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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1686

Mr WEST (Minister for Housing and Construction)(3.17) —Once again we have heard the usual diatribe from the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Beale). No doubt his speech was carefully written out by his research officers. As usual, he gave the impression that he does not understand much about what he says. As I mentioned in Question Time today, let us look at the Opposition's housing policy and at the Opposition's performance. The Opposition released a document the other day which said that it would retain the 13.5 per cent ceiling on regulated loans that were taken out from savings banks before 2 April last year. That means that the Opposition endorses our policy, because the Treasurer (Mr Keating), the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and I have consistently made it plain to the House and the people of Australia that that is the Government's position. So what is the Opposition criticising there?

The Opposition has said that it would retain the first home owners scheme, thereby admitting that it is the best first home ownership assistance scheme ever seen in Australia's history. The Opposition admits that it would keep the scheme going, and it admits that it would not want to retain it. I will return to that in a moment, because the Opposition's position is most inconsistent. It has also said that it would abolish public housing-that is, the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement, which is the mechanism by which Federal funding is delivered to the States for public housing. The Opposition's policy can only be stated as being absolutely confused and in total disarray.

Let us look at the Opposition's position on the first home owners scheme, which this Government is committed to continue. Last May, in the Opposition's original draft policy document, it said that it would abolish the first home owners scheme. Several weeks ago, as I have just mentioned, it said that it would retain the scheme. Then we saw the contents of the secret hit list which stated-as I understand it, it still states it-that the first home owners scheme would be abolished. Then the shadow Minister, the honourable member for Deakin and, I think, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) came out of the woodwork and frantically issued denials that, despite what was said on the hit list, the first home owners scheme would not be abolished. However, we can only see what it said last year.

The House might also like to take note of the fact that as recently as several weeks ago the honourable member for Deakin-this occurred while the Opposition was busily saying that it would retain the scheme-made an approach to the Department of Housing and Construction and requested information as to how the first home owners scheme could be terminated as from 30 June 1988. He approached the Department of Housing and Construction and sought that information and the cost of that proposal. At the very time when the Opposition was busily trying to deny the statement in the secret hit list that the first home owners scheme would be abolished, in contrast to what it had said in its policy document, the honourable member was making inquiries to my Department asking how it could be abolished as from 30 June 1988. The people opposite are duplicitous in the extreme. We cannot take any notice of what they say; their policy is confused; they are divided; the National Party is split; the Liberal Party is split; when they do bring out a policy, as they did on housing recently, they cannot abide by it and immediately the main elements of that policy are ridiculed and cast into doubt.

Let us now compare the performance of the Opposition in government with regard to the industry. Opposition members complain that we keep reminding them of the fact that they had 105,000 starts in 1982-83. They can complain because we will continue to remind them of that fact and to compare our performance since 1982-83 with the ridiculous 105,000 starts that they attained in 1982-83. Our record in the years 1983-84 to 1986-87 is 137,000, 153,000, and 136,000 starts and this year the figure will probably be 120,000. The assessments for next year range from 124,000 to 128,000. I make it plain that the underlying assumptions on which those figures are based have yet to be confirmed and attested. The point is that our record in regard to housing starts is very much better than the record achieved by the Opposition when it was in office.

If we look at the savings bank lending figures, which I have in front of me, we will see that in 1981-82 the then Government got from savings banks only $2.7 billion in a total from all significant lenders of $6.5 billion. This year it is expected that the savings banks will lend $7.5 billion from a total of $10.8 billion. The number of loans from all significant lenders went up from 228,000 in 1981-82 to 240,000 in 1986-87. So the House will see that in the number of starts the performance of this Government is better in the lending from savings banks this Government's performance is better, in the lending from all significant lenders this Government's performance is better, and with regard to the total number of loans this Government's performance is better than that of the previous Government.

I turn now to our performance in public housing. The House could perhaps be reminded that the Opposition intends to abolish the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement which, as I said, is the mechanism by which we deliver Federal funding to the States. Currently, we are delivering Federal funding in two ways: We are doing it by way of grants through the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement, and also through a percentage of the State government borrowing programs being provided at a concessional rate to the States of 4.5 per cent, repayable over 53 years. The sum total of those two delivery mechanisms in 1982-83 was a miserable $552m. This year we will have directed to the States by way of grants $693.7m and $582.2m by way of nominated funds-a total of over $1.275 billion. The States weigh in also. They make up the amount which is available from Federal and State governments for public housing to $1.97 billion-the highest total both in nominal and real terms.

Mr Beale —It is not doing much good.

