27th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. Sir William Aston) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Honourable members will be pleased to know that we have present in the gallery this afternoon a party of members of the House of Assembly of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. 1 am sure that the House would want me to extend to these honourable gentlemen a very warm welcome.
Honourable members - Hear, hear!
Australian Capital Territory By-election: Issue of Writ
-It is my intention to issue a writ on Monday, 20th April, for the election of a member to represent the Australian Capital Territory to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Mr James Reay Fraser. The dates in connection with the election will be fixed as follows: Date of nomination, Thursday, 7th May 1970; date of polling, Saturday, 30th May 1970; date of return of writ, on or before Friday, 26th June 1970.
Sir JOHN CRAMER presented from certain electors of the Division of Bennelong a petition showing that in the national interest it is essential that there be an effective and respected Commonwealth conciliation and arbitration system; that the decision given by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the professional engineers’ case on 3rd December 1969, which has followed to the letter in both magnitude and date of operation the salary increases for engineers employed in the Commonwealth Public Service which were announced before the arbitration hearing had concluded, has given rise to utter dismay and has indicated a lack of independent assessment; that recent statements made at the Australian Workers Union Conference and by the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions have indicated disillusionment with the Federal arbitration system and have particularly referred to the professional engineers’ case; that an unacceptable arbitration system must inevitably lead to industrial unrest throughout Australia.
The petitioners pray that the Australian Government take positive action as soon as possible to re-establish confidence in the Commonwealth arbitration system.
Petition received and read.
Mr REYNOLDS presented from certain electors of the Division of Barton a petition showing that in the national interest, it is essential that there be an effective and respected Commonwealth conciliation and arbitration system; that the decision given by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the professional engineers’ case on 3rd December 1969, which has followed to the letter in both magnitude and date of operation the salary increases for engineers employed in the Commonwealth Public Service which were announced before the arbitration hearing had concluded, has given rise to utter dismay and has indicated a lack of independent assessment; that recent statements made at the Australian Workers Union Conference and by the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions have indicated disillusionment with the Federal arbitration system and have particularly referred to the professional engineers’ case; that an unacceptable arbitration system must inevitably lead to industrial unrest throughout Australia.
The petitioners pray that the Australian Government take positive action as soon as possible to re-establish confidence in the Commonwealth arbitration system.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
– I refer the Prime Minister to his answer yesterday to the honourable member for Bonython on Press reports of an offer by the United States Government to lend Australia 24 Phantom F4E aircraft. Did the right honourable gentleman say that the reports had no official backing whatsoever? Did he say that no statement could be made until the Minister for Defence returned to Australia when a statement would be made in this House? Has the Minister for Defence, in a joint statement with the United States Secretary of Defence, earlier today announced that such an offer had been made and accepted? If so, why did not the Prime Minister know about it? Did the Minister for Defence exceed his authority in making this arrangement without the approval of the Government or of the Prime Minister?
– The question I was asked yesterday by the honourable member for Bonython, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will discover if he looks at Hansard, was: Has the Government accepted a reported offer by the United States concerning Phantom aircraft? That was the question I was asked. Subsequently the Minister for Defence and Secretary Laird issued a communique which covered the matters that had been discussed over a broad field and indicated that should the Australian Government so wish, Phantoms would be available to the Australian Government. It did not say that the Australian Government had accepted this. This was not in the communique. I can only repeat that after the Minister for Defence returns and after the whole field has been discussed a statement will be made by the Government on the question asked me yesterday by the honourable member for Bonython as to whether the Australian Government in all the circumstances would or would not accept the question of possibly getting Phantoms as an interim aircraft.
– I refer to a recent statement by the Minister for Primary Industry giving details of a substantial strengthening of the top level organisation of his Department and, in particular, to his comment that governments would be called upon to provide more information and economic analyses on which farmers and farm organisations may base their decisions and that governments would themselves require more economic studies on which to base their policies. I ask the Minister: Does this mean that his Department has as its aim something that 1 have advocated several times in this House, namely, the provision of regular and frequent bulletins on world production and market prospects for all agricultural products of interest to Australia?
– I thought the Minister was in Warrnambool.
– No; I am lucky. In reply to the honourable member for Corangamite, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics within my Department does make regular reports about the outlook and situation of some of our major commodities such as wool, wheat, dairy products, beef, mutton, lamb, coarse grains and eggs. It does make a series of shorter term projections of the situation for a whole host of other commodities. It also provides information for various government committees or industry committees so that they might be fully aware of the situation. I concur with the honourable member’s remark that Australian rural industries need to be as well informed as possible, and this is part of the reason for some strengthening of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, as the honourable member mentioned. I have emphasised to the Bureau that I want this section of forecasting to be developed as much as it can be so that industries will have the best guidance possible to assess the situation and to make recommendations to the Government.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister as Acting Treasurer. Is it true that interest on finance for home purchase has been increased? If so, to what figure? Is it also true that interest on savings bank deposits in excess of $4,000 has been increased? If this is so why is there discrimination against deposits of a lesser amount? Is it the intention of the Government to increase interest on finance for war service homes? If not - and I hope it is not so - why is there discrimination against persons securing finance through banking and other private institutions?
– The interest rates on ordinary house purchasing have been increased by i% in accordance with the Reserve Bank’s statement of the general rise in interest rates. I am informed that the Commonwealth Savings Bank, having considered this matter, decided that the additional interest rates will not impose additional yearly payments on people who are buying homes but will if those people so wish mean that the period of time over which the homes would be paid off would be extended.
– Penal provisions.
-Order! The honourable member for Reid is out of order and shall not interject.
– I am not quite sure what the honourable member means by a penal provision. It is a provision to prevent an additional yearly impost on people buying homes which I would have thought would commend itself to most people. That is the answer to the first part of the honourable member’s question. On the other technical questions which he asked, I think the best I can do is get a reply from the Treasury and provide it to him in writing.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service and 1 ask whether it is a fact that, due to the continuous wage demands by unions in Australia and the militant manner in which these demands are being made, the normally accepted principles of conciliation and arbitration are now threatened. Has this challenge by unions reached a free-for-all stage and will the powerful unions eventually push the system to the wall? Will this be to the detriment of the less powerful unions and certainly to the detriment of Australians generally?
– At the outset I should say that it is my view that the arbitration system must be preserved because it pro vides guarantees of minimum wages and conditions for, 1 think, about 85% of the work force. It is upon those guarantees of minimum wages and conditions that the work force can rely for its standard of living. In recent times there has been quite a deal of talk about collective bargaining. I would like to draw a dichotomy between collective bargaining-
– What is that?
– It is a Greek owned racehorse. Collective bargaining as a term usually implies a reliance on collective bargaining exclusively, leaving the Arbitration Commission to wither or alternatively to destroy itself. On the other hand a different term needs to be used for direct negotiation, for the purposes of distinction - that is, of drawing a dichotomy. Direct negotiation can live within the arbitration umbrella. The concern that I have about direct negotiation is the degree to which powerful unions in an industrial sense are able to use the threat of strike action to coerce employers to give wage increases beyond the capacity of the economy to pay and in advance of the development of productivity. If this is carried too far I believe it will have the result of stratifying incomes in the community. Incomes determine the standard of living. It is likely to stratify income in the community, depending not upon the degree of skill that the worker enjoys and not necessarily upon the number of hours that he works, how hard he works, the effort that he puts into his work or anything of that kind, but to be related solely to the industrial power of the work situation in which he is.
For example, a carpenter working on the building of house frames or architraves or a joiner building furniture would have nothing like the industrial power that would he possessed by a worker in, for instance, the power producing industry. It would be most undesirable that the industrial power possessed by somebody in that sort of sensitive industry could result in his having a significantly bigger increase in pay, enjoying a larger standard of pay and a better standard of living than the equally socially necessary worker in another area who is not possessed of the same industrial power. For this reason, I believe that it is essential in the interests of the work force of Australia that the arbitration system should survive.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. My question relates to the question o£ parliamentary committees which he, yesterday, said in answer to the honourable member for Lang has been receiving the attention of the Government and to the practice under which, if a Minister certifies that he regards it as injurious to the public interest to divulge information concerning particular matters, a parliamentary committee accepts the Minister’s certificate and does not require the production of documents on those matters. He will probably remember that, in November 1953, Sir Robert Menzies sent Professor Bland the classic letter on this subject and relied on the 1942 House of Lords case of Duncan v. Cammell, Laird. I ask the right honourable gentleman whether he or his Government has reconsidered this matter in the light of the later decision of Conway v. Rimmer, 2 years ago, in which the House of Lords did not follow its earlier decision but held, in effect, that the body calling for the documents, while giving full weight to the Minister’s view, should itself decide whether the documents should be produced and, for this purpose, will generally be entitled to inspect them? In other words, I ask him whether the Government now takes the view that a parliamentary committee is itself entitled to inspect documents for which it calls and to decide whether it is in the public interest for the documents to be disclosed?
– I cannot assure the Leader of the Opposition that I have any very distinct memory of the 1953 judgment to which he refers or the 1953 letter to which he refers. But, coming back to the substance of his question, I would myself believe it only prudent and right that there should be fields of government activity in which parliamentary committees should be restrained from getting documents and from calling before them individuals in order to get evidence from them. I do remember that, when the Australian Labor Party had a majority in the Senate, it set up a parliamentary committee of the Senate to examine the defence forces and it sought to call before it the Chairman of the Chiefs of
Staff and the other Chiefs of Staff and to get all documents relating to defence capacity. The then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, believed as I would believe that this was not a proper function of that committee. There must be activities of government which are not made public, which in fact would happen if they went before a parliamentary committee of this kind. I do not propose to go into any analysis of just where the borders should or should nol be drawn on this matter otherwise than to express that general approach.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether rifle clubs throughout Australia are finding it difficult to carry on and to expand owing to the high cost of ammunition. Did the Commonwealth, some years ago, make ammunition available to these clubs on a no charge basis? Do these clubs play an important part in training riflemen in safety and defence measures? Can the Minister inform the House whether there is any possibility of issuing the clubs with ammunition as was previously done by the Commonwealth?
– According to advice I have received, although there has been some reduction in membership the rifle club movement is carrying on effectively and is attracting new membership. I remind the honourable member that, following a comprehensive review in 1960 by the Government’s Service advisers, it was advised that in modern circumstances rifle clubs were of no significant military value. Accordingly it was decided that assistance in the form of grants and the issue of ammunition should no longer be continued.
Since that time my predecessors and I have received representations to renew the assistance. However, no new considerations have been introduced which would permit us to do so. The question asked by the honourable member relates to an alleged drop in membership owing to the cost of ammunition. With that point in mind I will discuss with the Minister for Supply whether there are any stocks of ammunition and will advise the honourable member in due course.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister. Has the Commonwealth Public Service Board declined to grant to architects, engineers, surveyors and draftsmen in the Commonwealth Public Service the 6.6% salary increase paid 3i months ago to 38 related classifications? Has this resulted in the banning of overtime, the restriction of a work to regulations campaign and a call for the resignation of the Public Service Board at a recent mass meeting of union members? Will the Prime Minister say whether be regards this matter as serious enough to justify his urgent attention?
– 1 believe that most members of the House would agree that the Public Service Board, being in charge of Public Service salaries and conditions, should not be. and indeed I think legally cannot be, instructed what to do in carrying out its arbitral responsibilities. It should not be instructed by a Prime Minister or by a government on how it should carry out these responsibilities. I will seek to answer the detailed parts of the question asked by the honourable member by way of a letter. As for the final question which he asked, I believe it would be wrong for a government to try to impose its will - I think it has no legal right to impose its will - on the arbitral authority, in this case the Public Service Board.
– My question, addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, concerns development at the Brisbane airport whereby activities will be moved to the north and east towards Moreton Bay and away from the residential areas. Will the Minister investigate whether, as part of this movement, land acquired from the Brisbane Turf Club nearly 30 years ago the acquisition of which caused the abolition of the famous Straight Six at Doomben could be re-acquired by the club? I understand that this process would be of advantage to Brisbane and to the Club.
– I appreciate the honourable member’s interest in this important activity. As he knows, there have been proposals for some considerable time for the development of the airport at Brisbane. The acquisition of certain land in the area to the south east will allow development to take place some distance from the present terminal locality. I am not certain about the remainder of the area in the western part of the present airport. I know it is a major operational area and that there is quite a bit of commercial activity in that locality. I will see that the question is brought to the attention of my colleague in another place to ascertain whether anything can be done about the matter.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister in his capacity as Acting Treasurer. My question relates to the recent Cabinet decision to exclude from the 1971 census certain questions about incomes, sources of finance, social security, insurance and housing facilities. Are these statistics necessary for intelligent social and economic planning? Were the committees which advised the Government on the census entitled the Commercial and Academic Committee and the Physical Planning Committee? What sorts of bodies did those committees represent? Did the two committees advise that the relevant questions which were excluded should be included in the census? If so, on what grounds did the Government decide to exclude the questions from the census?
