25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question. In view of the fact that he has called a meeting of State Premiers for 22nd April next to discuss the future basis of tax reimbursements to the States, does it follow that he recognises the need for a revised arrangement for tax reimbursements to the States and, in particular, the need to help Victoria to overcome its financial difficulties under the present arrangements?
– The only thing that follows from this invitation is inevitable in the nature of it. The present tax payment arrangements will expire, I think, at the end of June. We have therefore invited the Premiers to come along in April to have some preliminary discussion so that we may be in possession of what has been suggested by this or that Premier for a new arrangement. It follows that we will listen with great interest to what the Premiers say and will thereafter be equipped to deal with the matter when the main meeting occurs. There are no other inferences to be read into this matter.
– I address a question to the Treasurer. The right honorable gentleman will recall that on 24th September last year I advanced the view in this House that there was no authority in the sales tax legislation for the practice of imposing a sales tax on unsolicited gifts entering the country. Is it a fact that this sales tax is no longer imposed?
– It is a fact that that sales tax is no longer imposed.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. Has he seen photographs of South Vietnamese Government troops carrying on a pole the heads of members of the Vietcong, photographs showing ft member of the Vietcong being used as a human mine detector, and other photographs showing South Vietnamese Government troops sticking knives into the ‘bodies of captured Vietcong personnel to obtain statements from them? Can he say whether these photographs are genuine? If they are, is he aware of any similar atrocities by British forces at Dunkirk, with which he made moral comparisons over the weekend?
– I have not seen these photographs. I can well imagine that the people of South Vietnam do not love members of the Vietcong and I should imagine that the feeling is reciprocated. I do not know whether the honorable gentleman has gone to the trouble of getting pictures of the Vietcong massacring innocent villagers, cutting people’s throats and dropping bombs into places where ordinary civilian people exist. If he does come into possession of some of them it will be no surprise to me, but it would be very illuminating to him.
– My question is addressed to you, Mr. Speaker, in your capacity as joint Chairman of the Library Committee. I refer to a question which I asked the Postmaster-General some time ago in which I asked him to obtain a copy of a statement made on television by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The PostmasterGeneral suggested that I try to get a copy from private sources. I have endeavoured to do that and have failed. The statement is of some interest. As I understand it, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that he was inclined to the foreign policy of Dr. Cairns. In the “Bulletin” of this week, it was stated that the Leader of the Opposition has obtained a transcript of the statement-
-Order! The honorable member cannot quote from a newspaper.
– Mr. Speaker, will you endeavour to obtain a copy of the statement from either the Leader of the Opposition or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, so that it may be laid on the table of the Library for the legitimate information of honorable members who would like to know what the correct text is?
– The Library comes underthe control of the President of the Senate. He and I are joint presiding officers. I will direct his attention to the question.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Territories. How many United Nations missions have visited West Irian since that country was placed under Indonesian care in accordance with the Bunker plan? If visits by United Nations officials have been made, will the Minister obtain the relevant reports so that honorable members may make comparisons between the happenings in that country and in Papua and New Guinea?
– I regret that I am unable to answer, off hand, the questions asked by the honorable member but I will endeavour to get the information that he seeks and I will advise him later.
– I ask the Prime
Minister a question. To what extent would the Commonwealth Government support the proposal of the New South Wales Country Party for drought relief by subsidising wheat and fodder for the feeding of starving stock in the drought areas of eastern Australia, by subsidising the transport over greater than normal distances of drought stricken stock for agistment, and by assisting generally in alleviating the great losses that are being caused by the first widespread serious drought for 20 years?
– Perhaps I should point out that the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia deals with the Governments of the States, and I hear a strong rumour that soon there will be a new government in New South Wales. Whatever government is in office in New South Wales or in any other State, if it makes an application to us in this connection we will, as usual, give that application our very careful and sympathetic consideration.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. In view of the fact that the blood ballot has been completed, thus showing the
Government’s determination to conscript Australian sons for the blood bath in Asia-
– Order! I suggest that the honorable member make a better choice of language. I ask him to withdraw that part of the question relating to a blood bath.
– Which part- the term “blood bath”?
– The honorable member will withdraw it.
– Well, I will say “the cold blooded murder”–
– Order! The honorable member will withdraw it.
– I withdraw “blood bath “. In view of the fact that the Government intends to spend an enormous amount on arms and war material, can the Minister advise me whether the Government intends to conscript wealth to a degree comparable to the conscription of manpower?
– It is regrettable that such an unpleasant and unwholesome note should have been introduced into a question associated with national service.
– The conscription of 20- year-old kids is unwholesome.
– You may think so, but the young men themselves do not think so.
– Don’t they?
– If you feel that way, why have you not got the courage to come out publicly and commit yourself.
– Order! The Minister will address his reply to the Chair.
– Yes, Sir, I will: the Leader of the Opposition–
– The Government’s attitude to national service training has been made known to this House and it was made known before the election campaign last year. I believe the Australian public wholeheartedly supported the action taken by the Government. If the problem is looked at in reverse, the Labour Party was and continues to be discredited on its approach to national service training. As to the second part of the honorable gentleman’s question, the proposals I made to the House relate to national service and the defence service. I see no relationship between national service and the second part of his question.
– Can the Minister for the Army say whether any decision has yet been made about permitting Australian soldiers in South Vietnam to accept decorations conferred on them by the South Vietnamese Government? If not, does he realise that the long delay has caused a feeling in South Vietnam that Australia considers that the South Vietnamese decorations are not worth having?
– As the honorable gentleman knows, this is a question of Government policy, and such matters are not discussed at question time.
– Is the Minister for the Army aware that many people believe that the education examination for enlistment in the Army is too harsh? I have it on good authority that in one instance a man who applied for enlistment and failed the education test joined the Australian Country Party and became a member of Parliament. Will the Minister consider lowering the standard of the education test?
– To the extent that the honorable member’s question is serious, I think it true to say, as has been stated many times, that in the light of the requirements for a modern army the educational standard is as low as it can be without detriment to the efficiency of the Army. I would remind the honorable gentleman that the educational standard is that expected of a 10 year old child. However - and I reiterate this point, which has been made before but which evidently needs emphasising - nobody is rejected for enlistment if he shows himself capable of benefiting from further education. It stands to reason that in a society where practically every child has at least 10 years of schooling, a person who from the age of 17 years onwards is not capable of passing a test based on the educational standard of a 10 year old is unlikely to be able to benefit from further education.
– I address a question to the Minister for Air. Following the Minister’s reply to a question asked on 28th October last year regarding the Government’s intentions about vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, has the Minister anything further to report on the development of these aircraft? Is it a fact that the British Government has cancelled the developmental contract for the P1 154 supersonic fighter? Further, what advantages could be expected from the tilting wing type of aircraft, recently reported on in the Press, compared with conventional helicopters?
– I had a feeling last October that the honorable member for Angas would keep me doing my homework on this subject and would show a continued interest in it. The answer to the first question is that the United Kingdom Government has cancelled the development contract of the P1 154, but the tripartite agreement with West Germany and the United States for the development of the Kestrel or P1 127 is still in force. It looks as though there are quite a number of promising features of this aircraft as a fighter and ground attack aircraft, and we shall continue to keep an eye on its development. The French are also continuing development along fairly similar lines. The honorable member’s other question referred to tilting wing aircraft which have been developed in the United States by two separate companies. The more interesting development is that of the XC142 by the Ling-Temco-Vought group. Preliminary trials indicate that this could be of great interest as a possible replacement for the Caribou. It has a greater carrying capacity than the Caribou and probably will have many advantages over, say, a heavy lift helicopter. There appear to be many advantages in this aircraft if its trials are successful. We shall continue to keep an eye on it and the honorable member will be kept informed.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Labour and National Service been directed to a letter dated 3rd March 1965 and signed by Mr. Morrison, President of the Western Australian Employers Federation, stating that the federation had initiated positive action to build up the work force of Western Australia by a system of indentured labour? Do the proposals provide that an employer will contract with workers in another country to have them work in Western Australia for a certain number of years, the workers to suffer certain penalties if they break the contract? Is it a fact that the real purpose of the proposal is to destroy the campaign by the Trades and Labour Council to improve wage standards in Western Australia? Finally, will the Minister state his attitude and that of the Government to the proposals, to the objectionable principle of indentured labour, and to this blatant attempt to prevent justifiable increases in workers’ wages in Western Australia, which at present are £3 Os. 9d. a week below the average for the whole of Australia?
– I had not heard of the letter referred to by the honorable member, and consequently there is nothing before me on which I could make a personal judgment. However, I could say that the statement of the honorable gentleman and the implications he has drawn appear to me to be so exaggerated that I have grave doubts as to whether he has understood the full purport of the letter or the intention of the gentleman who wrote it. Nonetheless I will have inquiries made and if it is practicable for me to make any comment about the matter I will do so.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. In view of the number of complaints by shire councils in New South Wales that they believe they are not receiving their full 40 per cent, share of moneys made available to the States under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act, I ask whether the Commonwealth makes any check on -the distribution of these moneys by the New South Wales Government. If no such check is made, will the Treasurer take steps to have the distribution of Commonwealth aid roads funds checked to see that these funds are distributed in conformity with the conditions laid down by the Commonwealth?
– I regret that I am unable to give a precise answer to the question. I am not even clear whether the ultimate destination and use of the money would come within the jurisdiction of the Treasury or of some other department. But I shall make inquiries and see that an informative and authoritative reply reaches the honorable member.
– I ask the Minister for Territories a question. Last year, for the first time, the Commonwealth Government granted to primary producers in the Northern Territory a subsidy on fertiliser used for agricultural purposes. An extension of the subsidy for a further period has been under consideration for a considerable time. As producers in the Katherine and other areas are concerned at the delay in arriving at a decision on this matter, will the Minister make a favourable announcement on it this week?
– As the honorable member has pointed out, last year a subsidy was granted on the use of fertiliser in order to stimulate agriculture and pasture development in the Northern Territory. No decision has been made as to what will happen next year. The Government has a great interest in stimulating agriculture in the Northern Territory and I look forward to a decision on this matter.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. In the debate last month on foreign affairs the Leader of the Opposition said that the Communist Party in Australia was - and I quote his words - “ insignificant and impotent “-
– Order! Questions cannot refer to a debate in the current session.
– Is the honorable gentleman not in order in referring to a debate long concluded? Does not the limitation refer only to a debate now proceeding?
– Order! The honorable member will not be in order if he refers to a debate in the current session.
– Is it a fact that the damaging and costly strikes on the waterfront and at Mount Isa are the responsibility of the Australian Labour Party? Will the Minister prepare a statement outlining the facts and indicating to the Parliament just where the Labour Party stands on these important matters?
– I will look into the matters referred to by the honorable gentleman. So far as the Mount Isa strike is concerned, I think it is proper to say that I do not know of any association between it and the Federal Parliamentary Labour Party. So far as the waterfront is concerned, I have never had any evidence from the Labour Party that it is prepared to take action of any kind designed to interfere in any way with Communist activities on the waterfront.
– I ask the Treasurer a question supplementary to the question asked by the honorable member for Hume. Has the right honorable gentleman ever had reason to believe that the States have failed to spend Commonwealth aid roads funds in accordance with conditions laid down by the Commonwealth over the years?
– I personally have no reason to believe so, but complaints apparently reached some honorable members and it was in order to ascertain the facts from the appropriate department of government that I undertook to make the inquiries to which I referred.
– How long does the Minister think his inquiries will take?
– I hope to have the desired information within the next 48 hours.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Industry a question about proposed additions to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the text of which, I understand, was agreed to by the contracting parties late last year. Will the right honorable gentleman give information about proposed new articles for G.A.T.T.? In particular, will new articles in any way affect the “ no new preference “ rule in G.A.T.T.?
– I am sure the honorable member is referring to the chain of events which led, after protracted discussions in G.A.T.T., to an agreement that new articles should be added to G.A.T.T. dealing exclusively with the position of less developed countries and with the objective of widening their opportunities for trade. A variety of suggestions was advanced. One suggestion submitted by the less developed countries themselves is that a system of preferences should be applied to less developed countries. Another suggestion is that there should be no increase of existing duties on exports from developing countries but a progressive reduction of existing duties in the tariff schedules of developed countries touching the export items of the less developed countries. AH of these are matters that will be discussed in G.A.T.T.
As a matter of fact, at present the contracting parties of G.A.T.T. have been invited to declare their position in respect of the new articles. Australia has made a statement in G.A.T.T., making it perfectly clear that we desire in the future, as we have in the past, to widen the opportunities for trade of the less developed countries. We have pointed out that we are one of the very few countries that has not imposed any quantitative restrictions upon exports by the less developed countries and that, by any comparison whatever, we have a very good record in regard to obstructionist tariffs on such items as tea and coffee. We have further pointed out that Australia has some problems. We will be expounding our position more fully during the course of the year in these debates in G.A.T.T.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. Has the Minister been officially invited to attend a national conference to discuss waterfront problems? Is he aware that Mr. Fitzgibbon, General Secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, has welcomed the idea of such a conference, which was put forward by Mr. Anderson, Director of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia? If the -Minister receives an invitation, will he regard the problems of the waterfront as being urgent enough to warrant accepting the invitation to attend such a representative national conference?
– I did read a suggestion by Mr. Anderson, the official representative of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures, that the time had come to hold a general conference on the problems of the waterfront. I also read a statement by Mr. Fitzgibbon, the General Secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, that he would be willing to attend a conference.
– Is he a member of the Australian Labour Party?
– Of course he is. He is a member of the New South Wales Executive.
– Maybe he is. I do not argue about that. He has said that he would be willing to attend a conference. But I would like to make a statement about my position. Some time ago, in 1963 - I cannot remember the exact date - I called a national conference on the problems of the waterfront. We then came to an agreement with the Waterside Workers Federation and the agreement was accepted at mass meetings of members of the Federation at each of the great ports of this country. I would be a little reluctant to go to another conference, in view of our experience following the last conference. The industrial relations committees have not worked and, despite the undertakings given to us by the Federation and by mass meetings of members of the Federation, they have not lived up to their obligations. Of course, I am willing to have a conference if I think it will lead to useful results. If all I can expect is that solemn agreements will be made by the Federation and will be endorsed by the branches, only to have the Sydney and Melbourne branches of the Federation immediately afterwards refuse to adhere to the agreements, naturally I will be reluctant again to call a national conference. Nonetheless, as the suggestion has been made, I will have a talk with the employers of waterfront labour, the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority and my own officers, and if I think that anything useful will come out of discussions with the Federation, I will call a conference.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister. In answer to a question I asked on 13th May 1964, he stated that the relevant State Government should get in touch with the Federal Government and ask for help in the relief of personal hardship caused by the disaster of drought. He further stated that the Government will give help, as it has always done, on terms which are now well known, and that the Government did not propose to depart from that practice. In a Press report purporting to come from the Queensland State Cabinet meeting at Stanthorpe yesterday it was stated that no special assistance can be obtained from the Commonwealth as drought is not recognised as a reason for special assistance. In view of what I have just said would the Prime Minister reassure the House of the actual position as to assistance from the Commonwealth to people in distress due to prolonged drought?
– I think I should remind the honorable member of the terms of my answer the other day. I said that I was not- aware of any such request having been received. That is now confirmed. There has been no request from any State for financial assistance in relation to drought. That is the position in fact as at this time. What I went on to say was that there is an established practice that when events that amount to a substantial disaster occur somewhere in Australia, if the relevant State Government gets in touch with us and asks us to help in the relief of personal hardship caused by disaster, the Commonwealth gives help. We have always done so, on terms that are now well known. On inquiry I find that there have been, on two or three occasions, grants of that kind made in relation to a drought. It is not a universal practice to make grants in relation to a drought because, of course, some droughts are of a general and far reaching nature and some may be highly localised. Therefore there is no steady course of practice on the matter. All I can say is that no request has been made at the moment, but that if any request is received it will be considered most promptly.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister another question. Is it to be inferred from the speeches he delivered in Melbourne and Sydney in the last few days that he is opposed to the proposals of the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and Canada for a negotiated peace in South Vietnam? Is it a fact that he is the only Prime Minister in the Commonwealth of Nations who does not agree that a military victory for the allied forces in South Vietnam is not possible, and does he not agree that the sooner he lines himself up with all other Commonwealth Prime Ministers in helping to negotiate an honourable peace with the governments of the 20 years old, war-ridden areas of North and South Vietnam and the governments of the United States and other allied countries, the better it will be for the peoples of the world?
– I do not think that question time is the occasion for a long disquisition on these matters. I think the honorable gentleman is inviting me to discuss views which have been attributed, rightly or wrongly, to some other Prime Ministers. I very much prefer to state my own views, as I have done on various occasions of late, in relation to this matter. What I was directing myself to on each of these occasions was a suggestion, about which some people have been quite vocal, that the United States, instead of fighting, should negotiate - negotiate with an enemy which has violated its obligations in relation to a cease fire; negotiate with a country that has ignored its international obligations; and negotiate with people who will keep on shooting when the Americans have stopped shooting. That seems to me to be a fantasy, and if I am the only Prime Minister left to denounce it, I denounce it.
– In a recent statement issued by the Minister for the Navy in relation to United States Navy visitors for the Coral Sea celebrations I noted with some concern that seven ships of the United States Navy will be visiting nine ports within Australia. Unfortunately, Fremantle is not one of the nine ports named. Can any influence be exerted upon our friends to include Fremantle in the itinerary of these ships?
– Visits by American naval ships to Australian ports are decided by the Americans themselves. There is therefore little we can do to suggest that they should come to one port in preference to another. Honorable members should realise that the ships that are visiting here are part of the Pacific fleet which have certain bases and only certain time at their disposal. They are visiting here, not only for the purpose of taking part in the celebration of the Coral Sea battle but also for the purpose of allowing their crews to enjoy recreation leave in the ports which they visit. These matters are all restricted to a scheduled timetable and for that reason I think that a visit to Fremantle would be out of the question.
– I ask the Minister for Housing whether he is aware that the recent increase in interest rates is resulting in 38,000 home buyers in Victoria being required to pay more for the homes they are buying and that it has led to an increase of £150 in the price of a new home. Has the Government any definite plans to bring interest rates within the reach of the average wage earner?
– I cannot necessarily accept the alleged facts stated by the honorable member for Gellibrand. He has not made clear the increase in interest rates to which he is referring. I assume that he is speaking of the interest rates charged by the lending institutions. But he has, of course, missed one of the main points. I refer to the change in the relative interest rate payable on fixed deposits in the trading banks and with savings banks. If the honorable member studies those figures he will find them of much more significance so far as future trends are concerned. Further, if the honorable member will let me know the particular rate to which he is referring I shall try to get him the necessary answer.
– I ask the Minister for Air whether he can tell us the present position concerning recruitment for the Royal Australian Air Force, particularly the recruitment of technicians. May I also ask the honorable gentleman whether he can inform the House when new technical courses for those who will work on the Fill aircraft can be got under. way.
– I am sure the honorable member for Moreton will be happy to know that recruiting for the Royal Australian Air Force for the month of March was the best since the end of the Korean War. In that month, over 250 recruits entered the recruit training unit which has now well over 500 recruits in training. The honorable member will also be interested to know that more than one-third of those recruits came from Queensland. I gather that, at the moment, more people in the R.A.A.F. come from Queensland than from any other State.
In addition, we have also had a large number of applications from people in the United Kingdom to join the Royal Australian Air Force. Whether this is concerned with the recent events in the aviation industry in the United- Kingdom, I cannot be sure, but at least over 1,000 applications have been received from the United Kingdom. We are sending an increased number of recruiting officers to the United Kingdom to examine these applicants, particularly as so many of them have already received technical training in the aviation industry. Not only may the Air Force be interested in these people, but it is possible that my colleague, the Minister for Supply, may also be interested as such a large number of them are fully trained technically.
– What about the Fill?
– Technicians will be trained for that purpose when they arrive in Australia.
– I address a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. ls the obvious reluctance of Australian youth to accept apprenticeships and associated technical training a matter of concerned comment by all sections of industry? In view of the traditionally low wages awarded to apprentices by the various tribunals, and in view of the incentive which could be provided to accept apprenticeship, will the Minister take up with his colleague the Treasurer the question of some taxation concessions to apprentices, particularly in the first years of their service?
– The first comment to be made about the honorable gentleman’s question is that the assumption on which he bases it is wrong. The fact is that we have placed in employment young people who left school at the end of last year much more quickly than ever before in our history. We have, with some exceptions as to areas and trades, for the first time, a great number of job vacancies for apprentices. This position has not previously existed. So, the question asked by the honorable member turns out to be incorrectly based. As to the second part of his question, the proper place to pursue rewards and payments for apprentices is before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. If the trade unions are genuinely interested in this matter then perhaps the honorable member could play his part in getting them to make an application to the Commission.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry and follows the question asked by my colleague, the honorable member for Gwydir. As the Minister is aware, the feed position in New South Wales is acute. I ask the Minister: Will he have discussions with the Australian Wheat Board to ascertain what assistance can be given in regard to the price of wheat per bushel? I have in mind the price of 13 s. per bushel offered to graziers for sheep feeding. Could the same arrangement be made for dairymen? Also, will the Minister have discussions with his departmental officers to see what assistance can be given in the drought areas of the north coast?
– The Australian Wheat Board operates under an Act passed by this Parliament and for the present year is empowered to sell wheat at 14s. 8d. a bushel. However, if wheat can be supplied direct from the storage sheds in New South Wales and no freight charge is involved, that could involve a reduction in price of approximately ls. 8d. a bushel. So it would be possible under those circumstances for graziers to receive it at 13s. a bushel. Of course, if the farmers or dairymen - they are both included - live in other areas where a freight component is involved, that freight would be additional to the 13s. That is the position of the Wheat Board. It has no authority to give wheat away at- concessional rates other than in accordance with the terms of the Act under which it operates. I remind honorable members that the responsibility for assisting farmers in times of drought is in the first instance the responsibility of the State Governments.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether in view of the worsening trend of the Vietnam conflict he will give an undertaking to the nation that the lives of 20-year-old Australian conscripts will not be committed to hostilities there?
– The Government’s policy on this matter has been clearly stated by the Prime Minister on a number of occasions. I have nothing to add to what he has said.
– 1 address a question to the Treasurer. The right honorable gentleman will be aware of the claim that the amendments in 1964 to the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act have had a very serious impact upon genuine superannuation funds. I ask him: In view of the well based and well presented representations made to him, has any decision yet been made to bring into Parliament any suitable amendment?
– I think that in the last week or two 1 have explained to the House the procedures being followed in relation to these matters. Representations have come to us from a variety of sources, including the administrators of superannuation funds. These representations have been sifted by officers of the Commissioner of Taxation and also by officers of the Treasury. I have had some reports from the Commissioner of Taxation on these matters. In due course, they will go to a committee of the Cabinet and finally to the Cabinet itself, which will then decide whether any of the amendments arising from these representations should be adopted. That decision will then become the basis of amending legislation. I have no doubt that there will be some amending legislation, but I cannot at this stage intimate just what subjects will be covered by it.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry: Can he explain in what way and to what extent poultry farmers within the Australian Capital Territory will be affected by proposals contained in the Poultry Industry Levy Bill 1965 and associated measures? Will poultry farmers in this Territory be called on to pay levy at the rate per head of poultry set out in the Bills? As the proceeds of the levy are to be distributed to State Governments through State egg marketing boards, does this mean that poultry farmers in the Australian Capital Territory will be forced to enter into contracts with a State egg marketing board?
– The legislation will provide for exemptions, but these will be approved only by the Minister for Primary Industry on the recommendation of the Council of Egg Marketing Authorities of Australia, or C.E.M.A., as we call it. At present, there is no recommendation that poultry farmers in the Australian Capital Territory be exempted. This means that they will pay levy at the same rate as any other poultry raiser will pay.
