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Thursday, 27 February 1975
Page: 870

Mr RUDDOCK (Parramatta) - It is a pleasure to be able to participate in this debate because I am very concerned about the state of housing in this country. I should like particularly to take up some of the comments of the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun) who preceded me in this debate. He referred to the New South Wales and Victorian governments. Honourable members may recall that when he made his allegations that those governments discriminate against rent payers I asked him for evidence. I challenge any honourable member to produce facts instead of allegations to substantiate such a claim. I am ashamed that a South Australian should come into this chamber and say, with his limited experience, that there is discrimination in New South Wales without facts to substantiate his allegation. I recall well that the New South Wales and Victorian governments have expressed the desire to promote as far as possible home ownership within their States. What they did not want forced on them was a situation where rental accommodation was specified as being a fixed percentage of the amount of accommodation that they had to build and provide.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - New South Wales welcomed it.

Mr RUDDOCK -It may have welcomed it within the limits of its financial capacity to build this sort of accommodation having regard to the needs. The Minister's interjection highlights my point that the New South Wales Government has not discriminated against rent payers in its philosophies and approaches. That was an allegation unsubstantiated by evidence but simply by innuendo. One of the problems of this House today, exemplified by the behaviour we have seen this morning, is that Government supporters are prepared to make these sorts of allegations often but if they suspect that there is even a slight whisper about themselves at any time they shout with indignation like pricked pigs. On this occasion we have seen unsubstantiated remarks without any evidence.

The honourable member for Kingston called for direct subsidies for rent payers. He looked at the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) and asked: 'Mr Minister, have we some provision in this Bill for rent payers?' I was not at all surprised that the Minister said, 'Of course, of course', because this Bill, as the Government sees it, has in it the panacea to solve all the problems it has created in the housing field. When his colleagues are looking for an excuse for their constituents the Minister is quite prepared to say that this Bill will cover anything his colleagues are worried about. In bis second reading speech the Minister was careful to excuse the Bill so that there would be no possible conflict with State authorities. I propose to take honourable members through that speech and to examine a number of his comments, then to take them through the Bill because quite clearly there is no reference in the Minister's speech to the sort of powers this Bill assumes for him and the Government. It does assume powers for him because he has power to direct his Corporation as to how it is to behave. I am prepared to support, in principle, the comments of the honourable member for Kingston in calling for the Government to plan how it is to operate our economy and to make announcements so that people in private industry- home builders, developers, home buyers and even the people who want to rent homes- will know with certainty how they will be affected. The most important problem that we face at this time in our economy is that we do not know how the Government will act next.

I would support any commission or indicative planning committee that is able to bring forward positive suggestions as to how the Government will manage the economy responsibly in order to provide an economic climate in which homes can be provided for people who need them. But there is no certainty that this will emerge from this Bill. The Minister's comments may well relate to the Housing Indicative Planning Council that he has set up, and I will believe that there will be results from it when I start to see them. Until the present time that Council has met only once or twice. The Minister made a speech to the Council to indicate what is expected of it, and the Chairman of the Council has made a little speech, but we know nothing of how it will function. Certainly the Council has not come forward with a report demanding that the Bill is needed to enable the Council to carry out the sort of planning that is necessary.

It is important that we should look at our economy and that we should realise that there are problems in it. I need not go through these problems in detail, but it may give weight to my views if I refer honourable members to the publication entitled Monthly Review of the Employment Situation January 1975 '. It shows that in the skilled building and construction area 14 068 male people were registered as unemployed at the end of January 1975, as against 4 331 in January 1974, 5 251 in January 1973 and 5 158 in January 1972. The Minister in his speech makes it quite clear that the Indicative Planning Council will not look at the wide ranging fields of housing commission development and public housing building development because he says that they are the responsibility of the States. But in Australia today there are 14068 building and construction workers unemployed- almost 3 times as many as there were in any of the preceding years to which I have referred, including the period in which the Opposition was in government. That is very relevant. Clearly by proper economic management a situation can arise in which people are not unemployed and in which homes are built for people who are demanding them. Experience demonstrates quite clearly that there is not an immediate demand for the type of corporation to be set up under this Bill.

