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Tuesday, 10 May 1960


Sir GARFIELD BARWICK (Parramatta) (Acting Minister for External Affairs and Attorney-General) . - If I might remind honorable gentlemen, the charge made by the Opposition is that the Commonwealth Government is not affording sufficient finance for housing at the present time. It is an extraordinary charge for the Opposition to make, is it not? Previous speakers, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and other honorable members on this side of the House who followed him, have given figures and statistics to show, first of all, that the amount of money made available by this Government was never exceeded by any previous government and, in particular, that it compares very favorably with the amount of money made available by the immediately preceding government. They showed that the number of houses being built at present is an all-time record, as is the number of people employed in the building industry.


Mr Bird - None of those statements is true.


Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - Different materials are available now, which formerly were not available; and I repeat the statements I have just made, because I am not impressed by the honorable member's denial of them. The figures do show an all-time record in those respects which I mentioned, but of course the Opposition says that people on very low incomes find difficulty in finding the deposit necessary to enable them to buy a house.

I would like now to say a few words about what has brought about that situation. Prior to the war there was a large number of people who were prepared to build houses for renting. A lot of people were prepared to build, perhaps, a pair of semi-detached cottages against their old age, in order to live in one and rent the other on retirement and, in the meantime, have a small rent roll. Those people no longer exist and it is quite true that there are now fewer houses for renting, perhaps, than there ought to be. I understand that statement because particularly when young people are first married they might very well have the facility of being able to rent a house for a short time until they find out where they are going to settle and where the working partner is to be permanently employed. During that time a rented home would give them the necessary mobility and a short time in which to amass the savings necessary for them to have a reasonable deposit to place on a house when they had determined where they were to go.

The State housing commissions, which get a great part of the money which comes from the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, are free to build rental dwellings if they so wish. The decision not to build rental homes is not that of this Government, but is entirely the decision of the State governments. In my State the government has preferred to build houses out in certain electorates rather than build flats or tourist hotels in the inner parts of the cities where people who want houses there have usually in the past wanted to rent them. That has been the policy of the State governments, over which this Government has no control; and if there is a dearth of rented houses that is entirely due to the doings of the State housing commissions. I repeat that they are free to do that if they wish to.


Mr Bird - Is it not true that most of the land available now is in the far outer suburbs?


Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - That is not true and in this regard I would refer to Surry Hills and Paddington, for instance, in Sydney. Dense housing there would house many more people than would housing in the Dundas Valley or Seven Hills; but the Government of New South Wales prefers to play politics with the money instead of offering the people what they need, as the Opposition says; that is to say, rented housing close to the city where transport costs are low and where the people will be near the facilities which they usually want.


Mr Haylen - That would density the housing.


Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - I think that might be a very good thing. The other thing I want to mention is that the disappearance of those who would have provided rented houses has been due entirely to the manner in which control has been clamped down and held on too long. We cannot expect people to build rental houses if they are threatened with rent control, which at times has been quite tyrannous. So, that group of people has disappeared. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) is always fond of talking about substandard houses but the real cause of substandard housing is rent control. The basic reason for it is rent control, and nothing else.


Mr Cairns - But there was sub-standard housing 50 years before there was any rent control.


Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - The shortage of rented houses for persons who wish to rent them, either because of their inability to raise a deposit to buy a home, or for personal reasons, cannot be laid at the door of this Government, which has made available enough money for the States to have built rental houses if they had wanted to. They prefer to build houses for sale and, in the case of the New South Wales Government, to make profits by the sale of these houses. At the present time the amount of money made available by the Commonwealth is regulated by this agreement, and previous speakers have pointed out that the amount is annually determined by the Premiers. They can have more if they want it.


Mr Bird - But the States get only 70 per cent. of the money, do they not?


Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - That is so, and the reason is that the building societies can provide more houses with the money they get under the agreement, because the homebuilders' fund is a circulating fund, and as there are repayments into it the money goes out again. To date £1,200,000 has gone out for a second time from the homebuilders' fund. That is not true of the 70 per cent. of the money which goes to the State Housing Commissions, because in that instance anything that is repaid goes to repay the Commonwealth, through the States, and if there is any profit, it remains in the consolidated revenue funds of the States. If the States want any more they can ask for it at the annual Premiers' Conference.


Mr Whitlam - But if they get more for housing they will get less for public works.


Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - Of course! That is a very sensible remark by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. If the States get more for one thing they will have to get less for another, because the amount of money available is not infinite. So, something has to be given priority, and some trimming has to be done in accordance with the amount of money available. The six Premiers not only decide the amount of money, but decide how it is to be cut up, and they do so annually. That is the situation at present. The main burden of the motion is that the Government is not making enough money available.


Mr Bird - For the housing commissions.


Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - If the motion merely means that the 70 per cent. ought to be changed all I can say is that that percentage was agreed to by the Premiers, and no doubt will be agreed to again.


Mr Whitlam - It is only 65 per cent.


Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - Because 5 per cent. is for war service homes, which relieves the housing commissions of that much responsibility.


Mr Whitlam - But the commissions do not have the right to nominate for that 5 per cent.


Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - Of course they do not. The Commonwealth supplements what the States do in respect of housing. A great deal of money goes into war service homes. In addition, as the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) has pointed out, there are the aged persons homes. The money spent by the Commonwealth on these is in addition to the five per cent. of the total housing allocation which it spends on war service homes. Also, this Government has stimulated the private lending institutions into lending more money now than they have lent for a considerable time. By dint of the encouragement given by this Government the private lending institutions have come back into this field, and are to-day doing more than they have done for a very long time past.


Mr Bird - What about the co-operative building societies?


Sir GARFIELD BARWICK - They also are doing their part.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!The Minister's time has expired.







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