22nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker- (Mr. C. F. Adermann) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and re;id prayers.
– I direct to the Minister for External Affairs a question on the effects of atomic radiation and of experimentation in connexion with various hydrogen bomb experiments. I put this question to the right honorable gentleman not merely in his capacity of Minister for External Affairs, but also as the Minister responsible for the- Commonwealth Scientific find Industrial Research Organization. I shall point out briefly to the Minister the points on which investigations have been proceeding. I refer him, first, to a. warning given by the senior lecturer in physics at the University of Sydney on the effects of radiation. I am speaking not merely of the use of atomic energy in defence, but also its use in the civil field, with which, I should think, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization would have some direct connexion. I also refer the right honorable gentleman to the fact that the medical research authority in Great Britain has recently made an important report on this subject, which has been before the House of Commons. In addition, I refer him to the warning recently given by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir John Northcott, who has a record of very distinguished war service. Will the Minister endeavour to coordinate the information on this subject as far as it is available? I do not think that that has been done. The Minister for Supply naturally deals with the technical aspects of atomic energy, since that is a field in which he has ministerial responsibility. I think that the country, and the House, would be glad to see some co-ordinated effort by the scientists to whom Sir John Northcott appealed, so that we can see what are the facts on this great matter, which affects so many people, who are concerned because there is a general feeling that the full facts have not yet been made known.
– Yes, indeed, I shall do my utmost to follow the right honorable gentleman’s suggestion. As he knows, of course, there has been, in the last month, an authoritative report by scientists of acknowledged world-wide repute in Great Britain on this subject of radiation, which has been made available to the House of Commons. That, as far as I know, is the latest report on this subject, and it is all-embracing in that it deals with all forms of radiation, from those in the civil field right up to atomic and hydrogen bombs. I have not seen that report, but I shall most certainly get a copy of it and make it available, not only to the Leader of the Opposition, but also to the House. There has been, in addition, another authoritative report, or statement, in the United States in the last year or two on this subject. I should not think that it would be difficult to bring these various authoritative reports together and produce, a conspectus of the subject as far as high medical and scientific knowledge has been able to evaluate it, and make the information available to all members of the House as soon as possible. I think the matter is of firstclass interest.
– My question is directed to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I preface it by saying that I can recall a ruling that questions without notice should not be based on newspaper articles or mention the name of a particular newspaper or person, and that questions containing such references should be placed on the notice-paper. I should like you to state whether certain questions asked yesterday, which included references to certain publications and newspapers and the names of individuals, were in order, or whether the ruling to which I have referred still stands.
– Speaking generally, the points raised by the honorable member for Canning are correct. The Leader of the Opposition referred in the question he has just asked to the name of a certain person. I would not rule such a question out of order, because it was an all-embracing question which dealt with an important matter.
It was a question that he was entitled to ask and to which he was entitled to a reply.
– I should like to know what action the Minister for Territories intends to take to increase the wages that are paid to the natives of New Guinea from the present rate of 25s. a month, plus food. Does the Government intend to abolish the present system under which these people are taken from their tribes and are kept away from their villages for a period of up to two years while they are engaged in employment? What action does the Government intend to take to ensure that the land that, belongs to the people of the Territory shall revert to them at the expiration of the lease? Will the Government give an assurance that no land will be sold on fee simple to any person who requires it for development ?
– The honorable gentleman is apparently labouring under some misapprehension about conditions in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. I suggest that he confer with those members of the Opposition who have had the benefit of visiting the Territory and of examining conditions at first hand. Two forms of action have been taken by the present Government in relation to labour conditions. During the term of office of the previous government, a system of indentured labour existed, but under the present Government that has been altered and a system of engagement under free contract entered into between the employee and the employer has been instituted. That, I think, was a very great advance, and was very much in the interests of the indigenous people. Secondly, under the previous government, the wage was 15s. a month, but that has been increased to 25s. That wage in itself is not a full indication of the reward for labour that is paid to the worker, because certain stipulations are made in relation to such matters as the rations that are to be supplied, the form of accommodation, and responsibility for health and medical attention. The adjustment of wages paid to indigenous persons who are employed under free contract is within the competence of the Administrator of the
Territory who, from time to time, on the advice of his officials, may make recommendations to the Government for the adjustment of wages. Any such recommendation, of course, is most carefully considered. I also point out to the honorable gentleman that one of the striking changes that have taken place in recent years in the employment of the indigenous people has been a move towards employment outside the contract system, namely, employment by free engagement. A great number of the native people are now employed at levels of payment that are far above the minimum rates prescribed in the native labour ordinance.
– Can they join a union?
– As far as I know, there is no trade union operating in the Territory, but there is no objection to trade unionism. As a matter of fact, tho policy of the Government is one that has been consistently favorable to trade unionism. I could enlarge on many other aspects of labour regulations in the Territory, but I think, in the interests of brevity, it would be sufficient for me to say that at the present moment the whole of the native labour legislation is under review and close examination, and other improvements which would be satisfactory to the honorable member will probably be made. On the question of land, the Government has instituted procedures which have ensured that the interests of the native people in their land are fully preserved. No land can be acquired from any indigenous person except by the Administration, and none of the land acquired by the Administration is obtained by any European except on leasehold. That means that if at any future time it were necessary for more land to be made available for native use, that land is still in the control of the Administration and could be obtained for that purpose. The answer to the last question of the honorable member, therefore, is that no land is now being sold in fee simple.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Primary Industry a question. As we are interested in the Australian dried fruits industry, can the Minister tell the House the name of the organization which is responsible for arranging the special publicity and advertising campaign in Ballarat? To what extent is this Government assisting the dried fruits industry in this campaign?
– The Commonwealth is very interested in the sales of dried vine fruits in Australia and, for that matter, in all other parts of the world. An advertising campaign has been commenced to sell fruits in Australia; and particular localities or towns that might be considered as potential areas where sales can be achieved have been chosen for the initial stages of the campaign. Ballarat is a particularly good town. It is a town where we hope to sell quantities of dried fruit, and it is represented by a member who, we hope, will take an active part in this campaign. I cannot give the honorable member the name of the advertising agency or the firm involved, but I will ascertain it for him and supply it to him later. May I express the wish that the honorable member himself take a prominent part in this campaign, not only because it will help his own native town, but also because it will help the dried fruits industry of this country?
– Last week, I directed a series of questions to the Acting Prime Minister in respect of a world trade fair that is to be held in Sydney in a few weeks’ time. The Acting Prime Minister advised me that he would make some inquiries and let me have a reply. I should like him to state when he proposes to furnish answers to my inquiries.
– I am surprised that the honorable member has notreceived a reply to the questions that he raised. I will look into the matter and expedite the completion of the reply to his inquiries.
– I preface a question to the Postmaster-General by explaining that it sometimes happens that when a rural automatic exchange is installed, some subscribers connected to an exchange in a large town where they usually do their business are transferred to an exchange in a smaller area. Their telephone calls to the large town, which have previously been local calls, then become trunk-line calls. Will the PostmasterGeneral endeavour to ensure that no subscriber is penalized in this way when his telephone connexion is so transferred?
– It will be realized that when it becomes desirable, owing to development taking place in a particular area, to establish a local exchange, it is in the interests of the majority of subscribers in that area that all connexions in the area should be transferred to that local exchange. Otherwise, the revenue available from the exchange would be reduced, and, consequently, the rate of development of our country exchanges would be slowed down. It is, therefore, the practice when such exchanges are established, that telephones connected to a distant exchange should be connected to the new and nearer exchange, unless the hours of attendance at the new exchange are such as to prevent the proper conduct of a subscriber’s business. In the case of a rural automatic exchange, of course, that consideration would not apply. The department, from time to time, receives requests from subscribers so affected to be allowed to contact the large exchange on a unit-fee basis. I should point out that if that practice were adopted in regard to rural automatic exchanges, it would also have to be applied to all manually operated country exchanges, because the establishment of a rural automatic exchange in a particular area constitutes an advantage to the local subscribers that is not enjoyed by those served only by a manual exchange. Therefore, if we were to apply the unitfee basis to calls made by those attached to a rural automatic exchange, we would have to apply it in the case of subscribers connected to all manual exchanges in country areas, in order to be fair. That would not be practicable. At a later stage, when the development of rural automatic exchanges has proceeded further, it will be appropriate to give attention to the point raised by the honorable member for McMillan, but at the moment I can see no possibility of his suggestion being followed.
– Recently, I asked the Postmaster-General a question concerning the provision at Bankstown of a modern post office that would adequately meet the needs of the district. The Minister replied that the matter would be considered, having in mind the urgency of other building works in the Postal Department. I now ask the honorable gentleman whether he has yet considered the priorities of building works in the Postal Department, and whether he has set a date for the erection of this urgently needed post office. If he has not done so, will he make the necessary provision in the Estimates for the financial year 1.956-57?
– I remember that the honorable member for Banks directed a question to me regarding the Bankstown post office. My reply was to the effect indicated by the honorable member. The position has not changed since then. I said at the time that the provision of this post office would be considered in th, preparation of our building plans for the forthcoming financial period, which will commence on the 1st July next. These matters are still being considered. I can assure the honorable member that the question of the provision of the Bankstown post office has been given attention in the preparation of plans for the next financial year. Until plans for the forthcoming year have been finalized I shall not be able to give the honorable member anything like a definite date for the commencement of this work.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether it is a fact that the immigration programme, on its present scale, imposes heavy inflationary pressures on the Australian economy. Is it a fact that such pressures could be alleviated if substantial debenture capital could be infused into the economy from overseas? In this situation, will the right honorable gentleman consult with the Government regarding the desirability of sending the Minister for Immigration, to the United States of America, to join the Prime Minister when he reaches that country, with a view to a powerful’ approach being made to the American authorities for the provision of capital toassist to develop Australia as a vital basein the south-west Pacific? If such an approach is made and fails, will the Government give consideration to some reduction in the number of immigrantsadmitted to this country, in order tostabilize the economy and assure orderly development within the compass of our own capital resources, augmented as much as possible by the exercise of sucheconomic powers as reside in this Parliament ?
– The matter raised by the honorable gentleman is very important, and involves basie economic considerations because the immigration policy, and all that it implies, has very far-reaching effects. The Government has that policy under serious and constant consideration in consequence of its aim to maintain a programme of such size and magnitude as economic circumstances and finance will permit. That, of course, involves the encouragement of capital assistance from without, and a developmental programme which, by its very nature, calls for an increasing peopling of the Commonwealth of Australia. The suggestion that the Minister for Immigration should go overseas to obtain investment capital has enormous merit. It would have even greater merit if I were able to accompany the right honorable gentleman.
– My question is directed to the Acting Prime Minister. In view of reports that members of the Public Service in Canberra are working under crowded conditions in a number of government buildings and that, as a consequence, they will occupy the space in the new secretariat originally intended for the use of the central staffs of departments still located in Melbourne, will the honorable gentleman, in order to ensure that no further undue delay will occur in the transference of departments listed to come to Canberra within the next few years, take early action to have more buildings erected in this city?
Will the honorable gentleman also give honorable members an assurance that the housing programme in Canberra will be stepped up in order to provide for the accommodation of officers who will be moved from Melbourne and Sydney when the centralization of all head offices of government departments, which is long overdue, has been completed?
– The honorable member’s question involves far-reaching economic considerations which are constantly under vigilant review by the Government. We have, of course, a full appreciation of what is necessary in the way of an adequate building programme to effect the transfer of certain departments from Melbourne to Canberra. Such a transfer will necessarily bring in its train a need for extra houses. The whole question involves considerations that will have to be taken into account when the next budget is being drawn up and future requirements are being estimated.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration whether he has seen the statement of a former president of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures that, having regard to the total number of migrants settled in this country, an insufficient number appear to be applying for naturalization. Will the Minister also give the House the benefit of his views on this matter?
– I did see the statement in the report of an otherwise excellent speech delivered by an old friend of mine, Mr. Vine. I do not share the concern expressed by him on the matter of naturalization. Both departmentally, and from my own standpoint, I believe that a very gratifying proportion of new settlers are accepting the obligation and privilege of citizenship. What is not always appreciated is that the prospective citizen must serve a minimum period of five years in this country. A similar requirement exists in other Commonwealth countries. If that is taken into account, it will be found that approximately one-third of those who are to-day eligible to apply for naturalization have already done so. That is, I believe, a high proportion when the solemn and far-reaching consequences of the acceptance of full citizenship in a new country are taken into account. The figures which I have in respect of recent years show how rapidly this process is increasing. There were 4,700 applicants for naturalization in 1953; 16,300 in 1954; 32,000 in 1955; and in this year the applications are coming in at the rate of 50,000 for the year. I think, from those figures, it is evident that there is no reluctance on the part of our settlers, once they are qualified, to accept citizenship. Most honorable members, from their experience of the civic ceremonies held in connexion with the naturalization process, will agree that not only are the ceremonies impressive in themselves, but that great interest and enthusiasm is being demonstrated by candidates for naturalization as they come to them.
– Will the Minister for the Interior, consequent on the disappearance of many Australian timbers, particularly the Queensland sugar pine, clear pine and cedar, and consequent also on the rapid reduction of the maple, bean-wood and black-wood of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, respectively, undertake to start a campaign along with the States for the preservation, propagation and reafforestation of these timbers? The clear pine, sugar pine and the cedar are the finest timbers of the soft-wood class grown anywhere in the world, and our hard woods have the same favorable comparison and all are truly Australian. As the development of this type of timber is of much commercial and economic value, I ask the Minister whether he will give this question serious and sentimental consideration.
– I think that all honorable members will join with the honorable member for Gellibrand in expressing concern that the valuable stands of these Australian timbers, particularly the red cedar and the red and black bean-wood of New South Wales and Queensland and the black butt of Tasmania, are disappearing. Unfortunately, the reafforestation of these timbers is not easy at all. Although they appear in scattered form in their natural state, when there is any attempt to grow them in large stands together, they fall prey to all sorts of insects. That makes the reafforestation problem very difficult. A lot of work is being done, in Queensland particularly, and the honorable gentleman might care to read the reports of the Queensland Forestry Division with reference to the problem which he has brought forward in such a timely fashion. The Commonwealth Forestry and Timber Bureau is maintaining very close liaison with the forestry departments of the States, which control most of Australia’3 forestry areas, and if anything can be done to encourage the campaign that the honorable member has suggested, it will certainly be done.
– I desire to ask the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization whether that body has been engaged in any research into the problem of white ants and, if so, whether there is any prospect of dealing effectively with this nation-wide pest?
– The problem of the white ant has been the subject of a great deal of research in Australia and, of course, in many other countries of the world. Unfortunately, up to the present, there does not seem to be any promise that it is. going to yield to scientific research. I refer to the complete elimination of the white ant in any particular area. However, the means of the control and even the prevention of white ant infestation by means of insecticides are quite well known. They are practised by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, which is perfectly willing to pass on its considerable experience in this regard to any body or bodies that are in need of it. Unfortunately, in spite of a great deal of work on the problem in this country and many others, no one has in sight any prospect of the complete elimination of the white ant. Insecticides are used merely to control and prevent infestation.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Whaling Industry Act - Australian Whaling Commission - Seventh Annual Report, for year 1st April, 1955, to 31st March, 1956.
Honorable members will recall that, in accordance with legislation recently passed by the Parliament and assented to by the Governor-General, the commission has now ceased operations. This report, therefore, is the final report of the commission for a full year of operation, although it will, at a later date, make a report on its operations from the 1st April, 1956, until the date of cessation: 1 move -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
– On a matter of procedure, may I suggest that Government Business, Orders of the Day Nos. 2 to 5, covering the Supply and supplementary appropriation measures, be considered together at the second-reading stage in one debate? If this course is adopted, the debate will, as usual, take place on the first of the measures.
– There being no objection, that course will be followed.
SUPPLY BILL (No. 1) 1956-57. Second Reading.
Debate resumed from the 30th May (vide page 2641), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The House has agreed, and I am, of course, under the circumstances, a party to the agreement, that this bill and the supplementary bills be considered together. In view of the eagerness of honorable members to have the present long sessional period come to an end, I thought that to take any other than an acquiescing course in this regard would have proved to be of no avail. But I hope that this will not be accepted as a precedent in this House, because the matter of finance in relation to government affairs is all too important. As a matter of fact, in my view, government is finance, and it is the first responsibility of honorable members to protect, in matters of finance, the people whom we represent, and to provide for those people. Essentially, our prime responsibility is to act as protectoi’3 of the taxpayers of this country. Because of the tremendous importance of thai responsibility, it is to be regretted that honorable members should at any time decide to restrict or curtail debates dealing with matters of finance. The Supply Bill seeks to obtain the approval of the Parliament for the granting of an advance to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) of £160,000,000 for ordinary services of the Commonwealth, in order to cover the cost of government activity from the 1st July until the Parliament finally approves the budget and passes the necessary appropriation bills associated with it. In addition, Supply to the amount of £32,000,000 is being sought for works and services. I have omitted to mention the odd few hundreds of thousands of pounds involved in these measures, as such an amount appears to be a matter of no importance whatsoever to those persons who are responsible for administering the affairs of this country. That is the attitude which is generally taken throughout the Public Service towards the expenditure of money which belongs not to the Government but to the taxpayers who have handed it to the Public Service on trust for expenditure as wisely as possible.
It is interesting to note that the Supply requested at this time last year was for an amount of £163,000,000. The amount requested, now is £160,000,000, or £3,000,000 less than was sought at the same time last year. I wonder whether this indicates what is to come in the budget for the financial year 1956-57. The Supply sought at this stage of the financial year is usually a certain proportion of the total amount which the Government expects will be required for the whole of the forthcoming financial year, and I presume that the amount now sought is the usual proportion of the expected total. The budget for the current financial year totalled £1,123,000,000, and, since the Supply sought now is approximately £3,000,000 less than was sought at the same stage last year, I wonder whether we can look forward to the Government asking the people to provide a smaller amount to finance the country during the financial year 1956-57, than was required in 1955-56.
People who are not fully informed on what happens in relation to Supply, may well wonder why the Supply asked for is so small, because the amount of £160,000,000 being sought represents only about 14 per cent, of the total budget for the financial year 1955-56, but is to provide for 25 per cent., or a little more, of the financial year 1956-57. The reason is that the Supply now sought does not provide for special appropriations of funds which the Parliament votes almost automatically under the various acts which empower the Government to do certain things. This is not a very wise procedure, because, when the Parliament agrees to enabling legislation under which appropriations are made for special services, it hands over to the Executive complete and absolute control of the expenditure on those special services. I emphasize that this is not a wise procedure.
It all comes back to the point that the Parliament is expected by the taxpayers to be their protector. The fundamental reason why parliaments were originally established was to protect the people from the grasping demands of the tax collectors and those who spend the people’s money. In the early days it was the Crown itself, in the person of the king, that committed the country to all kinds of expenditure and then told the people that they were to contribute the money required. As a consequence, the people established parliaments to protect themselves from the king. In this country, in modern days, power has passed from the Crown to the executive body. Therefore, the responsibility of the Parliament to-day is to protect itself and the people from the executive body by examining critically every request made to it for funds. The Parliament will neglect its duty unless it examines carefully every proposal put before it. It is recreant to its trust if, as it does do frequently, it agrees to the inclusion in bills of clauses automatically appropriating funds for the purposes of government, or for any function of government. By doing that, it is denying to itself the right to serve the purpose for which parliaments were established originally.
One of the reasons why this Parliament established the Public Accounts Committee was to make sure that at least a portion of its responsibility would be discharged. There is a report by the Public Accounts Committee on the Supplementary Estimates which are to bc considered en Moe, and I am hopeful that, during the course of this debate, some reference will be made to what the committee said in connexion with them. lt is true that the Supplementary Estimates deal with a year that has passed - the year 1954-55 - and that nothing can be done now to save anything from the wreck or repair any havoc that may have been caused. But there is always a lesson to be learned. The purpose for which the Public Accounts Committee examines the accounts of departments and submits reports to the Parliament is that the Parliament shall be made aware of what is going on, so that, if necessary, it can take proper action to ensure that remedial measures will be applied.
The Public Accounts Committee adopts a certain procedure in connexion with all of its reports. It does not merely submit a report and trust that something will be done about it. We are all aware that we should have to wait for a very long time - indeed, for ever - for the Parliament to take any action in relation to important sections of the public finances. So the Public Accounts Committee submits its reports to the departments concerned and the Treasury acts as a liaison body between the departments and the committee. Any submissions made by departments as the result of a report by the committee are presented to the Treasury, which passes them on to the committee. Such submissions are examined by the committee. If there is justification for adopting a departmental view and departing from the committee’s suggestions, or if in any case definite proof is produced that a recommendation, condemnation or commendation by the committee is not well founded, the committee is, and always has been, quite prepared to adjust its views accordingly.
Speaking as an ordinary member of the House, not as a member of the Public Accounts Committee who has knowledge of what goes on in the deliberations of that body, I want to say that I was somewhat intrigued by what the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley) and the Minister for Works (Mr. Fairhall) had to say in connexion with the recent report by the committee on the operations of the Department of Civil Aviation. If it is intended that there shall be a fulldress debate on any report submitted by the committee, the proper procedure should be adopted. Instead of such a report being received automatically by the Parliament and ordered to be printed, it should be debated immediately after the motion for the printing of the report has been submitted, or at a subsequent date. But if it is intended to reply to statements made in the committee’s findings, there is a proper procedure which can be followed ; that is, for the departmental officers, through their Ministers if they like, to forward their comments to the Public Accounts Committee, where they will be dealt with. The committee, in its turn, will submit its report to the Parliament, and will take appropriate action. It was surprising to me to find the Minister for Works making a statement yesterday in this chamber that the committee had, in the past, erroneously castigated public officers. That remark was entirely uncalled for, for this reason, that in no case has any finding in any report of the Public Accounts Committee been found to be incorrect, or been challenged. Such reports are not, in fact, challengeable, because they are based on evidence submitted by members of the Public Service themselves. The officers concerned, the so-called experts concerned, in any of the matters which come before the Public Accounts Committee, are subjected to cross-examination. So if there appears at any time to be anything incorrect in the committee’s reports, which are based on the evidence submitted to the committee, then the incorrect finding is the result of wrong evidence having been, submitted to the committee.
Let me remind the House that, before the committee finally considers the evidence, an opportunity is given to every department concerned to reconsider the statements its officers have made before the committee - that is, to reconsider the verbal evidence that has been put to the committee. So no opportunity for error arises and, therefore, any suggestion that something wrongful has been included in the committee’s reports is an entirely uncalled-for and unfounded suggestion. Proper action will be taken at the appropriate time to deal with the position.
– Is it not possible for the
Committee to come to a wrong conclusion?
– No, I am afraid it is nOt possible for the committee to come to a wrong conclusion on the evidence submitted to it, because the committee submits the transcript of evidence to the departments whose officers gave that evidence. If honorable members read the committee’s reports they will find that the evidence is there recapitulated in as much detail as is possible. The committee’s conclusions are arrived at on the figures, dates and other details given to it, and these are mentioned in the report. It will also be found that reference is made in the report to the statements made by the witnesses before the. committee and, nine times out of ten, the expressions included in the report are expressions used by the witnesses themselves at the hearing.
– Does the honorable gentleman claim that the conclusions cannot be wrong?
– No, I do not submit that the conclusions cannot be wrong if the evidence on which they are based is itself wrong. The committee is a factfinding body, and reaches its conclusions on the evidence submitted to it. If the evidence is wrong then, naturally, the conclusions based on the evidence would be wrong in the same degree. If a department believes that a conclusion arrived at by the committee is wrong, then that conclusion must have been based on mistaken evidence submitted to the committee. A department has every opportunity, and is encouraged to use its opportunities, to report to the committee when it considers that its original submissions in evidence were wrong, and have led to a wrong conclusion. But, in this particular case, no such notification has come to the committee.
The Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr. Osborne) has recently announced that he has introduced, in order to produce greater efficiency, an overhaul of the methods used in his department. That is the kind of thing which is urgently needed in every government department. I think that every honorable member who is interested in the financial responsibility which this Parliament bears on behalf of the people will be interested to learn the result of the Minister’? action. It will be interesting to see how much the taxpayers will be saved in needless expense and how much inconvenience the public will be saved as a result of the M mister’s action, as well as the degree of increased efficiency achieved in that particular department.
Speaking generally, it would be interesting to have the results of a detailed examination of the system under which the Public Service Board operates. It would also be interesting to know how many Ministers, who are always so eager to defend in this place their departmental heads, are fully aware of the actual workings of the departments for which they have ministerial responsibility. I doubt whether there are many Ministers who could say, without briefing after the question wa3 asked, what were the establishment strengths set down by the board for their departments. I believe that Ministers should be able to answer such a question offhand. They should know also the actual strength of their departments in classified appointments, as well as the strength in casual and temporary employees. That is information which every Minister should possess. I also believe that when a Minister takes over responsibility for a department he should go through that department with a finetooth comb. We should do away with the idea, which has grown up over the years, that once a desk is established in a government department that desk must be surrounded with all sorts of hangers-on. that if there is a secretary, that secretary must have a secretary who in turn must have another secretary, and that there must be a covey of clerks, typists, messengers, and so on. The practice appears to be that if one office is set up it leads to the provision of an establishment of about 30 employees. I believe the whole system needs to be overhauled.
– I rise to order, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. Is the honorable member for Moore in order in referring to members of the Civil Service as “ hangers on ? “
– No point of order is involved. The honorable member for Moore may resume his speech.
– I think that the whole system needs to be overhauled, but I am not sure that the Public Service Board is a suitable authority to carry out that overhaul, because that board, after all is said and done, is steeped in the tradition on which the Public Service system is founded. That traditional system prevails in the United Kingdom and British countries generally, and I am afraid that until some drastic alteration of it is made at the base we shall not get very much further.
Now I turn to the operation of the free medicine scheme, which is part of our health and medical services. I am referring to the scheme which is provided for in the National Health Act, which is Act No. 95 of 1953. Section 94 of that act reads as follows:- (1.) Upon application by a hospital authority, the DirectorGeneral may, in his discretion but subject to sub-section (5.) of this section, approve a hospital authority for the purpose of its supplying general pharmaceutical benefits to patients receiving treatment in or at the hospital of which it is the governing body or proprietor.
Sub-section (5.) of that section reads-
A hospital authority shall not be approved under this section in respect of a hospital unless the dispensing of drugs and medicinal preparations at that hospital is performed by or under the direct supervision of a medical practitioner or pharmaceutical chemist.
I want to alarm the public of Australia to the fact that this is not being done.
– So what?
– “So what?”, asks the honorable member who is unconcerned with the lives of the people which are at stake. Untrammelled dispensing of drugs was all right in the old days when every prescription merely called for a bottle of water containing innocuous colouring matter and an extract of some herb or other; but to-day drugs and medicines are potent things. Correctly dispensed and correctly used they are a boon to the community; wrongly dispensed and wrongly used they are a great danger. The dispensing of potent drugs cannot be left in the hands of unqualified people. I had brought to my notice recently a case in which a circumstance arose that could easily have led to a tragedy. The matter concerned two drugs, one Chloromycetin, the other barbital. One of those drugs is a powerful antiseptic; the other is a powerful sedative. A woman was admitted to hospital with serious septicaemia. Her medical practitioner ordered her immediately to have a dose of Chloromycetin, an antibiotic. After a considerable lapse of time, he discovered that, instead of the trouble having cleared up, the woman was in a state of coma. Upon making investigations, he found that she was being given barbital in extreme quantities instead of the antibiotic drug. These drugs are almost identical in appearance. They are of the same colour and are both contained in capsules that have a little yellow band, except that in one case the yellow band is a little narrower than in the other. This near tragedy was discovered just in time, and that kind of thing could happen every day.
Drugs are being dispensed in hospitals by totally unqualified persons. The legislative provision to which I have referred has been included for a purpose, namely, to protect the people. I am afraid that, unless certain action is taken, this state of affairs will continue until eventually, as happened in New South Wales a few years ago, the administration of a wrong medicine by an unqualified person will result in a tragedy. Then an inquiry will be held, and somebody will suggest that remedial action should be taken. I know that the system that is in operation at the present time I am speaking of Western Australia in particular has been adopted because it represents an economy to the Government. I suggest that, if the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), and every other member of the House, including you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, wish to put a value of so many pounds, shillings and pence upon the lives of any of their dear ones, they may do so. What is the value of a life? Is a life worth only the few pounds that are being saved? Of course, it is not! We spend millions of pounds in order to ensure that the people are kept healthy, but we are not so eager to spend a few pounds, comparatively speaking, to ensure that accidents shall not occur as a result of unqualified persons doing a job that they should not be doing.
I referred to this matter in the House last year, and the then Minister for Health undertook to investigate the position and to have it righted. Since then, representations have been made to the present Minister, but no action has yet been taken. This is a case of buck-passing between the Commonwealth and the States, I have before me - although I do not propose to read them - replies from the Director-General of Health which indicate that this is a State matter. I have also replies from the Premier and the Minister for Health in Western Australia to say that it is a Commonwealth matter. I also have correspondence from both governments to the effect that the suggestion that this Government is acting illegally is not correct. However, I have before me, in refutation of that statement, an opinion from Mr. K. A. Aicken, Q.C., whose view surely would not be challenged or doubted, which refutes that statement. He says -
I arn of the opinion therefore that it is not in accordance with the Act for a hospital authority to dispense drugs at a central depot and then to forward them for distribution at various hospitals at which there is no registered chemist.
That opinion is supported by Sir Garfield Barwick, Q.C.
We cannot afford to deal lightly with this matter. The existing state of affairs constitutes a danger to the people of Australia and I believe that, unless we are able to have something done, there should be a public outcry to ensure that this Government complies with its own laws governing the use of these dangerous drugs which, although they are a tremendous power for good, can also lead to the loss of valuable lives. After all is said and done, who should be expected to comply with the law more readily than the law-makers themselves? If a provision has been inserted in legislation for a particular purpose, that purpose should be carried out. I appeal to the Minister to have a look at the matter, and to ensure that any existing danger is removed. I assure him that at the present time there is a danger. On the one hand, the respec tive Ministers for Health say that no nurse is doing what she is not qualified to do, and on the other hand we have the word of the nurses themselves.
I have a file of approximately 40 statements from chemists and doctors throughout Western Australia in which they declare that they do not supervise, dispensing at any of the country hospitals, and that they accept no responsibility. In other words, the administration of dangerous drugs to patients at those hospitals is left in the hands of unqualified persons. The Western Australian Minister for Health has stated, in answer to a question -
Medicinal preparations are not compounded at government and committee hospitals but they are dispensed by the nursing staff in accordance with the instructions of the patient’s medical adviser.
In other words, he admits that they are dispensed by the nursing staff. In reply to another question, he stated - it was clear that nursing staffs were not performing any function of dispensing medicines beyond their qualifications or contrary to the meaning of the National Health Act. The system employed in our hospital? has been approved by the Commonwealth Department of Health.
I am shocked to discover that the Commonwealth Department of Health has approved a breach of its own laws, and is condoning a dangerous practice. The Western Australian Minister for Health says, on the one hand, that nurses are not doing these things, and, on the other hand, that they are doing them but only in accordance with their qualifications.
– What does the honorable member mean by “ dispensing “ ? Does he mean mixing drugs, or handing them out to patients?
– “ Dispensing “ has been interpreted in many ways, but the lawyer whose opinion I have quoted says that the question that arises is one in relation to which the language of the act is of no particular concern.
– Will the honorable member tell us what he means by the word?
– I mean that the necessary drug should be prepared and labelled, and the necessary directions given so that the patient is protected and so that a particular medicine intended for a certain patient is reserved for that patient. There should not be a large quantity of drugs lying in a cupboard where any old nurse can come along-
– Well, so that a young nurse can come along and help herself to the bulk supply and administer a wrong drug to a patient.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I shall use portion of the time that is available to me in this debate to refer to the proposed transfer of the Royal Australian Naval College from Flinders, in Victoria, to Jervis Bay, in the Australian Capital Territory. I know that this proposal has already been debated once in this House and once in the Senate. I do not intend to traverse the whole of that ground again, but I think it is my duty to refer to some matters that have come to light during those debates and which I believe have a very strong bearing on the proposal that has been accepted by the Cabinet. I believe I am correct in saying that Cabinet was not furnished with the full facts when it made its decision. I believe that it has been misled in relation to both the cost element and the necessity for the transfer of the college. When I refer to the necessity for the transfer of the college, I have in mind the enrolment figures that have been supplied to Cabinet, which have been quoted by Ministers in this House and in another place, and which are palpably incorrect. So far, Cabinet has had two looks at the matter, but I believe that these figures are sufficiently important to warrant a third look. I believe - and I shall endeavour to substantiate my suggestion - that even now the Government should appoint a committee to investigate the matter. It could even come before the committee to which the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) referred a few minutes ago. If not, then it should be referred to a committee of inquiry at which sworn evidence could be adduced to support the proposal and to oppose it. That committee could then form its decision and report that decision to the Parliament. I suggest to the Government, through the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), who is in charge of the House, that that is the proper course to adopt, that the Government has not been given the full facts of the matter, and that the proposal should be reconsidered.
The proposal for the transfer of the college from Flinders to Jervis Bay tia: been defended in this House by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), who was formerly the Minister for the Navy, and it has been defended in the other place by the Minister for the Navy (Senator O’Sullivan). Those Ministers have stated that the proposal to transfer the college is made necessary because of the need to expand the training facilities for cadets for the Royal Australian Navy. They have stated the requirements to be sufficient to accommodate 110 cadets at Jervis Bay. They have given the present figure of enrolments at Flinders as 117 cadets and have stated that the average annual enrolment at Jervis Bay will be maintained at 110 cadets. I believe it can be shown that those figures are completely false, and 1 believe that such figures should not have been put into the hands of Ministers of the Crown nor into the mouths of Ministers of the Crown to speak in this Parliament.