Motion (by Mr. Whitlam) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two months be given to the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren) on the ground of parliamentary business overseas.
- Mr. Speaker, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913- 1960, I present the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works relating to the following proposed work -
Erection of a Post Office and Telephone Exchange at Wollongong, New South Wales.
I ask for leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– Because of the interest which the inquiry by the Committee aroused in Wollongong, I think it might be appropriate if I told the House immediately of the Committee’s recommendations and conclusions. The Committee is agreed that the existing postal and telecommunications accommodation is inadequate. There is urgent need for the accommodation proposed. The erection of the building proposed is therefore recommended. The site is most satisfactorily placed from the viewpoints of customer convenience and operational efficiency. The Committee recommends that the Postmaster-General’s Department continually review the adequacy of the site to assess whether future land requirements are being safeguarded. The use of copper on a temporary roof is not warranted and the Committee recommends the use of a cheaper material. The Committee recommends the erection of a clock on the facade of the building and a screen in the entrance lobby. The total- cost is estimated to be £647,700. 1 should like to mention briefly the matter of the site chosen for this project. It was acquired for this purpose in 1947 and until the Committee held hearings in Wollongong no objection to the site had been voiced. At the hearing the Mayor and officers of the Council of the City of Greater Wollongong presented a well reasoned and documented case against the site proposed and suggested several alternative sites. The Committee, after duly considering the arguments advanced by the Council and the contrary views of official and private witnesses and inspecting alternative sites, was unanimously agreed that the site proposed is the most suitable from all points of view.
.- Mr. Speaker, I wish to pay personal tribute to the Public Works Committee for its courtesy and co-operation in the inquiry into this proposed work. I was afforded an opportunity to present evidence, and I should like to say that the attention to detail, impartiality and courtesy of members of the Committee were beyond reproach. I am indebted to them and, on behalf of my constituents, I thank them for their decision on this proposal. It is meet and proper that the seventh city of Australia have an adequate Post Office that will square with the prestige of the city. I anticipate the day when we shall have not merely the new edifice that the Committee has recommended by also premises appropriate to Wollongong’s needs.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– by leave - I wish to correct an answer that I gave at question time. Although what I said was strictly correct, it is affected somewhat by a letter that I have received since. I have received a communication from the Premier of New South Wales making certain proposals of a financial kind with regard to wheat. The proposals are not a request for direct financial assistance to the State but are related to the drought conditions. I have not had time to study the letter. I will be answering it in due course; but I would not want the House to be misled into thinking that nothing had occurred.
Debate resumed from 25th March (vide page 336), on motion by Mr. Bury -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- This Bill is intended to repair some of the faults which have appeared in the administration of the Act which the Parliament enacted 11 months ago. The administration of this legislation is one of the new duties imposed on the new Department of Housing which was set up 15 months ago. It will come as a surprise to honorable members that the Public Service Board and the Department have not yet been able to complete the overall administrative structure of this new Department which is to administer not only the long-standing housing responsibilities of the Commonwealth under its housing agreements with the States and also its still longer-standing responsibilities under the War Service Homes Act but also the new functions presented by this complicated piece of legislation.
In the meantime, pending the completion of a new administrative structure, War Service Homes Division officers in a number of States are carrying the burden of managing the home savings grant scheme and the other expanded activities of the new department without the urgently needed additional administrative staff and without the promised and well merited salary adjustments to compensate for their added responsibilities. It is hard to believe that the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) and also, for that matter, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), who is responsible for the Public Service Board, are aware of this state of affairs.
I hope that the two honorable gentlemen will investigate the situation and give an assurance to the House before the debate concludes that the administrative staffing arrangements in the States where the congestion is greatest will be brought to a conclusion without more delay.
– How far would the honorable member like this matter investigated?
– I am happy to have any comment from the Minister on this subject. I am informed that the Deparment of Housing still has not had its structure determined by the Public Service Board. There can be no dispute about the congestion in the Department. An officer cannot determine more than four applications under the Act in one day. The Act is complicated, but the officers, skilled and devoted as they are, are still able to determine no more than four applications a day. The Minister has in these amendments to the Act substantially clarified the situation. All the cases which I have brought to his notice within the last nine months appear to be solved by the amendments that he has introduced. Furthermore he has helped honorable members to understand the Bill by circulating a memorandum which explains each clause and collates it with the other relevant clauses. We thank him, as we have thanked him in earlier housing debates, for the attention he has given to the subjects which have come before his new department.
The scheme has taken quite some time to get under way. The provision in the Budget for this scheme was £10 million, which was sufficient to make 40,000 grants. However, up to 25th March when the Minister made bis second reading speech 25,000 applications bad been lodged, 17,700 applications had been determined and. of these, 16.200 applicants had attracted grants, amounting in all to £3.5 million. It is plain that in this financial year there will be scarcely more than half the number of grants which were anticipated when the last Budget was passed. This may illustrate the complexity of the legislation and its limitations. It will be observed that of the 1,500 unsuccessful applicants some will become eligible under this Bill; others clearly will still be unable to secure the benefits of this legislation, even with the amendments contemplated by this amending Bill.
The significant feature about the Bill is that it makes no contribution to the cost of housing in general. All it does is to make a gift to persons who fulfil certain conditions. It makes a gift of, at the most, £250. Since the date of the proposal, just before the 1963 elections - in fact, one can almost say since the date of the Act - the cost of the average house has increased by the amount of the gift, £250. This brings us to the crucial consideration: How far is the Commonwealth to subsidise rising costs in various fields. We know the situation that it has reached in the field of health. The Government concerns itself purely with subsidising rising medical costs. It never tackles the basic cause of the rise in costs, the excess treatment and hospitalisation, the failure to regionalise hospitals and the profiteering in the drug industry. The most that the Government does is periodically to consider the extent to which it must increase its own grants to hospital and to medical benefit funds and the extent to which it will permit those funds to increase the contributions which they require from their members in order to qualify for Commonwealth grants. We are in the same situation with regard to housing.
The Act was introduced for two purposes. One purpose was to narrow the deposit gap, to reduce the amount of money which a young couple had to save before they could secure a loan from a lending institution. Now, after a year, the amount which a young couple has to save is just as great as it ever was. The most that can be said for the principal Act is that the position now is no worse than it was a year ago.
– It is back to the status quo.
– The deposit required is as great as before. The other objective of the Act is to encourage the formation and expansion of lending institutions. In this respect the Act gives particular emphasis to building societies and savings banks. The Minister for Housing did not refer to those two aspects of the Act - the extent to which the deposit gap has been closed or is likely to be narrowed, and the extent to which lending institutions have been promoted during the life of the Act.
The cost of houses and land has increased for several reasons. The first is that the development of land is still overwhelmingly in private hands. Very few other activities in our community are determined so much by individuals and corporations without government supervision. The solution surely is to supervise or to curb the speculation and operations of the middle men in land development. The next reason for the increase in costs is that our cities are so largely unplanned. Australian cities are extraordinarily scattered. The housing units are extraordinarily dispersed. The consequence is that all the other facilities which have to accompany housing construction are very expensive. There have to be more miles of road, of bus and train routes, of sewerage and water and gas pipes, of telephone cables - both reticulation and junction cables - and more miles of electricity cables in Australian cities than in any other cities that one can recall. People who are building houses have to meet those costs in order to buy a block of land and later to secure adequate services for the house which they build on that block of land.
The third cause of the continually rising cost of housing is the fact that our domestic construction is not planned and performed as efficiently as our commercial construction is. Inevitably, the most efficient men in design, construction and all forms of technique and workmanship are attracted to commercial construction. That leaves the domestic construction field in a much less skilled and more spasmodic state.
Yet another cause of the increasing cost of home building is the matter to which the Minister referred on 16th March of last year, when addressing the Association of Co-operative Building Societies in Sydney.
I quote the following from a newspaper report of his address -
Complex building regulations added an estimated £250 to the cost of each new home in Australia At the present rate of 100,000 new homes a year, the extra amount on the building bill was £25 million a year.
So, almost 13 months ago, the Minister said that the cost of the average house could be reduced by £250 if we had co-ordinated and modern building regulations. Remarks to the same effect were made by Mr. A. V. Jennings, one of our biggest builders, just four days later. Mr. Jennings listed the various items of additional cost. I do not underrate the difficulty of securing cooperation between the Commonwealth Government and six State Governments. Still less do I underrate the difficulty of securing co-operation between the Commonwealth Government, six State Governments and 1,000 local government authorities. I believe that in Australia there are 1,000 local government authorities which can make regulations bearing upon the cost of building in general and of housing in particular. Each of those authorities, if it wishes, can make different regulations. At all events, as far as I am aware - I keep my eyes open for his pronouncements - the Minister has made no further comment on eliminating this unnecessary burden on housing costs. It is a burden which is imposed by governments. Admittedly, they are local government bodies. But the fact that it is imposed by local government bodies, elected persons, bureaucracies other than the Commonwealth, is no excuse for the Commonwealth not to be interested. The Commonwealth has the responsibility of finding the money for housing or regulating the sources of money for housing. Therefore, it has every incentive for seeking and exercising some control over the costs on which the moneys that it finds or regulates are spent.
The remaining item affecting the cost of housing is in the field of restrictive trade practices. I shall quote four extracts from the booklet which the former AttorneyGeneral, who is now the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, issued on 16th August 1963 and which is entitled “ Australian Proposals for Legislation for the Control of Restrictive Trade Practices and Monopolies”. These four instances come from the second table in the booklet. The table sets out practices reported by the Tariff
Board and other official bodies of inquiry. The first instance is as follows -
A Report on certain aspects of the Timber Industry by Mr. Justice Richards, of the Industrial Commission of New South Wales (1st July, 1955) indicated that a number of trade associations had been formed or reorganised with a view to dividing the timber industry into three main types of operator -
the timber importer,
the timber merchant, and
the box and case manufacturer.
Trade associations, representing each type of operator, by agreements that the members of one association would deal only with members of the other association, and by price fixing agreements, secured control over the supply and price of all imported timber.
In the case of some associations, quotas were fixed of timber products to be sold or manufactured by members, thus eliminating competition as to market shares as well as price. Strict compliance with the rules or internal agreements and decisions of the respective associations was enforced by stringent penal provisions. Members of associations sold at a higher price to non-members than to members.
The Report states that the four principal associations were welded by a joint agreement into one huge combination under the direction of a joint committee.
The second instance is as follows -
The Tariff Board Report on Products of Copper and Other Products (20th November 1959) indicated that very little price competition existed between local manufacturers of semi-finished copper and copper alloy products and cables and wires.
The third instance is in these terms -
The Tariff Board, in its Report on Timber (20th December 1960) stated that price stabilisation schemes existed in the Australian timber industry, under which, amongst other things -
wholesale prices were fixed by a timbermiller’s association,
retail prices were fixed by a timber merchants’ association, and
members of the millers’ association dealt only with members of the merchants’ association.
The Board also reported that a body consisting of manufacturers of plywood employed recognised distribution outlets, restricting the right of these distributors to handle imported products, and forcing them to take a certain percentage of second grade qualities when first grade quality was required and vice versa, and fixed prices, discounts and conditions of sale for the members’ product The Board considered that the plywood industry had attempted to solve its problems by restrictive trading practices.
Reference to practices in this industry were also made by the Tariff Board in its annual Report for 1960-61.
The concluding instance is in these terms -
The Tariff Board, in its report on Ceramic Tiles and Tile Blanks (24th October 1961) criticised arrangements in the Australian tile industry whereby practically all tiles, both local and imported, were distributed through State tile merchants’ associations. Prices for tiles were fixed by agreement between the merchants and the manufacturers. For a certain amount of imported tiles, these prices represented a profit margin of 122 per cent. on landed cost.
The Minister and Mr. A. V. Jennings gave us illustrations 13 months ago of the economies which could be effected by local government bodies and which would equal the amount of this grant. The AttorneyGeneral gave us illustrations 20 months ago of restrictive practices which affected the domestic building industry. The grants under this Act have been absorbed by increased costs in the meantime. The amount of the overall increase could be largely eliminated if governments were themselves to eliminate these increased costs which I have quoted.
I said that the costs had gone up by the amount of the grant. Here I will quote again, as other members and I quoted in the recent debate on the Housing Loans Insurance Bill, from the Housing Industry Research Committees newsletter of January last, as follows -
The preliminary figures indicate that, to have built a house at the end of September 1964 would have cost about 4.3 per cent. more than building the same house at the end of December 1963.
One can infer that between December 1963 and the date this Bill was introduced the increase would have been more like 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. On a £4,000 house this alone would amount to £200 to £240, and a £4,000 house would be a very modest house indeed. One can calculate that on the average house - and the Minister said during the debate on the Housing Loans Insurance Bill that the average house cost £5,000 - the amount of this grant would have been more than absorbed by the increase in costs since the proposal was made by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) before the 1963 election and, in fact, probably by the increase in costs since the Bill itself was introduced. In addition, since the Act was introduced, land costs have risen by £80 to £100 a block. Thus the value of the subsidy has been largely eroded even where it has not been absorbed. It would be evasion to say that the subsidy is concerned only with helping people to obtain a deposit and is therefore largely irrelevant to the rise in the cost of housing. Quite apart from the general economic conditions which have led to increases in costs, house vendors and land salesmen have anticipated the subsidy and raised their prices. The net effect of the legislation which was passed 10 months ago has been nil. 1 come back now to the Commonwealth’s general responsibility in housing. The Commonwealth’s responsibility in finding or regulating the sources of money for housing is known to all honorable members. The war service homes scheme has been operating for 47 years; the housing commissions have been operating for 20 years. In both these cases the Commonwealth finds all the money for their operations: It always has. The rest of the money is found principally by banks and insurance companies, mainly by savings banks and life assurance societies. These bodies can be regulated by the Commonwealth Government under its constitutional powers. Banks have been regulated by the Commonwealth under its constitutional powers; the assurance companies have been very little regulated by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has recently undertaken to insure mortgages - a scheme which has obtained in the United States of America for a generation and in Canada for a decade. During the last year the Commonwealth has made gifts of £250 to qualified persons. In all these respects the Commonwealth finds or regulates funds.
The Commonwealth has, in the Housing Loans Insurance Bill and under the principal Act which this Bill is amending, deliberately undertaken to encourage the formation and expansion of lending institutions. This is an attitude which commends itself to my party. In the last 25 years mortgages have tended to be given to institutions rather than individuals. This is a wholesome trend and an inevitable trend. As a community becomes industrialised persons invest their savings in industrial shares rather than in mortgages. Nevertheless, a considerable number of persons and institutions choose to invest their funds in Government bonds or in savings institutions of one kind or another. The recent legislation has sought very properly to encourage these institutions - savings banks, terminating building societies and permanent building societies. One would hope - and we will move an amendment at the Committee stage to express this hope - that credit unions should be among the eligible encouraged savings institutions, as they are in the United States. In all these respects the Commonwealth clearly has not only the principal commitment but a growing commitment to find money for housing or to regulate money for housing.
It is inevitable - also, I believe, desirable - that persons should invest their money in institutions which lend for housing rather than in Government bonds. More and more public works are going to be financed from taxation. This is a trend which has intensified ever since the war. There is no possibility of reversing the trend; there should be no desire or attempt to reverse the trend or to slow it down. The fact is that persons who are buying or building houses will inevitably have to rely more and more on institutions, and anything that the Commonwealth Government does to encourage the formation of those institutions will secure the support of my party.
Having said this about the Common.weath’s responsibility to find or to direct finance for housing, I must assert once again the Commonwealth’s obligation to regulate the cost of housing. I have quoted the Minister’s own comments on the cost of building regulations. I have quoted the former Attorney-General’s booklet on the cost of restrictive practices, or rather on the nature of restrictive practices, because he did not compute the cost of them. But I must come again to the obligation of the Commonwealth to do something about regulating the cost of land and the cost of community services. The Commonwealth can help in this respect by the nature of its grants and the terms of its grants to the States. The Commonwealth, it is true, has no constitutional power to impose price fixing on the sale of land or on the letting of houses. It can impose price fixing on interest rates. As a matter of fact, interest rates have gone up sufficiently since the principal Act was passed to increase the cost of every house by the amount of the grant under the Act. Interest rates are one field in which the Commonwealth can regulate housing costs, although it is interest rates on housing in isolation from interest rates in general.
The Commonwealth must show a concern for regulating the cost of building land and community services. The way to do it is, 1 suggest, the way in which it has been done in the United States of America. That country has had considerable experience in this field under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. The United States experience in housing is now beyond political controversy. The interest of United States Federal Administrations goes back to the days of the second Roosevelt, but I am concerned more with what the United States has done in the last 10 years or so. During that time the policy has been deliberately followed of the Federal Administration making grants to the States for the States to resume land or to acquire land and, in collaboration with lending institutions and construction companies, to redevelop it. The consequence has been that the redevelopment or sub-division of the land, including the provision of community services, has been carried out at cost.
There is far too much evasion of Commonwealth responsibility through people claiming that this or that is a State responsibility. In the field of housing this was never so historically. It is true that our Constitution does not mention housing. At the time of Federation the State Governments themselves spent no money on housing. They passed no laws regulating the flow of housing finance. They passed very few laws, indeed, concerning building or health standards. Sixty years ago housing was not a subject of government concern at all. It became a matter of government concern, so far as the States were concerned, largely after the First World War. It was from that time on, that they empowered the local government authorities to produce the great spate of building regulations on health and construction safeguards. But even then, governments took no interest in the provision or regulation of housing finance. This development arose only after the Second World War, the Commonwealth itself providing money for the housing commissions, and the Commonwealth gradually coming to regulate the terms of bank loans. This trend has continued and this Government has now accepted the trend and is promoting it.
One gets no assistance from the Constitution or from court decisions. The whole question of government interest in housing is relatively modern and it is a Commonwealth interest, not a State interest. We are avoiding responsibility if we say glibly that there is nothing about housing in the Constitution and that therefore it is not a Commonwealth responsibility. We accept the fact that as regards the provision of finance it is totally a Commonwealth responsibility. The States have never taken an interest in this; they do not intend to take an interest in it now.
– If you give money to the States how do you propose to control the use of it by the States?
– By section 96 of the Constitution, under which this Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.
– You would attach a tag to the grants to the various States?
– Yes, in the same way as we have done with housing grants, aid for roads, grants for universities and various public works projects, such as railways, ports, roads and rivers. As the honorable member knows, the Budget papers every year list more than a dozen Acts under which the Commonwealth is making such grants to the States and has laid down the conditions under which the moneys are to be spent.
– And the States now auction the Crown land that they own; New South Wales certainly does.
– I am not concerned with the practice in the various States in these matters. I am merely stating what the Commonwealth should do. I am not supporting or condoning the inaction or the actions of the various States as regards the division of land, the development of land, or the provision of community services. Nor do I support the extraordinary devolution of State responsibility to local authorities in the provision of community services. All States have avoided their responsibilities by passing them to local government bodies, and this has resulted in increases in costs.
– They auction State Crown land.
– I am concerned with what the Commonwealth can do. I want to remove the element of profiteering from the disposal and division of land.
– State profiteering.
– Whether the profiteering is carried on by the States or not. As far as I know every State has made a good revenue out of this, just as many development companies have made large profits from their activities. What I am concerned with is that the Commonwealth, which alone has accepted the responsibility of finding money or directing money for housing, should concern itself with the cost of housing. 1 have pointed out that we can do this by making conditional grants to the States, just as the Federal Administration of the United States has made conditional grants to the American States. In Australia we find this dichotomy: The development of land is still overwhelmingly in private hands; the provision of money for housing is overwhelmingly in public hands.
– I do not want to go over it again. I respect the honorable gentleman’s experience in land development, which has extended over a fairly considerable period. However, I think he came into the House after I had dealt with this aspect.
We should reduce and remove the excess profits from both public and private development or sale of land and the provision of community facilities and housing enviroments. If governments are providing the money to buy the land and to build the houses, governments should take an interest in the cost of the land and the houses. This dichotomy becomes irresponsibility where governments concern themselves with the finance and do not concern themselves with the cost. The way to reduce the cost is for governments to come increasingly into this field. They do not do it overnight. If governments were to develop land and provide the community facilities and amenities at cost, the private developers would be shamed. For some time this has been the trend in the United States of America. It is a trend that we should follow.
The only interest that the Commonwealth has taken in the cost of land has been an indirect interest in the housing commissions of the States. In all States the housing commissions have contributed very considerably to economic housing by resuming land on fair terms and then developing it at cost. One of the attractions of housing commission schemes in general, irrespective of whether the houses are sold or, as more rarely happens these days, let, is that the cost of the house includes the land component at cost. No profit has been injected-
– How do you control the resale of land?
– Order! The honorable member for Bennelong, no doubt, will have an opportunity to speak later.
– Resales by owneroccupiers cause negligible profiteering. If they do so, they may be dealt with under section 96, in the same way as all the other matters I have mentioned. There is no difficulty about this. I am astonished that, after all his experience in public life, the honorable member for Bennelong should imagine there is any difficulty in this. This should be quite clear. The Commonwealth has benefited people who buy or rent housing commission houses by providing the money for land to be bought on fair terms and then developed by the respective housing commissions at cost. The Commonwealth used to do this in respect of group schemes under the War Service Homes Division but under this Administration a brake has been put upon the group schemes.
– We are still providing money for that purpose.
– Yes. But the Government is not doing as much as was done just after the war in this respect. Where this has been done there is no doubt that the persons who have purchased the war service homes have received a very great benefit from the fact that the land has been secured at cost. That is, the Commonwealth has resumed the land for the group schemes and has developed it at cost. No profit has been injected into it. The Commonwealth should come further into this field by making grants to the States for land to be resumed by them and developed with proper services and amenities by them or by companies which tender for the projects and then sell to individual home builders.
I have dealt with this matter because the great deficiency in the Minister’s second reading speech was that he never touched on the question of cost. The net result of the Act which we passed in May last year has been nil. Young couples who now purchase homes must find just as much by way of deposit as they did before the Act was passed. In the meantime nothing has been done to eliminate the restrictive practices in the building industry which the former Attorney-General exposed more than a year and a half ago. Nothing, apparently, has been done to modernise and co-ordinate the host of building regulations which the Minister himself lamented more than a year ago.
– I will refer to them.
– This will be good. Nothing has been done to reduce the cost of land or to increase public responsibility for the development of land proportionately to the increase in the public responsibility for the provision of finance for land and housing.
.- In following the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) I have some trepidation because I feel that he covered the whole range of legislation that this Parliament has on the stocks for the next 12 or 18 months. In fact, he talked about restrictive trade practices, which is a subject we have not properly dealt with in this Parliament. The honorable member also spoke of tariff proposals and the like. The Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) and his Department have done a thundering good job in introducing this amending legislation to ensure that young couples who have not qualified under the homes savings grant scheme legislated for in May last year will now qualify. The Minister and his Department have learned that, of the 25,000 applicants for the £250 tax free homes savings grant, some 7,000 do not conform to the requirements of the legislation. The Government in its desire to help young people to become little capitalists has introduced this amending legislation in order to stimulate those 7,000 couples to go ahead with their plans to buy their own homes. We want these young people to become little capitalists in this sense. We want them to have some equity in the largest single purchase that most of them will make during their lifetimes. We know that in 1943 Mr. Dedman, then a member of the Labour Government, said that it was wrong for young couples to own their own homes because that would make them little capitalists. We on this side of the House want them to own their own homes and to participate in the development of Australia by having some equity in their homes.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the Minister was now correcting faults in the original legislation, but I do not regard this amending Bill in that light. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said also that the grant of £250 now given to young couples complying with certain conditions has been outweighed by the additional cost of new homes. Let us suppose that the value of a new home is £4,000. The grant of £250 represents 6i per cent, of the cost of £4,000. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition quoted as a faithful observer of trends, the Housing Industry Research Committee set up in Victoria. That body has found that housing costs have increased by approximately 4 per cent, since the original legislation was passed, not by 6i per cent.