– As I think all honourable members will know, there were a number of questions which it was proposed should be included in the census which is being taken. The Cabinet considered these questions and it felt it needed to balance the alleged requirements for statistics in various fields against an intrusion into the privacy of the individual which a state might well carry too far if it were not checked. Examining each of the questions asked, the Cabinet reached its view as to whether the intrusions into the privacy which these questions represented were sufficiently great to prevent the questions being asked. In many cases we believed that intrusion was too great. Even though it can be argued that information of various kinds is helpful to planners 1 nevertheless think there is a need to try to protect the individual citizens against too much intrusion by officialdom into such questions as how many bathrooms they have and what their incomes are when they already have to supply that information to the particular authorities. We sought to strike a balance between the information which would be useful and the protection of the privacy of the individual, and that is what in our judgment we did.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware that in recent weeks a number of wool grower organisations throughout Australia, the latest being the New South Wales Graziers Association, have carried resolutions supporting the principle of a single marketing authority for the sale of wool in Australia? The meetings were held because of the present crisis in the industry. Will the Minister discuss the proposal with the industry with a view to implementing it at an early date?
– I am very conscious that in the last few weeks a number of mass meetings have been held to discuss the problems of the wool industry and that from those meetings a number of resolutions have come. Probably the principal resolution, which came from the Tamworth and Moree meetings, was that there should be a single marketing authority to control the disposal of the Australian wool clip. I am conscious also that yesterday the New South Wales Graziers Association, by a vote of about 90 to 40, supported the concept of a single marketing authority. This action by the Association was without precedent. To date no overall recommendation has been made to the Government. No doubt when the Federal bodies meet - I am thinking of the Australian Woolgrowers and Graziers Council and on the other side the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation - they will make some recommendations. They may also put their proposals to the Australian Wool Industry Conference. I would like to add that the Australian Wool Board has set up an advisory committee to look into the problems of the wool industry. No doubt it will come forward with certain findings which may coincide with the resolutions that have been passed by the bodies to which I have referred. At that time the Government will have before it recommendations to which it can give consideration.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister in his capacity as Acting Treasurer. Is Australia so short of overseas reserves that virtue is seen in the borrowing abroad of $20m by the Australian Resources Development Bank at a rate higher than the rate at which the Bank customarily lends? Did that bank need to seek approval from the Reserve Bank to make such borrowings? Did not the Prime Minister himself indicate in a recent address in Perth that the ARDB faced difficulties in borrowing abroad as against what he imagined would be the position of the proposed new Industry Development Corporation? Will the right honourable gentleman amplify what the difficulties on one side are as against the supposed case on the other?
– I do not believe that the question of the level at which Australia’s reserves stand - that is, Australia’s governmental reserves - has anything to do at all with the borrowing abroad by the Australian Resources Development Bank of S20m for Australian industry. This is a matter of the Bank exercising its judgment - industry having put propositions to it, I imagine - and the Bank being able to secure for the development of Australian industries this sum of money abroad. Nor as I see it does the rate of interest at which it is being borrowed affect that question. The industries concerned must make their judgment on whether they can make a profit and repay the loans that are made at the specific rate of interest which is charged. This is being done constantly by companies which now borrow abroad themselves - big international companies - for investment in Australia and quite clearly the money is available and the money is able to be used profitably by those who borrow it. So I do not see the point of the honourable member’s question insofar as those two things are concerned.
Yes, Mr Speaker, it is true that in a recent address in Perth I pointed out that the Australian Resources Development Bank had so far, at the time I spoke, borrowed virtually none of this high interest money abroad to assist industry and that all its activities had been very largely concentrated in mobilising Australian funds with Australia. This is now branching out into that field. The proposed Industry Development
Corporation will be able, I believe most successfully and most helpfully for Australian industry, to follow that path.
– 1 ask the MinisterinCharge of Aboriginal Affairs whether any steps are being taken by the Commonwealth to ascertain whether or not the malnutrition, protein starvation and retarded growth among Aboriginal children, revealed by research last year in certain government settlements in Queensland, exists anywhere else in other parts of Queensland or anywhere else in the Commonwealth.
– Yes, this has been followed up and there have been investigations put in hand following upon the reports made by Dr Kalokerinos of Collarenebri. In addition to this some studies are being made at the present time in the field of remedying not only protein deficiencies but also deficiencies in vitamins and iron which apparently are very much concerned with the malnutrition of Aboriginal children in the period immediately after the commencement of weaning.
– I direct a question to the Minister for National Development who represents the Acting Minister for External Affairs. I preface it by saying that the Minister will recall1 statements and comments made in regard to wheat sales to Rhodesia. In the light of events in the political scene I ask: Has he any information that he can give to the House on this subject?
– It is a fact that wheat exports from Australia have gone to Rhodesia in the past. Honourable members may recall that back in 1965 when the economic sanctions were first imposed at the request of Britain the matter was taken up through the Security Council of the United Nations and a resolution was passed imposing sanctions to which Australia subscribed at the time. But in 1968 that resolution did make some exceptions for medical supplies, educational facilities and foodstuffs on the basis that the people of Rhodesia should not be deprived of these commodities. As a result Australia has over recent years provided exports of these items, principally of wheat. That same situation still applies, Mr Speaker, and whilst I cannot forecast what the future will hold I would expect that wheat exports would continue to be provided.
- Mr Speaker, I ask the Prime Minister: Does he remember that following the 1964 Premiers Conference a Commonwealth-State Officials Committee was established to study and report on decentralisation of industry and population and that at the end of last year it had met on only 3 occasions? In May 1969 the right honourable gentleman, replying to a question asked by me, stated that the work of the Committee had now reached an important stage. I now ask the Prime Minister: How many meetings of the Committee have been held and when will the report be made available?
– 1 do not know how many meetings of the Committee have been held. I have no information on that whatsoever but I will secure it for the honourable member and let him have it.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for National Development. He will recall a deputation that I introduced to him in Brisbane concerning the dam on Pike’s Creek in Queensland. Later he replied to the honourable member for Gwydir that the matter was being treated as a matter of urgency by the Government. Can he advise the House of any further developments in relation to that investigation and as to what stage the investigation has reached?
– I did have a message from the local authorities organisation in that area yesterday asking whether any further information was available. At the present time studies have not been completed. We have received all of the required information from the New South Wales Government and the Queensland Government. I would expect, in accordance with the advice which I gave to the two honourable members previously, that in the very near future we will be in a position to make a decision about the dam. As soon as I am in a position to do so I will inform the honourable member.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Did the Australian Dairy Produce Board, with the active support of the Government, use $550,000 of dairy farmers’ money to build a reconstituted sweetened condensed milk plant in the Cambodian capital? Was the Government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk a partner in this venture? What is the present position of this investment? Will the original agreement be honoured by the present Government of Cambodia and will the Minister ensure that dairy farmers do not lose from following the Government’s advice in relation to projects such as this?
– This plant was not built as a result of Government advice. The Australian Dairy Produce Board, supported by the Australian dairy industry, decided to develop recombination plants in different parts of South East Asia to dispose of their butteroil and skimmed milk powder. I believe this is the fifth plant that the Australian Dairy Produce Board has established. I believe part of the money was directly contributed by the Australian producers, but a large part of the money was lent by the Australian Dairy Produce Board to enable the plant to be established. It is to be repaid over a period of time. However, I inform the honourable member for Riverina that these plants have been quite an outstanding success in some of the areas, and their return to the Australian dairy industry is very satisfactory. Up to date I bave not heard or received any reports of disruption in the establishment of the plant in Cambodia. I believe that the plant is almost completed. It is hoped that it will be opened in the next few months.
– The Minister for Social Services will recall that on a number of occasions I have requested that a regional office of his Department be established at Swan Hill in Victoria. Does the Minister know that the city of Swan Hill would be in ideal location for such an office, as it is approximately 146 miles from the regional office at Mildura and 120 miles from the one at Bendigo? In addition to the city of Swan Hill, such an office would serve a large rural community. Will the Minister give further urgent consideration to my suggestion?
– It would be difficult for me to forget the insistence with which the honourable member has put forward the claims of Swan Hill for such a service. My Department is at present considering a plan for the enlargement of the very excellent service of regional centres which it is establishing. At the present moment there are 47 or 48 of these centres in Australia. I hope that we will increase the number. One of the problems is the lack of first class officers who would be able to take charge of the centres and give the people the service to which they are entitled. We have officers in training and we hope that the network will soon be augmented. I am not able to give the honourable member a specific assurance in regard to Swan Hill but I can give him an assurance that the claims of Swan Hill and adjoining centres will be very thoroughly considered in the expansion of the network that is planned for the near future.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration: Is it a fact that immigrants are encouraged to believe that naturalisation will entitle them to all the privileges of Australian citizenship? Is he aware of the concern and resentment of elderly migrants who find that, in spite of naturalisation, they are denied the age pension because they have not been in Australia for 10 years? What is the Minister’s response to the complaints of the persons concerned that they are being treated as second class citizens? Will he undertake to attempt to remove the anomaly from which they suffer?
– I certainly could not agree with the statement or inference made by the honourable gentleman that migrants are treated or regarded as second class citizens in this country. In fact over a period of many years it has been the intention and the performance of this Government to make certain that we remove, as far as possible, the disabilities suffered by persons who seek to settle here. So far as my recollection serves me, the provision of social services is not a matter which relates to citizenship per se but it is something that I will take up with my colleague, the Minister for Social Services. I will provide the honourable gentleman with an answer in writing.
– Has the Minister for Labour and National Service read the reported request by the Victorian trade union leader, Mr Stone, for the honourable member for Lalor to refrain from interfering in trade union matters? Is the Minister also concerned with the honourable member’s activities, which could possibly lead to industrial trouble?
– I did see the report of the Secretary of the Trades and Labour Council of Victoria in which he is reported to have suggested to the honourable member for Lalor not to encourage industrial disturbances associated with . the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign. It is unusual for me to find myself echoing the words of a trade union leader. The trade union leader I refer to has a record of responsibility and the statement he made is one that 1 would expect him to make. The other point which I should make in answer to the question is that there are enough strikes and stoppages of work and bans on the performance of work imposed for industrial reasons. It will be contrary to the interests of Australia if we get to the point where industrial stoppages, strikes and disputes are called in order to make political points. The place to make political points is in the forums established under the Constitution for that purpose. I believe that any effort to manipulate the work force and organise labour in this country into holding strikes for political reasons ought to be condemned in the interests of the development of Australia.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question supplementary to that asked him by the honourable member for Macquarie concerning the number of meetings and the dates of the meetings of the decentralisation committee set up by the Premiers and the Commonwealth after the
Premiers Conference in July 1964. My recollection is that the right honourable gentleman said, in answer to the honourable member for Macquarie, that he did not know how many meetings the Committee had held. Does the Prime Minister remember yesterday giving a written reply to the honourable member for Riverina that in fact the committee had still met only 3 times, the last occasion being in February last year? In other words, does the right honourable gentleman confirm that the position is unchanged from the last question that the honourable member for Macquarie asked him?
– 1 indicated to the honourable member for Macquarie that I would let him have a written reply on this matter when I got the information, of which I said that I had no information in my head. It seems to me that if what the Leader of the Opposition said is correct, he could provide the written reply to the honourable member for Macquarie, though I will duplicate it if he wishes. On this matter of decentralisation generally, Mr Speaker, I think it might well be pointed out that there has been much that has occurred quite apart from the meetings of the committee to which the Leader of the Opposition referred. I direct the House’s attention, as one example of this, merely to the Bill introduced yesterday for the establishment at Gladstone of this new power house to bring industries there which is perhaps likely to be one of the most forward steps taken in decentralisation in this country.
-I have received a letter from the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The grave financial needs of Australian public hospital services and the failure of the Federal Government to respond to this need in spite of the recommendations of the Nimmo Report 12 months ago.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. ‘-.!: (More thar the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places)
– The financial condition of the Australian publichospital system is very grim indeed. It is a deteriorating situation. Unless some remedial action is taken fairly promptly the situation will lead to widespread areas of grave collapse before the end of this decade. As the public hospitals system in Australia is currently operated, the financial responsibility for maintaining the hospitals is largely that of the States. The Commonwealth’s contribution towards the upkeep of approved general hospitals is approximately $1 in every $5. But the impossible situation of the States is that their financial resources are stretched so taut that they are about to snap, and one of the areas in which their financial responsibilities will collapse is indisputably this important area of responsibility for public hospitals.
Accordingly, if we are to sustain our public hospital services, quite clearly the Federal Government has a moral responsibility to support the States in adequately financing the system. It is not merely a matter of adequately financing the system to maintain services at the present level, because there are many areas of grave need in the public hospital services of Australia. Accordingly the Federal Government has to go beyond this and provide adequate finance in conjunction with the States to ensure that the standards of the existing system are lifted to a high level and that adequate provision is made for expansion of these services according to public need.
