25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have to inform the House that on Friday last I issued writs in connexion with the by-elections for the Angas and Parramatta divisions and that the dates fixed were those announced to the House on 5th May.
Mr. J. R. FRASER presented a petition from certain citizens of the Commonwealth engaged in apprenticeship training praying that the Commonwealth Government will take no action which will adversely affect or prejudice the future of apprentices and the apprenticeship system by any proposal involving dilutee trade training or a lowering of standards in the skilled trades.
Petition received and read.
Mr. JAMES presented a petition from certain electors of the Commonwealth praying that the Commonweath Government immediately grant a basic pension rate of £8 10s. per week, formulate a national housing plan for low rental homes for pensioners and provide all pensioners within the permissible income with the medical entitlement card.
A similar petition was presented by Mr. Minogue.
Petitions severally received.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services a question. The honorable gentleman has acknowledged receipt of a petition from me requesting that the Federal Government subsidize the New South Wales Government and the Sydney City Council on a £2-for-£l basis in the construction of a block of 100 flatettes in the Redfern area to house age and invalid pensioners. Will the Minister give this matter some thought?
– I can assure the honorable member that the text of the petition he presented to me last week is currently being considered. Perhaps the honorable member will be good enough to appreciate that the State Governments and the local government authorities have resources available to them for the purposes of housing which are not available to the churches and charitable organizations. Under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, for example, millions of pounds have been made available to the States, and it is competent for the States to allot some of this money to organizations desiring to provide homes for the aged. In the federal decorate of Watson “ Missionholme”, in the Redfern locality, was constructed under the Aged Persons Homes Act and, on its merits, this project attracted a very substantial grant from the Commonwealth Government. But when the Sydney City Mission embarked on the venture it had to buy the land from the State Government. The State Government refused to donate the land to that valiant organization.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Recently the right honorable gentleman informed the House of his intention to attend the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in London. I ask whether, further to our conversation, the Prime Minister has been able to include in his itinerary an official visit to the State of Israel.
– I hope to be able, within the next couple of days, to give more details of this matter. The position is that a Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference has been convened in London, as honorable members know, to last from 8th July to 15th July. It will become necessary for me to leave London immediately thereafter in order to be back in Australia for the normal preliminary discussions on the Budget, and therefore whatever else I may do I must do ahead of 8th July. I propose within a very limited period of time, because it is to be a very hurried journey, first of all to pay a short visit to Israel, which I have not visited since 1941 and which I have been under some pressure to visit, and thereafter to go to the United
States of America to have interviews with the President and members of his Administration. I propose then to go to London for the conference and thence return to Australia. My journey will involve a total absence of perhaps four weeks, and I am looking forward to a visit to Israel as the first of these calls.
– I address a question to the Minister for Trade and Industry. Has the Minister set for the Australian motor manufacturing and assembling industry a requirement to reach progressively the use of a proportion of 95 per cent, of Australianmade components in their products? Will he develop this principle further by suitable action to ensure that an appropriate percentage requirement of Australian ownership is imposed on all industrial companies now operating or to be established in Australia, including those in the motor industry?
– An announcement has been made about the policy in respect of the progressive build-up of the Australian content of automobiles made in Australia. The other part of the honorable gentleman’s question raises an issue of policy of the kind not normally replied to at question time.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Primary Industry been directed to a report in to-day’s Launceston press that six Tasmanian meat exporting firms have bad their licences to export meat to the United States of America withdrawn, and that the only Tasmanian firm with a licence to export meat to the United States is J. C. Hutton Proprietary Limited of Launceston? If so, is he able to say why this company has retained its licence?
– The position generally is that any registrations that have been withdrawn or have not been granted have related only to exports to the United States market and have not applied to other markets. So far as the Tasmanian position is concerned, it is not considered that progress towards meeting United States requirements has been sufficient to enable the works concerned to bc registered. I remind honorable members that, generally speaking, meat works throughout Australia have had twelve months’ notice, and right throughout the year they have been advised, readvised and canvassed as to the position they were taking up and as to whether they intended to go on with the American trade when the American regulations, which will come into force as from 1st June next, are applied by the United States. The position is that some firms have not taken sufficient action to justify registration.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether he is aware that the Commonwealth Council of the Amalgamated Engineering Union has decided to oppose the adult technical training scheme and has advised the Australian Council of Trade Unions of its decision, ls the Minister also aware that the New South Wales branch of the Teachers Federation has passed a resolution opposing the scheme? Do both these organizations favour a vigorous apprenticeship system? Is it a fact that the Teachers Federation has shown proof that the New South Wales technical colleges are not sufficiently equipped-
– Order! The honorable member is making his question too long. ‘I suggest that he ask the question. He has already made two points.
– -Is it a fact that the Teachers Federation has shown proof that the New South Wales technical colleges are not sufficiently equipped to handle the increased number of students required under the adult technical training scheme? Will the Minister redouble his efforts and urge the employers to enroll more apprentices in the various industries?
– I have said in the House before, and it bears repetition, that the Government’s scheme to train adults is a supplement to, and can never be considered as a replacement for, the training of apprentices. Until a couple of years ago, the Commonwealth had no responsibility for training apprentices, but, because it could not get others to do the job, it has embarked upon a strenuous programme of trying to induce employers to take on increased numbers of apprentices. It has even given employers incentives to co-operate in this plan. I can assure the House that we will do our best to ensure that that policy is continued. 1 made some figures available to the House last Wednesday, and I can say that when the figures from all States become available I think the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith and all other honorable members will recognize that the Commonwealth’s efforts have met with considerable success. We came into a new field, and I believe that in the first two years we have been successful.
The second part of the honorable member’s question suggests that the council of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, has just passed a resolution to the effect that it would not take part in the Government’s scheme for the training of adults. If this is so I shall be surprised because the Amalgamated Engineering Union at least gave an assurance that it would look at the matter. It assured us of its bona fides and said that it would report within a month. I know that some sections of the union have been attempting to bring pressure to bear, but I am hopeful that the federal body will live up to its obligations. This country is desperately in need of trained man-power and I do not think one organization should stand in the way of Australia’s getting the skill it needs if full development is to be achieved.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Industry whether he has seen a report that a vital decision which could absolve Australia from huge cuts in industrial tariffs has been made by the Gatt conference in Geneva. If this report is correct, does it mean that Australia has been placed in a special category of trading nations? Are conditions stipulated for this category? If so, do they meet the terms for which the Minister, on behalf of the Government, has been negotiating over the past eighteen months?
– The published reports to which the honorable member refers relating to what has been done at Geneva are consistent with the facts. The countries attending the Geneva Conference, having a duty in the first place to define certain rules to govern the negotiations in the Kennedy Round, have affirmed a decision which was taken as a guiding principle by the Ministers at Geneva a year earlier. There is to be recognition within the negotiating rules that Australia occupies a category within the negotiating countries limited to this country and to two other named countries - New Zealand and South Africa. These countries are to occupy a special category on the ground that they are predominantly dependent for their exchange earnings upon the export of primary products. The purpose of this rule is to exercise a discrimination in favour of these countries - if I am correctly describing it in my lay language - which means that whereas the developed industrial countries prior to the commencement of negotiations will have to make offers right across the board to reduce their tariffs by 50 per cent. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will not be obliged at all to make offers to reduce tariffs at the outset. They are not to be absolved from the necessity to make trade concessions, but they are to be enabled to see in the course of negotiations what benefits are offered to them for the sale of their primary products overseas before it will be necessary for them to make offers calculated in their opinion to represent balancing concessions to the advantages offered to them.
– I address to the Minister for Labour and National Service a question which concerns the decision on long service leave handed down yesterday by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Has the Minister or have officers of his department yet made an estimate of the impact of the decision in terms of cost for the industries immediately involved and also of its consequent effect upon the economy as a whole?
– As the House will know, yesterday a decision was handed down by the commission which in effect decided that long service leave of thirteen weeks shall be granted after fifteen years service and not after twenty years service as sought by the employers’ representatives. During the course of the hearing the commission asked the employers’ representatives whether they could give an estimate of the possible costs involved, but the employers did not produce this evidence. I do not know whether officers of my department have the facts necessary to furnish an estimate. I doubt it. Nonetheless, I will request the employers’ organizations to let me have the facts, if they now have them, and I will also endeavour, if it is practicable, to find out for the honorable member what the cost is likely to be to the Australian community.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Is the Government ready to take action under the Crimes Act against organizations in Australia concerning which there is accumulated evidence that they have not only advocated the overthrow of established government but have actually acted to overthrow it by force or violence? Will the action the Government takes include a full and adequate answer ‘to questions in respect of this matter Which have remained unanswered on the noticepaper for over six months? If the Government is not ready to take action now, will it order a full-scale Commonwealth inquiry into threats, physical attacks and possession of bombs and automatic firearms, as well as the actual explosion of bombs in many parts of Australia, so that the facts can be established beyond the needs of speculation and propaganda?
– This matter has been engaging the attention of the Attorney-General in the last two or three days, and perhaps he can answer the question.
– This matter concerns a very small minority of the Australian population - indeed, a very small minority of the Yugoslav proportion of the population. I think it is fair to say that the publicity that the matter has been given far outweighs its true significance.
Opposition Members. - Oh!
– Indeed, I am quite sure that the matter is being used by certain people as a political vehicle, whereas, in fact, it requires investigation in an objective fashion and ought not to be used as a political vehicle. The Commonwealth Police Force is co-operating very actively with the police forces of the States, because manifestations of action fall within the jurisdictional control of State police forces. The Commonwealth force itself is investigating the matter and I am able to tell the Mouse that Commonwealth police have interviewed the leaders of the respective groups. The point that I wish to make is that most of the criticisms are levelled at one group and there is a tendency completely to overlook the attitude of the other group. There are in fact what may be described as two contestant groups, and the criticisms of the one group flow largely from the other group. This has made it possible for the matter to be used as a political vehicle. The Commonwealth Police Force has warned the leaders of the two groups that the Commonwealth will not tolerate unlawfulness.
– I wish to ask the Minister for the Army a question. Is it correct, as has been stated by Mr. Lee, the national president of the Returned Servicemen’s League, that recruiting for the Australian Regular Army is not keeping pace with wastage?
– The statement mentioned by the honorable member, if it was made by Mr. Lee, is quite incorrect. In fact, in the last twelve months there has been a net increase of more than 1,000 in the strength of the Australian Regular Army. Though this may not be quite as much as we would like, it represents an increase of 4i per cent, or slightly more in one year.
– I should like to ask the Prime Minister a question about the recent discussions between him and the Premiers of Queensland and Western Australia about the development of northern Australia. Has the right honorable gentleman considered making in this House a statement about the discussions? If such a statement is to be made, will it be presented before the House rises for the winter recess?
– I had not given thought to the making of a statement, because what I said after the conference represented what the three of us had agreed could usefully be said. If the honorable member for any reason would like me to table the announcement that I made after the conference, I will be very happy to do so.
– My question is. addressed to the Minister for Trade and Industry. As the Department of Trade and Industry is continually endeavouring to improve the standard of the goods that we export, I ask: Is the Minister aware of the loss at home and abroad in our wool trade caused by leaving too much wool on the sheep and by second cuts that reduce the quality of the product. In this regard, I ask: What is the Minister’s attitude to the advocacy that the department should subsidize the existing recognized shearing schools and establish others?
– I am familiar, as I think all people aTe who know anything of the wool industry, with the fact that second cuts in wool are a quite serious disadvantage because they cause economic loss resulting from down-grading of the quality of the clip itself. But I fear that the subsidizing of shearing schools is rather beyond the scope of the activities of the Department of Trade and Industry. I would expect the State governments, since they are concerned with production activities, to do whatever is necessary to improve the quality of shearing, and the Australian Wool Board to indicate what it thinks ought to be done.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer. Is he aware of the growing practice of companies leasing plant and equipment instead of purchasing it outright? Is the payment for the lease taken into a company’s overhead? Will this new practice reduce the Government’s revenue from taxation? If this is so, what action does the Government intend to take?
– I recently intimated that this was one of the areas of study by the recent Commonwealth Committee on Taxation, that the findings of the committee had been subjected to a long examination by Taxation and Treasury officers and that I hoped by the time we reached the forthcoming Budget session I would have legislation available to the Parliament dealing with this and other matters to which the committee referred.
– I address a question to the Minister for Housing. I refer to the opening next month of an office of the new Commonwealth Department of Housing in Council House, Perth. Will the Minister now consider the transfer of the administration of war service homes to this office of the Department of Housing in lieu of the War Service Homes Division continuing as an agency of the State Housing Commission?
– The question of transferring the servicing of war service homes is in itself quite big. We have had a very satisfactory arrangement over many years with the State Housing Commission in Western Australia, and this question has not been considered. I might add that the new Department of Housing is kept extremely busy developing its new functions without looking for extra activities.
– My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Will he agree that the trend for an increasingly large proportion of our population to locate itself in the major cities creates severe economic, social and defence problems? If he does, will he say whether the Government has considered the use of taxation concessions, somewhat comparable to those used to promote primary production and the export trade, as a means of inducing the establishment of secondary industries in country areas? Is there any truth in the suggestion that the Australian Country Party has vigorously opposed such proposals as being a threat to its electoral prospects in rural constituencies?
– Dealing with those portions of the question that seem to me to conform to the Standing Orders, I would say that action has already been taken in certain published directions by the
Commonwealth Government. The equalization of petrol prices is an example. Recently, the Government established a committee to examine the question of transport costs in northern areas. We have, as the Prime Minister reminded the House earlier to-day in reply to a question, recently conferred with the Premiers of Queensland and Western Australia regarding development problems in those States. Having made those comments to show that the Commonwealth Government has a very lively interest in the development of Australia outside the major city areas, I would say that the honorable member’s question relates to policy and I would not be able to carry the discussion further at this stage.
– I address a question’ to the Attorney-General, lt is in a sense supplementary to the one asked him by the honorable member for Yarra. In examining the matter raised by the honorable member for Yarra, will the Attorney-General look at the Communist Party newspaper, the “ Guardian “, of. last week, with particular reference to- an article making a savage and scandalous charge against me, with a view to seeing whether the’ article constitutes ground for criminal libel? If it does, will the honorable gentleman-
– I rise to order. Is not the honorable member now contravening the standing order which precludes a member from inviting a Minister to give a legal opinion?
– Order! If the honorable member is allowed to ask his question we will know what he is seeking. If he is seeking a legal opinion he will be out of order.
– A legal opinion is the last thing I want. 1 ask the AttorneyGeneral whether he will examine the article to which I have referred with a view to ascertaining whether it constitutes grounds for proceeding against the publisher-
– Order! The honorable member is now seeking a legal opinion. He is out of order in doing so.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. In view of the fact that negotiations in connexion with the proposed establishment of an Australia-New Zealand free trade area have reached an advanced stage and that an announcement has been made that forest products are a major consideration, and having regard also to the vital interest of the State Governments in Australian forests and forest industries, will the Prime Minister assure the House that before any final commitments are entered into he will discuss the proposals and their implications with the State Premiers?
–At least two State Premiers have exhibited a particular interest in this matter. I have made it clear to them that before any finality is reached - we are still a long way from finality - the matter will be discussed wilh them.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question about the limited space in the Speaker’s gallery and public galleries in this House which has caused 100 or more citizens to be excluded from the chamber this afternoon. Has consideration been given to the need for greater seating capacity for the public in the proposed new Parliament House? May the disappointed citizens now outside this chamber look forward to the future with hope of better prospects of getting inside?
– It is confidently anticipated that more room will be available to the public in the new Parliament House when that building is created. Whether that prospect will be of as lively an interest to those people now in the galleries as it will be to their children I do not know.
– I ask a question of the Treasurer. During the right honorable gentleman’s absence abroad last year I asked the Prime Minister, who was performing the duties of Treasurer as effectively as he could, when the report of the committee of inquiry into the economy of this country would be presented to the Parliament. The Prime Minister told me that the committee would present its report about nine months after it commenced its inquiries. As about eighteen months has now elapsed since the inquiry was started, 1 would like to know whether the report can be tabled in this Parliament before the next Budget is brought down so that honorable members may be better able to deal with matters that may arise.
– The committee functions within the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Department, not the Treasury. I am not aware that we are likely to have information of the final character, to which I gather the honorable gentleman refers, prior to our consideration of the next Budget. I am not able to say when the report will be received.
– I ask trie Minister for Labour and National Service: In view of the Government’s professed desire to encourage apprenticeship training, will the Minister consult with his Cabinet colleagues with a view to ensuring that in all contracts let by the Government for major construction work a provision is inserted requiring the successful tenderer to employ an appropriate percentage of apprentices in all trades engaged on the construction.
– Already the Department of Labour and National Service - as well as other Commonwealth departments -has examined the possibility of writing into contracts a provision that a specified number of apprentices must be employed. We found that that was impracticable. I can say to the honorable gentleman - this is of immediate concern to him - that within the last few days an encouraging report has been circulated, showing an increase in the number of apprentices in the Australian Capital Territory. It is also of importance and of interest to the House to note that the Commonwealth Government departments and Commonwealth instrumentalities have taken strong action to ensure that the number of apprentices enlisted in Commonwealth employment is increased.
– Will the Minister for the Navy consider granting some financial assistance to naval personnel who have children attending universities and who are transferred overseas or to distant points within Australia? Doss the Minister know that some children of naval personnel have had to forgo tertiary education because of such circumstances?
– As matters such as this affect all three services and not only the Navy, this is rightly a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Defence, who is in another place. However, I think most honorable members are aware that at present a review of all conditions of service is being made. I am quite certain that this matter will be given sympathetic consideration by this Government which has given more children the opportunity to attend universities than has any previous government.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Repatriation. Previously in this Parliament I asked him whether he was aware that doctors performing corneal graft operations on returned servicemen at the Concord Repatriation Hospital were critical of that hospital’s failure to supply eyes for the operations. I also asked him whether the Repatriation Department would establish an eye bank in conjunction with the Sydney Hospital. Can the Minister tell the House whether the department has reached a decision on this vital matter?
– Following the previous question asked by the honorable member, I made some investigations of this matter. Those investigations confirmed the reply that I gave to him previously, namely, that we have not received any complaints at all from visiting specialists who carry out these operations in our hospitals around Australia. The term “ eye bank “ is somewhat misleading, because I have found that it really means a central registry where the names of donors of eyes - whether they be in repatriation hospitals or in other general hospitals - are listed. In view of the time factor involved, the number of people involved and the requirement that there is for eyes for these operations, no eye bank as such has been established in any State. This matter is governed by State laws which vary as between the States. I can give the House an assurance that the Repatriation Department conforms to the principles and practices which are observed by all the general hospitals throughout Australia.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Can the Minister tell me the extent to which the Australian work force, including the employed work force, has increased during the last year, and also the extent to which these increases have been sustained in Queensland?
– I cannot give the honorable gentleman the figures of increases in the work force; but within the last few days the Commonwealth Statistician has published figures showing that civilian employment has increased by more than 136,000. Civilian employment does not include self-employed people, people employed in rural industries or people employed in domestic service. So civilian employment has increased to about 3,400,000; but the total work force would be about 4,400,000. The increase of 136,000 in civilian employment in one year is dramatic proof of the strong progress that was made in Australia during last year and is evidence of the success of the Government’s policy of rapid development.
As to the last part of the honorable gentleman’s question relating to his native State of Queensland, I have not the figures showing the increase in the work force. Civilian employment increased by between 19,000 and 20,000. Again, that is strong evidence of the development that is taking place in Queensland under, if I may say so, the friendly influence of the Commonwealth Government and with the able guidance of the Queensland Government.
– I address my question to the Attorney-General. On 5th March last the honorable member for Yarra placed 22 questions on the notice-paper concerning the alleged activities of a body called Ustasha and of some of its members. In his reply to-day to another question the Attorney-General said that he had information in his possession concerning a body opposed to this organization. I think I am reporting him correctly when I say that he led the House to believe that there are two groups in Australia engaging, or presumed to be engaging, in terrorist activities. Will the Attorney-General provide the Prime Minister’s Department with replies to the questions asked by the honorable member for Yarra? At the same time will he divulge such other information as is in his possession which can properly be released for public understanding of this matter so that Australia will not be used by contending forces from an’y part of Europe for long-range fighting?
– What I intended to convey in my answer, and what 1 thought 1 had conveyed, was that there is not just one group in Australia, and that both groups are in conflict with one another. I cannot take it any further than that. As to the information which is within my hands, of course this will be made available to the Prime Minister so that he can reply to the questions asked of him. At this point I think I should say that I am quite sure the honorable member for Yarra is very well aware of the second group, because he has attended, and has even spoken at, meetings to which this second group has been a party.
– By way of preface to my question to the Attorney-General, I point out that the Labour Party asks only for inquiries into activities which threaten the Communist Party and never for inquiries into Communist terrorist activities. When the Attorney-General is examining these matters will he examine also all the implications of the Communist attack on the distinguished honorable member for Moreton and the activities of the Communists in general in this place?
– This is one of the matters that I am considering in the context of the material and the facts before us. I feel that I would not be assisted in my considerations by attempting to draw an investigation into the widest possible field. However, I shall have a look at the honorable member’s question to see whether any of it lies within the area of my present investigations.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral state whether it is possible, in this situation of the Croatian dispute, for the Commonwealth Government to make a statement to the effect that in Australia it is no more tolerable to murder someone because you disagree with his politics than it is to murder someone because you want his purse, and to make it perfectly plain that if this vendetta continues the people concerned will be deported, irrespective of the side to which they belong?
– I have no authority to say that these people would be deported in the hypothetical event of a crime being committed. I am quite sure that my colleague, the Minister for Immigration, would look at the matter in the light of the facts turned up.
Message received from the Senate intimating that it concurred in the resolution transmitted to it by the House of Representatives, in the following terms: -
That the Senate concurs in the Resolution transmitted to the Senate by Message No. 41 of the House of Representatives with reference to the appointment of a Joint’ Committee to examine and report on certain matters relating to the Australian Capital Territory.
That the provisions of that Resolution, so far as they are inconsistent wilh the Standing Orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders.
– ! have received a letter from the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely: -
The failure of the Australian Government (o formulate and implement a national fuel policy designed to protect our economy and to provide for our defence requirements. 1 call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussions to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places) -
.- The Opposition is concerned at the failure of the Australian Government to formulate and implement a national fuel policy designed to protect our economy and to provide for our defence requirements. May 1 say at the outset that most countries have adopted fuel policies in the best interests of their own economies and have not overlooked defence requirements. In this matter the Australian Government has failed. The European Economic Community has given attention to this question. The Australian Government, however, despite our great concern for international affairs and for our defence requirements, has failed to face up to its responsibilities.
The Opposition believes that we should make full use of our resources and that we should give first priority to the maintenance in employment of our work force. We should determine to strengthen our economy. We should develop internal strength through the employment of our manpower in the development of our latent resources. We should improve our balanceofpayments position by giving attention to these matters. The Australian Labour Party has long advocated a planned economy and consequently has been continually subjected to criticism by those who believe in a laisserfaire, go-as-you-please, economy, allowing the various contending forces in our society to vie for the prize, with the strongest prevailing. There has been no plan in respect of this country’s economy, nor has there been a word from the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) or any of his Ministers as to what the people of Australia might expect in the way of a national fuel policy. Leaders of industry are concerned, the nation is concerned, the Parliament should be informed, yet not one word on this subject has fallen from the lips of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Natonal Development (Senator Sir William Spooner) or any other of our leaders.
Professor Copland has directed attention to the importance of having a plan. The People, the North Committee, the coal miners and many others in the community have drawn attention to the importance of planning in our economy. None other than Sir Edward Warren, head of the Australian Coal Association, has been vocal on this subject and has asked that a national fuel policy be adopted to safeguard Australian industry and to develop our economy. I was particularly impressed by the remark of Sir Frederick White, “ What is lost to-day by ignorance and misuse is denied to Australia forever”. This is very true, and no words of m,ne or of any other member of this Parliament should be necessary to stress the importance of the adoption of a national fuel policy for the well-being of the people of Australia, to strengthen our economy and to guarantee supplies of fuel in time of international trouble and adversity.
On looking over the evidence of our lack of policy I am immediately confronted with a question I placed on the notice-paper on 26th February of this year. I asked the Prime Minister -
That question still remains unanswered, and this fact alone clearly indicates’ that the Government lacks a national fuel policy. If it had such a policy, the Prime Minister would have been able to give a concise answer immediately to that important series of questions concerning our fuel situation. If further evidence be required, 1 remind the House of the Tariff Board Inquiry at which it was proved beyond any shadow of doubt that the production of residual oil and the manufacture of petrol were balanced in such a way that all available petrol was not cracked from the oil, but that substantial quantities were allowed to remain in residual oil, which competes with coal. It can be readily seen that the oil industry in this country is calling upon the Australian motorist to subsidize residual oil so that it can compete with coal, which is one of our most important latent raw materials.
I remind the House also of the purchase by R. W. Miller of the tanker “Miller’s Canopus “ and of the great difficulties that gentleman encountered when he tried to obtain cargoes of oil. It was widely proclaimed at that time that we should not be held to ransom in the matter of transport of oil and that we should use Australian tankers.
When oil was discovered at the Moonie field we heralded with great glee the finding of oil in Australia, saying that it would be of tremendous value in the expansion and development of our land; but when the discoverers, Union-Kern-A.O.G., commenced negotiations they had considerable difficulty in finding buyers prepared to pay anything like the correct price for the oil produced in this country. I have before me a report by Mr. G. W. Goudge, secretary of the Australian Oil and Gas Corporation Limited, 261 George-street, Sydney, on the pricing of Moonie oil. In it he said that the Governments of the United States and Canada apply a kind of protection to their own oil industries that is not applied in Australia.
I bring this matter forward for discussion to-day, on behalf of the Opposition, because we believe it is an urgent matter of national importance. What will happen if some small group searching for oil in Australia finds a basin and has the responsibility of attempting to market that oil in Australia? Will that group be subjected to the same difficulties as were met by UnionKernA.O.G.? Most likely it will. In any event, will the marketing of this oil be subject to wrangling, argument and disputation between the vendor and the people who are to refine the oil? Surely a national plati of fuel requirements should be laid down so that these matters can be attended to quite quickly. A little later in the report the secretary said -
At the moment, the Federal Government has no precise power to fix a price for indigenous crude, but it has at its command the machinery of a customs excise differential and import licensing which it can apply to the importation of foreign crudes.
