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Wednesday, 20 November 1974
Page: 2600

Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) -The Senate is dealing with 2 important Bills, the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill and the Housing Agreement Bill. The Government is attempting by these Bills to contribute to the States and to provide an agreement for the flow of extra money to enliven the housing industry. The debate has been important. In case the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh), who in this chamber represents the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson), does not find himself able to do so, I give my congratulations to Senator Carrick for the excellent address which he gave. I believe that it should be circulated widely because it took into account many of the important matters related to one of the major industrial activities in this country. I also comment on the speech of the previous speaker, Senator Steele Hall. Anyone listening to the debate would realise that he is a man who had control of the subject and of how finance for housing applied to his State of South Australia. If the Minister is capable of replying to the comments and criticism which Senator Hall made of the socialist Labor Government in South Australia we look forward to his reply. The important thing about this debate is that the speakers on the subject of housing have all come from the Opposition side. It is interesting to note that not one member of the Government has felt capable or sufficiently interested to be on his feet to speak on this most nationally important subject so far as the employment of people is concerned.

Senator Georges - I raise a point of order. My point of order is that the honourable senator on his feet -

Senator Marriott - He is not now.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McAuliffe)- Order! Senator Marriott, Senator Georges is experienced enough to be able to express himself without any help from honourable senators on my left.

Senator Georges - Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I am pleased that you are aware of my capacity to defend myself against any interjection which may come from the other side of the chamber. Senator Webster misrepresented in an offensive way the attitude of Government senators here.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTSenator Georges, there is no substance in the point of order. Do you feel that you have been misrepresented?

Senator Georges - No. If I felt I had been misrepresented I would say so at the end of the honourable senator's speech. I find the remarks of the honourable senator offensive. He must be fully aware of why Government senators are not coming into the debate. It is because this legislation is important and urgent.

Senator Cotton - I raise a point of order. This is a short speech by Senator Georges and not a point of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTThere is no substance in the point of order, Senator Georges. You have made your point. I call Senator Webster.

Senator WEBSTER -Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. The point I was making in my speech on housing was that it is a matter which concerns the most important industry as far as manufacturing and construction are concerned and it has been left to honourable senators on the Opposition side. I read the situation in this way: No supporter of the Government is capable of defending the policies of the Australian Labor Party at this time. That is evident. I plead with the Government, I go down on my knees to it, to reverse the policies which have been applied by the socialists in this country over the last 2 years. It is not a case of saying: 'Look at the trouble you are likely to lead us into'. One has to say: 'Look at the trouble you have got us into'. This is a situation which has never applied in industry or employment at any time in the history of this country. The industry is important. The criticism of what Labor has been doing is activated by the Opposition. I realise that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, who is in charge of these Bills, is a man with some knowledge of the industry.

Senator Cavanagh - I am sorry I cannot reciprocate.

Senator WEBSTER - I take the point that the Minister has made. I make a comparison between the 2 points. I believe that the Minister was a plasterer. There is no need to apologise for that. Whether he was capable is something yet to be proved. But that is the background of his knowledge.

Senator Mulvihill - What is the honourable senator's building experience?

Senator WEBSTER -At the present time I conduct a building business in which I have to be responsible for the employment of a number of people. I suggest to the Senate that it is of more concern to me that I attempt to maintain the employment of individuals than it appears to be for the Labor Party. Over the past years the Labor Party has taken definite and positive action to see that unemployment is promoted in the community.

Senator Georges - I am starting to find this offensive.

Senator WEBSTER - The honourable senator should find it offensive because the practical facts, as he knows, are that at this moment the Government has brought the housing industry to its knees. It has created the greatest unemployment which has occurred in this country since the 1930 depression.

Senator Georges - That is rubbish.

Senator WEBSTER -We have Senator Georges coming in and saying that this is rubbish. I hope that Senator Georges from

Queensland will rise to his feet and demonstrate how it is rubbish. We will see whether the honourable senator has any capability. But I do not wish him to interrupt me because I wish to say that the industry with which we are dealing had in 1973 a labour force of 472,000 individuals. I say here and now that, quite apart from the considerations of the party to which I belong, the construction industry in Australia is the thermometer so far as the economic health of the community is concerned. It is a gauge not only of the need for housing in our society but also of the living standards of the community. It creates environmental circumstances and better standards of living for people in the community. Surely that is something for which labor should be striving. It involves not only employment in the construction industry but also in the service industries supplying plaster, electrical goods, and plumbing equipment. In the background there is the manufacture and planning of the electronic equipment which may go into any house, the tiles for the roof, or the necessary galvanised iron and timber. A great industry is behind housing construction. This Bill deals with the greatest industry in Australia. What do we find after Labor has been in office for 2 years? The industry is crying out, as Senator Carrick has said. What is the position of the architects, the people involved in initial planning, whether for private industry or public industry, whether for the housing industry or for the industrial or commercial life of this country? Work has been brought to a stop because of the implementation of the socialist philosophy of the Labor Party over the past 2 years.

