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Thursday, 3 April 1941

Senator COLLETT (Western Australia) (Minister administering War Service Homes) . - in reply - I am grateful for the commendation of this bill given by the Leader of the Opposition (SenatorCollings), and also for the other contributions to the debate. I regret that there was insufficient time in which to supply all honorable senators with copies of my second-reading speech. Complaints that Ministers' second-reading speeches are not distributed recur, but the remedy lies more or less in the hands of honorable senators themselves. I shall not endeavour to reply to honorable senators individually. Reference was made to previous errors. The mistakes of the past will not be repeated. In essence the scheme is to provide returned soldiers with an opportunity to acquire a home, which he can call his own, on the bestpossible terms. It is not proposed to buy large blocks of land and to erect houses, an error made in the early days of the first scheme, because it is recognized that the soldiers will want to exercise their own choice as regards the site and cost of their homes. Senator Dein gave the salient facts about repayment. The purchasers of homes are given the easiest possible terms, at the low interest rate of 4 per cent. The terms result in five and six-roomed houses being available at as low as one-half of the rental paid for similar houses obtained in the ordinary way. During occupancy the purchasers are paying for the ultimate possession of their own home. The building of houses in anticipation of them being required by soldiers on their return to Australia is not practicable. If there is any obligation to be assumed it must be assumed by the soldier. If he does not return, his widow has certain privileges. Senator Aylett hit the nail on the head when hesaid that it was not in the interests of a soldier or of his family to have a wife assume liabilities which he may not be able to meet in the future.

Senator Fraser - Is it not a fact that had houses been available immediately after the termination of the last war, ex-soldiers could have invested their deferred pay in homes instead of spending the money in other ways ?

Senator COLLETT - I admit that, but that was not the fault of the commission or of the Government. The fault lay, rather, in another quarter. The honorable senator's experience of building materials was similar to mine, but mistakes will be avoided in the future. I assure Senator Keane that his complaint about the lack of supervision in the past will be met under the new conditions. An ex-soldier will choose his own site and type of house. There will be no room for speculation. The provision of homes free of interest is an academic subject which I will leave with those who liketo indulge in fanciful thinking.

Senator Brown - What about providing homes free of principal?

Senator COLLETT - I leave that subject with the other. I think that each State has a housing scheme. I shall not discuss consolidation of those schemes with that of the Commonwealth, but I point out that the War Service Homes Commission is the agent of the Commonwealth housing scheme. The cost of the administration of the commission is less than 10s. per cent., which is economic. Senator Amour lamented generally about the weaknesses of the scheme, but perhaps he will admit that he himself has benefited very greatly from it. In the depression, there was a dislocation because blocks of houses in the distant suburbs were vacated when work became scarce and men flocked to the cities, giving up any hope of retaining not only occupancy, but also rights to retain ownership. From what I have seen of the records, the commission gave most sympathetic consideration to all cases. The rents received from the letting of the houses to civilians have been credited to the accounts of the mortgagor applicants . Senator Cameron's contribution to the debate I group with Senator Brown's remark as a subject for academic discussion. Senator Arthur's retrospects I leave where they should be left: with the honorable senator. I thank Senator Dein for his commendation and assure honorable senators that the Government and the commission have past errors very much in mind, and will take action to ensure that they shall not be repeated. On the subject of whether the returned soldiers generally have regarded the war service homes scheme as being advantageous to them, I shall quote the following extract from the report of the committee which investigated the subject of war service homes in 1932: -

During the inquiry, many tributes were paid by witnesses to the War Service Homes Commission and its agents and representatives. It was generally acknowledged that the administration was sympathetic and helpful and that every consideration was being shown to deserving clients who had been adversely affected by the depression. Occasionally, a witness deplored what was described as the peremptory tone of a letter regarding arrears or frequent inquiries about his income, but these were no more than the inevitable sequel of the business methods which must be adopted in a large organization. It is notoriously difficult for a creditor or a mortgagee to satisfy his clients, and it speaks volumes for the commission that the tributes paid to its administration greatly exceeded the complaints.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 (Definitions).

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