19th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. F. Adermann) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Assent to the following bills reported : -
War Pensions Appropriation Bill 1950. Supply Bill (No. 2) 1950-51. Supply (Works and Services) Bill (No. 2) 1950-51.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Edgar Russell) on the ground of ill health.
– Has the Acting Leader of the House noticed the reports published in the press last week that Russia and Japan were the most important buyers at the big wool sales at Geelong? Has he also noticed the Commonwealth Statistician’s report of the 19th September, which stated that in July last year no wool was bought by Russia but that in July this year shipments totalling 3,380,000 lb. of greasy wool worth £1,514,000 were bought by Russia and that this meant that that country was the fifth biggest buyer of wool? Does the Government believe that if it is dangerous to arm our former enemies, Japan and Germany, militarily, it is just as dangerous to arm Russia economically in view of the Government’s opinion that Russia is our potential enemy?
– The answer is “ No “.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who recently attended in London a very important conference on wool, tell the House whether that conference originated at the request of the Government of the United States of America? What was the purpose of the conference? What conclusions did it reach on the purchase of Australian wool ?
– In London recently I attended two conferences in connexion with wool. One was the annual meeting of the International Wool Study Group, which is usually held at this time of the year. It had been suggested by the United States of America that the conference should take place a little earlier than usual, so that there could be some discussion of a proposal for international allocations of wool. The Governments of the three wool-producing British dominions explained to the International Wool Study Group the British Commonwealth proposals for a reserve price for wool, which was the outcome of an earlier conference held, this year in London at the request of the United Kingdom Government. General international approval of the proposed reserve price plans- was expressed, as has been publicly stated. The matter is now under consideration by the respective governments, and to-morrow I shall meet representatives of all Australian wool-growing organizations to explain to them the attitude taken by the International Wool Study Group on that particular issue. In regard to the suggestion that there should be an arrangement for international allocations of wool, and that something might be done about the price, the International Wool Study Group expressed the view that a case had not been established for international allocations of wool, and no suggestion was sponsored that there should be any interference with prices as determined by ordinary public auction. I think that fairly states, in broad terms, the outcome of the International Wool Study Group conference. The other conference, which might be regarded as more important from the Australian point of view, took place between five powers - the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa. At that conference the declared special American requirements of wool for military purposes were discussed. That is, wool for current United States military needs related to the announced intention of the administration to put 3,000,000 men into uniform within a short time. We discussed the wool requirements of that programme, and the special requirements of the
United States administration, to which public reference has been made, relating to a plan to have a stockpile of wool. Later the United States administration decided that the stockpile should be of wool cloth and garments and should be an emergency reserve.
– Did the United Kingdom have any similar request?
– The United Kingdom has similar requirements but did not make a similar request. I think that that is a fair statement. It was not a request which called for any special steps. The United States requirements, in the judgment of the United States Government, call for special steps to be taken to meet the requirements. I think this Ls too important a matter for me adequately to deal with in reply to a question, and I shall take an early opportunity to make a clear statement to the House about developments in that regard. The general outcome of the matter is that any suggestion of international allocation of wool has been dropped, both in general terms and in relation to American military requirements. There is a general acceptance of the condition that the ordinary auction system should continue, and there has been no suggestion that Australia is seeking to exploit the situation in regard to prices, nor is there any suggestion that we should make any concession in prices. I shall deal with the details of the discussion in a more complete statement which I hope to be able to make at an early date.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say how much money is now held by the Joint Organization in consequence of the sale of wool stocks, and when it is expected that a further distribution to growers will he made? Will the Minister also say when it is expected that a vote of the growers will be taken on the proposed 7£ per cent, contribution to establish a stabilization scheme? Can the honorable gentleman indicate whether any decision has yet been reached about the eligibility of woolgrowers to vote, and whether anything has been done to compile a list of those eligible to vote at the referendum?
– I am unable to say offhand exactly what amount of money is held of Australia’s share of the Joint Organization’s profits, but a calculation which I saw recently indicates that after the balance of the wool on hand has been sold, which is not very considerable, Australia’s share of the total profits will amount to approximately £50,000,000 Australian currency, so that the sum in hand to-day would probably exceed £40,000,000 Australian currency. The matter of making a further distribution of the Joint Organization’s profits has not been considered recently, but it will be kept in view, and an announcement will be made when a decision has been reached. The second part of the honorable member’s question related to the reserve price plan, which involves a compulsory contribution of 1 per cent, by the wool-growers. Because of the obvious lack of unanimity among wool-growers on the proposed scheme it has already been announced that a referendum of the growers will be taken. No reliable opinion about the views of the growers on the scheme can be formed until a specific proposal has been devised and placed before them. As I stated in reply to an earlier question to-day, it is accepted that at a quite early date the final details of that plan will be formulated, and the growers will then be in a position to form a judgment upon it. It appears to me, and, I think, to most people, ‘ quite unlikely that the plan, the broad points of which are at present understood, will receive anything like unanimous or spontaneous approval from, the growers. I presume that a referendum will be taken, hut I cannot state the exact date on which it will be held. It would not be held until the people concerned have had an opportunity to study the final form of the plan, or until certain details relating to the roll of those entitled to vote and the entitlement to vote have been worked out. The Government has not yet reached a decision about who will he entitled to vote, who will be classified as wool-growers, or whether every person who grows wool will be entitled to vote, and it will -not reach such a decision until I have gone into consultation with the various woolgrowers’ organizations, as I shall do at an early date, and have acquainted myself, and in turn the Cabinet, with their views on those particular points. The Government desires that this matter shall be cleared up by a reasonable early date, but it will not be rushed into it before the people affected have had an opportunity to study the final form of the plan.
– Is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture .in a position to say whether the question ‘of refunding the superfluous stabilization contributory charge levied and collected on the No. 11 wheat pool has been before the Cabinet for a decision? If not, is the Minister in a position to say when the question is likely to be submitted to the Cabinet for resolution?
– The question of a refund of the tax collected on No. 11 wheat pool has not been before the Cabinet for some time. I propose to bring the matter up at an early date. Perhaps the matter would have been brought up earlier had I not been absent from Australia during recent weeks.
– I desire to ask the Minister for the Navy a question which does not relate to an individual case, and which I ask only for the purpose of ascertaining a general principle. Is it the intention of the Government to amend the naval regulations to provide that the dependants of persons in the Navy who are killed accidentally in peace-time shall receive pensions that are equivalent to war pensions?
– The question of a new basis upon which the members of all three services may be awarded compensation in the event of the circumstances mentioned by the honorable member for Fremantle is at present engaging the consideration of a departmental committee and I feel sure that it will have the consideration of the Government later on.
– I desire to address a question to the Minister for the Navy, and, by way of explanation, I point out that it has been reported to me that naval personnel, both officers and men, who enlisted for specific periods, some for seven years and others for twelve years, and who have completed their term of service, are being refused their discharges from the Royal Australian Navy. Will the Minister inform the House whether that report is correct? If it is accurate, will he state the authority under which those personnel have been refused their release ‘. Is a form of intimidation, or some unofficial conscription plan being used to deny them their discharges?
– If the honorable member for Banks will give me confidentially the names of the persons whom he has in mind, I shall examine the matter. The answer to the other part of his question is in the negative.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether it is a fact that serious congestion has been caused’ in the port of Fremantle daily for some months past because there are not enough wharf labourers? Have some ships been delayed as long as eight days before berthing because of this? In addition to examining other possible remedies will the Minister collaborate with the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport in exploring the possibility of making increased use of out-ports?
– I understand that the position is as stated by the honorable member for Forrest. At a conference held with representatives of the shipping and waterfront authorities during August I raised the question of the shortage of labour in certain ports including Fremantle, and Mr. Healy, the general secretary of the Waterside Worker? Federation, suggested that some use might be made of unemployed waterfront workers from Bunbury. Arrangements were in hand to do that, but, at the last moment, they were frustrated because the Fremantle waterfront workers made some additional demands which were considered by the Stevedoring Industry Board to be unreasonable. The Fremantle branch was then instructed to admit 120 new members, but I am advised that, up to the present, they have refused to do so. At the recent biennial conference of the union it was decided, T am informed, to refuse admission to applicants for membership until certain demands, including increased attendance money, had been met. The attitude of Mr. Healy in this matter is inconsistent with the statement that he made at the meeting in August. The average wage of Fremantle waterside workers was the highest in Australia last year, being more than £13 a week. I am not aware of the extent to which it would be practicable to use ports in Western Australia other than Fremantle, but the question of using out-ports will he examined. The legislature has virtually given a monopoly of engagement on the waterfront to the union, but if it is not prepared to admit additional members to meet the needs of the country the operation of the act will have to be reviewed.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation review the position of veterans of the South African war in respect of repatriation benefits with a view to rectifying existing anomalies? Will he request Cabinet to apply the provisions of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act in their entirety to these veterans.
– I shall .be pleased to bring the honorable member’s question to the notice of the Minister for Repatriation and obtain a reply.
– I address a question to the Treasurer regarding the allocation of increased imports of dollar newsprint. I point out that the Melbourne Argus recently played a prominent part in the production of a scurrilous book entitled Power without Glory, which attacked society in general, and parliamentary government and the Labour party in particular. That book is at present the subject of criminal libel proceedings in Melbourne. Twenty-two members of the editorial staff of the Argus are known Communists, and doubt exists on the views of about as many more. In view of the part that the Argus played in the production of the scurrilous hook that I have mentioned and the persistent attempts of its red editorial staff to create dissension in the Australian Labour party by misrepresentation, and in view of the great assistance its spurious socialism is to the present Government in its attempts to tie a Communist label to the Labour party, has the Government allocated additional dollar newsprint to that newspaper ?
– An increased allocation has been made to the newsprint pool, but I do not know to what degree the newspaper that the honorable member has mentioned is participating in that increase.
– As a considerable period has elapsed since the MareebaDimbulah irrigation scheme was investigated and approved, and as farmers in that area are suffering great hardship through lack of water, I ask the Minister for National Development what progress has been made with the scheme and when he expects that that work will be commenced ?
– The Australian Government has not yet received complete information about the Mareeba-Dimbulah irrigation scheme. The Government is continuing to accumulate such information, which is coming to hand as’ instrumentalities of the Queensland Government make it available. I cannot give any undertaking about when work on the scheme is likely to he commenced. The Government has not yet reviewed the scheme as a whole, but will do so as soon as all relevant information is made available to it. I regret that at this juncture I cannot make any forecast of the Government’s decision.
– I ask the Minister for Supply whether he has made any decision in response to the representations that were made to him on behalf of the Northampton and Upper Chapman roads boards to facilitate supplies of ammunition to farmers in those districts in order to enable them to combat the emu menace. The districts affected include extensive wheat-growing areas, and the boards to which I have referred have advised me that emus are causing increasing destruction of crops and that delay in the supply of ammunition will result in further serious damage.
– About a fortnight ago the honorable member asked me a question on the matter he has just raised, and I gave attention to it immediately. Normally .303 cartridges are not manufactured in Australia for civilian purposes although they are manufactured at government factories for military purposes. Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand Limited usually imports them, hut the company stopped importation recently when a quantity of .303 cartridges not required for military use was released. That quantity seemed likely to fulfil civilian requirements for the time being, but when it became apparent that more cartridges were needed, I instructed officers of the Department of Supply to communicate with the company, and arrangements have now been made for it to import additional stocks of cartridges in order to meet the extra civilian need. However, that will not overcome the difficulty with which the honorable member is concerned. Therefore I have had a conversation with the Minister for the Army, and officers of the Department of Supply have also been in contact with the Department of the Army, which, no doubt as the result of action taken by the Minister, has indicated that, in the special circumstances if an official application is made, it will release a limited, but nevertheless I think adequate, quantity of ammunition to meet the needs of farmers in the north-western district of Western Australia. This quota will be released as soon as possible and will be made available to storekeepers and other distributors in Western Australia. I hope that this will meet the needs of the honorable member’s constituents.
– When will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture be able to announce the results of the recent negotiations with the United Kingdom Government for higher prices for Australian dried fruits in the British market? Is there reasonable ground for believing that prices for 1951 will exceed those which are paid at present?
– I am not in a position to say when an announcement can be made. Representatives of the Dried Fruits Export Control Board recently visited London to negotiate with the United Kingdom Ministry of Food with the object of establishing prices for next season’s dried fruits pack. The United Kingdom authorities were not able then to accede to the requests of the board, and the negotiations were broken off while I was in London. The representatives of the board have returned to Australia in order to consult with their colleagues and with other representatives of the industry. Negotiations will be resumed, not in the immediate future, but certainly in adequate time for the new prices to be made known before the crop becomes available. It is safe to assume that, having regard to the general situation of world supply and demand, prices for dried fruits next year will be higher than those that prevailed for the last season’s crop.
– Is the Treasurer aware of the fact that Commonwealth employees in Brisbane enjoyed for a number of years a concession granted by the Public Service Board, which allowed them a half-day holiday in addition to the public holiday on the Wednesday during the week in which the Royal National Show was held in August each year? Is the right honorable gentleman also aware that during the last show week that longenjoyed concession was withdrawn, and that this caused a considerable resentment and discontent among the employees? In view of the action of the Public Service Board in withdrawing that concession, and also in view of the fact that employees of the Queensland Government and of many of the large business firms are allowed that concession, will the Treasurer give sympathetic consideration to the matter and restore the additional half-holiday to Commonwealth employees during show week in the future?
– I am conversant with the subject to which the honorable member for Brisbane has referred. I investigated the matter previously, and I found that it was one entirely for the Public
Service Board, which had delegated authority in regard to it to the -administrative officers of the departments concerned. I have no intention of interfering with the administration of any of those departments.
– The machinery for the Defence Supply Planning Branch of the Department of Supply, and for the Defence Supply Planning Committee has been set up, and those two bodies have been working for some time. They are engaged, among other things, in a survey of the probable civilian and military requirements in Australia in time of war, and of the capacity of industry to fulfil them. A great deal of work has already been completed, but much still remains to be done. A survey has been made of such matters as shipping requirements, clothing, man-power for factories, hand tools, factory and annexe capacity, and the like. The Department of Supply and I have received many letters from industrialists and manufacturers, large and small, in which they offer to place their facilities at the service of the Government. The attitude which they have displayed in that respect, and their willingness to make information about their facilities available to the Government are most encouraging, and indicate that, should the need arise, we shall have the utmost co-operation from private industry in the defence of the country.
– Has the attention of the Acting Leader of the House been drawn to the last order issued by General “Wavell, Commander-in-Chief of the American-British-Dutch-Australian area, to General Percival, General Officer Commanding, Malaya, on the loth February, 1942, and particularly to the last paragraph of it as published recently in Mr. Winston Churchill’s memoirs? That order reads -
Also jost before final cessation of fighting opportunity should be given to any determined bodies of men or individuals to try and effect escape by any means possible. They must bp armed.
Is there a copy of that final order on the official files? In other words, was it received at that time? If so, can the right honorable gentleman tell me why it was not produced after the war, and why a court of inquiry was held with reference to the escape of Lieutenant - General Gordon Bennett from Malaya, who had acted in accordance with that order? If there is any record, will the Government take every step possible to rectify the injustice done to LieutenantGeneral Gordon Bennett, who was General” Officer Commanding Australian Imperial Force, Malaya, because there are certain steps to that end which li<within the Government’s power?
– I know nothing of the circumstances of the matter referred to by the honorable member. The incident occurred during the regime of a Labour administration. However, I shall inquire into the matter and see what information can be furnished.
– I desire to ask the Awing Leader of the House a question which is supplementary to one that was asked by the honorable member for Chisholm concerning Major-General Gordon Bennett and his escape from Singapore. When the right honorable gentleman reports on this matter will he refer to the statement that was made on the 7th March, 1942, by the then Prime Minister .- the late Mr. Curtin, immediately on the arrival of Major-General Gordon Bennett from Singapore? Mr. Curtin then said -
War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff to-day met Major-General H. G. Bennett. He reported fully on the Malayan campaign, including the battle for, and the surrender of, Singapore. I desire to inform the nation that we are proud to pay tribute to the efficiency, gallantry and devotion of our forces throughout the who!*1 struggle. We have expressed to Major-General Bennett our confidence in him. His leadership and conduct were in complete conformity with hie duty to the men under his command and lu hie country. He remained with his men until the end, completed all formalities in connexion with the surrender and then took the opportunity and risk of escaping.
– I shall certainly give consideration to the matter which the right honorable member for Barton has raised.
– My question is also supplementary to the question asked by the honorable member for Chisholm, If General Wavell gave the order which it has been suggested he did give, will the Acting Leader of the House ascertain why the men of the Australian Imperial Force were not allowed to retain their ‘arms, without which there was no hope of their escaping?
– I shall certainly have hat aspect of the matter looked into also.
– Some time ago the Government of New South Wales established a town-planning authority for the metropolis of Sydney, and that body has set aside certain areas for the construction of arterial roads. Much of the land is owned by ex-servicemen and age pensioners, who have not yet been able to erect dwellings on the land, and who now find that it is virtually valueless because it has been set aside for road construction. In the interests of justice to age pensioners, will the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services make representations to his colleague to issue instructions to the Department of Social Services that the nominal value of the land in question shall not be taken into consideration in determining the eligibility of age pensioners to receive pensions ?
– I shall ensure that the matter raised by the honorable member is brought promptly to the notice of the Minister for Social Services, and will ask him to furnish a reply to the honorable member as soon as possible.
– In directing a question to the Minister for the Army I state by way of explanation that numbers of personnel, all of whom have given loyal service for a number of years, are now serving in the interim army. Many of them are under 55 years of age and are doing a fine job, but their future is very obscure. Will the Minister state whether, when the period of contract of service of these interim army men has expired, they will be given on opportunity to sign on for a further definite period of service?
– At the present moment it is not proposed that members of the interim army shall continue in the service beyond the time for which they have been enlisted, but certain numbers of them who have special qualifications may be used in connexion with universal military training. That matter is now being examined. If the honorable member has any particular individual in mind, 1 shall have his case examined.
– In view of the recent disclosure that considerably fewer immigrants have gone to Queensland during the past twelve months than to New South Wales or Victoria, will the Minister for Immigration say whether that position is due to the Queensland Government having asked for a smaller allocation of immigrants than was asked for by the other States. If that is not the case, will the Government endeavour to ensure that the number of immigrants allocated to Queensland in future will ;be comparable with the numbers allocated to other States?
– I am not aware, and. indeed, I should he surprised to learn that the Queensland Government had requested that a smaller proportion of immigrants should go to that State than go to other States. A misleading impression can be gained from the fact that the number of permanent settlers in Queensland is not proportionately on the same scale as the number of permanent settlers in other States, because Queensland has been allocated, as the honorable member doubtless knows, a large number of seasonal workers, in order to assist in the harvesting of such crops as the sugar crop. Il is likely that the acute shortage of manpower to meet the industrial needs of some of the other States may have influenced the placement of a bigger proportion of immigrant, labour in thom-
States. However, I shall examine the matter raised by the honorable member to see whether steps can be taken to increase the proportion of immigrants going to Queensland.
– I direct to the Minister for National Development a question which arises from press reports that the Government proposes to exploit the production of oil from coal and also to endeavour to increase the production of oil from shale. Can the right honorable gentleman inform the House about the results of trials made with the Renco retort, which the Public Works Committee recommended some time ago should be placed in operation at Glen Davis ? Has that retort been in operation and, if so, with what result? Is it proposed to continue with experiments on the production of oil from coal and shale? Does the right honorable gentleman consider that valuable information could be secured as the result of the operation of the Renco retort? As honorable members know, I have been away from duty for lengthy periods during the past two years, but I am very interested in this particular subject. I was a member of the Public Works Committee that recommended the use at Glen Davis of the Jacomini plant, which is also known as the Renco retort, but I have not seen any reports about whether the plant was put into operation and the results that have followed. Can the right honorable gentleman give the House some information about the operation of the plant or, if it has not operated, can he say why it has not operated?
– I recollect very well the interest that the honorable gentleman has always shown since the 1930’s in the subject of the extraction of oil from coal and from shale. I am unable to give him any information, offhand, about the Renco retort, although I have some little knowledge of the history of that particular type of equipment, which is designed to extract oil from shale. It is quite true that in overseas countries, particularly America, the development of techniques for the extraction of oil from coal has assumed very practical proportions in recent years. A branch of my department has been investigating such modern processes in recent months to see whether they would have any current or immediately future application to Australian conditions. There is nothing authoritative that can be said on the subject at this stage, although I hope that the Government will examine the available data in the course of the next month or two. I shall ascertain the position about the Renco retort and inform the honorable member of it.
