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Thursday, 18 September 1958
Page: 1406

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) commenced his speech by asserting that this bill authorized an increase in the funds provided for the States for the purposes of their housing. That statement, like so many of the other statements which fell from the honorable member, and with which I shall deal, misrepresents the position. The actual fact is that fewer pounds will be available for the States for the purposes which we envisage as their housing responsibility than in any year for some years past.

Mr Anderson - That is distorting the position.

Mr WHITLAM - Let me recall the very brief and perfunctory second-reading speech by the Minister for Supply (Mr. Townley), who has charge of this bill in the House. The honorable gentleman pointed out that there would be available this year for the erection of dwellings by the States the sum of £25,067,000. I hope that the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) is listening to this. The Minister said that the corresponding sum for 1957-58 was £26,528,000. Quite plainly the Minister himself admitted that the funds available to the States for the erection of houses by the States are smaller this year than they were last year. The sums I have quoted included amounts for service dwellings, for which the States have to divert 5 per cent, of the funds we give them, and to which the States cannot allocate tenants, but only the Commonwealth. The position is that this year only 65 per cent, of the funds given by the Commonwealth to the States will be available for their housing commissions, trusts and departments. In the last two years 75 per cent, of those funds was available, and in the previous eleven years 100 per cent, of those funds was available.

Next, the honorable member for Petrie said that the States determine the amount of the grants which the Commonwealth will make to them for housing. That is a half truth. It is true that the States determine the proportion of loan funds made available by the Commonwealth to the States for all purposes that will be spent on housing. But we know that the decisions of the Australian Loan Council are completely nugatory unless the Commonwealth supports them; and they are nugatory except insofar as the Commonwealth supports them. There have been two or three occasions in the last half-dozen years when the Loan Council passed resolutions on how many pounds were to be loaned to the States for housing and for other purposes, "but when the Commonwealth did not carry out those decisions.

One has only to read the Budget papers to see the Commonwealth make that clear admission. As regards housing, if the honorable gentleman will look up the answer which was given to me by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), who, in 1956, represented the Minister for National Development in this House - it was given on 11th October, 1956 - he will see that therein the Minister admitted that the States did not get for 1956-57 the number of pounds that they, in the Loan Council, resolved could and should be made available for housing.

It will be noticed that I give chapter and verse for the assertions I am making, and I propose to continue that course throughout my speech this afternoon. The honorable member for Petrie made many allegations. He quoted reports of AuditorsGeneral, and so on. But he did not say whether he was referring to reports of the Commonwealth Auditor-General or those of a State Auditor-General. He did not give the date, and he did not give the page. It is impossible for honorable gentlemen to check up on these statements. Similarly, he made many assertions concerning the number of houses which will be provided through building societies, and as service dwellings, and so on. He never quoted his authority. He made allegations that none of us can check.

One of the faults of this act - the Housing Agreement Act 1956 - is that this Parliament, which has to appropriate and allocate the money, is never told how many houses were provided in the preceding year, how many people are wanting houses, or what sort of houses are being built. We have to rely for all that information on the housing reports of the States, and they are as dilatory in presenting to their parliaments the annual reports for which their statutes provide, a9 our Government is in presenting our statutory annual reports to this Parliament.

But one can check on some of the allegations of the honorable member for Petrie. He used this bill as an opportunity to attack the New South Wales Government; I should have thought that he would have grown out of that. He referred to building costs in New South Wales. I do not know where he got the figures. Let me quote the figures which were made available to us yesterday, and to another place the day before, in the report of the Director of War Service Homes for the last financial year. There one can see that the average cost of houses erected last year by the division, apart from land, was as follows: - In New South Wales, £3,313; in Victoria, £3,168; in Queensland, £3,056; in South Australia, £3,387; in Western Australia, £2,982; in Tasmania, £2,925; and in the Australian Capital Territory, £5,002. If one turns to the next page of the report and looks at the comparison of the average costs of dwelling houses and land - they are not separated in this table - one sees that in 1952-53, the first year for which figures are given, in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia the average cost was something over £2,900, and that, in the last financial year in New South Wales it was £3,763; in Victoria, £3,665; in South Australia, £3,782; and so on. So far as the War Service Homes Division is concerned, one cannot discern any significant difference in the cost of dwellings in the manufacturing States over the last few years, or in the last year.