There was one other matter to which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not refer but which I felt he could well have mentioned. That was the £1 increase in the basic wage throughout the Commonwealth granted by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission last year. I do not cavil at the decision of the Commission but I point out that on a basic wage of approximately £16 - it was not quite that high - an increase of £1 represents an increase of about 6 per cent. When this factor is considered in conjunction with the increase in housing costs of 4 per cent, it indicates that the cost of housing has, in effect, decreased in relation to the increase in wages. So I submit that the building industry and, certainly, the Department of Housing, in endeavouring to carry out this work for the good of Australia and its young people, have done a good job.
As I have said, this amending Bill is the result of the experience of the Department since May 1964. It is quite evident, not only to honorable members on the Government side, but I am sure to Opposition members as well, that the Government is determined to administer the legislation in a sympathetic way. That is why this amending legislation has been introduced. It contains twelve clauses to be added to the principal Act and it expands the possibility of young couples obtaining all or part of the £250 gift to them, if they can conform to the legislation. As I have said, some 25,000 applications have been received by the Government and some 18,000 have been processed. On an average, these 18,000 young couples have obtained £230 each as a tax-free gift from the Commonwealth Government. Nearly all of the remaining applicants - that is, some 7,000 - have to support their applications with additional information or their applications will conform to the conditions of this amending Bill. I am sure in those circumstances the Opposition will not oppose the Bill. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said that he wants credit unions, under certain conditions, to come within the provisions of the Bill. I am sure that the Minister and honorable members on this side of the House will give full consideration to any amendment he may move.
The Bill permits some contracts not in writing to be accepted by the Government under certain conditions. In other words, oral contracts between father and son could qualify and the son, with his wife, could receive this gift of £250 from the Government to help them build or buy a home. If Opposition members look at clause 8 pf the Bill they will find that savings invested in land will be accepted as savings for the purposes of this legislation if the land is sold within six months of the young couple buying another home. In other words, if a young man in his late teens decides to buy a block of land, anticipating that he and his future wife will live in a home on this land, and finds later that they prefer to live in a different district, provided the young couple sell the original block of land within six months of contracting to buy a house, the original purchase will be regarded as savings. These refinements will certainly help the Department to do a better job than it has been able to do before, and they will certainly help the Minister to answer many of the queries raised not only by Opposition members but also by members on the Government side. It is fairly obvious then that the Government is determined, in a sympathetic and practical way, to help all young couples under 36 years of age to obtain the equity in a home that is so necessary in this year 1965.
We all realise, of course, that the Homes Savings Grant Act, which was passed in May 1964, and the Housing Loans Insurance Bill, which was passed by this House last week and which has been returned by the Senate with a small amendment, resulted from the policy speech delivered to the nation by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in 1963. The Department of Housing was formed by the Minister in double quick time. I cannot level any form of criticism at the Department, because it has done a large amount of very accurate work since it was formed in January and February 1964. It is not an easy matter for newly appointed officers in a new department to co-ordinate the activities of lending authorities throughout Australia or to ensure that State Governments accept the policy of the Commonwealth Government. I believe that the Minister and the officers of his Department have earned not our criticism but our congratulations for the work they have done.
As a result of the legislation, many savings banks, certainly in Victoria, have increased the amounts that they will lend to young couples. The State Savings Bank of Victoria has increased the amount it will lend on a new home to £3,500 or up to 75 per cent, of the value of the home. This must help young people, particularly when they have £750 of their own savings and £250 from the Government to offer as a deposit. In addition, the State Savings Bank of Victoria will grant a loan of 65 per cent, on an existing home. This is an advance on the conditions that have been mentioned in debates over the years, when we have spoken about the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement and the limitations that savings banks and other lending authorities place on loans for the purchase of homes. In fact, many of us on this side of the House, as well as Opposition members, have deprecated the fact that lending authorities have not assisted couples, young and not so young, to purchase homes in the inner metropolitan areas. We felt that there was a trend on the part of governmental authorities - Federal, State and municipal - to force people to go to the outer limits of the metropolitan area. This increased the costs of services. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition mentioned this today. We feel, with him, that unoccupied dwellings in the inner metropolis should be the subject of loans by savings banks and co-operatives. The State Savings Bank of Victoria has given a lead in this respect. As I have said, it will lend up to 65 per cent, of the value of a house in any part of the metropolitan area, or in the country for that matter.
In the debate on housing that took place only two weeks ago, much was made of the fact that savings banks particularly had increased their rates of interest by i per cent, from 5i to 5i per cent. Very little was said of the fact that deposits also qualify for an increase of i per cent. If people who deposit money in the banks obtain from the banks an additional i per cent, in interest, it seems ludicrous to suggest that the banks should lend their money, even for housing, at the rates of interest that obtained before the increase. If the rate of interest on deposits rises, lending costs also must rise in proportion. It is interesting to note that the State Savings Bank of Victoria has said that the higher interest rate of 5i per cent, will apply only to new loans and that all previous loans will carry the interest rates that applied before the Reserve Bank increased the rates.
A local bank manager in my area said that the Government’s homes savings grant scheme has been well received and that there is nothing illusory about the homes savings grant. He said that the grant was a tax free gift which thousands of married couples had already received and which was within the reach of all young people who rated home ownership as something worth striving for. He has given some really good advice to young couples and I ask for leave to have his statement incorporated in “ Hansard “.
– Is leave granted?
– Leave is not granted.
– The advice given by the bank manager helps young couples, as we on this side of the House want to do. In the circumstances, I will read it to the House so that it will appear in “ Hansard “. The statement of the Manager of a Com monwealth Savings Bank is reported as follows - “ It is a scheme of help for those who are prepared to help themselves.” “However, before the money can be paid over there are certain requirements to be satisfied and it is important that young people know what the requirements are,” he said. “ Many young people dismiss the grant as something they can leave for future attention.’
This is what the bank manager said. He continued - “This is understandable - but it can be a mistake. There is something that every young person can and should do- at once - visit the bank to open a ‘Home Savings Account’ now. The reason for this is obvious “.
I am sorry that the Opposition would not grant leave to have this information incorporated in “Hansard”. It would be useful, not for the Government but for the young people whom honorable members on this side of the House want to help. I did not want to hinder the activities of the House; I merely wanted to help these young people by having the information available to them in “ Hansard “.
I believe that in many instances lending authorities induce young people to buy houses which are beyond their means. The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) mentioned in the last debate on housing that in 1959 the average size of a home was between nine and ten squares whereas today the average size is 12 squares. Of course, the larger the house and the better the fittings the higher the cost. I believe that the Department of Housing would be well advised to set up a housing advisory authority to advise young people, first, to buy a house within their means, and secondly, in view of their status, to consider whether they will be able to maintain payments, under the contract into which they have entered, over a period of 25 or 30 years.
The Housing Industry Research Committee referred to by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition subscribes to a sort of unwritten law to which many lending authorities subscribe. It is what is referred to as the quarter rule. It is to the effect that a breadwinner on the average salary of £28 a week - I give the figure mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in a previous debate - cannot afford to pay off a home at a weekly rate greater than one-quarter of that amount. namely £7 a week. There is a tendency on the part of some young couples in their enthusiasm to go beyond what their pockets will allow and thereby get themselves into financial trouble later on. A housing advisory authority could help these young people by advising them to limit the amount they borrow during the formative years of their marriage. Then at a later date they can sell the initial home they have purchased and buy a better one.
The cost of housing is illuminating in view of the return that working people in Australia get today. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition mentioned some figures. The Housing Industry Research Committee in its January report referred to a limited survey in Victoria which showed that the average cost of a home in that State was £3,672. The survey, admittedly limited, disclosed that the cost of 97 per cent, of homes came within £600 of the average figure of £3,672 which I have just quoted. I believe that a young couple who qualify for the full home savings grant of £250, with the addition of the £750 that they have saved, would not need a second mortgage. In other words, they would not need to bridge the deposit gap which has been the subject of debate in this House over the past five years. The figure of £3,672 disclosed by the survey as the average price of a home in Victoria compares with the Commonwealth Statistician’s figure of £3,951 and the War Service Homes Division’s latest average figure of £3,892. Each of these averages is under the figure of £4,000 which I mentioned earlier.
I believe that if young couples are able and willing to save the amount required under the Homes Savings Grant Act, and can take advantage of the additional scope that will be given under this amending legislation, there will be few who will be unable to buy homes if they really want to.
During the last debate on housing I heard the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) - unfortunately he is not in the House at the moment - talk about slackness in the building industry. I have found it difficult to confirm the slackness to which he referred. The Commonwealth Statistician’s figures for the June quarters from 1959 to 1964 show a tremendous increase in the number of building commencements in those quarters. For instance in the
June quarter of 1959 the number of homes commenced was 20,958. In the June quarter of 1964 the commencements numbered 28,559. A simple calculation tells me that that represents an increase of 33 per cent, in building activities between 1959 and 1964. The honorable member for Gellibrand mentioned also unemployment in the building industry. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) has told us in his most recent report - for February of this year - that for every three vacancies in the building industry one man was registered as unemployed. In the metal trades and electrical industries, for every eight vacancies registered by employers there was one man registered as unemployed in these industries. I find it difficult to assess what the honorable member for Gellibrand and other members on the Opposition side mean when they talk about a slackness in the building industry. In fact, there were only 869 persons registered as unemployed in the building industry in Australia in February of this year and there were 2,438 job vacancies. The Minister for Labour and National Service has told the Parliament - and I believe the statistics presented by him - that unemployment is at its lowest ebb since 1955. I think, therefore, that it is fair to say that there is a shortage of labour in this industry just as there is a shortage in every other secondary or productive industry in Australia.
Again, I find it difficult to follow the logic of the Opposition when it opposes the training of senior labour, particularly in an industry such as the building industry. It would appear that members of the Opposition do not want men who have found it inconvenient to be trained in the skills of tradesmen to be able to play their part in the industry. The Opposition apparently thinks it a good thing for potential employers to bring to Australia new settlers as tradesmen and give them the higher wages applicable to men with these skills. I am one who believes that Australians should be trained for these higher paid jobs and that if new settlers can compete with Australians on equal conditions they should be able to obtain the same amount of money as the Australians. I believe in putting Australia first, in putting Australian men and Australian families first. When the new settlers become naturalised then they can compete with Australians on an equal basis. I am a great believer in training our labouring types to become skilled tradesmen, particularly in an industry such as the building industry.
During the debate on this subject last year many Opposition speakers said that 80 per cent, of young couples who should be eligible for the home savings grant would not completely conform with the provisions of the Act and therefore would not obtain anything from the Government. We have found, from information supplied by the Minister, that about 18,000 couples have conformed in all respects with the requirements of the legislation and that each of those couples has averaged a grant of £230 as a gift from the Government towards the purchase of their homes. It was during the last debate, also, that some members of the Opposition talked about planning and said that they were unable to discuss the number of houses required in Australia because the Minister had failed to indicate what number would be required. Planning is a nice theoretical thing to talk about but 1 think it was because of planning that Mr. Khrushchev was sacked in the Soviet Union several months ago. We all know that Mr. Khrushchev had some trouble in maintaining the agricultural progress that the Soviet Union required. We all know, too, that because of his contact In Western countries, the United States of America in particular, when he was having a look at the profit motive because he believed that what was a good thing in America must be a good thing also for the Soviet Union, he was dismissed.
But I have not heard honorable members mention Dr. Hall during this debate. Dr. Hall is an eminent authority on housing in the Australian National University, and the figures he quoted in three addresses since 1961 are illuminating. They have been referred to on other occasions, not only by honorable members opposite but also by honorable members on this side. A quick glance at those figures discloses that Dr. Hall made three attempts at assessing how many houses would be required in Australia between 1962 and 1965. His assessments over those five years vary by as much as 13,000 houses. So I would ask honorable members opposite what they would do with those 13,000 houses if they were produced and not purchased or occupied by the people. Unfortunately, Dr. Hall’s assessments have been on the low side in that, instead of having 13,000 houses unoccupied, we in fact would have had 13,000 families with nowhere to live had we worked on his figures. Dr. Hall said, first, that we would need 90,000 houses in 1962-63. He then made a second assessment and, because of certain changes in conditions, he stated in his second attempt that we would need not 90,000 but 85,000 houses. Again, because of the stimulus given by this Government in certain directions, Dr. Hall had another stab at it. His original estimate of 90,000, which was reduced to 85,000, was then lifted to 97,000 for the year 1962- 63. Therefore, had we taken his second figure, 12,000 families would have been left without homes. Dr. Hall also estimated originally that for 1963-64 we would need 92,000 houses. In his second attempt, he reduced that figure to 89,000 and, in his third attempt, increased it to 100,000 houses. In his original estimate for 1964-65, he suggested that 93,000 houses would be required. In his second attempt, he retained the 93,000, but in his third attempt, thinking that he had better do something more about it because there were so many people who were not living in houses at all, he lifted the estimated requirement to 101,000 houses. But this is a Government which believes in free enterprise. We believe in the ebb and flow of private industry carrying the burden of building homes and doing for people the things that they want done. We do not believe in big brother taking over, establishing figures and then saying: “ Thou shalt live here in this type of home”. We believe in the individuality of the family unit We believe that a man and his wife should be able to have the home of their choice in the district of their choice. The only limitation I would impose on them would be that they seek the advice of an advisory authority to ensure that their present potential will enable them to acquire the home of their choice. I certainly support the legislation, and I hope that the Opposition will support it. I also feel sure that, whatever changes the Opposition may request, the Minister will give serious consideration to them.
.- The housing problem to which Dr. Hall has referred in the research work mentioned by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn) is continuing in an unrelenting way. I think the honorable member for Balaclava will be aware of the fact that there are still about 73,000 applications outstanding with the various State housing authorities of Australia. I only need to remind him of the last Commonwealth census revelation - the fact that there were 170,000 people still living in shacks, sheds and shanties - to indicate to him that many people are still waiting for some indication of enthusiasm on the part of this Government to overcome the housing problem. Why, here in Canberra where there are no constitutional problems, and where the Commonwealth Government must bear full responsibility, the housing shortage persists. The last time I examined the figures, I think they disclosed that there were about 3,000 families who had been waiting for three and four years for homes after having been moved almost compulsorily from the various States to public service positions in Canberra.
The Homes Savings Grant Bill now before us contains 14 pages of amendments which the Government seeks to make to an Act that was introduced into this Parliament only 10 months ago. The anomalies that these amendments seek to rectify reflect the Government’s haste to introduce the original measure as an election expedient. I think most of us recall the comments of the Minister to a pressman at that time. The day after his speech was delivered in the Federal Parliament, the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) was reported to have said -
I would not understand a word of this myself if I were not the author.
– Unfortunately, that is not a very accurate reflection of what I said.
– To my knowledge, there has been no denial of it.
– I am just correcting the honorable member at this moment.
– Even if the Minister did not say it, let me say that such a report would have been fair comment because the original Act is an incredible conglomeration and it is most unreasonable to expect ordinary people to understand it. I believe that the Government has gone the longest possible way around providing young people with financial assistance.
Most of the 12 major amendments contained in this Bill were predicted; they were foreseeable obstacles, and the Opposition drew attention to them when the 1964 Bill was being debated. We predicted then that the Government would become bogged down with a great bureaucracy. I shall say something about the extent to which a bureaucracy has descended upon the housing problems of Australia in a moment or two. In other words, the original Act is a clumsy concept. It is so complex and confusing that it reflects little credit on anybody.
There are still many people who, even after the proposed amendments become law, will be outside the ambit of the legislation. For instance, there are the recipients of sickness and unemployment benefits who have no saving capacity. They will attract no subsidy under this legislation. Then there are the migrants who are often forced into fairly expensive hostel accommodation. I remind honorable members that migrants do not become eligible for assistance under this Bill until they have been domiciled in Australia for three years. Then, of course, there are the under-privileged Aboriginal members of the community. This legislation will do little towards alleviating their housing problems. Certainly it will do little to alleviate the position of those who work under Federal awards and who are the subject of the discrimination provided for in the Constitution - another matter about which the Government appears to be quite lax. Then we have the young couples on medium incomes who are paying rent for home units and flats. I refer in particular to those who have young children. Their saving capacity is so limited that it is unlikely that they will benefit. Then we have the tremendously large number of Australian taxpayers - they probably number 4 million - who are receiving incomes of under £1,500 a year. They are not amongst those who will come by this subsidy in an easy way. In this Bill we are faced with a patch up process. We of the Opposition welcome it We readily concede that the Minister for Housing and, especially, the staff of the new Department of Housing are anxious to make the best of the very bad brief which was foisted on them by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies). They are trying to knock it into some kind of shape and we do not want to discourage their efforts.
A study of recent trends in land costs and particularly of interest rates on home building loans indicates that there will be very little benefit accruing from the innovation of the Homes Savings Grant Act of 1964 and this amending Bill of 1965. In fact, the maximum grant of £250 has already been swallowed up by rising costs. No Commonwealth effort to arrest this trend has been apparent. I shall illustrate this with a few quotations. I will refer, for example, to the reports of the War Service Homes Division for 1962- 63 and 1963-64. It is interesting to see the increase in the cost of dwellings in 1962-63, compared with the previous year. The increase in New South Wales was £527; in Victoria it was £291; in Queensland, £654; in South Australia, £247; in Western Australia, £640, and in Tasmania, £211. These are the increases in the cost of a dwelling in one year according to the War Service Homes Division. In 1963-64 the cost of a dwelling increased by £151 in New South Wales, by £190 in Victoria, by £233 in Queensland, by £132 in South Australia, by £145 in Western Australia, by £232 in Tasmania and by £663 in the Australian Capital Territory. If these figures typify the cost movement in housing construction there can be no controversy about my contention that the grant of £250 is fast being swallowed up and little benefit is accruing.
This afternoon the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) and other speakers quoted the Housing Industry Research Committee which is considered to be a worthwhile and authentic research organisation. I was interested to study the October 1 964 “ Newsletter “ issued by that organisation, in order to try to get an understanding of the movement in land prices. If honorable members go to the statistical service in the Parliamentary Library they will get no evidence from the research workers there about movement in land prices. However, the Housing Industry Research Committee has been able to provide what appears to be authentic information, This is what the “ Newsletter “ said -
Land prices increased by 139 per cent, on an annua] average of 27.8 per cent, per year for the five , years 195S to 1959 inclusive . . .
That is the first thing. The Committee also said -
Land prices in outer Melbourne fringe areas increased by about £80 or S.9 per cent, over the 12 months to June 1964.
This represents an increase of 38.2 per cent, since June 1960.
So, this had been an increase of 38.2 per cent, since June 1960 and, after all, the Government must be prepared to accept some responsibility for this.
– Was that the increase in land prices?
– That was for land alone. The “ Newsletter “ stated -
The amount by which the average price has increased over the past two years, £89 and £80 = £84.5 per year is about the same as the increase in 1956, 1957 . . .
I ask the Minister for Housing whether he has any plan in mind to arrest this trend which is swallowing up the benefit of the £250?
When one considers this whole business of land prices, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did a short time ago, we can see grounds for real concern. Let me say in answer to the honorable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer), who has left the chamber since his interjections, that I am gratified to hear that the New South Wales Government has some positive plans to cope with this situation. It has announced its intention to develop Crown land and to make it available - I think some 15,000 to 20,000 blocks - at development cost to building societies. This is probably one of the most dramatic moves ever made to assist young people in Australia to acquire homes. Why could not the Commonwealth do something like this? If there is insufficient Crown land available, the suggestion made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is worth thinking about. He proposed that conditional Commonwealth grants should be made under section 96 of the Constitution to enable the States to acquire areas of land for housing on the fringe of the large capital cities and around the provincial cities. This would also assist decentralisation. Commonwealth grants could be made available in order to acquire privately held land, to develop it, and make it available at cost to building societies. This is the real answer to the housing problem. I believe that if this
Government showed more interest in pumping money into the building society movement and stimulated it into fierce competition with some of the racketeering lending authorities we would be able to force interest rates down and thereby do a great service to the young people of this country. But when we consider the activities of the land sharks we can see why the price of land continues to rise. I have quoted figures to show this. Far from discouraging high land prices the Commonwealth Government is encouraging the trend in the Australian Capital Territory.
– That is their free enterprise.
– That is right. In the Australian Capital Territory the Commonwealth Government has the exclusive prerogative of making land available. Recently it sold residential leases at the rate of £3,300 a minute at open auction sales.
– Where is this?
– This is here in Canberra. Of course this is in complete line with the philosophy of the Government and it is understandable when we consider the background and thinking of some honorable members opposite. The former Country Party leader, Sir Arthur Fadden, is chairman of one of the Hooker companies. If you can make a quid out of land prices you have no inhibitions about doing it.
– Order! The honorable member will withdraw that reflection on a former member of this House.
– I do not want to quibble, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I would rather get on with what I want to say. I withdraw the remark. There are also the former President of the New South Wales Liberal Party, Mr. Lyle Moore, who, I think, is the President of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales, the honorable member for Bennelong, and of course, the Minister himself with his association with the Lend Lease organisation. They all have some kind of involvement with a profit motive about housing and land prices and we could hardly expect much more pf them.
– The honorable member is not suggesting that these connections have not been severed?
– Not at all. I invite honorable members to consider some of the difficulties in the Homes Savings Grant Act. First of all, there is the age barrier of 36 years which is unfairly prejudicing such people as teachers, policemen, servicemen and certain public servants. Many people in these categories are denied an opportunity to settle down in one place until they reach a certain level in their profession. The nature of their employment dictates where they are to live and when they are to settle down. This Bill will not correct all the anomalies that are apparent. Because of the age barrier, many people are denied the opportunity ever to benefit by this legislation.
Furthermore, the fact that unmarried people are ineligible under the scheme can be considered to be an anomaly. All unmarried people, including widows, are denied benefit under the scheme. Recently, a widow with young children whose husband was killed in an industrial accident came to my office to inquire about her prospects of receiving assistance under the homes savings grant scheme. She had received compensation for her husband’s death in industry and her prime aim was to direct the proceeds of that compensation to the acquisition of a home to provide security for the future of her children. This woman is under 36 and has been married, but, because she has been widowed by an accident, she is denied benefit under the scheme. I ask the Minister for Housing why this Bill will not correct anomalies such as this.
It is intriguing to see that, under the scheme, aliens have an advantage over Australian born applicants. An alien needs to have had only three years residence in Australia to qualify for benefit under the scheme. One of the fundamental conditions imposed is that a grant is given only for the first home in Australia owned by a couple after marriage. But an alien or an immigrant from the United Kingdom, Italy or any other part of the world can still participate in the scheme although he may have owned any number of homes in his country of origin. An Australian, however, is disqualified if he has owned one home before the one that is the subject of his application.
I contrast the position of aliens and migrants with the experience of a constituent of mine who lives at Heathcote, a suburb of Sydney. He worked very hard and saved out of his wages in order to buy materials to build, in bis spare time, a small weekender of a couple of rooms at a coastal resort south of Sydney. He and his wife constructed the building themselves. After a time, he decided to build his own home and he drew up all the necessary contracts. He then completed an application for a grant under this scheme and subsequently he came to my office quite triumphant, having succeeded in wading his way through the great conglomeration of questions and declarations required. He then believed that every formality had been completed to the satisfaction of the Department of Housing. Quite casually, almost as an aside, I asked: “ Is this the first home you have owned ?” He replied: “ Yes, except for the little weekender we have knocked up down on the coast”.
– Why did he not sell it?
