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Friday, 2 August 1946

Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) .- I join with honorable "members in wishing the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin) every success in his important mission as Australia's first Ambassador in the United States of America. Ever since I have been privileged to be a member of this Parliament I have enjoyed his friendship and profited by his kindly advice. Although honorable members on this side of the House view national and other problems from a different perspective from that in which they are seen by the Minister, we readily acknowledge that he has conscientiously devoted himself to his duties and has discharged them with credit. The honorable gentleman, who has occupied important posts in the Parliament, first as Speaker of this House, and later as Minister of the Crown, leaves behind him a record of achievement of which he might well be proud. I join with other honorable members in wishing him every success in his important office and trust that through his efforts the friendship that exists between Australia, and the United States of America N may be even more firmly cemented. The future of this country and the prosperity pf its people depend not only upon our own efforts but also upon the maintenance of goodwill between the, English-speaking peoples of the world. We can depend upon the honorable gentleman to work to that end, and I look forward to hearing frequently of the successes which I trust he will achieve in his new and important office.-

I am sorry at this stage to have to introduce a discordant note, but the urgency of a situation which I propose to outline compels me to do so. I draw attention to the racketeering' that is taking place in Brisbane in connexion with housing. .Representations have been made to me by the combined organizations of returned soldiers, who are just, as much concerned about the conditions that exist there as I am, that immediate action should be taken to- curb the activities of Australian people who are exploiting the black market. I base my remarks on an article which was published in the Brisbane Sunday Mail dealing with housing costs rackets and representations from the secretary of the Queensland United Council of ex-Servicemen. The serious shortage of houses perhaps excusable during the war, has merely been accentuated during this first year of peace. The housing position in Brisbane to-day is calamitous. Economic ills of every kind flow from the housing shortage, ranging from child delinquency to higher child mortality, from a decline in public health to strained marital ties resulting in a cluttering up of divorce courts with wrecked marriages. If this problem is not dealt with immediately, and in a resolute manner, a shattering blow may he dealt to the moral, physical and economical fibres of Australian national life from which it might never recover. So seriously has the question been regarded in South Africa, that in a recent speech, the Governor-General of . the Union referred to the passing of the Housing (Emergency Powers) Act to speed up home-building. In his. first speech to the New Zealand Parliament at Wellington as Governor-General of that dominion, General Sir Bernard Freyberg, V.C., said -

The housing of ex-servicemen is a matter of special concern to my Government, and considerable progress has been made despite shortages of building materials and labour. Some 16,000 ex-servicemen have been housed ' already, not only in State rental dwellings, but in houses built or purchased by ex- servicemen with rehabilitation loans.

That is an extraordinarily fine record of achievement for our small sister dominion, which has not the great resources which this' country can command. Government procrastination and vacillation, together with administrative ineptitude have resulted in the growth of many unsavoury features connected with house building. Rackets of every kind have developed, and the racketeers batten on the desperate need of the unfortunate, shelterless individuals who, in their desperation, submit to the greatest extortion and blackmarketing in order to have their needs met. Public expositions of such practices have been, made in the press of Queensland, relating to additions to prices for contingencies that do not occur; the Housing Commission aiding blackmarketing by accepting high tender prices; blackmarketing of timber sold for cash; and blackmarketing of hardware such as baths, stoves, &c. These vultures who feed on the desperation of the unfortunate homeless ex-soldier must be exposed.The only manner in which that can be done is by the appointment of a commission of inquiry under the National Security Regulations to investigate blackmarketing in building materials. Such inquiries have been instituted by this Government into matters relating to salvage, the sale of Abbco bread, footwear supplied by Fostars Shoes Proprietary Limited, the sale of rags and refrigerators and disposals generally. The matter to which I draw attention is far more serious and urgent than those, and accordingly I urge that a committee of inquiry be established to investigate it without delay. The United Council of Ex-servicemen has already approached . the Minister for PublicWorks in Queensland, Mr. Bruce, who has recommended that the council's request for an immediate investigation be submitted to the Commonwealth Government. In an article on this subject in its issue of the 19th May the Sunday Mail states -

The State Housing Commission is condoning the tremendous increase in home-building costs by letting contracts for homes at up to 15 per cent. more than it would sanction about six months ago.

Supplies, particularly of timbers in short supply, can often be bought for cash when they cannot be obtained in the ordinary course of business - at a figure over the fixed price, and if a receipt is not demanded.

Baths and other such fittings can be bought on the blackmarket at prices 50 to 100 per cent. over the right amount within a day or so of each shipment arriving from the south.

Many builders when tendering add on to their price 10 or 15 per cent. for contingencies, such as delay in arrival of supplies, but make no allowance to the owner if the contingencies do not occur.

The architect who supplied the information upon which those newspaper paragraphs were based indicated that he would be prepared to give evidence in support of his charges if a properly constituted inquiry into the rackets were undertaken. He indicated that it was common talk in the building trade that when timber needed for homes, such as flooring, could not be obtained in the ordinary way, certain firms would supply it for cash. The procedure adopted was for a builder to drive a truck into the timber yard, hand over the cash, load the. timber, and leave without getting a receipt. The price in such cases is always well in excess of that fixed by the Prices Branch. Another advantage to the racketeer engaged in this form of trading is the evasion of income tax.

The newspaper article also referred to a case in which a bath was bought on the black market. It states -

I was aware of this case and the associated . facts before he mentioned it.

This was the position : A house costing £1,250 was ready for occupation except for a bath. The plumber on the job could not get one through legitimate channels. He telephoned the purchaser of the house a couple of. days after a consignment of baths had arrived . from Sydney by ship, and said: "I think I can get you a bath, but it will be on the black market. It will cost you £20."

Desperately anxious to get into his new home and out of the bad conditions in which he had been living, the house owner agreed to the deal.

The bath should have cost £13 13s.

How such scarce items as baths, which are alleged to be so rigidly controlled, can get on to the black market should be the subject of an urgent inquiry.

Mr Mulcahy - I rise to order. I should like to know if the honorable member for Moreton realizes that several honorable members wish to take this opportunity to add their good wishes to those already expressed to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Matin) who is about to proceed overseas. I suggest to the honorable member that the matter to which he is now referring could be left to a more suitable occasion.

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