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Wednesday, 7 March 1973
Page: 297

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Housing) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill has 4 main purposes. In the first place it provides for the extension of the war service homes scheme to members of the forces who complete a specified period of defence service. Secondly, it provides for an increase in the maximum loan under the scheme from $9,000 to $12,000. It also provides for war service homes benefits to be granted to certain unmarried female persons with qualifying service under the Act. The fourth main purpose is to correct an existing anomaly in the war service homes legislation by providing for the extension of eligibility to certain persons who served overseas with the Australian forces in the 1939-45 War or in the subsequent war-like operations as an accredited representative of a welfare organisation.

In addition to these significant changes, the Bill includes a number of other amendments which are designed to facilitate the adminis tration of the War Service Homes Act. As honourable members will be aware, the war service homes scheme was originally introduced as a repatriative measure to provide homes for returned men and women from the 1914-18 War. The scheme was later extended to cover the 1939-45 War and the subsequent war-like operations involving Australian forces. Since the inception of the scheme eligibility in respect of service in the forces has been based on a period of service abroad involving operational risks beyond those normally associated with peace-time service. The provisions of this Bill will extend the scope of the scheme henceforth to include as qualifying service a continuous period of normal peace-time service of substantial duration. Persons who will benefit from this proposed extension of the scope of the scheme are those members of the forces on continuous full-time service on or after 7th December 1972 who, whether before or after that date, complete 3 years effective fulltime service. A person who was engaged or appointed for a period of full-time service of not less than 3 years but who is discharged on medical grounds before the completion of 3 years service will also qualify, unless the member was discharged before the completion of 12 months effective service for a preexisting medical condition. Effective service for the purposes of the proposed new eligibility provisions is defined in the Bill.

The Bill has special provisions dealing with persons undergoing a course of training at the. Royal Australian Naval College, the Royal Military College or the Royal Australian Air Force Academy and persons appointed as officers while enrolled in a degree or diploma course at a university or other tertiary institution. In effect, persons undergoing a course of training at a naval, military or Air Force college will not qualify for benefits unless they successfully complete their course of training. Persons commissioned under the undergraduate scheme will not qualify until they have given 3 years effective service following the completion of their studies. In accordance with existing arrangements under the War Service Homes Act persons who meet the eligibility conditions but are given a dishonourable discharge will not be eligible for benefits.

The Bill also provides for the extension of war service homes benefits to national servicemen and national service officers serving immediately before 7th December 1972 who complete the period of service for which they were engaged to serve or are discharged on medical grounds prior to the completion of that service. The proposed extension of the scope of the scheme to include a continuous period of normal peace-time service of substantial duration as qualifying service represents the most significant change in the scheme since the enactment of the original legislation in 1918. It has been brought about because of the Government's decision to abolish conscription into the armed forces and to fulfil its stated aim of introducing conditions of service that will attract and retain regular servicemen in peace time. We believe that the way to attract and retain regular servicemen is to guarantee that they and their dependants will enjoy, both during and after their service, a living standard which is on a par with civilians of the same age. Because of the itinerant nature of his occupation a regular serviceman is at a considerable disadvantage relative to other members of the community in acquiring a permanent home. Frequent postings make it difficult for him to obtain housing finance from established home lending institutions. As a result, upon discharge, be is faced with the task of financing his home at a greater cost and over a shorter period.

The granting of war service homes benefits to regular servicemen on the conditions already mentioned will do much to offset the disadvantages inherent in Service life in relation to the acquisition of a permanent home. At the same time this measure will afford practical recognition of the significant contribution made to national defence by servicemen who undertake full-time Service commitments of a substantial duration. As we consider this measure an essential one in our program to improve service conditions we feel as a matter of equity that it should also be extended to those national servicemen serving at 6th December 1972 who voluntarily chose to complete the period of service for which they were originally enlisted. The retention of those young men who chose to remain is seen as valuable in the transition from a partly conscripted army to an all volunteer force. To reflect more aptly the type of service which will constitute qualifying service under the scheme upon the enactment of this legislation, the Bill provides for. the title of the Principal Act to be amended to 'Defence Services Homes Act 1918-1973'. As a consequential amendment, the name of the body corporate established by the Act will be changed from Director of War Service Homes to Director of Defence Service Homes.

