Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 23 November 1927

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator must not use. threats when he is told that his remarks are outside the scope of the measure under discussion.

Senator GRANT - I shall not conflict with your ruling, Mr. President; but I respectfully suggest that in discussing the bill before the Senate I am entitled to say in what direction it could be improved. The bill purposes to deal with a housing scheme, but I deny that it does so. I propose, later, to move an amendment to include in this bill some resolutions agreed to by the Australian Labour party in New South Wales, as follows: -


(a)   Taxation of lands held out of effective use in areas proclaimed as suitable for residential purposes, at such rates as shall compel speculators to disgorge. An exemption to be made of one residential block.

(b)   Model State suburbsin metropolitan area.

(c)   Model State villages at approved country centres.

(d)   Blocks of land for residential purposes to be provided by the State free to genuine home-seekers, to be completely controlled by such persons as long as they and their families use them for personal residence. Permission be granted to sell improvements from time to ti me.

(e)   Provision of materials at cost price from Government enterprises for building homes for the people.

(f)   Power to be given to city, municipal and shire councils to deal effectively with unsatisfactory buildings, and to provide homes for the people. (g). Cheap transport facilities between residential and industrial and commercial centres.

(h)   Amendment of the Fair Rents Court to protect tenants against eviction and other evasions of the act.

In the opinion of the New South Wales Labour party, these provisionsare necessary, but I specially desire to invite the attention of the Senate to the first section of these proposals, and to suggest that it should be included in this bill, namely-

Taxation of lands held out of effective use in areas proclaimed as suitable for residential purposes, at such rates as shall compel speculators to disgorge.

I know that Senator Pearce is particularly well-informed upon this subject. Unless steps are taken to make home sites available at cheap rates, it is not possible to help those people who are trying to secure homes of their own. No one knows that better than Senator Pearce. He has a wide knowledge on this subject, or, at any rate, he used to have.

Senator Needham - Perhaps he has forgotten it.

Senator GRANT - No, he has not forgotten; he has only got into bad company. I intend later to move an amendment to have that provision inserted in the present bill. The Government could easily do it, and what would happen if effect were given to such a provision ? Almost immediately the speculative value of home sites throughout the Commonwealth would vanish entirely, and the Australian workman, or anybody else, would be able to secure for his home an area of an acre, or even 5 acres, as compared with the contemptible and microscopic allotment on which he is now compelled to live. I commend this provision to the' Government as the surest and most effective way of bringing about the reform which it appears to desire. I warn the Government, however, that it would arouse against itself all the antipathies and all the forces of monopoly, but it should have the courage to face those forces. Even if it went down, it would do so in a good cause. I believe that all penalties which are now imposed upon workers desiring to build their own homes should be removed. Many years ago it was very difficult to secure the transfer of a piece of land. Under the old system, it cost a large sum of money to do so, and we are indebted to Sir R. Torrens, of South Australia, who introduced many times what is now called the " Torrens Act." Eventually, it was passed by the South Australian Parliament, and has been adopted with modifications by all the other Australian Parliaments. Under that act the transfer of land could be effected for a nominal sum. Unfortunately, however, every day since that act was passed, those who are desirous of preventing the workers from securing their own homes, have .availed themselves of every opportunity to create new difficulties, and to increase the cost of transfers, until to-day those costs represent a very serious item, indeed. In New South Wales the late Labour Government abolished the stamp duties as far as they applied to blocks of land for homes purchased for returned soldiers. That was, undoubtedly, a step in the right direction, but, unfortunately, the Government did not abolish the fees in respect of blocks acquired by ordinary workers, and I venture to say that there is not the slightest hope of anything being done in that direction by the Government now in office in that State. If they did that, it would make it easier for a mau without a home to secure one, but that is the last thing the present New South Wales Government wishes to do. That Government wants to make it more and more difficult to secure a home. The transfer fees are in proportion to the value of the land, or the value of the property. Any one who desires to escape the exactions of the landlord by purchasing a home site for himself is immediately pounced upon by the State Government, and made to pay 15s. for every hundred pounds value of the land he buys. In South Australia it is proposed to increase the stamp duties by a further substantial amount. I should like to see this Government tackle that aspect of the homes question, but under this bill it does not propose to do anything in regard to the matter at all. The Government proposes to raise money, presumably more cheaply than the States could, to enable the people to obtain homes of their own, but it would be doing better work if it insisted on a reduction in stamp duties by the State Governments.