– A similar process is used for the extraction of oil from coal as is used for the extraction of oil from shale.
– -That is so, but modern processes for the extraction of oil from coal are much more advanced than the processes that were under discussion in the pre-war years. They are very expensive, but the time may be approaching when those matters may have to be regarded not only from the economic aspect, but also from the standpoint of assuring war supplies of oil. In that event the economic aspect of the use of such processes may not be given quite the prominence that it is given in ordinary times.
– Last week I asked the Minister for Works and Housing a question which arose out of reports that State housing commissions would be obliged to restrict the importation of prefabricated homes owing to their inability to provide as sites for such houses land where essential services were available. I asked then whether financial assistance by way of advances might he given to private land-owners to in]Do:’! prefabricated homes. I now ask the Minister to inform the House whether a. remission of duty will be granted to private buyers of imported prefabricated homes in the same manner as it is granted to State housing commissions? If this advantage is not now available will the Minister consider extending it to encourage the purchase of imported homes to relieve the present extreme shortage?
– Private purchasers and indeed any purchasers in Australia, of prefabricated homes from overseas, have the privilege of importing such homes duty free until the end of this calendar year. The matter of extending the privilege beyond that time is now under examination by the Minister for Trade and Customs. The duration of the privilege is not entirely within our province in Australia, because the British Government is concerned in the matter. However, the matter is being examined, and I hope and believe that the privilege may be extended beyond the end of this calendar year. As I have said, private purchasers of prefabricated homes enjoy the privilege of importing them duty free.
– The Treasurer recently made a statement in the House concerning overtime for parliamentary officers and moved that the paper he printed. Although this is an important matter which concerns the livelihood of the staff of this House, the order of the day for the resumption of the debate on it is listed as No. 18 on the notice-paper, which makes it unlikely that it will be dealt with within a reasonable time. I ask the Treasurer whether it is possible to place this item in such a position on the notice-paper as will make possible its discussion at an early date?
– I shall have much pleasure in complying with the request of the honorable member.
Mr. Cremean having ashed a disallowed question,
– The question is out of order. Any Minister has the right to answer questions in his own way or not to answer them at all if he so desires.
. - hy leave - I desire to inform .honorable members that as a result of arrangements which have been made between the Royal Australian Air Force, the Department of
Civil Aviation and the aero clubs, many young men who could not otherwise afford to learn to fly will now have the opportunity to do so. The general outline of the scheme was agreed to at recent conferences of the authorities I have mentioned. It provides for the following - five types of trainees : - Air Training Corps scholarship winners, Royal Australian Air Force reservists, national service trainees (when universal training is introduced), selected members of university squadrons, and Citizen Air Force cadets. Trainees in each class will receive up to 50 hours flying which should be sufficient to enable them to qualify for a private pilot licence even if they have never flown before., The Royal Australian Air Force reservists who are ex-wartime pilots will do a refresher course which should enable them to take out an instructor’s rating.
It is hoped to start the scheme with the air training corps scholarship winners within from four to six weeks. The Department of Air will hear the cost of the training and the aero clubs will continue to receive normal subsidies from the Department of Civil Aviation for flying by their own club members.
The Royal Australian Air Force intends to award 40 flying scholarships annually to the Air Training Corps. There are between 3,500 and 4,000 aircrew on the reserve list, who have not been able to do any flying since leaving the Royal Australian Air’ Force. The Royal Australian Air Force plans to give 225 of these men 50 hours’ flying each year.
The six university air squadrons at present in the process of establishment will each supply twenty students every year to be trained to private licence standard. Up to 200 selected national servicemen undergoing training will be trained to private licence standard each year. The training will be done chiefly in capital cities, but some training will be carried out at suitable country centres. A Royal Australian Air Force liaison officer will be appointed in each State to look after the training and to see that trainees are making good use of the facilities provided. Those who fail to come up to standard will have their training discontinued.
The prompt and willing way in which the aero clubs are throwing their resources into the scheme is a justification of the Government’s policy, over the years of paying subsidies to keep the aero club training organization intact. Reciprocally the plan will stimulate aero club activity and enable clubs to build up their facilities and equipment. In addition some private training organizations and unaffiliated clubs will benefit also by receiving a proportion of the trainees and giving them a regular flow of students. By using the aero clubs and these other organizations we shall be able to give good basic training quickly to many hundreds of young Australians - training and’ such will have a great defence value.
Formal Motion fob Adjournment.
– I have received from the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance namely -
The failure of the Government to take adequate steps to promote a complete scheme of national health and medical services and to inform Parliament of the proposals, if any, it may have in mind in connexion with the implementation of such a scheme.
.- [ move -
That the House do now adjourn.
-Is the motion supported?
Right honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– I rise to order. I desire to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether it is permissible to move the adjournment of the House in order to discuss a matter that has been discussed twice in the one session. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has already moved the adjournment of the House during this session for the purpose of discussing the following matter : -
The failure of the Government to provide adequate pharmaceutical benefits and services to meet the needs of the Australian public, and to inform Parliament of its proposals.
I submit that it is impossible to discuss adequately the question of a complete scheme of national health and medical services without embracing the subject that has already been discussed. If you rule that it is in order to discuss the subject matter involved in this motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I ask whether it is in order to discuss a subject that was discussed in this House a few weeks ago?
– Speaking to the point of order I wish to say that I do not propose to discuss, or even mention, the pharmaceutical benefits in my motion. I propose to deal with the Government’s promises to provide certain schemes quite apart from pharmaceutical benefits.
– The honorable member used the expression “ adequate steps “.
– Yes, and I shall say that the Government has not taken adequate steps. What I propose to say will not refer to what has already been discussed.
– The honorable member for Melbourne wishes to discuss matters in a wider field than those discussed earlier in the session. If the debate traverses the same ground that has already been covered I shall have to rule it out of order, even at a late stage. As Deputy Speaker, I am reluctant to deprive honorable members of the right to discuss any matters that they desire to raise, and to some extent the matter is also in the hands of the House. I have had ample opportunity of studying the Standing Orders, and even the observations of May, and I have also studied the terms of the notice of the honorable member and I rule that he may proceed but he must not discuss matter that has already been debated by the House this session.
– I desire to emphasize once more the abject failure of this Government to carry out its preelection promises. None of its failures is more abject than the one which concerns the vivid promise made less than twelve months ago to provide a national medical service, diagnostic clinics, homes and hospitals. In an advertisement which appeared in all the main daily newspapers of Australia on the 20th November, 1949, the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) directed this statement to the women of Australia -
This is what we offer you . . . Preventive medicine . . . diagnostic clinics, new hospitals and schools. Homes and home ownership at reasonable cost.
No Minister within my experience has been as irresponsible as the present Minister for Health. He prepares schemes and statements which purport to give effect to the promises of the joint Opposition parties made in pre-general election days. He conducts conversations and negotiations with various sections and interests, and then finishes up in much the same place as he started from. The Parliament has lost count of the various proposals that have been advanced, amended, and discarded by this extraordinary Minister. The Parliament has noted the Minister’s failure to announce a clear-cut understandable scheme on medical services and it has equally noted the Minister’s contemptuous treatment of the Parliament itself.
– He is a political pee wee.
– The Minister has never made one statement to this Parliament, which could be debated by it, as to what he has done, what he is doing or what he intends to do in the field of national medicine. On the 1st March last, in another place he was asked-
– Order ! If the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made that recent objectionable reference a moment ago to the honorable member, the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), I ask him f.o withdraw it.
– I made no reference to the Minister for Health.
– I made the reference, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I withdraw it.
– The previous Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) asked the Minister in another place who represents the Minister for Health there; -
The answer to that series of questions was not particularly informative. It was -
Conferences were held in Melbourne on the 17th and 18th January with representatives ot the British Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Guild and friendly societies, and subsequent conferences have been held with repre sentatives of these bodies. The Senate will be fully informed of the results of deliberations when finality has been reached.
The conferences were held on the 17th and 18th January, the Senate was told of that fact on the 1st March, and now it is the 1st November and not on© further bit of information has been given to the Senate or this House on what is happening in the work for which the Minister for Health is responsible. We have heard of all sorts of schemes being prepared. All sorts of statements have been handed out from time to time by those anonymous people, Government spokesmen, intimating that the people had only to wait a little while and everything would he all right. On the 15th March last a section of the daily press of Australia announced under banner headlines -
Health scheme on way.
Bill ready soon.
At that time the bill had not even been prepared. The bill is not even prepared yet. It is certain that it was not prepared seven weeks later than the date which I have quoted, because on the 5th May the same journal proclaimed in smaller headlines -
National Health Bill may now be held up.
That announcement followed a comment made three days earlier by the Premier of New South Wales about the Australian Government’s national health scheme. He said that the national health scheme was neither more nor less than a swindle. The bill has not been heard of since, but on the 25th August last a regulation made under Statutory Rules 1950, No. 50, pursuant to the provisions of the National Health Service Act 1948-49, which was passed by the Chifley Government, entitled pensioners of Australia to certain benefits from the 1st November, 1950. To-day is the 1st November, 1950. The medical services which were prescribed were those - . . which the Director-General may provide, or arrange for the provision of, under the National Health Service Act 1948-49, (to) include (a) general medical practitioner services; and (6) the supply of medicines prescribed by medical .practitioners in the course of those services.
That is all that the Minister has done about the matter. He has said in an airyfairy sort of way that pensioners will get certain benefits. He has said that he would make it possible for pensioners to get those services legally, and would leave it to the Director-General of Health to work out the detail. In answer to a question recently, the Minister for Health emphasized that the pensioners were to get their medical benefits from to-day, but in the Canberra Times of this day’s date there is a report which reads -
The free medical treatment and medicine scheme for pensioners due to begin to-day has been postponed.
The Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) said yesterday that the .postponement had been caused by machinery difficulties, particularly printing. He hoped the scheme would begin within ft few months.
Just listen to that! He hoped that the scheme would be commenced within a few months! Printing difficulties do not hold up schemes foi- months. If this scheme cannot be prepared within four or five months it will never be presented to the Nineteenth Parliament because within that period the Labour party will be in office in the Twentieth Parliament. The people have been waiting for a long time for the Government to introduce a medical benefits scheme.
– They have been waiting for longer than eight years. Labour passed the relevant legislation and promulgated a scheme.
– A scheme!
– I use the term not in the sense that members of the Liberal party use it when they are speaking about their relations with each other, but in the sense given to it in the dictionary. Labour’s scheme which was promul gated under Statutory Rules 1949, No. 92, is still extant and the Government, if it wished to do so, could give effect to it to-morrow. The Government has not abrogated it and Government supporters have not criticized it. The Labour Government under its scheme agreed to pay 50 per cent, of all medical fees that patients incurred. The regulations to which I have referred consist of seven printed pages which set out the services in respect of which the Government would pay 50 per cent, of doctors’ fees. Many of the amounts ranged from £20 to £25. I repeat that this Government, if it wished to do so, could give effect to that scheme immediately. But the present Government parties will not do so. They have talked about medical schemes ever since 1937 when the Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey) was Treasurer in the Lyons Government. Unfortunately, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Air (Mr. White) were also members of that Government. At that time the Minister for National Development in a Cinesound news review which was exhibited in cinemas throughout Australia spoke about the national insurance scheme that the Lyons Government introduced. In that review he said -
Please do not be prejudiced in advance because the more you know about national insurance, the more you will appreciate its benefits.
He then proceeded to explain the benefits that would be made available under that scheme. He said -
If you are a man working for under £7 a week, you will pay ls. 6d. a week and for that you will get free doctor and free medicines and £1 a week while you are sick and, in addition, 3s. 6d. a week for each child under the age of 15. If you die, which I hope you don’t, then your widow will get 12s. Gd. a week plus 3s. 6d. for each dependent child and she will get this for life or until she re-marries.
Ministers of this Government who were also Ministers of the government of that day promised to establish free medicine and medical services schemes, but they did nothing to give effect to those promises. In the statement to which T am referring the Minister for National Development continued -
And then, if by great misfortune, both you and your wife die, your orphan children will get 7s. 6d. a week until they reach the age of 15.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the question before the Chair.
– The Minister for Health “tipped off” the Chair.
– Order i The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) will remain silent. The Minister did not mention the matter to me at all.
– I am speaking of a free medicine scheme which the Minister for National Development advocated when he was a member of the Lyons Government in 1937. He concluded the statement to which I am referring by saying-
And, then, if you don’t die, which yon probably won’t,-
– Order ! The honorable member is entirely out of order. The motion that he has made refers to the failure of the present Government to introduce a national health and medical services scheme.
– I am pointing out that certain Ministers have failed to introduce a free medical services scheme, not only as members of the present Government, but also when they were members of the Lyons Government in 1937. Of course, the Minister for Health does not like being put on the spot in regard to this matter. He has never made a statement about his proposed scheme to the House, and he still refuses to do so. However, he talks glibly outside about what he proposes to do. He even wanted to go to the United States of America and leave his scheme in abeyance until he returned. He did not go abroad, but in the course of observations that he made during the months he was planning to go overseas he said that he would introduce his health scheme in three stages. First, he would inaugurate a free milk scheme which the Government offered to finance on behalf of the States. However, Premiers and State Ministers for Health, regardless of their party political colour, refused to have anything to do with it; and, metaphorically, a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers and a meeting of State Ministers of Health threw it out the window.. The Minister then propounded his pharmaceutical benefits scheme - if it could be called a scheme. [Extension of time granted.] Then, the Minister promised to introduce a scheme to provide allowances to sufferers from tuberculosis and their dependants. That proposition was a complete fraud because the Chifley Government had introduced such a scheme in 1945 and had implemented it five years before the present Government took office. What the Minister did when he came into office was to put into effect a scheme to provide increased allowances to unfortunate sufferers from tuberculosis; but his predecessor had worked out details of that scheme, and the Chifley Government had approved of it before it left office. All that the Minister did was to put into effect the Chifley scheme.
I have already referred to all the Minister’s talk about other schemes to provide pharmaceutical and medical benefits for pensioners. The Labour party committed itself to assisting sick people to meet their doctor’s bills, but this Government will not do anything of that kind. All the flapdoodle that supporters of the present Government parties published during the last general election campaign about preventive medicine, diagnostic clinics and new hospitals was designed to mislead the people into believing that those parties would do something about those matters during the lifetime of the present Parliament if they won the election. Those parties won the election, and thus the people were fooled. Honorable members generally are vitally concerned about what the Government proposes to do to help the sick in the community. For how much longer must those unfortunate people wait before they receive benefits to which they are entitled under an act of Parliament, for which they contribute in the form of taxes and which were promised to them by all parties at the last general election? The Government is denying those benefits to that unfortunate section of the community which is the only section that the Minister has not consulted in the formulation of his schemes. He has gone to the friendly societies and the hospital benefit societies, he has seen the chemists and he lives with the British Medical Association. In fact, he has consulted and given consideration to every section of the community except the people who need the benefits most !
– I wonder if he has 3een Micawber yet?
– Dr. Micawber may be one of his advisers. The other is probably Dr. Dogsbody. In all his negotiations and meanderings, in all his manoeuvres and peregrinations, the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) has been unable to give any consideration to the needs of the sick and particularly the sick poor. He has criticized the hospital benefits scheme of the Chifley Government, but has deliberately ignored the fact that that scheme was submitted to this Parliament upon the unanimous recommendation of the Social Security Committee. Two of the signatories to that submission were the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) and the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper).
– Sir Frederick Stewart was another.
– Yes. Sir Frederick Stewart was a member of the Liberal party and represented the electorate of Parramatta in this House at that time. He was a former Minister for Health.
Although more than 60 questions about the Government’s health scheme have been asked in this House, all but two of them by members of the Opposition, no satisfactory reply has yet been given by the Minister for Health or by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who has had to answer most of them because his colleague has been somewhere else. The Chifley Government secured the adherence of 200 Australian doctors to its health scheme.
– What percentage is nhat of the total number of practitioners ?
– The percentage does not matter. The important fact is that a number of doctors accepted the scheme. That number would have been much larger but for the hostility that was displayed towards the Labour Government by the British Medical Association. The Minister for Health has been able to induce the association to co-operate with him to a greater degree than it cooperated with the Chifley Government only because it displays less class prejudice towards this Government than it does towards the Labour party. But the Government has no particular reason to be proud of the co-operation that it has obtained from the association ! The Chifley Government had the support of 200 doctors, and the sick poor of Australia benefited from their ministrations. The repeal by this Government of certain statutory rules relating to pharmaceutical benefits has prevented those doctors from continuing to help the people any longer. They are being denied the benefits of the Labour Government’s scheme. The Opposition considers that the Minister for Health has failed because he will not address himself to the problems of the people, because he does not believe in a medical benefits scheme for the people, because he is more concerned with curative medicine than he is with preventivemedicine, because he is out of date and not in touch with popular thought-
– Oh !
– And because he does not like, any more than the Minister for Air likes, any scheme that will help tointroduce the welfare state. The Minister for Air is chirping away like asparrow on the ministerial bench. I remind him of a speech that he made in this Parliament in 1947, when he ridiculed the whole idea of a medical benefits scheme.
– Read it out.
– -Yes, I shall. The honorable gentleman said -
The Government’s so-called free medicine scheme - that will certainly not be free - and other nonsensical socialistic extravagances-
– Order ! The honorable member’s extended time has expired.
-. - I have waited very patiently for the Opposition to fall into the pit which it has been digging for itself during the last eight months and it has done so by submitting a motion based on such stupid grounds as those that have been stated by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). Everything that the honorable member said was uttered so glibly because he was merely looking into a mirror and seeing a reflection of the failures of the Labour party during eight years of its administration. The honorable gentleman did not realize that he was criticizing the sins of omission and commission of the Chifley Government, and he blamed me for the faults that he saw. The Labour party’s so-called health achievements could be summed up in the words, “ All talk and no action “. It is a mixture of sheer audacity and extreme irresponsibility that allows the Labour party to say anything about a health scheme and to attack this Government’s plan. The Labour Government told the Parliament very little about its health measures, and its decisions invariably proved to be wrong because its legislation was invalidated by the High Court. Everybody remembers the furtive way in which the Chifley Government was accustomed to present those measures to the Parliament. One bill relating to pharmaceutical benefits was brought down in this House at 2 o’clock one morning in 1944 and rushed through all stages within two hours on the ground that it had to be put into operation immediately. But it was still inoperative until this Government gave effect to it in an improved form on the 4th September, 1950, with the whole of the medical profession of Australia supporting it. As the result of the work that I have done during the preceding eight months, the operation of that scheme represented the smoothest revolution in medical practice that had ever occurred in Australia. Chemists and patients throughout Australia will confirm my statement. I have received letters in praise of the scheme from hundreds of people, including voters who normally support the Labour party. The tenor of those letters is, “ Thank God we have a scheme like this operated by every doctor in Australia “.
The criticism uttered by the honorable member for Melbourne was just a silly lot of twaddle. The Labour Government had to gag debate on its health measures in order to have them passed by the Parliament. I recall that I tried without avail on four occasions one morning to submit a formal motion for the adjournment of this House, and stated my grounds for doing so in different language each time. The Labour Government used the forms of the House to prevent my submissions from being discussed, even though I knew from my long parliamentary experience that they were in order. On another occasion, when proceedings in this House were being broadcast, members of the Labour party deliberately prevented me from replying to false statements that had been made on behalf of the Chifley Government in relation to its pharmaceutical benefits legislation. Speaking of concealment, I also remember a bill thai was introduced for the purpose of effecting a very important amendment to the Labour Government’s pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The second-reading speech of the Minister who introduced the bill occupied a page of typescript, and the reference to the vital clause in the measure covered only half a line of typing. The right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), who was then Attorney-General, used that brief reference for two days as the entire basis of the argument with which he tried to support the validity of the bill. That wai the way in which the Labour Government treated this Parliament in dealing with health legislation ! There is no need for me to rebut Labour’s tarradiddle, about health. The facts speak for themselves. The Labour party’s scheme did not work. This Government’s scheme is working and it will become more and more effective as time passes.
– What about the health scheme for pensioners?