This the Commonwealth Government refuses to do. It seems to me that in most of these matters the Commonwealth has been the torchbearer for overseas oil companies and has not been prepared to see that justice is done in Australia or to see that primary producers receive oil and petrol at the prices at which they should receive them.
Further evidence or the lack of policy on the part of the Government was the statement made by the Prime Minister during the campaign for the general election held on 30th November last. The Prime Minister promised that he would see that the differential between the prices of petrol in the city and country areas would not exceed 4d. a gallon. I have a copy of the Prime Minister’s election policy speech in my hand. Although 30th November has receded far into the past, no action has been taken to introduce that maximum price differential. We are still in the position we were in previously. No action has been taken and no decision has been reached, because there is no policy. It is for that reason that the Opposition has brought this issue of national importance before the Parliament in the hope that we can get some policy in these matters. If there has been any policy at all it has been one of inertia or of liquidation and closing down of Australian industry. I refer to the sell-out of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and the closure and destruction of the Glen Davis venture. This is the only sort of measure appearing on the surface to indicate any action on the part of this Government.
The Opposition feels that action should be taken, and that it should be taken now, to strengthen our economy. Further, action should be taken to assure our defence requirements. In this connexion 1 invite honorable members to consider Australia’s position in regard to petroleum products, as revealed by the “ Petroleum Gazette “, volume 13, No. 3 of March, 1964. This publication gives statistics relating to oils imported into Australia. Of the 86.6 per cent, of Australia’s oils which are imported, 20 per cent, come from Indonesia, 15.9 per cent, from Iran, 22.8 per cent, from Kuwait, 9.8 per cent, from Qatar and 18.1 per cent, from Saudi Arabia. With one or two rare exceptions, the great supplies of oil on which we depend for our economy and our defence are imported, and each of the places from which we import our oils is a trouble spot. These are places where a local rebellion or a small war can alter the whole supply position affecting this nation. This situation is not good enough.
I believe it is an incredible folly to depend upon overseas supplies for our requirements, when we have in this nation the resources upon which to develop our own petroleum products and our own fuel to assist in the development of Australia. In other countries these things are done. From a recent Netherlands newsletter I obtained valuable information which shows that the Dutch State mines are dealing very extensively in not only fuels but also in chemicals and fertilizers and have plants for the manufacture of these products and for the production of urea, nitric acid, sulphate and other materials. AH these matters are effectively dealt with in the Netherlands. But in Australia nothing of the kind is taking place. I rapidly direct attention to the fact that the Chifley Government laid down a blueprint and a code for the production of coal in Australia. The battle for coal has been won through the enactment of the Coal Industry Act 1946, which has been implemented and supported since then. Coal has been produced in very great quantities and production figures are a record. To-day, almost 10,000 fewer people in the coal industry are producing substantially more coal than in the former peak period of 1952. What was done for that industry should be extended to other industries. The Joint Coal Board legislation provides for the recovery of by-products from coal and for the diversification and decentralization of the industry. My colleagues will deal more extensively with these features. I can only hope that the Parliament, after its consideration to-day, will take action.
– Towards the end of his speech the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) really entered the realm of the fantastic. He objected to the fact that most of the oil that we use is imported from areas where trouble spots could develop quite easily and quickly. What he did not do was to specify where else we could obtain the oil. Any man who can advance that as a worth-while or sane argument without suggesting any real substitute supply source for our large imports of oil is an incredible man indeed. It is even more surprising that the honorable member should revive memories of coal and the position of the coal industry under the Chifley Government. Any Australian who lived through the blackouts and extensive troubles on the coal-fields during the Chifley Government’s time will readily recognize that the last thing we want to do is to return to that sort of situation.
The honorable member’s basic attack on the Government was that we have no national fuel policy. What does he mean by that? He did not specify what he meant. He mentioned a number of things in great rounded terms, but what in fact is meant by “ an overall fuel policy “? The
Government has a policy which is fairly clear and which emerges from its actions in a number of fields. The Government attaches the greatest importance to Australian industry and to the Australian economy having at its disposal the cheapest possible sources of fuel and power. These sources are basic to the whole community, and the cost of fuel and power is reflected in almost every item used in our everyday living. It is reflected in the cost of our exports, and therefore primary attention must be given to a consideration of these matters. There are occasions when it may be sensible to depart in a small degree from these sources of supply. An obvious case is when it is important to develop some natural resources in Australia which can be done at a cost which is not outrageous. But this is not the whole problem. There are differences of opinion, which we recognize immediately, between those who advocate a planned economy with overall policies and edicts issued from the centre, into which every one has to fit and those who, like the Government, realize that you cannot have a single integrated policy for fuel over such a wide and important area. What we have to do, very largely, is deal with particular problems as they arise, and it has been by dealing with practical problems that have arisen from day to day and from month to month, and by looking ahead in the different fields that the Government’s policy has been evolved.
What is the Government’s policy? Listening to the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), one would be led to believe that the Government had no policy. As to oil in particular, it is strange indeed that the honorable member should now accuse the Government of being the torchbearer for overseas oil companies, for it is not so very long since the Opposition voted in this House against subsidizing our local Australian companies engaged in the search for oil. Only very slowly and tardily has the Opposition become reconciled and withdrawn its opposition to the policy of subsidizing oil search activities which the Government has pursued over the years with such great success, as we see at Moonie.
Speaking of Moonie, I point out that in this case both sellers and buyers are involved. Both sides have an interest, as does the nation. If one were to believe the honorable member for Macquarie, one would believe that the whole business could be settled merely by an edict from Canberra. I repeat that both buyer and seller are involved and their interests have to be reconciled with those of the Australian nation, which needs more local oil. The Minister for National Development (Senator Sir William Spooner) has played a very careful and constructive part in bringing the parties together in these negotiations.
Throughout its life, the Government has done a lot to assist and encourage the coal industry. It has supported the operations of the Joint Coal Board. Over the years, the Government has helped the industry to develop from the stage at which it was when the Labour Government departed from office. For instance, the output per man-shift from underground mines increased from 2.74 tons in 1948 to 5.72 tons in 1962-63. Concurrently with this increase in efficiency and productivity, it has been possible to reduce costs. All these benefits have been passed on to consumers both in Australia and overseas and to many of those who are engaged in the industry. In 1953, the average price of coal, free-on-rail at New South Wales mines was 63s. 4d. a ton. By 1963, only ten years later, that price had been reduced to 52s. 5d. a ton, and this despite the very big increase which had taken place in the basic wage in the meantime.
These developments in the coal industry have permitted a huge, speedy and smooth increase in the generation of electricity. For instance, whereas in 1957 we produced 4,300,000 kilowatts, by 1962, only five years later, this figure had increased to 6,900,000 kilowatts - an increase of 50 per cent, in five years! As I have said, this has been achieved smoothly through good organization, and is in great contrast to the record of the previous Labour Government.
Our exports of coal are worth £10,000,000 a year to Australia. To encourage exports, we have undertaken extensive improvements in coal ports. A Commonwealth subsidy has been available to New South Wales on a £1 for £1 basis. In all, financial assistance amounting to £2,650,000 has been made available for coal-loading works at Newcastle, Port
Kembla and Balmain. Of that amount, £1,000,000 was made available by way of Commonwealth grant and £1,650,000 was provided by way of loan. Similar assistance has been given to Queensland for the improvement of facilities at the port of Gladstone - the port from which the coal produced at Kianga and Moura is being exported. Whether exports are included in the honorable member’s definition of a national fuel policy I do not know, but so successful has the Government been in its overall policy with regard to coal that exports have risen considerably and while increasing our exports, we have also met our home needs.
Being mindful of the need to extend the uses of coal, the Government set up a special committee to examine the problem. That committee submitted a report recently. It recommended the setting up of an advisory committee on coal utilization research throughout Australia and the establishment of joint Government and industry applied coal research laboratories. These proposals will require an increased expenditure of £260,000 in the first year over and above the £800,000 already being spent. They were discussed as recently as April last at a conference between the State Ministers for Mines and the Commonwealth Minister for National Development (Senator Sir William Spooner). The Ministers recognized that as the research programme is expanded further, increases in expenditure will be required. This additional money almost certainly will be granted. The proposals were generally agreed to by the various State Ministers concerned.
The Commonwealth has also pursued a policy of granting tax concessions to the coal industry in relation to expenditure on exploration and prospecting and to expenditure on new plant and equipment as well as on housing and welfare. Two further tax concessions granted to the coal-mining industry are the market development allowance and the pay-roll tax rebate scheme. All these things represent not only great assistance but some incentive to the industry, and any one who suggests that the Government has had no policy with relation to coal just flies in the face of the facts.
Similarly, the Government has done everything that it could do to encourage the search for oil. It pays an oil search subsidy. It has also done all in its power to foster the oil refining industry. Apparently this essential industry is one that the honorable member for Macquarie would regard as unnecessary. He would change the arrangements by which we now buy and refine oil in some way not specified. How this fantasy could be made a reality I do not know. No doubt other Opposition speakers who follow will endeavour to fill in that story for us and we shall await their words with interest. Because of Government assistance, the refining industry has developed to the stage where already Australia’s total installed oil capacity is 17.000.000 tons annually. Further, three new refineries are planned. Two of these are being constructed near Brisbane, one by Amoco (Australia) Proprietary Limited, and one by Ampol Petroleum (Queensland) Proprietary Limited, and the big British Petroleum group has announced plans for the erection of a £15,000,000 refinery at Westernport in Victoria. When all these plans are completed Australia will have a crude oil refining capacity of about 21,000,000 tons a year and the total capital invested in this industry will amount to over £260,000,000. I know that this investment which, from the sensible man’s point of view, is basic to Australia’s economic life, is resented by the Opposition, but it does represent a huge expenditure on a longterm programme by many companies and it is largely the outcome of the Government’s policy of not considering wild generalities but of dealing with practical situations as they arise.
The Government established the Australian Atomic Energy Commission in April, 1953. Its activities cover the discovery of uranium and the recruiting and training of the scientists and skilled workers needed for the future development of atomic energy for industry and for other purposes. The development of atomic energy has now reached the stage where its use may be economical in Australia. The indications are that it will come into more general use, and when that day arrives it will be found that plans for its use have all been well laid over the past ten years by this Government, which the Opposition alleges to have no policy in connexion with these matters.
The Government has also pressed on with the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Development is continually taking place there with the result that more and more electrical energy is being supplied on a peak load basis to supplement the thermal generating capacity throughout the States.
The honorable member for Macquarie referred to a request by the colliery proprietors for a Tariff Board inquiry in relation to the competition between coal and heavy fuel oil. The Minister for National Development has had conversations with representatives of the oil companies concerning excess supplies of heavy fuel oil as distinct from the further refining of oil products into greater quantities of petrol and other spirit. It seems that these conversations may bear fruit, but we must remember that in these matters the primary need is to obtain fuel as cheaply as practicable.
Natural gas is another healthy competitor now entering the market. If you have a great national fuel plan, Sir, how do you fit in all the day-to-day changes which come into this field? It is true that there have been national fuel policies tried in other countries which have attempted to implement an overall plan for the use of coal to generate energy in quantities specified beforehand. However, almost inevitably the predictions have gone astray. In the early 1950’s the Ridley committee was set up in Britain to shape fuel policy. An article in “The Listener” of 10th May, 1962, shows how far out the predictions of the best-informed people can prove to be in the practical ebb and flow of life.
The policy of the Government is basically to provide cheap fuel, to pay close attention to the development of Australia’s resources and to deal with individual fuels and problems on a sensible, practical and straightforward basis and not by the use of a completely superficial and misleading overall national plan.
.- I support the action of the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) in raising for discussion this matter of public importance: that is, the failure of the Australian Government to formulate and implement a national fuel policy designed to protect our economy and to provide for our defence requirements. After listening to the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) I have the impression that the Government has no fuel policy and that further closures of mines in the electoral division of Hunter are threatening. The South Maitland coal field on the fringe of Newcastle was the scene of operations of 21 mines with 6,957 employees in 1955. At present there are nine mines employing 1,361 men operating in that area. Economic chaos has been created, particularly in my electorate, through the lack of a fuel policy by this Government. Members of the Opposition have for long known that honorable members opposite show sympathy to powerful monopolies and big business. We all know that this Government has been sympathetic towards such monopolies as the Ansett-A.N.A. organization, the international oil cartel and other major organizations. They have been shown extreme favoritism by the Government during its period in office.
I interview my constituents on the first, second and third Saturdays of each month. I shall tell the House a few of the things which I frequently hear on these occasions. Last Saturday a boy named Dennis King, seventeen years of age, of 176 Hopetounstreet, Kurri Kurri told me that he has been searching for work in Newcastle and on the coal fields and has found it a hopeless task. He has appealed to me to assist him. Ross Farnham, fifteen and a half years of age, resides at Weston and is seeking apprenticeship. He has hawked his employment around the Newcastle industries and throughout the coal fields but has been unable to find work. Glen Bates, sixteen years of age, is an outstanding type of Australian. He has approached about twelve industries seeking apprenticeship. He holds the Intermediate certificate gained at the Kurri Kurri High School. Michael Gaul of Lang-street, Kurri Kurri is seeking apprenticeship as a fitter but has been unable to find employment. David John Jenkins, sixteen years of age, of Rawsonstreet, Kurri Kurri is in a similar position. Yet, the Minister for Housing has the audacity to tell this Parliament and the people of Australia that a national fuel policy is not necessary. I invite the Minister to visit my electorate at any time he wishes.
The value of the mine workers’ homes has dropped by half, after they have invested their life savings in them, because of the action of this Government in permitting the dumping of residual oil to the detriment of the gas coal industry. It has caused economic chaos on a scale almost unprecedented in my electorate. Government supporters stand idly by and permit this situation, but when the mine workers were slaving in the bowels of the earth during and after the last war, members of this Government appealed to them, “ Give the nation coal and you will never want “. But that promise has never been honoured and to-day the situation is critical. No influence has been used on the oil cartel to build a factory to provide employment for coal-miners displaced because of the effects of the dumping of residual oil.
I shall quote from a report in “ Inside Canberra “ published on 2nd April, 1964. It states -
The application by the coal industry for a Tariff Board hearing of its case for protection against fuel oil is forcing the Government to formulate a policy on the major fuels. Principles of the policy will be decided by Cabinet, although the board may be asked to make recommendations on detail. There is a strong feeling in official quarters that, if the Government decided fuel should be protected, it would place excise tax on furnace oils produced by Australian refineries. Imports of furnace oil would be prohibited.
It is well known that the introduction of oil in the production of gas has had a savage effect in the area I represent. Members of the Opposition repeatedly have appealed to the Government to place an excise duty on residual oil to protect the coal industry but their appeals have been swept aside unheeded. The honorable member for Macquarie has made appeals to the Government because similar effects are being felt in his electorate. The honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Connor) also is concerned. The people he represents on the south coast of New South Wales are about to suffer in the same way because of the absence of a national fuel policy. The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) has fears for his constituents. We are all concerned for the well-being of the people we represent and we wish to safeguard their interests. They do not wish to amass a fortune, but just to make a living and educate their children. They are being deprived of that right by the actions of
Government supporters and the failure to set up a national fuel policy.
Sir Edward Warren is a man with whom I do not always agree and he cannot be regarded as a supporter of the Australian Labour Party. However, he is reported to have said on several occasions that there is an urgent need for the Federal Government to implement a national fuel policy to prevent the complete ruination of the Australian coal industry. The chairman of the Australian Gas Light Company of Sydney only a short time ago is reported to have said -
The sales of gas were maintained at the record level achieved in 1962. However as anticipated the sales of the by-products coke and breeze have continued to fall and the continuing loss of markets for these by-products to the oil and petrochemical industries has forced us to re-examine the whole of our gas manufacturing programme and processes.
The chairman said that the company will be forced to burn more furnace oil in the production of gas. This will mean the closure of more mines in the Hunter electoral division. Last week-end employees of the Richmond Main colliery told me that the coal at grass has so increased that in the not too distant future the Richmond Main colliery will have to close down because of its inability to. sell its gas coal. When the Parliament is not sitting, I pass the Pacific colliery daily on my way to my office in Newcastle. At that colliery, there is now more coal at grass than there has ever been in its history. The employees there expect the mine to close in the not too distant future. Unemployment is bad enough. The constant fear of unemployment also brings about instability and often causes nervous breakdowns. The persons for whom I am most sorry are the miners’ women folk, who have to face the butcher and the baker and try to meet the family’s many financial commitments. The women folk probably take a greater interest in education and rely more on the hope of giving their children an education than do the fathers. I feel particularly sorry for the mothers of miners’ families.
The sort of thing that I have been describing has been happening for a long time now in the Hunter electorate and other coal-mining areas of New South Wales. This Government has shown little or no sympathy for the coal-mining areas in which more miners are becoming redundant each day. The time that I am allowed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will not permit me to discuss fully the important and urgent need for the formulation by this Government of a national fuel policy that will prevent further chaos in the coal-mining industry. I urge the Government, as strongly as my mental resources permit, to adopt such a policy. I sincerely hope that at an early date the Government will implement a national fuel policy that will reduce the chaos occurring in the coal-mining industry. I notice that the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) is laughing. I hope that he is not laughing at the submissions that I am making to the House. The area that he represents will shortly be inundated by coal-miners.. The honorable member has been laughing for some time while I have been speaking, and I hope that I am .wrong in thinking that he has been laughing at my submissions and the plight of many of my constituents.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I listened to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), I could not help but wonder what reception his words would receive as they went out across the nation. In the honorable member’s view, this is a nation with a vast and chaotic coal industry that provides the means of power production; yet a nation in want of a national policy on fuel. The picture that he has painted so vehemently is that of a nation that is sorry for itself. How very different is the honorable n mber’s picture from that painted in the official reports received by the Government from its instrumentalities and various committees and independent research organizations that have been established to inform it of the actual situation. Let me place on record the findings of the Joint Coal Board in its sixteenth annual report, which deals with the year 1962-63. The picture painted by the board is very different from that just painted for us by the honorable member. The report states, among other things, that the board is happy to report that the coal industry continued to meet its obligations in 1962-63. Referring to New South Wales, it adds -
The year 1962-63 was a good year for the captive mines of the State.
Captive mines are those that are producing for specific purposes within particular industries. The report states also-
The industry as it now exists is soundly organised . . .
These are the official views of the Joint Coal Board and not partisan word’s of this Government. The report also contains the following statements: -
Competition from an alternative fuel remains a relatively new experience for the coal mining industries . . .
The fact remains that there is an embarrassing surplus of energy in the Australian market and . . this surplus seems likely to grow . . .
The report goes on to make this wise observation-
This is a world-wide problem. The coal mining industries of the Northern Hemisphere, in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany, Japan and the United States, have not been able to carry on without aid provided by Government intervention pf some kind.
The report goes on to state that the volume of exports from the south coast of New South Wales and the Burragorang valley has continued to increase, and so on. There is nothing like the tone of the speech just made by the honorable member for Hunter to be found in these quotations from the report. However, I wonder at the great difference that fifteen years can make. I wonder what would have been the tenor of the speeches, had they been made fifteen years ago, of the two champions of the coalminers who now sit side by side on the Opposition benches as representatives of electorates in coal-mining areas of New South Wales, where the coal-miners, they say, are searching for work. Fifteen years ago, this nation was held to ransom. Throughout Australia, there was a chronic shortage of coal. I recall that very many people, including some whose words have been quoted here, said at the time, “The day will come when the miners will regret that they have taken such extreme action to attain their ends “. What has now happened has indeed followed the pattern of what has happened elsewhere. I am not in any way trying to belittle the particular or individual cases mentioned by the honorable member for Hunter. The current developments are only common sense in the eyes of those of us who have seen whole States, as South Australia was, plunged into darkness, with industry grinding to a halt for want of power and with people being thrown out of work in hundreds of thousands. After such events, it is only common sense that any nation would set about providing alternative sources of power.
Unfortunately, honorable members opposite, instead of confining this discussion to specific cases, have levelled a broad accusation that this Government has no national policy on fuel. Let us consider the areas in which fuel is found at present and will be found in the future. In the past, of course, coal and lignite have been the ageold sources of power. It is perhaps 100,000 years since man first found that the black stone that he used as his hearthstone caught fire and burned merrily. But it is only just over 100 years since the oil industry came in to its own and transformed the whole industrial face of the globe. These are the current sources of power. Tomorrow, power will be obtained from the exotic chemical fuels and nuclear energy. The day after, we shall have the utilization of solar power. J. B. Conant, in his Putnam report, stated -
Sometime in the future the nations will be fighting each other for their share of the sunshine of the Sahara.
Let us leave that to the future. I want now to make the point that continual change is taking place. There are continual flux and tension across the world as new and different fuel sources emerge. This is the key to the industrial age. There are many causes of this change. New resources and reserves of energy are found. Economics within nations and between nations change. Labour costs and labour availability change. Strategic considerations also change. In the midst of all this, there is flux. We have seen in the United States of America, for instance, the very great battle between coal and oil, and we can learn from it.
A fuel policy there must be, certainly, but it need be nothing of the kind that has been suggested by Opposition members in extravagant terms. For instance, they demanded a statement of policy from the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) immediately - and that was their very word - and they flung at him the question: What about it? I can only say that throughout the nation to-day the best brains in this field are working industriously. The plentiful reports that are available indicate the tremendous amount of work that has been done and is being done by bodies like the Coal Utilization Research Advisory Committee established by this Government in 1959, with Mr. Bill Pettingell as its chairman, and with very wide terms of reference requiring it to make a survey of research and investigation overseas as well as in Australia. There is also Australian Coal Association (Research) Limited, which has a current budget of £250,000 a year for research and is scheduled to raise its research expenditure to more than £1,000,000 a year. Great work is being done also by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the Joint Coal “Board, as well as private companies and government departments. The information obtained by this research is being channelled into the Government’s central reserves for the purpose of producing exactly the results about which Opposition members talk.
When I knew that this matter was to be raised for discussion as a matter of public importance, I telephoned a friend of mine, Professor John Morgan, who is Professor of Mining Engineering in the University of New South Wales and an expert on coalmining. When I asked him whether there was a policy on this matter, he said, “We certainly have a fuel policy in the making “. But he stresses that preliminary research is an essential prelude to the formulation of a worth-while policy. We know that recommendations are before this Parliament at the moment with respect to fuel.
In the few minutes that I have left - my time is all too short, Mr. Deputy Speaker - let me discuss this question of defence, which has been flung at us. As a result of the far-sighted activities of this Government, which has subsidized oil search on the most generous terms adopted by any government in the free world in relation to oil search organizations, this Government is now able to face the nation and Australia’s enemies and say, “ For the first time in our history, we are relatively secure as regards defence requirements of petroleum “. In the last war, when we faced the nations to our north, we had only six weeks’ supply of petroleum at the seaboard in vulnerable tanks. To-day, a mile under the earth’s surface, there is more oil in the Moonie field, and oil of a higher grade, than in all the seaboard reserves at present in this nation. This oil is in oil sands which are so permeable and so delightfully open that the oil can be flowed, if necessary in an emergency without regard for efficiency, at a tremendous rate that would enable our strategic requirements to be met. The oil is of such a grade that it can simply be filtered- and put straight into the bunkers of our fighting ships and, if necessary, straight into the tanks of our diesel-powered implements of war. The same oil is very rich in the higher grade and more exotic fuels.
This is one of the direct results of the Government’s policy. Never has Australia been more secure in terms of its defence fuel requirements. Yet we have this proposition thrown up to us by the Opposition that we lack a policy. On nuclear power, we are told by the chairman of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission that the policy of the commission has been to train men so that when in 1973 South Australia perhaps has a nuclear power station and this trend spreads through the nation we will find trained Australian personnel right in the forefront of producing the power that we need. Policy is a changing thing, but this Government is well to the fore in meeting the requirements of change.
.- We have just heard an interesting address from the honorable member for Evans (Dr. Mackay). It is a pity that he could not have dealt with the topic under discussion, and that is the need to implement a national fuel policy in the terms outlined by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti). However, I would like to refer to one point and that is that Government supporters have said that there is a need for a national fuel policy. It is very interesting to note that opposition to our suggestion is not unanimous in the ranks of Liberal Party members. A prominent Liberal member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, who is also chairman of the Australian Coal Association, is reported as having commented on 17th March of this year as follows: -
Sir Edward said that he was very much more concerned with the determination of a national fuel policy. ‘ His Association had repeatedly claimed that such a policy was essential-
Let me emphasize the word “ essential “- so that we might maintain a proper balance between the exploitation of our own natural resources and the expenditure of huge amounts on fuel imports from other countries.
The need for considering our fuel and energy requirements, on a national basis has beer highlighted by the recent disclosure by the Minister for National Development that motor spirit imports for 1963 had exceeded those for 1962 by almost 100,000 tons. The Minister had also said that Australian refinery production in 1963 embraced 4,281,000 tons of motor spirit and 4,712,000 tons of furnace fuel. The net result of this lavish expenditure of overseas funds was that the oil refineries dumped fuel oil on to the Australian market at any price, which would succeed in ousting coal which was in abundant supply for all purposes.
No doubt the views expressed by the honorable member for Evans would be heartily applauded, by those who speculate in the oil industry and who have recently speculated in it very successfully.
Before coming to the point 1 wish to make, 1 would like to refer quickly to the statements made by the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury), who spoke a short time ago. As all Ministers do, he lauded his Government for the encouragement and contribution it had made towards stimulating the search for oil in this country. I hurried from the chamber, aghast at the thought that my recollection on this subject was not as accurate as it could have been. I checked on the facts and I found that my recollection is quite reliable. The Minister is quite wrong in his assertion that this Government has made a terrifically stimulating contribution to the oil search in Australia. On 17th September, 1963, a question was asked by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) as to the total expenditure on the oil search in Australia to the end of 1962. The reply was that £100.124.000 had been spent and out of this only £5,986,000 had been provided by the Commonwealth Government. Less than 5 per cent, had been provided by the Government. This is not in twelve months; this is in the period since first any oil search was undertaken in Australia and going as far back as the Government has ever provided a subsidy for this search. This is not good enough. The search for oil is a costly business and the Government has a national responsibility - it should certainly have a natural desire - to ensure that this commodity is discovered in Australia. I mention this matter by the way in answer to statements made by honorable members who have already spoken.
