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Monday, 12 November 1973
Page: 3125

Mr VINER (Stirling) - I should like to make one short comment on a matter that was discussed earlier by the honourable memfor Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron), namely, the obtaining of postal votes from elderly people. I believe that practices which have developed over the years and are used by both major political parties are to be condemned. There is nothing more unedifying than to see canvassers on behalf of candidates scrambling for the votes of elderly and sick people. I offer very shortly the thought to the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) for inclusion in the legislation on electoral matters which he has foreshadowed he will bring down that the right to vote of people over 70 years of age should be voluntary and not compulsory, and the seeking of postal votes from those people by canvassers on behalf of candidates should be outlawed. We would then have a truly voluntary vote available to those people over the age of 70 who genuinely desire the vote, and there are many who do desire to exercise their right to vote. For those who are too sick to get to the polling booth on polling day, administrative arrangements ought to be made through the Commonwealth Electoral Office for a voting paper to be taken to those people, not by representatives of political parties but by officers of the Electoral Office. I offer these short comments to the Minister for his consideration.

I wish to speak now on housing because of the great concern I have at the intended abolition by the Government of the homes savings grant scheme. It is a concern that not only I but also a great many people within the community feel because the homes savings grant scheme is a stepping stone to home ownership by young couples. When young couples set out on the path of obtaining a home, the very first thing they must do is to accumulate the necessary money to put down a deposit on that home, enough money to enable them to borrow from an established institution. What this Government proposes to do is to kick away from those young couples that very first stepping stone, and this from a party which espouses so much the cause of the people in the community who are not affluent. The Government is making things more difficult for the less affluent people in the community and restricting the availability of housing finance to those who are more affluent and more fortunate.

It must be remembered that when the Homes Savings Grant Bill was introduced on 5 May 1964 it followed an election promise by the then Prime Minister, the right honourable Sir Robert Menzies, to introduce such a scheme designed to encourage young people to accumulate savings towards the purchase of their home. It was also intended to channel savings during the savings period prescribed to institutional lenders who would make more money available in the community for housing generally. So, there was a double-barrel purpose behind this scheme. The phrase that was commonly used in those days and one which really underwrote the scheme was that it was intended to enable young couples to overcome the deposit gap. I would be surprised to hear the Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson) propound the idea that there is no deposit gap confronting young couples today. It exists today as much as it did in 1964, and I believe that the primary objective for which that homes savings grant scheme was introduced in that year is as good today as it was then.

In the interim statement for the year 1972- 73 that has just been published by the Secretary of the Department of Housing, the policy behind the scheme is expressed as I have stated it. It is also pointed out in that statement that, during the past year, a record number of 47,260 applications for grants were received and a total of 40,847 grants amounting to $21,343,564 were approved. Payments of grants amounted to $21,286,919, the highest in any year since the scheme commenced. No one can deny that this scheme has been of tremendous benefit to the young people of this country, and I think it is to be much lamented that it is the policy of this Government to destroy a scheme which has been of such value to the whole community.

At the same time as the homes savings grant scheme was introduced the government led by Sir Robert Menzies set up the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, which was enabled to underwrite lending by institutions for housing to the extent of 90 per cent of the value of the home being purchased. Prior to the Corporation being established, banks and building societies would generally lend only about 60 or 70 per cent of the value, which of course meant that there was a tremendous deposit gap for young couples to overcome. However, by the combination of the homes savings grant scheme, which provided the incentive for young couples to save that first amount of money to embark upon home ownership, and the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, which enabled institutions to lend up to 90 per cent of the value, that deposit gap was virtually obliterated.

The growth of home ownership and lending for housing in Australia can be judged from 2 sets of figures which I shall quote quickly to the Committee. Let me deal first of all with the growth in homes savings grants - from 24,740 in 1964-65 to the figure that I have already mentioned, 47,260. The statistics I have show that up to the end of 1971-72 the total number of grants was 248,334, which means that over a quarter of a million people in Australia have benefited from this scheme. In 1965-66, the year in which it was established, the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation underwrote 2,002 housing loans, and in 1971-72 it underwrote 44,520 loans. This shows a tremendous and rapid scale of growth in the underwriting of housing loans throughout Australia. One can also see the pattern reflected in the volume of business that building societies have done during that period. I have only the statistics relating to the underwriting of building society loans by the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, but they show that the number of loans increased from 1,578 in 1965-66 to 36,153 in 1971-72.

On top of that, schemes have been put forward by both the Government and the Opposition to provide some measure of relief to people who are paying off housing loans, either by a tax deductibility scheme as put forward by the Government or by a rebate scheme as put forward by the Opposition when it was in government. One can see that if the homes savings grant scheme were retained and relief were provided in either of these ways, the total package would benefit all home seekers, particularly young couples who want to own their own homes. At a time when the Government is proposing to introduce a tax deductibility scheme, it is a tragedy that it is dismantling - more than dismantling - the homes savings grant scheme and rejecting it altogether. It is fundamental, indeed obvious, that in housing matters a government must start at the beginning. If it is part of the Government's political philosophy to promote home ownership, it must start at the beginning. The start is the savings which young people must accumulate. At this beginning, we must provide government assistance by way of an incentive to save through the homes savings grant scheme.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury)Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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