– This weekender disqualified him for assistance under the scheme. Even if he had sold the place, he would not have been entitled to assistance under this scheme, because, in the official interpretation of the scheme, the application must relate only to the first home after marriage. This situation is in sharp contrast to that of a person who had come here from overseas and who admitted to me that he had owned four houses before coming to Australia. I consider that this kind of anomaly demands examination.
I should like to mention also the case of a constituent of mine from Sutherland, another suburb of Sydney, who purchased a house that was the subject of a demolition order. He lived in this dwelling while he was having a new home built, and afterwards he demolished the old house that he had brought, with his block of land, for £1,800. His application for assistance under the homes savings grant scheme was rejected, the Department of Housing contending that the old home which he had bought for demolition and which, in fact, he demolished a short time after purchase was the first home that he had owned after marriage. If this is the way in which the scheme is to be administered, there will be, I believe, increasing consternation.
I could mention many other anomalies of this kind. For example, a large number of people in my electorate have been denied benefit under the scheme because of the requirements of the local government authority. On applying for permission to live in a temporary dwelling, as many young couples in outer city areas are forced to do, the authority tells them that foundations of a permanent dwelling have first to be laid. The couple may reply that they are not ready to build for two or three years, but they are told that they have to lay the foundations of the permanent home before they will be allowed to occupy a temporary dwelling. The couple having acceded to this request, signed a contract and completed arrangements with a building society to go ahead with the construction of the house proper, the Minister and the Department takes the view that the construction of the home was begun before the commencement of this scheme because the foundations were laid before the introduction of the scheme, although this was due only to a local government requirement designed to ensure that occupants of temporary dwellings will proceed with the construction of a permanent home. As a mark of good faith, applicants for permission to live in temporary dwellings, as I have explained, are required to submit plans for a permanent home and to lay the foundations of a permanent dwelling. This assures the local government authority that the temporary dwelling will not be lived in forever.
I have written to the Minister on numerous occasions about anomalies of this kind, but he still sees no good reason to meet the needs of very worthy applicants for assistance who are working hard and saving every penny. The spirit of the legislation is being breached while this kind of stubbornness persists. I ask the Minister to consider these anomalies again.
Then there is all this mumbo-jumbo about approved savings. I believe that in this respect the Bill is founded on a complete myth. Is it more virtuous to have one’s savings in a low interest bank account, for example, than to invest them in some more lucrative way? Who ordained that it is highly virtuous to put one’s money into a bank account? I suggest that the Minister has done many people a grave disservice by ruling out savings invested in credit unions - I shall say more about this later if time permits - and savings invested in contributory superannuation schemes and the like. Is it bad to invest one’s savings in these ways? Then there are those people who have decided to invest in the Broken Hill Pty. Co. Ltd. and shipping companies, for example. They have probably been encouraged to do so by the shareholders and directors who sit opposite. I ask the Minister, who is a former director of the Lend Lease Corporation Ltd.. whether he believes that it is less virtuous for people to invest money in that Corporation than to put their savings into a low interest savings account. To suggest that such investment is less virtuous is completely absurd.
The kind of approach to these problems that is evident helps only to build up a tremendous bureaucracy that denies people, merely because of technicalities, an opportunity to obtain much needed assistance from the Commonwealth. As the homes savings grant scheme stands, in order to qualify for assistance, people must have their savings in an approved home savings account in a bank during the three years preceding their prescribed date, as is laid down in the mumbo-jumbo of this legislation.
At the Committee stage, Mr. Speaker, the Opposition will endeavour to widen the coverage of this measure. We want, for example, to have it extended to cover savings invested in the Voluntary Savings section of the South Australian Superannuation Fund. No fewer than 10,000 contributors who have savings totalling £2 million are being denied assistance under the scheme by the obtuse and crude approach manifested by the Minister in his endeavours to give effect to the hasty and impetuous promise enunciated by the Prime Minister as an election gimmick.
There is also the credit union movement to consider. Is the Minister aware that in New South Wales there are 200 credit unions with 70,000 members? Does he lightly brush aside this great savings medium which comes under the administration of the Minister for Co-operative Societies in the New South Wales Government? I know that many honorable members opposite who last week in the precincts of this building saw the film on Sweden believe with me that the co-operative movement in that country is a magnificent enterprise. In Australia there are many adherents who would like to see an amplification of the co-operative movement, but the dead hand of the Minister has descended on the savings of 70,000 members in New South Wales alone. Their savings, let me remind the Minister, amount to £6 million. Last financial year 49 credit unions reported that they had made housing loans totalling £i million and now the credit unions are moving into this field in an extensive way. I believe that they are entitled to some kind of consideration. Credit unions have an arrangement by which their surplus funds are deposited with a central credit union and from there the funds are placed with building societies for housing purposes. As things stand at the moment, savings with credit unions are an approved form of savings up to 31st December 1964 and the amounts on deposit at that date, provided that they are not withdrawn, will be acceptable savings up to 31st December 1967.
Time will not permit me to go into this in greater detail at the moment, but I want simply to indicate that there are many forms of saving which are being denied the consideration that they deserve. Foremost among them are those two headings of savings that I have mentioned, the building society movement and Superannuation Fund scheme in South Australia, which are to be the subject of Opposition amendments at the Committee stage. In addition there is the technical provision that applicants for war service homes are included in the scope of this Bill. We have been told that 600,000 to 700,000 ex-servicemen are still eligible for a war service home. Of course, if an ex-serviceman was 18 years of age in 1945 he would now be 38 years of age, but if he is more than 36 years old he does not receive any benefit under this legislation. That is a peculiar provision which probably gives the ex-serviceman an incentive to seek a younger wife since the couple is eligible if his wife is under 36 years of age. Nevertheless, when we look at the average cost of a war service home in Canberra - £7,388 - we find that even if the ex-serviceman had the good fortune to obtain a wife under 36 years of age he would be excluded from the provisions of the Bill because the limit on the price of a home under this legislation is £7,000.
Here is another bit of mumbo-jumbo which has just been tossed in to give the ex-serviceman the idea that he is receiving consideration from this Government, but it is skulduggery and humbug, and the people of Australia should understand that. While the Government has a job to do in regard to people who are purchasing homes from State housing authorities, it is pretending to be benevolent by extending the provisions to ex-servicemen most of whom are too old or are buying houses which are too expensive. When we come to the people on low incomes who are buying houses from the State housing authorities - there are about 10,000 a year - we find that they are excluded from the scheme. Those people have to pay off their loans, they have to pay considerable interest rates and have to furnish their homes. Why should they not be included in the scheme? Let me state a case in point. I refer to people obtaining loans from the Victorian Housing Commission. Apparently the Minister is prepared to go on saying to these people “For this £4,000 home you shall pay a total of £9,360 over a period of 45 years. For this £4,000 home purchased from the Housing Commission you shall pay £8,640 over 40 years. For this £4,000 home you shall pay £7,980 over 30 years at 5i per cent, interest.” They are the actual amounts that people pay for these houses. I remind honorable members opposite that people paying these amounts for a £4,000 home are paying lower rates of interest than many people in this country who are being exploited by racketeering entrepreneurs and financiers.
Since these people are paying as much as £9,360 for a £4,000 home they are entitled to a greater degree of consideration under the provisions of this Bill. If the Government were at all sincere the first thing it would do would be to ensure that people on low incomes benefit from the £250 grant scheme. I have referred cursorily to some of the anomalies. One could go on for hours to show that this proposal is not the answer to the housing problem which prevails in Australia. Until the Government comes to grips with high interest rates and until it comes to grips with cost factors the housing problem will persist and large numbers of people will be adversely affected.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The contribution to this debate made by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnston) has been characteristic of his party’s opposition to this scheme from its very inception. I cannot help but believe that it is a case of sour grapes, because if ever we have heard statements of policy from honorable members opposite they have been in relation to marriage grants. For many years they have said we must have marriage grants to help the young married people. They have paid lip service to this policy for quite some time, but in the immediate post war wars when many young people who had returned from overseas married and were looking for homes, did the Federal Labour Government of the day think about providing marriage grants to help these young people? Certainly not. Yet honorable members opposite have continued in their endeavour to knock this legislation since it was introduced.
They began by using the terms used by the honorable member for Hughes. They referred to it as an election expediency or an election gimmick. Then, through the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), they challenged whether the legislation would be constitutional. They voiced this challenge frequently and were very much put out when they found that the legislation was constitutional. No less a person than their own former leader, Dr. Evatt, had stated that legislation of this kind providing a marriage grant or a housing grant was constitutional. Before I leave the honorable member for Hughes I should remind honorable members that he made several claims. He spoke about the large number of outstanding applications with housing commissions. I remind the honorable member that the legislation with which we are now dealing is to assist young people to buy homes and that the bulk of the outstanding applications with housing commissions are from people seeking premises for rental at cheaper rents than they are now paying. The statistics relating to applications outstanding with housing commissions do not concern this matter one iota. The honorable member spoke also about credit unions. i understand that he has some position on the Opposition’s housing committee, so it should be apparent to him that credit union funds are not used mainly for housing purposes. As honorable members know, the savings banks must make 35 per cent, of depositors’ funds available for housing purposes; and most of the funds for housing come from banks and other institutions of that kind. Credit unions lend money for all sorts of things - for consumer durables, cars, television or anything at all - and only a very small amount of the funds accumulated are used for housing purposes.
This housing grant scheme has been said to be a novel one. It is. Because it is novel it was bound to need a certain amount of adjustment, as experience disclosed various anomalies. I congratulate the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) and his Department on this legislation. We must realise that the principal Act was passed in May 1964. On 20th July the doors of the Department of Housing were first opened to receive applications. Today, less than 11 months after the Act was proclaimed, we are dealing with an amending bill. That shows the great attention that the Minister and the Department have given to the various representations that have been made by honorable members from both sides of the House who, as they found their constituents in trouble over various matters, made representations to the Minister. He and the Department have considered them very quickly, and today we have this amending legislation before us.
One of the main matters so raised was an amendment of the definition of “ approved interest “. What is an approved interest in a property? Under this amending Bill, the definition will be extended to cover people who hold some right of tenure from the Crown by licence, lease or some other form of occupancy, such as a miner’s right. I believe that my colleague, the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Erwin), brought this matter before the Minister. Another matter which was brought forward by a member of the Opposition was the question of minors and trustees acting on behalf of minors. The amending legislation provides that where a trustee buys or builds a home, or holds the land, on behalf of a person, including a minor, and the Secretary of the Department is satisfied that the person will become the owner of the property, that person will be eligible to receive a grant. The same applies to savings which are held in trust by a trustee. Those savings will be taken into account and will enable the beneficiary under the trust to qualify for a grant in respect of those savings.
Another matter that was raised is a little involved and is commonly referred to as the package deal. This refers to cases where developers buy land, develop it and contract with the purchasers of the lots to build homes to certain designs. The developer may have three or four basic designs and a purchaser of the land elects to have a particular type of house built by the developer. So the developer is the owner of the land and the builder, too. Unfortunately, in most cases, the purchaser signs a contract to buy a block of land and at the same time signs a contract to have a home built. Of course, legally, at the time the purchaser signed the contract to have the home built he was not the owner of the land; he had only signed a contract of sale, the vendor’s title had not been accepted, and the balance of the deposit may not have been paid. The question then is: When does he become the owner of the land? Does he become the owner of the land after he accepts title, within 14 days of purchase, when he completes the payment for the block of land or when the title officially issues in his name from the Titles Office?
Many people were stunned when they found that they could not obtain the grant because of this legal technicality. I am very pleased that the Minister has seen fit to correct that anomaly and has produced an amendment which covers the package deal. The amendment provides that an applicant who, at the time he enters into a building contract or commences to build his home, does not hold an approved interest in the land on which the home is to be built, will be eligible if he satisfies the Secretary of the Department within a reasonable time that he will hold an approved interest. So that matter is covered. That is a very good amendment.
Another matter which I understand was brought before the Minister by my colleague, the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis), relates to people who buy land on which to build their first matrimonial home but, because of a change in employment or for some other reason, discover that the location of the land is not now suitable. It may well be that on occasions the land has been acquired by governmental or semigovernmental authorities for freeways or other types of local government improvements. In such cases the land has to be sold or a refund has to be made by the acquiring authority. The fact that the applicants have saved to buy such a block of land and have not completed a home on it will be taken into account. Such people now will be able to buy another block of land with the proceeds from the first block. They may even buy another block without using the proceeds from the first block, provided that such proceeds are used for the erection of their first matrimonial home. In many cases this amendment will remove a very real barrier for people who are in occupations in which they can be transferred and for people who would like to move closer to where an ageing mother lives, for example.
Some people, who have purchased land, then buy houses already built because building costs have been beyond their means. As my friend, the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn) said, one of the traps in purchasing a home is that a couple may contract to pay a certain amount for so many years without giving thought to the things that may happen in the future - the number of children that they will have, sickness and various other factors which could upset their original calculation that they can pay up to 25 per cent, of their weekly income in instalments. I believe that this is a very good amendment. This amending legislation provides that people who, having gone ahead with the purchase of a home, and, say, are transferred interstate will not have to occupy the house in order to obtain the grant.
Another important matter about which I wish to speak is the limiting valuation of the land and house. Under the principal Act it was possible for the land and building to be valued as at the time of building. Many young people start to buy a block of land some years before they are in a position to build. They may be fortunate enough to buy a block of land for quite a reasonable sum of money. Having purchased a block of land on terms for perhaps £500 or £600 seven or eight years ago they find, with the tremen dous growth that has taken place in the suburbs of all capital cities, that the value of land has skyrocketed and the block is now worth possibly £1,500 or £2,000. This limits the expenditure on the house to about £5,000 so that the total cost does not exceed the £7,000 laid down. The Bill empowers the Secretary to apply some flexibility in this regard and he can accept the original purchase price of land as its value thus enabling the person concerned to spend more on his house yet still qualify for a grant. This is a worthy provision and one for which the Minister and his Department are to be commended.
Among the several minor matters dealt with in the Bill is one relating to the question of part interest in property. I have known of instances where two brothers have jointly purchased land or a house, and one marries and arranges to buy his brother’s interest. Under this legislation the person acquiring the part interest of another person to obtain a complete interest in a home will be eligible and his savings for that home, or land, will be accepted in determining eligibility for a grant.
The question of resumed residence in Australia is also covered in this Bill. Previously when an Australian returned to Australia after residing overseas he was obliged to remain here for three months before becoming eligible for a grant. This restriction is to be deleted so that any Australian returning here can qualify immediately for a grant. Another amendment - small from one point of view but large to those persons concerned - enables members of the Services who have been serving overseas, and who have saved whilst overseas, to become eligible for a grant on account of their savings during their two year tour of duty, or whatever it may be, after their return to Australia.
The Minister has gone far in correcting the anomalies which practice has revealed. A pleasing feature about the proposed amendments, which reveals that the Government intends that the legislation shall be applied in the spirit in which it was offered to the Australian public, is that application of these amendments shall be made retrospective to the commencing date of the principal Act, 2nd December 1963. This is a particularly gracious act by the Government, clearly indicating that it does not want the time factor to exclude young people the legislation was intended .to benefit, especially as the amendments have taken about 11 months to introduce.
Another matter for which J. commend the Minister is the provision that persons who have been declared ineligible for a grant or who have received only a part grant will not have to make fresh applications. The Department has taken on the colossal task of going through every application which has not attracted the full grant in order to see whether it will qualify as a result of this amending legislation and, if so, a payment will be made automatically.
I was somewhat concerned with one aspect with which the Minister is familiar, since I have made representations to him about it on several occasions. I refer to the position of young people who have saved in savings bank accounts but who have, whenever their savings have mounted, withdrawn money and invested it in special Government bonds, no doubt to secure higher interest payments. They may have stacked away about £1,000 in special bonds and have had only a few hundred pounds left in a savings bank account when the prescribed date for savings was determined, and the money in special bonds has not qualified as savings to attract a grant. I thought that the Minister might take into account that the money so invested in these special bonds had been deposited earlier in a savings bank account, but I can appreciate that if such money were to be regarded as eligible in determining a grant under this legislation it could be regarded as a precedent for accepting other forms of bond investment as savings.
I believe that this home savings grant scheme has got off to a good start. Of the 17,000-odd applications determined about 16,200 have attracted a grant. Of the 1,500 applicants who failed to qualify, some will become eligible as a result of these amendments. A total of £3.5 million has been paid out in grants since the end of July, the average grant being about £230. I cannot agree with the Opposition’s claim that not many people have been eligible for a grant or that the grant has been in many instances a minor amount. The Minister’s statement regarding applications and grants paid has given the lie to that.
The full value of the scheme will not be felt for some years, but later it will have a great impact on the community at large. We must remember that about a quarter of our population is under 25 years of age. As these people become home conscious and want to buy their own homes, so an increasing number of applications will be lodged for the home savings grant. I have no doubt that as time passes other anomalies will be revealed and that they will be remedied as speedily and as well as those which we are now considering. I consider this legislation to be a milestone in Government achievement. It is something we have been game enough to do. It is something about which the Opposition has talked for years - marriage grants - but has never had the intestinal fortitude to do anything about. The Opposition would do well to give a little praise to the Minister for Housing for what he has done. I am sure that the inference made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) a short time ago will never recur while the Minister continues with his present methods. I commend the Bill.
.- The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) said that the Opposition would like to see this legislation knocked over altogether. That is very far from the truth, and nobody knows it better than1 the honorable member for Maribyrnong. We simply are endeavouring to point out the many injustices in this legislation, under which many people are debarred from qualifying for the grant of £250. The purpose of the Bill is to correct the many anomalies which were evident in the legislation introduced by the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) last year. We were told that the Homes Savings Grant Bill represented an endeavour on the part of the Government to assist and encourage married couples to purchase their own homes, and so reduce the perennial housing shortage in Australia. The Minister said in his second reading speech that some 16,200 grants have been made at a cost of £31 million and that of another 1,500 applicants who have failed to qualify some will become eligible if this amending legislation is approved by the Parliament.
The Homes Savings Grant Act does assist some married couples, up to a maximum amount of £250, to set up homes. However, it does not materially assist in any significant degree in alleviating the housing shortage in Australia today. The majority of married couples within the permissible age limits mentioned in the legislation have no possible hope of saving £750 over three years. I refer particularly to breadwinners who have to provide for their families on a total income of less than £20 a week. Consider the position of a man with a take-home pay of £18 a week who is supporting a wife and two or more children and paying rent of £4 or £5 or more a week. He would have very little opportunity of saving £750 over three years, because this represents a constant saving of £4 16s. a week over that period. People in these wage groups are denied any assistance by the Government, even if they are fortunate enough to obtain a housing commission home which is available for purchase on a nominal deposit of £50 or £100. The Minister has stated that there is no restriction or direction as to how the grant of £250 is to be spent by a couple fortunate enough to receive it. Many of them will naturally decide to use it for buying furniture, carpets or other household necessities. In these circumstances, why is it that a person wishing to buy a housing commission home is not entitled to the grant and cannot use it for the same purposes?”
The Homes Savings Grant Act and this amending Bill deal with only one aspect of housing. This Government has done very little, if anything, to assist in meeting the housing needs of the Australian people. When the Chifley housing agreement expired this Government brought forward a new agreement in 1956 under which the rental rebate system, which had been a feature of the Chifley Government’s agreement, was abolished. This meant that many people in the lower income brackets simply could not afford to pay the rent of housing commission dwellings. The new agreement also denied to State Governments the right to use housing commission money to provide accommodation for pensioners.
In addition, the new agreement required that a certain proportion of moneys granted to the States should be allocated to building societies and a further proportion should be used for housing Service personnel. At present the proportions are 30 per cent, and 5 per cent, respectively. If, for example, the New South Wales Government were allocated £17 million for a particular year, £5,100,000 would have to go to building societies and £805,000 would have to be used for accommodation for Service personnel, leaving £11,095,000 for Housing Commission dwellings. It is appreciated that building societies perform a really worthwhile function in providing homes. However, before the 1956 Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was negotiated the building societies received adequate amounts of loan money from private lending institutions such as banks and insurance companies, but when the banks became financially interested in hire purchase companies, the returns from which were far greater than from ordinary banking transactions, their loans to building societies were drastically reduced. It was for this reason that the Commonwealth Government had to insist on the States making a certain proportion of the money allocated to them available to building societies. If this had not been done the societies would have completely collapsed because they were unable to get money from the sources from which it had previously been available.
As I said earlier, the 1956 housing agreement prevented the State Governments from using money allocated under the agreement to provide accommodation for pensioners. However, this did not deter the Labour Government of New South Wales from catering for the needs of our elderly citizens. More than 2,000 housing units for aged persons have been built in New South Wales and several hundred more are in course of construction. These are available at rents of £1 a week for a single unit and £1 10s. a week for a double unit for a married couple. These rental charges are well within the economic means of pensioners. I emphasise that this has been accomplished and is being accomplished without one penny piece of assistance from the Commonwealth Government. This Government has consistently rejected appeals by State Governments for funds for slum clearance. In the suburb of Waterloo in my electorate a slum clearance project is at present being carried out by the New South Wales Housing Commission, involving a cost of between £50,000 and £60,000 an acre for acquisition and clearance.
Let me deal with some of the most urgent and pressing housing needs which are not covered by this legislation. I shall refer to some of the people in the community who will receive no financial assistance whatsoever from the Commonwealth Government in 1960-61. Of taxpayers with incomes of less than £20 a week there are 68,000 each with a dependent spouse and one child, 56,000 with a spouse and two children, and 58,000 with a spouse and three or more children. It is most unlikely that people in this category will be able to qualify for a grant under this legislation. There are more than 25,000 widows in Australia having the care of one or more children, and I put this question to honorable members: Is it just that a widow with dependent children who wishes to obtain a home should be denied a grant under this legislation simply because she is unable to save £750 over three years? Then I come to those in the category of migrants. These people have a most urgent housing problem as soon as they arrive in Australia. Many of them arrive here without any money at all. They then have to wait three years to qualify under this legislation and in that time they have to manage to save £750.
Let me now say something about the high cost of homes. Other Opposition speakers have said that one of the main reasons for the high cost of homes is the high cost of building land. There is no doubt that in the period since the original homes savings grant legislation was introduced home building costs have increased to such an extent that the value of the £250 grant has been considerably diminished. It is interesting to note that prior to World War II the land on which a home was built represented, on the average, 10 per cent, of the total value of the property. Today the proportion has increased to 28 per cent, of the total value of the property. It is obvious that the increase in the cost of land, particularly during the last decade, has been one of the main reasons for the sharp increase in the cost of homes. It has been said that the Commonwealth has no responsibility and no power over land in the States but there is nothing to prevent the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) from seeking a conference with the six Premiers for the purpose of asking them to confer on the Commonwealth power to control the price of land.
I believe that one of the greatest things that could have happened to this country would have been for the people to have elected a Labour government in 1963. Such a government would have provided better housing for the people by reducing interest rates on housing loans. This would have been more beneficial than the £250 handout given by this Government. There can be no doubt that a lower rate of interest over a period of 30 or 40 years would have been more beneficial to a person buying a home than the hand-out of £250. Supposing the Government were to re-introduce next year the credit squeeze and increase sharply interest rates on home loans. What would happen then? The value of the £250 has almost gone now. It will disappear completely if interest rates are increased and the home buyer will be out of pocket despite this legislation. The Labour Party is the only party in Australia that sincerely wants a rapid development in housing for the people of this country.
.- I am not particularly anxious to deal in detail with the matters raised by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope), who made a normal and reasonable speech. It is true that perhaps on this occasion he cocked his eye over his shoulder towards the New South Wales elections but, after all, that is a reality of politics. The amendments that we are now discussing arise from the Bill introduced into this Parliament last year by the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury). I find myself in the happy position of being in agreement with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) on quite a number of matters relating to this legislation. The House will recall that in his opening remarks the Deputy Leader of the Opposition complimented the Minister on the way that he had handled correspondence that had come to him and requests that had been made to him, and on the way he had supplied information to honorable members. I join with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in extending compliments to the Minister for a very realistic approach to a very real problem. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred also to the fact that £10 million had been appropriated by this Parliament in, I think, the last Estimates for the purpose of this legislation and, to quote the Minister, a little more than £3 million had been spent. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said this represented bad budgeting. I agree with him. This is the kind of thing that this House could well afford to investigate. It is not confined to the single item that we are discussing here. A matter of this kind is not one of party politics.
