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Wednesday, 20 March 1957

Mr HAMILTON (Canning) . - I support the mover and the seconder of the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply in conveying a message of loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen. I take this opportunity to congratulate the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) on the valuable contributions to the debate that they made yesterday. As the debate has been used as a vehicle for discussion of the housing problem, I feel disposed to jump onto the vehicle, enter the fray and answer some of the statements that have been made.

Let me get even with the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who criticized the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) for leaving the chamber. I draw your attention sir, and that of honorable members, to the fact that the honorable member for East Sydney himself has now left the chamber. I am not surprised at that, because during his speech to-night the honorable member presented one of the most damning indictments of the New South Wales Government to which I have listened during the eleven years that I have been a member of this Parliament. From start to finish, his speech was an attack on the New South Wales Government for its mishandling of housing in that State.

However, I am not concerned with that very much. I am concerned that the honorable gentleman put words into the mouth of the Prime Minister. He claimed that he had demonstrated that the Prime Minister was unsympathetic to the people of this country who are seeking houses, but the right honorable gentleman himself, a few minutes before concluding his speech, stated emphatically that he and the Government - 1 believe he said " my Government " - were sympathetic towards them.

The honorable member for East Sydney concluded his speech by saying that this Government was starving the States in respect of finance. Earlier in the debate, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) said something about the inadequacy of the tax reimbursement payments. The Prime Minister pointed out that the tax reimbursement formula was introduced in the days when the late Mr. J. B. Chifley was Treasurer. He did not go further and say, as he could have done, that when this Government took office, the reimbursement payments to the States under the formula were £40,000,000 a year and that now, under the self-same formula, tax reimbursement payments and supplementary grants made to the States total £174,000,000 a year. To meet those commitments and other commitments the Government has, during that period, further taxed the people to supplement the loan programmes of the States.

There has been no starving of the States. If anybody wants proof of that, let him go to New South Wales where he will find more foundation stones than homes - foundation stones laid by succeeding Labour governments of New South Wales with a view to kidding the people that the government was going ahead with this or that project. Heaven only knows how much the New South Wales Government has wasted on the Eastern Suburbs Railway. What revenue will that work bring into the coffers of the New South Wales Government? How will it alleviate the difficult position in which the New South Wales Government has got itself?

The honorable member for East Sydney attacks the immigrants coming into this country on the score that many of them, after being only a short time in Australia, have been able to purchase homes to the exclusion, and possibly the eviction, of Australians. As the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who was properly and rightly credited to-night with the paternity of the immigration programme, will readily recall, and as every honorable member who was in this chamber when the honorable member for Melbourne introduced the immigration programme will very well recall, right from the date of the inception of that programme the honorable member for East Sydney has been opposed to it, tooth and nail. There is nothing too bad that he can say in order to damn the programme or anybody associated with it. I am surprised - and very disappointed - that the honorable member for Melbourne to-night should have seen fit to put his signature to the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition calling for a review of the immigration programme.

By interjection to-night the honorable member for East Sydney said that the position in the building industry in Queensland was tragic. He said that in a very short time something like 460 building trades operatives would be put off from work. Whose fault is that? To the best of my knowledge - and I have the facts here in print in front of me - when the State Ministers meet here with representatives of the Commonwealth in the Australian Loan Council, after gnawing at the bone or whatever may be thrown into the ring to be cut up between the Commonwealth and the States, it is the States themselves that decide on the amount of money they shall use for their housing programmes. The Commonwealth does not say, " You shall have so much for housing ". The States themselves, after they have come to an agreement on the approved borrowing programme for the year, make that decision. But what do we find? Queensland now is reaping the benefit of this arrangement. In 1953-54 Queensland took £4,500,000 out of its loan raisings for its housing programme. The following year the amount dropped to £1,800,000. In 1955-56 it moved up again to £3,000,000. This year it has dropped to £2,750,000. It is not the fault of the Commonwealth that the Queensland Government is not expending sufficient money on its housing programme, because, had the Queensland Government seen fit at the time when it was helping to cut up the turkey at the Loan Council meeting in Canberra, it could have had a greater proportion for- housing. So it is wrong for the honorable member for East Sydney to say that this Government will not give Queensland the funds to carry on with its housing programme. Later on I propose to give some figures to prove that the Queensland Government is spending much less a head of population on housing than the other States are spending.