Let me establish the case that a grave financial situation in fact exists in Australia in relation to our public hospital services. The total cash deficiencies of various hospitals operated under the New South Wales Hospitals Commission at the end of the financial year 1967-68 was $6.4m compared with $5. 2m the previous year. Each year this deficiency increases. The annual report of the New South Wales Hospitals Commission stated, inter alia, on the subject of capital funds available:
It is freely acknowledged that these funds have been insufficient for the achievement and maintenance of adequate physical facilities in the public hospital system.
Mr Jago, the Minister for Health in New South Wales, pointed out in 1968 that the best that State could do towards providing funds for public hospital works in 1968 was $20m, and yet the magnitude of the need for funds in this area was $200in. So here we have some stark evidence of just how grave is the position of public hospitals in Australia and, even more, we have emphasised just how impossible this challenge is for the States of Australia to handle. In Victoria in 1968 - and I am citing the latest data that are available - the accumulated maintenance overdraft and outstanding creditors accounts amounted to §9.9m. At the conclusion of that period it was found that hospitals had been unable to reduce their indebtedness to banks and creditors. In this State 30% of public hospital ward fees are written off each year mainly because people cannot afford to pay them. This throws a further debt burden on to the State’s resources. In Queensland the nonpaying public ward system has serious shortcomings. One doctor recently stated:
On the average of only 3 minutes lor each patient you start to worry whether you might miss something in his description of his symptoms
This is a critical criticism because it underscores the fact that the people who are resorting to our public hospitals for treatment are not getting the best treatment that could be made available to them. Even more importantly, it indicates that there could be failures in the diagnosis and treatment of patients at these hospitals. Here we have a compelling case for the Federal Government to answer adequately and constructively for not providing the funds that are required to uplift the system of public hospitals in Australia.
In 1966-67 nearly $6.4m was written off in bad debts by all Australian public hospitals. How long does the Federal Government expect that the public hospital system in Australian can stagger along under this incredibly mounting debt burden? How much longer does it expect the States, which arc continuously complaining about the impossibility of their financial situation, to prop up inadequately the system of public hospital services? Yet hospitals are undoubtedly the most important area of our health service to the community. As important as improved health or medical insurance is, more important is the need for adequate provision to be made in the area of public hospital services because we want to overcome grim situations that exist in relation to antiquated buildings which, very loaded as they are, are serving as public hospitals. Let me quote from a report in the ‘Australian’ of 10th September 1968. It says:
Paraplegic patients at Sydney’s second largest general hospital were put on a lawn naked and hosed down during the summer because it was the only way to keep them cool.
A registrar of the hospital, Dr Yeo, added:
There is nothing else we can do. The wards are 100 years old and have tin roofs and the temperature has been known to stay over the century for days.
Is this the sort of standard for public hospitals which the Government is prepared to tolerate? The Government clearly is in the best position to provide the funds which are necessary for the development of the services up to the high standards that a prosperous country like Australia should expect as of right. But what is the Commonwealth’s approach? It is like that of an octogenarian lover towards his young honeymoon bride - timid, apprehensive and certainly inadequate.
In 1958, that is 12 years ago, the Commonwealth lifted its subsidy to $2 a day and, exhausted by this feat, it has made no effort to improve on that performance, in spite of the fact that hospital costs have increased at a rapid rate since that date - indeed, much more rapidly than has any average cost of living index used by the Bureau of Census and Statistics to gauge overall movements in the economy. An increase of hospital costs is unavoidable, because of the more sophisticated, more technical and more expensive treatment which is essential in the sorts of services being provided by public hospitals. The Government restricts itself to a subsidy which it has not adjusted for 12 years in the face of these cost movements.
The Government has ignored for 12 months the recommendations of the Nimmo Committee report. We do not uphold the Nimmo Committee’s findings as the acme of what ought to be done either in respect of medical insurance or hospital insurance, but at least they do indicate that there are failings on the part of the Federal Government and that the Government ought to act. The report was brought into this House 12 months ago, but the first indication we have had from the Minister that the Government has commenced negotiations with the States on a very restricted area of commitment - I refer to recommendations 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 1 7 - was yesterday when he said that negotiations commenced on 2nd April this year. This was 12 months after the recommendations came before the House. I ask honourable members to consider the serious situation which I have already outlined. It has not erupted suddenly. It is a grave situation and it is the result of a continuous rundown in the standard of services and of the deficiency in the finances of the States for the provision of health services. I would ask for the Minister’s approval to have those recommendations from the Nimmo report included in Hansard.
– I am going to take some of my time to read them out.
– If the Minister is going to take some of his time to read them out that is fair enough.
– Is leave granted?
– He has nothing else to say except that he will read what somebody else has written and indicate that he will not do anything about it. At least he is consistent.
– We all have copies and can read them for ourselves.
-I am pleased to find that the honourable member for McMillan can read. He has completely confuted an understanding which many honourable members on this side of the House have held for some time. If I may I will again indicate why we ought to act. In New South Wales operating costs, as distinct from capital costs, were $20m twenty years ago. Last year they rose to $67m. In another 20 years time they will reach $300m. How can any State Government be expected to raise this sort of money over the next 20 years. Quite clearly unless the Federal Government moves into this field there will be the serious collapse of the public hospital services that I mentioned before. The Liberal Party shirks this responsibility; a Labor Government would accept it as a moral responsibility to the Australian public.
We believe there is a need for rational planning and a rational approach to the provision of public hospital services throughout this nation. We fully appreciate that every $1 wasted through duplication or inefficiency is a double wastage because, if there is this duplication and inefficiency in one area, another aTea is being deprived of the expenditure of that amount of money and, accordingly, this causes a gap. So it is a double wastage which occurs and causes a problem. This calls for some sort of rational planning of national health services in Australia. T say ‘health services’ because it is more than a matter of merely providing hospitals in the community. We also need the services which are ancillary to them and which must be related directly to them. I am talking about health services in their totality for the total man. The Labor Party’s approach would be to establish a national health services commission which would work in conjunction and close co-operation with the States. It would set about establishing criteria on priority development of community health services according to need. It would identify standards in buildings, equipment, services and staff and this would be done in conjunction with the States. We would accept the commitment and do something about the critical situation which has arisen.
Ancillary to the development of hospitals on a regional basis would be the focussing of attention on community health centres. These would be centres which would provide a full range of preventive, diagnostic and curative services. They would be staffed by family doctors in private group practice. We would not try to coerce doctors to cooperate - we leave coercion to the Liberal Party which seems to have a special facility for it - but we would take steps to encourage doctors to staff the centres. This trend is already growing with group practices firstly because there are obvious economic advantages to the doctors and secondly because there are quite clearly advantages to the public. Not the least of these is that the centres would be developed rationally, set out conveniently for the public and related to the regional public hospital. The standard and adequacy of service would be greatly improved. The health centres would require the development of paramedical services as’ an ancillary part of the functioning of those centres. These services would include a home visiting nurse, a physiotherapist and a social worker. These are absolutely essential if we are going to provide comprehensive community health services for the public. The Labor Party would investigate ways in which assistance could be provided for the doctors operating these health centres to employ paramedical services for the benefit of the community.
I mentioned that we would proceed according to a rational plan. We have in mind a 10 year plan. Because I do not want to be misrepresented by the Minister or any of his colleagues I again specify that this would be done, in conjunction with the States. It would be 10 year planning because it takes 10 years from the start of talks about the hospital, to be built to the time the first patient is accepted into that hospital. That is why, I feel the situation today in relation to public hospitals is so critical that it is not a matter of deferring the problem for another 6 or 12 months and then saying maybe we will catch up with it. Hospitals are not built in 6 or 12 months, lt takes 10 years from the start of talks about a hospital to the final establishment of the hospital for the benefit of patients. Clearly what is required in Australia is some sort of commission of inquiry such as a Royal commission into the health services and needs of the Australian public, and this information would serve as the basis for the development of our programme. This has been done with great benefit to the Canadian people. I suggest this is far more desirable than the present system of supporting hospitals by a 5c visiting charge, the rattling of tins for appeals on busy streets, the running of cake stalls and beauty contests, raffles and art unions. They are all inefficient in their own way and a severe criticism of the scale of values of our public officials who allow this sort of thing to be perpetuated.
– The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) does not seem to have talked much about the matter he has raised, but I would like to take up his assertion about the critical state of affairs in the Australian hospitals system. Nobody would suggest that the hospital situation in Australia is perfect. I do not know of any country in which it is. But I do know from my own personal observations that the system under which we have provided hospital beds and hospital standards in Australia over the years has created a situation which is as good as any I have seen anywhere in the world. There is no parallel between this system and the United Kingdom situation - a system so admired by the Australian Labor Party - where everything is tax financed, where there is no contribution by the patient to hospitals and where for 20 years after the introduction of the national health service not one new hospital was built. It is only in the last couple of years that Britain has started to produce new hospitals again. This has produced a situation in which, unless a patient were in a critical state he might have to wait years to have, for instance, elective surgery done. This is what the system the Labor Party advocates has done in the United Kingdom. The average time to wait for a hernia operation in the United Kingdom is 5 years. This is the waiting time for almost any operation for any condition which will not kill the patient. This is the system they admire.
For all the theoretical deficiencies of our system in relation to planning and other aspects, that is not the situation we have in Australia. A patient can get a hospital bed of good standard1 and at the level he desires almost at will in Australia. This is the test of our hospital system, not these theoretical arguments about the way it is financed or the unproven assertions about lack of planning. I say that the system in Australia, developed primarily by the States but also by the Commonwealth, in regard to the hospital benefits scheme and other arrangements has produced hospital care of a very high standard in which people can get hospital attention when they require it and at the level they require it. I believe that the practical test of our hospital system shows it is much better than theoretically vague assertions such as those put forward by the Australian Labor Party suggest it is. There is no doubt that if Labor came into office and put into operation its proposals for a largely tax financed hospital system, with tax finance the only source of revenue of the hospital system, we would very quickly move to the situation existing in the United Kingdom. We really will be in trouble. People really will need to wait for hospital accommodation. We really will have to become concerned about the standards of hospital accommodation in Australia.
I am not surprised that the Australian Labor Party should seek to direct attention to the so-called inadequacies of the hospital system. I am not surprised at all, because what the Labor Party wants to do is to divert public attention from the very attractive new health benefits plan proposed by the Government which is enshrined in the legislation that I introduced into the House yesterday - a health benefits plan which on the medical side is so much better than the one that the Labor Party put forward last year on the basis of a scheme proposed by a couple of academic economists. The members of the Labor Party must raise a hue and cry now before our equally attractive arrangements in respect of hospitals are worked out after we have consulted fully with the States on the basis of the recommendations of the Commonwealth Committee of Inquiry on Health Insurance, commonly known as the Nimmo Committee. So, I pin this debate down for what it is: It is a political diversion by the Labor Party.
The essence of the matter of public importance raised for discussion is what is alleged to be our delay in implementing the recommendations of the Nimmo committee or discussing with the States the recommendations of that Committee with respect to the Commonwealth. Let me say this first: The responsibility of the Commonwealth is to the patient. Our approach, ever since the beginning of the insurance scheme, has been to assist the patient to meet the costs of hospital and medical treatment. That is, treatment provided by other people - in the case of medical treatment, by medical practitioners and, in the case of hospital treatment, by hospitals largely run by the State governments - in terms of priorities in respect of the patient. The welfare of the patient is the primary objective that the Government always has in mind.
The medical scheme in the mind of the Government had a much higher priority than the hospitals scheme for the very good reason that a considerable gap had developed between insurance rebates under the medical scheme and doctors’ bills. Patients were required to pay the amount of this gap out of their own pockets. In relation to the hospitals scheme, as everybody knows, provided a patient is insured adequately to the level which he desires, there is no gap. So, from the point of view of the patient, as far as the Government was concerned, the reconstruction of the medical scheme had a higher priority. A second point was the nature of the recommendations by the Nimmo Committee. I said that I would read out those recommendations. I will not read them out fully, but I think it worth pointing out to the House just what the recommendations of the Nimmo Committee are because it is implied in the way in which the Opposition has framed its request for the discussion of this matter of public importance - although the honourable member for Oxley, who has just spoken, in justice did put a qualification on it - that the Nimmo Committee in a way supported the approach of the Labor Party with respect to hospitals. In fact, it did no such thing.
– It certainly did not support what the Labor Party recommended and what the Labor Party is proposing, and that is-
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. Once again the Minister has misunderstood completely what has been said, although it was in simple language-
– Order! No point of order arises. The honourable member for Oxley will resume his seat. 1 call the Minister for Health.
– The Nimmo Committee certainly did not recommend what the Australian Labor Party recommended, and that is a large scale transfer of financial responsibility in respect of hospitals from the States to the Commonwealth. Indeed, in recommendation 5 of the Committee’s report, there are no fewer than 6 recommendations which involve the States accepting a significant responsibility, both financial and otherwise, in the interests of patients. It is not surprising in the light of those recommendations and in the light of the fact that the Nimmo Committee did not believe that a major transfer of financial responsibility or control should occur that the Australian Labor Party , should seek to transfer financial responsibility to the Commonwealth because it wants to get its lousy, dirty paws on the control of the hospitals system.