The point at issue is whether we need a fuel policy. I suggest that the experience of various other nations, particularly those that are surging ahead successfully, is very definitely that a planned economy is necessary if a country is to achieve success and if the standard of living of the people is to be lifted. I would like to quote some figures to show the paucity of achievement of this Government in comparison with the significant achievements of other countries. In the period from 1955 to I960, the rate of progress of the German Federal Republic increased by 6 per cent., Italy by 5.9 per cent., Japan by 9.4 per cent., the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics by 6.5 per cent, and Australia by an anaemic 4.3 per cent., and this progress was made by Australia in jerky steps. With the concurrence of honorable members, I incorporate in “ Hansard “ figures showing projected development in various countries from 1960 to 1970 and figures concerning industrial expansion for the period 1959-60 to 1962-63.
These figures show that the achievements in this country are far inferior to those of other countries. Other countries are reaching their goals by adopting a planned economy. A planned economy must be on a broad scale and must include a fuel policy, because power is needed for growth and strength. Fuel is so important that other governments have a Ministry for Fuel. The Government of Great Britain has such a ministry.
Australia has abundant supplies of black coal, which have largely been tapped. It has been established that our coal reserves amount to approximately 4,400,000,000 tons of black coal and 55,300,000,000 tons of brown and lignite coals. We must use the coal that is readily available and use it to the best advantage of the community. We must see that the economy is kept in balance and that people do not suffer in the way that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has told us that people suffer. The Government has a responsibility, but it is adopting a sloppy approach to the development of the nation. It should plan for a procession of achievements at which the country shall aim so that industry and the people will know where we are going. Certainly in the field of fuel this is extremely important.
One of the first activities of a government should be to examine ways of improving efficiency in the coal-mining industry so that this commodity can be produced at a price that is competitive or very nearly competitive with commodities such as petroleum that are brought into the country. A tremendous amount of capital is invested in the coal-mining industry and the livelihood of a large number of Australians is tied up with the industry. The introduction of mechanization in New South Wales has enabled the price of coal to be reduced. This, of course, must place the industry on a better competitive basis. But at the same time unfortunately there has been a detrimental effect on the welfare of many workers in the industry. The honorable member for Hunter adverted to this aspect. The effect on the workers would figure prominently in the deliberations of a fuel board planning nationally in this field. One matter to be considered is how to use the coal-fields workers in an alternative industry and, preferably, how to use them at the place at which they have been displaced. One step in this direction would be to establish power houses and gas works on the coal-fields. This has been done in some places, but so far the Government’s approach to the problem has been rather sloppy.
In 1959-60, steam generating plants produced 80 per cent, of our electric power. Of the electric power generated on a thermal basis, black and brown coals accounted for 93 per cent, of the fuel used. It is estimated that by 1970-71 the annual requirement for electric power will be 10,900,000 tons of black coal and 18,000,000 tons of raw brown coal. That is what the industry needs. It must know its future requirements. Under a planned system of fuel economy we would have a balance of hydro power, power produced by petroleum and power produced by natural gas, as well as that produced from our great natural resources of coal. We would know that there would not be a devastating disruption of the nation’s economy to the detriment of large sections of the people. Surely the Government has a responsibility in this matter. Australia has the capacity to be a strong, vigorously developing country. If ‘ we are on a viable footing in time of peace then we have a country that has stamina in time of conflict; and, indeed, defence is mentioned in the topic under discussion, as expressed by the honorable member for Macquarie. I would like to refer to. many other matters. I wish I had time to give more statistics and to make more comparisons with the position in other countries in order to show definitely that where you have a planned economy, including a planned policy in relation to fuel, you are making progress. In those circumstances you know where the country is going and you can successfully face the future.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- All honorable members will agree that we must explore every avenue and use every medium at our disposal to ensure that the maximum use is made of the natural resources that we have in this great country. In some of the far-distant parts of the continent we are only just starting to learn of the resources that we have. I know that it is the Government’s policy to assist in every way possible the search for fuel resources. Over the years the Government has assisted in no uncertain fashion in the search for oil, which, if found in satisfactory quantities, would give Australia the stability that it needs so far as fuel is concerned. Oil is a vital commodity to our great primary and secondary industries, particularly our motor industry. Oil is of vital importance to the rapid development of Australia. Until quite recently Australia had to import all of its oil requirements, lt is true that in the past we used coal for fuel to a large extent. In Western Australia we are still using coal for our power requirements. Although in some fields coal has given way to other forms of fuel, the coal industry is still very important to Western Australia.
In the last few years, as a result of this Government’s policies, we have had some success in the search for oil. In addition, the Government has encouraged the building of refineries in this country. For example, only a few years ago a refinery costing £40,000,000 was built at Kwinana on Cockburn Sound. Since then several million pounds have been spent in Western Australia on a lubricating oil plant. The refinery imports almost 3,000,000 tons of crude oil every year to be refined for home consumption and for export. When speaking about the refining of oil we must not forget the importance of bitumen, from which so many of our roads are built. The search for oil in Australia has been greatly stimulated by the Government’s policy of subsidies. It is interesting to note that at Rough Range in Western Australia not all of the work is done by Americans. Australians assist in the project. In most cases on the oil fields the ratio is two Americans to three Australians. The Americans are training Australians in the art of finding oil in Australia.
Oil is most important to Australia. It is important for the rapid movement of industry. In the last few years our primary industries have moved from the horse age to the power age. The only fuel that can be used to drive farm implements is oil. In view of the amount of oil that we need it is essential that we supply our own requirements. I hope that the Government continues its policy of providing subsidies to companies searching for oil in Australia. More refineries are being built. I think one is being built in Victoria. We will need more refineries when oil comes to the surface in commercial quantities at places other than Moonie. When this happens Australia will be self-supporting in this regard. As far as coal is concerned, Western Australia is continuing to use deep mine and open cut coal in great quantities. I do not think Tasmania is using as much coal as it formerly used because Tasmania is relying more on hydro power than on thermal power. Perhaps the policies of the various State governments have a lot to do with the type of power used.
As I and most of my colleagues see the position to-day, Australia will move ahead in the power age and the machinery age. This Government’s policy has assisted greatly in the supply of Australia’s fuel needs. The building of an oil refinery is not the end of the matter. The presence of the refinery helps in the development of many other industries. For example, we now have a steel industry at Kwinana. It will take us many years to find all of the raw materials that must exist in this country, but having found them we must make the best possible use of them in the interests of Australians generally. In the past we have used our coal resources to great benefit, but the economics of coal usage must be borne in mind. Undoubtedly this problem is uppermost in the Government’s thoughts. The Government has done everything within its power so far as fuel is concerned.
– Order! This discussion has now concluded.
Debate resumed from 7th May (vide page 1691), on motion by Mr. Swartz -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Daly had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ this House is of the opinion that the bill fails to meet the urgent needs of the people of Australia as it does not provide for a full national health plan embracing adequate medical and hospital services available to all and, particularly, does not (a) extend medical services to all persons, (b) ensure free hospitalization in public wards, (c) abolish the Ss. prescription fee, and (d) end the exploitation of the Australian people by drug manufacturers “.
.- The bill before the House seeks to amend the National Health Act in two major respects. In the first place the bill gives effect to the Government’s announcement that it would increase the amount of refunds of medical expenses made to contributors to registered medical benefits funds. Generally, the increases are substantial and the Government is to be commended on this and other achievements in this field. Secondly, the bill limits to existing members only the practice of dispensaries reducing or rebating the 5s. pharmaceutical benefit fee. At first, this appeared to be a solution, by way of compromise, of the difficulties which were inherent in the earlier amendment. But, on closer inspection, I am not very happy with the present amendment, because all it seems to do is make an endeavour to overcome certain difficulties which have arisen in practice from the application by the Government of a decision which, I believe, is wrong in principle. I refer to the deterrent charge of 5s. In my opinion, this is the crux of the whole matter.
In order to view the matter in better perspective, I should like to review the position prior to government assistance being provided in the hospital, medical and pharmaceutical fields. For many years in Australia and for many more years in the United Kingdom, there were friendly society institutions or lodges which operated as insurers for people on low or average incomes. Such people were able to insure against contingencies which otherwise could involve them in heavy expense for which they could not provide by saving out of their normal wages. For example, the friendly societies provided hospital, medical and pharmaceutical benefits for a man, his wife and his children under sixteen years. A man was able to cover himself for sick pay and was able to provide for funeral benefits for himself and his wife. That was every man’s right. The friendly societies carried out their obligations faithfully and well.
However, in 1952 the national health scheme came into operation. At that time another type of insurer came into this field. I refer to the hospital benefit societies, such as the Blue Cross funds. Again the individual was able to exercise his right to insure. In 1959 the Government, being very alarmed at the soaring cost of providing pharmaceutical benefits, introduced an amendment to the National Health Act. The amendment came into operation is
March, 1960. It provided for payment by the patient of 5s. for each prescription, as a deterrent against over-prescribing by doctors. The Government took that action after similar action had been taken in the United Kingdom. But it completely disregarded the fact that in that country the doctors were nationalized.
The application of this deterrent charge cut right across the principles of insurance by friendly societies of their members. The Government was faced with this dilemma:. If it exempted friendly society members from payment of the 5s. deterrent charge, naturally the business of’ the pharmacists would suffer severely. The Government, therefore, endeavoured to reduce the Commonwealth benefit by 5s. a prescription, leaving the chemist to recover from the patient the full 5s. ‘ charge, or the friendly society dispensary to recover such portion of the 5s. charge as was not covered by the patient’s contributions to the society. Having the responsibility of collection did not suit the pharmacists. The final position reached was that the chemist collected upon delivery of the prescription to the patient, and the dispensary bore the difference between cost and the Government benefit and covered itself partly from funds and partly by making a lesser charge to the patient.
Since 1959 we have seen the rise of other organizations to which I will refer as “ cooperative dispensaries “, in order to distinguish them from the friendly society dispensaries. As my nomenclature suggests, they do not insure a member against all the other contingencies against which the friendly societies insure their members; but merely cover a member for pharmaceutical benefits. The friendly societies also adopted a practice of accepting dispensary members, as distinct from initiated or full members. Thus people were able to insure, through friendly societies and dispensaries, against payment of the deterrent charge of 5s. The outcome of that was an increase in the dispensing of prescriptions by the dispensaries, to the detriment of the chemists. I am advised that in South Australia, although prescriptions dispensed by chemists rose by 80 per cent, as compared with the preceding year, the dispensaries showed an increase of 250 per cent, in the same period covering the years 1961 and 1962. Another factor is that now only two of every ten people who join friendly societies are full or initiated members. The majority of new members are purely dispensary members.
The Government now realizes that its original decision to charge the deterrent fee whilst still allowing the friendly societies to operate created a most unsatisfactory imbalance. The Government has decided that as from a certain date - which we know from this bill is 24th April of this year - all future members of any dispensary organization will be on the same basis as the private patient whose prescription is dispensed by a chemist. That decision was accepted reluctantly by the friendly society dispensaries. In return for accepting it they were offered a palliative in the opening of about 23 dispensaries which originated after 1945 and which had been operating on a closed franchise - that is, on a franchise restricted to the sale of their goods to members only.
As I said, at first sight this decision appeared to be a reasonable compromise. But, as we look at it more closely, it emerges as a mere perpetuation of the original violation of the right of the individual to insure himself against any contingency. I stress that point very definitely. It is quite apparent to me that the Government has taken the line that the effect of the deterrent must be maintained at any cost. As I said at the outset, this is the crux of this whole sorry mess. We have seen nothing but a succession of wrongs which do not make a right. If there is to bc a deterrent, I believe that it must be effective against the patient - not the doctor - without transcending the patient’s right to insure, or the rights of the individual.
To my mind, there already exists in the National Health Act an in-built deterrent in the medical benefit. A patient cannot present a prescription without a doctor’s authority, and his visit to the doctor in order to get that authority requires the payment of a fee. In Victoria at present the average fee for a visit is £1 ls. The Government pays the patient 13s. 6d. as part reimbursement. That is claimable. Thus the patient has to find the difference between that benefit and the fee, namely 7s. 6d. I submit that that is an in-built deterrent. But, strangely enough, under this legislation the Commonwealth benefit payable in Victoria will be increased from 13s. 6d. to
J 5s. 6d., thus lessening from 7s. 6d. to 5s. 6d. the deterrent that already exists. That does not appear to be in character with the Government’s policy of maintaining a deterrent, which it has endeavoured to do by maintaining this charge of 5s. a prescription. The action of the United Kingdom Government was aimed at preventing overprescribing by a nationalized medical profession. Of course, this is not the case in Australia where, as the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) said, the standard of the medical profession is high and is kept high under a private-enterprise administration.
In my opinion, if the cost of pharmaceutical benefits is to be kept within reasonable limits any deterrent must be aimed at the patient. What we need to achieve, I agree, is some form of deterrent against people who abuse these benefits but, at the same time, we must maintain the right of the individual to insure against his proportion of the cost. This can be done quite easily by using the same methods as we now use in respect of medical benefits. Every operation,- every specific service for which the medical benefits are to be increased by this amending bil] has been catalogued and scheduled, despite the fact that there is a great complexity of services and a great multitude of items. Why cannot pharmaceutical benefits be treated similarly? Most of the drugs and medicines in use to-day are manufactured by the drug houses. There are already in general use schedules which itemize all these drugs and prescriptions, giving relevant particulars as to restrictions, maximum quantities, the number of repeats allowed, the price to be charged and the name of the manufacturer. All that is necessary additionally is to state the Commonwealth benefit which will be paid in respect of each prescription. It does not seem unreasonably difficult to add that information, as is done in the case of medical benefits. If this were done, the present troubles would disappear. There would be no need to make the 5s. deterrent charge. Every one would be on an equal basis. In addition, the individual would have the right to insure for his pharmaceutical benefits just as he does for his hospital and medical benefits. Further, there would be no unfair trading as between guild chemists and dispensaries. No one would be privileged above his neighbour.
In his second-reading speech the Minister, referring to medical benefits, said -
It vindicates the view we have always held that a voluntary insurance scheme based on self-help is the most appropriate to Austraiian needs and way of life.
I ask again: Why is not this principle extended to include pharmaceutical benefits? Later in the same speech the Minister said -
We believe in the people’s freedom of choice to select their own doctors and the doctors’ freedom to charge the fees that they consider appropriate for their patients.
Under the scheme I have propounded we leave the individual free to select the venue for having his prescription dispensed. If he prefers his medicine in a cut-glass bottle tied with a blue ribbon, let him’ go to the chemist who sells his medicine in those bottles and let him pay the additional cost. The Commonwealth contribution will be laid down in the schedule and will remain constant. As the Minister said later, when dealing with medical benefits -
It is absolutely essential to the financial soundness of a medical insurance scheme that a specific amount of benefit is pre-determined for each particular service.
This is what I suggest should be done in the case of pharmaceutical benefits. If this were’ done, every individual would have a complete package deal in the field of national health. He would have his hospital benefit, his medical benefit and his pharmaceutical benefit. The point I want to make is that he also would have the ability to insure himself to cover a proportion of the pharmaceutical benefit in the same way as he now insures himself to cover a proportion of the hospital and medical benefits. Without going into exact figures, it costs now about 7s. 6d. a week for a person to cover himself for hospital and medical benefits. An additional couple of shillings a week, making a total cost of, say, 10s. a week, would give him the additional cover while still leaving him to bear a proportion of the cost. To my mind this is the deterrent. First of all, there is the difference in the doctor’s fee that he has to pay - 5s. 6d. in the case of Victoria - and then this proportion of the cost of the prescription. Surely this is a sufficient deterrent to over-prescribing at the behest of patients who wish to abuse their privileges.
I should like the Government to have a good look at the suggestion I have made, because I feel that all the trouble that we have experienced with the 5s. dispensing fee, and the claims and counter-claims by the guild chemists and the friendly societies and dispensaries about unfair trading, would disappear if we placed pharmaceutical benefits in the same category as medical benefits and set out a constant Commonwealth contribution. Every patient then would be free to go to the chemist or dispensary of his choice as well as to the doctor of his choice. He would be able to insure himself, which is his right, against the burden of too great a demand on his pocket for these services while still leaving two inbuilt deterrent charges against soaring costs involved in the provision by the Government of these benefits. Such a scheme would accord with the principles which the Minister expressed in his second-reading speech and which, I am quite certain, do not now extend to pharmaceutical benefits.
The Opposition’s proposed amendment is negative, nebulous and non-democratic and simply pursues the prosecution of their socialist philosophy, with which I am not in accord. Even when this bill has been passed - it must not be killed because of its good features in relation to medical benefits - I hope that the Minister will have a really good look at this subject of the deterrent charge and remove the canker from the legislation. The Opposition may be excused for proposing an amendment, because I am sure that it feels, as I do, that the legislation should contain something, such as T have tried to set out, which will remove the difficulties and troubles now inherent in it.
With the reservations that I have mentioned and in the hope that the Minister will consider this aspect, I support the bill. I cannot have a bar of the proposed amendment.
.- I think the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) is to be commended for his criticism of the legislation before the chamber. Here we see another instance of a member of one of the Government parties coming into the House and criticizing a piece of the Government’s legislation, but doing nothing further about the matter. The honorable member concluded his speech by saying that despite all the shortcomings of the bill he intended to support it. He said, “1 hope the Minister will take note of my criticism and do something about it.” How silly can you get? He knows as well as every other member of this House that the Minister will do nothing whatever to alter this scheme because it was introduced primarily as a meal ticket for members of the medical profession by ensuring payment of their accounts. Everything that has happened in relation to this scheme has clearly been for the purpose of taking care of and assisting the members of the medical profession. Yet the honorable member gets up in this House and utters mealy-mouthed statements about hoping that the Minister will do something about his criticism. We all know that the Minister is merely the mouthpiece of the Government which originated this system, and it annoys me and gets my back up when I have to sit and listen to the kind of speech we have heard from the honorable member for Maribyrnong.
The Opposition has proposed an amendment. It was moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) on 7th May, and as the debate was adjourned on that day and has only now been resumed I think I should read the amendment, lt is as follows: -
That all words after “ That “ be omitted wilh a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ this House is of the opinion that the bill fails to meet the urgent needs of the people of Australia as it does not provide for n full national health plan embracing adequate medical and hospital services available to all and, particularly, does not (a) extend medical services to all persons, (b) ensure free hospitalization in public wards, (c) abolish the 5s. prescription fee, and (d) end the exploitation of the Australian people by drug manufacturers “.
I propose to deal with some of the matters mentioned in the amendment, and to show that the Government’s health scheme has completely fallen down, and that it is now certainly not - if, indeed, it ever was intended to be when introduced by the late Sir Earle Page - a scheme working in the interests of the people. I can assure the House that the people as a whole accept this scheme under pressure, or under duress - call it what you like. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) told us in his second-reading speech that the number of persons covered by the scheme had increased from 1,425,000 to 7,686,000. He went on to say: -
I give these figures because they represent proof of the strong public support for the voluntary insurance scheme which this Government initiated and has fostered. This public support is a matter of very great satisfaction to the Government. It vindicates the view we have always held that a voluntary insurance scheme based on self-help is the most appropriate to Australian needs and way of life.
These airy-fairy statements are ail very well, but I suggest that the Minister should substantiate them with concrete proof. I have been closely connected with many people in the community for a long time. I was a member of a trade union for many years, and I can say that the trade unionist, the man in industry, does not support this scheme. He wants nothing whatever -to do with it, and the only reason he joins one or other of the various funds is that he cannot afford not to. Why not introduce a real health scheme under which the people will be given adequate benefits by the various funds? The average man in the street was reluctant to join these funds when they were first established. He was hoping for something better.
– It is all very well for you to interject; you are here to look after the Australian Medical Association. The average man in industry has no more time for this scheme now than he did when it was originally introduced. He joined one or other of the funds because he had no alternative. If he does not join he is not entitled to receive the Commonwealth benefit. He must belong to one of these funds in order to attract that benefit. Why is the average citizen, the average taxpayer, not entitled to receive at least the Government’s contribution without joining a fund? I challenge the Government to alter the scheme so that a person can receive the Commonwealth benefit without joining a fund. Then we will see how many subscribers the funds will have. At the present time a man must join a fund in order to obtain what he is entitled to as a taxpayer and thus he pays, in effect, further taxation. I believe this scheme was introduced to assist the medical profession and at the same time to institute a form of indirect taxation.
I believe that if this Government wants to finance this scheme through taxation, the contributions should be on the basis of ability to pay. Let us have a look at some figures. The average man pays about 10s. a week to belong to both a hospital fund and a medical fund. Why not introduce a provision for a contribution of, say, ls. 6d. in the fi of income? Take the case of a person earning £10,000 a year who pays 10s. a week for membership of one or another of these funds. His contribution represents .26 per cent, of his income for a full year. But the man earning £1,000 a year, paying the same contributions, is required to pay out 2.6 per cent, of his total income.
There are many anomalies associated with this scheme. One of its weaknesses from the inception has been the requirement that all pay the same contributions. This should be abandoned and a sliding scale introduced so thai the person receiving a large income will contribute more than the man on the lower income. Here we come to another reason for the abandonment of the free hospitalization scheme that was in existence in the days of the Chifley Government and the introduction of this scheme under which every person contributes equally. This change represented another kind of indirect tax concession for the wealthy.
I want to remind the House of the excessive administration costs involved in administering these funds. I asked a question about this matter some time ago and was interested to learn that in Australia to-day we have 188 funds. There are 100 hospital funds and 78 medical funds. Since the scheme was introduced in 1953 the administration costs of these funds, excluding the cost for the current year, have amounted to about £15,000,000. In this period the funds have accumulated huge reserves. The surpluses of these funds at 30th June, 1962 stood at £14,865,000 - not a bad accumulation. To whom does that belong? It belongs to the man in the street who not only pays his ordinary taxation but also has to pay this other form of taxation which the Government has introduced. Over the last tcn years the surpluses plus the administrative costs of medical benefit organizations have reached almost £30,000,000. It is time that the Government really looked at the question and introduced a proper national health scheme which will eliminate the present excessive administrative costs.
Why has the Government not introduced some method of subsidizing dental expenses? No honorable member in the chamber this evening can deny that the family man is asked to bear a huge cost in looking after his children’s teeth, his own and his wife’s teeth, or in obtaining dentures. The cost of extractions and fillings has increased greatly. At one time a person could visit a dentist who might look at the teeth, say that they were all right and tell the patient to return in six months. For a visit such as that the charge is now 25s. This is one of the methods used by the dental profession to increase fees. Because the cost of fillings has increased exorbitantly . over the years many families to-day cannot afford to visit a dentist. One honorable member opposite, a medico, was boasting about the price that he received for his practice. Even he would agree with one following the humble profession of boiler-maker, such as I, that many illnesses are caused or aggravated by bad teeth which have not been looked after.
It is the responsibility of this Government to do something about introducing not merely an extension of the existing scheme but a new scheme which will provide free dental treatment for all. I believe that the people are entitled to that. They will pay for such a scheme through taxation. It is not sufficient merely to extend the scheme which was brought into existence by Sir Earle Page in 1953 and continued by the Government under the control of various Ministers for Health. I suggest to the Minister that some consideration be given to introducing a dental scheme which will bring about an improvement in people’s teeth, without worrying about fluoridation and that type of thing. If a decent system of dental care is introduced many problems will be overcome.
The hospital benefits scheme has many anomalies. I have referred to this matter on a number of occasions in this place, and have asked many questions on the subject. I ask the Minister now whether he realizes that a person who has a chronic complaint and is continually in hospital receives a medical benefit of only £12 12s. a week. Unfortunately, many people are in that category. Once an illness has been diagnosed or classified as chronic, irrespective of the fund to which the patient belongs or the table under which he contributes, he receives only £12 12s. a week refund of his hospital costs, made up of the Government contribution of £1 a day, which is £7 a week, plus the fund benefit of 16s. a day, which is £5 12s. a week. Yet the average charge in a public ward of a hospital to-day is £21 a week. Although the patient has an out-going to the hospital of £21 a week he receives only £12 12s. from the fund and the Government. That leaves the unfortunate person who has a chronic complaint to find an extra £8 8s. a week.
The existing hospital benefits scheme was designed only for people who are in good health and perhaps break a leg, catch a cold or have appendicitis; it was not introduced to help people who are really ill. Right through the scheme you find that the person who has a recurring complaint and who has to. go to see the doctor on more than one occasion is given the least consideration, yet he is the person who really needs assistance from a health scheme. It is only the person who enters hospital with appendicitis or some other minor complaint who receives full benefit from the Government’s health scheme. The person who is in hospital for three or four weeks, is outfor a short time and goes back again is not so fortunate.
A case was recently brought to my attention by a man whose wife was in and out of hospital. He unfortunately also became a hospital patient, so that they were in the position where he had no income, having been taken off the pay-roll while he was in hospital. His wife was also in hospital at the time. He was required to find an extra £8 8s. a week from somewhere to meet his wife’s hospital expenses. She was not in receipt of a pension, but was the dependant of a working man. I ask the Minister to consider cases such as that and to try to overcome the problem that they present. Why does the Government not do the decent thing by introducing a real health scheme which will enable the patients with chronic complaints to receive full benefit? A person who is continually sick or in hospital surely needs greater assistance than the person who is sick only occasionally - perhaps only once in ten years. It is in this field that the Government can really assist the people who are ill and in need of assistance. I ask the Minister to take up this matter and to ask the Minister for
Health (Senator Wade) to give consideration to having the total hospital fee paid by the fund and the Commonwealth, instead of only about two-thirds.
In 1953 Sir Earle Page said that the object of the scheme was to meet 90 per cent, of the cost of doctors’ fees and hospitalization. I believe that when he introduced the scheme it was his intention, and the Government’s intention, to provide 90 per cent, of the cost, but what is the position to-day? In 1964 the Minister for Health used the words “not to exceed 90 per cent, of the fees charged “. A patient who visits the surgery and pays a fee of £1 receives 18s. benefit, which represents 90 per cent, of the cost. If the patient is unfortunate enough to require the doctor to call on him, and is charged 32s. 6d. for the visit, the benefit that he receives represe its only 55 per cent, of the total cost. I believe that this scheme has got completely out of balance. Certainly the position was improved for the chronically ill some six or seven months ago when the Government, as part of its election campaign, took some action. That improvement is not enough; the scheme still falls far short of what is required of a hospital benefit scheme or medical benefit scheme.
