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Wednesday, 20 November 1974
Page: 2592

Senator CARRICK (New South Wales) - Mr President,may I have the assurance of the Government that both the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill 1974 and the Housing Agreement Bill 1974 may be taken as a cognate debate? I spoke to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) beforehand and he agreed that that course might be followed.

Senator Wriedt - The Government would have no objection to that proposition.

Senator CARRICK - The Housing Agreement Bill 1974 proposes 3 amendments to the 1973 Housing Agreement, and the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill 1974 sets out to provide a sum of $3 10m for housing and housing construction within the States. The Opposition does not oppose these Bills. As to the first Bill, the amendments are such as the Opposition foreshadowed last year would inevitably occur because when the measures were introduced by the Government they were then, in our opinion, wrong. The first amendment proposes to vary sub-clause (3) of clause 9 of the Agreement to permit the allocation to a State's Home Builders'

Account of more than 30 per cent of the total advance to that State. That means that the advances to the State for the purposes of the housing authority and for the payment to the Home Builders' Account would allow for more than 30 per cent to be provided to prospective home owners through co-operative terminating societies or to lending institutions of the State approved by the Minister.

It is a good thing that the Government, however reluctantly, is now recognising the need to provide more money and to provide home ownership for people of limited means. Quite clearly, home ownership is a major goal of the Liberal and Country parties. Last year we spoke about the inherent defects of limiting this amount. It is important that in the context of the coming months everything possible should be done to increase the opportunities for home purchase. Fundamentally, home ownership has many virtues by contrast with renting. For one thing, in the long run it establishes a very real asset for the family concerned. It gives the family an opportunity to take pride in possession. It builds, however small, a modest capital for that family. Because of those factors the Opposition approves and applauds that amendment.

The second amendment is one with which the Opposition also agrees, and that is that in clause 6 of the Schedule the inconsistency between the means test for housing authority accommodation and for Home Builders' Account loans would be removed. The fact is that in determining a needs test the existing Agreement provides that overtime should be taken into account in determining earnings. A needs test in itself has many disadvantages. How can one clearly define a home in which there are one, two or more wage earners? How does one determine what is the income of a home and what are the commitments of the spouses and others? This Bill proposes that overtime be deleted- the Opposition applauds thatand it therefore brings the needs test, if one is necessary, into line both for housing authority and for Home Builders' Account loans.

The third amendment provides that under the Agreement supplementary loans can be made throughout the year. Originally the Agreement provided for one loan for the year. This amendment now provides for supplementary loans. So the Opposition will support the 3 proposed amendments. It will also support the second Bill, which provides $3 10m.

But it would be quite remiss of the Opposition in debating Bills relating to housing, housing construction and home ownership if it did not put on record its total rejection of Government policies which have quite deliberately, and admittedly so, set out to wreck home building, to wreck housing and to wreck home purchase in this community. Let it be said and let it be known by the whole of the Australian community that the Government has agreed that its policy was, throughout this last year, to bring about a recession in the building industry. In the whole of its lifetime the Government has managed to do 2 quite outrageous things to the building industry. In the first phase of the first year of this Government it set out deliberately, by denying European selective migrant labour to the basic industries- the steel industry, the automotive industry and the building industry- to create basic shortages. Having done so, it created chronic shortages in the building industry, so much so, as I have said in this Senate before, that even 3-inch building nails- the basis of building construction- were in such short supply that it would take 3 months to obtain them. Having created a scarcity of materials the Government then set about introducing a credit squeeze and implementing a deliberate policy to wreck home construction companies and to wreck developers to bring about -

Senator Melzer - Ha!

