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Thursday, 30 August 1973
Page: 693

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Budget debate concerns the expenditure of some $12, 168m - an enormous amount of money which is probably beyond the comprehension of most people. What is happening in Australia now is that this great resource is being allocated in a new way. As people would expect after 23 years of one type of administration, an alternative way of doing things is coming to bear. Our way of doing things is to identify our type of priority - the matters which are important to the well being of the people in Australia.

This Budget is characterised by new dimensions and directions. It is interesting to see tangible evidence of a new partnership being forged with State governments and with local government instrumentalities as well. The headings of the Budget detail subjects the like of which have not been referred to for some decades. A substantial paragraph appears under the heading 'Cities' with an allocation of $136m towards the creation of what could well become the first new city for some decades. We think of Canberra being initiated back in the 1920s as a going operation. We think of the city of Elizabeth in South Australia outside Adelaide, perhaps one of the last cities to be created. After all the years of Liberal-Country Party administration there is nothing to show in respect of the obvious need for decentralisation and the business of taking the pressure off the great seething sultry cities where our people have been required to congregate.

Mr Giles - Elizabeth is one of the best cities in Australia.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not disparaging it by any means. I am simply saying that it is a long time since it happened and it is time we got on with building some new cities. It is a good thing that at last there is a Labor Government doing something about it. I do not think anyone is going to quibble about the fact that we have allocated $136m for new cities and I hope honourable members opposite are not going to quibble with the fact that $33m has been allocated for growth centres, especially towards the creation of Albury-Wodonga as a living concept.

Land commissions are to receive some $60m for the purpose of land acquisition so that we can get the pressure off land prices in the city and so that young people will be able to secure land at a nominal figure on a leasehold basis. Surely this is a significant development and a very real departure from the colourless and unimaginative program of the previous administration. The problems that people have encountered on the perimeters of our cities have also been taken into consideration. For example, there are 1.5 million people without sewerage facilities and our Government, for the first time, has seen the way to relate to the instrumentalities concerned by the provision of $30m. True, it is not sufficient because those instrumentalities need something like an additional $ 1,000m over the next decade above what they see in their sights as being their ordinary budgetary requirements. But we have broken the ice; we have commenced the process; we have pushed aside the old constitutional barrier which has been invoked far too often by our predecessors.

The Government has taken new initiatives in transport. We are commencing to co-operate with the States in meeting the transportation needs of the urban dweller. This is going to have a very great impact on the quality of life of many millions of people in this country. We have commenced the assistance to the local government plan even before the constitutional convention which is to take place next week. We have allocated $5m to the deprived western region of Sydney and $3m to the deprived western region of Melbourne. We have said in an unambiguous and unequivocal way that we are going to go on and set up processes so that the Grants Commission can allocate funds to local government organised on a regional basis to remove the inequalities between regions in Australia. This is a proper manifestation of a new set of priorities and I believe that for many people in Australia it represents an exciting new era.

Consistent with the declared objectives and the high priority of housing, I am pleased to say that there have also been large allocations of funds for that purpose. Total Government provision for housing has increased this year by 34 per cent from $370m to $495m. The main areas of spending are, firstly, the advances to the States under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement involving additional expenditure amounting to 26 per cent, taking the figure to $2 18.7m for the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement in our program for housing for low income people. Secondly, there is the Defence Services homes program. Honourable members opposite often accuse us of being indifferent to the defence needs of the country and those who serve in our defence forces but who can continue to say that in the face of these revelations: The allocation for defence service homes has increased by 37 per cent to $102m; the provision for housing in the territories is up by 31 per cent to $5 1.3m; and Aboriginal housing funds have increased by 123 per cent to $32.4m. Obviously, this is being effectively equated to the will of the people as expressed by way of referendum, the results of which to a great extent were ignored by our predecessors. In the area of aged persons' housing, it is notable that an increase of 18 per cent has occurred, taking the figure to $37.5m. As I have said, the allocations overall for housing have increased by 34 per cent, from $370m to $495m. Surely no one could accuse the Government of being indifferent to the housing problems in this country.

The Treasurer (Mr Crean) has acknowledged the housing situation and after the suspension of the sitting for dinner I should like to develop that subject because the Treasurer sensibly has recognised the fact that the building industry in Australia today is suffering from overheating. This is the problem that results from the lack of planning on the part of previous governments. Although we have adequate funds coming through, deficiencies exist in certain areas, especially in respect of the building force - the number of tradesmen available to execute the building program. In addition, there are some problems in connection with the supply of materials. But the fact is that the Treasurer has made some proposals about a moderate abatement in our private housing program. When the debate is resumed after dinner I will say what I believe that particular piece of terminology should represent because this is indeed an extremely sensitive area and to get too carried away with an abatement program could have highly deleterious effects. Yet I readily concede that something must be done to moderate the present boom conditions.

Sitting suspended from 6.14 to 8 p.m.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was discussing the Treasurer's proposal to undertake a moderate abatement in the flow of finance for housing. One will not have time to discuss the question of liquidity. It is a complex matter, but one thing seems likely - the possibility of a restoration of business confidence. There is a likelihood that more money will be in demand for manufacturing purposes, and I think it is important for the House to realise that it might not be very long before there is very real competition in the money market. We work in a very sensitive area in housing. We have to realise the possibility of unemployment if there is any tendency to be .heavy handed about matters. Fortunately the Government has the power, through its banking legislation, to regulate the flow of money, and fortunately this Government has the preparedness to do something about those matters. In addition, of course, if there is any decline in the housing industry and a threat of unemployment it is within our capacity to stimulate activity by putting even more money into the basic housing problem area, the area that concerns low income people. The Treasurer has made it clear that, against the traditions of the past, we do not limit our fiscal policy to the Budget concept. We have manoeuvrability subsequently and we will be prepared to invoke that.