– Why is that scheme not working? The truth is that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and his colleagues have urged the people to go slow with the result that the implementation of the scheme has been postponed because of difficulties that have arisen in printing shops throughout Australia. The whole mechanism of the scheme has been completed. All that remains to be done is to have identification cards and application forms printed for the 600,000 people who will be affected. Employers have co-operated with the Government by helping it to obtain the necessary supplies of cardboard and paper. We have been obliged to use a different kind of cardboard in eac
State. The various mechanical difficulties of printing and distribution are the only reason for the delay in introducing the health scheme for the benefit of pensioners. But an agreement has been reached with the British Medical Association under which medical practitioners will grant a substantial concession in their charges to that section of the community. Everything, apart from the mechanical task of printing and distribution, is proceeding smoothly. Therefore, the honorable member for Melbourne has simply talked nonsense, which will not be believed by a soul outside this Parliament. He stated that the Commonwealth’s scheme for the distribution of milk to school children had been rejected by the States. Obviously, he is not aware of the facts. New South “Wales and Victoria have almost completed arrangements to enable that scheme to operate in their schools from the 1st February next. A few days ago, the Premier of Queensland said that the introduction of the free milk scheme in that State might involve it in some expenditure. A man has submitted to me a proposition under which he would pay £150,000 to advertise his products on the bottles of milk that would be distributed among the kiddies. Such an amount would be more than sufficient to meet the expenditure that all the States would incur as the result of participating in the free milk scheme. The Commonwealth is prepared to meet allthe expenses that will be involved in delivering the milk to the schools, and the States are asked to meet only one-half of the cost of the equipment, and to arrange for the distribution of the bottles of milk within the schools. I think that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) will agree that such an offer by the Commonwealth is reasonable.
I shall now examine the record of the Labour Government in respect of a national health and medical service. The honorable member for Melbourne referred to the provision which it made for sufferers from tuberculosis. Time after time in this House, I have commended the previous Labour Government for having introduced the Tuberculosis Bill. I supported that legislation when I sat in opposition, and expressed the opinion that it was along right lines. The measure was passed. Why did not the Labour Government implement it?
– It did.
– The Labour Government implemented that legislation to a certain degree, but the provision which was made for invalid pensioners was inadequate. A man and his wife with active tuberculosis received, under the scheme which was formulated by the previous Minister for Health, Senator McKenna, an amount of £3 7s. 6d. a week.. The present Government has increased that allowance to £6 10s. a week and permits the sufferers to earn an additional £3 5s. a week, so that their total weekly income may be £9 15s. a week. That increase is substantial. The allowance for a person without dependents, who is an inmate of an institution has been increased from £2 2s. 6d. a week under the Labour Government’s scheme to £2 12s. 6d. a week. The allowance for a person without dependants, who is not an inmate of an institution, has been increased from £2 12s. 6d. to £3 12s. 6d. a week. The reason why we have not dealt with certain health matters to date is attributable entirely to the rotten foundation which was laid by the Labour Government and upon which we have found it difficult to build. The Senate is dominated by the Labour party. Honorable members have not forgotten how that chamber attempted to mangle the Social Services Consolidation Bill, in which the Government made provision to pay endowment at the rate of 5s. a week for the first child of a family under the age of sixteen years. The Government will not allow its legislation to be mangled by the Senate. It is also determined not to allow its legislation to be drafted in that chamber because nearly every piece of legislation that has left the Senate since certain amateurs have been drafting amendments there has been declared unconstitutional by the High Court of Australia. The Government desires to place on the statute-book constitutional legislation which can come into operation at the earliest possible moment. It is almost impossible to follow the Labour party’s policy on health, although it is said to be summed up in the words, “Look after the small man first”.
– Hear, hear !
– Ever since the beginning of federation, this Parliament has had the constitutional power to make provision for granting free medical treatment and free medicine to pensioners.
– That is not so.
– I disagree with the honorable gentleman. This Parliament has possessed that power since the beginning of federation. Undoubtedly, it has had that authority since 1946. The preceding Labour Government had three years in which to make that provision for pensioners, but it failed to take the necessary action. The present Government now has made all arrangements to give that service to pensioners. Any delay that has occurred in introducing the scheme is due to the mechanical difficulties of having the necessary cards printed.
The former Minister for Health, Senator McKenna, has asked for the production of the verbatim reports of all discussions between the British Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia, the friendly societies and myself, on the national health and medical service. One of the reasons for the failure of the health scheme sponsored by the honorable senator was that he was trying all the time to drive the doctors into his own rigid scheme, instead of endeavouring to arrive at a mutually satisfactory arrangement. When I wish to discuss a matter with an organization, I explain my own views to its representatives, and invite them to express their views to me, and, ultimately, we hammer out a mutuallyacceptable arrangement. We do not expect that a verbatim report of our conferences will be revealed in the future. Yet the verbatim reports of discussions between the former Minister for Health, Senator McKenna, and the British Medical Association, which were held four or five years ago and were supposed to be confidential, have been read in this Parliament. They were not made available to the House, but were used by members of the Labour party for the purpose of bolstering up their case.
I shall now deal with the policy of the Chifley Labour Government on hos pitals. It estimated that hospitals were receiving from their patients and from certain other sources an average of 6s. a bed a day, and it offered to pay that amount to them on the condition that they did not charge persons who occupied beds in public wards. Subsequently, that amount was increased to 8s. a day. Another condition to which that payment was subject was that the occupants of beds in public wards should receive all medicines free of charge, whether or not the drugs that were used in dispensing them were included in the formulary. A third condition was that a means test should be applied to persons who sought to occupy beds in public wards. What has been the effect of that means test?
– No means test was applied to the occupants of beds in public wards.
– I accept the correction by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). Hospitals throughout Australia require an additional 20,000 or 30,000 beds in order satisfactorily to meet all applications for treatment. Approximately 20 per cent, or 30 per cent, of the people who require hospitalization can afford to pay for it, and the remaining 70 per cent, or 80 per cent, possibly cannot afford to pay for it. Under the Chifley Government’s scheme, a well-to-do-person could jostle into a bed in a public ward, instead of occupying one in an intermediate or private ward, and he might jostle out a poor person who could not afford to pay for hospital treatment. What is the effect of that plan? The shortage of beds in hospitals has been aggravated.
– Who told the Minister that?
– There is no question about it. State Ministers of Health, when they attended a conference in Canberra a few months ago, spoke of that matter. The Chifley Government did another peculiar thing. Its pharmaceutical formulary consisted of a restricted list of drugs that doctors were able to prescribe. Indeed, that restricted list was one of the principal reasons why doctors objected to that formulary. Yet the Chifley Government, under its arrangement with the States, granted pharmaceutical benefits of all kinds, whether or not they were in the formulary, to the occupants of beds in the intermediate and private wards.
– I should like to know whether the Minister’s remarks are relevant to the subject of this adjournment motion.
– I shall deal with that. The new formulary-
– I rise to order. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, ruled at the beginning of this debate that the subject of free medicine had been discussed earlier in the session, and that you would not allow any references to it on this occasion. You called the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) to order several times, and I now draw your attention to the fact that the Minister for Health is referring to free medicine schemes.
– Order ! There is no point of order. If the honorable member does not know why he has taken a point of order, he should not rise to his feet. The motion deals with the health and medical services.
– Does it deal with the subject of free medicine?
– I am endeavouring to show what has happened in this matter because it is of some importance. [Extension of time granted.] I thank the House for its courtesy. I desire to point out that from 1947 until the present time, medicines of all kinds have been supplied to the occupants of beds in intermediate and private wards, although some of them contained drugs which were not in the formulary prepared when Senator McKenna was the Minister for Health. The result is that there has been discrimination between the people.
– I again rise to order. Is the Minister in order in discussing the subject of pharmaceutical benefits, which the honorable member for Melbourne was prevented by the Chair from discussing?
– The Chair will decide whether the right honorable member’s remarks are in order. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) made passing reference to the subject of pharmaceutical benefits, and I am permitting the Minister to reply to that reference. The right honorable gentleman will continue his remarks.
– -I know that the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) is wasting the time of the House.
Opposition members interjecting,
– In view of the attitude of honorable members opposite, who apparently do not want to hear any more about this matter, I move -
That the question be now put.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C.F. Adermann.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the House do now adjourn.
The House divided. (Ms. Deputy Speaker - Ms. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 23
Question so resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed from the 17th October (vide page 886), on motion by Mr. Casey -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I take it that this bill is designed only to enable loan funds to be made available to the States for the purposes of meeting their housing requirements. Under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement the States in some cases act as the agents of the Commonwealth and in other cases act as the principals. Naturally the Opposition will not oppose such a measure, because we have always advanced the strongest reasons why all the money possible should be made available to meet the country’s housing requirements. It will be recalled that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was initiated by a Federal Labour Government for the purpose of meeting the community’s housing needs. We believed then that private enterprise was never likely to take the risk of undertaking the work of building houses in sufficient numbers to meet the ever-growing needs of the population, and events have proved that belief to be correct.
There are several aspects of this matter that I shall put to the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Casey) although I do not wish to canvass the whole subject of housing. The Minister said in his second-reading speech that even with the building of 60,000 houses a year an annual deficiency of about 30,000 houses would still remain. I notice that a new word has crept into use in connexion with this subject. The Minister used thi? phrase -
The anticipated increase of the volume ot traditional housing.
I presume that the adjective “ traditional” refers to ordinary housing. I admire the initiative of the person who introduced that particular phrase. Prom time to time members on the Government side have mentioned the subsidy of £300 a house that the Government was prepared to pay in the form of financial assistance to States that imported prefabricated houses. The Minister will admit that the subsidy of £300 a house to which he referred in his speech was originally offered to the States when a Labour Government was in office here.
– We have merely altered the conditions of the offer.
– That may be correct, but I repeat that the principle of subsidizing the States to the amount of £300 a house was established by a Labour Government. The point that I wish to put to the Minister arises from a number of informal conversations that I have had with State Ministers of Housing, as a result of which I understand that increases of costs) of housing construction that have occurred since the original offer of £300 a house was made, warrant consideration by the Government of an increase of subsidy. The Labour Government adopted the principle of subsidizing the States in this matter as a preferable alternative to that of making direct subsidies to individuals. The subsidy of £300 a house was intended to cover freight and other charges. As a result of rising costs that amount is no longer sufficient to encourage the States to engage, on a larger scale, in the importation of prefabricated houses.
I have been disappointed by the failure of the various governments to acquaint the people with the true circumstances relating to the importation of such houses. I blame no particular government in that regard. The fact is that a great number of people, including newspaper writers and persons associated with the building industry, have made all sorts of public statements about the availability of prefabricated houses from overseas firms.- Some of them have stated that as many as 100,000 prefabricated houses were available. Many offers to supply prefabricated houses to Australia were bogus to the extent that the firms concerned could never have fulfilled the i> promises that they made. I have had only one opportunity to make a thorough examination of prefabricated houses. It was afforded to me by the honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) when he was a Minister in the Victorian Government. He made arrangements for me to view prefabricated houses that were being erected in Melbourne. They did not look very attractive from the outside because of their flat roofs and other features, but while I was,.looking through them I was struck by the fact that they were certainly very well equipped for housewives. I was much impressed with the type of timber that had been used in their construction. Any deficiencies that I noted in these houses were only aesthetic in character and were not deficiencies from a utilitarian standpoint.
Statements that have been made in the press by newspaper writers and the representatives of overseas firms have led the public to believe that governments would be able to obtain tens of thousands of prefabricated houses from overseas at very reasonable prices. I am convinced as a result of my discussions with the Ministers of Housing in various States that one of the reasons why the provision of a subsidy by the Commonwealth is necessary is that the overseas firms cannot, as a general rule, supply prefabricated houses direct to Australia at a cost comparable with the cost of locally erected houses. I think that the Minister will admit the correctness of that statement. Governments have become engaged in the importation of prefabricated nouses only because of the inability of the Australian building industry to erect sufficient houses for the community’s needs. No government would have anything to do with prefabricated houses, having regard to their cost and other difficulties associated with their importation, if sufficient housing could be produced locally. I have seen some of the prefabricated houses erected in my own electorate and I consider that although they are not very expensive they do not measure up to the standard of the houses usually erected by Australian contractors.
I have no doubt that the Minister has received numerous offers for the supply of prefabricated housing from firms that claim to be able to supply large numbers of such structures. I remember that on one occasion about one hundred firms made offers to supply such houses, but an analysis showed that not more than 10 per cent, of them were capable of fulfilling their promises. I should like the Minister, in his reply to the debate, to dispel the delusion that large numbers of prefabricated houses can be imported from Sweden, for instance, which has been caused by public statements made by newspaper writers and other persons I think that the public should be dissillusioned in regard to some of these statements. It is not so simple as it might seem to be to import prefabricated houses. One of the great difficulties in regard to housing schemes in new areas is the provision of engineering services such as roads, water, electricity and gas. The average person seems to think that all that is necessary to solve the housing problem is the erection of houses. That is not so. An enormous amount of work and materials is required to make a new suburb, or perhaps, even a new block, suitable for the erection of homes.
I do not approach this matter from a critical point of view because I believe that the States, regardless of their political flavour, have done their very best in the face of great difficulties. We often hear workmen blamed for not doing enough, but very often the men know that material is not coming forward in sufficient quantities to keep them fully occupied. In many cases they know that enough bricks will not be delivered to keep them fully occupied and I suppose that it is natural to expect that if men know that, after they have worked for three or four days at a normal rate, there will be no more ‘bricks or timber, they will moke their work last for a week. I know of Commonwealth employees in the employ of the Department of Works and Housing have complained that, although the Government is always talking about the need for painters, it stands them down one day a week. I shall not elaborate on that matter because I have written to the head of the department concerning it and I presume that a number of considerations are involved. Unless men know that there is going to be a free flow of materials they will not be imbued with a spirit of teamwork and enterprise.
The Minister has given some particulars in relation to the sale of these houses. Perhaps, later on in this debate, he might inform the House of how far this matter has progressed. There has been a great difference of opinion between the Commonwealth and the States about the conditions of sale of these houses. The Minister has made it clear that houses have not been sold below their capital cost. He has said - .’ . 530 agreement dwellings were sold to tenants, none of them at less than capital cost.
I assume that some prefabricated houses have been sold for more than their capital cost. I understand that there was a proposal for the equilization of the prices of these homes, that money received in respect of houses sold for more than cost price was to be used to lower the prices of those the cost of which might be regarded as excessive. I am not pressing that matter because I know that it is a very difficult one and that different opinions are held concerning it.
In my own electorate there have been all sorts of arguments - some of them designed to discomfort me - about the Commonwealth’s action in selling houses for considerably more than they cost to build. When I was Treasurer I took the view that the Commonwealth should obtain a fair return, having regard to all sorts of conditions. For example, it was argued that a house that was built for £750 during the term of office of the previous Menzies Government should now be sold at that price. I was not able to agree with that contention. After all, business is- business, and a man who built a house in 1939 for £750 could walk round the corner and make £700 or £800 on it. Commonwealth Treasurers are not appointed for nothing and they are not likely to agree to sell houses at 1939 prices. I believe that the present Government has acknowledged that the 1948 or 1949 cost would be a fair basis on which to compute the selling price of some of these houses and even that valuation would result in the houses being sold for less than it would cost to build them now.
I should like the Minister to inform honorable members of whether the proceeds from the sale of houses which are sold for more than their cost price will be placed in a pool for the purpose of reducing the selling price of other houses which cost more to construct. In other words, is there an equalization plan? What amazes me is that in towns the population of which has not increased appreciably since the beginning of the war and in which there used to be many empty houses, it is now impossible to obtain a home. I think that the reason for that state of affairs is that during the depression and afterwards many young couples lived in rooms, but that they can now afford a house and furniture of their own and do not want to live with their in-laws. I think that the applications for war service homes indicated that about 60 per cent, of the applicants were already housed but wanted a better house. That, of course, is something to be applauded, but it is one of the reasons for the shortage of houses, which is aggravated by the advent of immigration.
This country’s population must be increased. Australia has resources which must be developed as far as that may be physically and financially possible from the standpoint of our defence and our economy. It would be of the greatest danger to this country in the future if the additional population which it is able to carry were not brought in. I can visualize times ahead when Australia, if it presents the temptation of underpopulated areas to covetous nations, will find that it has done itself a grave damage in not having increased its population when opportunity to do so offered. I know that some honorable members on both sides of the chamber feel that the rate of immigration is too great. The flow of immigrants into this country during the first twelve months of the immigration programme was a liability instead of an asset because those people had to be placed in jobs and trained, and language difficulties made it hard to assimilate them into the working population. But I am confident that, as time goes on, those migrants who arrived here during the first two or three years of the immigration scheme will be a very valuable productive force in the community. They are becoming such a force now, to a certain degree. i he Minister envisaged a very grave shortage of houses which I think totalled 30,000 a year. I think that he might explain, for the benefit of the community, the difficulties that relate to the procurement of prefabricated houses. I believe that the right honorable gentleman said, in reply to a question in the House, that the States and the Commonwealth together could not absorb more than 10,000. The public will find that hard to understand because they have the impression that it is only necessary to pick up a prefabricated house and set it down on a block of land. That is not so. Engineering services have to be provided for houses in new areas. But in view of statements that have been made to the effect that hundreds of thousands of houses are available overseas, 10,000 seems to be a small number to the general public. I do not know whether the Minister has found out whether this statement about hundreds of thousands of prefabricated houses being available overseas is correct.
– There are tens of thousands available, not hundreds of thousands.
– At all events, it has been said that a large number of firms is prepared to come to Australia and erect large numbers of prefabricated houses. I have no doubt that the Minister has the information that is relevant to this matter. He sent a mission overseas which was headed by Mr. Mackay and included officers of his department. I should like to know whether the Government has a clear-cut estimate of how many houses it would be possible to obtain if they could be erected and I should like him to explain why it is possible for the Commonwealth and States to erect only 10,000. I suggest to the Minister and to the Postmaster-General that plenty of postmasters and other persons in small country areas where no sewerage or water is laid on to houses could be supplied with prefabricated homes. I know the economic difficulty of erecting single units here and there. It costs much more to erect single houses at widely separated places than it does to build large numbers close together, hut it seems to me that there must be a considerable number of localities in which prefabricated houses could reasonably be erected. I believe that it might be possible to erect such structures on a wider scale than that decided upon by the Australian Government.
I noticed a statement recently made by one of the service Ministers to the effect that it is proposed to use a considerable number of prefabricated cottages to house officers and men of the armed forces. I hope that Ministers will carefully scrutinize any schemes to make available houses for the services, because, with all due deference to the services, history shows that when they are allowed a free hand on requisitioning and ordering in this country and in every country in the world they order enormous quantities. They order about from three to five times as much as they will ever need. It was my experience during the last war that service people, when ordering their materials, think of wars continuing for fifteen or twenty years, or even for ever. The same attitude of mind persists during peace-time. Their idea of keeping up big and empty military establishments should not be encouraged. “When I held office I noticed the tendency on the part of various departments to reserve more buildings for their officers . than was absolutely necessary.
That is not peculiar to the fighting services, it applies to a number of other departments as well. Every administrative head wants to keep as much space for his department as possible. I think that that tendency should ‘he guarded against. Houses should not be erected at this or that defence establishment merely because some officer requisitions them. All requisitions should be carefully and thoroughly investigated. I know that recently in Queensland, government houses were lying empty for a considerable time. Alleviation of the housing shortage is most urgent in the industrial areas and the metropolitan areas. I am sure that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) will agree with me on that point. He resides in an area in which the housing position is particularly bad, and he has first-hand informa tion about the unsatisfactory living conditions of many of his constituents.
Three matters should be considered by the Government. First, what is the expert’s determination of the number of prefabricated houses that can be made available? Secondly, why is it that only 10,000 such houses can be taken each year by the States and the Commonwealth? Thirdly, the prefabricated houses bought by the Australian Government should not be erected for army purposes and left empty month after month and perhaps year after year. I have personal knowledge of many government houses having remained empty for considerable periods. In my own electorate houses have been empty for months because departments have reserved them to accommodate officers who were expected to be transferred. Half a dozen houses might be kept vacant for .that reason, and although this is only a small number, such empty government houses have the very worst psychological effect upon people who badly need homes. In some instances government houses have remained empty for eight or nine months. I hope that the questions that I have put to the Government will be answered, and if they are, I ask the Minister for Works and Housing to have the answers recorded in Hansard.
– Yes, they will be answered.
– This bill is intended to provide the necessary loan moneys to enable the States to carry on the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, so that the States will not be able to blame the Commonwealth for restricting their house-building activity. That being the purpose of the measure we shall offer no opposition to its passage.
.- I rise to criticize the inadequacy of the Government’s plans in regard to housing, and also the continuance of its accentuation of the housing difficulties of the Australian people. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) covered a wide field when he directed attention to the housing difficulties of the people, but it might be advisable to remind the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Casey) of some of his own statements about the acute housing shortage in Australia before I direct remarks to the failure of the Government to take adequate steps to correct the position, I do not suggest that the Government, no matter how hard it had worked, would have found it possible in the .time during which it has held office to correct the position completely. My remarks are intended to show that as a result of the Government’s policy the position is becoming worse. The report of the Housing Division showed that in January, 1945, the houses needed in Australia totalled 300,000, and that estimate did not take into account the slum clearance that is so urgently needed in many metropolitan areas. The interests supporting the Government recognize that something must be done about housing, so they must pretend to the people that adequate action is being taken ; otherwise there would be a public outcry. I hope to show that the housing position of the Australian people is absolutely desperate.
