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Thursday, 19 February 1959

Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - I congratulate the honorable member for McPherson (Mr. Barnes) on what I term a positive speech. He has told us how flourishing centres have almost disappeared because of the exhaustion of the resources that built them, and, as a country member, he has dealt with country matters. I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your reelection to your high office. I congratulate, too, the Chairman of Committees and Deputy Speaker on his elevation, and also the honorable members opposite who have been elevated to ministerial posts. I am sure that they will all endeavour to give of their best in the interests of the country.

I say " welcome " to the various new members; first, to the new members on my side of the House, practically all of whom are men with a great experience of our views on the government of the country. They are keen to play their part, not only for their own section of the community but for Australia generally. I also extend my good wishes to the new members on the Government side. I trust that they will not be disappointed with their positions in Parliament but will be able to do much in the interests of Australia.

I must say that I am not very happy to-night in speaking in this debate on the Address-in-Reply. Before the dissolution of Parliament, we on this side of the House expected the people to change the government and to put the Australian Labour party on the Treasury bench. We felt that we had a policy that was better for the country generally than the policy of this Government. However, I am a true democrat and believe in the right of the people to exercise their franchise and to elect those persons whom they think most suited to govern the country. I bow to the decision of the electors and say that the government in office has every right to try to give effect to the policy that it put before the people.

To-night, I do not intend to let recriminations enter my speech, nor will I say harsh things about any one. But I shall try to put forward something that will influence the Government in the implementation of its policy. Some of the new members on the Government side chose to refer to matters affecting their electorates, and although the honorable member for McPherson said that the practice for new members was to speak about the individual electorates, I was pleased that he went far beyond the boundaries of his electorate. However, generally speaking, the new members have spoken more about the section of the community that they represent than about broad issues.

I commend the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) on his speech, in which he dealt with housing. He dealt with a subject that is of great moment to honorable members on this side of the House and to the people with whom we feel we are intimately connected. I do not wish to speak at length on housing. I shall not go over the ground that has been covered by the honorable member for Bendigo, but I do say that housing is one of our biggest problems. It is linked with out immigration programme. The dissatisfaction amongst migrants is almost entirely due to want of suitable housing. Some people may be disgruntled1 because they find that this is not a place where they can pick up gold, as it were, whilst walking along the street, but generally the dissatisfied migrant to-day is the migrant who has come here with very little capital, has gone into a hostel and ;.s unable to obtain a home in which to live. If he does obtain a home, he has to pay such an exorbitant rent or such a high purchase price that the burden becomes more than he can bear. The provision of housing is a very pressing need. In his Speech the Governor-General said that the Commonwealth Government will make approximately £80,000,000 available to improve the housing position in Australia. To my mind that amount of money is not nearly sufficient to solve the problem. Each State government says that it could build more homes for the people if it had the means at its disposal.

The Governor-General also referred to the Constitution Review Committee. That committee, when appointed, was expected to submit proposals to the House for amendments to the Constitution that could be placed before the people without delay. Unfortunately, the committee report was not presented to the House until the day prior to the dissolution of the last Parliament. I hope that the Government will take immediate steps to give effect to some of the suggestions contained in the report.

Mention was also made by the GovernorGeneral of a conference to discuss financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. Necessarily, the provision of sufficient money to meet the housing needs of this country is linked up with any discussion on Commonwealth-State relations. For the last two or three years the Commonwealth, as underwriter of the loan programme, has made special loans to the States out of Commonwealth revenue amounting to approximately £100,000,000 a year. Some agreement between the Commonwealth and the States is necessary whereby the States will be given straightout grants of a fair share of the revenue collected by the Commonwealth, and not loans on which the States have to pay interest. The problem of CommonwealthState relations will not be solved until this Government is prepared to work on that basis and to say to the States, " If you cannot carry out the works that should be carried out, we will help you ".

The annual loans to the States of £100,000,000 have really constituted a capital levy upon the people, because the Commonwealth has said, " You are not prepared to invest in Commonwealth loans to the extent necessary to permit Commonwealth and State works to be carried out so, in order to get the requisite money, we will impose a little extra tax upon you ". To my mind that policy is entirely unjust. In effect, the Commonwealth collects money from the States, lends it to the States and then charges the States interest on their own money. I shall never sit quietly in my place and allow that policy to be implemented without raising my voice in protest.