The present enrolment at the college is admittedly 117 cadets. It is at that high figure because at the moment there is an overlapping between the thirteen-years-old entry, which is in the process of being abandoned, and the intermediate entry, in which lads are taken at the ages of fifteen and sixteen years. The present figures of complete enrolment at the college are as follows : - There are four in the matriculation group. They are students taken at the age of eighteen or nineteen years. There are 52 students in fourth year, which is a mixture of intermediate entry and the thirteen-years-old entry. Portion, of the class consists of the thirteen-years-old entry in the final year of their course. There are fifteen intermediate entry, including four from New Zealand. There are 28 in third year and eighteen in second year. Obviously there is no first year of the normal entry, because the thirteen-years-old entry is being abandoned in favour of the fifteen to sixteen-years-old entry.
On analysis, it oan be quite clearly shown what the result will be in a few years’ time, in fact, in 1959. That year is quite important, because it has b»en revealed that if the transfer takes place and if Jervis Bay buildings and homes are required to be vacated by the 31st March, 1957, then the college cannot commence it? operations at Jervis Bay until the first term in 1958. Within twelve months of that time, it is quite evident that the total enrolment of the college will be 49 cadets - not the 117 at present enrolled and not the 110 stated by two Ministers of the Crown to be the figure presumably supplied to them by the naval authorities as the general enrolment for the. year. The thirteen-years-old entry will have been abandoned in favour of the intermediate entry, which is fifteen to sixteen years of age.
It is notorious that recruitment, not only for the naval depot - the general service of the Navy - but also for the Naval College, is very low indeed. Recruitment last year for the Naval College brought fifteen cadets, including four from New Zealand, and four matriculation, which is a total of nineteen cadets. That would mean that in 1959 there would be three classes. The intermediate entry will be doing a three-years’ course instead of the present two-years’ course. In 1959, there will be three classes, each of approximately fifteen students, plus four in the matriculation class, making a total of 49 students.
To cater for those students, it is necessary to have a teaching staff and a naval staff, and the figures have been given by the Minister for the Navy. The total staff required to look after 49 cadets is 94. That figure is made up of a teaching staff of, I think, one headmaster and twelve masters. There are also ten officers and 71 ratings required, making a total staff of 94. By 1959, which is only three years from now, and only one year after the college is transferred - if indeed it is transferred - we will have at Jervis Bay 49 cadets and 94 staff, including thirteen masters, ten officers and 71 ratings, making a total of 143. To accommodate those 143 personnel, this Government proposes to dispossess the present 350 to 400 residents of Jervis Bay - to dispossess them from their homes, from their businesses and from their employment. It proposes also - and this is axiomatic, because once the college moves in, no civilian occupation can be followed in the area - to bar the thousands of people who have annually spent their holidays in that place.
I said, and I hope to support what 3 said, that the Government has been astray also on the figures of cost that have been provided to it and that have been quoted in this chamber and in the other place by Ministers of the Crown. The Minister for Primary Industry announced that the cost of the transfer from Flinders to Jervis Bay would be £340,000. But we find that that figure does not take into account any payment or, at least, an adequate payment for compensation to those who are dispossessed of their leases, their businesses, their livelihood and their homes. It does provide a sum for contingencies, but it does not provide adequately for compensation. It has been reliably estimated that the Commonwealth could be called upon to pay in compensation the sum of £150,000. The Minister for the Navy in another place has said that the Government would be preparing to pay compensation to at least half that amount; so that there is a sum of £75,000 to be provided for there. The Minister has also admitted that the transfer to Jervis Bay - and I think the House should be reasonably interested in this, considering that we will be providing for only 49 cadets - will require an additional enrolment of four officers and 43 ratings. I suggest that the salaries and allowances paid to those officers and ratings are properly an item to he charged against the cost of establishing the college at Jervis Bay.
The Minister has admitted also that it will be necessary to renew the sewerage system at Jervis Bay and that this will cost some £25,000. The Minister has admitted further that it will be necessary in the years to come to replace the existing wooden buildings at Jervis Bay with permanent brick structures. Of that there can be no doubt at all, and that is a factor of cost that I suggest should be taken into account.
I find it difficult to speak on this subject without great indignation, because I feel so strongly that what is being done is completely wrong. I ask the Minister for Health, who is sitting at the table, to put to the Government that these are matters that should be gone into most carefully. I have no hesitation in saying that the figures I have given regarding the enrolments at the college are the facts - not 110 cadets, but 49 cadets. The figures that have been given to the Minister, and cited by Ministers of the Crown, and presumably provided by officers of the Department of the Navy, are incorrect. I believe that the Government should take firm action to defer this proposal, because it will result in great injustice. I believe that it involves a waste of public money. I suggest that the Government should refer the whole matter to a committee competent to investigate it by calling and hearing sworn evidence. In that way, the merits and demerits of the scheme may be weighed, and a just decision may be made. No one will argue with a just decision. I believe this proposal to be completely unjust and unjustified, and I ask the Minister, sincerely, to place that view strongly before the Government.
I wish to make some reference to this Government’s failure to provide properly for the housing needs of the people of Canberra. This is a subject on which I have addressed the House on many, occasions, and I regret that it is still necessary to direct attention to the failure of the Government to make proper provision for housing in Canberra. It is customary to hear honorable members on the Government side of this House, and Ministers, decrying the failures of State governments. The housing programmes of the States have been attacked by Government supporters in this chamber. Of course, anything good that happens in Australia is due, according to Government supporters, to this present Government, and anything bad that happens is due to the wicked Labour governments that are in office in some of the States. I think, however, that we are entitled to assess the Government’s intentions in regard to housing by considering what it has done in a territory in which there is no need for it to make agreements with the States, in which it has complete and unfettered power, and, indeed, in which it has a grave responsibility to provide housing accommodation for its own employees, whom it has brought to Canberra to assist in performing the work of government in the interests of the nation.
The Government’s record in this field over past years is indeed a sorry one. After the war, a plan was drawn up, and was implemented in 1947, which aimed at meeting the housing needs of this community within seven or eight years. That plan was known locally as the Chifley plan, and it did show signs of achieving its objective. Under that scheme, which was continued by this Government, the rate of construction of housing units in Canberra reached 600 a year. However, unfortunate decisions made by earlier Ministers for the Interior of this Government curtailed the housing programme, and resulted in the labour force available for construction of homes being decreased. As a consequence, the period of time that an applicant must wait before being allotted a home has lengthened. Hardship has been caused to people resident in Canberra, and there has been delay in the transfer of Commonwealth departments from Melbourne to this city, as was mentioned this afternoon by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). Before citing to the Housethe figures regarding housing units provided in Canberra over recent years, T think it is worth directing attention to certain statements made on behalf of the Government by an earlier Minister for the Interior. In the Canberra Times of the 25th June, 1955, appeared a report of statements made by that Minister when referring to the construction of multistoried fiats. The report reads, in part -
The first of these flats in the three-story block now under construction would be ready for letting at the end of this year (that is, 1055). Flats would then become available progressively and it was hoped that the whole building project would be completed within the next two years.
The year 1955 has passed, we are nearly halfway through 1956, not one of those flats has been occupied, and I think that, it will be some time yet before even a dozen of them become available. There we have an example of the promise and the failure to fulfil it which has been the pattern set by this Government in relation to the development of Canberra generally, and most particularly in regard to the housing needs of the people of Canberra.
On the 14th July, 1955, a news item appeared in the Canberra Times under the heading, “ Home Output Lowest Since War “. It was reported in the same journal on the 23rd July, 1955, that the then Minister for the Interior, not the gentleman now occupying that position, had announced that 300 housing units were expected to be completed in the next five months. The news item continued -
He said at present there were 886 units under construction, comprising 642 houses and 244 flats. Provided the increase in the Australian Capital Territory building force waa maintained, another 300 were expected to be handed over in the first half of 1956, he said. One hundred and twenty-seven houses were received by the Department of the Interior during the first six months of this year.
For the benefit of honorable members who do not know the procedure in the Australian Capital Territory, I may explain that homes are constructed by the Department of Works, and are then handed over to the Department of the Interior for letting.
I seem to have a very soporific voice, because I have evidently succeeded in giving a well-earned rest to honorable members on the other side of the House.
– The honorable member has put four of them to sleep, and one other of them is dozing.
– The promises made at that time by the Government were again not fulfilled, and the figures that I shall give to the House will demonstate the failure of the Government to fulfil those promises. The figures that I shall cite refer to the number of homes completed and handed over to the Department of the Interior for letting purposes in the various financial years. In 1950 the number of homes so handed over was 410. That was at a time when the Chifley plan, to which I have referred, was being extended by the present Government, and achieving a comparatively high rate of building. In 1951 the number of homes taken over was 545. In the financial year ended the 30th June, 1952, there was an all-time record of 635 homes completed. From then onwards the figures tapered off. In 1953 the number had dropped to 588, in 1954 to 489, and in 1955 it was as low as 320. In the financial year about to be concluded 398 homes have so far been constructed, and I believe that the figure will exceed 400 by the end of the financial year. In thb same period, however, the number of people waiting to be allocated homes has increased from 2,902- to something like 3,250, and the time which elapses between the lodgment of an application for a home and the allocation of a home has increased from eighteen months to two and a half years, and will shortly be as much as three years.
The Government has failed completely to provide adequate housing, in a territory in which it has complete power and the ability to go ahead and provide the housing needs of a comparatively small community. It became necessary in October, 1955, for the Canberra Times, a journal which is published in this city and which speaks for the district fearlessly in these matters, to refer editorially to the housing needs of Canberra. The editorial in that newspaper for the 19th October, 1955, read -
During the past two years, the housing outlook in Canberra has grown steadily worse, and the city and its inhabitants now face the worst housing prospect in history. The waiting list for houses has grown to more than 3,000 and the output of Government-built homes has fallen to the vicinity of 300 a year. Unless some drastic change is made in the Canberra programme from the point of view of achievement instead of ministerial promises, the prospect for people waiting for homes is that their wait has lengthened from two years towards ten … At June 30, only 527 houses and 130 flats were under construction in Canberra, according to official returns. As it takes more than twelve months to build houses, and as the building of 107 homes had been let by contract during that period, the prospect is that the best that could be expected in the next twelve months is the provision of 500 housing units.
It id quite obvious from the figures that I have cited that that estimated number of 500 housing units will not be reached. It has been shown, and has been stated, I think, by every public body concerned with the welfare of this community, that the minimum target for the construction of homes in this place should be 1,000 a year for the next five years. Only by adopting such a programme can we meet the present housing needs of the people.
I know that many honorable members do not see a great deal of this city, and that their knowledge of Canberra is limited to the walk from the Hotel Kurrajong, or the Hotel Canberra, to this building. Admittedly, some honorable members from distant States spend some time in the Australian Capital Territory and take the opportunity to make themselves familiar with some of its aspects. I do suggest that those honorable members who have the time and the interest should take a look at the conditions under which people are living on the outskirts of this city, and consult the figures that are available at the Department of the Interior. Those figures will show that this Government has failed, and is still failing, to meet the housing needs of the people here. Indeed, a deliberate act of the Government this year has set the programme back even further. I refer to its decision to limit the expenditure on contract building between February of this year and the end of the present financial year - despite the fact that, on the 7th December, 1955, the former Minister for the Interior, the honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) had said in Melbourne that the department now worked to a three-year plan instead of to a one-year plan. He added that this meant that the department had lined up current works, new works for the following year, and a supplementary list of probable works for the third year, instead of merely working from one financial year to another. Yet once again we have had the prospect of the building programme here being deliberately disrupted by a government decision which displays a most unrealistic outlook. That decision was that expenditure on contracts must be limited for the balance of the financial year. It meant, for a period, severe unemployment in Canberra. Even mora seriously - though goodness knows that was serious enough - the building forceavailable for the construction of homes was gravely diminished because men who had come here to participate in the building programme were laid off and departed to other cities and places where they could live more cheaply.
Presumably next month, at the commencement of the new financial year, the building programme will again be stepped up. “We shall then have to face a shortage of the building tradesmen needed to earn on an accelerated programme. So th,harm that is done to the building programme by this fits and starts method is very great. What we lose in housing we can never pick up. Even more importantly, what we lose in the construction of schools we can never regain. Construction of schools is lagging very very seriously indeed and this has been pointed out to the present Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) who, I believe, is doing his utmost to see that Canberra’s developmental programme goes ahead without interruption. I hope that his persistence will win the day with the Cabinet and with thi Treasury officials responsible, because we must have a continuing programme of development in this capital city to mee; housing, education and all other community needs. I hope that the coming year will bring some change and that we will have budgeting on a basis that will enable a continuing programme of development to be undertaken. I wish thi Minister for the Interior well in his efforts to maintain such a programme.
– I want, to speak about two matters during this debate. The first is that raised by the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) concerning the dispensing of drugs in Western Australian hospitals. The substance of his remarks, as I understood them, waa that dispensing was done by unqualified persons, contrary to section 94 of the National Health Act, and that patients of these hospitals were thus subjected to all sorts of dangers.
– From any old nurse, the honorable member said.
– I would suggest that the extravagance of th,: honorable gentleman’s language in thi* matter should guide us in assessing how much weight we are to attach to what he has had to say. “What actually happens is that all the medicaments supplied to th<-> smaller public hospitals in Western An.* tralia are dispensed by, or under th.p direct supervision of, a registered pharmacist and are properly labelled and supplied from the Western Australian Government’s own dispensary. Medicines so supplied are handed out, ov administered, by the sister in charge of the hospital, acting under the direction of a medical practitioner. Every hospital in Australia, large or small, and whether ii has its own dispensary or not, uses thi.very system. It would be quite impossible to do otherwise. There is not a huge volume of drugs lying in some cupboard, as was suggested by the honorable member for Moore. Drugs are dispensed ami labelled in a proper dispensary. The, must then be handed out by the sister in charge of the hospital, or some other suitable person, to the sister in charge of the ward and, in turn, to the nurse in charge of the patient, and to the patient himself. That is the practice in every hospital in Australia, and I am qui ti* sure that no dreadful scandal is occurring in Western Australia. I am aware that the honorable gentleman quoted counsels’ opinion, but, with great respect T am not impressed by that because T do not know what questions, or what circumstances, were presented to learned counsel. I have no doubt that they gave a very eminent opinion on the facts presented to them, but on the facts that concern the life and well-being of people in Western Australian hospitals, all T can say is that I believe the act is being properly observed and that every precaution is being taken.
– The honorable member for Moore had supporting statutory declarations from doctors and chemists.
– With great respect, I do not think that the doctors and chemists concerned are properly aware of what is going on. 1 arn not able to flourish 40 declarations, but I can flourish a very substantial statement by the Government of Western Australia.
I want to go on now to another matter. I am well aware that from time to time statements are made to the effect that restrictions in the administration of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act make it difficult or impossible for patients to receive necessary drugs, perhaps in time of emergency, and that the freedom of doctor? to prescribe them is being interfered with by what are popularly known a= “ bureaucratic methods “, by actual maladministration, or by evil intent on the part of the Government. At times, a considerable campaign along those lines is conducted and I want to make it perfectly plain to the House that these statementare completely untrue and at variance with the facts.
First of all, I want to remind the House that until a few years ago there were virtually no pharmaceutical benefits, and every one in Australia paid for all the drugs with which he was treated. This Government alone has been responsible for the introduction of a pharmaceutical benefits scheme which, in the last financial year, provided more than £9,000,000 worth of free drugs and, as I shall show a little later, additional drugs for patients in a special class. There are, in fact, three categories of drug.under the scheme. It is often said that pensioners or people without substantial means are penalized because they cannot afford the expensive and important drug? that are used in medicine today, and thai their health and well-being is sufferingas a result. I hope to show that, in fact, quite the contrary is the case, and that all the important life-saving’ and diseasecuring drugs fall into the three categories that I have spoken of and which are provided under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.
First of all, there are the general pharmaceutical benefits, and this category contains all the important drugs that are used in emergencies such as adrenalin, morphia and digitalin and also all the important drugs that are used for acutely ill cases, such as the sulphonamides and penicillin. Here we have the first category, consisting of all the important drugs which are used in what one might call urgent cases and in the treatment of all the ordinary acute cases of medicine, all freely available on the prescription of the doctor as pharmaceutical benefits and without cost to the patient. All that the doctor has to do is write the prescriptions and the drugs will be dispensed without question immediately.
– Does that include cortisone ?
– I am coming to that. In the second category there is one single drug - cortisone. There are some restrictions on the prescribing of cortisone. Cortisone is limited, under the act, to use as a pharmaceutical benefit in four diseases. However, it can be supplied in respect of those four diseases when the doctor who wishes to use it fills in a form, which is known as form E, on which he declares that it is for the treatment of one of those diseases. On forwarding the form to the Commonwealth Director of Medical Services for his State, he receives permission to use the drug for one of those four conditions. If, in his opinion, the matter is urgent and he cannot wait for the form to he sent in and the answer to come back, he can obtain advance permission to use. the drug by ringing the Director of Medical Services or his representative. So, in fact, the only restriction on the use of cortisone is that it shall be used in respect of one of four diseases. Its use has been restricted to these diseases because it is an immensely powerful drug with all sorts of effects which are known as side effects. These are effects outside those which it exerts in curing diseases. Both cortisone and the drugs in the third category are known technically as restrictive drugs and I will explain in a moment the method of obtaining and using those, and that they are restricted, not for financial reasons, but for clinical reasons.
If I may explain to the House, first,, the third category, I shall then make it plain what the restrictions are. Thethird category consists of drugs, antibiotics, which, again, are limited to certain diseases - not the four to which cortisone is limited but to a fairly considerable range of special conditions. All that a doctor has to do if he wishes to use these drugs for those conditions is to endorse on his prescription the words “ restricted drug “. In other words, in effect he signs a certificate stating that he is using the drug for a condition which the act says it is permissible to use it for. As long as he does that, there is no delay and no trouble about its being dispensed. It becomes immediately available from a chemist, and it is available as a pharmaceutical benefit. “Why are there any restrictions at all on the use of these drugs? Restrictions have been placed on their use because, as I said in talking about cortisone, they are immensely powerful drugs. They exert all sorts of effects quite apart from those which they exert in the cure of the special disease for which they are being prescribed. Under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act, a committee has been set up which decides which drugs should be placed in the respective categories and how freely they should be made available for medical use. This committee consist3 of doctors and pharmacists, not departmental officials. It is not within the competence of the Minister to decide, but of a special committee of people actively engaged in practice, intimately connected with the use of these drugs, and well versed in their pharmacology and physiological effects. This committee consist? of very eminent people and, basing its decision on clinical grounds, and on its medical judgment, it decides whether a drug is to be made available for certain diseases or all diseases or for none at all, and it decides in which category the drug should be placed. If a doctor, or a layman, says that it is not right to make a drug unavailable for certain diseases or in certain circumstances, he is opposing his judgment to the judgment of a highly expert medical and pharmaceutical committee. If he does not agree with this committee - and I point out that the bulk of the medical profession does agree with this committee a doctor is still free to prescribe any drug he wishes to prescribe, but not as a pharmaceutical benefit. That is to say, the patient will have to pay for it.
I hope that I have made it perfectly plain to the House that the Government has made available a great range of drugs to be used in the treatment of disease; that in order to guide it in the proper use of those drugs it has set up a special highly qualified committee to decide for which diseases and on what occasions they should be used. Surely that allows to every doctor who wishes to use them with responsibility the utmost latitude that he could possibly desire. It is quite false and quite wrong to say that any one in Australia has his health jeopardized or his condition worsened because he is unable to obtain drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act.
There is, as I said earlier, another class of people for whom not only are pharmaceutical benefits made available in this way, including all the important drugs that one could say are used in modern medicine, but for whom there is a special additional list of drugs as well. I refer to the pensioners. Under the pensioner medical benefits scheme an extra range of drugs is made available, so it is true to say that no pensioner in Australia need have prescribed for him, in real fact, any drug which is not covered by one or other of these acts which provide pharmaceutical benefits for people in Australia. In addition to the sum of approximately £9,000,000 which was spent last year on the provision of benefits under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act, well over another £1,000,000 was spent by the Government in providing drugs free for pensioners.
I hope that what I have said will correct the impression that any one may have that because of the operation of these acts, the provision of drugs to necessitous cases is restricted. In fact, the only restrictions which are imposed are two, in general terms: The first restriction is based on a regard for national health and the health of the people who receive the drugs. May I give the House an instance of this? The
National Health and Medical Research Council has set up a committee composed of leading authorities in bacteriology and the use of antibiotics and it is on the advice of these people that these restrictions have been placed on the free prescribing of antibiotics. On this subject the committee has said -
Antibiotics are not universal antipyretics
That is, drugs for reducing fever - and should not be used without careful consideration because -
In the light of statements such as that by one of the highest scientific bodies in the country, I am sure that the House will agree that it would be a neglect of responsibility if the Government were to disregard such advice and make these drugs freely available to be prescribed under any conditions whatsoever. The first consideration that the Government has entertained in setting up this system of providing pharmaceutical benefits is the public health, and the second consideration, quite rightly, is a financial one, because, as I have pointed out, last year the Commonwealth spent on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme approximately £11,000,000 of the taxpayers’ money. It is quite right that any responsible government which expends public funds on such a scale should have some regulations which govern the expenditure of those funds. The restrictions, in a financial sense, which are placed on the prescribing of drugs, are of such a nature as, in the first place, to safeguard public funds and, in the second place, not to deny the benefit of those drugs to people in necessitous circumstances or in those cases where a diagnosis really demands that the drugs be administered.
I should like to mention one other matter before I sit down. Lately there have been various attacks on the methods of investigation of doctors and pharmacists who transgress the provisions of the act in the prescribing of drugs or in overattendance on pensioners under the pensioner medical scheme. “What actually happens is that where it is thought that the provisions of the act are being broken, that pharmaceutical benefits are being prescribed wrongly, or that pensioner visiting is being carried out in order, in fact, to make money out of what the Government provides and not in the interests of the patient, provision exists in the National Health Act for the investigation of such cases by a committee of doctors or a committee of pharmacists; that is to say, the investigation of a man in one of those professions is conducted by his peers. These investigating committees were provided under the act at. the express request of the two professions, which wished that malefactions under the act should be investigated in this way. Persons make charges of star chamber methods and such nonsense. All I wish to say is that in the first place these committees are provided and the persons concerned are investigated in accordance with the provisions of the act. They can go to the committee and quite frequently they are exonerated from any suspicion. In the second place if they consider that they have been wrongfully dealt with by the committee, they have recourse to the ordinary processes of law, and they may appeal to the Supreme Court of the State in which they live.
– What happens if they are found guilty? Do they go to an ordinary court or to the British Medical Association for a final decision ?
– They go to the ordinary courts of law.
– There have been prosecutions ?
– As far as I know, no person found guilty and dealt with by a committee has yet taken ‘ his case to a court, and the only conclusion that I can draw from that fact is that the committees have returned such good verdicts in every case that no one has felt himself on firm enough ground to take the matter to the ordinary courts of law. Having said these ‘ things, I hope that I have made it perfectly plain to the House that in the first place no one in this country is suffering from being denied pharmaceutical benefits on financial, bureaucratic, or any other ground: in the second place, those persons found guilty of breaking the provisions of the acts under which these services are administered arc dealt with quite fairly and in accordance with the ordinary processes of law.
. -Under the Supply Bill (No. 1) 1956-57 an amount of £27,654,000 of a total of £160,968,000 is to be appropriated for the purposes of the Postmaster-General’s Department. In Supply bills previously considered by the House appropriations have been made for the same purposes. It has already become apparent that this great enterprise of the people can continue its functions of providing an efficient service and making a worth-while contribution to the country’s progress only so long as adequate funds are made available by the Government. Tremendous hardship and great inconvenience are being experienced throughout Australia as a result of the Government’s unwillingness to supply sufficient funds for this department’s activities. One cannot hold the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) personally responsible for the fact that the department is starved of the funds necessary to accomplish its important work. Eather, I think the House sympathizes with the Minister, who has become the Aunt Sally of the Parliament. In many parts of Australia shocking deterioration has taken place in services administered by the Postal Department. My own electorate is probably typical of most in regard to the general deficiencies of the administration. A great variety of matters is desperately in need of attention. Post offices in important and thriving centres in my electorate, such as Sutherland and Caringbah, are still located in old cottages. Contrasted sharply with these dilapidated and unsuitable’ facilities are modern buildings and shops and rapidly expanding business centres. Many important and well-populated towns are without proper postal and tele gram delivery facilities, aDd public triephone facilities are inadequate to the point of great inconvenience and hardship.
Despite the general nature of the complaint by me and my constituents against the Postal Department, I intend to confine my brief remarks to the telephone service, which I believe is in a deplorable condition. One must assume that the Government has lost sight of the indisputable fact that telegraphic and telephonic facilities are essential to the modern business world and to life as it should bo lived in a modern community. The utilization of comparatively recent innovations in communication facilities has met with a great public response, because people everywhere have appreciated that they should result in a reduction of costs to individuals, commerce and industry. Unfortunately, to-day we are not keeping pace with community needs in the provision of these facilities. The Government has obviously lost sight of the fact that adequate telephone and post office facilities are an essential weapon to be used unsparingly in the fight against the alarming inflation which the Government, despite its recent panic economic measures, is more likely to aggravate than alleviate. It is my contention that a realistic view should be taken of the need to increase allocations to the Postal Department so that modern efficiency and techniques might characterize the Australian way of life. One cannot be at all certain where the £27,000,000 proposed to be allocated to the Postal Department will be spent. I think that my attitude could not be described as parochial if I made the claim to the need to expend a sizeable proportion of this amount mi relieving the telephone shortage throughout the country, and in my electorate to a greater extent than in any other.
Prior to illustrating to the House some facts which justify this claim, let me make one observation of general interest. To many people it appears incredible that the Government, which provided in its last annual budget for a defence expenditure of £190,000,000, should fail to observe the very direct association of means of communication with defence. Quite obviously the Government’s scale of values is not in the best interests of Australian security or economic welfare. Prom a defence point of view, the Government disregards the need for an adequate communication system which would be of vital importance if Australia were confronted by an aggressor. Without a modern tele. phone system, for example, great difficulty would be experienced in the effort to gear production to the degree required in times of national emergency. As it is likely that plans to develop our communications system in Australia would, of necessity, be abandoned during a great national crisis, we should ensure that in time of peace sufficient emphasis is placed by the Government on these matters. The same unaccountable reasons which influence the Government to disregard the connexion between defence and communications appear to be evident in other matters of equal importance. In like manner, the Government disregards, as defence considerations, for example, the great need for connecting highways between the major cities and important and vulnerable towns and cities around our coastline. Let us hope that no aggressor ever sets foot on our shores. But while we hold that hope, let us determine that, if we are to concern ourselves at all with defence, we shall emphasize those forms of defence preparations which run parallel with our developmental requirements.
The diverting of some of the defence funds to the improvement of our communication facilities would have twofold results. Efforts to bolster our fastflagging and almost disappearing overseas credit reserves would be assisted if this approach were adopted. It is futile and hopeless to talk about increasing production and effectively rivalling overseas competitors unless we have communications of a standard commensurate with those prevailing overseas. Let me remind the House of the farreaching effects of the telephone shortage, of which I speak with first-hand experience. In most parts of the Hughes electorate, which, incidentally, on the admission of the Postmaster-General, has more outstanding telephone applications than any other electorate in Australia has, it is absolutely impossible to obtain a telephone. It does not matter whether a telephone is required for a dwelling - and great hardship and inconvenience are often experienced if it is not available - a retail establishment, a school, or a factory with great export potentialities; the bottleneck is common to all.
Of all the governmental and semigovernmental instrumentalities with a function to perform in new or fastexpanding areas, the Postmaster-General’s Department deserves the least credit, owing to its lack of achievement, which, no doubt, is due to insufficient funds. Its failure to keep pace with community needs in my electorate is calamitous and scandalous. Even the record number of 3,955 outstanding telephone applications in the electorate - this figure was given to me by the Minister on the 10th April last in reply to a question on notice - does not indicate the true prevailing position. There are many people in the electorate who, knowing that neighbours and friends have waited vainly for five, six or seven years, and realizing the hopelessness of the position, have refrained from submitting applications. At the 30th June, 1955, an alarming total of 67,630 applications for telephones were outstanding owing to the shortage of plant. Of this figure, approximately 6 per cent, represented outstanding applications in the Hughes electorate. It is apparent that, with an overall increase of the number of applications by 18 per cent, in 1953-54, and with the likelihood that the demand will increase for some years to come, the Government must increase its expenditure on this department commensurately with the needs of the community.
Over the four financial years from 1950-51 to 1954-55, the number of telephones in use increased by a little more than 30 per cent. It is reasonable to assume that, provided the Government’s mishandling of the general economic position does not result in mass unemployment and economic chaos, we can safely anticipate the need to plan at least for the same minimum expansion of demand in the next four years. We should be planning for a minimum increase of the number of telephones by 30 per cent., from 1,587,082 to 2.063,206, to maintain during the next four years the rate of expansion of the last four years. To the figure of 2,063.206 should be added the 67,630 outstanding applications already delayed by lack of equipment, and the equivalent of an increase of applications by at least 20 per cent. I believe it is the responsibility of this Government to plan and budget to overcome the great national deficiency of telephones within a reasonable period. It has become all too apparent, in matters in which the community depends on the Government, that any application will not be satisfied until a long waiting period has elapsed. Such a situation is not necessary and would not be allowed by an Australian government worthy of the name.
In planning to meet completely the telephone requirements of the country for the next four or five years, the Government should diligently examine all the factors contributing to the cost of telephone services. The department’s non-profit-making day-labour facilities for producing components should be exploited to the full. An investigation should be made immediately to ascertain the prospects of expanding the production and manufacturing capacity of the department. The entire question of the cost of providing telephones also should be carefully examined. Inseparable from this matter is the need to minimize the fabulous profits made by private concerns from contracts with the department. The Government should ensure that, when it is necessary to contract with private enterprise for the production of equipment, sound business principles are adopted, and that contracts are entered into on the best possible terms. Surely it would be possible to effect substantial economies, and to obtain better results for the money spent, if departmental programmes were part and parcel of a concerted and planned onslaught on the lag in the supply of telephones and other facilities which are the responsibility of this department.
Although funds are made available to the department for developmental purposes on a yearly basis, it can be anticipated, with the same certainty as night follows day, that, whatever government is in office, sufficient funds will be available for years to come to enable the depart-, ment to plan development efficiently in each year. In these circumstances, the planning and contracting sections of the department should be authorized to plan and contract for periods much further in advance than they have been able to do up to the present time. The cost of producing and supplying telephone components, for example, is bound to be reduced if tenders are called for five years’ supply rather than for twelve months’ supply. Such an approach would be bound to facilitate the introduction of more efficient production techniques, even by the application of the principles of automation, if we wish, with consequent reductions of costs. Similarly, the construction and equipping of desperately needed telephone exchanges would be accomplished more economically and expeditiously if governmental and private organizations were able to engage staff and gear themselves efficiently for long-term programmes. I emphasize that the Government does a great disservice to the telephone-starved community, and to those who, in the future, will be denied this much-needed amenity, while it procrastinates over the investigation of the costs of this complex service. I repeat that every effort should be made to minimize, and eventually to eliminate, company profiteering at the expense of this people’s enterprise, and that daylabour employment should be progressively increased until the least possible association with, and dependence on, profit-making private enterprise exists.
I have noted from the department’s annual report for the year ended the 30th June, 1955, that Australia, with 17.25 telephones for every 100 persons, has a telephone density exceeded by only six countries, and that 9,201,034 people are served by a total of 1,127,386 lines. But little satisfaction can be derived from this parade of figures by the 67,630 applicants whose needs are unsatisfied because plant and equipment are in short supply. Australians gain little satisfaction from being seventh best in the world in anything, least of all in the race for adequate telephone facilities, which are so important to modern living, to defence, and to commerce. It is a dubious distinction to be the leader of the “ alsorans “ in so vital a matter as the number of telephones relative to the population. The nations leading us in this field of development are already far ahead, and are still widening the gap that divides us. In the circumstances, Australia, as the leader of an untidy bunch of stragglers at the rear, has ample incentive to pull up its socks and get on with the job of giving the service desperately desired by the people of my electorate and, I believe, the whole of the people of Australia.
Before I conclude, I desire to express my regret that the Government has failed to make a satisfactory allocation of funds’ for Australia’s one and only nuclear reactor, which is being constructed at Lucas Heights, in New South “Wales. Probably it is not known to many honor* able members that this very important national project, which has as its objective the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, has been deprived suddenly of necessary funds. Probably it is not known, for instance, that the monthly allocation for this important work was chopped by £80,000 - from £180,000 a month to £100,000 a monthand that, as a consequence, 171 men engaged in various trades were thrown out of work as late as last Friday. It is almost incredible that this Government - which, incidentally, is not opposed to the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes - has failed to make provision to ensure the continuity of work necessary for the early completion of this vital enterprise. It is apparent that Australia will depend a great deal on the research that will be conducted at Lucas Heights after the completion of the reactor. But, as I have said, 171 men engaged on the project were sacked as late as last Friday, and I have been told that many hundreds more will be discharged in the near future, due to the Government’s inability or unwillingness to regulate properly the flow of money to the project through the year.
One of the most unsatisfactory things that any government can do is to undermine the confidence of a labour force - particularly a labour force upon which it has to call from time to time for the development of governmental projects. If, when we are considering the budget in September, the Government decides to appropriate sufficient funds to enable work on the project to be continued, al a faster rate than is possible at present, great difficulty will be experienced in recruiting the labour force necessary te do the job. Surely this great project Wil be accomplished most economically if i< is accomplished quickly. Surely we should minimize overhead expenses as far as possible. I believe that it would be in the interests of the Australian people if the Government were to examine the position urgently, with a view either to transferring money to this project from other projects or to making an urgent, special appropriation. Unless work on this .reactor proceeds, Australia will drag behind other countries in the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.
