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Tuesday, 26 March 1957

Mr CURTIN (Kingsford) (Smith) .- I rise to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). I should like to touch on a few points in the Governor-General's Speech. First, I wish to refer to the attitude of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) towards homebuilding. The Governor-General said in his Speech -

.   my Government regards the problem of home-building with sympathetic and active mind and as far as it is concerned will do what it can to ensure that the arrears are overtaken as rapidly as possible. The matter will be treated as of outstanding importance, proper attention being paid to material supplies, labour availability and costs of construction.

Before I proceed any further I should like to quote from an advertisement which appeared, under the name of the Prime Minister in the Sydney " Truth " of Sunday. 17th November, 1949. In that advertisement the Prime Minister says -

We give this firm promise to young couples.

Another one of his promises, of course -

The Liberal party, when returned to office, will regard as its permanent and most vital responsibility the stepping up of the housing programme. We will not allow any other public works, other than those of the most extreme urgency, to be given priority over home-building.

The Liberal party gives a firm undertaking to the many thousands of young engaged couples in Australia who are forced to postpone their marriages, and possibly throw away the happiest years of their lives, because they cannot get a home of their own . . . and to couples already married who are suffering the same penalty.

This is the Prime Minister in 1949! He went on -

You are penalized to-day by the Chifley Government, which gives priority to extravagant building plansfor Government departments, which fails to check restrictive, go-slow tactics in the building industry or to increase production of many essential building materials. In other words, the very Government which claims to be the champion of the average man and woman is the Government that is depriving you of a home and, by starving the State Governments-

That is important in the light of current events. He claimed then that Mr. Chifley starved the State governments of funds " preventing even your State Government from helping you ". He went on -

We will not allow any public works, except those of extreme urgency, to be given priority over home-building.

I wonder whether the Prime Minister remembers those words now. There are still thousands of young couples awaiting finance to buy homes. There are still many thousands of people sharing meagre accommodation, who are in need of homes. I have here quotations from two Sydney newspapers which state the problem. They are from the " Daily Mirror " and the " Sun ". No one, even by the greatest stretch of imagination, could believe that the Sydney " Daily Mirror " and " Sun " were Labour supporters, but on 8th March the " Sun " said in a leading article -

The Prime Minister has a masterly way with . words and theories but, as the present argument about the housing problem shows, he is not so brilliant when he bumps his nose against hard facts.

That is true. The leader continued -

His defence of the Commonwealth Government's approach to housing (" the housing proAustralians who still haven't got homes.

He is all right. It is going pretty well for him at the Lodge, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who think that the housing programme is not going so well -

.   . is a nice bit of eloquence and it should convince almost everybody except the few million Australians who still haven't got homes.

The " Daily Mirror " says this about the Prime Minister's approach to the housing situation -

The statement yesterday of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on housing does him little credit.

I think that every one in Australia agrees with that -

Alternately disdainful, aloof, sneering, frivolous, and obstinately blind to realities, he proved in frightening fashion how dangerous the Canberra Ivory Tower mentality can become. . . . This airy approach of the Prime Minister will infuriate the thousands upon thousands of families in N.S.W. who are being driven to despair because they are compelled to live in sub-standard homes, or in sheds or huts, or in hostels, or in community centres, or in tents or caravans, or in houses which they share with friends or relatives.

The Prime Minister cannot claim that the " Daily Mirror " supports Labour. The housing situation is the greatest blot on the economic life of Australia. It has, during the life of this hopeless Government, slowly but surely deteriorated into a national tragedy. There is not the slightest doubt about that. Day after day the Prime Minister, in his airy-fairy way, gives assurances that all in our community is well. He calls conference after conference with professors and economists. He has special talks with private bankers. He says he wishes to hear the views and opinions of a wide range of people who are expert in their particular line of activity. The Prime Minister is right when he speaks of the private bankers being expert in their own line of business. They certainly are! It is also appropriate to say that sometimes they are very shady as well. I have in mind the co-operation between our respectable bankers and the hire-purchase vultures, which produces murderous interest rates in that field. One would be safe in saying that the prominent private bankers and the hire-purchase vultures are partners in crime.

There are no two ways about that, when we consider that15 per cent., 16 per cent. and 20 per cent. interest is charged. Some one is putting money into the hire-purchase field, and that some one is the private banker.