Mr WEST —The Opposition sits there and says that that money is not doing much good, yet it does not admit that the efforts of this Government and particularly the Labor States in public housing funding have been the best in this country's history. If members of the Opposition like, I can take them further through these figures and compare the situation State by State. There is no question that even their conservative colleagues in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Tasmania admit that this is the best government they have ever had as far as funding public housing is concerned and that the effort has never been better.

I will prove that by these figures: Back in 1981-82, as a result of the previous Government's miserable effort, there were only 8,500 additions to public rental stock. In 1986-87 there will be 17,500 to 18,000 additions by way of new commencements and acquisitions of existing housing. That is very good. It also means that, as a result of the home purchase assistance program, which I will allude to in a moment, the rental component for new starts and the component of new starts from the home purchase assistance program will together produce 22,000 new commencements from a figure of 120,000 new commencements all up in Australia. The commencements due to public housing funding in 1986-87 as a percentage of total starts will be the highest ever. What about that? The spokesperson for the Opposition, the honourable member for Deakin, just sits there and hangs his head.

As a result of people vacating premises, combined with the new acquisitions, about 44,000 low income families and individuals will be placed in public housing this financial year. The Opposition complains about our performance in housing and the strain and hardship that it says we are imposing on some people in Australia as a result of this alleged crisis in public housing-the 160,000 families on the waiting list-yet it does not talk about our record. The Opposition complains that there are 160,000 people on the waiting list, it ignores its own record, and it complains about our record, yet it says that it is going to abolish the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. How ridiculous, stupid and confused can one be?

Let us see who the Opposition would harm if it went ahead with its policy of abolishing the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement at the very time it complains about public housing in Australia. At present 90 per cent of those people who are placed in new public housing are on rental rebates, which means that they are either social security recipients or very low income earners. Of the 90 per cent of placements of people who are on rental rebates, 20 per cent are pensioners, 40 per cent are single parents and the remaining 40 per cent are families on very low incomes. They are placed on the basis of need and it is a worthwhile program. The Opposition is complaining about our record, yet at the same time it is saying that it will abolish the program.

We care about home ownership, particularly for low income earners. I will deal with the first home owners scheme in a moment-the scheme about which the Opposition cannot make up its mind. As part of the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement, which the Opposition says it will abolish, at least one-third of the $1.9 billion funds is directed towards home purchase assistance. Some 14,000 loans will be made available this year through State lending authorities such as State banks or co-operative building societies. Under the agreement that we forged back in 1984 the loans will be made at rates which take into account the current lowest savings bank rate and the fact that borrowers may have difficulties with repayments. The repayments are pegged to approximately 25 per cent of income and if the borrowers' economic circumstances improve over time, the interest rate subsidy can be recouped and thus that money can be recirculated through the revolving account and lent in future to further home seekers of low interest finance. This is the very scheme that the Opposition says it will abolish-a scheme which we tidied up and made viable and responsible back in 1984. There are two elements to the public housing agreement that this Opposition says it will abolish and that this Government says it will continue-that is, the home purchase side and the public rental acquisition side.

I now turn to the first home owners scheme. As I said, those opposite are confused. They do not know whether they are going to continue it. They have made representations to my Department to find out how they could abolish it. At the same time they have said in their policy document that the scheme will continue. Of course, it ought to continue. It will continue under this Government because it makes a lump sum available to help meet the deposit gap. An ongoing interest rate subsidy is also made available to low income earners. Two hundred and thirty thousand households have been assisted in the last three years by the first home owners scheme. It offers a lump sum to help meet the deposit gap and an ongoing interest rate subsidy to assist with repayments. A billion dollars has already been committed through the scheme and members of the Opposition say that this Government has not directed special attention to housing. That is demonstrable nonsense. A billion dollars has been committed and 230,000 households have been assisted through the first home owners scheme. It has not only helped those on low incomes to achieve a home, but also assisted the very small business people whom those opposite say they represent. It has assisted the building contractors, the sub-contractors, the people who manufacture and supply building materials, such as the brickyards, the tile manufacturers, the painters, the sellers of household appliances, furniture and whitegoods and all those associated with the industry. Yet those opposite say that they would abolish public housing and they have also put a big question mark over their policy with regard to the first home owners scheme.

I conclude on this particular note because I see my time is running out. As I said at Question Time today, members of the Opposition totally lack credibility and integrity with regard to their economic and housing policies. They whinge about the number of housing starts and people on public housing waiting lists. They say that they are going to abolish the public housing program and have placed a big question mark over whether the first home owners scheme will continue or not. They are extremely divided; they are confused; they are incapable of producing policies; they are split; they are divided. The Australian people, as I said today, will never accept them and they will never return to government.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The Minister's time has expired.