I have been advised that incredible blunders and fantastic mistakes have caused the calamity to which I have referred. Already 171 men have been sacked and there is a prospect that more men will be sacked, although the country is eager for this project to be completed. I have been told that, not only has the Government failed to make sufficient funds available, but also that even the funds that have been made available have not been spent efficiently and wisely. A great part of the’ early allocation was spent, prematurely, on the production of the actual reactor core, for which there was no urgent and desperate need. I have been advised that the ordering and paying for the core could have been left until the urgent constructional work associated with the project, had been completed.
I make an appeal to the Minister to 4]ve urgent consideration to this matter, ro take all possible steps to reinstate the 173 men who have been retrenched and o ensure that no others will be retrenched, »o that Australia’s only atomic reactor ian be completed as soon as possible. If hat. is done, Australia will make its con.tribution to the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes and will be enabled to develop in the way in which, I believe, all of us would like to see it develop.
– I shall not traverse a large num ber of subjects, as the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) attempted to do. I concede that his aspirations are such that, all honorable members can agree with them, but I am lot altogether impressed with the pracical steps - if they can be so described - that he proposes shall be taken to bring about what he desires. In point of fact, I think that many of the things he .has suggested would militate against the achievement of the objectives that he has in mind.
I shall confine my remarks to one aspect of transport - particularly rail transport. It is a subject which should be of great interest - indeed, I believe it if of great interest - to the present Government from many angles, the first of which was mentioned by the honorable member for Hughes. It is not unrelated to defence. Development and defence do tie in with one another. Another angle concerns the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) particularly, because he, as the person ultimately responsible for financing State deficits, must be concerned with the efficiency of the State railways. The third angle is the activities of our own Department of Shipping and Transport, which is endeavouring to co-ordinate transport systems throughout the Commonwealth.
In the last five or six years, the Commonwealth railways have virtually completed the dieselisation of their system. They have replaced obsolete steam locomotives with modern diesel-electric locomotives. From an operating point of view, that has been a fantastic success. The haulage component of costs has been wiped out.
– That is because the Commonwealth railways do not have to make interest payments.
– Obviously the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) has not studied the figures. The magnitude of the saving is so great as to render quite irrelevant the question of interest payments on new equipment. I shall put u> the House a concrete plan under which the Commonwealth could help the States to make their railways as efficient as the Commonwealth railways are now. I do not intend to go back into the past and try to apportion blame for what has been done and for what has not been done. Let us forget that. Let us look at things as they are and try to put them right as quickly as possible.
I have referred to the tremendous saving that the Commonwealth railways had been able to make by the introduction of a modern form of haulage. I believe that the State railways, similarly equipped, could make similar savings. The production of diesel-electric locomotives in Australia is confined mainly to the Clyde Engineering Company Limited and the Commonwealth Engineering Company Limited. The present capacity of those companies is about 100 locomotives a year, or perhaps a little more than that. All of the locomotives produced are not of the same type. Some of them are small shunting locomotives, hut most of them are main-line, heavy haulage locomotives. The present capacity of the Australian locomotive manufacturing industry is about 100 diesel-electric locomotives a year. That capacity could be raised quickly to 125 a year, or perhaps to slightly more than that. The Clyde Engineering Company Limited, in particular, has plans for expansion which could result in a significant increase of output. At present prices, the averagecost of one of these locomotives would be about £75,000. That is the figure that, would be reached if there were continuity of output, with the economies of mass-production. I again emphasize to the House that some locomotives would cost more than that, some less, but thai is an average figure based on the cost of both shunting and mainline locomotives. Included in this cost of £75,000 which, incidentally, I think, incorporates recent wage increases and everything of that kind, is an amount of about £25,000 for imported components which cannot be economically produced in Australia. They include certain heavy castings and things of that character involving the purchase of special machinery, the cost of which could be successfully amortized only as a result of a much greater production than the Australian market can absorb. So, at least for the present, there would be a reason for continuing to import components worth about £25,000, perhaps a little less, for each of those machines. Admittedly, that would represent a drain on our foreign funds. I wonder whether I should use the term “ admittedly “, for I have every reason to believe that the purchase of these components could be financed by means of a special long-term loan, and certainly by debenture.
To-day, the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) directed the attention of the Treasurer to the possibility of long-term debentures to finance our capital expansion, in view of the present pressure on our overseas funds. I believe a package deal of the kind that I have mentioned could be successfully carried through. I say, “ I believe “, but I know that it could have been carried through last year, or the year before, because when I was in Washington I had an opportunity of seeing the people concerned, and of knowing that at that time the United States Export-Import Bank would have been willing to finance a transaction of that kind. I cannot, of course, say whether the conditions that obtained at the beginning of ,1955 still obtain, but I believe they do. However, whether or not they do, this amount is a small amount to set beside the real, tremendous savings in operation which can be achieved by the use of those machines.
I put it to the House also that it is necessary that new orders be given to Australian diesel-electric locomotive works if there is not to be a considerable dislocation of employment and a misuse of capital facilities installed. To make the proper economic use of the facilities already existing, new orders must be given, and I admit to the House that some of these new orders may come from abroad. Indeed, we saw a statement in the press to-day regarding an order received from abroad for ten dieselelectric locomotives. But I should prefer to see these locomotives, which are urgently needed for the rehabilitation of our own State railway systems, put into operation in Australia itself instead of being exported.
I shall now give the House some details of the savings that are possible as a result of the use of diesel-electric locomotives. Diesel-electric locomotives save something like 75 per cent, of the haulage component of railway costs. I use the words carefully. I say “ haulage component “. I do not say “ total railway costs “. The point is that, where it would cost £100 to use a steam locomotive to do a job, a diesel-electric locomotive will do the same job at a cost of £25.
That is a tremendous, a fantastic saving. I think the figures would be that in Victoria the operating cost of a steam locomotive is between 180d. and 190d. a locomotive mile, whereas a diesel-electric locomotive costs something under 40d. a mile to run. Those are very significant figures. They show a direct saving of something like 12s. a locomotive mile in favour of the diesel-electric locomotive. I repeat, a “ direct “ saving. That means that such a locomotive, which certainly, in the present circumstances, can be programmed to do 100,000 miles a year, can save something like £60,000 a year in running costs. I admit again that whilst those savings in annual mileage costs can undoubtedly be attained by dieselelectric locomotives, they would not necessarily be attained by the last locomotives bought, because obviously the first locomotives bought would be getting the cream of the long haulage traffic. But these locomotives travel something like 130,000 miles a year, which is a great deal more than a steam locomotive would travel. I think it is by no means unreasonable to think in terms of saving £50,000 or £60,000 a year for every dieselelectric locomotive bought. Probably the savings would become even more accentuated as a whole section of line was dieselized and the steam apparatus got rid of. When this is able to be done it is shown, by the experience of the American railroads - experience of which the British railroads are taking advantage, because there is a great plan for dieselization and electrification of railways being put into operation in Britain now - that those savings can bp made. We have seen from examples overseas that they can be made. We can see from the example of our own Commonwealth railways that they can be made, and. one wonders why the States are not pressing to make these savings. Let us take the lowest possible figure - and I think that it is an incredibly low figure. Even allowing for interest and depreciation, the diesel-electric locomotive will certainly turn over 30 per cent, of its capital cost each year. I should think that the figure would actually be very much higher than that I have put it at the absolute minimum. Some people would put it as high as 60 per cent. I think the actual figure would be somewhere in the range between 60 per cent, and 30 per cent. That is the return, after allowing for interest and depreciation, on the initial investment in diesel-electric locomotives. I say that no country, no State, no Commonwealth, is rich enough to be able to turn down an investment which will return that amount of profit in terms of real wealth, in terms of real service, and in terms of reduced fares and freights for the users of the railways - the people.
I have talked about the direct savings. There are also indirect savings, such as cleaner travel, faster travel, better utilization of rolling stock, and less wear on the rails, since the electric motor has an even torque a.nd does not pound like the steam locomotive engine, because the steam locomotive torque is unevenly developed as the piston works in the cylinder. There is an indirect saving particularly from the fact of higher utilization of diesel-electric locomotives which run so much further than steam locomotives between stops and between servicing. The experience which we have had in the Commonwealth Railways, which is also the experience abroad, proves that this is the way to efficiency in the railways, the way to get the railways on their feet again.
I have pointed out that the Commonwealth Railways are already almost completely dieselized. Estimates have been made of the number of diesel locomotives required for the mainland State railways in Australia. For New South Wales the figure is 531; for Victoria, 252; Queensland, 414; South Australia, 172; and Western Australia, 192 - a total of 1,561. I am sorry that I have not the figure for Tasmania, because I am not familiar with the present position in that State. We need, in round figures, 1,500 of these new machines. To invest in dieselelectric locomotives is the most effective and quickest way to reduce State railway deficits and in turn to reduce the strain on the funds that the Commonwealth must find to meet State budget deficits. This is a matter of great concern to the present and future federal Treasurers. As the House may know, some Government supporters are very much, concerned with the possibility of -standardizing some of the main trunk lines. I believe that a dieselization project would work in with the standardization scheme, and that the two would make for the efficient operation of Australia’s railway systems.
Not very much money is required, because the operating savings would be available for reinvestment in additional diesel-electric locomotives. If there were a circulating fund, it would not need to be very large at the start, and within ten or fifteen years the whole problem would be overcome. Figures have been worked out, and they show that, with an outlay of less than £10,000,000, by reinvesting only part of the savings we could overcome Australia’s railway problem. A sum of £10,000,000 is a flea-bite when it is compared with the deficits that the Commonwealth Treasury must bear, because the Commonwealth Treasury ultimately bears the State deficits, which are caused largely by losses on the railway systems. Furthermore, the introduction of diesel-electric locomotives would give a cheaper and better service to the public, and thus increase the efficiency of the whole Australian economy.
If we were to think in terms of acquiring 100 locomotives a year, which is in line with or even a little below the present manufacturing capacity, and if we need 1,500 locomotives, we would “be thinking in terms of a fifteen-year programme. I should hope that we could carry out the programme rather more quickly than that, but let us start with something that it is obviously within our power to complete. If we discovered that things were going well - and I am sure we would - we could accelerate the programme and perhaps complete it in less than fifteen years. We need an original outlay of only less than £10,000,000 to be placed in a circulating fund into which operating savings could be paid, at least in part, to purchase more diesel-electric locomotives and to keep the scheme going. That would cure the whole trouble, or at least the whole trouble as far as the haulage component of railway costs is concerned.
I shall now outline the practical proposal that I have to make. . I suggest that the Commonwealth should set aside a special fund of £10,000,000 to be lent to the States for the purchase of dieselelectric locomotives. Any State drawing on the fund should pay interest at the normal rates, and amortization at the rate of 25 per cent, on each borrowing. The locomotives would return more than that to the States, because they more than pay back the capital outlay. The money paid back would go back into the fund and be re-loaned to the States for the purchase of more diesel-electric locomotives. Amortization payments should be credited to the fund for re-lending. If, in any year, applications were received for more funds than were available, the normal Australian Loan Council formula should be applied, and the available moneys distributed amongst the applicants. To my way of thinking, the limiting factor should be the physical capacity of Australian works to turn out the locomotives in a reasonable quantity, having regard to the life of the plant that produces them. This is a concrete scheme that would cost only £10,000,000 nominally, but which actually would be almost costless, because, within a year or two, the savings would aggregate more than the amount of money put in.
I repeat that no country is rich enough to be able to neglect a real capital investment that can return such large dividends. The States would be advantaged. Nobody would be compelling any State to do anything, but if the States drew on this fund, the interest and amortization payments would be demonstrably less than the savings that would be achieved by the use of efficient haulage power. The Commonwealth, too, would be advantaged, because it would be getting off its back the necessity to find from taxation the revenue that is necessary to finance State deficits, which are largely transport deficits. I am not suggesting to the House that this scheme would provide the solution to all our economic difficulties; indeed, it is only a small, practical point.
I have tried to confine my speech, within reasonable limits, to this particular concrete proposal. I suggest to the House, and to the Government, that at the forthcoming meeting of the Australian Loan Council, when the Government will be faced with the problem of financing State deficits, which are largely transport deficits, it should put forward a concrete proposal of this kind, not in an effort to compel the States to do anything, but to give them an opportunity to place their railway systems on a more efficient footing and to do so in a way that will not involve any real outlay. As I have indicated, the savings achieved would quickly repay the very moderate amount of capital involved. I repeat that I do not wish to discuss past history. Let us not worry ourselves about who should have done this, or who should not have done that, or about who is to blame for the present situation. Eather, let us face things as they are, and ask ourselves what is the best thing to do in these circumstances.
.- L should like to devote the few minutes at my disposal to a consideration of a matter that concerns the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Harold Holt). One approaches this subject with a degree of diffidence, because one is aware that the policy now being pursued has the general acclaim of, shall I say, all political or partisan sections of the community. It is not a matter that I take up in a politically partisan manner, or with any ulterior motive. The object of my remarks is to direct the attention of the Government to a situation that has been before it and before all constructively thinking sections of the community and which, unless it is rectified or unless certain action is taken in the near future, will have the effect of reducing our social and economic standards and of jeopardizing the whole immigration scheme. [ feel that all honorable members will agree that the object of any government should be to prevent the scheme from being jeopardized or unwittingly sabotaged by action which, if controlled now. could preserve the scheme for the future and continue the work that is being done to advance ourselves nationally.
There are times in the history of every nation when it is desirable to pause and stocktake, to pause and reflet. Tn such moments as these, one can quite often see things that, in the boat and pressure nf the moment, are not disclosed bv the on rush of other events seemingly of more importance. Several pronouncements have been made from various sections of the community which have tended to stress the importance of a review of our migration policy so far as the extent of that policy is concerned and not of the structure or the actual content of the policy. I refer to a leading article in the Age, dated the 8th June, 1956. It was commenting on a recent decision of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labour party at its annual conference and contained the following statement : -
In to-day’s circumstances, however, it is widely conceded that some scaling-down for a period has become desirable, if we are to avoid more serious strains on resources and a worsening of deficiencies in public services and equipment during the next few years.
The aspect stressed at that conference and in the leader in the Age is that we should consider, from the economic angle, whether we can maintain our present, intake of 125,000 migrants a year and still maintain our economy, and also - i.nd to me this is the more important aspect - whether we can maintain the standards of human life with the aspirations and dignity that we desire to become an integral part of the lives of all Australians, whether they are new or old. The Government itself would appear to have had some misgivings on this question. An article in the Argus of May last under the heading, “ Migrant Flood from South Europe Cut “, read as follows : -
Federal Cabinet has decided to restrict the 1056-57 programme to at least 125,000 migrants.
This matter has been considered by the Liberal party and the Australian Country party. As I said, I have no desire to belabour any political point on this matter and I quote that article merely to indicate that not only have there been misgivings on the part of the Opposition about the maintenance of the present rate of migration, but there have also been similar misgivings on the part of the Government. This matter has been stressed from time to time in the press, and the Institute of Public Affairs has drawn attention to it. With all this force of authority pointing towards a review before it is too late, I hope that the
Government will take the necessary remedial action within the next few months. [ appreciate that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has said that the migration policy of the Government will he reviewed at or prior to the introduction of the next budget. It is in regard to the budget, and particularly to the Commonwealth works programme as far as it affects the States, that the incidence of migration is most directly felt.
In this period of reflection that I suggest should be taken by the Government, we must consider the matters that affect our economy most directly. They are the capital expenditure on the less essential industries, our defence expenditure and immigration, all of which have a very direct bearing on the capital requirements of public and private expenditure. Concern has been expressed, as we know, by the Public Accounts Committee at the over-estimating of requirements by the defence services. An all-too-brief reference was made to it in this House yesterday before the Government gagged any effective or constructive discussion on the over-estimating and the laxity of the Department of Civil Aviation. The Age, of the 12th June, 1958, quoted the following passage from the report of the Public Accounts Committee -
The recurrence of over-estimates by service departments indicated a lack of realism in the financial branches of the departments, and among their advisers on the equipment procurement side.
I mention the equipment procurement side specifically because there we can see the commitment of a considerable amount of capital necessary for imports which again affects our overseas balances. The position of our overseas balances has not been rectified as rapidly as one would have desired following the interim action of import restrictions. Though the Government expressed the desire that imports should be limited to £650,000,000 a year, we find that at the end of April of this year, with three-quarters of the year gone, import0 already amount to £fiS4.000.000, which is considerably above the desirable maximum announced by the Prime Minister. Of these imports, 51 ner cent, was for essential materials for industry, 22 ner cent, for capital goods - which will probably include the capital requirements of our defence expenditure where some pruning could undoubtedly be made - and 15 per cent, for semi-consumer goods such as rubber, tea and petrol. When considering the immigration problem and the effect that it, has upon our balance of payments, the Government could well look to its defence expenditure and to the other less-essential expenditure on industries. The Institute of Public Affairs, in its January-March, 195(5, issue, said -
It is hoped that this will lead to a substantial reduction in the intake of migrants so as to bring it into line with the realities of the present economic situation.
Labour’s policy has always been that the intake of migrants should be the maximum commensurate with our capacity. Various pronouncements have been made by the Australian Labour party regarding this policy, and there is no reason why we should depart from it now. In fact, it is not suggested that we should. The accent, however, is on that very phrase, “ Our absorptive capacity “. What does that mean? No one is concerned with the nature of the individual immigrants themselves, or from which country they come. There are some, of course, that we might consider desirable, and others that we might consider undesirable, but that matter can safely be left to the department that is administering our immigration programme. Regardless, however, of the nationality of immigrants, there is a general desire that they should enjoy, as far as possible, our own living standards. No one wants to knock down the standards of immigrants, and our desire is to take those who have been used to a. lower standard, and lift them up to our higher standard of living, even if that means, as it has meant, a slight reduction in our own standard. But can our standard of living bear a continuation of a policy which calls for reductions of that standard ? If we pause and reflect, we will realize that unless, some action is taken in the matter now, our own standard will fall so low that the very benefits that we wished to confer upon the immigrants who have already arrived in Australia, and those who, we hope, will come in the future, will be denied them. Not only will the immigrants be denied a sufficiently high standard of living; it will be denied also to us and to our children.
If the Government carries out its estimated programme, which calls for 125,000 immigrants a year, an annual capital expenditure of £300,000,000 will be necessary. Can we afford such an expenditure for our immigration programme? The figure of £300,000,000 a year is calculated on the basis of an expenditure of £2,400 for each immigrant. Of that amount, £2,000 is required for capital expenditure on housing, community services and employment facilities, and £400 for non-capital items, being mainly items of personal consumption. It is this latter expenditure, with our present high rate of immigration, that is responsible for a great increase in the volume of our imports. The figure 1 have cited for non-capital expenditure is obtained by subtracting the figure for capital expenditure from the total expenditure set out in the national income estimates. The result generally conforms to that obtained by following a formula used by economists. We can say, therefore, with certainty, that we will require to spend £300,000,000 to provide housing, schools, hospitals, sewerage, electricity, water supplies and all the other services necessary for the successful accommodation of immigrants in Australia.
To illustrate the effect of the immigration programme on our imports, I ask honorable members to consider our imports of one consumer commodity, tea. We consume about 7 lb. of tea a person, and if we accept 125,000 immigrants we will need to spend another £250,000 a year to import tea for them. The same position applies in regard to numerous other consumer goods, and if we calculate our extra commitments in importing goods for immigrants, we shall see that the position will become well-nigh impossible. At present, the Commonwealth supplies, out of loan funds, about £270,000,000 a year to the States for the provision of services such as sewerage, lighting and water, the total requirements for these services being conservatively estimated at £300,000,000 for immigrants alone. Therefore, the Commonwealth does not provide sufficient money for the needs of immigrants, let alone for our natural population increase. If the Commonwealth, therefore, maintains an immigration rate of 125,000 a year, it should provide the States with sufficient money to enable them to make adequate provision for the needs of the immigrants who are already in Australia, and also for our natural population increase.
In my own electorate of Darebin, and in the electorates of Batman and Scullin, there are instances of such severe overcrowding that 21 people live in a sixroomed house. Such a case is not exceptional. In Victoria, our schools are short of about 600 class-rooms, because funds are not available to provide them.
– The position is the same in the United States of America. There is a shortage of school-rooms there.
– The honorable member for Corio says that the same conditions exist in the United States. Lei me direct his attention to the report issued recently by a committee of which Senator Kefauver was chairman. That committee investigated the problem of child delinquency in America, and it found that the main causes of child delinquency were shortage of houses and lack of parental control in the home. The honorable member has, fortunately, anticipated my line of argument, and I am glad to find that I have been leading him in the right direction. I now leave the economic aspect, and come to the social aspect of the problem. In this direction, we find that the effect of our present “immigration programme upon our national life is even more adverse. I have mentioned certain findings made by the Kefauver committee in America, and I warn honorable members that the same conditionscould arise in Australia. If children are brought up in conditions that require 21 people to live in a six-roomed house, how can they enjoy the environment that iscommensurate with the standard of living that we profess to enjoy, and that we offer migrants before they come here?1 Do not let us be emotional about thismatter, or woolly in our thinking. Admittedly, the standard enjoyed by themigrants who live in these crowded conditions may be better than the standard they enjoyed before they came here. Do- not let us believe, however, that because that poor standard they now enjoy is better than what they previously enjoyed, we must continue to lower our own standards in order to make it available to them.
Many pronouncements on this matter have been made by the Victorian branch of the Australian Labour party. On the 20th October, 1955, the central executive of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labour party passed a unanimous resolution in these terms: -
That this Executive deplores the conditions existing among both new and old Australians due to the shortage of homes in Victoria. Such conditions can, if not corrected, prove a threat to living standards and working conditions desired in our community. This Executive calls upon the Federal Government to make adequate finance available to the States to provide housing and developmental works sufficient to cope with the urgent need for homes and schools without interference to the present rate of migration. Failing sufficient funds being made available, migration proposals should be reviewed to ensure a reduced but reasonable intake of migration annually with preference being given to the skilled trades on a selective basis with regard to the national need.
At the same conference, which was the annual conference of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labour party, the following resolution was moved by me, and seconded by Mr.Weiner, a new Australian : -
In furtherance of Federal Labour’s Policy, this conference requests the Federal Labour Party to approach the Federal government for an immediate reduction in the flow of migration until such time as the delay in the provision of housing, schools and other services for both New Australians and our own people has been rectified.
Of course, the scheme offers opportunity for abuse, and time might well be taken for reflection and reconsideration, so thai undesirable practices, which have crept in over the years, may be dealt with. The important question is whether we are prepared to find the funds for the services needed if we are to keep faith, and honour the promises that we made to migrants before they left their homeland. Our objective should be to build up our living standards and to share them with those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Looking at the economic aspect, we must consider the effect upon our overseas balances. This offers a prime reason why thought should be given to an immediate reduction in the flow of immigration to this country. On the social side, it is time that we paused ‘and made sure that we were able to provide standards that are becoming to the dignity of man, regardless of race or colour. Unless we do that, we cannot keep faith with those whom we have induced to come to Australia.
In the light of what has been said on the subject of immigration by honorable members from both sides of the House, by all sections of the community, and in the Sydney Morning Herald and other papers, we should have a second look at the matter and, if need be, reduce the immigration rate. Unfortunately, that may have to be done for the time being. It is far better to have a temporary restriction now instead of later, so that we can consolidate our position and make available to immigrants such necessary services as housing. Alternatively, it is up to the Government to decide whether it can make available, from revenue, from loan funds, or by a re-adjustment of expenditure on defence and other less worthy causes, the money necessary to provide for schools, houses, and hygiene.
– Does the honorable member not regard defence as essential?
– I regard it as essential, and the Labour party’s immigration policy offers one of the best means of providing for the defence of our country. The Public Accounts Committee’s report on the over-estimating of defence expenditure surely provides an avenue of inquiry in this matter of finding extra finance.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison.) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Bill read a second time.
.- I should like to take ten minutes or so to speak of governmental scientific research in Australia. My reason for doing so is the results that have been obtained in this field. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, which is the Government’s principal agent in scientific research, has, in the 30 years of its existence, cost Australia £33,000,000. At present the annual dividend to the Australian people as a result of the work during the lust generation of this organization is, on a very modest estimate, well over £100,000,000 a year. Indeed, the figure could quite easily, and legitimately, be cast at something like £150,000,000, which is between three and five times the total cost of the organization.
I realize very well that the past is the past, and that what we are concerned about is the future. I should like to consider for a few moments the prospects for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the Australian people as a result of scientific research, intelligently directed, in the years that lie ahead. I have discussed this matter a good deal with senior officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in recent years, and have asked them to say, with their hands on their hearts, whether they believe that the experience of the past generation is likely to be repeated in the years to come. They have unanimously told me that they believe this to be a reasonable thing to assume. In other words, it is believed that every unit of £5,000,000 - the approximate present annual cost of operating the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organization - spent on scientific research in the course of the next ten or fifteen years is likely to return annual dividends of many times that amount. That is not an exaggerated forecast based on the experience of the past, but, in fact, I believe it will turn out to be a modest estimate. In the last three parliaments f have taken action to bring to the notice of members and senators details of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization establishments that exist in their electorates and States. En doing so, I have enclosed material on the activities of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. T have done this in an effort to bring this highly important money-spinner for Australia to the notice of individual members of this Parliament.
– Could honorable members be supplied with all the organization’s publications? They are very good.
– They can. certainly be sent to any honorable member who is interested in them. I am not inclined to suggest that they be distributed unless honorable members care to ask for them. This business of scientific research is not just a matter of putting a penny in the slot and getting something out at the other end. Research does not always pay off, but in the last 30 years sufficient has paid off to produce the almost unbelievable financial results that I have just described to honorable members.
Let us consider, first, myxomatosis. Its use has augmented our London funds in the last four years by something between a minimum of £130,000,000 and a maximum of £200,000.000. If one assumes that it has been the median figure of £170,000,000, one realizes that it has contributed a sum equal to half our present London funds. Our London funds amount to about £350,000,000. That sum, in view of the economy of this country, is by no means a high figure; it is also not a dangerously low figure. But if, because of the absence of myxomatosis, there had been no increase in wool production and other primary production and that figure had been halved, our London funds would have amounted only to £175,000.000 instead of to £350,000.000. They are two rather dramatic figures.
T have been discussing with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Eesearch Organization in recent months th, jobs that still remain to be done. What are the principal things that lie ahead of us that can reasonably be expected to yield to scientific research? I should like briefly to canvass those things. The first of them concerns wool, and I make no excuse for speaking of it. In Australia, we are becoming increasingly dependent on wool to earn for us income overseas. Wool constituted 10 per cent, of the total primary production before the war, and that figure has risen to 18 per cent, to-day. Wool provided 35 per cent, of our total exports just before the war, and provided 49 per cent, last year. Those are dramatic figures which show that we have become increasingly dependent on wool. We are still riding on the sheep’s back.
At the same time, wool is threatened by synthetics. The price of synthetics is dropping steadily and, I think, menacingly for wool. It is not my place to make a forecast as to whether wool will be able to maintain its place in the world. If it does not, things will go badly for Australia. But we have to give strict attention to reducing the costs of wool production and in that process scientific research has a very distinct place. The amount of money being spent in three, four or five countries of the world on research into synthetics is about 615,000,000 a year. The amount spent on wool research is under £1,000,000 a year. That situation, I think, contains within itself the seeds of the menace that faces u3. We have to do everything possible, first by reducing the cost of production of wool, and also by scientific research, to help the wool -grower in every way we can.
One form of assistance that has been evolved by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in recent times is a scourable branding fluid. This has not by any means come into universal use. It is estimated that £1,750,000 is lost annually in Australia by the use of non-scourable branding fluids, although there is readily available, and at a low price, a scourable branding fluid which would save us overnight that loss. There are other directions which I have not time to canvass but in which we may reasonably look forward to big dividends in connexion with wool by reason of scientific research in the years immediately ahead of us. The battle for wool will be fought and won, or lost, in the next ten years. I make no forecast, but people whose views deserve to he listened to say that unless we get the cost of production of wool down to 3s. or 4s. per lb., wool will definitely be in danger.
Other directions in which research will yield results in the next five or ten years are pasture utilization and the cure of animal diseases, of which I only want to mention footrot. Footrot has not been permanently cured. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and others, have evolved a means of paring the hooves and giving foot baths. That is not a permanent cure. Tt is only a temporary cure, and has to be repeated. It is expensive. I have every hope that we will be able to find a simple, more effective and cheaper method of coping with footrot. It is one of our widespread diseases in the well-waterer) wool-growing areas of Australia.
Then there are weeds. There are half a dozen principal noxious weeds in Australia which we have every reason to believe can yield to scientific research if we have the money and if we have the scientific workers. Then there are bushfires. The bushfire menace is always with us, and it can be reduced by scientific research. Water is still the most important of our natural resources. I hope that we shall be able to make a much more intensive study of underground water storage in Australia.
– Order! The right honorable member’s time has expired.
raise the subject of scientific research, particularly with regard to what the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is doing in this country to-day. I wished to speak on this subject when the Supplementary Estimates we’re under consideration, h”f T did not get an opportunity to do so. First of all, I want to pay a tribute to the wonderful work that this organization has done. I also want to pay a tribute to one of the people who were responsible for putting the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization on its feet some years ago, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). I think that he should take most of the credit for putting this wonderful organization on its feet, giving it a push along and enabling it to carry out its wonderful work.
The Minister for External Affairs has placed emphasis on the importance of research into wool. As the representative. of an important and extensive woolproducing electorate, in which a hig experimental station is carried on by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, I have been able to study some of the work of that organization. The experimental station to which I refer is Gilruth Plains, just outside Cunnamulla. When that station was originally bought and started by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, most of the people in the district were more or less hostile to some of the persons who were conducting the station. But I can say with confidence to-day that the people in the district are right behind the work that is being done there. They give it every support, and it is doing a wonderful job.
The Minister spoke about the future of the wool industry, the challenge of synthetics, and what it was proposed to do in research. I agree that the proposals mentioned by the Minister are vitally necessary because if the wool industry is to carry this country along, and to continue to bring in 60 per cent, of our export earnings, it should be given every encouragement. I believe that research is highly desirable, and must be carried on, but we must also look at the other side of the question. It is this: If the primary industries which are responsible for the great bulk of our export earnings are to take advantage of scientific research, and if the secondary industries are to take advantage of that research, some means should be provided whereby people who do the work in those industries can take advantage of the new techniques that are discovered. The great majority of people in industry would like to take advantage of these new techniques but they have not the money that is required to enable them to do so. They cannot make enough money out of their current earnings to take advantage of the new techniques, particularly at the present time.
The Government will have to do something with respect to credit facilities so that they may take advantage of these techniques. It is vital that that should be done if we are to earn more income and reduce our costs of production. It is all very well to talk about reducing the cost of production, but that cannot be done unless up-to-date methods of production are used in industry. As a primary producer, and as a member who represents a huge primary producing electorate, I believe that the Government has to take that into consideration. I ask the Minister to look at that question.
I know many young people in country areas to-day who are very keen. The old methods that were used by their fathers and their grandfathers are probably not good enough. These people are hard working and they are eager to take advantage of the new research techniques that have been made available, particularly by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. There are other fields in which the organization could extend its experimental and research work. I have mentioned before in this chamber the matter of biological control of noogoora burr. People living in the southern part of Australia probably do not know what I am talking about, but after the recent floods in Queensland this pest has spread to an alarming extent, and if some better control is not exercised its ravages will cost the country as much as rabbit infestation has cost in the past. The problem must be tackled in a serious way. I have not details of the latest work which the organization has done in relation to the burr, but I know that it is working on the matter. I ask the Minister to ensure that this work is intensified. If the problem is not solved quickly we shall lose hundreds of millions of pounds in wool production alone, quite apart from the loss of fodder.
.- This afternoon, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) tabled the report of the Australian Whaling Commission for the year ended the 31st March, 1956. Normally, one would not take this opportunity to discuss the report, but the time of this sessional period is running out, and I think that the Parliament should know something about the contents of this report.
– The honorable member cannot discuss the report as the motion that it be printed is on the business-paper.
– I am discussing the report, because it is relevant to the consideration of Supply.
– I shall have to rule against the honorable member, if the matter appears on the business-paper.
– I am sorry. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) must have knowledge of the scathing criticism that is contained in this report, and consequently does not want the publicity which would be given to the few words I wish to say. The report contains a reflection on the Government, and a condemnation of the action that has been taken.
– The honorable member may discuss the Supplementary Estimates, but not the report.
– I shall discuss the Estimates, and the funds which are made Available to government instrumentalities. In those circumstances, I think I am justified in availing myself of this opportunity.
– The honorable member may discuss whaling, but not this particular report.
– I shall discuss whaling. I wish to direct the attention of the Parliament to the fact that, in the latest report, which is for the year ended the 31st March, 1956, the chairman of the Australian Whaling Commission had this to say -
During the negotiations which have taken place for the sale of the Commission’s assets, the Commission has been in a most invidious position as its operations and financial returns ave been the subject of attack from many quarters. It has been necessary to restrain a desire to reply to statements which varied from criticism to blatant mis-statements, and in these circumstances it feels justified in summarizing in this report results during our period of operation, and as comparisons have always been drawn in the criticism levelled at the Commission’s operations, these charges are refuted by the same method.
– Is the honorable member quoting from the report that was tabled this afternoon?
– I am quoting from some information which I have in my possession, and which relates to the operations of the Australian Whaling Commission, and the tactics employed by this Government in the disposal of the commission’s assets. I have a summary of the results of four years’ operations by the commission from 1951-52 to 1954-55. In that period, the commission’s operating profits totalled £1,163,000. Another company, which is not named, but which I have no doubt is the Nor’ West Whaling Company Limited, made operating profits of £844,000. The depreciation allowed by the commission was £292,000, and by the other company, £110,000. Before paying tax, the commission’s profit was £870,000, and the other company’s profit was £734,000. In interest to the Treasury the commission paid £126,000, and the other company paid £160,000. The commission made repayments to the Treasury totalling £S50,000, and the other company paid dividends of £216,000. In cash and bonds the Australian Whaling Commission held £396,000, and the other company £391,000. A summary of the positions of the two organizations during that period shows that the commission earned £1,122,000, from, which it paid in interest to the Treasury £126,000, and made repayments to the Treasury of £850,000, leaving cash, &c, amounting to £146,000.