I find myself substantially at variance with the views expressed by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson), whose attitude, as I understand it, largely was that the Bill was not as good as it could have been and that it did not deal with all the other varieties of housing problems that we have in Australia. Of course it does not. The honorable member for Watson developed much the same kind of theme. Of course the Bill does not deal with every housing problem. It is not intended to do so. It was never suggested that it would do so. What was suggested when the Minister introduced this Bill was that it was designed to attack one particular problem and to help one particular class of people in the community. The Bill was designed to help the young married couple under the age of 36 years. It was designed to encourage them to save. It was designed through these methods to add to the pool of savings in this country available for the purchasing of homes. Those were the stated objectives of the Bill. No honorable member could challenge the Minister that the Bill has failed in any one of those three main objectives.
As I said last year when speaking on the original legislation, the Bill represented a forward move. It was something new in the 60 odd years of this Commonwealth Parliament. Legislation of this kind had not been previously attempted. I said, further, that in my judgment the Bill represented an exercise in reality, because no member who sits in this House would not honestly agree with me that on this subject of housing there has been more rubbish talked, more impractical suggestions made, more solutions that are obviously not solutions offered and more comments made that obviously ignore the nature and degree of the problem but apparently seek an easy political solution than on any other subject. The honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) who is interjecting is vocal on these occasions but lamentably silent when it comes to making constructive suggestions on this vital matter. I shall welcome his comments at a later stage. 1 propose to address myself to the amendments now before the House in this Bill. They illustrate the new approach which the Government adopted in dealing with this real problem. The Government realised - the Minister said so in his speech - that we would have to deal with many problems as they occurred. The Bill is a practical approach to the problems that have arisen. It is not a theory of mathematics. If honorable members will cast their minds back to the debate on the original Bill they will recall that Opposition supporters said that the scheme would not work, that it would not achieve its purpose and that the people would not be interested in it. Bearing those remarks in mind it is interesting to record - I have culled these facts from the Minister’s speech - that applications for the grant were first received in July last year. The scheme actually came into operation on 2nd December 1963. The amendments that we are now discussing were introduced into this Parliament on 25th March this year. So the scheme has been in operation for about 16 months. We are building about 100,000 dwelling units a year, to use the common jargon. So in the period of 16 months during which this scheme has been in operation, 130,000 to 140,000 dwelling units have been built. In that same period there have been 25,000 applications for the grant. It does not require a mathematical genius, as the honorable member for Watson may be, to work out that 18 per cent, to 19 per cent, of people who were building or buying homes in the relevant period applied for the grant. In other words, the people in the age group who were eligible or who thought they were eligible far the grant, and who applied for it, represented about 18 per cent, of all intending home owners during that period. That is a substantial figure and a very definite indication of the support that this legislation has received from the people. It is a definite confirmation of the defeat suffered by the Labour Party in 1963. In this legislation we have attempted to do something for the younger married people. The figures I have given show that that attempt has met with considerable success.
My friend from Hughes said that the Opposition, on the prior occasion when this subject was before the House, had said that there was need for considerable amendment.
I find it difficult to recall the precise amendments that the Opposition had in mind at that time. Be that as it may, the fact is that 25,000 applications have been received and, according to the Minister’s statement, 16,200 have been granted. So, two-thirds of all those who have applied have been satisfied. That is to say, two-thirds of the total applications came within the ambit of the first measure. The Minister also said that most of the 1,500 applications that had been rejected and the other applications that had not as yet been dealt with would be covered by the amendments that have now been introduced into the House. In a reasonable society, I do not think that criticism of this sort of record can be otherwise than farcical. It does not seem to me to make any real contribution to the institution of Parliament or of government to attack that which has quite obviously achieved a very considerable measure of success in this field.
I am sure that the contribution of my friend, the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) will be appreciated by everyone. He spent a lifetime in the building and housing industry and he spoke with a great deal more knowledge than I possess of the background of the various amendments that have been suggested. I can refer to only two or three of the amendments - those that deal with matters with which I have had some acquaintance. In common with most honorable members, I made submissions to the Minister on these matters. At the time, I appreciated the courtesy of his reply, even if, as he explained, under the legislation as it was then constituted it was impossible to meet these applications. I will not transgress by repeating in full the comments of the honorable member for Maribyrnong. However, I have in mind particularly young people who, having purchased a block of land, subsequently purchase a house already erected or a block of land on which they propose to build a house in some other area. It is quite obvious that at this time of life - newly married people under the age of 36 - quite a number of people for a variety of reasons would want to change their place of residence. This was one of the submissions made to the Minister and the situation is met in this amending Bill. I think this is a wise, humane and human approach. It will solve the problems of some of the young people I know. They are the sort of people who, by our helping them to help themselves, will make a real and effective contribution to the wellbeing of the country.
I believe that the Bill is good and that the amendments serve a very reasonable purpose. I believe that if, as the scheme develops, further amendments are necessary, they will be made. I remind the House that, to attack this legislation because it does not cover the whole problem of housing, is to ignore the facts of the situation and, by so doing, to delay the possibility of an answer being found to the problem of the people about whom my friend the honorable member for Watson spoke so feelingly.
Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 8 p.m.
.- It has been very truly said that the three fundamental human wants are food, clothing and shelter. Whatever sufficiency there may be of food and clothing in Australia, a very real burden is being imposed on the people because of the shortage of housing, lt is equally true that when a man marries and fathers children he gives hostages to fortune. Today a large proportion of Australians are living in hovels and not in houses. The legislation, for what it is worth, is a “ make and mend “ job, and the Minister with great unction has announced that some 16,200 people have received these grants. There is another name for them which I will not inflict on the House at the present time. The Minister is entitled to such exiguous political advantage as he can extort from this measure, but there is another side to the problem. Just as a coin has a reverse and obverse sides, so for every person who has benefited under this legislation there are 50 persons who are suffering in silence and have not the slightest hope of ever achieving the necessary savings to qualify under the terms of the legislation.
It struck me as supremely ironical for the Minister to conclude his second reading speech by advising young folk to open a home savings account. That is very good for those who can, but the vast majority of people in Australia have not the slightest hope of doing so. They have to choose, in most cases, between a family and a home, and when they decide on one heaven help them in their struggle to achieve the other.
One of the more notable omissions from the legislation is the exclusion of credit unions. I shall deal with that later in my address. Earlier today the Minister in answer to a question asked by the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) very neatly sidestepped the question of an increase in interest. We have the spectacle of a government that has bought political support as a matter of expediency. These grants are merely the payoff. What the Government gives with one hand it promptly takes away with the other. I have made a calculation that on a co-operative housing society loan of £3,750, over a term of 30 years, an increase of one-half per cent, in the interest rate increases by £290 the total interest that will have to be paid. Already interest rates have gone up by onequarter per cent. The other quarter per cent, will very quickly follow, because anyone with any financial acumen knows that it is necessary for the Government to increase the interest rate in order to sweeten the loan market for itself. We have had two Government loan failures and the Government cannot face a third. The failure of these loans was due solely to the Government’s financial ineptitude.
When the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) first announced this celebrated grant scheme he did so for straight out political purposes. The scheme was directed at a particular group of people in order to buy their support. It was cunningly, shrewdly and deliberately aimed at peole within a certain income group who might have been wavering in their allegiance to the Liberal Party. The votes were duly obtained, and now we have come to the day of reckoning. After all, this grant is no more than a palliative because, of the fundamental problems that beset those who seek home ownership in Australia today, the worst is the inflation of land prices. At this stage I can do no better than to read to the House a statement of a very notable Englishman whose name I will disclose when I have completed reading the extracts I propose to put before the House. These comments were made by an English statesman whose name is a household word today. They were made 40 years ago and relate to inflated land prices. This eminent statesman said -
Lund monopoly is not the only monopoly, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies - it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all forms of monopoly
Unearned increments in land are not the only form of unearned or undeserved profit but they are the principal form of unearned increment, and they are derived from processes which are not merely not beneficial, but positively detrimental to the general public.
The Government, of course, is throwing fuel on the flames of inflation, and this grant scheme is a palliative, and not a remedy. The statesman continued -
Every one of those improvements is effected by the labor and cost of other people and the rate payers. To not one of these improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.
No matter where you look or what examples you select, you will see that every form of enterprise, every step in material progress, is only undertaken after the land monopolist has skimmed the cream off for himself, and everywhere today the man or the public body that wishes to put land to its highest use is forced to pay a preliminary fine in land values to the man who is putting it to an inferior use, and in some cases to no use at all. All comes back to the land value, and its owner is able to levy toll upon all other forms of wealth and every form of industry.
The man who said that was certainly not a doctrinaire Socialist. He was not even a Social Democrat. He was the late Sir Winston Churchill, and his words are as true today as when they were uttered 40 years ago.
We see much wringing of hands, and wringing of withers too, by this Government when it is suggested that something should be done to control land prices. Land prices can be controlled and examples have already been set in many countries if we choose to follow them. Again I quote, this time from an American publication titled “House and Home”. This issue was published three years ago and the article to which I refer reads as follows -
Commonest method of land price control is rent control. . . . The Dutch have rent control in the cities, but they apply direct price control in the country. When the Dutch extended their national freeway system they took the right of way at the fixed agricultural valuation of the land.
In Sweden, for example, the municipal government of Stockholm bought ahead of the city’s growth more land inside and outside the city limits than all the land inside the city. Most of this land was bought before World War I; i.e., it was bought far below today’s prices. That explains why Stockholm can afford such wide open spaces between its suburban apartment houses. The city rents peripheral land to farmers until it is needed for housing.
In Holland, almost every city over 20,000 population has a land reserve policy; Amsterdam alone owns some 8,300 acres ahead, partly “that the increase in land values may inure to the community.” British cities are empowered to buy land, and some like Liverpool have long owned corporate estates. Land reserves are also owned by cities in Germany, Austria, Finland and Denmark. Municipal acquisition of raw or blighted land on the outskirts is authorised by the U.S. Housing Act of 1949, but this power has never been used.
There is nothing to stop this Government if it so chooses - and could be pushed into doing it - from giving a loan to enable every State or local government authority to acquire land, particularly the peripheral land on the outskirts or fringes of developed areas, in order to control that land and its price and to sell it to decent people at cost price and on fair conditions. As the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) said today, when referring to land as a component of the cost, land represents 28 per cent, of the total cost of a home and land. Pre-war, it represented 10 per cent, of the total cost, and all that the Government offers is this bribe - I can only call it that - of £250 as a palliative which in fact is only adding fuel to the flames of inflation.
The housing shortage has been with us in Australia since the first fleet landed in Botany Bay. In more recent times, the housing shortage has been intensified by the economic depression of the early 1930’s, by the complete cessation of building activities during World War II, and by the immigration programme which has been undertaken - and justifiably so - for our national development. The Department of Housing has been merely a political afterthought which was germinated during the last election campaign. It would be too much to expect from this Department anything in the way of a national housing policy and, in the absence of a national housing policy, certainly there can be no assessment of the national position with regard to housing. Silence, of course, is to be expected on this score. The Government is as silent as the grave because, on every count, it stands condemned.
Let us examine the position of the income earners of Australia. I quote from the official figures relating to income tax assessments as at 30th September 1963 and relating to a total of 4,400,000 taxpayers. The figures relate to gradings of actual income and disclose that over 60 per cent., or 2,615,000 of the 4,400,000 Australian taxpayers, were earning less than £21 a week and that 75 per cent., or 3,221,000 of them, were earning less than £25 a week. No person earning less than £25 a week receives very serious consideration today from any co-operative building society, and the sole avenues for housing relief for persons receiving under £20 a week are the various State housing authorities, such as the Housing Commission in New South Wales. In other words, we have a position in which 75 per cent, of the people of Australia find it almost beyond their economic competence to save sufficient to purchase a home for themselves. That is a tragic and shocking state of affairs.
I represent a city which pours out great wealth for this nation - wealth amounting to £283 million a year from secondary industry. Whilst that wealth is being poured out, the people of that city are not getting their fair share because in the city of Greater Wollongong, particularly in the heavy industry, wage rates are notoriously low. To make matters even worse, with the advent of the’ migrants, we have a situation which has become alarming indeed. With the indulgence of the House, I propose to read to it a letter which I received from Mr. Charles J. Dwyer, who is at present an inmate of Balgownie Hostel in my constituency. That hostel is conducted by Commonwealth Hostels Ltd. under the aegis of the Department of Labour and National Service. Mr. Dwyer said in his letter -
Sir, I am not asking for charity. All I want is a chance to transfer to a Hostel in Sydney or Melbourne, so that I, my wife and daughter can work and save enough money to buy our own house, and settle down in Australia.
I know you are a very busy man, but 1 have to write to you. I cannot get satisfaction anywhere else.
I am a British Migrant living at the above Hostel with my wife and five children. I migrated to Australia through the B.H.P.
I am working at the steelworks earning at the basic rate of £18 weekly. My hostel bill is £24 10s» every two weeks.
My wife is willing to work, but cannot get any employment whatsoever, my daughter who is nearly 17 years of age, and was in training as a Nurse Cadet in England and who has her mind set on being a Nurse, cannot get anything like nursing, has to take a job in a clothing factory at £5 weekly.
I have a skilled trade as a Metal Polisher, but there are no jobs of this nature in this locality. 1 was offered a job in my trade in Sydney with very good wages. My wife was also offered employment. My daughter can also get employment in a hospital in the Sydney suburbs. I have tried a number of times to get a transfer to a Hostel in Sydney, but they have been turned down, with the excuse that I came out with B.H.P. to Balgownie Hostel, and have to live there. I went seeking accommodation in Sydney, but the rent was well beyond my means.
I think an apt description of this type of labour is corvee. Perhaps another term for it could be industrial peonage. Whatever term is used, it is a disgraceful state of affairs. I then made further investigations. I naturally interviewed Mr. Dwyer. He came out here from England some five months ago. He had been induced to come to Australia by an advertisement which had appeared in a London newspaper, inserted by Broken Hill Pty. Ltd. He left a job at £18 a week sterling to come to Australia. His wife was earning £12 a week sterling and his daughter £5 4s. a week sterling. The aggregate earnings of the family in Australian currency were £44 a week. That man came to this country under false pretences to a wage of £A18 a week and another £A5 for his daughter. What is the public image of Australia in the eyes of that man? What will he be saying to his relatives and friends in Great Britain? And that is not an isolated case. It is typical of dozens that have come before my notice from time to time from English migrants.
There are vacancies in other hostels. Broken Hill Pty. Co. Ltd. contributed nothing towards this man’s transport to Australia. He came here to a Commonwealth hostel - and a well run hostel, too. I give it credit for that fact. He came to this hostel, and what did he find? The family were most careful in their inquiries in England. He had been told there would be ample work in Wollongong or Port Kembla for his wife and family. He came here and found that he was >at a distinct economic disadvantage. But, more than that, he is tied like a chattel slave or a feudal serf to a particular job in a particular industry for a particular period. What chance has that nian, or any of the other 2,200 English migrants who are being recruited to come to this country, of accumulating £750 in order to qualify for this princely handout? They have no hope in the world.
In two years time, that man will be asked to leave the hostel. Where does he go? What does he do? That man is a good honest English artisan. He did not accept dictation, I am pleased to say that he went to Sydney and obtained employment. He is now putting up with all the inconvenience of travelling 100 miles a day to and from Sydney by train. He is getting £28 a week and has good opportunity for further employment.
We want all the migrants we can get in Australia. Especially do we want our own kith and kin. There are 50 million people in England, and Heaven knows how many of them will be required to leave there if Great Britain enters the Common Market. We want every one of them here to build up this nation - to build up the steel industry in particular. There has been an exchange of correspondence between the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) and the President of the United States of America, in which this Government is pleading for foreign investment. We have a wonderful steel export potential. We produce the cheapest steel in the world. We have a company which is highly efficient. It is ploughing its profits back into the industry, but is certainly not giving any of those profits to its men. It has created a wholly artificial position in my city. There are already 2.780 people on the books of the Housing Commission, all approved applicants, none of them capable of buying their own homes, but every one of them keenly interested in getting into a home, every one of them wanting to rear a family, and every one of them wanting to do the right thing by Australia. Every child born to those people will, as an adult earning the average wage today, produce £120,000 worth of wealth for Australia. Are these people to be denied their birthright? Are these people to be denied the normal standards of human existence? It is a shame.
Notoriously, the steel industry pays low wages. In November of last year, no less an authority than the Financial Editor of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ took this company to task for paying niggardly wages and for the social evils that flow from low wages. No wonder that we have a vast housing slum in certain parts of the City of Greater Wollongong. The people there are decent people. They are good honest English artisans, good honest Australian born artisans, and good honest artisans who have come from other parts of Europe, all prepared to make this a new, a better and a greater Australia. What do we give them in return? We have a distorted economy with 5,600 women unemployed. Of those 5,600 women, 4,500 are married and are forced to try to get a job to supplement the wages being paid to their husbands. In what particular areas are these people located? They are found in the areas closest to the steel works. They are found in the triangle formed by Port Kembla, Berkeley and Windang - the suburbs of Greater Wollongong located closest to the steel industry. This area houses a lot of the people who have been fortunate enough to move out of the migrant hostels into Housing Commission homes and in it there is 40 per cent, unemployment amongst women. Those women have to go out to work and they are competing with the 1,100 girls who are legitimately entitled to jobs but who have not got the slightest chance of getting them because of the unreasonable competition which exists.
The City of Greater Wollongong has 28 per cent, unemployment as against a State figure of 2 per cent. It is a disgrace, a scandal and a shame. It is even more than that. I am not just quoting figures at random because an economic survey was made by Mr. Steinke, a lecturer in economics at the Wollongong University College. More credit to him for what he has done. He has pinpointed the trouble which is nothing more or less than inadequate wages.
The City of Greater Wollongong, in the current year, could absorb two-thirds of the total housing commission loan made to the State of New South Wales. Some honorable member might ask: “ What is the State Housing Commission doing? “ The State Housing Commission is doing a notable service, a wonderful job, in Wollongong Housing District. It has built 6,300 homes and has another 580 under construction. In this city which contains 4 per cent, of the total population of New South Wales, the State Government has spent 13 per cent, of its available funds for this year. It could not do more and still give minimum justice to the rest of New South Wales.
Wollongong needs special assistance. It needs a special investigation of its problems. Those problems are interlocked. They affect the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury), the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) and the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Opperman), lt is up to those three honorable gentlemen to forget their political persuasion and prejudices and to give the people of Greater Wollongong a fair go and the benefit of their financial, economic and legislative powers. I ask that in the name of my people. I am proud of my city. I have lived there all my life. I am the son of a worker. I will die in the same place. Some day it will be the greatest industrial city of Australia. It will have no peer in the southern hemisphere. Today, it is hidebound, constricted and being literally destroyed by the ignorance and the apathy and superciliousness of this Government. The people in that area are entitled to a fair go but they are not getting it.
I want to refer to another field and that is the savings of workmen. What do we find? We find that the Government barely tolerated credit unions for 12 months and no longer. Up till the 31st December it actually recognised savings in a credit union as qualifying a worker for this housing grant, this dole, this bribe - call it what we will. But then up went the shutters. This was typical of a conservative Government because nothing would be more repugnant to a government of the persuasion of this present Government than for working men to actually run their own bank, to learn something of the techniques of banking, and to learn how to plan their own economic future. It would suit the purpose of this Government also to make sure that those people could not be emancipated from the clutches of the hire purchase racketeers, who are among the friends and supporters of this Government in no small measure.
By this amendment we are following the pattern of Great Britain itself where even the penny banks set up by the workers were undermined, knocked over, and finally destroyed. Workers* banks - the credit unions - are anathema to. this Government. They are poison to the Government and in return the Government seeks to poison them. There is a credit union at the Australian Iron and Steel works at Wollongong with £400,000 invested in it by 4.200 workers. Why are not these workers - single men aid some married men who flog themselves to work overtime - entitled to put their money into that union and then receive the same benefits as those people who put their savings into the banks? Why are they not entitled to put their money into the credit union, let it accumulate in the normal way and thereby allow their fellow workers to have the benefit of it? If they choose to use the credit union as a home savings account, surely that satisfies the tenor and purpose of the Act. It is a disgrace that this is not permitted. It is not right, it is not fair, it is not just and it is not reasonable. No one knows this better than does the Minister. Credit unions are a social benefit to the workers. In New South Wales workers have invested £5 million in credit unions, and I pay a tribute to Mr. Landa, the Minister for Housing and Co-operative Societies in New South Wales, for his work and his sponsorship. This is the greatest anomaly of all. Credit unions are recognised in New South Wales. They are registered under the same Co-operative Community Settlement and Credit Act of 1923 that the ordinary co-operative building society claims as its charter. There is not the slightest justification for credit unions to be treated in this fashion by the Government.
My time is drawing to a close but I say advisedly - and I say it as an Australian - that we have to fill this land or we will be arraigned at the bar of world public opinion to justify our tenure of a vast and wealthy country. To populate the country we must have housing. We must be able to offer decent homes and a fair and reasonable standard of living. I commend my comments to the Minister. He has had the benefit of visiting Wollongong and of consultation with the local council. He has made all sorts of promises. At the present time he does not even extend me the courtesy of listening to my comments, but that is precisely what might be expected from him.
Mr. DEVINE (East Sydney) (8.20].- The Bill before the House contains amendments to the Homes Savings Grants Act. The Bill was introduced by the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) to overcome some of the anomalies that have become apparent since the Act was passed. It is very surprising that no supporter of the Government has risen to follow the honorable member for
Cunningham (Mr. Connor) and speak on such an important problem as housing. Throughout Australia there are approximately 80,000 people registered on the books of housing commissions and similar organisations as wanting accommodation. They are mainly in the low income bracket - people who cannot afford to purchase a home or who cannot afford to save even the deposit on a home.
Supporters of the Government, which, of course, runs the country, are not concerned one iota about the people’s housing needs and therefore do not want to speak on such an important measure as this. This is a situation of which the Minister should be ashamed. He should be ashamed to think that when a Bill so important as this is before the Parliament and the people of Australia he cannot get the support of members of his own party or members of the Australian Country Party. We all should feel critical of this situation, because the housing problems in Australia today are great and there is an urgent need for the construction of more houses. For this reason, I hope that it is not left to Opposition members to present all the facts that should be put before the House. I believe that Government supporters are running for cover in the face of the great housing problems that confront the people of Australia today.
– The honorable member knows that that statement is wrong.
– All I can say is that if the honorable member for Mallee thinks it is wrong, he should follow me in this debate and put his arguments on behalf of the Government. He knows as well as I do that a great many people throughout Australia are looking for homes. A great number of people seeking housing are on the lists of the housing commissions and other State housing institutions, which find it impossible to provide enough housing for all those who need it.
– This is a Bill to provide for a grant to people wanting to buy homes.
– We realise that, but only measures designed to build more homes will give the assistance that is needed. This Bill will provide for the payment of a grant of £250 to young couples who at present do not qualify under the conditions laid down in the Homes Savings Grant Act. However the Government is failing in its duty to provide homes for people in the low income groups. Since the introduction of this scheme for the grant of £250, homebuilding costs have been subject to a general rise. In the last 12 months, the cost of an average block of building land has risen by approximately £80. Since June 1960, land costs have increased by approximately 38.2 per cent. Prospective buyers who seek land at reasonable prices are now compelled to seek it well out in the suburbs of the large cities because of ever increasing prices of land. This means that transport costs are greater. Fares to and from work are much greater. Today, it is virtually impossible for a young couple to buy a block of land for less than about £2,000.