It is not surprising also in these circumstances that the States should desire time to consider their position, both individually and collectively. This was the outcome of the 1969 conference of Health Ministers. All Ministers at that conference agreed that we should meet and that Commonwealth and State officials should meet when we and they were ready. The States wished to consider their position in relation to the recommendations of the Nimmo Committee. We wanted to consider our position. The States wanted to discuss amongst themselves, when they considered their individual position, where they stood. That was done. In the natural course of events, a meeting took place, as I mentioned in reply to a question from the honourable member for Oxley, on 2nd April of this year. These meetings will continue.
Thirdly, in relation to recommendations of this type, the attitudes of the States are very much influenced by the position of Commonwealth-State financial relations as a whole. It would be surprising - indeed, it would be irresponsible - if decisions were taken on recommendations of the type made by the Nimmo Committee before negotiations in relation to the new financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States were commenced and conducted in June as is proposed. Indeed, this very much affects the attitudes of the States to recommendations of the type made by the Nimmo Committee. Finally - and this is vitally important - the States themselves to my knowledge have not asked at any time, with one exception, for direct Commonwealth financial assistance for their hospital systems. The one exception is in relation to the amount that the Commonwealth pays for the hospitalising of pensioner patients. We pay $5 per day. The States would like us to pay more. This is the subject of one of the recommendations of the Nimmo Committee.
The honourable member for Oxley completely misrepresented the position in respect of the assistance that the Commonwealth has been giving on a continuing basis to the State hospitals systems. He misrepresented lt because he referred only to the $2 per day Commonwealth benefit from the insurance system. In fact, this is only one element in the assistance that flows to the State hospitals system from the Commonwealth through the insurance scheme and by more direct methods. So much so that 1 am able to inform the House that the Australian hospital system has benefited as a result of the action of the Commonwealth in this respect by no fewer than S183m in 1968-69 which is an increase from the $69m spent in .1960-61. In addition to that, under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme the States benefited in 1968-69 by SI 7m. This is not inconsiderable. It represents a very different picture from that painted by the honourable member for Oxley.
I want to make this point: Even in the last couple of years while we have been considering the recommendations of the Nimmo Committee we have introduced new proposals which have benefited greatly the funds which have flowed to the State hospitals systems. I refer to such things as the long term hospitalisation proposals, the increase in our payment for pensioner patients from $3.50 a day to $5, the subsidised hospitalisation scheme, and the intensive care benefit for nursing homes which has reduced the strain on hospital beds. Finally, this matter of urgency is indicative to me of the innate desire of the Labor Party to ride roughshod over the responsibilities of the States. It indicates .the willingness of the Labor Party to rush into ill considered proposals, as it did in office when it coerced the States into making arrangements which meant that patients could not get a hospital bed.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I would like to deal with one or two of the comments made by the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes). Firstly he made the bland assertion that hospitals in Australia are as good as any elsewhere in the world. I do not think there is much to this point. I do not know how this could be proved one way or the other. I would guess, from my reading, that hospitals in a place like Sweden would be rather better than ours. I suspect that many of the leading institutions in the United States of America have better standards than have Australian hospitals. On the other hand I concede that there would be some areas in the United States where the standards would not be as good as they are here.
The position in the United Kingdom is difficult to judge. If one judges it just on buildings, then the Minister might be quite correct in claiming that in the 20 years following the introduction of the national health scheme in that country no new hospitals had been provided. The simple reason, which he seems to forget, is that the national health scheme was financed and run by a Conservative Government which had no intention of doing anything about this aspect of health care. The explanation that this lack of building is somehow the fault of the Labor Party in Britain is quite erroneous. It is the direct responsibility of the Conservative Government. Although it is recognised in every country that hospitals built in these days are built at government expense, there was a direct policy decision by the Conservative Government in Britain not to build hospitals.
It is very difficult to judge the claim that there is a 5-year waiting period for patients who want a hernia operation. Before accepting that claim I would like to see it published in the medical Press. I would not believe it if it were merely a matter of gossip. I would be interested to learn whether a welt-known medical author stated this as a criticism of the health scheme in Britain. In any case, the Australian Labor Party is not advocating the British health scheme. We have a rather distinct scheme and an approach different to that of the British. I do not think we should be lumbered with that scheme, anyway.
The Minister said that it was the concern of the Government to help patients meet their medical costs. Since he considered the cost of the doctors’ bills has become more pressing on the community than have hospital bills, he felt that the first priority was the medical scheme. I cannot see why both the hospital and the medical1 schemes cannot be dealt with at the same time. I will not deny that the medical scheme is important. We of the Labor Party are suggesting that the difficulties of the hospitals also are important.
The Minister also commented on the fact that recommendation No. 5 of the Nimmo Committee indicated that the States had to bear their share of the responsibility. The Committee did not suggest a take-over by the Commonwealth of all financial responsibility. Let us stop playing with words. The Nimmo Committee report suggested 5 or 6 different ways in which conditions in public hospitals could be stabilised so that fees would not rise and so on. But who is fooling whom? If the cost of running hospitals goes up and if we do not expect patients to pay more directly, where the blazes are the State governments to get the money from? Quite clearly it will have to be paid out by the Commonwealth Government. The Minister can have it whichever way he likes; 1 do not mind. The fact is that increased taxation revenue will have to be provided to run State hospitals.
Money, money, money, money; that is all one hears when the hospital crisis in Australia is discussed. I am not suggesting that there is no crisis. Of course there is a crisis. It is a reflection of the rapidly increasing cost of highly technical and specialised medical care. It is not that doctors are extravagant or that hospitals are inefficient; the crisis has come about because patients or potential patients, such as other honourable members and I. are demanding increased standards of medical care, particularly in the public hospital sector. This demand is not just a whim of the Labor Party or of the Red raggers. It is what all of us expect. In fact, there is the same trend elsewhere in the world. The Minister also pointed this out and I do not deny it.
Briefly, I suggest that this crisis could be minimised if the Government recognised that the present financial arrangements are extremely wasteful. If one analyses the finances of the hospitals one finds that taxation of one sort or another provides almost 90% of their income. This figure is arrived at by including the taxation contribution that is provided via the States. It is of no good to say that that is not a Commonwealth contribution. I admit it is not a direct contribution; it is an indirect one because the States get their money from nowhere but the Federal Government. They do not get it from outer space. Added to that form of contribution is the money provided by the Commonwealth by way of benefits or direct grants, and then there are the so-called voluntary benefit contributions. It is said that they are voluntary, but how voluntary are they? If a person who does not belong to a so-called voluntary benefit organisation becomes ill and has to go to hospital, he cannot claim the Commonwealth contribution although he has already paid for it by way of taxation. So there is nothing voluntary about the scheme at all. If all these payments are added together it is really the Commonwealth Government which provides, through taxation revenue, 89% of the running expenses of public hospitals. The figure is near enough to 90%.
I shall make one suggestion which would improve the situation without increasing the payment from the pockets of the people. After all, this is the important thing, lt is of no good saying that something would be cheaper for the Government. The important question is this: What is cheaper for the community? Without increasing the pay-out from the individual’s pocket but simply by eliminating the administrative expenses of the voluntary benefit funds, the Government could save the community an enormous amount of money. The Nimmo Committee indicated at page 45 of its report that administrative expenses amount to from 11% to 13% of the contribution income of the various benefit organisations. This amounts to at least $10m a year, which is not a bad sum. The Minister commented in his speech to the effect that the House was not discussing the Nimmo report. He said that the Nimmo report did not back the Labor Party. I draw his attention to some of the comments which appear at page 70 of that report where it refers to a comparison of the Canadian and Australian systems. I will read some extracts from this section of the report. The second recommendation of the Committee includes these words: employer deduction of health insurance premiums from employees’ pay is of great value in reducing the cost of collecting premiums and in saving employees from suffering loss of coverage through omission to pay contributions;
The Government does that now in the field of income tax. What the Committee actually says in this respect is that direct taxation is the best way of collecting the money. It means nothing else. The next point I refer to in the report reads: competition for membership between insurance organisations adds considerably to the cost of providing a health insurance service and for this reason is being terminated in the Canadian system:
The corollary, of course, is that there should be no competitive organisations. There should be a national health insurance scheme run by the Government. There is no doubt about that. Of course, the Committee could not say that because under its terms of reference ils recommendations had to be within the framework of voluntary health insurance. The economies effected in reducing administrative expenses by simply paying the money direct to the hospitals instead of having patients pay the fees and having the hospitals send out accounts and fill in forms for patients would lead to an enormous improvement in the financial circumstances of the hospitals without taking one cent extra from the pockets of the community. Surely this is what we are talking about. To dwell on the virtues of a scheme simply because it is qualified by the word ‘voluntary’ is sheer nonsense and humbug. The reality of the matter is that the money has to come out of our pockets. We should be seeking the most efficient way of doing this without increasing the cost to the community. We can do it by making sure that the hospitals get their money with a minimum of administrative complication.
– I rise to express my utter amazement at what has been put to this House this afternoon by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) and supported - somewhat reluctantly, 1 would think, to judge by his expression - by the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass). The honourable member for Maribyrnong said that the Opposition proposes amendments to the whole operation of our hospitals system without any extra cost to the patient. What an extraordinary proposition. It followed the assertion by the honourable member for Oxley that the Commonwealth was shirking its responsibilities in the financing of public hospitals in this country. The Opposition is so devoid of something positive to put to the Parliament and the nation that it is now grasping at straws. It is completely lacking in fertile ideas, and this on the day following the introduction into this House of the Government’s proposals for a revolutionary and progressive overhaul of our medical benefits system. Those proposals flow directly from the recommendations of the Nimmo Committee.
Let me analyse briefly one or two of the points that have been made in the debate. The honourable member for Oxley claimed that the real crisis in our hospitals is in the field of maintenance costs. He made some vague reference to the need for more buildings, but the substance of his argument with regard to the problems which exist - we do not deny that there are problems - was that the present system should be changed. He gave details of the deficits of our hospitals. He referred to the situation in New South Wales, Victoria and other Slates. His remarks were an admission that he does not know how hospitals are financed. He does not appreciate the relationship between capital costs and maintenance costs. If he is prepared to speak without ascertaining the situation in our public hospitals with regard to costs it is a pity to see him on the front bench representing the alternative government of this country. I think we on this side of the House are aware that his deficiencies are pretty extensive. His remarks come as no surprise to us.
On the subject of hospital deficits I would point out that it has been traditional for costs that might occur between budgets and between adjustments in benefits under the national health scheme to be part of the financial responsibility of the States. Certainly the States always ask for more money but they, like everybody else who understands the system, know that the deficiency is met from the funds that flow to the States under the Commonwealth’s general revenue grants to meet not only these but similar administrative costs in the States. A similar situation applies with respect to education and all other things that go to make up State rights. Is it to be suggested that we have a great nationalised scheme? Of course it is as far as the Opposition is concerned.
The fact that the only positive proposition put forward by the honourable member for Oxley was a community health centre system is evidence of the Opposition’s desire completely to nationalise every aspect of health and hospital administration in Australia.
– You do not know Labor’s policy.
– At least I go to the trouble of informing myself about Labor’s policy. The Opposition has failed lamentably to understand the Government’s policy. Let me deal with the community health centres proposed by the Opposition. These -would be medical clinics that would eliminate the present doctor and patient relationship. This is the kind of proposition that has been seen to fail in the United Kingdom under its national health scheme. It is the kind of iniquitous proposition that would remove from the Australian scene the family doctor approach - the patientdoctor relationship which is so much a part of the Australian way of life. Under Labor’s proposal people would became mere numbers on index cards. A general practitioner would be rostered to attend patient A or patient Z, as the case may be.
I noted that the honourable member for Maribyrnong did not refer at length to this aspect. After all, he has a professional background. I suppose he does not want to be seen to act in 2 roles. He wants to try to hide quietly in the background some aspects of the policy of the Party of which he is now a member- a Party in which he pretends in certain circumstances to be a leading member. I wish he would come forward and be honest about the matter. Then we would see him exposed just as we saw the honourable member for Oxley exposed this afternoon. The proposals advanced by the honourable member for Oxley with regard to health and medical services are hopeless. I think it is very clear to all honourable members, and certainly to the community at large, that the Opposition does not have a health policy. To elaborate on that submission I would take the speeches made by the honourable member for Oxley and the honourable member for Maribyrnong and analyse them point by point. The honourable members have ignored the way in which the present system operates and, more seriously, have Ignored completely the Nimmo Committee’s report and the Government’s statements to date on that report.
I pay a tribute to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) for his patience this afternoon. He was a little outspoken at one stage, but justifiably so, because he had to draw the attention of the Opposition to the fact that at this very moment recommendation No. 5 of the Nimmo Committee is before the States for their comment. This is clear and positive. It was not referred to by the honourable member for Oxley. The recommendation reads:
That under the Commonwealth-State agreement, the States be asked to undertake that -
standard ward accommodation will be available to every member of the community regardless of means,
intermediate and private ward accommodation will be available at the choice of patients,
fees for all wards will be stabilised for periods of 3 years.
