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Wednesday, 2 May 1973
Page: 1609

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Housing) - I have heard what the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) has had to say in regard to this matter and I want to be the first to acknowledge that his point is well taken. The Government has a great deal of sympathy in this matter. Why should we not have sympathy? We have been making contentions along these lines for a long time. I might say that serious consideration has been given by the new Government to the whole question of second mortgages. We feel that some significant steps ought to be taken in this regard. It might interest honourable members to know that the estimated cost of taking over all existing mortgages under war service homes legislation is between $12m and $20m. It is a lot of money. Our first obligation, of course, is to ensure that ex-servicemen and now others have the opportunity to obtain a home. It so happens that these people referred to in this amendment already have a home.

It is also the case, as somebody on the other side of the chamber has acknowledged during the course of the second reading debate, that second mortgages were accommodated in the lifetime of the previous Government up to 1951. I have often contended myself - and other honourable members who comprise the Government have complained about this - that this was an arbitrary decision taken at that time and that there have been very serious and adverse effects. One of the things which I have been doing since I became the Minister for Housing - with the approval of the Cabinet, I might say - is to use the discretion available to me in respect of this matter with more compassion than has been brought to bear previously. We have developed some policy attitudes about it. Generally, the approved policy permits the discharge of mortgages where the terms of the mortgages are judged to be onerous and, having regard to the applicant's income, are causing serious hardship. Totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners often are assisted in this way by the use of my prerogative.

But the matter put to me by the honourable member for Herbert does not involve prerogative; it involves rights. The Government stands for rights. We do not believe it is good for legislation to be of such a nature that a large area of discretion is placed in the hands of a Minister or the bureaucracy. It is good for every citizen of Australia to know that if he or she does certain things, that will establish eligibility for a right. I should like to see more rights as against discretion put into this legislation as quickly as it is reasonable to do. But it will not be done overnight. I have regard to the point contained in the amendment. It concerns TPI people who have a home and who can establish eligibility in all other respects. It is likely that in the predominance of cases such people would not be in affluent or lush financial circumstances. It is possible - let me be frank with the House because I do not think honourable members will take advantage of my frankness-

Mr McLeay - We might.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You may. I would not be surprised if some do. I do not think that the Opposition at large will do so. When a government acknowledges a point like this one in respect of TPI pensioners a resourceful member of an Opposition - and I know what such a person is - will immediately say: 'Well, how about the age pensioner who can establish eligibility and so on?' The Government might have to accommodate that proposition in the long term but that suggestion has not been put to the Government by the Opposition. The amendment deals specifically with TPI pensioners. Section 20 (1.) reads:

Subject to this Act and to the directions of the Minister as to matters of general policy, the Director may, upon application in writing, make an advance to an eligible person on the prescribed security, for the purpose of enabling him -

(a)   to erect a dwelling-house on a holding of the applicant;

(b)   to purchase land and erect thereon a dwellinghouse;

(c)   to purchase a dwelling-house, together with the land on which it is erected;

(d)   to complete a partially erected dwelling-house owned by him;

(e)   to enlarge a dwelling-house owned by him or

(f)   to discharge any mortgage, charge, or encumbrance already existing on bis holding.

The amendment is to apply this to TPI pensioners who make a proper application in writing. This will cost some money but I do not think it will be an exorbitant amount. I think it is a reasonable amendment and on behalf of the Government I am prepared to accept it.

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