This report was presented to the Parliament, and it is available to every honorable member. I suggest that the holeinthecorner report, to which the honorable member referred, either does not exist or does not bear out his allegation. He referred to the profit made on the sale of housing commission houses. Where did he get those figures? The plain fact is that the conditions under which housing commission houses are sold in every State are determined by agreement between this Parliament and those States.

Mr Osborne - But not the amount of profit.

Mr WHITLAM - That and other subjects are covered by the agreement. If the Minister does not like the way the States are implementing it, that is the fault of the agreement. There is no question that the agreement is being carried out, otherwise one insinuates that the Commonwealth Auditor-General and State AuditorsGeneral are not doing their job.

Mr Osborne - There is no obligation under the agreement for a State to make a large profit.

Mr WHITLAM - One must accept the fact that the money allocated is spent in accordance with the law and the law, in this case, is the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. There have been three such agreements. They were entered into in the years 1945, 1955 and 1956. Very belatedly, in the middle of 1955 the States were permitted to sell housing commission houses built under the 1945 agreement. For several years they had urged the Commonwealth to amend the agreement to permit people living in the houses to buy them. Up to that stage people could buy the houses only if they paid the full lump sum. They were not allowed to buy them on terms. Until the middle of 1955, those were the conditions until the agreement was reviewed by Parliament.

In the 1956 agreement, once again the conditions under which a person would be allowed to buy a housing commission house which he occupied were set out. I assert, and I would be amazed if anybody could refute the fact, that the AuditorsGeneral have certified that the money that was provided under this legislation and which is being provided under this bill has been spent in accordance with the law. One can search State housing commission reports in vain to find any record of profits being made by State housing authorities.

Mr Osborne - Look at the New South Wales Auditor-General's report.

Mr WHITLAM - I have it here for 1956-57. No State has yet presented its report for 1957-58.

Let me detail the decrease in the grants to the States under the 1956 agreement. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) referred to the record of his Government. In 1946-47, the first full postwar year, the Commonwealth made available for housing for the States of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia a total of £11,015,000. For the next four years which I shall mention the amounts will cover all States except South Australia. In round figures the sum rose from £13,305,000 to £14,492,000, to £17,215,000 to £21,640,000. In 1951-52, Tasmania fell out, and the remaining four States of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia were granted £26,547,000; in 1952-53, they received £30,000,000. In 1953-54, when South Australia came in, the amount increased to £37,200,000. For the two succeeding years the totals were £29,150,000 and £32,200,000.

In the last two full financial years the States were allowed, for the purposes for which the previous sums I have read were made available, the sums of £24,523,000 and £27,357,000. This year they will receive £23,869,000. That shows a considerable drop. Fewer pounds are being made available by the Commonwealth for housing authorities in the States for the erection of housing commission, trust or department dwellings than in any year since 1950-51. In that year there was no appropriation for South Australia and only a residual amount for Tasmania. I assert that this Government is making fewer pounds available for housing commissions in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia than at any time since it has been in office.

Mr Hulme - Give the totals.

Mr WHITLAM - I have given the totals. Let me give the figures for the individual States to show how they have dropped in. the last few years and will drop again this year. Two years ago, New South Wales' received £8,208,000 "and last year £8,360,000. This year it will receive £7.980,000. In the same three years the respective figures for Victoria are £7,600,000, £7,600,000 and £6,850,000; for Queensland £2,090,000, £2,401,600 and £2,201,150; for South Australia £2,769,000, £3,040,000 and £3,325,000- the only rise in the whole of Australia this year; for Western Australia £2,280.000, £2,385,000 and £1,995,000; and for Tasmania £1,576,000, £1,570,250 and £1,519.500. In each case, except South Australia, the number of pounds being given this year is lower than in either of the two previous years. If one chose to go through the whole of the years that this Government has been in office one would see that the amount has never been lower.

Mr Hulme - Those amounts relate only to rental homes.

