22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I should like to ask the Minister for Immigration a few questions relating to the campaign to encourage the emigration of British citizens to this country. Will the Minister tell me the actual number of immigrants who have arrived here under this scheme? Will he say who is responsible, as a general rule, for the payment of fares in each case? Is there a vast distinction between the emigration of British people to Australia and the emigration of those who have their fares paid by the international organization? Is it a fact that fares paid by the international organization for certain European nationals are in substance paid by the United States Government, which subscribes to the funds of the international organization? ls it not the discrimination in the payment of fares that causes a comparatively tiny number of British immigrants to come to this country?
– The Leader of the Opposition asks, first, to be informed of the number of people who have come to this country under the “ Bring out a Briton “ scheme. Up to the present, more than 450 people have come here, although the scheme, of course, is only in its infancy, and 40 more families are either on the way now or are about to leave the United Kingdom. A side effect of the “ Bring out a Briton “ scheme has been a tremendous increase in the number of personally nominated British people. For instance, up to this time last year, about 16,000 such persons had been nominated. Up to, I think, the end of October of this year, about 25,000 people had been personally nominated. The cost of bringing British people to this country is about £160. Of that amount, Australia pays £ 142 Australian and the British Government is now paying about £6 sterling. The migrant himself pays £10. European people who come out under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration have their fares paid by that organization. Most of the funds of that organization are contributed by the United States, although Australia is also a contributor. In round figures, we pay £30 to £35 for European immigrants against £140 for British immigrants.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for External Affairs. In the light of the tension which seems to be rising once again in the Middle East, does the Minister believe that Syria’s apprehension is justified?
– Syria has made complaints before about the concentration of troops in the south of Turkey. This matter was considered recently by the United Nations, but Syria did not command sufficient support and the proposed resolution feil to the ground. It was withdrawn, and was not pursued by Syria. The press in recent times has carried frequent allegations from Damascus about this kind of thing. I think that the honorable gentleman can be assured that Turkey has no aggressive intent whatever. It has to be remembered that Turkey is bounded on the north by Soviet Russia and on the south by Syria, which has had massive Russian support and arms. I think that if Turkey has some concentration of forces towards her southern border, she is taking only normal precautions. Any one who is acquainted with the politics of the Middle East and knows the history of the Ottoman Empire, will agree that the last thing to happen would be for Turkey to use aggression against an Arab state of the Middle East. It is also to be remembered that Turkey is a member both of Nato and the Baghdad pact, a fact which, I think, is almost a guarantee that she would not dare to take aggressive action on her own in the Middle East. I think I can say that Syria’s expressions of fear, if one can call it that, are purely in the nature of propaganda, and have no foundation in fact.
– Will the Treasurer consider the possibility of paying 50 per cent, of the expenses involved in taking sick children overseas to undergo operations which are not performed in Australia, thereby encouraging the public to subscribe the balance of the cost? My reason for asking this question is that there may -be many children who require treatment overseas, but whose parents are not in a position to meet the heavy cost involved.
– Medical expenses are already allowable deductions for income tax purposes. However, I shall consider the question that the honorable member has asked.
– I preface a question, which is addressed to the Minister for the Interior, by inviting the attention of the House to the excellent publication, “ Australia Builds “, which has been distributed to members of this Parliament. Having looked through it, I think that it is one of the finest and most comprehensive publications to be issued by the News and Information Bureau. It seems that the bureau has excelled itself in preparing this presentable, although condensed, account of the progress and activities of this country. I understand that this publication is intended primarily for distribution in overseas countries, but I think that its educational value to young Australians would be very great. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether there is any possibility of a free issue of the publication to Australian scholars or, alternatively, the issue of a copy to each school throughout Australia. Perhaps, if neither of those courses is possible, the publication could be made available to schools at cost price.
– I am more than grateful to the honorable gentleman for his laudatory comments on the latest publication of the News and Information Bureau. The News and Information Bureau is working on quite a restricted budget. Its main concern, in respect of the publication of books of the type referred to is, of course, to further the education of people abroad, by distributing such publications through trade offices and the diplomatic service. I do not think that there would be sufficient books available from the first printing for distribution throughout Australia, nor do I believe that the vote of the News and Information Bureau could meet the cost of printing the number that would be required. However, if the schools are interested in a publication of this kind for general distribution, or for circulation through school libraries, I shall endeavour to make arrangements with the departments of education in the various States.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether medical practitioners are allowed to charge the wife or husband of a pensioner who dies a fee for issuing a death certificate under the pensioner medical service. If so,’ is there any limit to the amount that may be charged? Is the Minister aware that some medical practitioners are charging pensioners as much as three guineas for issuing death certificates? Will the Minister say whether such charges are justified, and are within the ability of pensioners to pay? Further, will the Minister examine this matter with a view to putting a stop to these extortionate charges?
– I am not aware of any charges of the nature mentioned by the honorable member. A charge of three guineas would, of course, be quite inadmissible under the pensioner medical scheme. I think, perhaps, the honorable member might be referring to charges for cremation certificates. I am not quite certain whether such charges would be included in the pensioner medical scheme. The pensioner medical scheme provides for actual attendance on patients for which, of course, payment is at a specified rate. If the honorable member will give me particulars of the instances of which he is complaining, I will have them investigated.
– My question to the Minister for Health relates to an alleged increase in fees charged to patients at mental hospitals. I am informed that these fees have recently been increased to £300 a year and are being charged either against the estate of the patient or the next of kin. On inquiry being made of the relevant authority in New South Wales, a senior official said that the reason for the increased charges was that the Commonwealth Government had reduced the subsidy being paid to the State governments for mental hospitals.
Has the Commonwealth subsidy been reduced? If so, what is the reason for the reduction?
– I am not aware of the source of the honorable member’s information. I can only say that it is quite incorrect. Some years ago there was an agreement under which the Commonwealth paid the State governments a certain amount - actually a very small amount - for each occupied bed in mental hospitals. That agreement has been replaced by another one and, in fact, the effect of terminating the first agreement is the precise opposite of what the information given to the honorable member suggests. The new agreement, which arose out of the Stoller report, is based on the fact that the paramount need of mental hospitals, as disclosed by that report, was for funds for capital expenditure: This> Government therefore terminated the previous agreement and replaced it by one under which State governments receive a sum - actually, £10,000,000 - oven a period, and upon certain conditions, for capital expenditure on mental hospitals. The net result of this is that the finance now provided by the Commonwealth for State mental hospitals is more and not less than it used to be. Consequently, the information given to the honorable member is not only incorrect but also misleading.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport whether it is a fact that the Government has loaned two Commonwealth ships, “ Bulwarra “ and “ Baralga “, to the Japanese Government to carry nickel and scrap iron from New Caledonia to Japan. Is it a fact, also, that another Commonwealth ship, “ River Derwent “, has also been employed to carry iron ore from Malaya to Japan? Is the Minister aware that ships of the “ River Derwent “ class were not built to cope with dead weight cargoes such as iron ore? Will he inform the House whether these activities are part of the programme of this Government to prevent Australian National Line steamers from competing on Australian coastal routes, thus giving an open go to conference line steamers?
– I undertake to convey the comments of the honorable member to my colleague and get a reply.
– As the British are continuing their policy of granting selfgovernment by now extending that privilege to Jamaica, does the Minister for External Affairs agree that this is the right approach and is to be applauded? Further, does the Minister agree that Britain’s policy is the reverse of that of Soviet Russia, whose actions deprive people of their freedom and. self-government?
– I greatly regret that I did not entirely get the purport of the honorable gentleman’s question. I understand that it is in connexion with the degree of selfgovernment given to Jamaica. I am afraid that I am not up to date in this matter, but I shall make inquiries and advise the honorable gentleman as soon as possible.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the Leader of the Australian Country party in New South. Wales has announced his intention to join with the Premier, Mr. Cahill, in a fresh attempt to obtain financial assistance from the Commonwealth to meet the £5,000,000 freight bill for wheat to be shipped from. Western Australia? In view of the fact that pensioners and thousands of young families on fixed incomes are bound to suffer serious hardship through price increases for eggs, as well as for bread, breakfast foods, flour, poultry feed, and many other wheat products, will the Prime Minister agree to reconsider this vital matter?
– I am not aware of what has happened in the Parliament of New South Wales. No doubt, if any application comes to the Commonwealth it will come from the Premier and it will be considered. If, otherwise, the honorable member’s proposition is that we should, at this stage, re-open the Budget, the answer is, “ No “.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister a question without notice. In view of the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures released yesterday which show that the number of new houses completed and under construction is substantially less than in any year since 1951, and that the number commenced represents only a small increase on the low figure of 60,000, and in view of the continuing rise in population and housing costs, does the Prime Minister adhere to the statement that he made in this House on 20th March, that the arrears of housing over and above the normal annual demand will entirely disappear in the course of only a few years?
– 1 fear that the honorable member and I have not been looking at the same set of statistician’s figures. The Commonwealth Statistician’s figures fell on to my desk this morning and, I believe, were made publicly available yesterday, and I was greatly struck by the remarkable improvement shown in housing figures over the last two quarters.
– I preface a question to the Minister for External Affairs by expressing my interest that the second United Nations seminar on the prevention of crime is to be held in Tokyo, commencing on 25th November, when more than 100 delegates from 2 1 Asian countries will tackle problems of juvenile delinquency and vice. As Australia does not appear on the list of participating countries - despite the fact that we have become increasingly conscious of our role in Asia - and because Britain will be sending experts to lead discussions, I ask the right honorable gentleman: First, does he consider that Australia should be represented at this seminar? Secondly, was Australia represented at the first such conference held in Rangoon in 1954? Thirdly, will he seek permission, as a matter of urgency, for Australia to send a delegate or an observer to the Tokyo conference?
– I know about the conference on juvenile deliquency and crime to be held in Tokyo, although we have not been advised of it officially. I understand that this is the second conference of this kind, the first having been held, I think, about three years ago. This conference is entirely an affair for Asian countries, from, I think, Afghanistan in the west to Japan in the east. I believe that 21 countries are involved, and only Asian countries have been invited. It is apparently one of a regular series of conferences, held at intervals of several years. It is true that an Australian expert in penal matters was invited to attend the earlier conference. In a manner of speaking, he led the conference by making a prepared statement on a given subject. This time, as I understand it, an Englishman with similar professional qualifications is being asked to do the same thing. Australia has not been invited, and, so far as I am aware, only Asian countries have been invited. I think the United Nations technical assistance agency is organizing the conference. I do not believe, in those circumstances, that it would be appropriate for Australia to seek an invitation to what might be called a local Asian affair. As we have not been invited even to send an expert to the conference, I do not believe the Government would be well advised to seek an invitation. I also believe that no slur was intended to be cast on Australia by the failure to invite a representative to attend.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether, in all cases of appeals by public servants to a Public Service appeal tribunal, when security reports are involved, he will, in conformity with the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in Jenck’s case, make available to the appellant or his solicitor the relevant security reports affecting the matter being considered.
– I will have a look at this suggestion.
– I preface my question to the Minister for External Affairs by stating that the other day an Estonian lady arrived in Australia to join her daughter. It was reported that this lady had recently been released from a slave camp in Siberia, where she had been incarcerated for sixteen years. Can the Minister give any information regarding these slave camps, particularly as to the number of unhappy people affected and the reason for their detention? Is there any action that Australia can take to direct world attention to this matter?
– Efforts have been made in the past to estimate the number of persons in slave camps in Soviet Russia. All the estimates have been very large, but they have varied within fairly wide limits. 1 do not believe that it is practicable to seek definitive or even rough information on this subject, and, in the present state of affairs, I believe, regrettably, that there is nothing that Australia can do about it.
– I ask the Minister for Trade whether it is a fact that for very many years New Zealand has had an adverse trade balance with this country. Is it a fact that in the year ended on 30th June last Australian exports to New Zealand rose from £40,000,000 to £51,000,000, showing an increase of £11,000,000, whilst imports from New Zealand increased from £10,000,000 to only £14,000,000, thus showing a worsening of the position, from the New Zealand viewpoint, to the extent of £7,000,000 for the year? In view of the expressed concern of the Minister for balanced trade between Australia and Japan, will he state what plans the Government has for rectifying the position of trade between Australia and New Zealand, or is most-favoured-nation treatment reserved by this Government for our former enemies, and denied to our allies, and nations of the British Commonwealth?
– In accordance with his usual practices, the honorable member has falsified a statement made by me, and has attempted to use his falsification as the basis for a question. I have never advocated balanced trade between Australia and Japan.
– The Minister has done so, in this House.
– I have advocated the protection of Australia’s export trade with Japan.
– What a hypocrite!
– The honorable member for East Sydney merely sneers at that. He does not understand that, in this country, employment and prosperity cannot be separated from the sale to the best advantage of our great export commodities - for which Japan has proved to be the second best customer. Neither, apparently, is he aware that it is in the national interest that our exports to Japan should be encouraged, and, indeed, that we cannot ignore the fact that relations between Australia and Japan are not helped and Australia’s prosperity is not promoted by the honorable member, who is a prominent spokesman for the Australian Labour party, seeking on every possible occasion to incite Australian sentiment against Japan, which is a Pacific power. Such action does not contribute to the well-being of Australia, and it is a poor reflection on the standards of the Australian Labour party, and on its contribution to the Australian scene, that the honorable member’s attitude should be so constantly tolerated, and, indeed, vocally supported, in the ranks of that party.
– Is the Treasurer able to give to the House any information about a case in the Victorian Supreme Court, in which, on the completion of the hearing on Monday last, the Taxation Branch obtained an order for the payment of tax moneys by a taxpayer?
– My attention has been directed to the case, and I have asked for a report on it.
– I direct a question to you, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that, for the first time for some years, all the Ministers of the present Government are now in Australia at the same time? Will you take appropriate action to have this historic, memorable, and unforgettable occasion suitably recorded?
– All that I can say is that it is in the interests of the development and progress of Australia.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Primary Industry a question. In view of the decision to provide New South Wales and Queensland with wheat from the surplus stocks held in Western Australia, will the Minister request Cooperative Bulk Handling Limited, in Western Australia, to separate the strong wheat from the weak wheat, as is being done in South Australia, in order to improve the milling quality?
– The suggestion made by the honorable member for Farrer is a worthy one. I will have it referred to Co -operative Bulk Handling Limited in Western Australia, and will suggest that it take the appropriate action.
– I direct to the Prime Minister a question concerning the levying of charges by the Australasian Performing Right Association Limited. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that this organization is arbitrarily levying charges on guest houses, clubs, and hotels, without regard to the number of guests, and other relevant factors, for radio programmes received by them? Will the Prime Minister take action to rectify an anomalous situation in which differential charges are made, and, if necessary, will he have the law amended in order to bring it into line with the relevant English act, which exempts clubs and guest houses from charges when the broadcasts of performances are received for the entertainment of members and guests, respectively?
– Naturally, I am not aware of the basis on which charges are levied by the Australasian Performing Right Association, but I shall make inquiries in relation to the matter referred to by the honorable member, and advise him.
– Is the Minister for the Army aware of the high standard of efficiency and suitability of natives of Papua and New Guinea in the Pacific Islands Regiment? If so, will the Minister give consideration to providing greater opportunity for those natives to enlist in this fine regiment, in view of the tiny force now recruited by the Australian Army?
– Yes, I agree with the honorable member that the natives in Papua and New Guinea are very efficient, very enthusiastic and very loyal, and one can well be proud of them when one visits New Guinea as, I understand, several honorable members have done, including the honorable member for Calare. Personally, I should like to increase the numbers of natives who may receive training, because such training has the dual advantage that, in addition to being training in defence it is training in civic responsibility, and quite a job has been done in that regard. However, it is a question of the availability of barracks and of personnel to enable extension of the training to be carried out. I shall bear the honorable gentleman’s question in mind and, when it is possible to increase the number, I shall certainly do so.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: Has he refused to make housing available in Canberra for five families from Jervis Bay? Had those people, who were under notice by the Commonwealth to quit their homes at Jervis Bay, produced evidence of efforts to find housing elsewhere at places where they could also find employment? Had they sought housing in Canberra because employment was available here? Had these people been tenants of the Commonwealth at Jervis Bay for periods of up to 23 years? Will the Minister agree with me that the decision, for which he is completely responsible, inflicts hardship on people who have already suffered loss because of the decision by the Commonwealth to return the Royal Australian Naval College to Jervis Bay? Will he also agree with me that, in the circumstances, his refusal to provide housing reveals an attitude that is both arrogant and petty?
– With reference to the resumption by the Government of the Jervis Bay settlement and the reestablishment of the Royal Australian Naval College there, it is quite true that a number of people have necessarily been displaced from their homes. These are homes which they have occupied at quite reasonable rentals for periods, as the honorable gentleman says, of up to 23 years. But it is three years or more, to my knowledge, since notice was first served that the Government proposed to resume the occupation of Jervis Bay. The honorable gentleman should know that, because over that period he has promoted meetings of protest in Jervis Bay.
Opposition Members. - Hear, hear!
– Nevertheless, it establishes the fact that these good people knew very well that the time was ripe for them to look round for alternative accommodation. Over the past three years the notice has been renewed and, in ‘fact, made definite by the service of written notices to the tenants concerned. Further than that, the Government has made some efforts to find alternative accommodation for these tenants. I am bound to tell the House that as a result of the efforts of the honorable member himself quite a number of people who had alternative accommodation available to them refused to accept it.
– That is a lie.
– Order! The honorable gentleman will withdraw that remark.
– There is no withdrawal.
– The honorable member will withdraw it.
– There is no withdrawal.
– The Minister should take his seat until this matter is disposed of.
– Order! The honorable member for East Sydney will not interfere. The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory will withdraw the remark he made.
– There is no withdrawal.
– There is no withdrawal? I name the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory.
– Cannot the honorable member be given another opportunity to withdraw, Mr. Speaker?
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -
That the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory be suspended from the service of the House.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . . . 27
Territory and suggest that before this vote is declared the penalty be reduced to a warning.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory thereupon withdrew from the chamber.
Motion (by Mr. Ward) put -
That the honorable member be not further heard.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) on the ground of parliamentary business overseas.
Motion (by Dr. Evatt) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable members for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) and Kingston (Mr. Galvin) on the ground of parliamentary business overseas.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Wool Realization (Distribution of Profits) Act 1948-1955, and for other purposes.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to amend the Wool Realization (Distribution of Profits) Act 1948-1955 with a view to extending the period permitted by the act for the distribution of Joint Organization profits to wool-growers. The desirability of this amendment will become clearer if I traverse briefly the events which have led to its introduction. It will be recalled that, in 1945, the Governments of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa formed an agency known as the Joint Organization to dispose of the wool accumulated in war-time. The disposals were completed by the end of 1951 and resulted in considerable profits, of which Australia’s share, together with interest, amounted to approximately £93,000,000.
When it became apparent that the disposal scheme would yield large profits, Parliament passed the Wool Realization (Distribution of Profits) Act in 1948 to give effect to the Government’s decision to distribute Australia’s share of the profits to wool-growers. Under the act, the Australian Wool Realization Commission, then the Australian subsidiary of the Joint Organization, was entrusted with the task of disbursing the profits to wool-growers in proportion to the appraised value of wool submitted by each grower. Five interim distributions and one special distribution were made between 1949 and 1955, and by now the distribution of all the profits, with the exception of about £2.500,000, has been effected. It was the question of distributing this latter amount which gave rise to the present bill.
The outstanding sum of £2,500,000 comprises two main categories. First, there is an amount of approximately £300,000, representing profits on wool which was submitted for war-time appraisement through selling brokers. These moneys have been returned to the commission by brokers because their owners could not be located through the post, or because the owners failed to present their distribution cheques for payment within the prescribed time. However, the commission has been able to locate many persons entitled to these moneys and is of the opinion that further payments can be effected.
The balance of the outstanding amount, namely, £2,200,000, represents profits payable to those growers whose wool was submitted for war-time appraisement by dealers, as distinct from brokers. These moneys are commonly known as “ dealer wool profits “ and their distribution was held up until recently due to the protracted litigation known as the Poulton case. Under the present act, the period for the distribution of the joint organization profits expired on 17th March, 1957. The act further stipulates that any profits not distributed by that date are to be paid into the Wool Research Trust Fund. However, in view of the delay occasioned by the protracted Poulton litigation, it has not been possible for the commission to disburse the “ dealer wool profits “ by the date fixed in the act. The commission has, to date, received 5,050 claims to the “ dealer wool moneys “ and has paid 3,570 claims, in all amounting to £486,780. Approximately 1,480 claims remain to be dealt with, and further claims are still being received.
