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Tuesday, 26 March 1957

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- If ever a government misjudged public opinion on a matter of vital importance, this Government has now done so, because it has failed to understand the strength and vehemence of the feeling of the Australian people about its neglect of the housing problem. Labour has always considered housing to be of paramount importance. I remember saying in this House on a number of occasions over the years that one can give a man the best possible basic wage (o enable him to buy all the food and clothes he needs, but that if he does not have a decent home to live in he will be an unhappy social being. If the Government fails in the future as it has done in the past to deal with the housing problem, it will sow the seeds for a new growth of communism. The people want homes. They are entitled to them, and this country is prosperous enough to see that every one that needs a home has one.

The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Lindsay) told us about some of the people in his electorate who live in fowlhouses. Victoria has a Liberal Premier, and the Commonwealth has a Liberal Prime Minister, and it ought to be possible for them to formulate a real plan to remove the necessity for people to live in fowlhouses

Mr Lindsay - They are doing their best.

Mr CALWELL - Who does the honorable member think are doing their best - the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the Victorian Premier, or the unfortunate people who are living in fowlhouses? . The truth is that many people in Australia are at present living under sub-standard conditions. On 21st February, 1952, I proposed a formal motion for the adjournment of the House, under the procedure that formerly operated, to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance -

The failure of the Government to deal effectively with the question of housing.

On 22nd September, 1955, Mr. Nelson Lemmon, a fine gentleman who had been a very good Minister in the Labour government, and who was then the member for St. George, proposed a definite matter of urgent public importance for discussion, namely -

The decisions of the Government to recommend to the States increases in the interest rates charged under the Commonwealth and States

Housing Agreement, to recommend to the States the abolition of the rental rebate system, to recommend to the States reduction in the money allocated to the State Housing Commission, and the consequent undermining of confidence in the building industry.

The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), on 31st May of last year, submitted for discussion as a definite matter of urgent public importance the following subject: -

The urgent and vital necessity of additional homes and housing accommodation in Australia, and the serious social dangers threatening the nation as a result of the failure of the Commonwealth Government to deal effectively with the problem.

So it can be seen that this problem has not suddenly arisen, lt has been chronic for a long time, and it has now become acute. In the debate on my motion on 21st February, 1952, I quoted from a newspaper report which declared -

There are still 30,000 Melbourne dwellings without bathrooms, nearly 50,000 without sewerage, more than 22,000 without even running water.

What was true of Melbourne at that time is probably largely true to-day. It is true, also, of Sydney and of many other places.

It is idle for the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) to rely on a report which purports to state the exact position existing in Australia at the present time. He claimed that there is at present a backlag of 115,000 houses. The Commonwealth Housing Commission, which was appointed by the Labour Government in 1944, found that there was at that time a shortage of 300,000 houses. The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) suggested this afternoon that the back-lag was only 105,000 houses. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) very effectively demolished the Government's arguments when he pointed out last Thursday that there was a back-lag of at least 300,000 homes, because the population had increased by more than 2,000,000 between 1947 and 1956. He said that this meant 630,000 homes to meet the needs of the population increase of 2,000,000 at an average of 3.55 persons to a house and he pointed out that, on the basis of 60,000 houses a year to meet the normal needs of those marrying each year, as stated by the Minister for National Development, we should need 120,000 houses a year for five years - 60,000 a year to meet current needs and 60,000 a year to overtake the back-lag of 300,000. The Prime Minister contents himself with saying that we only need 52,000 houses a year, and yet the Dean of the faculty of architecture in the Sydney University, says we need 91,000 houses a year. The Government makes great play on the number of homes it provides for exservicemen. Last year, there were 34,000 ex-servicemen requiring homes. To-day, twelve years after the end of the war. there are 25,000 ex-service men and women who need houses and who cannot get them. They cannot get the finance to buy or to build a house under eighteen months or two years. Why? It is because of the Government. The war ended twelve years ago. Surely all the ex-service men and women who need homes should be able to get them now. Government supporters may contend that there are constitutional difficulties; but there is no constitutional difficulty in the matter of finance. There are other difficulties, of course.

Mr Anderson - Tell us about Labour's record in war service homes.

Mr CALWELL - Our record is very good. The Prime Minister the other night said that our record in five post-war years was a good one. That can be read in "Hansard ".

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - He said we had doubled it.

Mr CALWELL - The Minister for Labour and National Service need not try to anticipate me because I will come to that point. The Prime Minister did say that his Government had built twice as many houses as we had built. That is true, but it is still not good enough. This Government should have built twice as many as we built, because the last " Monthly Review of Building Statistics" for 1956 shows that whereas in 1949 152,000 people were employed in the building and construction industry, at the end of November, 1956, there were 217,000 persons so employed, a difference of 65,000.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - One-third of them were immigrants.

