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Thursday, 18 September 1958
Page: 1393

Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- The first comment I wish to make in connexion with the bill is to endorse the sentiment with which the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) concluded his speech. The Opposition does not oppose this bill, but we deplore entirely the inadequacy of the amount which it will provide for State housing instrumentalities to assist in home building in Australia during the financial year 1958-59. We do not object to the amount which will be made available to private lending institutions, but we most emphatically oppose the principle that the amount which they receive should be increased at the expense of the amount to be made available to State housing authorities.

I should have thought that this debate would have presented an opportunity to Government supporters to discuss the housing situation generally. But we find that the Minister's second-reading speech occupies no more than three-quarters of a page in " Hansard ". This indicates to me that the Government is not sure of its position in regard to housing. Time and again during the last two years in this Parliament, the desperate shortage of housing has been emphasized, but the Government is not facing up to its responsibility. Every honorable member in this Parliament has had representations made to him about the conditions under which people are living, not only in the major cities, but also in every outside area. The Government has refused to face up to this situation, and it may be concluded that members on the Government side, since none of them is prepared to participate in this debate, are willing to leave unsaid the things which ought to be said in the interests of the homeless people of Australia.

The bill deals with the amount which will be made available to State housing authorities and approved lending institutions. It provides for loan moneys, totalling £35,810,000, to be made available to the States to assist State housing programmes. This is an increase of £2,650,000 over the corresponding amount provided in 1957-58. In the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1956 provision was made for a certain amount of the money made available to the States to be channelled into approved lending societies. That figure has been increased from 20 per cent, in 1957-58 to 30 per cent, this year. This means, in effect, that a sum of £10,743,000 will be channelled into private building societies and approved lending institutions for the purpose of home building. But State instrumentalities will receive £1,000,000 less during the current financial year than they received last year.

The honorable member for Batman has already pointed out that the various State housing authorities have insufficient funds for home construction in order to catch up with the backlag that exists in every State. He referred to the position in Victoria. I wish to direct attention to Tasmania. I do not overlook what has been achieved by various State instrumentalities. Tasmania has made remarkable progress generally with housing, particularly for people who have not been able to find sufficient finance or obtain a loan from either a private institution or the Commonwealth Bank. People in the lower income group in that State have been able to obtain a home from the State housing authority without any deposit. It is true that, because of the high interest rate applied by the Commonwealth Government, many of them will be in the unfortunate position of never owning their homes, but at least they will have the opportunity to secure a home in which to live.

In this respect I pay tribute to what has been achieved by the Tasmanian Government. The Australian Labour party has always believed that home-ownership is of vital importance to the people of this country. That is one of the reasons why the Tasmanian Government originally withdrew from the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945. It believed that the people in the lower income category ought to be able to secure a home without any deposit, and that condition has obtained in Tasmania ever since the 1945 agreement. People in Tasmania are able to obtain a home without a deposit. That is entirely opposite to the conditions laid down by the Commonwealth Bank or by private banks or lending institutions when people seek to obtain from them financial assistance with which to build or buy a home.

For example, the maximum amount which the Commonwealth Bank will advance for a home is £2,500. If an applicant wishes to build or buy, he must therefore find the difference between the maximum advance of £2,500 and the purchase price. The average cost of a home is clearly indicated in the report of the Director of the War Service Homes Division for 1957-58, which was tabled in this House only yesterday. The report shows that there has been a tremendous increase in the average cost of houses throughout the Commonwealth in recent years. To illustrate the point, I shall deal with only one State - Tasmania. In 1952-53, the average cost of a home in that State, including the land, was £2,654. By 1957-58, the figure had risen to £3,389. In the Australian Capital Territory, in 1952-53, the average cost was only £3,687, but by 1957-58 it had risen to £5,002. Those figures could be accepted as a reasonable average of the cost of a home and land in this country. The figure for Tasmania is greatly in excess of £3,000 and an intending purchaser, through the Commonwealth Bank or another approved lending institution, would have to find the difference between the maximum loan available and the high cost of a home. I hope to have an opportunity to return to this point later in my address.

