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Wednesday, 20 September 1972
Page: 1655

Mr DOBIE (Cook) (Assistant Minister assisting the Prime Minister) - I was somewhat disappointed that the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) saw fit to comment on some of the private activities of the honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer). I have reason to believe that the honourable member undertakes some of these activities himself in the city of Adelaide. If I am wrong in that I apologise, but I have been told this on other occasions. However, it is not my point to bring this before the notice of the House; I mention it in reply to his implication aimed at the honourable member for Bennelong.

I rise to speak in strong support of this most admirable Budget measure. In giving it my strongest possible support 1 am struck by the small number of speakers from the Australian Labor Party who previously had indicated a wish to debate this matter. I think this contrasts very sadly with the enthusiastic support that has come from this side of the House. The lack of speakers from the other side of the House could mean either that Labor supporters have great confidence in the capacity and capability of the few speakers who have spoken already - I have no doubt that is the case - or that honourable members opposite also support this legislation and will not rise to say so. After all, their 1971 Launceston conference endorsed and supported this Liberal-Country Party programme of assisting young home owners.

Then again, the lack of Australian Labor Party speakers could mean that in considering this further development and widening of an already successful scheme to assist and encourage people to move into the first home of their own it has become obvious that the Opposition has no manageable or acceptable alternative method in which to assist this vitally important section of the community. The facts support this contention. In point of fact, there is little of interest in the Australian Labor Party's housing programme, apart from providing subsidies. At page 18 of the Platform, Constitution and Rules of the Australian Labor Party, as approved by the 29th Commonwealth Conference in 1971, it is stated that the Australian Labor Party will provide subsidies to institutional lenders to reduce by 2 per cent the rate of interest paid in the first 1 0 years of marriage.

On a previous occasion the Minister for Housing (Mr Kevin Cairns) demonstrated clearly and effectively that this proposal of the Opposition will be unworkable. Since the Minister's denunciation it is an interesting fact that the Opposition has stopped mentioning this declared part of its socalled new housing policy, and so far in the debate today I have not heard one of its 3 speakers put it forward as a basic part of the Party's programme. Yet on every occasion this Government has brought in progressive policies in regard to housing the Opposition has tried to denigrate them in almost every possible way open to it. We have seen this happen again with this Bill. Yet no really sensible new policy has come from the other side of the House. In fact, it is fascinating to see that at least 2 of the policies as stated in the Australian Labor Party's official platform clearly endorse this Government's homes savings grant scheme as being one that it would keep if and when its members sit on the treasury benches of this Parliament. Why do honourable members opposite not mention this in their speeches? They do not say that they will remove the homes savings grant scheme. As stated in clause 7 on page 18 of its platform as decided at Launceston, the Opposition will remove such anomalies, as its sees them, such as the age limit of 36.

Opposition speakers have mentioned a couple of other points. For the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) to call the scheme a bribe and for my political neighbour the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) to call it a gimmick is to go not against our scheme but to go against the platform and policy as publicly declared by their own Party. 1 believe the Government is to be congratulated without reservation on widening the scheme to include a property to the value of $22,500, increasing the size of the grant to a new maximum of $750 and, very importantly, raising the limit on the amount of savings made in any one year to $900. The reasons for these changes have been clearly spelt out by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) and other speakers on this side of the House. The reasons are sound and just. They fairly continue the joint purpose of this scheme to encourage young people to save for home ownership and to give much needed subsidies. However, I repeat that not enough is said of the incentive that this scheme has given to the young people of Australia to save for their first home. I believe that the homes savings grant scheme has caused a fundamental change in the spending and saving patterns among the young people of Australia since it was introduced 8 years ago. This is a factor which many economists have not examined or considered properly in their economic analyses. I would commend this subject to these economists for serious and deep economic research at all levels in our community. 1 am particularly pleased and personally pleased with the decision of the McMahon Government to ease conditions applicable to the recognition of savings in credit unions for the purpose of this scheme. As we know, the provisions have been changed so that where a credit union can show that not less than 20 per cent of the total amount lent to its members in the most recently completed financial year has been in the form of housing loans and undertakes to maintain this 20 per cent proportion each year, savings with such a credit union will be recognised by the homes savings grant scheme in the same way as savings in banks and building societies. It should be stressed in this debate that for the purposes of the Act as it applies to credit unions, a housing loan is defined as a loan to buy land, to buy or build a house, and to pay for associated expenses. This represents a significant easing of conditions and brings the homes savings grant scheme fairly and squarely into the important and fast growing credit union movement in Australia. Because of my long-standing interest in and association with credit unions, I am particularly pleased with this aspect of the Bill before the House.

