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Wednesday, 4 December 1935

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Postmaster-General) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The main purpose of this bill is to introduce a scheme of relief for the widows and widowed mothers of Australian soldiers, as defined in section 4 of the War Service Homes A.ct, and for the wives of Australian soldiers who are temporarily or permanently insane. The Government and, I think, honorable senators on all sides of the chamber are keenly interested in the welfare of widows and widowed mothers whose circumstances prevent them from making the full payments required under the contracts they have executed to purchase the homes which they occupy. The nature of the assistance which should be granted has been closely considered by the Government, and having in mind the general desire to secure for these purchasers security of occupation, a scheme of relief has been formulated which is covered by the new provisions in the bill - proposed new sections 29aa and 39a and the amendment to section 39.

As honorable senators know, repayment instalments are designed to repay the purchase money, together with interest thereon, over the period for which the loan is granted. Proposed section 29aa gives to the Minister the power to assess the amount which shall be paid by a widow, widowed mother or wife of an Australian soldier on account of these instalments, and the balance will be paid from the fund established by proposed section 39 a. The difference between the amount determined to be paid and the purchase instalment, to be withdrawn from the relief trust account, will be charged in the usual way in the account of the purchaser and be made good when the home is sold by the purchaser or disposed of after her death.

The Government realizes also that those purchasers who are unable to pay the full instalment cannot meet the rates, taxes and other outgoings which fall due from time to time. These charges will be paid on behalf of the purchaser from the amount standing to the credit of the relief trust account. Similarly, if the purchaser is not in a position to meet the cost of essential repairs, the commission, which has an arrangement in all States under which first-grade paints are supplied at reduced prices, will make available, at cost, the paint and other materials required, and will endeavour to arrange for the necessary works to be carried out with a minimum charge for labour. The expenditure on account of rates and taxes and repairs will be charged in the purchaser's account and, if she is unable to make any payment, will be recovered when the home is sold, or when realized upon after her death.

Honorable senators will agree that the relief scheme which has been adopted by the Government will secure for the widow, or widowed mother or wife continued occupation of her house, remove the worry associated with the struggle to pay arrears, rates and taxes, and introduce payments based upon her ability to pay. I know of no other scheme of this character, and I feel that it will be of distinct advantage to those eligible to participate in it3 benefits.

In asking honorable senators to accept this relief scheme, I assure them that each . case will be sympathetically considered. Before assessing the payment required from a purchaser, the whole of her circumstances will be carefully considered, and from time to time a sum which she can afford decided upon. This measure of assistance the Government is willing to extend; but if a purchaser, without good cause, fails to make the payments required, the commission will reluctantly be compelled to recover possession of the home. Whilst every endeavour will be made to avoid that course, it is expected that purchasers will assist the Government to make the scheme a success. The relief scheme applies to the widows, widowed mothers and wives of Australian soldiers, and does not apply to the dependants of the other classes of beneficiaries who are eligible for assistance under the War Service Homes Act.

With regard to returned soldier purchasers,theGovernment has decided to extend until next year the policy now followed, which is based upon the recommendations of the War Service Homes Committee of Inquiry. Those recommendations expired in June last, but the Government is of the opinion that the policy, which is on generous lines, should be continued for the present, and be reviewed in 1936-37.

The other amendments, three in number, are more or less of a machinery character. The first deals with the tenure of the Commissioner, and seeks to increase the period for which he may be reappointed from "not exceeding three years " to " not exceeding five years ". It is not proposed to disturb the period of the original appointment, namely, " not exceeding three years ", but where a Commissioner has rendered satisfactory service and his reappointment is decided upon, it is' considered that the Governor-General should be in a position to grant a more extended tenure. By providing for a. maximum period of five years, that object will be achieved.

The second amendment incorporates two- provisions. The first has for its object the omission of the proviso to section 36(1c), which restricts to £40 the cost of repairs to homes of which the Commissioner is in possession. The commission has on its hands properties which reverted to it as early as 1929. Every three or four years the homes must be painted and otherwise repaired, the cost being charged against the equity of the borrower, who is also credited with all receipts in the way of rental. If the borrower were in possession, he would have to meet these costs, failing which the commission would be empowered to have the necessary works carried out under section 31. The restriction referred to militates against satisfactory sales, as it is far easier to dispose of a home which has been placed in good repair than one which is dilapidated. Moreover, comparatively better prices can be obtained for renovated homes than for other . properties. The commission's experience is that the restriction has operated against the interests of borrowers, and its removal from the act will dispose of a definite disadvantage associated with its administration. The second provision makes the amendment retrospective.

The final provision amends section 41, so that the Commissioner may offset the amount of an insurance claim against the balance owing by the purchaser. There is some doubt as to whether the existing section extends that power, and in order to place the matter on a proper basis, the present amendment is suggested. Difficulty arises only where the claim is less than the purchaser's liability under the contract entered into, not where the claim is in excess of the balance owing. The bill is a simple one, and I ask the Senate to give it a speedy passage.

Debate (on motion by Senator Col- lings) adjourned.

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