The scheme for a grant of £250 is said to have been introduced by this Government in an effort to assist young couples, but I believe that it has really been of no great assistance to them because the grant has only been gobbled up by builders as a result of the ever increasing prices of timber, bricks and other building materials. The benefit of the grant has gone to builders and sub-contractors, and the young couples whom the scheme Was intended to help have not been greatly assisted. The money being made available by means of the homes savings grant is going into the pockets of builders and the unfortunate person who should be helped is getting no benefit at all. Young couples are finding it increasingly difficult to save the sum needed to pay a deposit on the purchase or construction of a home. As honorable members know, for the ordinary kind of home today a deposit of several thousand pounds is needed. Many young couples ave living in accommodation for which they pay 10 or 12 guineas a week rent. Unless both of them are working, it is virtually impossible for them to save enough money for a deposit on a home.
This sort of situation is very prevalent in New South Wales and I know that it is common in other States also. Young couples are finding it increasingly difficult to save enough for a deposit on a home because building costs are ever increasing. Builders are ever looking for more profits. A builder whose tender for the construction of a dwelling is accepted calls for tenders from sub-contractors for various parts of the job. Usually, he accepts the lowest tender for each part of the work. This enables him to make the maximum profit, but the person for whom the home is being built receives no benefit however low the tenders of the sub-contractors may be. The only result is that the lower they are the greater is the builder’s profit, for he is able to put more into his own pocket.
Many fly by night sub-contractors are working from dawn till dusk and breaking every trade union rule in the book. In many instances, the standard of their work is not as high as it should be. As a result many young couples who do not know a great deal about home construction and who know nothing at all about the technicalities of construction have the wool pulled over their eyes to a large degree. As is often said throughout the trade, the difference between a good job and a bad job is 7 lb. of putty. This is the sort of situation that arises when sub-contractors do not do the kind of job expected of decent tradesmen. The result is a jerry built house. The problem is that many home buyers find, only after the maintenance period has elapsed, that the home they have had built has a lot of faults and these cost them a good deal to put right. All this means extra cost in repairs. The standard of work in some sections of the building trade is deteriorating. This is something to which the Government should turn its attention. It should make sure that certain standards are laid down and that they are complied with by contractors and sub-contractors.
If the Government wishes to reduce the cost of housing, the first thing for it to do is to ensure that those who wish to build or buy homes can borrow money at reasonable rates of interest. Recently, interest rates on housing finance rose about one-quarter of 1 per cent. The honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) raised this matter in the House earlier today and asked the Minister to look into it. The result of this increase in interest rates will be a raising of the cost of homes.
Let me give the House some illustrations of the way in which costs are increased. In Sydney, bricks may be bought for £26 a thousand. After transport to Canberra for use here, the cost is £54 a thousand. The bricks produced locally in Canberra, unfortunately, are inferior and many builders will not use them but send to Melbourne or
Sydney for bricks. With respect to timber, the situation is similar. The cost of a certain timber much used in building is 164s. a hundred super, feet. In Sydney, similar timber costs only 120s. a hundred super, feet. The average cost of homebuilding is approximately £360 a square in Sydney and and £320 a square in Melbourne, cornpaired to approximately £450 a square in Canberra. So honorable members can see that homebuilding costs in Canberra are very high. I suggest that the Government could assist to reduce housing costs here by paying a subsidy on the transport of building materials to this city. This would enable Canberra people to obtain homes at more reasonable prices. The Minister should give some thought to these things if he wants to assist people to build their homes.
This matter has been raised by many honorable members on this side of the chamber because the Opposition feels that it is important today that credit unions, which are growing in Australia, particularly in New South Wales, should be included in the lending institutions which attract the home savings subsidy. Credit unions were included in the provisions until the end of last year, but we have found since then that any person who wishes to be eligible for the grant has been compelled to withdraw money invested with a credit union and to lodge it in a home savings account at a bank.
– They can leave it for three years. It is only the new savings.
– Perhaps the provision does apply only to new savings, but the main idea of the credit union movement in New South Wales is to encourage young people when they start work to save so that later in life when they marry and need a home they will have money. They receive a greater rate of interest from credit unions than they receive from the banks with the result that their savings are worth much more to them when they need them for some purpose.
In introducing the Homes Savings Grant Bill in May last year the Minister said with reference to credit unions -
Credit unions are growing fast and play a very constructive part in collecting and channelling savings to fruitful purposes for the benefit of their members and in fostering a sense of financial responsibility. The further harnessing of their activities to the housing field would be most welcome.
We find today from reports which we are receiving from credit unions that many of them are investing their funds in housing and helping to overcome the housing shortage in Australia. In New South Wales alone there are 200 credit unions. Unfortunately the Commonwealth Government imposes income tax on their profits. Credit unions in the United States of America and other countries do not pay income tax, but in Australia it is the Commonwealth Government’s policy to charge a tax of 7s. 6d. in the £1 on the first £5,000 and 8s. 6d. in the £1 on the balance. In the U.S.A. where there are approximately 21,000 credit unions with 14 million members, and in Canada where there are more than 4,600 credit unions with 3 million members, credit union profits are not subject to taxation.
The credit union movement has on many occasions made approaches to the Commonwealth Government for a taxation concession, but so far concessions have not been granted. In New South Wales where there are approximately 200 credit unions with 70,000 members the State Government assists the credit union movement greatly. That State has a Minister who is very interested in the movement. Credit unions in that State do not pay stamp duty on transactions. The New South Wales Government is prepared to assist the credit unions in this way, and I feel that the Federal Government should also assist in every way possible to encourage the movement. At the present time savings in credit unions total about £6 million and loans approximate £4i million. In the last financial year 49 credit unions reported that they had made loans for housing totalling £578,890. This money has been lent to young people on second mortgages - some loans have been for as much as £1,000 - to enable members to effect renovations to their homes. Honorable members know that interest rates on second mortgages are very high, but the credit unions lend money at 6 per cent, interest. This is of great assistance to many young people who, if they had to obtain the money from outside investors or finance companies, would pay a flat rate of interest between 10 and 12 per cent. By lending money at 6 per cent, the credit unions are assisting young people to construct homes or renovate them.
I have in my hand the Annual Report of the C.B.O.A. Credit Union Co-operative Ltd., whose members are employed by the Commonwealth Bank. I have a report also from the University Staff Credit Union and particulars of the A.B.C. Credit Union. I remind honorable members that the Commonwealth Bank and the Australian Broadcasting Commission are Commonwealth Government instrumentalities and that the employees of those organisations work for the government of the country. Last year alone the A.B.C. Credit Union deposited £50,000 with a Sydney permanent building society and it is its intention, as I believe is the case with most credit unions, to invest much more in building societies so that more money will be available at cheaper rates of interest for their members who wish to build homes. I believe that the Minister should give more thought to the inclusion of credit unions as an acceptable means of savings. By doing so he would recognise the 200 credit unions with their 70,000 members in New South Wales. The Commonwealth Bank credit union has a membership of approximately 6,532. About 40 per cent, of the combined staff members of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation and the Reserve Bank are members of that credit union. This shows that persons who work in banks and who have a close knowledge of finance realise that credit unions are a good investment; they have invested their money .with credit unions. The Minister should give more thought to looking after these people, especially as they work for the Government. He should see that they receive such recognition.
The credit union of Commonwealth Bank members has funds which now exceed £1 million. The credit union now employs a full time secretary/ manager and has created a loan protection reserve so that if at any time it is called upon to pay out additional sums there will be a reserve to meet the demand. By 30th June 1964 loans totalling £811,628 had been made to members. Credit unions lend money not only for housing but also to members who wish to purchase equipment for the home, such as refrigerators, washing machines or television sets. When they borrow from a credit union they receive the loan in cash which enables them to purchase the article for cash and obtain a great reduction in the price. On the money which they borrow they pay only 6 per cent, interest; but if they borrowed from a hire purchase company to enable them to buy the same television set, refrigerator, or washing machine, they would have to pay a flat rate of interest of 10 per cent., which works out approximately at 19.4 per cent, interest. Honorable members will appreciate that credit unions are greatly assisting many young people.
At the University of New South Wales the University Staff Credit Union has been formed. Its main aim is to assist home owners to pay off their expensive second mortgages and to finance extensions, renovations and maintenance of existing premises. Last year this credit union lent £22,200 for homes and land and £7,732 to enable people to buy furniture and household goods. It also lent money to enable people to meet education, medical, hospital and dental expenses. It even lent money to enable people to pay for funerals and to pay their rates and taxes. So. the House will see that credit unions are doing good by assisting people to obtain things at lower rates of interest than they would have to pay if they had to borrow from the hire purchase companies.
Another point that I wish to mention is in relation to the co-operative housing society of the Council of the City of Sydney. That society has just completed a block of 61 fiats in the suburb of Paddington in my electorate. The society was fortunate in that the Minister for Co-operative Societies in New South Wales made a substantial grant to it. The block of flats will be opened on the 22nd of this month. People will be moving into them immediately. Every one of the flats has been sold. The money that has been received will be transferred to another site. In the near future another block of flats will be constructed by this local government co-operative housing society. I believe that the Federal Government should try to get many local government bodies in New South Wales and the rest of Australia to build homes on the cooperative system. The Government should advance money to the local government bodies and try to get them to take an interest in building homes in their own areas in order to overcome any housing shortage that may exist. If the Minister for Housing said that the Commonwealth would be prepared to make grants to such societies, I am sure that a great many councils in Australia would be only too glad to cooperate with the Commonwealth and to build homes for people who require them.
I ask the Minister to have a look at the flats at Paddington. In fact, he does not live very far from them. He probably drives past them on occasions. If he pulled up, had a look at them and was impressed, he might recommend to Cabinet that the Commonwealth assist local government bodies which desire to build flats on the cooperative system. I know that on one occasion a member of the Country Party suggested that the Commonwealth Government should do something along these lines. So, the Country Party might support a proposal that local government bodies in country areas assist people in their areas to obtain homes. I know that members of the Country Party say that they try to assist people to obtain homes; but, when I rose to speak, unfortunately not one member of the Government parties was prepared to stand up and support the Minister on this very important matter relating to home construction in Australia. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who is interjecting, may be prepared to speak after me; but a member of the Opposition spoke before me and I am led to believe that another member of the Opposition will follow me. If that is so, it must show the people of Australia that members of the Government parties are not interested in trying to do anything to overcome the great housing problem that confronts the Australian people today.
– Your own Labour Government in New South Wales-
– In New South Wales we are very lucky in that we have a government Which has been doing something about housing. It has been spending money on housing at the rate of between £5 million and £6 million a year more than it has received from the Commonwealth Government for home building. In addition, this Government charges the States interest. The States have paid back to the Commonwealth £52 million in interest on money that they have received for home construction. If that £52 million, which this Govern ment has taken from the States, had been ploughed back into housing, housing needs in Australia would not be as great as they are today. Charging interest seems to be this Government’s rule all the time. It charges interest on any money that it lends to the States. I think everyone realises what the Government is doing in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in regard to interest.
– Members of the Government parties are all Shylocks.
– That is right; they want their pound of flesh. They are out to get all that they can on every occasion, and the poor old people have to pay. Fifty-two million pounds is a lot of money to take from the States in interest on housing moneys.
In conclusion I can only say that if this Government wants to do something to assist home seekers in Australia it will have to invest much more money in home construction in order to ensure that home builders receive a large reduction in the interest rates that they are paying. Interest rates are too high. We know that high interest rates are compelling many young people to go to the State housing authorities and to keep out of the field of home building because they cannot afford to build a home. The Government should also reduce the sales tax on items used in home construction. A large number of items attract sales tax. If the Government reduced sales tax on those items I am sure that it would assist greatly many of the people who are building homes. [Quorum formed.]
.- It was not my intention to speak in this debate, because the Australian Country Party approves of the amendments. I approve of them. We believe that the sooner we get the Bill through the quicker the people who are desirous of getting grants will get them. But the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Devine) said that the Country Party would not even support the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury). I interjected: “ That is far from the truth “. His statement very definitely was not true. The Country Party is right behind these amendments, and it is my considered belief that the Australian Labour Party favours them. From the speeches T have listened to it seemed to me that the Opposition had completely forgotten the Bill’s intention, so to bring honorable members opposite back on to the rails I want to quote a small part of what the Minister said when he introduced the Bill. He said-
The main purposes of this Bill are to make a number of young persons, excluded by the existing legislation from the benefits of the scheme, eligible to receive a grant, and to allow money saved and used in a number of ways to acquire a home to be treated as acceptable savings. The amendments will not only increase the number of young people eligible to receive a grant but will also permit others to receive a larger grant than is payable to them under the existing legislation.
I should think that this would be favourably received. It will enable young couples who are ineligible under existing legislation to receive a grant. It will increase the grant to some who have already received portion of the grant. As the Minister said, when this legislation is operative it will mean that some couples who have been refused a grant will become eligible, and they will be notified. They will not even have to apply again. He has also stated that those who did not apply under the existing legislation because they realised that certain provisions rendered them ineligible will be able to apply with the great hope of getting a grant. Yet Australian Labour Party members have spoken about all manner of things, even Wollongong and other places. I do not even know what the honorable member for East Sydney said. He seemed to have a conglomeration of points, none of which impressed me or anyone else.
This is a genuine Bill with definite amendments. I am a Victorian, of course, but I have been told that there is to be an election soon in New South Wales. Members of the Opposition are trying in this House to derive some paltry political advantage from a Bill which is designed to assist young married people. To what bounds will they go to try to get political advantage? I do not know. I have heard members in this House speak on many subjects which perhaps have not been relevant to the legislation under discussion, but the debating tonight has been about the worst in this regard that I have ever heard.
The next claim by the Opposition was that Government supporters were not speaking on the measure. We all agree with these amendments, so must we continue to speak to them? Do we want to delay the House?
Do we want this Bill to pass so that those concerned can get the grant? Of course we do, but if Labour members had their way they would keep on talking about different topics that have nothing to do with the Bill and so would delay the legislation. Honorable members opposite have said that this Government has done nothing in the housing field. No other government since Federation has done half as much. Honorable members opposite have claimed that a £250 grant to people who have saved £750 is a gimmick. I have been informed by the Minister - and I know it is perfectly correct - that 17,400 grants have already been approved and that about £4 million has been paid out. Yet honorable members opposite claim this is a gimmick. In fact, the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Connor) said it was a bribe.
What is the record of this Government? Is the provision for homes for the aged a gimmick? Many millions of pounds have been paid out under the provisions of the Aged Persons Homes Act. These payments for housing were never thought of by the Labour Party, or if they were it had no idea of implementing them. I can understand why the Labour Party is jealous of the legislation we are considering and of the Aged Persons Homes Act. If it had been in office these things would not have come to pass. This Government has increased the advance under the war service homes scheme from £2,750 to £3,500, and during its first five or six years in office it paid out more money for war service homes than all other governments since Federation.
The Government’s record in housing is excellent. Never before in the history of this country has the population increased so rapidly and it has been difficult for the Government to keep pace with it, but today we hear far less about a housing shortage than we have heard at any time during the last 15 years. The honorable member for East Sydney claimed that New South Wales pays so much money into the coffers of the Commonwealth Government through taxation but that the Commonwealth Government pays only a certain amount back. I know that he has not taken into consideration - and members of the Opposition do not want to take into consideration - the amount the Commonwealth Government pays out all over New South Wales in social service benefits. Has he taken into consideration what the Commonwealth Government pays in repatriation benefits? If he calculated the amount the Commonwealth Government has paid in repatriation benefits and social service benefits in Wollongong alone, for instance, he would find it totalled millions of pounds. But so tha; they can derive political advantage, Labour Party members state that New South Wales pays so much money in and gets only so much back. What about all the military establishments, the canteens and all the other services which the Commonwealth Government maintains in New South Wales? The Government pays out in respect of these establishments in New South Wales and in other States too. The Government’s record is one of which it can be proud.
I have spoken about homes for the aged and war service homes. I have mentioned that this homes savings grant is being made for the first time and is therefore unique in the history of the Commonwealth. As such it may be described as pioneering to assist young people to marry. Members of the Opposition have all received a copy of the Minister’s explanation of the proposed amendments. Does any honorable member opposite object to any of the amendments? If he objects to anyone of them I should like to hear him. Honorable members opposite object to all manner of Government action, but I should like them to nominate the amendments in this legislation to which they object, because if they successfully defeat any of these amendments they will deprive some young married couples of getting a grant. Of course, some of the very wealthy members of the Opposition - and there are some of them - think nothing of £250 as a grant, but they must realise that when a young couple is marrying £250 represents a lot to them if it can be received as a gift. Some honorable members opposite constantly point to the Government benches and claim that all the wealthy members are on this side of the House, but I suggest that if the wealth in this House were calculated and averaged it would spread fairly evenly on both sides.
– I would swap with the honorable member any day.
– I would not be too rash if I were the honorable member, because I might take him up on that. To indicate the arrogance of the viewpoint of the Opposition, when it was known that I would speak the honorable member for East Sydney before sitting down said: “ I suppose the honorable member for Mallee will speak about building sheds “.
– Very well, the honorable member has chosen perhaps a better word. I would be very happy to speak in this House at any time about building barns, not for people to live in, but to store the produce that we grow in the country or to house our stock. Apparently the members of the Opposition believe that the building of barns is something beneath their dignity. They cannot comprehend why we should want to build such things. Most of them live in cities and they do not really understand what happens in the country.
It is not my intention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to continue to speak on this Bill.
-Sing “There’s No Place Like Home “.
– It is obvious front their interjections that the members of the Opposition do not like what I have been saying.
– I suggest that the honorable member should take no notice of the interjections.
– Members of the Opposition are very pleased to hear me say that I shall not continue to speak on this Bill. All they have been able to do has been to speak on various matters that this Bill could possibly be considered to cover, and which have no application whatsoever to the amendments that are now before the House. If honorable members opposite object to certain amendments let them say so. Do they believe in this grant or do they think that this legislation is just a fraud, having in mind the fact that £4 million has been spent on these grants and that a great number of people have become eligible for them. If honorable members do think that this measure is a fraud, then let me tell them that I know a number of people who have received these grants and they do not think that it is a fraud. They appreciate the fact that the legislation has helped them to get a start in homemaking. Although in some cases they may have had enough money to build a home, even in those cases they have been placed £250 ahead by this measure.
This Government has appreciated what is most necessary in this country and has provided on the one hand homes for the aged and, on the other hand, grants for young people. Someone has asked what has been done about the man of 45 or so who suddenly decides to marry and who cannot get this grant. People in the middle age group of the population are, generally speaking, able to look after themselves. The Government realises that those who benefit under the legislation covering homes for the aged are not able to look after themselves. It also appreciates the fact that many young people have not had a chance to earn sufficiently large sums of money to enable them to build homes. The Government therefore, has attended to people in both these categories, while those in the middle age group are managing to look after themselves fairly well. I remind the House, however, that the Government is also looking after those people, because it has provided that from the amounts of money allocated to the States and through them to building societies they are catered for to such an extent that they are now in a better position than they ever were previously. Even when we take into consideration the change in ihe value of money, we still find that more actual assistance is being provided for housing than was the case in earlier years, more homes are being built and the people are more satisfied in this regard than they have ever been before.
.- On the aircraft on which I came to Canberra today there was a former prominent member of this Parliament who served as a Country Party member for many years. A phrase that he used still rings in my ears: “It did not take you long to be disillusioned “. Let me say that I am disillusioned and hurt to think that the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) should believe that any member of the Labour Party would try to use this debate for political advantage, to try to help the Labour Party in New South Wales to win an election. I have heard it said many times that the Government introduced this measure for no other reason than that it held at the time a slender majority of one, it had to offer something to the people, and so it came up with this proposal for a grant of £250. It was something of which we knew nothing until it was brought before this Parliament, and we had to wait until May in the following year before we could get any details of it. Now, 12 months later, we are asked to amend that legislation.
I agree with the majority of the amendments proposed, as I am happy to tell the honorable member for Mallee, although I repeat that it hurts me to find that the honorable member for Mallee, being a member of a party that supported the Government which offered this bribe to the people, believes that any member of the Opposition would be merely seeking to use this debate as a vehicle to heap praise on the New South Wales Government for its performances in the field of housing. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the Government of New South Wales has done more than any other Government in this country has done in the provision of houses for the people.
The Commonwealth Government has repeatedly refused to assist the States in slum clearance projects and in the building of homes to accommodate the people forced out of their homes in slum areas. The Commonwealth has adopted this attitude in spite of the fact that Commonwealth assistance for slum clearance is advocated by every Housing Minister in Australia. Actually slum clearance affects only two States at the present time, one being Victoria, from which State the honorable member for Mallee just told us he comes, and the other New South Wales. I have here a booklet entitled “ Housing in the Northern Countries “. It shows how countries like Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland are tackling the problem of slum clearance, and how they are pushing ahead with the restoration of buildings of historical value and the erection around those buildings of other modern buildings for the benefit of the people.
– And there are Labour Governments in power in those countries.
– Yes, they have Socialist Labour Governments. In this country it is left to the State Governments of Victoria and New South Wales to do what has to be done in the way of slum clearance. No assistance whatsoever is given by the Commonwealth.
The honorable member for Mallee spoke of homes for the aged. Let me ask him why local authorities are precluded from obtaining the grants available under the Aged Persons Homes Act. It has been pointed out time and again that local authorities on many occasions could act as trustees and are prepared to assist in the provision of homes for the aged at low rates of rental. However, as local government authorities are denied the assistance obtainable under the Act, local committees have to be formed if the provisions of the legislation are to be availed of, and so in many cases nothing has been done.
It is interesting to hear a member of the Country Party praising the Government for introducing these two measures, the Aged Persons Homes Act and the Homes Savings Grant Act, when the fact is that after 16 years in office the Government has made no attempt to assist in the provision of rural housing. It may be said that the £250 grant under this legislation will assist in the provision of rural housing, but this legislation gives a blanket cover and the Government has given no assistance specifically in the field of rural housing.
We have been speaking throughout this debate of a £250 grant, but we must remember that the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) has told us that the average amount of the grant has been £230. One of the most iniquitous features of this measure is that it helps the people who are least in need of such help. Those most in need of it are those who have not £750 to put down as a deposit on a home. Of course when we speak of a deposit we must remember that this is only part of the initial outlay. When you have paid your deposit you then have to furnish your home and provide cutlery and linen and other articles. Despite the fact that all these extra commitments have to be met, the couple must still show that an amount of £750 has been saved before they can qualify for the full grant of £250. Unless the couple concerned has some rich relatives or someone to assist them to save during the qualifying period, they cannot expect to receive the full amount of the grant. Whereas housing legislation in other countries, such as New Zealand, is designed to help people on low incomes, the measure now being debated helps those in the higher income brackets, those who have no trouble in qualifying for the full grant of £250, because they can show that they have saved £750 over a period of three years.
There are quite a number of amendments which it is pleasing to see included in this measure. The effect of one of these amendments is that there need no longer be a contract in writing if it is evident that a contract was entered into to purchase or build a home and that the applicant intends to live in that home. Only last Friday a constituent approached me wondering where he stood in relation to his application for a home savings grant. He did not qualify for the full grant but only for £114. In January 1964 he entered into a contract with a builder friend to build a home. He eventually discovered on applying for the grant that there was no contract in writing and that the verbal contract was not recognised by the Director of Housing in Queensland. My constituent said that if he had been aware that he must have a contract in writing he would have obtained one. I told him he need not excuse himself for not knowing that he needed a contract in writing because I doubted whether the Minister himself knew, at that stage, that one would be needed. I am now confident that this man will be happy in the thought that he will qualify for a grant of £114 - not £250. I asked him whether his wife had any savings, but he said that she had had to spend all her money for linen and other things for the ‘home. This Bill will confer benefits under the Act on people who were previously excluded. Who was to know in January 1964 that it would be necessary to have a contract in writing? I wonder how many people have failed to qualify for the grant through no fault of their own in this regard. It is pleasant to see this amendment being introduced.