Mr WHITLAM - They do not relate only to rental homes; they apply to dwellings erected by State housing authorities. In the case of New South Wales, 80 per cent, of the dwellings erected by the housing commission last year, and the year before, were given to people on condition that they purchased them. They did not go into them until they entered into a contract to purchase them. They are not for rental at all.

Mr Hulme - Be honest!

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!The honorable member for Petrie has already spoken and must remain silent.

Mr WHITLAM - If the interjection had come from anybody less egregious than the honorable member for Petrie I should ask for it to be withdrawn, but the honorable member is the dishonest one. In the last two years, 80 per cent, of the housing commission houses built in New South Wales have been given to people on condition that they purchase them. It is not such a high percentage in the other States, but I think there is no State in which fewer than half the houses are made available purely on condition that they are purchased. Most of the houses are not for rental at all.

It is about time that the Government appreciated the position that the housing commissions, trusts and departments of the States are the only sources these days from which people who wish to be tenants can obtain premises. They do not get the premises without any charge; they get them under certain conditions. Under the 1956 agreement, they are allowed to go into occupation provided they are able to pay the full rent as assessed from time to time. There are no longer any housing rental rebates and no sharing of the losses between the Commonwealth and the States. If a person secures a house he has to pay the full rent, and if he can no longer pay it he has to go out. It does not matter whether he goes on to a pension, or is incapacitated by an injury, or whether any other vicissitude of his economic life prevents him from paying the full amount of rent.

The Commonwealth is not making any charitable gesture. Rented houses are completely repaid at the end of 53 years, by which time the Commonwealth recoups the whole of the capital cost plus 4 per cent, interest. Honorable members will remember that two years ago the interest rate was increased from 3 per cent, to 4 per cent., which meant an extra 10s. a week had to be found by the tenant. As regards the people who purchase houses from State housing authorities, this is the only opportunity they have of buying a house unless they have £1,000 in cash.

Mr Fox - That is not true of Victoria.

Mr WHITLAM - Unless war service homes, for which I have quoted figures, cost very much more than any other houses in Victoria, nobody in that State can buy a house without having £1,000 in cash. I do not think that the interjection of the honorable member is accurate. I do not say that it is not honest, because I know that the honorable member is an honest, though deluded, member. The plain fact is that you cannot buy a house through the War Service Homes Division in Victoria unless you have £1,000 in cash. There is no difference between the States in this respect; I say that as one who was born in Victoria and represents New South Wales in this House and lived many years in the Australian Capital Territory. We are all Australians; and no Australian can now buy or build a house unless he has £1,000 in cash. If he has not got that cash his only recourse is to go to a housing commission or trust, which will sell on a deposit of £50 or £100. In the case of Tasmania he is not required to provide a deposit. But he will have to pay the full cost of the house plus interest. This means that the amount to be provided under this bill, the diminished amount, the record small amount which it makes available, provides the only opportunity for accommodation for people who have to rent premises and are able to pay full rent or who wish to purchase premises but have not got £1,000 in cash. It represents their only opportunity to get accommodation which they can call their own.

Under this bill we are reducing the opportunities for good housing to those who need it most. Are we going to introduce a means test for housing? Are we going to say that people should have good housing, as we say they should have good hospitalization, only it they can pay an extra amount for it? Where do we go from there? Do we introduce a means test for education and other things? Surely it should be the birthright of everybody in this community to have decent hospitalization, decent education and decent accommodation! This bill provides the only possibility for people who are the least privileged in the community to get it.

I referred to the fact that no reports were made available to the Parliament. Let me quote the last available reports from each of the States on this subject. The report of the Housing Commission of New South Wales stated -

.   . there was available to the Commission £8,208,000 for ordinary purposes- £2,592,000 les* than the previous year . . .

The number of Housing Agreement dwellings completed was 2,992, some 537 less than the previous year.

The report also stated -

.   . rentals of new dwellings made available for tenancy were up to 10/- per week higher than dwellings in similar cost brackets completed last year, thus reflecting the increase in the interest rate payable by the Commission since 1st July. 1956.