I suggest that variations in doctors’ fees should be met by the introduction of a sliding scale of benefits. Why should the Minister say a person who struggles along to the surgery will pay only £1, and will receive a rebate of 18s., which is 90 per cent, of the cost, but the person who is too sick to visit the surgery and who needs the doctor to call on him will pay 32s. 6d. and still receive only 18s., which represents only 55 per cent, of the cost. As I said earlier, this scheme takes care only of people who are otherwise fit but occasionally catch a cold or break a toe. It provides only for casual hospital or medical treatment. No real effort has been made by the Government to introduce a decent national health scheme which would provide free public ward hospitalization, free optical services, free dental treatment, free pharmaceutical services, free hearing aids and so on for the people. Because of this, one meets with hardship cases such as the one that 1 propose to mention. It concerns a man who was treated in hospital for a bad heart.
His bill for hospital treatment was £189 6s. I am sure that the Minister will agree that a nian whose hospital bill amounts to that sum could hardly have been in the best of health. I made representations to the Minister on this man’s behalf, pointing out to him that, according to the act, electrocardiograms are not subject to fund benefits if they are carried out in a hospital. This man was incapable of being moved from the hospital. His doctor said that if he were taken from the hospital by ambulance to a private practitioner for an electrocardiogram it would kill him. Therefore, two electro-cardiograms had to be taken at the hospital, and the patient was charged £4 4s. for each. So, £8 8s. was added to his bill and he received no fund benefit in respect of that charge. If he had attended a doctor’s surgery he would have received the benefit provided for under the act. I know there is some technical difference between having this work done at the hospital and having it done at a private practitioner’s surgery. I understand that the person rendering the service at the hospital is classed as. a technician while the private practitioner is, of course, a doctor. But the whole point is that this man was charged £8 8s. and could not receive any fund benefit. That is only one of the anomalies that arise under the present scheme.
Other anomalies arise in connexion with pharmaceutical benefits. For instance sometimes when a drug on the free list is heavily prescribed it is removed from the free-list in that form but included in some other form which is not so convenient for the patient to take. In January of this year I wrote to the Minister in connexion with a particular drug which is used by people suffering from asthma. It assists these unfortunate sufferers greatly, but, last December, the Government removed it from the free list. Thereafter, these unfortunate sufferers were required to ask their doctor to prescribe a mixture containing this drug, and the quantity of the drug provided in the mixture was only one-third of that supplied when it was provided in tablet form. This method of supply also caused the sufferers a great deal of inconvenience. As honorable members know, asthma is no respecter of persons or of time. An attack is likely to occur at any time. When the drug was supplied in capsule form, it was convenient to carry in one’s pocket and, if an attack came on unexpectedly, the sufferer could get some relief immediately. As I have said, because so many people were using these capsules, or for some reason best known to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, the drug was removed from the free list in this form. Sufferers can still buy the drug in capsule form if they want it, but the cost is 49s. for 100 capsules and an asthma sufferer will use anything from four to five of these capsules in a day.
– And a lot of them are old people, too.
– Yes, in the main, asthmatics are people who are getting on in years, although some young people do suffer. I have a long letter here from a doctor friend of mine to whom I’ had shown the Minister’s reply to my representations. My doctor friend analysed each of the paragraphs in the Minister’s letter, and this is what he > said in one of the concluding passages of his analysis -
Off the record, I understand that the ‘ real reason for the move was to force the Amesec people (Lilly’s) to reduce their prices, not for the high-sounding reasons mentioned in the Minister’s letter.
Time and time again in this House, the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) has drawn the Minister’s attention to the exploitation that is taking place through the prices charged for drugs to-day. Here we have an instance in which people are not only being inconvenienced but the Government is being required to pay three times as much in Commonwealth medical benefits because, in the form in which this drug is supplied now, the patient gets only one-third of the amount he received when it was supplied in capsule form. In addition, patients are further inconvenienced by having to carry bottles of mixture around with them instead of packets of tablets. The whole thing is stupid and ridiculous. These sufferers are put to this serious inconvenience merely to suit this Government’s plans. Instead of stepping in and doing something to force the pharmaceutical companies to reduce the prices of their drugs, the Government adopts this method under which the poor sufferer has to foot the bill.
As I said earlier, the whole scheme is designed only for the benefit of people who are in good health. It is not designed to assist people who are in bad health. I. feel that it is time that the Government did something concrete about introducing a real national health scheme. I suggest that it should convene a conference between representatives of the medical profession, hospitals, the dental profession, or indeed of all interests connected with health with a view to arriving at some scheme which will do something really worth while to improve the health of the people of this country. We should not continue with the present haphazard system. The Minister says, in effect, “ We propose to increase the Commonwealth benefit for medical services, but at the moment we do not know what the doctors will do; we do not know whether they will maintain their fees at the present levels. We do not want to introduce any scheme under which we would tell the doctors how they are going to charge.” But the Government is quick to tell the trade union movement how much the workers should be paid. It has- no hesitation about telling the Arbitration Commission, as it did in 1960, that it is completely opposed to any increase in the basic wage. Nor does the Government hesitate to oppose an increase in margins for the workers. It will not go to the commission and say that, because of the increased productivity of the country, wages should be increased. It will not support the present application for an increase in the basic wage, nor will it do anything about margins for tradesmen.
The Government’s policy is to keep both the basic wage and the margins at the lowest possible levels, but, when it comes to doctors, it says “ We must not interfere with the medical profession “. That is why I believe it is time that a really worth-while national health scheme which the whole of the people could support was introduced. I have already shown that the administrative costs of these medical benefit funds have amounted to £15,000,000 in ten years and that surpluses amounting to another £15,000,000 have been accumulated. Under a proper health scheme this misuse of money would not occur. I repeat that if is my firm belief that the only way we can hope to get a decent health scheme is to have a conference of all parties interested in health. The scheme should be financed by the taxpayers according to their ability to pay. In other words, I advocate the abolition of medical benefit funds and the introduction of a system of taxation under which every one contributes according to his ability to pay.
.- The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) has given us still another example of the shallow thinking of the Labour Party. He asks for a conference of all sorts of interested bodies, and he makes this request after having gone to great lengths to tell us that if the Labour Party were the government it would not hold any such conference, but would lay down what the druggists would do, what the doctors would do, what the ethical pharmacists would do and so on. In other words, he told us that the. Labour Party would put these people in chains in seeking to achieve its socialistic goal which would only run this country into the ground in the same way as the socialistic health scheme in the United Kingdom is running that country into the ground. The Labour Party would put a millstone around the necks of the people that they would never be able to carry. Instead of a scheme to which people contributed voluntarily, we would have a compulsory scheme, if Labour were in office. He said that it was his experience that members of the trade union movement belong to the scheme not because they want to but because they cannot afford not to join it. Either they have a voluntary scheme, such as the one we are able to give them, through which they can choose the tables that suit them, or they must put up with on enormous increase in taxation implicit in all the suggestions made by honorable members opposite.
I wish to contribute some of my own thoughts to the discussion on the legislation before us. It is mainly concerned with two alterations to the scheme. I am sure that every one will welcome as very beneficial the Government’s declared intention to continue to lessen the gap between doctors’ charges and the amounts for which contributors to medical benefit funds are able to insure themselves. The Government is merely following through its original intention to make it easier for people to pay their doctors’ bills. It is lessening the force of the deterrent that might act to prevent some people from attending their doctors when they should.
The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz) has expressed great satisfaction with the public support given to the voluntary scheme of insurance which covers about 7,686,000 persons. Several members of the Opposition during this debate have cited that figure and have said that all the other people in Australia are debarred. This is incorrect. Many people do not insure themselves because they are covered by the pensioner medical service, by repatriation benefits and other forms of government assistance. There are also some people who prefer to carry their own risks because the medical expenses incurred may be deducted on their income tax. returns. It suits them just as well to do it that way as to insure through the funds.
The Minister said mat the scheme combines an assurance of every citizen’s freedom to choose his own doctor with effective protection against -financial hardship when illness occurs. I am sure that we all agree, and I certainly commend the change that is to be made. But how are we to reconcile this principle with what is being done by a second change which affects pharmaceutical benefits? Here the reverse procedure is adopted and an attempt is being made to increase the. deterrent to people insuring against financial hardship when illness occurs. Those are the Minister’s own words. Perhaps he would argue that the 5s. charged for each prescription does not warrant the use of such a term as financial hardship. I would agree with him. In to-day’s affluent society nobody can reasonably regard the 5s. charge as a deterrent, but it does carry out to a minor degree the principle applied to the payment of both hospital and medical benefits; that is, that patients should themselves make some contribution towards the total cost of the services provided.
In order to see the picture of what is being done it is necessary to ask what the proposed amendment is intended to achieve. The only answer I can offer is that the Government is determined that there shall be no getting around the so-called deterrent charge. Everybody must pay the first 5s. of the cost of drugs and medicines listed in the pharmaceutical benefits schedule. If that were the effect of the amendment I would have no quarrel with it. But that is not its effect. It means that some people will pay and some people will not pay. The nonpaying class may continue to enjoy that privilege for up to 40 or 50 years.
I believe that every member of this House and every member of the public would happily agree that, provided everybody had to conform to the same regulations and to participate on an equal footing, with all having the option to enjoy the same privileges, the Government would have introduced a scheme which to everybody seemed fair and equitable. I see only one way in which the Government’s declared intention can be properly carried out and that is that every prescription made out under the national health service should receive the same treatment. This is important. Every recipient should have complete freedom of choice. He should be able to choose which shop he will visit to obtain his prescription. Everybody should pay his contribution of 5s. a prescription across the counter on receipt of the medicine which the Government is in effect providing. Everybody should pay the same amount for his medicine whether it is provided at a friendly society dispensary or at a chemist’s shop. In that respect things would be equal. But instead of that, the Government is bending over backwards to perpetuate what I believe was a mistake made four years ago when it created a privileged class by exempting friendly society dispensaries from the necessity to charge 5s. for each prescription although it was compulsory for other members of the community. I was convinced at the time that it was a mistake and since then the story of the conflict between the friendly society dispensaries and the pharmaceutical guild has proved that I was right. The Minister responsible at the time was warned of what would happen. He accepted an assurance, which also was given to me at that time by the dispensaries, that the abuses we feared would not occur.
It may be that what has been done since has been done within the bounds of what I might call legal fiction. The spirit of the legislation has been broken flagrantly and blatantly. In some cases advantages and privileges have been withdrawn. I doubt whether there are dispensaries which have not offended in some way. In South Aus tralia they have gone to unpardonable lengths to exploit the advantages gained through the legislation. The justification for exempting friendly society dispensaries stated at the time was that they already included the 5s. in their charges. Let us examine this proposition. Years before the Governnent attempted to enter the field of health benefits friendly societies had existed. We all know the story. They were brought into being for the express purpose of helping poorer people to provide themselves with treatment and medicines for sickness and a variety of other contingencies. Dispensaries were set up which handled a common list of medicines, and also some outside the list which were available at a small cost. Members of friendly societies were covered for sickness and unemployment, and also for funeral, expenses. Lodges were provided in which to hold social meetings for the benefit of members. Gradually the lodges have lost their significance. Most members joining medical benefit funds to-day do so in accordance with the tables laid down by the Government for hospital and medical benefits.
The president of the friendly societies association in Victoria has estimated that two of every ten are initiated members. This morning I rang and obtained figures which show that over the whole of Australia about 400,000 persons are registered members of sickness and funeral funds of friendly societies, but in round figures there are about 600,000 persons who pay contributions to either a medical or hospital fund1. One of the great difficulties in getting a picture of this matter is the overlapping that occurs in many instances. Sickness and funeral benefits are provided by 83 friendly societies, but medical benefits are provided by only 47 and hospital benefits by only 44.
There is unfortunately difficulty in trying to explain the difference between a friendly society that is providing its members with the benefits originally intended to be provided by friendly societies and the sort of society that conducts hospital and medical benefit funds. The intrusion of the Govern, ment into this field has meant that, instead of these contractual arrangements, a fee is paid for service by doctors and a new basis has been adopted for hospital treatment. These new arrangements have put the friendly societies out of court by contrast with some of the Blue Cross Association organizations that have flourished so much. The friendly societies, accepting these contributions, which are laid down in identical tables approved by the Minister for Health - not necessarily by an actuary, although, to ensure compliance with State laws, an actuary collaborates in Victoria - are not required to charge any capitation fee. The capitation fee originally laid down was the amount necessary to recoup a society for the expenditure of the previous year. The original procedure was entirely different from the present one. The friendly societies find that they do npt need to apply these capitation fees over the whole range of the drugs supplied to-day under the Government’s scheme. In fact, persons who contribute only to the hospital and medical benefit funds and do not actually become subject to any capitation fee cannot be regarded as genuine members of friendly societies.
It has been said that one must belong to a friendly society to become a member of a dispensary. 1 went to the trouble of proving this to be wrong. We have been telling the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) for some time that there are abuses in the present arrangements and that people can join dispensaries without belonging to friendly societies and enjoy all the benefits available to members of dispensaries. I have joined a united friendly society dispensary. My receipt for a fee was marked with the words “ Dispensary Fee “. But I was not required to join any friendly society in order to avail myself of the service. I just walked in off the street and joined the dispensary. For some time wc have been telling the Minister that this sort of thing is happening, but he will not take any notice of us.
Dispensaries no longer serve friendly society members in the accepted sense of the term. This situation came about very simply. Before the introduction of the national health scheme, the dispensaries supplied common medicines. When they found that the Government would provide drugs, they realized that there was a lot of profit to be made. So they provided some services outside the scope of the Government’s free list. But their capitation fees were meant to cover only those items outside the free list. When the charge of 5s. was introduced because we were greatly extending the range of drugs, the same sort of thing happened: The quarterly contributions were not increased to cover the extra cost. Those contributions are still meant to cover only the items outside the range of the Government’s scheme. One can easily show that the average cost of a national health scheme prescription is 19s. 4d. or something close to 20s. This figure includes a profit mark-up of one-third and a dispensing fee of 3s. 6d. The dispensaries need not worry about the charge of 5s. when profits of that order are provided by the Government instead of the charge being met by a capitation fee.
The mistake made at the time was that the story of the dispensaries was accepted and that exemption from the charge of 5s. was allowed to this privileged class. The degree to which it has become privileged through the exploitation of others is clearly shown by the current advertising of the National Health Services Association of South Australia. That organization offers to “dispense your doctor’s prescriptions at privileged prices for no more than one-third retail cost or ls. per’ prescription “. The advertisements qualify this statement with the words, “ according to the drugs prescribed “, which, I believe, are most misleading. This is the sort of legalized distortion that we have; come to expect in advertising to-day. Advertisements do not give One the real picture. The charge is not made according to the drugs prescribed. The charge is made according to whether a prescription is paid for by the Government out of the taxpayers’ money. This is where the really insidious nature of the present practice is exposed and this is why friendly society dispensaries in South Australia handle 15 per cent, of prescriptions in that State compared with an average of only 4 per cent, in the rest of Australia.
The 1959 amending measure inserted in the principal act provision for the drastic penalty of loss of approval for any one who, by advertisement or other means, offered an inducement to attract to any particular shop business that is heavily subsidised by the Government. Because the spirit of the legislation has been so openly flouted, prescriptions handled by dispensaries in South Australia have increased by more than 250 per cent., whereas those handled by chemists have increased by only 80 per cent, over the same period and presumably over the same cross-section of the population. In my speech at the second-reading stage of the National Health Bill 1959, I said -
It is important that if one approved permit holder cannot offer an inducement in order to attract business no other approved permit holder should be allowed to offer such an inducement.
Unfortunately, no notice was taken of this and similar warnings.
There my case for the payment of the 5s. charge on all prescriptions under the national health scheme rests. Every member of the community should have to pay either the 5s. or nothing when he presents a prescription for dispensing under the scheme, and he should have free choice of the shop to which he will go for the service. If free enterprise is to mean anything in government planning, every one participating in a government benefit should participate on equal terms. We have no right to favour one privileged class by deliberately creating unequal terms of trading.
Now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in case any one - particularly my friendly society friends who are present to-day - should think that I am opposed to friendly societies, let me hasten to say that I am not. I merely think that they should never have been exempted from the 5s. charge, and I do not like their advertising methods. I believe that they have done a splendid job in the past, and I know perfectly well that they can still do an excellent job in the future by making this Government’s fine health service available to all people on equal terms. The condition that will be imposed on them by the present bill will be harsh and unreasonable. What is more, I do not think it will work. As from 24th April, all new members enrolling with friendly societies will be denied rights that are to be reserved for existing members. Families are to be divided. Father and son are to be segregated into different classes. When a son becomes old enough to have to join a friendly society dispensary on his own account, he will receive benefit at rates different from those that he received while he was recognized as his father’s dependant. Indeed, he will receive benefits that are different in some respects. His father, however, will carry on as before.
In my electorate, we have the Yallourn medical services which have just on 6,000 members. That is about 98 per cent, of the entire population of the area and almost all of them work for the State Electricity Commission of Victoria. From now on, the girls who work on the counters of the three or four dispensaries in the area must distinguish between new and old members. This is a community where everybody knows everybody, but this does not mean that the girls will be able to remember who were members before 24th April and who became members after that date. The dispensers, who do not even see the customers and have only the prescriptions before them, must distinguish between prescriptions that have been handed in at the same time and perhaps prescribe identical medicines.
Surely the correct procedure for producing the Government’s objective of having the beneficiaries of its national health scheme make some contribution to the cost would have been to require every one to pay the 5s. If dispensaries and other medical benefit funds want to offer insurance to people so that they can cover themselves, such as has been done by our own Latrobe Valley Hospitals and Health Services Association, they should be allowed to do so only for medicines outside the Government’s scheme. They could perhaps make provision for some of the ancillary benefits that are not in the present scheme. Why should people not be allowed to insure themselves against the 5s. charge if they want to do so, provided that they pay the money when obtaining the medicine as a mild form of curb on extravagant dispensing by doctors? Of course, a person cannot get a prescription unless he goes to the doctor and pays the doctor’s fee, which is about 21s. or 25s. What is wrong with people paying some specific amount in advance to cover the contingency of the 5s.? How can any government deny the people the right to insure themselves against any contingency? If people pay in advance - no fund can operate unless it collects more than it pays - surely they have provided their own deterrent. Such an insurance scheme would have to be properly conducted by a friendly society, which can provide a very good service, or some of the present hospital and medical benefit funds could add this scheme to their list of benefits.
I believe that the proposal to freeze the membership of friendly societies is completely unsatisfactory and unfair to them. They accepted this proposal only after much argument. They accepted it only under duress. It is obviously unfair to the chemists, and they are reported to have accepted the proposal also under duress. 1 cannot for the life of me see how this will be satisfactory to the Government, because the administration difficulties, which I have not time to deal with now, will be just about insurmountable and will make a laughing stock of the Government. The proposal certainly will not be acceptable to the public. I am sure that the new conditions will be found to be quite unsatisfactory all round.
Even at this very late stage I urge the Minister to withdraw the discriminatory legislation. He could retain the medical schedule, which obviously is of great benefit to the people, but I believe that the discriminatory part of the bill, which applies to the pharmaceutical benefits, should be withdrawn. As a temporary measure I suggest that every person presenting a prescription under the national health scheme for dispensing should pay 5s. towards the cost. The average cost is 20s. So the 5s. is roughly 25 per cent, of the cost. People should be allowed to insure against this cost, as they have been able to do in the past. As soon as his department can work out the details, the Minister should bring in an entirely new pharmaceutal benefits scheme, basically following the procedures found to be so satisfactory in the hospital and medical benefits scheme. I do not need to elaborate on this scheme. It is pretty well known and the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) has already mentioned it. I would like to remind the House that the late Sir Earle Page, when speaking on a bill that was introduced in 1959, said-
I believe that the method we adopted of pro viding hospital and medical benefits by voluntary insurance should be adopted in regard to medicine also.
I too have said that the present arrangement was imposed on the community by a socialistically minded department and that a great mistake was made in not adapting to pharmaceutical benefits the method used in respect of hospital and medical benefits. I have never been able to understand the inconsistency shown then and I certainly cannot understand the even greater inconsistency shown now by the discrimination in this bill.
I have presented a little criticism of the Government’s action in relation to pharmaceutical benefits. I have no doubt that Opposition members will try to make some play of this. They will use it in an effort to show that there is a split in the Government or something of that sort. But I would remind them that the Opposition has offered us an alternative scheme that would be complete chaos. I suppose we cannot blame them, because they must attack the Government, but they have shown how little thought they have for the people. Their amendment would have the effect of removing every scrap of our national health service. The whole scheme would be withdrawn but they do not offer anything in its place. I would not be at all surprised if they asked me to vote with them later. The Opposition adopts a shallow attitude towards this whole scheme. The honorable member for Newcastle referred to the procedures of the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission. He said that the Government interferes in matters before the commission and dictates what members of trade unions will do. He applied this thinking to the bill now before us. He should remember that the only people who want to dictate to the medical profession and the pharmaceutical profession are members of the Opposition. I simply could not support the Opposition’s proposals.
.- I am sure we will all eagerly await the committee stage to see how sincere the honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan) is when he strongly criticizes the provisions of the bill relating to pharmaceutical benefits. For his benefit, I say now that the Opposition intends to move an amendment to the provision that debars friendly societies from dispensing prescriptions under the national health scheme at concessional rates and debars other organizations from granting a rebate of the 5s. charge for prescriptions. As a matter of fact, the honorable member mentioned one of the alternatives - a satisfactory alternative, I take it - to the
Government’s proposal and that is either to charge everybody the 5s., and we do not agree that this should be done, or abandon the 5s. charge for everybody, and this is Labour’s policy.
Many criticisms could be made of the bill. Many criticisms could be made of the national health scheme generally. In my opinion, the matter raised by the honorable member for McMillan is insignificant when it is compared with some of the major criticisms that can be made of the national health scheme. 1 have three main criticisms. The first is that the scheme is doctor dominated; the second is that the scheme does not offer a comprehensive cover; and the third is that it is incomprehensible. In saying that the scheme is doctor dominated I do not imply any lack of respect for the medical profession. I have the highest respect for doctors, but in any objective judgment of this bill and the national health scheme we must agree that the medical profession is a very privileged group. All consultations by the Government have been with the Australian Medical Association. There has never been any reference in any of the discussions to what might be called the representatives of the patients. The doctors dominate the medical benefits organizations. They have available to them prestige facilities through chemists for recruitment of members to the organizations. The thousands of persons who are compelled - I stress the word “ compelled “ - to belong to these organizations have no control over their policy or administration. These people are compelled to belong to these private fund organizations in order to receive some of the benefits that arise out of the taxes they arc forced to pay.
The fund organizations have their own rules, which are compiled without any reference to the membership of the organizations. Lest there be any doubt of the arbitrary nature of some of these rules, let me cite two rules of one of the major fund organizations. Rule 18 of the organization states -
The fund shall have the absolute power lo terminate the right of any person to continue as a contributor, giving two calendar months notice in writing to such contributor and, in such event, any contributions paid in advance at the date of termination shall be refunded to such contributor.
That is a great concession! The fund may terminate a contributor’s membership whenever it wishes. Rule 20 of this particular fund states -
The fund shall have the absolute power to refuse payment in respect of any claim if the opinion of the Executive Committee-
It is a non-elected executive committee as far as the member is concerned - (after considering the advice of its Medical Referee) -
That is, the fund organization’s own medical referee- is that the claim is not properly payable under these Rules. Such decision of the Executive Committee us to the payment of the claim shall be final and conclusive.
That is a shocking situation. In order to receive some of the Commonwealth health benefits for which he has paid taxes a person must belong to one of these private organizations which may act in the arbitrary manner I have described. This is a scandalous state of affairs. I have indicated why the Labour Party continually objects to the way in which this Government’s national health scheme operates.
In the opinion of members of the Opposition the scheme has been conducted purely for the benefit of the medical profession to the exclusion of other persons who render professional service in the field of health and with substantial disregard for the people who need help in this direction, namely the patients. The national health scheme does not provide benefits for the important health services provided by other professional groups. Dentists, who must have academic qualifications equivalent to those possessed by doctors, are not included in the scheme. A survey of school children in New South Wales has revealed that 82 per cent, of them are in need of dental attention, but there is no provision for dental services in the national health scheme. Dental technicians operate under licence in some States, but they are not covered by the scheme. Optometrists, who render an important service in testing for eye refraction and the prescription of glasses, are not included in the national health scheme. There is no provision in the scheme for the services of physiotherapists. Many of these people who provide these other services undergo university training of a high calibre and are well able to dispense their services in a fully professional manner, but the national health scheme makes no provision for their services.
I have given some examples of the way in which the scheme favours doctors to the exclusion of other professionally qualified persons. In his second-reading speech the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz), who represents in this House the Minister for Health (Senator Wade), said that consultations had been held with the New South Wales branch of the Australian Medical Association; but at no stage has the Minister indicated that there has been any survey of what the public itself wants so far as a national health scheme is concerned. We are only the customers. We get what is handed out to us. This, then, is the voluntary scheme which the Government puts up to us. I said that the scheme was doctor dominated and was not sufficiently comprehensive in its coverage. The services of dentists, optometrists, ophthalmologists and physiotherapists are not covered by the national health scheme. Ambulance services and home nursing services are not covered. There is irony in the situation of people who need dental care. As long as their defects are located solely in their mouths they cannot receive any benefit under this scheme, but if the decay in their teeth becomes so great as to affect the general health of their bodies, the doctor can be invoked to provide treatment under the national health scheme.
The national health scheme covers only 71 per cent, of the people who belong to fund organizations. It is true that some people receive treatment under the pensioner medical scheme and the benefits provided under the Repatriation Act. But even allowing for the fact that 1,500,000 people are covered by the pensioner medical scheme and by repatriation benefits, there will still be between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 people who are not covered so far as health benefits are concerned. How can we claim that our national health scheme is comprehensive when it excludes 1,500,000 of our citizens? Who would comprise these people who do not belong to fund organizations and who are not covered by the pensioner medical scheme or repatriation benefits? First, there are the people who unfortunately have a prolonged sickness and who, because of their low income, have been unable to maintain their contributions to funds. There are the people who from time to time are unemployed; and all honorable members are aware of the high incidence of unemployment in the recent past. How can a person in receipt of the unemployment benefit be expected to pay 4s. or 5s. a week to provide medical insurance for his family under the national health scheme? Then there are the migrants who come here from countries, such as Britain, where they have been accustomed to having health services provided out of taxation revenue. They are not familiar with our scheme. It takes some time before they become acquainted with the requirements of our health scheme. Often many of those people fall sick and they find that they have no cover at all.
