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Thursday, 19 February 1959

Mr CLAREY (Bendigo) .- I should like first to express through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my congratulations on Mr. Speaker's re-appointment to his high office and my personal conviction that his reelection, unopposed, was a tribute to the esteem in which he is held by all honorable members. I should also like to express to the mover and seconder of the AddressinReply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General, my congratulations upon their most excellent speeches. I sincerely look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

I wish to begin by expressing disappointment at the contents of His Excellency's Speech. It contains many historial statements, some opinions on current events, and gives some idea of past and present events. However, it gives very little indication of what the Government proposes during its three-year term of office, or what legislation we may expect from it during this session. One would expect that after a general election in which a government has been returned for three years the contents of the Governor-General's Speech would give, in pretty broad terms, an indication of the Government's plans for that period. One would expect to learn the proposals for development and expansion, the financial conditions that would obtain, and whether money would be tight or relatively easy. One would also expect to learn what was to be done in the way of public works, and in the important field of social services.

The community might be pardoned for expecting some hint of what conditions were to be like during the forthcoming three-year period. If we are to get the best results. State governments, semi-governmental bodies, industry, and the community generally must know what is happening so that they can plan development and expansion. Unfortunately, in this we have been disappointed. We have had no information concerning the kind of legislation that is to be brought down or, indeed, of any positive policy that the Government might intend to pursue. I suggest that this shortcoming is expressed most clearly on page 6 of the Governor-General's Speech, where the question of housing is dealt with. A short paragraph there reads -

This financial year a record amount of approximately £80,000,000 is being provided by my Government for housing. This will enable the normal current demand to be met and, in addition, will permit a substantial reduction in the already diminished arrears. My Government will continue to encourage home ownership.

Because of the importance of the housing position I propose to devote the remainder of my speech to a study of Australia's housing problem and to discuss what can be done to solve it. His Excellency's Speech gives only a brief statement of a certain amount of money available. It is hoped that certain things will result from the expenditure of that money, but there is certainly no indication of any positive plan to bc carried out over the next three years to overcome the housing shortage.

I submit that the greatest social problem we have in Australia to-day is that of housing. It is a problem that has become more and more serious during a period of nearly 30 years. It first appeared during the depression, when the building of homes practically ceased. In the latter portion of the '30's a spurt began in home building, but the outbreak of World War II. caused a cessation of those activities because of difficulties caused by war requirements. It is only since the end of 1945 that the Australian people have had an opportunity to try to wipe out an evil that has been causing both psychological and physical difficulties for them.

At the end of the last war it was estimated that there was a shortage of nearly 250,000 home units in Australia. Since then, from a variety of causes, the housing accommodation that was previously available to the people has been considerably reduced . Honorable members know verywell that in the cities demolitions have taken place so that factories could be extended. Houses in residential portions of all the cities have been torn down so that warehouses and offices could be built, because of the shortage of that kind of accommodation. I invite attention also to the demolition of houses that has taken place in practically every country town, as well as city areas, so that service stations could be built. All these occurrences have combined to result in a position with regard to housing that must be corrected within the next four years. If it is not corrected, we will find, by 1964 or 1965, a fresh problem that will require all the ingenuity of governments and much finance to solve.

I remind honorable members that since 1945 there has been a very sharp increase in the population of Australia, partly because of immigration, with regard to which the policy at present is to bring into this country a number of immigrants equal to 1 per cent, of the population per annum. It is also partly due to our increased birthrate. The population of Australia is now increasing by at least 200,000 persons yearly. This in itself means that a constant demand for housing must be felt year by year. The estimate of the number of new houses required to accommodate our house-hungry people varies in different areas and centres. Various estimates have been given, ranging from 80,000 to 100,000. Sir Douglas Copland in a recent address indicated that in his opinion the lag at the present time amounts to 90,000 houses. The annual demand, apart from, the lag, is 55,000 per annum. As each year goes by, and our population increases, that demand will increase beyond 55,000. We can expect that by 1961 the annual requirement, apart from any lag, will be 60,000. By 1965 the annual requirement will be 65,000 houses per annum, and by 1970 we will require 80,000 houses a year, apart from any lag there may be.

The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are we, as a community, and is the Government, as a government, pursuing any positive plan designed to reduce this housing shortage, so that when 1965 comes around we will have the building industry geared to the stage at which it will have overtaken all the lag and, at the same time, be able to provide annually the increased number of houses that will be required?

There is hardly any need for me to remind honorable members of the prob lems which they find confronting them daily in respect of the housing of their own constituents. I know that in my own electorate never a day passes but people call at my office because of a housing problem, either having received a notice to quit, or being threatened with an ejectment order, or because the conditions under which they live have had such an effect upon their family life or their health that they are compelled to seek accommodation elsewhere. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) spoke last night about people living in rooms, in sheds and in caravans. I know that in my own electorate there are people living in these conditions and also in condemned houses. They find it necessary to do so because, try as they will, they are not able to rent houses, and those who are eager to purchase cannot raise the deposit necessary to enable them to buy homes.

One thing that we people of Australia claim is a high standard of living, and we claim the right for every family to live under conditions that accord with our high standards. Unfortunately, however, throughout Australia there are thousands of people living under conditions that do violence to our belief regarding reasonable requirements for the citizens of Australia. The problem falls upon the shoulders of the governments of Australia, and they must find a solution.

It is a strange fact, and possibly due to the advance in our standards of living, that during the last 30 or 40 years there has been a complete change in Australia's type of housing requirements. In the beginning of the 'twenties considerably more than half the houses occupied in Australia were rented. The remainder were owned by the occupiers. From then until the present time there has been a change taking place in respect of house occupancy. No longer do we find the majority of houses rented. The majority now are occupied by home-owners, and that tendency is growing. On the other hand, there is still a large portion of our population who, for a variety of reasons which time will not permit me to elaborate, are compelled to live in rented houses. The responsibility of finding rented houses for these people falls upon the State governments. This is because investors no longer desire to put money into houses for rental purposes.

