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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (12:48 PM) . The bill extends the eligibility of various persons who have served in the forces, or in a war zone, for assistance under the War Service Homes Act. In recent years there has been an extension of such eligibility to men and women who have served in Korea and Malaya. My colleagues and 1 agree with the proposed extension of eligibility to persons who served at sea or with the strategic reserve. It may be that before very long we shall have to make another extension for the benefit of Australian troops to go to assist the Motherland to repel assaults upon them by Egyptians, on Egyptian soil. lt is unfortunately necessary to point out that, hand in hand with these extensions of eligibility, have gone restrictions of availability. More and more people have become eligible for assistance, but the kind of assistance made available has become less and less. I would think that the persons, especially those in the strategic reserve, who are now to become eligible, are no more deserving, either on the basis of need or of heroism - if that is to be the yardstick - than are many persons who have for years following service in World War II. awaited assistance from the division. I agree with the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden), who has urged further eligibility.

Anomalies under the War Service Homes Act will continue as long as the Commonwealth restricts its opportunity under the Constitution, and its obligation incurred in successive wars, to make money available for the housing of persons who have served in the forces. We have always voluntarily imposed upon ourselves this limitation to persons who have served outside Australia's shores, but, as various honorable members have pointed out, just as much risk was involved - if that is to be the criterion - and certainly as much interruption to one's civilian rights, in much of the service in Australia, or in Australian waters. There was even more risk than is involved in service with the strategic reserve. However, one does not cavil at the present extension of eligibility. We applaud it and think that it should go still further in future years.

One must still lament the fact that the availability of advances under the act has not kept pace with the increase in eligibility. 1 do not imagine that I can refer at this stage to the financial appropriations for war service housing, but I may say that I was disappointed, as I am sure was the honorable member for Bowman and other honorable members, that the judiciously planted suggestions that there would be an increase in the allocation for war service homes from £30,000,000 to £35,000,000 were not fulfilled. I plead guilty to having addressed honorable members in my budget speech on the basis that that would come about. In common with many other people in the community, I had been misled.

To illustrate the restrictions that have been imposed upon availability, let me refer to section 20 of the act, which is being amended by this bill. That section sets out the classes of advances which can be made, but states that they are also subject to the direction of the Minister as to matters of general policy. Two of the six classes of advance have been very gravely restricted. I refer, in particular, to advances for the purchase of a dwelling-house, together with the land upon which it is erected. That has now been limited to a house in which the applicant is not already living.

Secondly, I refer to the sixth ground - the advance to discharge any mortgage, charge, or encumbrance already existing on a holding. In effect, that has been repealed by ministerial fiat. One sees that, by administrative action, and by the pegging of the actual advances to the division, the availability of homes is being constantly decreased. That was well illustrated by the figures which the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) produced in opening the debate for the Opposition this evening. He pointed out that there was now a record number of unsatisfied applications, and that when we entered upon this financial year 24,655 people were awaiting advances. One could expect that almost as many fresh applications would be lodged during this financial year, yet the degree to which we are fulfilling the need is constantly lessening. As one could see from the Director's report, which we received six weeks ago, last year 11,803 homes were provided and in the previous year 12,788 were provided. That is in keeping with the general trend which has been followed under this Government. Until this Government came into office, more houses were being provided, and more applicants assisted under the War Service Homes Act in every successive year. In the first year of office of this Government, 15,579 applicants were assisted. Last year, the number assisted had declined to 13,524. We thus are faced with the position of a record demand, an increasing demand, but a diminishing supply. In making these increased eligibility provisions in the present act, we are still not being frank with the persons who will become eligible. We are selling them, and the 25,000 waiting applicants, just another pup. We have not frankly told the people who will be added to the list of those who are eligible, first, that if they already own a house they are not eligible for assistance under the act, even if the house which they already own is in a locality which is no longer convenient to them or if the house is not big enough for them.

Mr Chaney - That does not debar them.

Mr WHITLAM - In fact, it does. If the house is not big enough, they can get an advance to increase its size.

Mr Chaney - The possession of property does not debar an applicant.

