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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1674

Mr SAUNDERSON(5.30) —I support the First Home Owners Amendment Bill. When one looks at the range of speakers that the Opposition has put up to speak on this Bill, one starts to realise that it is really not serious about this whole matter. Probably that is because members of the Opposition know that if they were in government their Treasurer would have cut the scheme altogether, would have wiped it out. This legislation is far more generous than anything they have ever contemplated. Let us look at the range of Opposition speakers. We have a Queen's Counsel and a solicitor, a returned politician who has already picked up part of his superannuation payment-he is not worried about getting a home loan-and, finally, a person whose family owns half of Victoria. He is going to tell us about the problems of getting a first home mortgage!

The shadow Minister for Housing and Construction, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), said that we have cut the throat of the first home owners scheme, that we have broken our promises to maintain that scheme. He used a lot of rhetoric and he tried to get a lot of emotion into his speech. What is the real situation? Firstly, we have maintained the scheme. In case the shadow Minister has failed to notice, we will continue the scheme into next year. Sure, we have modified the scheme. We have reduced the benefits slightly, dropping the maximum benefit by $l,000, but we have not altered the qualifying conditions, so people who are in the salary brackets of those who are eligible to benefit from the scheme now will still be eligible after the changes.

The first home owners scheme is the most successful scheme ever implemented. It will continue to provide assistance to thousands of Australian families. In fact, in the next financial year, l985-86, it is expected that some 82,500 families in Australia will receive benefits under the scheme. If we look at the performance of the first home owners scheme since it was introduced we see that by the end of June this year some l42,000 families will have received benefits. By June l986, 225,000 families will have received benefits under the scheme. As the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West) said, that is a spectacular figure. It is spectacular because those families have received substantial assistance under this Government, enabling them to get a house.

We have to look at why we introduced such a generous scheme. The shadow Minister said that if the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia were in office they would show that they have a real concern about housing. When we came to office housing commencements were at a 20-year low. The housing industry was in a disastrous situation because honourable members opposite, when they were in government, could not manage the economy and did not care about housing. The whole of the housing industry was in turmoil. There were only l05,000 commencements during l982-83. During l983-84 commencements built up to l37,000 and the expected number of commencements in l984-85 is l47,000.

The industry itself has told us that it is now running at a peak. In fact, in some areas there are now shortages of tradesmen and the industry is unable to meet the demand. With our change to the scheme we will ensure that the demand generated by the scheme does not lead to a drastic reduction in the numbers of commencements, thereby resulting in unemployment. The change will ensure that there is a constant demand which will provide for full employment in the housing industry and at the same time allow for long term planning. The housing industry associations have supported the move. They recognise, as do all responsible people in Australia, that as a government we have a responsibility to manage the economy properly and that in many instances we have to make hard decisions in order to cut the deficit and to ensure that the Budget is handled properly.

The one thing that the Opposition cannot say is that we do not have a concern for housing and we have not put a lot of effort into it. As I said, the scheme is the most successful ever implemented. We hear the Opposition complaining about the cut in the scheme. The public may well like to know that even with that cut we are providing nearly twice as much in our scheme as the Opposition was providing in any of its schemes. We are now providing a maximum benefit of $6,000. Under any of the Opposition schemes the maximum grant available was $3,500. Our maximum is twice as much as the Opposition's maximum. Members of the Opposition had absolutely no interest in and no concern for first home owners. When in government they provided no benefit to first home owners to help them to get their deposit and to move into their homes. They provided benefits afterwards, so that nine months later the new home owners might have received a grant or a tax rebate but the new home owners received no direct sum at the time of handing over the deposit or signing the contract to enable them to bridge the deposit gap.

The shadow Minister has told us that he and his Party have a real concern for housing. I have already pointed out that during the previous Government's years of mismanagement there was a 20-year low in the housing industry, a complete slump. He was also critical of the amount of money that we are putting into housing. He said: 'You are reducing funds'. I point out that in l984-85 the Federal and State governments will spend between them almost $l,600m on public housing. The Federal Government's direct allocation to that sum is $623m. Honourable members opposite say they were concerned about housing. Let us compare that figure with the previous Government's allocation of $260m during its last full year in office. We are today supplying 2* times the amount of money that honourable members opposite were putting into housing. They have an absolutely appalling record in housing, and in particular public housing.

The shadow Minister also said that home ownership in Australia had fallen under the current Labor Government. As in everything else, he likes to say things without thinking. That is probably because he does not have all that much up top. The official figures, the census and survey figures, show that in 1978, which was a high point in housing in the years of the previous Government, home ownership in Australia totalled 73.4 per cent. By 1980 honourable members opposite had had the remarkable success of reducing that figure to 7l.9 per cent. By 1981 they had managed to reduce it further as part of their assistance to the housing industry! Home ownership had fallen to 70.1 per cent. That indicates how much concern they had, not only to help people move into houses but also for the housing industry. The last survey figures for 1984 show that home ownership has risen from the low of 70.1 per cent in 1981 to 71 per cent. Once again, we show that the Opposition shadow Minister speaks without knowing the facts.

Let us look at the whole picture. Honourable members opposite say that they have a concern for housing. What were they putting into housing in their last year in office? They were providing two-fifths of what we are providing. That is why there is such a disastrous situation in public housing today. They had absolutely no concern for that area. They were not interested in whether people had roofs over their heads, so they put no money into public housing. During their years in office they managed to achieve the remarkable record of reducing home ownership in Australia, even though they purported to be helping people.

Mr Hand —They never helped them at all.

Mr SAUNDERSON —The honourable member is quite right. They never helped them at all. In fact what happened with climbing interest rates is that under them people were forced to sell their houses because they could not afford the repayments. The Opposition has said that it compensated for the effect of interest rates. However, what did it do then? It introduced all sorts of meagre schemes which in fact never compensated people for the costs they were incurring. I say again that the best benefit which the former Government provided in any of its schemes amounted to a single payment of $3,500. What do we provide as the maximum in our scheme? The current figure is $6,000. This is nearly double what the former Government was providing. Let us look at the concern of Opposition members. What was their performance in the housing industry, an industry they are so concerned about? They achieved a 20-year low when they were in office. They drove builders broke and put thousands of tradesmen on to the scrap heap because they could not manage the economy.

Not only have we lifted home building in Australia to a peak that can be managed but also we are providing stability in the industry. It is quite obvious that the Opposition is clutching at straws. Honourable members opposite are frauds in this area. Their record shows they are frauds and that they did absolutely nothing which can counter our performance. The Opposition's amendment is a joke.