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Wednesday, 20 September 1972
Page: 1676

Mr Kevin Cairns (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Housing) - The honourable member for Diamond Valley (Mr Brown) has quite rightly drawn attention to a number of aspects of housing policy which it is our duty to examine very closely. But before I do so 1 would like to dwell for a few moments on one or two points that he made because they are of the utmost significance. The most significant point to which reference has been made this afternoon is the continued charge, repeated ad nauseam, that this scheme is a bribe. That charge has been made often this afternoon and the allegation has been attributed to members of the Opposition. The fact that they have made this charge has not been denied. One needs to examine what is involved in the charge that the scheme is a bribe. A bribe itself is sufficiently repugnant but there is nothing more repugnant than those who take the bribe. They are the ones who are guilty.. They are the ones whose character is, in a sense, impugned. It is for that reason that over the years the proposition of Danegeld has been held in such poor repute.

But what has the Opposition said? If this scheme is a bribe 250,000 young Australian couples who have received over $100m in grants under this scheme are a party to and are willing partners in the bribe. That is a very poor reflection upon hundreds of thousands of young couples who today occupy their own homes with the assistance of this scheme. Of course, the other words of opprobrium that have been used is that the scheme is a gimmick. Although that is less offensive it is worth examining the natures of the minds that make those charges against a substantia] proportion of young Australians. It shows the great good sense of young Australians that they have not believed the rubbish that has been said of them.

I wish to make one or two comments in detail about the remarks made this afternoon by members of the Opposition. Firstly, let me turn to the remarks made by the shadow Minister for Urban Affairs, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). I never know whether he has that designation or that of shadow Minister for Housing. He went over the whole ambit, the whole wide range of housing affairs when criticising the Government. We heard several gems drop from his lips. Let me repeat one. He said that this Government has not tried to reduce interest rates. That is worth examining. Let me remind him, as he deserves to be reminded, that last year in this House there was passed a Commonwealth-State housing Bill which provided welfare housing for those who were in greatest need. That Bill was designed to reduce costs of housing for those who acquire or rent homes through State housing commissions or housing trusts.

Mr Scholes - Were the interest rates lower than when this Government came to office?

Mr Kevin Cairns (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I was just coming to that but I thank the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) for his interjection. The Bill also applied to those who sought money through the cooperative building societies. The fact is that that legislation has resulted in the greatest drop in interest rates ever experienced in Australia's history in welfare housing. In some States the interest rate on welfare housing has dropped by up to 1.75 per cent, representing a payment of nearly $3 a week less for every week of the mortgage, for 25 or 30 years, than would otherwise have been the case. Those declines in interest rates - which are the greatest cost in housing - have occurred in every State of the Commonwealth. Let it be remembered that the very Bill which made that possible was opposed on behalf of the Australian Labor Party by the honourable gentleman who leads in debates for the Opposition on housing matters. That assistance in welfare housing has been introduced despite the opposition from the Australian Labor Party. I can understand, therefore, the reluctance of the honourable member for Reid when dealing with these matters to mention in detail the areas of welfare housing. The Opposition has such a frightful record in that field that it flees from it whenever that subject is mentioned, and so it should. The honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin), gave us the benefit of his wisdom which has come from many years of practical experience in the field of housing. His statement that he considers there should be more advertising of what is done by the Commonwealth Government in this field is most appropriate and will be examined to see what can be done about it. There are a number of other fields-

Mr Reynolds - You have presided over the greatest housing shortage in history.

Mr Kevin Cairns (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) - The honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) could never raise his voice even in thelast parliament of which he was a member but I thought his voice might have broken during the 3 years when he was out of the Parliament. The Opposition makes the point, which is worth recording, that in this area no limit should be placed on the value of a home. In other words, if a person is building a castle worth $100,000 or $200,000 the grant should apply equally to him as it does to a person who is building a much more humble residence. It is appropriate, and these are the words of the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) who has on some occasions described himself as the shadow Minister for housing-

Mr Brown - Has he? You are not serious!

Mr Kevin Cairns (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) - That is right. There is intense competition in this area. His remarks are interesting because in the whole field of social policy proposed by the Australian Labor Party almost the only area in which it would impose limits in respect of welfare and needs is in some aspects of education - not even in housing. One can well ask what kind of social motivation moves the Australian Labor Party to confine its activities only to such a small area of legislation. But let me pass again to housing.

There was a misunderstanding concerning the valuation of properties when this subject was mentioned by the honourable member for Hughes. If there was a doubt as to the valuation of a property officers of the Department of Housing would examine the property. If there was an appeal against or dissatisfaction with the valuation officers from the Commonwealth Taxation Branch would be requested to check on the valuation. That is done because we are dealing here with another Commonwealth instrumentality. The Government has decided that this is the correct approach and that it is appropriate that it should be done in this way.