The PRESIDENT - I must again ask the honorable gentleman to confine his remarks to the provisions of this bill.

Senator GRANT - At the present time the legal costs and mortgage fees in connexion with the raising of money are so heavy that on a loan of £300 a sum of between £30 and £40 has to be paid. The Government does not intend, under this bill, to. do anything in regard to that matter, yet there is nothing to prevent it from eliminating, or at any rate substantially reducing, the stamp duties, legal fees, and mortgage fees. These charges involve an extra payment of from £60 to £70 on the purchase of an ordinary dwelling. The cost of a home could be substantially reduced if the Government would take steps in that direction. There is one good point, apparently, in this bill. I use the word " apparently " advisedly, because the home builder will derive no actual benefit. I refer to the fact that it will not be necessary to pay fresh mortgage fees every three years. At the present time a loan can be negotiated in Sydney with a private financier for a period of only about three years, at 10 per cent: interest. That is the lowest price at which it is possible to get money . to-day. Under this bill it is proposed to advance money for a longer period, and, therefore, the mortgage fees will have to be paid only once; but just as land values increase when a tramway is constructed, or a railway is built out into the suburbs, so the fact that these fees are payable once only in a lifetime will result in this apparent advantage being capitalized, and added to the value of the land. The price for home sites will advance proportionately, and those people who have such land to sell will be the only ones to reap any benefit from this provision. The price of home sites is the crux of the whole question, and while the situation in that regard remains undisturbed, I have no hesitation in saying that all the discussion around the various clauses of this bill amounts to nothing more than a lot of vain word-spinning. If the Government will include in the bill this portion of the platform of the Labour party in New South "Wales, the immediate effect will be to limit the selling prices of building allotments. Doubtless the Fair Rents Act has been effective in preventing the extraction of an extortionate rent; but it is impossible to say to what extent it. has been instrumental in the investment of capital in home building. The inclusion of such a provision in this measure is questionable, but a trial of the system may be worth while. The New South "Wales Government Savings Bank has in operation a housing scheme under which it makes substantial advances to those who desire to possess homes. So far as I can judge, this scheme will not be able to compete with that. It is unlikely that the Commonwealth Savings Bank will have its deposits augmented to any extent so long as the board of directors continues the practice of paying only31/2 per cent, as compared with the 4 per cent, that is paid by the State authorities on deposits up to £500. In view of the fact that the Commonwealth Savings Bank obtains deposits at a cost of only 31/2 per cent., it could well afford to lend out that money at an interest rate of 41/2 per cent., or at the most 5 per cent. That is not the intention. Clause 7 enlightens us as to the main source from which will be derived the revenue necessary to finance this proposal. It provides -

2.   The housing fund shall consist of -

(c)   moneys borrowed by the Treasurer in pursuance of this act and lent to the savings bank.