In these circumstances, the Government considers that the period governing the disbursement of the moneys should be extended so that every wool-grower whose entitlement can be established will receive his share of the profits. This view is also shared by the commission. Accordingly, provision is made in the bill for the period to be extended until 30th June, 1959, or such earlier date as may be determined. It is considered that this extension will enable the commission to distribute the “ dealer wool profits “ as far as possible. At the same time, the commission will also endeavour to locate the owners of the profits which have been returned to it by brokers. Any moneys which the commission has been unable to distribute by 30th June, 1959, or the earlier determined date, will be paid into the Wool Research Trust Fund and used for the benefit of the wool industry generally.
Apart from the amendment which I have already outlined, I would like also to refer to two other amendments. The first relates to that provision of the present act which permits the commission to pay into court any profits the ownership of which is in doubt. If such moneys subsequently remain unpaid for a period of three years, the act requires that they be repaid to the commission and regarded as unclaimed moneys. However, if any moneys are paid into court in the future, the three years allowed for the retention of such moneys will expire after the final proposed date for the disbursement of profits. For this reason, and as it is not envisaged that the commission will continue in existence for any length of time after the final date fixed for the distribution, provision is made in the bill for any moneys paid into court, but not paid out at the expiration of the three-year period, to be passed to the Treasurer for payment into the Wool Research Trust Fund.
The second amendment concerns moneys which have been set aside from the profits for the purpose of meeting unforeseen claims and other exigencies. The commission has retained an amount of £10,000 for this purpose. To date, this reserve has not been drawn on, but it is considered that it should be continued for the new extended period of distribution. Under the present act this amount, if not used for its original purpose, may be made available for distribution to all growers who submitted wool during the war-time scheme. However, in view of the delay caused by the Poulton litigation, combined with the fact that the sum received by each wool-grower would be infinistesimally small, it would not be practicable to arrange such a distribution. Accordingly, the amendment provides that any moneys in the reserve not used for their original purpose by 30th June, 1959, or a date prior thereto, shall be paid into the Wool Research Trust Fund.
The remaining amendments of the bill are of a consequential nature. In concluding, I wish to say that the bill aims at enabling the distribution of the Joint Organization profits to wool-growers to be completed as far as possible. The bill should thus satisfactorily close a memorable chapter in the history of the Australian wool industry. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Clarey) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 7th November (vide page 1974), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt-
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- As the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) pointed out when he introduced this bill, its purpose is to appoint Mr. Justice Gallagher, who is the Coal Industry Tribunal and a member of the New South Wales Industrial Commission, to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. As the Coal Industry Tribunal is subject to control by both New South Wales and the Commonwealth, it was necessary for the Government of New South Wales to be consulted and for that Government to agree to Mr. Justice Gallagher continuing to constitute the Coal Industry Tribunal while being a member of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I remind honorable members that, in 1955, the Coal Industry Act was amended in order to provide for the appointment of Mr. Gallagher to the New South Wales Industrial Commission and to continue as the Coal Industry Tribunal. For some ten years, Mr. Justice Gallagher has been the Coal Industry Tribunal. That means, of course, that he has been filling a position under a State act and also continuing in a position under an act which applied both to the Commonwealth and New South Wales. It was necessary, at that stage, for the consent of the Commonwealth to be obtained for his appointment as a member of the New South Wales Industrial Commission. This was done, and the necessary legislation was passed. Now it has been decided, after consultation with the New South Wales Government, that Mr. Justice Gallagher shall be appointed to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The bill will enable him to continue to constitute the Coal Industry Tribunal and, secondly, to perform the duties and functions of a member of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It makes provision, also, for his service in the office of Coal Industry Tribunal to be deemed to be service in a judicial office under a State act. The effect of that provision is to give him the rights that are conferred by the Judges’ Pensions Act in respect of his service as the Coal Industry Tribunal which will be regarded as judicial service.
The Opposition raises no objection to this bill. We feel, however, that with the appointment of Mr. Justice Gallagher to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, certain aspects of his employment in that position should be considered and safeguarded. At the present time, as the Coal Industry Tribunal, he is carrying out a very important function. His task is to see that disputes which arise in the coal industry are dealt with promptly and that industrial peace is maintained on the coal-fields to the fullest possible extent. Therefore, it is essential - imperative, one might say - that in his capacity _ as a member of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, he shall, at all times, be readily available to perform the functions of the Coal Industry Tribunal. The question of the duties and functions to be performed by a member of the commission is not determined by a member himself but by the president of the commission - in this case, Mr. Justice Kirby. I hope that in the allotting of duties, Mr. Justice Kirby will not appoint Mr. Justice Gallagher to deal with industries such as the stevedoring and maritime industries as the presidential member to look after these industries. If that is done, the position will be created in which a man, well qualified to look after coal industry matters, will be attached also to industries in which, by their very nature, industrial disputes inevitably take place. One does not desire to see Mr. Justice Gallagher, with his particular capacity, ability and knowledge of coal industry matters, precluded from devoting himself to the work of the Coal Industry Tribunal because of disputes which arise in the maritime and stevedoring industries.
That is one weakness which I can see in this matter, and I hope the Minister for Labour and National Service will contact Mr. Justice Kirby and point out to him the desirability of the duties and functions of Mr. Justice Gallagher being such that he will be readily available at all times to deal with disputes that arise in the coal industry. All honorable members will agree that it is desirable that industrial peace should be maintained in the coal industry to the fullest possible extent. Mr. Justice Gallagher, as the Coal Industry Tribunal, has the trust and confidence of employers and employees, the Government of New South Wales and also this Government. With his special capacity in the coal industry, his first task should be to see that the interests of that industry are properly protected. Therefore, I hope that the necessary representations will be made to ensure that Mr. Justice Gallagher shall always be available to deal with disputes in the coal industry. As I said before, the Opposition offers no objection to this bill, and on behalf of my colleagues I hope that it will have a speedy passage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message):
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation ot revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act relating to the Coal Industry Tribunal.
Resolution reported and adopted.
In committee: Consideration resumed.
– I only want to say that I shall certainly give consideration to the comments which have been made by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), speaking on behalf of the Opposition. I express my appreciation to him and his colleagues for the manner in which they have facilitated the passage of this measure.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 18th September (vide page 717), on motion by Mr. Beale -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition offers no objection to the passage of this bill, but readily accepts the opportunity presented by its introduction to offer some very strong views about the failure of the Government to do anything about the housing situation. The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) said, in his secondreading speech, that the sum of £33,160.000 provided in the bill for the year 1957-58 is to be appropriated to meet, in full, the requests of the States for housing finance under the 1956 housing agreement. If this bill will give effect to what the States have asked for, and to their complete satisfaction, it must be the States that have fallen down on the job of adequately providing housing for the people. But I do not believe that that is the position at all.
I believe that the Commonwealth Government has failed to provide housing accommodation for the people. In the days of the Chifley Government, the parties then in opposition had quite a lot to say on the subject of houses for the people. One of their propaganda sheets of 1949 read as follows: -
We give this firm promise to young couples. The Liberal party, when returned to office, will regard as its paramount and most vital responsibility the speeding-up of the housing programme. We will not allow any other public works, other than those of the most extreme urgency, to be given priority over home-building.
The Liberal party has failed to carry out its promise because, after it was elected to office, it did not make housing a matter of paramount importance. It did not accept as its most vital responsibility the speedingup of the housing programme. A survey was made by the Department of National Development and a report was published in December, 1956, and presented to both Houses of this Parliament on 16th February last. A press release was issued with it in which the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) claimed that the end of the housing shortage was in sight. That, I repeat, was on 16th February last. The Minister for National Development said that we certainly had a housing shortage, but that it was being rapidly overcome. He said that the housing shortage in Australia was divided between the States as follows: -
There was no reference at all to the shortage of houses in the Australian Capital Territory where, I understand, at the end of last year, 3,500 houses were needed. Commonwealth public servants are being transferred to Canberra. The population of the Australian Capital Territory is growing and the housing shortage in Canberra has become worse. It could not possibly have become better because the Government has allowed the housing programme in Canberra to slip badly during the last couple of years.
Let us compare the provisions of the bill with the shortages which the Minister for National Development said existed. The sum of £11,000,000 has been provided for expenditure by the Government of New South Wales to overcome some of the shortage of 60,000 houses; Victoria is to get £10,000,000 to overcome some of the shortage of 32,000 houses; Queensland is to get £3,000,000 to overcome some of the shortage of 9,500 houses; South Australia is to get £4,000,000 to overcome some of the shortage of 4,500 houses; Western Australia is to get £3,000,000 to overcome some of the shortage of 4,000 houses; and Tasmania is to get £2,000,000 to overcome some of its shortage of 2,000 houses. No relationship seems to have been established between the amounts provided by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and the Minister for Supply and the requirements that have to be met, as announced by the Minister for National Development.
I remind the House again that the Minister for National Development, on 16th February, said that the end of the housing shortage was in sight. Yet, on Saturday last, the 9th of this month, the same Minister, speaking at a conference of co-operative housing societies at Warburton, Victoria, said that the decline in house-building had been caused primarily by the way in which finance had been moving. In February, he said that the end of the housing shortage was in sight; in November of the same year he said that the decline in housebuilding was due to the fact that people were not being helped sufficiently! He also said that in 1954-55, 82,000 houses and flats had been completed; in 1955-56 the figure had dropped to 78,000; and in 1956-57 it had dropped to 68,000.
As he was expected to offer some solution to the problem of the declining building rate in flat and house construction, the Minister said that it was expected that £233,000,000 would be invested in new homes this year. All that this Government is giving the States to assist them to build houses during this financial year for the people is £33,000,000. Where is the rest of the money to come from? The Minister for National Development said that United Kingdom building societies would extend their activities to Australia - as if they have not enough to do in Great Britain in providing the people with modern homes.
– And British legislation will not allow them to lend outside the United Kingdom.
– I thank the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) for his observation. The recent increase in the bank rate which was made by the British Government will make it increasingly difficult for those societies, even if they have permission, to invest their money outside Great Britain. Very properly, legislation in the United Kingdom provides that building societies shall concern themselves only with building inside the United Kingdom. The Minister for National Development, not knowing as much about housing and British affairs as the honorable member for Werriwa does, said that if the United Kingdom building societies extended their activities, the whole housing movement in Australia would be strengthened. In this case, he preached the old doctrine of “ Live horse, eat grass “.
The Minister for National Development is one of the lightweights in this Government, but some of his colleagues ought to urge him to tell us a consistent and consecutive story, because members of the Opposition listen carefully to what is being said. They know the needs of the people. They know how important it is that Australians should have homes. They know very well that the Minister for National Development should be doing something - and so should other Ministers - to force the trading banks to lend money for housing. The trading banks have set up savings banks of their own but they do not want to lend the money in them for housing purposes. They do not want to do with the money in their savings bank accounts what would have been done with it had it remained in the Commonwealth Savings Bank or in the State savings banks. The trading banks want to use the money in their savings bank accounts in their hire purchase departments, where they can get a flat interest rate of 12 per cent., which is a real interest rate of 24 per cent. No one can afford to pay such a high and usurious interest rate as 24 per cent, for housing, and no one should be asked to pay it for money borrowed for any other purpose.
The trading banks, of course, have not only failed to assist people who need homes. They have actually cut down, over a long period of months, the amounts made available to persons who have needed assistance. The Commonwealth Statistician, in a report released in March of this year, showed that trading bank advances for home building and home purchase had fallen by no less than £18,500,000 in the eighteen months ended in December last, and had fallen by £7,400,000 in the six months ended 31st December of last year. The trading banks have curtailed their lending, not as a result of any direction from the Commonwealth Government or the Commonwealth Bank. They have reduced their assistance to home builders because housing loans are not attractive propositions. Not enough money can be made out of them by the trading banks.
– And the money is tied up too long.
– That is correct. And, of course, they can achieve a much better turnover, at a higher rate of interest, if they make shorter-term loans. To the extent that the State governments have failed to curb the rapacity of the people who run hire-purchase companies, they are blameworthy. The States have made little or no attempt to do what the Commonwealth Government cannot do; that is, to pass valid legislation to control interest rates other than in respect of banking transactions. The State governments have also failed in some respects to help the people to get homes. I know that in Victoria quite a number of houses of 60 squares floor area are being built. When the housing shortage is so serious as it undoubtedly is at present, it should not be possible for persons to use materials and labour in building these luxury homes. A house of a floor area of twelve squares is as large as the average family wants, and when one person can build a home large enough to accommodate five families there is, obviously, something wrong with the state of society. Most of those who build these luxury homes do so for reasons of vulgar ostentation. Being parvenus, for the most part, they try to convince the community, or a certain social set into which they are trying to climb, that they are people of affluence and influence, whereas most of them are mere social parasites. I would rather see homes built for five decent families than one luxurious palace erected for some one who is not so valuable or desirable socially.
Government supporters have claimed for a long time that this Government has spent more money on housing than the Chifley Government did. I have not the slightest doubt that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who is now at the table, and who occasionally shows a gleam of intelligence and says a few sensible things - mostly by accident, of course - will trot out the old story about what this Government is doing in the matter of housing. When we compare the value of the Menzies £1 with that of the Chifley £1 the comparison is all in favour of what the Labour government did in trying to provide homes for the people. At least we did have a rental rebate system, which this Government has abolished. At least we did try to help the parents of large families, under a system which provided that the Commonwealth and the States bore the difference between the economic rent and one-sixth of the family income. To-day the States are being asked to do this by themselves, whereas the Labour government accepted joint responsibility with the States. I believe that this Government erred when it departed from that very sound principle.
The Government has forced upon the States a new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The States simply have to accept the agreement or get no money. If they want money for housing they have to surrender on the terms laid down by the Commonwealth. I believe that one of the provisions of the agreement is that the States’ housing authorities shall not construct flat buildings of more than three stories - walk-up flats, as they are called. I cannot see the reason for this provision - certainly not at this stage of our development, whatever justification there may have been for it in the original agreement.
– The Labour government in Queensland would not build flats at all.
– To that extent I think it was wrong. I believe in multi-story flats. In the big capital cities, such as Sydney and Melbourne - and also Adelaide and Brisbane with their rapidly increasing populationswe simply must have multi-story flats. Any one who has travelled in Europe will realize that society could not very well function in the crowded districts of that continent without multi-story flats.
– Centralization again!
– The honorable member for Mallee has centralization on the brain. He reminds me of a story concerning the Tudor queen, Queen Mary, lt was said that when she died the word “ Calais “ would be found written across her heart. When the honorable member for Mallee dies, the word “ centralization “ will be found etched on his heart.
– No, “ decentralization!”
– We can no longer afford the luxury of allowing our capital cities to sprawl as they have been doing. If the Commonwealth and Stale Housing Agreement stands in the way of a sensible approach to the question, then let it be amended so that multi-story flats may be constructed.
– The honorable member must remember that those flats will need lifts.
– Precisely. I have spoken to experts and I have heard the arguments for and against. The arguments in favour of multi-story flats are to the effect that all services, such as water, sewerage, electricity and roads are generally already installed or are cheaper to provide, and that the people live in closer proximity to hospitals, schools and markets. The counter-argument is that if we build multistory flats we must provide them with lifts, and that this will add 30s. a week to the rent of every flat in a building in which a lift is installed. But quite a lot of authorities believe in multi-story flats and dismiss the problem of lifts without much difficulty. One of these authorities is Professor F. E. A. Towndrow Dean of the Faculty of Architecture of the New South Wales University of Technology and head of the School of Architecture and Building. He said in February last -
Our total basic annual production should be at least 91,000 dwellings per year.
In an article published in the press at about that time I believe the professor spoke about the building of flats. The statement which T have quoted continued -
With present production of only about 69,000, we are badly losing in the race. Thus, so many families are without proper homes, and will be without them for many years to come.
We contend that that statement is quite accurate. The 1944 report of the Commonwealth Housing Commission suggested that there was a deficiency of 300,000 houses in this country then. That figure included substandard nouses due for demolition and those that would become sub-standard in a few years and would also need to be demolished, as well as houses that people wanted and had not been able to build. In any case, that was the figure given in the 1944 report. The Spooner report of last year suggests that our deficiency is 115,000 houses and our annual need is for only 60,000 houses. We contend that the annual requirement at present is about 120,000 houses. We need 60,000 to meet current needs yearly, and we need 60,000 more to overcome the deficiency of 300,000 within five years.
Quite a number of persons who usually agree with the views of this Government strongly support our contention in this regard. One of them is Mr. D. Stewart Fraser, a Liberal member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, who is federal executive director of the Building Industry Congress.
– How many homes a year does the honorable member think that we should build?
– I have just said that 120,000 a year are needed.
– The honorable member said that last year, too.
– Yes. Sixty thousand are needed to meet the deficiency, and 60,000 are required to meet current needs. I do not agree with the Spooner report, which states that, because of a drop in the marriage rate, and a corresponding drop in the birth rate, the number of houses needed for some years after 1960 will fall to 52,000 a year, and that the number required will later increase. Recently, Mr. Stewart Fraser said -
He spoke of what has been done in Sutherland, New South Wales, and, a little earlier, in Newcastle, New South Wales, and pointed out that the results there were achieved largely by mass-production methods. This indicates that we must have a new approach to the whole question of housing our people. As I have said repeatedly in this House, if we do not house the people, we build up a serious problem for ourselves. A man may be given the best basic wage in the world to enable him to buy all the food and clothing that his dependants need, but, if he cannot be given a decent house, with all modern conveniences, he is left an unhappy social being, and he will easily fall a victim to the propaganda of subversive elements that promise him that they will help where every one else has failed.
– Does the honorable member agree that a later problem would arise if the deficiency were overtaken in two years?
– I did not say that it should be overtaken in two years. I said that it should be overtaken in five years.
– I thought that the honorable member said that there was a shortage of 120,000 homes.
– No. He said that 120,000 a year should be built.
– I said that we should build 120,000 houses a year to meet a deficiency of 300,000 and an estimated need of 60,000 a year. In five years, that rate of building would give us another 300,000 houses after having made good the deficiency.
– I want to know whether that is the considered opinion of the honorable member and of the Australian Labour party.
– Of course we have considered the matter, and that opinion is the result of our consideration. We have also read extensively on the matter. We find that some of the insurance companies in New York tackled the problem of housing, but neither the banks nor the insurance companies in Australia will do anything much about it. The interest that the New York insurance companies received on their investment was not very high, but 162 acres of slums have been cleared and redeveloped, and 14,000 dwelling units have been provided, since the end of World War II. The New York Housing Authority esimates that the whole of the slums of that city, covering about 5,000 acres, will be cleared in the next fifteen or twenty years. At the present rate of progress, the slums in Australia will certainly not be cleared in fifteen or twenty years, although we have master plans in operation in all the capital cities. Under those plans, we are to have new roads, better thoroughfares generally, speedways, underpasses, overpasses, and clover-leaf junctions, and many other modern highway devices. The plans are going ahead, but very little is being done to get rid of the slum dwellings that stand in the way, to say nothing of slums generally. There are about 5,000 acres of slums in Australia at the present time. They are readily seen.
Something must be done about inflation, as it affects home-building. Last Saturday week, I think, in the neighbourhood of Cheltenham, McKinnon, or Ormond, which are suburbs only about 12 miles distant from the heart of Melbourne, 60 building blocks with frontages ranging from 40 feet to 50 feet were sold for £120,000, or £2,000 a block. Young couples who have to carry that heavy financial burden will be a long time discharging their liabilities purchasing the land and constructing their house on it. Recently, near my own home, in Flemington, Victoria, I asked how much had been paid for a block of land within 3 miles of the post office in Elizabeth-street, Melbourne, on which a building was going up. The land, which was 40 feet by 100 feet, had been sold for £4,000. It is almost impossible for young people to buy land at such prices.
– The prices are much higher at Surfers Paradise.
– I know, but that is where the social undesirables go. Who wants to go to Surfers Paradise!
– People from Melbourne may want to go there.
– I do not. I want to mix with the people from whom I come, and to whom I belong. I do not want to meet people who go to Surfers Paradise.
– St. Kilda would do for the honorable member.
– St. Kilda will not do for me. Flemington and anywhere in the Melbourne electorate suits me better, because that is where I belong. I like to live among the people whose interests I try to serve, more or less successfully.
– That is by accident.