As the Act now stands money paid for land previously bought but not built on - the couple may have purchased a home elsewhere - cannot, upon resale, be counted as savings for the purpose of this scheme unless paid into an account prior to the prescribed date. I am pleased to see that the Bill now before the House rectifies this anomaly. But 1 would like the Minister to say what amount is now to be recognised as savings - the original purchase price of the land or the amount for which it is sold five, six or seven years after its original purchase by the couple seeking the grant.
– It depends whether they have paid in their savings before the prescribed date. If they have not, it would be the purchase price, but if they had paid in their savings the amount obtained for the land would be treated as money which would qualify them for the grant.
– I know of one particular instance where a contract of sale was entered into some time prior to the couple’s purchasing a home. Through some legal hold-up the actual amount was not paid although the contract of sale was entered into. I take it that the original cost price of the land would be the amount that would be recognised as savings.
– Probably - but I would have to look into the details of the case.
– I point out that in the field of taxation the Government exempts capital gains. There is no restriction on the interest that may accumulate on savings over a period of time. Why then is the increased value of the land, as shown by the selling price, not recognised as savings?
Clause 4 of the Bill refers to money held in trust. It provides that savings held in an acceptable form in trust for the sole benefit of a person and money spent out of the trust may be treated as acceptable savings of that person. I have been told by the secretary of a building society that it is the practice for an intending home purchaser to be required to lodge a substantial deposit with the society before his plans may be approved and the contract signed. I take it that any money paid in this manner would be regarded as money held in trust and now may be treated as acceptable savings. I understand that this practice to which I have referred is quite common with building societies. I know of one young husband who was determined to build through a building society, even if he had to make alterations to his plans. Me lodged with the society £700. Eventually £140 was returned to him from the sale of an allotment. The sum of £140 was recognised as savings but the £700 which he had lodged with the building society - he was not required to lodge such a large amount but thought he would like to do so - was not recognised. I hope that cases such as this will now be covered by this legislation.
I note with pleasure the provision that money derived from the sale of land previously purchased but not built on may be paid into the savings of a couple or lodged as a deposit on a home and will be recognised for purposes of the grant. I would like to refer here to the exclusion of widows from the benefits of the scheme. This matter was touched on by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson). A friend of mine who was a railway worker developed an illness which proved fatal. He and his wife had never owned a home. His widow is 34 years of age and has three children, the youngest of whom is two years of age. The husband was insured reasonably heavily for a man in his financial position. His widow received £3,000 in insurance. She decided to look around for a home and to make a payment on it with the money she received from her husband’s insurance. She is excluded from any assistance under this legislation. I urge the Minister to give further consideration’ to this matter and to enable widows to benefit by the grant.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Devine) and other honorable members paid tributes to the work done by credit unions, particularly in New South Wales, where they are encouraged by the Minister for Housing and Minister for Co-operative Societies, the Honorable Abe Landa. He has given credit unions his blessing and has co-operated in every way to foster their growth. It was pleasing to hear the honorable member for East Sydney say that employees of the Commonwealth Bank are members of one of the largest credit unions in New South Wales. The credit union movement has grown substantially. It has become a workers’ bank. Figures given to me show that at present there are 179 credit unions in New South Wales, 104 in Victoria, 16 in Queensland, four in South Australia. 1 1 in Western Australia, seven in Tasmania and four in the Australian Capital Territory, making a total of 325. They have a membership of 95,774 persons and accumulated savings of £7,010,404. They are playing a part in keeping down interest rates, particularly the interest rates on home furnishings bought on hire purchase. The credit unions hope eventually to engage in the second mortgage field.
The Minister has excluded credit unions from this legislation. I know that on numerous occasions representatives of the credit union movement have asked that savings in credit unions be recognised for the purposes of this legislation. The Minister has given the names of organisations that will be recognised and he has mentioned savings banks. Amongst the savings banks are savings banks within the meaning of the Banking Act 1959, the State Savings Bank of Victoria, the State Savings Bank of South Australia, the Rural and Industries Bank of Western Australia and the Cairns Co-operative Weekly Penny Savings Bank Ltd. If the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Fulton) were here, he could perhaps throw some light on the operations of the Cairns Co-operative Weekly Penny Savings Bank Ltd.
– That is already covered by the legislation, isn’t it?
– Yes, it is covered, but the title does not suggest that it is a large banking institution. I may be wrong and I hope I am not doing an injustice to the members of this savings bank by suggesting that the credit they have accumulated would not exceed £7 million. I am quite sure that the Minister would have investigated this bank, or he would not have included it amongst his list of savings banks. However, I fail to understand why a distinction is drawn between the Cairns Co-operative Weekly Penny Savings Bank Ltd. and the credit unions. The Minister may give us his reasons for making such a distinction when he replies later. 1 understand that another savings bank exists within the South Australian public service. Under their superannuation scheme, public servants in South Australia can deposit their savings in the superannuation fund and these savings can be withdrawn at any time. Members of the South Australian public service are encouraged to deposit their savings in the superannuation fund. The normal savings bank practice is followed; the public servants are allowed to withdraw the savings they have deposited, but, of course, they cannot withdraw their contributions to the superannuation fund.
Some honorable members have commented on the contribution that the homes savings grant scheme has made towards home building. The honorable member for Mallee was a little exuberant when he said that no housing problems now exist, that people are less worried about housing now than they ever have been, that we do not hear much about housing problems and that people are no longer worried about housing. This is not so. At least 70,000 people have applied for homes from the various State Housing Commissions. Not one of these people would qualify for this subsidy of £250; they are all excluded. But they are probably the people who most need assistance. They are in the main people on low incomes who cannot afford to pay a large deposit on a home. However, they hope eventually to own a home. In view of this, I cannot accept the suggestion that people in Australia are no longer interested in the provision of homes.
– I did not say that, of course. You know I did not say that. I said that you hear less about the lack of housing now.
– That means that the people are contented.
– Order! I ask the honorable member for Wide Bay to continue with his speech.
– The honorable member for Mallee said that we hear less about housing. I think those were his exact words. He implied that people are not now as interested in housing as they were. The fact is that some 70,000 people have applied for Housing Commission homes and others are trying by devious means to purchase existing homes. Perhaps some of these existing homes could not be called ancient but many of them are very old. Very little finance ! Jr the purchase of these old homes is made available by the savings banks or the major lending institutions, but plenty of finance for their purchase is available from fringe institutions at high rates of interest, in some instances exceeding 10 per cent. fiat. Although something has been done to solve our housing problems, we cannot close our eyes and say that a housing problem no longer exists. I believe that a survey of housing is very necessary. No survey has been made for more than 20 years and in fact a survey has not been made since Labour was last in office.
One of the problems besetting the housing industry is its instability. This has been asserted by builders themselves. They do not know whether they can promise tradesmen work for a full 12 months or only for 6 months. In addition, to meet penalty clauses in contracts, contractors are poaching tradesmen, if I may use that expression, by offering for a temporary period at least over award payments or other incentive payments. They are taking building workers away from other employers and in some instances are encouraging tradesmen to move from the building of homes to the building of blocks of offices in the cities.
This lack of stability in the building industry tends to increase costs. This is one of the first industries to be hit by any credit squeeze and, mark my words, there is a shortage of credit today. Honorable members may not have been speaking to bank managers lately. I am not referring to their own bank managers. My bank manager is much more likely to call on me than I am to call on him, because I am not game to call on him. I am not like the honorable member for Mallee in that respect, and my offer to exchange financial positions with him still stands. However, any honorable member who has spoken to a bank manager lately will know that there is a tightening up of credit. One of the first industries to be hit in this situation is the building industry. If finance is not available, buildings are not constructed, and so we find many people out of work and many industries associated with the building industry are compelled to stand down employees or work a shorter shift. This has a cumulative effect.
If we could bring some stability to the home building industry, we would do much to reduce costs. I know that the margin of many builders includes the discount they receive on the goods they purchase. I believe that a survey will show the true position in the home building industry. It will show that restrictive trade practices exist in the industry and will reveal all the shortcomings in the industry. This would help those people who most need a home to obtain a home. I support the amendments introduced in the Bill. However, I regret that more amendments have not been made.
.- It is certain, of course, that homes savings grants have helped some people to acquire a home. Even the Government has not been able to prevent that from happening. lt is also reasonably certain that the amendments we have before us now will be a means whereby a few more people will get some assistance from the Act. Whether all those who have received a grant of £250, or any part of it, really required the assistance, we are not, of course, in a position to know, but on the other hand we can be positive that even after the present Act is amended there will be a large number of young people - and people not so young - who will be in desperate need of assistance but who will get no assistance whatsoever from the legislation. Among those who will receive no assistance are older people, migrants and people in the lower income bracket generally.
Even when the Act is amended it will be far too restrictive and will still contain anomalies and injustices which must be removed before the legislation will do what the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) and Government supporters claim that it purports to do. The more I have studied the legislation the more convinced I have become that it was not really introduced for the purpose of helping young married couples to obtain homes. It was introduced simply to encourage young people to put their savings into the savings banks and thus suit the convenience of this Government. I have been informed that savings banks are compelled to place at least 65 per cent, of all new deposits into Government securities and that only 20 per cent, of the remainder of their deposits, or 7 per cent, of the total deposits, is actually used for housing loans. If that is so it means, of course, that young people are being encouraged by this Act to put money into savings banks so that the money can be used in other avenues of lending and not for housing purposes at all.
I suggest that the real intention of the Government is made perfectly clear by the fact that the Act shuts out so many young people who really need homes or who are doing their best to procure homes, and who, in the process, are in desperate need of assistance. Because these young people have used methods of saving which do not suit the purposes of this Government, to provide themselves with a home, they are denied any assistance whatsoever. I am not referring to people who were shut out because of the anomalies in the present Act that are to be corrected by the amendments contained in this Bill; I am referring to people who were previously shut out deliberately and who will be still shut out deliberately even though the Government must realise that they deserve some assistance.
While this amending Bill will remove some of the very objectionable features of the existing Act, it does not go far enough and still leaves a lot of unsatisfactory provisions which should have been removed. The fact that we have 13 pages of amendments is, I suggest, a frank admission by the Government that when the Act was introduced last year very little consideration was given to what it meant and to how it would operate. The initial Bill was a complicated and confusing document. We all remember that the Minister himself said that he did not have a clue as to what it was all about. There is surely no reason why an Act such as this could not be worded in such a manner that the young people whom it is supposed to benefit could readily understand what it is all about. Unfortunately, the amending legislation which has been introduced is as complicated as the initial Act, so much so that the Minister apparently felt obliged to distribute what he has been pleased to call an explanatory memorandum.
Even if the 13 pages of this complicated and confusing document mean what we hope they mean there will be still far too many young people excluded from benefit under the Act who really ought to be included. The maximum age of 36 will remain, and this, in conjunction with what is termed the prescribed date, will continue to shut out a number of people who are attempting under extreme difficulties either to buy or build a home of their own. One of their main difficulties is to meet the interest payments on the money they have borrowed, let alone make any inroads into the capital of the debt. The result is that any savings that they have been able to put aside as a nest egg against the proverbial rainy day have been exhausted, and they find themselves in the unenviable position that they must deny themselves - and not only themselves but also perhaps a young family - many of the things which are the normal requirements for a good healthy life; otherwise the wife, who as often as not is also a mother, is forced against her own wishes, and the wishes of her husband, to go out to work. In my book that is a most undesirable state of affairs, but this Government apparently sees no reason why such people should be assisted, and has done nothing to see that they will be.
The majority of those people are in difficulties simply because of the high rate of interest on housing loans and because they have entered into contracts not realising the amount of interest they would have to pay. These problems are going to continue. Nothing in this Act, and nothing in the Housing Loans Insurance Act - if it sees the light of day - will do anything to overcome the problem of high interest rates.
If this Government were sincere in the views it has expressed in relation to housing and in its desire to help young people, it would at least ensure that the people to whom I have referred would be eligible for a grant under the terms of this legislation. There can be no doubt that they are people who should be entitled to a grant, and there is no reason why they should have been left out. There is only one solution to the housing problem and that is for the Government to ensure that loans are available at a reasonable rate of interest. Until the Government is prepared to move in that direction it is idle for it to suggest that it is concerning itself with the problems of young people or helping to overcome housing problems generally.
The position about which I have spoken occurs among many young people well under the age of 36 years who are excluded from the provisions of the Act simply because the starting date to qualify for a grant was December 1963. They are well under 36 years of age and they are making a genuine effort to set up a home. They are doing their best to rear a young family but because it does not suit the purposes of the Government they are refused any assistance whatsoever.
Let us consider something that the Minister said when he introduced the initial Bill last year. His remarks are reported in *’ Hansard “ of 5th May 1964 as follows-
Housing is vital to the welfare and happiness of individuals and thus to our future development as a nation. Without proper housing, the process of marriage and family formation which are the very essence of Australia’s future must be seriously impaired.
A little later in the same speech the Minister said -
In the absence of special measures, housing could become a limiting factor to our population growth
We all agree, of course, with that, but surely the Minister is doing just the opposite to what he claimed was so desirable when he deliberately does nothing by way of this Act, or any other act, to help overcome the situation where a young wife and mother is forced to go out to work. If the Minister does nothing, how can he have any desire for the welfare and happiness of these people? What about his words in relation to the process of marriage and family formation which he claims, and rightly so, is the very essence of Australia’s future? How can that objective be achieved if the young wife - very likely under 26 years of age, let alone under 36 years - is obliged to go to work? That position would not continue just for one or two years but for several. There is certainly no encouragement under those circumstances for such a family. There is no good reason why these young people should not be allowed to participate in this scheme. I am not suggesting for one moment that by being permitted to participate in the scheme under this legislation, on becoming eligible for a grant, all their troubles can be overcome or all their problems will disappear. They will still have plenty of difficulties, but the full grant would help them to some extent, and surely that is desirable. The Government claims that it wants to do that, and that it wants to help young people to acquire a home of their own, but, if it is sincere in that claim, why does it continue to exclude these types of people from benefit under the Act? The necessity for including them becomes all the more apparent when one realises that those who do qualify for the grant do not necessarily have to use it, or any part of it on buying a home.It can be used for anything. It could be that the house is already completely paid for, or it could even be that the young couple concerned are in a position to afford a dozen houses. Despite this, they are entitled to receive a grant and they can spend it on a holiday, on a motor car or even knock it off at the races.
To prove my point, I refer to the following article that was published in the “ Canberra Times “ -
Couples receiving the Government’s £250 housing grant can spend it as they wish.
Departmental officials confirmed today that applicants were not obliged to say what they intended doing with the money, and no later check was made.
The couples could use it for anything from a holiday to a car.
One of the first to have received the grant–
I shall not mention the names even though they appear in the article. said today they had used the money to buy a refrigerator and put the rest towards a new stove for their new £5,000 home.
I am not in a position to say what that young couple’s circumstances were, nor am I interested in what they were. All I am trying to prove is that you can have a position in which one young couple in very comfortable circumstances and not needing anything at all will receive the £250 grant and use it for a holiday or for any other purpose at all while right next door to them could be a young couple of the same age, in very poor circumstances battling in an endeavour to meet even the interest payment on the money they owe on their house and they would get no grant whatsoever.
As I mentioned a moment ago, there are many young couples finding it difficult, indeed almost impossible to meet the interest debt on their housing loan, let alone pay anything off the capital debt. To give some idea of the position in which some young people can find themselves I read the following newspaper article -
The president of the New South Wales Credit Union League, Mr. S. F. Arneil, yesterday attacked finance companies’ “ excessive “ rates of interest for housing loans.
He suggested that the whole system of interest calculation by private lending institutions should be examined.
Mr. Arneil said he had evidence of a “ normal “ loan in which a young married man had contracted to borrow £3,200 bon a finance company repay able with interest over 12 years as the balance of the price of an old house.
After 30 monthly payments, £1,287 had been repaid to the company but, after interest had been added to the loan, the man’s debt had been reduced by £34.
Thirty four pounds out of a total of £1,287. The article continued -
Had the man borrowed the money from a credit union and a building society jointly and repaid it at the same rate, the debt would have been reduced by £726 after 30 months. lt is obvious that the young chap mentioned in that article would have been much better off if he had been paying £9 a week rent because, in actual fact, he was paying £9 18s. a week to the company from which he had borrowed the money but, because of the high interest rate charged, from that £9 18s. he was credited with only about 5s. a week off the amount he had borrowed. Even with the credit union, where he would have reduced his debt by £726, he would have been paying an average of approximately £4 6s. in interest and only approximately £5 12s. off the debt, and that is certainly not good enough, either. Even the latter position would be an impossible one for a large number of young people in that they would be well and truly battling to pay even £4 a week off the money they had borrowed for their home as most of them would also have to meet payments on furniture and so on. This would mean that £4 a week off the house would be the maximum commitment they could undertake. The best interest rate they could expect from a private lending company would be 7 per cent., and they would be lucky to get a loan for that. The most they could expect to borrow would be about £3,000. How could any young couple in circumstances such as those ever be able to pay off that debt or have a decent house to live in?
The type of legislation we have before us will help some people, but if the Government really wants to help all the young people, or even most of them, if it also wants to achieve this welfare and happiness of individuals to which the Minister referred, then it will have to introduce legislation which will ensure that even the people in the lower income brackets will bc able to borrow money at a reasonable rate of interest and to pay the money back over a term that will not mean that most of the repayment will be absorbed by interest payments.
A survey of home buyers was made in Vic.toria last year, which showed that the average income was £26 10s. a week. In other words, some of the people would be earning no more than £20 a week. Very likely, some of them would be earning as low as £17 or £18 a week. The survey also showed that 51 per cent, of the people had two incomes due either to the wife working or the husband holding two jobs. The report of the survey also goes on to explain how the survey had proved that only the multiple income families were able to command quite substantial secondary finance and were therefore able to meet the repayments on the average housing loans. This must also mean, of course, that those on low incomes, or on only one income could be forced out of the borrowing field altogether.
If these figures can be taken as the average for Australia, it means that many young married couples who are purchasing homes and, no doubt, a great many who are not financially able to purchase homes, are not carrying out the proper process of marriage and family formation. Therefore the very essence of Australia’s future, to which the Minister referred, is being seriously impaired. The particular legislation that we have before us will do very little if anything to overcome that particular problem. I say that because any value that this legislation might have had for young people has long since gone. The only effect it has now - and it had this effect even before it actually came into operation - it to provide a handout for land sharks and many others who, as soon as they heard of the promised legislation, proceeded to take action to exploit the position by quickly increasing charges and prices.
My good friend, the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) asked the Minister whether increased tariffs and prices for timber had offset the value of the grant. The Minister replied -
It would take a long time before the Government’s maximum grant of £250 would be worn away in added costs.
He also said that timber prices only played a very small part in housing costs and inferred that wages were the main factor. He went on to say -
The importance of the £230 is not so much the total cost but the amount of deposit a purchaser has to put down to acquire a home.
He said that a 10 per cent, increase in housing costs did not mean anything like the same increase in deposit. Therefore, the Minister apparently sees no cause for concern merely because the cost of housing has increased by £400 provided the purchaser can still find the necessary deposit. Apparently he does not consider that an increase of £400 in the price has made any great inroad into the £250 grant made under this legislation. Despite what the Minister says, there is very little doubt that immediately the possibility of a grant was announced, a steady increase in the cost of land and housing began. I now refer the House to the following article which appeared in the “ Canberra Times “ on 4th February 1965-
The average cost of a home in Victoria went up by 4.3 per cent or about £177 during 1964, thus eating a substantial portion of the £250 grant for young home buyers. This is the figure put forward by the Housing Industry Research Committee, which has compiled a table of housing costs by dividing the number of new homes built into their total value.
Two distinct trends are discernible, the committee claims, and the first is that in the long run the average value of new homes is steadily rising.
The Minister has also said that any increase in housing costs was only due in a small part to increased timber prices. He implied that wages played a larger part. I want to read from another article in “The Australian “, headed “ Higher Costs Hit Home Loan Grant”. The article stated -
It is ironic that higher costs resulting from Government action have absorbed most of the £250 Commonwealth home grant.
While this is certainly not deliberate, it is poor consolation to home builders to find that they are hardly any better off than before the home grant scheme was introduced.
The managing director of one of Australia’s largest project home builders said recently that his company had been forced to increase the price of their homes by up to £200 since January, merely to maintain previous profit margins.
The largest cost increase in home building during the past 12 months is said to be due to higher timber prices.
In January the Tariff Board granted increased protection to local sawmillers.
The duty on Oregon, the most widely used building timber, was increased by 36s. per 100 super, feet.
As a result, the cost of timber used in one of the company’s typical houses rose by £125.
The price of Tasmanian oak, the most similar local timber to Oregon, was increased by 35s. per 100 super, feet within a month of the increase in tariff duties.
The major cost rises in the construction of one of the company’s “average” homes since late 1963 are reported to be timber £125, bricks £21, labour £36 - a total rise of £182.
So, out of the total cost rise of £182 in the construction of a home, £125 was due to rising timber prices. The article continued -
Until quite recently, it was accepted that a house would take from 4 to 6 months to build.
Project builders will now hand over a completed home within six weeks of starting work.
According to the writer of this article, and in contrast to what the Minister said, labour costs do not play the major part in those increased charges. I feel sure that every honorable member will agree that if the homes savings grant ever did benefit young people to the full extent of £250, the value of the grant has been gradually reduced until it has reached the stage of being worth practically nothing. The Minister told the honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess) on 11th March last year that his main concern was to see that the grants found their way effectively into the assets of young married people and were not sidetracked into the pockets of others. All I want to say on that issue is that if the Minister is really concerned, it is about time that he took some action to ensure that it was the young people who got the benefit. The time has arrived, or is very rapidly arriving, where the young people will receive no real benefit at all from the grant and it will simply become a handout to others.
It seems to me that the Government is trying to smother its attitude on housing by suggesting that, because there are only a certain number of applicants who have failed to receive the grant, the majority of people requiring houses have been satisfied and only a small proportion of them are still to be catered for. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that there are thousands of young people who really do require a house, who definitely are in need of some assistance to do so, but who know that, because of the injustices and unfair restrictions in the Act, they cannot qualify for one penny. So, quite naturally, these people have never applied. They felt there would be no purpose in doing so. Many of those people are well under the age of 36 years.
Under the home savings grant scheme people who are no more than 36 years of age and who have plenty of money in a savings bank are eligible for a grant of £250 to spend in any way they see fit, but a person who has nothing, or practically nothing, and who is in real difficulties, will get no help, or very little help in order to obtain a home. It is a case of the rich being accepted and the poor rejected. Of course, this is typical legislation by a Liberal Government. If the Government were sincere and really wanted to help young people to own a home, irrespective of their means, it would introduce a national housing scheme with low deposits and guaranteed loans at low interest rates. in the few moments remaining to me I want to refer to what I consider is a further injustice in this Act. I refer to those couples where the husband is employed in a job which requires him to move from place to place over several years. One such couple may decide that rather than pay rent, or because there are no homes available to rent, they will adopt a saving method by buying, on terms, some little old house in the district where they are then living and selling it upon transfer to some other district. Upon arriving at that other district they then buy another house at about the same price; and so it goes on. When that couple is eventually transferred to an area where they are to live permanently, even though they are under the age of 36 years they are disqualified from any grant under the Homes Savings Grants Act because they previously owned a home, even though it may only have been worth about £750 and was paid for over a period of seven, eight or ten years. That couple has adopted a method of saving which is quite different to that used by other people. Another couple employed in the same district and subject to transfer in the same manner may elect to pay rent, put a few shillings each pay day into the bank or into the purchase of a block of land. When they are transferred permanently to another place they may qualify for the full grant because they either have £750 in the bank or their block of land, even if they decide to sell it, and settle elsewhere, is valued at £750.