Many persons may have been led by press statements into believing that within a short space of time they will have the opportunity of securing prefabricated houses. The Government admits that it has plans about such houses, but nobody knows when the houses will arrive here or when they will be erected. All that the Government proposes is the importation of 10,000 prefabricated houses. How far will 10,000 such houses go towards meeting the deficiency of 300,000 houses the existence of which is admitted in the Housing Division’s reports? Despite the Government’s propaganda during the last general election campaign, house construction in this country has not been accelerated since it assumed office. Fifty-five thousand houses are being built each year at present, but our normal needs to cater for the ordinary expansion of the population are 90,000 a year. That is in addition to the number needed to overtake the shortage that existed when the Government took office. Not long ago the Minister for Works and Housing said that houses were being constructed in Australia at the rate of 1,000 a week, but that the need was 2,000 a week. Everybody knows that at present nothing like 2,000 a week is being constructed, Whilst the Government admits that it, in conjunction with the State governments, is unable to provide housing for our own people, nevertheless it is bringing to this country every year thousands of migrants. I do not argue that there is not a need to increase the population, so as to occupy our empty spaces and to develop the country, but it is false to believe that the only way in which the population of tha country can be increased is by bringing in people from outside Australia regardless of the effect that that will have upon the natural increase of our existing population. It will have a serious effect, because people who are already in Australia are at present unable to provide homes for themselves and the great influx of migrants will only accentuate the position.
Every honorable member in this House will admit that thousands of ex-servicemen who married during the war and since its conclusion have not yet been able to provide permanent accommodation for their families. In many cases their wives have returned to live with their parents and the exservicemen have to battle round to get their own accommodation elsewhere. There are thousands of cases known to State departments of men who have been waiting for years to get homes, but their prospects are no better to-day than they were when they first lodged their applications.
– The Labour Government was in office for eight years.
– The honorable member says that during the eight years regime of the Labour Government it had an opportunity to do something. We all know that during those eight years the country was engaged in a war, and that in the few years during which the Labour Government held office after the termination of hostilities it used every effort to improve the housing position. I do not suggest that all the migrants have come to this country during the term of office of the present Government, nor that there should be a complete cessation of migration; but the scheme should be well planned, and some regard should be paid to the difficulties of the people already here. We should not be bringing migrants here as quickly as we can get ships to carry them, regardless of the difficulties that they may cause when they get here. It is also unfair .to the migrants, because many of them after staying here for a time and finding how difficult it is to get accommodation, petition the Government to have them returned to their own country. Some of them have returned at their own expense.
– Does the honorable member encourage that attitude of mind among the migrants?
– I am attempting to discourage the attitude of mind of the Minister for Works and Housing, who, because he occupies decent accommodation himself, and has a good home, is unmindful of the difficulties under which other members of the community live.
– That is merely a cheap gibe.
– No doubt the Minister would like to see housing conditions in this country similar to those he saw in Bengal when he was Governor of that territory. We must prevent the establishment in Australia of slum conditions of the kind that exist in other countries and that I had an opportunity to see when I was abroad.
– That is the honorable member’s usual gutter-snipe rubbish.
– We must provide decent accommodation for Australians. The Minister who is at the table is supposed to bc in charge of housing. It would be safe to say that he has not been near an emergency housing establishment since he became Minister for Works and Housing.
– Rubbish !
– What emergency housing establishment has the Minister visited? The Minister knows that he is lying.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask that that statement be withdrawn.
– I ask the honorable member to withdraw that statement.
– I withdraw it and I ask that the Minister be directed to withdraw his reference to my “ gutter-snipe “ tactics.
– Did the Minister make that reference?
– I made it right enough. I withdraw it at the request of the Chair.
– That is not an unqualified withdrawal.
– The Minister has withdrawn the statement about which the honorable member has complained.
– Well, the withdrawal that I made oan also be regarded as having been made at the request of the Chair. The Minister has not visited an emergency housing establishment. He does not know of the conditions under which people in those establishments live, and he is not worried about them either. It is just as well that the people should not be carried away with the idea that the Government is actually doing everything it can to provide homes for those who need them. I do not blame State governments for the present housing shortage, because only the Australian Government has power to restrict the inflow of migrants until the housing difficulties of people already in the country have been solved. For the information of the Minister, I point out that in New South Wales alone 7,000 applications, not for permanent, but for emergency accommodation are awaiting attention by the authorities. Those applications have been made by persons who have practically abandoned all hope of obtaining homes and are prepared to accept any accommodation that they can obtain until homes become available. According to the State housing authorities in New South Wales, from ten to twelve housing units are being made available each week. On that basis it will take over eleven years to meet those 7,000 .applications for emergency accommodation. Recently, I had brought to my notice the case of a family of ten persons, including a married daughter and her husband, who were living in a garage. The State government frankly admits that it is unable to overtake the housing shortage in New South Wales. The Australian people themselves should realize, if they have not already done so, the impossible state of affairs into which this country is drifting as the result of the inaction of anti-Labour governments.
The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt) has announced that approximately 250,000 migrants will arrive in Australia during the current year. Allowing, on the average, five persons to a home, 50,000 homes will have to be provided to meet the requirements of those migrants, but only that number of houses is being built annually to meet the nation’s overall housing needs. Thus, the position is becoming increasingly worse. In the metropolitan area of Sydney, and I understand that a similar position exists in every large city in Australia, many existing permanent dwellings are not sewered. It is disgraceful that many homes in big cities are not sewered. The Government has not evolved an effective plan to deal with this acute position. The provision of services is most important. The Minister for Immigration has endeavoured to justify the inflow of migrants on the ground that they will increase the man-power pool and thus help to speed up production generally, including house building. However, he has not presented any evidence to substantiate that claim. The fact is that migrants are not helping to any marked degree to increase the production of bricks and builders’ hardware or to provide essential services for houses that are now under construction. I know that a large number of migrants do not enter into productive industry at all but find employment in occupations in which they do not help to produce any commodity. Relatively very few migrants find their way into productive industry. Why does not the Government devise some plan to remedy that defect ?
All of these problems are inter-related. Housing difficulties cannot be overcome unless the inflow of migrants is regulated in relation to the limited housing accommodation that is available for the time being. The purpose of this measure is to authorize the raising of a loan of £26,000,000 to be used for house construction. The Government should not confine its activities to work that it is doing in co-operation with the States, but should undertake to a much greater degree house building on its own initiative. It could undertake a much more extensive housing programme, because it has power to engage in the construction of houses for its own employees and for ex-service personnel. The more houses it provides for those sections, the more will it ease the strain on State governments in providing houses for other sections of the community for whom the Commonwealth has not the power legally to provide them. However, many ex-servicemen have been waiting for war service homes for long periods and they will wait for many more years before this Government will help them out of their difficulties.
Another problem arises with respect to the acquisition of ownership of homes. The rate of interest that is charged to home purchasers is most important. The Government should make greater use of the Commonwealth Bank to help people finance the purchase and construction of houses. As each house erected would be an asset, the Commonwealth Bank would not be running any risk by financing home purchasers at low rates of interest which, I suggest, should not exceed the cost of issuance of the loan and the cost of administration.
– What does the honorable member suggest the rate of interest should be?
– Finance should be made available for the purpose of purchasing homes at a rate of interest of from 1 per cent, to £ per cent., preferably nearer to 1 per cent. By that means people would be given greater opportunities to own their homes. However, the Government, apparently, believes’ that that is not the proper course for it to pursue. It believes that the old system of borrowing money at current rates of interest for house building should be allowed to continue. Thus many people are denied an opportunity to own their homes.
The Leader of the Opposition directed the Minister’s attention to the need to provide more detailed information with respect to the availability of prefabricated houses overseas and their importation. Although all sorts of ridiculous estimates have appeared from time to time the number of prefabricated houses that can be obtained from overseas the Minister has never attempted to correct the erroneous impression that the housing situation will be eased considerably as the result of their importation. The people want not more, statements but more action on the part of the Government in this matter.
I have already directed attention to the conditions that exist at emergency housing establishments, and I again invite the Minister to visit those establishments in order to ascertain the facts at first-hand. Recently, Matron Shaw, of the Crown-street Women’s Hospital in Sydney, directed attention to the shocking conditions under which persons in those establishments are expected to raise families. Those persons are not to blame. They are a cross-section of the Australian community, and are ordinary decent persons; but in emergency housing settlements they are confronted with all sorts of problems, lt is not simply a matter of their living in those establishments for a comparatively short period until permanent accommodation becomes available. Many of them are condemned to remain there for many years. I know of an ex-serviceman who is still awaiting permanent accommodation although he lodged his application nearly seven years ago.
– In which State has that happened ?
– Does it matter in which State people are obliged to live under conditions such as those that I have mentioned? Are not all our people entitled as Australians to live under decent conditions regardless of where they may reside? What I am saying applies to all States, although the conditions may be more acute in some States than in other States. For instance, as the result of greater industrial expansion housing difficulties may be more pronounced in certain States. I do not accept the view of the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) that the housing shortage is due to any fault on the part of a particular State government. On the contrary, State governments are doing their best to solve this problem. The point I am making is that their efforts will be vain unless the Australian Government accepts its responsibility to lay down plans on a national basis in order to assist them. For that reason departments, such as the Department of Works and Housing and the Department of Immigration, should co-ordinate their activities to a greater degree than they are doing at present. As I have already said, on present indications it will be impossible to overtake the housing shortage unless the inflow of migrants is regulated in relation to the housing needs of people already in Australia. What is the main cause of the falling birth-rate in Australia ? When one is aware of the conditions under which persons who accept temporary accommodation are obliged to live, one cannot blame them for failing to have families. Many married couples with young children have been living for years in damp basements. I know of families of small children who constantly suffer with colds because they are obliged to live under damp conditions and in premises in which not even ordinary domestic facilities are provided. Recently, I read a press report that the housing shortage was so acute that 60 persons had applied for the tenancy of a garage not in order to garage a motor car -but in order to accommodate their families in it. In another instance, a family rented a boatshed, in which none of the ordinary domestic facilities existed, at a rent of £3 a week. Those are not isolated cases. Yet, the Minister for Works and Housing, apparently without proper examination, announces grandiose schemes which he claims will overcome the existing housing difficulties if the people will only be patient. Unless the Government takes some action to restrict immigration and to prepare a national housing plan, thousands of persons will be condemned to live under conditions which, in my opinion, are fast approaching the state of affairs that exists in eastern cities such as Singapore, where, as each day progresses, poor unfortunates have to look for favoured positions to sleep on the pavements. Our parks are becoming filled with people who cannot secure proper accommodation. A family was evicted from a government dwelling at St. Mary’s a few weeks ago, and its furniture has been stored under a tarpaulin in the street ever since. Its members have been scattered and the children are living with relatives. That is typical of the conditions that exist to-day. The Minister would do much better if, instead of being complacent about the situation, he realized how desperate the plight of many Australians has become. He should submit a complete picture of the Government’s plans and tell the public how long applicants must wait to obtain permanent residences. My prediction - and I hope that it will not be fulfilled - is that many persons will spend their lifetimes waiting in vain for some improvement of their housing situation.
Fortunately, there is at least one ray of hope. I believe that a general election is not far off and, with a new Labour government that is determined to solve the pressing problems of the people, we shall have some chance of getting a national housing plan. I know that the Minister for National Development cannot produce a properly balanced national plan because the Government represents vested interests. As soon as it drafts a plan that cuts across the interests of some combine engaged in the production of building materials or any other group of wealthy supporters of the Government parties, it is forced to revise its proposals.
– Is the housing situation any worse to-day than it was before the 10th December last?
– Not long ago the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Berry) directed the attention of this Parliament to the shocking conditions under which people were living in an emergency housing settlement in the vicinity of the electorate that he represents. Yet the honorable gentleman continues to support the Government that is accentuating that situation! These emergency settlements are not occupied by new Australians who are waiting for a few months until the Government can provide them with proper accommodation. Most of the residents are Australian citizens who have been in this country for many years. Many of them are ex-servicemen.
– This is the new order.
– As the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) says, this is apparently the new order of which the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) spoke during the war when he urged the workers to put forth their best efforts for the sake of the nation.
What hope is there of obtaining the cooperation of workers when they know that they and their families are condemned by anti-Labour governments to live under intolerable conditions? If the Govern ment wants to have their co-operation, why does it not present a national plan so that they will know how it proposes to solve this vast problem? If the Government could produce some real plan to overcome our housing difficulties, I am sure that the people would co-operate with it. Does anybody imagine for a moment that the Minister for National Development - who has never had any personal difficulties during his lifetime, who was born into a wealthy family, and who has always had as much wealth as he wanted - has any practical knowledge of the difficulties of the people? He cannot appreciate the nature of their hardships. Therefore, he is an absolute misfit in the office of Minister for National Development in an Australian government. He should have remained overseas. He would have been a better rajah in Bengal than a Minister in Australia.
– We all have listened with great interest to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). I listened with particular interest because as a member of a former government of Victoria, I have had considerable experience of the difficulties of providing houses for the people. I have never heard a more damning indictment of the Labour Government of New South Wales than was uttered by the honorable member. As he produced case after case of hardship, he accumulated criticism of the Government which is responsible for the housing situation in that State. Every honorable member knows that the nation’s housing programme is in the hands of the State governments.
– What about private enterprise?
– Housing comes under the jurisdiction of State governments whether the work is being done by private enterprise or by State authorities. Under the Victorian Government of which I had the honour to be a member - I say this egotistically - the percentage increase of the rate of construction of houses in 1948-49 was greater than in any other State. The reason for that was that that Government instituted new methods that had not been tried before. Its first act was to import coal. If the honorable member for East Sydney would only address the coal-miners as fervently as he has addressed this House and could persuade them to get rid of the darg and produce more coal so that we could manufacture more cement, bricks, baths and tiles, the nation would benefit from his activities. Had the Victorian Government not incurred the cost of purchasing expensive imported coal, the number of houses built in that State would have decreased because industry would not have been able to produce sufficient building materials. For a long time, cement factories in Victoria had been producing only from 30 per cent, to 50 per cent, of their potential output. That was one reason why the Government of which I was a member tried to obtain Callide coal from Queensland.
These problems should he approached in a non-party spirit instead of with the object of gaining a party political advantage by means of unhelpful criticism. I remind the honorable member for East Sydney that this Government did not inaugurate the immigration policy. In fact, the Chifley Government was endeavouring to accelerate the rate of immigration when it went out of office. Its record in that respect was very good. Neither the immigration policy nor the present unfortunate housing situation can be attributed to this Government. The housing shortage is the result of a series of circumstances. I hope that every member will do his best to educate the public so that bottlenecks may be eliminated. Our first requirement is an adequate supply of fuel, which industry needs in order to produce building materials. The second requirement is a conscientious approach to the job of building houses by artisans and labourers. We cannot build more brick houses than are being built at present if men lay from 300 to 400 bricks daily from Monday to Friday and 1,000 bricks a day on contract work at weekends, in what might be called the black brick market.
– Is not most bricklaying done by contract ?
-Some of it is done by contract, but not on State housing projects. The impediments to the housing programme must he explained to the people so that the workers concerned will understand that, if they fail to co-operate, they will deprive not only themselves hut also their fellow citizens of opportunities to secure proper accommodation. Everybody must do his best in his respective sphere.
From my own experience as Minister in charge of sustenance payments in the Victorian Government during the depression, I know that many workers are afraid that, if they work any harder, they will work themselves out of their jobs. I have great sympathy for that psychology of fear, .because I probably saw as much of the hardships of the economic depression as did any other honorable member. However, I believe, as should every honorable member, that there is no need for such fear in this day and age because no government, of any political colour, would allow such conditions to recur. A Government that was guilty of such negligence would be thrown out of office within five minutes. If we all refuse to produce to the maximum of our capacity on the ground that we shall endanger our jobs if we do so, irrespective of the needs of our neighbours who want houses, we shall be acting against the interests of the community in the most selfish manner imaginable. The criticism of the Government’s immigration policy by the honorable member for East Sydney was unwarranted, because that policy was instituted by the Government of which he was a member. We do not want to restrict our immigration programme, and there will be no necessity to restrict it if we make good use of the resources that we have in this country.
One of the progressive acts of the government of Victoria to which I belonged was to undertake the importation of houses with immigrants. I make this statement egotistically, too, because I am proud of the fact that that government set an example which is now being emulated throughout Australia, though far too slowly. It wanted to bring men to Victoria to join the railways service, but it would not do so unless it could provide accommodation for the men and their families. Therefore, it decided to bring houses into the .State with the men. That is how the policy of importing prefabricated houses was inaugurated. But for the failure to adjust exchange rates, such houses would now be entering Australia at prices even lower than the costs of constructing similar houses within the country. The honorable member for East Sydney has asked why more of these houses are not imported. The Government of Victoria knew that, at the time at which the policy was put into effect, the United Kingdom could provide the materials for 20,000 prefabricated houses a year if the State had the organization and the man-power to erect them. It is not the fault of this Government that we are not importing prefabricated houses at the rate of 20,000 a year. That is a responsibility of State government.?. This Government has no right to approach the Government of Victoria or the Government of New South Wales and say, “ Yon must build an additional 50.000 house.* “. It has no power under the Constitution to enforce such a direction.
– But it could import prefabricated houses for public servants and members of the armed forces.
– Yes, and it has started to do so. It began to import prefabricated houses before any other authority, with the exception of the Government of Victoria, started to do so. The other States are now following that lead. The honorable member should congratulate the State governments instead of criticizing this Government.
The problem of overcoming the housing situation cannot be solved by criticism. We must appreciate the fact that the solution depends, in the first place, upon the supply of building materials, which is governed by the supply of fuel to industry and the rate of output of workers, such as bricklayers. If we maintain our rate of immigration, we must import sufficient additional building materials to enable us to erect houses in the numbers that will be required. The production of timber in Victoria has reached record levels. I speak of that State because I am acquainted with conditions there, but I should not be astonished to learn that timber production in other States is at an equally high level. Notwithstanding the high output, the supply of timber is insufficient for requirements. We are not producing enough cement, a commodity that is dependent for its manufacture upon the supply of coal. We have had to import both timber and cement. I look forward to the day when we shall adopt the new method of building that may best be described as prefabricated construction on site. About 2,600 pie-cut houses have been imported into Victoria for employees of the railways service, the Electricity Commission and other instrumentalities. The pre-cutting of the houses requires comparatively little labour. It depends mainly upon the use of jigs and saws. I do not know why we have not undertaken the work of pre-cutting in Australia. Of course, the use of Australian hardwood might cause certain difficulties. Timber cut to measure one day might be found to have warped considerably by the next day unless it has been extremely well seasoned. In other words, most Australian timbers suffer from a disability and builders must construct on site. Supplies of local timber, despite the large quantities that are now being produced, are insufficient to meet the demand. Our timber resources cannot be regarded as large, when the potential demands of the increased population that we are striving to obtain are taken into consideration. Therefore, large quantities of timber may be imported without having a detrimental effect on the local industry.
Sitting suspended from 5.30 to 8 p.m.
– The honorable member for East Sydney criticized the present Government for the immigration policy that was commenced by the Labour Government of which he was a member. He also tried to throw upon the present Government the responsibility for certain deficiencies in housing that wen really the responsibility of the States. Indeed, the particular cases that were cited by him are the responsibility of the Government of New South Wales. Therefore, I suggest to the honorable member that he should make the same speech about housing problems to the authorities that are responsible for the production of fuel, on which the manufacture of bricks, tiles, baths and other building materials depends. I remind the House that the Government of Victoria led the way with the importation of coal and of prefabricated houses. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley), in referring to that matter, recalled that the Commonwealth allowed that State a remission of customs duty and of freight amounting to £300 in respect of each imported house. Victoria was the first State to receive the advantage of that remission. It has also imported fairly large quantities of building materials. All those schemes, regardless of the government that may be undertaking them, should be and must be related to the supplies of building materials available in this country. For instance, in the scheme for precut houses, stainless steel sinks and other p.c. items of that kind are obtained from local suppliers. Any plan that is devised for the time being in order to increase the quantity of building materials available, and, therefore, to increase the number of houses that may be constructed, should be developed along the same lines, so that no persons shall be unemployed in this country as a result of the importation of building materials.
