not or cannot function. They will take up the slack concerning the deposit gap and rented homes. We all are aware of the desperate shortage of homes available for rent at a moderate price. Indeed, in the Melbourne 'Herald' recently Peter Fitzgerald published a very frank series of articles on the hardship caused to many families who suffer through savage rentals. The honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) referred to Mr Dedman and to a remark that he made about 'little capitalists'. That is typical of what I would expect to hear from a member of the Country Party. The honourable member is referring to something that happened 30 years ago and is applying it to today. Time moves and opinions, climates and society and community attitudes change.

It should be noted by this House that not only hardship and misery are caused by high rents, but also the door is left wide open for exploitation of the very people most in need. This Australian Labor Party Government is intent on ensuring that people are housed. In some States the Landlord and Tenant Acts give no protection at all to tenants. They are at the mercy of the landlord's integrity. Rented homes are in great shortage. Once a shortage exists, rent rackets emerge. When voting on this Bill honourable members should remember that there is no other single problem in life today which threatens the family as much as inadequate housing. There is no other single issue which causes more heartache and misery than insecurity in housing. To pay onethird of the take-home pay in rent is a real killer. The Australian Housing Corporation will allow the Government to move further into the Housing field. Its advent, however, will not mean the end of our present schemes, but it will allow much of the Australian Government expenditure on housing to be put under one roof. It is not the intention to use the Corporation to supplant the role of the State housing authorities, a point which I have already made.

A main objective of the Australian Housing Corporation is to use the powers available to the Australian Government to complement the private financial institutions to assist persons in acquiring their own home; not to stop them from doing so. The majority of housing transactions are financed by the private financial institutions, and their efforts are to be applauded. Even so, there are many persons who cannot obtain a loan suitable to their requirements because of their own financial position or because of the lending policies of these institutions. Furthermore, persons paying off their own loan or persons renting accommodation often find that, because of changed circumstances they are experiencing severe difficulty in meeting their commitments. Again, some persons are quite capable of meeting repayment commitments of a housing loan but are not able to obtain a loan because of a lack of sufficient savings history. It is in areas such as these that the Australian Government is keen to assist. These are not areas in which the State housing authorities can or will assist. The Australian Housing Corporation will be the vehicle for putting these desires into practice. Although it will be engaged in areas which traditionally had been the preserve of private enterprise, the Corporation will complement, not compete with, the private financial institutions which lend for housing.

The home building industry in Australia is one of conservatism. New techniques of construction take ages to filter through before they win popular accord. This is only to be expected, for a mistake in misjudging public acceptance can often send a builder bankrupt. But the Australian Housing Corporation, with all the research backing of the Department of Housing and Construction and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, can take a lead in new construction techniques. It will be in a position to be an innovator in housing construction both of a technical and social nature. It will give the Australian Government a powerful weapon in improving the housing standards of our population. In the past, the Government has had both hands tied behind its back in this regard.

Australia is a collection of regions. When figures are produced which tell us that housing activity, on the whole, has increased, decreased or stabilized, regional differences are skated over. These regions are economic cells in thenown right and have their own financial and industry systems and their economic wellbeing is influenced by different factors and to different degrees by Australian Government action. For instance, Cairns is affected differently from the western suburbs of Sydney. Home building activity may be thriving in one region and dead in another region. To provide a financial input into these 'dead' regions to promote housing activity will be within the scope of the Australian Housing Corporation and it will operate along these lines as the need and its budget allow.

Those then are some of the reasons for establishing the Australian Housing Corporation. A body along these lines is very long overdue. The Bill represents an honest expression of the Government's intentions. It provides direct links with private enterprise. It retains the identity of the defence service homes scheme. It is true that the defence service homes scheme will move into the Australian Housing Corporation but it will not disappear as an identity. It will retain an identity of its own. The Australian Housing Corporation in fact will operate together with the defence service homes scheme. It will use the momentum and the experience of the defence service homes scheme, already extended and expanded under this Government, to cover returned personnel who were not covered previously. But the defence service homes scheme will be retained as a separate unit within the Corporation.

It is an innovating Bill with a flexibility that enables it to move into areas of need into which the Government has never before moved. The Corporation can, for example, make subsidies to charitable organisations, such as the Brotherhood of St Laurence, for the provision of housing for needy families. It can subsidise building, rents, land and relax repayments in times of unemployment or illness. I would like to hear anyone tell me that the State housing authorities can or will do that. It is a Bill of compassion and it is a Bill of vision. It will open up new concepts of welfare care with far less rigidity than we have seen previously. It will mop up areas of need which have never before fitted into any category, and there are many such areas. It is a timely Bill and it has a laudable philosophy. I am sure that it will be greeted by the community with quite a lot of joy

I have in my own electorate a number of areas where rented houses run at about $45 to $50 a week. They are about the only homes available, and there are people in my electorate who are forced into rented nouses. Much as we would all like to have our own house, put in our own gardens and our own concrete paths, the sheer facts of life are that we all cannot raise a deposit to buy a house. That has been the situation not just in the last 2 years since the Labor Government came to power; it has been the situation in the community for many years. We cannot all buy a house. This Bill gives a bit of vision to those people who have to rent a house as to what could be done.

I do not think that the honourable member for Darling Downs need look with such suspicion at the regulations which the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) will introduce. I do not think the Minister is plotting the takeover of every State housing authority in Australia. I congratulate the Minister and also his Department for the innovating thoughts behind this Bill. It has been long overdue. Australia lags very far behind comparable countries in looking for flexibility within the home building area. I hope that the Bill will be passed in both Houses and that the forces of reaction and conservatism will for once open their minds to a new idea and look at a new idea rather than being frightened of it. It is a vision designed to give help in areas in which previously no help has been available. State housing authorities do not fill the bill, good and all as some of the actions are that they take. I do give credit to the fact that Victoria is doing the best it can in extreme difficulties.

Before concluding my remarks, I point out that the preceding Liberal-Country Party Government was in power in the Federal sphere for 23 years and in that entire 23 years it produced no policy whatsoever for housing those people who cannot afford to buy their own homes. It produced no ideas and no policy on rented homes. The simple fact is that the Opposition does not care about people who cannot afford to buy a home.

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