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Thursday, 27 February 1975
Page: 876

Mr VINER (Stirling) -The honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan) begins each of his speeches in the same way. He goes into a tirade against the speaker before him, condemning everything he has said out of hand, accusing him of not having any compassion for the poor, the sick or the needy. I would suggest to the honourable member that he desist from continuing that kind of tirade because it is ringing rather hollow in these chambers. Nobody really takes any notice of the honourable member when he speaks in that fashion. I would remind him, however, when he speaks of the standing of the Opposition in this Parliament, of the events which took place in this chamber this morning and of the most disgraceful conduct by any member of the House, I would think, in living memory and probably in the history of this Parliament.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order!I suggest that the honourable gentleman speak to the Bill.

Mr VINER -There is no doubt of the importance of home ownership to Australians and to Australia. It is something which is enshrined in the philosophy of the Liberal Party because we believe that for the great bulk of the community a home will be the most substantial single asset they will hold during their lifetime. For the great bulk of middle income people and those on more moderate incomes that statement is well founded. It is as well to remind ourselves when we speak on a subject such as housing that Australia has a remarkable record with regard to the distribution of wealth. We have an egalitarian distribution of wealth in Australia which has evolved over the last 50 to 60 years. A census taken in 1915 indicated that the top one per cent of families in Australia owned 39 per cent of the country's wealth, a concentration that compares with the current United Kingdom and United States of America levels of 42 per cent and 32 per cent respectively. There could be many mechanisms involved in the process over the last half century which has led to the egalitarian distribution of wealth I have mentioned, and in particular by which today some 99 per cent of Australian families have increased their share of the nation's private wealth from 61 per cent to 91 per cent- a very high proportion indeed.

It would appear from well founded studies that the dominant factor creating such egalitarian distribution of wealth arises from the degree of home ownership in Australia rather than that created by other mechanisms operating within the community, particularly savings. So we can point to so much of the wealth of individuals in the homes which they own. Within the philosophy of the Liberal Party we have always sought an underpinning of the widest distribution of wealth through an instrument of private ownership such as the family home.

It is remarkable against that background to hear a speech of the kind that we heard from the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Dawkins) earlier this afternoon. In it he reluctantly- you could discern it in the tone of his voice as well as in the things that he said- acknowledged the importance of home ownership, although he referred to it in such ways as so-called free choice of a home and so-called private ownership. It is quite clear from the speech of the honourable member that he would much rather see State ownership of homes and all people who live in homes the tenants of the State. He is a gentleman coming from my own State of Western Australia and I am sure his views, if put forward to the people on public platforms as well as in this House, would soon be shown to be totally unacceptable to the community.

What the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) is proposing to do by this Bill is to create a Crown corporation. It is as well to notice the utilisation by this Government of the Crown corporation as an instrument to achieve its own political philisophy of socialisation and nationalisation. Those in the Australian Labor Party who would pursue those policies know that outright nationalisation is impossible to achieve within the terms of the Australian Constitution. Therefore they mustand I give them credit for this- seek other ways of achieving that objective. They believe that they have found one such way in the formulation of the Crown corporation. We have seen this repeated, for example, by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) in the formation of the National Pipeline Authority and in the Petroleum and Minerals Authority, both Crown corporations intended to concentrate ownership in the state which, coupled with the financial power of the Commonwealth, intrude into the activities of the community in a large measure. It is done, as is so often described, under the euphemism of public enterprise, and that is a completely misleading description of what this Government proposes to do by means of these Crown corporations.

When one has regard to the massive financial power available to the Commonwealth through the taxes that it raises from the people and when that massive financial power is diverted, not to private individuals or private corporations but to Crown or public corporations, it places those corporations in a tremendous position of advantage within the economy. I dare say that we will, or we would if this Government was allowed to continue, see a repetition on a grand scale of the formation of Crown corporations in all those fields of activity which are encompassed in the powers given to the Commonwealth by the Constitution.

I believe it is wrong for any community to allow the concentration of such power in the hands of public corporations of this kind. I firmly believe, in accordance with the Liberal philosophy, that much the better way in which to organise society is to allow the greatest economic freedom to individuals by seeing that the total income and the total wealth of the community are distributed on as wide a base as is possible down to the individuals. To the extent that financial power through income and wealth is diverted from individuals and placed into the hands of the state through Crown corporations such as this, individuals are denied economic freedom, and economic freedom is a fundamental of personal freedom.

This is why I take the opportunity now to endeavour to point out the differences between the philosophy of the Liberal and Country Parties who believe in individual economic freedom and private enterprise and the philosophy of public enterprise and nationalisation of the socialists who occupy the Government benches today. In that regard I would have expected that the Minister, if he were pursuing a program of greater economic freedom for individuals to acquire their own homes and to be able to afford to pay for those homes during their lifetime, would have looked to providing mechanisms or facilities through the private financial institutions of Australia for giving to the people the financial capacity to acquire their own homes. For example, I refer to a facility to allow for the discounting of all those home mortgages which have been insured by the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation and the various other private insurers, thereby recycling the hundreds of millions of dollars also invested in housing mortgages. That would release a lot more credit for the use of individuals throughout the community for this noble purpose of acquiring their own homes. What we have instead is something which draws off from the community, through taxation, money which would otherwise be available to individuals, and distributes it back to the community according to the whims and wishes of the Government. I for my part would rather see individuals left with more money in their pockets to use as they want than to see more and more drawn out of their pockets and into the coffers of the Government.