Although this bill makes some provision towards increasing Commonwealth contributions in respect of medical refunds, it does nothing about important hospital services. Many people who need hospitalization do not have adequate insurance coverage. The sicker a person is the greater is the reduction in his hospital benefit. People who are so sick that they must be in hospital for more than 84 days in any one year find that after their 84th day in hospital the amount of their benefit is limited to £12 12s. a week. They are then put on what is called special benefit, which is limited to 16s. a day from the fund and £1 from the Commonwealth. They have 36s. a day or £12 12s. a week with which to pay for their hospital treatment after they have been in hospital for 84 days. We should remember that hospital bills can run up to £30 and £40 a week in the various States. How far would £12 12s. a week go towards paying patients’ fees under those conditions?
Another group of people who are placed on this limited special benefit for hospital treatment are the chronically ill and people with pre-existing illnesses. The chronically ill, as the name suggests, are people who have some incurable disease. It may be an acute heart complaint which continues over a period of years; it may be an asthmatic condition or a rheumatoid condition. Hospital benefits payable to people with those conditions are rejected right from the outset - not only after 84 days in hospital - to £12 12s. a week. How can we call this a national health scheme, when it deprives people of so many professional services, other than doctors’ services, which should be available to them, when only 71 per cent, of the people are members of fund organizations, and when it fails to provide adequate coverage for the people who are most in need of help, namely chronically ill people and people who have to be in hospital for lengthy periods?
As I said, the whole scheme is incomprehensible. Even, the honorable member for McMillan, who is a member of the Government parties, spoke about the complexities of the pharmaceutical benefits provisions. Imagine the situation that will arise when people go to join a friendly society. From now on they will be debarred from receiving their national health scheme prescriptions for less than the 5s. charge. That will be the position of people who belong to other insurance organizations from which they used to receive a rebate on the 5s. charge. From now on all new members will not be allowed to receive those concessions. But all existing members will be able to receive them for the rest of their lives, and so will their dependants who have been born already and who are not yet born.
Imagine this situation: A young couple who were married recently have their last child in fifteen years’ time. When that child is born, as a dependant of an existing member of a friendly society, it will be eligible to continue to receive these concessions until it is sixteen years of age. In other words, such a dependent child will still be receiving concessions in 1995. But a person who has joined a friendly society after 24th April this year is debarred from receiving such concessions immediately and retrospectively under this bill.
Imagine the bureaucracy - the friendly society bureaucracy on the one hand and the Department of Health bureaucracy on the other - that will be required to police such a stupid and clumsy set-up as this, under which some people will continue to receive concessions until 1995, under which existing members will receive concessions for their rest of their lives, even if they live for another 50 or 60 years; but under which members who join after 24th April this year will not receive concessions at all. Imagine the task of policing that provision when members claim benefits. The whole scheme is quite incomprehensible. One would need to be a Philadelphia lawyer to understand the hotch-potch of confusion which constitutes this so-called national health scheme. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I ask for leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 5th May (vide page 1 534), on motion by Mr. Bury -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- If the Labour Party had produced during the election campaign a proposal such as the one now before us it would have been berated for offering an electoral bribe. If a Labour government had taken six months to produce the legislation to carry out the proposal it would have been accused of an electoral stunt. If the legislation so produced had so many qualifications and exceptions as this bill has, a Labour government would have been condemned for an electoral fraud. It is six months to-day since the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) produced the proposals embodied in this bill - or should I say, the basis of this bill? His policy speech devoted eight lines to the proposal. The bill has been expanded to 800 lines. Very little of that expansion took place during the election campaign. At that time the Minister for National Development (Senator Sir William Spooner) was in charge of housing. He said -
I am adopting a principle of refusing to answer questions in detail. I do not think you can produce a scheme in the middle of an election campaign for your opponents to take no notice of the good points and attack the points they think they can make capital of. it will be a good scheme when it comes out in detail.
So we learned nothing during last November about these proposals. After the election the Minister for National Development remained in control of housing. He said then that he expected the necessary legislation to be introduced in February, and added -
The basic work has already been done. We will fix the details well before the parliamentary sitting begins.
Five months later, and with a sigh of relief or resignation, the new Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) - the first Minister for Housing that the Commonwealth has had since this Government abolished the portfolio ten years ago - introduced this bill.
So embarrassed was the Government at the start, and so difficult was it to make sense of the policy decisions of last November, that the new Minister for Housing had to recruit members of the Liberal Party and employees of various financial institutions to assist him. No doubt the Minister recruited some staff from the Lend Lease Corporation Limited of which he was a director until his recent restoration to the Ministry. By doing so, the commercial considerations of such builders and developers as Lend Lease would be sure to hold sway in the new legislation. And so they do. Some concession is made to savings which have taken place until now or which are continued to the end of this calendar year. Thereafter the savings must be predominantly in the traditional, established and benevolent financial institutions.
But still there- are some details about the bill to be irone’d out. There has been some hurroosh over the week-end concerning the status of credit unions. The point is whether they can be registered after the end of this year as building societies and then attract the benefits of the legislation. Credit unions in the State which is their home - New South Wales - cannot be registered as building societies, and in some other States there is still no provision for registering building societies at all. Despite this six months’ cerebration, the Minister is still unable to say how much the Government’s proposal will cost and how many beneficiaries there will be under it.
The bill deals with only one aspect of housing. Under this Government there has been a consistent erosion of the principle that in housing a government should help those who stand most in need of help. Let me recall the steps which the present Government has taken. When the 1945 Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement expired the new agreement made no provision for rental rebates for people whose incomes did not enable them to pay the economic rent of the dwellings which they occupied as tenants of housing commissions and similar bodies. Further, it provided for a diversion of 20 per cent, of housing funds to building societies for the first two years of the agreement and from then, and right up to the present day, of 30 per cent, of those funds to building societies. It provided also for the diversion of another 5 per cent, of housing funds to the provision of dwellings for serving members of the forces, although they are in a category for which the Commonwealth has unquestioned constitutional power to provide.
– You disagree with that, do you?
– No, but I do not think the Government needed to divert funds from the necessary public purpose which the Commonwealth assumed in 1945 to other purposes. I knew it would not be long before the prince of estate agents in this House, one of the fathers of the Liberal Party, interjected. The building societies have suffered under this Government because the original sources of their finance - the life assurance societies and the savings banks - have been permitted to lend elsewhere. Furthermore, in 1951, at the time of the first credit squeeze, they were asked to divert their funds elsewhere; not to put money into building societies. The housing commission funds were tapped for the building societies because the Government had allowed, and at times had requested, the savings banks to withdraw their funds from the building societies.
This Government has rejected the consistent and constant requests by all State Governments for funds to build homes for the aged or to engage in slum clearance or urban renewal. The present Government claims that housing in these respects is still a State matter. Housing was never a State matter in this country. The State Governments never spent money on housing until the Chifley Government in 1945 provided them with money to spend on housing. In the United States of America, the greatest federation in the world, federal funds and State powers are used to resume urban land and then guarantees are given by the federal administration to any financial institutions which come in and develop the land. So in the United States of America housing is accepted as a federal matter.
Further, in this bill the Government refuses a homes savings grant to persons who are purchasing homes from housing commissions, or who have borrowed money from housing commissions to purchase homes. So in these four matters - the abolition of the rental rebates; the diversion of funds to building societies; the rejection of the States’ requests for urban renewal and homes for the aged; and the exclusion of home purchasers from the housing commissions from the right to grants under this bill - the Government has consistently eroded the principle that governments should help those who stand most in need of help.
I illustrate here the particular injustices which will arise under this bill. As the number of children in a family increases so the housing needs of that family also increase. At the same time, however, the capacity of the family to save for a home decreases. The business couple without children, living in a home unit, are in a much better position than is a man with children, particularly if his wife is unable to earn an income because she has to look after young children.
Let me deal now with some of these most pressing needs for housing for which this bill makes no provision. 1 have already touched on the matter of slum clearance. Let me mention some of the people in the community of whom we have knowledge from annual reports made to us who will be able to receive no assistance under this bill and very little assistance under any other provisions that this Parliament makes. In 1960-61 the numbers of taxpayers with dependants and receiving less than £20 a week were as follows: - Taxpayers with a dependent spouse and one other dependant 68,000; with a dependent spouse and two Other dependants 56.000; with a dependent spouse and three or more other dependants 58,000. This gave a total of 182,000 taxpayers with dependants and with incomes of less than £20 a week. It is unlikely that any of those 182,000 people will be able to qualify for any significant grant under this bill.
– But how many own their own homes now?
– The Minister has not said how many will benefit under the bill; I am giving the House the number of people who will not. The honorable gentleman who interjects has conceded in another place that you need a deposit of about £2,500 before you can get a house with the aid of a loan from a building society, savings bank or life assurance organization.
I come now to other categories of people who will receive no assistance under this bill. In 1962-63 the average number of persons receiving unemployment or sickness benefit was about 50,000. There will be precious little assistance for them under this bill. There were, at the end of last June, more than 5,000 invalid pensioners receiving payments for children. They would not be receiving invalid pensions unless their incomes were very small indeed, but there were 5,000 of them receiving payments for dependent children. Their housing needs cannot be met under this bill.
Fourthly, at the end of last June there were more than 25,000 widows who had the care of one or more children. They will receive very little assistance under this bill. I am referring to widows receiving widows’ pensions; in other words, receiving a very small income from the Government and a very small income from other sources. They will not qualify under this bill. Lastly, there are migrants. Migrants have a particular housing problem. They arrive Wit.1 an immediate housing need and often with very little capital. They cannot attract a subsidy until they have lived in Australia for three years. What is more, they will find it very difficult to accumulate £750 to qualify for the maximum grant of £250 under this bill over the minimum period of three years.
– I would have thought it was quite clear. The honorable member is one of the few gentlemen in the House who is single and under 36 and who, therefore, can start saving from a Parliamentary salary which he states is too small. When migrants come to this country they very rarely have sufficient capital to buy ;i house. They usually have to rent accommodation and in many cases they have to pay board in a Commonwealth hostel. It is impossible, I believe, to save £5 a week over three years in order to qualify for the £250 grant while you are paying for accommodation in a Commonwealth hostel.
I have dealt with the various categories of people of whom we have knowledge in this Parliament from annual reports that are made to us. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have a very great housing need but who will receive no assistance at all from this bill and who will receive very little assistance indeed from any other appropriations that this Parliament makes.
The bill purports to assist young married persons to purchase or build their own homes. The matters which have caused difficulty for young persons in purchasing or building their own homes are the cost of land, the cost of finance and the size of the deposit. The Minister says somewhat plaintively and defeatedly that there is very little the Commonwealth can do about the cost of land. Let me illustrate the size to which the problem has grown during this Government’s term of office, and let me ask the House if it is satisfied that there is in fact nothing that the Government can do about the price of land, as distinct from nothing that it does about the price of land. I will cite figures from documents which are available to all honorable gentlemen - ‘the annual reports of the Director of the War Service Homes Division. In 1949-50 the director reported that in New South Wales the cost of a house was £1,822 and of land £117, on an average. In 1962-63 the director reported that in New South Wales the average price of a house financed by the division had increased to £4,063 and the price of land had risen to £855. There was thus an increase in the average price of a house of 126 per cent; there was an increase in the price of land of 630 per cent.
– The Cumberland County Council was responsible for that.
– Very well, I will come to Victoria. You cannot blame the Cumberland County Council for the position in Victoria. I suppose we will be told that in Victoria it is the fault of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. It is never this Government’s fault; it is always somebody else’s. In Victoria in 1949-50 the average price of a house financed by the War Service Homes Division was £1,951 and the average price of land was £176. By last year the figures had increased to £3,892 and £1,064 repectively. Strangely enough, the price of land seemed to rise higher under the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works than it did under the Cumberland County Council. The increase in the price of the house was 100 per cent, during the term of office of this Government, while the price of land increased by 500 per cent.
It is often claimed that the increase in our costs is due to the increase in wages, margins and leave. This is the constant theme of honorable gentlemen in the Government parties. This morning the first question asked in the House flowing from the decision of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission that long service leave of thirteen weeks should be granted after fifteen years continuous employment was asked by the honorable member for Higinbotham (Mr. Chipp). He asked, “ What will it cost the country? What will it cost industry? “ Well, you cannot blame the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for the rise in the cost of land.
– What is wrong with that?
– I do not see the connexion between the rise in wages and the rise in the cost of land. There was a rise of 90 per cent, in wages in the building and construction industry between December 1950 and December 1963. It will be noticed that the rise in the cost of a house during those years was 113 per cent, and the cost increase of the land was more than 565 per cent. You cannot blame the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, you cannot blame indulgent employers and rapacious employees for these rises.
– How can you blame this Government for the rise in the price of land? How are we responsible?
– In answer to my pertinacious friend I say there is a limit to the extent to which this Parliament can profitably subsidize costs which it has failed to control hitherto, and which it still shows no inclination to control in the future. The attitude apparent in this bill is the same as the attitude in the National Health Bill. We do nothing about controlling doctors’ fees and drug prices, but we are prepared to provide subsidies although the gap requiring to be filled keeps increasing. Under this bill we are prepared to subsidize the cost of a house with land while doing nothing about the cost itself.
– What about the cost of it?
– I will come presently to the cost of the finance, for which this Parliament is unquestionably responsible. Let us deal with the cost of the land and what the Parliament can do about that. By leaving development of land wholly in the hands of private developers, the price of land is inflated. The developers expect high profit margins and pay very high rates of interest to attract finance. If Commonwealth funds were made available to State, local and statutory authorities these excess costs would be checked. This is not to say that public bodies should not charge the full cost for the services they perform, such as providing roads or sewerage, but the profiteering would be eliminated. It might be objected that profiteering has not been eliminated in the Australian Capital Territory, but this is due to the shortcomings o! this administration, not to the shortcomings of the system of public land development. Even so, the Australian Capital Territory system of public land development is preferable to private development, because the profits accrue to government revenue and so. indirectly, assist all taxpayers.
A great deal of the cost of developing land is in the outer metropolitan areas where new roads have to be constructed, sewerage and water installed and other community facilities provided. This is what makes the urban sprawl so expensive. There are two things that we can do about this. One is for the Commonwealth to make provision, as the United States Congress makes provision, for funds for State Governments to renew the hearts of the cities. The hearts of the cities already are reticulated with water, telephones, electricity and sewerage, so there intensive housing schemes can be established with very little additional cost of reticulation. The other thing you can do is to promote decentralization. Canberra is the great example of decentralization. Here we have a city which has been created by governments. The development has gone so far that, from now on, the impetus would be maintained even if governments did not spend another penny on it. This is the way that the French are going about it - by creating poles of attraction in the provinces. The fact is that the cost of housing, transport and every other service in regional centres is less than it is in the sprawling metropolises of the different States. lt will be said that what I have proposed postulates a great expansion in government and, since it is financial, Commonwealth Government responsibility. Of course it does. If we went back 50 years we would find that governments did not provide electricity services or water services; but it is just as natural and inevitable for governments to enter into the field of land development in this generation as it was for governments after the First World War to enter into the provision of electricity and water. You do not deal with this problem of the cost of land by saying that there is very little the Commonwealth Government can do about it. There is very little the Commonwealth Government can do about it if it maintains traditional means and perseveres with its policy of laisserfaire. but this is a challenge to the Commonwealth to take the initiative once again. In 1945, gentlemen who sit in government now, and their supporters outside, were ridiculing the Commonwealth’s initiative in the first Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, but that principle is now accepted. Now is the time to go further - to deal with decentralization, to deal with urban renewal and lo have the Commonwealth providing funds for such general governmental development, lt is only if governments come in and provide the services and show the cost of these services that the exploitation in land and housing will bc properly exposed and cured.
The Minister recently made a very valuable suggestion on a reduction in costs for housing - not a reduction in costs of land. He said that the complex building regulations in Australia added an additional £250 to the cost of each new house in Australia. 1 should think that what he said was quite correct. The profusion of and the differences between various industrial regulations very greatly inflate our costs. But the Minister has not taken, as he could take, the initiative in calling together the various State Ministers for Housing to see that a rational and modern code is proposed. A great deal of money could be saved by introducing thoroughly up-to-date methods of making materials and putting them in place. Modular systems and so on can be very attractive as well as very economical.
There is another thing that could bc done. The Commonwealth could reimburse the States which forgo their stamp duties and transfer fees on land sales. This would amount to some hundreds of pounds in each case. The difficulty with a bill like this is that the £250 is very likely to be absorbed in increased costs of land and housing, but if we save money on the construction of houses by having proper modern rational and national building standards and by foregoing some of the costs of stamp duties and transfer fees, then everybody’s costs can be reduced. That means that we would be saving money for everybody who is getting a house. This would benefit all young couples who are purchasing or building their own homes much more than by subsidizing the purchase of the land and the building of a house. 1 have dealt hitherto with the cost of land, about which the Minister, with his restricted horizons, says the Commonwealth can do very little. 1 come to the cost of finance, and this is a matter about which the Commonwealth unquestionably can do something. The Commonwealth provides all the money which governments spend on housing. It provides for war service homes and has done so since 1918. Similarly, it provides money for all State housing commissions, trusts and departments, and has done so since 1944-45. It provides money for the construction and financing of houses in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. It provides transitory or temporary housing on many of its projects, such as the Woomera and the Snowy Mountains projects, and it provides migrant hostels. All the money that State governments appropriate for housing is provided by the Commonwealth Government, but in addition to that the principal sources of private finance are controlled by this Government. The Constitution permits the Parliament to pass laws with respect to banking and insurance. Banks and life assurance societies have been traditionally the great reservoirs of money for housing. The Government has helped by giving incentives to, or imposing compulsions upon, these bodies to lend less or more for housing. I will recall the facts to honorable gentlemen.
The savings banks all operate under a charter which requires them to hold 65 per cent, of their depositors’ balances in cash or government securities. They are permitted - not required - to invest up to 35 per cent, of the depositors’ balances in housing loans. The Government could, if it wanted, require the banks to invest a certain percentage of their depositors’ balances in housing loans. It could require them to deposit a certain percentage in a government instrumentality, such as a credit foncier bank, if it so desired. This would appal many honorable gentlemen opposite, but is it any different in principle from requiring the banks to put money in government loans or to hold it in notes and cash? The Government has accepted the responsibility of directing the savings banks as to where they will put their money. The amount of money which the savings banks invest in housing in this country is only onethird of the proportion which the savings banks invest in housing in the United States of America. Again, the amount of money which the trading banks have available for housing loans, which are long-term loans and relatively less remunerative loans from the banks’ point of view, is governed very largely by the operations of the statutory reserve deposit accounts. That is, whenever the Government calls up money to these accounts there is less money available for loans by the trading banks for home building. Loans for home building arc always the first of the trading bank loans to be affected. The first credits which are cut off in a credit squeeze - and this happened in 1952, 1956 and 1961- arc the housing loans.
Thirdly, and lastly, there are the controls over life assurance societies. Tax incentives are given to encourage them to invest 20 per cent, of their premiums in Commonwealth securities and 10 per cent, in other securities. They are not encouraged or required to lend for housing. In all these respects - the moneys which it makes directly available for construction and the moneys which it regulates in the hands of the two great reservoirs of insurance and banking - the Commonwealth Parliament unquestionably has a responsibility. It cannot plead, even on its own practice, even within its own limited horizon, that it can do nothing about the size and number of housing loans, the interest Tate and the deposit gap.
The first element in the cost of finance is the interest rate. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister referred to
– That was fifteen years ago.
– No, fourteen. In August, 1952, at the time of the first credit squeeze, the interest rate charged by the Commonwealth Savings Bank was raised to4½ per cent. It is now 4i per cent. The private savings banks, in general, charge 5i per cent., the National Bank Savings Bank Limited and the English, Scottish and Australian Savings Bank Limited charge 51 per cent. It will be noted that in the case of the Commonwealth Savings Bank, the interest rate is now7/8 of 1 per cent. greater than it was when the Government came into office. Building societies receive their money from the Commonwealth, through the States, and from the savings banks and life assurance societies, and the maximum loan one can receive from any of these sources is £3,500. If one is paying back that loan over a period of 30 years, the additional7/8 per cent. interest which one pays to the Commonwealth Savings Bank amounts to an additional payment of £860. If one borrowed from, say, the National Bank Savings Bank Limited or the English, Scottish and Australian Savings Bank Limited, in 1963, one would pay 5½ per cent. interest and the additional payment one would make on aloan of £3,500 for 30 years would be £1,500.
– That is not right.
– Another estate agent comes in to justify an increase in interest rates. I also hear an interjection from a a third estate agent, the honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess).
– What would you say about the socialization of lawyers’ fees?
– Lawyers’ fees are in fact socialized, as you call it. Any one can have lawyers’ fees taxed by an officer of the Supreme Court in the State where he is charged the fees. I am not suggesting that anything so radical should happen to the directors of land development organizations, such as the Minister for Housing, or to such business people as the honorable
I have quoted the cost of finance. That is something that the Commonwealth Parliament can deal with. It is something that the Commonwealth Parliament has dealt with, and it is the Commonwealth Parliament which has permitted and promoted the campaign for the rise in interest rates which has taken place under this Government.
The other element in the cost of finance is the deposit gap. I suppose it will be said by the apologists for this bill that this measure does make some contribution towards bridging the deposit gap. Let me illustrate how the deposit gap has grown under this Government. In 1946 the Victorian co-operative building societies required a housing deposit of 10 per cent. By 1961, it had increased to 34 per cent. The deposit required by the State Savings Bank of Victoria over the same period increased from 25 per cent. to 40 per cent., and the deposit required by the Commonwealth Savings Bank from about 15 per cent. to 45 per cent. Looking at the cost of houses now, honorable members will see just how much those increases in deposit of from 10 per cent. to 34 per cent., from 25 per cent. to 40 per cent. and from 15 per cent. to 45 per cent. represent. I have later figures published by the Housing Industry Research Committee in
Melbourne. They are contained in the “ Housing Finance Information Bulletin “ for January last. Referring to the deposit gap at that stage, that bulletin states -
The deposit required to buy different types of homes at average prices on low priced land as at June, 1963. were:
All Homes Average: £1,768
Brick Veneer: £1,948
Weatherboard: £1,057 (These deposits are based on a State Savings Bank Loan.) The deposit required to buy an average priced War Service Home on War Service Home land was £1.456.
In other words, the £250, which is the maximum grant that anybody can obtain under this bill, with the optimum conditions of childlessness, dual employment and low rent, is from one-quarter to one-eighth of the amount of the deposit. That is the size of the benefit which will be obtained under this measure. There is a great number of anomalies under this bill which, because of incessant interjections, I must leave to those of my colleagues who will follow me in the debate.
I conclude by referring to a class of person whom the Minister picked out as beneficiaries. He took great credit for the fact that at least one section of the community which is receiving Government housing will receive grants under this bill - the purchasers of war service homes. This must be of great consolation indeed. The Second World War ended nineteen years ago. If men who served overseas and were discharged nineteen years ago are still under 36 years of age they must have been prodigies of maturity and valor. Nobody who served in the Second World War will qualify for a grant under this bill.
– He could marry a teenager.
– Mr. Speaker,I always treat with respect the views of the father of the House, who is a retired bank manager. The honorable member for Mitchell may even be an oracle when it comes to housing matters. No person who served in the Second World War can receive a grant under this measure unless, as the honorable member for Mitchell with his rosy reminiscences would have us recall, he marries a person who at the time of the dual marriage and construction contract is under 36 years of age, because both contracts have to be nicely timed and com pleted before the bride’s 36th birthday. In those circumstances, if a man who has seen service in a war marries a woman who is now under 33 years of age, and if they remain childless and both go to work and save prodigously, they will be able to qualify for a grant under this legislation just in time; that is, 22 or 23 years after he was discharged from his overseas service.
The Director of War Service Homes reported to us last year that in May, 1962, the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics had made a survey of ex-service men and women and war widows who still require war service homes. As a result of the substantial survey the director told us that it could be expected that a further 1 14,000 applications would be received from persons now eligible for assistance under the War Service Homes Act. If the brides save between their 33rd and 36th birthdays their husbands will also be eligible for assistance under the measure before us, but it is limited in its benefits to persons who are under 36 years of age. Here we find a category of persons who have always been the responsibility of this Parliament, and 1 14,000 of them are still expected to apply for assistance under the War Service Homes Act. How many of them will receive assistance under this legislation? They are the persons who the Minister made a point of establishing would quality for benefits under this legislation. They are the only persons who receive Government assistance for their buildings and who also will receive assistance under this legislation if they are young enough. But, Sir, in this small class of persons there are 114.000 who have not yet bought their first home. They represent only a fraction of the community and this indicates that in the community there must be hundreds of thousands of people who would like to buy their first home and who are over 36 years of age. Like the persons who are eligible for assistance under the War Service Homes Act - because one can receive an advance under that act only if one does not own another house - they will receive no assistance through this measure. The bill before us undoubtedly will assist many persons who will so channel their savings as to qualify for grants, but a great number of people will be just as deluded and disappointed by the provisions of this measure and its exceptions and qualifications as will be the waiting applicants under the War Service Homes Act.
.- I wish to deal first with the last point made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam); that is, the inclusion of war service homes, one point from which the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) took satisfaction. We appreciate the point that the honorable member has made but I think that he realizes that the provision was requested by the Returned Servicemen’s League and agreed to by the Minister and the Government. Furthermore, on the figures quoted by the honorable member, he has forgotten to say that 15,000 returned servicemen under the age of 36 years are eligible for war service homes. The honorable member referred to real estate agents. I hasten to inform him that I follow the edict of a former member for East Sydney - one man, one job. The honorable member’s remarks therefore do not apply to me. I do not know whether I can call the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition the policy speech of the Opposition in relation to the bill before us. I know that the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) is to speak after me in this debate and possibly his policy will differ from that of the deputy leader of his party.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition commenced his speech by saying, “ If the Labour Party had produced the policy “. Well, it did not. He then said, “If the Labour Party had taken six months to produce it, it would have been regarded as an election stunt “. Well, it did not. He said that if so many qualifications had been included in the bill by the Opposition it would have been an electoral fraud. In other words, it seems to me that in 40 minutes the Deputy Leader of the Opposition discussed everything except what the bill is supposed to be and what it will do. Perhaps I may be forgiven if I take a minute to refer the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to his own advice to his party, which some say was unsolicited and some say was solicited. A newspaper report of his advice states -
The Labour Party cannot achieve office unless it attracts support from more and more electors who are not eligible to join unions. 1 wish to quote also a report of a statement by a very distinguished Labour Party can didate who sought election for the La Trobe electoral division. Apart from his choice of political party he is a very capable person. Under the heading “The Under Thirty Voter and the Labour Party - A Candidate Sums Up “, the report states -
Even if the under thirty voter is buying a house, a car, &c, the long-term financial commitment is cheerfully accepted. These young people are aware that they are often materially far better off than their parents were, or even are now.