– No. I serve them by ;their deliberate choice. 1 have lasted as their representative for seventeen years. 1 -do not know how many other members of the Parliament will represent their constituencies for that time. If I may say so, “ oncers “ and “ twicers “ are not unknown in this Parliament. Not many members last for more than two terms.
I have tried to indicate to the House how :the Australian Labour party feels about (housing. We must have something done, and it must be done speedily. I conclude by citing something that the Minister for National Development said, 1 think in October, 1956. He stated that he had asked building societies to make themselves independent of government support, and that the Commonwealth did not intend to become the major source of finance for building societies. He stated, also, that Commonwealth aid to the societies had been intended primarily to give a lead to others, and to encourage the societies to seek money from private investors. He concluded by saying that the societies should make more use of savings bank loans, and should attract more funds from insurance companies. With that, the Minister finished his emulation of the famous act of Pontius Pilate. In effect, he washed his hands with invisible soap, and cleansed them of all responsibility in the matter of housing. The Government, in effect, says to people who want houses, “ We have no money to give you. We can only give a lead to others, such as building societies and the trading banks. If they cannot help you, we accept no responsibility “. Some day, somebody must accept responsibility for housing. just as somebody had to accept responsibility for the depression, and for the failure of governments to arm this country properly for the last war, which most people realized was coming.
Housing is our No. 1 problem, and it will remain so until both Commonwealth and State governments, municipal authorities, and all the big financial interests in Australia really interest themselves in the matter and advance some practical scheme to help young married couples, who, biologically, are the most important section of the community, so that they may obtain decent homes for which they need not carry a heavy load of debt most of their working lives, or perhaps well into middle age. They must have their opportunity to raise families and to enjoy a good standard of living. Those who marry and have large families should not be required to make heavier sacrifices of their living standards the more children they have. Under the state of democratic socialism that we will inaugurate one of these days, things will be better. Under the terrible capitalist system under which we live, there is a premium on greed, and those who own, control, and manipulate, the financial machine in Australia, do not consider the necessity of the masses.
– There is one thing on which I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), and that is that housing is a number one priority. I think one can say, in fairness to the honorable gentleman, that his heart is in the right place, the only difficulty being that he just does not know what he is talking about when he discusses housing. He probably has not studied the implications of the matter. It is not that he is not sincere, but he has made certain statements to-day which, I propose to show, are a complete fallacy. He spent the whole of his rime dealing with finance as the cure for the housing problem. He gave certain figures in relation to the alleged shortage of houses in this country, and he rightly said that when I got on my feet I would eulogize this Government for what it had done in the housing field. Anybody who knows anything about the facts could not possibly do anything else but eulogize the Government for its record in the housing field. No other government in the history of this country has a record in any way equal to the record of this Government in relation to housing since it took office in 1950.
The avenues through which finance has been provided for housing include the war service homes scheme, for which the amount of finance directly provided has been increased year by year under this Government. Then there is the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, finance provided under which has increased year by year and now totals more than £33,000,000. Another avenue is the Commonwealth Bank, a government instrumentality, through which finance has been directly provided for housing. In this Government’s term of office finance has been arranged through these three avenues alone to a total of about £500,000,000. If anybody can say that that is chicken feed, or that that is not doing justice to the housing situation, I should like to know what doing justice to the housing situation is.
Since this Government took office in 1950 more than 600,000 homes have been built in this country - a figure which represents one home for every 2.6 people in our increase of population in that period. In the four years immediately after the war, under the Labour government, only 145,000 homes were built, or one for every 4.3 people of the increase of population in that period.
I give those figures merely to provide some comparison between the record of this Government and the record of the previous government. This Government set out to encourage home-ownership, which is the very matter with which we are dealing to-day. It has shown its interest in homeownership by the proportion of money that it has allocated for that purpose to the building society movement - a proportion which will increase in the next three years. The Government’s policy in this respect has encouraged home-ownership and, of course, as a result of this encouragement, and for other reasons to which I shall come later, the percentage of home-owners in this country has advanced to a marked degree. The Government will continue its policy of increasing the level of homeownership by giving encouragement and facilities which will enable people to own their homes.
People may well ask why it is that, despite the provision of one house for every 2.6 people in our increase of population, it would appear that the housing shortage, particularly in some parts of Australia, has become more acute. That is an extraordinary anomaly which exists particularly in New South Wales, and the man in the street, who does not understand the economics of housing, may well ask what is the reason for it. The man in the street, of course, knows that there is a housing shortage when he finds that there is no home available when he wants one. In such circumstances he is justified in declaring that there is a housing shortage.
But when homes in the proportion of one to every 2.6 people in our increase of population have been provided during the past seven years, and the normal ratio of homes is one home for every four people, the man in the street must ask why this extraordinary anomaly exists and why he cannot get a home. It is an extraordinary thing that this condition should exist, particularly in New South Wales, because in New South Wales there are more homes per capita of the population than in any other country in the world. It is an extraordinary thing that, with such a large proportion of homes in New South Wales, there is still a shortage of houses there. As I have said, no other country in the world has a higher proportion of homes than has New South Wales, where the ratio is one house for every 3.5 people. In Western Australia there is one house for every 3.7 people, and there is no shortage of houses in that State. In New South Wales, to which State I shall be directing most of my remarks this afternoon, there is one house for every 3.4 or 3.5 people, a proportion not equalled in any other country.
– What about standards?
– I am not speaking of the standards of the houses. It is true that there are slums in all the big cities. I am speaking in general terms now. The problem of the sub-standard house has always existed, but I am not dealing with that question at the moment. I want to point out to the House, because this may be interesting to people who do not understand the subject, that the explanation of the existence in New South Wales of the extraordinary anomaly that I have mentioned is very simple. There are two conditions which have a bearing on the matter. One is the prosperity of the community, because in every country economic prosperity affects the availability of houses. But that is not the major factor in the housing shortage in New South Wales. The major factor is the present rent control system in that State, to which the shortage of houses there is directly attributable. That fact is being increasingly understood by people throughout this country. Of course, Labour never admits that that is the cause of the shortage in New South Wales because it was Labour which imposed rent control and which has perpetuated it since 1939. In New South Wales rents are pegged back to the basic rental level of 1939. I can say without fear of contradiction, because this is a subject that I know very intimately, that if the rents of all properties were based on current values instead of on 1939 values, there would be no shortage of houses in New South Wales within six months of such an amendment of the system. I make that statement with full knowledge of what I am saying and with a thorough knowledge of the conditions that exist. Having said that, I should go ahead and make some explanation of my reason for saying it. I shall put the matter in another Way: If private owners of properties were allowed the same economic rent as the State government itself charges there would be no shortage of houses in New South Wales. That is to say, if an economic rent were paid there would be no shortage of houses available for letting. But the New South Wales Government would not admit that to be true. One of the most outstanding proofs of its truth, which is visible to everybody’s eyes, is the position in Western Australia. As I have just said, in that State there is one home for every 3.7 persons. In that State there is no effective control over rents, yet there is no shortage of homes. Any one can go to Western Australia and rent a flat or a house, yet there are fewer homes in proportion to the population than in New South Wales, where the shortage is more acute than in any other State.
In New South Wales, there is one house to every 3.5 persons. Rents are more rigidly controlled in that State than in any other, yet the shortage of homes appears to be increasing. The census figures in relation to New South Wales - and I know this of my own personal knowledge, also - show that at least 50,000 houses and flats are at present vacant in that State. I am aware than many of those houses and flats arc holiday homes, but the 1947 census figures show that at that time only 17,000 houses or flats were vacant. When the last census was taken, the figure had increased to over 40,000, and I know that a conservative estimate of the number of vacant houses in New South Wales to-day is 50,000.
– Do you mean housing units?
– I am not speaking of sheds or buildings of that type. I am speaking of houses or flats.
I propose to cite official figures. The 1954 census shows the number of occupants for each dwelling. These figures relate to 1954, and the housing shortage really gained impetus in 1953 and 1954. The shortage, I admit, has become more acute since then. According to the census, the number of private dwellings in New South Wales occupied by two persons increased by 42.6 per cent., or 62,715 dwellings. This was the largest numerical increase in any group on the 1947 figures. The greatest percentage increase was in respect of dwellings occupied by only one person, the increase being 47.4 per cent. The number of dwellings occupied by only one person rose from 56,000 in 1947 to 83,000. The number of dwellings occupied by two persons increased from 147,000 to 209,000. Speaking conservatively, it is safe to say that in New South Wales alone there are over 100,000 homes to-day occupied by only one person, and over 250,000 homes occupied by only two persons. I made some remarks last year in similar vein, and I was misquoted by Opposition members, and by the New South Wales Minister for Housing, Mr. Abe Landa. I do not want to be misunderstood now.
– Well, make yourself clear.
– I will make myself perfectly clear. I have never advocated that a person living alone in a house should be forced to permit other persons to occupy that house. I would fight such a proposal with everything I have. I believe in the freedom and right of one or two people to occupy a home bigger than their needs, if they are able to. Such people have a perfect right to do so if they can, but the point I want to make is that this condition has been brought about by the rent control system. It could not exist otherwise.
Some people seem to be completely unable to understand that as a result of the control system tens of thousands fewer people are living in houses to-day than when the controls were first introduced. It is very simple to understand why. As a result of families dispersing, parents dying, and children getting married, often only one person remains in the family home. If that home is under control at a rent pegged back to 1939, that person remains in the house and, under the control system, can afford to remain there. In some cases two persons may remain. But if an economic rent applied in accordance with the value of the property, that one person or those two persons could not afford to occupy the excessive space that is not needed by them. The question is simply one of economics. People sort themselves out according to their need and their ability to pay. Anybody will admit that a six-roomed house - three or four bedrooms - should not be occupied by only one or two people. That does not happen if the economy is running true, and if rents are charged in accordance with the current value of the property.
People have a false idea about the housing shortage. The value of property has not gone up. What has happened is that the value of money has gone down. It is suggested that because a person paid £1,000 for a house twenty years ago, he is only entitled to the rent he received twenty years ago. That, of course, is unjust, because the value of money has fallen, so that the rent received to-day is worth only half or onethird of what it was worth in 1939. This economic factor has brought about an artificial shortage in homes in the States which persist with rent control.
It is one of the greatest tragedies that has ever occurred that we should have a system which has deprived young people of a home and has driven them into rooming houses and the like. People such as Abe Landa point to the houses that are over-occupied, and many such houses exist in the cities, where families are packed into rooming houses. But a far greater percentage of properties are under-occupied as a result of the control system, which has deprived tens of thousands of people of the opportunity to rent a home. This is a great tragedy, and something that the Labour party should be made to answer for, because it is the policy of Labour governments in the various States that has brought it about. Who are those governments protecting? Are they protecting the people who need protection? No, they are not. At least 85 per cent, of the people who are receiving protection under the rent control system are well able to pay the economic rent, and 85 per cent, or 90 per cent, of the people who are deprived of homes because of this distortion of economic principles are well able to pay the economic rent. So, who are the Labourgovernments protecting?
I agree that if this system is changed: suddenly it is essential that something bedone for the people who would be affected by the change and who would not be ableto pay the economic rent. That can bedone by governments, and the people affected can be assisted so that undue hardship is not imposed upon them. 1 do not advocate any harsh treatment of such-, people. What I say is that the people whoare able to pay the economic rent for a. home should be made to do so. In that way the greatest benefit will be derived, from the existing properties.
The owners of property in this country have, since 1939, subsidized tenants to the tune of at least £1,000,000,000. That isonly an estimate, but it is a knowledgeableestimate. Imagine that! People renting, homes have been subsidized to the extent of £1,000,000,000 as a result of viciouslegislation. Is that a fair proposition? TheLabour party has used the question of rent control in political stunting. Putting it in. right language, the legislation to which I have referred is diabolical. When any party is prepared to cause injustice through legislation it is time the people throughout the country rose in their wrath. The effects, of the rent control system have becomeinhuman. And that system has distorted! the economic value of homes in Australia. I often wonder whether those who comprise Labour governments are fools or political rogues because, after all is said and done, they seem to be prepared to rob one section of the community and to prevent another section from obtaining homes. I know that finance is needed, but that need’ arises as one effect of the rent control system. Excessive demands are being made upon the War Service Homes Division and building societies, whilst there is an excessive demand upon banks for finance for homes. That state of affairs has resulted from the fact that people who are deprived of the opportunity of renting a home are forced into the position of buying, and they in turn exert additional pressure for finance.
Normally half the people in a community would rent a home and, whilst I agree that every step should be taken to encourage home-ownership, there always will be that percentage of people who prefer to rent a horrie. At present the number of rental homes available is diminishing at a faster rate than new homes for rental are being constructed. In fact, such homes are now being built only by State governments. That factor also is increasing the demand for finance for the building of new homes. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) stated - no doubt the Labour party and many people throughout Australia hold the same view - that if given the opportunity the Opposition would build 120,000 homes a year. Does the honorable member know what he is talking about? Would the Opposition know what it is talking about? Does it realize what the effect of that activity would be? To build 120,000 homes a year would involve not only the provision of sufficient finance, as the honorable member for Melbourne endeavoured to indicate, but also the gearing of the whole of the building industry - -timberyards, brickyards, the manufacture of prime cost items and many other items which go into the construction of a home. The sub-contractors, plasterers, bricklayers, painters and many other people would be involved also.
What would be the result if the building industry were geared to meet that output and the alleged shortage of houses was eliminated, that is, all the people desiring a home obtained a home? What would become of the building industry? It would collapse like a pack of cards, and the net result of the campaign to build 120,000 homes a year would be one of the greatest depressions this country has ever known, resulting in unemployment throughout the length and breadth of Australia. I warn honorable members opposite that the collapse of the building industry would seriously interfere with the vitals of our economy because the current need for homes, taking into account the increase in population, is 53,000 homes a year. I would agree to construction being increased considerably above that figure, but not to a figure above 70,000 or 80,000, which is the greatest number of homes that could be constructed in Australia with economic confidence. Any government that attempted to produce inflationary money to do otherwise would destroy the economy of this country and the ability of our people to get homes. If the shortage of homes were overcome, what would happen to the rent control system? What would happen to all those homes now occupied by one or two people? Overnight there would be a surplus of tens of thousands of homes in the same way as the rent control system has produced the present artificial shortage.
People ought to know something about the economics of housing before they talk about the subject. The New South Wales Minister for Housing has asked for an extra £100,000,000 a year to increase the rate of construction of homes. Nothing could be more absurd. If he knows anything about his portfolio at all, he would know he is only playing to the gallery and not telling the truth, because if that amount of money were advanced by the Commonwealth every possibility of people getting homes would be destroyed. I agree, as I have said before, that we must maintain the flow of finance because, strangely enough, out of evil comes good. One of the reasons for the increase in home-ownership in Australia is that many people who cannot rent homes are forced to buy a home. They have been able to obtain money for that purpose and so the rate of home-ownership has increased. The result will be that practically no homes will be rented because they will be owned by the people living in them. That is an example of good coming out of evil; but before that situation is reached, something terrible will have been done to the people. In the interim home life would be destroyed, and the right of young couples to have families would be denied to them. That is a very serious charge to level at any party or government; but that is the type of irresponsible thinking in which the New South Wales Minister for Housing indulges. I wonder whether he is a Simple Simon or an utter rogue, because he must know what he is doing. To try to deceive innocent people who do not understand this matter is a shocking attitude to adopt. Why the New South Wales Government will not face up to this situation, I do not know. It is not a matter of pleading a case for property owners. I have no interest in any shape or form in doing so, but I do make a plea for people who are in need of a home. I do plead for the right of people to set up their families in this country, but the legislation of Labour has destroyed that right. The Labour party alleges that it stands for the workers in Australia. Does it stand for them when it allows tens of thousands of people to walk the streets looking for homes? That is directly attributable to Labour’s legislation and its control system.
– Order! The Minister’s lime has expired.
– The issue presented by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), if we accept it as a complete and practical analysis, is that no effort is being made by the New South Wales Labour Government, insofar as its abilities lie, to tackle the problem of housing. Such a position is, of course, quite farcical and fantastic. The Minister laid considerable stress on the decontrol of rents and in the process hurled some vituperations and improper criticism at the State Minister for Housing and the State Labour Government for the very proper, considered and balanced refusal to lift rent control. The lifting of that control would do overnight in New South Wales what it did in other States. It would immediately allow the flood-gates of higher rental to burst open and would result in widespread evictions. That happened in other States. It would not construct one additional home. The Minister’s approach is that a person with a large home, with only one or two people in it, should throw open the doors.
– I did not say any such thing. I made that quite clear.
– That is an improper approach to this problem. It is a foolish evasion by the Minister, and is an effort to remove from his Government the responsibility for this all-important question. The Government is now being lashed by the press - its own supporters - and by the people at large. As time rolls forward to the next federal election, the failure to provide homes will loom as the major problem and undoubtedly will prove to be the rock on which this arrogant Government will perish.
In Western Australia, when rent control was removed, the basic wage rose. That would happen in New South Wales if rent control were lifted there. The Labour Government has seen fit to maintain that control for a number of reasons, including the reason I have just given. Do we want a further impulse to inflationary pressures by such action? I say definitely not. Do we want to force upon people who have a home of two, three or four bedrooms, not fully occupied, the acceptance of people that they do not want! Obviously not!
– I did not say that.
– If that is the situation, let us go to the “ silver tail “ section of Sydney and find out how many large homes there could accommodate more people than they are accommodating now. The Minister said that a large proportion of unoccupied homes in New South Wales are holiday homes. That is perfectly true. The important fact is that those homes are not situated where people need them. In my electorate of Cunningham, which includes Port Kembla-Wollongong, I challenge any Government supporter to find twenty homes that are locked up or that could be called holiday homes. However, further down the south coast at Tuross Heads and other parts, or along the north coast, at Gosford, and in the ultra-holiday areas, the homes of wealthy people are to be found. They are large homes, but they are locked up for most of the year. The wool barons of the west concentrate on the de luxe area of Tuross Head and to-day one can find in that area home after home that would probably cost at least £10,000 to build, apart from the furnishing. They are locked up for nine or ten months of the year. But those homes do not play any part in solving this problem. If a man in industry wants a home, he needs it near his employment. No useful purpose would be served in asking a man working in the steel industry at Port Kembla to live at Tuross Head. That is absurd.
The setting up of figures on this point is unreal and it is an immoral action by a Minister to give them in this chamber and to attempt to delude the public on this question. This Government has failed to tackle the problem. Because it controls the purse-strings, this Government must accept full responsibility for the housing situation that has developed. The position is not only absurd but also serious. It is a by-word for criticism, is entirely immoral, and, if measured by the standards of Christianity, is entirely un-Christian. It is condemned by all the leaders of religious bodies in this country, who say that the problem must be solved. After all, if a family has not a home, what has it? lt has absolutely nothing! People are plunged into a condition of mental despair and are compelled to follow a distorted way of life. They are plunged into a situation which finally smashes the marriage ties. If teenaged children are growing up around them in those circumstances, it finally destroys the very fibres of Christianity and decency in the Australian character. All those undesirable features of life are caused by this Government because it has failed to meet its responsibilities.
The Minister eulogized the Government for what it has done, but the important consideration is what the Government has not done. The Opposition approaches the question from that point of view, and it is from that point of view that the public is approaching the question. The men and women without a home will not be satisfied with, nor will the problem be solved by, the comments made by the Minister on behalf of the Government. The only thing those people need is a home that they can call their own or in which they can live in proper circumstances. The situation has long passed the point where the housing shortage is a national horror. This Government and every member of it stand condemned because they have denied the State governments adequate finance under the bill that we are discussing. A mere £1,000,000 additional money is made available for this year. That is an increase of approximately £200,000 for New South Wales. That is a mere bagatelle in attempting to solve these problems.
It is little wonder that supporters of the Government, such as the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ and similar journals, now have the Government at the whipping post and are tearing the flesh off it. A leading article in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ yesterday was headed “ Nobody at the Helm in Housing? “ We have seen that demonstrated clearly in the Parliament over the last sixteen or eighteen months. The leading article, which is not to be sneered at by the Government because it is in a paper that supports the Government - these are the people who put the Government in office - said that the Government is taking unjustified risks. This paper and those represented by it do not want to see the Govern ment defeated, but the leading article underlines the criticism that is made. It said -
Now, it has been the Cabinet to which Senator Spooner belongs, and its advisers, who have ali along resisted suggestions from outside observers that this position was indeed unsatisfactory.