Other points were mentioned by other speakers. The honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) wanted to know why Commonwealth bonds were not appropriate as sources of savings for the purposes of the homes savings grants. Commonwealth bonds are not judged to be appropriate source of savings for this purpose for a number of reasons. One reason is that they do not meet the general criteria laid down for cases in respect of which housing grants are appropriate. For example, it is not too easy to withdraw savings at short notice from Commonwealth bonds. It is not accepted that Commonwealth bonds themselves provide the principal source of loans for housing. A judgment has to be made in this area as it has to be made in other areas.

There is one matter to which I would invite further attention. This was the. third of 3 points mentioned by the honourable member for Corio. It concerned a person who had constructed and lived in a room which was subsequently demolished, and because it was on a certain site it was judged to have been a prior dwelling place and therefore the ultimate place of residence of the person. This prevented him from being able to obtain a housing grant. If the honourable member brings that case to my attention I will look at it. If they are, the details, I can assure him that the case will receive sympathetic consideration, as it deserves to.

The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) has indicated an interest in this field over a number of years. He has retained his interest in this field and he knows what value the housing grant has been. The honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon) quite rightly pointed out a number of contradictions in the contribution by the honourable member for Reid ki his leading address this afternoon. He made it quite clear that there was a contradiction in terms of the growth criteria that the honourable member for Reid posited for Australian cities. Yet to solve housing problems the honourable member for Reid has proposed policies which would solve the problems of increasing costs by embracing a real degree of stagnation.

The honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Lionel Bowen) mentioned a number of points concerning which I think he has some misunderstanding. He was under the impression that the time of lodgement for a grant under this Act could not extend more than 12 months beyond the date of signing a contract or the date of beginning the construction of a home. An amount of discretion is available in this area, and if the honourable member has knowledge of cases in which that discretion can be rightfully used I ask him to bring them to my attention. He was also under the impression that during the time it took to process an application for a grant it would be necessary to dissipate savings in the purchase of a home and that therefore the grant which was to be obtained could not in reality assist as part of the deposit or increase the amount of deposit available for such a home. I assure him that if the time of lodgement is as soon as possible after the signing of a contract the processing can be done within relatively few days and there is no reason for the savings of a person to be completely dissipated before a grant is obtained.

I merely make 2 other general points which deserve to be made because they apply in the total area of housing policy of which the homes savings grant policy is only part. The honourable member for Diamond Valley quite rightly drew attention to the complete lack of a housing policy in the Opposition. He pointed out that the scheme which was depicted at the Launceston conference as the gift of the Australian Labor Party to the people of Australia - the notorious 2 per cent interest subsidy policy - is now in ruins. He pointed out, quite rightly, that the scheme has been characterised as a profligate rich man's dream, and the Opposition intends to propose it. It remains in its policy; it remains in its platform. The Opposition is wedded to its platform without any flexibility whatsoever. I challenge the Opposition to indicate whether it has any policy in the area of housing.

It was also pointed out that in the area of banking the Opposition has a policy concerning the Commonwealth Bank and loans at over 3 per cent which would do several things. If such a policy v/ere brought into operation it would prohibit 11,000 young home owners from obtaining their norma) home mortgages from the Commonwealth Bank. In the second place it would drive out of existence only a short time after that all the banks, other than the Commonwealth Savings Bank, involved in housing activities. That would prohibit 35,000-odd young home owners from obtaining their money from other than the Commonwealth banking system almost overnight. But most significantly for a party which says that it does not believe in increased taxation, to carry out that policy it would have to deposit some $300m with the Commonwealth Bank at interest rates of 1 per cent to1½ per cent. Such money is not obtained except from public funds such as taxation funds.

The Opposition's policies in these areas have been shown to be lacking completely. It is appropriate that they should be lacking. They do not exist. After all, when the spokesman for the Opposition on urban affairs speaks about these areas, no longer does he mention housing. It is specifically excluded. One might ask why it is specifically excluded. We heard it said this afternoon several times that the honourable member for Reid calls himself a dreamer, but sometimes precise administration is appropriate to consider. Dreamers do not dream up plans that are capable of assisting people with the precision with which housing mortgages are designed to assist people. Let me read what he said in the last part of this delightfully intellectual document called Towards a new Australia' - the new bible of the Opposition. The honourable member for Adelaide is interjecting. He is often called amongst his friends the silver-tailed radical in this House. The Opposition spokesman on urban affairs said:

We commit ourselves but to a way of approaching the problem. Unlike the present way of doing things, we are not going to concentrate on isolated bits and pieces of the cities.

It is quite clear that some of the bits and pieces of the cities that do not deserve any attention and do not deserve any precise administration or precise calculation are those bits and pieces inhabited by millions of Australian families and which in fact involve their own homes.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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