Opposition members apparently do not realize that factors other than those that have been mentioned in this debate affect the housing position. The fact that the people, during most weeks of the year, are unable to purchase meat on Saturday mornings has an effect on the housing situation, for the simple reason that such a condition has made ice chests and refrigerators a necessity in every home. The result is that more and more labour is required to manufacture refrigerators and ice chests for existing houses, whereas more and more labour should be diverted to the building industry to erect new dwellings.
– Does not the honorable member consider that refrigerators are just as essential as houses?
– I think that refrigerators are most desirable, but, as one who has lived in Manchuria, in a temperature of 40 degrees below zero for about three months, I can assure the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) that a person cannot live in a refrigerator. If it were possible, every householder should be provided with a refrigerator or an ice chest, a radio, and similar amenities. But, the fact remains that when building materials are in short supply, it is infinitely better to put the extra effort into building more houses. Later, when the housing shortage has become less serious, refrigerators, ice chests, radios and other amenities which are most desirable may he manufactured in large numbers.
I should now like to refer to what I describe as the mid- Victorian mind in relation to the architecture of houses. For a long time, we in Australia have believed that a house must have a highpitched roof. That idea was adopted from Eu rope, where houses are built with high-pitched roofs in order that the snow shall not remain on them and damage the buildings by percolating through the roofs. In Australia, a house does not require a high-pitched roof, particularly when 2-in. insulation is provided. Indeed, I understand that 1-in. insulation in the roof is sufficient for the conditions in this country. Actually, a house with a low-pitched roof and with 2 inches of insulation in the ceiling, is a much better dwelling to live in than is a house with a high-pitched roof and with no insulation. However, Australians have become accustomed to the high-pitched roof, and they look almost with disapproval at a house with a low-pitched roof. They do not realize that insulation has been provided in it, and that it is better to live in, and is cheaper to heat in winter time, than is a house with a high-pitched roof. They say, “We do not like the look of the low-pitched roof from the outside “.
– Is it cheaper to build a house with a low-pitched roof than a house with a high-pitched roof?
– Yes. I assure the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) that my statement is correct. I have been closely concerned with every detail of houses of that type.
– I ‘was not “ sniping “ at the honorable member.
– I realize that. The honorable gentleman and I get along all right together. While I am on the subject of these houses, I should also refer to the height of ceilings. In Victoria, a builder is not permitted to place the ceiling of a house lower than 8 ft. 6 in. The regulations in New
South. Wales and Tasmania provide, I think, that the ceiling shall not be lower than 8 feet. In the United States of America the minimum height of the ceiling is 7 ft. 6 in. Provided the windows are carried up to the height of the ceiling, the householder has much better ventilation in a room with an 8-ft. ceiling than he has in a room which has a 9-ft. ceiling and the funny little ventilators near the top of the walls. Yet the fact that ceilings are placed at a height of 9 feet instead of 8 feet adds probably £40 to the cost of a house. While building materials are in short supply, let us use modern science to the fullest possible degree, and make the best use of the available materials so that it will be possible to build more houses.
– Does the honorable member believe that the minimum height of a ceiling should be 8 feet?
– Yes. I have lived in a house which has an 8-ft. ceiling and the arrangement of the ventilation as I have suggested. The honorable member for Watson may have a midVictorian mind, but I assure him that such a house as I have mentioned is better and healthier to live in than is a house which has a 9-ft. ceiling and the funny little ventilators at the top of the wall. Doctors will confirm my statement. Some people were taken into a house which had an 8-ft. ceiling, and they did not notice it until their attention was directed to its height. If we really want to make progress with solving the housing problem, an all party committee of members of the Parliament should be appointed to obtain constructive suggestions from any honorable gentleman who wishes to make them. Destructive political criticism will not get us anywhere. Such a committee, if appointed, might find ways and means of overcoming the housing problem more rapidly than it is being solved at the present time.
– Why not nationalize housing, and make a profit?
– I do not consider that the honorable gentleman would he so good as he is if he were nationalized. He would not be able to interject so frequently, because he would be subject to much stricter orders than he is at the present time. All the matters that I have mentioned merely show that Australia has tremendous opportunities, which give rise to difficult problems. Yet none of them is insolvable. If we adhere rigidly to old methods, we shall meet many handicaps, and shall not make rapid progress. If we are prepared, with the drive, initiative and ingenuity that Australians possess, to try new ideas and to make the best use of modern science, we shall begin to solve our problems. Let us when we wake up each morning say, “ We have this challenge in front of us, and we shall accept it “. Do not let us sit down and say, “ We want more pay for less work. We shall lay only 300 brick9 from Monday to Friday and 1,000 bricks, under contract, on Saturday and Sunday “. If we adopt that kind of attitude, we shall not get anywhere.
– Does not brick-laying that is done during the week-end assist to complete the erection of houses?
– It does, but the housing problem would be solved even more quickly if brick-layers were to lay 1,000 bricks from Monday to Friday. When all is said and done, they do not have to work on Saturdays and Sundays. I leave those few thoughts with the House. I was incited to make this speech by the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney, who suggested that the blame for the housing shortage lay with the present Government. Regardless of the government that is in office, those problems have to be faced. But let us be constructive and not destructive.
.- The purpose of this bill is to authorize the Government to borrow a sum of money not exceeding £26,000,000 to be used principally by the States for the purpose of providing houses for the people. As such, the measure will be welcomed by every honorable member. We are gratified to know that the Government is carrying out the provisions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Act 1945. But when the Government proposes to borrow an amount of £26,000,000, it is necessary for honorable gentlemen to consider in what way that money will he expended, and whether the housing programme to he financed by it will be economic.
During this debate various speakers have referred to the shortage of building materials and of labour, and complaints have been made about the employees in the building industry. I wish to make some references to that aspect of the matter. I have had an opportunity to examine closely in my own electorate and in adjoining electorates the work that is being performed by the Victorian Housing Commission, the “War Service Homes Division of the Department of “Works and Housing, and private enterprise in erecting dwellings for the people. I frankly admit that many building materials are in short supply. But there is another difficulty that should be carefully noted by Commonwealth and State authorities. I refer to the enormous waste in connexion with the erection of houses for the workers. I cited an example in this House recently, when I mentioned a contract let by the War Service Homes Division for the construction of a four-roomed weatherboard house for an ex-serviceman. Two years and four months after the dwelling had been commenced he was able to move into it, although it had not been completed. There is no reason why the construction of houses should be so slow. Such delays would not occur if a proper system of planning and organization were evolved in the building industry. What is the record of the much-vaunted private enterprise? One builder competes with another for materials. Builders accept contracts that they cannot fulfil within a reasonable period, yet they take deposits from prospective purchasers and, as the cost of construction increases, the cost of the house mounts. The higher the price, the greater is the profit that is made by the private builder. In many instances he is not concerned about whether the house takes three months, six months or even two years to complete. He makes a start, so that he can get a progress payment. This criticism applies not only to houses built by private arrangement but also to houses built by State housing commissions and the War Service Homes Division. Con tracts are let to a number of builders, each of whom is competing with the other for building materials. One consequence of this competition is that when we walk down a street in an area where a large building construction project is going on, we see that only the foundations or the timber frames of a number of houses have been completed. The particular contractor responsible for the erection of those houses probably has plenty of bricks and timber, possibly, also, a stack of tiles to roof them, but he has not sufficient plaster and other materials to complete the walls. In the next street we find that the walls of another group of houses have been erected, but the houses are without roofs. The builder responsible for the group probably cannot obtain tiles with which to roof them. In the next street we find the skeletons of a number of houses, the construction of each of which is being delayed for want of flooring boards. And so it goes on. Each contractor endeavours to “ get a corner “ on as much building material as he can, regardless of the requirements of other builders. The result is that it is now almost unknown for the construction of a house to proceed without interruption. The prolonged delays that now occur in the erection of even the simplest dwellings, and the huge number of unfinished houses in course of construction, suggest the obvious need for the establishment of some co-ordinating authority to control the distribution of building materials. Before the war an ordinary workman’s house could be erected in three months, and many were completed in six weeks. To-day, a similar structure requires anything up to two years for its completion. Control of the distribution of building materials would reduce the number of houses in course of construction at one time, but they would he completed expeditiously. All the building materials available for construction would be put to use and would not be wasted in small hidden stockpiles as they are at present. I think that the Minister should take a personal interest in the distribution of building materials and should seriously consider the suggestion 1 have made to remedy the present situation. I understand that one of his functions is to plan large-scale projects of national importance, and I suppose that there is no more important national project than the provision of houses for our people.
We often hear criticisms of the workers engaged in the building industry similar to that made by the honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) this evening. The honorable member complained that whilst many bricklayers lay only from 300 to 400 bricks a day during their normal working week, they engage in piece-work on Saturdays and Sundays and lay as many as 1,000 bricks a day. That allegation may or may not be correct, but I shall direct attention to another factor that is responsible for the go-slow policy in the building trade. It is well known that any master builder in Melbourne who manages to get a regular staff of first-class tradesmen will do almost anything to retain their services. Even if he has not sufficient work to keep them fully occupied he will continue to pay them their full wages. Building workers engaged in the industry have told i.-.c that it is not unusual for master builders and their foremen to instruct employees to make a job “ last out “, either because no other work is immediately available or because they are held up by lack of certain supplies. Of course, the contractors do not mind their employees “taking things easy” because they include in their tenders a sum which will more than cover such contingencies. It is obvious that the inculcation of go-slow tactics by employers must have a bad effect on employees generally in the industry. No doubt, the maldistribution of building materials is largely ‘responsible for that state of affairs, but, in any event, it should not be permitted to continue, and that is another sphere in which the Government might well give a lead to the community. A rationalized distribution of building materials would expedite the completion nf houses and so reduce building costs.
I understood the Minister to say that houses that are being sold by State housing commissions to the tenants are sold at not less than the actual cost of constructing them. I do not complain about that policy, but I cannot help wondering whether the Victorian Housing Commission is conforming to it.
– I shall give the honorable member the facts in connexion with that matter presently.
– In the electorate of Wills, which I represent, a large number or houses has been built by the Victorian Housing Commission since 1938, and now that the commission has decided to sell them to occupiers who wish to purchase them, many of the tenants have applied to the commission for a valuation of their homes with a view to purchasing them. Many of them have been shocked to discover that wooden and fibro houses that were built for as little as £750 and brick houses that cost up to £1,200 to build have been valued at from £1,000 to £1,900. In other words, from £300 to £700 has been added to the capital cost of those houses. The equity acquired by the tenants in their houses through the rent that they have paid is very small. A tenant who has paid a weekly rent of 30s. has an annual equity of only £7 or £8. It is clear that while the rents were paid the commission was not losing money on the houses. However, under the new equalization scheme houses that have been built recently by the commission at a cost of from £2,200 to £2,500 will apparently be sold for less than that amount. One naturally wonders whether the price of the older houses has not been increased by some hundreds of pounds in order to offset the loss incurred on the sale of houses erected more recently. I see no reason why tenants should not be permitted to purchase their homes from the housing construction authorities, but they should not have to pay more than the actual cost of construction of these houses. Even if the sale of houses by housing authorities results in some loss to those authorities, the Government should compensate them for the loss rather than expect the workers to pay more than the actual cost of erecting the houses.
The rate of interest charged to those who are buying their homes from the authorities under long-term agreements should be considerably reduced. Surely the Commonwealth Bank could find the necessary money to finance schemes of home ownership so that the housing authorities would be able to sell their houses at reasonable rates of repayment.
The interest rates should be just sufficient to cover the actual administrative and clerical costs incurred by the housing authorities. I suggest that 2 per cent, would be quite high enough, and that is about all the average worker can afford to pay, particularly in view of the fact that housing costs have more than doubled in the last few years. The “Victorian Government has announced that it proposes to introduce, if possible, a scheme whereby loans may be made to prospective purchasers at a maximum interest rate of 2 per cent. It should be possible for the Australian Government to make some agreement with the Victorian Government that will ensure that loans may be obtained by all home seekers at low rates of interest. I know, not only from personal experience but also from observation over many years, that persons who purchased homes on time payment, paying a deposit of possibly £100 or £150 of the total cost of £800 or £900, had to pay 5 or 6 per cent, interest on a first mortgage and as high as 10 per cent, interest on a second mortgage, and ended up by paying twice as much as the amount that they had originally borrowed. As a result, they had a millstone of debt round their necks for the rest of their lives. Certainly, largely as a result of Labour Government policy during the eight years that preceded December, 1949, interest rates have been considerably reduced, and, in fact, are now not much more than 50 per cent, of what they were in the boom period that followed World War I. We are providing money to prospective home purchasers, through the Commonwealth Bank, at a rate of interest of 3& per cent. But a prospective home purchaser who “borrows from £1,500 to £2,000 at 3 J per cent, interest is burdened with a very large interest bill as well as the big liability represented by the principal of the loan. The time has definitely arrived when we shall have to legislate for the provision of money for the purchase of homes at low interest rates, so that a man who earns from £8 to £10 a week shall be able to provide a home for himself instead of having to rent one from some one else, and will not have the spectre of eviction, or something of that nature, facing him for the rest of his life. I do not blame this Government or any State government, for the present lag in the provision of housing, but I do blame the system under which we have lived for years. In Victoria, more than 20,000 people have made applications, unci are awaiting their turn, to obtain houses from the Housing Cimmission That fact gives us some idea of the huge unsatisfied demand that exists for homes for the workers. We can also gain a full realization of that huge demand from the existence of housing settlements which consist mainly of military huts that have been altered slightly to become temporary homes. In Melbourne we have a bis? temporary housing settlement in Fawkner Park, another in Royal Park, another in the old military camp at Watsonia, and still another at Fishermen’s Bend, where thousands of people live, in many instances, under appalling conditions. As I have said, I do not blame this or any other government for that position, but we must put the blame where it rightly belongs, which is on private enterprise and the building industry.
I recall that in the 1920’s, during a boom period, cottages in industrial areas that had been let a few years before at a rent of from 10s. to 12s. 6d. a week, were rushed by prospective home-seekers and were let at as much as from £2 5s. to £2 10s. by rackrenters. Those little cottages had originally cost only about from £200 to £250 to build. Some of these rackrenters also charged as much as £10 key money. But in the 1980’s, when our population had increased and when thi’ demand for homes should have been /0 :1siderably greater than it was in th«> 1920’s, practically no new houses were built, and many of the cottages of which I have spoken were vacant. There were vacant houses in every suburb of Melbourne and in every capital city during these depression years, not because there was no demand for homes for the people, but solely because so many thousands of workers did not have sufficient money to pay rent and so had been thrown out into the streets. Evictions took place every day in the week, and families were packed into any sort of accommodation. None of the governments of the day took any interest in the welfare of these people. In fact, nobody was interested in them because they did not have the money to pay rent. At that time we had available great quantities of building materials, and thousands upon thousands of building workers were unemployed. But because there was no prospect of any immediate profit for the master builders in the provision of houses for the workers, they decided that they would not build any. No government then was interested enough to say that, if the master builders would not perform the work of housing the people it would itself take the job over. Had governments taken such action in the 1930’s we should not now be reaping the harvest of inaction, and instead of being hundreds of thousands of houses short of requirements, we should, on the other hand, be very close to having sufficient to house the whole of our population. We have to learn our lesson from both what was done and what was not done during those years. But while we pin our faith to private enterprise to provide sufficient houses, we can be assured that in all times of prosperity a large section of the workers will not be able to obtain suitable accommodation. We must tackle this problem from a government standpoint. We must ensure that both the Federal and the State governments shall accept the responsibility for providing sufficient houses of a decent standard to accommodate the whole of our population, irrespective of whether or not there is profit to be gained. I should not expect any government to seek profit in the provision of houses. I suggest, rather, that it would be a duty of governments to provide houses for the people even at the risk of incurring substantial losses, because one of the first essentials in the achievement of a satisfied and contented community is decent living conditions. We shall have tributes of one kind or another until such decent living conditions are provided for the people. We cannot expect workers to do a satisfactory day’s work day after day when they know that they have to go home to sub-standard slum dwellings, or to some temporary shelter such as an army hut. We cannot expect to have a community of contented workers in such conditions, because the appalling state in which they live must make them discontented with their lot.
– Where are all those slums that the honorable member speak”! about ?
– .They are not up in the Omeo hills, but if the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) will come with me round the Melbourne City area I shall show him a lot of them.
– All in Labour seats.
– Yes, all in Labour seats, and it is no insult to any honorable member to represent the people in those areas. I am astonished that the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) should endeavour to cast such a slur on some ot the most decent people in this community, by saying that, because they are living in slums, they are Labourites and are not worthy of any consideration. It is a great pity that the honorable member could not be sent to live in some of these slum places for a few years so that he might experience the appalling conditions under which those people have to live.
– A lot of them have better homes than the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) has.
– Order ! The time of the honorable member for Wills has expired.
.- The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) in the course of his speech was at least more generous to the Government in connexion with this matter than was the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). He said that he did not blame the Government for the shortage of housing, but that he blamed the system for it. No honorable member opposite ever made a more correct statement, because the real cause of our present housing plight is the system which has resulted from 1ihe application of socialism in this country for eight years during the regimes of Labour governments. Therefore Labour governments must accept the full responsibility for the present housing shortage. We have examined the position fully enough to be able to appreciate it. To-day we have listened to the political humbug of the honorable member for East Sydney who attacked the Government, for the entire course of his speech, for having, according to him, failed to provide houses, although he was himself a Minister for eight years in the previous Government, and has been a member of this House for about twenty years. At no time while he was a Minister did he raise his voice about housing. But ever since he and his colleagues were thrown out of office because of their failure to face this problem, he has attacked the Government for not having fulfilled its promises about housing, although it has been in office for only a few months. This bill merely gives authority to the Government to make finances available to the State governments to assist housing programmes. Housing is a State function, and all the statements about the housing shortage made in this House by honorable members opposite are a complete criticism of the McGirr Labour Government in New South Wales. Their statements might be of some use if they were made to that government. No sooner had the present Government been elected to office than the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Casey) arranged for a mission to go abroad to investigate the availability of prefabricated houses. The required information was collected from almost every country possible, and was made available to the States on the return of the mission. In addition to having that information the States are now to have financial assistance from the Commonwealth in respect of the importation of prefabricated houses.
That is only one aspect of the problem but it indicates the assistance that the Government is attempting to give to the States in an effort to resolve this problem. There is no greater responsibility than that of keeping the people of this country happily housed, and if honorable members opposite would co-operate with the Government in a drive to improve the productive effort of this country we should get the job completed much sooner than we shall complete it if they merely throw round the kind of criticism that we have heard to-day. We have heard honorable members opposite attack the trade and just about everybody who has any connexion with building but has no connexion with the Labour party. Not one honorable member opposite is prepared to admit the real reason for the housing shortage, which is the lack of production.
One honorable member opposite stated that he wished to have everything controlled. He wants to institute control of building supplies and of this and that. What would be the use of instituting controls until we have the materials to control? How to increase the production of the essential materials is the real problem. We shall never overcome our housing difficulties until we face up to the task of obtaining more output from our industries. Our housing problem has not been aggravated by war damage, as has been the case in other countries, because practically no war damage was suffered in this country except in Darwin. All that we had to do at the end of the war was add to what we had, but we could not carry out that task because of the administration that we had until last year. In the United Kingdom, which was destroyed beyond all recognition, the people responded to the call and rebuilt their country in a magnificent way, and have now almost caught up with their housing requirements. They are housing their people in a better way than we are doing. The United States of America, under private enterprise, caught up with its housing programme in a year or two and is now providing every class of building that its people want. We have evidence from those two countries that the real reason for our present plight is the socialistic policy pursued here during the last seven or eight years. We have brought into being a new generation which does not realize its full responsibility to the country. Members of the Labour party, instead of helping to encourage a keenness for work and production, are still trying to sow the seeds of dissension and continue to use their old slogan of “do as little as you can and get as much as you can for it “.
I think that we should pay a tribute to the work of the co-operative building societies. I know the work that has been done by such organizations in New South Wales, particularly prior to the war, and even since the war, against tremendous odds. But under the administration of housing commissions there is no competition and there is the lack of organization which usually results from controls. In New South Wales, lack of efficiency has been brought about by the fact that the Housing Commission dominates the supplies of materials and leaves little for other interests, with the result that no one can really make a successful contribution to the New South Wales housing programme. It is impossible for a contractor to the Housing Commission or to private owners or organizations to do a job unless he can be sure that all the materials will be on the job when he commences work. It is of no use for a contractor to commence to lay the foundations only to find that some other part of the structure cannot be proceeded with because of lack of materials. That is happening throughout the length and breadth of New South Wales and clearly indicates the trouble that is caused by the non-availability of supplies. This country has increased its steel production by only approximately 1 0 per cent, since before the war, although there has been a considerable increase in its population. Yet countries such as Canada have increased their steel production by about 75 per cent. Our lack of steel is one of the main reasons for the shortages of building materials. The non-availability of coal is the real reason for these shortages, which have been brought about by administrations that have gone before and, I am sure, have gone for good.