– Where did the honorable member obtain these figures?
– That is my business. The other company paid £160,000 in tax, and £216,000 in dividends, and held £364,000 in cash, &c, out of its total earnings of £740,000. The most important item to note in the document that I have is this statement by the commission -
The Commission regrets that it was not taken into the confidence of the Government when the decision was made to sell its assets so that the knowledge and experience of members could have been availed of to protect the interests of the Commonwealth when the conditions of sale were being prepared.
Honorable members should examine the facts. The commission repaid to the Treasury £1,122,000, but its assets were sold to the Nor’ West Whaling Company Limited for £880,000. What a dreadful state of affairs that, when negotiating the sale, the directors of this instrumentality were not taken into the confidence of the Government. The information that they had at their disposal was not availed of, and so this asset of the people was sold at a ridiculous price to another company which, in addition to buying the assets for the nominal amount of £880,000–
– The Western Australian Government wanted to buy them for less.
– That is irrelevant. The people’s assets were sacrificed without consultation with the commission, which knew all about the station’s success and value. With the assets, which were sold for a nominal sum of £880,000, went a very valuable licence to process an additional 1,000 whales. Furthermore, it is well known that the loyalty of the commission’s staff over many years was magnificent. That is referred to in this document. When the sale of the assets was being debated in the Parliament, I suggested that, because there had never deen any industrial disputation, and because efficiency had resulted from the loyalty of the staff and good management, the least that the Government could do was to pay bonuses, which have been paid in other cases, to members of the staff for r.heir loyal service. Nothing has been lone. The members of the commission’s staff have been dispersed. In referring to the staff, I mean not only the executive members, but also all the other employees of the commission who, year after year, went to this remote place and gave of their very best.. Their efforts have resulted in the return to the Commonwealth of £1,122,000.
The Government has sold the assets for half the amount which should have been realized had the Government consulted, and taken into its confidence, the men who conducted this instrumentality so successfully for seven years. In the circumstances, I take the opportunity to re-emphasize what a sell-out Government this is and how, throughout its occupancy of the treasury benches, it has been applying the policy of selling for nominal sums assets which were established with the people’s money; and selling them to persons who are placed in the very happy position of being able to exploit to the full the masses of this country. I reaffirm my protest, and hope that it will not be long before this Government is put in the place in which it should be put.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 16th May (vide page 2099), on motion by Sir Auth uk Fadden -
That the bill lie now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 16th May (vide page 2100), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 16th May (vide page 2100), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 15th June (vide page 3300) on motion by Mr. Fairhall -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The existing housing agreement between the Commonwealth and the States, which was negotiated by a Labour government, ends on the 30th of this month. The present legislation proposes the enactment of what purports to be another agreement between the Commonwealth and the States, but I think it can hardly be regarded as an agreement, because the States are accepting it only reluctantly. As far as I can ascertain, it is not the form of agreement which any of the States desired. It is an agreement only in the sense that they have been forced to accept it. It represents the will of the Commonwealth - nothing else.
Having listened to the speech made by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), one might have imagined that the housing problem in this country had been solved or that housing was not the great problem that it was away back in 1945 and 1946, when the Labour government of the day was so concerned about it. But, in actual fact, the housing problem, not only is still in existence, but has been accentuated by the failure of this Government to honour the original agreement, which provided that the States should be permitted to construct as many houses as it was physically possible for them to construct and that the Commonwealth was obliged to provide all the money that the States required, so that their facilities for building could be fully utilized.
Let us examine one or two of the statements made by the Minister in his secondreading speech. He tried to absolve the Commonwealth of any responsibility in regard to housing, and he talked about the limited powers of the Commonwealth. Section 96 of the Constitution, which he mentioned, might be regarded by some people as imposing restrictions, but it is so wide in its scope as to permit the Commonwealth Parliament to provide any sum of money it thinks fit for the purposes of housing. Therefore, if the original agreement had been adhered to. there would have been many more homes in existence in Australia than is the case now. Let us examine the Minister’s arithmetic. He said that the current annual need was for 75,000 dwellings. Then he went on to say -
But against that figure it will be noted that in each of the past four years almost 80,000 dwellings have been completed. The unsatisfied demand is being overtaken by more than 20,000 dwellings per annum.
How does the Minister make that out? On his own figures the annual demand is for 75,000 homes. We have been constructing almost 80,000 in each year. So the lag, if we accept his reasoning, is being overtaken at the rate of less than 5,000 a year. But the Minister has declared that it is being overtaken at the rate of 20,000 a year. Perhaps he will explain how he arrived at that conclusion, when he gets an opportunity to do so. There is a shortage of 150,000 homes in New South Wales alone. The shortage throughout Australia is 310,000. In those circumstances, how can the members of the Government argue logically that the housing problem has largely disappeared? Let me give some figures for New South Wales. Mr. Bourke, the Secretary of the New South Wales Housing Commission, is not a member of a political party. He is a public servant of the highest standing. According to him, there are 30,000 unsatisfied applications for homes still lodged with the New South Wales Housing Commission, 25,000 members of co-operative building societies are waiting to obtain homes, and approximately 13,000 applicants for war service homes are still waiting. Those figures relate only to New ‘South Wales. Mr. Landa, the Housing Minister in the New South Wales Government, said -
We have as yet made little impact on slum clearance.
It is admitted that there are 30,000 sub-standard homes in Sydney alone, Ye this Government, declares complacently that the housing problem has largely disappeared. According lo Mr. Bourke’? figures, there are 10,000 families in New South Wales seeking emergency accommodation. Of those cases, 3.000 are urgent and 100 are desperate. Mr. Bourke has said–
On some days lately we have had as many as twelve families at a time with nowhere to live.
Those are families who have been evicted from homes in the metropolitan area of Sydney and for whom the Housing Commission is unable to provide any accommodation. Already in the emergency housing settlements there are 3,555 families, representing 15,000 persons, and applications for emergency accommodation in the metropolitan area of Sydney are coming in at the rate of 200 a month.
Now let us consider the waiting time. T remind the House that this Government has declared that there is no housing problem of any consequence in Australia to-day. Perhaps I should explain at this stage that there are a number of ways in which houses are made available by the New South Wales Housing Commission to applicants. A certain percentage of the houses available is allotted by ballot to people who have been accepted for admission to the ballot. A certain percentage is allotted to people in the emergency housing settlements. In that case, the commission works from a roster. In addition, there are what are described as direct allocations to people who have been in ballots for a number of years but have not drawn a home. The Housing Commission deals with them by way of direct allocation. Mr. Bourke has stated the waiting periods for people who ave eligible for direct allocations. In the case of two-bedroom homes made available by direct allocation, the commission has now reached applications that were lodged in July, 1947. If a person wants a two-bedroom home from the New South Wales Housing Commission, he must wait for nine years before he can expect a direct allocation. For threebedroom homes, the approximate waiting time now is nine years and four months. With regard to four-bedroom homes, people who lodged their applications in March, 1947 - nine years and three months ago - are only now receiving direct allocations from the commission.
That is not due to any lack of activity by the New South Wales Government or the New South Wales Housing Commission. Everybody is aware that the Commonwealth controls financial policy in this country. This Government holds the purse-strings. Any other government, whether it be the Labour Government of New South Wales or the Liberal Government of South Australia, can build only as many homes as this Government will provide finance to enable it to build. So the full responsibility for the present housing position must be placed on the shoulders of this Government.
Let us examine this Government’s” direct responsibility to ex-servicemen. It could build for ex-servicemen as manyhomes as it was physically possible to* build. What is the situation in respect of war service homes? The waiting period for a war service home to-day is approximately 23 months. That does not mean a waiting period of 23 months from the date of the lodgment of the application. It means a waiting period of 23- months from the date the application isapproved. The application may have been made some considerable time beforeapproval is given to it, and it is only after approval to it has been given that the waiting period of 23 months faced by the successful applicant begins. The Government has told ex-servicemen who haveapplied for war service homes that they can arrange for temporary financial accommodation to bridge the gap between approval of the application and the actual making available of the money to> enable the building of a home. It advisesthem to seek financial assistance from private money-lenders. Every day thecolumns of the newspapers carry advertisements inserted by unfortunate exservicemen who are seeking financial assistance in order to build war service homes,, offering interest at a rate of anythingfrom 12 per cent, to 18 per cent, in orderto obtain it.’ I have seen many of theseadvertisements in which ex-servicemen, have sought private loans at high ratesof interest because the financial institutions refuse to make such loans availableat low rates of interest.
We have a mighty financial institution! called the Commonwealth Bank, which.: was a people’s- bank when Labour wasin office. I cannot, for the life of me,, see why, if the Government has approved1, an application for a person to obtain a war service home, that person should beobliged to go to private interests forfinancial accommodation. Why could not a loan be made available to him from the Commonwealth Bank at a reasonable rate of interest? The bank takes no risk in the transaction, because the man has government security in that the War Service Homes Division has agreed to provide, in time, the finance that he needs. That is a definite form of government security, and surely the Commonwealth Bank, the government bank, ought to be prepared to advance money on such security.
Let us see what some of the antiLabour newspapers in Australia have to say about this matter. We often hear honorable gentlemen opposite twitting members of the Labour party because, they allege, we quote from information published in journals with whose political colour Government supporters disagree. I shall quote a statement made by Sydney Truth, which honorable gentlemen opposite could hardly regard as a proCommunist journal. On the 6th November, 1955, Truth published an article under the headline, “ Hope fading for army of desperate families “. The article said -
The families - many of whom have waited patiently and desperately for several years - have probably less chance now of getting Bousing Commission accommodation than when they first applied.
The position in New South Wales to-day - I mention New South Wales because I reside there and have first-hand knowledge of the position in that State which is typical of the position in every State, is that there are approximately 24,800 garages and huts being used for living purposes by families, and that 106,000 families in New South Wales are sharing accommodation with other families. As for the poor unfortunate pensioners and single persons who require accommodation, they are in an almost hopeless position. I know that honorable members opposite will talk about what the Government has done in providing subsidies for the building of homes for the aged, but, assuming that it costs approximately £1,000 to provide accommodation for an aged person, the Government has provided accommodation for only about 1,600 aged persons out of more than 500,000 pensioners in Australia to-day. That is the total effort of the Government in recent years in that direction.
The Minister for Shipping and Transport” (Senator Paltridge) said in another chamber -
The end of the housing shortage in Australia is in sight.
How could he possibly argue that that is true, in view of the official figures that I have given to the House to-night? Let us see what the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) had to say in this chamber. He said -
Steadily but surely we are making up the leeway in social requirements such as housing, hospitals, schools and civic amenities.
Absolute rubbish! The fact is that the position of the people in regard to housing was never worse in the history of Australia than it is now. If Labour had remained in office the situation would have been entirely different, because when we finished the war we had a plan already in operation. I remind those who scoff that we took office in October, 1941, not as a result of a general election, but because a government of the same political colour as that now supported by honorable gentlemen opposite was so hopeless and helpless that it collapsed, and Labour had to come into office. After we had led the country through the difficult years of the war, and had organized this nation in an all-out war effort, we had to deal with difficult post-war problems. We fashioned and brought into being the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement shortly after the war ended. We did not tell the States that they would be limited as to the number of homes they might build for the people, many of them servicemen then being discharged from the services. We did not tell them that we intended to limit the money to be made available for homebuilding. We said, in effect, to the States, “ You organize your industrial power, gather together and assess your material resources, and the Commonwealth Labour Government will provide finance for as many homes as you can build “. That was the statesmanlike attitude of the Labour Government to this problem. Not only did we provide that homes should be built without financial limit, but we also agreed to co-operate with the States in applying a system of rental rebates, so that the homes built under the agreement would be available to every family in the community regardless of income. In this way, these homes were put within the reach of people in the lower income groups who, under any other conditions, would not have had an opportunity of acquiring such good homes as those available to them under the agreement.
The Labour government had a housing plan that really meant something, and it is unfortunate for this country that our period of office was interrupted. That plan was for the building up of the labour force in the building industry to 130,000. That is what we set out to do. We intended to train servicemen who were being discharged, and other young men, so that they would be able to enter tha building industry, which required more labour, and would be able to contribute to the provision of homes for the community. But in 1951, two years after we left office, although Labour’s plan had been developing successfully, this Government, because of its mismanagement of our national affairs, was compelled to apply financial restrictions on all aspects of community life. These restrictions affected the home-building programme. At the time they were imposed there were 126,500 men engaged in the building industry. That number was steadily building up in accordance with the foundation laid by a Labour government. But the financial restrictions imposed by this Government affected the building industry in particular, and that labour force was reduced by 26,500 men, to 100,000 men, in that year ! I remind the Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works, who says that we are building almost 80,000 homes a year, that in that year - 1951 - according to the official figures 85,417 homes were under construction at the time the Government imposed the financial restrictions. So if the Labour Government’s plan had been allowed to develop, and the labour force in the building industry had been continuously built up, and if there had been no artificial lack of finance, we should to-day have many more homes than is the case. But a serious thing has happened, because many of those 26,500 workers who were forced out of the building industry in 1951, as a result of the Government’s, financial policy, will never return to it.
What is the housing production rate in Australia to-day? I expect that some honorable members opposite, particularly the honorable member for Hume (MrAnderson), will blame the trade unionists for the lag in the provision of houses.. They will claim that the workers are not. building houses fast enough, are not working hard enough.
Mr. Anderson interjecting,
– In reply to the honorable member, from whose interjection we may infer that he is of that opinion, let me quote the remarks of Mr. Charles Hiltermann, who is the managing director of Rothmans of Pall Mall (Australia)Limited.
– Who are they?
– They are the manufacturers of Pall Mall cigarettes. They erected a factory at North Granville., in New South Wales. That America., gentleman said that the factory, which had been started in 1954, had been completed two months ahead of schedule, and that he was astonished at the speed with which it had been erected, .flc further said that although the Rothman group had built similar factories in thmain Commonwealth countries and in thiUnited States of America, none had been completed as quickly as this one. That is a statement by an American about the speed at which Australian buildingworkers operate, so they cannot be blamed for the housing shortage. What is the present situation? The building rate if slowing down. The Financial Review of the 24th May, quoting figures supplied by the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, stated that in the quarter ended March, 1956, 17,079 homes were commenced, which was 891 fewer than for the December quarter, and the lowest since the quarter ended March, 1953. Heed must be paid to the figures relating to homes commenced, because, obviously, they must affect the number of homes’ that will be completed in the future. Until this Government began to den> to New South Wales finance with which to continue its home-building programme, that State was building homes at the rati* of 302 a month, but for the nine months ended the 31st March last, the rate was 244 homes a month, or a reduction of 58 homes. That state of affairs is not peculiar to that State, which has a Labour government. If we examine the position in Victoria, under the Bolte Liberal Government, we find that the number of homes under construction in the quarter ended December, 1.955, was 19,5SO - the lowest since June, 1949, and 1,000 homes fewer than for the quarter ended in September last. In the whole of Australia, for the quarter ended in March last, 64,500 homes were under construction - the second lowest total in the past six years, and 2,967 fewer than for the quarter ended December, 1955.
Will the new agreement improve the situation? The desperate position of the home-building industry must be obvious to honorable members. I remind them that the figures I have quoted have been obtained from official records. If the Minister for the Interior suggests that I have exaggerated the position, J challenge him to quote the official records, [f he does so, it will be apparent that the figures that I have given have been furnished by people who are in a position to speak with authority on this matter. Will the new agreement mean more or fewer homes for the Australian people?
– To the ignorant honorable member who said “ More “, I merely say that, if he examines the bill that is now before the House, he will find that the amount of financial accommodation that the .States are to receive is not specified. Has the Minister told the House what financial assistance the States are to get? Wot at all! He said that it will he a matter of agreement from year to year between the Commonwealth and each State. If honorable members examine the bill, they will find that there is no question of agreement. The Commonwealth will decide the matter. What happens is that the Commonwealth says to the States, “ Here is your money. If you do not like it, you will get nothing from the Commonwealth. You either accept our figure or you get nothing at all.” For the financial year 1954-55, the New South Wales Government expected to obtain £12,000,000 from this Govern ment for housing. That is the amount that was promised, but New South Wales received only £10,800,000. This Government had begun to put the financial squeeze on the States, and there is n« doubt that it did so by breaking the agreement that Labour entered into with the States and which this Government was expected to honour.
I shall now discuss what the Government proposes to do in relation to thicooperative building societies. It ha.put forward an amazing proposition, lt says that it believes in home-ownership, and then it provides that, of the money* given to the States for housing purposes, for the first two years, 20 per cent, is to be allocated to the co-operative building societies, and that for the next three yearsof this five-year agreement 30 per cent, shall be allocated to them. Will that arrangement provide one more home for the home-hungry people of this country f
– Of course, it will noi. How can the allocation to the cooperative societies of 20 per cent, for the first two years, and of 30 per cent, for the next three years, of the money provided for the States for home-building purpose.mean the provision of more homes? If it is necessary to reduce the amount that is allocated to the State housing commissions in order to provide finance for tincooperative building societies, how will the total number of homes constructed be increased? Let the Government not imagine for one moment that the Australian Labour party does not recognize the great work that is being done by tincooperative building societies. We have no objection to their being provided with money in order to speed up the construction of homes for their members, but we argue that to take money from the Statehousing commissions in order to help the co-operative societies does not help the overall situation. The Minister, when referring to the encouragement of homeownership, said -
Wo have given expression to this policy in the amendment of the 1945 agreement under which tenants could purchase their homes upon favorable terms.
He was referring to an amendment to which the Parliament agreed last year. and which provided that occupants of homes constructed under the agreement by the respective State housing commissions could purchase those homes on favorable terms. One would imagine that this Government had done that of its own free will, but that is not so. It is time that under the original agreement, homes could be purchased only if the occupant or the successful applicant could pay the whole amount involved in cash.
– That was a Labour agreement.
– That is quite true, but let me remind the honorable gentleman that until 1955, that is, six years after it assumed office, this Government did nothing to change the situation. When it did alter the arrangement in 1955, it did not do so because it wanted to but because of pressure that had been applied by the Labour governments of New South Wales and Victoria. The Labour governments in those two great States put pressure on the Commonwealth and compelled it to amend the agreement in order to give people an opportunity to purchase these homes on terms. It is, therefore, of no use for the Minister for the Interior to talk about the action of the Government in giving to the occupants of these homes the opportunity to become the owners of them, as if the Government were responsible for the action taken.
Let us further examine what the Government proposes to do. The Minister seems to think that there is a lot of merit in the fact that the building societies charge a much higher deposit than is ordinarily charged by the housing commissions or other home-building organizations. He said -
In addition, the larger deposits commonly paid by building society members mean that more houses will be financed with a given sum than if that sum were made available through State housing authorities.
Did any one ever hear a more stupid argument? Actually, the higher the deposit is, the less likely it is that people on lower incomes will be able to purchase these hernes. The Minister ought to take his argument to its logical conclusion and say that, if purchasers had to pay double the deposit that is now required by the co-operative societies, the societies would be able to build still more homes. The Minister said that a revolving fund is to be introduced and that the repayments, as well as the grants through the Commonwealth scheme, are to go into the fund. I agree that co-operative building societies are doing a great job, but theirfacilities are not available to every Aus? tralian family. Under the agreement moneys advanced to the States are to be repaid over a period of 53 years and the advances made to the co-operative building societies by the States, on the Minister’s own admission, will probably be repaid over 31 years. It must be obvious, therefore, that the repayments under the co-operative building societies scheme will be much higher than they would be if they were payments made in respect to homes built by a State housing commission.
The Government also proposes to increase the interest rate. Under our agreement, State governments and State housing commissions received their financial assistanc from the Commonwealth at the rate of 3 per cent. Now,, that rate is to be increased to 4 per cent. lt is quite obvious that that will mean higher rents for the people in the various States in respect of homes constructed by the housing commissions. It will be higher still in respect of homes built through co-operative building societies because the co-operative building societies will be obliged to pay 4f per cent. Weare not the only people who hold the view that the housing situation is not assisted by giving to co-operative building societies a proportion of the money that would normally go to the States. I suggest to the honorable member for Hume that he get the Sydney Morning Herald of the 4th October, 1955. In it he will see a statement by Mr. S. D. Kennedy, who is president of the Master Builders Federation. He said -
More money and the co-operation of alt people concerned is the only solution to Australia’s housing problem. It is not enough todivert money from housing commissions to cooperative building societies.
That statement was not made by a trade union leader; it was made by the leader of an employers’ federation in the building industry. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his policy speech at the 195fr election, promised a new housing agreement with more money for the States at a favorable interest rate. I ask the Minister : If the States are to get more money under this agreement, why does not he indicate at least what they will get in the first year? But he has not told us, because it has to be by agreement.
To give an idea of what the increased interest rate under this agreement will mean to the Australian community, it is necessary to consider only a £3,000 home. With the present high cost of construction, a £3,000 home is not a very elaborate structure, but the 1 per cent, increase in interest will mean an increase of lis. 6d. a week in the rental or repayments. Surely this Government will agree that if there is one activity that can be financed at a low rate of interest by the Commonwealth Bank, it is home-construction. What has the bank to lose? Everybody knows that when it advances money for home-construction, particularly when the bank’s officers supervise the construction to see that it is properly built by first-rate tradesmen, and it has its security in the home, the bank does not run any risk at all. In my opinion, it could make advances for home construction at a nominal rate of interest and then as the repayments were made to the bank, they could be used to discharge the debt or for further advances. But, of course, this Government would regard that as revolutionary,
I ask the Minister : What is to happen when the old agreement ceases to exist? No longer will there be any rental rebates. That means that whatever is determined to be the economical rental, which will be based on the actual cost of construction, must be paid by the person who occupies the home, unless the State governments themselves are prepared to continue the rebate system.- Everybody knows that because of financial stringency the States will be unable to do that. Under the rebate system, a basic wage earner who has no family income other than the basic wage can get a home valued at approximately £3,000 for £2 10s. 6d. a week. Having regard to existing rentals, that is regarded as very reasonable. When we introduced the rental-rebate system we worked on the principle that only one- fifth of the family income ought to be required to meet the rental of the accommodation that was occupied. We decided on a system where, if the family income was even less than the basic wage greater assistance was given than that afforded to other occupants of these homes. This made it possible for widows with young dependent families to occupy these homes. If the family income was above the prevailing basic wage, the occupant paid more.
There is no doubt in the world that Liberal governments support a policy of higher rentals. It does not matter in what direction we look, we have evidence to support this contention. Liberals in this Parliament and in the Victorian Parliament were protesting against the activities of housing commissions because, they said, rentals were kept too low. When the Bolte Liberal Government was elected in Victoria, almost immediately it revised the rentals of housing commission homes and increased them by amounts of approximately 18s. to 29s. a week. The people of this country now know what to expect from LiberalAustralian Country party governments.
In my opinion, there ought to be no limit on the amount of finance provided to the States for housing. I believe that what was provided in the Labour party’s agreement ought to be retained and the States should be encouraged to build as many homes as it is physically possible for them to build. They should be assisted, also, to continue the rental-rebate system so that these homes will be available to people in the community in the very lowest income bracket. Under the old agreement, a proportion of any losses thai were sustained in carrying out the agree- ment was met by the Commonwealth. Speaking from memory, I think that the proportions were three-fifths by the Commonwealth and two-fifths by the States. The existing agreement will expire on the 30th June. I ask the Minister whether that means that the Government will no longer continue to assist the States in meeting the losses in regard to rental rebates on the homes that have already been constructed under the old agreement and that are already occupied. Does it mean that, the States will be forced not only to have no rental rebate system for new construction but to abandon the rental rebate system for homes already occupied ?
I believe that any honorable member who reviews this matter in a reasonable light will admit that this Government is taking a retrograde step. We, in this Parliament, hear a great deal about the menace of communism. If anything is likely to combat communism in this country, it is to give the people an opportunity to own their homes and live in them under decent conditions. But this Government does not propose to do that. It only becomes interested when some financial group can be given the opportunity to exploit the Australian community. It does not believe in rent control. AntiLabour majorities in the various upper chambers in this country have shown that. When State Labour governments have endeavoured to provide assistance to people on high rentals, anti-Labour majorities in the nominee upper chambers have prevented them from doing it. This Government would like to see the activities of housing commissions stopped completely. The Minister forthe Army (Mr. Cramer), who is interested in the estate agency business, would like to see the housing commissions go out of existence completely.
– Hear, hear!
– The Minister says., “ Hear, hear ! “ He would like to see the housing field left exclusively to private enterprise, as Government supporters term it. Let me tell honorable members opposite that if they pursue their policy, which means forcing up rentals and denying the homehungry people the opportunity of getting their own homes, then they “are doing more to foster the growth of communism in this country than any other agency that operates at the moment. “The Australian Labour party believes that people should not only be encouraged to secure their own homes, but they should be assisted financially to obtain them. How are people today, especially men with young families, to obtain £200 or : £300 for a deposit on a home, when they are faced with high living costs? In my opinion this Government has followed a policy designed to destroy the activities of the government housing authorities in the States. I appeal to all honorable members in this chamber to place the interests of the country above everything else. I suggest that honorable members should force a revision of this agreement, and that they should support and not retard the State governments in their efforts to provide homes for the people. Protests have been made against this proposed agreement, not only by Labour governments of the States, but also by antiLabour Premiers. Let the Government recast this agreement. Let it renew and extend the agreement that was entered into by a Labour government. If it did so, it would be taking a practical step towards the solution of our housing problem.
.- The House has again had to listen to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) ranting in his usual style.
– Deal with the facts !
– I shall deal with the facts in no uncertain terms. We have listened to the honorable member for East Sydney ranting in the usual style of the avowed socialist, in a manner calculated to mislead the people of Australia about this vital and important question. Much of the matter that the honorable member used was completely distorted. His practice is to keep placing his view before us with a continuous stream of words, and he is not prepared to listen to an intelligent interruption designed to bring him back to the subject being debated.
– Does the Minister object to interruptions?
– No, I do not object to interruptions. A great deal of misunderstanding has been caused throughout Australia because of the kind of ranting speech that we have just heard from the honorable member for East Sydney.I shall reply to one of the misleading statements that he made, and this should satisfy honorable members that his statements generally are misleading. He said that when a Labour government was in office it did more towards housing the people of Australia than this Government has done.
– We gave the States what they asked for.
– The Labour government gave the States what they asked for?
– The honorable member for East Sydney indicated that when the war had concluded, the Labour Government then in power, and which remained in power until the present Government took office, attacked the housing problem vigorously and achieved more in its efforts to solve the problem than this Government has done. Let us consider the figures in this regard. .From June, 1945, until June, 1949, during the term of office of a Labour government, the Australian population increased by 621,000 persons. During that time, 1.45,000 dwellings were completed, at the rate of one dwelling for every 4.3 persons included in the population increase.
– Whose figures are those?
– These are the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures. Since the present Government has been in office, the population has increased by 1,250.000 persons, and the number of new dwellings completed has been 4S5,000. which is at the rate of one dwelling for every 2.6 persons making up the increase in the population. If those figures do not dispose of the honorable member’s argument, I do not know what would.
The honorable member also said that th.13 Government had failed to honour the old agreement, entered into by the previous Labour Government, to provide all the money required by the State governments. We all know that the amount of money to be provided each year for the States under the old agreement was determined at annual meetings of the Australian Loan Council, whose members are mainly the State Premiers. When the Australian Loan Council is calculating the amount of money required by the States for all purposes, it makes a determination of the amount required for housing purposes. The amount is, therefore, determined by the State Premiers themselves, and not by this Government. The new agreement does not depart from that principle. It provides that, each year, at the meeting of the Australian
Loan Council, the amount of money to be provided for housing under the agreement will be determined by the council. That disposes of another argument of the honorable member for East Sydney.
The main burden of the speech of the honorable member was that the housing position in Australia is tragic. He directed attention to many very serious aspects of the problem. He referred, for instance, to people living in garages. We all know that the Australian Labour party wants the old agreement to be renewed. I say to the people of Australia, and to all honorable members in this House, that the old agreement was designed by the Labour party for the purpose of socializing the housing industry in Australia to the extent that everybody in the country would eventually be brought to his knees as a tenant of one or other of the State governments. That was the purpose of the agreement. The honorable member said, also, that the interest rate provided in that agreement, negotiated by the Labour party, was 3 per cent. That is simply not true. The interest rate provided in the old agreement was based on the prevailing longterm interest rate. It is this Government that has maintained the interest rate at 3 per cent., which happened to be the long-term rate at the time when the agreement was entered into.
The old Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement has been the means of preventing j-eople throughout Australia from obtaining homes. It is because of the socialist approach of the Labour party at the time the agreement was negotiated, and of the socialist approach of State Labour governments, that the people today are suffering as they are, not so much from the shortage of homes, but because they cannot get them. That has been brought about by the maldistribution of homes that have already been built. I make this statement, and I cai: prove it: If it were not for the socialist legislation of the previous Labour Government, and the socialist legislation of Labour governments in the States, every person in Australia to-day would be living in a home.
The human suffering and tragedy throughout the country, resulting from the shortage of homes, are, I admit, terrible things. They affect particularly the young married people, and not the people who have been living in homes and receiving financial protection since 1939. Those people feel no hardship, but it is impossible for young married people to find homes. The injury that has been caused to this country because of the deferment of marriages and the destruction of potential families can be attributed to the Labour Government’s socialist administration. The country has paid a great price economically for the socialist policy pursued by the previous Labour Government. The people have been dissuaded from investing in the building industry. The socialist policy of the Labour government, and the policy of investment control followed now by State Labour governments, have had the result that no person in Australia to-day would dare invest his money in rent-producing property. The confidence of the Australian people in investment has been destroyed, so that they will not now invest even in Commonwealth loans. The people now are obliged to depend on governments for their housing requirements, whereas with a proper and normal free economy the savings of the people should be invested in such pursuits as house building. These savings are going not into loans, but into cash-order companies, motor cars and similar things which are contributing to inflation and destroying Australia’s economy. These tendencies can be laid at the door of the Labour party.
I point out to honorable members that 80 per cent, of those who are receiving the benefit of rent controls in the Labour States can well afford to pay the economic rent, which is, instead, being paid by young people who are being denied Housing Commision homes. What of the property-owners who have contributed to the establishment of the rental properties throughout Australia ? They have been literally robbed for the nine or ten years that these controls have been in operation. I do not, of course, speak of the war period. One can estimate that the economic rent of which they have been robbed amounts to something like £560,000,000. Honorable members opposite call that justice!
I want now to quote some more statistics which the honorable member for East Sydney cannot reject. They show that in 1947 there was one dwelling for every four people in Australia. If one takes the census figures as at June, 1954, and allows for the increased population to December, 1955, one finds that to-day there is one home for every three and a half people; but the shortage continues to worsen. That is an extraordinary thing.
– The Minister has said that twice.
– I shall continue to say it. Why is there a greater shortage of housing than there was in 1947, though there are in fact more houses proportionately to the population? Western Australia is the only State where the rent-control system does not operate. Controls were gradually removed by the former Liberal government after wagepegging ended in 1947. Though in Western Australia there are fewer houses on a per capita basis than there are in any other State except Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory, it has no housing problem. On the other hand, New South Wales and Victoria have more houses per capita than any of the other States. New South Wales, which has the greatest proportion of houses, has the greatest apparent housing shortage. Surely the honorable member for East Sydney will ask himself why this extraordinary anomaly exists.
– How many houses does the Minister own?
– I have one, .and I live in that. In 1947, there were 856,917 privately owned and rented houses in Australia. Between 1947 and December, 1955, the various governments built 90,000 houses, but during the same period 104,000 rental houses were sold. In other words, existing owners of rented houses have been selling their houses at a faster rate than housing commissions can build houses for rental. In those circumstances, there must always be an apparent shortage of houses. It is safe to say that, if the figures were brought up to date, we should find that 150,000 rental houses would by now have been sold. As time goes on the number of homes available for rental, including those built by the housing commissions, will be fewer and fewer until the stage is reached at which the people will have disposed of all houses owned for rental. That is the result of controls.
Another extraordinary figure which the people generally do not appreciate is that in June, 1954, according to the census, there were 112,594 unoccupied houses. Any one who knows anything about the matter will realize that any person in the controlled States who has got possession of his property since that date will not have re-let it. Therefore, it is safe to say that at least 150,000 houses are vacant in Australia now because the owners will not, by re-letting, allow themselves to be tied up by government controls. These are extraordinary figures when one considers that in 1947 there were only 47,000 unoccupied homes. They show, beyond possible refutation, that the control system is making it impossible for people to get houses for rental.
– Where are these empty houses ?
– Order I
– I am constantly being asked to find houses for people.
– Order 1 The honorable member will obey the Chair.
– This quite different legislation has been brought down because the Government believes in home ownership instead of the encouragement of a house-renting community. The bill makes history in Australia in that it offers direct legislative encouragement of home ownership. No previous government has, by legislation, subsidized home ownership, but that is what this bill does. Honorable members will concede that during the six years for which I have been a member of this Parliament, I have made speech after speech advocating home ownership as against the idea, which the Labour party wishes to perpetuate, of a tenancy community under government control. It is a tragedy that in Australia more than 500,000 citizens are to-day tenants of various governments. That is not the kind of life that the Australian people wish to lead.
Great credit is due to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) because he has strenuously held out for the principles that are embodied in the bill. He has insisted that at least 20 per cent, of the money that is to be provided in the first two years, and 30 per cent, of that to be provided in the next three years shall be devoted to home ownership. I sincerely hope that as time goes on more and more money will be provided from this source, at subsidized interest rates, for the encouragement of home ownership in Australia. Only in that way shall we continue to build up a community of home owners - the greatest possible answer to Communism and all the other ills that to-day affect our country. So, one can look at the features of this bill and be proud to belong to a government that will blaze the trail and introduce a measure of this kind.
