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Tuesday, 26 March 1957

Mr PETERS (Scullin) .- In every State of the Commonwealth of Australia, Labour governments have been in office over a period of years. There have also been a number of Labour governments of the Commonwealth of Australia. There was a Labour government in the days of war. There was a Labour government when the sceptre of power fell from the palsied hands of the Liberal party into the hands of John Curtin.

To-night, when there is a proposal to censure the Government, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) has attacked the Labour party because it has a particular platform - a platform which, he says, means that the Labour party will turn Australia into a republic. The policy, platform and objectives that the Labour party has to-day it had also during the period when Labour governments administered the States and the Commonwealth. That policy and those objectives were the policy and the objectives to which members of the Democratic Labour party, so called, or the Anti-Communist Labour party, so called, pledged their faith and allegiance. That was the policy that they preached over the years as members of the Labour party.

But our friend talked to-night about Judases. I do not know what his implication was, but, if there are any J udases, they are those who betrayed the principles to which, over the years, they gave their allegiance - not those who to-day still stand behind the principles they advocated in the days gone by.

We wish to discuss the question of housing. At this late stage of the discussion, it would be a work of supererogation for me to seek to give details of the tragic conditions of the vast number of people in this country who need shelter to-day. It is unnecessary to dwell on the question whether man-power and materials are available or are not available. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) introduced the censure proposal. He clearly set out the points upon which he challenged the Government. He showed that there was a shortage of homes and that materials were available. He said that finance was not available and that finance was what was required.

Let me pause here and interpose the comment that the playboy politician who is now the Deputy Leader of the Government said that the States had their responsibilities in connexion with housing. The only contribution to the debate on housing made by the honorable member for Moreton was the statement that the States have their responsibilities. Certainly the States have their responsibilities. But the States say, " We will carry out our responsibilities and provide houses if the finance is made available ". The Liberal Premier of Victoria said, " I want finance ". Premiers of all States say that they want finance and that, if they secure the finance, they will carry out their responsibilities.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in what was described by the " Sydney Morning Herald " as his worst speech, replied to the Leader of the Opposition. His speech, of course, was the best that his advisers inside the Government and outside the Government could produce. Then the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr, Ward) spoke. Any one who heard his speech will have no doubt that he replied effectively to all the assumptions, arguments and fictions put forward by the Prime Minister. He proved irrefutably that vast numbers of people needed houses, that many were living in. garages and sheds and bringing up families in rooms, and that many people in Sydney were living in fowlhouses. He produced evidence that a vast amount of material was available and that people were leaving the building trade because they could not secure employment. That, of course, was the overwhelming case for the censure proposal put forward by the Labour party. So decisive was it that the press from one end of Australia to the other agreed that an abnormal number of people who could not get houses were living under tragic conditions, and that adequate materials and man-power were available to relieve the position. Even Ministers of the Crown, at a later stage, admitted those two contentions, and, of course, the Premiers of all the States agree that they can get materials and man-power if only they are provided with sufficient finance. I quote now a statement from the Melbourne " Age " which epitomises the attitude that is generally adopted in connexion with this censure amendment by the press of Australia. It reads -

The problem of housing, and in particular the problem of finding finance, which faces so many married people in search of a home of their own . . .

There can be no glossing over the Commonwealth Statistician's figures which showed a drop of 5,000 in the number of houses under construction at the end of the last financial year compared with twelve months earlier. This slowing of the tempo of housing was not caused by any fall in demand, for it occurred in a period when the marriage rate was high, the influx of migrants was well sustained and demand was increasing . . . Again, figures prove clearly that there was no shortage of material or of workers in the building industry, to account for the decline in activity. There can be only one explanation for this slow decline in production: the difficulty of obtaining finance for home building.

Returning again to figures, there is clear evidence that the trading banks in recent months have diverted substantial sums from housing to the financing of hire-purchase firms.

Mr Curtin - Who said that?

Mr PETERS - That appeared in the Melbourne " Age ", which, of course, is not a Labour newspaper. It is not a supporter of the Labour movement. The Melbourne " Age " helped to put this Government on the treasury bench.

I do not wish to go into too many details on this matter, and I merely point out a few illuminating facts. There are 24,000 outstanding applications for war service homes in this country. In Victoria last year there were 15,000 applicants for housing commission homes, but only 4,000 homes were built. In the previous year there were over 12,000 applicants, and only 3,000 homes were built. In a period of less than two years in Victoria there was a shortage of 20,000 Housing Commission homes, and throughout Australia there was a shortage of 24,000 war service homes. A similar position exists in other States to that which obtains in Victoria, lt is estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 homes are required in this community. The result of this shortage is that homes are being broken up, and the health and spirits of the people are being undermined. This applies, of course, to " old " Australians. It is " old " Australians who can get war service homes and Housing Commission homes. The position of " new " Australians is considerably worse. In Carlton, Fitzroy, St. Kilda and elsewhere, as was demonstrated by the Melbourne " Herald " in a series of articles and pictures, whole families of from three to six persons and more are living in single rooms, for which they pay as much as £5 a week. I pointed these things out in this Parliament before the last federal elections. I brought evidence to the Parliament and invited the playboy Deputy Leader of the Government, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), to accompany me and Mr. Lovegrove, M.L.A., through Carlton and Fitzroy, where we would have shown him these conditions.

Mr Curtin - Did he go?