In these two cases I have mentioned both families are eventually transferred to a permanent place of employment. Both actually have £750 at their disposal and nothing more. However, only one family can qualify for the grant. This is so simply because they adopted a different method of saving. One couple may receive the full benefit of £250 and the other will get nothing at all. Why should those two couples be treated differently? The couple owning the house can do nothing but sell because the husband must go where his employer requires him. He could not give up his employment to remain in that particular house in that particular district. That couple requires assistance to buy a permanent home in the same way as the couple which has £750 in the bank.
Also, where is the difference between selling an old house for £750 and buying a block of land elsewhere upon which to build, and selling a block of land for £750 and buying a block elsewhere at the same or a different price on which to build? I cannot see any difference in it whatsover But the legislation with which we are dealing is restrictive in that regard.
The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) spoke for only about seven minutes, and the only remark of any significance which he made was that the grant of £250 was a great help if you could get it. That is the point I make on behalf of the Opposition. The grant of £250 is quite helpful if you can get it. Our argument in regard to this legislation is that there are far too many young people who cannot get it.
– This is a Bill to amend the Homes Savings Grant Act which became operative on the 28th May last year. The operating date of this Bill will coincide with that date so as to relieve some strain in respect to the work involved in determining who should . and who should not receive the benefit of that ill-timed and ill-considered promise made by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) at the last Federal election.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is the type of legislation about which, I am sure, nobody can be happy, lt is selective legislation. The original act put an age limit on the people who are to benefit under it. However, the Government did not put an age limit on the people who are taxed in order to raise the money for this benefit. This type of legislation is so shallow in its impact that it causes me grave concern when it comes before the National Parliament. After all, what are we trying to do? The Prime Minister thought up a quick one to attract votes, without giving any consideration to whether or not it would deal with a real national problem - the problem of housing the Australian people. This problem has been made worse by the actions of this Government.
Earlier this evening, the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) suggested that we on this side of the chamber were anxious to gain political capital out of this measure because of a certain event that is about to happen in New South Wales. I tell him frankly that had Labour remained in office in the Federal sphere for a longer time after the enactment of its 1945 housing legislation this kind of specious measure would never have been necessary. Labour set the pattern in 1945 in a genuine endeavour to find a solution to the housing problem is Australia.
– But the black market was rife then. How could Labour have done that?
– The honorable member can think only in terms of a shallow approach. He consistently fails to look at principles that count in terms of human life and national development. The 1945 legislation was designed as the commencing point of a housing programme that was intended to do two things. First, it was intended to give to the States, at a fixed rate of interest, all the money that they could use in the existing circumstances of the supply of manpower and materials, with the object of providing all the young couples of Australia - and all the older ones, too - with their own home within the term of their own working life. There was no limit on this. Let us throw our minds back to the days before 1941 when we had Governments that were of the same political complexion as the Liberal Party of Australia, though they went by other names. Nothing was done about housing for the community at large. This was never thought of until Labour introduced the 1945 legislation. No limit was put on the funds to be made available to the States under the terms of that legislation, because the Labour Government knew that if economic planning for the housing of the community at large was not undertaken the people would be left at the mercy of manipulators who would conduct their operations according to financial fluctuations and thereby affect the standards of the people. Much the same thing is happening today.
There has been quite a lot of uproar because speakers on this side of the House have used the terms “ manipulation “ and “ manipulators “. Let me tell the House what is happening now in the building of home units. In the quiet suburb of Auburn in Sydney, in 1945, the price of an average block of land was about £650. The price of such blocks never rose much beyond £1,250 until about three years ago. At that time, a manipulator - -I use the term deliberately - looking at State legislation, discovered that 18 home units were permitted on any block of land with dimensions of at least 200 feet by 60 feet. As a result, overnight, the value of an average block of land in Auburn rose from about £1,250 to £4,000. The manipulators set about building home units. They began by paying £4,000 for homes about 40 years old, knocking them down overnight and constructing blocks of 18 home units in their place. These were let for payments of £7 10s. a week each. When the second wave of manipulators came along, the owner of an old home who had been approached with an offer for its purchase naturally said: “Bill Jones received £4,000 for his property. Mine is worth more than £5,000”. As a result, values rose even more.
I have watched the prices of average properties rise over the years from £1,250 to £10,000. Over the same period the rental charge on the purchase of a home unit has risen from £7 10s. to £10 10s. a week. It has now reached the limit, because no couple living in the area, even if both are working, can pay in excess of £10 10s. a week in rental charges. The owner of a block of land next door to a property that was sold for, say, £10,000 now wants, say, £12,000 for bis land and house if they are similar to the adjacent property. This is the sort of thing that has happened in a suburb within 10 miles of the heart of Sydney as a consequence of the activities of these manipulators who suck the lifeblood of the community and prejudice the interests of our young people by their activities. For this the present Government is responsible, because it threw overboard completely the relationship between the Commonwealth and the State Governments and State housing instrumentalities that was established by the Chifley Government in the 1945 legislation. This is clear to me as one who has watched the progress of events between 1945 and the present day.
Let me now take the matter a stage further. Let us analyse what is involved in the grant of £250 to a person who can save £750 in three years. At present, the Federal basic wage is £15 8s. a week. In addition to that, according to assessments made by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, margins for tradesmen of up to £5 5s. a week are paid. If a married man with a family who receives a margin of £5 5s. a week reduces the standard of living in his home to that of the worker on the basic wage - the bare minimum - for three years, he can perhaps save £750. I make this point, Mr. Speaker, to show how unreal is the Government’s approach to the requirements of the ordinary Australian in terms of home ownership.
– No account is taken of sickness.
– As my honorable friend has said, the proposition that I have put holds good only if there is no sickness over the three years.
I do not blame the Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury) for what he said in his second reading speech. I believe that if there is one Minister in this Government who can handle the prickly pear, shall I say, it is the Minister at the table. The Prime Minister hastily made an election promise and then handed to the Minister the job of overcoming all the difficulties that flow from the kind of sectional planning on which the honouring of that promise depends. The Minister introduced a measure last year, and already he has to prepare a book of amendments to it. When they are made, he will find that, if he wants to do justice, he will have to make as many more amendments in the next 12 months. This will go on all the time. The Minister in bis second reading speech, said -
The main purposes of this Bill are to make a number of young persons, excluded by the existing legislation from the benefits of the scheme, eligible to receive a grant. . . .
Why do we not do something tangible for them? Why do we not tell every young couple: “If you are in a position to pay a deposit on an acceptable home, we shall give you £250 to help you meet the cost “? Why are we not realists in the matter? Why do we sectionalise our young people under 35 by making distinctions? Is not one young couple under 35 equally as Australian in outlook, requirements, standards and everything else as another young couple? Must we set the limiting age at 35? Is not a person of 35, who earns only £15 8s. a week plus the usual margin, equally as entitled to consideration, together with his family, as is another person who is sitting pretty because both he and his wife work? Where do we go with this kind of legislation? I ask the Government one simple question: Are not all young couples under 35 good young Australians? If they are, why treat any of them differently, whether they are aged 18, 25 or 35? Do they not all want homes by the time they are 35?
It may be thought that the only sensible thing that the Prime Minister has done in relation to this scheme was to set an age limit of 35 years. But let us face the realities of modern conditions. An ordinary working man over the age of 35 would be hard put to pay for his home in the remainder of his working life. Surely the least that any worker in this country is entitled to in these days is an income sufficient to enable him to rear a family on decent living standards and to own his own home so that, in the evening of his life, he can say: “ This patch is mine “. But what happens? The Minister, in his second reading speech, told us that since July of last year 25,000 applications for the homes savings grant have been received.
– Since 20th July.
– Since 20th July last year 25,000 applications have been lodged, and of that number 17,700 have been determined. About two-thirds have been determined. Then the Minister said -
Almost the whole of the applications not yet determined are either awaiting . further advice or evidence from the applicant, held pending passage of this amending Bill or are in process of being examined in our offices. Some 16,200 grants have already been paid.
After almost 12 months we are still holding up one-third of those who have applied. I suggest to the Government that it is remarkable that there should have been 25,000 applications, as that is about the number that the Government of New South Wales has on its waiting list for homes. Each application represents an Australian family which is waiting for a home. But we learn from the Minister’s second reading speech that in 12 months his Department has determined 17,700 applications and has determined their entitlement at an average of £230. But who has paid the £3* million that the Minister spoke about as being paid out in grants? The Government is not Santa Clause. That money came from John Taxpayer’s pocket, from people who are less privileged than those who are to receive the grant. A married basic wage earner who receives £15 8s. a week - that is the average basic wage throughout the Commonwealth - will have paid in taxation over a period of three years more than £150 of the £230 received by the lucky people who are eligible for the grant.
The basic wage earner has been required by this government to contribute in taxation over that three years more than half the amount received by the lucky couple who have been able to save £750. Anyone who can be happy about that situation in a country like Australia has a fairly good sense of humour. Anybody who will take from those who have not and give to those who have and feel that they are giving justice is not facing the realities of what is required to find homes for the people of Australia. This kind of measure has always left me feeling that the Government does not face realities. I have heard of an instance in this city of a young couple who said that they would get the grant of £250. I made inquiries to ascertain what they were earning. Neither was married, but they were preparing for marriage. The man was a tradesman earning £26 a week and the girl was earning £22. So we are to give £250 to this couple who are earning £48 a week between them because they have saved more than £750 in a period of three years; yet we take more than £150 in taxation from the pay packet of the next door neighbour who is a married man receiving the basic wage of £15 8s. to give to the couple receiving £48 a week. If this is not a piece of sectional legislation I have yet to learn what it is.
Honorable members opposite can be as happy as they like about the 25,000 votes that they will get as a result of this measure, but to buy votes at this price shows that they have no conscience. I come back to the point on which I started and refer again to the unfortunate people who are most in need. Is there any honorable member in this place who will rise to his feet and declare that any Australian who is giving his life to industry is not entitled during his working life to accumulate sufficient to enable him to own a home? Is there any honorable member in this Parliament who will say that the young Australian who marries early and brings children into the world is not more entitled to the £250 than anybody else? That is the kind of approach that the Chifley Government in 1945 set as a standard. Homes for all our people was the standard set by the Chifley Government which approached the problem in a way that provided for co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States. Loans would have been available at interest rates that would have enabled everybody in this country to own his own home by now. There would have been a planned economy that would not have required the kind of legislation that is now before this House.
I have mentioned that one-third of the applications are still being held up. I want to refer now to what is happening to the staff which is trying to render service in this new Department or Housing. The Administrative and Clerical Officers Association, the registered organisation which covers the industrial interests of the officers affected - officers employed in the Minister’s Department - has complained that right from the inception of the scheme the Public Service Board and the Department of Housing have failed to create sufficient positions to process the applications speedily. As a result officers have been working almost continuous overtime with adverse effects upon their health. The Association found that in trying to meet the requirements of the Department in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, but much more so in Sydney, officers were working through meal breaks in an attempt to satisfy the people who were coming along and wanting answers to their questions. To safeguard the health of those employed in the Department the Association directed that officers were not to work through meal breaks as there had already been a heavy toll through sickness. In this Department the officers have acted with commendable devotion to duty. It is apparent to anyone who studies the situation that the Public Service Board, which has so many questions to deal with, has not appreciated what is necessary to provide a proper staff for this Department. No blame for this can be levelled at the Minister’s door because we know that recommendations were made to the Public Service Board but were not accepted. We know also that officers who had been taken from other departments to help with the work are asking to go back to their own departments because of their dissatisfaction with working conditions.
The Minister told us in his second reading speech that one-third of the applications received since May last year still have not been processed. He said that many are waiting. The delay will now doublebank because applications will have to be processed in the light of the legislation now before us. No one will oppose this legislation, because it is an attempt to extend this preferential treatment - it must be put on that basis - to people who are unfortunate enough to find that they are financially unable to put aside fairly substantial amounts of money each week, each month and each year. That makes me sad because they are the ones that a worthwhile Parliament should be taking care of in the first instance. I agree that those who have been able to save £750 in three years have been fortunate, first, because sickness has not struck at the husband or his wife, because they have not had children about their feet to prevent them from saving that amount, and because they are living in a country which gives them a continuity of employment in the pattern set by the Labour Government in the postwar years; and secondly, they are fortunate that it was necessary for the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) to produce a rabbit from the hat to win the 1963 election. However, I repeat that if there is any honorable member of this Parliament who is happy about this kind of legislation he has a queer sense of the right approach to meeting the housing requirements of the Australian worker. Anybody who can be happy about the Government taking taxation from Jones, who has a wife and two children and earns £15 8s. a week, to contribute to somebody who has been able to save £750 in three years has a queer sense of equity when it comes to the question of who is most deserving of a home in Australia.
– in reply - I begin by emphasising once more, because it seems to be so essential to do so, that the Homes Savings Grant Act is a limited measure. It is not intended to cover every housing problem. Its essential purpose is to encourage saving for a home among young people. It is designed to reward saving for a home. It is true that a number of people in their more advanced years may not be in a position to save; but, above all, this legislation should be looked at as a long term measure to increase saving for the acquisition of a home. Those people who, in the meantime, before the scheme comes into full operation, receive grants are fortunate. They happen to have had past savings. But the most important feature of the scheme is in the future.
Most of the difficulties that have arisen since the inception of the scheme, particularly those that have given rise to these amendments, are due to the fact that the legislation was made retrospective and that it deals with many people who have not yet had time to save for three years. As the pattern becomes clearer, as it will in the future, and as savings are made in approved forms, this scheme basically will be extremely simple in operation.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) and the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) referred to the staff position in the Department of Housing. It is true that over the last few months we have had certain staff difficulties. Naturally, it is difficult to start a new organisation in a great hurry and to recruit and train all the necessary staff. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition mentioned that our overall organisation has not yet been approved. Of course, that relates not just to the homes savings grant scheme as such but to all the operations of the Department. In fact, that matter is nearing finality now.
When this scheme was initiated, the Public Service Board gave us an establishment. We started with 22 examiners. As circumstances showed that we needed more and as more applications came in, that number was increased to 72. Our greatest difficulties have arisen in New South Wales, particularly over the late December and January period, when suddenly we’ had a huge surge of applications. Suddenly the number more than doubled. The result of that was an accumulation of applications. However, whereas in January we had up to 3,000 applications on hand, awaiting processing, in the Sydney office, last Friday we had fewer than 100. When the need has been established, the Public Service Board in fact has responded. Undoubtedly, in order to meet fluctuations which may well arise in the future, the Board will continue to respond. But these difficulties are natural and almost inherent in starting a new organisation.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who has just come back into the House, also referred to the fact that lately I had not been reported as saying anything very much on the adoption of greater uniformity in building codes. I assure him that my interest in the matter certainly has not waned; nor has the necessary action been overlooked. In fact there has been a very satisfactory development in this regard. The State Ministers for Local Government and a representative of the Australian Capital Territory have got together and established a standing committee. The House will appreciate, of course, that uniform building codes cover a much wider field than just housing. This standing committee is being assisted by the Commonwealth Experimental Building Station, which has provided some of the secretariat.
Both the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) and I are very willing to assist and certainly will do anything we can to help the States to achieve greater uniformity. That work is going forward. No-one can expect results overnight. Many complicated issues are involved. A large number of different parties have to be persuaded. If these tilings are to go forward successfully, a large consensus of enlightened opinion must be won. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition commands considerable organs of publicity in one way or another, and anything that he can do to help this matter along will help to create the kind of atmosphere in which these things are possible of achievement and in which progress can be made.
Much has been made of the rising cost of housing. Since this was mentioned and since I must respond to the general tenor of the debate, I shall refer to the matter, although it is not particularly relevant to the Bill. The inference to be drawn was that the £250 maximum grant was being largely whittled away by rising costs. As I have pointed out before, if there is a 10 per cent, increase in the overall price of a house, tha deposit required rises by 10 per cent. If a deposit of £500 is required, it may rise to £550. A deposit of £1,000 may rise to £1,100. In those circumstances the value of the £250 grant, which will probably go into the down payment in many cases, is certainly diminished to some extent, but the grant remains extremely valuable.
On the other hand, we must also take into account the fact that over the past year average wages have risen, too - and risen very steeply. In fact, the two things are very closely connected. If average wages are rising at a considerable pace, so is the cost of building, not only on the site where a large amount of labour is involved but also in the factory in the processing of materials leading up to the building work on the site. Part of the increase in wages may be absorbed - it is to some extent - in increased productivity; but productivity cannot increase at the rate at which average wages have been increasing recently. Therefore, there is bound to be a considerable increase in prices. On the other hand, there is an increased capacity to repay. Every honorable member appreciates the fact that in a situation of full employment there are pressures for higher wages and other payments. All members of the community are trying to increase their own shares of the national income. That is human behaviour; but in these circumstances it is a substantial threat to stability and thus to full employment. In fact, only when society becomes a little more enlightened about its behaviour in these circumstances will we be able effectively to combine both real full employment and stability.
I refer now to a matter that we traversed in the debate on the Housing Loans Insurance Bill. The price of land also has been rising. Many factors are involved in this matter, including the increased cost of servicing land and providing all the ancillary services in order to meet the requirements of local authorities before land can be subdivided. But also standing in the issue is the basic fact that land around Sydney and Melbourne, where the greatest problems exist, and around the other large developing centres to some extent, is becoming extremely scarce. If all the people of a huge city want to live in their own houses on their own plots of ground, we have to face the fact that either they will have to go out miles and miles or physically it cannot be done. Of course, as land becomes scarce it naturally rises in price, and the result of rises in price is that more people have to live in a certain space.
Incidentally, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Devine) referred to the new block of flats that has been built by the Sydney City Council. It is being serviced by a co-operative building society. No doubt, that is a very satisfactory development. It is to be noted that savings can well go into building societies. In fact, one of the main objects of the scheme - I shall refer to this in a minute - is to get more savings into building and housing societies.
I must refer again to the purpose of this legislation and the reason why savings which are to be approved have been limited to certain institutions. Overhanging the housing problem is the serious problem of getting adequate long term savings into housing at reasonable rates of interest. These particular institutions have been chosen for the process because they provide most of the money for the purpose. In the main, these are savings banks and building societies, particularly building societies, because the savings lodged with them go into the building industry to add to the housing which can be provided. This is basic to the whole scheme. It is true that although savings banks provide a big proportion of their savings for housing they also put the balance into Government securities. Governments in turn devote huge sums, particularly in loan moneys, to housing.
Why other channels of saving have not been included - although some have for the time being - is that although they are very worthy in themselves, because saving in all forms is to be encouraged, they do not provide the same flow of funds into housing. It was suggested that because credit unions are not included in this scheme the Government feels badly towards them or that I cast some slur on them. This is the reverse of the truth. They are excellent institutions; so, of course, are other forms of savings which are grouped with them - employer savings schemes and superannuation schemes, including the special savings section associated with the Superannuation Fund of South Australia. Further, there are savings with insurance companies in the form of policies and savings with church societies for church building purposes. All these are worthy and deserving of support.
Credit unions have been particularly mentioned in this debate. For the most part they provide money for the purchase of consumer goods. In other words they collect money and direct it to the purchase of consumer durables. They also devote money to second mortgages and, to a minor extent, they provide for all manner of personal requirements. They cover a lot of the ground which would otherwise be covered by hire purchase companies. Credit unions, of course, provide an excellent investment. They pay 5 to 7 per cent, on investment and reward saving. They also meet the needs of their members and also, what is particularly desirable, they train people in advancing and using finance in a responsible manner. However, the reason they are not included in this scheme is that they do not divert a flow of savings into long term housing purposes at reasonable rates of interest.
It may be of interest to honorable members to know that in a recent check we made, about one or two per cent, only of applicants for grants claimed any part of their savings as being with credit unions. As with credit unions, all forms of saving are good. Anything which encourages saving and frees sources of capital investment is good. However, credit unions do not turn in sizable sums of money for long term housing at reasonable rates of interest, which is one of the major purposes of this scheme.
If one looks at the long term aspects he will find that for every £1 which is paid out of the taxpayers’ money £3 is locked in institutions when it could be used in enabling people to acquire houses. It was mentioned, I think by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson), that the last census revealed that many people were living in sheds, shacks and so forth. Of course our housing situation is far from perfect, and there is much to be done; otherwise, I. presume, I would not be here as Minister for Housing striving in every fashion to meet the housing situation. If there were no housing problems there would be no need for governments - State and Commonwealth - to be in the housing business. Of course there are acute housing problems, but do not let us overlook the fact that our housing figures on the average are better than those of other countries. We may not have as many palaces or as many high quality houses, but on the average we are about the best housed country in the world. As almost every country has, we have room for improvement, and we must take special measures; but do not let us overlook the distance we have already travelled. This scheme fits within our general policy of making a good situation a lot better. It is only part of the overall scheme. It is not a cure-all for all housing problems but it encourages one healthy process, getting young people to save as much as they can when they can to build a home and, in the meantime, to provide funds for others to do likewise.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Bill committed pro forma; progress reported.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment -
Raw Cotton Bounty Bill 1965.
Pollution of the Sea by Oil Bill 1965.
Parliamentary Presiding Officers Bill 1965.
House adjourned at 10.48 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated -
b asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he consider following the example of the British Government in setting up tribunals to decide whether price rises are justified in the same way that applications for wage rises have to be made to industrial tribunals?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
Present circumstances in Australia do not appear to call for such action; there are, in any event, differences in the constitutional position in the two countries relevant to this matter.
b asked the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice -
Can he cite any instances where a parent American company has banned its Australian company from exporting to areas served by the parent company?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is a follows -
The Department of Trade and Industry is aware that in a number of instances exports by Australian subsidiaries of overseas companies, including American, are restricted in this way.
Various steps have been taken to bring about an alteration in this situation. Public statements made by myself and officers of the Department of Trade and Industry bring to the notice of such companies operating in Australia the problem and the policy attitude desired by the Government.
It is not the practice of the Department of Trade and Industry to disclose publicly its knowledge of the operations of individual trading companies.
b asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
b asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
d asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
b asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
y asked the Minister for Immi gration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Royal AustralianAir Force Veterans’ Residences Trust Fund. (Question No. 882.)
r asked the Minister for
Air, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
b asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Bureau of Mineral Resources. (Question No. 893.)
m asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
Which States have (a) agreed and (b) refused to allow the Bureau of Mineral Resources to operate within their territories?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
No States have refused to allow the Bureau of Mineral Resources to operate within their Territories nor for that matter have they agreed to such operations without prior consultation. There are broad understandings between the Bureau and the State Geological Surveys on the division of work in various fields. It is normal practice for the Bureau to submit its programme of work for each year in advance to all States for their comment.
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following information -
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable members questions are as follows -
Commonwealth Government Houses in Western Australia. (Question No. 904.) Mr. Collard asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
y. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Gerald ton - 1 residence, 3 flats on aerodrome. Forrest - 4 quarters.
Kalgoorlie - 3 residences, 1 quarters on aerodrome.
Meekatharra - 2 residences. Carnarvon - 2 residences. Onslow - 2 residences. Port Hedland - 8 residences. Broome - 3 residences.
All residences are occupied by departmental employees, except for one at Port Hedland which is temporarily vacant. This will be shortly occupied by an officer of the Bureau of Meteorology.
Amortisation with interest, over a period, of the cost of the property. Repairs and Maintenance.
Rates and Service Charges. Administration.
son asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 April 1965, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1965/19650406_reps_25_hor45/>.