The honorable member for East Sydney dealt with the question of rebates. The States are provided with plenty of money and there is nothing to stop them from doing whatever they wish to do in connexion with rebates. There is nothing to prevent a State from carrying on its rebates. Under the old agreement they were providing two-fifths of the money for rebates. One of the features of this bill is that it does not interfere in any shape or form with the right of the States to lay down their own principle in relation to how, and on what conditions, they let the houses that they build with this money. The subsidy provided is per cent, on interest rates up to 4-J per cent, and 1 per cent, on any interest rate over the long-term bond rate of 4£ per cent. Surely it is appreciated by the honorable member for East Sydney that this money is being provided out of the pockets of the rest of the people of Australia by way of taxes. Surely he does not want to go further than that. Surely that is a fair thing.
One of the other great features of this bill is that it creates the principle of a revolving fund. This principle was sneered at by the honorable member for East Sydney. Yet it is a grand principle. “Whilst the term of loans for house construction may be 21 years or longer, if the honorable member knows anything about building societies he will know that the building societies have the greater part of their money paid off long before the full time has expired. Many people, during the course of their lives, find it quite easy to pay off the balance that they owe. “When that money is repaid to the building society, it goes back into the fund to be lent to others. That is the principle of the revolving fund and it is an excellent one.
Another good feature of the bill is the fact that it prohibits State governments from building shops with the money that is allocated to them. Many of the State governments have been building investment shops instead of spending the the money, as they ought to spend it, on homes for the people. Another very important fact is that the construction of those huge flats that will develop into the slums of the future will not be allowed, except in certain cases by agreement with the Commonwealth.
Another feature to which I want to direct attention is that the acquisition of land by resumption or purchase must be on just terms. Up to this point, State Labour governments have been prepared literally to go along like Ned Kelly and take people’s property away from them. But if they resume property under the provisions of this bill, they must do so in accordance with the Commonwealth Constitution, on just terms.
Again, one of the great features of this bill is that it gives legislative recognition to the part that building societies play in Australia. Surely, anybody who knows anything about building societies is aware that the building societies have done a magnificent job in the provision of homes in Australia, particularly in New South Wales and in Victoria. T hope that any other State which does not have the building societies will, as a result of this legislation, see that a. building society movement is established in order that it may receive the benefit that has accrued to the people of New South Wales and Victoria.
On the whole, this is a grand bill, lt establishes a grand principle. The only complaint I have is that it might have provided more money for the building societies and less money for the housing commission. After all, it is important, in my view - and I believe the people think it is important - to encourage home-ownership, to give people a stake in this country, and to give encouragement to young married people to start a home in the proper way. After all, what is a home ? It is not merely a shelter above a person’s head. It is a nucleus, and the place where the ideals of a nation are nurtured, where love, affection and human feeling are expressed.
– Cheer up !
– I am not being very mournful about it. Few people seem to appreciate the importance of home ownership. Wherever possible, we should build home units and encourage thi: development of families. Labour has destroyed the possibilities of creating families. A proper home-ownership policy should encourage young people to get a home together and have a stake in it and fight for it. Then they will be prepared to work for it and they will not be prepared to tie themselves up with socialist theories and Communist principles that are adopted by the Labour party. In that way we will get a greater Australia and a better Australia in every respect.
The Government’s objective in introducing this legislation is almost wholly to achieve that purpose. We are doing the very best that can be done with the economy of Australia. We have shown quite conclusively that the number of homes we have built since we have been in power is enormous compared with the number built by any government in the history of this country, both under this type of legislation and under war service homes legislation. We know that a tremendous amount remains to be done. It is on the firm foundations of home-ownership that we shall build the kind of country that we want. After all, we in this country are responsible for laying the foundations of a great new nation. Is not the responsibility on us to see that that foundation is laid properly, with the proper ideas for tinfuture?
If this country is to contain 40,000,000 or 50,000,000 people in future everything depends upon the kind of basis that we establish now. Because of that, a bill such as this is very important since it establishes the principle of the encouragement of home-ownership. My only hope is that we may extend that principle. No government can do as the honorable member for East Sydney suggested. One cannot endlessly give money. It is not money that is the limiting factor in Australia. The limiting factor is the supply of labour and materials. While this Government has been in power every ounce of labour that could be employed in the building industry has been employed in the construction of homes. We know that that is so. Under this legislation more homes will be built because the Government will not be compelled to provide the whole of the money for them. The people themselves will provide some of the money. If honorable members will refer to the speech of the Minister who introduced this bill in another place, it will show them that the people who are availing themselves of the finance of the building societies are the working people of Australia, not the rich people, as the honorable member for East Sydney tried to imply. Let honorable members examine the list. It includes such people as fitters, storemen, turners, boilermakers, bootmakers and plumbers.
I have had a lot of experience in this matter. I know that the people who are availing themselves of finance from building societies are the working people of Australia who should be encouraged to own their own homes. For far too long in the history of this and other democratic countries of the world that right has been denied to a lot of workers. Instead of castigating this bill as the honorable member for East Sydney did and as I suppose other members of the
Opposition will continue to do, they should eulogize the principle to which it gives effect and ask that it be extended. I a.m not opposed to the subsidy in cases where the need exists. I have no objection te that. But we must develop citizenship that is responsible and thai can only be done by establishing the principle under which people own their homes and do not live in a home in which they are subject, as tenants, to the government. If hundreds of thousands of houses were owned by the government, the amount of maintenance required would be enormous, the size of the government departments that would be necessary for administrative purposes would be staggering, and the economiclosses would be tremendous. It is about time we realized that we ought to get back on to the line and ensure that the people of Australia are not made subservient to socialist governments, and that they are allowed to preserve their freedom and their right as citizens to own a part of Australia. It is in that spirit that I support this bill and congratulate the Minister and the Government on taking the historic step of initiating, preserving and encouraging home-ownership throughout Australia..
.- Tonight, we heard the same speech delivered by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) as we have heard from him for the last six years. As a matter of fact, I have heard it so many times that I can almost recite it myself, but in the last six years, during his membership of the Parliament, the Minister for the Army should have learned a few things. He should have learned that the State housing commissions were established in the first place to provide homes for those persons who were not able even to provide deposits for the purchase of homes. When the Minister spoke about socialists being responsible for the system of wholesale rentals under the housing commission system he was indicting the Victorian Country party. I want the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) to listen to these observations, because it was a Country party government in Victoria which constituted the Victorian
Housing Commission, and nobody in his wildest dreams could say that the socalist theme dominates Country party thinking in Victoria. As a matter of fact, it was the late Sir Albert Dunstan who realized that the housing position in Victoria was so bad because so many people in the lower income group could not, because of economic circumstances, provide the money to purchase homes, and it was a Country party government in Victoria which decided to establish the Victorian Housing Commission. Later, in 1955, housing commission responsibilities were met under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. However, for the first four years, money for housing commission purposes was provided from the funds raised by the Victorian Parliament, and anybody who suggests seriously that that was the result of a socialist dream is only talking so much balderdash. That is one of .the few decent things I have ever known the Country party in Victoria to do, and it was done by Mr. Dunstan.
– Sir Albert Dunstan.
– I should have said “ Sir Albert Dunstan “. However, the Minister for the Army is apparently unaware of the fact that that was the basis for the establishment of the housing commission. For example, after 1932 private enterprise did not build any houses for the lower income groups in Victoria, because it found that to do so was not profitable.
– What rot!
– I am talking about the lower income groups and what I say is not rot. An examination of the Victorian building statistics from 1932 onwards will show that the landlords decided, as a result of their experiences during the depression, that as so little money was to be made by building homes for rental, they would not continue to put their money into that form of investment, and I cannot blame them. They decided to divert their activities from the building of houses for the lower income group to the building of luxury flats. The provision of homes for rental by the lower income group in Victoria virtually ceased in 1932 because of the effects of the depression.
The House is considering the Housing Agreement Bill. When we use the term “ agreement “ we naturally imply that the signatories have agreed upon terms. As a matter of fact, none of the States is happy about the terms of this particular agreement. None of them has signed, but all will sign under duress, because they have no alternative. They will all be dragooned into the agreement because, as States, they have no chance of raising for themselves the necessary funds. They do not have at their disposal the Commonwealth’s loan-raising facilities, and if they did nut accept the terms of the agreement they would be forced to raise money on their own account. Therefore, it can be said that the States are facing Hobson’s choice.
The first bad effect of this bill is that it will accentuate the difficulties of the States in providing homes for the lower income group in the community. Housing commissions were first formed to meet the needs of that section. In Victoria, for example, the relevant State act, which was passed in 1941 by a Country party government, provides that “ the commission shall build dwellings for persons who, by reason of their financial circumstances, are in need of assistance in their housing problems “. That is the purpose for which the housing commission in Victoria was formed, but the Minister for the Army has no conception of the position of the lower income group in the community, the members of which cannot find the deposit with which to purchase a home. Sir Albert Dunstan, who was the Country party leader in Victoria in 1941 thought along similar lines, and that is why the words I have quoted were embodied in the Victorian legislation. The present Liberal Government in Victoria, despite the fact that it is of the same political kidney as this Government, does not think much of certain sections of this bill. What did Mr. Rylah, the acting Liberal Premier of Victoria say about it? The Melbourne Sun of last Friday, reporting on his comments, states -
The Acting Premier, Mr. Rylah, said last night, “ I view the Commonwealth’s nocompromise attitude to the new housing agreement with the gravest concern. It will mean the end of the rental-rebate .system, and I don’t know how we are going to provide homes for people of low and moderate means.”
That is what Mr. Rylah, Acting Premier of Victoria, and a member of the same Liberal party to which honorable members opposite belong, thinks of the bill. It will cut right across one of the main objects of the housing agreement which was first formulated in 1945. The rental rebate provision is to be deleted from the agreement. The Victorian Government, because of the position of its finances, did not go behind the door to say that it will not have the money to provide for the rebate system if provision is not made for financing that system in the bill. It will have the greatest difficulty in providing homes at low rentals for persons on low and moderate incomes.
The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) appeared to be extraordinarily complacent about the housing problem. He said that the lag is being overtaken at the rate of about 20,000 homes a year. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) in another place said that the problem would be solved in two years, but the Minister for the Army, who has just spoken, said that a tremendous amount of work will have to be done before the problem is solved. Who is right? One the one hand, one Minister says that the problem will be solved in two years. On the other hand, the Minister for the Army, who at all times has claimed that he knows more about housing than any other honorable member of the House, says, in the light of his expert knowledge, that a tremendous amount of work remains to be done.
The Government bases its claim of success in this field on the fact that it has completed 80,000 homes in each of the last four years. It is said that as the current annual need is 57,000 homes, the lag is being overtaken at the rate of more than 20,000 homes a year. This is specious reasoning which will not bear examination, because a cold study of housing statistics reveals that not only are we building insufficient houses to meet the post-war shortage, but we are also getting more and more into arrears each year. Eleven years ago the Commonwealth
Housing Commission reported that by the end of 1955 a minimum of 700,000 houses would have to be built in order to meet requirements. This estimate was made without taking into consideration the immigration policy, which had not then been formulated. Since the estimate was made, about 1,075,000 immigrants have come to this country. They are arriving at the rate of about 125,000 a year. The commission estimated - and these figures were never disputed even by honorable members opposite when the report was debated in this House - that Australia was 300,000 houses short of requirements in 1945. Up to this month, approximately 575,000 houses have been constructed since 1945. That is 125,000 short of the target, without taking into consideration the requirements of the 1,000,000 immigrants we have received. If we allow four immigrants to a house, yet another 250,000 houses are required. With the 125,000 already in arrears, this means that we are now 375,000 homes in arrears, as compared with 300,000 ten years ago. The unpalatable fact is that, at the present rate of building, we shall never catch up.
It seems to he the fashion this evening to cite official statistics. The Minister for the Army threw out his chest cited some statistics, and thought that was the end of the argument. I propose to quote a few figures from the Quarterly Bulletin of Building Statistics issued by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics in Canberra. In this publication there is a graph, which any honorable member who so desires may study afterwards. It shows that from 1950-51 to the end of the financial year 1954-55, new homes have been constructed at the rate of between 70,000 and 85,000 a year. The rate has been mostly less than 85,000, but occasionally it has reached a peak at this figure. Surely to goodness we could expect the number of homes built in the last five years to have been increasing. We must remember that about 500,000 immigrants have come to Australia since 1950- 51. If about 68,000 houses were built in 1950-51, the rate of building should surely have been increased to 90,000 or even 100,000 homes a year in view of the increase of the population since. Despite the fact that 125,000 immigrants a year are being added to the population, only about 70,000 or 80,000 houses are being built each year. But that is not all. There is an even more disquieting feature. The graph shows that in one quarter of 1951-52 the number of new dwellings under construction reached a peak rate of about 85,000 a year. The number then began to decline, and it is still falling, as honorable members can see. Indeed, in December, 1955, it was at the lowest ebb since December, 1950. “We cannot expect to build 80,000 houses a year in the future if the number under construction continues to decline as it has been doing.
The dry and irrefutable statistics presented by this graph tell a story of human suffering, frustration, and downright tragedy. There is no need for me to expatiate on the tragic overcrowding in our cities. The Minister for the Army stated that the average standard of housing is better now than it was a few years ago. But averages conceal the true position. Although a great number of homes have been built for persons in the upper income bracket in the last few years - in the main, these dwellings will have only two inmates - the rate of construction of homes for persons in the lower income bracket has not kept up with the demand. I could give many illustrations of poor housing conditions, but I shall read only one report, which appeared in last Saturday morning’s Melbourne Sun, to illustrate the deplorable overcrowding in the great City of Melbourne, which, of course, is the best city in Australia. The report states -
Thirty apartment house inmates sharing one copper and one trough . . . Boarding houses so over-crowded that people share beds “ one after the other “.
These were some of the revelations made yesterday at a meeting of the Public Health Commission.
I could mention twenty instances like that, but there is no need for me to do so. Reports of such conditions appear in the newspapers every day.
It has been quite fashionable for Government supporters, particularly the Minister for the Army, to make slighting references to State housing commissions. I can speak with some authority about the Victorian Housing Commission, because I have, for many years, taken a great deal of interest in its work. As I mentioned earlier, it was empowered by legislation enacted by the Victorian Parliament to build homes for people whose financial circumstances left them in need of help in the solution of their housing problems. Government supporters cannot understand that the housing commissions were established to construct homes for people in the lower income group, and that they should perform that function under present conditions. I admit that the policy of the Victorian Housing Commission may be justifiably criticized in some respects, but, in the main, it has been extraordinarily successful. The chief shortcoming - and the commission is not to blame for it - is that it has been unable to provide sufficient homes for the people who seek them. Up to the present time, it has constructed approximately 30,000 homes at a cost of £68,000,000. If has satisfied a great need, but the present rate of building is not appreciably overtaking the shortage. The lag will be even greater in the future, because 20 per cent, of the funds provided under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement will now be diverted from housing commissions, which have had the benefit of them during the last ten years. Let us forget all the eye-wash about the housing shortage being overtaken in two years. In 1953, there was a waiting list of 11,000 people seeking homes from the Victorian Housing Commission. Last Friday, I obtained the latest figures from the commission, which informed me that last week the waiting list was 12,000. It has increased by 1,000 in three years, despite the fact, that 80,000 houses a year are being built. The diversion from the housing commissions of 20 per cent, of the funds provided under this measure will accentuate the problem of providing homes for people with limited incomes. I cannot point out too frequently that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was originally formulated to help the people with limited incomes.
The Australian Labour party is not opposed to home ownership. At every stage of its political existence it has supported a policy of encouraging homeownership. It is the ambition of most people to acquire their own home and to enjoy the feeling of contentment which, very understandably, results from homeownership. It gives a pride of possession and a feeling that the owner has a real stake in the community. This has a very marked effect upon the individual and national morale. Knowing that, the New South Wales and Victorian Labour governments, about a year ago, approached the Commonwealth for an amendment of the housing agreement to permit people to purchase homes from the State housing authorities on terms. As a consequence, the agreement now permits a very suitable arrangement under which tenants can buy homes on a deposit of 5 per cent, of the first £2,000 of the purchase price, plus 10 per cent, of the excess over £2,000, with a minimum deposit of £200. One would have expected tenants of housing commission dwellings to jump at the chance to obtain houses on these terms, but, in Victoria, it has been found that the deposit required is too great, although the tenant has the opportunity to acquire a sound, well-constructed home at a very reasonable price, which is assessed at a figure half way between the cost of the dwelling and its present value.
Of the 30,000 tenants of housing commission homes in Victoria, only 676 have paid deposits for the purchase of the homes they occupy. The housing commission is waiting for another 600 to pay their deposits, and another 3,000 have applied for a sale price quotation, although the commission does not expect to make sales to many of them, because although the quotations were made many months ago, they have not yet taken action. At the present time, only 1,276 out of 30,000 housing commission tenants have undertaken the purchase of the. homes they occupy, although housing commission homes are available on infinitely better terms than are afforded by cooperative building societies. Very low deposits are required for housing commission dwellings. I understand from the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) that the position in New South Wales is similar. In these circumstances, many thousands of people are condemned to pay rent without, the slightest prospect of ever owning their own homes.
Applications for the rental of homes from the Victorian Housing Commission are flowing in at the rate of 300 a week - 200 from the Melbourne metropolitan area, and 100 from country areas. Thesis figures also were given to me last Friday by the Victorian Housing Commission. The large number of applications for housing commission homes in Victoria is undoubtedly due to the concentration of immigrants in that State. A question was asked recently in the Victorian Parliament about the number of immigrants concentrated in the State. These figures were given by the Victorian Minister for Housing and Immigration. Up to the present, of the 1,000,000 immigrants who have come to Australia, 407,964, or about 40 per cent., have gone to Victoria. It is estimated that at least 70 per cent, of the immigrants who have gone to Victoria have gone to the metropolitan area of Melbourne. So we see the gigantic problem that faces the authority in Melbourne responsible for providing accommodation, not only for immigrants, but also for native-born Australians. But, despite the great handicap that has been imposed on the Victorian Housing Commission by the concentration of immigrants in Melbourne, we find that its allocation of funds is to be cut down from £10,000,000 to £S,000,000. It was building about 4,000 houses a year, but in future it will be able to build only about 3,000 a year.
I have always supported co-operative housing societies. When two of them were launched in my suburb, I attended their meetings and made public appeals for people to join. On several occasions, I have approached banking institutions for increases of overdrafts for cooperative housing societies. Therefore, I have some knowledge of their activities. I pay a tribute to the splendid work that they have done in relation to homebuilding. But the shortage of houses for people in the low income group is so pronounced that there should be no diminution of the funds made available to State housing commissions.
The allocation to the co-operative housing societies should be made as an addition to the allocations for housing commissions. In Victoria, unless a man has at least £800 he has no chance at all of getting a co-operative house. On top of that, he has to go to an uncivilized area, so to speak, where there are no roads or footpaths - an area similar to that in which, I understand, the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) resides. Then, later on, he has to pay for the provision of sewerage facilities and for street construction, which involves him in an additional expenditure of between £400 and £500. So we see that before a man buys a house through a co-operative housing society, he must be sure that he will be able to keep up the payments, which are fairly high, because the loan is repayable over a comparatively brief period.
I should like to know whether this Government has considered seriously the effect that a reduction of the allocation to State housing commissions will have on people in the lower income group. Those people have only one chance of getting a house - -that is, through a housing commission. This bill will have tragic consequences for future occupants of homes, who, because of their economic circumstances, should be catered for under a rebate system. Under the present scheme, which has worked very well, widows and pensioners can obtain premises at rents in keeping with their meagre incomes, but that will not be possible in future unless the State governments come to their aid.
The Liberal Premier of Victoria has already said that he does not know from where the Victorian Government could get money to help those people. Therefore, I suggest that this Government have another look at the rebate system, especially as its most rabid supporters in Victoria are up in arms against the present proposals. Under the present rebate system in Victoria, a married couple in receipt of a pension pays from £1 to £1 5s. a week in rent, but, in future, unless the State government assumes some responsibility for them, such couples who are allocated houses will have to pay the economic rent, which will be between £4 and £5 a week. The Victorian Government will be unable to do anything for them. That means that we shall have in Victoria large colonies of tent-dwellers, possibly in the public parks, because, owing to the elimination of the rebate system, they will be unable to -pay the rent charged for a home.
The rebate system is to be eliminated. In addition, the increase of interest rates will have a deleterious effect. However, I shall not mention that matter now, because it was covered so adequately by the honorable member for East Sydney. For many people in the lower income group, this bill will make civilized housing a sheer impossibility. The present pegging of wages means that, in order to pay rent, many people will have to cut down on the necessaries of life.
I want to say something now about the provision relating to co-operative housing societies. The co-operative movement in Victoria, which has been in existence for the last eleven years, has been very successful. There are 266 co-operative societies in Victoria, which have borrowed £45,000,000 for their operations. The banks have advanced £41,000,000, and other financial bodies have advanced just on £4,000,000. Of the £41,000,000 provided by the banks, the Commonwealth Trading Bank, the Commonwealth Savings Bank and the State savings banksthe publicly owned banks - have provided £32,000,000. The contribution of only £9,000,000 by the other banks is evidence that the private banks have not bestirred themselves to help members of co-operative societies.
Since June, 1955, the Commonwealth Bank has advanced £2,200,000 to the cooperative movement in Victoria, whilst other institutions have provided only £650,000. So the pattern in Victoria now is the same as it was in the past. In New South Wales, there is a similar pattern. The Commonwealth Bank has advanced £57,000,000 of the £71,000,000 loaned by banking institutions to cooperative societies in that State. Other bodies have advanced £40,000,000. In New South Wales, from June, 1955, to the present time, the Commonwealth Bank has advanced £4,000,000 of the £4,300,000 loaned to co-operative building societies. Those figures are tangible evidence chat the Commonwealth Bank is carrying the co-operative movement at present.
That brings me to a point that I want to make. Has the Government ascertained what the attitude of the Commonwealth Bank is likely to be when £2,000,000 has been made available for co-operative housing in Victoria? I believe that the Government is selling a pup to the people of Australia in this regard. The Melbourne Herald recently published an article on housing, written by Bobin Boyd. He is regarded as a housing expert and he has written some very illuminating articles. In the course of his recent article in the Melbourne Herald, entitled “ Cash still the key to Housing “, he referred to co-operative societies. Thu is the very kernel of my argument. He stated -
To-day the Commonwealth Bank is virtually the only source of finance for cooperatives, and it lets out money sparingly - about £3,000,000 last year - strictly in accordance with what it imagines the building industry can absorb.
He was referring to Victoria.
And if a co-operative group did manage to raise money from another source, the Commonwealth Bank would reduce its own allowance accordingly.
That is the point I am making. Later in the article, he stated -
More finance from one source will be countered by a drying-up at another source.
I should like the Government to give a positive answer to this question : If, under this agreement, co-operative societies in Victoria receive £2,000,000 a year, will the Commonwealth Bank reduce its advances to them by £2,000,000 a year? I am glad to see the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) back in the chamber. A little while ago, quite unwittingly, he gave the show away. That was not the first time that he had done so. He stated that the limiting factor was not money, but labour and materials. That is the view of the Commonwealth Bank. If the Commonwealth Parliament allocates to co-operative housing societies in Victoria £2,000,000 a year will the Commonwealth Bank, in future, lend the Victorian cooperative movement £2,000,000 a year less than previously?
On the last occasion that I approached the Commonwealth Bank for a further advance to the Northcote Co-operative Housing Society, I was told that it was the policy of the central bank to make advances in conformity with the labour and materials available to the building industry. The bank takes the view that if too much money is pumped into the industry, prices will rise. The Minister for the Army said much the same thing earlier to-day, when he explained that, in his view, the limiting factor was not money, but labour and materials.
Everybody knows that, under present circumstances, the Commonwealth Bank, at the dictate of the Commonwealth Treasurer, determines the volume of credit which shall be directed to various activities. If the Commonwealth Bank considered that the availability of an additional £2,000,000 for housing would have an inflationary effect upon the building industry, what would there be to prevent it from decreasing its advances to co-operative housing societies by £2,000,000? Is there any guarantee that, when £2,000,000 has been made available by this Parliament to co-operative housing societies, that grant will not be off-set by the societies being deprived of £2,000,000 from another source? If the Commonwealth Bank acts in this respect as it has acted in the past it will mean that this agreement is not worth the paper it is printed on. It will mean that we shall not have more houses built by the co-operative societies, and it will mean also that 20 per cent, fewer houses will be built by the State housing authorities. The way in which the money market is manipulated to-day has aroused a real fear in the co-operative building society movement in Victoria. I have been approached by some very high officials of the co-operative movement in that State who have expressed to me this very fear, and have asked me to ask the Government whether it will give the movement a guarantee that it will not suffer from any diminution of the money it has been receiving from the Commonwealth Bank over the last few years, as a result of its receipt of £2,000,000 under this measure. If the Commonwealth Bank acts in the way I have mentioned and makes the usual amount available it will mean that it has altered its policy, because it has not acted in that way before. I have been told that- it is prepared to pump a certain amount of money into the industry in accordance with the labour and materials position in the industry at the time.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- This bill, as I saw it before the discussion to-night, was the product of conditions forced on the community by, I think, in the first place, the workings or, rather, the lack of working of an outworn constitution ; in the second place, by the difficulties stemming from uniform taxation; and, in the third place, by the direct application of the socialist objective to the human needs of a great number of people in the community. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) illustrated very well the truth of my statement about these conditions having been forced on the community as a result of constitutional difficulties and the difficulties arising from the system of uniform income tax. Under the Constitution the Commonwealth, if it ha.s power at all, has very limited power to make money available in respect of housing other than for defence purposes. I think it has been very rightly pointed out that, in fact, the Commonwealth is the one real revenue-raising authority in this country. The result of that fact is that we have the absurd and illogical position treated - and it, would be intensified if th<! Labour party’s policy as advanced by the honorable member for East Sydney were accepted - of the Australian Government raising funds over the spending of which it has no control, and the States using moneys for the raising of which they have no responsibility to the electors. Over the years the operation of the uniform income tax legislation has tended to destroy the sovereignty of the States and to turn a system of government, which we were once proud to refer to as a federal system of government, almost into that unitary system of government which the Labour party has always advo cated. It is, therefore, not astonishing that the honorable member for East Sydney, who led for the Opposition in this debate, devoted almost all of his argument to the one matter of the provision of funds. But, of course, anybody who has listened to the honorable member for East Sydney in this chamber on other occasions as well as on this occasion realizes that either the honorable member’s knowledge of finance is extremely limited, or that in debates in this chamber he deliberately evades the facts; because no sensible person in this community would suggest, as the honorable member for East Sydney suggested when he summarized his case, that if the Australian Government made available to the States unlimited finance for housing, it would thereby solve the housing problem. Nobody with the slightest knowledge of economics and of the conditions in this country would make such an absurd statement - in fact, such a dishonest statement.
The third factor, to which I want to refer only in passing, is that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945 was related to, but not based on, the report of the Housing Commission which was appointed by the then Labour government. I say that it was related to, but not based on, that report, because that commission advocated in its report that the Commonwealth should establish schemes for home-ownership. The operative clause in the 1945 bill provided that the Commonwealth should provide money to the States for rental bousing projects. It is true that in the agreement there was some provision for slum abolition. It is true also that in the agreement there was some provision for the sale of houses. But it is equally true that, under the practical working of the agreement over the years, in fact no slum abolition took place. In support of that contention, I quote an unchallenged authority on the Opposition side, the honorable member for East Sydney himself, who made that very statement an hour ago. No slum abolition took place and, in fact, no large number of houses was sold to the tenants. As the result of the determination of the Labour party to pursue its socialist objective by misusing the needs of the very sections of the community to which the Labour members who have spoken in this debate have referred, certain things, among other things, have happened. We have set up, all over Australia, various forms of building authorities. I am not familiar with the circumstances outside my own State, but I am familiar with the circumstances inside it, and it is true, as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has said, that the Victorian Housing Commission has built some 30,000 houses. It is equally true that, in a report prepared by that same commission some four years ago, it was made evident that the co-operative housing societies in Victoria could build, on an average, seven houses for every four built by the commission, for the same amount of money. I have represented a very large section of housing commission tenants for some years, and it is true also that because the commission is a huge government enterprise its administrative costs have been enormous compared with the administrative costs of co-operative building societies. It is true also that maintenance, in terms of the man-power, materials and money required, has been colossal. It is further true that in the desperate years of 1950 and 1951, in Victoria anyway, the commission, with the best of intentions, created bottlenecks in the building industry which retarded the construction of houses and factories, and delayed all sorts of building development, because the stores and yards of the commission were filled with vital materials which were then in short supply outside. In the aggregate, I think it is true to say that, over the ten years since the agreement was made in 1945. because of the insistence on the socialist, objective, because of the insistence on the rental projects, because of adherence to the policy expressed in the statement made, or alleged to have been marie by Mr. Dedman, who was owe, unfortunately, a mein ber of this House, that the Labour .party did nui want to create e more ‘ little < a pitalists “, ti e very people “.ho aic affected, and would have been affected by this legislation arc. available figures, something like 20,000 to 25,000 houses worse off. N”o one who is aware of the realities of the situation will challenge that assertion. My friend, the honorable member for Batman, made it perfectly plain that hf thought that the co-operative building societies should be encouraged. I shall accept correction if I am wrong, but J understood the honorable member for East Sydney to say that the co-operative building societies were the last organizations that he wanted to support. I should think that his attitude is nearer to Labour’s official attitude on this matter.
– The honorable member knows that that is quite untrue. I deliberately said that they should be assisted and financed, but not at the expense of .the State housing commissions.
– The honorable member is now adopting his old tactics of saying a certain thing on one occasion and of denying it on another. If I have a wrong understanding of his remarks, I am sure that most honorable members have an equally wrong understanding of them. If fault there be, it is the fault of the honorable member for East Sydney, who does not make himself clear.
– Must he speak to the lowest common denominator?
– The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), who is eager to buy into every dog fight that occurs, has been accommodated on some occasions, and has regretted his audacity. I hope that this will not be another occasion that he will regret. Having cleared up, with the assistance of the honorable member for East Sydney, the doubts that existed in my mind about his attitude on this matter, I wish to make one or two statements about the clause, which provides for the allocation to cooperative housing societies of 20 ner cent, of the funds made available for the first two years and 30 per cent, of the funds made available for the next three years. Both the honorable member for East Sydney and the honorable member for Batman attacked this clause. Actually, the honorable member for Batman said that he did not quarrel with it, but that he thought more money should be made available. His peculiar approach to financial questions is the same as that of the honorable member for East Sydney. They seem to suggest that one can build a house with mud, but every one knows that houses are built with bricks and mortar.
– The building industry is asking for more money.
– My genial friend from the north, the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts), comes in on this one. I accept his comment. It is true that the building industry asks for more money, but it is also true that every increase in the amount of money that has been made available for housing over the last ten years has resulted in a net increase of the cost of each house. In other words, unless governments or the institutions concerned have kept a close check on the amount of money expended on labour and materials, the cost of houses has progressively increased over that period. Nobody would challenge that statement. If the wild and fantastic theories advanced by the honorable member for East Sydney and the honorable member for Batman were adopted, the result would be not a substantial increase of the number of houses built but that the pumping of extra money into the industry would be expressed in terms of inflation and of a greater price per square.
I shall now return to the point that I was making earlier. I said that I thought this bill was a product of the times, and that it would have been forced on any other government that may have been in office at this time. I believe that, except to a minor degree, government assistance should be allocated to cooperative building societies. I believe also that the necessity for housing commissions to provide homes for rental by persons who cannot afford to purchase them is almost past. The co-operative housing society movement is an asset to the country, and I should like to indicate its effect on the economy. Tn Victoria, there are 283 co-operative building societies, consisting of 25,1 fiS members. It is expected that, principally as a result of this legislation, between 70 and 80 more societies will be formed in the next year. As far as I am able to ascertain from persons who are interested in this movement in Victoria, approximately 20,000 people are waiting for an opportunity to purchase their own homes. It is interesting to note that, to the end of March this year, 20,637 houses had been built through the co-operative building societies of Victoria, and that another 4,907 were under construction. The figures quoted by the honorable member for Batman indicate that, with all the government money that has been poured into the scheme, approximately 30,000 homes have been built by the Victorian Housing Commission. In a comparable period, private enterprise in the form of co-operative societies, which the Labour party surely does not oppose unitedly, built 25,500 houses without assistance other than the loans they have been able to raise.
– What amount of money is involved?
– As far as the cooperative housing societies are concerned, the cost to the community is nil, because the money is lent for the purpose of building an asset, and it is repaid in approximately half the time that it is expected moneys provided under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement will be repaid. The need for the Commonwealth to make money available in an indirect way to the co-operative housing societies rather than to government housing commissions is urgent. I understand that in the outer suburban area of Melbourne, in which I live, five societies are in existence, and that in a fairly small area of 2, 3 or 4 square miles there is a waiting list of over 700 persons. Last week, a meeting was held in Melbourne for the purpose of forming a co-operative building society. There were 80 vacancies, and 450 persons attended the meeting. Having been told that the first to apply would be accepted, at 9 o’clock on the following morning there were waiting at the door of the proposed secretary of the society 100 persons who were prepared to pay the necessary deposit and to supply the necessary plans and specifications at once. In another case, of 164 applications in a limited, narrow area, only 60 people could be accepted. In the Public Service of Victoria, and no doubt in the public services of other States, difficulties are being experienced and the efficiency of the service is to some extent being threatened by the shortage of homes. In the Education Department, for example, I understand that some teachers are compelled to refuse promotion because they are unable to get nouses. Though they are prepared to make some contribution, they are unable to get assistance to build homes because of the insistence of previous governments on the past agreements. That is, I think, an interesting matter and the honorable member for Batman made some reference to it.