This is not because of rent control, because in all States rent control does not operate so far as new houses are concerned. It has happened because our standards have changed, and the building regulations that were in force in the days when terraces could be built on small blocks of land, and when semi-detached houses could be built on a block suitable only for a single house, have gone. Municipal building regulations now provide that there shall be a specified minimum area of land upon which houses shall be built. But those are not the conditions which induce people to invest in building for rental purposes. Investment for rental purposes is taking place to-day in luxury flats only. In these circumstances it is necessary for the State governments to provide the houses which are required for rental purposes and the money for them must be made available by the Commonwealth Government.

I now want to deal with the question of home-owners and how their difficulties may be overcome. Houses for home-owners are at the present time being erected by various types of builders. First, there is the speculative builder who builds for sale. Then there are large building firms which build settlements of fine types of houses. In addition, the co-operative housing societies, I believe, provide the best method of overcoming our housing difficulties. These societies flourish extensively in New South Wales and Victoria, but they find themselves unable to carry out the part for which they are admirably fitted because of the difficulty of obtaining finance. Like other honorable members, I am associated with the co-operative housing society movement. I am associated with four of those societies in the city of Bendigo. As fast as we form a co-operative bousing society, its membership is filled. Quite a large number of people are seeking membership. Recently, we completed the formation of our fourth society, and at present there is a waiting list of between 50 and 60 persons who are anxious to become members of one of our societies. But our difficulty is finance.

I pay tribute, at this stage, to the wonderful work that is being done by the Commonwealth Savings Bank and the State savings banks in the various States, which have lent to the limit of their capacity to assist the co-operative housing society movement. To a limited extent, money is being made available for home-building by the savings bank departments of some of the private trading banks. But the great problem is to secure sufficient money to enable a society to function economically and satisfactorily. The societies are receiving loans to-day of £50,000, but these involve high management costs, a feature which is not desirable in housing schemes. No co-operative housing society can function economically and efficiently unless it has a capital of at least £100,000.

It seems to me that the only way in which the necessary finance can be obtained is for the Commonwealth Government to make a much greater advance for housing out of its revenues than is being done at the present time. I stress that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because, as I said before, a great problem will confront us in 1965. In that year a large age group will require houses. I refer to the age group which will be between 20 and 29 years and which will exert the greatest pressure for housing accommodation. It will be much larger in 1965 than it was in 1955. This will mean a fresh demand for housing accommodation, and unless the current lag is overtaken it will create a greater problem than exists now.

Because of this, I strongly urge that a plan should now be formulated so that during the next four years we can concentrate upon this greatest of our social evils. Nobody can say to what extent improper, insufficient, unsatisfactory or no housing accommodation is the cause of juvenile delinquency. No one can say to what extent it is responsible for breaking up marriages, separation of families and circumstances of that description, all undesirable social features which it should be the first business of a government to prevent or minimize as much as possible in the future.

I wish to direct attention to the seeming satisfaction that some people have gained from the publication of recent figures which, in my opinion, are illusory. In the quarter ended 31st December, 1958, it was estimated that some 20.632 houses were completed. A statement like that leads some people to believe that the housing problem is now under control. But when one looks at other figures which were released by the Statistician one finds no cause for such satisfaction. It is true that last year 75,329 houses were completed, but that is more than 4,000 fewer than were completed in 1952. It is also fewer than the number completed in the years 1953, 1954 and 1955. But worse still, the figures show that the number of houses under construction at the present time - that is in the quarter ended 31st December last - is the lowest recorded during the last seven years. Only 48,362 were under construction, whereas the figures going back to 1952 show that in each quarter the number of houses under construction varied from over 51,000 to more than 81,000. This indicates that we will have great difficulty in attaining the quota needed next year.

I believe that a positive plan should be placed before the House in respect of this matter. Therefore, I make some suggestions which I hope will be considered by the Government and adopted as a means of dealing with this problem on a satisfactory basis, First of all, the Commonwealth Government, within a period of two years, should take up the housing lag now existing in providing finance under the War Services Homes Division. Next, a committee consisting of representatives of the Commonwealth, States and building organizations, including trade union building organizations, should be established to formulate and supervise a plan to overtake the housing lag within four years. Further, I suggest that Commonwealth finance for housing purposes should be substantially increased. A further proposal is that the States be advised of the annual amounts to be allotted to them for housing for each of the next four years. Finally, I suggest that additional moneys be made available by banking institutions for housing purposes by releases from special deposit accounts and be ear-marked for housing loans only.

I believe that finance is the only bar to overcoming the housing problem. Men and materials are available; it is only necessary for the finance to be provided to enable this problem to be tackled and, I believe, satisfactorily settled. The statement in the Governor-General's Speech that £80,000,000 is being provided this year for housing is likely to mislead not only members of this House but also the public of Australia. One might think that this was a vast increase in the amount of money provided for housing, but, in actual fact, it is an increase of only £3,000,000 over the sum of £77,000,000 allocated for housing last year. During the period from 1951 to 1957, the average annual amount made available by the Commonwealth Government for housing was approximately £64,000,000. That indicates that a much greater effort must be made by the commonwealth if we are to deal with this problem positively and bring relief to the househungry people of Australia.

If the plan that I have outlined is followed, something constructive will have been done, the Government will have indicated its preparedness to tackle the problem, and within four years the difficulties of Australia's house-hungry people will have been overcome effectively and efficiently.

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