Senator CARRICK - By interjection one honourable senator opposite doubts this. Let me say that it is on record that Ministers of this Government applauded the collapse of developers. Let that be denied. Let it be denied that Ministers of this Government took great pleasure in seeing such great Australian companies as the Mainline Corporation and Cambridge Credit Corporation collapse. Let it be on record that this Government deliberately by imposing the credit squeeze put into chronic unemployment thousands of Australians, thousands of decent Australian building construction workers. Yet supporters of this Government sit here and laugh. They laugh even though this Government has now admitted that it set out on a venture deliberately to create a pool of unemployment. Indeed, they have taken as a virtue the need to create a pool of unemployment, in their view to bring down inflation. This Government and its supporters have created the twin evils of the highest inflation that Australia has ever seen and the greatest unemployment since the depression. On their admission there is more to come. On their admission some 300,000 or 400,000 will be unemployed by February and March. So we have here today a Minister pathetically responding to a question I asked him to this effect: 'What are you going to do with the 230,000 young people who will be leaving schools, colleges and universities when you say that unemployment is going to go higher? What are you going to do with them when you admit that there are no jobs?' He said 'Have you not heard of NEAT? '- the National Employment and Training system. Has he not heard that so far NEAT has, I think, re-employed 400 people? What about the 249,000-odd people who will be unemployed by December? The Government will take pride in the fact that this re-employment agency has placed some 400 people. It is against this background that one must rise in indignation against a government which deliberately set out to destroy the home building industry. Let us see how this has been achieved. In this industry inflation has been so great that over the last year it ran at some 40 per cent. The Government itself can take no pride at all in the amounts of money that it allocates to the States for housing. This kind of money will create very few or no more houses because the delays, the inflation, the difficulties, the strikes will be such that the money will be consumed. Let me give an illustration. The Government recently announced that it was allocating $150m for distribution through the savings banks of Australia to help housing. This should be looked at in perspective. That amount represents finance for about 7,500 homes or the equivalent of about a fortnight's construction work for the building industry in our time. So the Government's policy on stimulating housing runs to about 7,000 homes.

Senator Marriott - The building societies did not get a penny.

Senator CARRICK - And the building societies did not get a penny, as Senator Marriott remarks. Let me take a classic example of that because the ruination of the building industry should be understood by every Australian. The building societies incidentally are the proud creation of past Liberal governments. It was in fact the Stevens Liberal Government in the 1930s in New South Wales that developed and expanded the building societies which have done more, I remind the Minister, for the ordinary families of Australia than any other device for financing housing and it is this Government that talks about its humanity and its understanding for people that has destroyed it. When we on this side left office Australia had the highest rate of home ownership in the world- a proud boast. We could proudly boast that people on average incomes, people on an income of $90 a week, $100 a week, $1 10 a week could purchase their own homes. We could proudly boast that what is called the quartering device would work, that is, that a person could buy a home by paying each week one-quarter of his income. For example, if a person had a wage of $ 100 a week he could pay $25. Today with the interest rates at the level they are, and with the unavailability of finance, a person would need an income of $200 to $250 a week to be able to go to a society and finance an ordinary home. What has happened is that home finance has passed beyond the reach of the ordinary individual. The permanent building societies which in 1973 reflected the lending policies which we had initiated, had provided 75,000 families with housing through loans, will this year on projection provide 1 5,000 loans. This has been brought about by this Government which talks about its humanity and its understanding of people. In fact, the shortfall of houses by the end of this year will be about 100,000.

We are facing the most critical of situationshuge and growing unemployment, unemployment which the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has said will get considerably worse and will continue to worsen throughout the first half of next year, so that those who are unemployed now and who will be unemployed in the months ahead can look forward to unemployment for six, seven, eight, nine months or more. In this situation we face inflation which, according to figures reported last night, is running at about 30 per cent- banana republic inflation; under a government which only a few months ago went to the people on the policy that it would reduce inflation by one-third and that it would maintain full employment; this under a Minister for Labor who said: 'I do not want to stay on as Minister for Labor if unemployment gets to 3 per cent'. It is now 3.2 per cent or more but he remains the Minister, despite his assertion in this regard. We have the situation of the housing industry in ruins. Lest anyone thinks this is far fetched, I draw attention to the Victorian Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects which recently regarded the situation as so serious that it sent a submission to the Premier of Victoria, Mr Hamer. I have a copy of that submission in my hand. The conclusions of the survey referred to in it merit reading into Hansard. They are as follows:

The architectural profession has in recent months experienced an extremely sharp down-turn in work-load, and based on present indications it is believed that the magnitude of this recession could, by the end of the year, reach an unprecedented level.

The fall-off which is starting to be felt by the construction industry and reflected in official statistics will continue and unless there are immediate changes to ease the pressures which are restraining building development, it must be anticipated that there will be massive unemployment in the building industry and permanent damage to its fabric.