Although the Commonwealth Government boasted previously about the number of homes it had built as compared with the number built when a Labour government was in office, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) to-night produced figures which showed that the greatest number of homes were built in 1952 - the direct result of the Labour Government's policy up to the end of 1949 of helping building interests to increase their output of homes. Since this Government has been in office the number of homes built has been below the minimum number required.

The Labour government of the day set up a commission of which I was a member - at that time I was a member of the State Parliament - to look into the matter of housing in Australia. In 1944, over fourteen years ago, we submitted a report in which we suggested that the Government should institute a policy whereby 50,000 homes would be built, or put in the course of construction, during the year in which the war ended, and that the figure would be stepped up to 80,000 homes a year within three years. At that time the present immigration programme was not in existence, and we felt that at the rate of 80,000 homes a year ten years would elapse before Australia caught up with the back-lag which resulted from the years of depression during the 'thirties, and the Second World War, when housing construction was practically at a standstill. If this Government had faithfully carried out the suggestions made in 1944, we would be in a far better position to-day. The target of 80,000 homes was approached in only one year.

The honorable member for Bendigo has also stated that the great proportion of homes now being constructed is for purchase and not for rental. We on this side of the chamber have been accused in the past - I am pleased to see that the accusation has now been dropped - of being opposed to people owning their own homes because they would become little capitalists. That is not our policy. We want people to own their own homes because I, and my colleagues, believe in the old adage that an Englishman's home is his castle. We amend the adage to read that an Australian's home is his castle. We must help people in their effort to own their own home.

Mr Harold Holt - If the honorable member continues to talk about castles, he will find himself believing in honours.

Mr THOMPSON - I have never said that I do not believe in honours. The great difficulty to be overcome in owning one's home is the amount required as deposit. If one approaches a State housing authority to ascertain the deposit necessary to own a home on the credit foncier system, one is faced with the immense difficulty of finding the amount required. But the State governments, particularly the government of my own State of South Australia, have failed to keep the price of land within reasonable limits. During the period after the First World War I had a home built by the State government on payment of a deposit of £25. At that time it would have been impossible for me to pay the £1,000 deposit that is now required. In fact, the completed home cost only about £700. The price of the land upon which the home was built - a standard block of 50 feet by 150 feet- was £75. If one were able to find a vacant allotment in the same locality to-day one would feel he had obtained a bargain if the purchase price of the land were under £600. How can the ordinary individual under present-day conditions obtain that home which is to be his castle? Private enterprise to-day will not invest money in building homes for renting purposes, so each State government, or some semi-governmental authority, must build homes and make them available for renting. I am pleased to say that in my own State of South Australia homes were built on a big scale for letting by the government on a long-term basis. A Liberal and Country League government was responsible for that move. People from all parts of Australia tell us what a wonderful job the South Australian Housing Trust has done. For about eight years at least, the trust built homes only for renting and not for purchase.

Honorable members will understand from what I have said, that Labour's policy is a solid policy. I hear people say, at times, "The Labour party to-day is not like it used to be. It is not the same party." Despite the accusations made by Government supporters and other people that members of the Australian Labour party play with communism and are like Communists, the fundamental principles of the Labour movement are just the same to-day as they were in 1890 when the movement began. We said then - and we say now - that the first fundamental requirement for every individual - and it should be recognized and met - is sufficient food to satisfy the needs of the body. That is what we want to-day. We do not want to see soup kitchens like the one in Sydney that the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) mentioned, where 600 people are fed daily, many of them young men who are able to work and who want jobs but are unable to get work, and are dependent on the handing out of a little soup to keep them going. That is not the sort of thing that the Australian Labour party wants, Mr. Speaker, and it is no wonder that we on this side of the House perhaps get a little bit worked up when we think of these things happening. I admit that they get me a bit worked up. It makes me boil inside to think of young men, many of them with a wife and some of them with a couple of children, being unable to get jobs and not having enough food for themselves and their families. The first fundamental requirement of the Australian Labour party has always been sufficient food for a man and his wife and family, regardless of their walk of life.

There is another thing that we say should follow. We say that the next fundamental requirement is that the people should have sufficient clothing to keep their bodies warm, especially in winter, and to protect their health. We say that they should have suitable clothing. The third fundamental requirement to which we hold is that the people should have adequate shelter. No Government supporter and no newspaper editor or anybody else outside this Parliament would dare to say that the fundamental requirements of food, clothing and shelter in which Labour believes are not desirable. Honorable members must admit that they are desirable, and it is wrong to adopt a policy that will not provide those requirements for the people.

