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Wednesday, 10 September 1958
Page: 1043

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK (Parramatta) . - Mr. Temporary Chairman, if I can get my head up from underneath all those gallons, I should like to address a few remarks to the committee on the subject of housing. In my view, this Government has brought housing to the point where we may now reasonably consider the next stage.

Mr Cairns - What is that? The building of houses?

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - Yes, to provide houses. Looking at the Opposition, and its vacancy, I am quite sure that honorable members opposite are not likely to build anything.

It is necessary; first, to remember that we entered the last war some 60,000 houses short. According to the 1947 figures, when we came out of the war we were 250,000 houses short. At last June, we were only 80,000 houses short, notwithstanding the fact that we had taken care of an annual increment with a very large input of migration and a very large natural increase of population. That was due in no small measure to the concentrated effort of this Government.

It was not unnatural that, faced with a very large shortage at the end of the war, governments should turn to such a mechanism as we find expressed in the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The first housing agreement provided predominantly for government building, for both selling and renting. What I want to say by way of suggestion is that we have now reached the stage where we may consider whether in the near future we may rightly abandon the government building of houses and stimulate more actively the building of houses by private institutions and private persons. The reason why I think the present moment is the appropriate time to mention these things to the committee is this: Over the past four years we have averaged 75,846 houses per annum. For last year the figure was 74,333. It is said that the annual increment calls for about 54,000 houses per annum, if you take account of migration at the estimated input and natural increase at the present level. That means that we are mowing down the arrears at the rate of nearly 20,000 houses per annum.

Mr Cairns - That ignores sub-standard houses altogether.

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - I shall say something about sub-standard houses in a moment. Government building of houses is the source of sub-standard houses. The position is that people have been saying that about 74,000 to 80,000 houses per annum is the largest number that we can build, having regard to current resources and the availability of materials. I am sure we are all aware of the fact that commercial and industrial building, of which there has been such a great deal in the near past, has probably retreated a little because the demand has been, to an extent, satisfied. That is likely to release materials and labour which may be used to increase the number of houses we build annually, without inviting any inflationary movement.

Mr Luchetti - I rise to a point of order. Under what proposed vote is the subject of housing being considered?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock - Order! It comes under the proposed vote for the Department of National Development.

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - The housing agreement of 1945 contained no provision for the making of advances to the building societies, but the 1956 agreement made a most significant step forward in that direction. It provided that 20 per cent, of the advances were to be made available to terminating building societies in the main - there were some permanent ones in some of the States - and this year 30 per cent, is to be made available. It is around that fact that I want to build my few moments of suggestion.

It seems to me, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that when the housing agreement expires in 1961 there should be available some fairly well developed mechanism that will allow the building of the then necessary number of houses through private enterprise. The building societies seem to me to afford the necessary mechanism - not necessarily the terminating building societies, but permanent building societies of the kind with which one becomes familiar in both England and the United States of America where there are the savings and the loan societies.

My thought is this: If, during the currency of the housing agreement, particularly in the period that it has yet to run, there is an added capacity in the community to build more houses because materials and' labour are becoming increasingly available, the slack should be taken up, not by making added advances to State housing commissions which may or may not build the substandard houses about which the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) is so concerned, but by enabling people to build, through the building societies, the houses that they want - to choose their own sites, to participate in the designing of those houses and to have their own builders.

Mr Haylen - Jerry building!

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - Much less jerry building is done through the building societies than through the other activity about which I spoke. It may be necessary, of course, in order to strengthen and' foster the permanent building societies, to give them a government guarantee similar to that which the terminating societies receive. It may be necessary even to consider giving to them a subsidy to take up the difference between the amount of interest they would be bound to give for short-term or longterm deposits and the rate at which they found it convenient to lend out the money to home builders. But that subsidy would be a very small sum in comparison with what would be called for under a continuance of the housing agreement system. The amount to be paid out this year under the housing agreement will be some £35,000,000. Although, nominally, it is serviced' from loan funds, in fact more than 42 per cent, of it will be thrown onto revenue because of the deficiency in the raising of the amount set by the Australian Loan Council.

Mr Whitlam - And 35 per cent, of it will be diverted from the housing commissions.

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - Thirty per cent, will be diverted.

Mr Whitlam - The figure is 35 per cent., because service dwellings account for another 5 per cent.

Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - Well, so much the better. I am all in favour of more being diverted. My point is that at the moment some 42 per cent, of the moneys made available under the housing agreement is thrown onto revenue. We should be astute enough at every step to minimize the amount of capital expenditure that is thrown onto revenue. Speaking comparatively, I believe that the amount required to subsidize the difference between the rate at which the permanent building societies borrowed and the rate at which they lent the money would be very small.

Might I mention one more thing by way of suggestion? It is this: These permanent societies should be encouraged to accept short-term money, as is done abroad, in which case one would probably find that there would be no need for any subsidy even if there were a discrepancy between the rate at which they borrowed on longterm and the rate at which they lent money on short term.

There is one further point I should like to make before I sit down. We in Australia are desperately short of capital. To find the capital for building is exceedingly difficult, although the banks and the savings banks have, over the past few months, increased enormously the sums which they have made available for housing. There has been a very interesting development which I suggest might well be pursued. There was a recent announcement that the board of directors of the United States of America Development Loan Fund had authorized a loan to the Government of the Netherlands of 3,000,000 United States dollars to assist in financing housing for Dutch emigrants to Australia. This provision did not apply to any other country, but was made exclusively for Australia on condition that an equal amount was made available from local funds. This sum is sufficient to settle some 800 Dutch immigrant families in Australia. It means the introduction into Australia of some 3,000,000 United States dollars by way of added capital.

This, of course, was induced by this Government. It was induced, no doubt, by the sense of confidence which foreign countries could have in Australia because of the stable condition of its affairs. Besides commending the Government for inducing the investment of this sum, I should like to suggest that there be a continued effort with respect to other governments whose nationals we are taking, to ensure that they should also make some provision by way of capital assistance for the housing of their emigrants to Australia. If we were to follow that course, we would be supplementing our capital and, at the same time, advancing the number of houses that could be built without endangering our local structure.

Might I conclude, Mr. Temporary Chairman, with this thought: Everybody has shown interest in the number of nouses under construction. For once I would be of a mind with the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns). It is probably the only time I shall agree with him. I am interested in the quality as well as the number of houses. It is very short-sighted policy if we attempt to cover the landscape of Australia with houses which are not really worthy of it. I believe that if we were to stimulate the permanent building societies and encourage them, and if we were also to pursue this course of persuading governments whose nationals come here to support them by finance for homes, there would be a much better chance of there being better as well as more houses in Australia.

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