Certainly in the need area, that of welfare housing, the Minister, in his speeches but certainly not in the Bill, is abdicating responsibility for providing that form of housing- except in the sense that the Commonwealth will make moneys available to the State housing authorities, and those funds are welcome. 'Treasury Information Bulletin No. 77, January 1975', make it clear that the number of dwelling commencements also has declined in the most recent quarter. The publication states:

.   . total dwelling commencements declined by 2 per cent in the December quarter following falls of 23 per cent in the preceding quarter and 9 per cent in the June quarter. The fall in the December quarter reflected a 7 per cent drop in private commencements which offset a substantial expansion in government commencements.

Clearly there has been an increase in government housing. This is one of the things that worries me, because I personally am convinced that most people in Australia like to be able to plan themselves the home in which they will live, without having it forced upon them and without having the situation in which governments provide housing in the cheapest possible waywhich means uniformity of housing, lack of different designs and an unexciting environment in which to live. This is one of the real concerns that I have about this legislation.

Notwithstanding the delightful phrases that the Minister used in his second reading speech, this Bill certainly does not in any way indicate to me that the Government wants less involvement. It indicates that the Government wants greater involvement, and we all know the results that that produces. The 'Treasury Information Bulletin' indicates that during the December quarter of 1974 only 40,300 dwellings were completed, which was 3 per cent less than in the December quarter of 1973. These figures are important because what is happening is that fewer homes are being built and there is no suggestion that the Government, as a result of a Bill of the type that we are discussing, will be able to manage the economy any better in order to enable people to buy their own homes. I read the Minister's Press statement on this matter in which it was suggested that the specific schemes which were not yet finalised covered a wide range of options and one of these was to make second mortgage loans to cover deposit gaps with graduated repayments. I could not object to that as an option but what I would like to see is a Bill which' makes provision for that. Certainly there is nothing in this Bill which indicates, firstly, that money will be positively appropriated or, secondly, that the Commission will operate in such a way as to provide this benefit. If the Government has this as a policy what I want to see is a Bill brought into the Parliament to give effect to it.

One could go through each of the other positive proposals put but what I submit is that if these are the positive policies of the Government and they are not coming forward in legislative form this Bill is being used as an excuse to say: We have acted, we have provided you with these things which we believe are desirable,' whereas in fact the Corporation might not be able to do these things at all or might not be directed to do these things and in fact has no responsibility for doing these things. We all know what weight there is in speeches made by honourable members, including Ministers, when it comes to interpreting Acts of Parliament.

Mr Viner - Nil.

Mr RUDDOCK - Nil; quite right. That is why I take honourable members to the Bill itself because it is important to look at clause 6 (2) which reads:

The Corporation also has, subject to and in accordance with this Act, the following functions:

(a)   to grant money for the building of dwellings, the purchase of dwellings and the purchase of land to be used for dwellings;

(b)   to build dwellings or take part in, or be associated with, the building of dwellings;

(c)   to sell and lease dwellings built, purchased or otherwise acquired by the Corporation;

(d)   to provide, or ensure the provision of, facilities and services for persons in dwellings with which the Corporation is concerned; and

(e)   such functions as are conferred on the Corporation by any Act.

These are the functions of a housing commission; these are the functions of an organisation that has the responsibility for providing and building estates of a uniform nature as we have seen built by the Housing Commission of New South Wales. Yet when we go to the Minister's second reading speech what do we find? We find glib assurances that these are not the objectives at all. The Minister in his second reading speech said, and this is more important:

.   . a powerful new vehicle -

That is exactly what it is, a powerful new vehicle- capable if properly directed -

I do not know what he means by that- of fulfiling our national housing aspirations.

Mr McLeay - He graduated in semantics, first class.

Mr RUDDOCK -I thank honourable members on this side for their co-operation in helping to interpret these comments. I would submit that these comments certainly indicate what is intended by this Bill and that is the creation of a powerful new vehicle. Those are the words that are used. Clause 6 continues:

(3)   The Corporation may perform its functions to the extent only that they relate to matters with respect to which the Parliament has power to make laws and, in particular, may perform its functions-

(a)   in a Territory;

(b)   for the purpose of the provision of housing for members and former members of the Defence Force and for other persons who have participated in the defence of Australia;

(c)   by way of, or as incidental to, the provision of family allowances;

(   d ) for the purpose of the provision of housing for the aboriginal people of Australia, immigrants to Australia, persons employed in or by Departments or authorities of Australia and persons engaged in work for Australia or an authority of Australia; or

My concern about this particular provision is that by the very matter of the Commonwealth's taking unto itself the greatest possible power it can assume under the Constitution- and that is what the Minister is seeking by this powerful new vehicle- it is assuming responsibility for only some people within the Commonwealth of Australia. This is a vehicle that will enable this organisation to provide for some people selectively.