The same gentleman from East Sydney then had a go at the banks. He said that the banks could find more profitable investments than investment in home-building, and he mentioned the Custom Credit Corporation Limited and the interest of the National Bank of Australasia Limited in that concern. Every schoolboy knows that that is going on. The youngest schoolboy knows also that this Government can do very little about it. Nobody knows that better than the honorable member for East Sydney. What has the honorable gentleman done in his dealings with Mr. Cahill, the Premier of New South Wales, to get him to do something about this? If any one has the power to tell the banks not to engage in financing hire-purchase transactions to the extent that they are doing it is the State governments. But not one State government has done anything about it. We have Labour governments in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and in my own State of Western Australia squealing that somebody ought to do something about hire purchase, so that more money will be available for home building, but not one of them has raised a finger to do anything about it. although they claim to be the true representatives of the working man. As I have said very often before, they no more truly represent the working man than any man walking along the street.

Mr Ian Allan - There are only three of them in the chamber now.

Mr HAMILTON - I am not worrying about them.

Sir Philip McBride - They are a very cross section of the Labour party.

Mr HAMILTON - I agree with the Minister. The Leader of the Opposition said that priority for home-building had disappeared, and is given now to nonresidential building. I believe that that can be stopped by the States if they care to do anything about it, because I well recall that when controls were operating in Western Australia the Commonwealth Government could not get bricks to build post offices, and drill halls and so forth. The PostmasterGeneral of the day could not install telephone trunk lines because, in order to get the timber for the cross arms on the poles, he had to obtain a permit from the State Housing Commission. If all this money is going from the insurance companies, the banks and all the other lending institutions into non-residential buildings, the people who can do something about it quicker than anybody else are the members of the State governments. And what are they doing about it?

Mr Drummond - They are the only people who can do anything about it.

Mr HAMILTON - As I am reminded by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) the members of the State governments are the only people who can do anything about it. But have they really tried to do anything about it? No! Their party colleagues in this Parliament waste the time of the House by submitting this amendment. The Leader of the Opposition, supported by the honorable member for East Sydney and, I understand, to be supported by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb), are engaging in a lot of kite-flying in this matter, because the Opposition is so devoid of ideas that its members have taken hold of this thing and are using it for their own purposes. To my mind, it is one of the worst weapons, for them, that they could have tried to use, because their record in office cannot hold a candle to the record of this Government during its term.

I think I have covered all the points raised by the two' members of the Opposition who have spoken so far in the debate on the amendment, but I want to repeat that the argument advanced to-night by the honorable member for East Sydney is one of the most damning indictments of the New South Wales Government that I have ever heard in this Parliament. Not only the two Labour party members who have spoken to-night, but also many people outside, have alleged that the Government is responsible for the policy of credit restriction being followed by the banks. Anybody who has taken the care to make a study of what has been going on in this Parliament, and who has read the Government's press statements, knows very well that the directive issued by the central bank to the trading banks said nothing about limiting money for housing. It said nothing about limiting small overdrafts, and so on. The main point of the directive was that requests for loans for any new building that would involve the expenditure of more than £50,000 in one year should be seriously considered before approval was given. Another point of the directive was a request that people with overdrafts of £100,000 or more should be asked to reduce them gradually. But the directive said nothing about the lending of money for home building or for the needs of small farms or small businesses. 1 well recall that some four or five years ago, when these credit restrictions were being blamed on the government of the day, the Prime Minister rose in his place in this House and read the whole of the directive issued by the Central Bank, in an endeavour to prove to the people that it was not a directive from the Government. For the Leader of the Opposition, or any of those who support him, to come in here and say - or even to say outside this Parliament - that credit restriction is the policy of this Government, is just a little too much, because they know only too well that they are speaking untruths from start to finish.

