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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3321

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Agriculture) - in reply- I do not mind people arguing a case against Government policy but I cannot stand moralisers. I cannot, in particular, stand this 'holier than thou' attitude which seems to be the hallmark of some honourable senators on the other side- particularly Senator Baume who has just resumed his seat. Anyone would imagine that the history of Liberal Party and Country Party governments was one of perfection in which they never at any time allowed the housing building, approval or completion rate to fall below some particular average figure. The evidence over the years shows beyond doubt that that is exactly what has happened.

The history of housing construction in Australia is a series of ups and downs. It is very well nigh impossible for any government to take out completely those highs and lows in the building industry. It is always a feature of the economy. The building industry is the barometer whereby one measures the economic activity in the community at a particular time. The same applies to the motor vehicle industry. These are two of the industries which are susceptible to the movement of the economy. One would assume, listening to Senator Baume's contribution to this debate that that had never occurred under previous governments, when in fact the evidence is there- for the whole of those 23 years- to show that the building industry suffered fluctuating fortunes.

I want to remind the Senate of what was said in the second reading speech. We ought to put this in its context. In part the second reading speech states:

.   . dwelling completions in 1973-74 reached a record level of 1 52,700 and, at the end of the June quarter--

That is June of this year- the amount of work under construction was still at record levels. Indeed the capacity of the building industry then was undoubtedly still over-stretched.

It was over-stretched. The second reading speech continues:

Furthermore, even at the end of the September quarter the number of dwellings under construction was still 28 per cent above the level at end September 1972 -

That was under a Liberal-Country Party Government- and only slightly below the number at end September 1973.

The Government recognised the fact- there is no question of the fact- that the building industry was over-heated. The Government had to take measures- with the restricted powers that it has in the economic circumstances which have prevailed during the past few months- to try to dampen this over-heated situation.

What have we done? We will look at some of the things that have been done. The Government allocated $3 1 0m in 1 974-75 to the States for welfare housing, an increase of $91m over the amount allocated to the States in 1973-74. A proposed increase in the proportion of housing agreement funds which may be channelled through the home builders' account will result in more funds becoming available for lending to lower income home seekers through terminating building societies. There is an additional expenditure of $ 15m in 1974-75 under the Defence Service Homes Scheme; an additional expenditure of $ 14m in 1974-75 for housing in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory; an increase from $5m to $ 1 0m in the yearly expenditure under the Dwellings for Aged Pensioners Scheme; an increase in the capital subsidy under the Aged Persons' Homes Act to $4 for $1 from the previous $2 for $1; and, of course, an additional $75m to be allocated to the States for welfare housing- $50m to be distributed through the home builders' account and $25m for the State Housing authority building programs; and a further $8m has been allocated specifically to Queensland.

This shows beyond any measure of doubt that the Government is aware of the problems and is acting rapidly to reverse this situation. The statistics prove that this is having its effect immediately. For example, in September of this year when the industry reached its lowest level of activity, we find that the number of loans approved by the savings banks was 4,744. A month later the number of loans jumped to 7,256. The same applied with the trading banks. In September 1,634 loans were approved and in October 2,505 loans were approved. The total of all loans approved to individuals for housing purposes in September of this year was 8,700. At that time, as I say, the industry had reached the bottom of the trough. By the next month- October- the figure had jumped to 1 1,775. This evidences the fact that the measures that the Government has taken are having effect now. We will see a dramatic upturn flow from the measures which have been taken.

There is no opposition to the Bill, I know, and therefore there is not the need to speak at length on it. I hope I have answered sufficiently one or two of the points that have been made. The other matter upon which I wish to dwell, as I did last week, is that of inflation. There is always the tendency in this place at the present time to castigate the Government because of inflation. Senator Hall made the point, I believe quite correctly, that cost inflation is now the main problem in this economy, as well as the fact that we do not have control over our incomes and our prices- a control which this Government foresaw 12 months ago was a necessary ingredient of its powers if it was going to control a cost inflation situation. A cost inflation situation is what we have.

When we sought those powers we were opposed by the Opposition. It knew that by opposing our efforts to get those powers it would be deliberately robbing this Government of one of the most powerful weapons that it could have to fight inflation. The Opposition opposed us deliberately, knowing full well that the States, in which the power presently resides, could not effectively control the cost inflation problem either individually or collectively. By a deliberate act of the Liberal and Country Parties to ensure that the Government would not be able to grapple with inflation- that was the real purpose of their opposition- we have been denied those powers. I would say that the point made by Senator Hall is quite right. I also accept the fact that the other night he was prepared to admit that when the proposal in relation to the powers over prices and incomes came before the Australian people last year he did not support it, that he could not see the wisdom of it. But he can see the wisdom of it now. I hope that his argument will be sufficient to convince some members of the Opposition that those powers are indeed an effective weapon which is currently being denied the Government.

Notwithstanding all the points allegedly made by Senator Baume, in particular, the fact remains that this legislation in conjunction with so many other measures the Government has taken over the past few weeks, is designed to stimulate the housing industry. I am sure that once this legislation is through the Senate and the moneys can be disbursed we will see a continuing dramatic upturn in building activity in Australia.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.

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