Mr WHITLAM - The possession of a house does debar him. The honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) agrees with me. He is quietly correcting the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) on that point, but the latter need not apologize. The second matter in respect of which we are not frank is that we do not tell the persons who now become eligible that if they are already paying off a house they are not eligible for an advance under the act, because of ministerial directions - not by the Minister for Social Services, nor his predecessor in the administration of war service homes legislation; it was that one's predecessor who was guilty. The only criticism one makes is that this Minister's predecessor, this Minister and this Minister's successor have continued the policy, because we have had four Ministers in two years administering this department, and very naturally, after the criticism which we annually level at it, the jurisdiction over it has been removed to another place. Because of that change in policy, no one now can discharge a mortgage on a house which he is already occupying and on which he is already paying off a mortgage.

Thirdly, we do not tell the applicants who now become eligible that if they want an advance to purchase a house their application to purchase it will not be dealt with until fifteen months have elapsed. In fact, the period is longer in New South Wales. So those persons who are eligible now, even if they can find the difference between £2,750 which is, and has been since 1951, the maximum advance permitted, and the cost of the house, will not in fact get the advance to purchase the house this financial year. In fact, they will not get it until the last quarter of the next financial year. We do not tell them that.

Fourthly, we do not tell them that if they receive an advance to purchase or build a house and go into occupation of that house, and then, later, in the course of their duties, are posted to another district in circumstances where they cannot continue to occupy the house, they are no longer eligible for another advance. This is a decision which was made by the Minister for Social Services, and which has been confirmed by his successor in another place. If an applicant to the War Service Homes Division finds that because of his duties, because he is a member of the Parliament or of the reserve forces, or something like that, he has to live elsewhere, he may keep his house if he likes, even if he cannot live in it. He may let it, but if he sells it he has to repay the advance he received from the War Service Homes Division, and he then cannot get another advance from the division, even for the amount which he still owed on the first house or for the period for which he still owed it. In that fourth direction, we do not tell the persons who now become eligible that further limitation on the advantages which have been imposed by successive Ministers.

Fifthly, we do not tell the persons who now become eligible that if, while they are waiting for their advance to build a house to come through, they find a place which will suit them perfectly well, and which they can buy, the period which they have already waited for a building advance goes by the board, and that they then have to make a fresh application to buy a house and wait fifteen months before that application comes to fruition, lt is true enough that the division will, if it thinks the project is one upon which it will make an advance in due course, give permission to raise money in the meantime. As the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia says in a passage which I shall soon be citing, the applicant can raise money at a price.


Mr WHITLAM - In some cases, that is right. I retain sufficient acquaintance with the law to know that, these days, a favourite form of lending with solicitors and the only form of mortgage lending is on interim finance to war service homes applicants. It is the most fruitful and secure form of mortgage lending. The lender is certain to get his money back, and, in the meantime, he gets a handsome interest rate upon it.

We do not tell these persons, who are now becoming applicants, that if they find an existing place which will suit them for purchase better than the place for which they are awaiting an advance to build, they will go to the bottom of the waiting-list once again, and, unless they can raise interim finance from another source, they can, as far as the division is concerned, lose the attractive proposition which will suit them. That is, ex-servicemen are virtually being deprived of one of the advantages which, from 1918 onwards, succeeding parliaments and governments have always promised to them.

We do not frankly tell the applicants who now become eligible under this amending act that, if they are awaiting an advance to build a house, and are then given permission to raise temporary finance, they must then make a separate application for assistance under the act, and the time that they have already waited for the advance to build, even if it is nearly fifteen months, goes by the board. They are told that they can get interim finance, that they can build a house, and then, when the house is completed they can make a fresh application which will be regarded as an application for an advance to buy an existing property, and they will then have that application dealt with in a further fifteen months. We have not told any of these applicants the various devices for rationing war service homes finance in recent years. 1 must praise the ingenuity of successive Ministers, even if I cannot praise the generosity of the Government of which in this respect they are the mouthpieces. J suppose that I can, without exaggeration, refer to the Minister for Social Services as a mouthpiece, even if we cannot always readily understand him.

Mr Haylen - I thought that he was a sporran.

Mr WHITLAM - No, 1 will not go behind that. These various devices have resulted in a fobbing off of ex-servicemen.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Does the honorable member want an extension of time? Is this a lecture?

Mr WHITLAM - The right honorable gentleman served in Darwin for two weeks, 1 understand. He is not eligible for assistance under the act.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - To whom are you referring?

Mr WHITLAM - And it was before the Japanese came into the war.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - To whom are you referring?

Mr WHITLAM - You, sir, who interjected.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Thank you. Are you an ex-serviceman yourself?

Mr WHITLAM - Yes, I am. I do not advertise the fact.

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