The position there referred to is the shortage of homes. The article continued -
After the appropriate face-saving interval, there was an implied admission by the Central Bank in May that housing credits had fallen rather too far. The Central Bank then gave the trading banks the puzzling double instructions not to increase their total lending but to make “ a moderate increase “ in the volume of house loans.
There we have the egg-heads, as it were, issuing two instructions that are diametrically opposed in practical application. Further on, it states-
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKEROrder! Is the honorable member quoting a report of a debate in this House or is it merely a comment?
– It is a press statement.
It is not a comment on a speech made in this House?
If the honorable member is reading from a report of a speech made in this House, he is out of order.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. However, the important thing is that this situation has been criticized in many other places and so, too, have the speeches on the subject that have been made by members of the Government. We should look at the overall picture of housing from an Australian point of view.
Our population has increased by 1,799,000 since 1948, which has meant that a great number of homes have been required.
– At least 250,000.
– That is so. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has said, we need 120,000 homes a year to overtake the lag and to meet the ever-increasing demand. The demand for homes comes from two sources. First, there are the immigrants who have been entering Australia at the rate of approximately 1 15,000 a year, the great majority of whom are adults. Most of those who are not married no doubt will head towards matrimony eventually and will then need homes of their own. Secondly, there are our own sons and daughters who marry and want homes. I believe that nothing short of the number of houses that the Labour party says should be provided will suffice. We need these homes.
What is the attitude of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to housing? Only recently, I asked the right honorable gentleman, by way of a question in this chamber, to advise me whether it was true that the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, Dr. Coombs, had announced a substantial increase of bank credit for home building. I further asked the right honorable gentleman to make available detailed information on this matter. His reply was that he would treat the question as though it had been placed on the notice-paper. In other words, he evaded it. Surely he knows enough about these matters to be able to stand up in this place and tell us either that Dr. Coombs was dragging a red herring across the trail, or that the statement that he was alleged to have made was accurate! I suggest that the answer of the right honorable gentleman was in line with the Government’s policy, in regard to housing, of evasion and retreat.
Statistics for the year 1955 show that, in that year, 82,110 dwellings were completed. That figure takes no account of commercial buildings. In 1957, the number completed dropped to 68,438, so that in that period, despite the vast amount of money that this Government handled, 13,672 fewer homes were constructed. In New South Wales, there were 6,515 fewer homes constructed during the period. Those figures definitely indicate a condition of stagnation in the housing field, and for that reason I say that this Government should tender its resignation and go to the country, so that the people may pass judgment on it.
The Minister for Social Services laid great stress on the failure of the New South Wales Government to remove rent control, and he also emphasized the need for home ownership. Let us look at the economics of this matter. I know, from experience of my own electorate, that people are being economically dragooned into buying homes because of the policy of this Government, expressed through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. People are deny ing themselves the necessaries of life to find the deposit of £100 or £150, in order to purchase a home from the New South Wales Housing Commission. I have no doubt that the same is true of other States. People are being saddled with the cost of maintaining homes because they know that, if they do not undertake to purchase homes, they will have to live in tents, or in other sub-standard conditions. The majority of those who are being forced into this position earn only average wages. That is made clear by the report of the New South Wales Housing Commission for the year ended 30th June, 1956. The report clarifies the position and indicates that the majority of people who apply for housing commission homes in New South Wales are not in receipt of high wages and do not possess reserves of finance. It shows that 41.2 per cent, of such applicants earn less than £14 a week. How, then, can these workers, if they have wives and children to support, afford to embark on the purchase of homes? Apart from the deposit that is required, and the legal costs involved in the transfer, they also have to furnish the homes. The result is, of course, that such people are being impoverished and driven into the maws of the profit-making sections of the community, which are having a feast because of the current housing position.
The report of the New South Wales Housing Commission indicates that 87.2 per cent, of the applicants for homes earn £19, or less, a week. It can readily be seen, therefore, that those who apply for these homes are not wealthy. No honorable member surely will claim that a person with a wife and children to support, and who has no financial resources other than his wages, is very well off if he earns only between £14 and £19 a week. I suggest that such a person really is on the bread-line. How could he be expected to save money these days?
Of course, a proportion of the money that is advanced by the Commonwealth to the States, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, goes to the building societies. That is a good thing, but it is not a good thing that the building societies should get this money at the expense of many people who have not substantial resources and who can only rent homes. Yet, that is what is occurring. It is important that sufficient money be made available to the building societies by this Government, and that money also be made available to them by the trading banks and other financial organizations. We should not have the spectacle, such as we see in New South Wales at the moment, of the combined building societies having a total of 20,000 Unsatisfied applications for finance. Members of building societies should not have to wait for a period of one or two years before they receive an advance.
The problem in relation to housing is purely one of money. When this Government requires money for other purposes it is able to find it in millions. It can put on the ice, as it were, millions of pounds, such as the £300,000,000 in the loan reserve funds. This money, and the funds which are frozen in the banks, should be so channelled that, not in two years’ time or in ten years’ time, but within months, every family that needed a house could have one. We have all the things that are necessary to build houses. We have skilled labour, glass, bricks, timber and cement. In fact, the only item that is missing is money, and I say that that is being deliberately withheld because of the careless attitude that this Government has adopted towards housing. I remind honorable members that 62 per cent, of those who are seeking homes from the New South Wales Housing Commission are married couples with as many as three children, and I suggest that the percentage would be much the same in other States. These people - 20,000 of them - are on the waiting list of the housing commission in that State, and applications for homes are coming in at the rate of 200 a week. They, cannot get homes because this Government is withholding finance from the Government of New South Wales. Building societies are denied finance also because of the straight-jacket policy of the Government followed by the private trading banks and other financial organizations. They are not over anxious about lending money for home-building. It has been aptly stated in this chamber that the private trading banks are like grocers in that, as grocers sell commodities that are necessary for living, the trading banks sell money, and the higher the price they can get for their money the better they like it. The banks do not advance money to a person because of a human interest in his obtaining a home.
They will advance £1,000 or £10,000 for other purposes at high rates of interest because of the bigger rake-off in profit. We need not lift our hats to those trading banks and building societies which have made money available and have met some of their responsibility for financing housing.
The New South Wales Housing Commission’s report discloses that 48.7 per cent, of the persons who are occupying temporary premises and are in need of homes are unskilled workers. An unskilled worker in this country, under any award, does not earn more than £15 a week on a 40-hour basis, no matter what industry he is engaged in. If he earns more than that amount it is by working overtime or in penalty rates which apply to his particular industry. In the steel industry at Port Kembla two years ago, unskilled workers were earning £25 a week. They did so by working “ doubters “, or at week-ends at penalty rates. But in 90 per cent, of cases they are now pinned down to the statutory hours of work and cannot earn more than £15 a week.
There is a great need for homes and those who need them most are not moneyed people. Therefore, the onus is on the Government to provide homes as rapidly as possible for all who need them and on a basis that will enable them to purchase or rent them on reasonable terms. At the present time, however, interest charges are heavy. On this point I refer honorable members to a statement by Sir E. D. Simon, Parliamentary Secretary to the United Kingdom Ministry of Health. He said -
The most important single factor in determining the rents of houses is the rate of interest which is paid on capital. If the cost of labour is doubled, the net rent is increased by 28 per cent. If the cost of materials is doubled, the net rent is increased by 37 per cent. If the rate of interest is doubled, the net rent is increased by 70 per cent.
The suggestion has often been made in Australia that the high cost of homes is due to the high wages being paid. That sort of statement is made with the object of developing a certain psychology among workers, but it is all so much poppycock. It is time we got down to the realities of the situation. Under the terms of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, the Menzies-Fadden Government has increased the interest rate on moneys advanced from 3 per cent, to 4) per cent.
The result is that every one who obtains a home under the terms of this agreement has to pay an additional 10s. a week rental in order to meet the increase in interest rates. This has increased the cost of the average cottage bought through the New South Wales Housing Commission on weekly instalments by about £1,500.
I shall give some examples to indicate the effect of high interest rates on housing loans. On a loan of £2,000 for 30 years at 5i per cent., the interest payable is £2,660. When that is paid together with the principal, the total repayment is £5,160. If that is not usury in its worst form, I do not know what is. On a loan of £3,000 for 30 years at 5i per cent., the interest payable is £3,192, and the total repayment of principal and interest amounts to £6,192. It is obvious that the interest charges represent the principal part of the cost of housing. That is the great cancer in the present housing finance system under the control of this Government. This Government has a responsibility to see that money for housing is provided for the construction or purchase of homes at a low rate of interest. That is a most important factor. The average young Australian couple or immigrant couple who wish to set up a home are faced with an exorbitant interest rate. It does not stop at the cost of their home; it applies also to every stick of furniture and all the furnishings and gadgets which they install in it. This takes them into the field of hire-purchase where they are given a thorough thrashing as a result of the unlimited rates of interest which they are charged.
– What is Joe Cahill doing about it?
– He has brought down legislation to control hire-purchase interest rates. The Labour party is tackling this matter. Is it impossible for a worker to obtain money for a home, and the responsibility for that rests entirely on this Government. There should be no need for a farmer who wants to borrow money with which to buy implements to have to go to a hire-purchase company and pay exorbitant rates of interest because the bank will not give him an advance. It is because he has to pay this high rate of interest that costs of primary production are raised. These are passed on to the consumer and so infla tion goes gloriously on. These are some of the effects of this Government’s financial policy.
To illustrate the desperate plight of people who need housing I shall cite the case of an Australian family. To-night they are camped in a tent on a reserve in my electorate, known as the Corrimal reserve. Until recently this family had rented a home, but they were evicted because the house was purchased by an ex-serviceman who exercised his right to take possession. The evicted family consists of a middle-aged couple and five children. I want honorable members to listen carefully to this case.
– We are listening with all our ears.
– This example I am about to quote is devastating, and it is one to which the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) should pay particular attention. The attitude adopted by the honorable member in this House at any time would not justify any one crediting him with being an exponent of proper consideration for homeless people. The children of this family consist of a young man nineteen years and ten months of age, a daughter eighteen years of age, another boy fifteen and a half years of age, a girl fourteen years old, and the youngest child, a boy twelve and a half years old. To-night they are occupying a tent, 12 feet by 12 feet. That is not a big tent. In it are three beds. They consist of a double bed, which the father and mother are sharing with the twelve-year-old son. One of the other beds is a single bed which the young man of nineteen years and ten months is sharing with his brother of fifteen and a half years. In another corner of this 12 feet by 12 feet tent the daughter of eighteen years is sharing a single bed with her sister of fourteen years of age.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The bill before the House at the present time is to authorize the raising of loan money totalling £33,160,000 for financial assistance to the States for housing. If one adds to that amount the sum of £35,000,000 for war service homes, £3,000,000 for homes for the aged, and other amounts that the
Government is making available for housing purposes, it will be found that the total represents a record grant for housing, and it is a record of which the Government can be proud. It is no wonder that Labour is distorting so many facts in its speeches in this debate. Opposition members cannot, under any circumstances, bring forward solid truths to combat or diminish the housing record of the present Commonwealth Government.
In the current financial year, the sum of £26,528,000 will be allocated to the States for the erection of dwellings and the balance of £6,632,000 must be allocated by the States to building societies and other approved institutions for lending for private home building. When the 1956 housing agreement measure was being debated in this House, the Opposition took great exception to the amount of money to be allocated to the building societies. The reason for that action is transparently clear. The honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) criticized the amount that is made available for housing-
– I did not.
– The honorable member criticized the amount that is made available for housing by saying that it was unfortunate that so much of this money was being allocated to building societies when rental homes were required by so many Australians. The honorable member was going to deny that he had said that but he spoke a little bit too soon - before I had a chance to finish my sentence. The honorable member has not been in this House for very long. After he has settled down, he will learn that it is not a good thing to jump in when a member is speaking, and that he should allow a speaker to finish his sentence because it may have quite a different meaning from any conclusion which the honorable member may jump at.
Why is Labour so much against money being allocated to building societies? The reason is very clear. It is that when State governments build homes they can build houses where they like. Of course they build them in the cities for people from industrial areas, and those people are placed in electorates, according to the best political advantage to Labour.
– That is what is done in South Australia.
– The interjection partly confirms what I am saying.
– There, it is done against Labour.
– I am not speaking against Labour or in favour of the Liberal party. I am simply trying to put the case, as it is. The interjection by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has confirmed what I am saying. That is why Labour wants all the money for housing to be allocated to the States to use as they wish.
Perhaps, I would not have come into this debate had I not heard the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) speak. After years in this House, I do not take the words of back-benchers very seriously.
– No one takes the honorable member for Mallee seriously.
– That may be so. But 1 shall tell the House why 1 do not take back-benchers such as the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) seriously. The honorable member for Macquarie has said that no one takes me seriously, but he has not given any reason for that statement. I am able to give a reason for my statement. I do not take him very seriously because there is no chance of back-benchers on the Opposition side ever being in the Cabinet if Labour got on to the treasury bench. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and those members of the Opposition who would be in Cabinet if Labour were elected to office, are the only ones who would be expected to implement what they are now advocating. Therefore, the back-benchers can speak at random and say what they like and it is not taken very seriously by the people, the Government, or even Labour leaders.
When the Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke in this debate we had to take great notice because, if, by some miscarriage of justice, Labour got on to the treasury bench he would be a very prominent man - probably the second in command. I happen to have with me the report of a television talk in which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition participated. When he came before television and addressed the large population of the Melbourne metropolitan area he made quite a different statement to that which he has made in this
House to-day. What he said on television was a complete denial of what has been said by the honorable member for Cunningham. While speaking on the Tipping programme he replied to a question by Mr. Leonard as follows: -
Stale Governments have responsibilities and they should exercise their powers to make sure that houses are built instead of holding that everything would be all right if Canberra spent more money.
Yet the honorable member for Cunningham has said in this debate that everything depends on more money from Canberra. Which one of those two honorable members are we to regard as speaking with some authority? By the way, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not say in the House the same thing as he said on television. He changed his attitude. Once upon a time it was said, “ Oh that mine enemy would write a book “. Now it is, “ Oh, that mine enemy would go on television and be questioned on various subjects for all of us to hear “. I shall keep the report of this television interview because it will be useful in future. It deals with many subjects with which the Labour party, in its programme of socialization, is vitally concerned. Mr. Leonard asked the honorable member for Melbourne -
Supposing you had the money to build 120,000 houses a year, where would you get the materials?
Mr. Calwell said
I would get them from enterprises building luxury homes, luxury flats, luxury hotels and even TV sets.
But how would he get it? Does he not know that the State governments control luxury building? The Federal Government has not any power to prevent the construction of a garage or any other building in Melbourne. Under the Constitution, only the State government can do that. But, of course, the Constitution is nothing to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. His only objective is to put forward an argument which he thinks will disparage the Government. The statements which have been made in this debate by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition must see the light of day.
The honorable member made many other statements in the course of the television interview. He advocated the construction of a certain number of houses and said how he considered they should be built. As I have stated, he said that the construction of houses did not depend on the amount of money made available from Canberra. It depended on other things. That is what members on the Government side of the House have said.
The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) said he believed that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition had his heart in the right place. It may be in the right place physically but, in my opinion, it is not in the right place as far as housing is concerned. In addressing the House to-day, the honorable member for Cunningham spoke about Wollongong. The honorable member for Melbourne spoke about Flemington, which is in the city of Melbourne and which forms part of his electorate. When I said, “ More centralization! “ he did not take it very kindly. How is it that Labour members do not speak of building houses in country districts?
– What about Quambatook?
– The honorable member for Corangamite suggests we should build houses at Quambatook. I could not think of a better place. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) laughs at that suggestion, because he lives in a metropolitan area. When he was screaming in this House for telephones for his constituents I said that the people he represented had only to walk one block to a public telephone. Not one member of the Opposition has said a single word for country interests. They have been vocal about the need for civil defence, but if one bomb were dropped on Sydney or Melbourne the whole city would be wiped out. Yet we heard the honorable member for Melbourne this afternoon advocating the construction of blocks of flats more than three stories in height. He wanted to know why such buildings should be limited to three stories, and he suggested that they should be of more than three stories. I can think of nothing worse for a family than to live in some industrial garret close to the sky. The future of this country depends on a happy family life. Does any member of the Opposition, any Government supporter or any one else believe that people can live happy family lives in flats in tall buildings located in industrial areas? Of course they cannot. I am completely opposed to the honorable member’s suggestion. Let us move out into the blessed country! Put the brake on the growth of the cities. I have been chided by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition because I favour decentralization. I do favour it, but I do not want it to be only a catch-cry. I want some solid backing for a decentralization policy. The only way to induce people to got to the country is to provide homes for them. We should be able to say to migrants, “We have homes waiting for you in Australia “. The homes, however, should not be in the metropolitan areas, as is advocated by certain honorable members in this Parliament, such as the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt).
All the talk this afternoon has been centred around the metropolitan areas, and when I have spoken about decentralizing by building homes in the country my suggestion has not met with favour. There are, however, many jobs waiting for men in country areas, if only homes were available for them to live in. I am not going to lay the blame for this state of affairs on a Labour or a Liberal government or on the various kinds of State governments. I am not here to-day to praise the Australian Country party or the Liberal party, nor am I here to run down the Labour party. I want to put the facts before the House. In Victoria there is a Liberal government, and 1 believe that that government could do more to provide housing in country districts, to the great benefit of the Government itself, the people of Victoria and the people of Australia generally. Conditions similar to those in Victoria exist in New South Wales. We read of a plan to build a satellite town near Frankston, in the electorate of the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Lindsay). In New South Wales, the City of Sydney is growing apace, and this growth should not be allowed to continue. A debate of this nature gives us an opportunity to express our opinions on the matter.
The honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) told us a very sad story about some people who are living in a tent on a block of land in the district that he is acquainted with. Any person in such circumstances has all my sympathy. I direct attention, however, to the fact that, in 1949, I mentioned the case of a man who, with his wife and three children, was living in a tent at Geelong. It was about this time of the year, or a little later, and the Melbourne “ Herald “ published an article under the headline “ Family Living in Tent at Geelong “. lt was reported in that newspaper that the owner of the tent wanted to go on holidays at Christmas-time, and so the family had to move out into the open. That was at a time when a Labour government was in office. When I spoke of the matter in this House, did I get any support from the Labour government? Did it take any notice of me? Did it do anything about the matter? No! At the time I asked one honorable member particularly to consider the case sympathetically. That was the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). Of course, he regarded it as being of no importance. Since that time, whenever I have spoken on housing, I have never received support from the honorable member for East Sydney or any other member of the Opposition. The Government is doing a magnificent thing in providing this amount of money for housing.
Let me make one more remark about the speech of the honorable member for Cunningham. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) went to great pains to explain a statement that he made. He said that in some large houses of which he has knowledge only one or two persons are living. It appears to be his opinion that this is not in the best interests of the community. He then proceeded to make his meaning clear, because he said that on the last occasion on which he made such a statement it was misinterpreted. The Minister said that he is not in favour of any regulations that would prevent these people living in such houses if they wished to do so. The Minister is one of those who do not believe in too much regulation. Honorable members on this side of the House stand for freedom of the individual above all. The honorable member for Cunningham, however, immediately twisted the remarks of the Minister again. He said it was an atrocious thing that a Minister of this Government should advocate that more people should be pushed into these houses, to the inconvenience of others, or words to that effect. I have been in this Parliament for a reasonably long period. I have heard many statements twisted, and I have frequently heard Ministers explain their statements, but I have never heard a Minister explain a statement so clearly as the Minister for the Army did this afternoon. He went to such pains to make his meaning clear that you, Mr. Speaker, could almost have called him to order for indulging in tedious repetition. Likewise, I have never heard an Opposition member, even a back-bencher, so quickly take the opportunity to twist a Minister’s statement again as did the honorable member for Cunningham - and he twisted it in exactly the way of which the Minister had complained.
I hear the honorable member for Darebin endeavouring to say something. He is one of those honorable members who sit and mumble during a debate. I would like to reply to him, but I do not know what he is talking about. He appears to be speaking of certain huts. Perhaps he means those previously at Royal Park in Melbourne.
– I mean those on the banks of the Murray River.
– Order! The honorable member for Darebin is out of order.