The Prime Minister dealt most adequately, I think, with the arguments of the Opposition, by giving comparisons between the job that this Government has done and the job clone by the Labour government when it was in office. That comparison applies in various fields of activity in this country. For instance, a comparison of the rate of building construction in Australia with that of other countries, on the basis of the number of dwellings built a 1,000 of population, shows that in 1955-56 the relative figures were: New Zealand, 9.6; Australia, 8.4; Canada, 8.2; the United States of America, 8; The Netherlands, 6.5; the United Kingdom, 6.4; South Africa, 6.3; and Sweden, 6.2. On that basis, this country comes out very creditably indeed.

Another interesting statistical comparison can be made on the basis of the number of persons per occupied private dwelling. In that respect, we find that in Australia we have 3.52 persons per occupied house. My information discloses that the only country which has a better figure is New Zealand, with 3.5. The United States, a country which has all the resources, with a population of 160,000,000, and with almost everything it requires at its finger-tips, has a figure of 3.54, whilst that of the United Kingdom is 3.65. On that basis, our job in respect of home building compares very favorably.

Earlier to-night, the Prime Minister dealt with the housing shortage and pointed out that when this Government took office there was a shortage of 250,200 homes, and that by 30th June of last year that number had been reduced to 115,350, or an improvement of 134,850 since this Government has been in office. That rate of improvement almost equals the number of homes built in any two years. Over the whole of that period we have kept up with the normal demand for houses.

The right honorable gentleman went on to point out that the percentage improvement in Western Australia was far greater than that in any other State, and he mentioned South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. On looking at the figures, we find that the percentage improvement in Western Australia, the " Cinderella " State, was 73.3, as against 43.9 in New South Wales and 52.9 in Victoria. There must be a reason for that, and I think it can be found in the fact that in Western Australia the amount that is being expended on home building - that is, investment per head of the population by the State Government, plus expenditure under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, together with expenditure under State schemes - is £8.3 a head, whilst in South Australia it is £7.8, in Tasmania £7.6, in Victoria £4.2, and in Queensland £3.4. In the mother State, as New South Wales is called, although the Government has the opportunity to obtain money at the meetings of the Australian Loan Council, if it wished to do a worthwhile job in the housing field, only £3.2 a head is being spent on housing. That is the lowest figure for the whole of the Commonwealth. Those who administer the State have the opportunity to control the higher interest rates that are being charged by outside bodies. They have the opportunity to control the building of nonresidentials, and they have the opportunity to obtain more money from their own loan programmes for use in home building. But on every score and however this matter is looked at, we find that the State of New South Wales comes out worst.

Mr Chaney - They have tenancy legislation, too.

Mr HAMILTON - Yes. The people over here are miles behind. I am reminded of the position regarding war service homes and land settlement of ex-servicemen. What has this wonderful government in New South Wales done about war service land settlement? What did the wonderful government of Queensland do about it? When that government obtained money from the loan programme, ostensibly for war service land settlement, it spent the money on developing land and then threw the land open for settlement. The same kind of thing is found to be true of all the principal States; yet they are the first to complain. They have the remedy in their own hands. They can prevent these high interest rates being charged on hire purchase transactions; they can stop the erection of non-residential buildings; they can control many matters of that kind if they are of a mind to help the people whom they claim to represent so adequately and whom I claim they represent most inadequately.

There have been complaints about the cost of building. What do we find? The New South Wales Government had an opportunity, not so long ago, when a conference was called by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in the absence of the Prime Minister, to do something about the wage structure in that State. However, it would not have a bar of anything that might help to level out or regulate this mad wage system that we have in Australia. 7 make that statement, although I am not one who is inclined to reduction of wages, as some members of the Australian Labour party probably are already aware.

