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Thursday, 24 May 1973
Page: 2653

Mr BONNETT (Herbert) - The Housing Agreement Bill, after study, is one of the most unusual pieces of legislation on housing that I have ever seen. I say it is unusual because I believe that this is the first time that a housing Bill which affects all States has been introduced without any agreement being reached between the States and the Commonwealth prior to its introduction; more especially so when all States were unanimous in their views against a specific clause in the Bill. Yet that clause still remains in the Bill. It is also unusual because while the Minister has been at great pains over the last few months to inform us that he and the Government are adamant in their intentions to foster opportunities for home ownership this Bill deliberately places restrictions on home ownership. I am well aware that the Minister has a great desire to ensure that an adequate number of low rental homes are made available to those people who are on low incomes. He is to be commended for his admirable desire. But in introducing this specific Bill I feel that he has in his haste in doing so without allowing the States a reasonable time to study it allowed his desire to overrule an intelligent approach to the balance between the important subject of home ownership and low rental accommodation.

The States are extremely important contributors to ideas on housing which would be of benefit to the communities within the States. Yet on this occasion some State Housing Ministers did not receive a copy of the draft agreement until 48 hours prior to the Bill being introduced into this Parliament. This procedure allowed no time whatsoever for objective study of the proposed legislation by State Cabinets or committees. Therefore, it is no wonder that the States are unhappy with the Bill in its present form. In those unhappy States I include States with governments of the same political persuasion as the Federal Government.

It is quite apparent that clause 19 of the Bill - especially sub-clause (1), which places restrictions on the sale of commission or authority houses - is the one to which the States are objecting. The Government's intention to ensure that a certain percentage of commission homes are available at a low rental seems rather superfluous when one considers the policies of most of the States on this matter. The selling of commission homes and the provision of commission homes at a low rental to people on low incomes has been the established practice of the States for a considerable time - in fact, since the commissions or authorities were established - and I can see no legitimate reason why the Commonwealth should buy in at this stage and attempt to dictate to the States on a matter on which, through established practice, they conform with the principle expressed by the Commonwealth Government.

Then there is the matter of the Government's proposed needs test. The introduction of this part of the Bill leads me to believe that the Minister for Housing is completely unaware of the States' policies with regard to the selling or letting of commission homes. I suggest that the Minister has not visited the States and personally discussed this matter with the relevant Ministers but has done a paper study, which is never entirely satisfactory when compared with a personal practical examination; or perhaps he has taken just one State policy as an example. I say this because it is quite possible that in his own State commission homes could be classed as being oversold and there could be a big demand for low rental homes in his electorate of Hughes and the adjacent electorate of Reid. As a consequence of this, the Minister may be under the impression that the situation is the same throughout the country, and perhaps this has led him to introduce this needs test and restriction clause. I suggest this as a possibility because I am sure that if the Minister had taken the opportunity of closer liaison with the individual State Ministers this Bill would have been introduced in a different form.

The Minister and the Government have no monopoly on the princip'e of home ownership and the adequate provision of low rental accommodation for people on low incomes. We on this side of the House have been conscious of this need and, in conjunction with the State governments, have acted upon it. Let me refer to just one example of our policy of strongly advocating home ownership. I use one State as an example rather than use my own State which is in the same category. In Victoria when the Labor Government was in power prior to the present Liberal Government, a total of 15,000 commission homes were constructed. Up to the time the Labor Government was defeated it had sold only 52 of those 15,000 homes. It had allowed ownership of only 52 homes. Since the present Government was elected in Victoria it has constructed a total of 57,000 commission homes and has made 34,000 of them available for home ownership. I suggest that this is quite an impressive record which could not have been achieved without the assistance of a Commonwealth government that was dedicated to a policy of home ownership.

I know that Prime Minister Curtin and Prime Minister Chifley had firm ideas on home ownership when they were in power and that they introduced measures to assist the States in this matter. However, the first housing Bill that this Labor Government introduces puts a restriction on the States' authority to allow home ownership for sections of their residents. On the basis of the figures I have quoted alone, it can be seen that with a restriction of 30 per cent placed on commission accommodation available for home ownership, the people of Victoria, just to mention one State, will be worse off if this proposed restriction becomes law. The Minister claims that the 30 per cent restriction on house sales is a concession. He could have in mind the speech he made on 16 January this year in which he said:

I also propose that the sale of new homes built by the State Housing Authority after June 30 next be severely restricted, if not entirely prohibited . . .