Let us look at the housing horror. The unsatisfied demand for homes is growing every day, and this incompetent Government has no answer to the problem. Beyond making long-winded speeches and quoting mountains of statistics, it has nothing to offer. This Government is tied hand and foot to the various pressure groups which supply it with the sinews of war at election times and which, between elections, call the tune to which this weak aggregation of spineless individuals which we call a government has no option but to dance.

At the moment I shall deal with the Real Estate Institute, commonly known as the Association of Land Agents. These agents are actively engaged in speculating and in plundering all and sundry in the field of real estate. Even in the Federal Government itself, they have a Minister who has been placed in the Cabinet, just to see that nothing happens to the open go that they have, and which has continued over the last eight years. I refer to the present Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who holds a prominent office in the Real Estate Institute, in conjunction with Lyle Moore, who is the president of the Liberal party. Something has got to be done to curb the activities of these gentlemen who are creating a Frankenstein monster in housing, forcing up the prices of homes to unbelievable heights and establishing fictitious values which send land rates in surrounding areas up to levels which people are unable to meet.

Who will deny that all who receive accounts for council rates on their property are complaining about the increase in rates? It is due only to the activities of these predatory gentlemen who are forcing values up in every way they can. Housing is now a question of great moment. It has reached the emergency stage, and it requires immediate action. We cannot escape the fact that 250,000 families in this great Australia of ours need homes of their own. Another 200,000 are paying rents that they cannot afford - up to £10 10s. a week. That is what large families are paying to agents in different districts on the " holiday home " principle. They are told, " You can stay for three months, but that is all we can allow. You will have to sign up again at the end of three months and keep on paying £10 10s. a week as usual." These people are not getting the living space or the facilities necessary for the happy home life that they need. Some parents are trying to raise families in caravans, garages, temporary rooms and tents. Even fowl houses are used by some poor mothers and fathers to house themselves and their children. That is an outrage in a country like Australia. There is Crown land in abundance all over the country which should be cut up into blocks, ballotted for and given to the men and women who desire land for the building of their homes.

Ipoint these facts out in reply to a long press statement issued by the pathetic Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). I say " pathetic " advisedly because of what the Minister is doing to restrict the healthy development of a healthy country like Australia. This gentleman came out with the extraordinary statement that Australia's great opportunity to overcome the housing lag would arrive in 6ve years. He goes on to say that it is expected that the need for new housing will be relatively low because of the expected fall in the marriage rate reflecting the low birth rate during the depression after 1930. Just think of that! What a marvellous thing to say! I do not know how the Minister and his experts could reach that conclusion since we have received 1,200,000 immigrants in the last few years, altogether apart from the natural increase of the population. That statement is really a classic, and I think it should go down in history in association with the name of the Minister for National Development. The ministerial mountain laboured and brought forth a mouse! The Minister took no account of immigration. Of course, one would not expect him to be capable of thinking. He plays about with statistics from time to time and makes breathtaking statements like the one I have just mentioned.

It is my opinion, Mr. Speaker, that if something is not done quickly we shall be faced with a housing shortage for the next 50 years. Has the Government lost sight of the ever-swelling total of immigrants and the natural increase of the population? lt is an indisputable fact that, within 15 miles of Sydney, at Herne Bay, thousands of Australians are living under conditions of the utmost squalor in sub-standard dwellings called emergency accommodation. Responsibility for all this must be laid at the door of this Government owing to its alleged inability to make the necessary finance available. It would find plenty of money if war broke out to-morrow. There would be no question of lack of money preventing Australia from going to war. The funds that could be provided for war should be made available to people who need money for the construction of homes. lt is time the people of Australia had something to say about these matters. Who are the hidden forces behind the Government that desire this state of affairs to continue? From day to day, we are told that no finance is available, but has the Prime Minister forgotten that he promised the people, in January, 1956, when the Government gave the private banks permission to open savings banks, that 30 per cent, of the deposits in private savings banks would be invested in housing loans of approved types? What has happened? The private banks have openly advertised that £30.000,000 has been deposited in the private savings banks, but they have invested only about 1 per cent, of these deposits in approved housing loans. Where has the money gone? It has gone into hirepurchase finance companies at an interest rate of 15 per cent, or 16 per cent. The private banks have a very tight hold on these deposits, and we can be sure that they will continually be channelled into hirepurchase companies such as Custom Credit Corporation Limited and Esanda Limited. The Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited, the Bank of New South Wales and the National Bank of Australasia Limited are very active in the hire-purchase field, and hold controlling interests in a number of hire-purchase finance companies. But young Australian men and women who have saved perhaps £1,000 for a home, and who approach a private bank for a small advance to enable them to build even a very modest house, find that no help is forthcoming from the banks, which say, " We are sorry that we cannot help you. The Prime Minister has restricted finance and will not let us help you ". At the present time bankers have small respect for long-term loans, and this includes housing loans. They know that they have nothing to fear from their good friend the Prime Minister. He will probably have them knighted at the end of the year for withholding credit from the ordinary man and woman.