Those are 3 positive recommendations under the heading ‘Commonwealth-State Agreement’ which the States have been asked to consider. It is not for this Government to rush in and say: ‘This is the final thing. This is what will be done.’ The States should have an opportunity to consider the whole range of recommendations in the Nimmo report and then to discuss them with the Commonwealth.. The honourable member for Maribyrnong said: ‘Well, why deal only with certain aspects . of medical benefits at this stage. Why not deal with the hospital situation as well? Let us deal with it all at once.’ What justification has the honourable member for making that claim? If we look at what he put forward we find that he did not give any reasons at all for suggesting that this approach be adopted. All he proposed was a complete tearing up of a very satisfactory scheme that has operated very well for a long time and one which has lifted the standards of hospitals in this nation to a very high level indeed.
– The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) has said that in Australia patients can obtain a bed almost at will at any level at which they desire. I have not tried to get any beds in Sydney lately but it is not many years since I was in practice there and it was quite a common procedure in the western suburbs where I was practising that when a patient had acute appendicitis we bad to ring the 3 nearest hospitals and if, as happened 3 times out of 4, they had no beds available we then had to ring up the hospitals admission officer who was on duty day and night in the city of Sydney. This man would say: T can get you a bed at such and such a hospital’. It usually happened to be a hospital about an hour’s drive by ambulance - the Prince Henry Hospital or the Royal North Shore Hospital. The result, of course, was that patients went completely out of the ken of the doctor who had been looking after them whenever they had to be admitted to hospital. These were acute patients in immediate need of beds. It was not many years before that time that I heard of a patient who had to be flown to Newcastle to have his appendix out.
I do not know what the position is in other States. However, I do know that in Queensland the one State that does have the Australian Labor Party system of hospital beds, with public beds available to everybody without having to undergo a means test, there is no shortage of such beds. The Minister has made much of saying that when the Labor Party’s scheme conies in there will be a longer wait for beds. This has caught him out in the lie direct. There is no such thing as waiting for a bed in the one State which has implemented the Labor Party scheme to make available free beds to those who want them. In fact the figures for the number of available beds show that Queensland has more per head of population than all the other States. All this talk about comparing the United Kingdom has nothing to do with our policy or with Government policy. It is a red herring. The Government is very fond of accusing the Labor Party of dragging in red herrings by comparing with a scheme in Canada or some other country any aspect of the health scheme. This is the one aspect which we are discussing today and it is one on which the Minister’s argument falls down. With regard to the attitude of the people of the United Kingdom to their health scheme - I am not saying that complacent people are always correct - they are fairly satisfied over there, according to gallup polls, while only a minority are satisfied in this country. In the national opinion polls questions were put to the people in the United Kingdom between 10th and 15th
December of last year and . 78% of the people were satisfied with’ the national health service as it then Was,
The Minister said also that there had been no building of hospitals in the United Kingdom over the last 20 years until the last couple of years. As a . matter of fact the extensive building programme goes back 5 or 6 years and it is increasing; it is increasing under a Labour government. The hospitals were allowed, to stagnate and run down at a time when there was economic neglect on the part of the preceding government. So this is bo argument against the British health scheme. The Minister has said that a largely tax financed system must bring us to a condition like the United Kingdom, and yet I have demonstrated that this is completely denied by the experience of Queensland. The Minister seems to think that when he has considered the Nimmo proposals and come up with his remedies they will fix everything. He said that the Government scheme will be equally as attractive for hospitals as is the Labor scheme. That is all very nice to say as a sweeping statement, but the Nimmo Committee concerned itself purely with costs and finance. As the honourable member for Maribyrnong has just told us, this is not health; finance is not health; insurance is not health and government is not health. We need a little more than what the Nimmo report can give us if we are to have adequate hospital and health care in this country.
In answer to a question I put to the Minister yesterday he said: ‘
It would be utterly irresponsible of the Government to make a decision in respect of one of those recommendations without making a decision in relation to all of them. Therefore the Government will wait until consultations wilh the Stales have been completed. ….
In other words the Government cannot improve the hospital benefits scheme until it has improved the health scheme altogether. The honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) accused the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) of wanting to bring in all these things together. He says that this is impracticable. The Minister said during question time yesterday that it was irresponsible to bring in proposals in bits and pieces. Who is correct? Who expresses Government policy? As a ‘matter of fact the Minister himself is quite wrong because he has already brought in part of the Nimmo Committee proposals. It is quite practicable to implement, the proposal of the Nimmo Report which says that Queensland should cease to have placed on it the penalty of having only an 80c subsidy per bed for people who are not insured for treatment in Queensland hospitals. The Nimmo Report states, that Queensland should have the same $2 subsidy as every State has. This proposal can be implemented now without any irresponsibility on the part of the Government. Indeed it is irresponsible not to implement it. It is irresponsible to continue to penalise Queensland at the rate of a couple of million dollars a year for something that is based purely on a Liberal philosophy because Queensland does not put a means test on the people who go into public beds, and because a patient does not choose to insure himself against public bed care for which he will not be charged anyway. Yet the Government continues to penalise and it says that this is a responsible attitude.
The Minister said that the States have to consider the Nimmo proposals among themselves before the council of Health Ministers can act any further on this scheme. I would like to ask the Minister whether the State Health Ministers met on this. We have had the Nimmo Report for a good many months now. Recently we had a Federal election. I would like to know when the Minister met with these State Health Ministers. My information is that he did not meet with them until this month and that in fact they were waiting on his Director-General to call them together. This is the information that I received from an official of one of the State governments. Did it ever occur to the Minister that the State Health Ministers would not confer and bring matters to him white they were waiting for him to convene this conference and that they had not got together? According to this official they had not got together before they met with officials of the Minister’s own Department.
I want to deal with a few specific matters of specific types of hospital neglect. I want to put it that the Minister himself has said: lt does seem inevitable that medical services will become more and more hospital centred.
That comment was reported in the ‘Australian’ of 18th March 1969. The Minister was addressing a meeting of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. A former Liberal member who was one of the most outspoken opponents of what he himself called socialisation of medicine and nationalisation of medicine is not here now because he seemed to be a little bit extreme in his views. I am speaking of the former honourable member for Bowman, Dr Wylie Gibbs, who said repeatedly that we need a central control and planning of hospitals. He took fine care to say that he did not want medicine to be socialised or nationalised but he said that there must be a central planning commission. This is Labor’s policy. In some weird way the honourable member believed that there was no socialisation in his scheme. He is reported in the ‘Australian’ on 12th September 1968 as asking for this scheme, and he spoke on 6th November 1968 in this House along the same lines. He has espoused what we have espoused to meet the needs of hospitals. I spoke about this on 22nd August 1968.
We see complaints almost weekly in our newspapers about delays in the outpatients department of hospitals. On the 2nd of this month the ‘Age’ reported: ‘Hospital Crisis; Patients Sent Away.’ On the 8th of this month the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ has this report: ‘Nurses Criticised Living Quarters.’ We have heard recently talks of a strike and nurses refusing to do anything except nursing duties. But the Minister says it is not a criSiS, that things are all hunky-dory. I could also mention the care that is given to old people and the mentaly ill.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, we have had this afternoon a clear example of the intention of the Opposition to waste the time of the House by raising for discussion a matter of public importance and then not talking about that matter. I will bring the discussion back to the subject. The words the Opposition has used are these:
The grave financial needs of Australian public hospital services and the failure of the Federal Government to respond to this need in spite of the recommendations of the Nimmo report 12 months ago.
This shows two things. First of all it shows that Opposition members have no idea really how the hospitals of this country are organised. Secondly, they have no idea of the method of the financing of the hospitals. The Nimmo report had nothing to say to us on this aspect except to ask the Commonwealth and the States to co-operate in working out improvements, which are always possible, in the hospital system that we have. I will come back to that a little later.
Two honourable members from Queensland spoke in this debate. One of them made great play of the fact that Queensland considers it has been badly treated because it does not receive the $2 a day that is paid by the Commonwealth for insured patients. The Nimmo Committee recommended that this amount should be paid. The honourable member said that it could be clone straight away. Of course it could be done straight away; but would it be right to do it straight away? Would it be right to give Queensland some compensations for all along having thrown a spanner in the works of the health scheme of this country by not joining the Commonwealth in an endeavour to provide this country with a really workable hospital and medical scheme - a total health scheme - which will give the people of Australia the service that we believe they deserve? I have repeatedly claimed in this House that this is the best system in the world, and it remains the best system in the world. I do not mean by this that it is perfect. The medical side was improved by the Bill that was introduced by the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) only yesterday. The problems on the medical side are much more urgent than are the undoubted hospital problems.
The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), who raised this matter, made a point of saying that the States are in an impossible situation, that they have reached the stage where they are about to snap, and that hospitals are one of the key points. He then went on to refer to other matters. He mentioned New South Wales. In relation to Queensland he said that the nonpaying public wards had serious shortcomings. We have just heard the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) say that Queensland has no problems because of a system that was introduced by a
Labor Government some years ago and is still in operation. I will now quote from a newspaper, although certainly it is a couple of years old. One of the experts writing about public hospitals said:
The Queensland hospital system is unique. There is no clamour for reform, no lini-.ni.ial muddle to be unravelled every year or so and then hastily forgotten . . .
The reason for this sublime state of affairs is simple: hospital treatment in Queensland is free, and has been since 1946 when the Labor Government in power introduced the present system.
Vet the honourable member who raised this matter said that the Queensland system has serious shortcomings and he asked for something to be done about it on an overall scale. Another honourable member from Queensland wants another $2m a year to bolster up a scheme that is not giving the people of Queensland anything like the service that is given to people in other States.
I refute completely the implication in this matter of public importance that any Cust could possibly be made to criticise what the Commonwealth Government is doing. The responsibility for handling the hospital side of the health scheme is inherently and inevitably in the province of the States. The States provide approximately 50% of the actual running costs of the hospital system. In Victoria and New South Wales the figure could be slightly less; in some of the other States it is slightly more, The Commonwealth has the responsibility of seeing that the people have the opportunity to get the best service from hospitals that we can provide. This point was made very strongly by the Minister for Health, who is extremely conscious of the whole situation.
The honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) said that the system in Sweden is better than ours. Possibly some hospitals are better but. taken overall, I prefer the Australian system, which is bared on a contributory scheme.- It can still be improved and it will be improved when the Minister introduces legislation to give effect to the other half of the recommendations in the Nimmo report. What the Minister has in mind is his responsibility to carry out the promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), first of all when he wah elected to that office and later in various speeches, including policy speeches, that the Government intends .to . see. to it that the best possible health service is provided for the people who are in need. This is being done. We are providing the opportunity for people to set aside something out of their earnings towards hospital costs. Everybody is subject to illness and may have to seek hospital or medical treatment. Surely it is up to us to supply some of the costs out of our own pockets. The Labor Party would put it on a taxation basis and everybody would think it was free. But anything that is free becomes worthless, and that is what would happen under Labor’s administration of a scheme which nobody regarded as having any responsible backing. But if people are paying their way and are being helped considerably by enormous amounts contributed by the Commonwealth Government, the scheme has far more chance of success. I remind the House that in the great majority of health benefit tables a refund is made of the total amount of the hospital bill. Some ancillary charges may have to be paid that- are perhaps not part of the hospital bill. A lot of people are in the habit of over insuring themselves to cover these extra charges. The opportunity to do so is there if they want it.
It is only now that measures- are being provided to enable people on the lower income scale to have their hospitalisation and medical treatment handled by the health benefits . organisations, which is the best way of handling it. And it will cost them nothing. The proposal before the House implies that, the Federal Government has failed to respond to the needs of these people. The Federal Government has gone out of its way to carry out the promise given by the Prime Minister. This side of the House thoroughly supports the Minister for Health in trying to shape a very much better scheme for the people than they now have. I maintain, and will continue to maintain, that the system that we have at present is so good that anybody who would look to the Socialist health schemes of England and Canada as a means of improving it just does not understand the interpretation of the individualistic spirit of the Australian people.
The discussion is now concluded.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time
This Bill is designed to give effect under Australian law to the Tokyo Convention on offences and other acts committed on board international aircraft and to approve the accession by Australia to the Convention. This Convention was prepared at a diplomatic conference held in Tokyo in 1963 under the auspices of the International’ Civil Aviation Organisation. The terms of the Convention provide that it should come into force when ratified by 12 signatory States. Australia is not a signatory. The Convention is, however, open to accession by non-signatories, and this Bill when enacted will provide the necessary legal basis for Australia to accede. The Government intends that the formal steps to accede to the Convention will be taken as soon as the Bill is passed.