– Perhaps the honorable member means the huts in Royal Park. When he was a member of the Victorian Government he could not do anything about removing those huts, but when the present Government came to office it very soon cleared them away. Evidently the honorable member for Darebin was not so active for reform then, because the Government of which he was a Minister did nothing about those huts, which were a disgrace to the metropolitan area of Melbourne. The honorable member is still talking about huts. Probably he wants those huts replaced in Royal Park in the same condition as they were when the present Government of Victoria came to office. When a Labour government was in power in Victoria and it was suggested that those huts should be removed, the Government said, “ How can we remove them? Where will we put the people who live in them? “ I believe in giving credit where it is due and in criticizing when criticism is due. In this case I give credit to the Government of Victoria, which removed those huts and provided homes for the persons living in them.
I support this bill. The Government’s record on housing is outstanding. I have often heard it said in this House that when the Labour government went out of office there were a certain number of houses in course of construction.
– That is right!
– The honorable member for Batman says “ That is right “. He is happy about it. I agree that there were a certain number of houses in course of construction, but why were so many in course of construction? If we study the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures we will find that when the Labour government was in power there were always more houses in course of construction than were being completed. Why was that? It was because the Government could not obtain materials. The black market had to be supplied. As I have said previously in this House, when one travelled from Albury to Melbourne by train in the last days of the Labour government one saw hundreds of houses in the area around North Essendon and further afield in course of construction, but they were soon completed. It is doubtful that they would have been completed if Labour had remained in office. Why were there so many houses in course of construction at that time? The reason was that if you could get bricks, for instance, you could not get mortar. If plumbing material was available, other materials needed for homes were in short supply. Under the Labour government, houses were commenced in great numbers - but only in the capital cities, and practically nowhere else - and it was impossible to finish them because the black market was taking all the available materials. Opposition members have said that, when the present Government took office, there were so many houses under construction, and that, subsequently, the number under construction declined. The reason is that we can now depend on it that, at the end of the financial year, a full year’s building programme will have been completed. Therefore, fewer houses are remaining uncompleted for long periods.
When Labour was in office, the number of dwellings under construction meant nothing, for the simple reason that families could not occupy houses under construction. However, from the moment that the present Government took office, it began to put things right. Every one knows what happened. It did away with petrol rationing, and did many other things, all of which helped to increase supplies of materials. As a consequence, houses were completed in the minimum of time, and they were occupied by people in need of accommodation many months earlier than would have been the case if Labour had remained in office.
The honorable member for Cunningham said that we want houses built rapidly. Does he not know that, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, the Commonwealth is providing approximately £33,000,000 this financial year for housing, that it is providing £35,000,000 for war service homes, and £3,000,000 for aged persons homes this financial year, and that the States are allocating a certain amount for housing, and that unemployment in the building trade is at a minimum? Does he not know, also, that, if large additional sums were allocated for housing, the result would be the very opposite of what he hopes to achieve, because housing would be made dearer for the people, since, immediately the funds provided are greater than is needed to occupy the available work force, the prices of materials are forced up? This would not be in the best interests of the people who need homes.
I travel about a good deal, and I do not hear many people say that this Government has been remiss in discharging its duties in relation to housing. I do hear some country people say that more homes are needed in country towns, but I know that it is the function of the State Governments, and not of the Commonwealth Government, to provide them. If I do nothing else this afternoon, Mr. Speaker, let me say to the State Governments, through you, in the words of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition -
State Governments have responsibilities and they should exercise their powers to make sure that houses are built instead of holding that everything would be all right if Canberra spent more money.
The money needed is being made available. Let the States get on with the job. Let them allocate to housing the maximum possible amount from the revenues that they raise, altogether apart from the funds provided by the Commonwealth. I believe that, if the States do this, in the very near future, we shall overtake the lag in housing, and this Government’s record in housing will go down as the best in the history of Australia.
– An advertisement on behalf of the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) pub lished in Sydney “Truth” on Sunday, 17th September, 1949, just a few days before the federal general elections held in that year, stated -
We give this firm promise to young couples. The Liberal party, when returned to office, will regard as its paramount and most vital responsibility the speeding-up of the housing programme. We will not allow any other public works, other than those of the most extreme urgency, to be given priority over home-building . . .
That was another of the famous promises made by our Prime Minister. What he has done about housing is, as may be expected, what he has done about everything else, except the sale of national assets. As usual, he has done nothing. His cruel, callous disregard of the welfare of our people is becoming very noticeable. When he is questioned about housing, he says that he is tired of hearing people complain. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) says that there is no shortage of homes. By contrast, the Prime Minister admits that there is a shortage, and says that it is caused by the lack of materials and labour, and not by the restriction of finance. Where are we going? One Minister says that there is no shortage of homes, and the Prime Minister goes off on the opposite tack! How can we expect any amelioration of the people’s plight when even Ministers are at variance?
Let us consider the matter realistically. Every one knows that thousands of people throughout Australia are homeless. Let us get a fuller and deeper appreciation of the housing problem, and its bad social consequences. “ Homes for all,” was the slogan of the Australian Labour party under Ben Chifley. In accordance with that approach to the problem, the Labour Government, in 1945, entered into the original Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, with the full concurrence of the political parties, and the trade unions. That agreement provided for, first, governmentsponsored rental housing projects. Secondly, the Commonwealth was to provide money as required. Thirdly, the agreement provided for a rent rebate system, and - this is very important - for rents not exceeding one-fifth of the family income. The family’s earnings for only one day of each week were to be absorbed by rent. Fourthly - and most important - the original agreement provided for lower interest rates. Fifthly, home purchasers were not to be required to pay high interest rates. Does any one disagree with that?
The original agreement operated with great success throughout its term of ten years, much to the peace of mind of the people generally. But what happened when the time came for it to be renewed? The rot set in! This Government’s wealthy supporters - the land agents and vested interests that claim the countryside for themselves - looked for their pay-off. The Government gave it to them by discarding the old agreement. Instead of helping the people to meet their acute housing needs, it made their problems much greater. If Government supporters read the new agreement, they will realize this, because it provides for a reduction of the number of houses to be built each year, raises rentals, abolishes the rent rebate system, and greatly increases the waiting time for people seeking homes to rent. As a matter of fact, it almost excludes the provision of homes for rental, because only one in five of those constructed is to be rented. This outstanding feature of the new agreement indicates the Government’s total disregard of the needs of the lower-paid sections of the community. Of course, it is not interested in the lower-paid sections of the community.
An examination of the funds allocated over the years will prove my point. What funds have been provided by this munificent Government, which alleges that it is the champion of the people? In 1953-54, it allocated £12,450,000 to housing. In 1956-57, it allocated £10,000,000, or £2,450,000 less. How are they going to build more homes? They do not want to build more homes. You can see, Mr. Speaker, the Government’s lopsided approach to the problem of housing. It would be appropriate to recall now what the present Prime Minister said, again in 1949. He postured again, and said -
We give this firm promise to young couples-
How his heart bleeds for the young couples!
The Liberal party gives a firm undertaking to the many thousands-
He agrees that there are many thousands - who are forced to postpone their marriage and possibly throw away-
Listen to this piece of hypocrisy! the happiest years of their lives because they cannot get a home of their own, and to couples already married, who are suffering the same penalty. We will not allow any public works except those of extreme urgency to be given priority over home building.
If that is not hypocrisy I do not know what is. When we analyse those words we realize what a despicable betrayal was then planned, and has been since committed, by our Prime Minister and members of the parties opposite, at the direction of big business, which is now gloating over the misery of the people and the prospects of making huge profits out of the misery of their fellow Australians and of the large number of migrants who have come to Australia to live.
This new agreement, of course, means the exclusion as tenants of age and invalid pensioners, who cannot afford the rental which they will be called upon to pay for a home. It must be remembered that the rise in interest rates will increase the rent of the average housing commission home by 10s. a week. In fact, the new agreement means the discontinuance of the rental rebate. It completely ignores the problems of pensioners, unemployed persons, and families on lower incomes.
When the Prime Minister made the public statement that there was a shortage of labour and materials - anything to get out from under - and no shortage of finance for homes, the Labour party set up a factfinding committee to inquire into the statements, knowing that we could not trust the Prime Minister or the Minister for National Development, and could not take their word. What did we find when we investigated the problem? We invited any one who was interested to come along and give evidence, and the response was amazing, a fact which shows clearly the interest of the people generally in this tragic national problem. Representatives of all classes in the community attended, including employers and employees. Although banks and financiers dodged the opportunity to come into the open, valuable factual evidence was obtained of usury and financial stringency, of credit restriction, and high interest rates, up to 20 per cent, on temporary loans to ex-servicemen. What is the ex-servicemen’s committee on the Government side doing about this imposition on ex-servicemen in regard to loans for war service homes? There was evidence given of unemployment generally in the building trades - timber mills closed down, brick kilns closed down - and of the parlous plight into which the building trades were sinking. The “ Financial Review “, a journal published by the “ Sydney Morning Herald “, which could not be called at any time a champion of the working class, had this to say when it commented on the inquiry -
Housing, as the immediate and politically sensible reaction from the Labour party has shown, is perhaps the one subject on which the Liberal Government is most vulnerable.
It went on to say -
If ever any proof was needed of the absurdities and inconsistencies which can emerge from the Commonwealth Government’s immigration and import control policies, the last week’s uproar over Menzies policy of do-nothing approval of the housing shortage has provided it. The increased interest rate has played havoc with the cost of a home.
Regarding housing costs, it is relevant to quote two eminent housing experts, Nathan Strauss, a former administrator of the United States Housing Authority, and Sir E. D. Simon, a former mayor of Manchester and Parliamentary Secretary to the United Kingdom Minister for Health. They said -
The most important single factor in determining the rent of houses is the rate of interest which has to be paid on the capital.
In order of importance cost of capital comes first. Cost of building material is next and the cost of building labour is a comparatively small factor. The wage question should come last, not first, in a national analysis of housing costs.
A comparatively small factor! They go on to say -
There can be no doubt whatever that the prevention of any increase in the rate of interest and, if possible, a progressive reduction, is the most important single service the Government can render towards ensuring the success of the housing programme. The following example indicates the effect of cost of capital on housing: -
In respect of a house costing £3,100, materials, overhead and profit would, on an average, cost £2,380, and labour costs would be £720. Where the £3,100 is borrowed at 5i per cent, over 30 years the prospective home owner would finally pay £6,398 for the house. Weekly payments would be £4 2s., made up of 30s. 6d. for materials, profit and overhead, 9s. 3d. for labour costs, and 42s. 3d. for interest. That is very interesting, is it not? Now I give some further comments by responsible men on the housing situation. Mr. Kelly, secretary of the Plasterers Union and deputy chairman of the New South Wales Housing Commission, said -
There are 30,000 people waiting for housing commission homes in New South Wales and the figure is increasing at the rate of 200 per week. The commission at present employed only 200 master builders compared with 520 in 1954-55.
Housing loans by the Australian trading banks fell by a further £7,400,000 in the six months ended 31st December, 1956.
In March, 1957, the Commonwealth Statistician, Mr. Carver, was reported by the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ as saying -
Has the Prime Minister inquired as to the reason why stocks must increase or mills must close unless there is an immediate increase in home construction or exports are stepped up?
Does the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) need to inquire into the reasons for that? Surely he has some brains, and can come to the conclusion that mills are closing through lack of money for housing. Mr. Carver is also reported as saying that the number of unemployed, which at present amounts to 500, is increasing in the building industry, and that between 50 and 70 mills have closed through lack of demand for timber.
Mr. F. F. Kraegen, manager of the Associated Country Sawmillers of New South Wales, is reported in the Sydney “ Sun “ to have said that it seemed extraordinary that municipal councils could not go on the loan market for housing loans when hirepurchase companies, by offering up to 10 per cent, interest, could raise almost unlimited finance for the purchase of less essential goods. He is reported as saying that hirepurchase companies were absorbing money from the savings banks and other sources, money which otherwise might go into housing. Has the Prime Minister inquired into the reasons for this?
The “ Sydney Morning Herald “ reported that at Berowra, New South Wales, a family of husband, wife, and five children, who chose not to give their names for fear of eviction, had been living in a chicken brooder, but had since moved to a camping area in Brooklyn. The newspaper asked, “ Does the Prime Minister intend to investigate this? “
On 24th March, 1957, the Sydney “Truth” reported that in Vimera-road Epping, the Italian families of Mario and Michael Battiation were living in a tin humpy, and paying rent of £2 a week. There were no bathing facilities. The “ Sydney Morning Herald “, of 26th October, 1957. reported -
The Prime Minister and Dame Pattie Menzies described themselves as guinea pig guests in the recently renovated Kirribilli House when they arrived at Mascot last night by T.A.A. from Canberra.
The people who live in chicken brooders can listen to this with interest -
They are the first guests in the Commonwealth Government’s only official guest house for V.I.P.S (Very Important People).
The cost of remodelling, renovating, and refurnishing the building and restoring the grounds was between £50,000 and £60,000.
How many cottages would that build? There were no bathing facilities in this home of the Battiations. The Sydney “Truth” reports that the Filimena family was living in a fowl shed in Epping-road, North Ryde. Another family was living in a packing shed close by. Jack Maddox was living with his wife in an iron humpy in Old Pittwaterroad, Brookvale, and paying £2 per week rent.
In a recent Sydney newspaper a prominent social worker is reported to have said that eleven families were living in one house in a terrace in Sydney. The article states -
All were using one small kitchen, one toilet and one bathroom.
The social worker is Miss M. Pillinger, director of the Family Welfare Bureau. She was addressing a housing conference held at the Town Hall under the auspices of the N.S.W. Labour Council.
Miss Pillinger said that service flats at Kings Cross meant for single people were housing families. People were living in shacks, sheds, and sub-standard homes in practically every Sydney suburb.
Bad housing caused nervous tension and strain. This caused family discord resulting in mental and physical ill health.
In St. Mary’s Cathedral, the Very Reverend Father P. Phibbs said that the housing shortage, which was causing misery to 500,000 Australians, was the main cause of the breakdown of family life to-day. He said that married couples were being deprived of their natural right to have and rear families under satisfactory conditions.
Sitting suspended- from 6 to 8 p.m.
– According to Dr. H. C. Coombs, Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, the Commonwealth Savings Bank will advance less money for housing in 1957-58 than it did in previous years. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in an issue of the “Sydney Morning Herald”, in March, 1957, is reported as having said that the problem is essentially a matter of materials and labour, particularly skilled labour, and not simply a question of money. The fact-finding committee, composed of members of the Labour party, found that the Prime Minister had no conception of the real cause of the lack of Government interest in home-building. The Government just does not want to build homes; it wants to leave that task to the racketeers, in the shape of estate agents, who plague the country, charging key money on every decent sort of home or shelter which homehungry people are seeking. Key money is the order of the day. There is blackmarketing in homes, in people’s health, and in the welfare of bonny Australian children.
The Prime Minister insists on telling us that is the cause of the housing shortage, not materials and skilled labour. He says the controversy over housing finance puzzles him. He gets puzzled very easily. He says the Australian achievements in regard to housing in the last seven years have been as great as those in any country. The Prime Minister should take a little time off from touring the world to study the sub-standard conditions under which large numbers of Australians are doomed to exist to-day - in fowlhouses, tents, tin sheds, garages, caravans and tiny illventilated rooms. He should climb down from his ivory tower and rub shoulders with the long-suffering people of Australia. Perhaps then, and then only, he may realise that he is not such a brilliant brain after all.
I should like to quote from the preelection speech of the Prime Minister in 1949, a statement which I think is a gem from the point of view of deception. He said -
We give this firm promise to young couples: The Liberal party when returned to office will regard as its paramount and most vital responsibility the speeding up of the housing programme.
What hypocrisy! He continued -
We will not allow any public works other than those of the utmost public importance, the most extreme urgency, to be given priority over the building of homes for the Australian boy and girl.
That statement was made by the Prime Minister in 1949. Eight long years have gone by and, despite the fact that over 1,000,000 immigrants have arrived in Australia during that period, fewer homes are being built to-day than were built prior to the advent of this tragic Government. The “ Sydney Morning Herald “, an anti-Labour party paper, is also getting fed up with the party it helped put into power. That newspaper, in its leading article on Tuesday, 12th November, 1957, stated -
Nobody At The Helm In Housing?
Senator Spooner’s weekend statement on housing is more disturbing than he realizes.
If it means anything, it shows that his Department of National Development is unhappy about activity in the house building industry. Now, it has been the Cabinet to which Senator Spooner belongs, and its advisers, who have all along resisted suggestions from outside observers that this position was indeed unsatisfactory.
In view of the failures of this Government, even apart from its action in selling our assets to outside interests, it is time that it resigned and allowed the people of Australia to come into their own.
.- The promises made by the present Government in 1949 to the young people of Australia have apparently been fulfilled. Indeed, one might say they have borne fruit because the birth-rate in Australia is soaring, and if any proof of the health and well-being of the young people of Australia were needed, it surely is reflected in the birth-rate. A lot of nonsense has been spoken in the House to-day by the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) and the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin). The former suggested that this debate ought to be approached on the basis of what the Government has not done. Surely, the obvious approach is to ascertain what the Government has done and what it will do.
I shall return later to the question of what the Government has done. The honorable member for Cunningham in a spirited piece of oratory referred to retreat and stagnation. If there is any retreat and stagnation in the building of homes, it surely is induced by State legislation relating to rent control. I cannot see any other explanation for the fact that so many parents are living alone or in couples in large houses - their families have married and left the home - which could quite comfortably accommodate younger families. But the owners dare not let their homes because under State legislation they would be deprived of the control of their property and would be denied the right to re-occupy it should they find it necessary to do so. An ancillary effect is that, while rents are controlled as they are in many States, no incentive is given to a person to build private homes for rental, although that would relieve the shortage. If there is any retreat and stagnation, it is the retreat and stagnation of legislation passed by State Labour governments. It is the same sort of stagnation that is evident in the Opposition’s very circuitous criticism of a bill that is very good.
The honorable member for Cunningham suggested that the only element missing is finance. “ Let there be more money “, he said. The House will no doubt recall that only two years ago any one wanting a house built pleaded on hands and knees for a builder to construct it for him. That is not so to-day. The fiscal policy of the Government has resulted in building prices being stabilized. A person wishing to build a house can call for tenders, consider the tenders and decide on the builder he wants. That was not so a couple of years ago. Then, people unfortunately had to build on cost plus contracts, and they found themselves involved in a great deal of expense for which they had not provided. Then the honorable member for Cunningham flew into fantasy with a series of examples of what would happen if the cost of materials and labour were increased. He arrived at a classic piece of deception. He said that if the interest rate were doubled, rents would be increased by 70 per cent. Can any reasonable person imagine the interest rate being doubled?
The most extreme piece of economic legislation by the British Government has increased the rate from 5 per cent, to 7 per cent. In Australia the increase has been limited to, I think, i per cent. Who can imagine that the rate will be doubled? To use an impossible example such as that to argue an increase of 70 per cent, in rents borders on dishonesty.
The honorable member for Cunningham said that the cost of labour was not the real factor in rents. I have referred to the cost plus contracts of the past when prices were not stabilized. Any one who thinks that the cost of labour is not a real factor in rents should ask the various State housing authorities what is the major element in maintenance costs. The major element, of course, is the cost of labour, and that eats up the loan moneys available for housing. Another point conveniently overlooked by the honorable member is the labour cost in materials used in houses. 1 shall explain about the interest rate to honorable members who are interjecting. If they want to absorb the lesson fully, they should take the opportunity to read “ Hansard “ to-morrow morning.
The honorable member for KingsfordSmith, in a piece of magnificent oratory which we could hardly fail to hear on this side of the House, said that the previous agreement gave peace of mind to the people. What utter nonsense! Has he not taken the trouble to consider the tremendous increase in private homeownership in Australia? People are asking the various authorities to permit them to buy homes. They are seeking co-operative society loans, war service loans and loans from other lending authorities. People want to own their homes; they do not want to rent them. For those who are unable to buy homes, the agreement provides that 80 per cent, of the money may be used by the various State governments in whichever way they choose, and. of course, that will include the building of houses for rental purposes. The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith suggested that people do not want to own their houses. Is this the same sort of thinking as that explained in this House by the late lamented member for Corio, Mr. Dedman? Does the honorable member for KingsfordSmith also believe that we should take steps to prevent Australians becoming little capitalists? He should ask the Australian people what they think about it. They want to own their houses. They regard it as their right, and this Government is doing everything possible to give them that right.