I come now to the provision made in this Bill for an increase in the maximum loan. The present statutory maximum loan of $9,000 covered less than 60 per, cent of the average cost of all homes built or financed under the scheme last financial year. While some credit-worthy applicants are able to supplement their loan under the Act with a secondary loan from a private . lender at a high rate of interest, it is difficult, and in many cases impossible, for the ordinary wage earner to finance a home on the basis of a maximum loan of $9,000. It is our stated aim to increase the maximum lending limit under the scheme to enable loans to- be made up to 100 per cent of the value of properties against which advances are made. In furtherance of this aim, this Bill provides for an increase in the maximum loan to $12,000 and for a reduction in the deposit required in respect of a home sold to an eligible person under Part IV of the Act.

The proposed extension of eligibility to unmarried female persons who have qualifying service under the Act is designed primarily to benefit single and widowed nurses and exservicewomen without dependants who served overseas with the forces in the 1939-45 War.

As the Act stands at present eligibility for benefits is limited, broadly speaking, to persons who are married, about to marry or who have dependants for whom it is necessary for them to maintain a home. This is in accordance with the purpose of the scheme to provide homes for eligible persons with families. However, we consider that there is a strong case on the social welfare grounds for exempting female persons with qualifying service under the Act from this requirement. In the majority of cases the nurses and ex-servicewomen who will benefit from the provision have given meritorious war service overseas. They are now approaching retirement and usually have no family to whom they may turn for a home. Ordinarily they would not qualify for housing accommodation under any of the public housing schemes of the States and they find it difficult to obtain a housing loan from institutional lenders on account of their age and sex. The scheme has always provided that the widow of an eligible person will be eligible for war service homes benefits and this is the case whether she has dependants or not. We feel that there is equal justification for granting benefits to single and widowed nurses and ex-servicewomen without dependants who have the necessary qualifying service under the Act.

The proposed extension of benefits to members of welfare organisations who served overseas with the Forces will correct an injustice which has been allowed to exist for far too long. When the War Service Homes Act was enacted in 1918, provision was made for the granting of benefits to members of the Young Men's Christian Association who were accepted for service and served abroad with the Naval or Military Forces of Australia as representatives of that Association. However, no comparable provision was made when the Act was amended in 1941 to cover the hostilities which commenced in 1939. During the 1939-45 War representatives of welfare organisations served in such areas as North Africa, Greece, Crete, Papua, New Guinea, Malaya and Singapore and there were many casualties including some who died on service or became prisoners of war. Honourable members will agree I am sure that it is only equitable that they should be eligible for benefits on the same basis as members of the Forces and the Bill makes provision accordingly.

Other amendments include an extension of the definition of 'holding' which will enable a loan to be granted in respect of any land which an applicant is purchasing from a State on terms that entitle him on compliance with specified conditions to a grant in fee simple of the land where he satisfies the Director that he has a reasonable prospect of complying with those conditions. A provision has also been included which will empower the Director to grant a maximum repayment term of 50 years to all female dependants as defined in the Act who are eligible for assistance under the Act.

The Bill includes also a provision which will empower the Director to call up a loan where after the loan has been made available it comes to the knowledge of the Director that the purchaser or borrower or that person's wife or husband as the case may be, was, at the time the loan was granted, the owner of another dwelling house. Sections 19a and 23 of the Act provide that assistance shall not be made available to any applicant unless the Director is satisfied that neither the applicant nor wife or husband (if any) of that person is the owner of any other dwelling house. There is an appreciable number of cases arising where it is established after a loan has been granted that although the applicant at the time he applied for the loan declared that neither he nor his wife were the owners of another dwelling house, either he or his wife did in fact own another dwelling house at that time and he or she still retains ownership of that home. A power for the Director to call up a loan in such circumstances is essential in order that he may enforce the requirements of the Act.

Other minor amendments include provision for the reinstatement as a tenant, a person whose tenancy has previously been determined under the provisions of the Act and provisions under which a defaulting purchaser or borrower may be called upon to meet the expenses incurred by the Commonwealth in obtaining a warrant of possession. The Bill also contains a number of provisions relating to the administration of the war service homes insurance scheme, including a provision empowering the director to reinsure his contingent liabilities under insurances effected in accordance with the Act and to use the funds of the war service homes insurance trust account to make contributions to the cost of maintaining fire brigade services.

Honourable members will appreciate from the summary I have given that this Bill embraces a wide range of matters, some of which will effect significant changes in the nature and the scope of the existing war service homes scheme. Since the scheme commenced in 1919 it has played a very significant role in the development of our nation with more than 330,000 persons having been assisted to become home owners. The enactment of this legislation will ensure that the scheme will go on making its important contribution to the national welfare by enabling eligible persons in all parts of the Commonwealth to obtain a home of their own. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.

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