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Tuesday, 11 September 1984
Page: 1075


Mr RUDDOCK(2.15 a.m.) —I am pleased to be able to participate in this debate and I welcome the fact that the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) is in the chamber because the matters that I intend to raise are related directly to him and the administration of his Department. I am particularly concerned about what I regard as the gross mismanagement of an area for which he has ministerial responsibility and for which appropriations are made in the Budget-namely, the Commissioner for Housing loans scheme in the Australian Capital Territory. I am sure honourable members would want to know about this matter. In order to understand why I raise this it would be useful for members to be aware of the longstanding and intense personal interest that the Minister has taken in housing and in the administration of the Commissioner for Housing loans scheme in the Australian Capital Territory.

Today I pulled out a number of Press statements by the Minister which it is useful to recall. The first was issued on 29 July 1983 and states:

Housing is a high priority of the Government, Mr Uren said . . .

in the first person, the statement continued:

'I will soon be announcing further steps to address unmet housing needs.

He went on to refer to the provision of greater opportunities for access to home ownership, and stimulate the home building industry. Honourable members will note the use of the first person when the Minister said: 'I will be announcing further steps'.

On 18 August 1983 the Minister said:

An exciting agreement has been reached with the ACT Division of the Housing Industry Association . . . I have indicated that 70 per cent of these houses must be sold for less than the limit for a Commissioner for Housing Loan.

He was certainly aware of the scheme and its conditions. In relation to the person who is responsible for administering his housing loan scheme, the Minister released this Press statement on 4 April 1983:

Brian Rope is the ACT Commissioner for Housing and has 3 1/2 years of close experience with the ACT housing situation. He has been seconded full-time to the Enquiry.

On 2 December 1983 the Minister announced an increase of $400 in the upper limit applying to homes purchased under the Commissioner for Housing loans scheme. On 5 December 1983 the Minister made further announcements in relation to interest rates in the area of housing. On 22 March 1984 the Minister, aware of the situation, I believe, that the funds under the Commissioner for Housing loans scheme had not been readily advanced to people interested in purchasing homes, convened a conference and had this to say:

The Minister for Territories and Local Government, Tom Uren, said today he accepted advice from today's Land and Housing Conference that changes should be made to the Commissioner for Housing Loans Scheme.

He had decided that the existing $62,000 dwelling limit value would be abolished and that the maximum total loan borrowing permitted would be raised from $50,000 to $60,000. He also decided that no assistance would be given to applicants whose incomes were too high without specifying a means test. He went on further and said that the existing barrier on the applicant's cash and readily converted assets would be lifted from $15,000 to $20,000. He said that total repayments on all housing loans would be normally set at 25 per cent of household income. The definition of household income would be revised to exclude income of dependants and he made a number of other changes. The Minister announced those decisions himself; he took the decisions in relation to the scheme.

On 8 June 1984 this Press release appeared:

Mr Uren also announced at this afternoon's news briefing on housing that early next month he intended reconvening the Land and Housing Conference. He said that the results of the first conference were very successful indeed and that he intended to do all he could to ensure the continued success of initiatives to overcome the land and housing shortage in the ACT.

If it were the position in the Australian Capital Territory that there was a scheme in which the Minister was involved, which was well administered and which was not going to get into difficulty, one could have little quarrel. But the fact is that come the Budget--

Honourable members interjecting-


Mr RUDDOCK —I am disappointed that so many members are uninterested in this important question. The fact of the matter is that last month we became aware that the housing loans scheme in the Australian Capital Territory had exhausted all its funds and had exhausted all the funds--


Mrs Kelly —Under your Government nobody could buy a house.


Mr RUDDOCK —I heard the honourable member for Canberra. I acknowledge her interjection because she may accept some responsibility for those who may not be able to get loans in the future either. She claims success in the administration of a scheme which ensures that those people who have needs will not be able to have them met because all the funds have been exhausted in relation to those needs.

But the fact of the matter is that all the funds were exhausted last year. All the funds that were intended to be allocated this year were exhausted. The Minister for Territories and Local Government had to go cap in hand to his Cabinet colleagues to seek an additional $6m, I understand, to ensure that the outstanding applications up to 22 August could be met. Of course that means that , after 22 August, no funds are available to meet any future needs in Canberra. If that is the successful administration of a scheme the Government is sorely in wanting and the Minister himself is quite culpable in relation to this matter. The Minister has issued two statements since that time. On 31 August he issued a statement and honourable members will notice that the tense used in that statement has changed. The Minister now speaks not in the first person as he did before but in these terms:

Housing has been our Government's major priority in Canberra, as we fully recognise the importance of and need for an adequate and stable supply of housing to the community.

Then, of course, aware of this shortcoming he went on to say that a review is now being conducted. He said he would be seeking urgent Cabinet consideration of funding for Commissioner for Housing loans and asking for Government support for a solution. He also said that it would be inappropriate and possibly misleading to make further comment until a review and Government consideration was complete . On 3 September he announced that the government had agreed to provide additional funding for the housing scheme to honour commitments made by the Department, under the scheme he had specifically approved and taken responsibility for, to applicants who received specific approval for loans up to 22 August 1984. He fails to acknowledge that no funds are now left for anybody in the Australian Capital Territory to obtain a loan who is in need and would not be able to get funds from any other financial institution. He fails to acknowledge that people who may have purchased land and who are under threat and penalty of losing that land because they are unable to build a house on it and who may have been in expectation of a loan under this scheme will no longer be eligible to obtain a loan.

There is a gross failure on the Minister's part. There is an absolute failure on the part of the Government in relation to this scheme and an absolute failure on the part of the Minister in particular. I think it is important that the Minister answers the question that I have put on notice dealing with a number of matters particularly in relation to the briefings that he personally received relating to the scheme after he authorised the new scheme, after he put the scheme in place that would ensure all the funds were exhausted. One wants to know whether or not those reports were made on a regular basis. One wants to know what he did when he got those reports. I am as certain as I stand here that the Department would have been briefing the Minister. If not, let us hear from it in the Estimates in another place as to why it fails to give briefings. That is an important matter that needs to be addressed and clarified. It is important also that the Minister tells us about the inquiry he is conducting, the nature of it, its terms of reference and when we can expect it to report.


The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Keogh) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

(Quorum formed)