The honorable member for KingsfordSmith then said that the present agreement abolishes the rent rebate system. That is completely false and all honorable members know that it is false. The rent rebate system is operated by the State governments. He said, further, that the agreement excludes homes for rental. I know that the policy of some State governments is to try to sell the houses wherever possible. They have not been able to sell them all. First, a person rents a home and then, while a tenant, may elect to buy it. The statement that the agreement excludes homes for rental is completely wrong. The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith adopted the argument of the honorable member for Cunningham; that is, the cost of interest. Once again he presented a false example - an example that is not even possible, far less a proper ground for debate. Is it perhaps that the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith wants everything free? Does he want to put a load on the taxpayer? The taxpayer who would bear the burden of finding the extra money is the skilled tradesman who is able to earn a good living and who is the type of man who, at 50 years of age, finds that his children have married and left home or, alternatively, that they are self-supporting. They are the people who would bear the burden that the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith suggests.
Bot>. the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith and the honorable member for Cunningham have said that the Government has abandoned its responsibility. These are the facts. In 1947, the lag was 250,200 houses. By 1954, the lag had been reduced to 158,000. In a mere seven years the lag had been reduced by almost 100,000. To-day, the lag is a mere 100.000 houses. Does that prove an abandonment of responsibility? On the contrary, it proves that the approach to a problem which must be overcome by the Government, using the ability and thinking available to it in the Cabinet, is right. In the September quarter of this year, 18.981 houses were commenced. The estimated number of houses to be completed in 1957-58 is 73,000. Last year, 68,437 houses were completed - the lowest number in the history of this Government. However, there was a tremendous amount of building activity throughout Australia, and it was most important building activity. This is a growing commercial and industrial country, and it is most necessary to house those businesses which are operating the commerce and industry of the country. The figure of 68,437 houses completed does not include the vast number of homes for the aged which were built because of the policy of the Government. With 73,000 houses to be completed this year if the current rate is maintained - there is every probability that rather than being maintained, the rate will be increased - the lag will be further reduced to about 85,000. That figure must be compared with the lag of 250,000 houses in 1947. If that is not a record to be proud of, what is?
The agreement passed by this House last year is working very well in all States, especially that section which provides for the allocation of funds to co-operative building societies. The agreement is proving to be of assistance to all States and is tremendously popular, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales. The housing authorities in the other States are overcoming their difficulties and are rapidly taking advantage of the facilities that are made available to them by this part of the legislation. There has been a significant growth in the use that has been made of the legislation in Queensland.
The advantage of the building society home builder’s account is that the average loan through a co-operative housing society is £2.500. whereas the cost of a house built by a State government authority is between £3,000 and £3,300. Moreover, in the case of privately built homes, there are no maintenance costs to reduce further the available loan money. The cycle of loan money through the home builder’s account is a mere 31 years, compared with a period of 53 years under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, so that the money advanced to building societies virtually goes one and two-thirds times as far as the housing commission money.
There are in the agreement to which this bill relates certain restrictions in regard to the operations of the State housing authorities. The first restriction to which I invite the attention of the House relates to the building of flats. Most Australians now agree that it is necessary to build multistory flats in the cities. The building of such flats has considerable advantages. For instance, it renders unnecessary the dislocation involved in people, who have lived in inner suburban areas all their lives, having to move to outer areas, a move to which they cannot look forward with any great degree of happiness. That is the human side of the matter. The building of multi-story flats also has the important economic advantage that it enables greater use to be made of existing drainage, sewerage, electric light, and the other services that are required in a rapidly expanding outer suburban area. I think that the construction of flats in inner metropolitan areas is highly desirable. At present, however, the State governments cannot embark on the building of multi-story flats without the agreement - that is the word that is used, but of course consent is implied - of the Commonwealth Government. I believe that that restriction ought to be removed, and that the State housing authorities should be able to construct multi-story flats as they wish. It would, of course, be necessary to install in the buildings elevators for the use of the tenants. I do not believe that the walk-up type would be suitable.
I think that, in respect of the provision of ancillary services, such as electricity, roads and sewerage, the State authorities should be allowed to exercise their sovereignty and decide what utilities are to be made available in the areas where houses are being constructed. One of the most important features of the agreement is that it excludes entirely the right of the State governments to build anything but houses. In my opinion, the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement ought to be amended to enable loan funds to be used for the provision of ancillary services, which are so important, such as health centres, scout halls, youth clubs and church halls, all of which, of course, are expensive. The provision of these facilities places a tremendous strain on voluntary effort, particularly by young people with young families, who predominate in the areas where the facilities are needed. When the agreement is being revised in the future, I hope that the States will be given the right to spend loan money for such purposes.
The Victorian Government, through its Minister for Housing, recently announced that it thought it desirable to have the maintenance of State-owned houses carried out by private contractors. It would be wise to adopt such a policy in respect of maintenance, the cost of which now comes out of loan money that could otherwise be used in the construction of additional houses.
– Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) proposed -
That the question be now put.
– On a point of order-
– Order! Does the honorable member desire to make a personal explanation?
– Does he claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) said that I had stated during my speech that the average Australian did not want to own his home. That is a deliberate untruth, and I demand its withdrawal. I should also like you, Sir, to direct that that statement be expunged from the “ Hansard “ record.
– Mr. Speaker, I wish to make some remarks in relation to this very important measure–
– I have already moved that the question be put.
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. I point out that the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) raised a point of order, and that no decision on it was given.
– Order! The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith made a personal explanation.
– No, I claimed that I had been misrepresented.
– The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) had already moved that the question be put, and that is now the question before the House.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . 25
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
.- This bill part of which is in the second year of implementation - the part concerning advances to building societies - has met with a fair amount of success throughout Australia. However, I know of two or three cases in Western Australia in which building societies have not availed themselves of the money at their disposal under the conditions laid down in the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States in respect of loans to such societies. The main point is that money advanced to building societies by the States is made available at the rate of 4$ per cent., but the maximum rate of interest that can be charged by those societies on moneys they lend is 5i per cent. The building societies find it impossible to advance loans and meet administration expenses on the small margin of i per cent. That applies particularly to smaller building societies. In Western Australia this position has resulted in a fair amount of loan money not being allocated. Under the terms of the agreement, in the case of the State of Western Australia, any money not allocated is to go to the Rural Industries Bank for the purposes of home building.
Last year between £50,000 and £60,000 was not allocated. I cannot see why that money could not be advanced to exservicemen who are waiting for finance on war service homes. If it were lent at 5i per cent, it would assist considerably quite a number of these men, some of whom are paying 7 per cent., 8 per cent, and even 9 per cent, for temporary finance while waiting for a war service home advance. Although a little more administrative work would be entailed, I think that in this year 1957, twelve years after the cessation of hostilities, we should attempt to finalize as quickly as possible outstanding applications for loans by ex-servicemen who are eligible for financial assistance under the War Service Homes Act. If we could help some of these people to save a few pounds by letting them have the money at a lower rate of interest than they have to pay for temporary finance, these funds would be put to a good purpose.
The allocation to Western Australia is of a fairly generous nature; it is £3,000,000. Of that sum, £600,000 is allocated to building societies. Before the principal act was passed there were only eight building societies in Western Australia whereas in
New South Wales there were 895, consisting of 872 terminating societies and 25 ordinary societies. There were 21 societies in Victoria, 23 in South Australia, eight in Queensland, and five in Tasmania. On a population basis, Western Australia has approximately 6 per cent, of the total population of Australia, and under this agreement it is receiving something like 9 per cent, of the allocation. That shows that in making this money available for housing the Commonwealth is doing the right thing by the State of Western Australia. If the opportunity presents itself at a later stage, I shall amplify these remarks on the allocation of this money and indicate more fully how I think it could be used to greater advantage by building societies, particularly in Western Australia.
.- I shall confine my remarks to clause 10 which authorizes the raising, by means of loan, a sum not exceeding £33,163,000, and to clause 15 under which the provision of that amount will be guaranteed and will provide a sum of £26,528,000 to the States for the purpose of engaging in housing construction whilst a further £6,632,000 will be made available to building societies and approved building institutions.
In considering this matter, three points suggest themselves. The first is whether the amount made available under this bill will be sufficient to enable the decrease that has taken place in recent years in the home construction programme to be remedied. The second point is whether the conditions governing the availability of finance under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945 are favorable, as, indeed, they should be, to those who desire to purchase a home under the agreement. The third point is whether the £6,632,000 which is to be made available to approved building societies will be sufficient to enable private persons to build the homes that are needed in the private sector of housing.
I believe that the first point is not hard to justify. Obviously, there has been a serious decline, in recent years, in the number of homes that have been constructed. That fact has been substantiated by statements prepared by the Statistician only this week, and also by the quarterly bulletins prepared by the Statistician. It shows quite clearly that the number of homes under construction in Australia has declined since the peak year of 1951-52 when 84,000 homes were under construction. For the June quarter of 1956-57 that number had fallen to less than 60,000. Obviously, the contention that has been expressed so often during this debate that the number of homes under construction in Australia has declined, is borne out by this statement of the Commonwealth Statistician.
I want to make it perfectly clear that the statement issued by the Commonwealth Statistician only a few days ago shows that the number of homes constructed during the September quarter of 1956-57 was the lowest of. any quarter during the period of office of the present Government - 16,575, as compared with 16,698 for the corresponding period of 1955-56. So there has been a decrease in the number of homes constructed in the September quarter of each year during the period of office of the present Government.
The second point to which I referred was the availability of finance. I want to make it perfectly clear that the finance available, whether from the Commonwealth Bank or from any one of the approved lending institutions, is insufficient to enable the average man to secure a home for himself, his wife and his family. For example, the Commonwealth Bank is one institution that ought to be in a position to provide finance for the average home-builder. Yet that bank is prepared to grant a loan of only £2,500 although honorable members know that the average cost of a home in Australia has risen above £4,000. Consequently, a deposit of £1,500 has to be found by the intending home-builder.
I seriously suggest that it is possible for few young men in this country to secure a deposit of £1,500. That contention has been borne out by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) himself. Recently, in Melbourne, he said that in his opinion the Commonwealth Bank and the private banks were making insufficient money available for the provision of homes for private homebuilders. I believe that the Minister ought to go a step further and indicate, as I have pointed out, that the deposit required by the Commonwealth Bank and the approved lending societies is far too great to enable the average home-builder to secure a property under the mortgage terms laid down by the Commonwealth Bank, the private banks, and other approved institutions.
In March, 1957, almost £320,000,000- was held in reserve by the Commonwealth Bank on account of the private banks. I believe that if the Minister for National Development is sincere in his approach to this subject, and if he is anxious to make more finance available to intending homebuilders, he should allow some of that £320,000,000 to be made available to the average home builder, and certainly on a more reasonable basis than it is available to-day. In connexion with the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1956, similar conditions apply, because the maximum advance permissible under that agreement is £2,750. On that advance a deposit is required amounting to 5 per cent, of the first £2,000 and 10 per cent, of the remainder, a total of £175. That means that the intending purchaser is obliged to find, in the first instance, a deposit of £175 on the maximum advance, and then the difference between that advance and the capital cost of the home - that is £750 on an average home costing £3,500 - making a total deposit of £925. That explains the statement by the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) that so many people who occupy homes built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement are obliged to occupy them purely on a rental basis. Obviously, it is not possible for the average person to occupy those homes on any other basis. After all, they are built for average wage-earners with large families, and it is not possible for them to provide a deposit of, and in many instances exceeding, £925.
Regardless of what has been said by the honorable member for Bruce, there is no doubt that homeless people in Australia are increasing each year. The number of homes being built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, and by private institutions, is insufficient to meet the demand. It has been pointed out that the population of Australia has increased in recent years by more than 1,000,000. But in each year the number of homes being constructed is decreasing. Therefore, it is obvious that this great social problem will remain with us until the Government is prepared to face up to the fact that it must make available to the average home builder finance on a reasonable basis.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I think that the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) has exaggerated the position. I agree with him that there is still a housing shortage and that we should be doing more to overcome it. It is not a Commonwealth matter. It is very largely in the hands of the States which, each year, fix the amount of their loan allocation that will be used for housing purposes. But I do not want to enter into that argument. 1 just want to make one constructive point. Among the people whom we should help, particularly, are the owner-builders - the people who are struggling to get their own homes together and who very often work in their spare time, at week-ends, thus adding to the total productive capacity of the country. They should be encouraged. They are not the only people who should be helped, of course. But I want to suggest that we should encourage the States to do more to help owner-builders to get a start. Very often, it happens that they can get finance for their houses but they cannot get their first draw against that finance until they have done a certain amount of work and put a certain amount of value onto the ground in the form of bricks and mortar, or foundations. It is this first hurdle which very often prevents them from starting.
This is not a great matter in terms of finance. No big sums of money are involved. But it seems to me to be peculiarly the kind of problem which could be decentralized in administration. I suggest that we could encourage the States to set up, perhaps under local government or smaller units of administration, committees which would help owner-builders to get their initial start.
We must help owner-builders to get a start. Let us set up a small fund - no large amount of money would be required - from which loans could be made to allow ownerbuilders to start work. When the building of a home reaches the stage at which the owner-builder would be entitled to an advance through the normal financing sources, the loan could then be repaid to the small circulating fund. The merits of various cases could be taken into account when making advances from the fund. We could have a certain amount of personal contact between those administering the fund and those using it. Much local interest could be stimulated in the scheme in the various districts. At present many persons connected with local government give their time gratuitously in order to help various local causes. If my suggestion were adopted I believe we would be able to do something constructive towards increasing the total number of houses built in the country, and making the best use of our available resources. It is not a Commonwealth matter; it is a matter in which we should give a lead to the States.
– How can we give them a lead?
– We could bring them together in conference and make some suggestions along these lines. We could suggest that they should set up these circulating funds, which would not require any great amounts of money. Different funds could be set up to operate in different specified localities. From the funds money could be made available to allow ownerbuilders to commence operations, on the condition that when a building was sufficiently advanced to allow an owner-builder to receive an advance from normal sources the original loan would be repaid into the circulating fund, so that it could be used to enable another owner-builder to commence operations.
– The remarks of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) have been very interesting. Anything that can be done to assist owner-builders in the way he has suggested would prove most helpful. I asked the honorable member how we could get these funds going, because I think we are in rather a difficult position. We are not able to dictate to the States in any way what they should do in regard to housing.
– We could bring them together and give them a lead.
– If we did that we would be placing further restrictions on the use of the money that is made available. In my own State of South Australia there are great numbers of owner-builders of the kind referred to by the honorable member. I quite appreciate the difficulties of some of them who have not sufficient money to commence operations. One of the difficulties is that in many cases a prospective home-builder must purchase a block of land and have the title deeds in his own name before he can commence to build, and the price of a building block has increased to such an extent that it is almost impossible for the people referred to by the honorable member for Mackellar to purchase the land and then commence building. Some years ago a very decent block of land could be purchased in the suburban areas of Adelaide for between £75 and £100. To-day you would be very lucky to get such a block of land for less than £450 or £500. It takes a man who wants to build a home under his own steam, as it were, a long time to put himself in the position even of being able to purchase the land, and if something could be done to assist these men in the way suggested by the honorable member for Mackellar it would be of great benefit.
I believe, however, that we are getting rather outside our province. I was interested in the remarks of the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard). I quite agree with his contention that the maximum housing loans available at the present time are insufficient, but I believe that very few ordinary working men could afford to borrow the full amount of, say, £3,500 to finance the building of a home, considering the rates of interest that are currently being charged. The rates of interest that can be charged on loans made available through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement are fixed by legislation, and the heavy interest burden has been referred to in the debate on the second reading of this bill.
As honorable members are aware, the original Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was drawn up on the basis of recommendations of the Commonwealth Housing Commission. I was one of the members of that commission. We agreed on all matters into which we inquired, except for one point, on which I submitted a minority report. That was the question how best to assist home-builders or persons wishing to purchase homes. The other members of the commission were of the opinion that the best way to do so was by way of a capital subsidy on the cost of the building. I did not agree, and I contended that the best way to assist was by subsidizing interest payments. I put in a minority report, recommending that the interest charged to home-builders should be not more than 3 per cent., including the cost of administration.
Order! The honorable member appears to be getting away from the matter before the committee.
– The committee is discussing the amount that is to be made available under this bill, and I suggest that if we raise the maximum loan available to £3,500, the interest burden at the rate of 5i per cent, or 5i per cent, will be too great for the average working man to bear. If we really want to help the prospective home-builder we must consider the suggestion that I put forward twelve or thirteen years ago, when I recommended that we should provide a subsidy on interest payments. I know that a Labour government was in office at the time, and that it would not agree to my suggestion, but if we wish to have a greater proportion of homeowners we must realize that it costs at least £3,500 and probably closer to £4,000 to build a home, and we will have to subsidize interest payments to enable the average home-purchaser to meet his commitments. We must remember that the homepurchaser must not only pay interest and repay principal, but he must also provide for rates and taxes, which have increased greatly in recent years. For this reason a prospective home-purchaser must be able to obtain a loan at an interest rate that is within his capacity to meet. The interest rate should be at such a level that the weekly repayments of principal and interest will be no greater than the weekly amount a person would pay if he rented a similar house. The Government will have to give serious consideration to my suggestion if it wishes to achieve a greater proportion of home-ownership.
High interest rates are responsible for the inability of the average prospective home-builder to pay the full capital cost of a home. This matter must receive further consideration. I know that nothing can be done at the committee stage, but it will have to receive attention at some time if homeownership is to be extended as most honorable members in this chamber desire. (Several honorable members rising in their places)-
Motion (by Mr. Cramer) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . 28
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 3rd September (vide page 254), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This is one of the last of the Budget bills, and it is one of the very few designed to reduce the taxes levied upon the people of Australia by this Government. Under this measure, it is proposed to remit £4,000,000 of sales tax in a full year. However, the amount to be collected, even after those remissions have been made, will be about £120,000,000, and that is too big a burden to impose upon the Australian community. The sales tax is only one of many taxes. There are excise duties, income taxes on companies and individuals, and all sorts of other imposts. Generally, the mass ofthe Australian people is very heavily overtaxed. The wealthy people, however, are not over-taxed, compared with similar classes of people in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
The Australian Labour party favours a graduated scale of income tax as the fairest form of taxation. It objects to indirect taxes. There is nothing so unfair as the sales tax. Every party represented in this Parliament is pledged to abolish this tax. The Scullin Government, which introduced it in the depression years, copying Canadian ideas, described it as a temporary tax. However, what was originally a temporary tax became a very burdensome impost. During World War II., under the Curtin Government, and, in the post-war period, under the Chifley Government, the maximum rate of this tax was never more than 25 per cent. Labour governments never took sales tax higher than 25 per cent., not even when taxation of all sorts was increased, and the Australian people paid until it really hurt, in order that the war might be successfully fought.
The members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, in the immediate post-war era were very much concerned, or pretended to be, about the incidence of sales tax. Since those two parties have been in office - it is close on eight years now - they have not only failed to carry out their election promises of 1949 and before that, but they actually took the maximum sales tax rates to 662/3 per cent. and 50 per cent. in the days of the horror Budget, and, last year, when they introduced the little horror Budget, they imposed a sales tax of 30 per cent, instead of162/3 per cent., on motor cars, increased to 25 per cent. the remainder of the items which had formerly been taxed at162/3 per cent., and increased to 161 per cent. the rate of tax on goods that used to be taxed at 12i per cent. As I have already remarked, the Government still proposes to take £120,000,000 by way of sales tax to help to make up this record revenue of £1,300,000,000 - an all-time high in taxation levied in this country.
That is the performance of the present Treasurer, who has been in his position for eight years. But let us see what he had to say when he was not the Treasurer, or, to put it another way, in the intervening period between his first term as Treasurer and the time when he came back - unfortunately for this country - to mismanage the nation’s finances for a second time. On 20th October, 1948, he said, in respect of sales tax -
Many articles that are subject to sales tax and other indirect taxes continue to rise in price, thus adding to the inflationary spiral.
– Who said that?
– The present tragic Treasurer.
– What did you say in 1948?
