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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1690

Mr MILTON(3.42) —It would seem that the Opposition has brought on this matter of public importance for discussion because it believes that it can achieve some political advantage out of the present high interest rate structure which is affecting home loan interest rates. As the member for La Trobe I have in my electorate one of the fastest growing urban areas in Australia. I know that home owners have not forgotten the abysmal record of the Fraser Liberal-National Party Government in relation to housing and construction. That was only a little over four years ago. The housing industry was in very bad shape when the Australian Labor Party won government, with only 105,000 housing commencements in 1982-83. By 1984-85 we had provided the economic basis for 152,700 commencements, which was a 45 per cent increase on 1982-83 and the highest since 1973-74.

I will not attempt to disguise the fact that I am disappointed with the high interest rates. This has arisen because of the need to attract development finance into Australia as part of our strong macroeconomic policy. The consequent reduced activity in the housing industry has meant that there were only 136,000 commencements in 1985-86, but that is still 30 per cent up on 1982-83 when the Liberal-National Party was in office. The housing industry must be well aware that it has been the Labor Party's housing policies of the past four years which have brought prosperity to the industry, prosperity which was not there during the final years of the Fraser Government. The facts are there for all to see, with over 491,000 people employed in the housing and construction industry as at August 1986, which is 70,000 more than in May 1983.

Let us look at the Labor Government's record on interest rates and home lending. In the last three years of the Fraser Liberal-National Party Government there were only 735,000 home loans from major lenders, compared with 914,000 for the three years under Labor since June 1983. If we compare the figures year by year, over the past three years our Government has achieved an average of 305,000 home loans each year, compared with 245,000 home loans for each of the last three years that the Opposition was in government.

Interest rates are presently far too high, but they were higher when the Opposition lost office, with 10-year bond rates of 16.4 per cent and the 90-day bank bill rate at 18.75 per cent. The signs are there that housing interest rates will ease in 1987-88. Confirmation that housing interest rates will not remain so high has been given by the Indicative Planning Council for the Housing Industry, which comprises representatives of both the housing industry and the building unions. Both groups have no reason to give inaccurate forecasts. For the people of my electorate one of the most important Government initiatives was that taken in April 1986 to maintain the 13.5 per cent ceiling on existing bank home loans, which has protected some 900,000 existing home buyers. This has been a vital support for home buyers in the new housing estates of Endeavour Hills and Fountain Gate in my electorate. As part of the Labor Government's housing package the banks agreed to lend at least $6 billion for housing in 1986-87 and to promote low start loans. The low start loans have reduced initial repayments and have therefore given greater access to home ownership for many families.

I move now to the area of public housing, particularly as the Liberal and National parties have stated that they would return to the States the responsibility for the provision of public housing. They intend to do this by terminating the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement and absorbing the funds into the financial assistance grants to the States. The consequence of such a complete denial of Federal responsibility in meeting the desperate need of many low income earners for public housing will be a severe cut-back in funding for public housing, as the States will be unable to increase the shortfall arising from the withdrawal of funds by the Federal Government. This is a callous and unfeeling attitude towards Australians in housing need. I regret to say that it is typical of the Opposition's attitude to people in poverty and the unemployed. Its attitude to people in need is: `Let them go out and do more for themselves'. `They are feather-bedded too much' is the constant catch-cry of the Opposition when talking about people in need. It is not the attitude of this Government and never will be to those people who, for a variety of circumstances, often beyond their control, need assistance from the Federal Government to gain shelter for themselves and their families.

Our record in office is in stark contrast to the callous and barren policies of the Opposition. When Labor attained office we renegotiated the then public housing agreement to better reflect the Labor Government's approach to public housing assistance. The Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement was signed by the Commonwealth and all States to operate for 10 years from 1 July 1984. The 1984 agreement substantially increased the base funding arrangements and broadened the eligibility criteria for assistance; for example, ensuring that all groups in the community are eligible for assistance, including young people and single people. Cost rents for public housing tenants was introduced to replace the financial hardship resulting from the existing structure of market rents. We introduced the concept of home purchase, with repayments based on income, thus making available more finance for new public housing projects. We also introduced programs for rental housing for Aborigines and age pensioners.

I also mention the two new programs which were part of the new Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement-the crisis accommodation program which provides dwellings for women's and youth refuges, hostels for the chronically homeless, and the family crisis accommodation. I am well aware of the desperate need for such a program as my wife works in a part time advisory capacity for a women's refuge. The provision of safe and secure accommodation is a vital factor for those women and their children to be rehabilitated from the crisis situation of humiliation and violence in what should have been a safe and secure family home. The amount of $14m was allocated to this program in 1986-88 and $44m has been allocated since we came to office. The second new program incorporated into the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement was the local government and community housing program, which involves local governments and community groups in providing housing. An amount of $11m was allocated in 1986-87, with $28m having been allocated since we gained government. This program has been particularly successful as it has drawn over $7m in land, direct funding and other resources from local governments and community groups.

Let us look at the total funds available for public housing from the Federal Government. In 1986-87 it was $1,278m. It is worth going into these figures in a little detail because these funds will be no longer available for public housing if, heaven forbid, the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Beale) should ever become the Housing Minister. The honourable member represents the rich and powerful in this country but he certainly does not and never will represent the average home buyer or those living in public housing accommodation. Of the $1,278m made available for housing by the Federal Government in 1986-87, $694m was in grants and $585m was available in low interest local council loans.

These figures represent a 130 per cent increase on the amounts provided by the Liberal and National parties when they were in government in 1982-83. The result of ALP public housing policies is reflected in these figures in that they will lead to an increase of around 18,000 in public rental housing stock in 1986-87, compared with an increase of only only 8,700 in public rental housing stock in 1982-83. So there we have it: When the Opposition was in government it provided annually about half the stock of public housing that the Federal Labor Government has. In total, public housing funding, with State contributions, will be over $1.9 billion in 1986-87 and this will lead to over 22,000 new housing commencements in both the public and the private sectors.

The United Nations has designed 1987 as the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless and the Federal Government has agreed to participate in the International Year programs by allocating to date $1.2m, of which $625,000 has been provided to cover Federal Government activities. The objective of the United Nations is to encourage countries, particularly developing countries, to develop strategies which will improve the shelter and neighbourhoods for the homeless and inadequately housed by the year 2000. The Federal Government has supported such programs. The funding provided in 1986-87 was around $1,500m. One has to look at the Opposition's proposals. The aims of the Federal Government are completely opposite. The housing policies of the Federal ALP Government are practical realities; the policies of the Opposition would be disastrous for the housing industry and those living in private and public housing alike. The Opposition will be rejected by the people when we go to the polls at the end of this year or at the beginning of the next year.