According to its balance-sheet for the year ended the 30th June, 1927, the Commonwealth Savings Bank at that date held deposits totalling £46,799,020 16s.5d. Is it not absurd, therefore, for the Government to contemplate borrowing for this alleged housing scheme? I suppose the Treasurer will have' to obtain money in London. He may even attempt to exploit the American market. No matter where he floats his loan, he will have to pay an interest rate of at least 5 per cent. Why does not the Commonwealth Savings Bank make available to home-seekers some of the money it has on deposit from the workers of Australia? The Government Savings Bank in New South Wales has loaned considerable sums for house building. The amount has been steadily advancing for a number of years. The balance-sheet last published showed that £8,283,940 9s.11d. was then outstanding. So far as I can judge, its terms are as good as, if not better than, will be made available under this alleged scheme. It will be competent for the Treasurer to borrow money and lend it to prescribed authorities. Presumably that bank will be one of those authorities. But it is not likely to have anything to do with the scheme, because, although it pays 4 per cent, on deposits up to £500, the average rate which it pays is lower than 4 per cent. The manager has informed me that on the 31st October last the deposits totalled £70,000,000, and the investments in homes £13,616,490. I have been unable to ascertain from the balance-sheet of the Commonwealth Bank whether it has done anything in that direction. We have not been told what authorities will participate in the scheme, and until that information is in our possession we should regard the measure with some suspicion. I was pleased to read in a pre-sessional speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) that the Commonwealth Government intended to embark upon a £20,000,000 housing scheme. Whatever may have been the intention at that time, the scheme that we now have before us does not provide for the Government laying one brick or doing any work except borrow and lend money. This measure and the complementary Commonwealth Savings Bank Bill will do little towards ameliorating the existing shortage of housing accommodation. I was in Melbourne quite recently, and I cannot recollect having seen one house to let. I do not wish to contradict Senator Findley, because in that respect his knowledge is greater than mine; but I can say that in Sydney and suburbs it is almost impossible to procure a house. You may walk mile after mile and not see one house to let; and if you endeavoured to purchase any of the few that are for sale, you would find that the fictitious price demanded rendered such a course inexpedient. Every house in Sydney is occupied, and in many cases two families are living in accommodation that is sufficient for only one.

Senator Elliott - Is not that the effect of the Fair Rents Court?

Senator GRANT - It is not.

Senator Carroll - It is the defect of the Fair Rents Court.

Senator GRANT - Senator Elliott was not in the chamber when I stated that I was unable to judge whether the Fair Rents Act had been instrumental in the erection of more. houses. One of the reasons for the position of affairs in Sydney is the fact that the population of the city is increasing because people are flocking there from country districts and other States, where the municipalities impose taxation on homes. In the great majority of the suburbs in Sydney, however, there is not a small bungalow or cottage to let. Sometimes houses are occupied by more than one family.

Senator Findley - This measure will not give any relief in that direction.

Senator GRANT - I have carefully perused the bill, and I see no reason for passing it. It is a make-believe measure, and if I vote for it I shall do so to give people an ocular demonstration of the worthlessness of the measures introduced by the present Government. It is difficult to imagine two bills so absolutely worthless as the Commonwealth Bank Savings

Bank Bill and the Housing Bill. The vital provisions of the former have been deleted, and there are no vital provisions in the latter. It is a sham from end to end. No house will be built under it. It is only an effort to continue the deception of the public which was started by the Prime Minister when in his policy speech he announced his intention to provide £20,000,000 for housing. I am always opposed to one authorityborrowing money and another authority spending it. The authorities in New South Wales are just as capable as the Commonwealth authorities, and their credit is just as good as that of the Commonwealth when they find it necessary to borrow money. The Commonwealth Savings Bank gets money from depositors at 3£ per cent.. Why does it not lend it out (for building homes? Why should the Treasurer have to go to London and America, or why should he borrow money in Australia while deposits are available in the Commonwealth Savings Bank to build homes?. The balance-sheet of the New South Wales State Savings Bank shows that it has £70,000,000 on deposit, of which amount about £13,616,490 is made available for house-building purposes. My objection to the bill is that it does not touch the real question. It does not touch home sites, registration fees, transfer fees, or the extortionate fees charged by the legal fraternity. Instead of commenting on fair rents courts, Senator Elliott ought to direct his attention to the increasing, altogether unreasonable and extortionate fees extracted by the legal fraternity, of which he is a shining light, from workers who try to get homes for themselves. The honorable senator is like the squid which throws out an inky screen to obscure its movements. He talks about fair rents courts to obscure the real issue - that something should be done to prevent the legal fraternity from getting away with £10 10s. or £12 12s. every time a worker tries to escape from his rent lord. If the Government were to bring down a real bill to erect homes, every honorable senator of the Opposition would be pleased to support it. And, while I dare say most of them will vote for this bill, I say clearly that I expect no good to come from it. I vote for it, just to give the people a real tangible, ocular demonstration of the useless character of the measures introduced by the Government. But I trust that in committee I shall be able to able to move an amendment to incorporate in the bill a plank from the platform of the Labour party in New South Wales which will ensure home sites being made available at nominal sums.

Suggest corrections