– The same as I say in 1957. I do not say one thing at one period of my political life and the opposite later on. You can look up in “ Hansard “ all the speeches I have ever made; you can even check me through the latest television show in which I participated, and you will find that I am consistent in my statements. I still preach the doctrine of divine discontent. I am still an advocate of democratic socialism, and I am still opposed to indirect taxation of all kinds, preferring the direct tax as the most equitable form of tax that can be imposed, because it accords with the right principle of taxation, that of placing the burden on those best able to bear it. Under this system of indirect taxation, the people who are hit are the little people and the family man - and the bigger the family is the more he has to pay. It has been the policy of this Government to reduce income tax and increase indirect taxation. When I was rudely interrupted I was pointing out that the present Treasurer, when in opposition, had claimed that sales tax and other indirect taxes added to the inflationary spiral. If that was true in 1948 it is true in 1957. Let me continue to use the inimitable terminology of the present Treasurer. He instanced, in that speech from which I am quoting, the things that he had in mind. Among these were tobacco, soap powders and so on. He said -
As the revenue can certainly afford a reduction of these taxes it would be much sounder economically if the price increases were absorbed by reducing or eliminating the indirect taxes on those items.
That is what we have always said. If I may interrupt myself, not only did we preach that doctrine, but we practised it. The Chifley Government continued to reduce indirect taxes from the end of the war until we left office - we left it quite involuntarily, of course. But since the present Treasurer came back the burden of sales taxation has increased, and more and more is being paid each year per head ot the Australian people in indirect taxation. Even though there is a reduction of £4,000,000 in respect of sales tax the indirect tax burden, as a whole, per capita of the population, is greater this year than it was last year.
– Yes, £480,000,000.
That is big money in anybody’s language.
– What about entertainments tax?
– Well, entertainments tax was abandoned by this Government, and the States immediately re-imposed it. It was re-imposed by Liberal party governments in the same way as the land tax was re-imposed by the same State governments under the State law when it was abandoned by this Government. Still, even though entertainments tax has gone I think I am correct in saying that indirect taxation as a whole is imposed to a greater extent per head than it was last year.
In the dim and distant days of 1948 the Treasurer went on to say -
There would then be no need for sharp increases in the basic wage to cover their highest cost. The whole administration of sales tax in this country is a farce. ls not sales tax still a farce? If it was a farce then, it is a farce and a half now. The Treasurer went on to say -
The anomalies that exist are too glaring to escape the notice of a responsible Treasurer, and ;he time has arrived when they should be rectified.
My only comment on that is that as the anomalies have escaped the present Treasurer’s notice then, according to his own statement, he cannot be a responsible treasurer. He went on to say in 1948 -
The place at which to start is the base, and the base of social justice is the home life of the community.
Yet the Government is still levying sales tax on many items of household furniture and equipment. As a matter of fact, he boasts in connexion with this present legislation that he has afforded the community a major item of relief. And that major item of relief is the reduction from 10 per cent, to 8i per cent, of the sales tax on household furniture and equipment, such as domestic refrigerators, washing machines, radiators, crockery and cutlery, as well as kitchen utensils and hardware. Does anybody claim that the domestic refrigerator is a luxury? Government supporters are pretty dumb upon this issue. The Treasurer is the only one who has made a speech on the subject, and I understand that there is only one other honorable member on the Government benches who is interested enough to make a contribution to the debate. Does any honorable member opposite claim that a washing machine is a luxury, or a radiator is not a necessity? Does anybody suggest that crockery and cutlery, as well as kitchen utensils and hardware, are luxury items on which tax ought to be levied so as to discourage the purchase of these goods and help to stop the inflationary spiral?
– Were they ever free of sales tax when Labour was in office?
– Yes, some of them were. We never imposed the tax at a rate of more than 25 per cent, at any time. We reduced the rates progressively. Most of the items on which the rate is being reduced now were included in the schedule in the horror Budget and by the little horror Budget of last year.
– There has always been sales tax on these things.
– Some of these things may have been taxed, but we had the rate down very low. All that the Government is giving by way of major relief is a reduction of the rate from 10 per cent, to Si per cent. That is a reduction of lj per cent., or of £1 13s. 4d. on a purchase to the value of £100. What relief is that?
– What generosity!
– I suppose it is generous as far as the present Treasurer is concerned. He is reducing the sales tax on handbags, travelling bags, suitcases, attache cases and similar articles from 25 per cent, to 12i per cent. The Opposition welcomes that reduction. But as the Treasurer is prepared to grant a reduction of the tax on those goods, why is it necessary for him to continue to impose sales tax on flags purchased by boy scouts and girl guides? That is happening. Two years ago, in a letter to Evan Evans Proprietary Limited, Melbourne flag manufacturers, the Treasurer promised to consider reducing or lifting sales tax on flags and other articles bought by these boys and girls, who give their time to their organizations and spend their own money very unselfishly on equipment and uniforms. Flags that are manufactured for foreign nations are exempted from sales tax. When the Federation of Malaya celebrated its independence recently the people in Melbourne and elsewhere who supplied the Malayan Government with flags were not required to pay sales tax on them. But no matter how much one tries to impress the Treasurer with the propriety and the reasonableness of a request, neither he nor his advisers take any notice of it. For two or three years I have been protesting against the sales tax that is levied on religious notices placed outside churches. The Government regards even them as luxury items. I cannot get the Government to forego the few pounds involved in that particular form of taxation.
I have suggested that clergymen using motor cars or utility trucks should be afforded some relief. I have also urged that doctors using cars in sparsely populated areas should receive some relief from sales tax, but I never seem to make headway.
– What about pastrycooks’ lines?
– There are other items, also. The Government is still taxing the children’s ice creams. If you put a raisin in a piece of dough and bake it, you pay sales tax on the product. But if the dough is cooked without raisins, you do not pay sales tax. In the one case it is a raisin loaf, and in the other case it is just ordinary bread.
– That legislation was introduced by the Labour party.
– The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Erwin) has not been here long enough, and is not destined to remain long enough, to offer opinions as to the past or to prognosticate with regard to the future. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) has some raisin country and we expect him to support us in this matter.
– Do you deny that it was Labour legislation?
Mr. CALWELL__ No, I do not. I just saw an opportunity to score a debating point,, and I took it. If the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) would like a few lessons in that art, I am prepared to give him some at any time.
The Government proposes to exempt from sales tax industrial gases, equipment used on ships, industrial equipment used in servicing, repairing, or reconditioning ships or railway rolling-stock, and also fire extinguishers and other fire-fighting equipment. In view of the swollen state of the Treasury,, it is a matter for amazement that, if the prosperity that the Government talks about is real prosperity, the provision for the exemption of fire extinguishers and other fire-fighting equipment was not brought down long ago.
– It was, in the last Budget.
Mr. CALWELL__ Then why is it in this
– It is.
– You said it was in the last Budget.
– This is the last one.
– I make due allowance for the honorable member for Mallee. If he is only twelve months behind, he is relatively up to date. Certain items of equipment used by primary producers are to be exempted. That is a good thing. But there are so many other anomalies that we on this side of the House think it is time that the Government prepared a proper assessment of the state of the economy and lifted as many of these burdens as it could reasonably and properly lift.
For instance, soap, soap brushes and razor blades are still subject to sales tax. Every man has to use them - he would not get much support if he grew a beard or did not shave daily.
– Harry Messel is doing all right.
– Yes, and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) can join him if he wishes. If the honorable member makes a study of cosmic rays and nuclear energy, he may be another Messel, but I am afraid that the honorable member is just a misguided missile, not a Harry Messel.
This Government still levies sales tax on women’s cosmetics and toilet preparations. I have a letter from the Cosmetic and Perfumery Manufacturers Association of New South Wales - dated some years ago, of course - in which that association protests strongly against the imposition of sales tax. The association has not written to me in recent times because it has abandoned all hope of ever persuading this Government to do anything reasonable. This letter states -
There are 2,500,000 women in Australia to whom the daily use of simple make-up and skin care are as urgent a need as food and clothing. Question only a few women and you will find that this is plain fact. Nobody would think of asking men to go without a shave or haircut even in the interests of national economy.
– What did the Treasurer think of that?
– He ignored that, as he ignores everything else. I remember that when a prominent lady member of the Country party asked the Treasurer, at a Country party conference at Ballarat some years ago, why he imposed this unfair tax on women, the right honorable gentleman, in his gallant style, said, “ Madam, I would sooner paint an old fence than an old face any day “. What hope have the cosmetics manufacturers of achieving anything when a distinguished lady member of the Country party asks a reasonable question and gets such an insulting reply? Finally, I want to say something on the question of-
– Sales tax.
– I want to say something on the question of whether sales tax reductions are passed on. The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) mentioned sales tax. I have been talking about sales tax all the time. If I have not made an impression on the Minister, that is so much the worse for Australia.
On 25th October last the Treasurer wrote to me in these terms, with reference to a question I had asked him on 11th September concerning the extent to which the benefit of recent sales tax concessions was being passed on to the public-
I hare to advise you that there is no provision in the law of the Commonwealth which would prevent vendors of goods from adjusting their prices so as to retain for themselves the benefit of the sales tax concessions, so long as they do not represent to their customers that the amount payable as or for sales tax is greater than the amount properly payable.
We have no guarantee that even when we pass the necessary legislation to remit sales tax the people who buy the articles are going to get the benefit of it. The manufacturer or retailer can continue the sales tax if he wishes provided he does not misrepresent the facts. The Treasurer, squaring off as usual and trying to place the burden and responsibility where it does not belong, continued -
As you know, power to control prices is vested only in the State Governments. I am advised that price control, on a limited scale, is carried on by the State Governments of Queensland and South Australia only. I understand that, in those States, the machinery of price control operates- to ensure that the public enjoys the benefit of the sales tax relief in relation to those classes of goods which are subject to control.
Where there is no control there is no protection. In the other four States there is neither control nor protection. That is an argument for Commonwealth control of prices.
– Would the monopolies rob the people?
– The monopolies have their own ways of cornering goods and doing what they want to do, but when this Parliament grants a reduction in sales tax that reduction should be passed on to the public because when sales tax is imposed the manufacturers and distributors certainly increase their prices and make the public pay immediately. We are thankful for small mercies in this legislation, but we would be much better pleased if, instead of a remission of £4,000,000, there was some larger amount.
– Yes, or even £60,000,000, because an amount of over £120,000,000 will still be collected by way of sales tax and we think that is a burden which should not be placed on the great mass of the people. I know, as the capitalist economists say, that it is easier and better and more deflationary to impose sales tax and other forms of indirect taxes in order to keep income tax low. The Opposition takes the reverse view because we believe in the national income being fairly and equitably distributed annually. We believe that the burden should be lifted off those on the basic wage because the basic wage is only enough, theoretically, at the best, to enable a man to maintain himself and his dependants in reasonable comfort. If that is the dictum of the Arbitration Court, then any imposition of taxes, direct or indirect, means a diminution in the standard of living of the people affected. For those reasons, I offer the criticisms which I have uttered. I hope that next year we will see at least some concession in regard to taxes on religious signs and flags and pennants used by boy scouts and girl guides.
– What is the difference between the tax imposed by the Labour government and that imposed by this Government?
– The maximum rate of tax imposed by this Government has been as high as 66i per cent, and 50 per cent, in one year. The maximum was 33i per cent, last year and this year. The maximum rate of tax levied by the great Labour governments which were in office during the war and post-war periods was never higher than 25 per cent., even in the depth of the conflict.
.- 1 think the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) should be flattered by the attention paid to his remarks in “ Hansard “ by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell).
No taxation measure has ever come before this House without the present Opposition members referring to the halcyon days when they were in office. Sales tax was imposed on goods but it was found to be unprofitable because there was a shortage of goods in those days. The Opposition forgets that those where days of organized scarcity and of blackmarkets. That is why members of the Opposition do not like our system. The honorable member for Melbourne must be something of a misogynist, because I have not seen 2,500,000 women in Australia with facial defects; in fact, I do not think 1 have seen any at all with such defects. In any event, to my mind it was a very ungallant remark for the honorable member to make.
The measure we are discussing provides for a reduction in sales tax in a full year amounting to well over £4,000,000. Year after year the Opposition has been accusing the Government of imposing indirect taxes, but the honorable member for Melbourne admits that we have been progressively reducing them. It seems anomalous that the Opposition should criticize the Government although it is doing the very thing the Opposition recommends. It does not make sense to me. The honorable member for Melbourne said he would like to see the burden of taxation imposed in the form of direct taxes and the rate of tax raised, yet the Opposition invariably demands more money for housing and this and that whenever a bill comes before the House. I have never been in Opposition and I do not suppose I will live long enough to be, but it must be wonderful to be in Opposition. Sales tax is imposed by the Government because it is an excellent means of giving effect to its fiscal policy, and at the same time maintaining some control over the development of the country. It is on that point I wish to offer criticism of the Government.
The reductions contained in this bill will be of great benefit inasmuch as they affect mainly household goods. I think the people of Australia will be pleased that the Government has chosen to lift some of the burden off the housewife. However, I am disappointed that the sales tax on motor cars has not been considerably reduced. In March, 1956, when the sales tax on cars was raised, the purpose was to limit the spending on the purchase of overseas cars and petroleum products. That position has been righted to a great extent, and I am sorry the Government has not seen fit in this Budget to reduce the sales tax on cars, which has served the purpose for which it was imposed. Generally, once a tax is imposed it is difficult to lift, and this is a typical case of a tax being hard to lift. 1 ask the Government to examine that position closely before it brings in its next Budget.
In the United Kingdom the purchase tax on a car is 50 per cent. In Australia it is 30 per cent. That tax was imposed in the United Kingdom for the purpose of conserving petrol and permitting a large proportion of the cars manufactured there to be exported as it is necessary for the United Kingdom to export goods in order to be in a position to import other goods. In Australia the problem is different. In the country areas the burden of taxation on cars is much more severely felt than it is in the city areas. If the price of cars is too high, people who live in the rural areas are affected to a greater degree than those whose transport needs are served by public and private utilities. However, the station-hand or labourer who works on rural stations may be any distance from 10 or 15 miles to 40 or 50 miles from the nearest market. To those people a car is a vital necessity. They have no prospect of getting to the markets with reasonable convenience. The car problem is a serious one, and portion of the money made available in the Budget to reduce taxation should have been used to reduce the high rate of sales tax on motor cars. To my mind, in this country of wide areas, motor cars are essential.
That is the only point that I wish to raise on the bill. However, I feel that people generally will be pleased with the reductions in taxation that have been made. They will assist those who are least able to pay taxes and will amount to a loss of revenue of £4,000,000 in a full year, but the reductions in sales tax are a good move.
.- All taxes are, of course, obnoxious, but sales tax is the most obnoxious. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) referred to a speech made in the Parliament by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) when he was in opposition, in which he condemned sales tax in very forceful words. The honorable member for Melbourne said that that speech was made in 1948.
The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) criticized honorable members on this side of the House for referring to the activities of the Labour government during the years from 1941 to 1949, but we must not forget that when the Labour government supported sales tax we were in the throes of a war. Then, it was necessary to control goods and, if possible, to prevent goods being manufactured to the detriment of items that were required for a war. In addition, revenue was needed desperately. Honorable members may ask why sales tax was not abandoned when war ceased in 1945. However, to be just, honorable members should remember that the cost of rehabilitation after 1945 was tremendous, and that remained the responsibility of the Labour government until it left office in 1949. Nevertheless, the Labour government gradually reduced the burden of sales tax even during those most difficult years. Therefore, it is not quite just to say that the Labour government supported sales tax.
– But Labour supported it before!
– It was necessary then. When I look at the revenue that will be derived this year from sales tax, I know that it would be ridiculous for me to suggest to the Government that sales tax be abolished. This year, the amount collected through sales tax will be about £129,500,000. However, 1 wish to criticize the items selected for a reduction in sales tax. Sales tax should have been completely eliminated on some items. I refer particularly to household furniture and equipment. The sales tax on these items has been reduced from 10 per cent, to 81- per cent. The goods affected include domestic refrigerators, washing machines, radiators, crockery, cutlery, kitchen utensils and hardware. We are spending millions of pounds a year to bring immigrants to this country. I support the immigration policy; I am nol denouncing it. However, we should encourage Australians to marry and raise families. We need a population, probably, of about 30,000.000 people. One factor that is discouraging marriages is the high cost of a home and of furniture. A bill debated earlier to-day provided for housing loans. However, if a young couple has a home, they still have to furnish it and that should be made as easy as possible. Young couples should be encouraged to marry and to have children. The more Australian children we have in this country, the less is the need to bring people from the other side of the world.
Although the items 1 have mentioned are still subject to sales tax, reductions have been made in the rates on items referred to by the honorable member for Melbourne. Those items include handbags, travelling bags, attache cases, suitcases and comparable goods. Those reductions may be justified, but I would prefer to see them carry a higher rate of sales tax so that the sales tax could be eliminated from household furniture and goods required by the housewife and the young married couple. The rate of sales tax could be increased on items such as industrial equipment used in servicing, repairing and re-conditioning ships or railway rolling-stock, but it should be eliminated from the goods required by young married couples.
Before the Budget was prepared, I appealed to the Treasurer to abolish sales tax on pastrycook lines. The Treasurer was kind enough to reply that the matter would be given serious consideration before the Budget was introduced, and I believed that sales tax on those items would be eliminated. I have no objection to the imposition of sales tax on items such as artificial flowers, fruit, vegetables, leaves, berries and grains of a kind used exclusively or primarily and principally as part of clothes for human wear. I would not be bothered with such items; sales tax could well apply to them. But I should like the sales tax removed from those items which are included in the workman’s daily luncheon and which the housewife prepares for him each day. The tax on block cake, including sultana, currant, mixed fruit, date, and jubilee cake, is 1 2i per cent. A similar rate applies to sponge cakes, rounds, blocks, finger buns, currant buns, fruit buns, Kitchener buns, raisin loaves - about which the honorable member for Melbourne spoke to-night - small cakes, scones, log cakes and fruit pies. Is it not farcical that a tax of 12i per cent, should apply to the sale of these items of everyday use by the Australian citizen, while sales tax on other items which are not in daily use has been eliminated?
I know that it is useless for me to appeal to the Government to-night to eliminate sales tax entirely, because this measure will have to go to another place and be passed by it before it can be assented to. However, even at this late hour, I ask the Government to remove sales tax completely from the edible items to which I have referred. I ask, too, that sales tax be removed from the kind of household furniture that is required by married couples when they are setting out to make a home. I am not concerned with what the Government does in respect of shipping lines and other things of that kind, but I am concerned about the incidence of sales tax. This is not the first occasion on which I have raised the matter. Some six or eight months ago I asked the Treasurer whether sales tax on the items I have mentioned could be removed. I now appeal to the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), who is at the table, to attempt to prevail upon the Treasurer and the Government to remove sales tax from the items to which I have referred before the measure is returned to this House from another place.
.- Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, it is an old saying in politics that it is the function of an Opposition to oppose, and I suppose that there is no debate that annually comes before the House which gives honorable members opposite a more golden opportunity to castigate the Government than does a discussion of sales tax and the rates contained in the bill. Nonetheless, listening to the discussion to-night, I feel that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) and the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) have been less than generous in acknowledging what the Government has done under this budget. For myself, although in common with all honorable members, I would like to see much greater concessions in sales tax, especially in respect of those objects that are particularly close to one’s heart and what one believes to be the national interest, 1 applaud what the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has put forward.
To begin with, in spite of all the derisory talk, there is unquestionably a boon tohousewives in this bill. There is a marked reduction in the tax on household furniture, laundry and kitchen equipment, and things in that category. From a woman’s point of view, I should imagine that the halving of the rate on her handbag, her shopping, basket and articles of that nature, will be very warmly appreciated by the whole of our female population throughout Australia. Industry also is helped, such as by the exemption from duty altogether of industrial gases and equipment used on ships. I am particularly pleased to see that the Treasurer has remembered the fruit industry, of which I happen to be one of the representatives in this place, by exempting carbonated drinks which contain not less than 5 per cent, pure fruit juice. This is indeed a worth-while reform and I can assure the House that it is one which is being very warmly appreciated by fruitgrowers, none of whom is particularly well off.
Some of the rates remaining, of course, undoubtedly are illogical and hard to justify. My friend, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, has not been able to resist the temptation to refer to the sales tax on razor blades and cosmetics. I must confess, Sir, and no doubt it is in your mind too, that whenever I contemplate my unpleasing face before a mirror in the morning and undergo the equally unpalatable operation of shaving, I think how extraordinarily stupid it is that something so essential has to be taxed. Similarly, I suppose that every woman who powders her face, or makes it up to some degree, resents the tax on cosmetics, although for myself, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, I think that the fair sex look incomparably better without cosmetics at all. Perhaps, for all we know, that may be the policy of the right honorable gentleman in continuing this impost.
– When do you see the fair sex without cosmetics?
– Perhaps my honorable friend is rather more expert in that side of life than I am.
