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Wednesday, 31 March 1965

Senator DITTMER (Queensland) . - Senator Ormonde has just reminded me that we are not in opposition to this Bill. That is so; we are definitely not in opposition to it, but we just want to point out a few of its deficiencies. 1 had looked forward with eagerness - intense eagerness, I may say - to the speech of the former leader of the Government, Senator Sir William Spooner, who was also the Minister in charge of the War Service Homes Division and had more to do with housing generally than any other Minister. I can recall, as we all can recall only too vividly, how this anti-Labour Minister not so many years ago panicked when he found that 100,000 homes were going to be erected in the Commonwealth in one year. I thought the honorable senator was about to make a confession and an apology for his sins of omission and commission during his tenure of office. I rather expected him to claim credit - to which he was justly entitled - for pursuing the policy inaugurated by the Chifley Government which resulted in the establishment of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. However, the honorable senator did mention the Chifley housing scheme which was inaugurated in 1945, to take effect from 1st July 1946 and to be effective for 10 years, under which money was provided by the Commonwealth, under section 96 of the Constitution, for the States to erect homes to be available in no small proportion, as the honorable senator said, for rental purposes. What the honorable senator did not stress was that these homes were also for sale. Nor did he say that the moneys for rental homes were to be repaid over a period of 53 years. Now we are talking in terms of 1 5, 20 or perhaps 25 years, whereas the Chifley Government made money available over a period of S3 years. It made homes available to people who could not buy homes.

As you will recall only too vividly, Mr. Deputy Chairman, a rental rebate system was in operation, under which a man receiving the basic wage paid 20 per cent, of his weekly wage as rent. Something was added to this, of course, if another person in the household was earning money. A pensioner could get an attractive modern maisonette for as little as 8s. a week. Nowhere are these conditions available today and nowhere have they been available since 1st July 1956. Despite the long period of prosperity that has been talked about by successive Menzies Governments and their supporters, never have those Governments made homes available to the people receiving low wages on such reasonable conditions as did the Chifley Government. It is of no use for the former Minister for National Development to try so glibly and smoothly to put one over this chamber as he was wont to do previously. It is our responsibility to tell the truth and to put matters in their proper perspective for the benefit of the people who need assistance in respect of housing.

There are just a few remarks I want to make in respect of Senator Scott's speech. He said that under this legislation young couples would obtain by way of loan up to 80 or 90 per cent, of the value of the property. Others mentioned a figure of 95 per cent. I should like to see this when it does occur because at the present time young couples are rinding it difficult to get loans of more than 50 or 60 per cent, of the cost of homes.

Senator Scott - That is the position at the present time. Under this legislation they will get more.

Senator DITTMER - We are waiting to see it. I am telling the Senate what is happening. No assurance that they will get 80 to 90 per cent, is engrossed in this Bill. The Government is hoping. It is trying to convey a false image to the people of Australia as it has always done. The honorable senator said that men at Mount Isa earning £60 a week will be able to get by way of loan three times their yearly income. Not many are earning £60 a week.

Senator Scott - They will get it provided they are approved.

Senator DITTMER - There is always a proviso.

Senator Scott - I cannot give it to them. The Corporation will give it to them.

Senator DITTMER - It is the Kathleen Mavourneen story again. It will be in the sweet bye and bye. They may get it, and they may not. I do not think that they will get it. Can anyone imagine this Corporation guaranteeing a loan of £9,000 to a miner at Mr Isa? It is too dashed ridiculous. It is beyond belief. The honorable senator was not even sincere. I hate to impugn his sincerity because he is always so serious, but in this instance I feel that he was not even sincere in espousing this cause. He knew that he had a weak case. 1 do not know whether I am entitled to use this word, but I think that this is a phoney Bill. The Government has no assurance that it will be implemented and be effective.

Let us have a look at it. For a change, in a second reading speech we at least did get a number of pages. There was not the discourteous approach that Ministers often show to the Opposition and to their backbenchers, by cursorily covering a measure, dealing with it in summary fashion. I pay tribute to the Leader of the Government in the Senator (Senator Paltridge) for presenting a second reading speech that covered many pages. However, I say in all seriousness that this is a phoney bill in relation to the rights of people to acquire homes. This applies more particularly to those on low incomes. It is all very well to talk about a home costing £4,000 or £5,000. In the Australian capital cities today it is particularly difficult to obtain a home for £4,000 or £5,000. Any sort of allotment of land ranges in cost from £1,500 to £3,000. I do not know where anyone will get for £4,000 a home to accommodate a family of two, increasing to four, and, perhaps without even trying, increasing to six. How is anyone to accommodate six in a house to be built for £2,500 on land costing £1,500?