I do not think the honorable member for Werriwa would quarrel with the suggestion that any government to-day would be eager to encourage savings by the community. That is true enough to be accepted by any one. Belated only to the narrow term of housing, the situation is that any one prepared to subscribe to whatever conditions are necessary can join a co-operative housing society. Young people, who would normally expect to marry within the next four, five or six years, are encouraged to join those societies. If they join the societies, take out the number of shares that they think they will need and make their regular payments to that society, then in four or five years when they are married the problem of a home no longer exists. Through the co-operative housing society they have built up a sufficient asset to provide them with a deposit on a home. Over those years, in terms of community savings, they have been making a very substantial contribution to the economy of the country. This is a matter that, in the aggregate, is larger than I may have indicated. It is something that could be applied, not only to housing, but to a number of other government activities.
I want to refer to the Housing Commission in Victoria. It is possible that I may have misunderstood the honorable member for East Sydney, but if I understood the honorable member for Batman, all the people in housing commission homes in Victoria are needy people in the low income groups. I am informed on reliable authority that a survey was made in a very large housing commission area so that the commission would know what sort of accommodation it should plan for the Olympic village, which, after the Olympic Games, will become part of the housing commission project. The survey of some 4,000 houses in this locality brought to light the fact that one in every two families owned a motor car and that in the development of housing commission areas provision had .to be made for one motor car at least to every two houses. I know that we have some transport difficulties in Victoria, but I have yet to learn that those difficulties are so acute that they force one in every two families of needy people to own a motor car. I represented a considerable part of that area for a number of years.
– And most ably represented it.
– I may say that, although I did not receive as many votes as I thought I would receive from that area, I was shown nothing but courtesy and kindness whenever I went into it. We, as a parliament, are trying to do something more than solve a problem of pure economics - or impure economics, if the honorable member for East Sydney would prefer that term.
– Speak up !
– I welcome the interjection by the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith, who is an authority on such things. We are trying to make a contribution not only to the present problems but to the future problems of this country. The Government’s policy has always been, and will continue to be, to encourage home-ownership, however warped or distorted that policy might be by socialist policies in the past or by interjections from the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron). Nobody in this House will disagree with me when I say that home-ownership is e essential to the security of a family. It is essential to that independence of outlook that all parties welcome and respect. It is, further, essential to the acceptance of responsibility. I regret that this bill does not make more provision for those who desire to help themselves. I accept the considered view of the Government that the allotment of SO per cent, to housing commissions and 20 per cent, to co-operative building societies and private builders is the best that can be done in the circumstances. I regret that many of the States failed to co-operate with this Government in an attempt to make some greater contribution to the solution of the housing problem than has been made. I believe that, if the time ever comes when we in this place can objectively review the history of legislation relating to housing and building, then this bill will be considered, perhaps, with its limitations, to be a very good bill, and I have very much pleasure in supporting it.
.- At, least I paid more attention to the speech of the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) than was paid by any of his colleagues on the other side of the House, who were in an advanced state of somnolence.
Government supporters interjecting,
– It is amazing how they have awakened in one moment. They are on their toes shouting. The honorable member for Deakin was kind enough to say that I, at least, would not disagree with him when he said that savings were desirable. Indeed, I do not disagree with him. The comments I make on his statement are twofold. My first point is that it is not reasonable and it is not possible to expect people who want a house to have made the requisite savings to get a house at the time they need it most. Those people who are just getting established in their business, their trade or their profession have not had the time to accumulate the deposit that is now required on a house and it is very difficult for them to have bought n block nf land. Particularly at the time when they are newly married and are most likely to be prolific, it i=. impossible for them to find the requisite savings to be adequately housed.
The other point I make about savings is that this Government, after six and a half years in office, has very clearly shown how it intends the people’s savings should be used. One has only to look at the percentage of life assurance funds and bank funds that is devoted to housing now, compared with the amount that was devoted to housing when this Government came into office. One will see very clearly that its idea is that a diminishing portion of the people’s savings should be devoted to housing and that an increasing portion should be devoted to other purposes, including commercial buildings.
The other honorable gentleman who spoke for the Government to-night, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), was in the unwonted role, for the first time in seven or more times that he has spoken on the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement in one form or another, of praising the agreement. His previous ejaculations have alf. ays asserted that the 1945 agreement was iniquitous, and that the 1955 amendment of it, which was introduced after four years’ agitation by the States, to enable the States to sell the houses on terms, was belated and did not. go far enough. But on this occasion the Minister, who has so often advocated - alone, I think, in his courage, among Government members - that the 1945 agreement should be ended by the procedures laid down in the agreement, in other words by the Commonwealth giving a year’s notice to end it, now is found to praise a housing agreement. I followed his speech with great interest, because none of the points that he raised in praise of the agreement had previously occurred to me, or, I fancy, to any other honorable member in this House.
Since the Minister spoke in wide generalities - I suppose he is the most windy orator in the House - 1 am obliged to counter his remarks by referring to statistics to a greater extent than I would normally think to be oratorically desirable.
Government supporters interjecting,
– Honorable members opposite are on their feet again, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. I am sorry that
I have not the lulling effect that the previous speaker had. 1 shall refer to the preliminary estimates of building statistics, concerning the number of new houses for the March quarter of this year, released by the Commonwealth Statistician on the 21st May last. The first table shows that the number of new houses commenced in the December quarter of 1955 was 17,970. That is a lesser number of houses than the number commenced in the December quarters of 1954, 1953, 1951 or 1950. It will be noticed that the number is greater than the number of houses commenced in the December quarter of 1952, which was the year of the horror budget, and when the Government imposed credit restrictions, which first were reflected, of course, in the decreased rate of commencement of houses. The second table sets out the number of new houses completed in the December quarter of 1955, the number being given as 19,997. That is fewer than were completed in the December quarters of 1954, 1953, 1952 or 1951. The last table refers to the number of new houses under construction at the end of the December quarter of 1955. That number is given as £4,463, which is less than in any of the preceding December quarters during this Government’s term of office.
These figures are reproduced in the second Treasury information bulletin of last April, and I cite them because of the greater majesty of their source. On page 9 of the bulletin one finds that the number of new houses commenced in Australia in the December quarter of 1955 was 1.7,970. That figure was compared with the number of 1S,954, which is 1,000 more, that were commenced in the December quarter of 1954. 0”.e. sees another picture when one studies the figures regarding new buildings, apart from housing, which are shown in the Commonwealth Bank’s statistical bulletin for April last. At page So of that bulletin, one sees that the number of new houses commenced in Australia in the March quarter of 1954, was .18,800. Tn the June quarter of that year, the number was 1.9,100; in the September quarter, 19,900: and in the December quarter, 19,000. Tn the March quarter of last year, 17,800 new houses were commenced ;. in the June quarter, 18,800; in the September quarter, 19,500 ; and in the December quarter, 18,000. It will be noticed that, in every quarter of last year, the number of new houses commenced in Australia wa3 less than in the corresponding quarter of 1954.
The number of other new buildings is not given, but I shall give the House figures relating to the total value of all new buildings. These figures, of course, include also the value of new houses, which has been practically stationary throughout the period in question, because although the number of new houses commenced has decreased, the value of them has remained steady because of the continuing inflation. One will see, very clearly, from the figures for the various quarters of 1954 and 1955, which I shall read, how the total value of new buildings, including commercial buildings, has continued to increase. In the March quarter of 1954, the total value of new buildings was £73,400,000; in the June Quarter the figure was £S1, 600,000 ; in the September quarter, £86,000,000; and in the December quarter, £78,100,000. For the March quarter of 1955, the total value of new buildings was £87,400.000; in the June quarter it was £90,200,000; in the September quarter, £100,400,000; and in the December quarter, £91,100,000.
Another indication of the value of new buildings other than housing is given in the Statistician’s quarterly bulletin of building statistics for the December quarter of 1955, which we received in the middle of April. On the third page, it will be noticed that the value of these other new buildings commenced in the financial year ended the 30th June, 1950. which was the first year of office of this Government, was £32,055,000. In 1951 it was £58.460,000; in 1952 it was £64,894,000; in 1953, when the effect of the horror budget was being felt, it. was £55,634,000; m 1954 the figure was £96,S82.000: and in 1955 it amounted to £132,791,000. That shows very clearly, T suggest, that, the number of houses being commenced, completed and constructed in this country has declined steadily in the last two years, but, the number of other buildings being constructed has increased out of all conscience. T shall show you,
Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, the inside back cover of this publication, and you will see very clearly in the table which appears thereon that in the Government’s first’ year of office, 1949-50, the percentage value of all new buildings commenced, in relation to housing, was 80 per cent. In 1954-55 it had declined to 62 per cent. The percentage value of new buildings commenced in each year under the administration of the present Government has remained practically stationary as regards factories, the great increase in the percentage value of new buildings being in shops, hotels, hostels and other new buildings. Those buildings we may regard as being used very largely for luxury or consumer activities, rather than for activities designed to provide the people with housing or with employment in factories.
I should not have thought that even so obtuse a person, as the Minister for the Army cou’ld take any comfort, after looking at those figures, from the building position in Australia to-day. True it is that there are as many people employed in building activities as ever there were before. A larger number of pounds is being spent on building than ever before, but the increase has been in commercial or luxury building, and there has been a decrease in the number of men engaged in building new houses. The number of pounds being spent on house-building has remained the same.
I have some sympathy with the Minister for the Army, because he is a man who made his fortune from the business of letting houses, and it irks him to see that there are fewer tenants in Australia now than there have been during the last couple of decades, and that of those tenants an increasing proportion are tenants of public authorities, and a decreasing proportion are tenants of private persons. It is very natural that a person such as the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who has made a success of a particular calling; should think that there” must be some virtue attached to that calling, and that what is good for him must necessarily be good for every ohe else. It irks the honorable gentleman to think that it is no longer possible for agents to get commission on the sale of land which is now resumed by housing commissions and housing trusts, or on the collection of rents from privately owned rental houses.
In referring to the decline in the number of tenants, I rely on a comparison between the 1947 and the 1954 census. This shows that between those dates the number of tenants declined from 598,573 to 556,924, and we applaud that. The number of purchasers by instalments between those dates increased from 143,594 to 342,239- much more than double the 1947 figure - and we applaud that still more. During the same period, the number of owners increased from 895,402 to 1,051,955, a very satisfactory figure. In considering the figures during the currency of the much-maligned Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement 1945, one must acknowledge the incentive, and advantages given under the landlord and tenant acts of the various States to tenants who wish to buy the houses in which they live. The only way, in a time of housing shortage, that they can be sure of having accommodation is to buy it. The combined effect of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement and the landlord and tenant acts has been that, wherever possible, tenants have bought the houses in which they live or, if unable to obtain tenanted accommodation from private owners, have gone to the public authorities for help.
I wish to refer now to a feature of the figures issued after the 1954 census which gives us no comfort at all. On the 30th June, 1954, 49,148 Australian families were living in sheds and huts. Also, 107,216 Australian families were living in portions of houses. That figure was 1,000 greater than the figure at the 1947 census. I will not venture to quote any union figures on the housing positionInstead, I must quote people who cannot in any way be accused of being socialists or Communists. The secretary of theMaster Builders Association of New South “Wales said last February that the slackening in the rate of home-building was disturbing. Builders were finding it extremely difficult to keep together their working team. Although home-building was being hit the hardest, builders engaged in commercial and industrial construction were also effected. He added -
Lack of continuity of finance is our biggest worry. Without this the industry cannot possibly plan ahead and has the utmost difficulty in keeping its work force intact.
Two months ago a special committee of the Master Builders Association was told by its members that -
The home building rate in Sydney hae dropped by 25 per cent, this year because of shortage o’f finance. Figures obtained from suburban councils showed a decline in home building in the first three months of this year. This averaged about 25 per cent, throughout the metropolitan area and represented a drop of nearly 1,000 homes for the period. Representatives of suburban master builders’ associations said that they were worried about the drop in home building. They said that the demand for homes still existed but people could not obtain finance to build.
Two months ago, in its publication Trends, the Rural Bank of New South Wales which, I suppose one must concede, is a socialist enterprise and, like most socialist enterprises in fields where private people make a living, is a great success, stated -
In the last financial year 25,500 homes were started, compared with 28,400 the previous year. While last year’s decline may seem fairly moderate it assumes greater significance when reckoned in terms of the continued population growth. Even more significant is the fact that preliminary indications for the current year point to a further reduction in the level of commencements, a trend which cannot be maintained for too long, if population continues to grow, without some deterioration in the current standard of housing. The reduced availability of credit, while apparently not as severe as in 1052, is still a major factor in reducing housing starts. The credit restraint experienced by the housing sector has had many critics and it might well be that more credit could have been made available at the expense of other objectives.
Here I will interpolate that the Commonwealth Bank and the Rural Bank alone among the banks of this country have a sense of social responsibility as far as housing is concerned. In. the’ last few months we have heard a great deal of clamour from the three private banks which have commenced savings bank operations. Indeed, the fact that more money would be available for housing was given as a reason for their establishment as savings banks. Two weeks ago the Bank of New South Wales Savings
Bank announced that it would be making £4,000,000 a year available for housing. That sum is less than half the amount which the Commonwealth Savings Bank makes available every year to building societies, and les* than half the amount which the Com mon.wealth Trading Bank makes available each year by way of overdrafts and Credit Foncier loans to private persons for housing. I cannot refrain from pointing out, too, that, under the terms of its licence, the Bank of New South Wales Saving Bank, after having carried on business for a mere five months, is permitted to lend not just £4,000,009 a year, but about £S,000,000 of the amount that it has already accumulated. There has been no communique on the subject from the Australian and New Zealand Savings Bank or the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Savings Bank.
I refer now to the position revealed in this housing agreement, which continues the operation of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement 1945 in certain desirable respects. I wish to quote from a publication produced with the authority of the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) entitled “Australian Housing Statistics as at the 31st March, 1956 “. On page 2 of the publication, which was made available to honorable members last month, a comparison is made between the number of dwellings commenced in the March quarter of 1955, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement 1945, and those commenced in the March quarter of 1956. In the interim the number of commencements dropped from 3,941 to 3,031. During the same period the number of dwellings completed dropped from 3,588 to 3,151. While one mentions the housing commission homes erected under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, for which the Commonwealth supplies all the money, one may also quote, from the same publication, the figures relating to war service homes, which are now in the charge of the Minister for National Development and in respect of which the Commonwealth again finds the whole of the money. Indeed, the Commonwealth cannot avoid its responsibility under either the housing agreement or the War Service Homes Act, because it provides the money in both cases. As honorable members know, the waiting list of applicants in respect of both schemes is at, an all-time high. At page 5 of the same publication one learns that -
The number of war service homes commenced in New South Wales dropped from (305 in the March quarter of 1955 to 418 in the March quarter of this year. The number completed dropped from 472 to 417. In Victoria the number commenced dropped from 803 to 192.
The number completed dropped from 289 to 237. In Queensland the number of war service homes commenced dropped from 109 to 46 and those completed dropped from 87 to 55.
– What about the purchase of existing properties?
– They are not listed there. As the honorable member should know quite well, there is practically a 50-50 sharing of war service funds between the houses which are to be built and those which are to be purchased. The division, in each State, makes approximately the same amount available for the purchase of existing properties as it does for the building of war service homes. I have quoted from this list in respect of the number of houses commenced and completed by the War Service Homes Division, for which the Commonwealth is alone responsible. I should think that the number of houses purchased would have declined, similarly. The honorable member is one of the most ardent patriots in the House, and one “f the men who pays the most attention to the rights of ex-servicemen in this regard, even if he has not been very successful in effectuating them. He knows that the number of people wishing either to purchase or build war service homes has gone up in each year of this Government’s regime.
In each of the last four years however, the number of people who have been enabled to purchase and build them has declined and the waiting period has doubled and quadrupled. But in the big budget session as distinct from this little budget session there will be an oppor tunity for the government to increase the allocation to the War Service Homes Division. Under the old Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement it was laid down that the Commonwealth should make available to the States the full amount of money which the States could spend in building housing commission houses. In the last six years of the agreement this Government has not made available to any of the States which participated in that agreement - New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland or Western Australia - more than two-thirds of the amount of money that they sought and to which, therefore, they were entitled. The same treatment has been meted out to South Australia, which is now in the last month of its three years’ participation in the agreement. The number of houses that has been sought from the housing commissions has continued to grow.
Another feature of the agreement upon which great stress has been laid is the fact that a fifth of the appropriation in the first two years, and 30 per cent, of the appropriation in the last three years will be made available for building societies. Let me make it quite plain that the position in which the building societies find themselves is entirely the creation of this Government. It dates from the time of the horror budget. Let me read the communique which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) issued after his last summit conference at that time. On the 9th August, 1951, he stated -
To-day. with the Treasurer Sir Arthur Fadden I saw representatives of thu trading banks in Australia at my own suggestion so as to obtain at first band any practical suggestions they might desire to make with respect to the operation of the pre out banking system, in particular, the credit policies now obtaining. To-morrow Sir Arthur Fadden and myself will also see representatives of the life assurance societies to discuss their association with public financial questions and investment policy generally.
From that very date the amount of money made available to the building societies by the life assurance societies has drastically dropped. Let rue quote the exact figures. In New South Wales, which now has one thousand building societies, the life assurance societies were one of the great sources of their finance. In 1950-51, for instance, they contributed £5,410,000. In the following year, immediately after this meeting, their contribution dropped to £755,000, and it has declined ever since. The total amount of money available to building societies in New South Wales has dropped ever since that time. Let me quote the comparative figures. In the financial year I.94S-49, the last complete year of office of the Chifley Government, they got £10,835,000 from all sources. In 1949-50, the year which the present Government shared with the Chifley Government, they received £12,500,000 from all sources. But in the last financial year they got only £6,815,000; and in the first nine months of this financial year they got. £5,000,000. Thus, they will get less this year than last year, and will thus ger the smallest amount from all sources that they have got in any year since the war. This tendency dates from the horror budget and the secret, conclave between the Prime Minister, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and the representative? of the life assurance societies who were then told to transfer their investments from building societies to Commonwealth loans.
The position is exactly the same in Victoria, where there are nearly 300 building societies. In the two years that I have mentioned- the crucial years - the amount available to the societies in Victoria dropped from £6,209,000 to £3,350,000. This Government, which tries to take so much credit for its attitude to building societies, has never scrupled to increase the rate of interest which the banks are permitted to charge the building societies, both existing and new. From April, 1947, the interest rate was 3 per cent. On the 29th July, 1952, it was put up to 4i per cent. -In March of this year it was put up to 5 per cent. So people who owe money to the building societies will, in fact, have to pay more for it than they and earlier borrowers would have had to pay for the much more ample building society fund available under the Chifley Government.
Let me point, out that the Commonwealth is undoubtedly responsible for two features of home finance - war service homes finance and housing agreement finance. In connexion with both these features it is doing an increasingly bad job. More and more people are applying for homes and are being turned away unsatisfied. But in regard to building as a whole, in respect of which the individual small man has to rely on loans, the Government has ruthlessly pursued its power under the Constitution to control banking and insurance policy. It has not controlled because it cannot control - and I do not think that it would try to control if it could control - the availability of credit to big people who are getting it from other sources. There is no restriction of credit for those who engage in commercial and luxury building, as distinct from those who require the basic social necessity of ample housing at a low interest rate for everybody in Australia.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Mcleay). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- We have just been listening to a discourse by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) who endeavoured by the quotation of a long series of statistics to prove to the House that fewer and fewer houses were being built every year since this Government took office.
– Hear, hear!
– This statement has now been corroborated by the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin). How effective are the statements that have been made by the honorable member for Werriwa when we consider the number of houses that have actually been built in the period in which this Government has been in office? Let us continue further to investigate the statistics and compare the number of houses that were constructed during the period in which the Labour Government was in power with the number constructed while this Government wa= in power. X refer not. only to those that “-o’-o K”ilt under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement mihI those built under the War Service Homes Act, but also to those built by all statutory or governmental bodies and by private enterprise. We find that in every field of home construction there has been a considerable increase from the moment that the present Government took office. I, like the honorable member for Werriwa, will take the opportunity to quote statistics in order to prove the statement I have made and in order to disprove the statements that he has made to the House on that very fact.
We must recognize that the year 1945-46 marked the conclusion of World War II., and consequently we must make great allowances if only a small number of houses were built in that year. We do acknowledge that factor. In that year, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, all State schemes, the war service homes scheme, and the schemes of the Commonwealth Bank and State banks, 3,479 homes were built. In that year the total number of houses built, including those I have just mentioned and those built by private enterprise, was 15,422. Those figures show that the houses built by those instrumentalities which were dependent for financial assistance on the national government, which was then a Labour government, comprised only 22.7 per cent, of the total. I concede that that might have been a bad year for house construction, but the percentage of houses built by socialist enterprise was lower then than it has been at any time since this Government took office. Let us consider the very best year during the term of office of the Labour socialist government, 1949-50, when 56,987 houses were built. That was the last year of office of the Labour government. Those instrumentalities which I have mentioned, and which were dependent on the Australian government for financial assistance, built 16,903 houses. In other words, the percentage of authority houses completed in that year was 29.7 per cent, of the total number constructed.
Let us compare that performance with the rate of house construction since the Liberal-Australian Country party Government took office. In 1950-51, its very first year of office, the total number of nouses built rose from 56,987 to 69,264; in 1951-52, the number was 79,982; in 1952-53, it was 79,957 ; in 1953-54, it was 77,370; and in 1954-55, the last completed year for which figures are available, 81,831 houses were built. The instrumentalities that were dependent on the Australian government for financial assistance to complete building programmes were able to build, of that colossal number of 81,831 houses, no fewer than 29,025, or 35.5 per cent of the total number built. I, therefore, suggest that the House must ignore the claims that have been made not only by the honorable member for Werriwa, but also by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) that these instrumentalities are being starved for funds. The figures which I have cited prove conclusively that that statement which has been made by members of the Australian Labour party is completely untrue. The best year for house construction during the Labour party’s term in government was 1948-49, when the instrumentalities which depended on the Commonwealth for financial assistance contributed 30.7 per cent, of the total number of houses built. In this Government’s best year for house construction, those instrumentalities contributed 38.1 per cent., which shows quite clearly that this Government has completely met its responsibilities in finding the finance required by State and other instrumentalities for housing purposes.
Further evidence of the manner in which this Government has tried to make the socialistic scheme of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement work may be found in the number of houses built in terms of the agreement when Labour was in office and since this Government has been in office during comparable periods of time. Let us consider also the volume of money made available by both governments. From 1945 to 1950, when the Labour socialists were in power, an amount of £53,572,000 was made available to the States under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. With that money the States were able to build 26,984 houses. When this Government took office, it increased considerably the volume of money made available to the States under that agreement, and even introduced supplementary legislation to provide further assistance to enable the States to import houses which were subsidized at the rate of £300 each so that their housing programmes could be accelerated. For a comparable period of time, this Government made available for this purpose £171,487,000. I ask the honorable member for Werriwa to compare those figures. From 1945 to 1950 a Labour government provided £53,572,000, with which the States built 26,984 houses. This Government, in a comparable period, provided £171,487,000, with which 65,132 houses were built. So, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, of the 92,116 houses built, this Government provided the financial assistance to enable the construction of 65,132 houses. That was done by a government which did not believe in the principles enunciated in the agreement, because the Government’s hands were so tied that the only way in which it could contribute financial assistance to enable the people to be adequately housed was through the medium of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, which was introduced in 1945 by a socialist government.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) says, “ Hear, hear ! “, although he realizes that the agreement was introduced in complete conflict with the recommendations made by the commission established by that very government to report on the housing position in Australia. In April, 1943, the socialist government appointed a housing commission, which it asked to report on two specific matters. It was to inquire into the existing position in relation to the housing of the people, and to make recommendations about the procedure it considered should be adopted and the assistance it considered should be given to ensure that the people were adequately housed in the post-war years. The commission recommended that the Commonwealth should institute a scheme to proTide for home ownership by the people. It considered they should not have te live in rental homes owned by a grasping socialist government, but should be able to live in houses which they would be able to buy in their own life-time by easy repayments on reasonable deposits. The socialist government of the day refused to implement the recommendations made to it by the commission.
– It talked about “little capitalists “.
– Mr. Dedman, who was the Minister for Post- War Reconstruction in the Chifley Government, and who introduced the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Act 1945, of which he was the architect, at the secondrad.ing stage of the consideration of that measure, clearly enunciated the policy of the Labour socialist government when he said, “ We are not interested in making little capitalists. We are interested in providing rental homes for the people “.
– Was not Mr. Dedman a Minister in the Labour government?
– He was a Minister in the Labour socialist government. The doctrine enunciated by him is still the socialist doctrine of Opposition members, who have challenged the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement entered into by this Government. Let us not forget that the Labour government, in its desire to hide its own deficiency in failing to implement the recommendation of the Housing Commission appointed by it in 1943, included in the original housing agreement a clause which provided that tenants could purchase their own homes. It gave lip service to the idea that a young man should be able to buy a home for his wife and family, but the depth itf its sincerity can be gauged by the terms it wrote into the original agreement, which has at last expired. The Labour government stipulated that a home could be bought only for cash.
– Who made that condition?
– It was contained in the original agreement. If the honorable member wishes to challenge my statement, I would remind him that he has been a member of this Parliament since the 10th December, 1949. If he has failed to read the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, he has failed in his responsibility to his electors and in the discharge of his responsibilities as a member of this Parliament. The original housing agreement has been one of the principal causes of the present chaotic housing situation in Australia. The original agreement expired on various dates in the respective States, according to the date on which it was first signed on behalf of each State. That agreement has been responsible for the construction of approximately 14.3 per cent, of the total number of houses built in the ten and a half years since it was introduced. But those houses were not built for private home ownership. They were built for rental. That policy completely prostitutes the principle that governments shall recognize the people’s housing rights. Housing is, naturally, one of the fundamental requirements of any family, and it is highly important that every family shall be given the opportunity to own its own home. The new housing agreement which is to be ratified by this measure will afford the people the opportunity to buy their own homes. However, I consider that, even under the new agreement, not enough money is being made available for private home ownership. It is on that aspect of the problem that this Government’s policy is so bitterly opposed by the Opposition, which, for many reasons, wants the States to own the vast majority of the homes being built and to charge rentals for them.
We must consider not only the moral effect on families of such a policy but also the economic effect on the health anc welfare of the building industry, which is so essential to Australia’s economic prosperity. We know that, if the building industry begins to decline, and ceases tn work at a capacity commensurate with the availability of man-power and materials, a recession must begin, and thai such a recession would be reflected in the vast number of trades allied to the industry. The health and prosperity of the building industry depends on the health and prosperity not only of the large building contractors but also of the small builders. By “ health “ I mean financial and economic health. We must have a great number of small builders who buildperhaps, four or eight houses a year. These people are important, because, as a private enterprise, they build homes for individual owners as distinct from houses constructed as part of vast projects.
– Private enterprise builds to gain profit.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh and the honorable member for East Sydney, of course, decry the small builders, because they support the provision in the recently expired housing agreement which made finance available to the States to enable them to implement housing projects. The States became the employers of vast armies of building workers and they absorbed many small contractors. Where the States did not engage in the actual construction, they let contracts to the big contractors with vast financial resources who were able to tender for contracts of £1,000,000 or more. As competition became greater and the field of work for which the small builders could tender became smaller, the small builders, who were unable to tender for the large projects, were absorbed by the big contractors. As a result, many men who had been contracting in their own right were absorbed as employees by large contractors, thus reducing the number of small contractors engaged in the industry. Statistics show that the number of workers engaged in the industry has increased rather thai decreased. The statistics by which governments judge the economic health of the building industry are statistics made available by the Master Builders Association, which is composed of big contractors. The small contractors who build one or two houses each year are not members of that association. The small contractors no longer employ work forces of their own, but. instead, are being employed by the large contractors or by State enterprises. That is one of the ill effects of the agreement that is about to expire. One reason why I welcome the expiry of the old agreement and look forward to some alleviation of the position when the new agreement comes into force is that at least 20 per cent, of t.he money made available will he channelled in directions that will enable small contractors to obtain contracts. They will be able to tender for the erection of houses and continue to operate as employers.
There is another very healthy feature of the new agreement. When a £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 housing project is undertaken by a State housing commission, a vast area of land is cleared and a vast housing estate is built, but usually the houses are so similar in appearance that the estate is not attractive to a young man with a family who is looking for somewhere to live. If he is offered the choice of a house in a big housing commission estate or a house - even a rented house - owned by private enterprise, in another district, it is only natural that he will choose the house owned by private enterprise, because it will not be one of a great number of similar houses, all unattractive, covering a large area.
But, even more important than that, there is a need for young people to be given an opportunity to obtain financial assistance to enable them to buy their own homes. That is provided for, to some extent, in the new agreement. I should like to see 50 per cent, of the money, perhaps more, made available in such a way that people could obtain financial assistance, through building societies or other avenues, to buy or build their own homes. They would be required to pay a deposit of 10 per cent., perhaps 15 per cent., but the young people of to-day are in a position to do that.
The statement by the honorable member for Werriwa that people are unable to save enough money for a. deposit on a house is completely untrue. We know that the housing section of the Commonwealth Bank does not make large advances on homes. I believe that the maximum advance on u brick home is £1,750. But every penny of the money available from the Commonwealth Bank for this purpose is absorbed. That shows clearly that the great majority of the people of Australia can afford to pay a reasonable deposit on a home, and are more interested in building their own homes than in living in State-owned homes.
I want to deal now with a point that was made by the Premier of Queensland in a press statement to-day. He stated that he was against the new housing agreement, and that his objections to it were based on the fact that a higher rate of interest is to be charged on money advanced to the States for housing purposes. When the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945 came into force, the long-term bond rate was 3$ per cent. The Labour government of that day advanced money to the States at 3 per cent. In other words, it subsidized by $ per cent, the interest payments on money advanced to people who were buying their own homes. When the longterm bond rate was 4-£ per cent., this Government maintained a rate of interest of 3 per cent, for money advanced to the States for housing. In other words, in order to assist the tenants of housing commission homes, it subsidized interest payments to the extent of 1£ per cent., compared with £ per cent, when the Labour party was in power.
The Labour party is attempting to persuade tenants of houses constructed under the 1945 agreement that, because the interest rate specified in the new agreement is higher than that specified in the old agreement, the rents of their houses will be increased. The facts were stated clearly by the Minister in his second-reading speech. He explained that the rents of houses constructed under the 1945 agreement will not be altered in any way. The Commonwealth will still meet three-fifths of all losses incurred on them. It will require the increased rate of interest to be paid only in respect of houses built under the new agreement. If the States were as sincere as the Commonwealth in desiring to give the people houses at low rents, they would play their part by subsidizing the interest rate also. If the Commonwealth can subsidize the interest rate to the extent of % per cent., or 1 per cent, if the bond rate exceeds ±§ per cent., surely the States can play their part by subsidizing the interest rate also, even by only a fraction of 1 per cent.
Let us recognize that the responsibility for housing the people is in the hands of the States, not in the hands of the Commonwealth. But this Government is going out of its way to give the States every assistance, so that the people can be properly housed. So effective has been our campaign that - the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) will confirm this - the Queensland Minister for Housing, who retired recently, stated in his last speech in the Queensland Parliament that the housing lag in Queensland has been overcome. That has been accomplished during the period that a Liberal party-Australian Country party government has been in power in the Commonwealth sphere.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lucock). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I listened with considerable interest to the remarks made by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) in praise of the agreement that is about to expire. He was at pains to inform the House of the wonderful record of home construction that has been achieved under that agreement. I think all honorable members will pay a tribute to it. But there was no need for the honorable member to be so condemnatory of the State Labour governments and so warm in his praise of this Government. He admitted that the hands of the Menzies Government, against its will, had been tied by the previous Labour government. So the finance made available by this Liberal party- Australian Country party Government to the State housing authorities has been made available because of the agreement entered into in 1945 between the Chifley Government and the various State governments. The hands of this Government were truly tied, and the people of Australia have good cause to be thankful for the fact that the Government’s hands were tied, by that agreement.
The record of construction of houses under the agreement is something of which all Australians have reason to be proud, although there may be criticism on the ground that the full housing requirements of the people have not been met. As I shall show during my speech,, the achievements of the State governments will be shown, in years to come,, to have been greater under the existingagreement than they will be under the’ new agreement which is being forced on. the States. The purpose of the bill isto empower the Parliament to enter into an agreement with the mainland Statesof the Commonwealth whereby, for a period of five years, the Commonwealth will advance to the parties to the agreement unspecified sums of money for the construction of homes by State government authorities and building societiesThe proposed agreement is to replace theoriginal 1945 agreement, which expires on the 30th June. The old agreement was initiated by the Chifley Labour Government, and was based on Labour policy. The new agreement, as the Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works (Mr. Fairhall) has said, isbased on the policy of the present LiberalAustralian Country party GovernmentThe history of housing in Australia showsthat private enterprise has, to a considerable degree, failed to provide for the adequate housing of the people, particularly of people in the lower-income groups. Governments have interested themselves in housing so as to enable provision to be made for the housing of people in the lower-income brackets. I believe that it is the moral duty of theCommonwealth to assist the States tosuch a degree that the whole population of Australia can be adequately ho usedIt is the right of every citizen in the> Commonwealth, irrespective of his economic value to the nation, to be adequately housed.
In 1945 the Labour Government” initiated the original agreement which,, in the main, provided that the Commonwealth would make available to theStates, over a period of ten years, certain, large sums of money in order to enable the States to construct homes for people whoneeded them. It is apparent to all honorable members that the Labour Government found itself unable, because of constitutional difficulties, to enter on a construction programme in the States. That is the reason why the money is» advanced to the States for home construction. The money has been made available to the States at an interest rate of 3 per cent,, and although the bond rate has risen considerably since the advent of the Liberal-Australian Country party Government, as a result of that Government’s inflationary policy, the interest rate under the agreement has remained static. The State governments have spent to the limit of the amount of money made available to them by the Commonwealth under the agreement, and have an excellent record of achievement in the field of home construction. The situation has improved considerably over the years, and housing standards in Australia are high compared with those in overseas countries.