It will be convenient to deal first with the main provisions of the Convention, the English text of which is contained in the schedule to the Bill. For practical purposes, the application of the Convention is confined to civil aircraft, registered in a contracting State, while engaged in international flights. It will be noted that the Convention is expressed not to apply to aircraft used in military, customs or police activities. Next, the Convention enunciates the principle that the state in which an aircraft is registered has jurisdiction over offences committed on board the aircraft while in flight; in other words, it establishes a flag law for aircraft. States other than the state of registration may not interfere with an aircraft in flight in order to exercise criminal jurisdiction, except in the cases set out in Article 4. The cases set out in that Article which seem most likely to be of practical significance are offences against the security of the state wishing to exercise jurisdiction, offences committed by or against a national of that state, and offences against the regulations in force in that state relating to the flight or manoeuvre of aircraft. The Convention then deals, in Chapter III, with the power of the commander of an aircraft in flight to deal with persons committing, or about to commit, offences or acts on board the aircraft likely to endanger the safety of the aircraft, or of persons or property on it. Article 6 empowers the commander to take whatever reasonable steps are necessary in the circumstances to restrain offending conduct. That article authorises the commander to require assistance of the crew and to request, but not require, the assistance of passengers in enforcing reasonable preventive measures.
Where measures have been taken against a person on board, the commander is empowered to disembark or deliver that person to the competent authorities of the state. The commander is also required to report to those authorities the reasons for the disembarkation or delivery. Complementary powers and duties in respect of persons so dealt with are conferred on contracting states by Chapter V of the Convention. I propose to deal with the manner in which these powers are to be exercised and duties performed in the Commonwealth and its Territories when discussing the substantive clauses of the Bill. The Convention also provides that the aircraft commander, a crew member, a passenger, the owner or operator of the aircraft shall not be legally liable for anything done in execution of the powers conferred by the Convention. This immunity extends only to acts reasonably done in the execution of such powers. The Convention also deals, to a limited extent, with the consequences of an unlawful seizure of an aircraft - a ‘hijacking’ as it is commonly called. For the first time there is imposed on the contracting states a positive obligation to restore control of a hijacked aircraft to its lawful commander or to preserve his control of the aircraft as the case may be. Each state undertakes to permit passengers and crew to continue their journey as soon as practicable and to return the aircraft and its cargo to the persons entitled to possession of it.
As honourable members will be aware, there is already some Commonwealth legislation relating to offences on aircraft. I refer to the Crimes (Aircraft) Act 1963. That Act establishes Commonwealth jurisdiction over aircraft registered in Australia when engaged in interstate and international Rights. The Act provides the penal law - namely, the criminal law of the Australian Capital Territory - that is to apply on aircraft registered in Australia and on foreign aircraft within Australia or, in some cases, in areas adjacent to Australia. The Crimes (Aircraft) Act also creates offences of hijacking and of destroying an aircraft. That Act. however, does not give all the powers required by the Tokyo Convention nor does it provide for the inquiries required by the Convention. These matters are specifically dealt with in this Bill.
Clause 5 of the Bill provides for approval to be given for Australia to accede to the Tokyo Convention. Clause 6 will give the force of law in Australia to the provisions of Chapter III and of paragraph I of Article 16 of the Convention. As 1 have indicated, the provisions of Chapter III of the Convention confer on the commander of an aircraft power to take reasonable measures against persons on board who endanger the safety of his aircraft or of persons aboard, or who interfere with good order and discipline aboard, and powers to deal with such persons after landing. Paragraph 1 of Article 16 provides that offences on aircraft are to be treated as if they had been committeed not only in the place in which they have occurred but also in the territory of the state of registration of the aircraft.
By clause 7 of the Bill a person authorised by the Minister is empowered to take into custody a person delivered to him by an aircraft commander where, in the opinion of the aircraft commander, there are reasonable grounds for believing that the person has committed on board the aircraft an act which was a serious offence according to the penal law of the state of registration. That clause also requires that the person taken into custody be brought before a magistrate as soon as practicable to be dealt with in the manner provided in clause 1 3 of the Bill.
Clause 8 confers authority on persons authorised by the Minister to take such action as is necessary to restore a hijacked aircraft to the control of its lawful commander and enables a person who has committed or has attempted to commit an act of interference, seizure, or other wrongful exercise of control of an aircraft in flight, to be taken into custody and brought before a magistrate as soon as practicable to bc dealt with in the manner provided in clause 13 of the Bill. The procedure to be followed by a magistrate in a preliminary inquiry in accordance with article 13 of the Convention is set out in clause 10 of the Bill. The inquiry prescribed by article 13 of the Convention is an inquiry into the facts surrounding either the hijacking of an aircraft or the delivery by an aircraft commander of a person who has committed a serious offence against the penal law of the state of registration of the aircraft. The preliminary inquiry will be initiated by a notice in writing by the Minister or a person authorised by him, authorising a magistrate to hold the inquiry. The record of the inquiry is to be sent to the Attorney-General. Provisions are contained in clauses 3 and 18 of the Bill for arrangements tei be made by the Governor-General with the Governor of a State for the performance by magistrates of the State of the functions of a magistrate under the Bill.
Clause 11 of the Bill enables the deportation procedures of the Migration Act to be used in respect of persons who have been ‘delivered’ or ‘disembarked’ by an aircraft commander or who have been involved in an illegal seizure of an aircraft in flight. The application of the Migration Act for the purposes of deportation has been used as a means of giving effect to the power contained in article 14 of the Convention of ‘returning’ persons who have been delivered’ or ‘disembarked’ by an aircraft commander or who have been involved in illegal seizure of an aircraft in flight. The manner in which a magistrate is to deal with a person taken into custody under clause 7 of the Bill (that is, a ‘delivered’ person within the wording of the Bill) or under clause 8 (a person involved in illegal seizure of an aircraft) is regulated by the provisions of clause 13 of the Bill. Clause 13 provides the necessary machinery to enable those persons who have been taken into custody and against .whom criminal proceedings or extradition proceedings or deportation proceedings are contemplated to be retained in custody or on bail under the authority of a magistrate.
An important safeguard is provided in clause 16 of the Bill for a person who has been taken into custody pursuant to the provisions of clauses 7 and 8 of the Bill. Clause 16 enables the Supreme Court of the State or Territory where a person has been in custody for not less than 2 months from the date that his remand in custody commenced or the date of a decision of a Court in respect of an application for a writ of habeas corpus, whichever is the later, to order his release unless reasonable cause is shown for the delay in prosecuting proceedings against him.
Clauses 9 and .17 of the Bill deal with the conditions and the treatment of persons held in custody pursuant to the provisions of the Bill. These clauses also deal with the retaking of a person who escapes from lawful custody and with the transfer of persons in custody from one place of confinement to another. Clauses 15 and 19 are evidentiary provisions designed to facilitate proof of certain matters of fact that may be relevant in proceedings associated with the performance of Australia’s obligations under the Convention. A regulation making power is provided in clause 20 of the Bill. It enables regulations to be made for the purpose of giving effect to the Bill or the Convention. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Charles Jones) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 5 March (vide page 149), on motion by Mr Killen:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I move:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: whilst welcoming the extended scope for grants offered by the Bill, the House is of opinion -
that the clauses of the Bill relating to credit unions should be redrafted to give credit union savings complete and unconditional recognition under the Act;
that the restored benefit provided by the Bill in respect of those persons who were previously ineligible because their savings were not in a designated Homes Savings Account should be dated to commence from 31st December. 1967; and
that an applicant should, where necessary, have the right on appeal to have land and dwelling-house valued by a Government Valuer of the Commonwealth Taxation Office’.
This Government stands condemned for the humbug and hypocrisy it has displayed in taking so long to bring this legislation before the House. The Government made an election pledge to increase from $15,000 to $17,500 the maximum limit of grant under the homes savings grant scheme for the purchase of land and the building of a dwelling. The Government could have easily brought this legislation forward last November when the Parliament assembled after the October election. There is no valid reason why the increased limit was not introduced at that time. Evidence was given to this House in a Grievance debate on 1st May 1969 in a speech I made pointing out that it was impossible within the metropolitan areas, and particularly the metropolitan area of Sydney, due to the increase in the price of land for the land and dwelling together in most cases to cost less than SI 5,000.
To give honourable members some idea of the cost of land in respective areas I would like to cite prices in Labor voting areas. At Fairfield land has increased from $2,000 in 1959 to $6,000 last year. The cost of land at Merrylands also increased from $2,000 in 1959 to $6,000 in 1969. In the area where I live at Guildford, the cost of land has increased from $2,000 to $6,500. The examples F have given are for Labor voting areas. For a young couple in these areas to be eligible for a grant under the Homes Savings Grant Act they must build a home for well less than $10,000. They would have to build a home costing about $9,000 or even less to be covered under the present scheme which has a limit of $15,000. This was the position at the last Budget. But the Government would not take the advice that was given as early as May of 1969.
Let me explain still further. Let us look at the position of the growing areas and new areas that are represented by members on the other side of the House. We find, for instance, the cost of land at Frenchs Forest has increased from $3,000 in 1959 to $9,500 in 1969. This means that to qualify for the grant at the moment a person would have to build a house worth not more than $5,500. The average price for a block of land at Pennant Hills in 1959 was $3,000 but rose to $9,600 in 1969. At St Ives it has also risen to astronomical heights. It rose from $4,100 to $17,500 over the same period, and at Belrose it rose from $2,000 in 1959 to $9,600. in 1969.
These figures were disclosed in a survey by a prominent writer for the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’, Mr Glascott. He wrote 3 articles from 5th to 7th November 1969 about a survey of land prices between 1959 and 1969. The average price for a block of land in Sydney today is $6,800. My colleague, the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson), will deal with the inflation of land prices in Perth, and other members from other States will deal with the price of land in their States. Because of the way land prices have risen this legislation should have been brought forward during the last Budget session. The evidence was available. It is now 6 months after the Government made its election promise that this thimble and pea legislation has been introduced.
I brand the legislation as inadequate for 2 reasons. Firstly, the grant of $500 is given with one hand and taken away with the other by sleight of hand; I am dealing only with land and building values and the burden of interest repayments during the period from October 196? to April 1970, that is, from the time that the Government made its pledge at election time in October of last year to increase the value of the home for which a grant may be paid, to April of 1970. I will later deal with the period from the inception of the homes savings scheme in May 1964 to April 1970.
By increasing the interest rate on a $15,000 housing loan over a 15-year period from 5% to 5£% the total amount to be repaid would be increased by $711. The monthly repayments would be increased from $118 to $122, an increase of about $4 per month. If the interest rate was increased from 8% to 8i% - and a great number of persons are at present paying this interest charge - the repayments on the same loan over the same period would be increased by $785. The monthly repayments would be increased from $143.35 to $147.71, an increase of $4.36 per month. If the $15,000 loan was to be repaid over a period of 25 years and the interest rate was increased from 5% to 51%, the increase in total repayments would be $1,327, or an additional $4.42 a month. If the increase in interest charges was from 8% to 84% on the $15,000 loan over 25 years the borrower would have to repay an additional $1,504, or $5.01 additional a month. To provide honourable members with further details I have had a .table- compiled by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library
Legislative Research Service. With the concurrence of honourable members 1 incorporate this table in Hansard.
Before I proceed Jet me deal with a question that the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Mclvor) asked the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) during question time this afternoon. The honourable member for Gellibrand was dealing with the increase of one-half of 1% in the interest rate for housing loans. He asked in part: . . why is there discrimination against persons securing finance through banking and other private institutions?
In other words, he was asking whether an increased repayments burden was being placed on home purchasers. The Prime Minister said that there would be no extra payment but that the total time of repayment would be extended. I interjected and said: ‘Another penal provision’. But the Prime Minister did not comprehend. He does not realise that increasing the interest on a $15,000 housing loan over 15 years from 5% to 5i% will cost the borrower another $711 in repayments whether the time is extended or not. If the loan over that same period was for half that amount the repayments would be increased by at least $400. Over 25 yearsthis is the period over which most homes are paid off - repayments would be increased by more than $1,300. The Prime Minister cannot comprehend that this is a penal provision that affects the ordinary worker. It is about time this Government understood the penal provisions that it is placing on the ordinary person and on the young people. Later I will give some examples of how this legislation operates and I will give some of the historical background of the legislation.
My second reason for branding this Bill as a thimble and pea act is the proposal to deny the request by the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues for the inclusion of credit unions as approved institutions under the homes savings grant scheme. An examination of the proposed conditions for acceptance under the scheme clearly exposes the Government’s real intentions. The Government had no consultation with the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues prior to the drafting of this legislation, nor did it consider the New South Wales legislation which sets out the conditions under which credit unions may function. In his second reading speech the Minister for the Navy (Mr Killen) set out the conditions which are covered by clause 5 of the Bill. He said:
One condition of approval of a credit union will therefore be that at least 15% of its total lending in its most recent financial year, that is to say, about three-quarters of the 20% of its lending that must be in loans for the construction or purchase of a home, shall be loans of not less than $7,000 and be repayable over a period of not less than 12 years.
