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Thursday, 18 September 1958

Mr HULME (Petrie) .- Mr. Speaker,this bill provides for an allocation of £35,810,000 under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement in the current, financial year. This represents an increase of £2,650,000 over the allocation made last financial year, and I am sure that honorable members generally will be pleased at this fairly substantial increase.

I should like to make a few comments about the achievements of this Government in relation to housing since it took office in 1949. I think that when one looks in an unbiased way at the record one must come to the conclusion that the Government's achievements have been outstanding. 1 here was a deficiency of 250,000 homes in Australia in 1947, and the position had changed little, if at all, when this Government took office in 1949. It is estimated that the deficiency at the present time is only 80,000 homes. So honorable members will see, Sir, that during the nine years in which this Government has been in office, the backlag has been reduced by no fewer than 170,000. Broadly speaking, onehalf of the backlag, or a deficiency of 40,000 homes, is in New South Wales. In this connexion, it is particularly interesting to note that evidence given before the Public Works Committee only a few weeks ago indicated that the average cost of a home in Sydney was £5,100, compared with £3,500 for a similar home in Perth, in Western Australia. A little mental arithmetic will show that, on that basis, a sum of just over £10,000 would provide three homes in Perth and only two in Sydney. This fact suggests to me, Sir, that the long term of the Labour Government in New South Wales has caused building costs to rise to such a degree that the best economic value is not being obtained for money inVested in housing in that State - money which, in the main, is being provided by the Commonwealth for government home building. Approximately one-third of the housing backlag - about 27,000 homes - is in Victoria. So that, in the remaining four States, there is a deficiency of only 13,000 homes. This indicates a fine achievement on the part of the present Commonwealth Government over the last nine years.

The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who preceded me in this debate, suggested that we were falling further behind the demand for homes. In the Petrie electorate, the voters enrolled have increased by about 8,000 or 9,000 in the last three years. This is one of the biggest increases that has occurred in that electorate in any three-year period since 1949. Most of the homes in the constituency are privately owned, and I suggest that if the increase in the number of privately owned homes in the Petrie electorate is comparable with the increase in similar electorates, the honorable member for Bass is entirely wrong when he suggests that we are falling further and further behind in the construction of homes.

In the financial year 1956-57, 68,000 houses and flats were completed. In 1957-58, the number increased by 8.6 per cent, to 74,000. I think it is well worth while for honorable members to consider this increase. It is believed that, in the current financial year, the number of houses and flats completed will increase still more. I recall that, a few years ago, approximately 80,000 homes and flats were being completed each year, and that the number declined slightly. But I think it is important for us to remember that we cannot economically devote more than a certain proportion of our resources to building construction overall. During the period when home completions fell slightly, commercial building activity increased greatly. This increase of commercial building caused a decline in the number of building workers employed on the construction of homes, but the trend is now away from commercial construction. Many building workers are returning to home construction, and, year by year, the number of homes built is increasing.

It is interesting to note the total investment, both government and private, in home-building at the present time. In the financial year 1956-57, it was £216,000,000. That represented a very substantial part of the Australian community's resources. Total investment in home-building in 1957-58 was £234,000,000- a substantial increase over investment in the previous year. Of the amount invested, the banks are lending approximately £60,000,000 a year. Honorable members who have studied the report of the Commonwealth Bank Board for the year ended 30th June, 1958, which was published only a few days ago, know that the central bank made a suggestion to the private trading banks as to how they should use the funds recently released from their special accounts with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. This is indicated in the following passage from the report: - the Central Bank had stated that it felt there was scope for some increase in loans for housing . . .

That was stated to the private trading banks. The Government, too, has been instrumental in encouraging banking institutions and financial institutions .generally to lend more and more money for home construction. The Commonwealth Government itself is providing approximately £79,000,000 this year, under, the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, for war service homes and homes for aged people, and also for construction of houses in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. But against the amount of £79,000,000 that the Commonwealth Government is providing, the States themselves are providing only £6,000,000. In New South Wales, where the housing deficiency is worst, the State Government is spending nothing on housing.

If honorable members would look at the report of the New South Wales AuditorGeneral, they would find that last year a very substantial profit was made by the New South Wales Government on the sale of homes built some years ago under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. This amount runs into several hundreds of thousands of pounds, but not a penny of it is going back into home construction in that State. Yet, honorable members from New South Wales in this Parliament make a great song and dance about the funds that this Government should provide. At the same time, the New South Wales Government is doing absolutely nothing itself in relation to housing. The profit to which I have referred was made by the New South Wales Government because it has been selling, on to-day's market, houses which were built at lower cost several years ago.