Mr PETERS - He declined to go, but those conditions existed in the metropolitan area of Melbourne, and they affected thousands of people. When I brought this matter before the House there were in the Parliament members of the Anti-Communist Labour party. They, of course, said, " This is an attack on immigration ". It appeared that one attacked immigration if one sought to show that new Australians as well as old Australians should have decent conditions. Of course, that is not so, and calumnies of that kind will not deter the Australian Labour party from fighting to ensure that proper conditions are provided for the Australian people. The conditions under which some of them are living are deplorable and tragic. If the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) believes that the basis of civilised society is the home, and that we need happy homes, he should do something about it. But what did he say in the speech that he made in this House? He based his arguments in reply to the censure amendment upon practically one ground alone. He said this -

The limitation on a housing programme in Australia is the limitation of man-power and the limitation of materials, and anybody who is so naive as to believe that new man-power and new materials can be created by increasing the supply of money is merely adding to inflation.

Mr Curtin - Who said that?

Mr PETERS - The Prime Minister said that, and upon the basis of that one sentence he constructed a whole speech. That was his defence of the housing position. It has been proven, of course, beyond any challenge whatsoever, that there are ample building materials and that there is quite a good amount of labour available. But does the right honorable gentleman contend that if we increase the number of houses in the community we will increase the price of houses, or that if we lessen the demand for houses we will increase their prices? Of course we will not. The only time when people in this community will be able to obtain houses at reasonable prices, either for purchase or rental, will be when there are adequate numbers of houses. We will diminish rather than increase inflation in the building industry, if, with proper safeguards, we arrange to build more houses.

I have before me an advertisement that appeared in the Melbourne " Age " on 9th March, 1957. It is headed, " To Let ", and it reads as follows: -


The five that. I read out were not stated to be furnished, so, therefore, we can take it that they are unfurnished. But it means that you cannot get a house, either furnished or unfurnished, at less than £8 8s. a week, and these are typical of the rents being charged. Does the Prime Minister contend that if more people get houses of their own the prices for rented houses will rise above these abnormal charges that I have quoted?

The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) deserted the Prime Minister altogether. He said that there was ample accommodation in this country, but it was in the wrong hands; that there was too much accommodation. These are his words, quoted later by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator O'Sullivan), who reiterated the statement: Too much accommodation in too few hands.I agree that there is too much accommodation in too few hands. There is too much land in too few hands, and there is too much money in too few hands. The position is growing worse every day, because the policy of this Government is designed to take more and more of the purchasing power of money out of the hands of the average man and woman and put it into the hands of a few. That is what the Government is doing.

The supporters of the Government proclaim, " We believe in immigration, but the Labour party does not ". If I remember rightly, the immigration programme was conceived with the idea of filling the vast empty spaces of this country, and of making it more secure. But there are fewer people in the country areas to-day than there were prior to 1939 and the beginning of assisted immigration. Land is getting into fewer and fewer hands. The immigrants are adding to the congestion in the cities, which, like Melbourne, are spreading outwards. In our country areas there are fewer people to-day than there were in 1939. Every one knows that that is the position. That, of course, does not add to the security of the country. On the contrary, it endangers our national security. One hydrogen bomb dropped on Melbourne would destroy thousands of homes.

Mr Cleaver - It would do a lot of good!

Mr PETERS - Our friend says that it would do a lot of good. What is the use of discussing with members of the Liberal party a proposition in connexion with housing the people if the members of that party insist that the dropping of a hydrogen bomb on Melbourne would do good?

We need people in our outer areas; we need people on the land; we need people in our country towns; but people are not going to those places. Why? Is it because they do not want to go, or because the Government has a policy that prevents the cutting up of big estates and the placing of more and more men on the land? That, of course, is the fact, and within the congested areas of the cities the price of land is skyrocketing. A person who goes to North Balwyn, Broadmeadows or places such as those 10 miles or 12 miles outside the Melbourne city area, and wants to buy a block of land on which to build a house will not be able to do so for less than £1,000. It may even cost £2,000 or more. How can the people prosper and progress under such conditions? In addition to the payment of £2,000 for land, it costs £3,000 to put the cheapest type of home on the block, which makes a total of £5,000. If the person who builds a home in such an area works in the city he will have to pay approximately £1 a week for fares. In order to pay off his home under the conditions that operate at present, he would have to pay a minimum of £5 a week. If he had children to educate or children who were going to work, he would have to pay up to £2 a week for fares, all of which would be added to his commitment of £5 a week to purchase the home. That is what this Government has done for the workers. That is what the high interest rates of the Government have done for the people of Australia.

Of course, the solution of the housing problem will not be attained by giving a few more thousand pounds or a few more million pounds, at a lower rate of interest, tothe States to spend on housing. The whole policy of this Government must be reviewed, the policy that is making the rich richer at the expense of the workers, the policy that has taken away quarterly adjustments of the basic wage and which has added £1 a week to the cost of accommodation. That policy must be ended. To achieve that objective, we must get rid of the Government.

The Government would have ceased to exist in 1954 if it had then sought to secure power on economic and political issues. It secured power merely because it had new allies, the anti-Communists, the so-called Anti-Communist Labour party which proposes to change its name at the next election and call itself the Democratic Labour party. It may change its policy and its name, but in reality it is a buttress and support of the policies of the Government and these deplorable conditions to which I have referred - the housing conditions, the land problem and the financial problem that exist in this country. All of those things are due to manipulation of political factions by the Liberal party to destroy the chances of Labour regaining the treasury bench. The supporters of the Government call us Judases, and they attack the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) in scurrilous language; but the hour is dawning when Truth will no longer be upon the scaffold, when Right will be upon the throne.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Drummond) adjourned.

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