A second such facility could be to extend to lending institutions in the home finance field facilities like lender of last resort, or some form of Reserve Bank support so that those private financial institutions may be more secure in the borrowing policies that they are able to follow. In that way the Government might be able to ensure a sufficient flow of money into this field of finance to enable fixed interest rate mortgages rather than the variable interest rate mortgages which are so commonplace in Australia today. If there was one thing more than another which was felt by home buyers in Australia during the financial squeeze put upon them by the high interest rate policies of the Government it was the increase in the rates of interest which private financial institutions like permanent building societies had to embark upon if they were to survive during that period. With those high interest rates the home buyer found that he was being priced out of his capacity to buy the home that he thought he would have no difficulty in buying when entering into the financial arrangements some years- indeed some months- before. I think it would be a worthy purpose for the Government to carry out a full scale investigation into ways and means of establishing within Australia as the commonplace system of finance a system whereby interest rates are fixed during the term of the mortgage or at least are variable only after a considerable length of time.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Could you do that with building societies which borrow short and lend long?

Mr VINER - Mr Minister,you referred to that and that is why I have suggested that what you ought to be doing is looking at facilities which would enable lending institutions like permanent building societies to have that back-up financial support whereby they would not be subject to the vagaries of the interest rate policies of the government of the day and so could lend to people on long term fixed rates, or at rates reviewable only at fixed times during the term of the financial arrangement. I would have thought that that would be by far the better thing for this Government to do than to seek to establish this Australian Housing Corporation. It could still pursue all its objectives in the field of providing finance under the Defence Service Homes Act, for homes for pensioners, for homes for Aborigines and for public servants and others for whom the Government may legislate under its constitutional powers. It may do for all those classes of people all that it wants to do without creating this monster of an Australian Housing Corporation.

If there is one thing that is abundantly clear out of the recent experience of home buyers it is that the middle income earner is the one who is being hurt most by the high interest rate policies of the present Government. The low income earner has been protected by the provision of welfare housing and by schemes such as that instituted in my own State of Western Australia by the State Liberal-Country Party Government to provide support in hardship cases and of course there is limited financial capacity on the part of State governments to provide for all hardship cases. The low income earners, the people who need welfare housing- hardship cases- have been provided for in these hard times of high interest rate policy but it is the middle income earner who has been caught in the squeeze and there is nothing in this legislation that the Corporation can do to assist those middle income earners who are already buying their home and who are caught by the continuing high interest rate policies of this Government.

The Government, of course, might well turn to the scheme for the tax deductibility of mortgage interest payments but it is well known- I will not elaborate on this-that there are so many anomalies and inadequacies in that scheme that the middle income earner is not truly assisted in the increased payments that he must make due to the higher interest rate policies of this Government.

I also mention in answer to what is so often put forward in justification of the Government's policies- the so-called inadequacies of 23 years of Liberal-Country Party government. I mention these hallmarks of the. policies and activities of the Menzies Government which have supported that great egalitarian distribution of wealth through home ownership which we now find in Australia: Firstly, the homes savings grant scheme, secondly, the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation; thirdly, the creation of savings banks primarily for the purpose of lending for home purchase- something which is so often forgotten is that savings banks were the creation of the Menzies Government- fourthly, the tremendous growth of the permanent building society movement throughout Australia in the 20 years of the Menzies and other Liberal governments; and fifthly, the growth of terminating building societies and under-pinning all of this activity a stable economy, which is something that all people in Australia would wish that we could look forward to in the future but there is no hope under the present Government. It may be, and we would expect that with the return of a Liberal-Country Party government we could again have stable economic conditions which would underpin the provision of finance for private ownership of homes. This Bill does nothing to add to that great record. The Opposition shadow Minister for Housing has already outlined many of the fundamental objections which the Opposition Parties have to this Bill. Other speakers on this side have also referred to certain parts of it but I would only be repeating many of the things that they have said if I went through each of these clauses in turn.

Clauses 28 to 33 are the important ones because they allow government by regulation. It has been recognised over many years in all parliaments that government by regulation is bad and one could not find a better example of bad government by regulation than in clauses 28 to 33. The Bill itself should state clearly what are the criteria upon which the Government may be a lender to approved lenders for housing, the criteria by which it may make grants- that is, give a subsidy to people- and by which it may make loans to individuals, and the terms upon which it could sell and lease to people. Under this legislation all of these things are to be done by regulation and not by the Bill. That is bad government, as I think anyone would recognise, but presumably the Government and particularly the Minister do not recognise that.

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

Debate (on motion by Mr Daly) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.1 to 8 p.m.

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