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Wednesday, 30 April 1980
Page: 1973

Senator MELZER (Victoria) - I was interested in Senator Walters' views on the traditional family. She said that the traditional family is still very much with us and that 77 per cent of married women stay at home. Because this Government's policy has been to increase the price of petrol in the way that it has, which in turn forces to the limit the price of every commodity that those women buy, one wonders how on earth they manage. Senator Walters said that they do some part time work. How true that is, but let us elaborate a little. Desperate to keep their families together, those women do work part time. Any money is better than no money, so those women are forced into the worst jobs in the worst conditions. They are desperate to keep their families from very real poverty.

The Opposition says that the petrol tax put on by this Government has forced up food prices. That is evident, especially to Senator Walters and me, because we shop. For her to say that people have changed their driving patterns because they are concerned about the conservation of oil is ridiculous. If people have changed their driving patterns, they have done so because they cannot afford to use their cars, they cannot afford to keep their tanks full of petrol. In many parts of Australia those people are desperate because travelling by vehicle is their major form of transport to and from work. Governments like the Fraser Government have done nothing about public transport. Another outcome of increasing the price of petrol, and so ruining the existence of many families is the fact that many families living in the country and in outer suburban areas can no longer use their cars to communicate; so they are faced with the real problem of isolation.

This Government has insisted that the prime problem is inflation. Its strongest move in combating inflation has been its stand against increasing the wage or the income of the average Australian family. In proceeding along those lines this Government is destroying Australian families and their aspirations. One of the things which Australian families aspire to is owning their home in which they can raise their children. That is becoming increasingly impossible for anything like the average Australian family. It was reported recently that a malaise has gripped the Victorian building industry and that that malaise has been there for the last five years and is getting worse every year. Why is it getting worse? It is getting worse because nobody can afford to buy a house. In the past six months in Victoria 30 building companies have foundered and there are others in deep financial trouble. The Age of 24 April 1980 contains an article which mentions one of the largest house builders in Melbourne, Jennings Industries Ltd. The article states:

Mr ChrisBanks, general manager or the housing and land section . . . said . . . 'It's obvious that if the trend doesn 't stop more builders will go under.'

The Melbourne house market is the smallest it has been for years and this has resulted in a shake-out of builders.

Statistics reflect the gravity of the recession. In the year ending June 1979 a total of 26,642 building permits had been issued in Victoria- the lowest number since 1963, and half as many as at the height of the building boom in 1 973.

Victorian Housing Industry Association manager Mr Les Groves said the halcyon days of the early 1970s were unlikely to be repeated . . .

The ominous rise in the price of building materials also is affecting the ability of ordinary people in Australia to buy their own home. The rise in the price index of materials used in the building industry is seriously affecting them. The rate of inflation in building material prices has doubled in the 12 months ended February 1980. In that month the price index of materials used in house building went up by 2.4 per cent in the six capital cities. This is the highest increase for 5V4 years. Are we going to lay that at the feet of the wage earner? Is it because they have got such extraordinary raises in their wages and salaries that those prices have gone up, or might it have something to do with the Government's policy in putting up the price of petrol?

Fewer houses are being built and more families are in great difficulty. What happens to the carpenters, bricklayers and building workers when fewer houses are built? They join the ranks of the great unemployed so their family's security is lost. Then all industries which service the building go by the board and close down. So in an ever-increasing circle we have poverty staring the ordinary people of Australia in the face. What happens to families when the breadwinner loses his job? They cannot pay their mortgages. They cannot go on paying for those houses for which they have scraped and saved the deposit and which are their whole lives. Nationally, foreclosures of loans rose from one in 950 in 1974 to one in 70 in 1975. This is an indication of how much the Fraser Government cares about the families of Australia.

The Government makes pious statements about people being masters in their castles and owning their homes and it boasts that Australia has the highest rate of home ownership in the world. We are staring in the face the highest rate of foreclosure of mortgage loans in the world. The Committee for Economic Development in Australia estimates that growth in claims on the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation has been over 90 per cent a year over the last four years. So- the position is not getting any better. According to the Age of 19 May 1979, the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation of Australia Ltd stated that claims from Victorian bodies holding defaulted home loans jumped by 600 per cent in 1978. One building society estimated that there were up to 4,000 repossessions in Victoria during 1978. Would we say that matters had improved? In 1 978 the rate of inflation was 9 per cent and this year it is at 11.5 per cent. It would appear that the Government's scheme to bring down inflation has failed and that in trying to bring the rate of inflation down, using the methods that it has, it has ruined countless Australian families and their aspirations.