This is the statement of a Labour candidate for election. Tonight we heard the Deputy Leader of the Opposition speak of the time when the Labour Party was in office. I presume that the fathers of the voters now under 30 were then voting for Labour candidates. The report states -
The young voter is still ambitious and confident enough to carry the financial burden lightly. From these facts the under-30 voters may well draw the following conclusions: The achievements of the A.L.P. in the Curtin and Chifley Governments are just pages in the history books.
We know that Labour candidates of the same calibre do not exist today, Mr. Speaker. The report states -
The A.L.P. parliamentarians who were in the last Labour government are just old fuddyduddies who aren’t “ with it “. The Welfare State is old hat - it’s what we’ve got, and since we haven’t lost it after 14 years of Liberal Government we’re clearly not going to lose it.
– Who said that?
– Dr. Moss Cass. He was once a Labour candidate for the Kew electoral division and was a Labour candidate for the La Trobe electoral division at the last general election.
To return to the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, instead of discussing those people who are to be affected by the bill and what the legislation is to do, he spent his time telling us about the people who will not be affected. He referred to pensioners, unemployed persons, widows and migrants. We are aware that many of these people will not be affected by this legislation which is designed to assist, as the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) said, the young people of this country who desire to build their own homes and who do not desire to live in housing commission areas. It is aimed at encouraging them to save not from the time they are married but from the time they take their first jobs so that they will qualify to receive the bonus. They will be enabled to buy houses when they want to marry.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, it seemed to me, discussed everything except housing. He dealt with transport, wages, long service leave, decentralization, uniform building regulations, stamp duties, insurance companies and the cost of finance. One could continue the list almost ad infinitum. The honorable member’s speech was, I think, the most extraordinary speech on housing that we have heard from him. He usually discusses housing very intelligently and very well.
However, let us turn to the bill before the House. The Prime Minister, in his policy speech for the last federal general election, said - . . there is a special difficulty experienced by young married people, particularly in the age group up to 35, in financing the purchase of a dwelling. We will provide a Commonwealth subsidy of £1 for every £3 which a person in this age group deposits or shall have deposited, over a period of at least three years in an identifiable account at an approved institution, to be released, upon or after marriage, for home building or purchasing purposes. The maximum subsidy for one house will be £250. Thus by the Commonwealth subsidy, £750 saved in this age group for a home after marriage will be increased to £1,000. For obvious reasons, this will not extend to the purchase of State houses, or for the purchase of house and land costing more than £7,000.
What was confusing in that statement and what part of the promise contained in it is not being implemented in this bill? I can suggest only that the Opposition has had so many ballots to determine who shall be what as to prevent honorable members opposite from finding time to read the bill over the last week.
Let me now mention some of the achievements of the present Government and the earlier Menzies Governments in the field of housing. The policy of this Government is based on a belief that home life is fundamental to the well-being of our society and nation. The Government believes in a society in which every family can live in, and preferably own, a comfortable home purchased at a reasonable cost. This belief has always represented the difference between the policy of this Government and that of the Australian Labour Party. We believe in encouraging young people to own their own homes - to save for their own homes and to buy them where they want them. The policy of the Labour Party, in both Federal and State spheres, is to force young people into a situation in which they have to live in housing commission flats, in areas devoted solely to housing commission dwellings, because there is no alternative. This was indicated to-night by the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. There is a contrast between the policy of the Liberal Party of Australia and certain Labour declarations about little capitalists and other statements that we have heard over the years from members of the Labour Party.
The problem of finding a solution to a housing problem is not peculiar to Australia. lt exists throughout the world in countries such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Sweden. Many factors affect the housing situation in other countries. I should now like to bring the mind of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition back to the remarks that he made when he cited the housing position, particularly in New South Wales. In both England and Australia, the retention of rent control by Labour governments after the Second World War created many problems. Pre-war, young people had been able to rent accommodation at reasonable rentals. They did not expect to have enough money to buy homes. I know that I did not expect to have enough. I had to rent a house, and I knew that I could get one to rent. However, the introduction and retention of prices and rent controls by Labour governments affected the supply of available housing. First, investors who formerly had been encouraged to build for rental decided that, with the existence of rent control, they would no longer undertake this form of investment. Everybody recalls the system of pegged rents that existed after the war. We all know that people who owned property could not get the use of it; nor could they get a reasonable rental that would enable them to maintain it properly. Furthermore, even if they desired to move into their own house, they were not allowed to do so if it was rented and the tenant wished to remain. Those who were bitten then have no wish to suffer again. This is one of the factors that have stopped, now and for the future, private investment in rental property. This is one reason why the young people of to-day cannot rent houses, but have to buy them. This situation, as has been said, without doubt has created a tremendous problem for the present generation of young people.
For these reasons, the present Government has had to increase year after year its allocation of funds for housing, and this it has continually done. As I have stated, this Government’s housing policy aims at providing the maximum sum possible, not only for the States, but also in its own areas of exclusive responsibility in the Territories and for the war service homes scheme, the defence forces and the aged. Some of these other responsibilties were mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. They are provided for in other legislation. This Government’s policy also is designed to promote, encourage and facilitate by every means possible a flow of finance from all institutions and every individual prepared to lend money for housing.
Since 1950, more than 1,000,000 houses have been built in Australia. Over 36 per cent, of all dwellings have been built during the term of office of this Government. In 1947, when Labour was in office, 59 per cent, of the houses were owned or were being purchased. To-day, the proportion is 76 per cent.
– And it is rising.
– It is rising. This Liberal and Australian Country Party Government has provided direct financial assistance for housing worth more than £1,000,000,000. Under the administration of the Menzies Government, over the thirteen years from 1950-51 to 1962-63, inclusive, expenditure on housing totalled about £410,840,000 and 168,879 houses were provided. This compares very favourably with the record of all previous governments from 1919 to 1949. During that period, expenditure totalled about £45,600,000 and 60,350 houses were built. Let members of the Labour Party scorn that if they will. It represents an achievement. It is something that has been done. That achievement is due to the policies of the present Government.
This Government is continually examining ways and means of keeping its policy ahead of requirements. Indeed, the United Nations Compendium of Social Statistics for 1963 shows that Australia is one of the top nations in terms of housing. We do not say that there are no problems.
We know that there are problems. But we say that this Government, in conjunction with the State Governments, has endeavoured to do something about those problems. We have tried to help all sections of the community and have not restricted aid in a way that would force people down to levels to which they should not sink. Our policy is designed to assist them to improve their standards and to obtain decent homes of their own choice. The policy that will be implemented by this bill is further proof of the Government’s intention to assist all sections of the community.
The measure has two main purposes, as I have said. Both are of extreme importance and both are highly commendable. The first purpose is to encourage young people to save for their own homes - to save from an early age, knowing that they will receive a bonus for such saving. I have always considered it extraordinary that some young people can buy an expensive car on hire purchase and repay the hire-purchase company in a very short time but are unable to save for a house. The sort of outlook of which this is indicative seems always to be supported by Opposition members. We on this side of the Parliament take the alternative view. We say that it is right to encourage young people to save, both in the interests of the nation and for their own advantage. I am quite sure, judging by the result of the last election, that young people agree. The second purpose of this bill is to encourage young people to own their own homes.
– How does the honorable member make out that young people agree with this Government’s policy?
– I suggest to the honorable member that he is an old fuddy-duddy. As I said earlier, this Government considers that home ownership should be encouraged and that people who own their own homes should not be ridiculed as little capitalists. They have worked for their homes and they should be regarded as the backbone of the nation. This bill is designed to help the average young man and young woman who, in the past, too frequently, through either inability to save or lack of incentive to save, found on marriage that the only accommodation available - and then only in very short supply - was housing commission dwellings. As I have pointed out, in recent years, sufficient rental accommodation has not been available because investors, particularly those who formerly catered for young married people, have suffered under rentcontrol policies. Once having been bitten, they do not intend to be caught in any future socialist experiments that alternative governments might undertake. These young Australians should not and do not want to be forced into housing commission settlements or flats, however good they may be. They want to be able to live where they choose and to be able to buy or build the house of their choice, and with this the Government agrees.
Certain requirements must be met to obtain the grant. It is not necessary for me to go through all the matters of detail in the Minister’s speech, because they will be dealt with in the committee stage. The newspapers, those associated with housing and all the people I have spoken to throughout Australia appear to have received the bill well, with the exception of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and, I have no doubt, the honorable member for Hindmash and others including the New South Wales Minister for Housing. I presume that he wants everything to go to the Housing Commission. He appears to forget that the funds provided under the housing agreement are supposed to be used for the erection of housing for those in necessitous circumstances. He forgets that this bill, in conjunction with a mortgage insurance bill, which will be introduced later, should have the effect of lessening the demand for housing commission homes. This will enable his Government and all State Governments to house those people for whom the housing agreement was introduced.
Let me now quote from a booklet “ High Rents and Low Incomes “, which is a research project of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence. I am sure a copy of this booklet has come into the hands of all honorable members. I think the passage I am about to read should bc of interest to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition who has suggested that the Government is not doing anything to help those in need who should be going into housing commission homes, lt refers to people whose income does not exceed £1,000 per annum and this is the group to which the Deputy Leader referred. At page 107 of the booklet, under the heading “Allocation for Purchase “ the following passage appears: -
The principle of allocation according to need should be applied to sale as well as rental. Allocation of houses for sale should be based on an assessment of the financial situation of applicants, considering both income and savings in relation to number of dependants, so that as far as possible Commission houses are made available only to prospective purchasers, who have no reasonable expectation of being able to buy through other channels of housing finance.
The brotherhood makes the same recommendation in respect of the allocation for rental. I am sure that all honorable members know of the good work done by the Brotherhood of St. Laurence.
No assistance is given by housing commissions to young people with a future, with a good job and with a reasonable wage who can save and who can make provision for themselves. Nothing is offered to them except to go into a housing commission home and 1 believe that these homes should be provided for people in necessitous circumstances. At page 108 of the booklet reference is made to the upper income limit on tenants. The following recommendation is made: -
There should be an upper income limit for continued tenancy of a Commission dwelling, to maintain the principle that the Commission’s function is to provide accommodation for those who are not financially able to find it on the open market. There are some Commission tenants, who since being allocated dwellings, have reached a financial position where they would be able to provide housing for themselves.
In my opinion and in the opinion of many others, the Australian Labour Party wishes this state of affairs to continue. This Government does not. We believe that people should be assisted, if possible, to get out of housing commission areas or to keep out of them.
I agreed with one statement made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and that is in relation to local government finance. I do not agree with him that the Commonwealth has power over housing. It has not. It has only the power to grant money. It has no control over housing directly and has had no control over the way in which the money will be spent.
However, I believe that some agreement could be reached between the Commonwealth and the States and the representatives of local government authorities so that the problem of finance could be solved. I agree that this problem is forcing up the cost of land in many areas. If the sub-divider is forced to provide water and other services such as roads, gas and electricity, the costs must be passed on to the purchaser of the land. The interest paid by the sub-divider on the money he borrows to provide these services is also passed on to the purchaser of the land. If money could be provided in some way to local government authorities by the Commonwealth, the States and the local government authorities reaching agreement on the way the money would be raised, whether by loan or some other means, much would be done to stabilize land prices and the consequent costs to purchasers of land.
The building industry also has a responsibility. I do not think it right that people should always come to the Government and say, “You must do this; you have a responsibility to do this”. Those engaged in the building industry have a responsibility to watch costs and charges and the efficiency of the industry. This has been admitted by many people engaged in the industry over the last eighteen months. I am sure that they are doing everything possible to make the industry more efficient and to ensure that the charges to the public are reasonable.
When the Minister introduced the bill, he admitted that we were breaking new ground. I think every one should consider what he said in his speech. Because this is a new deaprtment and because the Commonwealth here is branching out into new activity, I think all honorable members, from both sides of the House, can congratulate the Minister on the work he has done to get the bill into the House by this time. I think the members of the public are most appreciatetive of the broad and sympathetic approach of the Minister to the many difficult problems. The Minister concluded his speech by saying - 1 wish to add that it is my intention that the scheme be administered as sympathetically as the bill permits. I do not pretend that, in the time we have had to examine the ramifications of the scheme, we may not have overlooked some minor aspects. Partly to cover the unforeseen, but also to permit the sympathetic treatment of unusual cases, the bill, as already mentioned, has been drafted to give substantial discretionary powers to the secretary of my department and his delegates in administering the scheme. I am quiet satisfied that these discretionary powers, similar in most respects to those of the director-general and his delegates under the Social Services Act, are necessary to permit the smooth and effective introduction of the scheme.
I think the Government is to be commended. I am sure that sympathetic consideration will be given to the bill. I am confident that the Australian Labour Party would have liked to have introduced the bill. I am sure that the bill will be received very well by all members of the public and the young people for whose benefit it has been framed.
– This is another of the election chickens which the Government finds have come home to roost. During the election campaign the Government made two promises in respect of the housing crisis. It decided that it would give a subsidy to all persons, male or female, single or married, who saved together or separately up to £750 over three years, and promised that the scheme would be sympathetically administered and liberally applied. I will quote exactly what the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) said in order to show the difference between the promise and the fulfilment. He is reported in the “Daily Telegraph “ of 1 5th November, only fifteen days before the election, as having said -
The Government will administer the proposal sympathetically and liberally.
One would assume that the Government intended to embrace in the scheme as many people as possible. But, instead, the Government has brought down a bill which takes pains to squeeze out of the scheme as many people as possible. The Prime Minister continued -
Our idea at all times will be to give effect to the spirit of the proposal without undue technicalities.
Yet the day after the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) delivered his second-reading speech on this bill which was to be without technicalities, which was to give benefits to as many people as possible and which was to be administered liberally and sympathetically, he was reported to have told a reporter from the “ Daily Mirror “ -
I would nol understand a word of this myself if I were not the author of it and its principles.
This is the man who wrote the speech - the Minister responsible for implementing this bill which was to be devoid of technicalities and which was to be applied to as many people as possible in a sympathetic and liberal manner. The Minister claimed that he would not be able to understand what the speech was about were it not for the the fact that he had written the speech. How does the Minister expect the newlyweds, for instance, to understand the speech if he does not understand it himself? Let me quote a sentence from the Minister’s second-reading speech on this bill which was to be devoid of technicalities. I take one sentence at random. No wonder the Minister did not understand his speech. If anybody else can understand what this sentence means I will go and jump in the lake. The Minister said -
The forms chosen are in aggregate those in which the great bulk of personal savings for a home is accumulated.
Those words are enshrined in “ Hansard “ for future generations to ponder over.
The second proposal which the Government was going to introduce to cure the housing crisis involved the creation of an insurance corporation. The Government would guarantee loans made by approved lenders for the purpose of deposits on homes. On this subject the Prime Minister, as reported in the “ Age “ of 22nd November last, said -
The Government would establish a national housing insurance corporation to insure the repayment of housing loans made by approved lenders at approved and reasonable rates of interest.
Listen to this -
This plan will come into operation early in the new Parliament.
The plan was to provide borrowers with 95 per cent, of their deposit at low interest rates. The Prime Minister said that the plan-
In other words, if a couple did not obtain the £250 grant they had nothing to worry about because they could qualify under the second scheme, which was designed to cover everybody who failed to qualify under the first scheme. The second scheme was to bc introduced early in the life of the Parliament. This crowd opposite was re-elected in November last year. . It is now almost June of this year and the Government has not even thought about the second proposal. We have not heard one word about it from Government supporters. They have a dumb driven look on their faces as though, in fact, they have only this moment heard of the proposal. I doubt whether four or five members opposite were aware until just now that the Prime Minister had given that solemn undertaking in relation to the second proposal.
To show that the Prime Minister was not guilty of a slip of the tongue let me remind honorable members of what Senator Sir William Spooner said on this subject. He made it clear that the Government had this scheme well thought out. In a press release he said -
The Government Insurance Corporation will insure the repayment of mortgages amounting to as much as 95 per cent, of the value of the home where the circumstances so justify.
That was a little technicality, although these proposals were to be devoid of technicalities. That statement may mean something different from the meaning that be intended the people to give to it. The press release continued -
The subsidy scheme is available only to males or females under the age of 35.
He was there talking about the £250 grant. He continued -
The insurance scheme may be used more than once by all age groups, including those who may have qualified under the subsidy scheme.
The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) said that people could avail themselves of the insurance scheme more than once, but so far the Government has done nothing to enable people to avail themselves of the scheme even once, let alone a second and third time. In his press release the Minister continued -
The same insurance arrangements will also help those not eligible for subsidy to finance or refinance their home purchase arrangements and thus avoid second mortgages at high interest rates.
The Government went even further when the Prime Minister said that not only would the new scheme allow people to borrow money at cheap rates of interest but also it would allow them to borrow money even to pay off existing mortgages at rates of interest up to 6 per cent, or, in the case of second mortgages, up to 7 or 8 per cent. The Government said that those borrowings could bc repaid under this wonderful finance scheme about which we have not even yet heard a word.
It is all very well for this Government to tell us what it has done and what it can do for the people who want houses. Government supporters are very prone to blame the State Governments for the housing problem that exists in Australia. The honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess) said that the Government would like to help wherever it could, but that it was prevented from doing so by the Constitution. Will the Minister for Housing deny that his Government has full and complete power in the matter of housing in the Australian Capital Territory? The Minister cannot deny that. He is as silent as the grave because he knows that there is absolutely no limitation on the Government’s power in the field of housing within the Australian Capital Territory.
Now I will show how genuine this Government is when it pretends that it would like to do something about the housing problem but claims that its hands are tied by the Constitution. The information that 1 propose to put before the House comes from one of the most responsible authorities in this Parliament - the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser). Nobody will question the accuracy of his statements. The information that he has placed before me has satisfied me that this Government, which boasts of its achievements in the field of housing, is making no genuine attempt to provide sufficient housing in this small city of Canberra, where the Government has complete power and complete responsibility and where moreover the Commonwealth owns all of the land. The Government cannot blame the land sharks or the State Governments for the housing situation in Canberra. The waiting time in Canberra for a modest three-bedroom home is as long as 35 months. Imagine having to wait 35 months for a three bedroom home. There are more than 3,000 names on the waiting list for a home in a city of the size of Canberra. If the Government can do no better than have a waiting list of 3,000 names in a city the size of Canberra imagine how many people would be on the waiting list in cities such as Sydney and Melbourne if the Commonwealth had the sole responsibility for housing in those cities. The numbers would be prodigious. In Canberra hundreds of families are still living in flats, paying exorbitant rents and having practically no hope of moving into a house. Hundreds of families in Canberra are living in low-quality pre-fabricated dwellings. They cannot obtain a transfer to a better type of house which they desire and which they deserve. The houses which the Government is building here in Canberra are shockingly small. The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory has told me that this Government, which pretends to be so concerned about the housing problem, is building in Canberra three-bedroom homes as small as eight and a half squares.
– Eight and a half squares for a three-bedroom home! lt is a ridiculous proposition. They must be little better than dolls’ houses. The Government then sells these houses to the tenants at its own valuations. This Government which supports free enterprise and civil liberties, this Government which professes to believe in the liberty of the individual, does not even let the individual in the capital city in which its powers are absolutely paramount and unlimited, have the right to determine whether a house is worth what the Government charges for it. The Government arbitrarily fixes the price of the house, and the tenant either pays that price or goes without a house. It does not matter whether the house costs the Government the amount at which it is valued or not. It does not matter whether the house costs £200 or £300 less than the price the Government fixes. The Government says to the tenant, “ You either take it or leave it; you either take it or go without “.
Quite recently the Government has added insult to injury by altering the valuation method in respect of the houses that it sells to people in Canberra. The price now includes a premium for the land on which the house is situated. Under this new procedure valuations for houses have been increased by from £1,200 to £1,500, although the Government owns all the land in Canberra. In other words, this Government, which pretends that it is so anxious to provide homes at the cheapest possible cost to the ordinary citizens, is profiteering not only on the houses but also on the land on which they are situated.
What we need in Australia is not this stupid proposition that the Government has now put forward - this shandy-gaff arrangement that excludes more people than it will benefit; this highly technical scheme which even the Minister cannot explain. We need a housing scheme which has three essential components. First, the scheme must provide for smaller deposits. A 5 per cent, deposit is the maximum that any government ought to require of a young married man or an old married man who wants to buy his own home. We want everybody in Australia to own his own home. That is the right of every Australian citizen. Indeed, it is the right of every human being, wherever he lives; but we can legislate only in respect of Australia. It is the right of every human being to own a house in which he, his wife and children can live and take a pride. People have no hope of ever owning houses if they have to save the amount of money that this Government expects them to save. How on earth can a man, who has a family and who earns a miserable £17 or £18 a week, save the £750 which this Government requires him to save before he can receive this subsidy? It takes him all his time to save a 5 per cent, deposit. And that is the maximum amount that any person ought to be required to save.
The second requirement of a sound housing scheme is that land should be cheap. People should not have to pay exorbitant prices for the land on which houses are to be built. Finally, there must be low rates of interest. Interest payments must be met until the house is paid off, which is usually over a 30-year period.
– How do you intend to achieve low rates of interest?
– I will tell you in a minute. I return to the second point - cheaper lond. Do honorable members realize the extent to which the value of building blocks in Adelaide has risen over the past few years? Adelaide is typical of the other capital cities. My information comes from the highest possible source in that city. I received it on the telephone only this afternoon. A building block within five miles of the General Post Office in Adelaide, which changed hands for £375 in 1954, changed hands again for £950 in 1959 - five years later - when still vacant. That block of land is still vacant to-day.
It so happens that ten days ago it was sold, not for £375, but for £1,700.
Who do honorable members think received the difference between the £375 and the £1,700 which the poor wretch who ultimately bought the block had to pay? The difference was taken by some land shark, some land speculator, who bought this block and perhaps many other blocks probably as far back as 1954 or 1959 at ridiculously low prices and held them out of use until people paid the prices that he demanded. Home seekers are compelled to pay the prices that are asked or go out to Tea Tree Gully, Elizabeth, or somewhere else about ten or twelve miles out of the city and perhaps eight or nine miles from their places of employment. They either pay the land speculator his pound of flesh or go further out of the city. They have to weigh the advantage of being close to their work and to the city against the advantage of paying lower prices for building blocks.
Let me quote what has happened in Victoria. In 1950 the average cost of lowpriced building blocks in that State was £166. That price represented 7 per cent, of the total cost of the land and house. In 1951 the average price rose to £233 and the percentage to 9 per cent. In 1952 the average price of a block rose to 10 per cent, of the total cost of house and land. Then the percentage fell to 9 per cent. At that stage one was entitled to think that at long last there was a healthy turn in the economy and that the value of land was starting to represent a smaller percentage of the total cost of land and house. But what happened? What did this Government do? In the very year that that healthy turn took place - in 1953 - this Government abolished the Commonwealth land tax on unimproved land - vacant land held out of use.
The result was that immediately there was an up-turn in the price of building blocks.
The ratio of average price of land to total cost of land and dwelling rose to 10 per cent, in the next year, to 1 1 .9 per cent, in the next year, to 13 per cent, in the next year, to 14 per cent, in the next year, to 18 per cent, in the next year, to 22 per cent, in the next year and to 24 per cent, the next year. By 1961 it had risen to 25 per cent. The latest figures show that the average price of land now represents 26 per cent, of the total cost. Those increases occurred because this Government deliberately and with its eyes wide open abolished the Commonwealth land tax. That tax was one way of forcing land sharks, who held large areas of vacant building land out of use, to pay some tax on it. The tax was an inducement for them to sell.
What happens nows? The land sharks have no Commonwealth land tax to pay at all. They can keep as many vacant blocks of land out of use as they like. Sometimes they keep thousands of blocks out of use. They have to pay only council rates. In South Australia, usually council rates are imposed on the improved value. If a block of land is vacant the owner pays very little in rates. If he puts a house on that block, the rates immediately jump to perhaps £20 a year. The land sharks are thus able to keep land out of use because it costs them nothing in Commonwealth land tax. They can sit back and say to prospective buyers, “ Either you pay the price 1 want or you go without “. They hang on to the land. They can afford to hang on to it because it does not cost them anything lo do that. Yet this Government says that there is nothing at all that it can do. In fact the Minister for Housing said -
There is little the Commonwealth Government can do about the price of land. It has become increasingly scarce relative lo demand and nowadays building blocks often have to bear the cost of development work such as water and sewerage, roadmaking and other charges in their initial price. These are Slate matters.
They are State matters; but the land tax was a Commonwealth matter until this Government deliberately vacated the field.
The average annual increase in the cost of building blocks in Adelaide, and in the other capital cities, is £132. In other words, each year the cost of a vacant block of land is £132 more than it was the previous year. So this miserable pittance which is colled a subsidy for home-building is £50 less than the annual increase in the cost of vacant blocks. It means that if the Government pays its subsidy of £250 to the people who are eligible to receive it - there will not be too many of them - they will still be more than £50 worse off than they would have been had the Government taken some positive action to see that the increase in the price of land was halted. But tens of thousands of people will not receive the £250 subsidy at all. For these people the Government’s failure to halt the upward trend in land prices means a loss of £132 a year. This is a serious position.
The position of the Labour Party on the question of Commonwealth land tax was made abundantly clear when this Government abolished it. On 1st October, 1952, the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), who was then the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, is reported in “Hansard” as saying -
The public interest demands that all land should bc used lo the maximum for the benefit of the nation. Those who own land and do not put it to its maximum use have no cause to complain if the Government compulsorily resumes it or, by a system of taxation, compels lho.se who have more land than they can use to the maximum to sell it on just terms to persons who can and will utilize it for the utmost good of the nation.
Then he went on to refer to what, to my mind, is an excellent proposition. He said that a New Zealand Prime Minister had put through the New Zealand Parliament -
A land tax bill which contained the interesting provision that every land-owner should assess the value of his land and the Government had not only the right to impose tax on the b;«sis of that assessment but also, if necessary, to resume the land on that basis.