Senator Mulvihill - Building crooks.

Senator WEBSTER -Now we hear my dear friend Senator Mulvihill -

Senator Mulvihill - The building crooks, the spivs who build offices and not hospitals and schools.

Senator Carrick - Mr Acting Deputy President,I rise to a point of order. I find utterly offensiveI am sure my fellow senators do also- the remarks of Senator Mulvihill which you must have heard describing Mainline as building spivs and crooks.

Senator Georges - I take a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McAuliffe)- Just a moment, Senator Georges; let me deal with one point of order at a time. Senator Carrick, there is no substance to your point of order because Senator Mulvihill did not refer to a senator or to a member of Parliament and you have not referred me to any standing order which would cover the situation. His remarks were not directed at any senator or member of this Parliament, or member of any other government or parliament

Senator WEBSTER - I thank those honourable senators who took some offence at Senator Mulvihill's remarks. I do not take offence. When a supporter of the Government speaks in that way about an employer of some thousands of people in this community, when he speaks of an organisation in that way and describes the people in it as spivs and crooks, he reflects on all the employees who work for that organisation. It is a drastic step for any Government supporter to take to say that he is pleased to see the creation of unemployment in any industry. It is a complete breakaway from Labor's philosophy of the past few years whereby it was willing to criticise overseas owned corporations. Now Labor supporters come into this place and criticise the growth of Australian based industries. I have a very high regard for those industries. I have a very high regard for Mainline.

Senator Coleman - You have a high regard for speculators.

Senator WEBSTER - I find speculators in every sphere.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTOrder! Senator Webster, you are capable enough of making a speech about the Bill before the chamber without engaging in inflammatory language with honourable senators on your left. I think you can make a good speech by referring to the subject of the debate and I ask you to do so.

Senator Cavanagh - Mr Acting Deputy President,I rise to take a point of order as a result of that statement. I ask that Senator Webster be requested to at least now and again refer to the Bill and speak to it. We have heard of my early history and we have heard of what has happened to a lot of firms but we have heard nothing about whether we should or should not give money to the States for housing.

Senator WEBSTER - I am certainly addressing my comments to the Bill. Honourable senators on the Government side drew me away from it when they talked about spivs in the building industry. If that is the view they take I think it fair that I make some comment in reply. I am directing my comments to the housing industry and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has heard that the Opposition is not opposing these Bills. As Government supporters indicate their complete ignorance of this particularly important industry

I think it essential that somebody attempt to point out how important it is. That is what I have been attempting to do. I am asking them to look at the importance of the industry as a whole, not just the construction side but right through to the supply and servicing of land. These things are all an essential part of the Bill we are debating. The Minister will rise to his feet and say that this Labor Government is providing so much more public money. It is not Labor money; it is the taxpayers money which is being given back to the States from whence it came. Yet the Government is claiming some credit for doing that. It is essential to point out to the Government and its supporters that the return of funds is not sufficient to make up for the disaster they have created in the escalation of costs, even in relation to the supply of land. This is important because we are dealing with the allocation of money which is to be used in various areas of home building by private builders and by the States and their housing authorities. Mr Acting Deputy President, are you aware that at this moment building costs are reckoned to have escalated to the extent that they are 50 per cent more than they were?

Senator Georges - When did that start? When did that progression start?

Senator WEBSTER - I think 3 government supporters are replying to me. The Minister might reply to my question. If he disagrees with the statement he might go to the Australian Government housing authorities and get the facts. The true position is that unless the Government provides over 100 per cent more than the grant it made last year for each of these areas, it will deprive the States of their true rights. That must be acknowledged by the Minister. This has flowed from the stupid philosophy this Government implemented in the early stage of its career. What did the Government say in the first 6 months of its reign in 1972? It said to the general employee community and to the unions: 'Go for your life for all the benefits you can gain. Go for your life to get the highest you can as increases in your salaries'. Do honourable senators know what that has created at the present time?

Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) - There was a 150 per cent increase -

Senator WEBSTER -Senator Brownis laying back in his seat and has made some inane comment. What the Government created then is going to bring about the greatest level of unemployment this community has ever known because employers are unable to meet the costs arising from what their employees have been granted. I make that point. I am not referring to what the employee has demanded over the past few years, I am referring to what the arbitration court has granted to employees over the past few years. I am an employer of a number of men in the joinery industry and I add something to this community, something that I doubt any Labor man has ever done in his life, and that is to create a position -

Senator Georges - Wait a moment. I take a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President.

Senator Davidson - Give the number of the Standing Order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTSenator Davidson, I do not need any assistance from you. I have a knowledge of the Standing Orders and so has Senator Georges. Senator Georges, what is the point of order and what is the number of the relevant Standing Order?

Senator Georges - I have sufficient knowledge of the Standing Orders to know that if a senator is offensive to another senator opposite, even by inference, he should withdraw the words used. Senator Webster is saying that no senator on this side has contributed anything to the employment of people, to the production of goods or to the development of wealth in this country. That statement is offensive to me personally and it ought to be withdrawn. He ought not continue with the offensive remarks he commenced about 20 minutes ago.


Senator Georges,are you saying that the words indicating that you never employed anybody are offensive?

Senator Georges - No.


There is no substance in the point of order.

Senator WEBSTER - I only make the point that I believe I speak with some authority in this matter. I challenge the Government to demonstrate its knowledge of it. I plead with the Government to change its attitude. When it first came into office it encouraged employees and unions to make applications, and the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to grant the benefits they seek. Today the small employer in the community, of which I am one, finds it impossible to grant his employees the benefits that are awarded. Mr President, do you know, as some members of the Opposition Parties would know, that as a result of the 35 per cent increase in salary granted this year to tradesmen in this industry, employers are facing, coming to Christmas, having to grant 4 weeks annual leave, having to meet a 17 te per cent loading for whatever reason the silly people on the Arbitration Commission granted it, and having to pay out to employees the equivalent of $600 to $700 for an 8-week period during which there will be no production. It will be impossible to support employees on that basis. Will the Government please take into account the problems it has created?

The next thing the Government did was to see to it that the interest rate would escalate. The Government took the first stance by requiring that the Reserve Bank increase the rate of interest on housing loans. I can remember Government senators some years ago saying in this House: 'Why should primary industry benefit from the disparity of 1 per cent?' They believed that the lowest interest rates in the community should be on housing loans. Senator Georges may have been one of those who said that. By the look of him I think it may have been. But what the Labor Government did was escalate the interest rate in the building industry to the highest on record in my lifetime.

Senator Georges - You started it.

Senator WEBSTER -What has developed, and Senator Georges should take note of this, is a situation where no matter how much money is poured into the building industry, we will not enliven it. The Government has wrecked management and the industry by denying them encouragement. It has criticised profit although it did a double flip and changed its mind last week when it told the Prices Justification Tribunal that it should now take into account the profit motive. Here we have the Chairman of the Prices justification Tribunal, having been given his riding instructions by Labor, saying: 'Do not tell me what I am going to do. I am not going to take notice.' But the Labor Government now says: We are ruined unless you take account of the profit motive'.

Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) - I rise to order and I regret having to do this to the honourable senator. I sincerely mean that. This debate is on 2 Bills- it is a cognate debate- one being the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill 1974 and the other the Housing Agreement Bill 1974. It would have to be conceded that we have listened for almost 20 minutes to Senator Webster and most of his remarks have been totally irrelevant to the substance of the 2 Bills. Mr Acting Deputy President, I direct your attention to standing order 42 1 which states:

The President or the Chairman of Committees may call the attention of the Senate or the Committee, as the case may be, to continued irrelevance or tedious repetition, and may direct a Senator to discontinue his speech.

I contend that the greater part of the remarks made by Senator Webster, in particular the latter part of his remarks, has been totally irrelevant to the subject matter of the debate. Therefore I ask you to give your attention to this standing order and at least ask the honourable senator to link his remarks to the substance of these 2 Bills. The reason I raise this point of order is that it is important that these Bills be passed so that we can allocate the moneys which are so critical to the welfare of the industry about which Senator Webster is registering so much concern.

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