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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1678

Ms JAKOBSEN(5.53) —When the First Home Owners Bill 1983 was introduced into this House by the then Minister for Housing and Construction, the present Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Hurford), he stated that the Labor Government's housing policies were an essential element of our national recovery strategy. He has been proved correct in this assessment in light of the first home owners scheme's substantial contribution to the remarkable recovery in the housing and construction industry, a contribution which enabled the Hawke Government to haul that industry back from the all-time 20-year low presided over by the Liberal Government.

Since Labor attained office, more than 55,000 jobs have been created in the housing industry alone. Dwelling commencements have increased from 105,000 to an anticipated 147,000 by the end of June this year. Approximately 142,000 households will own their own homes as a result of the first home owners scheme at a cost to the Government of $431m. With the legislation before the House today the first home owners scheme remains what it has always been-a flexible benefits scheme to assist low and moderate income earners into home ownership despite the hysterics of the Opposition.

Earlier programs concentrated on providing a single grant linked to savings accumulated over a period. The greater the savings, the larger the grant. The Labor Government considered this to be a discriminatory arrangement that did little to assist those potential home buyers most in need. It was in this context that Labor developed a scheme which provided for financial assistance over the first five years of home ownership. The spread of the benefits was specifically designed to help people meet their loan repayments and took account of the differing financial requirements of home purchasers by providing a number of options for payment of the assistance.

The first home owners scheme was developed in close consultation with housing industry organisations and financial institutions. Their support for the scheme remains because they recognise its value to the housing and construction sector of industry in employment and economic terms as well as its flow-on effects on the finance area and the economy as a whole. In introducing the First Home Owners Amendment Bill the Government is concerned to see that the integrity of the 1985-86 Budget appropriation of $290m for this scheme is assured in the face of expenditure constraint and public uncertainty as to its continuation which has been fuelled by the Opposition. So this is a very important proposal. The annual appropriation of $290m will ensure that eligible applicants can plan their home purchases secure in the knowledge that the scheme criteria will remain firm for the foreseeable future. It will enable the Government to budget for a maximum expenditure commitment during the next financial year and it will provide the housing and construction industry with the stable and certain environment which it requires to continue its growth.

On the subject of deficit cuts and the need for them, I refer members of the House to the comments of the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Rocher), who stressed that the best way in which the Commonwealth Government could help the housing sector of the building and construction industry would be to set about reducing deficit spending to manageable levels. The honourable member for Curtin made that comment in the Parliament on 30 September 1983, at the time the first home owners scheme was introduced. Heaven knows, this Government would be reluctant to accept too much advice from the honourable member for Curtin on economic strategy, but his comments provide us with further evidence of the Opposition's inconsistent attitude on this subject. For all its rhetoric in defence of this scheme, the Opposition has no integrity on the matter of real and sustained assistance to the home buyers of this country.

Under the provisions of this Bill approximately 82,000 more households will benefit from the grant in 1985-86. By the end of the next financial year about 225,000 households will be purchasing rather than renting their homes. In my electorate of Cowan, which is primarily a fast growing residential area, 765 applications for the first owners scheme were approved in the period from October 1983 to April 1985. In people terms, that means 765 families have been assisted with the purchase of their homes. Many of those people would not have been in a position to buy a home without the aid of the scheme. This is a particularly relevant factor in Western Australia, where property prices are considerably lower than in the eastern States and where, accordingly, the first home owners scheme grant bears a greater relationship to a deposit on a home. In money terms, those approvals represent $2.438m paid to date, or $3.797m over five years.

Those people in my electorate who have already benefited from the first home owners scheme will not be disadvantaged by the changes contained in this Bill. Their payments will continue at present levels. Persons who had entered into contracts to purchase or construct a home on or before 16 April will still be eligible under the previous arrangements and criteria. Although the grant has been reduced in respect of future applicants, I am sure that those families which have not yet availed themselves of the home owners scheme and are still saving for a home will be greatly relieved to have the speculation concerning the future of the scheme put at rest and will be gratified to know that their eligibility remains.

Mr Hodgman —Instead of being murdered, it is just being raped.

Ms JAKOBSEN —Western Australian housing industry groups will be particularly pleased, despite the comments of the honourable member for Denison, to have the legislative assurance that the scheme will continue, given its importance to the maintenance of growth of the industry in that State and its recent representations to the Government on that basis. As the Housing Industry Association states in its Press release of 16 April, this scheme:

. . . has unquestionably been the most effective scheme of home ownership assistance.

The State Government is also to be congratulated on its initiatives in the area of public housing provision in Western Australia, in conjunction with industry and finance groups. Their combined endeavours, together with those of the Federal Government, have assisted a considerable number of low middle income families to exercise the option of home purchase in lieu of public housing rental, and have thus alleviated to some extent the pressure on State housing commission waiting lists.

All in all, the Government's achievements via its housing policy and the first home owners scheme have been extraordinary. The Government is to be congratulated on the inception and introduction of the scheme in 1983 and its determination to legislate for its continuance at the present time. The Bill before the House also addresses a number of machinery amendments, which have already been alluded to in the Minister's second reading speech. Of these amendments, I particularly draw the House's attention to clause 9, which permits applicants who have received assistance in respect of contracts which have fallen through to offset that assistance against a subsequent entitlement rather than to have to repay the earlier benefit as is now the case.

It is interesting to note the comments of Opposition members on this Bill and, allegedly, in defence of the first home owners scheme-a scheme which they would never have introduced themselves. Some of them condemned the scheme as administratively complex at the time of its introduction while advocating the continuation of previous unsatisfactory and discriminatory schemes introduced under the auspices of their discredited Government. At that time Mr Groom, the then member for Braddon, declared that the 'package' would not assist private home ownership. Once again, the Opposition has been shown to be incapable of judging the prospective effectiveness of innovative Government assistance measures. I commend the Bill to the House.