One matter of interest, of course, is the future of building societies. I suppose everyone, including the building societies and the people who invest iti them, is now coming to understand the significance of the Treasurer's proposal that building societies may well be brought under regulation. Such a move will be of great benefit to lenders because they will know that there will not be a continuation of the stop-go policies that have been characteristic of this area in the past. A characteristic of stability will come to bear and there will bc a lot of other things to do to make building societies play an effective, integratory role in our housing program. I hope that will include uniform State legislation, which the Commonwealth might take an initiative in preparing and proposing. Then I suppose we all hope we can avoid the proliferation of building societies, the kind of thing we saw with the hospital and medical benefit funds, with great unnecessary overhead expenses, duplicated office resources and things of that kind.

I would like to make passing reference, in regard to the liquidity question, to the very heavy emphasis that has emerged in respect of finance company lending. The fact of the matter is that finance companies increased their lending in May to $128. 5m. This figure was 36 per cent up on the previous month. When we think of long term housing loans and the people who are involved, the business of subjecting them to repayments at 12 per cent interest is a most undesirable process. I hope the Government will be able to contrive the ways and means of ensuring that whatever role the finance companies are to have in the future it will not be an integral and basic rok in the provision of finance for housing.

When the new Australian Government took office I discovered that the Holt Liberal-

Country Party administration had instructed the Department of Housing that it had no policy role, that its function was merely to dole out to the States each year the funds decided upon at the Australian Loan Council, to administer the homes savings grant scheme, to look after the war service homes scheme as it was called then and generally to function merely as an administrative agency. The Government of the day did not want advice on how to set targets for housing, how to reduce the growing waiting lists for housing commission homes, how to build homes more efficiently or how to plan for the future. We are now left with the bitter fruits of that sterile attitude, of that weary Liberal refusal to resort to indicative planning or to set guide lines or to lay down directions - in short the curse of Australia, the 'she'll be right' attitude or syndrome. This is our inheritance, the legacy that has come to us. There is no machinery for planning, no long term housing targets, no guide lines for the lenders, the land developers, the builders or the manufacturers of materials. They do not know what is ahead of them from one day to the next or from one year to another. They are all left to operate in a vacuum.

In a sense there is complete reliance on spontaneity, an unformulated process of syn.chonisation, to bring all these aspects together - the housing need, the building force, the flow of finance and the availability of land and material. We are not satisfied that we can operate successfully in such a situation. We believe that the housing industry is such a significant economic force in this country that without regulation we can have housing operating as a catalyst to unemployment, a catalyst to inflation. As quickly as we possibly can we will do something about setting up the machinery to analyse these projected needs. More than that is required. Obviously we will have to look at all the various components of the problem. There is the question, for example, of building materials. We know that there have been shortages which have been reflected in price increases. In fact the increase in building materials for the 12 months to July 1973 is in the vicinity of 7 per cent, and currently prices are increasing at an annual rate of 15 per cent - a frightening prospect. We recognise the problem and we are anxious to do something about it. We will only do something about it over a long term with the planning processes about which I have talked.

Then there are manpower shortages. The country at large knows about the shortage of carpenters, bricklayers and other tradesmen. We will have to organise a program, again related to our targeting, to ensure that there is a flow of young men into the building industry. We will obviously have to initiate preapprenticeship training schemes. There is a lot to be said for having young men do a technical training course of perhaps 6 months and after that work as an apprentice in a block system, perhaps apprenticed to the Master Builders Association. These things are urgent and something has to happen in a hurry. We will have to do something about adult retraining. In addition there will have to be an added impetus in respect of selected immigration to build up our building force.

Many other matters give me concern and 1 would certainly like an opportunity to talk longer about them tonight. The disorganised approach to the building needs of the community on the part of some of the lending authorities is a matter that needs a great deal of attention. In my discussions recently with building society representatives I asked one building society secretary how many loans his organisation would be making this year, and he said 4,000. As I discussed it with him I discovered that the process which is characteristic of building societies involved this kind of thing: 4,000 people would go and buy 4,000 blocks of land. Those blocks of land might have been sold a number of times over - the subject of exploitation - but after they were bought the building society people would send off 4,000 valuers, and 4,000 surveyors would probably be going out in different directions. In addition to that they would set about the business of building 4,000 houses all differently. There would be 4,000 plumbers arriving in 4,000 trucks, digging up 4,000 roads to put the water services on. There would be 4,000 yards of sand deposited here and there and there would be 4,000 buckets of lime. Everything would be disorganised and disintegrated. Obviously we have to set about this program in an estate project way, so that we can get conceptual attitudes and new living styles, a better product at lower price for the consumers. I regard the building industry as old fashioned, out of date and in need of complete reorganisation and overhaul. I would like the House to get the impression from what I am saying that this Government has the intention of encouraging the forces that are involved to get on with the job of remodernising the housing processes so that we can get better value for money, so that we can get efficient utilisation of our finance and efficient use of our building teams and the materials involved. There is a great challenge ahead for the building industry and I hope that we will see it characterised by a spirit of co-operation with all the sections involved.

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