Senator Kennelly - Not trying?

Senator DITTMER - I am speaking only about my own case. Senator Kennelly knows that it is very difficult to obtain a home for £4,000 or £5,000. The average cost of a home adequate to meet the needs of a modern family- £6,000, £7,000 or £8,000. This is what people today are entitled to expect from the nation for the services they have rendered to it. Looking at this measure carefully, what do we find? I did not hear Senator Sir William Spooner concede that there was a precedent for this scheme. I know that the New South Wales Government guaranteed building society loans amounting to tens of millions of pounds, and there was no insurance charge for the guarantee. But the moment an anti-Labour government comes into control of the Treasury bench of the Commonwealth Parliament it says: " We must collect our pound of flesh, even if it is only 5s. per £100."

Surely the Minister could have said: " We cannot say exactly what the premium will amount to but we visualise that it could be this or that it might range between this and that." There would be nothing wrong with that. But no, he leaves the door wide open, saying that when this Corporation becomes an established entity, with its chairman as managing director, and its four associate members, it will determine the charge. Surely if the Government visualises this as a living instrumentality, a vital entity, it must have in mind just how the Corporation will function and just what its charges will be. Surely it must have some idea.

This measure does not suggest to me that there will be any increase in the money available for housing. In fact, upon an approach to the banks, building societies or insurance companies today, one and all will say that their funds are limited and that they have no more money to advance. How will this measure improve the position? These organisations have, over the period that they have been functioning, assured themselves of adequate protection. This will provide them with no more protection than they have at present.

We think in terms of banks, insurance companies and building societies, but the Minister said that as time went on other classes of lenders would almost certainly be approved. Just what did he mean by that? Again, this is indefinite. If he meant trade unions, farmers' organisations, and credit unions, why did he not say so? If he meant the Hooker building organisation, the Lend Lease Corporation, or any mushroom growth that might occur, why did he not take us into his confidence? We are trying to help him all that we can, as he knows. Let us be definite about this. Surely he must have in mind what he seeks to convey to the people of Australia, even if he is contemptuous of the rights of members of the Opposition and completely neglectful of his responsibility to his own backbenchers. He cannot leave the matter indefinite, saying: "There will be a premium. We will guarantee advances. We will guarantee insurance companies. We will guarantee building societies. As time goes on we will guarantee other groups of lenders." What other groups of lenders has he in mind?

In terms of time, he is indefinite. As we know, by and large the private savings banks make loans for 15 years or even for 18 or 20 years, but this is rare. The Commonwealth Bank often makes loans for 20 or 25 years. Someone has spoken of a term of 35 years but there is no assurance from the Minister as to the term. The Government apparently hopes that if it is still in control of the Treasury bench its election promises will be forgotten by the people. That is how the Government has survived, apart from borrowing Labour's ideas. When Labour puts forward ideas that the Government consider to be worthwhile, the Government borrows those ideas, at least in part. Here it is proposed that a government instrumentality will be established, in the expectation that it will assist young people. But not only young people need assistance. Many older people who have served this country well are still seeking homes. I admit that in the Bill and in the second reading speech there is no mention of age. When it comes to assessing an older couple as a risk, if the present Government continues in office, the Corporation will look unfavourably on them. But it is our hope and expectation that the present Government will not have control of the treasury bench for very much longer. The Government will face economic difficulties in the future and it is not doing anything about them.