I come from an electorate in which a considerable quantity of hardwood timber is cut and milled. The whole of this area suffers frequently from the rationing of electricity which, in turn, is due to the shortage of coal for the generation of power. When this trouble, which keeps these mills operating at much below their capacity, has been overcome, there will still be the problem of transporting the timber to other parts of the State by rail. Strikes and other obstacles to the successful operation of the railway system make it necessary for a great proportion of the timber to be hauled by road transport to Sydney, Newcastle and elsewhere, otherwise it would never reach the areas in which it is needed. Road transport increases the cost of timber out of all proportion to what it should be, and the roads of the State are being destroyed because of the failure of the railways of New South Wales to stand up to their task. It all comes back to socialism and the introduction of the 40-hour week before the country was ready for it. It all comes back to the fact that there is not sufficient coal to keep the railways moving regularly and that a sufficient number of hours is not being worked by railway employees to keep the engines and trucks running on the rails. Tt all comes back to the doctrine of socialism which has brought us down to where we are, and the people who are suffering most are the very people whom honorable members of the Opposition preach to and try to convince that they will benefit from a socialist state. I <am sure that those people are beginning to realize the foolishness of socialist policy. Honorable members of the Opposition know the facts but are inclined to run away from them instead of stating them to the people. At the present time Australia has all that is necessary to make a nation great. To make Australia great it is only necessary for the people to get together. I arn sure that they would get together and make a. production effort if wisely led by honorable members of the Opposition. The time has come when not only one or two members of the Labour party should ask for a production effort. The country expects the bulk of the party to give a lead to the people. We can never expect the honorable member for East Sydney to adopt an attitude of that kind, but we can expect the bulk of the members of his party to do so.
Honorable members of the Opposition have stated that the Government is not encouraging home ownership. Fancy an honorable member on the Labour side of the House stating that this Government, which stands for private enterprise, is not encouraging home ownership ! It is not very long since the Minister for Defence in the Chifley Government who is now in the political wilderness where he should remain stated that he was opposed to home ownership and the creation of little capitalists. He wanted houses to belong to the State. That was the attitude of the Labour party last year, yet colleagues of the ez-Minister have the audacity to say that the present Government is not in favour of encouraging home ownership by the people.
– Interest rates should be reduced.
– Housing is the responsibility of the States, but the Premier of New South Wales has never stated that interest rates are a problem. Whether the interest rate is 2 per cent or 3 per cent., is not a vital factor. The majority of the people want homes, and the Government of New South Wales is not providing them because industry has not produced the materials that are necessary to .build them. The smokescreen concerning interest rates is used only in order to hide the blunders of the Government which went out of office at the end of last year, and the inability of the Government of New South Wales, and possibly the governments of some of the other States, to provide the people with adequate housing.
The Government is obliged to encourage the greatest possible number of immigrants to enter this country, and would like to obtain the greatest possible proportion of tradesmen but these are in demand in all countries of the world. The Government hopes that Australia will receive its share of tradesmen, but in addition, others must be trained in this country as rapidly as possible. We should pay tribute to the technical colleges for the training that they are giving, both in city and in country centres. They are training tradesmen of every type in order to get, us out of our difficulties. But when these tradesmen have been trained they will be unable to carry out their work unless material is available for their use. The Government has made certain concessions in regard to the duty that is payable on imported building materials, but the benefit of them is almost cancelled by the failure to handle the ships at such a pace that freight rates may be reasonable. Tt takes four or five times as long as it used to take to handle a ship in any of the main ports of Australia. Freights are climbing simply because those who could assist will not give their utmost co-operation.
The States should give the utmost assistance to the co-operative societies so that they will encourage people to obtain houses which they can eventually own. The receipt of finance from a co-operative society is very helpful to the person who wishes to own a home. Thousands of persons have started off in this country in houses provided by building societies. Increased activity by building societies would enable the element of competition to return to the building industry and, as a result, prices would be reduced. During the war contracts were let on a basis of “ cost plus 10 per cent.” and nobody worried about how much it would cost to make an article. Young people have grown up under these conditions and we have to change their outlook and their way of life and make them realize that, to be good citizens, they must become efficient and have ambition. I am sure that the great majority have ambition. All that they need is a little guidance and if honorable members who try to arouse class hatred and advocate that folk should not do their best would change their attitude and come forward as real leaders, not only the housing problem, but also a lot of other problems would be solved, life would be happier, cost would be reduced, and it would become possible for this country to develop into a much greater nation.
– The bill before the House is one of the most preposterous that has been introduced by this Government. I regret to say that it contains no suggestion for the alleviation of the distress caused by the shortage of houses throughout the Commonwealth. Most people are not aware of how housing is financed by governments. I understand that the Australian Government lends a certain amount of money to the State Governments, which is lent in turn by the State governments to those people who want to build their own homes or for whom various State housing commissions build houses. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in his policy speech delivered before the last general election, had this to say about housing -
Except in relation to the territories and war service homes, the direct responsibility of housing is with the State governments. But the Commonwealth must accept large obligations of assistance. There is already a CommonwealthStates Housing Agreement. We will seek its amendment so as to permit and aid little capitalists “ to own their own homes.
Oan any honorable member say what assistance, additional to the assistance that was rendered by the Chifley Government, this Government has rendered to the people who stand so sorely in need of homes ? This Government now intends to allocate £26,000,000 merely to carry on the work started by the previous Government.
– That should satisfy the honorable member.
– But we were definitely promised by the Government parties at the last general election that houses would be built for the people. Now the people find that this Government has nothing to offer them, and it ill becomes honorable members on the Government side of the House to suggest that the States should do something about housing when the Australian Government itself is not prepared to do anything. The Australian Government should build houses for the people irrespective of the cost. Communism and other social ills can be prevented only by making this people happy in their own homes. The Government is not attempting to do that. The Government proposes to bring 200,000 people to Australia each year, and has made an agreement for the importation of 10,000 prefabricated houses a year. Those houses will by no means accommodate the migrants who come to the country let alone our own people. The Australian people now have very little chance of being able to build, lease or rent houses.
– Tell the House what the McGirr Government is doing in New South Wales.
– It is childish to make statements of that type. The Australian Government acts as the chief taxgatherer in this country, and it holds thu purse-strings. It should see that the houses are built. Twenty-six million pounds will not build many houses, but the allocation of that amount indicates the Government’s outlook on housing.
The Sydney Morning Herald of the 17th September, 1950, reported as follows : -
New Restrictions on Loans by Commonwealth Bank.
Commonwealth Bank Managers have been ordered to cut loans on homes by 10 per cent.
They have also been told to grant loans for cars only to present customers of the bank.
A Commonwealth Bank official, who revealed this yesterday, said the “ tightening up “ policy had been introduced to check increasing inflation. . . . Bank branches were now advancing only 00 per cent, on the valuation of a home against 70 per cent, previously.
Advances on the valuation of fiats had been cut from 60 to 50 per cent.
The Prime Minister in his election speech promised many things, to the people, but. it will be only a matter of time before the people will realize that none of those promises will be honoured. In the Melbourne Sun of the 1st November, 1950, the following report was published : -
Only ten Housing Commission tenants had bought their homes under the scheme given many tenants the chance to buy, the Transport Minister (Mr. Hyland) disclosed in the Legislative Assembly yesterday.
The Minister further disclosed that the price of the ordinary two-bedroom house was about £2,000. In view of the £1 increase of the basic wage it can be expected that the cost of such houses will rise further by about £200. The Daily Telegraph of the 23rd October, 1950, reported this. -
An ordinary two-bedroom cottage would cost about £200 more as a result of the £1 basic wage increase, the Minister for Labour (Mr. Holt) said in a broadcast to-night.
Moreover, home-builders are now being allowed only fifteen years instead of twenty years to repay their loans. Therefore, the policy of the Government is not one that will allow persons to own their cwn homes, or to live in houses at a reasonable rent. At the present time the cost of a prefabricated house is about £2,500. When it is built on land on which all the usual amenities, such as gas, water and electric light, are available, it is quite possible that the final cost will be £3,000. We have heard a lot about interest on housing loans being charged at 2 per cent, and 2-1 per cent., but I think that we shall find that the interest charged on this £3,000 house will be 4^ per cent. That will be more than a working man can reasonably pay as rent. The working man will be bard bit if be has to pay such a high rent. Yet he is opposed by the employers when he attempts to get a rise of the basic wage. Even the recent rise of 20s. will be swallowed up by extra rent. I ask the Government, where are its promises now?
– Is that 4$ per cent, the interest rate that the McGirr Government is charging?
– The McGirr Government has done more to house the people than have all the other States collectively. I understand that recently the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) had discussions with Mr. McGirr, the Premier of New South Wales, and promised to consider the matter of finance, and later to give Mr. McGirr more money for housing.
I now refer honorable members to the speech of the Governor-General when he opened this Parliament. In his Speech he promised on behalf of the Government that many new houses would be built and that it would be the policy of the Government to house the people. This bill does not attempt to honour the bousing promises of the Government.
– It will mean that £26,000,000 worth of houses will be built.
– Not many houses -can be built for £26,000,000. An indication of how this Government is fumbling with its administrative policy is given when it takes £103,000,000 from one section of the people but allocates only £26,000,000 to this important matter of housing. I am very serious because I believe that the amelioration of our housing troubles would overcome most of the difficulties that beset this country. Honorable members hear a lot from Government supporters about socialism and other things, but during -the war those who now sit opposite were quite satisfied to leave things as they were.
– Honorable members on -this side were cither fighting or working.
– Honorable members on the Government side did not mind much about profits being taxed so long as the interests they represent were kept intact until the end of the war. Now that the war is over they accuse the workers of not working hard enough and attack the 40-hour week and other amenities that the workers have so hardly won. In conclusion, I sincerely hope that this Government, if it remains in office for much longer, will do something about housing. Hundreds of young men and women who served in the last war, and who therefore should be good enough to get a house or flat at a reasonable rent, are homeless. I hope that, a Labour government will soon be able to help such people.
– The honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) misquoted the statement about home ownership said to have been made in this House by a former member for Corio. Honorable members who were in the previous Parliament will know that the statement of the honorable member for Lyne is not in accord with the words used by the previous member for Corio. I do not blame the honorable member for Lyne for that misquotation because statements made by the previous member for Corio have been widely misquoted throughout the Commonwealth for many months. They were also misquoted prior to the last general election. This misquotation of the statement made by the former member for Corio has been so serious-
– Which former member for Corio?
-The member for Corio in the last Parliament, not the member for Corio who was notorious for his misstatements. The misquotation has been so serious that it has been necessary to have the matter dealt with in the courts. As the honorable member was reminded when he began to speak, this matter is now before the courts and it therefore should not be the subject of discussion in the Parliament.
– There is no doubt about the intention of the previous member for Corio.
– And there is no doubt about what he said. I was here and heard him.
– I was here also.
– I rise to a point of order. I understand that the statement to which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) is referring is the subject of a case now before the Supreme Court of Victoria in which the previous member for Corio is involved. If that is so, the matter is sub judice and I understand that the honorable member is out of order in referring to it.
– I was unaware that any such matter was before the courts, but the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Eraser) mentioned that fact and then ceased further to discuss it:
– The point that I am making is that the honorable member for Lyne laid upon socialism the blame for the present housing shortage. According to him, the less socialism there is in housing matters the greater will be the number of houses constructed. Does he not realize that this measure itself is socialistic in principle because its purpose is to authorize the raising of a loan of £26,000,000 and the expenditure of that money, which is public money, on the construction of houses? If the honorable member were consistent, having regard to the sentiments that he has expressed in this debate, he would oppose the measure on the ground that as the construction of houses through government agencies is socialism, and, therefore, should be condemned, the task of house construction should be left to private enterprise. That task was left to private enterprise for many years. Prior to the election of a Labour government in New South Wales no previous government in that State had ever built a house in any rural area. That was one of the causes of the tremendous housing shortage that existed in Australia even prior to the outbreak of World War II. In the years during which the task of house construction was left to private enterprise, it did little about the matter because it chose to invest its money in more profitable ways. Private enterprise had no concern for anything but profits and, therefore, in those years it did not engage in house construction. Yet, in the ‘thirties over 2,000 building tradesmen were camped within a few hundred yards of this House and were forced to exist on the dole because private enterprise, believing that it could make greater profits in other ventures, would not give to them the opportunity to engage in house construction.
– Was not a Labour government in power at that time ?
– Labour was then in office in the House of Representatives, but the anti-Labour parties were in power in the Senate.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the question before the Chair.
– The object of this measure is to authorize the raising of a loan of £26,000,000 for the purpose of continuing the programme under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I direct the attention of the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Casey) to a danger that threatens to prevent the construction of houses through government agencies. I refer to the position in which bricklayers and carpenters are now placed in relation to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and the recent judgment of that tribunal in which it granted a basic wage increase of £1 a week. The Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia has approximately 46,000 members, but, arising from action taken by the Victorian branch, the whole union since 1948 has been de-registered in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.
– The secretary of that union is a Communist.
– I am not now dealing with that aspect. My purpose is to direct the attention of the Minister to certain facts that demand urgent attention. Since August, 1948, the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia has been de-registered in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Although it has been said that the union could remedy that position by applying to be re-registered, the fact is that it has made three separate applications for reregistration but so far has not been able to satisfy the Registrar of the court of its bona fides and thus is still de-registered.
It will be impossible for that union to obtain re-registration in time to enable the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to make an order providing that the increase of basic wage that it recently announced ;shall apply to carpenters and bricklayers “who are members of it. That position will directly affect governmental housing programmes. There will be nothing to stop private employers from paying the basic wage increase to their employees who are members of the union even should the court fail to make an order to that effect. However, as 1 understand the position, unless special steps are taken, it will not be possible for the governments to pay to carpenters and bricklayers in their employ a higher wage than that prescribed under awards of lie Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Therefore, it. would appear that in December, employees of private enterprise in the building industry will be receiving at least £1 a week, and possibly £1 4s. a week, more than workers in that industry who are employed either directly by the Australian Government or by contractors to it. It is obvious that in such circumstances building tradesmen will not continue in government employment or on works being carried out under contract to the Government when they can earn more money by working for private employers.
The position will be particularly acute in Canberra. Whilst in some States it will be possible for members of the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia to apply to State arbitration authorities, with which the union is registered, no alternative body exists to which members of that union in the Australian Capital Territory can apply. There are 1,200 bricklayers and carpenters employed on government housing and other projects in the Australian Capital Territory. I know at first hand that members of the union in the territory are very concerned about the position that will confront them about the middle of December and are now contemplating what action they shall take. Many bricklayers and carpenters propose that should such a position arise they will get out of the industry, because unless the increase of the basic wage is applied to them they will be paid only 4s. a week more than the amount that will be paid to unskilled labourers. In the interests of continued and energetic building construction this matter calls for urgent attention. Some way must be found that will enable the increase of the basic wage that the court recently announced to be paid to members of the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia.
.- It is time the method of financing operations under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was reviewed. In this sphere the Government should make greater use than is made of the facilities that the Commonwealth Bank can provide. Through a special credits department the bank could provide the money required to finance governmental housing schemes at a rate of interest of not more than 1 per cent. The London Economist estimate-: the cost of issuance and administration of loans in this category at about per cent. The Commonwealth Bank could provide the sum that is being sought under this measure at an interest rate of 1 per cent, and still make a substantial profit on the transaction. Such loans would be adequately secured because each house erected would be a valuable asset. Furthermore, the bank’s liabilities would be guaranteed by the Australian and State governments. A further advantage of such a scheme would be that repayment of loans would be facilitated through the rental method.
The Government of New Zealand ha.-: set an example in this matter. Through facilities provided by the Bank of New Zealand it is making money available for home building at an interest rate of 1& per cent. The Government of South Australia, through the Government Savings Bank in that State, makes money available to its Housing Trust, which is doing an excellent job, at an interest rate of 2 per cent. That Government is fortunate in having the facilities of a government savings bank at its disposal. The Government of New South Wales is not in such a fortunate position due to the fact that some years ago, as the result of a political conspiracy, the Government Savings Bank in that State was closed down and later the Commonwealth Bank took over control of it. Although the Government of New South Wales has not the facilities of a savings bank at its disposal, it has indicated what, can be done in the financing of home building. It has guaranteed co-operative building societies to an amount of £60,000,000 in the construction of houses for 50,000 people. It did that at no cost to itself and without providing Id. by way of public loan. It simply used the resources of the State to guarantee the financial requirements of co-operative building societies with private financial institutions.
Co-operative building societies were originally established in New South Wales not by & Labour government but by an anti-Labour government that was led by Sir Bertram Stevens. At that time, the Commonwealth Bank, which was then controlled by a board, was not prepared to finance co-operative building societies, although, later, it did so and is still doing so. Originally, finance for home-building was made available with the backing of the Government through private banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions. The Government of New South Wales was able merely by the stroke of a pen to finance home building throughout that State. In order to make finance available to home purchasers at the lowest possible rate of interest, I urge the Australian Government to follow the examples of the governments that I have mentioned. There is no necessity for the Government to raise loans for home building on the public market at high rates of interest which must, ultimately, be paid by tenants. Most of the tenants of the houses that will be constructed under this scheme will be in the main either persons who have been evicted from houses or young couples who are not able to purchase houses in the ordinary way. In view of the seriousness of the housing shortage, house purchasers should not be obliged to pay interest at a rate of 3 per cent, or 4 per cent. Indeed, that is one of the principal criticisms that is levelled against the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Many of my constituents who are tenants of the Housing Commission in New South Wales have complained to me that they are charged high rents because of the high interest rate that must be paid on the money that has been used to finance the construction of their houses. I repeat that the requisite finance for the construction of houses’ under the Com- monwealth and State Housing Agreement could be made available through the Commonwealth Bank at a rate of interest not exceeding 1 or 2 per cent. By that means the Government could give long-overdue relief to tenants of houses built under this scheme. The honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) cited various reasons which, in his view, are responsible for the present high costs of building. Whatever may have caused the high costs, the fact remains that they are not likely to fall for a considerable time, if at all. Certainly they will not return to the prewar level. Relief can be afforded to people who are purchasing or renting Housing Commission houses only by reducing the interest burden. At 4 per cent., the principal sum is doubled over a period of 25 or 30 years. Even under co-operative building society schemes, a purchaser must pay instalments for ten or twelve years before he begins to reduce the principal amount. The making of a fresh financial arrangement with the States will provide an opportunity for the Government to revise the basis on which tenants are allowed to purchase Housing Commission houses.
When the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States was made in 1945, we were told that tenants would not be allowed to purchase houses until building costs became stable. It was considered then that the relatively high costs of building in the immediate post-war period would fall eventually and that it would not be fair to expect people to buy their dwellings on the basis of those high costs. That policy has been changed and tenants are now permitted to purchase under certain conditions. However, considerable delay occurs in many instances because the Housing Commission in New South Wales has told applicants that prices cannot be fixed for individual houses until every building in the estates concerned has been completed and an average cost has been established. I have discussed the purchasing arrangements for Housing Commission houses with the Premier of New South Wales, who has informed me that the prices fixed represent either the actual costs or the valuations, whichever is the higher amount in each instance. That policy should be completely reversed as it is contrary to the original arrangement. If the actual cost of constructing a house is higher than the valuation placed upon it by a competent valuer, whether because of bad workmanship or because of some other reason, the individual purchaser should not be penalized on that account. The extra cost should be borne by the community as a whole. That condition was pre-supposed when the agreement was originally framed. It was expected that the governments concerned would sustain losses on the ultimate sale of the houses, and the Commonwealth undertook to bear 60 per cent, of the total loss and the States the other 40 per cent. There can be no loss whatever under the present policy and, in fact, the governments may even obtain a profit, because valuations are rising steadily with rising costs and may eventually exceed the original costs.