I emphasize that the amount that is made available under this agreement is not determined by the Commonwealth Government. I think that members of the Opposition have given the impression that it is this Government which determines the amount that is to be provided year by year under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. But that is a determination of the States themselves, and if they desire to provide more than the £35,000,000 which is provided this year, that is their responsibility.

I should- like to correct the wrong impression honorable members opposite have given that the Commonwealth Government, in some way, has a good deal to do with it. It must be remembered that the States get all the loan moneys that are raised at present, and have been doing so over a period of years. Honorable members opposite have been reminded of that fact on many occasions. This year, of the £35,800,000 for which approval is being sought, 30 per cent, will be allocated for private home ownership. That is equal to approximately £10,700,000. There has been criticism by the Opposition from time to time in relation to this provision under this agreement, but last year a similar provision, which was then only 20 per cent, of the total, permitted 2,925 homes to be completed or purchased through building societies. Last year, there were 187 of these institutions, and this year there will be 242 of them operating. Because the amount of money available to them has increased by approximately 50 per cent., there should be a substantial increase in the number of homes built.

As a supporter of the Government, I support the provision of this proportion of the money available for home ownership. I come from Queensland, where no less than 73 per cent, of people either own their own homes or are purchasing them. Statistics for the other States indicate that the vast majority of Australians desire to buy their own homes. They are not concerned with the rental of a home from a State government if they can possibly find the money to purchase a home of their own. Lest New South Wales members should be under a misapprehension in this connexion, I point out that, under the housing agreement, provision is made for the States to sell homes built under the agreement on terms and conditions that the State government may lay down. In New South Wales, in the two years from the inception of the agreement to 30th June, 1958, 68.6 per cent, of the houses completed were sold. That means that of more than 6,000 homes, no fewer than 4,500 were sold to the occupants. That is a clear indication that the people of Australia desire home ownership rather than rental.

I believe that, when we come to a substitution of the present agreement by another one in three years' time, there may be room for an increase of that proportion to more than the present 30 per cent., because the figures indicate that, in New South Wales, a substantial proportion of the persons who go into housing commission homes buy them. The figures from the other States are comparable.

Mr Bird - That demand has to be met from the 70 per cent, that is allocated.

Mr HULME - That is all right, but I am talking in terms of the desire of the people not to have rental homes.

Mr Bird - Why not increase the amount available and let more houses?

Mr HULME - I think that is a responsibility of the State governments themselves. They determine the amount that will be taken and used by them out of the funds available for the purposes of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.

I want to refer now to a section of the agreement which, perhaps, is not well known. It is the provision in the agreement for extra assistance by the Commonwealth in relation to homes which are provided under the agreement by the States, to the limit of not more than 5 per cent, of the total funds, for serving members of the forces. Such amounts as the States allocate for this purpose must be matched £1 for £1 by the Commonwealth. The result in this financial year will be that 374 more dwellings will be completed at a cost of more than £1,000,000. Some of these details are overlooked by members of the Opposition when they are criticizing this agreement and the record of the Government in relation to housing.

I should like to make one final comment concerning what the Netherlands Government is doing at present to assist its nationals to obtain houses in Australia. That provision, of course, will help the overall situation in Australia. Recently, the Netherlands Government approached the United States of America Development Loan Fund for a loan of 3,000,000 dollars which was to be used in Australia for the housing of Dutch nationals. The only condition imposed by the fund was that the amount must be matched from resources within Australia. Negotiations have been proceeding - they may be concluded at this stage - with private sources in Australia to match this amount. I feel that this Parliament should compliment the Netherlands Government on the way in which it has tried to assist the establishment of its nationals in this way. I feel that we as a Parliament should recommend to any other government whose nationals are coming here under the immigration scheme, that it might find ways and means of assisting its people to become established in Australia.

So I support the bill which is before the House. I do feel, as I have said once or twice during my remarks, that this Government has nothing to be ashamed of in its housing record over the years. I repeat that the backlag, which in 1949 was 250,000 houses, has been reduced to 80,000. Of that 80,000, a half is attributable to New South Wales, where costs are high, and a third to Victoria. In the other four States, overall, there is very little backlag to be taken care of. The number of homes being built at the present time will be quite sufficient to overtake the backlag in those places within two or three years. In New South Wales and Victoria, it will take a little longer, but I do suggest that the government of that State has a responsibility in relation to costs. If it reduced costs to a level comparable with that in Western Australia and some of the other States, it would get more homes for the total amount of money that is being invested in New South Wales.

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