I come now to the' most important part of the proposal: Where is the extra finance to come from? The Government proposes to set up an insurance corporation, but that will not stabilise the approach of banks, of the insurance companies or of the building societies. They have provided adequately for their own protection in regard to mortgages and the risks they take. They will not lake unnecessary risks. Why does not the Government face up to the issue? Only as recently as last week BP Australia Ltd. sought to raise by way of debenture notes within the Commonwealth a loan of £10 million for expansion of its enterprises. I am not opposed to companies expanding their enterprises, but I am opposed to the dividends flowing overseas. The money could bc provided to assist in building a greater number of homes. The President of the United States did not simply make a statement on this matter. He almost delivered an ultimatum to the companies. He told them to send all their profits back to the United States. He did not name Australia, but we were necessarily included. He told the companies that if they wanted to expand their enterprises in other countries they could use the money in those countries al as low a rate of interest as possible, but they had to return the high profits to the United States. This Government is doing nothing about that situation.

The Bill is completely insubstantial. 1 commend the Minister on the length of his second reading speech. I do not know whether that was a result of the castigation of the Minister by an honorable senator last week for the cursory and discourteous approach that he adopted to the second reading speech of a Bill providing for additional expenditure, of, I think, £4.669,643 against original expenditure of £6,965,000. On this occasion apparently the Minister was prepared to sit down with his advisers and write out a number of pages for his second reading speech. They provide us with a certain amount of information, although most of it is insubstantial. In fact, as I perused the speech I could find nothing of substance in it for the married couples of Australia. There is no guarantee that one extra home will be built. In fact, it states that there could be a curtailment in the erection of homes. It was suggested that if the Government can provide this control, which is extremely doubtful, and if it can influence the lending instrumentalities, which is again extremely doubtful, the money will be diverted to homes already erected. How will that help people who are seeking new homes? How will that help people who are without homes?

The Government must make an active and a virile approach to the erection of more homes in Australia. Research studies show that Australia needs a minimum of 100,000 new homes a year. In 1959 or 1960 when we were attaining 100,000 new homes a year, the former Minister in charge of housing panicked and the Government imposed restrictions. It said: "Something worth while is happening but we do not know how to handle the mechanism of finance, the ordering of materials and so on ". I suggest to the Government that it approach the matter of housing from a completely new angle. It should look at the finance and the materials available in this country in relation to the needs of th: people. If overseas companies want to expand their industries here and draw the financial lifeblood from this country, let them provide the financial sinews. Do not let them draw on money from within the boundaries of Australia. Let the money within this country be utilised for the purposes that we deem most fitting and not lo provide dividends for overseas companies, as has happened in the past. The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge) knows that fact better than I do because for many years he represented the Treasurer in this chamber, and he is not incompetent. He would know just how much money has been drained from this country. He knows now that a new approach is required. The policy of the overseas companies has been to drain as much money from us as they possibly can at the lowest rate of interest.

I say to the Minister that the Opposition is grateful for the many pages in his second reading speech, but we do object to the extraordinary difficulty of trying to find in it a definite clue as to what the Government intends to do. We took the trouble to peruse the pages, but nowhere could we find anything definite.

Senator Ormonde - It is necessary to read between the lines.

Senator DITTMER - Perhaps when the Minister replies to the second reading debate he will tell us what has ito be read between the lines. We ask him to tell us what premium will be charged for this insurance; why a premium is justified in view of the small risk involved; and how the insurance companies, the banks and the building societies will be able to provide more finance. Reference was made in the second reading speech to loans of 80 per cent., 85 per cent, and 90 per cent, of the total cost of a house. We want to know how the lending authorities will be able to provide these increased loans, in view of the fact that their practice at the present time is to advance loans of up to 70 per cent. We know that some State Governments through their own particular authorities advance 90 per cent, or 95 per cent, of the cost of houses, but the banks, the insurance companies and the building societies have not done so. Why is the Government so optimistic about a change in policy on their part when it knows that at the present time it is difficult to obtain more than 70 per cent, by way of first mortgage? What does the Government intend to be the responsibility of the Corporation to widen its authority in regard to other groups of lenders? The whole matter is so indefinite in the minds of Opposition senators and of Government backbenchers.

From 10th December 1949 up to the present time there has been a succession of extraordinarily good seasons. Reasonably buoyant prices have obtained. Large over* seas sales have taken place and good overseas credit has been established. Yet the Government has not been able to meet the housing needs of either the young or the older people of this country. How can the Government now hope, by way of this subterfuge, to meet the increased costs involved in the measure and to guarantee to the people the homes to which they are rightly entitled? They are entitled to homes because they have worked for this country, are still working for it, and are helping to preserve the Australian way of life.

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