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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2708

Mr MARTIN(3.42) —My colleague the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West) indicated in his introductory remarks in this debate that he could see no relevance in the matter of public importance proposed to the Speaker or in the contribution of the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey). I would certainly agree with those sentiments. This is not so, however, in the case of the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew), who obviously has a deep concern and commitment for the people in his electorate, and in Australia generally, in relation to interest rates and the question of housing. I believe that honourable members on both sides of this House share genuine concerns with regard to the question of interest rates and the fact that there are people who, through various circumstances, have been forced to sell houses and to get out of home ownership and perhaps into the rental market.

Of course, what the honourable member for Wakefield did not say was that the circumstances that have led people to do that vary quite substantially from area to area. We have to get away from some of the hysterical approaches that the media often take when they point to people in the western suburbs of Sydney or, indeed, in some of the farming communities of Australia, saying that crippling interest rate burdens have suddenly attacked people and forced them to move out. What these sorts of reports do not say, of course, is that many people over-commit themselves before they start and are not able to keep up many of their repayments, not because interest rates are varying but simply because they have over-committed themselves at the outset.

I would like to take up one issue with the Minister arising from his opening remarks. He said that the Liberal Party did not have a policy in the housing area. It probably has slipped his mind, because it is not all that significant. It was, after all, put out by the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Beale) when he was the shadow spokesman on housing and construction. That document purports to suggest what the Liberal Party stands for. I guess it applies only to the Liberal Party, although it has the National Party logo on the front. I am not sure whether it still stands for both parties, but let us just say that it is the Liberal Party's policy at the present time. It says that the Liberal Party recognises and supports `the aspirations of all Australians to own their own home'.

Mr Reith —Do you disagree with that?

Mr MARTIN —No one would disagree with that at all. The methodology of doing that, of course, is quite interesting. One of the things that has been highlighted here-the Minister touched on this in his address-is the suggestion that the whole question of the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement should be looked at. It says that honourable members opposite would:

Return to the States the responsibility for the provision of public housing by terminating the Commonwealth-State Housing agreement and absorbing the funds into the financial assistance grants to the States.

Mr Reith —What's wrong with that?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order!

Mr MARTIN —So on the one hand the Opposition is suggesting that the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement should be terminated and, on the other hand, it is suggesting that it will still give the States plenty of funds.

Mr Reith —What's wrong with that?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for Flinders.

Mr MARTIN —As to what is wrong with that, I would have suspected that this leading light of the Liberal dries who has put together this policy, the honourable member for Deakin, was speaking on behalf of all those people who want to see a reduction in government expenditure. I would have suspected that the sorts of people whom he purports to represent would be saying: `Okay, let's give the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement the flick, but let's not make it up anywhere else'. But the Opposition tucks in this little something else. I am concerned about this. I would like to ask the honourable member for O'Connor, who is now the Opposition spokesman in the area whether, now that the New Right is well and truly in the ascendancy in the Liberal Party-and outside the Liberal Party, too, I might say, in respect of people trying to get in-that sort of policy is going to hold.

If one looks at the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement over the last few years and compares some of the allocations of funds from the Commonwealth to the States, some very interesting statistics are thrown up. In 1982-83, for example-taking a couple of the major States, New South Wales and Victoria-under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement $129.9m was allocated to New South Wales and $92.3m was allocated to Victoria. The 1986-87 figures for those same two States show that the allocations have been increased to $226.3m and $165.3m respectively, representing a percentage increase of 151 per cent for New South Wales and 69 per cent for Victoria. Australia-wide, between those two years the States have received a 131 per cent increase in funding under this program. This is the sort of money we are talking about. Those are the sorts of statistics that have been used to suggest that the Agreement should be abolished and replaced with something else, but we are not certain whether the same level of funding would be made available.

The honourable member for O'Connor certainly dealt with the question of people's views of the Government's position on housing. He talked about interest rates. I think this is a very real question that has to be touched on. I recall that not so long ago-only in the last few weeks the Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Keating) made the announcement on the latest housing package for Australia-considerable outside pressure was being brought to bear on this Government to try to get it to eliminate the 13.5 per cent ceiling on housing loans. That would have affected 900,000 loans in Australia. That pressure was brought to bear with scare tactics. All sorts of terrorist tactics were employed to suggest that unless that was done the 15.5 per cent rate that currently applied for new home loans would go through the roof. The National Australia Bank was at the forefront of this sort of terrorist tactic.

What did we see when it was all over? We saw an acceptance within the housing community and the banking sector that those rates would not go up. The Minister has already indicated that the trend in interest rates generally is downwards. This Government maintains, and I see no reason to suspect that the opposite will happen, that in the not too distant future-hopefully the end of the year; if not, certainly early next year-that will translate into a downward trend for housing rates as well. I see that as a very real achievement that this Government will be able to claim.

Some concern has also been expressed from time to time about the level of rental accommodation that has been made available. On a few occasions members of the Opposition have directed questions to the Minister about rental housing, particularly in Sydney, Melbourne and some of the other capital cities of Australia. I find it most edifying and very appropriate that it was announced yesterday-article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald today-that the State Minister for Planning and Environment in New South Wales, Mr Bob Carr, has lifted restrictions on the construction of what are know in the trade as granny flats but which are dual occupancy dwellings. The New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment brought in a dual occupancy policy some years ago. If an additional dwelling or flat were attached to a house, the owner had to live in the main building of that flat. According to this Press release, the requirement that an owner has to live in one of the flats or in the main house before additional rooms can be let has been abolished.

Obviously, this measure will have a major effect in a city such as Sydney where there are many large houses and many houses occupied by only one or two people where a spouse has died or families have grown up and moved away. Those sorts of places can now be converted into dual occupancy dwellings, but which are described as granny flats, and that should go a great deal of the way towards alleviating the problem of finding rental accommodation. That is very appropriate because many cities in Australia have these sorts of dwellings available and they could readily be transferred to the rental market. It would mean no added burden for governments-either State or Federal-in terms of providing infrastructure, so new housing estates could be developed. This measure utilises the existing infrastructure that is already in the ground and therefore it must be a saving for both the State and Commonwealth governments. After all, is not that what we are on about in this place?

It has been said that the Government has to introduce major cuts in government expenditure in its 13 May economic statement. We will be freeing up more housing and combating the rental crisis and at the same time we will still be able to save Commonwealth and State governments money.

The Minister also said that the judgment in the market-place on what the Government is doing could be no better summed up than by the letter that was received by the Prime Minister from the Housing Industry Association and which was quoted yesterday. I concur with that letter and sum up by saying that its last paragraph is certainly a demonstration of the Government's commitment.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The debate is concluded.