Let me quote the need in New South Wales for housing. During 1956-57, the commission conducted a review of some 28,539 tenancy applications in the two, three and four bedroom categories. It found that 11,998 applicants did not wish to proceed, that 6,766 wanted to rent houses, and that 9,775 wanted to purchase houses. In the same year, 13,308 applications for housing were received. Of those, 47.9 per cent, were husbands and wives with one child or two or more children of the same sex, 24.6 per cent, were husbands and wives with more than two children of different sex and 23.7 per cent, were childless couples. It was found that 80 per cent, of those applicants received less than £20 a week, 57 per cent, being in the £15 to £19 a week bracket, and over 70 per cent, were family cases.

It is quite plain that the people who were then applying for houses were people who had no opportunity, because of family commitments or income limitations, to accumulate the £1,000 needed to buy or to build a house with finance from sources other than the State housing commission. Of the applicants for new houses, 84.5 per cent, in the Sydney area wanted to purchase and, in the whole State, 73.6 per cent, wanted to purchase. Amongst all the applicants, there is an overwhelming desire to purchase a home, and they cannot do so except through the housing commission. That is why the report of the Director of the War Service Homes Division, who said the fact caught him by surprise, shows that last year the number of applications to the division for assistance had increased over the previous two years. The Government is always astray in its estimates for war service homes. No wonder it does not give an estimate of the needs of the State housing commissions.

Let me refer again to the report of the Housing Commission of New South Wales. An opportunity to purchase houses was given to 4,567 tenants, who had been tenants before 1956. Of these, 1.555 said that they wanted to purchase their homes. Do not let me concentrate on New South Wales alone. One finds the same position applying in many industrial cities of Australia. The housing position is acute in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. It is not acute in the country area9 of those States or in the other States. I will concede that in Newcastle, Wollongong, Geelong, Port Pirie and the other industrialized parts of Australia, there is a large unsatisfied demand for housing. The report of the Housing Commission of Victoria for 1956-57 contains the following passage: -

The new agreement has resulted in a substantia] reduction in the number of housing units constructed by the Commission . . 2,338 units being available to eligible families as compared with 4,152 in the previous year. The 1 per cent, increase in interest rates has resulted in an increase of lis. to 12s. approximately, per week.

The commission said that there were some 17,000 unsatisfied applications on hand. The honorable member for Petrie would have us believe that applications to housing commissions are the only unsatisfied applications. Now let me refer to the report of the South Australian Housing Trust. This is the' oldest housing trust in Australia. Its report for 1956-57 stated-

The Trust completed 3,140 houses. . . . This is something of a decline from the figure of 3,238 which was the preceding year's total, but that a figure of over 3,000 houses was achieved is very gratifying in view of the reduction in the amount of money made available by the Commonwealth Government under the Housing Agreement Act, 1956, as compared with that advanced in the previous three years. . . . The trust received £2,880,000 (that is £720,000 less than the previous year).

The honorable member for Petrie said that in all States other than New South Wales and Victoria only 13,000 people wanted houses. He will be amazed to learn from the report of the South Australian Housing Trust for 1956-57 that the number of applications for houses in that State alone was 9,684 in that year. The number of applica tions for rental houses was 5,417, for purchase 2,547, and for emergency dwellings, 1,720.

I have not the time to go through the housing commission reports for the other three States, but I think it clearly emerges that for this year less money is being made available for the purposes of housing commissions than in any year that the Government has been in office. It is charging more now than was charged for loans early in its career. The commissions have been compelled to increase the number of houses constructed by using cheaper materials which require more costly maintenance. Secondly, there is a continuing demand for houses, particularly in the large industrial metropolises and, for the people there who are crying for housing as they cry for so many other community services, we are providing less assistance. Thirdly, this bill provides the only means by which those who have to rent houses and can afford the full rent, or those who want to buy houses but have not the £1,000 in cash, can get decent accommodation.

There is no respect in which this Government has failed so signally in its political responsibilities and its social conscience as in the field of housing. This bill is in keeping with its parsimonious and dilatory attitude towards every responsibility which every civilized country now accepts in regard to hospitalization, education and housing, and which every country in western Europe and in North America has long ago accepted. In this bill the Government is repudiating its obligations indirectly, surreptitiously and in the most cavalier fashion.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.

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