As though things were not bad enough, today we are told that the Federal Government has introduced a system for marketing Commonwealth bonds which will force up the interest rates yet again. It will force up the repayment rate for savings bank loans, it will force up the number of foreclosures, and it will force up the amount of heartbreak. Where will the families go? From February 1978 to February 1979 the number of housing commission tenancies in Victoria rose by 2. 1 per cent. What happens to those families? What happens to the low wage earners with a large family or the single parent families when they are looking for housing? People are being forced out of the area where they could buy private built homes into the public housing area. Little enough of that housing has been available to fill the needs, but the number of tenancies is rising. People are being forced out of their own homes. Low wage families can never aspire to buy their own homes. Families with many children cannot aspire to buy their own homes. Single parent families on the charity we hand out, can never aspire to buy their own homes.

What do they do about housing? They cannot afford to buy or to rent privately so they go to the housing commission. With the urging of the Federal Government, the Housing Commission in Victoria increased its rental charges to market rents. How did those people fare? The number of tenants in arrears in 1 978-79 in Victoria rose by 50.4 per cent. They literally could not afford to pay their rent. The number of tenants in arrears for over 10 weeks rose by 74 per cent. The total amount owed rose by 96 per cent from 1 978 to 1979. As the situation is so much worse one wonders what the current figures would be. The Federal Government has failed to assist families to buy their own homes. It has discouraged State governments from providing rental accommodation. It has discouraged State governments from building houses that people can afford. The prices are so high that low income families cannot afford the houses.

It is interesting to look at the taxation figures that Senator Walters was so keen on. In 1 952, the ordinary person paid 8 per cent of his income in tax. By 1 962, it had risen to 9.7 per cent. By 1 972, it was 16.8 per cent. But by 1978 it was 20 per cent. In 1978, of income 20 per cent was being paid in income tax by the ordinary people. The only year in which it was higher was in 1942 when the nation was at war. Perhaps ordinary people think that they are back in that position. They might feel that they are at war. They pay high taxes, and they get precious little back from this Government which will do nothing about housing ordinary families in Australia but which raises the tax on petrol which increases the price of all goods and services.

We have reached the point now where city petrol prices have doubled what they were before the election of this Goverment and country prices have trebled what they were before that time. This has occurred despite the fact that the Prime Minister, in his election speech in 1977, said: 'Petrol prices in all country areas will be reduced to within one cent per litre of the normal city retail price without any increase in city prices as a result.' Why? In the Age on 24 April this year, it was stated:

Ampol Exploration lifted profit 45 per cent in the March half despite a 20 per cent cut in its share of Barrow Island oil production.

Ampol Ex earned S5.4 million after tax in the half compared with $3.7 million in the first 1979 half.

All honourable senators were astonished to read the report which stated that Exxon Corporation in the United States had doubled its earnings to $US 1.925 billion in the first quarter from a year ago- the biggest quarterly profit ever made by a United States corporation. I suggest that is the direction in which the Australian oil companies are heading.

This Government does not care two hoots about the ordinary families of this country and it will do nothing about providing those families with ordinary, decent, basic housing. Indeed, it is pushing the ordinary families of Australia out of housing. I think some families will finish up in tents on river banks as so many of our Aboriginal friends have in the last few years. While this Government does not care two hoots about ordinary families, it does everything in its power to increase the profits made by the oil companies. Senator MacGibbon said that this country has been spending too much on social welfare. It is interesting to find that the Minster for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) feels much the same way. The Minister said that there were several reasons why government expenditure was difficult to cut back. Indexation was a major cause. Another cause was spending in the social areas which he attacked as diminishing the role of the individual in looking after himself. In other words, the Minister believes that these families can starve on their own from now on. The Minister went on to say:

Individuals and families should be given much greater financial responsibility and control over their education, their health and their general well-being.

The Minister's attitude is: Pay yourself or go without so far as this Government is concerned. The Minister said that the policies of Liberal governments would be designed to increase the size of the private sector in the economy. He said:

To achieve that end, our budgetary policies will need to ensure that private enterprise is profitable, and that adequate incentives exist for individuals to work hard and invest diligently, and for companies to invest with the prospect of good returns.

All I can say is that this Government has not only failed to improve the living standards of the average Australian family but also depressed that living standard and is depressing it to a very grave degree.

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