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Wednesday, 7 March 1973
Page: 281

Mr INNES (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - My question is directed to the Minister for Housing. In view of the confusing and contradictory statements made last night in the Victorian Legislative Assembly by the Victorian Minister of Housing, Mr Dickie, on Victoria's refusal to help thousands of homeless people by joining the other States in the proposed new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, will the Minister inform this Parliament on the current state of play? In particular, can the Minister clarify whether Mr Dickie has agreed to accept the Commonwealth's offer of $1.5m in emergency housing grants, or is he still jeopardising the building of ISO new homes for the needy in Victoria by refusing to accept the Commonwealth's condition that all homes built with the emergency funds must be for rental only?

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am pleased that this question has been put to me by the honourable member for Melbourne because this matter has been the subject of considerable controversy and, as I understand it, was also the subject of debate in the Victorian Parliament yesterday. One of the early actions taken by the Government was in respect of the very great waiting list for houses in the various State housing authorities throughout Australia. It was felt that in consideration of the fact that 93,000 people were waiting on this long and extending queue an emergency grant should be made to the States. Towards that end a decision was taken to allocate S6m to enable the States to build houses for rental by the end of June this year. There has been some difficulty, apparently, between the Premier of Victoria and the Housing Minister of Victoria in respect of whether or not the conditions of the Commonwealth's offer should be accepted. The position now seems to be that although the Victorian Minister indicated earlier that he would not accept the grant if any conditions at all were attached, he has been overruled by the Premier of that State.

I have been very pleased to have an assurance from the Premier, which was received through the Prime Minister, that the Victorian Government is now happy to participate in this program which was designed to facilitate the commencement of 1,500 homes by the beginning of July this year. In fact he has been able to say in a completely unequivocal manner that that State will now go on to isolate our special grant to ensure that the houses are built for rental purposes. We are very anxious to build up a stock of rental homes. He has been able to say that it is the intention of the Victorian Government now to build houses for rental. Some of these will be built in country areas. In addition he will be using a large part of Victoria's allocation of $1.5m to build homes for pensioners. So in regard to this matter, about which there has been so much talk, it seems to me now that the Victorian Government is happy to comply and has come to appreciate the need for the conditions which were proposed by the Commonwealth.

The whole question with which I am dealing is a very dicky matter. It is our intention to finalise later a Commonwealth-State housing agreement with the States. The House might be interested to know that it has been my intention to set up a consultative process with the States of a type which has never been undertaken before. In a consultative process, where one participates in several rounds of talks at very great length with Ministers of the States and their advisers, it is a sensible stance to take that one should be prepared to moderate one's views, having had the benefit of the attitudes expressed by the various State Ministers. I am very pleased to say that it so happens now that we have been able to develop an agreement which I believe will be enticing to Victoria and indeed to all other States and which, if accepted by Victoria, will contribute a great deal to the solution of this very serious, neglected problem. If the Commonwealth has its way, we will bring down an agreement which will be responsible for the construction of a large number of homes at lower rates of interest and those homes will be allocated to people who are most in need as determined by a means test. All of these matters seem to me to be of virtuous principle and I hope that I will have the acquiescence of the Victorian Government in the second stage of our endeavours. I am gratified to learn from the Premier of that State the acceptance of the $1.5m Commonwealth offer.

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