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Tuesday, 10 May 1960

Mr SWARTZ (Darling Downs) . - Perhaps we could be excused for thinking that we were sitting in the South Australian Parliament, after listening to the speech made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), because he made no statement in his speech that did not refer to South Australia. However, this debate is not confined to the position in any one State. It concerns Australia as a whole. I feel that housing is a subject on which the Labour Party should remain silent, in view of its own deplorable record in the housing field when it was in office and the transformation that has taken place since this Government has been in office. In fact, in 1949 the present Government faced an almost crippling housing shortage throughout Australia. The problem was immense and its solution was urgent. What has happened since? In the ten years since the Government came to office the number of houses and flats built in Australia has increased by 30 per cent. In 1959 there was a house or flat for every 3.7 persons whereas in 1949, there was a house or flat for only every 4.1 persons. This improvement in the position has been achieved despite the very substantial increase in population that has occurred since 1949.

The Labour Party has never encouraged home-ownership. There are on record some rather famous sayings uttered in this House which indicate the Labour Party's policy regarding housing. The Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party, and the present Government, believe wholeheartedly in home-ownership. The policy followed by the present Government has been a success, as the figures shew. In June, 1947, 54.8 per cent, of homes were either owned by the occupants or being bought. To-day there are many more houses in Australia, but close on 75 per cent, of homes are either owned or being paid off by individuals. Since 1945 a total of 942,591 new houses and flats have been constructed in Australia, and 78 per cent, of that total has been constructed during the lifetime of the present Government.

I think it only right to give some of the facts in detail, because they tell a story quite different from that which we have heard from the Opposition. In the period from July, 1950, to December, 1959, 740,000 houses and flats were completed, and of this total 196,869 were provided with finance directly supplied by the Commonwealth Government to the States. As the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) has indicated, the main responsibility for the provision of housing belongs to the State governments, but supplementary assistance to them from the Commonwealth was initiated by the Labour Government and has been continued - and increased - by this Government.

It is interesting to know that since July, 1950, there has been a record increase in housing investment in Australia. The comparative figures bear that out quite clearly. Between 1946-47 and 1949-50, £299,000,000 was invested in housing in Australia. From 1950 to the present time, £1,937,000,000 has been invested in housing in Australia. The building of houses and flats is at a record level to-day. In fact, over 86,500 new houses and flats were completed during the last calendar year, which is a record for any one year in Australia's history.

Looking quickly at the position in relation to building materials, we see that there was a shortage of most building materials in 1949. Since then, this Government has given encouragement to the building industry, and to-day, with adequate building materials, we have been able to achieve a record level of building. There are, of course, some minor temporary shortages of building materials, but they will disappear as time goes on, and the fact is that the building industry has been able to supply sufficient materials to create this record level of building. That is a tribute to the people employed in the industry. The Opposition should recognize that.

Employment in the building industry has made a very substantial upward movement and is to-day a record. In December, 1959, the number of persons employed in new building construction was 127,035. That figure represented an increase of 25,000 in the work force since 1949.

Expenditure on housing also bears out the substantial improvement in the situation to which I have referred. In 1949-50, £34,700,000 was spent on housing. For the current financial year, 1959-60, £80,000,000 has been allocated. In the five-year period ended June, 1950, £97,000,000 was spent on housing. In the ten years ending in June of this year, £665,000,000 will have been spent. If that figure is halved and compared with £97,000,000, it will be seen that a substantia] improvement has taken place.

As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in 1956 a new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was signed. This agreement changed the emphasis from the construction of housing by State authorities for rental purposes to the stimulation of homeownership. At the outset of his speech, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) said that the position has been going from bad to worse since the signing of this agreement, but the figures that I have quoted indicate a substantial improvement, not only in the number of houses constructed, but in expenditure. The honorable member said that there was a shortage of housing for the lower income groups as a result of the agreement. I have figures which the honorable member may see afterwards and which indicate that the average cost of houses in all States of Australia has increased by less than £200 since 1956. I think that that is an answer to the point raised by the honorable member.

A portion of the moneys allocated to the States under the new agreement goes to building societies and other approved institutions which make loans for home-building. The effect of this has been that, under the home-builders' account scheme, since 1956 more than 8,000 new homes have been constructed and nearly 3,000 of those have been purchased.

The honorable member for Batman also said that figures showed a decline in the number of houses constructed by State housing authorities; but did not cite the figures. If you add the number of houses constructed by the State authorities on to the number constructed under the homeownership scheme you will find a substantial improvement. Since 1956, nearly 34,000 houses and flats have been provided by State authorities alone with money made available by the Commonwealth.

Another aspect of this matter is the war service homes scheme. Since 1950, this Government has provided more than 80,400 new homes under that scheme. Expenditure to date is £303,000,000 and new construction is at record levels. The Commonwealth is also pursuing a vigorous housing policy in its own territories. In the Australian Capital Territory we can see ready evidence of that. In addition, a new scheme was introduced by this Government to foster the construction of housing for aged people by religious and charitable organizations. It commenced in 1954 on the basis of a £1 for £1 subsidy by the Commonwealth. In 1957, this was increased to £2 for £1. So far, this year, approximately £1,500,000 has been devoted to that purpose by the Commonwealth. The

Government has also encouraged banks and other financial institutions to invest a portion of their accumulated savings in housing and the response has been so good that in 1959 75 per cent. of all new houses and flats completed were financed from private sources.

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

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