Section 7 (d) of the New South Wales legislation covering and controlling credit unions permits a maximum loan of $4,000 to be made by credit unions. On the one hand the Government is bringing legislation before this House and saying that it is serious about a proposal to include credit unions in the homes savings grant scheme and that they will have to make minimum loans of $7,000, but on the other hand the New South Wales legislation provides that they may make a maximum loan of only $4,000. I ask: Is this Government fair dinkum? Even the ordinance covering credit unions in the Australian Capital Territory provides that a loan should not exceed $2,000. That ordinance is administered by the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon). Why was there not consultation between the Commonwealth Government and the New
South Wales Government or, for that matter, between the Minister for Housing and the Minister for the Interior in respect of credit union activities? The New South Wales Minister who administers credit unions has stated that his Government does not intend to increase the maximum allowable loan of $4,000 by credit unions in the State. It is interesting to note that the New South Wales Minister is a member of the Liberal Party and therefore is of the same political colour as the Commonwealth Minister for Housing, yet there is seemingly no cooperation or understanding between them.
It mystifies me that a Minister with a department to back her cannot discover the facts relating to the involvement of credit unions in the proposed scheme. Why was not the credit union movement consulted? I point out that 70% of all credit union assets throughout the Commonwealth are held by credit unions in New South Wales, but the maximum loan allowed in New South Wales is $4,000 and the present proposal is that a loan must be $7,000. In his second reading speech, the Minister for the Navy said:
The Bill will permit a credit union to be approved for purposes of the homes savings grant scheme. The conditions of approval include that at least 20% of its total lending in its most recent financial year was lent to assist its members to own their own homes, that a minimum of $50,000 was lent for these purposes and that these loans were made at an effective interest rate of not more than 74% per annum on a reducing balance basis.
This proposal is a further example of a lack of any real understanding of the credit union movement. In 1.969 there were 307 credit unions throughout Australia and 234 of them had assets of less than $150,000. The remaining 73 had assets ranging from $150,000 to over $lm. Does the Government propose to disqualify these 230 credit unions immediately because of the limitation of their assets? It is quite possible that these small credit unions have granted more personal loans for housing alterations, housing extensions and to assist in the purchase of blocks of land than some of the larger credit unions.
I do not believe that the drafters of this legislation have the slightest understanding of what a credit union is or what it stands for. A credit union is a group of people who have a common bond, who agree to save regularly together and to lend these savings to one another at the lowest possible rate of interest. In this way they assist each other to improve their financial position. Members of a credit union have a personal association which brings them into contact with one another and which gives each member a strong sense of responsibility towards the entire group. They can be employees of one organisation, members of the same church, union or lodge or residents of a well defined community area. They are a co-operative and collective group, and they should be encouraged and assisted by this legislation and other Commonwealth legislation. But this legislation will not assist credit unions now or in the future if these stringent conditions are maintained. I will deal with their case in more detail at the Committee stage. I repeat that these restrictive proposals exclude any possibility of the credit union movement being included in the Act. Either these restrictive proposals were deliberate or they show a complete lack of understanding of the credit union movement. That is why the Labor Party has proposed an amendment to the motion for the second reading to provide that the clauses of the Bill relating to credit unions should be redrafted to give credit union savings complete and unconditional recognition under the Act and will move during th3 Committee stage that the clause relating to credit unions be postponed.
We must examine the historical background of this legislation. It was first proposed by a former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, in his policy speech in November 1963. The Government had faced near defeat in the 1961 general election. The homes savings grant proposal was one of the magic tricks designed to return the Menzies Government to power with an increased majority. It was the prize that won the young voters. In his policy speech, under the heading ‘Housing’, Sir Robert stated:
But there are two special problems which we propose to help to solve.
First, there is a special difficulty experienced by young married people, particularly in the age group up to 35, in financing the purchase of a dwelling. We will provide a Commonwealth subsidy of £1 for every £3 which a person in this age group deposits or shall have deposited, over a period of at least 3 years in an identifiable account at any approved institution, to be released, upon or after marriage, for home building or purchasing purposes. The maximum subsidy for one house will be £250. Thus by the Commonwealth subsidy. £750 saved in this age group for a home after marriage will be increased to £1,000. For obvious reasons, this will not extend to the purchase of Stale houses, or for the purchase of house and land costing more than £7,000.
T here can be no argument that this was considered to be a very popular election gimmick. The youth responded to the old political fox - and he was an old political fox. who only worried about today and let tomorrow look after itself.
The original legislation was introduced in May 1964 by our present Treasurer (Mr Bury), who was then the Minister for Housing. It is ironical that it was introduced 6 months after the 1963 election. These few amendments now before us have taken about the same time from the last election to be brought before the House. 1 repeat that these few miserable amendments have taken the same time to bring before the House as the entire original legislation took to be introduced after the 1963 election. In his second reading speech in 1964 the then Minister for Housing said:
The purpose of this Bill is to help young married couples obtain a home of their own by authorising payment to them by the Commonwealth oftax-free grants to supplement their own savings. It is designed to increase the proportion of national resources available for housing purposes by providing a strong inducement to young people to save in ways which provide funds for investment in housing.
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.
In my earlier comments I made reference to the burden that the recent increase of 1/2% would place on a young married couple firstly over a period of 15 years and secondly over a period of 25 years. I shall quote the prevailing interest rates from December 1963 and June 1964 to April 1970. The typical interest rate of permanent building societies in 1964 was 51/2% to 6%. The typical rate of interest has increased from 51/2% to 6% in 1964 to 7% and 71/2% today, an increase of 11/2%.TheinterestrateoftheCommonwealth Savings Bank in 1964 was 43/4% to 51/4%; it is now61/4% to61/4%. The trading banks overdraft rate was 7% in 1964 and it is now 81/4%. The insurance companies generally are1/2% higher. I requested the Legislative Research Service of the Parliamentary Library to prepare a table relating to the cost of financing a block of land and a dwelling in June 1964 compared with April 1970, with repayments over a period of 25 years atthe prevailing interest rate on a loan of $14,000. I chose $14,000 because at that time that was the maximum loan under the Act. It was increased in 1967 to$1 5,000 and until now has been maintained at that level. I shall deal with the two major lending authorities for home building, the permanent building societies and the Commonwealth Savings Bank. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard a table of the relative costs of financing a new home in June 1964 and April 1970.
In June 1964 the prevailing rate of the permanent building societies was 54%; today it is 7% - there has been anincrease of11/2% The total interest cost alone over the life of the loan in June 1964 was $11,790. In April 1970 it had risen to $15,685, an increased cost to a young married couple of $3,895 in interest. The monthly repayments in June 1964 were $86; in April 1970 they had risen to $98.95, an increased repayment per month of $12.95. The Commonwealth Savings Bank interest rate. in June 1964 was 43/4% it is now 61/4%, an increase of11/2% The total increase in interest repayment over the life of the loan would be $3,760; the increase in monthly repayments would be $12.55. I again quote portion of the comments made by the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. He said:
First, there is a special difficulty experienced by young married people particularly in the age group up to 35, in financing the purchase of a dwelling.
I ask honourable members: Has anything changed during these 6 years? Is it any easier today for young people to get a home?
This burden of increased interest has added approximately 83,800 over the life of a loan and the monthly repayments have increased by some $13. This increased interest burden has snowballed into increased land costs and the increased cost of housing to such an extent that a crisis has developed. R. S. Prentice, President of the Master Builders Association, reported to Federal Cabinet on 4th February 1970 in the following terms:
The average cost of land has increased by 182% between 1959 and 1969.
The honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer), who has been interjecting, will be interested to know that R. S. Prentice, President of the Master Builders Association, said that the cost of a house has increased by 68% over the past 10 years. R. S. Prentice also said:
The Federation is of the view that a serious national problem exists in the level of residential land prices. The problem of high land prices has particular effect on persons wishing to acquire their own homes. High land prices are delaying home ownership for many people; are a major burden for persons or! middle incomes and a family man; and limit the number of houses which need to be built.
The high cost of land relative to the cost of the houses is also absorbing an ever-increasing proportion of housing finance made available from the traditional lenders for housing purposes. It is therefore absorbing an ever increasing proportion of total investment funds.
What has changed for the better during the 6 years since the silvery words were uttered by dear old Bob? Is it any wonder that I brand this legislation as ‘a thimble and pea act’? One must ask how long you can fool the people. The Government has recognised the inflationary trend in our community by increasing the maximum loan under the Act from $14,000 to $15,000 and now to $17,500. One must ask why the Government has not increased the grant of $500. Why has the Government not increased the grant of $500 when it has increased the maximum loan from $14,000 to $17,500? Let me again refer to the words uttered by the present Treasurer in May 1964. He said:
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.
I think all honourable members should remind the Treasurer of the comments he made 6 years ago. This same honourable gentleman was responsible for placing this penal provision on young married couples by the use of the monetary policy of the Reserve Bank. A penalty of over $1,500 is imposed on a young married couple with a loan of $15,000 being repaid over 25 years by the Government’s decision to increase interest rates by i%. The Government’s penalty on all married couples who seek a loan today compared with June 1964 is an increased interest payment of over $3,800. This is the result of the increase in interest charges by 1±% since the Minister made that statement 6 years ago. In that statement the Minister said the family group was the very essence, the backbone of the nation. But the Government has imposed this penalty of H%, which in monetary terms represents an increase of $3,800, on every young couple seeking a home.
I have talked about the increased cost of land. Over the last 10 years alone, land prices have increased by 182% while the cost of housing has increased by 67% in that same period. This is what is happening to young married couples. Unless a better deal is provided, it will continue. I ask honourable members: Should not this Government stand condemned? I ask the Government what it is going to do regarding its overall policy on housing? I ask the Government - or is it unreasonable to ask - as the Master Builders Association asked and as every young married couple seeking a block of land so as to build a home and raise a family asks: What does the Government intend to do about the level of residential land prices which is a serious national problem?
What does the Government intend to do to provide incentives for the introduction of advanced building technologies and to remove disincentive in the form of some 800 codes of building regulations throughout Australia? What does the Government intend to do to plan a policy for housing Australians? How long will this Government continue to treat finance for housing as an instrument of overall economic policy? Does the Government think that it is impossible to produce a national building code? If it does not when may we expect action towards this end? Is this Government aware of the simple fact that our present proliferation of building codes adds a needless $600 to the cost of every house that we build and adds $60m on to the national outlay on housing each year?
How much longer must we wait for the Commonwealth Government to give us leadership? What action and what leadership has the Government given to achieve a reduction in the cost of housing by the application of new building methods and materials? Houses can be built more economically with sandwich panels than with conventional components. Kitchens and bathrooms can be prefabricated complete with plumbing by assembly line methods and connected on the site to local reticulated services. Bricks and other materials can be standardised on the basis of modular measurements to combine total interchangeability with total flexibility of design.
New building technologies are inhibited by 800 separate authorities whose building codes vary from State to State and from municipality to municipality. Innovatory designs, methods and materials cannot be introduced” in any area unless they comply with the local building code or until that code is amended to encompass them. Structural panels cannot be used with maximum economy because building codes still specify studs of the size and nature required by traditional construction techniques. Kitchens and bathrooms cannot be mass produced on an assembly line basis because it is impossible to comply with the requirements of every building code except by providing pipes, drainage outlets and other fittings acceptable under the most exacting of them. Restrictive building codes are estimated to have cost the Australian economy $53m in 1967-68. In 1969-70 they will cost about $60m.
I turn to building research. What leadership and what incentives has the Government given on building research? Australia’s total outlay on building research is about $3m, of which all but 3% is provided by the Commonwealth. This represents a little over 0.1% of the overall building expenditure of $2,500m. This thimble and pea act that we see before us now is no solution to the problem of housing all our people.
We need radical changes to protect our young people who are being exploited in acquiring land to build a home in which to raise their families. We need a national inquiry to ascertain the housing needs of the nation in the years ahead and to alert Australians to the problems and shortcomings of the building industry as well as to establish beyond doubt or dissension the priorities which should be observed in the allocation of housing finance.
In the few moments that remain to me I wish to deal briefly with the second and third parts of the amendment that I have moved. Paragraph (2) of my amendment reads:
That the restored benefit provided by the Bill in respect of those persons who were previously ineligible because their savings were not in a designated Homes Savings Account should bc dated to commence from 31st December 1967;
The Prime Minister has pledged that the restored benefit will, be dated from 27th October 1969. We believe that there are many people who, because they did not save their money in an account which was designated a homes savings account and authorised as such by the bank for the purposes of attracting the grant, will be deprived of their right to obtain this grant of $500. If any justice at all is to be found in its actions, the Government will backdate this provision, as we have proposed, to 31st December 1967. If honourable members look at the latest report of the operations of the Homes Savings Grant Act they wm find that 1,062 applicants, representing 24.7% of total rejections or 3% of the number of cases of applicants that have been determined, were refused this grant. So, 3% of the applicants were disqualified because they had not followed the procedure. They had saved their money but their account did not bear the stamp showing that it was a homes savings grant account.
The last paragraph of my amendment reads:
At present, when a person appeals, he or she goes up the steps of the ladder in the Department. A person starts with the Department in Sydney, and finishes up dealing with the Minister. The problem here is one of the rubber stamp. No outside authority is involved at all. The Australian Labor Party believes that in some cases an arbitrary body should be available on the question of valuations. We think that the Commonwealth Department of Housing should not be. involved in this matter.