I want now to reiterate that, despite the shortage of homes, the amount being made available to the State housing authorities has been reduced by £1,000,000 in this financial year, compared with last year. I said earlier that we are not opposed to this money being made available to approved lending institutions, because we believe that private enterprise can play a part in the construction of homes. However, the Government should have some say in how that money will be made available to intending purchasers through those institutions. As I have said, if the maximum advance is fixed at £2,500, obviously the number of people who can secure finance through lending institutions is very small. A man with a limited income cannot hope to find the difference between such a relatively small advance and the amount required to build a home. So, in that respect, the Government ought to be able to say to those institutions, " We believe that the maximum deposit should be no more than 5 per cent, of the capital cost of the home ".

That position applied as far back as 1939, when a person who wanted to build a home was able to obtain finance through the Commonwealth Bank, or through some other approved institution, provided he had a block of land or an equivalent amount as a deposit. In those days, the average cost of a block of land was £150 or £200. That meant that even the person on the lowest income was able to secure a home because he was able to find the deposit and obtain an advance from the Commonwealth Bank or some other lending institution. The Commonwealth Bank is under the direction of this Government, and it should be able to exercise some influence on the policy of the bank.

Mr Duthie - The Government will not admit that, though!

Mr BARNARD - As the honorable member for Wilmot points out, the Government is not prepared to admit it. As far as I am aware, there has been only one increase in the maximum advance made by the Commonwealth Bank since I have been in the Parliament. Originally, the advance stood at £2,250; to-day it is £2,500. But that still leaves a lot to be desired. No person on a low income can find the difference between the maximum advance and the amount needed to build or to purchase a home at present costs.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

Mr BARNARD - Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I was discussing the need to make adequate finance available to those people who desire to acquire homes through sources other than State housing institutions. 1 had indicated that to-day far too many young people in this category are not able to secure sufficient finance to meet the extremely large deposit required by the Commonwealth Bank and other financial institutions. The Government should investigate this matter if it desires an increased proportion of loan funds to the States to be made available to approved lending institutions. The Government should have some control over the manner in which those funds are made available to the people seeking finance to build a home.

The present housing plight in Australia has been highlighted by the Minister in charge of housing in Australia, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) who, in 1956, issued a statement about the housing situation in which he said -

The majority of home seekers in most States to-day would, from their experiences, challenge any claim that the " housing problem " is well on the way to being solved or that the " housing shortage " is fast being eliminated.

Nobody could agree more with that point of view than do honorable members on this side of the House. The housing problem is not being solved. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) this morning pointed out that each year we are falling further behind in our efforts to provide homes for the people. The statement continues -

They are still confronted with difficulties in obtaining finance for house building or purchase.

To-day, far too many people are unable to secure the finance necessary to build a home.

A large deposit must be saved.

I have shown how large is the deposit required to-day.

Costs have increased.

Earlier, I quoted from a report submitted to the House by the Director of War Service Homes, showing how costs have increased enormously since 1951-52.

Houses for renting from private owners are scarce. Rents (where not controlled) are high. The waiting period for State Housing Authorities* rental houses is still long in most States.

Despite the number of homes that have been built in each State under the CommonwealthStates Housing Agreement of 1945, and the number of homes that have been built in each State by the various State housing instrumentalities, the wailing period for a home is increasing year by year. In Tasmania, because of the large number of applications for homes, special consideration to people in desperate circumstances has to be given in the allocation of homes. With the limited funds available to them each year, State housing authorities can . only construct a limited number of homes. They must deal with applications for homes in the light of the particular applicants' circumstances. In Tasmania, one of the requirements necessary to obtain a home is that a couple must have at least one child. That is the minimum requirement, and for those persons a special type of home has been constructed. For the usual type of house constructed by the department in Tasmania, the minimum family unit is man and wife and two children.

I refer again to the young people who desire to get married and raise a family. Under present circumstances, they have no hope at all of obtaining a home in Tasmania. I refer only to Tasmania, because I have no idea how homes are allocated in other States, but I think that the circumstances that apply in Tasmania are generally applicable to the other States. I consider the report of the Minister for National Development to be an extremely important criticism of the serious housing shortage in this country. The report states further -

While there remains a shortage of homes, no matter how large or small that shortage is, the difficulties and, indeed, distress of numbers of home seekers are a reality. The home seeker therefore derives no consolation from being told that " the shortage is not as bad as it was ", if, in fact, he is unable to find a home.