My allotted period of 25 minutes does not allow me to say enough, Mr. Speaker, and I must skip from subject to subject, but I want to say, with reference to the three fundamental requirements that I have mentioned, that, during the last sessional period. we discussed the position of people who were dependent solely upon pensions. The Government promised that they would be paid 10s. a week extra if they paid rent, but it turned out that a couple who both received a pension would not receive the benefit of this rent allowance.

Recently, I visited an old people's home which is conducted by one of the churches in an Adelaide suburb. On my arrival, I met an old lady who told me where I could find the gentleman that I wished to see. After I had seen him, when I was on my way out of the home, I saw the same old lady, with a letter in her hand. She appeared quite worked up, and was talking to a number of other old ladies who were seated nearby on some of the chairs provided for the use of the old people in the home. I asked her what was the matter and whether there was anything wrong. She told me that she had just received the letter that she had in her hand, and said that it informed her that she did not qualify for the 10s. a week rent allowance. I asked whether she had any other income and she said that she had not. She paid the home £4 a week for her board and lodging, and that left her 7s. 6d. a week for clothing and the little extras that are necessary. She said that that was all she had. I asked her whether she had a husband and she said that she had and that he also lived in the home. Because the two old people were both in the home and were both receiving the pension, they could not get the rent allowance of 10s. a week. Widows or widowers in the home who were otherwise in exactly the same position, and who paid £4 a week to the home and were left with only 7s. 6d. a week, received the 10s. a week rent allowance. I do not blame the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) for the administration of the act, because it was passed by this Parliament in a form that imposes this restriction.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But the Minister was responsible for it.

Mr THOMPSON - I do not know who was responsible. The Minister may not have been able to get any more money from the Treasurer or from the Government or whoever it was that laid down this restriction. But I do say that the Government is responsible, and that the honorable members who sit on the Government benches, also, are responsible. I said at the time when the rent allowance was introduced that many people would not be entitled to it. A question was asked as to the number who would benefit. I do not know how many will receive the allowance, but it will be a long way short of the number that some Government supporters prophesied when the allowance was introduced. This concerns one of the three fundamental requirements in which the Australian Labour party believes - a requirement of which many pensioners are being deprived. If one goes to the grocery store for food, one cannot get it without the money to pay for it. Neither can one get meat from the butcher or vegetables from the greengrocer unless one has the money to pay for what is bought. Exactly the same thing applies to clothing. Without the necessary money, one cannot get it. If a pensioner has to pay an exorbitant rent and he is left without sufficient money for food and clothing - two of the fundamental requirements that I have mentioned - we are not doing what we should be doing to meet the needs of the people.

I have only a few minutes left, and in my remaining time I should like to deal with a matter on which I said last year that I would not let up until the Government did something - and I will not let up, Mr. Speaker. Whether or not the Government realized what it was doing, it did a dreadfully harsh thing when it refused to increase the allowance paid to the wives of invalid and age pensioners who are not able to work. What do they get, Sir? A man and wife who are over the respective qualifying ages receive £4 7s. 6d. a week each. A man who is not fit enough to work and whom a government doctor has certified as being at least 85 per cent, incapacitated is given £4 7s. 6d. a week. The Government allows his wife £1 15s. a week. In many instances, the wife of an invalid pensioner has to nurse him as well as look after the home, just as the age pensioner wife of an age pensioner may have to look after the home. If the Government failed in anything in dealing with social service legislation, it failed to do the right thing by the dependent wives of invalid pensioners and, in certain circumstances, of age pensioners. I appeal to the Government, the Minister, and the Department of Social Services to look more deeply into this matter and to do something to give justice to these people.

Perhaps I should say " mercy " rather than " justice ", because even if the allowance were increased by £1 a week - an increase that I sought when I moved an amendment to a measure in this place some time ago - it would be only a little mercy that was being given and not justice. I think that the dependent wives of invalid pensioners should be paid at least as much as the invalid pensioner husband receives. We on this side of the House say that certain sections of pensioners need more, and particularly the section that I have mentioned.

I was interested to hear the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), earlier to-day, mention something that a Melbourne professor had said about pensioners who own property. The professor said they would lose their pension if they owned a house in which they were not living and had money put by as well.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

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