There is one argument in connexion with this matter that has been overlooked by the Opposition. Whether we like it or not, however much we regurgitate with indignation at these taxes, we have to admit that the sales tax in the post-war world, in virtually every country, has become a potent weapon in the hands of the Treasurer in this constant fight against inflation, and this the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in his speech to-night, completely overlooked. I -suggest to the House that we must not consider merely the incidence of this form of taxation, but that we must view it in the whole ambit of the Government’s general financial policy. It is easy to say, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did, “ Why not abolish it? “ But if we look at the budget papers, unless I am much mistaken, the estimate of revenue from sales tax for this year is something like £129,000,000. A moment’s thought, Sir, will reveal that if sales tax is to be abolished in toto, a very heavy burden of taxation will have to be imposed elsewhere, either by a sharp increase in the direct personal exertion rate, or in the property, rates, or in pay-roll tax, or in some other tax. If that were done, it would arouse immediately, in the quarters most affected’, the wildest recriminations and the loudest lamentations. 1 think we have had to admit, in looking at this inflationary problem, which is the curse of the post-war world in every country, that there is no anti-inflationary device which is neater or more readily efficacious than sales tax. That, at any rate, is the opinion of many a manufacturer, if you get him quietly and ask him to give his honest opinion about it. Almost at a blow, within a matter of a month or two, it can discourage luxury industries which the government of the day may consider undesirable. At the same time, by the use of this convenient lever, the Government can give a real encouragement to essential industries which it may think should be promoted. So, I say, Sir, that it seems to me that, so long as inflation is threatening in Australia, there is no real substitute for this unlikeable and unpopular tax. Having said that, I hope, nonetheless, that these very lengthy sales tax schedules will be kept constantly under review by the Treasurer in accordance with the fluctuating fortunes of industry and employment. These considerations are heightened by the bad seasons we are experiencing in most parts of Australia this year and by the very real possibility that Australia may be heading for a severe drought in 1958. I do not wish to be pessimistic, but we must face unpleasant portents. Should this occur, most obviously it will have a quick and deleterious effect upon trade. Therefore, the Government should be thinking - as I have no doubt it has been already - about further concessions in the sales tax schedules, should economic considerations justify them.
This, of all discussions in the House, must be an occasion for honorable members to ride their own hobby horses. Every honorable member has specific items which he would single out for special treatment on behalf of those whom he has the honour to represent. I have two which I wish to bring to the notice of the Government to-night. To begin with, as one who, along with the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), represents the dried fruits industry in this House, I much regret that the Government is continuing the sales tax on manufactured dried fruits. It is, in essence, a tax on a small primary industry - something not better than a marginal industry - in which not even the most skilful of growers can make anything approaching a big profit or a princely income. Moreover, the Government, under its great war service land settlement schemes, particularly in South Australia, has spent many millions of pounds in the promotion of settlement on land for the production of dried fruits. But in spite of that, the tax persists on raisin bread, plum puddings and articles of that sort which are very widely consumed and the consumption of which, of course, the dried fruits industry wishes to promote to a much greater degree. I ask the Treasurer most seriously at this time to consider making some alleviation next year of this impost in order to relieve this small and notverywelloff body of primary producers.
My second point refers also to the fruit industry, but to a different section. I wish to mention a new line of production - canned fruit pies. In my electorate there is a town with the quaint but nonetheless well-known name of Nuriootpa. It is one of the principal towns in the Barossa Valley in South Australia. Last year, a wellknown cannery in that locality started on the production of canned fruit pies with a great degree of confidence that such articles, so well-presented and so delectable to all who have tried them, would certainly not attract sales tax. Honorable members can imagine the surprise of the executives of that cannery when they were informed that the
Deputy Commissioner of Taxation had ruled that these pies were most definitely liable to sales tax. In spite of the efforts of the representatives of this Barossa cannery and of myself, the Treasurer has given no relief from this sales tax.
This industry has come to my notice and I use it as an example of the kind of industry which, in any revision of sales tax, the Treasurer should consider and try to benefit. It is dependent for a great share of its prosperity upon the export market and, as I said a few moments ago about the dried fruits industry, all of these fruit-growers are people who operate on a very small margin of profit. I feel that if the Government, in its wisdom, should decide to hold out a helping hand to this smaller type of primary producer, it would be not only assisting a worth-while section of the community but also promoting this sector of the Australian economy.
.- The bill before the House provides indisputable evidence of the difference between the Government parties’ policies before and after assuming office. When those parties were in the shades of opposition, on every conceivable occasion they attacked the sales tax. One has only to peruse the columns of “ Hansard “ to see that every year honorable members opposite, when they were in opposition, said that the sales tax was unscientific and unfair and should be abolished. Therefore, members now on the Opposition side of the House cannot be accused of being unfair in believing that when the present Government parties assumed office in 1949 they would put into practice what they had so assiduously preached for eight years. Unfortunately, that has not happened.
In 1949, when the Chifley Government left office, £42,000,000 a year was collected from sales tax and that represented 8.4 per cent, of total tax collections. In the present financial year, 1957-58, just on £130,000,000 is expected to be collected in sales tax, and that will represent 9.8 per cent, of total tax collections. It is obvious that instead of the proportion of sales tax to total tax collections having been reduced, it has increased since 1949 by 1.4 per cent. For the benefit of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), I say it cannot be wondered at if members on this side of the House seize upon opportunities such as this to prove that chickens sometimes come home to roost. Many of the statements made by present Government members when in opposition can now be very intelligently and materially used against them.
A great deal has been made of the Government’s generosity in reducing sales tax. But even after the reduction of £3,000,000 the total amount to be collected this year will still be £4,000,000 more than total collections last year. That seems to be a sort of Irishman’s decrease. It is a decrease on the one hand, but an increase on the other. Despite this much-lauded decrease, the people of Australia will pay £4,000,000 more this year than they paid last year. The reductions provided for in the bill are welcome - little as they are - but they are completely abortive in lightening the burden of sales tax as a whole.
The Government stresses the fact that it has reduced the rate of sales tax on household furniture to 8i per cent. However, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has pointed out, only an infinitesimal amount will be saved on the price of an article of furniture costing £100 or £150. If the Government wanted to tackle this problem properly it should have done as the Labour government did in 1949. From 1946 to 1949 progressive reductions were made in the incidence of sales tax and the amount that was collected each year-
– What happened to that Government?
– The people of Australia have good reason to be sorry for what they did to that government in 1949. If it had remained in office, sales tax would have been wiped out years ago because the policy of the Labour government was to reduce it progressively. We are not saying that this tax should be wiped out, willy-nilly, overnight, because that would not be in the realm of practical politics. But we do say that, if this Government is to live up to the propaganda on the inquity of the sales tax that it enunciated in the years from 1941 to 1949, it should at least show some semblance of sincerity and progressively reduce the tax year by year, with a view to its ultimate abolition in, say, ten or fifteen years.
Supporters of the present Government parties trotted out all sorts of arguments during their eight years in Opposition about the evils of the sales tax. In order to be consistent, they should translate those sentiments of the years 1941 to 1949 into an intelligent approach to the reduction of sales tax in 1957. When the Labour Government was defeated in 1949, the general rate of sales tax, which applied to certain prescribed items, was 8i per cent. The present Government, in 1951, increased the general rate to 12i per cent, lt has remained at that rate ever since. I know that a very strong case can be submitted against any sales tax at all. Present Government supporters, during their years in opposition, submitted reasons why, from every point of view, it is an unfair tax. In my opinion it contravenes every sound principle of taxation. On the other hand, in order to be perfectly fair, I have to say that in certain circumstances it can be justified and condoned.
We often hear from the Government benches that the Scullin Government brought in sales tax. It is perfectly true. But I submit for the consideration of this House that the circumstances that dictated the introduction of the sales tax in 1 930 are not parallel with those which operate today. An entirely different set of circumstances now exists. Sales tax was first introduced into Commonwealth fiscal policy in 1930, in the depression period. The introduction of a sales tax at that time was practically universal, because every country was suffering from the pangs of depression. The reason is obvious to those who consider the matter.
The Labour Government found that the usual streams of taxation were drying up. Income tax was fast diminishing because people were out of work or their wages had been reduced and there was no chance of collecting very much income tax. The Government had to seek alternative methods of raising money. It tried to find other channels of revenue in order to carry on the ordinary services of the Commonwealth. So, in 1930, the Commonwealth followed the example of Canada and, together with 25 other countries, instituted sales tax as a temporary taxation measure to provide desperately needed revenue. Obviously, the Government could not collect money from people who were out of work. The only way in which it could collect ready cash was by collecting it from people who spent money.
Like many temporary measures which have been introduced in this Parliament and elsewhere, the passing of the years has changed the sales tax from a temporary measure to a permanent law. It has proved difficult to eradicate although, from 1946 to 1949, the Chifley Government progressively reduced the incidence of sales tax and the total amount collected. It is difficult to eradicate sales tax because the average person does not think about it. Because of its indirect nature and veiled effects, it is very often unnoticed by the taxpayer.
Whilst there can be a great deal of justification for the adoption of a sales tax during depression years, I suggest that the time has been reached when the Commonwealth Parliament should make a progressive endeavour to reduce sales tax to vanishing point, possibly within ten or fifteen years. I hope that we shall not continually hear this argument, year by year, that, from the Labour point of view, the sales tax should be retained because the Scullin Government introduced it. 1 have already pointed out that, because of unemployment and unprecedentedly low wage levels in the depression years revenue from income tax fell to such an extent that money had to be found elsewhere.
To-day, revenue from income tax has reached astronomical heights. The Government now receives from direct taxation an ample amount of money to compensate it for any diminution of sales tax that it might make. From 1930 to 1940 sales tax remained more or less static. I think that, in 1939, the amount collected rose to about £7,000,000 or £8,000,000, whereas in 1930 it had been £2,000,000. Later, when large amounts had to be raised in order to carry on the war, sales tax rates were increased, first by the Menzies Government and then by the Curtin Government. Nobody could take the slightest exception to that action because everybody realized that money had to be found from all possible sources to carry on hostilities. The general rate was increased to 10 per cent, in 1940 and, subsequently to 12i per cent.
After the war, the Chifley Government, consistent with its policy that sales tax was not a measure to be condoned from a
Labour point of view, reduced the general rate to 81 per cent. But this Government did not carry on the good work. In 1951 the general rate was increased to 121 per cent, and the maximum rate was increased to 66f per cent. I think it is now 331 per cent. The Labour party makes no secret of the fact that it opposes the sales tax because it does not measure up to the principles of equitable taxation. We say that a tax on the purchase of goods does worse than simply ignore a taxpayer’s ability to pay. It runs counter to it and levies the heaviest burden on those who are least able to bear it. Sales tax is a kind of gross income tax which falls on the payer in inverse proportion to income. The less a man. earns, the greater proportion of his income is taken in sales tax because the sales tax rates are the same for every person, irrespective of income.
It has been computed by reputable economists that the average person spends about half his income on goods on which sales tax is levied. The wealthy man spends on those goods as little as 5 per cent, of his income. He pays the same sales tax as the pauper or the pensioner and his income might be a thousand times as great. Because it is impossible to assess the economic position of those who make purchases, the sales tax is grossly inequitable. The rate is uniform for all payers. Therefore, it ignores the principle of taxation being levied in accordance with ability to pay. Certainly, that is against Labour policy now as it has been throughout the years.
In the past, when rates were very low, sales tax was accepted with no marked hostility because, being concealed, it passed almost unnoticed. Until 1951, generally speaking, the consumer was ignorant of the sales tax that was imposed on him when purchasing articles. Up to that date, the inexorable collection of comparatively small amounts of taxes from a multitude of buyers amounted, more or less, to painless extraction. But in 1951 people had brought home to them just how savage sales tax really could be. The horror budget of that year imposed very savage sales tax on all classes of goods. Since then, there has been a constant agitation by many sections of the community for decreases in sales tax because people have been complaining and are still complaining about its effect on the already high cost of living.
It has been reliably estimated that about 80 per cent, of the moneys raised by sales tax are taken from the ordinary wage and salary-earners. These are the people who are struggling to maintain a meagre standard of living in a period of high prices. Sales tax, of course, makes prices even higher. In a day and age when the people are clamouring for higher purchasing power, sales tax is a millstone around their necks, because it prevents them from enjoying any higher purchasing power in reality.
All-round decreases of sales tax over a wide range of consumer goods would be a boon to all and would contribute towards halting the inflationary spiral. If the people were given increased purchasing power because of a decrease in sales tax rates, no increase in inflationary effect would result, because under present conditions the increased amount available to the people would be spent on essential consumer goods which are now starting to stockpile on the shelves of shops.
In 1951 the Government decided that it must use the sales tax for purposes other than revenue purposes. The sales tax rates were greatly increased in that year in order to discourage the purchase of luxury and semi-luxury goods. From my observation of the schedule, however, I would say that many of the items now being included in those categories are by no means luxury goods. It is time the Government realized that if it must have revenue it should raise it by alternative forms of taxation. I submit that any tax should be judged by its impact upon our economic well-being and its effect upon the stability of our economy. On these considerations sales tax falls by the wayside. On the other hand, taxation of high personal incomes and wealth on a wide scale appears to furnish the best available instrument for accomplishing the desired end without greatly damaging our economic system.
The acceptance of the idea that people should be taxed according to their ability to pay taxes rather than in proportion to their ability to resist them is a tremendous social achievement that the Labour party will at all times strive to safeguard. This principle, unfortunately, has been cast aside in the imposition of sales tax, because this tax cuts across the much-prized principle that I have mentioned. For this reason the Government must be indicted. I hope that next year, before the Government brings down its Budget, it will seriously consider taking the first step in a long-range plan to eliminate sales tax entirely. The Government should consider a number of factors. First, it must be remembered that an army of public servants is required to supervise the administration of the tax and to ensure that the correct rates are charged and collected. Secondly, we must consider the effect of the tax upon our productivity and our economic system. Experience shows that in the past sales tax increases have been followed by a decline in the production not only of so-called luxury goods but also of goods that come within the category of essential consumer goods. This has happened in the motor car industry. After a savage sales tax rate of 30 per cent, was imposed on motor cars last year, motor car sales dropped considerably. This is a envelopment that must be deplored, because it means that the Government taxed out of the reach of the ordinary consumer goods which in our present-day society should be considered as commonplace and as necessary for every family.
A savage sales tax is also imposed on television sets. I know that certain honorable members are opposed to television and would like to prevent its introduction throughout the Commonwealth. I am one of those who believe that nothing is too good for the working man, and that he should not be deprived of the benefits of television because of high costs. If the Government did the right thing and reduced sales tax on television sets, thereby causing a reduction in the price of the sets, I am satisfied that many families would enjoy what some people at least consider are the benefits of television.
There are numerous other commonplace household items on which sales tax is imposed. It is true that the rate of tax on washing machines has been reduced from 10 per cent, to 8i per cent., but surely we have reached a stage in our progressive civilization when a washing machine is as essential as a gas stove or an electric stove. Even a rate of 8i per cent, on washing machines is far too high.
I hope that the Government will show some consistency in this matter, and that it will follow, at least to a limited extent, the principle of elimination of sales tax that was advocated by Liberal and Australian Country party supporters in the period between 1941 and 1949. If the Government shows some sincerity in its sales tax legislation it will meet with the approbation of the Opposition and with the wholehearted approval of the Australian people. I look forward with interest and anticipation to seeing the Government bring forward next year a schedule which will represent the first step towards the eradication of sales tax.
.- No ‘ one likes sales tax, because it directly increases the price of goods. For the same reason, every one wholeheartedly supports reductions of sales tax when they are introduced in a budget. This Government inherited sales tax from the previous Government, and the policy of the Treasurer since 1949 has become more and more selective. Two main principles have been adopted; first, the exemption, wherever possible, of commodities that are of an essential nature or in every day use; secondly, the removal of sales tax from items which are not of sufficient value or sold in sufficient quantity to warrant the imposition of the tax.
It is gratifying to see in this measure a proposal for reduction of tax which will assist the family man. Elsewhere in the Budget provisions have been made to assist the family man by increasing the allowance for wives and dependent children. In this measure we see that the family man is again being assisted by a reduction in the rate of tax on household furniture. Honorable members opposite, who, of course, have no responsibility for the collection or revenue, gaily suggest that the tax on furniture should have been completely removed. I am sure that every honorable member in this House would like to see the removal of the sales tax on furniture at the earliest possible moment. I point out, however, that in this year only £4,000,000 was available for sales tax concessions. The reduction in sales tax on furniture provided for in the Budget will cost £2,500,000, and the reduction of the tax on handbags and such items will cost £600,000. Therefore, of total concessions amounting to £4,000,000, an amount of over £3,000,000 is in relation to furniture and handbags and such articles, which are used by every family. If £15,000,000 had been available, then I am sure that every honorable member in this House would like to have seen the total exemption of furniture from sales tax.
The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer), in a very able speech, pointed to a matter that I believe should be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. We know that our dried fruits industry is having a very great struggle at the present time, and that it is important to that industry that it should have a ready market for its products. Sales tax imposed on dried fruits used in the manufacture of buns, cakes, and the like, adversely affects the industry. The total revenue collected from sales tax imposed on all foodstuffs is only £4,000,000 a year, of which £2,000,000 is derived from cakes and buns, and £2,000,000 from biscuits. Since the lifting of the sales tax on these goods would cost the Treasury only £4,000,000 a year, I suggest that the Government should tackle this problem in the next Budget, and remove the sales tax entirely from foodstuffs.
Opposition members have criticized the proposed removal of the sales tax from certain articles, and have suggested that it would have been better to give greater relief in respect of furniture, foodstuffs, and the like. There would be much merit in that argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if much revenue were derived from the tax on the items from which it is being removed, but the truth is that, except in relation to furniture and foodstuffs, hardly any revenue is involved. Therefore, the exemptions are allowed, not because of any merit in the idea that such items should be exempted, but because the small return of revenue does not warrant the continued imposition of sales tax on those items. For example, the trouble that people are put to by the sales tax on acetylene gas generators is great, and the return of revenue is infinitesimal. The Treasurer, throughout his term in that portfolio, has adopted a businesslike attitude, and taken the view that, if the sales tax on a particular item does not return worth-while revenue, the item should be exempted from sales tax.
I commend the Treasurer for introducing this bill, and for the skilful way in which he has made sales tax concessions within the narrow limits of the £4,000,000 available to him for the purpose. I am sure that he, like every one else, would have preferred to make sales tax concessions totalling £40.000.000 instead of £4,000,000.
However, we all know perfectly well that, had concessions to the tune of another £36,000,000 been made, it would have been necessary to obtain a further £36,000,000 from other sources. Although the concessions granted under the terms of this bill are only small, they will afford relief to many people, because many items in respect of which the sales tax has great nuisance value, but does not produce much revenue, will be exempted. In addition, families will be afforded direct relief by the reduction of the sales tax on household furniture, and by the substantial reduction on handbags, travelling bags, and the like. I commend the Treasurer for the expert manner in which concessions have been distributed within the limits available in this Budget, and I look forward hopefully to much more substantial sales tax concessions in the next Budget. My last words are a plea to the Government to remove the sales tax on foodstuffs in the next Budget.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Clyde Cameron) adjourned.
The following answer to a question was circulated: -
Expenditure on Education in Canberra.
What was the expenditure from public funds on education in the Australian Capital Territory in each of the last three years under the following heads: - (a) Administrative or general, (b) transportation of school children and students, (c) training of teachers, (d) sub-primary, (e) primary, (f) secondary, (g) university, excluding the National University, (h) technical, (i) libraries, &c, (j) special schools and (k) as a whole?
In each year, what was the expenditure per capita of the Territory population under each head, and how many students were involved at each level?
What was the capital expenditure in each year under each head?
What proportion of this capital expenditure was from (a) loan funds and (b) revenue?
Under an agreement with the New South Wales Government, the State Department of Education arranges teaching services in public schools in the Australian Capital Territory from the kindergarten to the leaving certificate - matriculation level. The Commonwealth Government reimburses the State Department of Education for the cost of these services, on the certificate of the State Auditor-General. The expenditure is not dissected to show separate costs for the various departments. The following figures give the information sought by the honorable member, dissected to the degree possible from the records kept: -
1954-55, £196,092; 1955-56, £293,791; 1956-57,.
£454,388. (Dissected figures are not available.)
The whole expenditure was from Consolidated Revenue Fund.
House adjourned at 10.36 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 November 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1957/19571113_reps_22_hor17/>.