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Monday, 15 October 1973
Page: 2076

Mr BONNETT (Herbert) - There will be no opposition to this Bill going through the House because there is a definite need for finance for the States to proceed with their plans for welfare housing. We feel, however, that there are details which should have been finalised some time ago, and no doubt they would have and could have been finalised if the Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson) had been able to get the States to agree to the States Housing Agreement Act. That Bill still has not been ratified by the States, and it should bc obvious to the Minister that a little rethinking was needed regarding the details concerned in it. We well remember the battle that went on between the Minister and the State Ministers for Housing regarding his ideas on the percentage of homes for rental compared with the percentage of houses for sale, and that even Premiers of States of the Minister's own political persuasion were against his ideas on this matter. I have no doubt that they still are.

I have no quarrel whatsoever with the Minister or the Government on their ideas about the desirability of increasing the number of dwellings available for low rental, but I do quarrel with the Minister over his being so adamant about the percentage of homes for low rental that he wishes to force onto the States. The requirement for each State is different. I have said before and say again that the States know the requirement of their own people best and are in a far better position to make the decisions on what numbers of dwellings would be available for rental and for sale. Also, how docs the Minister know that the situation would not change, in which case no doubt we would then have to go through the procedures of altering the percentage? Surely, if he does not trust those ministers of Liberal Party or Country Party persuasion to do the right thing by the people in their respective States, he should at least be able to trust those Ministers of his own particular political persuasion with regard to State housing.

If the Minister had sought the co-operation of the States, for a review of their priorities for low. rental accommodation in an effort to obtain some standardisation of priorities throughout the Commonwealth I would probably have agreed with him. But it appears as though the Minister wants to have all the say regarding what percentage of homes should be available for low rental and for sale. Looking at the statements that have been made over the last few months and the ideas about which the Minister has spoken, I doubt whether he really has any idea of the individual requirements of the States. I say that I doubt whether the Minister would know for this reason. Recently the Minister made a public statement regarding homes built by the Queensland Housing Commission and private contractors for use as married quarters for Army personnel in Townsville. I doubt whether the Minister has ever seen or inspected them. If he has I stand corrected. His statement has angered a number of Army personnel and certainly angered the civilian population of Townsville.

Last week the Minister for Defence and Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard) visited the Army installation in Townsville and made a statement to the effect that the married quarters for serving personnel, which we know were built by the Queensland Housing Commission and some private contractors, were su'b-standard. That was bad enough as it was not true, but the Minister for Housing supported this statement during a talk-back program on a Townsville radio station. He was contacted by telephone from the station and in reply to a question from the interviewer he intimated that the married quarters for Army personnel were sub-standard insofar as there were no fans, no fly screens and no blinds supplied with the homes.

I have news for the Minister and for the Deputy Prime Minister. I heard the program. The Minister for Housing certainly put himself completely offside with a number of Army wives who rang the station later to refute his statement that the quarters were sub-standard. I also refute his statement for I know that the Army quarters are equipped with fans, fly screens and Venetian blinds. I can vouch for this because it was my representations to the then Minister for the Army and the then Treasurer that made the fly screening of these quarters possible. While there was some delay in the supply of blinds at the outset every home is now equipped with them. The fans are of the oscillating type and can be wall mounted or portable. To support my statement 1 have here the latest Army Journal which states that accommodation for all Army personnel at Townsville has fans, screens and blinds. If the Minister for Housing had said J.i&t some of the quarters allocated for Royal Australian Air Force personnel needed attention I would have agreed with him. Some of those homes are still not equipped with blinds and are still without sewerage facilities. If he had said that he and the Minister for Defence would see that these RAAF quarters were brought up to the standard of Army homes and other RAAF quarters as soon as possible, I would have supported him all the way. But his statement that Army quarters were sub-standard was a reflection on homes occupied by civilians in the Townsville area, which they do not accept.


Another factor which leads me to this belief is that according to the latest statistics Australia's housing problems do not relate to any overall shortage of housing units. If I remember correctly the statistics show that some 300,000 dwellings are unoccupied for some reason or another. Yet we have thousands of people on low incomes who cannot obtain suitable accommodation. This leads one to ask: Is this because the rentals or purchase prices of these unoccupied dwellings are beyond the means of low income earners or is it in fact a distribution problem, meaning that the unoccupied dwellings are in areas where work is not available to the low income earner, or is it a problem of transport facilities or charges? It is possible that a low income earner may obtain a dwelling in an area where transport facilities are either not available or the charge for them is beyond his budget means. If this is so, would there not be a case for a subsidy for transport charges? The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement should be the main means by which government funds are provided to assist low income earners to obtain housing facilities of a respectable standard. But areas in which to build these homes are becoming further and further away from the industrial areas where these people are em- / ployed. In some instances the transport charges, as I have mentioned, are a big factor in the weekly budget.

Another means of assistance to these low income earners which could be considered is a rent subsidy scheme for those who for some good reason or another do not wish to purchase a home. Assistance by way of rent allowance is available to pensioners at the moment to the extent of $4 per week. Perhaps this could be extended to some members of the low income group as many of them, because of the long waiting lists for public housing, are able to afford only very low quality accommodation in the private housing sector. Some form of rental allowance could be considered in these circumstances whereby on the family income a low income family could rent good quality accommodation. The Services have a subsidy scheme which enables members to obtain sufficient respectable private accommodation when married quarters are not available. So it is not as though the investigation of such a scheme as I am suggesting could be classed as a precedent.

The Government, through the Minister for Housing, has expressed a desire to assist families on low incomes with their housing problems. I also have expressed that desire previously. I have also mentioned that according to the information available there are quite a number of unoccupied dwellings that could be utilised for these purposes. But a quick and thorough investigation should be undertaken to see whether this proposal could be implemented. If it could it certainly would ease the housing problems of low income earners. Investigation could be organised in co-operation with the States of these points: Areas where these unoccupied dwellings exist; transport facilities and charges to the closest industrial area to such dwellings; the possible subsidy of transport charges for low income earners; and a possible extension of the rental allowance to some members of the low income group. These investigations could be carried out quickly and simply in co-operation with the States and would certainly help a lot to overcome the problems of the low income earners.

This is another reason why I say that the Minister should not have laid down a hard and fast rule for State housing commission homes to be made available for rental instead of providing an opportunity for purchase. Any form of housing objective cannot be achieved until all the facts of each State's requirements and an understanding of the situation are known. I ask the Minister whether, in order to achieve some definite method of assistance for the low income earner to obtain accommodation of a respectable standard in the shortest possible time, he will consider my suggestion of an investigation along the line? I have mentioned. As I said earlier, the Opposition does not want to inconvenience the States any further with their welfare housing problem, and we support the Bill before the House.

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