In Australia there is one house for every 3.66 persons. The corresponding figure in the United Kingdom is one house for every 3.76 persons. In New Zealand the figure is one house for every 3.92 persons. In Canada, one of the richest countries in the British Commonwealth of Nations, the figure is one house for every 4.12 persons, and in the Netherlands, one house for every 4.64 persons. Australia also compares favorably with overseas countries in respect of the number of rooms for each person. The Australian figure is 1.21 rooms for every person. The corresponding figure in the Netherlands is 1.04 rooms, and in Austria the figure is one room for every person. The figure for other European countries is less than one room per capita. Whereas there is now in Australia one house for every 3.66 persons, in 1947 there was one house for every 3.89 persons, and in 1933 the figure was one for every 4.23 persons. So it will be seen that the housing standards and the housing position in Australia have been considerably improved since 1933. The greater part of this improvement has taken place since the 1945 agreement was initiated by the then Labour government.
The proposed agreement is acceptable to the States only under duress. A week ago no State was prepared to accept the agreement. The Premier of New South Wales made the position very clear when he said that, after considerable negotiations with the Minister for National
Development (Senator Spooner), in which the States failed to move that Minister, it was apparent that the Commonwealth was not prepared to gc any further in altering the provisions of the proposed agreement. That unwillingness has been borne out by the legislation we are now discussing. As far as I know the only State government that is holding out against accepting the agreement is the Queensland Labour Government, and it does not look as if it will be able to hold out much longer, because the Minister has spoken, and he speaks for the Government.
One of the principal objections to the proposed agreement is that the rate of interest to be charged to the borrowing State governments is to be increased from 3 per cent., as it has been from 1945 until now, to 4 per cent. - an increase of 33-J per cent. This increase will have a disastrous effect upon people occupying houses constructed under the new agreement. It is estimated that the cost of a house constructed by the Queensland Housing Commission is £2,750, and on this basis the Tents to be charged under the new agreement will be increased by 8s. 8d. a week above the rents of similar houses built under the Chifley Labour Government’s agreement. So we see a difference in the agreement drawn up by the Labour government and that drawn up by this anti-Labour Government. The principal difference, at any rate in Queensland, where building costs are low compared with costs in the other States, will be a difference of 8s. 8d. a week in the rents of houses built under the new agreement, an increase which will have to be borne by the tenants.
While it is good to see that the Government is desirous of assisting people to purchase homes, I feel that the method being adopted in this agreement is a disastrous one for the working people of Australia. The proposal is that 20 per cent, of the total amount of money made available in the first two years of the agreement and 30 per cent, of the money made available in the last three years of the agreement, must be paid to a homebuilders’ account in each of the five mainland States, and from this amount the State governments will pay moneys to building societies in order to allow them to construct houses for people desirous of purchasing them. I believe that it is not the function of this Government to use its loan moneys for the purpose of financing the construction of homes by building societies. These societies will demand a considerable deposit from the intending home purchaser before any advance will be made. I am of the opinion that the Commonwealth Bank should ease the restrictions that it has placed on the advancement of money for the construction and purchase of houses, and that it and the private trading banks should finance the operations of the building societies. The withdrawal of 20 per cent, of the money available to the various State constructing authorities for home construction must have a disastrous effect on. them. Assuming that the 3arne amount of money will be available each year under the new agreement as was available under the old agreement, in the first two years the number of houses built to accommodate people in the lowerincome group will be reduced by 20 per cent. That will take place at a time when Australia’s population is increasing.’, at a very great rate.
Demands made on the State housing authorities are not deminishing, and. although much has been done over the last ten years, much remains to be done in the future. I have extracted from the latest available statistics figures which show that, when the number of houses built by the State housing authorities is compared with the waiting list, there is a serious backlog. In New South Wales in 1954-55, 5,254 houses were built. 15,628 applications were received, and there was a backlog of 30,000 applications. En Victoria in the sa.rae year, 3,960 houses were built, and the 12,449 applications received represented an increase of 23 per cent, on the number received for the previous year. In South Australia, for the two years 1953-1955, 3,019 house.” were built by the housing trust, and 1.0,SS0 applications, plus 3,287 emergency applications, were received. In Western Australia, in 1955, 2,031 housewere built, 5,121 applications were received, and there was a waiting list of 8,680 persons.
In the City of Brisbane, particularly im the electorate of Griffith, development Lin the transition stage. Mainly because of the action of the Brisbane City Council in rezoning certain areas for industrial purposes, many of the very old homes in the inner part of the city are being: acquired to make way for industrial expansion. That means that people who are now adequately housed will, in the near future, be making demands on the housing authorities for adequate accommodation. I am sure that that state of affairs is not confined to Brisbane, but that it may be seen in every other capital city of the Commonwealth. It is essential that workers who are engaged in industry, which is expanding and is deprivingpeople of their homes, should be given satisfactory houses in which to live. It ifewell known that owners of houses that are situated in industrial areas, and which are occupied by tenants, are refusing to effect repairs to their properties as requested by local authorities in the hope that the houses will be condemned as being unfit for habitation and that the tenants will beejected. When such houses become vacant, they are quickly demolished to make way for new industry. Because of noise and other industrial factors, many houses are unsuitable for occupation, and the tenants are eager to move to suitable residential areas. These matters are causing a lot of concern to State housing authorities, because invariably it is to those authorities that the displaced persons look for accommodation.
I believe that satisfactory housing is essentia] to the well-being of the people. Every day wc read in the press news about broken families, juvenile delinquency, teen-age crime, and the absence of parental control. I should say that the principal cause of that state of affairs is, in the main, the unsatisfactory housing conditions under which those people are living. It has been my unfortunate experience to interview people who have been pleading for homes that they can rent, and in which they may live with their children as a family unit instead of being compelled to live with accommodating relatives in overcrowded conditions. Many hundreds of good Australians are not in a position to buy 8 house and are looking for one that they -can rent. They look to the State housing authorities, and those authorities in turn look to the Commonwealth Government for money at a low rate of interest with which to build houses to satisfy this persistent demand.
– But they are disappointed.
– As the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) says, they are disappointed ; but they will be much more disappointed when the new agreement comes into operation. I fear that the money that will be made available to the States for the construction of houses I’m- rental purposes will be considerably less under the new agreement than it was under the old one. The money that will be made available to the States will be allocated to the Commonwealth by the Australian Loan Council from loan funds. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in his speech” on the “ little “ budget, said in relation to the loan position -
There is one circumstance also of special significance for any forecasting of possibilities in 1950-57. In that year, the next financial year, a very large amount of public debt, comprising three major loans and totalling some £2.13,000,000, will reach maturity at intervals throughout the year. We shall, of course, do our utmost to convert as much as possible of this debt into new securities. The amount, however, is extremely large in relation to the market. It would, moreover, lie sheer folly to fail to recognize that borrowing conditions in 1050-57 may be more than usually difficult. That must affect both the prospect for converting old loans and the prospect for raising new loans such as may be required for finance of the works programmes of the States.
– Who said that?
– The Prime Minister, only two or three months ago. I feel that that statement can be taken as a. warning and as a suggestion that the amount of loan money that will be available to the Commonwealth and to the States for works and housing in the immediate future will be reduced. The action that the Government has taken to assist people to purchase their homes is most commendable, except that it proposes that the amount of money that will be available for the construction of houses for rental shall be reduced by the amount of money that is to be advanced to building societies. I believe that money for the building societies should come from the various trading and savings banks. The banks have a responsibility to assist in this important social development to a greater degree than they are at present. It is well known that the banks have adopted a policy of restriction in relation to advances for the building and purchasing of houses. The banks should change their policy. If they did so, they would make a major contribution towards raising the standard of living of the people.
I believe it is the will of the majority of Australians, both new and old, to own their homes. This is proved by Commonwealth statistics for the various States. I propose to quote the latest Commonwealth statistics, and it may surprise honorable members on the Government side to know that Queensland leads the rest of the Commonwealth in the matter of home purchase. A Labour government has been in office in that State, with the exception of three years, since 19.1.5. The figures published by the Commonwealth Statistician in relation to the percentage of the population owning and purchasing homes are as follows: -
That pamphlet has the photograph of the Premier of Queensland on it.
– It is a good photograph.
– Yes. Those figures show that Queensland leads all States in this matter, and it is a matter for boasting on the part of any Labour man, particularly any Labour man from Queensland. There is one feature of the bill that is pleasing, and that is that there is to be an agreement. It could be that there would be no agreement, but still there is to be an agreement and a sum of money will be made available to the States.
I Lave criticized the bill, which I believe has several bad features. That criticism has been mainly on the basis of the increase in the rate of interest charged to the States for the money advanced. That will mean an increase in the rental charged to tenants of houses built under the agreement and a reduction by 20 per cent, for the first two years and 30 per cent, for the final three years of the agreement in the amount of money available for the building of houses for rental. In short, the new agreement provides for fewer homes at a higher rental.
The Minister said that this bill is based on liberal policy and that it reflects the views of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party in this Parliament. I believe that to be true and I can say only that the implementation of this Government’s housing agreement of 1956 will be disastrous for many thousands of Australians, as they will learn to their own cost.
.- The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) said what I do not think he really meant to say, and that was that he was opposed to the Commonwealth giving money to the building societies to build houses for the building societies. It is quite obvious that houses are not being built for the building societies, but the money is being channelled to them to enable them to assist people to build their own homes. It is a vital thing. Since the taxpayers come from every level of income, then every level of income should have some access to the money made available by the Commonwealth for home-building purposes. By channelling 20 per cent, of the money in the first year through approved societies, an opportunity is given to those people who want to build houses, not in one particular district and of one particular design, but houses of their own choosing in design and position. Therefore, this measure will meet with the approval of a vast number of people in this country.
The debate started early this evening - it seems many hours ago - when the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) said that any one would think the housing problem had been solved. The honorable member for Griffith mentioned some figures about Western Australia’s housing needs. I think the figure he gave showed that approximately 8,000 people were awaiting houses there. I do not know the conditions in New South Wa les but to give some idea of the conditions in Western Australia, I shall quote from the parliamentary debates of the Western Australian House in the fourth session in 1955, when the Minister for Housing in the Labour Government made certain statements in answer to questions. It might he of interest to the honorable member for Griffith, who mentioned1 the figure of 8,000^ and it should certainly be of interest to the honorable member for East Sydney, who said that any one would think that the housing difficulties bad been overcome. The Leader of the Opposition, Sir Boss McLarty, asked the Minister -
Would you say the housing problem In Western Australia is solved?
The Minister replied -
I should say, at this stage, still with several months to go, that it has been virtually solved, and I think that statement can be well and truly proved if any member desires that I go further into the question at a later stage. During the last twelve months, the Housing Commission spent almost £12,000,000 upon the development of estates and the construction of houses which reached an all-time record total of 4,066. Of that number, in round figures, 2,000 were rental homes, 1,100 were war service homes, and 800 were homes erected under the State Housing Act, previously known as workers’ homes, and slightly more than 100 were built as the balance of operations carried out at Kwinana. So it will be seen that almost 50 per cent, of the activities of the State Housing Commission were directed to providing homes for purchase.
One thing in Western Australia that does not exist in any other State, and which in my opinion is extremely wrong, is that there is no War Service Homes Division in that State. In the other States, it is a separate body under separate control. But in Western Australia, it is part of the State Housing Commission and it isstaffed by State government officials- who are on loan to the Commonwealth hal come under the jurisdiction of the State Housing Commission. It is incorporated as a part of that body. It is entirely wrong, regardless of which government is- in power. War service homes are completely a Commonwealth responsibility and should be under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth. The setup in Western Australia, should not differ from that in any other State.
I know that the argument is used that the administration of war service homes is dwindling and that the time will arrive when our commitments in respect of war service homes will be completely fulfilled. But that reasoning is wrong, because the more homes built under the War Service Homes Division, the greater becomes the administrative responsibility. The time when the responsibility for war service homes ceases is not in the foreseeable future. Loans for homes being built now for war widows of the age of 60 years or 55 years are granted for terms of 45 years. If such a war widow died in the normal course of events at 70, 80 or 90 years - one cannot expect that all of them will live to be 105 years of age - there will still be administrative work to do. Therefore, the War Service Homes Division should be totally divorced from the State Housing Commission.
The position arises that, while things are going all right with the war service homes, the State Minister for Housing points with pride to the achievements of the State government in the building of those homes. If anything goes wrong, the blame is placed on the Commonwealth. I say this from a purely non-political point of view. Whichever government is in power, it is wrong for it to use something to its own advantage and to the disadvantage of the men who are supposed to be served by the War Service Homes Division.
– At least war service home applicants can get group homes in Western Australia, and they cannot get them in any other State.
– Sometimes that is done as a matter of expediency. Under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement and the building programme, Western Australia over the last two years has over-spent to the tune of sonia £1,500,000. The allocation of funds this year is estimated to be about £10,800,000 to New South Wales and £5,000,000 to Western Australia, which naturally is quite out of proportion. That £5,000,000 includes an amount, of £1,400,000 that has been overspent by the Western Australian Minister for Housing in the administration of the State Housing Commission.
– A very wise Minister 1
– There is no doubt about that, but the money will come from the loan funds, and so the State will suffer in another direction, because the money will have to be made up. If honorable members want proof of this, I can give it to them. I now return to the point made by the honorable member for Griffith that, in Western Australia, there are 8,000 outstanding applications for houses. The Minister for Housing in that State, in a speech reported at page 2264 of the reports of the Western Australian parliamentary debates of the 25th November, 1955, said -
The position has been reached where an; person suffering real hardship can be provided with a house immediately. There is a shorter waiting period for workers’ homes than ever before. Occupants are moving into those homes within eighteen months of lodging applications. In prewar days there was a waiting period of from eighteen months to two years before the application was processed, and therefore two years or more from the date of the application before people got the homes.
The annual report of the State Housing Commission was tabled in the Western Australian Parliament on that day, and in this connexion Mr. Wild said, as reported at page 2269 of the same volume -
The report, which was laid on the table of the House the day before yesterday, states that of 2,725 rental homes available last year to 3,802 applicants, 1,1077 refused homes offered upon one ground or another. That means, virtually, that one in every three offered a home said that he did not want it because he did not like the look of it, he wanted to live in some other suburb, it did not suit him or for some other reason. That proves, without a doubt, that the housing problem has well and truly been solved.
That indicates that the figures cited by the honorable member for Griffith cannot be accurate. If it is found that of 3,000 applicants for homes there are 1,000 who do not accept the homes that are offered because of the colour of the walls, or because of the location of the houses, then the housing position cannot be so desperate that it becomes necessary to oppose the provision to allow approved building societies to obtain 20 per cent, of the money to be provided under this agreement.
– The home offered mav be too far from the applicant’s place of employment.
– That may be so, but E am of opinion that if we have reached the stage where a man will not accept a new home because he has to travel a slightly longer distance to work, then he is not in very desperate straits in regard to housing. I recall the days of 1945 and 1946, when people were being discharged from the services. I knew thousands of men who would then have accepted houses 20 miles from their work places if they could have got them.
– I know thousands who would do so now.
– I ai-< not talking about Victoria. I am replying to certain statements made about lue position in Western Australia. Although I believe that there are still some housing difficulties in that State, I have read to the House the remarks of the Western Australian Minister for Housing as reported in the Western Australian Hansard, and surely he should know what goes on in the department which he administers.
– The honorable member for Griffith cited figures from the report of the Western Australian Housing. Commission.
– I do not care where he obtained his figures. We members of this Parliament are in the habit of accepting Hansard as a true record of parliamentary proceeding”, and perhaps the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) has more reason than I to accept the statement of the Labour Minister for Housing on the position in that State. In the same volume of Hansard the Minister is reported as having said -
I could quote almost from memory twenty different towns where we are experiencing the greatest difficulty in getting rid of the houses. In some towns they have been vacant for months and months waiting for people to occupy them. I have no fault to find with the idea of attracting people to the country, but if there is no inquiry or demand for houses, it would be foolish to erect homes there if they are required elsewhere immediately.
The position in Western Australia is obviously better than in the other States, and therefore there should be no opposition to the refusal of the Minister for Housing in that State to accept this agreement that has been drawn up by the Australian Government. If a State government does refuse to sign the agreement, what happens? It can still get money for its housing needs, but at an interest rate of 5 per cent, instead of the rate of 4 per cent, provided under this new agreement.
I said earlier that Western Australia had overspent for housing to the extent of about £1,500,000, that the Western Australian Government could not let any more contracts because it had not spread the available money over the year, and that contractors had found themselves without any work to do. In substantiation of that statement, I shall read to the House certain remarks made by Mr. Wild, who was Minister for Housing in Western Australia before the Labour Government took office. These remarks are reported at page 2270 of the same volume of Hansard. Mr. Wild said -
Last year on his (the Minister’s) own admission, the figure was something in the order of £1,225,000. Of course, that had to be repaid when the money became available this financial year. So I worked it out that if he started off this financial year with about £3,750,000, by the time the commitments, which he mentioned in answer to a question, had been taken from it he had, at the 1st October, under the Commonwealth-State rental agreement, only £805,817 left. Despite that, goodness knows how many houses he has told us he is going to build with the balance this financial year, and he had only, approximately, £805,000 available at the ls* October last.’
I have read those remarks because J believe that State governments are too prone to blame the Commonwealth when things go wrong in matters that are really the responsibility of the States, but they are never eager to praise the Commonwealth for anything that they achieve as a result of Commonwealth assistance.
This legislation has become necessary, in the final analysis, because of the uniform income tax system, which has meant that the Commonwealth must provide money to the States to carry on their activities in various fields. I hate to think of the plight of the minor States if at some stage uniform income tax were abolished and the States were given back their taxing rights. I could not imagine that any Minister of Housing in Western Australia would be able to raise £5,000,000 for the purpose of building houses whenever he wanted to do so.
I return now to a consideration of the agreement. The main object of the provision that 20 per cent, of the available money in the first year, and 30 per cent, in following years, should be allocated to building societies is to encourage homeownership. It is obvious that in the early stages of the operation of the agreement there will bo some building societies in some States that will not be able to carry out the full terms of the agreement. Therefore, authority will have to be given to State government banks or private banks to lend money at the rate of interest prescribed in the agreement, to a total amount equalling that not used by the building societies, so that people may build the kind of houses they want in the places they want to build them. The State housing commissions or housing trusts might be given the task of advancing the money.
I think that the agreement takes cognizance of the fact that there is a need to construct houses for rental purposes. T might suggest at this stage that it is unfortunate that this Government cannot lay down more definite conditions covering the sale of the houses that will be built, and the kind of houses that they shall be, because there is a temptation for State governments to obtain a large block of land, and to build upon it numerous small houses with small frontages, which in the future will be no credit to the State. I think that we should endeavour to guard against such a practice.
– That has happened in Victoria.
– I know that to be so ; 1 have seen the results. Safeguards should be provided, so that any buildings that are erected as a result of this agreement will not be such as will have to be pulled down in 20 or 30 years’ time because by then the neighbourhood will have become a slum area. Part of the money received by Western Australia under the previous agreement was used to build a very large block of flats. Great care will have to be exercised in the administration of those flats, otherwise they will be like the tenements of New York in twenty years’ time. It is fortunate, therefore, that this agreement provides that any flat buildings shall be limited to a certain number of stories and a certain area, and that there shall be only a certain number of flats built within a given area.
– Was the honorable member referring to Wandana when he mentioned the flat-building in Western Australia?
– Yes. It is provided, fortunately, that if any State government wishes to use money obtained under this agreement for the construction of multistory flats it must obtain approval from the Commonwealth to do so. The operation of that clause will have to be watched very carefully by whatever government is here in the years to come. The agreement also absolves the Commonwealth from financial commitment in the event of administrative losses. Under the old agreement the Commonwealth met 60 per cent, of the loss, and the States 40 per cent. Most of the administrative commitments related to rental rebates. This aspect is not mentioned in the new agreement, but that does not mean that the States cannot continue the rental rebate system. They can use houses built under the old scheme for persons on very low incomes who cannot afford to pay the economic rental.
The agreement also lays it down that 5 per cent, of the money provided shall be spent upon houses for the Defence Forces. The immediate reaction of some persons is that defence is a Commonwealth responsibility, and they must be reminded that the citizens of a State are always that State’s responsibility. The serviceman, no matter where he is serving, always requires a home. If he were not in the services he would still require a home, and so he must be regarded as one unit in a community of persons needing homes. The responsibility is clearly that of the States. Moreover, as these houses will be built only in areas where there is normal development, a transference of troops may result in a particular home being no longer required by the services and being released for occupation by a civilian. I should “be very surprised if honorable members opposite opposed this provision. I have clearly in mind the two outbursts of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) on the subject of the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to the States in this matter. He was referring particularly to the housing problem of a member of the Royal Australian Air Force who had been transferred to Darwin.
An honorable member opposite suggested that the channelling of money through building societies would not increase the total amount available for the building of homes; but the terms of the new loans are very different from those of the old, and it is obvious that the provision of 20 per cent in the first year, and 30 per cent after that, for home ownership building will eventually bring some money back into the pool from which the building of new homes may be undertaken. The States are required to pay back the money over a period of 53 years, but the building societies are restricted to 31year loans. This will result in a quicker turnover of the money.
Much has been said about the rate of interest. In the original agreement, which was drawn up by a Labour government, money was given to the States at 3 per cent, interest. At that time the bond rate was31/8% per cent so the States received a concession of1/8 per cent. In 1951, when the long-term rate went to 3¾ per cent., the Libera] government had to give the money to the States at 3 per cent. This meant, for the States, a concession of¾ per cent. In 1952, when the longterm bond rate the figure which all along has governed the percentage went to 4½ per cent, the rate charged to the States by the Liberal partyAustralian Country party Government was 3 per cent. This meant a concession of1½ per cent for the States. These figures destroy in a second all the opposition to the agreement. Doubtless, the States will protest against signing the agreement, mainly on the ground that it is a Commonwealth measure, but it will provide them with an excuse to blame the Commonwealth for the difficulties in which they find themselves and when the time comes, I am quite certain that they will sign the agreement willingly and wisely, realizing that only in this way can we overcome our problems in the housing field.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker-
Motion (by Mr.Fairhall.) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Me. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 23
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Thursday, 21 June 1956
Sitting suspended from12.2 to 12.32 a.m.
The bill. [Quorum formed.]
– Honorable members have spoken previously from this side of the chamber in regard to the opposition levelled against this measure by two of the leading Premiers in the Commonwealth. One of these was the Acting Premier of Victoria, Mr.Rylah, who said that it was with great reluctance that he accepted this agreement. In other words, it was forced uponhim and dictated to him. Similarly, on the 13th February, the Labour Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Cahill, said -
I tell you here and now that the new agreement will not build one extra house. Your State Government believed that the Housing Agreement should, be retained in its present form, and the full financial requirements of the States, as available each year, should be made available, by the Loan Council at a rate of interest which certainly should not exceed 3 per cent. If the interest rate were raised to 4½ per cent., as the Commonwealth Government proposes, the rental of an average Commission home would inevitably increase.
. . I ask you to remember that of every 100 people who apply for a Commission home, 93 have incomes of less than £20 per week.
The terms of this agreement have been dictated to the States and it is most unsavoury in the opinion of the Labour party because fewer homes will be available for the most needy, and higher rentals will be payable by the poorest section of the community. Abolition of rebates will affect those sections of the community who can least afford to lose them, particularly the age and invalid pensioners. The Labour party is not alone in its opposition to this bill. A number of institutions have forthrightly condemned it as being provocative and as having been dictated by interests which are hostile to the working-class movement generally and the fixed salaryearner. Our opposition can be easily explained. It springs from a fundamental difference of opinion between the members of the Labour party and honorable members who support the Government. The fundamental difference is that we believe that we are our brother’s keeper. We do not believe in private profits first. We place human values above private profits. On that basis and on that basis alone this bill has received the whole-hearted criticism and condemnation of honorable members on this side of the chamber.
When we consider the finance made available by the Commonwealth to the States we find that the allocation to Victoria approximated £10,400,000 last year. Apparently, Mr. Bolte, the Premier, who is a member of the Liberal party and of the same ilk as the Government, in anticipation of the Australian Loan Council decision, has announced a five-year programme for co-operative housing societies whereby he will allocate £2,000,000 to the societies for housing for the first two years and £3,000,000 for the remaining three years. To what extent he is able to anticipate loan council allocations I do not know. Perhaps it is indicative of the manner in which the Loan Council’s proceedings are usually conducted by this Government. Mr. Bolte outlined his programme when he well knew that the amount of loan funds to be made available from the Commonwealth to co-operative housing societies will, in effect, be reduced by the amount that the Government normally gives for the construction of rental houses under the Commonwealth and State Housing agreement. We find, therefore, that this position has arisen : In anticipation of a Loan Council decision, the Premier of Victoria has made statements which, to say the least of them, are of doubtful origin. Perhaps they are like the one that he made in regard to the finance for home-building from the State savings bank some time ago. 1 compliment the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) on the forthright and factual statement that he made. I think that honorable members on both sides of the chamber will appreciate the study that he has given to this subject. The honorable member mentioned that housing had to be provided for 407,000 immigrants who had settled in Victoria. But he did not state that for the threemonths period, January, February and March, increased rentals had been authorized by the Liberal Government in Victoria. In those months there were 319 evictions and we can confidently expect that there will be 1,600 evictions when the amendment of the landlord and tenant legislation which I have mentioned becomes effective. Bents have been increased by 25 per cent, in the mine State. The cost of hospitalization, gas and electricity has been increased. The Victorian Liberal Government has also authorized increases in passenger fares and freights. It is indicative of this government’s gross disregard of, and callous indifference to, the requirements of the people that it should, at this stage, ride in on the end of a long train of gross injustices to the ordinary man, by introducing this housing bill. In effect, the Government says, “ The roof you have over your head will cost you more in future, and the building of rental homes will be reduced “. The houses made available yearly in Victoria average about 3,700. There is a waiting list o£ 12,000 applicants, and fresh applications are being made at the rate of 300 a month. Yet this Government proposes to reduce the number of houses available for rental to the people of Victoria and of Australia generally. One of the cruellest consequences of this legislation will be the effect upon age and invalid pensioners. I am sorry if I am interrupting the private conversation of the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr.
Mackinnon), but this is a matter for his consideration.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Numerous people are being evicted en masse as a result of the amendment of the Victorian law. Every day I am advised of numerous cases of hardship, but one cannot expect that the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who has been interjecting, would have any consideration whatsoever for people who are in a less fortunate position than he is, because he has no contact with them. He has nothing to do with them and honorable members opposite do not wish to have anything to do with them.
Government supporters interjecting,
– - Order! The honorable member for Franklin and other honorable memberwill remain quiet.
– They want to gel these persons out of their hair, and the sooner they can get them out the better. This debate has been brought on now so that it will not be broadcast to-morrow. The Government does not want the people to hear what we are saying. I have a letter from Miss Nunan, president of the Combined Pensioners Association, wherein she asks that certain action be taken in regard to the eviction of a pensioner from a room for which a rental of 27s. a week has been charged. Not only does the Government refuse to increase the miserable pittance paid by way of pension to these people, but by the application of its “liberal” policy these persons are denied the chance of getting a home and are evicted from their present modest cottages.
– The honorable member came here with a good reputation. Why does he not keep it?
– I admit that 1 have adapted myself to my environment a. bit by associating with the honorable member. These proud people are being subjected to these indignities, with callous indifference to their fate. It ill becomes an honorable member with any idea of humanitarianism to be a party to these practices, but we have become accustomed not to expect honorable members opposite to have any humanitarian feelings. Then there is the matter of the grossly high prices that are being demanded of these persons in the way of ingoing charges and other . illicit demands, which are all part and parcel of the Liberal party policy, whether State or Federal. In conclusion, L say that a restatement of the need for a subsidized housing scheme in this Commonwealth is most necessary. Time does not permit me to elaborate on the fact that under this agreement, rentals will be increased by up to 12s. 6d. a week.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– This is the first bill to give effect to the policy of this Government of encouraging home-ownership and private building.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! This noise must cease. The honorable member for Macarthur will continue.
– Clause 6 (2.) of the proposed agreement states -
During each of the financial years commencing on the first day of July, 1056, and the first day of July, 1957, respectively, each State shall allocate for the provision of finance for homebuilders not less than twenty per centum of the total advances made to that State under clause 5 of this agreement in that financial year.
That means that 20 per cent, of the fund will go, in New South Wales, to co-operative building societies or, perhaps, other financial institutions. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong. These funds will provide finance for home-builders and will permit loans on good terms to be made to them to build homes. This is the point at which we disagree with our honorable friends opposite. Their policy, according to their lights, is that the best method of providing homes is through a housing commission for rental. Obviously, some provision must be made for young married men who have a number of children early in their married lives and who are not able to provide the finance to build homes. They will be interested only in rental propositions. A young married man with a family may be provided with a home by a housing commission, because obviously he cannot save enough to build his own home.
– How long must he wait?
– Let me tell the story in my own way.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member will address the Chair.
– I shall address you, Mr. Temporary Chairman. Some finance must be made available to the housing commissions for the provision of accommodation for young men with wives and three or four children. These young couples who are encumbered with families, and have responsibility for feeding and dressing their children and looking after them in every way, cannot provide homes of their own. They must be assisted. Our policy is to provide also for those persons who have saved some money, who wish to build their own homes, and to take advantage of the finance available through co-operative building societies, rural banks, the War Service Homes .Division, financial institutions, or other home-building authorities. This is the first time during the long period that this Government has been in office that we have been able to change the policy introduced by honorable gentlemen opposite whereby all Commonwealth housing funds are devoted to the provision of rental homes. We hope to make agreements with the States for in the first year 20 per cent, and in the second year 30 per cent, of funds to be given to building societies or financial institutions of that kind. It is most gratifying to me, and to many other honorable members on this side of the. chamber, including the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon), that a start has been made on the allocation of funds for private home-building and home-ownership, particularly in instances where a man wishes to build a home for himself. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) has described very eloquently the great thrill which is felt by a man who has reached the stage where he can build his home either through a contractor or, better still, by himself; when he and his wife can prepare plans, decide on the number of bedrooms and the kind of cupboards and all those things which are dear to the hearts of men and women in this civilization. Nothing is more thrilling to a man and wife than to achieve this ambition. We are told that nothing is more sacred than the family unit. Nothing is better for the family unit than to be able to build its own home, to furnish it, look after it, paint it, plant trees and gardens, lay paths, erect fences, and do all those other things which are needed for personal comfort in their own homes.
– Hear, hear!
– I know that Opposition members jeer about this sort of thing because they pay lip service to the former member for Corio, Mr. Dedman, who, I think, said, “We should hate to see the day when every man will be a little capitalist”.
– Ah .’
– Mr. Dedman did not say anything of the sort.
– Opposition members utter cat-calls and jeers when this matter is mentioned. The words of Mr. Dedman emphasize the tremendous difference between the Government’s approach to this problem and the approach of the Opposition, which does not want to see people contented in their own homes and living the lives of decent, honest citizens. Instead, it wants all the people to be a creature of governments and to rent governmentowned accommodation. Labour governments want to be able to flood some electorates with housing commission homes in the hope that the occupiers will vote Labour. )
I am glad to see that the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) is listening to me. I want to tell him that the Greater Wollongong City Council does not want Wollongong to become a city of tenements, because it considers the city should be a place in which people will take pride in owning their own homes. The city council, which is controlled by Labour, has said it wants home ownership in Wollongong. It does not want a city of housing commission homes occupied by tenants who will neglect them and rely on the commission to paint and maintain them. The Wollongong City Council is a body of sensible people. The city is the fastest growing city in tb( fastest developing country in the world, but the city council does not want it to become a city of housing commission tenements. It knows that home ownership will make it a better city because the people will take pride in their own homes, in the gardens, in the streets, and, indeed, in everything else.
The Government’s approach to housing differs very greatly from that of the Opposition. There is a great gulf between us. I support this measure, and I give credit to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) who hai worked so hard and patiently for many months to bring the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement to fruition. It is fitting that we should now congratulate him and the Government on this measure, which will mean so much to the people who will benefit from the allocation of 20 per cent, of the funds provided under the agreement to co-operative building societies.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The consideration of this measure in committee affords honorable members an opportunity to fight a last round on behalf of the people of Australia and to speak for the States, which have been compelled, reluctantly, to accept the new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I can only hope that honorable members will take advantage of the forms of this chamber to express, in no uncertain terms, their opposition to the new agreement. lt will not build more homes or cheaper homes. It will build only fewer and dearer homes, and it will not solve the housing problem, lt is of no use for Government supporters to congratulate the Government in this chamber, to praise the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), or any other Minister, or to take credit to the Government for what has been done. Let them face their constituents and make the same statements in the light of the existing circumstances.
As I have said, this agreement will build fewer homes, because it does not specify the amount of money to be made available to the States for home building. In contradistinction to this, the previous agreement made it abundantly clear that the funds expended by the States on the provision of homes for the people would be reimbursed by the Commonwealth. The new agreement contains no such provision. Sub-clause (1.) of clause 6 of the earlier agreement provided -
The Commonwealth will advance to each State the moneys heretofore expended in the carrying out of a housing project or projects and the moneys that shall be hereafter required for the carrying out of the States’ housing projects as notified to the Treasurer of the Commonwealth from time to time pursuant to clause 7.
That makes it clear that the Commonwealth was required to reimburse to the States the money spent by them on housing. The new agreement provides that an unspecified sum shall be made available, and that, during the first two years of the term of the agreement, 20 per cent, of that sum shall be made available to co-operative building societies. I support the co-operative building society principle, which I believe to be a good one. I uphold it, because I think it provides a desirable means of building homes. But it has been made clear by Opposition members that the deduction of the allocation to co-operative building societies from the funds to be made available to the States for home construction will limit the building of housing commission dwellings. The New South Wales Premier has made it clear that, as a result, 750 fewer homes will be built in’ New South Wales each year.