You can assess the value of your own land much as you assess your income when you prepare your income tax return. Then you are taxed upon your own assessment of your land, with the qualification that the Government shall have the legal right at any time to acquire the land at your assessment if it believes that your assessment is lower than it should be.
The anomaly of this proposal, and the greatest injustice in any housing scheme if you do not look at the state of land prices, is that the more you do to encourage home building, the greater will be the demand for building blocks and the more severely will the law of supply and demand operate against the buyer. Therefore, you create a vicious circle, which means that the more people who want houses and the more people who can get finance for houses, the more blocks of land will be required. The land sharks and land speculators will thus be in a better position to fleece the people who require land.
There is positive proof that if we were to tax the unimproved value of vacant blocks of land being held out of use by speculators we would discourage land sharks from holding large areas out of use close to the city, where people need them most. Instead, what do we do? We allow blocks of good land reasonably close to places of work and the city to be held out of use by some land speculator who, because he no longer has to pay Commonwealth land tax upon it, is able to hold the land out of use with impunity, while people who want land have to skirt around his land and go two or three miles further out. Meantime, he holds these vacant blocks until he gets his price.
Anyone is entitled to ask, “What does the Labour Party propose to do in a positive way in regard to housing? “ Unfortunately, I have only about six minutes remaining of the time allotted to me in this debate, but let me say that none of the failures of the Menzies Government has been greater - and, by God, that is saying something - than its failure to provide housing for the nation. It is no use the Government saying that it has no responsibility in this matter. Does this Parliament realize that there are 75,000 applications outstanding at this very moment on the books of the various housing commissions and the South Australian Housing Trust? Does this Parliament realize the further fact that in the last census in 1947 - the position would be infinitely worse now - 170,000 Australian families were classified as living, to quote the definition in the official form, “ in sheds, in huts and in shared houses “?
This is a disgraceful situation, and no government has the right to remain in office and smugly shrug off its responsibility. People are living in shocking conditions. In Australia 100,000 dwellings have been classified officially as sub-standard; this in a country which has a government that pretends - I use the word “ pretends “ advisedly - to have some concern for the housing needs of the people.
– Was this in 1947?
– This is 1947. I thank you for the interjection. No, I was referring to the last census, which was taken in 1961.
– But you said 1947.
– Well, I gave the wrong date. It is 1961, and I thank the honorable member for correcting me, because it makes a difference. If it had been 1947 you would have been able to say that it was the Chifley Government’s fault, but it was 1961, which means that it was this Government’s fault. That is a big difference.
The Labour Party points out that it is becoming utterly impossible for any married couples, young or old, to bridge the present deposit gap between the amount that they can borrow from the savings banks - about £3,500 - and the amount that they have to pay for a reasonably modest home which, together with the price of the land, is between £5,000 and £6,000. Something has to be done to bridge this deposit gap. The Government which is now in office should do something. If a Labour government had been returned to office it would have done something to reduce the deposit that people have to find. We would not have been discussing to-night this miserable measure which will debar tens of thousands of young people from any benefit. We would have discussed, probably long ago, a proposition to establish a homes finance commission to provide finance for home construction and to guarantee loans from those willing to lend at low interest rates. We would have provided for deposits of not more than 5 per cent, of the total cost of the house and land combined. We would have provided money for the States at 3J per cent, interest to enable them to reduce rentals and the repayment period on housing commission homes.
I should like honorable members to contrast the 3i per cent, interest that we would have introduced and the 5i per cent, interest which the private savings banks are now charging on advances for home building purposes. There is a difference of lj per cent. Let me tell you what that means. It means a lot more than is generally realized. If you borrow £3,500 and can save 1 per cent, interest over a repayment period of 30 years, you will save not less than £1,000. In other words, you will save four times the amount that is to be provided to each couple who will benefit under the proposal that we are now debating. If you can save H per cent., which is the difference between our proposal and the rate that most people are now paying to the private banks, the saving over a repayment period of 30 years will be £1,750. If you extended the benefits of our 5 per cent, deposit proposal, by which the amount to be borrowed would not be limited to £3,500, as is now the case, but would be limited only to 95 per cent, of the purchase price of the home and land combined, the actual benefit would be astronomical compared with what the Government is offering under this proposal.
I regret that I have not very much time left to me, so in conclusion I summarize this bill by saying that it gives most to those who need it least. If will do absolutely nothing for the 170,000 people living in sub-standard conditions. It eliminates from all the benefits of the scheme the family man who is unable to meet his family commitments and at the same time put aside the £750 required by the bill. A family man on low wages would find it a physical impossibility to put aside this amount. A subsidy of £250 for each child born in the first ten years of marriage would be a far more equitable scheme than the one we are now discussing. It would be far more beneficial to those in greatest need. But this measure overlooks those people, and also the majority of the 75,000 people who marry each year and are, or will be, looking for homes. This bill is a fraud. It is an insult to the intelligence of every sane and fair-minded Australian.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I have much pleasure in supporting this bill. Any bill which has as its objective assistance to families to own their homes will always have my full support. This bill not only encourages young people to save towards home ownership, but it also contributes substantially towards expanding any such savings by way of a tax-free grant of £1 for every £3 saved, to a maximum of £250. Home ownership in this country is very important indeed. The Australian way of life is built around the home, and it is important that not only this Parliament but also every other parliament in Australia should do everything possible to encourage all Australian families to own the homes in which they live.
Our economy to-day is in such a satisfactory condition that young people are able to save to buy homes. This satisfactory economic condition has been brought about by continually increasing production, a large volume of exports and a rise in the general standards of living throughout Australia. The young people of to-day are on a pretty sound footing and are able to save enough to take advantage of the provisions of this legislation.
Where industries have been established in urban areas the employers have not been required to find the capital for homes for their employees. In most cases loan moneys have been allocated by the Commonwealth to the States for the purpose of undertaking housing projects for these employees. The various services, such as water and electricity, have also been provided by money from the same source. These services have not constituted a direct capital cost on the industries concerned, and they have been paid for over a very long period. There is no reason why this should not be so. lt is part of the function of government to supply such services for people engaged in these industries, and for people generally. We accept this. We recognize that it is normal practice for the Government to make available money for these purposes. However, very seldom do farming and pastoral industries receive any benefits in the form of cheap money for housing and the provision of ancillary services. These industries are, in the main, required to raise the necessary capital as part of their development costs. It has been more or less accepted that the capital cost of housing and other amenities has to be borne by the primary producers themselves. They have had to provide water supplies, electricity services and, of course, the houses themselves. I believe it is of the utmost importance that primary industries be given every opportunity to take advantage of the provisions of this bill. If I have read the measure right I understand that this will be so.
As I have said, this is the first occasion on which primary industries have had the chance to participate in a scheme of this kind. This is most important at the present time because many young people to-day wish to take up land, but face a grave problem because of the lack of sufficient finance. They have to rely on the normal methods of borrowing not only to develop their properties but also to provide themselves with houses. This has constituted a great burden. The land has had to be developed and sometimes families have been forced to live in what have been little better than humpies, or in old buses, while the properties have been in process of development. All sorts of odd structures have been used as homes in the initial stages of development of properties because the people simply could not borrow finance to construct suitable houses. Whenever they have managed to borrow money it has been at a fairly high interest rate. It is most important for all governments throughout Australia to bring the rural people into line with other sections of the community.
Many other countries acknowledge the importance of homes. The average annual cost of housing subsidies in Great Britain has been more than £100,000,000 since 1954, three-quarters of the total amount being provided by the Exchequer and about a quarter by the local authorities. Direct government subsidies to private home building in Germany have amounted to an average of 150,000,000 dollars a year during the last decade. These are substantial amounts. Similar provisions are made by other countries which recognize the great importance of home building and the fact that the family unit should remain intact.
Country home builders in Australia are at a distinct disadvantage from the point of view of actual construction of the home. The cost of land in the cities of Australia is becoming a major problem. It is not a problem of the same magnitude in the country. This high cost, the extra cost caused by traffic congestion, and the cost of fares to and from employment, represent an important aspect of our cost structure. This is a matter that we in Australia should look at very seriously indeed. Where are we going in the matter of home building in the cities? The cost of land, the cost occasioned by traffic congestion, the cost of getting to and from work and all other similar costs are of considerable magnitude and are increasing every day. It would be difficult indeed to estimate the extra cost caused by traffic congestion in the cities. It has ‘been said from time to time that if you spend more money on roads this problem will be overcome. I doubt very much that it ever will. I believe the only way to overcome our congestion difficulties is to spread out in the 3,000,000 square miles of territory that we have in Australia. That will give us plenty of room for action and plenty of room for expansion. Surely we can benefit from the experience of other countries and start to move out from the large cities and use some of the territory available to us.
– They ought to build the cities out in the country.
– We have one here- the City of Canberra. This is in the country. There should be more of this kind of city.
– But there is a shortage of houses here - that is the main trouble.
– There is plenty of room to build them. Canberra is a wonderful example of building in the country, and I believe there should be more like it in Australia.
– You should look behind the scenes and see the people living in buses such as you mentioned.
– That may be so, but we will not improve conditions in Australia until we move out into the country. This is a very important factor and, as I see it, it makes a very powerful argument for decentralization. I believe that the bill we are discussing is extremely important. The young people of Australia should be encouraged to save by every means to assist themselves. This bill sets out to do exactly that. It will provide £1 for every £3 saved up to a maximum of £750. It will set a pattern for savings by the people. I think it will be generally agreed that in Australia the wage level for young people before they marry - I am not thinking of when they marry, but before they marry - gives them an opportunity to make a saving of this nature. This bill is an incentive for them to do just that. I sincerely hope that this measure will have that reaction, because I feel there is plenty of room for saving and for people to enjoy our Australian way of life by building Australia around the family unit. That is democracy in its real form, and that is the way of life that we have been used to. We should work for this.
We have all the ingredients in Australia to build homes. We have the raw materials, although perhaps we have to train more personnel. We have everything in this country; it is merely a matter of harnessing what we have and getting on with the work. We must encourage the people to save and stand on their own feet as much as possible and to build their own homes. We have the capacity to do it - and the room. There is a great future in Australia to build industries and the homes around them. I sincerely hope that we set out in this way to extend Australia from the coastline further into country areas by building houses and industries and by overcoming some of the great difficulties that we have to-day. This bill provides an incentive for young people to do just that by giving them an incentive to save and to own their homes.
.- The weak attempt by Government supporters to vindicate this bill emphasizes that it is a bad measure. Certainly it will help some people, but the great army of the underprivileged will stilt face a bleak future. The needy who have had little help in the past will get even less help in the future. This bill can be regarded or described only as a class bill. Any grants made under it will go to those married couples who are fortunate enough to save the most money - not to those whose need is the most urgent. It will still be the lot of the needy to hope to obtain a home on a rental basis from the State housing authorities. Their hope in this regard becomes even grimmer when it is realized that in Australia to-day there are 75,000 to 80.000 unsatisfied clients on the books of the housing commissions.
The low-wage earner will remain a member of the 170,000 unfortunate Australian families which, as the 1961 census revealed, were living in shared houses, huts and sheds. It seems that their days will be forever spent in the 100,000 substandard dwellings existing in Australia to-day and referred to by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron). The building industry is the hub upon which the development of this country revolves. It contributes directly to our economic expansion Coupled with this expansion are ever increasing demands for building materials, furniture and furnishings, transport, power and fuel, and a number of other resources. Indeed, the building industry can be likened to a multiplier making a vast contribution to the whole level of economic activity in a wide range of industries throughout the country. Further, it must be realized that tremendous changes are taking place in the structure and magnitude of this country. It is estimated that the population will double within 25 years. Over the same period the 15 to 19 years-old age group will increase by 55 per cent, and there will be a 60 per cent, increase in the 20 to 24 year age group. The latter group will want to buy homes and raise families.
Nothing is more important for the health and happiness of all people, irrespective of age, than a decent home in which to live. However, this bill will do little to help the ambitions of those in the 20 to 24 years-old age group. While it must be admitted that there has been an increase in building activity I entertain serious doubts about whether the measure we are discussing will do anything to reduce the backlag in home building or even to measure up to the heavy demand that must confront Australia in future. In fact. I am forced to the conclusion that the manner in which this legislation is framed will extend the many bad practices that have already intruded themselves into the building industry. Therefore, I think it is timely to ask what this bill will do to help the 170,000 unfortunate families living in the 100,000 sub-standard homes, in the sheds, the huts and the shared houses. What will it do to help in slum reclamation? How much will it achieve towards clearing and rebuilding the 1,000 acres of slums in Melbourne?
In the light of the need for better housing, more housing and slum reclamation, this bill is absolutely insignificant, even more so when it is estimated that it will cost, on present-day figures, £50,000,000, to clear the slums of Melbourne, and the job will take ten years to do. lt is timely to say also that it was not until the election of last year, and after fourteen years in office, that the Government realized that there was an alarming housing problem in Australia. At this late stage the Government has introduced this puny measure and has the audacity to think it will overcome the housing lag and straighten out all our difficulties.
Some indication of the problems facing the home purchaser can be gleaned from the following information: A building company was offering, on every home purchased or built through its organization, second mortgages at a rate of 7 per cent, simple 1 interest, adjusted quarterly on the balance outstanding up to £1.000 and repayable by instalments of principal over periods equal to a reduction of £100 a year. For example, a £1,000 second mortgage would require repayments of £11 13s. 2d. a month over tcn years and a second mortgage of £500 would require repayments of £9 19s. a month over five years. These payments included interest. The finance was being made available by a life assurance company which, as a condition of the advance, required that a life policy be taken out by some member of the purchasing family for an amount equal to the first and second mortgages, but not greater than £4,000. The cost of this insurance approximated £1 a week. This, of course, represents a saving, not an expense. In addition, the policy may be cashed at any time after the second mortgage has been paid off. I think all will agree that that is an excellent home-purchase protection scheme for the family. However, the State Savings Bank and the Commonwealth Bank refused to accent this scheme. The State Savings Bank refused to accept it because it did not comply with the hank’s one-quarter rule and the Commonwealth Bank rejected if because it did not comply with its one-fifth rule.
I return to my previous remarks about bad practices in connexion with home finance. The greatest criticism has been levelled against second mortgages taken out through the loan sharks, and candidly, it is with these same loan sharks that I am afraid most of the money being made available under this bill will finish. Here are some of the facts. Second mortgages bearing interest rates of 10 per cent, and over are generally unsecured and are treated as personal loans. They are not disclosed to the lending authority by the registration process at the titles office. This practice makes liars of the client, the home builder, and, lo some extent, the bank officer in that relevant facts are not disclosed: but, owing to the attitude adoped by the bunks in refusing to alter their rules the people are forced to adopt these measures. T am afraid that, in their endeavours to obtain this £250 gift, many applicants will be influenced by the same shady people to adopt the same shady practices. Undisclosed personal loans at high interest rates will still be offering. Therefore, with low interest rate second mortgages still being denied them, home seekers will bc forced into the hands of the loan sharks, not by the genuine home-building companies but largely by the rules of the lending institutions.
Let me refer again to the low wage earner, lt is true to say that, contrary to earlier expectations, the Stale housing commissions have not supplied the low income families with suitable housing at prices commensurate with their wage standards, lt is certainly true that housing commission homes are sold at deposits well below those required by the conventional home builders, but it still cannot be denied that, on the whole, the State home building authoritie arc suppliers for the middle income group rather than the low income families and, of course, this legislation contains nothing which is designed to help the low income family with its problem in securing a home through a housing commission. I will say, however, that the Victorian Housing Commission took a very commendable action recently in reducing the price of its homes by £405. But I emphasize, also, that this action was taken just prior to a State election. On the home-building front the picture is reversed.
Since this Government has indicated that it will make a gift of £250, homes are costing, on the average, 4 per cent more than they did previously. In fact, a home that could be bought prior to the election for £3,500 now costs £3,600 or more. Thus the people are paying higher prices without getting anything more or anything better. In fact, it is the freely expressed opinion in the home finance world that a great number of people purchasing homes on long-term contracts at high rates of interest and who also have taken out second mortgages at high rates of interest will not be able to meet their payments because of a decline in their earning capacity as they grow older, and that as a result many of the homes purchased in this way will revert to the financing institutions. To me, this is very disturbing, especially when one realizes that already automation is leaving little opportunity for the unskilled worker in industry and ultimately could present this country with its greatest unemployment problem. This is borne out by experience in the United States of America.
I accept the fact that we cannot stop progress. I also realize that we cannot ignore it. But, by the same token, many workers in Australia to-day are are concerned about their prospects when automation becomes fully geared. The Government must be aware of this and it must realize the effect it could have on the home buyers. Therefore, I feel that if the effort, time, labour and, more importantly, the finance that have been and will be expended on this scheme were used to investigate this problem the long-term results would be more beneficial to the people and the country in general. It is a problem that will have to be faced, and the Minister would have been better employed investigating it. His time would have been better employed examining the position of the person who can afford only a small deposit. He would have been better employed examining the need for much lower interest rates, the need for abolishing the flat rate of interest on housing loans and the need for keeping the interest rates on housing finance separate from the interest rates on other things.
Certainly this subsidy will assist some people. That cannot be denied. Nor can it be denied that there has never been any shortage of money for home building. The great problem has been that money has been too dear to borrow, and it is still too dear to borrow. In fact, the housing policy in this country should be such as will ensure that no person who wishes to purchase a home and who has a reasonable deposit and the ability to pay a reasonable amount per week will be denied the privilege of buying a home. That is the fundamental element in the development of a modern community. None can deny that home ownership rather than home renting is a characteristic of the Australian tradition. In this day and age, we see in the press articles similar to the one I am about to quote. The honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess) had something to say about where such articles come from, but the point is that it is no credit to the Government that articles such as these should be published, as they have been so frequently during the fourteen years or more for which the Government has been in office. The following article appeared in the Melbourne “ Herald “ of 28th April, 1964, under the heading “ It’s Housing Without Hope
In Melbourne, Year of Grace 1964, two of four children of a family have been sleeping in a bathroom.
The bathroom contained an old tin bath and double-decker bunks in which the children slept.
They were there because there were only two bedrooms in the house, and the family could not afford to pay more than the £5 rent to get something better.
This was one of the examples of “ grossly unsatisfactory” acommodation found by the Brotherhood of St. Laurence in a survey of S3 Melbourne families, all except eight living on less than £20 a week.
The Brotherhood says there is a “ vulnerable group “ of at least 55,000 Victorian families living on £20 a week and less.
They have almost no hope of finding suitable housing at a price they can afford, says the Brotherhood.
Other families surveyed were paying from £6 to £8 a week for cramped old houses in inner suburbs with poor facilities and no play space for the children.
The article goes on -
There was the old two-story terrace house-
This is almost like something from Dickens - in North Carlton, holes in the walls, water stains on the ceilings, four bedrooms, let at £11 lis. a week . . . and the tenant asked to leave because the landlord could make more by letting out the house in rooms.
Typical rents paid by 23 families in the study was £5 a room.
A West Melbourne family paid £5 10s. a week despite leaking ceilings, gaping holes in the plaster, rotten floor boards, and a sickening smell of damp and rot.
Further on the article states -
The survey found that for a family with two or three young children to find adequate accommodation quickly it has to pay at least £8 a week for a house or self-contained Bat of moderately good standard in a reasonable locality.
One obstacle to house-hunting families is that up to a month’s icnt in advance is demanded.
Some families are “ trapped “ in unsatisfactory accommodation because they cannot save up enough advance rent for a better place.
From 1954 to 1961 tfe population increased by J 6 per cent, while the number of rented dwellings decreased by 9 per cent., says the survey.
Having read the article, I now ask: What will this bill do to help those poor unfortunate people? How can they save £5 a week for three years? Furthermore, this bill does nothing to assist a person to buy or obtain for rental a housing commission home. Yet the State housing authorities are the only authorities that can undertake the task of caring for the needy. Without doubt the report of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence reveals that we have plenty of poverty in this so-called affluent nation.
In face of all this, the bill imposes an age limit of 36 years for eligibility for the dubious gift and turns a blind eye to the basic problems of housing, namely the deposit gap, high interest rates and an increase in the guaranteed advances on the valuations, thus making it possible to purchase a home with a deposit of 10 per cent, or less of the purchase price. The Government can do these things if it so desires. It has the power to overcome the problems. lt can determine the terms of lending for housing purposes. The subsidy of £250 will certainly help some people, but for the multitude the matters I have mentioned are much more important than the £250 marriage loan. From it they will receive little help, if any at all.
Some indication of the difficulties people are experiencing because of the rates of interest being charged can be seen from figures I shall quote. The figures show the monthly instalments payable over different periods and the amounts of interest payable on a loan of £4,000 from the Victorian Housing Commission. They are as follows: -
What chance have people borrowing on these terms to recover their money? They have no hope at all. If these are the State housing authority’s interest rates, what must be the interest rates charged by loan sharks and lending institutions at a fiat rate of interest in the private sector? In fact, these figures should bring forcibly to our minds the tragic plight of home buyers. It makes little difference whether they are purchasing homes from State housing authorities or from private lending institutions. The salient point that emerges from the debt that faces them is the realization that the contracts for home purchases which they sign make them virtual slaves to the finance houses for the rest of their days.
In addition to the pockets of poverty that are manifest in our midst and have been referred to by the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, we are developing a community of invisible poor. The only hope that these people have to rid themselves of the shackles of everlasting debt is to win Tatt’s or some other lottery; that is, if they can afford the money from the weekly budget to buy a ticket. The sum total of this sort of situation is reflected in its cost to the nation, for it is true to say that the social cost of poverty shows itself in crime, sickness and loss of production. Indeed, the continuing prevalence of misery and want among families and individuals with low economic status represents in my opinion one of the greatest challenges facing our domestic economy to-day
With the knowledge that these things are ever-present in our midst. I ask what this legislation will do to meet the challenge. So far no Government supporter has said anything about what can be done and, quite candidly, 1 see little hope in this bill for married people with low or medium incomes. What chance have young married couples to save £5 a week for three years in order to take advantage of this scheme and at the same time raise a family, pay high rents and meet the high cost of living and all the other incidental expenses that intrude into family life? It seems a great pity, Mr. Speaker, that if the intent of the bill is genuine it must be couched in such a mass of legislative jargon and legal red tape.
According to the Minister’s speech, the bill is designed to increase the proportion of national resources available for housing purposes by providing a strong inducement to young people to save in ways which provide funds for investment and housing. It means that if a young couple buy a block of land and pay it off at the rate of £5 a week for three years, they will obtain a grant of £250 from the Government. In other words, it means that the Federal Government has increased the price of land by some proportion of £250, because this is the amount that a young couple will nol have to find. In my humble opinion it will push up the prices of land, as this is the usual effect of any subsidy. It will benefit sub-dividers and developers by increasing land inflation, but I doubt that it will result in any more housing resources.
Alternatively, if the measure achieves compulsory saving by young couples over a long period of years and at a maximum rate of £250 in any one year, it lengthens the period that Australia’s million or so workers who earn between £16 and £20 a week must wait to obtain the maximum grant before buying their homes. There are not too many young couples to-day who can save £5 per week towards a house and pay high rents at the same time. It is frequently possible to obtain a home on a deposit of substantially less than £1,000 by obtaining great amounts as second mortgages and by making high weekly repayments. It is generally the view of a young couple thai they might as well pay £10 a week off first and second mortgages as pay £10 in rent. At least they are in their own home and are paying something off the principal owing, instead of feeding a landlord. Under this bill these people will be denied the right of home ownership unless they either pay off land or deposit money as savings over a period of years.
It is my view that approximately only 33 per cent, of home purchasers will be eligible for the grant in its present form. The remainder either are too old or will buy before they have saved £750. I agree that well-to-do middle income couples will benefit by £250 if they comply with the provisions of the bill, but I am afraid that in more cases than not, even they will find that the price of land has increased far more than £250 while they are saving £750. Alternatively, if they purchase land they will find the price inflated by the amount of the subsidy.
Surely it would have been far more practicable to have offered an immediate interestfree loan to all couples under the age of 36 years purchasing a home, a loan which would become a grant if they established an equity of £750 in a property within three years of its purchase. This would have achieved the same objective; that is, to encourage home ownership and to subsidize the resources available for home ownership. I believe in the principle of a grant of £250 to young people to assist them in home ownership. It is an excellent scheme, but I feel that the present legislation endeavours to use a good principle to achieve an alternative means for the Government. There appears to be little difference between the intent of this bill and the 20 or 30 tax measures applied to life assurance societies. In other words, it is another Treasurythoughtout operation. In its present form it will back-fire on the Government and serve to aggravate the inflationary position of land prices. It seems a greaty pity that good social legislation is marred by the poor quality bill that has been presented. But, Mr. Speaker, it seems to be the unfortunate history of all social reform in Australia that you give something with one hand and with the other you surround it with so much legislative and statutory requirement that it is hardly worth the bother of processing it.
One advantage of the legislation is that in its present form it is so complex that it must make plenty of work for a new batch of civil servants and create nice new jobs for directors and deputy directors, secretaries, assistant secretaries and so on. There will be long queues of people wasting productive time in trying to answer the complex questions to which this complicated bill will give rise. 1 say therefore that every effort should be made to simplify the bill and make it positive in encouraging home ownership by an immediate interest-free loan without means tests or qualifications. The loan should become a grant if equity of £750 is established in the property within three years.
Let me say, in a brief passing reference, Mr. Speaker, that I can only hope that the next instalment of the Government’s housing policy - a measure relating to home insurance guarantees - will be simpler and more genuine than this one is. If this first instalment is indicative of what is to come, the new Department of Housing seems likely to be just another government department that will be hog-tied by legal jargon and red tape.
A national housing corporation, designed to assist in the construction of homes for people in the lower income range, would make a valuable impact on the whole housing problem and do much to solve it. People should be able to obtain essential housing on low deposits and, in some instances, without deposits at all. The New Zealand Government, combining the scheme for the capitalization of family benefit with the operations of the government advances corporation, enables couples who have families and who are in the lower income groups to buy without deposit homes built for the purpose. No amount of argument will convince me that we cannot do the same here by establishing a homes finance commission with authority to act in a similar manner.