I am not suggesting that those people should not receive housing, but what I am saying is that, if a

Commonwealth vehicle is set up to deal with particular people and the remainder are left to fend for themselves or with the State authorities, that in my view is inadequate. It is a duplication and it is part of the problem of Government in Australia today.

I want to take this opportunity in this debate to mention some very strong feelings that I have and to voice one of my anguishes as a Federal parliamentarian. We are dicussing matters relating to housing. It is proposed to set up a powerful new housing vehicle. While we are all very concerned about housing, while we all want to see housing provided for people, while we all want to see an economy in which housing can be created instead of an economy which has destroyed the ability of our community to create housing, we as parliamentarians are spending our time dealing with this and with a multitude of other matters which remove from us our ability to participate in decision-making in areas for which we have paramount responsibility.

The Bill we are discussing is another example of the Government's bringing to itself power to deal with certain people in the community- and that is what has happened- while we abrogate our responsibility to deal with foreign affairs, immigration, defence- all the matters for which we have specific responsibility, about which I feel very concerned and on which I rarely have an opportunity to speak. We have seen on the part of this Government a number of actions to which I object very much. I want to use this debate to highlight one of them. It concerns me that the particular clause to which I have referred enables the Government to be selective in the way in which it provides for people. We have seen the Government use funds in a way in which I do not believe any previous government would have used government funds. We have seen produced a document -

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Have you ever seen your Vietnam pamphlet?

Mr RUDDOCK - I have never seen in my time in this House a document produced, even by the Government of which the Minister is a member, that resembles in any way the document I have here. It is a document produced with government funds in bold blue and white. It is entitled: Housing Under Labor- Australian Government Achievements since 1972 by Les Johnson, Minister for Housing and Construction'. This document has been produced at the expense of the Australian people. It is not a document which lists the achievements of the Government; it is not a document which explains to people the benefits they may be able to derive from the policies of the Government. It is a document deliberately designed as a propaganda vehicle for the Government.

Mr Hunt - For the Labor Party.

Mr RUDDOCK -It is quite clearly for the Labor Party, as the honourabl member says. It is irresponsible. It is another example following on what we have seen today. It clearly shows how the Government is prepared to hang on to office at any cost- even to the extent of raping democracy. This Parliament has been abused, and the Public Service is abused when public servants in the Minister's Department are required to lend themselves to the production of a pure propaganda document. The Minister ought to be ashamed of himself, and I am ashamed for him.

The Bill has in it powers that enable the Commonwealth Government to assume and take over land of the States. Clause 49 gives the Commonwealth power to acquire land, even Crown land of a State. In his second reading speech the Minister indicated that it was not intended that State lands would be taken over. Yet the Bill contains a clause of the widest possible nature. In his second reading speech the Minister said:

The Corporation would purchase land on its own account only to the extent that land required for its programs was not available from land commissions or their equivalents in the States.

Yet clause 49 reads: the Corporation may acquire by agreement or by compulsory process any land for the purposes of the Corporation, including, with the approval of the Minister-

That is not the State Minister - land that is Crown land of a State.

This is supposed to be a Bill in which the Government co-operates with State governments to meet the housing needs of the Australian people. There is no doubt in my mind, having read the clauses in the Bill which assume powerparticularly the clauses that enable the Commonwealth to take over State land- that their purpose can be most insidious, that the legislation can operate in wider ways than any of us imagine. There are no restrictions in this Bill which would limit its operations. I think honourable members ought to concern themselves with the provisions of the Bill and not with the wild allegations that we have heard from members opposite of what they will do or hope to do. The reasons that we oppose the Bill in its present form is because of the provisions contained in the Bill. If the Government has real policy proposals let it put them forward in a positive form.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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