– How does the New South Wales Premier know that if he does not know how much money will be available?
– I ask the committee to consider this problem seriously. lt is not a matter for idle chatter. The needs of the people must be considered. It is most undesirable that fewer homes should be built in view of the intake of migrants and the natural increase of the population. The social consequences of this tragic situation have been highlighted by a number of Opposition speakers. As I pointed out, fewer houses will be built under the new agreement. It must be obvious to every one that if the co-operative building society movement does not receive from the banks, insurance companies, superannuation funds, and other financial institutions, the money it requires to supplement the funds it will receive under this agreement, fewer homes will be built.
I turn now to the cost of homes, which I mentioned earlier when I said that this agreement would make houses dearer. The increase of the interest rate by 1 per cent, will increase the rent of a £3,000 cottage by approximately 10s. a week. Is not that a burden that will have to be borne by every person in industry, by every person who receives a pay envelope ? Is not that a great burden that will be thrust upon the aged, the infirm, and all the other people who find great difficulty in paying their rents to-day? Owing to the fact that, under the new agreement, the rental rebate system will not apply, every widow in this country will live to condemn this Government for its action in altering an agreement which gave protection to her. In my mail to-day, I received a letter from a widow in which she describes the great handicap under which she labours, even under existing conditions. She has two children. One of them has started work, and her income has increased, but, because of the increase, she is obliged to pay more in rent. Before, the child started work, she paid something like £1 18s. a week in rent for her house, but now her rent has been increased to £3 14s. 6d. a week.
This agreement will impose an intolerable burden on every age pensioner, every widow and every other person in distress. This Government, although it talks glibly about what it is doing to protect such people, has shown scant regard for them. Every honorable member who has any interest in the development of this country knows that we must have more and more homes, so that our people will feel that they have a stake in the nation, that they belong to it and that they will be able to rear their families under reasonable conditions. But, through the operation of this agreement, the lot of many people will be blighted. That statement is not based upon the idle word of somebody who has a grudge against society. Many thoughtful people have addressed themselves to this question. From time to time, we read in the press a letter of the type that was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 16th April. It was written by Mr. K. A. Boland, the secretary of the Australian Co-operative Building Societies Association, condemning the recent increase of the interest rate. “What he wrote on that subject is indicative of the view that is held by every person who is really interested in it.
As a former chairman of a co-operative building society, I know only too well how the people will be affected by this new agreement. I want to see a balanced home-building scheme, under which finance will be made available to people who want to build their own homes in country districts, suburban areas and city areas. I want to see a scheme in which the co-operative movement will be able to play its part by providing homes in our country towns. I direct the attention of the Minister to that important aspect of the matter. In recent times, money has not been available for cooperative building societies which operate in country areas, where homes are required urgently. I direct particular attention to Lithgow, my own home town. Efforts were made for some time, unsuccessfully, to obtain funds for a cooperative building society in Lithgow so that the people of that important industrial area could be housed properly. They manufacture rifles for defence, they dig the coal that provides the community with light, gas and heat, and they engage in many other industrial activities essen tial to the country. If the co-operative movement cannot provide houses, the fault does not lie with the movement. It lies with the financial institutions which are not making available the money that it requires to do its important work.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.Until I heard the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) deliver the speech that he has just made, I had a profound respect for his sincerity. But. after hearing what he has just said to the committee, I ask you, Mr. Temporary Chairman: To what depths of deceit and falsehood will spokesmen for the Labour party sink in an effort to distort the position ?
– I rise to order. The words used by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) are offensive to me, and I ask that they be withdrawn. He said that I was deceitful and insincere, and that my remarks were false.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN I think the honorable member for Lilley should withdraw those words.
– I asked: To what depths of falsehood and deceit will spokesmen for the Labour party sink in an effort to distort the position? That iswhat is recorded in Hansard.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.If that was the remark, it was unparliamentary.
– I withdraw it. When the honorable member for Macquarie was addressing the committee, he stated that, as a result of this legislation, the rents paid by people now living in housing commission homes would be increased. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is entirely wrong to suggest that this legislation will be responsible for any increases of the rentals of housing commission homes. I want to make it clear that the new agreement will place no onus on this Government to supervise in any way the types of houses that will he built hy the States. Under the agreement, this Government will make available to the States finance with which the States will be able to build houses of any structural sufficiency, any size or any type they like. The rents charged to the people who will live in those houses will be at the discretion of the State governments. If people in New South Wales find that they are required to pay higher rents, let them place the blame for that fairly and squarely on the Cahill Government, which will be responsible. If the Cahill Government wants to use this money to provide houses for the people at low rents, there is nothing in the agreement to prevent it from doing so. It will be free to build small single-unit dwellings or multiple-unit dwellings. It will be free to build any kind of dwelling that it likes, but, of course, the rent charged will be determined by the capital cost of the dwelling. If very expensive houses are built, the rents will be high.
Let us be honest in our approach to this matter. Do not let us distort the picture, as the honorable member for Macquarie did, purely for political purposes. Let us approach this matter with the objective of trying to do something decent for the people. What is the Labour party’s opposition to this agreement? It is confined to one provision, which departs from the terms of the old agreement - the provision which insists that at least 20 per cent, of the finance made available shall be used to enable people r,o buy their own homes. That is the thing that sticks in the craw of members of the Labour party. They do not want anybody to own his own home. They want to control the whole of the building industry and all the houses in Australia.
Let us look at the situation in Queensland. There, because of State legislation, building societies have been crippled. The Minister for “National Development (Senator Spooner) had to go to Queensland to interview personally the executives of the terminating building societies and other types of building society to see what assistance was needed to ensure that they would get their share of this finance, and that finance from other sources would not be reduced accordingly. He found that the building societies of Queensland, especially the terminating building societies, could flourish and grow only if the State legislation were amended. Let it not be forgotten that we in Queensland have been under Labour party domination for almost 40 years now. For that reason, the growth of the building society movement in Queensland has not been anywhere near as rapid as in other States. Building societies in Queensland cannot expand as quickly as those in other States, because State legislation restricts the volume of money on which they can operate in any one year. There is a limit to the volume of money which they can borrow based on the amount of normal repayments over a period of three years, and that is the limit of the volume of money that they can borrow to finance their operations in any one year. Before this legislation can work effectively in Queensland, there must be drastic alterations of the State legislation. The honorable member for Macquarie has said that the Premier of New South Wales has stated that 750 fewer houses will be built in New South Wales each year. How can he say that with truth? It is wrong to make any prediction in that connexion because nobody in this chamber knows how much money will be advanced.
This year, we advanced £30,000,000 under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Next year, it could be more or it could be less; nobody knows: The number of houses built will be determined by the volume of money available and the standard of the dwellings that are constructed; whether they are single or multiple unit dwellings, and whether they are big or small. Those matters are at the discretion of the State governments concerned. The volume of money available is a matter for agreement with the Australian Loan Council. If agreement cannot be reached with the Australian Loan Council, a decision will be made by the Commonwealth Government.
Let us get the facts clear. This agreement is an improvement on the old one. The old agreement tended to ensure that the houses would remain the property of the governments, and that the occupants could never own them, because it was stipulated that anybody who wanted to buy a house had to pay cash for it. Under the new agreement, 20 per cent, of the money available for two years will be at the disposal of building societies and other approved organizations, so that the man in the street can go along to a society and obtain an advance up to 90 per cent, of the cost of the home. He will be able to buy a home for himself by instalments, and his family will be able to grow up in the pride of home-ownership. That is one of the first principles of citizenship.
Let us not forget that the Minister for National Development has done his utmost to remedy the unfortunate situation that developed as a result of the socialist legislation of the previous government, which pinned down the whole of the housing industry in Australia for ten years. We are free of that now. For the next two years, 20 per cent, of the money advanced under the agreement will be available for homeownership, and for the succeeding three years, 30 per cent, will be available for that purpose.
This agreement has been made for five years. If the States sincerely want to see people own their own homes, there is nothing to stop their increasing the volume of money available to building societies and other institutions for private home-ownership. There is nothing to stop a State from devoting to that purpose every penny available to it. That lies within the discretion of the States. The Commonwealth Government will simply advance the money and specifies that, in the first two years, 20 per cent, of the money will be available for private home-ownership and, in the following three years, 30 per cent, will be available. I join with the honorable member for Macarthur in congratulating the Government upon this measure.
– The animated defence of building contractors that we have just heard from the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) suggests very strongly that he is more concerned with the interests of the building contractors than he is with the interests of the people who have to buy homes. This is not the first occasion upon which he has wasted the time of honorable members defending building contractors. We recall very clearly the time that he spent in defending the building contractors who were connected with the Zillmere housing project. Having robbed the Queensland Government of thousands of pounds in crooked building contracts, those contractors got the honorable member for Lilley to rise in this Parliament and try to shift the blame on to the Queensland Government when, in fact, the real blame rested with the private contractors who were engaged in that work.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member should devote his attention to the bill.
– As the chairman has directed, I shall now address the committee on the bill. The honorable member for Lilley said that the bill was a great improvement on the previous measure. Let us examine what he considers to be an improvement. The previous agreement provided that certain rebates should be granted in cases where a family was earning only the basic wage or less than the basic wage. There is nothing in this agreement which indicates clearly to me that that provision is to be retained. I should like somebody on the Government side, preferably a Minister, to state categorically that the system will be continued in the future and that, so far as it relates to buildings that are already constructed, it will not be interfered with at all.
– It will not be interfered with in the case of constructed buildings.
– One of the most amusing features of the honorable member’s remarks was his eulogy of the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), who sits in the gallery and smiles superciliously at the praise that is given to him, knowing full well that the honorable member for Lilley, who has just resumed his seat, is only pulling his leg. The Minister knows - just as the honorable member for Lilley knows - that this is a bad bill. I have no doubt that before they introduced this bill, they joked about it in the King’s Hall, and when they go out again they will laugh and joke and slap one another’s backs about the way that they tried to kid to the committee that this was a wonderful improvement on the previous legislation. I should like the honorable member for Lilley to tell the workers of Queensland, who will have to pay something like another 10s. a week in interest rates-
– They have a new Minister for Housing in Queensland. He will bring about an improvement.
– There is not a new Minister in charge of housing in this Parliament, and while we have the same Minister in office here, it will not matter how good a Minister for Housing they have in Queensland. The workers there will still have to pay 10s. more each week in higher interest charges alone. How can anybody who claims to represent the working people support a bill which increases by 10s. a week interest charges on the money borrowed for a home? How can an honorable member claim that this measure is an improvement on the previous legislation?
– The Labour government agreed to the interest charge of 5 per cent.
– It did nothing of the sort. That agreement provided for a lower rate of interest than is stipulated in this measure.
– It was the bond rate.
– The bond rate at that time was not 5 per cent. This Government has claimed that the rate of interest-
– Previously it followed the bond rate.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The Minister for the Army must remain silent.
– The Minister for the Army is also interested in this sort of activity, not so much from the point of view of the building contractors, but also from the viewpoint of the real estate agents. I recall very well an occasion when a certain honorable member in this chamber was able to produce, in this place, a letter that had been received from the business office of the Minister for the Army in which a certain proposition was put to a person. He was invited, in effect, to join in a con:spiracy to obtain money.
– I object to the statement by the honorable member for Hindmarsh, and ask that it be withdrawn.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member for Hindmarsh must withdraw his statement.
– I withdraw the statement about a conspiracy, and I am sorry I described as a conspiracy an attempt to obtain a loan from a Star Bowkett society for a person who had nothing to do with it, when the loan, iri fact, was meant to be for the Minister for the Army.
– I rise to order, Mr. Temporary Chairman. I suggest that, as we are at the committee stage of the bill, the honorable gentleman should confine his remarks to the clauses of the bill and not wander into subjects which were discussed in the House.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member is entitled to- make passing reference to matters in debate. I can assure the honorable member for Lilley that the Chair will watch the debate very carefully.
– I now have something to say about another statement made by the honorable member for Lilley. He said that this agreement is a wonderful thing, that it gives a man a grand opportunity to own his home. All he has to do is to find a 10 per cent, deposit. But the honorable member did not tell the committee that under this bill the maximum amount of loan for the building or purchase of a home is to be £2,750. He did not tell us that, as a result of the inflationary trends which this Government, through its bad administration, has created and encouraged, it is impossible to build a three-bedroom house, and buy the land on which it is to stand, for less than £3,750. Where does the honorable member for Lilley think an ordinary working man will get £1,000, which it would be necessary for him to have as deposit in order to be able to avail himself of the opportunity to borrow £2,750 under this measure? I could not save £1,000 on my salary, so how on earth can the workers, who are now on a pegged basic wage - the pegging of which this Government supports whole-heartedly - ever expect to be able to save for the deposit on a home the £1,000, which they would have to have before they could obtain a loan of £2,750 under the measure ?
One of the reasons for the high cost of home-building is that the Commonwealth Bank, at the direction of this Government, has refused to .provide finance for ordinary home-building, although it has made large amounts of money available for the building of factories, hotels, picture theatres and all kinds of elaborate extensions to city properties. The trouble there is not only the channelling of money in those directions, but also the fact that building materials and manpower which are so badly needed for the construction of ordinary residences are being used for this luxury type of building undertaking. Therefore, we on this side of the chamber would like from the Government a definite undertaking that the rental rebate system, which was initiated by the Chifley Labour Government under the original agreement, will be continued under the new agreement. We want a definite undertaking from the O overmen t that those who are now living in homes built under the old agreement will continue to get the full benefit of the rebate system.
– It will still operate in connexion with houses built under the old agreement.
– There is nothing in the bill to say that it will.
– The old agreement had a duration of 53 years.
– I would like to ask the Minister now whether the same system will apply in the future.
– That has nothing to do with it.
– It has a lot to do with it.
– It is in the hands of the States. The States can sell them.
– The States can sell them !
– They get the money from the same source as they will get it from under this bill.
– Under the Chifley Government’s agreement the Commonwealth helped to finance the rebate system.
– That agreement i* finished.
– Exactly! That agreement is finished, and therefore we can take it that, under the new agreement, the rebate system will not apply.
– That has nothing to do with it. The 53 years’ terms continue under the old agreement.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member will address the Chair.
– But what about new buildings built under the new agreement? I am concerned about them.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– We have had many speeches from the Opposition to-night on this subject. Most of them have been very heated, but have not really dealt with the bill. They have been confined to attacks on the Government which have nothing to do with the proposal we are now considering. I seems to me that we can sum up this bill by saying that, under it. the major proportion of money allocated to the Statemay be expended by them on housing in such manner as they please, with the proviso that in the first two years 20 per cent, of the money allocated and, in the remaining three years of the currency of the agreement, 30 per cent, of the money allocated is to be set aside to encourage home-ownership through building societies.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The committee must keep order.
– That proviso seems to me to he an excellent one. Everybody must agree that we want to build the best homes possible. As I have travelled from Ballarat to Melbourne 1 have seen on the right-hand side of the road just before the Albion crossing, houses which, I think, will become the new slums of Melbourne. I think they are in the electorate of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), although that may not be so.
– Does the honorable member know who is building those bouses ? They are being built by new Australians because they are not eligible for the kind of homes to be built under this measure.
– I am not speaking of the houses to which the honorable member is referring. The houses he ha? in mind are just on the Melbourne side of Deer Park.
– That is correct.
– I am not referring to them. I am speaking of houses nearer to Albion. They are not being built by new Australians, because they are all of the same type. I believe they are being built by the Victorian Housing Commission. I repeat that we all must agree, even the honorable member for Lalor, that we want to build the best possible houses. People on low incomes, and working people generally, should get the best possible homes. It has been pointed out that the homes built under this agreement may cost a little more than those built under the old agreement, and we must admit that the rents may be higher in certain circumstances.
Now I turn to the remarks of the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt). I have spoken to many people who require homes, and I have had contact with home-building societies. I have learned that people are quite willing to pay a little extra for a better home if some advantages accrue to them by so doing. Under the present proposition they will gain at least two advantages for whatever extra amount they will have to pay in rent or in purchase price. First, they will get a better home. Secondly - and this is a big factor - they will get a chance to own a good home.
The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) said that people cannot get money to build homes. That has been said by other people, and has been confirmed by the honorable member for Lalor. It is very probably true. But if money is tight it is not because finance is not being made available, but because demands for loans are, in the aggregate, very heavy. That is a sign of the times in this country. At present more money is being lent for housing and for many other purposes than ever before in our history. It is not right to say that money is tight now because banks are not lending. The banks have more money out than ever before.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! I shall have silence, or I shall thin the committee out a little.
– It is impossible to get unlimited money because unlimited funds are not available. If money becomes tight, it is because most of the money available is being used satisfactorily. I support the bill because I want to see home-ownership encouraged, and I believe that the bill will encourage it.
The honorable member for Darebin made a very spirited speech, but I think he ran away with himself in some parts of it. He talked about evictions in Victoria. By interjection I directed his attention to Camp Pell, in Melbourne. He has said that this Government is not doing anything about the housing problem. Let me remind the honorable gentleman that he was a Minister in a Victorian Labour government not long “aero, when Camp Pell was a blot on the landscape of Melbourne. The Government of which he was a member could do nothing about it but hold un its hands in despair. Although the present Victorian Government is not one which is representative of my party, even the honorable member for Darebin would have to take off his hat to it for doing away with the slum section of Camp Pell.
– Where are the people to go? Are they to be evicted?
– They are going into the electorate of Darebin and the honorable member for Darebin is very happy to have them. That is the answer to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). If the honorable member for Darebin makes a speech at the committee stage of the bill he will tell the House that they are going ‘into much better circumstances and much better homes than they had at Camp Pell, thanks to the present Victorian Government. The Labour party could do nothing under its own agreement. If credit for this agreement is claimed for the Labour party, all I can say is that it took the present Government to put it into operation; but I deny such a claim. Any bill that will encourage homeownership will have my support. As this bill does not take too great a proportion of the available money for that purpose but allows to the States the use of most of it as they think fit, it must be a good bill. I give it my support.
– I want to refer, to begin with, to the remarks which have been made by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) about Camp Pell. What has happened in Victoria under the administration of the present Liberal Government and partly as a result of the tightness of finance following the policy of this Government is that the Victorian Government has had to bring to an end the provision of emergency housing. Camp Pell was the type of emergency housing that was available. I inform the committee, particularly those honorable members from Victoria who know nothing about emergency housing, that during the course of the last month five of my constituents applied for and were anxious to get accommodation at Camp Pell. Instead of this emergency housing accommodation being available for them at Camp Pell, they have been forced to live in houses which have been subject to demolition orders for 25 years, the backyards of which are absolutely soaking with stagnant water and the sewerage systems of which do not work. Those are the kinds of houses into which people have been forced to congest themselves because of the inability of the Victorian Government to continue an emergency housing system. Of couse, we wanted to keep Camp Pell. Camp Pell would have been a great improvement on the houses in which these people have been forced to live. As I have said, five people in my electorate, during the course of the last month, have been anxious to get into Camp Pell because the accommodation they occupied was absolutely hopeless. Seven or eight people in my electorate are being evicted each week. That is the housing position which we face at the present time.
The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) and the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) have had a great deal to say about the value of the provision for co-operative and building societies of 20 per cent, of the money to be advanced to the States. They have specified two distinct advantages. They say, first, that it will lead to an increase in the number of houses built; and secondly, that it will lead to an increase in home-ownership. The position, as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), so clearly pointed out during the absence from the House of those two honorable members earlier this evening, is that the co-operative housing societies and the building societies are already getting that money from the Commonwealth Bank.
– I rise to order. I ask that that statement be corrected. I was present in the House at the time.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! No point of order is involved.
– The Commonwealth Bank has provided money for the cooperative societies up to the level of the resources that are available, and it has made it clear that if more resources were available more money would be provided. If £2,000.000 for the State of Victoria is to be provided under this agreement, then the Commonwealth Bank will not provide that £2,000,000 for the co-operative societies because the resources will not be available. Therefore, this provision does not increase the prospects of home-ownership or home construction. Much of the weight of argument of the Government in supporting this very imperfect measure has been based upon that ground.
The Government has also put forward the argument that the housing situation is very satisfactory. There are two ways in which the housing situation may become satisfactory. The first is from the side of supply, the number of houses that are built. Again the honorable member for Batman has shown clearly the production figures in the graph that he produced. It is a good thing that he did produce that graph because it is so much easier for honorable members on the Government side to understand. He showed that the number of houses that have been built annually since this Government has been in office has ranged between 70,000 and 80,000 despite the fact that the population has risen by 1,250,000. ls that a satisfactory supply record? Let me now have a look at the demand side, because any one who knows anything about economics knows that the situation is affected by both supply and demand. I suggest that if there has been any diminution of excess demand for housing in Australia in recent years it is because of things that have been happening on the demand side. Because the cost of housing and rentals have risen extraordinarily, houses, either to buy or rent, have been forced out of the reach of more and more people.
So, as a result of the policy of the Government, or rather its lack of policy, if the housing situation has been relieved it has been because costs have risen out of the reach of so many people who would otherwise be in a position to rent, or build or buy houses. The only time when the housing situation was satisfactory, according to the Government tests, was in the 1930’s when we had from 10 per cent, to 27 per cent, unemployment. That was a time when we had houses to spare. We had them to spare at that time not because building was satisfac tory but because people could not afford to pay the ruling rentals or to buy houses. That is the condition to which the Government is bringing the housing situation in this country. A reduction in excess demand for houses might have been achieved because of the building record, but if it has been, it is because of increases in costs and because of the fact that so many people cannot afford houses at the present costs. That fact is clear.
Now, let me say something about which we should all be concerned. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) spoke some little time ago and said there were 150,000 vacant houses in this country. I am prepared to offer the Minister for the Army £25 in cash for every vacant house he can tell me about in the City of Melbourne.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member is not in order in making such a statement.
– I think the situation has to be related, finally, to national policy, because the Minister for the Army was right in one thing he said - it may have slipped out accidentally-
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! I ask the honorable member for Watson and the honorable member for Mallee to be quiet.
– At the present time, the Minister said, the problem is not one of money but one of resources. I think that, fundamentally, that is the problem with regard to housing and also so many of the other essential things of which we are in need at the present time. When the Government permits an average return on industrial investment of 18£ per cent., what hope is there of obtaining resources for housing, when the average return from housing is not more thar from 8 per cent, to 12£ per cent.? There is need to make those exorbitant profits a little less attractive in luxury industrial investment, and that can be done by instituting a proper and reasonable tax policy. That is where housing difficulties are primarily created. While this Government remains in office it will permit profits to rise to fantastically high levels for private investment. Resources of men and materials will thus be drawn from the building of houses aud the provision of other essential services, which return only reasonable rates of profits, into avenues where profits are indeed fantastic. Until the Government is prepared to accept its responsibility and to adopt a proper and fair taxation policy, and to place returns in this section of the economy into proper relationship with others, the Minister for the Army will be for ever complaining about shortages of men and materials for house construction. When the Government has taken that action, it will be able to provide to the States, under the terms of the housing agreement, more revenue for the provision of houses.
In the past, the amount of money that has been provided for the States has been specified, but no amount is specified in the new agreement. It might be more, it might be the same, or it might be less per annum than has been provided under the 1945 agreement. If it is less, the States will have less money to build houses that will cost more. We saw the honorable member for Lilley rise to his feet, showing signs of stress that seemed to have nothing to do with housing. He attacked the argument advanced by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), and stated that there would be no increase of costs. As the honorable member for Macquarie so clearly pointed out, an increase of 1 per cent, in the interest rate will mean an increase of 10s. a week in the rent payable on a £3,000 house. Is that not an added cost? How can the States avoid passing on the increase in the interest rate? Would not the private builders for whom the honorable member for Lilley so often seems to speak pass on an increase of costs? Is it not unavoidable under this agreement?
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. FAIRHALL (Paterson- Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works’
Yarra (Mr. Cairns) suggested a few moments ago that Australia’s financial resources were fully occupied, and to that so-called fact he pinned an allegation that the Commonwealth Bank would withdraw from its support of private home construction an amount equivalent to that which the Government now proposes shall be placed in the hands of the building societies. If these resources are fully occupied, it must be clearly understood that any addition to the amount of money that is now made available for house construction will increase inflation and lead to increased costs and rents. How the argument advanced by the honorable member for Yarra and the argument of those who say that more money should be provided for housing can be reconciled. I do not quite know. The provision of more money would simply mean, as a result of inflation, increased costs, but no increase of the number of houses available. The suggestion that the amount of money that is made available by the Commonwealth Bank will be reduced by an amount equivalent to that which is to be made available to the building societies under this agreement is so much moonshine. In many of the States in which the co-operative building movement is not completely established or developed, there is ample room for expansion. To limit the argument to what might happen in a certain State is to give a completely distorted picture of what will happen in the housing field generally.
It may be true that, consequent noon the increase of the bond rate and of the interest rate, the rent on housing commission homes will rise, but we would be foolish if we did not accept the rising bond rate as a fact of life. We m 11, t also remember that the upward trend of wages has kept pace with the rise of the longterm bond rate.
– The basic wage has been pegged.
– There is talk about, the basic waste having been pegged but. just as the honorable member bao !-een a little rash in offering so much mn,’Bv for information about vacant houses. T think he will be a little hard put in ‘hiding very many workers who are on the basicwage. The fact is that the average male worker in Australia to-day receives more than £17 a week. If the honorable member wishes to advance the argument thai such a wage prevents a person from becoming a home-owner, he ought to look at figures that were supplied recently by the Association of Co-operative Building Societies Limited, which has furnished information about the kind of people who have lodged applications with the building societies. The information, supplied by the association effectively answers several of the arguments that have been advanced to-night. In one State - I think it was New South “Wales - in which the average loan sought was £2,335, thcaverage income of .the applicants was £17 37s. a week, and the average amount of cash required was £687. Therefore, the suggestion that it is necessary to pay a deposit of £1,000, and that it is impossible to save that much money on the average worker’s wage, is refuted. It lion record that the average deposit of £687 is being produced by people who have stated their income as being £17 17s. a week.
Now let me refer to something about which I know a little more. I have before me some figures in relation to Newcastle, where 95 per cent, of the applicants are industrial workers and mainly husband and wife incomes are involved. In that city, the average deposit is between 10 per cent, and 20 per cent, of the total cost of the house, and the average cost of houses is £3,000. 1 think one honorable member said tonight that persons in receipt of less than £20 are now in the lower income bracket.
– That is right.
– That is evidence of a state of prosperity during the term of office of this Government, if you like. But one cannot draw a line of demarcation at £17 or £20 and regard people who are in receipt of less than that sum as being in the lower income group. If honorable members opposite do that, they destroy the validity of their, own argument, because the figures I have quoted show that there are countless people in that wage group who are paying reasonable deposits to the building societies and are purchasing their own houses. It is an article of the Liberal faith that people should be encouraged to build their own houses, and, as set out in the agreement, the Government believes that it should be done by providing that in the first two years 20 per cent., and in the succeeding three years 30 per cent., of the money to be made available to the States shall be allocated to this deserving class.
– They could buy their own homes through the housing commissions.
– They may buy their homes through the housing commissions if they so wish, but they would be buying standardized homes situated, in many cases, in a colony of such houses. If, from an elevated position, we look at houses built by the various housing commissions, we find that in too many cases they constitute a blot on the landscape. I am speaking particularly about New South Wales.
– What utter rubbish ! What about the jerry-builder who ruined the country long before there were housing commission settlements?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! Will the honorable member for Parkes allow the Minister to speak?
– As I have indicated, there are persons in the community who are in receipt of the average working man’s wage and who prefer to choose houses of their own design and to have them built in situations that suit, them so that they may be near relatives or have a. good outlook. Surely those persons are entitled to a share of the funds that are to be provided by the Commonwealth. For the last ten years, we have had an agreement that was drawn up by a Labour government, which inevitably put into operation Labour’s policy that homes should be built for rental. Under that agreement, the States became the greatest landlords of all time. This Government has carried out to the letter, faithfully and well, the provisions of the agreement that it inherited. Thank goodness, succeeding governments do carry out faithfully the provisions of agreements that they inherit. Surely the Labour party would not deny to this Government, which has a different attitude towards this question, the right to have written into this agreement certain aspects of its policy. I am prepared to agree, and I deplore the fact that this country is going socialist all too fast. But if honorable members opposite think that because a Labour government wrote socialism into the legislation, a succeeding government of different political persuasion should continue it, I assure him that this Government will not permit that sort of folly.
This Government has spoken its last word on this matter. It believes in private home ownership, and is providing funds for that purpose. It is standing up to a tremendous volume of criticism because of that, but it is convinced that it is right and proper that there should be written into this housing agreement some small part of its own policy on housing. The Government has left in the bill tremendous areas completely free for the State governments to apply whatever policy they choose in accordance with their political ideas. They will be able to use as they like 70 per cent, or 80 per cent, of the money made available to them under this agreement, and it is reasonable that, in succeeding years, the remaining 20 per cent, or 30 per cent, should be devoted to home ownership in accordance with Liberal policy.
– An important feature which has so far emerged from the debate on this agreement is the fact that fewer houses will be built in New South “Wales and, as a result, the present deplorable shortage of homes throughout Australia will be accentuated to a marked degree. The approach of the Government to this matter is unrealistic and false. A most amateurish effort was made by the Minister (Mr. Fairhall), when introducing the bill, to suggest that the agreement would bestow considerable benefits upon the masses of the people who wanted homes. That is incorrect, as has been proved by speakers from this side of the House. It is clear from official reports that the people who are most in need of homes are those in the lower income bracket. The Minister said that the percentage was low, but to refute his statement I quote from the fourteenth annual report of the Housing Commission of New South Wales for the year ended the 30th June, 1955. lt shows that 53.9 per cent, of the applicants for homes in New South Wales were earning less than £14 a week, and that group included unskilled workers, pensioners and unemployed persons. Unskilled workers represent 52.8 per cent., so that more than half the applicants for commission homes do not come within the group who earn £20 a week. It is unreal and impractical for the Government to suggest that these persons will gain any benefit from the allocation of a substantial proportion of the total amount allocated by this Government to New South Wales for housing.
The married couples who have applied to the Housing Commission for homes, with families ranging from one child to seven, represent 75 per cent, of the total number of applicants. These statistics underline the fact that the proposal of the Government is false. Unquestionably, those who are its principal supporters are the big real -estate agents in the major cities of the Commonwealth, who will reap a rich harvest out of cutting up land and reselling it through various societies. The number of people already on the books of the building societies runs into thousands, but it is true to say that, comparatively speaking, they are a small section of the great majority who do not earn anything like sufficient to allow them to accumulate a deposit of even £300. The average deposit required is about £1,000. This report contains this terse comment -
It is apparent that few are in the high income group and that the majority already have family responsibilities. In the main they are not people who would be likely to benefit greatly, at least directly, by -a, more generous flow of finance for .the private home builder.
It is estimated that there is a shortage of about 350,000 homes in Australia. Reference has been made to the district of Wollongong-Port Kembla, which is thehub of the steel industry of this country.
It is the most advanced section of Australian industry, but in the vicinity of that vast, wealthy area, great numbers of people are living under terrible conditions. A large number of immigrants were brought to Australia, willy-nilly, by this Government and many were thrown to the winds to look after themselves.
– The hostels are only half full. They could go there if they liked.
– Order ! The honorable member for Macarthur must not interject.
– The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) knows nothing of the conditions in that district. On the shore of Lake Illawarra 41 persons, consisting of eighteen adults and 23 children, were found living in a building which had been used as a prawn depot. The premises consisted of a concretewalled smoke room 30 feet by 40 feet, a store room and two galvanized iron sheds. In January, 1954, the health inspectors from the Wollongong Council had visited the premises and found seven children and four adults living there. In March, 1956, the inspectors again visited the premises, and found the same conditions. The important point is that the migrants who occupy these premises have nowhere else in the district to go, and they have been exploited because of the sharp practices which exist, as a result of the acute housing shortage. In the camping reserve on the lake shore, at least twenty or 30 families are living in tents, for each of which they pay £4 or £5 a week. In one case, the eldest child is a lad of twenty years of age, the youngest is about five, and there are several other children of intermediate ages. They cannot obtain accommodation elsewhere.
I have received many letters asking for help to obtain housing accommodation. That district is a hotbed of discontent, because the great majority of these people are rearing families, but they are earning an average of less than £14 a week, and they have not Buckley’s chance of finding a deposit to purchase a home through a building society. I know that in some cases some would-be purchasers have £2,000 in their bank accounts, but the local estate agents cannot arrange the balance of finance necessary to help them purchase homes. According to a report from the Town Clerk of the Greater City of Wollongong, 400 temporary dwellings in the greater city area are occupied without approval. The council does not want to encourage this sort of thing, and is trying to eliminate it,, but where can the people go? No alternative accommodation is available for them. The important fact to remember is that the wageearners of these families are part of the essential Australian labour force in this great industrial area, but no provision is made in this agreement to make available to the Government of New South Wales money to provide these people with homes on a rental basis. Consequently, they will not gain anything from this legislation. On that ground, the agreement will be a total failure.
The measure will do nothing about eliminating sub-standard slums in Sydney. A few years ago, the Sydney City Council made a survey, and of 241 homes inspected the age of the majority was about 80 year3. They were in a shocking condition, but were still occupied by human beings. The natural lighting was substandard in 82 per cent, of them, and permanent ventilation was sub-standard in 90 per cent.
– What a terrible indictment of the State Government!
– They go back to the days-
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
House adjourned at 2.1 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the Minister acting for the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The following answers are suppliedto the honorable member’s questions: -
d asked the Minister represent ing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following information : - 1.Since 1939, shipping freights have been variedas follows: - (a)Exports eight increases.
New South Wales - eleven increases up to 1952 when general cargo trade as such virtually ceased, one decrease.
New South Wales - Sydney -Newcastle, general cargo (prior to its cessation in 1952.)
The date of each freight increase in terms of money and percentage in export, import, interstate and intra-state trades together with reasons for these increases, where this information can be furnished, is as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 June 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1956/19560620_reps_22_hor11/>.