Mr CALWELL - In some industries such as the steel industry, 70 per cent, of the employees have been immigrants. I am not disagreeing on the facts. This is a matter of interpretation of the figures. We have 65,000 more people employed in building to-day than we had in 1949, but obviously should be employing more people. We have to get more houses. There can be no doubt about that.

I do not disagree with the principle stated by the Prime Minister - "The limitation on the housing programme in Australia is the limitation of man-power and the limitation of materials ". That is completely right as a principle but where the Prime Minister went wrong is when he took advice from his experts that there is a shortage of man-power and materials in Australia. All the advice on that matter from the employers in the building industry and from the leaders of the trade unions in the building industry ridicules that claim. There are no such shortages. I think the Prime Minister was right again when he said, "To the limit of man-power and to the limit of materials money ought to be available to combine in doing a job for the home-loving people of Australia ". We could not agree more. What is physically possible is financially possible. That has always been our political creed; but what this Government has failed to do is to provide a "financial policy that will enable the home-loving people of Australia to buy or rent the houses they so urgently need. The failure of the Menzies' Government goes even further than that: Fewer houses are being built this financial year than last year. The evidence about that is contained in issue No. 51 of " Facts & Figures", which is a Government publication. On page 52 the story of housing and building shows that the Chifley Government commenced approximately 58,000 houses in 1949. The succeeding Government built up to something over 84,000 houses in 1951-52, but since that time the number of houses being built each year has fallen. Why has it fallen? The population is increasing all the time. One would have imagined that if it was possible to build 84,000 houses a year in 1951-52, when there were greater shortages than there are to-day, it would be possible to build 120,000 houses a year now. We should be building to supply the needs of the Australian people who are marrying each year. We ought to be able to build 20,000 houses each year to give immigrants the houses they need and then we ought to be building beyond that figure for those who are to come in subsequent years when the immigration plan unfolds and further develops. If we do not do that we shall run into a chronic problem and we shall run into it very soon.

The professor whom I quoted a moment ago pointed out that unless we do these very things we will be in grave difficulties. The private trading banks are lending less for home-building this year than for some years past, although the demand for homes is growing year by year as our population increases and as old and sub-standard houses are being demolished. It is a paradox that the process of demolition of such houses is now proceeding at a very slow rate; but if it is speeded up, more new homes will be required. There are sub-standard houses at many places in Australia and it is the duty of the Government to see that something is done about them and done very quickly.

The Opposition has always felt that housing is our No. 1 problem. There is no other comparable problem. If we cannot build houses we shall be in grave difficulties with a lot of people. The agents of the private trading banks are importuning Ministers in the Parliament and outside it, day after day urging that the Chifley Government legislation be mutilated further and that the Commonwealth Bank shall be turned into a bankers' bank, as it was in the days of the Bruce-Page Government.

The private trading banks have themselves failed to supply the finance which the Australian Government and the people need in order that the work of housing can be carried out. The Prime Minister the other night said that trading banks had reduced their lending, not under the directive of the Commonwealth Bank or the Commonwealth Government, but because housing loans were not attractive to trading banks. Obviously the banks can make more profit through their hire-purchase subsidiaries. They can make more profit by lending to businesses that are already making huge profits. Nobody can deny that industry has had a prosperous era under the Menzies' Government. The extent to which the private trading banks have failed the people of Australia is illustrated by the fact that in the six months ended 31st December last, the Australian trading banks lent £7.400,000 less for home-construction than they had lent previously.

Mr McMahon - How much did the savings bank sections lend?

Mr CALWELL - I am talking about trading banks.

Mr McMahon - They are the same things.

Mr CALWELL - They may be the same thing in the mind of the honorable member who is one of the representatives of the trading banks in this chamber. To the extent that the trading banks have been able to take savings bank deposits from the Commonwealth Bank and the State savings banks, they have lent something, but overall their figures are £7,400,000 down on loans in the six months ended 31st December last, and over a period of eighteen months to December of last year their figures are down £18,500,000. What do the trading banks want? They only want to make profits all the time. If they are going to neglect the interests of the Australian people and take profits at luxurious rates of interest, they are asking for nationalization. They are looking for trouble. They should help the Australian people if they have any thought for their future security. I would be quite satisfied to settle on the 1945 Banking Act, but all these interferences and projected interferences with the banking legislation and all the denials of financial assistance to people who want homes will eventually bring a nemesis to those responsible.