I ask the Minister for “Works and Housing (Mr. Casey) to examine my suggestions, particularly in the light of what is being done by the Government of South Australia and the Government of New Zealand. The facilities available to those governments are not so great as those that are available to the Commonwealth. Therefore, it should be possible for this Government to arrange for the financing of homes at an interest rate of 1 per cent, or 2 per cent, to the benefit of tenants and purchasers. I hope that the right honorable gentleman will discuss the method of valuation for sale with the State Premiers with the object of re-introducing the policy that was originally contemplated in the agreement. Tenants should be given the opportunity to buy their homes at fair market values. The Government should not seek to make a profit but should be prepared to sustain a loss. I submit that many of the delays in making houses available for purchase are unnecessary. If, say, as many as 150 houses in a group of 200 are completed, tenants should be allowed to exercise the option of purchase. Many of them would be able to arrange finance through building societies at instalment rates lower than the current rent charges. The services of valuers can be obtained through the Commonwealth Bank, the Rural Bank of New South Wales and cooperative building societies. Hundreds of competent valuers are working in conjunction with those institutions, and I am sure that the Housing Commission could easily arrange for houses to be valued quickly and sold to tenants at fair market prices.
.- Several members of the Opposition have complained that up to date the Government has not kept its promise to provide an adequate number of houses for the people. They have also pointed out that other promises that were made on behalf of the present Government parties during the general election campaign have not been put into effect. For example, I refer to their continual statements about the value of the £1. I ask those honorable members to remember that the Government parties were elected by the people on the supposition that they would be able to control the affairs of the nation without interference by the Senate and that, in the normal course of events, they would be in office for three years. It is only reasonable to point out that the Government has not been in office even for one year as yet. Therefore, it is utter nonsense to say that it has dishonoured its promises. What can be achieved in three years is frequently impossible of achievement in a snorter period.
– Apology accepted !
– That is not an apology.
The Government has consistently declared that it will do its utmost to ensure that the people shall get houses. But houses cannot be provided unless the basic building materials are available in sufficient quantities. I have been amazed to notice how energetically members of the Opposition have worked to prevent the nation from obtaining basic materials for the building of houses and for industry generally. The general shortage of materials is undoubtedly one of the prime factors in the excessive costs of building to-day. Contractors would be able to build houses more cheaply than is possible under existing conditions if they could obtain adequate supplies of materials without delay. About 60 per cent, of the cost of building in Queensland during the last three or four years has consisted of labour costs alone. Those costs were inflated in some instances because the men had not done a fair day’s work each day, and in some instances because they were retained on the pay-rolls of contractors even when they were idle owing to the lack of materials because the employers could not afford to risk losing skilled labour. The cost of building will fall considerably when we succeed in increasing the flow of materials. An unexpected factor has aggravated the shortage of materials in Queensland during the last nine months. The great volume of rain that has fallen in that State has made the ground in forest areas extremely soggy with the result that timber mills have not been able to obtain normal supplies of logs.
The Government is doing its utmost to augment the supply of materials and fittings by encouraging their importation from overseas. However, its policy in that respect could be improved. Baths, refrigerators and piping should be admitted to the country free of duty for as long as such articles are unobtainable in sufficient quantities in Australia.
– That is being done.
– I know that, but the Government’s policy could be improved. I refer to the supply of baths, for example. If the Australian manufacturers state that they are in a position to supply an adequate number of baths, the Minister for Trade and Customs, (Senator O’Sullivan), under the present policy, makes a new regulation under by-law to prohibit the importation of baths free of duty after a certain date. In view of the severe shortages from which we are suffering, I consider that the Minister should be convinced that the supply of baths actually exceeds the demand before taking such action. It would be wrong to accept at its face value the not disinterested statement of a group of manufacturers only to find that the lag in the supply of an essential commodity had not been overtaken. From the point of view of the average citizen, it would be better to make sure that we had, if anything, more materials on hand than were required immediately.
The subject of baths leads me to thesubject of piping of various kinds. Recently, galvanized piping of certain, types -has been admitted to the countryfree of duty. Unfortunately, there seems to be a tendency on the part of certain departmental officers to overlook the fact that it is useless to have £-inch piping leading into a house unless water mainsare provided to reticulate water to thehouse. I believe that it is impossible to obtain 4-in. and 6-in. piping from British sources in less than about two and a half years.
– Then why are we exporting piping?
– I have only the honorable member’s word for that.
– I can show the honorable member consignments of piping for export.
– I have every reason to believe that Australia is not exporting piping. Of course, if the honorable member is talking about the shipment of piping to New Guinea, I consider that to be essential. However, I believe that some of the materials that are available on a shorter term of delivery from sterling sources should be used, because in view of world conditions at the present time, I do not consider that prices, particularly overseas, can do other than rise. I also consider that, as a measure of insurance in the unfortunate event of a conflict, we should have as big a stockpile of essential materials in the Commonwealth as we can accumulate.
I should like to revert for a moment to the matter of Commonwealth assistance to the States for the erection of houses. I can speak from personal experience only of conditions in Queensland. Opposition members have referred to the desirability of constructing as many houses as possible, and also of making arrangements for their sale to the tenants as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, it is the policy of the Government of Queensland that a house erected by the State Housing Commission shall not, under any conditions, be sold to the tenant. The intention is to retain the dwelling on a permanent rental basis. I believe that every family should have the right to own. its home, if it can possibly afford to do so. One of the most unfortunate aspects of the position in Queensland is that, in many instances, the tenancy of State-owned houses depends upon the political opinions of the occupant. That is disgraceful, but, unfortunately, it is true. For that reason, I rather deplore that the Commonwealth has to finance some of those socialist and unscrupulous schemes.
– That is socialism.
– It is indeed. I shall conclude by referring to a matter that may not be directly concerned with this bill, but I believe that if the necessary action were taken the housing shortage in various parts of the Commonwealth, particularly in Queensland, would be alleviated to some degree. I should like to know whether it is possible to reduce considerably the time that it takes a citizen to purchase a war service home. Considerable delay occurs in Queensland in such a transaction, and, unfortunately, many ex-servicemen lose the opportunity to buy war service homes because the vendors will not wait. They prefer to go to private banks, from which they can obtain the money quickly, and thereby complete the transaction speedily. I believe that if the procedure that is involved when ex-servicemen wish to purchase homes through the War Service Homes Division could be considerably accelerated, the demand for houses at the present time would be greatly alleviated.
.- The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Casey) has been sitting at the table in a somewhat reflective mood during the course of this debate, and, no doubt, some of the reflections .that have passed through his mind are in relation to the many speeches that he has made in the past, particularly during the last general election campaign when he told the people that they should leave to private enterprise the solution of problems such as housing. I enjoy the spectacle of the anti-socialists introducing legislation of such a socialist nature as this bill. I do not know whether or not the Minister shares my enjoyment of that spectacle, but I may add that I particularly enjoy the mental smiting of breasts and the mea culpas as Ministers, although they do not publicly admit it, doubtless privately reflect upon how wrong they were to tell the people that the solution of the housing problem should be left to private enterprise. The present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), declared during the last general election campaign -
The Socialists have helped to create in this great young country of ours the outlook of an old and tired man. A country with opportunities which it needs the young man’s adventurous and chivalrous outlook to explore. For the pioneer’s virile cry - “ Leave it to me ; I’ll do it! “ - they have substituted the slogan - “ Leave it to the Government! “ That, however, is not our view.
Quite frankly, I am amazed that we have not had at least a public confession by members and supporters of the Government of the complete error of their belief that private enterprise can solve various problems, particularly that of housing. This schizophrenic government says, on the one hand, “ Leave the solution of problems such as housing to private enterprise “ whilst on the other hand, it asks the House to agree to legislation, the purpose of which is to enable the Commonwealth to assist the States to build houses for the people. The unfortunate fact is that, because of that split personality, the evidence of which is dear, in the Government’s policy, the cost of the housing programme has been increased tremendously. This Government is responsible for the destruction of land sales control, and every body knows that, as a result of the abolition of that safeguard that was introduced and retained by the Chifley Labour Government, the price of land that was required by State governments for their housing schemes increased tremendously. A similar comment may be made about all the other things that this Government has touched. In one breath, it preaches the doctrine of freedom for private enterprise, and removes controls, yet in almost the next breath, it seeks the approval of the Parliament to correct the situation by belatedly carrying on controls.
I notice that the Minister for Works and Housing was taking particular notice earlier when references were made to an important matter upon which I wish to speak. The Government will undoubtedly suffer a headache when it goes into the labour market. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Eraser) has been able to speak in relation to the branch of the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia in the Australian Capital Territory. I cannot speak of any State other than Victoria, but I can say that, in that State, the union has been under the control of a very closely-knit group of Communists who, of all the Communist groups in the unions, have been most successful in their attempts to destroy the morale of the workers in the building industry, and to prevent where possible, an increase of production in it. As the report of the Royal Commission on Communism in Victoria demonstrated, those men held their office, and they still hold it, by fraud, both at the ballot-box and outside it, and by violence and terrorism. The union was deregistered by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court because of the violence and terrorism of those Communists, and because of their repeated refusals to cooperate in any way in preserving industrial peace on the building front in Victoria. Members of the rank and file of that organization are good, honest trade unionists, who are prepared to do a fair day’s work if they are permitted to do so. They were dissatisfied with the Communist leadership of their union but were unable to alter it at the ballotbox, because of the kind of fraud to which reference was made in the report of the royal commission. Those honest unionists have now established their own organization to which carpenters and joiners may belong. It has been registered by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and has applied, to that tribunal for an award. I remind the Minister for Works and Housing that he may have to make some difficult decisions in this matter, and that it may not be easy to solve the problem that will arise when two organizations, side by side, compete with one another for the same class of member. I say frankly that if any attempt is made to appease the group of people who hold their office in the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia by fraud and violence, and who, above all other Communist groups in unions, have tried to sap and destroy the morale of the workers in the building in- dustry, I shall certainly seek an opportunity to express my views on the matter. When I make that statement, I do not wish to be misunderstood. My remarks are not directed at the workers in the building industry because I know, from personal experience of many of them who live in my electorate, that they wish to get on with the job, and to be free from the control of the tyrannous Communist group which, unfortunately, has battened on that union in Victoria. It was only after long months and even years of struggle that some of the members of that organization took what was for them the desperate step of forming a new organization and of applying to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court for registration. I bring that matter to the notice of the Minister for Works and Housing because, unfortunately, I have found that despite much strong talk by members of Liberal governments, when it comes to the actual “ showdown “ when dealing with the Communists, they display considerably less intestinal fortitude than Labour governments exhibit. The worst appeasers of the Communists in an industrial dispute are, not Labour administrations, which face up to those boys and have it out with them, but Liberal governments, which have always taken the easy road out of the difficulty. Because of their lack of knowledge of the psychology of the workers and of the mentality of the industrial movement, they are incompetent to deal with such a problem, and look for an easy way of escape.
– The Liberal Government appeases the Communists by granting them passports when they wish to go overseas.
– Yes, it grants the Communists all sorts of privileges. I hope that the Minister for Works and Housing will take due notice of what I have said on that matter.
The next subject to which I wish to refer is the administration by the States of the control of building materials, and the issuance of permits for building. In Melbourne, and, I assume, in Sydney and the other capital cities, the erection of houses, the area of which would exceed fourteen squares, is normally prohibited, whilst the construction of factory buildings for the manufacture of non-essential goods is completely banned. In other words, building materials may not be supplied for those constructions. However, a person who drives in a motor car for half an hour through any capital city cannot fail to notice many luxurious hotels, theatres and homes. Indeed, some of those homes are not occupied permanently, but are used only for holiday purposes. In addition, almost countless factories are being erected that will manufacture non-essential goods. Apparently, some persons are able to get ample supplies of building materials with or without permits. Such a case came to my notice in my electorate only a few days ago. A factory for the manufacture non-essential goods is to be erected next door to a house, on the verandah of which a man and his three children are living. They have not been able to obtain any other accommodation.
– The electors of Yarra should change their representative in this Parliament.
– A responsible government would do something about that matter. Unfortunately, the MenziesFadden Government does not come within that category.
– Is not a Labour government in office in Victoria?
– The members of the present Government of Victoria belong to the same political party as the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) leads. I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman or the Premier of Victoria is the “ ring-in “ in the Australian Country party. Whatever the position may be in that respect, I hope that those two gentlemen will make up their minds about it. Before I was rudely interrupted, I was citing a perfect instance in my own electorate to show that building materials are being poured into a factory which, apparently, is to make some fancy leather goods, whilst next door, a gentleman and his three children are living on a verandah, because they have been unable to obtain better accommodation. I attempted to pacify that citizen by pointing out to him that he would be granted a house as soon as possible under the Government’s housing programme.
– Did he believe the honorable gentleman?
– If, as a result of his present circumstances, he has turned a little “red”, I shall not blame him. Some of the children have been sick, yet their only accommodation is a verandah - a poor kind of verandah, too. That citizen sees building materials made available for a factory that will make luxury goods. I should not blame him for turning a little “ red “ in those circumstances. That sort of treatment makes Communists of otherwise good citizens. I ask the Government to compel State governments to enforce their laws concerning the distribution of building materials, because it is clear that in the metropolitan areas those laws are being flagrantly disregarded. Although the housing regulations in Victoria restrict to fourteen squares the size of houses that may legally be constructed, one need only visit Camberwell and Kooyong to see houses of 28 squares being erected.
– What has the administration of State laws to do with this Parliament ?
– Since the National Government is providing the money for housing, it should be able to control the distribution of housing materials. If building materials are not available, it is useless for the Government to make money available for housing. After all, the limiting factor in housing construction nowadays is not money but materials. If the materials that are available are not used to the best advantage, we cannot hope for a speedy solution of our housing difficulties.
The Government should also insist that State housing authorities shall apply an effective policy of decentralization. We should not wait until our capital cities are threatened with imminent destruction by atom bombs before we decentralize our population. Most State governments appear to imagine that when they have encouraged the establishment of a factory in some small country town for the manufacture of, say, lingerie or hosiery, they have done sufficient to promote decentralization. The Government should insist that the money which it provides for the States for the construction of houses shall be expended in country districts. If we do not decentralize our population now we may be forced to do so in the not very distant future, and the cost of carrying out decentralization then will be prohibitive. Because the National Government is providing the finance for housing, it is in a position to insist that State governments shall implement effective schemes of decentralization.
No doubt the Minister is just as anxious as is every one else to increase production in the building industry. However, I remind the right honorable gentleman that it is useless to appeal to the workers to work harder and to build more houses if they know that they will not share in the result of their increased efforts. Mention has been made of various incentive systems. No better incentive could be given to a worker than the assurance that some part of the profit made from the sweat of his brow would find its way into his own pocket. I see no reason why the Government should not provide finance to encourage the formation of co-operative groups of building tradesmen to build houses. The formation of such cooperative groups would enable the workers in the building industry to keep for themselves some of the large profits from home construction which now find their way into the pockets of the master builders. It is of little use for master builders to exhort their employees to work harder when the employees know that the only result of their working harder will be to increase the profits of their employers. If building workers were members of small co-operative organizations they would not mind working harder because they would know that they would share in the result of their exertions.
In conclusion, I express my wholehearted agreement with the remarks made by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) concerning the interest rates charged for finance with which to build houses. According to statistics prepared by co-operative housing societies, a fibro house which could be built in 1939 for £650, now costs £2,000. In 1939, the average weekly repayment of the money borrowed to build such a house was 16s. 3d. The rate of repayment has now increased to £2 6s. lid., which represents approximately £120 annually, of which £67 is applied to repayment of interest. Similarly, the cost of building a brick house has increased from £950 to £2,500, and weekly repayments have increased from £1 2s. 3d. to from £2 15s. to £3. In other words, the repayment rate is now approximately £150 per annum, of which £75 is absorbed in interest charges. Because of the continual increase of costs it will be impossible for workers to purchase their homes. By entering into a contract to do so they would be tying too big a burden around their necks. I see no reason why finance should not be provided by the Commonwealth Bank at a rate of interest which would be sufficient to defray only the actual costs of administration. In view of the present inflationary trends, I agree that it may be necessary to impose some check on the circulation of additional money in the community, but apart from that consideration I cannot see any reason ‘ why money should not be made available to home-seekers by the Commonwealth Bank at cheap rates of interest.
If the Government had sufficient backbone and breadth of vision to forget the old theories which have been entertained by the anti-Labour parties for so long, it would not need to tremble at the prospect of a double dissolution of the Parliament. If it took some progressive step to solve some of the many difficulties which now confront the country,’ honorable members opposite, who are now shaking in their shoes at the prospect of an early general election, could face the electors with some confidence. I hope that the Minister for “Works and Housing, in particular, has reflected on the errors of his past, when he advocated private enterprise. Now that he has become a keen socialist, I hope that he will take notice of the suggestions that Labour has placed before him in the course of this debate.
– in reply - This is a short financial measure by means of which the Government seeks the authority of the Parliament to provide £26,000,000 to finance the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement for the current financial year. In order to place this matter in proper perspective, I propose to remind honorable members of the various ways in which the Australian Government is assisting the States to provide housing, of which the proposal contained in the measure now before us is only one. Under the war service homes scheme the Government will he providing £25,000,000 this year. It will also be providing approximately £8,000,000 for the construction of hostels for the accommodation of migrants, and approximately £4,000,000 for the accommodation of national service trainees. Approximately £7,000,000 will also be provided for the housing of public servants and other persons in places where the Government finds it necessary to provide accommodation for them. In addition, the Government will subsidize the importation of prefabricated houses by an amount of £1,500,000. Under these various headings, the total expenditure of the Government upon housing this year will bc £72,000,000. In addition, State governments will expend £20,000,000 and, .possibly £30,000,000, on the importation of prefabricated houses. Altogether, governments in Australia will expend about £100,000,000 on housing accommodation, apart from the construction of buildings of other types. Of the total expenditure of £100,000,000, I emphasize that the expenditure of the National Government will amount to approximately 70 per cent.
The provision of houses involves not only the . expenditure of money but also the procurement of men and materials. The local building industry is being stimulated to its limit. In the course of this debate, various opinions have been expressed about the reasons why housing construction is not proceeding as rapidly as we should like it to proceed. However, the basic essentials for the construction of houses are a sufficient supply of building materials, the availability of an adequate number of skilled workers, and the effort which those workers apply to their tasks. Many members of the Oppo sition have referred to the effects of government planning in home building. I remind them that when Labour was in office it had the opportunity to do at least some elementary planning for’ the building industry. After all, planning of housing involves neither more nor less than an assurance of an adequate supply of steel, bricks, timber, tiles, pipes and so on. The plain fact is that, although Labour was in office for eight year, practically no plans were made for the supply of those materials.
– Of course, the war intervened.
– But the war has been over for five years. Labour had at least four clear years in which to prepare even elementary plans. After all, I should be doing my friends opposite an injustice, if I did not add that they pride themselves on their planning endeavours. Coal is the basis, not only of housing, but also of almost every form of primary and secondary production. The materials required for the construction of an* average house of ten squares demand the production of from 20 to 25 tons of coal. Every time 20,000 tons of coal is lost on the coal-fields that loss deprives the community of 1,000 houses; and I remind honorable members opposite that that deprivation can never be recompensed. One of the many inheritances bequeathed to us by the previous Labour Administration is a complete lack of planning in respect of housing. Because nothing was done to ensure the provision of adequate supplies of coal, the component materials for housing are not forthcoming in sufficient quantities, and the consequence to-day is that the building industry is in a doglegged condition. That condition has been referred to by honorable members on both sides of the House. The present Government has endeavoured, since it attained office, to stimulate the production of more coal, cement, timber, bricks, tiles, and all the other materials that must be available if building is to proceed without continuous interruption.. During the last twelve months the rate of house building has increased by 10 per cent. I do not make that statement in any boastful spirit. Whilst that rate of increase is not nearly sufficient to fulfil our requirements, it represents a big improvement, and I hope that it may continue during the next few years. However, under the present circumstances the rate of increase cannot be accelerated very much. Because the demand for houses is so much greater than our capacity to build them, the Government has had to take extraordinary steps to bridge the gap that exists between supply and demand. To that end we have adopted the exceptional device of importing completed houses, pre-cut or prefabricated, from countries 12,000 or 14,000 miles away. That, I believe, has never before happened in the history of the world.