The same thing happened in respect of Victoria. The Premier of that State was opposed to doing anything, but when he went back to his State and gave the matter some thought, he took action. The result of the inaction of the New South Wales Government was that every industry in the State was loaded with a basic wage increase of Us. a week. What royalty is being paid on timber in New South Wales? By how much have freights and other services been increased there? All those increases have been necessary to bring in more money to meet the costs of maladministration over the years. The position is being made worse and worse.

My time is running out and I know that 1 am to be followed by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) who, no doubt, will endeavour to tell the Parliament of the unemployment situation in Western Australia and claim that it is due .to lack of funds for the housing programme. The Western Australian Minister for Housing was in Melbourne yesterday and is reported to have said, " We want more money from the Commonwealth ". The Western Australian Government has had its share of money. Just before the last election in Western Australia, both the Premier and the Minister for Housing claimed that the housing problem had been solved. I have figures in front of me, and it is true that Western Australia has the best housing record on the figures that are available to-day. It is admitted that the Government did solve the housing problem to a great degree, and that very few people were looking for homes at the time. How did it do that?

Sir Philip McBride - By time payments!

Mr HAMILTON - Yes, that was one of the methods. But while the Government was doing that job, it refused to allow timber mills and saw mills to export any of their timber. They had to cease exporting sleepers to South Africa and timber to South Australia. They were not allowed to export bricks or other building materials. When the housing situation improved, the timber-millers and saw-millers had no markets, and could not sell their products. Strangely enough, although they could not sell their products, there were three increases of the price of timber, and the State saw-mills were among the first to increase prices.

At Armadale, we have brick works that are supposed to be the biggest in the southern hemisphere. They had a few bad burns there, as happens with all brick works, and it was discovered, three days before Christmas last year, that there were 1,500,000 bricks which could not be sold. The private brick works cut their prices for bricks, but the Stale brick works were not allowed to do so, with the result that, on Christmas eve, 40 men were told to take their time. They had to go home and tell their wives that they had been sacked. That happened under a Labour government. The honorable member for Stirling, who was a very prominent member of the Labour party in Western Australia, should know all about it.

What was the position of those 40 men and their families, and of all the other men who were put off because of the stupid administration of the State government and its mad desire to overcome the housing shortage by stopping exports of building materials? Nobody blames it for attempting to solve the housing problem, but it should have allowed the various timber-mills and everybody associated with the timber industry to maintain their markets outside the State, even though they sent only token shipments to them.

Because of the price increases and the other factors that I have mentioned, the Premier of South Australia will not buy our timber. Honorable members opposite can say what they like about building houses of karri. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization will say that it will not use karri even for a fowl house because of its susceptibility to white ants, and neither would any builder in Australia. Consider the position in relation to jarrah. The people of South Australia rightly will not buy our jarrah because of the price increases and the price ring that they think might be operating. They are able to import timber from overseas at a much lower price than that at which they can get it from the State next door to them. That is the tragedy in connexion with solving the housing problem in Western Australia. That is why we have a measure of unemployment in that State. There is plenty to be done, but the people cannot afford it. That is what has gone wrong in Western Australia.

I must commend the Western Australian Government for getting on with housing, but I contend that there is a sane way to tackle the problem. The Labour Government can only see as wide as its vision will allow it. It will not think of what lies ahead - of the tragedy that can happen. But the preceding Commonwealth Government, and the present one, although they have been going through difficulties since the war, at least have allowed the export of commodities in order to retain our markets or keep them interested in our produce so that once we got over our difficulties we would still have buyers for our goods. If the honorable member for Stirling can induce the Premier of Western Australia or the Minister for Housing to use business acumen, the problem in that State will be solved to the satisfaction of the home seeker and the business community.

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