Since 1950 this Government has spent £1,200,000,000 on defence and what has Australia to show for this? Not even our experts in Canberra - there are thousands of them here, a plague of them - can tell us where the money has gone. During that period also, Canberra's Ministers have continually urged that we increase the flow of immigrants. That would act, they said, as a defence precaution. No mention was made, of course, of the housing of people. The Government has declined from time to time in this House to make an allocation from the defence vote for housing, although it agrees that immigration is tied up with defence. Our lop-sided Government muddles on. It must be mentioned that Commonwealth trust funds now amount to the staggering total of £750,000,000. This should activate the minds of the Australian people- £750,000,000 in trust funds. Why should these millions be frozen? Does the Government not think that housing is a good investment? Does it not think that housing would be a great bulwark against its bitter enemy, the Communists? A house on every block of land would surely be the -greatest bulwark against communism we could have in this country. Surely the Government knows about the housing conditions, the sub-standard homes, the slums, and surely it knows that squalor breeds communism. Bombs, guns, and troops are not the only precautions against the enemy, without and within. High standards of living are more important. Now is the appropriate time to embark on an expansive programme of home building. All the essentials are in good supply at the moment. According to statistics given by the Timber Workers Union there is 80,000,000 super, feet of building timber rotting at grass. There are 40,000,000 bricks stacked away in brickyards. There are 10,000,000 tiles stacked away. Eighty timber mills have closed on the north coast of New South Wales and five brickyards in the metropolitan area of Sydney have closed. Yet this Government says there is no crisis in the building industry! Building tradesmen are walking the streets looking for work. Timber mills right throughout the State, not only the north coast, are idle. Cement is available in adequate supply. All the building resources are at the disposal of this Government if it wants to move, but it refuses to supply the essential for home building, which is finance.

The trade union movement is anxious to co-operate wilh the Government and lend its advice and skill to grapple with this problem, the greatest in Australia's history. These are not Canberra experts; they are trade unionists, the men who work in these industries. A thriving building industry reflects the wealth, prosperity, and prestige of the nation. When home building ceases the nation goes into decay. That is happening to-day. On all sides we see a demand for homes. The domestic unhappiness of thousands of young families due to the housing shortage is laid at the door of this Government. In New South Wales alone 150,000 homes are needed. The last census showed that 106,000 family units were sharing accommodation. We all know how that breeds unhappiness in the home. New applications are pouring in to the New South Wales Housing Commission at the rate of 200 per week. The co-operative building societies claim that 25,000 registered applicants are anxiously awaiting advances to build. All this points to the need for a vigorous home-construction programme. Instead we see the apathy of members of the Government. When there is talk of expansion, they all go into their shells. They theorize about home building and the unfortunate circumstances of the homeless. It is time we got rid of them. The Government is on the toboggan because of its unrealistic approach to home finance.

The most serious aspect is the falling off in the number of buildings under construction. The figures, as shown by the Commonwealth Statistician, are the worst for six years. That is unbelievable. It is a disgraceful state of affairs. If this Government will not do the job, it must make room for a Labour government, which will do it. The deliberate restricting of home-building is made more obvious when activities in other fields of construction are considered. I refer to the building of luxury offices, luxury hotels, new banks, new insurance offices, activities in the entertainment field and the construction of one-brand petrol stations galore. Behind all these luxury offices, what do we see? We see tents, shanties, lean-tos and garages with mothers and fathers trying to bring up their families to some sort of standard.

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