That submission by the Victorian Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects to the Premier of Victoria lists in each area what is happening to the firms of architects practising in Victoria. This was done as a survey, and group by group they were asked what was happening to them. One by one they recorded the situation. In architect's offices which employed 40 people or more, this was the report:

More than half of these offices have reduced staff members during the last 3 months and/or expect further reductions, which in some cases will result in staff levels approaching 43 per cent of the normal operating level in recent years.

In the smaller ones there have been already some reductions of 25 per cent to 30 per cent in the staff. The Victorian Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects makes the point that what happens inside the architects offices now reflects the demands in the building industry in 6 months or a year's time, and that a major recession now in the architects offices will reflect a slump in the very long term in the building industry.

Senator Cavanagh - You do not understand building, Senator.

Senator CARRICK -It is on record that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs says that the Victorian Chapter does not understand builders.

Senator Cavanagh - I said 'building'.

Senator CARRICK - One wonders how the Minister could say of the Victorian Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects that it does not understand building or building programs.

Senator Cavanagh - They are putting up big multi-storey buildings.

Senator CARRICK - As usual, the Minister is in error. This document relates primarily to surveys of architects who are engaged in home buildingthe little buildings and the cottageswhich the Minister and his Government are now stopping.

Senator McAuliffe - The Minister has got you here. You check your facts. It is in the big buildings.

Senator CARRICK -It is worth looking at this matter. As there is some interest in this matter, I seek leave to have the document incorporated in Hansard so we can see whether the Minister has got me here.

Senator Cavanagh - Connect it with housing.

Senator CARRICK - I ask whether the document may be incorporated in Hansard.

Senator Cavanagh - We want to know what is in it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- I wonder whether you would give me the benefit of viewing the document before it is incorporated.

Senator CARRICK -I would be happy to do so.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- It is a document that is quite capable of being incorporated in Hansard. Is leave granted?

Senator Cavanagh - No, Mr Deputy President, not until we know what is in it.

Senator McAuliffe - Read the whole lot.

Senator CARRICK -To say 'read the w hole lot' is a device for taking up my time in thi;, debate. If the Minister is willing to move for an extension of my time to allow me to read the document, I will do so.

Senator Cavanagh - Connect the document to house building and we will agree.

Senator CARRICK - Let the people of Australia understand that the Minister and his Government have refused to have incorporated in Hansard the report of the Victorian Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects which is a submission to the Premier of Victoria expressing the growing concern of the building industry. I will read now the second paragraph of the letter to the Premier. It states:

The survey has confirmed the seriousness of the position and in addition, the conclusions which can be drawn from it indicate that unless there is an almost immediate easing of the pressures restraining the flow of work, it may be impossible to avoid consequences for the building industry which are far more severe than any effects at present anticipated or previously experienced.

Senator Cavanagh - Connect it to housing.

Senator CARRICK - This is the nature of the document.

Senator Cavanagh - Connect it to housing.

Senator CARRICK - I have pointed out that this document lists not only categories relating to housing but also all other categories. For example -

Senator McAuliffe - That is different from what you said previously. You said that it dealt with housing only.

Senator CARRICK - Let me say emphatically -

Senator McAuliffe - Mr Deputy President,I rise on a point of order. A while ago Senator Carrick, in reply to an interjection from the Minister, said that this document dealt with housing.

The Minister's interjection was that architects are unemployed on account of big developmental works being abandoned or suspended and the senator replied that this report refers to housing.

Senator Cavanagh - He said that the Minister was incorrect.

Senator McAuliffe - He said that the Minister was incorrect and that I, as a senator, was incorrect.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- There is no substance in the point of order. The senator is making his own speech.

Senator CARRICK -As the Hansard record will show tomorrow, I said that it covered a variety of building and dealt with residential housing. Indeed it does. It deals with buildings for health, educational, commercial, industrial and residential sectors of the community. It says that developmental housing shows a marked fall-off. Would the Minister now resist the incorporation of this document?

Senator Cavanagh - On this point, I am not opposed -

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- There is no point of order before the Chair. I call Senator Carrick.

Senator Cavanagh - I seek leave to make a statement on this matter.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT-I do not think that leave can be granted to make a statement. If you wish to take a point of order, you may take a point of order.

Senator Cavanagh - No.