If this is in his mind I suggest that a 30 per cent restriction is a concession, but it is not a concession when the actual figures from the States are taken into consideration.

The Bill contains other clauses which could be looked at and the subject matter of which could be improved. This also leads me to think that this Bill was thrown together with undue haste and with not enough thought being given to detail, such as whom it would affect and how it would affect them. For example, clause 16 deals with eligibility for allocation of housing. I will not discuss the categories of people eligible, as they are in the Bill for everybody to read. However, I ask the Minister: Why not include a single person with a dependent mother or father and a single person who has to accept responsi bility for younger brothers and sisters? Surely these people could have been considered when the eligibility clause was drafted. Clause 16 (1) (b) states that eligibility extends to an aged person or an invalid who is the breadwinner for him and his wife. They are eligible only if their income does not exceed 60 per cent of average weekly earnings. Yet a younger couple - maybe one or two years younger - can have an income equal to 85 per cent of average weekly earnings and still be eligible. This is unfair discrimination against an aged couple. Why not place all people affected on the limit of 85 per cent of average weekly earnings?

Clause 19 of the Bill deals with the disposal of a dwelling by a purchaser. In my opinion it places an unfair limitation on the purchaser. There are other important circumstances in which a purchaser should be permitted to dispose of his dwelling. Again this leads me to believe that the Bill was thrown together in undue haste and without any constructive thought being given to it. Why should not a purchaser be allowed to dispose of his dwelling in the following circumstances: In the case of death, by the provisions of a will or under the appropriate laws governing succession or intestacy; in the case of dissolution or breakdown of a marriage, by the property passing to the appropriate spouse who may or may not already be a joint purchaser; pursuant to the order of a court in divorce proceedings; on transfer or removal of the purchaser to another town for reasons of employment; or for any other reason of a non-voluntary nature considered equitable by the housing authority? I do not think that those circumstances are unreasonable and I ask the Government to seriously consider including them in the Bill.

Clause 27 provides for a loan to a home owner for the purchase of a new or previously occupied dwelling not built by a housing authority. Why not extend these conditions to enable a current borrower to obtain finance for additional accommodation for a growing family or aged parents or in some other similar circumstances? Again, I do not think that this request is unreasonable.

So I could go on making suggestions to improve many more sections of the Bill. I call it an unusual Bill and it certainly is but there are other honourable members who wish to speak after me. To my way of thinking my suggestions on these clauses would make the Bill more acceptable to the States, but in my opinion and in the opinion of the States the most upsetting portion of the whole Bill is that clause which restricts the States to allowing only 30 per cent of commission or authority homes to be allocated for home ownership. I believe that an agreement between parties or authorities means a partnership. But this is no partnership agreement. When all States have registered their disapproval of the 30 per cent restriction on home ownership, for the Federal Government to go ahead and ride roughshod over their combined protests to me is a complete dictatorship and a determined effort by this Government to undermine the authority of the States.

The Opposition agrees with the States that if restrictions are to be placed on the sale of commission homes or dwellings then 50 per cent is a more realistic figure than 30 per cent for home ownership, and it is in this regard that I will move an amendment at the Committee stage. I commend to the Government for consideration the suggestions I have made for improvement of the Bill. They relate to only a few of the clauses that could be improved.

As we are taking the 3 Bills together, I refer to the Bill which is designed to withdraw the grant of $2.75m a year to the various housing commissions or authorities. I fail to see why this concession should be withdrawn at this time under the present circumstances of the Housing Agreement Act 1973. When 1 say 'the present circumstances' 1 mean that this draft agreement has not been ratified by the States. This grant of $2.75m has been of great benefit to the States and consequently of benefit to our own people and, in my opinion, to withdraw a benefit from the very people that this Government says it wishes to help is bad business and can only do the Government harm. I have yet to be convinced that the States will benefit from the proposed withdrawal of the grant of $2. 75m and the proposed increasing flow of finance at a highly concessional rate of interest. I would suggest that the proposed date for the Act to come into operation - that is, when it receives royal assent - should be altered to coincide with the coming into operation of the Housing Agreement Act. I do not think that this would create any hardship for the Government and it would cer tainly save a little of the Government's face with the State governments.

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