When I took part in the debate in this place on the Homes Savings Grant Bill in 1970 I said that the Government made no criticism of the credit union movement. Rather, in showing a concern to see that all forms of credit are available to the Australian community, I then stated that in this pattern the Government readily admits and welcomes the role of credit unions. I need hardly add that the decision by the Government now being considered is most certainly a very tangible reaffirmation of the Government's high regard for the important role of credit unionism in the Australian financial scene. Since speaking in the debate in 1970 it has been my privilege to attend 2 annual meetings of the New South Wales Credit Union League Limited as the representative of the Liberal Country Party Government, and this year I was privileged to be the guest speaker of that organisation on 7th April. Few honourable members in the present Parliament would be unaware of the remarkable growth that has taken place in the Australian credit union movement. Likewise, nobody who has been associated with any financial institution for any length of time can fail to be similarly impressed. Any financial institution that can increase its assets from S6m in 1960 to $I25m 10 years later is to be studied closely and regarded highly.

Mr Uren - I thought you were a banker's man.

Mr DOBIE - Tom, you made that interjection in 1970. Its future must be the concern of all whose interests are in the field of economic management and financial development. Professor Neil Runcie is such a person and I commend his fine book on the subject of credit unions to all who hear or read this speech of mine. Credit unions, because of their very self help nature - I wish on this occasion the member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) were in the House - are stable and efficient members of the Australian financial community. At present the role of the Commonwealth Government is secondary to the State governments' as far as controlling authority is concerned. I am happy that there is an excellent relationship between the Credit Union League and the New South Wales State Liberal Government at least, and that both parties have publicly stated this fact.

As for the role of the Commonwealth Government, we come into the picture only when there is some special matter such as income tax law or provisions attaching to the Homes Savings Grant Act. Regarding the former. I believe that the New South Wales Credit Union League is continuing its fight for tax relief, but I do not intend to discuss this matter which lies beyond the ambit of the Bill before us. As far as the homes savings grant aspect is concerned, certainly the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), who also takes a keen interest in the credit union movement, and I recall the controversy that developed about the relevance of fairness of the conditions which were applied in 1970 to permit acceptance of savings with a credit union then approved for the purposes of the scheme. As I mentioned in my speech to the Credit Union League in April of this year, the fact that no credit union had formally sought to be so approved suggested that a lot more negotiation would be the order of the day between the credit union movement and the Government. Such negotiation and reconsideration by the Government is evidenced by this easing of conditions to which reference has already been made. I believe that the credit union movement is very pleased and I would like to quote Mr Dermot Ryan, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues, who was reported in the August 1972 edition of the 'Credit Union Quest', when speaking of credit unions, as< follows:

We are grateful that the Government has accepted our submission that the conditions in the Act should be drastically eased. The conditions now to be deleted made it impossible for any credit union in Australia to qualify. We are hopeful that every credit union will now be able to qualify within a reasonable time.

Congratulations are in order both for the dedicated and devoted leaders of the credit unions and, I may say, for the Federal Minister for Housing (Mr Kevin Cairns), who has shown a rare quality not only to come to grips with the detailed intricacies of home finance but also to understand the broad economic and social responsibilities that governments must assume in this field.

Mr Speaker,I have already said on several occasions that it remains for individual credit unions to determine whether they shall move more earnestly into housing loans, as now defined by the Act. It is a problem, now, for individual credit unions to work out for themselves. I have no doubt that many of these credit unions will follow overseas trends and move into the area of home financing to a sufficient degree to qualify. As I have mentioned in this House before, there is a diverse pattern in overseas credit leagues and I have every confidence that the Australian credit unions which decide to qualify for recognition under the homes savings grant scheme will do so responsibly and with as little disturbance as possible to their current lending patterns.

The credit union movement by its self help nature, brings with it stability and efficiency at local levels which, in turn, bring about low costs of operation and a low incidence of bad debts. However, another great philosophical advantage of the credit unions, whose underlying philosophy is the acceptance of the ethic that we are our brother's keeper, is that each credit union has its own local control and decisionmaking process. There is strong evidence that credit unions in country areas are assuming the independent decisionmaking role that branch bank managers enjoyed many years ago. This local control, local interest and local concern is a precious element in the credit union movement, and I hope that the extension of the homes savings grant scheme to facilitate the inclusion of credit unions will not see any largescale amalgamation or centralising of authority and decision making.

I have limited my remarks on the credit union aspect of this Bill. The whole subject of credit unionism is one which deserves greater debate in this House, but then so do all financial matters. However, I would remind the credit union movement, as I did at the recent opening of the new premises for the ABC Staff Employees Credit Union, that it is no use looking to the Australian Labor Party and thinking that it is going to control qualitatively and quantitatively all other forms of available credit in Australia and leave the credit union movement alone. Members of the credit union movement should ponder the thought when the Australian Labor Party makes its rash promises about what it will do for the credit unions - and there was much of this at the opening of the premises that I have referred to - and remember that any government that is big enough to give everything is also big enough to take it away. This legislation extending the homes savings grant scheme is good. It is timely. It is a further step in the right direction. I strongly support it and the philosophy behind it.

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