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Tuesday, 20 October 1970

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have enjoyed the remarks of the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin). I think it is a tribute to him as a man who is probably in his mid-70s that he is able to speak with such eloquence, indeed with more eloquence than anybody else on the Government side and in such a visionary way. I think it is a tribute to his alertness. lt, is unfortunate that there are too many others dragging the chain about this matter and who lack those visionary qualities. I am pleased that the honourable member has kept up to date with things. I gained the impression today that he had been listening to speeches made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) about acceptance of responsibility for urban affairs generally. He knows that whilst on one side of this House, the Government side, there is no preparedness to accept responsibility about these matters there has been on the other side of the House, the side led by the Leader of the Opposition, a clear-cut, unambiguous enunciation of the Australian Labor Party's intention to underwrite local government authorities and State governments in their determination to give people the type of service which the honourable member for Mitchell referred to.

I am pleased that the honourable member made mention of the artificial shortage of land because this also indicates that he is keeping up with his reading. It was only a matter of weeks ago that my colleague the honourable member for Chiflley (Mr Armitage) initiated a debate about this matter. I see the honourable member smiling. I think he has been doing a bit of lifting here, or perhaps the two honourable members are working together as they represent neighbouring electorates. I pay a tribute to the honourable member for Chiflley for initiating the consideration of that matter of the artificial shortage of land. The big developers - and I am referring to L. J. Hooker Ltd and Parkes Developments Pty Ltd and people of this kind - are taking up large areas on an option basis and holding them until the price moves. The young people, of course, are the victims.

The honourable member for Mitchell has made some reference to the need for the State housing authorities to engage in the forward acquisition of land. I commend him for this too. It mst be an embarrassment to him that the Government of which he is a supporter has not shown any interest in this over the years that it has been in office. The honourable member would be as aware as I am of the Sydney Region Outline Plan which is a report by the State Planning Authority of New South Wales made in March 1968. This is a very farseeing report. The Authority has been operating for some time now under the Liberal Government of New South Wales and it has objectively set out to plan the development of Sydney for the future. The Report makes reference to the enormous growth that will take place in various regions of Sydney.

I want to refer to a part of the Report which has a bearing on my own electorate. The State Planning Authority has, in this Sydney Region Outline Plan, made a very strong recommendation to the Government' that it should move towards the shifting of the defence area which is in the southern part of Sydney and which comprises about 85 square miles of land. The area in question is probably within 20 miles of Sydney. I think that all honourable members know that Sydney's population is expected to rise by close to 3 million in the next 30 years. That is, Sydney will have about 5 million people. I agree with the comments made by the honourable member for Mitchell that there ought to be attempts to decentralise and to provide new housing regions in other parts of Australia. But there is insufficient initiative being given in this. The State Planning Authority says that even if those endeavours were proceeded with the natural growth and expansion of Sydney would necessitate more land being made available. It has strongly advocated in this printed report that 85 square miles of land in close proximity to Sydney should be released for the establishment of a planned community, the kind of planning concept referred to by the honourable member for Mitchell. The Report contends that if this area were released, by the removal of the defence activities to another area, it would result in the housing of no fewer than one quarter of a million people. In addition the report indicates that a large suitable area could be made available for industrial development on a planned industrial garden basis providing job opportunities for 40.000 people.

There have been recommendations from other quarters as a result of a special committee established by the New South Wales Parliament. It has been recommended that a university should be set up in the southern part of Sydney, and in this area of 85 square miles, if it were acquired for Housing Commission purposes and the other purposes to which I referred, a 200-acre site could be provided for a university and teacher's college facilities which already are necessary in that area and which are bound to become increasingly necessary as time goes by. This proposal has already had the support of local government authorities in that region. The Hurstville. Kogarah, Sutherland and Liverpool Councils and everybody who is close to the State Planning Authority and who knows something about its recommendations realise that here is a chance to break this artificial land shortage and to give the young people of Sydney and of New South Wales opportunities to get land at reasonable prices and opportunities to get Housing Commission homes at reasonable prices. The report was brought down by experts. Not long ago in the Parliament 1 asked the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon), who is in charge of Commonwealth property, whether he was aware of the subject matter of this report that the military area of some 85 square miles should be relocated. To everybody's surprise he indicated that he did not know where the land was: He was not even sure that the military area was south of Sydney. What kind of progress will we make when authorities apply themselves to planning considerations that are necessary to obviate and prevent the kind of inadequate development that has been referred to, if Ministers responsible do not even know of the existence of areas which are the subject of important recommendations or even of the existence of these reports?

The Government stands condemned for its failure to do what the honourable member for Mitchell has been talking about. He made mention of sewage problems, and I do not want to discuss this matter except to say that as a Commonwealth Parliament we should no longer close our eyes to the fact that there are more people without sewerage in every capital city today than was the case 20 years ago. In the great metropolitan area of Sydney some 750,000 people who have the benefit of a water service are not connected to sewerage. The poor old water boards - it does not matter whether it is the board in Sydney or the board in Melbourne or elsewhere - are up to their necks in debt. I know that some 54 per cent of the income of the Sydney Water Board is expended to liquidate previous loans. In the face of this kind of problem it is highly unsatisfactory that the Government should continue with its indifferent attitude.