In West Germany - the country that lost the war and won the peace - the Government, under its housing policy, gives a person a loan equivalent to £450 Australian. On the arrival of the first child, one-third of the loan is written off. On the arrival of the second child, another one-third is written off. On the arrival of the third child, the remainder of the loan is written off. Housing finance is provided on the basis of the first 60 per cent, of the loan being interest free and the other 40 per cent, being subject to interest at 3 per cent. The kitchen of a home, built to standard size, is furnished free. These schemes are fine examples of what can be done if a government has the courage and the incentive to help all the people all the time. The nation has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
If, at an interest rate of 31 per cent., this Government can make profits of millions of pounds from war service homes, what would be the return to the country if a similar scheme existed in the remainder of the housing field? The situation confronting this nation to-day in respect of housing needs demands the adoption of methods such as I have outlined. Any one with a realistic view of the facts cannot escape this conclusion.
.- Mr. Speaker, we have now heard three Opposition speakers, beginning with the Deputy Leader of the Oppositon (Mr. Whitlam), who led for the Opposition in this debate. I listened closely to all of them, but I have found it difficult to discover any constructive suggestions in what they have said. Indeed, they have not even disclosed whether the Opposition intends to vote in support of the bill. They have not revealed whether they like it or just what they think about it. They have rambled all over the field of housing and have discussed ail sorts of matters not related to this measure. One would have expected the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to state the Australian Labour Party’s policy on this bill, but he merely resorted to a disclosure that Labour still sticks rigidly to its idea that the socialization of the ownership of land and the imposition of controls are the cure for all ills that can beset the economy. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) described this measure as miserable. In effect, he said: “ I shall not discuss the bill at all. It is miserable.” This approach just goes to show how foolish honorable members opposite can be. I respect the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) very much, for he is a moderate man. But even he went so far as to say that the bill was insignificant, although he admitted that it had some merit. Indeed, from the remarks of the Opposition speakers. I have gained no impression that the Labour Party has any set policy on the aspects of housing with which the bill deals, Mr. Speaker.
I believe that it should be said, as some Government supporters have already said, that the present Government is to be heartily congratulated on this forwardlooking measure. It breaks new ground. and I believe that it is one of the most inspiring measures that we have discussed in this House for a very long time. Apparently, none of the merits of this bill has appealed to Opposition members. They do not seem to have understood its purpose or what will be its effects on the young people of Australia and on housing generally. They have no ideas about that aspect of the bill. I assure honorable members opposite that this measure will be of great benefit to the economy as well as to those who receive home savings grants.
As we all know, the policy to which this bill will give effect was announced by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in his policy speech for the last federal general election. That policy immediately caught the imagination of the young people of Australia, who showed their support of it simply by voting for the Government. Their attiude showed that they trusted the Government to introduce this measure and to give effect to the policy that had been enunciated. I agree, Mr, Speaker, that the Government’s housing policy helped to win the election. This is a sore point with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who said that Labour, if it had put forward such a policy, would have been charged with bribery. The fact is that Labour did not think of this policy and has never in its history introduced forward-looking legislation such as this in relation to housing. This measure is based on sound common sense. Labour has never advocated legislation to encourage home ownership in any way. I shall prove that a little later when I touch on other matters.
This bill is in accordance with the basic principles for which both the Liberal Party of Australia and, I believe, the Australian Country Party stand. It is designed to encourage the young people of Australia to support that great principle of home ownership for which we on this side stand. We, as a government, believe that the home is the focal point in the building of our national character. We are trying not merely to provide shelter. We believe that the home is, as it were, the cell that is the basis of our national body. It is the foundation on which the whole national character is built. We believe that home ownership encourages family life. Indeed, family life and home ownership are integral parts of our national character. We believe that family life is basic to the God-given right of the individual to enjoy the basic freedom for which we stand. These principles are inherent in the measures that we are now discussing. It should not have been subjected to the carping and foolish criticism that has been voiced by the three Opposition speakers who have taken part in this debate so far. We on this side, Sir, believe that home ownership is the hall-mark of better citizenship. We believe that people who own their own homes cannot help being better citizens. They may have been good citizens before, but they become better citizens when they reach the stage of owning their own homes.
We believe that there is great merit in affording the individual the right to select his own home and to have a say in its design and location and the details of its construction. These things give personal expression to the characteristics of the human individual. A nation can become great only because of its people and the way in which they express themselves. Therefore, this bill allows for the individual to select his own design and the location of his home. We recognize that the human factors of the love and affection of the family in the relationships of its members one with another influence the decisions in these matters and cannot lightly be brushed aside. All these factors are inherent in the encouragement of home ownership, as we see it. We reject the dead hand of socialism that is inherent in the attitude of the Australian Labour Party towards such matters as this.
This bill will do more than merely provide financial assistance to enable housing needs to be met, Mr. Speaker. In the first place, it will stimulate our young people to save. This is the first occasion in the history of Australia on which legislation of this kind has provided a stimulus to saving by young people for a definite objective. This bill will provide an incentive to further effort by the individual in his job and his personal conduct. This encouragement and stimulation to greater effort will run right down the line. This measure will encourage young people to accept the responsibility of home-ownership - a factor that is of great importance in the building of a great nation.
The Prime Minister gave a broad outline of our proposal in his policy speech. The proposal is to pay a subsidy of £1 for every £3 saved over a period of three years up to a maximum contribution by the Government of £250. The subsidy is payable only to married people, one of whom must be less than 36 years of age and who have saved for the purpose of building or buying a home costing not more than £7,000. Some Opposition members said that this is 9 rich man’s bill. However, a limit of £7,000 is placed on the cost of the home and I do not think that this can be said to favour entirely the rich. Surely it is proper for people to aspire to a home valued at £7.000. After all, this is quite a modest home.
I remind the House that no previous legislation of this kind has ever been put forward or enacted in Australia. This has brought its problems to the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) and 1 congratulate him on the way that he has handled this matter. Opposition members have complained of delay, but. of course, it was not very easy to frame the legislation, make all the inquiries, build up a department and so forth. I think the Minister has handled these difficulties splendidly.
I think it is about time that some one said something about the bill itself. No one has done so yet, as far as I know, except my friend, the honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess). Clause 5 of the bill sets out the object quite plainly. It is -
Of course, the bill provides that these young persons must have saved for a period of three years with the intention of getting a home. This is not unreasonable when one looks at the purpose of the legislation. They are eligible if they entered into a contract to buy an existing home or to build a home after 2nd December, 1963. The Government could hardly have started this scheme at an earlier date; 2nd December was the first day of business after the election which was held on 30th November, 1963. lt is encouraging to note that the Government has made the scheme easy in its early stages. Wide discretion is given to decide that certain savings made up to 31st December, 1964, are acceptable.
Whilst savings made before 31st December, 1967, are more plainly identifiable, a certain amount of discretion is still allowed. Money used for the purchase of land or materials will be accepted as savings.
The bill permits the purchase of a flat or home unit either by strata title or by shares in a company, and this is important. Opposition members have criticized the legislation because homes are not eligible if they are being purchased with money provided by a State housing authority, which it has received under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. This is really very reasonable. Money provided under this agreement is very much subsidized. The interest rate on it is 1 per cent, below the long-term bond rate. Therefore, people who are using this money to purchase a home are already receiving a subsidy and surely they should not be entitled to a further subsidy under this legislation. The bill provides that only one grant will be given in a lifetime. That is a fair proposition.
As I have said, there is need for elastic administration, particularly in the first year or so of the operation of this scheme. This is particularly so in the identification of acceptable savings. I am sure that the Minister is fully aware of this need. Of course, anomalies will arise and we will all meet situations that are not covered by the legislation. After all, this is new legislation and no comparable bill has ever been enacted before. Difficulties will arise and they will be dealt with in the light of experience. I agree that the Minister should give wide publicity to the scheme, particularly to the savings requirements. People must know what to do and honorable members will be saved a lot of trouble if wide publicity is given to the way that the scheme will be administered and to (he rights of young people.
I know something about the building society movement in Australia. It has been sponsored by this Government and was originally introduced by the Stevens Government back in 1930. The building society movement, because of its cooperative character, is the natural home for the savings of people who intend to participate in this scheme. I say that because I know the way the building societies are being conducted and the services that they provide to the people.
I appreciate that this legislation is not complete in itself. The Prime Minister in his policy speech announced that there was a second string to the bow. This is a guarantee by insurance of loans up to 95 per cent, at reasonable interest rates. This guarantee is essential if people are to bridge the deposit gap. Opposition members have spoken about the deposit gap. They should wait until this further legislation is introduced and then they will see how the complete picture presents itself. I understand that the Minister is at present working on the legislation and that we should have it by the Budget session. It is a very important scheme and it must be fully investigated. I hope that it follows very much along the lines of the Federal Housing Administration scheme which has been highly successful in the United States of America. Under this scheme, there is no possibility of loss to the government. I believe that the amount of premium payable in relation to a scheme of this kind is extremely low. I hope that when these two pieces of legislation are operating, many troubles will be cured.
In my opinion, one of the greatest tragedies of the past - it was inspired very largely by Labour legislation - is the enormous amount of public money that has been diverted into housing. This money is raised by taxation and by loans. In the past fourteen years, over £1,000,000,000 has been spent in the housing field. Much of this is justified, particularly in relation to such matters as war service homes. But much of it has been spent because private money was not available, due to the fact that the incentive to invest had been destroyed by Labour legislation of the past. This applies not only to the legislation of the previous Labour Government in the federal sphere but also to the legislation of many of the State Labour governments. The Labour governments completely destroyed the incentive of private people to invest their money in housing, otherwise the Government would never have had to spend the amount of money that has been drawn from the public purse.
Now, these two housing measures - we are dealing with one to-night and the other, which is complementary to it, will be dealt with later - will bring back millions of pounds of private money into the housing field because they will again create the incentive to build.
As we all know, the traditional policy of the Australian Labour Party is opposed to the encouragement of home ownership. Many Labour members have denied that policy to-night, but one only has to refer to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945, which was mentioned here to-night, to realize the truth of what I am saying. In the schedule to that agreement the following words appear: -
Whereas at Conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers held during the months of August, 1944, and August, 194S, proposals were agreed upon relating to the carrying out of rental housing projects by the States:
That paragraph refers only to rental projects. Then this statement appears at clause 3 (1): -
Each State shall ensure that adequate legislation exists in the State to enable it at all times to control throughout the State -
rental housing projects under this Agreement;
No provision was inserted in the agreement of 1945 by the Labour Government to provide for the sale of homes or the creation of home ownership. Clause 14 of the schedule to which I have referred reads as follows: - (1.) A dwelling may be sold by a State at any time after its completion but except with the consent in writing of the Treasurer of the Commonwealth a dwelling shall not be sold at or for a price less than the capital cost of the dwelling ascertained in accordance with the provisions of the First Schedule to this Agreement: Provided that the total repayments of principal (included in the annual amortisation allowance mentioned in subparagraph (a) of paragraph 4 of the First Schedule to this Agreement) in respect of the dwelling may be regarded as part of the purchase price. (2.) The State shall pay to the Commonwealth the full purchase price of the dwelling payable by the purchaser.
In other words when the Australian Labour Party had this opportunity to express itself in relation to its housing policy it prepared an agreement under which it deliberately turned its back upon encouragement of home ownership and provided only for rental projects.
Therefore, I charge members of the Australian Labour Party with not being consistent in now saying that they would like to see home ownership. That charge is letting the Australian Labour Party off lightly because all honorable members well know that in relation to this matter, Mr. Dedman stated, “We don’t want to build a nation of little capitalists “. That remark has gone down in history. It illustrated the policy of the Australian Labour Party in relation to these matters.
Now, look at the enormous potential of new private money which will come into housing projects from this scheme that we are debating. There were 1,355,436 males and 1,268,290 females, a total of 2,623,726 persons, aged between 18 and 35 years at the 30th June, 1963. I have not the figures for 1963 in relation to single people but I have them up till 1961 and at that time there were 612,846 males and 325,598 females between the ages of 18 and 35 years.
While tens of thousands of young married people will avail themselves of this scheme, if only the single people saved on the basis of £250 a year it would amount to £235,000,000 per annum. I do not suggest that all single people will save but it is a possibility. I know, and everybody knows, that with this offer of £250 every young man and every young woman who intends to marry will start a savings account to get the housing grant. All these people, or the great majority of them, will, in my opinion, avail themselves of this opportunity.
Other interesting figures are available. The average number of marriages per year in the past three years where both parties were under 36 years of age was 67,882 out of a total average of 78,940 marriages; so that in 86 per cent, of all marriages both parties were under the age of 36 years. Therefore, it is safe to say that over 90 per cent, of all newly married couples could qualify for this subsidy. I think those are outstanding figures.
This scheme could cost the Government at least £17,000,000 a year- I do not know what amount the Minister has calculated - in a very short time and that would mean that £51,000,000 per annum in private deposits would be provided for home building. These figures cannot be denied. They are from the Commonwealth Statistician.
– Those figures will not even stand up.
– They will stand up to any inquiry you like to make. I mentioned those figures to show the significance of this bill and how it must affect the young people of Australia. It must affect their imagination and their preparation for their future. To those people who allege that they are not able to save, let me say that the average weekly earnings of all industrial groups in Australia in 1962 - and they are higher now -were £24.70 for males and £14.98 for females. Therefore, savings are possible in all the industrial groups, apart from any other groups in Australia.
The bill is intended to provide for a period of seven years and any young persons who start to work during that time should establish their own savings account to take advantage of the provisions of this measure. Then, in the years to come, we shall see the effect of this magnificent, forward-looking legislation on the promotion of home ownership in the manner I described when I first began speaking.
I should like, now, to deal with matters concerning building activity but I shall not have sufficient time. It is interesting to note that nearly 27,000 homes were built in the last quarter, which is equivalent to a rate of about 108,000 homes per annum. This far exceeds any estimate of the probable demand for housing in this country. Doctor Hall, who has written two books on this matter of housing requirements in the future, has revised his estimates in his latest book and has now estimated housing requirements at possibly 100,000 units per annum. So, the activity in the building industry is very great at the present time.
There are, of course, three important factors to watch. These are, first, the cost structure in the economy. We must handle this very carefully so that it will not get out of hand. If we were to adopt some of the suggestions made by honorable members opposite as to how the funds of the Reserve Bank should be used the cost structure in the economy soon would get out of hand.
Secondly, the availability of land at a reasonable price is essential to a balanced housing programme, whether it be in relation to home units or houses. I do not have sufficient time at my disposal to let honorable members opposite know the fundamental causes of the situation we are presently experiencing in relation to housing. Those causes are not what honorable members opposite think they are. On no subject discussed in this House is greater ignorance displayed, by too many honorable members opposite, than on the subject of housing. They should do some research into the basic reasons for the present housing problem.
The third aspect to watch is the training of tradesmen to meet the increased demand which we must expect for housing. In this regard the Government has recently made an announcement. This is an important aspect of the problem because at present we cannot meet the demand for skilled tradesmen in certain categories. The States as well as the Commonwealth have a responsibility in relation to the three matters that I have mentioned as being fundamental to the problem. These matters are not solely a Commonwealth responsibility. They are the responsibility of every State government, as well as of local government bodies, whose activities impinge upon matters which are of such vital importance to the growth of our country.
The Government has a great record in housing. That claim may easily be proved. If I had time I could tell the House of what the Government has done in the field of housing. This bill is one of the finest pieces of legislation the Government has ever brought down. I am sure that the people of Australia appreciate the Government’s action in providing this incentive to our young people.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Webb) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.52 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
s asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
When is the commission on tertiary education in Papua and New Guinea announced in February, 1963, likely to make its report?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Commission on Higher Education submitted its report to me on 26th March, 1964. The report is at present being considered, but no decisions have yet been taken on it.
Children of Australian Ex-servicement in Japan. (Question No. 217.)
son asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Elections in Papua and New Guinea. (Question No. 236.)
son asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
Employment in Papua and New Guinea. (Question No. 269.)
asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
s. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Private employees. - There is a wide variety of conditions under which persons resident in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea are employed by private employers, depending on the person or group concerned, the place of employment and such factors as skill, experience and reliability on the job. Persons may be employed under minimum conditions prescribed by law, under the conditions of an award or industrial agreement negotiated between groups of employers and employees, or under conditions privately agreed upon or written into contract by employer and employee. Minimum conditions are prescribed in a number of Ordinances of the Territory. Some of these Ordinances are applicable to employers and employees of all races, namely, the Workers* Compensation Ordinance 1958-1961, the Industrial Safety (Temporary Provisions) Ordinance 1957, and the Minimum Age (Sea) Ordinance 1957-1962. Other ordinances are applicable only to indigenous employees and their employers, namely, the Native Employment Ordinance 1958-1963, the Native Apprenticeship Ordinance 1951-1961, the Transactions with Natives Ordinance 1958-1963 and the Native Emigration Restriction Ordinance 1958. In. addition, the Industrial Relations Ordinance 1962 provides for the making of awards and common rules which have the force of minimum conditions for the parties bound by them.
Persons employed by the Administration. - The industrial conditions under which persons are employed in the Public Service of Papua and New Guinea vary according to whether the employment is permanent, temporary or other public service employment. The conditions are prescribed in the Public Service Ordinance 1949- 1962 and regulations and determinations thereunder and are generally in line with those in the Commonwealth and State Public Services. In addition the Administration employs indigenous people under the Administration Servants Ordinance 1958-1960, the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary Ordinance 1955-1959 and the Corrective Institutions Ordinance 1957-1963.
Private employees. - There is no legislative entitlement to leave for private employees; where leave is granted, it is generally taken on a biennial basis.
Persons employed by the Administration. - Leave is generally granted on an annual basis for employees born in the Territory and on a biennial basis for officers born outside the Territory.
Private employees. - There is no legislative entitlement to long service leave for private employees although such leave may be granted by individual employers. Sick pay for a period of one month is prescribed in the Native Employment Ordinance for agreement workers. There is no legislative entitlement to sick pay (other than for illness or injury arising out of or in the course of employment) for casual workers under the Native Employment Ordinance or for other private employees, although provision for sick pay may be made in awards or private employment agreements.
Persons employed by the Administration. - Officers and employees of the Public Service of Papua and New Guinea qualify for long service leave and sick pay, subject to compliance with prescribed conditions.
Wages. - Basic salaries for persons recruited to the Public Service of Papua and New Guinea from the mainland are generally in line with those payable for similar classes of work in the Commonwealth and State Public Services. In addition various allowances are payable to compensate them for working and living outside their own country.
Sick benefits. - On the date of appointment, permanent officers are entitled to a credit of four weeks sick leave on full pay and four weeks on half pay. After completion of twelve months service, sick leave is credited annually at the rate of two weeks on full pay and two weeks on half pay. These credits are cumulative. For temporary employees, sick leave accrues at the rate of two days a month after completion of two months continuous service. At the completion of twelve months continuous service, employees are credited with sick leave not availed of, and receive annually a further credit of two weeks leave on full pay and two weeks leave on half pay.
Long service leave. - Officers and employees of the Public Service of Papua and New Guinea are eligible for furlough on completion of twenty years’ service; the amount of furlough is calculated at the rate of 3/10 month on full salary in respect of each completed year of continuous service. Provision also exists for the grant of pro-rata furlough subject to compliance with prescribed conditions.
The conditions of private employees recruited from the mainland are generally the subject of private determination and agreement between the employer and employee or may be set out in awards of industrial agreements negotiated between employers and employees. The wages and conditions of expatriate personnel are generally based on Australian rates and conditions for comparable positions. Additional benefits are often provided in the form of assisted passages to and from Australia, free or subsidized board or lodging, or assistance with housing, and, in many cases, a generous period of leave entitlement after completion of two years’ service.
Private employees. - Provision is generally made in individual employment contracts or agreements for some form of assistance, payment or reimbursement to the employee for fares and expenses incurred in recruitment from the mainland, subject to the satisfactory completion of the contract or agreement.
Persons employed by the Administration. - Yes. In the event of failure to complete at least twelve months service in the Territory, an officer or employee may be required to refund all or part of the costs associated with the movement of himself, his family and effects to the Territory as the Public Service Commissioner may determine. In these circumstances, fares and other costs associated with the return of the officer or employee and his family and effects to Australia would be the responsibility of the officer or employee.
Royal Australian Navy. (Question No. 284.)
b asked the Minister for the
Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Defence. (Question No. 200.)
n asked the Minister for
Defence, upon notice -
– The Minister for Defence has furnished the following answer: -
There is a radar control and reporting unit located at Darwin which is quite adequate to carry out interceptions of aircraft. A mobile control and reporting unit is also being purchased which can be rapidly deployed to locations if the need arises.
rns asked the Minister for Housing, upon notice -
-The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 3. I refer the honorable member to a comprehensive statement on the conditions of eligibility for the home savings grant I made to the House on Sth May, 1964, and which is reported on pages 1527 to 1534 of “Hansard”.
y asked the Minister for Housing, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
ser asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1. (a) National Capital Development Commission, (b) National Capital Development Commission.
Tenders were reveived for the projects in order from lowest to highest as follows. It is not Government policy to publish details of unsuccessful tenders: -
James Moore and Sons Proprietary Limited.
E. S. Clementson Proprietary Limited.
Hornibrook Mackenzie Clark . Proprietary Limited.
Elweld Proprietary Limited.
Civil and Civic Construction.
Thiess Bros. Proprietary Limited.
John Holland (Construction) Proprietary Limited.
Stuart Bros. and Partners.
Christiani and Neilson Limited.
Maiella Construction Co.
Citra Enterprises Schneider.
N. H. Bowers Construction Limited.
Russell Offices, Stage 1-
Civil and Civic Proprietary Limited.
Clements Langford Proprietary Limited.
Concrete Constructions Proprietary Limited.
Russell Offices, Slage 2-
Civil and Civic Proprietary Limited.
Clement Langford (Canberra) Proprietary Limited. 3. (a) Kings Avenue Bridge - Hornibrook Mackenzie Clark Proprietary Limited.
Russell Offices, Stage 2- See 5 (c).
International Labour Organization Conventions. (Question No. 229.)
m asked the Minister for
Labour and National Service -
On what occasions and with what results have consultations taken place between the Government and the State Governments, pursuant to article 19, paragraph 7 (b) (ii) of the Constitution of the International Labour Organization, with a view to promoting co-ordinated action to give effect to the provisions of International Labour Organization Convention No. 100 and Recommendation No. 90 concerning Equal Remuneration (1951) and Convention No.111 and Recommendation No.111 concerning Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) (1958)?
n. - The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
In accordance with the usual practice the texts of Convention No. 100 and Recommendation No. 90 were sent to the Slates early in 1952 when their attitudes to ratification of the Convention and accepance of the Recommendation respectively were sought. The results were set out in the Statement to Parliament on Conventions and Recommendations adopted at the 34th Session of the International Labour Conference (1951), tabled on 15th October, 1953.
The question of ratification of Convention No. 100 was subsequently discussed at the Premiers’ Conference in July, 1954.
Convention No. 100 and Recommendation No. 90 were selected by the governing body of the I.L.O. for report under Article 19(7)(b)(v) of the Constitution in 1955 and there was further correspondence then between the Commonwealth and the States.
Convention No. 100 was again considered by Commonwealth and State Labour Departments together at a special meeting of the Departments of Labour Advisory Committee in April, 1960. In addition, there has been much correspondence on the matter between my Department and the Slate Departments.
Convention No.111 and Recommendation No. 111 concerning Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) (1958) were initially sent to the States on 5th January, 1959. All Slates subsequently replied that they were not in a position to agree to ratification of the Convention.
Convention No.111 was also discussed at the special meeting of the Departments of Labour Advisory Committee in 1960.
A Statement to Parliament, tabled on 1 2th April, 1962, on the Conventions and Recommendations adopted at the 42nd Session of the International Labour Conference (1958), made reference to Convention No.111 and Recommendation No. 111.
Convention No.111 and Recommendation No. 111 were selected by the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization for report under Article 19 (7) (b) (v) of the Constitution in 1962 and there was then further correspondence between the Commonwealth and the States.
Convention No.111 was again discussed at the Departments of Labour Advisory Committee meeting in April of this year when consideration was given to a thorough-going review of all relevant legislation, both in the Commonwealth and the States.
b asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
WHEREAS prejudices and outmoded customs act as barriers to the full realization of women’s basic rights which should be respected and fostered as part of our Nation’s commitment to human dignity, freedom, and democracy; and
WHEREAS measures that contribute to family security and strengthen home life will advance the general welfare; and
WHEREAS it is in the national interest to promote the economy, security, and national defense through the most efficient and effective utilization of the skills of all persons; and
WHEREAS in every period of national emergency women have served with distinction in widely varied capacities but thereafter have been subject to treatment as a marginal group whose skills have been inadequately utilized; and
WHEREAS women should be assured the opportunity to develop their capacities and fulfill their aspirations on a continuing basis irrespective of national exigencies; and
WHEREAS a Governmental Commission should be charged with the responsibility for developing recommendations for overcoming discriminations in government and private employment on the basis of sex and for developing recommendations for services which will enable women to continue their role as wives and mothers while making a maximum contribution to the world around them:
NOW, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and statutes of the United States, it is ordered as follows:
Sec. 101. There is hereby established the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, referred to herein as the “ Commission “. The Commission shall terminate not later than October 1, 1963.
Sec. 102. The Commission shall be composed of twenty members appointed by the President from among persons with a competency in the area of public affairs and women’s activities. In addition, the Secretary of Labor, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission shall also serve as members of the Commission. The President shall designate from among the membership a Chairman, a ViceChairman, and an Executive Vice-Chairman.
Sec. 103. In conformity with the Act of May 3, 1945 (59 Stat. 134, 31 U.S.C. 691), necessary facilitating assistance, including the provision of suitable office space by the Department of Labor, shall be furnished the Commission by the Federal agencies whose chief officials are members thereof. An executive Secretary shall be detailed by the Secretary of Labor to serve the Commission.
Sec. 104. The Commission shall meet at the call of the Chairman.
Sec. 105. The Commission is authorized to use the services of consultants and experts as may be found necessary and as may be otherwise authorized by law.
Sec. 201. The Commission shall review progress and make recommendations as needed for constructive action in the following areas:
Sec. 202. The Commission shall submit a final report of its recommendations to the President by October 1, 1963.
Sec. 203. All executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government are directed to co-operate with the Commission in the performance of its duties.
Sec. 301. Members of the Commission, except those receiving other compensation from the United States, shall receive such compensation as the President shall hereafter fix in a manner to be hereafter determined.
Signed John F. Kennedy.
The White House,
December 14, 1961.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 May 1964, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1964/19640512_reps_25_hor42/>.