Senator CARRICK - It is clear that the tactics of the Government are to try to stop the Opposition from bringing forward the facts. The facts are these: In a space of 2 years a country which had the best housing and home ownership record of any country in the world now has the worst. This was a country in which ordinary people on ordinary wages could build, buy and acquire their own homes, but they now find that totally beyond their capacity. This country, in which people had an adequacy of housing, now has in this year a backlog of 100,000 houses. A country in which building costs were reasonably controlled now faces building costs rising by 40 per cent or more a year. That is the basic reason why this Government resists the presentation of a document of such an authoritative nature.

Senator Cavanagh - We do not. If the Deputy President would permit we would let you put it in.

Senator CARRICK - Let it be known that the Government refused the incorporation. Not only is there a shortage in commencements of housing but the most chronic shortage in serviced blocks of land in decades is building up. This is the Government that said throughout the municipalities and shires of Australia: 'Put us in and we will get an adequacy of serviced land. We will break the bottleneck in land. We will bring down the cost of land.' They were the people who said these things throughout the outer city and growth areas of Australia. According to the report of the Patlerson inquiry, which was held in Melbourne, and other reports, there is such a chronic shortage of building blocks that, even if there were a substantial increase in capacity in the building industry, the availability of serviced blocks would not keep pace with that demand. I commend to the Minister the report of Dr Patlerson which was made for the Institute of Urban Development in Melbourne. I think this report is generally accepted by governments. It has been provided to the Premier of Victoria. This is the background against which the Bill is presented.

The Bill reluctantly admits that we ought to give people a little better help to own homes. The Bill has removed anomalies that ought never to have been there. The Bill comes at a time of the worst disaster in the building industry since the depression years. It comes at a time when the Government has deliberately set out to destroy the building industry and to destroy the developers, who have played a major part in the building industry.

Senator Button - Liberal Party funds.

Senator CARRICK -The remark was 'Liberal Party funds'. I think that the Labor Party should look at the mote in its own eye. If ever there was a Party that ought to look at the type of funds that it has been taking it is the Labor Party. It would then say to itself: 'Physician, cure thyself. If ever there was a Party which has danced to the tune of sectional interests in this country it is the Labor Party. I can only say that builders, developers and architects as much as politicians, medicos and others, are all people seeking to do a job in this community and for the most part they are doing a good job. But it does no service to your own integrity or indeed to the level of your own intelligence simply to sneer and deride. The only answer honourable senators opposite have to the destruction of the building industry is to sit there grinning inanely while there is the worst unemployment and the worst inflation that has ever occurred in Australia, and this indeed is the response of the senators on the Government benches. Senator Button is interjecting. It hurts, of course, when these facts are brought home. Of course the Government will say that this inflation has been imported. It is the popular cliche today. Let us see how we imported the collapse of the building industry, the unemployment in the building industry, the high costs in the building industry. What materials in the building industry are imported from abroad? Let the Minister answer that. Are the bricks not made here? Is the cement not made here? Is the steel not made here? Is the timber not made here? Even the 3 inch nails are made here. Are not the employees Australians when they have got the chance to do the job? How did we import this? Did we import the technique of bringing on the greatest credit squeeze in many decades, a credit squeeze which set out to make money scarce, to force up flat rate borrowing interest rates to 19 and 20 per cent? Was that imported? Or was it the cold-blooded deliberate action of a government which on its own say-so set out to produce recession in the building industry, to create unemployment? it is important that this should be said because throughout Question Time now the popular cry, the popular alibi is that all this has happened because it is imported from overseas. Let it be known that every ingredient in the building industry, from materials to labour, is Australian and wholly Australian. Every ingredient boils down in the end to labour costs in Australia. Every ingredient on top of that is the cost of money, the interest cost in Australia. Indeed, the cost of money in Australia, which is at a record height with interest rates having trebled in 2 years under this Government, is the creation of this Government. The only importation of inflation in the building industry is the importation of the Labor Party to the Treasury bench.

Therefore, in looking to this Bill I want to make it quite clear that the Opposition reaffirms its basic tenet that it stands for home ownership by Australian people, home ownership so that eople on average wages can own their own homes. We reaffirm that the home savings grant which we introduced when in government and which was destroyed, eliminated by this Government, will be reintroduced by a Liberal-Country Party government of the future, that it would not tolerate the destruction of the right of ordinary people to own their own homes.

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