We have asked for a national housing plan. We recognize that it is not the Australian Government alone that has a responsibility in this matter. In a federation, the States have certain powers, and they also have certain duties and responsibilities. The Commonwealth also has powers, duties and responsibilities. I well remember the attacks made on the Chifley Government because of its alleged failure to do the things that were required to be done. State Premiers and Liberal and Country party members said that the Chifley Government was starving the States of funds for housing. If those complaints were in any way justified, tho indictment against the present Government is a thousand times stronger! But that docs not absolve the States from their responsibilities. Under the terms of the Constitution it is the duty of the Commonwealth to raise the loans, which State governments require for housing and for public works. But it is also the duty of the Commonwealth to pursue a credit policy which directs the banks, where necessary, to loan to those who wish to build their own homes and to loan sufficient funds to cooperative building societies so that these societies shall have all the money necessary to build homes for their members. To the extent to which this Government fails to give those directions, it is depriving cooperative building societies and individual home builders of the finance they need.

Dr Evatt - The Government has ample power to issue a directive. Why has not it done so?

Mr CALWELL - Precisely. 1 have been making that very point, that the Government has that power and has failed to exercise it. In addition, it is the sole responsibility of the Commonwealth to see that enough money is provided to ensure that all ex-service men and women applying to the War Service Homes Division shall have their wants satisfied. But the States, too, as I have said, have their obligations and responsibilities. It is not enough for State Premiers and State housing Ministers to criticize the Chifley Government, as they did years ago, or venture to criticize this Government, as they have done recently, because all the finance required at a particular time is not forthcoming. We will never solve the housing problem of this country satisfactorily, I believe, if State governments fail to pass two items of legislation. First, they must transfer the power to legislate in respect of capital issues to the Commonwealth Parliament. Secondly, they must transfer power to legislate in regard to interest rates other than banking to the Commonwealth Parliament. State parliaments not only refuse to transfer these powers, but they also fail to pass legislation regulating capital issues and interest rates that have a detrimental effect on the availability of money and the price the home-builders are ultimately forced to pay by way of interest for financial accommodation.

State parliaments have failed, and are failing, to curb the rapacity and the greed of the oil combine by allowing good houses to be demolished in every big city for the erection of service and petrol-selling stations. That accentuates the housing problem. The State governments have an obligation to see that the needs of the ordinary people are placed first in the matter of housing. But State governments do nothing to prevent the erection of luxury buildings and luxury hotels amounting to millions of pounds in the aggregate. In some cases, it has even been suggested that some hotels for which plans are being drawn will ultimately be erected at a cost of £4,000,000 to £5,000,000 each. This country cannot afford luxury building, it cannot afford the diversion of moneys to non-essential building, and that is condemned in our amendment.

State governments should require companies registered under State laws to deposit ;i percentage of their profits in CommonwealthState loans to help to provide electricity, water, and build homes, including those without which these companies - and I am thinking particularly now of foreign companies, whether British, American or any other nationality - cannot make the profits that provide the dividends that are either ploughed back into their businesses for the purpose of making more vast profits or are transferred overseas. When State governments co-operate to the extent that I believe they should co-operate, they will be in a better position to criticize what is being done in the National Parliament. If such co-operation is not forthcoming, it will not be possible to have the national housing plan which the amendment envisages and which we wish to see put into effect. t ask this question: What is to be the determinant in our community life? Is it to be profits for the ordinary trading banks, profits for big companies, or happiness and security for the ordinary people who, after all. constitute the nation? If the profit motive is paramount, if laisser-faire capitalism is the desideratum. I say to the Government. " Go ahead and sow the dragon's teeth; posterity will reap the harvest ". If the needs of the people are much more important than the interests of the modern moneychangers in the temples of high finance, then let us get on with the job of housing the people. Let us build ahead of requirements, as I have outlined, so that those who are citizens of this country, whether they be old or new Australians, can be adequately housed, and so that there will be houses available to those who come later to join their destiny with ours and to raise Australians in the first and second generations, equally dedicated to the maintenance of the Australian way of life as those who can boast an Australian lineage that extends back for four or five generations.

It is all very well for the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) to put out a press story and say, " End of housing shortage in sight ". The end of the housing shortage is not in sight. It is worse to-day than it has been for quite a number of years past. It will continue to be as bad as it is now unless the Government sets out to secure the co-operation of the States and the States in turn co-operate fully and readily on a plan to build at least 120,000 houses a year. The learned professor in Sydney says that at least 20,000 more houses than the Government postulates are necessary. But that is still 30,000 houses a year fewer than the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Curtin) has shown in his figures - and he has argued his case very ably and very logically - and the figure which we put forward in 1952 as the figure required.

I admire the dexterity of some honorable gentlemen opposite. One of them did not mention housing at all. He talked about a national roads plan, so satisfied was he that the Government had no case and that he could not defend it. Other honorable members opposite, including Ministers, have said as little as they could about the question of housing and, if they have praised the Government, they have done it with bated breath. Even the honorable gentleman who preceded me spent his time criticizing city people.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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