That is the position that applies to-day. Prior to the last war, there was a shortage of approximately 200.000 homes in this country. During the war years, when it was practically impossible to embark on large-scale home-building, the shortage remained at approximately 200,000. To-day, the shortage is still in the vicinity of 200,000 homes, and this Government is allocating the same amount of money each year to the various State housing authorities. No attempt whatever is being made to tackle seriously the shortage that exists to-day in Australia.

The housing shortage could be described as one of the greatest social blots of our time. I agree with the Minister for National Development that it is no consolation to those people who desire to secure a home to be told that the Government is giving some attention to this problem. The number of homes that have been constructed each year since 1951-52 has steadily decreased. By 1 949, approximately 80,000 homes were being constructed yearly by the Labour government. When this Government assumed office, that figure was almost maintained for the first year, when approximately 70,000 homes were constructed. Since then, there has been a gradual decrease in the number of homes constructed yearly. In 1952-53, the year in which the inflationary tendencies were making themselves felt, the number of homes constructed dropped to 66,340. In 1953-54, there was a further decline to 65,650 homes. In 1954-55, the figure showed a further downward trend. In that year, only 60,902 homes were constructed. By 1955-56, the figure had fallen to 54,971 homes. In 1956-57 there was a small increase of approximately 1,000, but only 55,863 homes were constructed during that year.

I believe that the figures prove conclusively that since this Government has been in office home-building activities in this country have steadily declined. Despite this fact, the Government has applied severe credit restrictions which have made it practically impossible for those in the lower income brackets to obtain finance for homebuilding. It is perfectly true that there has been some improvement in the first quarter of this year. I understand that the number of homes under contraction during that period showed an increase of about 11.7 per cent. When the figures are compared with those for the previous financial year, however, it is seen that there has been a substantial decrease, and it is clear that although there has been an increase of 11.7 per cent, in the first quarter of this year, we will not reach, by the end of the year, the high home-building rate that obtained in the days of the Chifley Government.

Let me remind honorable members also that the Chifley Government had to conduct its home-building programme in a time of shortages of materials, man-power and everything required for home-building, while to-day the position is exactly the opposite. Despite what was said by the Prime Minister about twelve months ago, there is no shortage of man-power and no shortage of materials. Indeed, as was shown this morning by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), there has been a serious decline in the number of persons employed in the building industry. Although there is an abundance of materials and labour, the Government has decided in this financial year to reduce the amounts available to State housing authorities by about £1,000,000.

The Government must face the facts of the position. It must suggest to its own instrumentality, the Commonwealth Bank, that the credit restrictions should be' revised and that finance on more reasonable terms should be made available to potential home-builders. Unless it is prepared to do this, and to make more money available to the State instrumentalities, our serious housing shortage will continue for many years. Despite what the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) said some years ago, to the effect that the housing shortage would disappear within five years, and despite the promises of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) and the assurances of senior members of the present Government, the serious housing shortage is still with us. Those who are eager to secure homes know only too well how difficult it is to get them through the State instrumentalities, because a means test is applied, and family circumstances are investigated. This fact, together with the severe credit restrictions imposed by the Commonwealth Bank, has made it difficult to obtain a home.

The seriousness of the housing problem is demonstrated, I believe, by the significant increase in the number of applications for financial assistance under the War Service Homes Act. In 1955-56 there were about 21,000 applications for war service homes. In 1956-57 the number increased to approximately 23,000, and I believe that the number of applications will be at least as high as this in the current year. I have no doubt that the reason for this large number of applications lies in the favorable circumstances under which money is made available through the War Service

Homes Division. If we could make money available generally on the same terms as apply under the War Service Homes Act, and having in mind the abundance of manpower and material that is available, we should be able to overtake the housing shortage that has plagued Australia for so many years.

Let me say at this stage, Mr. Speaker, that since I have been a member of this Parliament, I have never believed that the financial circumstances of the average man are favorable enough to enable him to obtain a home. It is possible for this Government to increase the amounts of money available to the States. Despite the statement made by the Prime Minister on another occasion, we know that there are no constitutional difficulties in the way of providing the States with money for this purpose. All that is required is the adoption of a policy which will allow us to tackle the problem and apply ourselves to the task of providing homes for the people. Unless the Government is prepared to pursue such a policy, we must expect to have the housing shortage with us for a great many years.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Osborne) adjourned.

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