We are talking about the allocation of funds for loan housing purposes for the present year. It has' been -mentioned that this is the last year of a 5-year Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The allocation is part of the $823m agreed upon last June at the Australian Loan Council meeting as the total allocation to the States for works and housing. The State Premiers contend, of course, that the amount for housing is clearly inadequate but that it can bc increased only at the expense of their already under-financed works programme. It is confidently predicted that the number of outstanding applications with the various State housing authorities will continue to expand rather than diminish. Figures made available by the Minister, and which appear in Hansard of 12th June 1970, show that in New South Wales there are 28,591 outstanding Housing Commission applications; in Victoria, 14,295; in Queensland, 4,305; in South Australia, 10,000; in Western Australia, 17,228 and in Tasmania, 2,445. That is to say, at June 1970 there were 76,864 outstanding applications with State housing authorities. Of course, that figure does not mean very much. It only indicates the number of applicants for highly essential housing, because so many are discouraged from even putting in an application. In many of the States there is a means test. Time will not permit me to outline the details of the means test but it is a most frugal means test which deters people from making applications to State housing authorities. We have an enormous and increasing number of families waiting long periods for homes. These are the families that are accepted as bona fide applicants and who, because of their financial circumstances, would have difficulty attracting finance to build or purchase from any other source.

The startling fact is that the number of outstanding applications Ls increasing annually. In the 12 months period to 30th June 1969 the number of outstanding applications rose by 1,699 in New South Wales, 255 in Queensland, 2,600 in South Australia, 1,188 in Western Australia and 106 in Tasmania. In other words, last year there was an increase of 5,848 in the total number of outstanding applications for State housing authority assistance. The net effect is a sharp deterioration rather than the alleviation which is so urgent. On the figures that are available it must be conceded that State housing is being phased out by the Government. I want to substantiate that point. From a peak output of 17,959 houses and flats completed in 1954-55 by State housing authorities there has been a steady drop to an alarmingly low output of 12,305 for the year 1968-69. I know that the Government has never embraced enthusiastically the philosophy of assisted housing. In each successive 5-year agreement following the original agreement, which was the creation of the Chifley Government, there has been a substantial, conceptual degeneration of Commonwealth and State Housing Agreements. There has been a whittling away of such significant aspects as the rental rebate scheme which, I think, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) mentioned earlier and which was designed to vary the degree of rental assistance according to the degree of hardship. That no longer operates under the present agreement. Requirements were imposed by the Commonwealth which diverted money for housing for low income families: 30 per cent of the funds made available was to be diverted to building societies and a further 10 per cent was to provide houses for serving members of the Forces. These matters, in my view, needed attention but they should have been attended to without making inroads into the limited housing opportunities available to low income families.

What is the final effect of this deliberate and continuing policy of sabotaging and undermining State housing in Australia? The answer is available in stark statistical form which will stand forever as an indictment of this Government for its indifference to the housing needs of the less privileged people in Australia. Houses completed by State housing authorities are now a smaller part of Australia's total housing output then ever before. In 1949-50 State authorities provided 17.6 per cent of all houses completed in Australia. In successive years the percentages were 18.1; 17.5; 20.5; 22.3 and 22. In 1955-56 the percentage was 20.4, but then the slide commenced and it has declined steadily. In 1969 it reached the lowest ever rate of 9.7 per cent. That is, from a peak of 22.3 per cent in 1953-54 State housing completions have fallen, as a proportion of total Australian housing completions, to 9.7 per cent

This Government's policy of curtailing effective federal aid for housing is against the trend in other countries. I am afraid that I will not have much time to refer to this aspect but I would mention a fact which is reported in the United States News & World Report' of 15th June 1970. The publication states:

Today, 1 in 47 Americans lives in a dwelling subsidised by federal, State or local government.

In 8 years, under targets adopted by Congress, more than 24 million Americans will live in subsidised units - about one-ninth of the total US population projected for 1978.

So whilst there is in Australia a diminution of our involvement in State housing - it is on the skids and going down as fast as can be - we find that in other comparable countries such as the United States which I have just mentioned, but there are others which I could mention if more time were available, housing is being considered more and more in the welfare context and greater assistance is being given to people to overcome the competitive situation regarding the availability of finance.

The State Premiers have asked for a number of matters to be considered in the formulation of the new CommonwealthState Housing Agreement. The State Housing Ministers met in Brisbane in July 1968 and carried 5 resolutions. They want more aid to be given for low rental housing for aged persons. They want provisions similar to those provided under the Aged Persons Homes Act. They want the State, governments to be assisted in this field on a $2 for $1 subsidy basis. Instead, the Commonwealth's answer was to offer the States $25m over 5 years. That was to cover all the States. Of course, in the face of the demand for aged persons housing, this amount will be grossly inadequate.

Then the State Housing Mininster. proposed that persons in Housing Commission homes should receive assistance under the homes savings grant scheme. At the moment if persons expend their finance on the acquisition of a home from a State housing authority they do not receive any benefit under the provisions of the Homes Savings Grant Act. The State Housing Ministers also made strong representations about the need to eliminate the provisions which divert some of the money provided under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement to the provision of houses for members of the defence forces. Then more importantly, they asked for assistance to be given for urban development. They said that urgent assistance is required on a national level for what they regard as a very significant matter - the provision of proper planning facilities and of aid to urban affairs generally.

We have come to the parting of the waters. We are in the process of implementing a new 5-year Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. I hope that some of the concepts to which reference has been made this afternoon, and on many occasions by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) in enunciating Labor's policy will be incorporated in the Agreement which will have, as its philosophical basis, care and compassion for the people in need in this country who are unable to meet the demands of the money sharks who are allowed to prevail under this Government. In this way housing will be made available under decent conditions for all sections of our community, whether they be young married couples, aged persons or anybody else.

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