When the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) spoke in this debate he asked me a number of questions about prefabricated houses. As the right honorable gentleman knows, the present Government sent a mission abroad shortly after it attained office to investigate the possibilities of supplying our requirements of prefabricated houses. The right honorable gentleman complained that exaggerated and extravagant claims have been made about the number of prefabricated houses that we can import, but I am unaware of any extravagance in those claims. The mission that we sent abroad reported that in the first year 20,000 prefabricated houses would be available if we wanted them. It also estimated that the number available in the second year would be 40,000. My officers have had no reason to amend those estimates, which I consider are possibly on the low side. If we can find the finance to cope with the on-site work for that number of houses I have no doubt that we can’ obtain them, and that we could probably obtain more. At any rate, the Government proposes to continue to pay the subsidy which the regime led by the Leader of the Opposition made available to the States in respect of the importation of prefabricated houses. The Government has liberalized the conditions relating to the subsidy because, whereas the previous Government made the subsidy available only for the payment of freight and duty on such imported houses, we have abolished the duty entirely and have made the payment a straight-out subsidy of
Mr. Casey. up to £300 a house. Such houses will be free of duty so long as the cost of each house shall not thereby be reduced below the cost of a comparative orthodox house built in Australia. I remind the right honorable gentleman also that we have made another relaxation in the subsidy system in that we have given the States the right to average the cost of houses so that the higher cost of the more expensive houses may be offset by the gain from the subsidy on the cheaper houses. I believe that this subsidy will meet the demands of the States in practically all cases, and will enable them to buy prefabricated houses abroad without drawing on their own finances.
As you have been good enough, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to allow the debate to cover a wider field than is covered by the terms of the bill, I shall take the opportunity to inform the House that since the mission that went overseas to investigate the availability of prefabricated houses returned to Australia we have found that its visit abroad has aroused considerable interest in many European countries in respect of our housing situation. That interest has been reflected in the visits to Australia of a very large number of representatives of overseas prefabricated housing companies. Four or five missions have come from each of Britain, Holland, West Germany and Sweden and two or three from each of France, Austria and Italy. They represented firms in Europe that are anxious to familiarize themselves with our housing situation. They have toured most of our capital cities and have familiarized themselves with housing conditions and, as a result, are now in a very much better position to make necessary arrangements in regard to our prefabricated housing demand in the future. I consider that the interest in our housing situation that has been engendered in all overseas countries that manufacture prefabricated houses will be to our future benefit, because we shall have a good deal of competition for our custom, and competition among suppliers is a good thing. We do not propose to continue to stimulate the importation of such houses for a day longer than is necessary. The normal and orthodox way to meet our demand for houses would be to build them in Australia. The importation of prefabricated houses is an unorthodox and expensive way of meeting that demand, and we do not wish to continue to use it any longer than is necessary.
Various honorable members opposite have asked a number of questions in respect of the measure and I shall attempt to answer some of the more pertinent of them. The Leader of the Opposition asked about the sale of houses under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. There have not been many sales of “ agreement “ houses in the past. I believe that only about 600 out of more than 30,000 houses built under that agreement have been actually sold up to the present. Some States, notably New South Wales, are engaged in a drive to sell more houses. The right honorable gentleman asked about the prices at which houses built under the agreement would be sold, also whether any equalization scheme was in operation. There is an equalization scheme in operation in Victoria, where the cost of houses built recently is averaged with the cost of those built some years ago, when prices were lower than they now are. Under that scheme the losses on the sale of recently built houses are made up by gains on the sales of houses built a few years ago. Queensland and Western Australia are selling houses generally at cost prices, without any equalization scheme being in operation. New South Wales is selling at valuation, and at not less than cost, and has no equalization scheme. South Australia and Tasmania do not operate at present under the agreement. Until the end of last June 195 houses were sold at a surplus, over and above their cost, of £16,000. I think that what I have said answers the right honorable gentleman’s questions.
The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) asked me a question about the financing of home building. I consider that it was fortunate that his leader was not in the House when he did so, because that right honorable gentleman would not have been very happy to hear one of his supporters make a plea for loan finance to be found for the financing of home building, not at the normal rate at which money is borrowed in the market at present, which is 3$ per cent., but at 1 per cent, or some other very low rate of interest. He suggested that the interest advantage should be passed on to the home buyer. The fact that the interest was to be 1 per cent, would mean that that money could not be raised from the public, unless the government of the day raised the interest to a higher rate by making the necessary provision to do so in the budget, which would mean that a very heavy burden would be placed on the budget. I believe that the honorable gentleman intended to suggest not that the Government should use such a method, but that the money should be obtained from the Commonwealth Bank, as I think I remember him saying, That would only be another way of raising it by issuing treasury-bills.
– Not necessarily.
– I have yet to learn that any central bank would advance money to a government at 1 per cent.
– The central bank in New Zealand is doing so at 1-J per cent.
– Then that is the equivalent of raising money by issuing treasury-bills. In other words, the money is not borrowed from the savings of the people, but is new credit that is issued by the central bank with no savings behind it.
– It has the security of the houses themselves behind it.
– Security is a sacred word. I am not doing the proposal of the honorable member any injury when I say that the course that he has suggested is the equivalent of using the treasury-bill financing method. I am quite sure that his respected leader would tell him that such a highly inflationary process would add to the other inflationary processes that exist in the community, and that he would not sponsor such a proposal. However, it would not be possible to make provision in the budget to carry out the honorable member’s suggestion because of the Government’s expenditure on defence and other essential matters-
– If it is possible during a war to find finance to provide assets that are to be destroyed, why cannot the Government find finance through the issue of treasury-bills to provide assets that are to be used and not destroyed ?
– That question has been asked after every war, and it would take a long time to answer it. We can find money in war because we have to do so in order to survive. In the war we eat into our savings and establish new credits in order to survive, knowing all the time that we shall have to pay the price in the end, as we are paying, to-day for what was done during the last war. The inflationary trend in Great Britain, the United States of America, Australia and other countries is an inevitable result of the vast overspending of the war years. Of course, a country can spend as much as it likes in war-time if it is willing to pay the price eventually.
– Britain sacrificed all ils foreign investments in that way.
– Exactly! Britain has already had to issue vast amounts of now credit.
– Has the Minister ever heard of a war stopping because governments have run out of money?
– Anybody can mouth such catchcries from the Domain in Sydney and the Yarra bank in Melbourne. The simple fact is that a country can finance a war but has to pay the price afterwards in its increasing price levels.
– The workers pay the price while the war is on.
– No more than does any other section of the community. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) raised the point that because the Building Workers Industrial Onion of Australia is a de-registered trade union its members might not be able to participate in the benefit of the fi a week increase of the basic wage that was recently awarded by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. All I can say is that I do not believe for one moment that the Government would allow the members of that union to suffer because their union had been deregistered. The particular mechanism to be adopted to enable them to obtain their due as Australian workers is not beyond the wit of man and, more particularly, is not beyond the wit of the Government.
This is a very simple measure, although it has given rise to a considerable discussion over a wide field. Let me say in conclusion that the shortage of housing is one of the most important social problems that this country has to face. I think that distress, misery and irritation are caused in greater degree by the housing problem in this conutry than by any other single problem with which we are faced. The shortage of housing arises from the lack of productive effort in a wide range of skills and occupations. Behind these skills and occupations, which are represented by bricklayers, plumbers, plasterers and so on, there are many other men of various trades connected with the building industry. Behind them again are the coal-miners, the brick-makers, the timbergetters and an equally wide range of people who make the various components that go into housing. The means of overcoming Australia’s housing problem is to ha ve the best possible team effort on the part of all those people of varying skills. When any one section of that wide range of skilled workers does not do its job reasonably well, the whole range suffers, because in th is case, as in every other, the chain is no stronger than its weakest link. There are many weak links in our industrial chain which stretches from the production of coal to the completion of t house. Our present building problem is a bum on problem, no matter what party if in office. I do not wish to introduce extraneous arguments in this debate, nor to go into the rather wider sphere of production generally, but I consider that our housing problem should be placed beyond the bounds of controversial party politics. (Ian there be anything controversial about the necessity to provide houses for the people, or about the need for greater production in Australia or for greater effort to be made by all those engaged in the chain of industries and occupations that go to provide houses? I believe that the trouble in our building industry to-day is that we are suffering from self-inflicted wounds, and that many workers are not putting forward anything like a reasonably maximum effort. Those workers themselves suffer most from the lack of production, because the houses constructed are in a very large measure to be occupied by the workers themselves. I appeal, therefore, for a very much greater degree of effort in respect of production generally, and, in particular, in respect of this important aspect of production, the provision of housing, to which this measure will, in some degree, contribute. I commend the bill to the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Chifley) . read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Fadden) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– In the City of Footscray, in the electorate of Gellibrand, in the garden State of Victoria, there is a very famous hill which is sometimes called “ Scotsman’s Hill”. On Tuesday next, the 7th November, the people of Melbourne will gather in their tens of thousands and look across the pellucid waters of the Maribyrnong River at a gay and exciting spectacle on what is called the Flemington Racecourse. All honorable members can revive from the carefree hours of memory the thrill that they received when they were favoured by being present on a similar momentous occasion. In all seriousness I ask honorable members to visualize the spectacle of Flemington next Tuesday. It will he a gay and sparkling fashion parade of all Melbourne) - a thing of beauty and a joy for ever. There will be the pounding of horses on the greensward, the roar of the crowd, and the exciting culmination that finally comes to rest when the numbers are hoisted in the frame. Very good ! I now ask the Acting Leader of the House (Mr. Fadden) to visualize, by contrast, the position of the punters at Flemington and the parliamentarians at Canberra. There is no comparison. On the one hand, there will be the gaiety of nations and the joy of living - the delight of being present, the thrill, the levity. On the banks of the Maribyrnong River, the people, our masters, will be in action. Here, on the banks of the Molonglo River, there will be the platitudinous posturing? of us parliamentarians who imagine that we are carrying the burden and heat of the day and the weight of the universe. Let me give a tip to the Acting Leader of the House. Tips are very appropriate on this occasion. The Acting Leader of the House is a very enlightened man when he chooses to be so. Let us peep together into the future. On Tuesday next at Flemington we shall see an ever mounting tide of gaiety whilst here there will be a veritable babble, a welter of sound and fury, that will signify precisely nothing. While those people will be enjoying themselves and will be engaged in a perpetual assault on the bookmakers, honorable members will sit here like bilious pigeons, wishing they could have a bird’s eyeview of the finish. Let us be honest. Do we want to go and see this historic spectacle or do we not? The Puritans, the ultra-good and the self-righteous do not want to go. Let them stay here. The ideal Parliament on Tuesday next would be a Parliament of one.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has suddenly found that this Parliament is in the doldrums. He is testy. He must seek a little diversion. He has gone to witness a cricket match. Very good. It is an excellent idea, because there comes a time in the life of man when a breathing period is good, mentally. That time has arrived. We all are jaded, fatigued and warped. Is the Acting Leader of the House going to ask me to come back on Tuesday to witness the magnificent spectacle of a palsied government trying to put value back into the £1? The word “ pound “ is significant enough. Do not let this problem, of putting value back into the £1 worry us. Let us take another kind of pound. I really think that the Prime Minister is rusticating at the moment and having a day dream which may be partly composed of what is going to happen next Tuesday, but in view of the stultification and the ineptitude of the Government.I think he is trying to recast his Ministry and to get rid of some of those who should obviously be left out of it. Let him have his holiday. Let us adjourn, when we do, until next Wednesday. Why should we think at one time that we are Atlas, carrying the burden of the world, and, at another time, Argus, the boy wonder? Our constituents do not think that. The trouble in this place is not to get a representative to tell us what should be done for the country, but to prevent representatives from telling it too often. Let us adjourn, and I can promise the Treasurer that His Majesty’s Opposition will return in this year of grace 1950, after viewing the magnificent spectacle at Flemington, like giants refreshed. Let the Acting Leader of the House take his top hat to Flemington for the last time because in 1951 there will be a Labour Prime Minister gracing its beautiful, verdant lawns.
– I take this opportunity to correct a misrepresentation that occurred arising out of certain allegations which I made during the budget debate regarding the dismissal of Mr. A. G. Whitcombe, who, until a few months ago, was a permanent paid organizer of the Liberal party. A statement appeared in the following morning’s Sydney Morning Herald under the heading “ Ward’s allegations against Liberals called ‘ Nonsense ‘ “. It was made by Mr. Lyle Moore, the State President of the Liberal party, who said that a Mr. Whitcombe had left the service of the Liberal party. He went on to say -
I don’t know the details, or whether Mr. Whitcombe resigned or was dismissed . . . but I do know that we don’t do things such as alleged by Mr. Ward.
Mr. Lyle Moore handled the truth very carelessly when he said that he did not know anything about the circumstances under which Mr. Whitcombe’s services with the Liberal party were terminated because Mr. Whitcombe sent a personal letter to Mr. Moore at his private address, 120 Bellevue-road, Bellevue Hill. In order to show not only that Mr. Lyle Moore received that letter, but also that it was written by Mr. Whitcombe, I have here under the heading of the
Liberal party of Australia a letter signed by Mr. J. L. Carrick, the general secretary of the party. The letter written to Mr. Moore was dated the 16th July last. Honorable members will recall that when I first raised this matter I mentioned a number of persons to whom Mr. Whitcombe had written, including the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), the general secretary of the party, and the general president. The only one who deemed it safe to reply was the general secretary, Mr. Carrick. He said -
Dear Mr. Whitcombe, Your letters of the 16th July to the President-
That is Mr. Moore - and the general secretary were brought beforethe staff committee of the executive at its meeting this morning. The members of thestaff committee gave very full consideration to your application for re-instatement to the staff of the Liberal party but unanimously resolved that the decision to terminate your services be upheld.
That is signed, “ J. L. Carrick, General Secretary “. It is beyond all doubt that Mr. Moore knows of the circumstances under which Mr. Whitcombe’s services with the Liberal party were terminated, because, in addition to having received a personal letter from Mr. Whitcombe, he happens to be a member of the staff committee to which this matter was referred and which unanimously terminated Mr. Whitcombe’s services. That proves beyond doubt that Mr. Moore was lying when he stated to the Sydney Morning Herald that he did not know the circumstances under which Mr. Whitcombe left the service of the Liberal pary. If there was nothing shady about the circumstances under which Mr. Whitcombe’s services were terminated, why did not the Liberal party give him an explanation of why his services were dispensed with? Mr. Whitcombe was a permanent organizer for the Liberal party for four and a half years. That the party was satisfied with his organizing work is evidenced by the fact that he received a letter from the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) commending him for his work as an organizer for the Liberal party. So they could not say that his services were unsatisfactory. I know, and so do honorable members on the
Government side, the reason why Whitcombe’s services were terminated. He was a witness before the royal commission that was appointed to inquire into the charges made by Mr. McCaw, a Liberal member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, against Mr. Cahill, one of the Labour members. When the royal commission heard evidence, Whitcombe was one of the important witnesses called by the Liberal party. His evidence was so unsatisfactory to them that a Mr. Genders, who bad been the Liberal opponent of Mr. Cahill at the State general election, abused him outside the court and said that his evidence was unsatisfactory. It had not dovetailed into the evidence given by other witnesses of the Liberal party. There is no doubt at all that Whitcombe is no longer an organizer of the Liberal party because he refused to perjure himself in the smear campaign that is being waged by the Liberal party throughout the length and breadth of Australia against members of the Labour party.
Certain legal gentlemen who are Liberal members of this House were advising Mr. Isaacs in regard to the conduct of the royal commission appointed to inquire into a New Guinea timber lease : Honorable members on the Government side know that that was a deliberate attempt to frame up a charge against me, and members of the Government parties were actually assisting Mr. Isaacs. So they continue with their campaign against the Labour party, and members of the Labour movement, in this country. I shall suggest to my Labour colleagues in the New South Wales Parliament that because Whitcombe is convinced in his own mind that his services were terminated for a certain reason, the New South Wales Government should investigate the circumstances of his dismissal in order to ascertain whether there is any substance in the charge that I make that Whitcombe was sacked by the Liberal party because he would not perjure himself in regard to the evidence that he gave to the royal commission. The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), who is not at present in the House, attempted to contradict the sta te mont, that in a conversation that he had with Whitcombe he indicated that the reason for Whitcombe’s dismissal was his connexion with the royal commission. Both Moore and the honorable member for Bennelong know the circumstances of Whitcombe’s dismissal, and if there was nothing to hide they would be prepared to tell this man the actual reason why he is no longer occupying his position as an organizer for the party. Finally, there is no possible doubt, in view of the letter in my possession, written on paper that carries the letterhead of the Liberal party of Australia and signed by Mr. Carrick, that Moore lied in the statements that he made to the Sydney Morning Herald. It is incumbent on the Liberal party to clear up this matter in a proper manner.
– I do not claim to have any knowledge of the matter referred to by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). I know nothing of Mr. Whitcombe or of the circumstances mentioned by the honorable member. I rise only because I do know something about Mr. Lyle Moore. I, for one, refuse to entertain for one moment any of the extravagant charges which the honorable member for East Sydney has levelled against Mr. Lyle Moore. From my knowledge, I can say that Mr. Lyle Moore is a man who, for a strong sense of public duty and so far as I know without any prospect of reward or hope of gain, performs a patriotic and national service by taking an active interest in the public life of the country and the political affairs of a particular section of the activities of the country, the affairs of the Liberal party. I rise for no other purpose but to assure Mr. Moore that those of us who sit on this side of the House and have heard the charges levelled against him by the honorable member for East Sydney, will not give one moment’s credence to them. We have every faith and confidence in his integrity as a man who is imbued by a spirit of public leadership and public responsibility in this country.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Australian Wool Board - Fourteenth Annual Report, for year 1949-50.
Canned Fruits Export Control Act - Twentyfourth Annual Report of the Australian Canned Fruits Board, for year 1949-50, together with Statement by Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Postal purposes - Darra, Queensland.
Science and Industry Endowment Act - Report by the Auditor-General on the accounts of the Science and Industry Endowment Fund for year 1949-50.
House adjourned at 10.50 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
t asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1. (a) In view of its increased efficiency enabling greater freedom of action to the soldier. The design was adopted after exhaustive research and user tests throughout the British Commonwealth. (6) In the interests of standardization with all other parts of the British Commonwealth. 2. (a) Yes - with the addition of the necessary undergarments, which the looseness of this jacket permits to be worn. The close fit of the old type jacket did not permit the wearing of the necessary range of extra undergarments in extremely cold climates without discomfort. (b) The back of the trousers are lined with additional material to provide the lower back with ample warmth.
Where extreme weather conditions prevail, special outer garments must be provided for any type of uniform. Action has been taken to provide troops in Korea with this additional clothing.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
e. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n. - On the 19th October the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) asked whether under the Government’s proposals for increasing civil pensions, blind pensioners would continue to have a higher permissible income than other pensioners. I would inform the honorable member that the existing concession enjoyed by blind pensioners will be continued. Under the Government’s proposals the maximum pension will be raisedfrom £2 2s. 6d. to £2 10s. a week and the total permissible income (including pension) from £8 to £8 7s. 6d. a week for the blinded pensioner. In the case of a husband and wife where only the husband or the wife is blind and a pensioner, the total permissible income will similarly be raised from £8 to £8 7s. 6d. a week, while, where both husband and wife are blind, their total permissible income will rise from £10 2s. 6d. to £10 17s. 6d. a week, i.e., by the sum of the amounts of 7s. 6d. by which each of their pensions will be increased.
y asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The Attorney-General has supplied the following information : -
The furnishing of an answer to the honorable member’s question will necessitate detailed examination of some hundreds of departmental files covering the last eleven years, not only in Canberra but in the several States. T shall take an opportunity of discussing with the honorable member whether the essential information he seeks could bc obtained by some less onerous inquiry.
t. - On the 24th October the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) asked me -
I undertook to obtain the information requested and now present the following answer : -
Departments . of Immigration and Labour and National Service. It is expected that the result of these talks will be available at the next meeting of the Immigration Planning and Advisory Councils when these bodies will be able to advise the Government on further representations that might be made to the States in the matter. “ Meanjin “ Press.
– On the 24th October the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews) asked the following questions : -
Will the Minister for the Interior say whether it is true that the Government has cancelled an order for the magazine meanjin in relation to which it spent £400 a year for the distribution of about 1,000 copies? In view of the literary and cultural value of the magazine and the reputation that it enjoys abroad, what is the reason for the Government’s cancellation of its order for this magazine? Will the Government reconsider its decision in view of the fact that the magazine could receive a very serious setback as the result of the cancellation of the order? 1 now inform the honorable member as follows : -
The order for 1,000 copies of each issue of the magazine was placed by the former Department of Information in May, 1948. Following an increase in price by the publishers, the cost to the department of 1,000 copies of the autumn 1050 issue was £135. With handling and postage the annual cost to the department would have been approximately £700. In view of the necessity for economies in the administration of information services the order was terminated as from the 10th June, 1950. It might be mentioned that in June last the editor of the publication advised that the arrangement under -which the department bought copies of Meanjin for 2s. each had not helped the mag.17.ine financially and that actually losses had been incurred on the transaction. It is understood that the question of financial assistance for the magazine is now be. fi, re the committee’ of the Commonwealth Literary Fund.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 November 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1950/19501101_reps_19_210/>.