I will give the House an example. It is the case of a person in my electorate. Last year the value of his land and building exceeded by $200 the maximum of $15,000. The total value price is $15,200. The valuation of the land is what I direct attention to. This person paid approximately $5,000 for it. But the valuation by the New South Wales Valuer-General put the value of that land as being a little over $3,030. The amount paid by the person for this land was $5,000, approximately $2,000 more than its value according to the Valuer-General. I sought the exercise by the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) of her authority to bring this person within the ambit of the Act so. that he might receive the grant. I asked the Minister to take the Valuer-General’s price as being the value of the land. This was refused. I believe that any reasonable outside arbitrary authority iri fact would grant that person the $500. One would have thought the Department would have accepted the Valuer-General’s price. But, no, it took the price of the land as being $5,000. Land speculators probably helped to inflate the value of that land. I believe that the third paragraph in my amendment will bring some justice to the situation. Therefore, I ask the House to support our proposals.
Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
– I was very pleased to hear the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), to use his own words, welcome the extended scope the amendments that have been put before the House I believe it is the Opposition that has misunderstood the Bill. Far from the Government misunderstanding the credit unions and what they are all about, I suggest to the House that it is the Opposition that does not attempt, with a few notable exceptions, to understand a financial system which is not unitary and strictly under Government control and direction. I believe that the Opposition still sees credit nationalisation and absolute control of all forms of credit as one of its prime policy objectives. However, I shall deal with these aspects later in my speech.
When the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) announced in his policy speech on 8th October last that he intended to introduce legislation to amend the Homes Savings Grant Act to raise the permissible limit on the value of a house to $17,500 and to liberalise and extend the scheme generally, there was widespread appreciation by those who were likely to qualify and by the community at large. Today we are seeing those election guarantees honoured not only in the contents of the Bill but in the timing of its presentation. This Bill was among the very first to be presented to this 27th Parliament by the successful Gorton coalition government. This debate would have taken place much earlier than this if the Parliament had not been subject to certain delaying tactics used by members of the Labor Party sitting opposite. However, those eligible under the liberalised test for the grant need have no real concern over the delay caused. The Government, as is its custom, has given its assurance that no applicant will be inconvenienced by this delay, because the new conditions will apply to all those contracts to buy or build a house that have been entered into on or after 27th October 1969:
We see the Government meeting yet another of its election promises. It would be well for honourable members opposite to realise that this Government does meet its obligations and does follow the programmes on which it has been repeatedly re-elected over the past 21 years. Furthermore, this Government is open to constructive suggestions as to means by which it can improve existing legislation so that useful and progressive statutes do not become stale by lack of amendment or dishonest through any flight from political principle. This is especially true of the Bill now before us. Once again the changes before the House widen the conditions of eligibility. There can be no doubting that this evidence of further encouragement by the Government will be appreciated by those thousands of young people in our community who are saving towards the purchase of their first home. In a country enjoying the universal affluence which is the experience of the vast majority of the community and where there are constant temptations for young people to spend their money, it is a real source of gratification to all members of the Government that the homes savings grant scheme has focused the savings habit among the younger members of the community towards a home and away from things of a less permanent .and less fundamental nature than owning their own homes.
It has always been the policy of this Government to encourage home ownership. This cannot be said of honourable members opposite, although there can be little doubt that following the successful programmes of the Government coalition over the past 21 years there is now a growing awareness by certain members of the Labor Party that Australians want to own their own homes and that a majority of them have already achieved this gaol. It should not be forgotten that it is still easier for young people in Australia to buy their own homes than is the case in any other country. Australians have a greater incentive to do this and, because of prevailing economic conditions, a greater ability and encouragement than young married people in any other country receive. Not the least reason for this situation is the operation of the homes savings grant scheme since July 1964 when applications under the original Act were first received by the Commonwealth Department of Housing in each State.
In view of what has been said by the honourable member for Reid I would like to remind the House that the main objective of the scheme is not to determine what financial organisations should or should not exist in Australia but rather that they work. The 2 main objectives when the scheme was first brought in were, firstly, to encourage young people to save to buy or build a home of their own and to help them achieve this objective. The scheme offers young people a reward in the form of a tax free grant for saving over a period for their own homes. The grant - it is not a loan, as the honourable member for Reid suggests - is payable when a married couple enter into a commitment to buy or build their first home. It is a supplement to their savings. The second objective was to increase the proportion of total private savings available for housing purposes. By encouraging young people to save with the institutions that provide the bulk of long term housing finance, these savings, in addition to helping those who save to acquire their first home after they marry, enable the lending institutions in the meantime to provide additional housing finance for other would-be home owners.
The 5th annual report presented by the Secretary, Department of Housing, for the year 1968-69 shows that under the homes savings grant scheme 145.642 grants had been approved by 30th June 1969 and that $63m in grants had been approved by that date. Assuming - and we must assume this - the same rate of expenditure in the current financial year, it can be anticipated that by 30th June 1970 $76m will have been paid out in grants and 175,000 grants made to eligible young people. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate in Hansard 2 tables from that 5th report pf the Department of Housing.
This homes savings scheme is an achievement with which we can be gratified. Although I believe there still are a few points which require attention and further amendment, as 1 shall discuss later, there can be no doubting that the homes savings grant scheme has been a success with’ both of its major objectives. 1 repeat those 2 objectives: To encourage young people to save to buy’ or build a borne of their own, and to increase the proportion of total savings available for housing purposes.
Much has been said of late regarding the variety of interest rates applicable today to certain sectors of the Australian economy, lt should be known that despite the relatively high level of interest charged today on loans of all types, interest rates in Australia remain low compared with those in most other countries, despite allegations to the contrary from the Opposition benches. It should be known, further, that within Australia interest rates on housing loans are low compared with lending rates generally, again despite allegations to the contrary from Opposition benches. To suggest, as has been done, that interest rates, as charged by the main suppliers of housing finance throughout the economy, are unfairly heavy is to overlook the importance of maintaining an adequate flow of savings into housing and of keeping a curb on inflationary pressures. These objectives may not be popular but in balancing economic conditions they are very necessary. Pew honourable members in the House would deny that the current economic situation is, lo use official jargon, tightly stretched. The labour market is well into a position of over-full employment with the remarkably low figure of less than I % of the work force, in seasonally adjusted terms, seeking employment, while in the first half of 1969-70, average weekly earnings were running 9.2% higher than a year earlier. Consumer spending, private investment, and public spending are all up, and continue to give every indication of rising further. Furthermore, one cannot deny that the ‘tightly stretched’ economic situation is clearly evident in the housing industry and in discussing the homes savings grant scheme I believe this House should be reminded that as at the end of December 1969, 12% more dwellings were under construction throughout Australia than at the same time a year earlier. Further, for the 3 months ended January 1970 dwelling approvals were running at an annual rate of 170,000 compared with an annual rate of 150,000 in the same quarter of a year ago.
AH connected with the building industry are very much aware that there are considerable shortages of materials as well as labour, lt came as no surprise to Government supporters when the December consumer price index was issued to find that whereas there had been a moderate increase of 2.8% in the index as a whole, the housing group component had risen by 5.5% during the year. Now, of course, this Government is concerned, as a matter of basic policy and philosophy, not only to keep the economy growing strongly but to keep this growth balanced and to ensure that it applies to the whole community, not the least part of which is the home owner and the capacity of all Australians to become such home owners. The very fact that the housing industry is in a state of full utilisation does, however, reflect the success of this Government’s housing policies over the years.
The Australian taxpayer is already putting a great deal into housing and I would remind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that total Commonwealth Government spending in this field during 1969-70 is estimated to be some $265m or some $25. 5m higher than during the financial year ended 30th June 1969. Of this increase $6.2m is in the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. There is $5m more for war service homes - should I say there was $5m more - and $5m more for aged pensioners’ dwellings, while Commonwealth spending on housing in the Northern Territory will be $4.3m above the figure for 1969-70. No doubt the Australian Country Party honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) must be given due credit for this achievement in his electorate. Other increases are taking place in such fields as homes for the aged, housing for Aboriginal advancement and housing for defence personnel under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
It should be noted that estimates for the homes savings grant for the current year amount to a total of $13m. Apart from fractionally marginal variation the figure will remain constant with 1969 figures in each of the States and the Australian Capital Territory. So it will be appreciated that the legislation before us is concerned with at least maintaining the level of Commonwealth expenditure and to see that there is no diminution in the number of young couples, young widows and, now, divorcees who are eligible for the grant. In fact the Bill will increase the number who are eligible and I would anticipate that with the amendments included in the Bill many applicants will receive larger individual grants than was previously the case. In this regard I welcome the decision which will permit moneys held in a savings bank account or on fixed deposit with a trading bank to be treated as acceptable savings for purposes of the scheme if those accounts have not been designated as homes savings grant accounts. This is a significant change and one that will help many young people who have been saving seriously without having had the presence of mind 3 years earlier to open a bank account designated as specifically required by the Act prior to 26th October 1969.
– Why do you not support our amendment?
– I do not believe the honourable member for Reid understands the amendment. What the change means is that subsequent to 27th October anybody with an account that is not designated correctly will qualify for a grant subsequent to 27th October irrespective of when he opened the account, so that people who opened their accounts prior to 26th October 1966 without having them so designated will in fact qualify. 1 would remind the honourable member for Reid that these amendments are said to apply in respect of persons whose prescribed dates were on or after 27th October, the prescribed date being the date the contract was signed and not the date on which the savings account was opened.
The fifth annual report relating to the homes savings grant scheme showed that of 4,297 applications rejected during 1968- 69, 24.7% were refused, as the honourable member for Reid pointed out, because the savings were not held in an acceptable form. One can only hope that this amending Bill will totally remove this large obstacle to young people receiving the grant. It came as a surprise to me to learn that 3% of all applications made were ruled invalid for the reason of unacceptable savings. I was also surprised to find in the fifth annual report that 742 applications were rejected in 1968-69 because the applicants had not held acceptable savings for the minimum period of 3 years. I firmly believe that just as pro rata, payments are made for the amount of acceptable savings held during the full 3-year period, a further formula should be set so that pro rata payments will be made for savings on the length of time they have been held as well.
Too often - this applies to both sides of the House - one interviews applicants who have been rejected because they did not have a savings account open 3 years to the day prior to the signing of their contract. And yet great numbers of those rejected have earnestly saved for a home for very long periods. For example, if a young person goes overseas and, say, transfers his or her savings account to a London branch of an Australian bank or to some other overseas branch of an Australian bank and does not have the presence of mind or the advice to leave his or her account open at an Australian branch of that bank, his or savings subsequent to returning to Australia are not regarded as being acceptable should he or she buy a home within 3 years. So I would commend to the Government the idea that savings accounts of Australian citizens and fixed deposits of Australian citizens at branches of Australian banks overseas should be regarded as acceptable savings for purposes of this Act. When one considers that 2.1% of all applications received in 1968-69 were refused on the grounds of acceptable savings not held for the minimum period of 3 years, I believe that a new formula must be worked out to help overcome this problem. O’f course, there must be some minimum period and I would suggest that anyone who saves for, say, more than 18 months but for less than 3 years should be entitled to a pro rata payment superimposed on the present method of pro rata payments for acceptable savings over the full 3 years. 1 believe it would nol damage the principle of encouraging young people to save towards buying their own home.
In earlier speeches on this subject I have advocated that the $15,000 limit was not high enough. I am glad to see that the new limit has been raised by something like 16.6% to $17,500, which increase, according to cost of housing figures which I have examined, is well ahead of the increase in the cost of housing during the past 3-year period. However, 1 still believe that the limit now established by the Bill goes against the high cost areas of Australia and I hope that it will not be long before this test of eligibility is removed from the Act. Admittedly the number who have been refused the grant on the basis of exceeding the limit was only 765 or 2.2% of all applications during 1968-69, but it must be realised that most young married couples who buy a house in excess of the limit are fully aware that it is useless even to bother to apply. 1 believe this is particular!) true of New South Wales and Victoria, where 13.3% and 14% of all applications received in 1968-69 were refused. Comparable figures a year earlier were 8.7% and 9.1% of all applications received in those 2 major States. I am confident that the changes included in this amending Bill will correct the situation that developed in 1968-69. 1 would anticipate that the removal of a financial limit would help to broaden the scheme to include many who are entitled to receive the grant. After all, we have sufficient other conditions, regulations and tests of eligibility in the scheme to ensure that the objectives that were originally declared would be honoured.
Before 1 close 1 would like to touch on 2 more points. Firstly, I believe that the Minister should have the discretion that has now been placed in the hands of the Secretary of the Department..! believe the Minister should have the power to determine, as mentioned in clause 4 of the Bill, when a child will be in custody, care and control of the divorced person’. As this amendment stands, the Minister will not have the right or discretion to change a decision by the Department. I believe this to be wrong in principle and will prove to be clumsy and frustrating in operation. The Secretary also has the right to exercise discretion for use in exceptional circumstances, to accept as the date of commencement of construction of a dwelling house a date later than the date on which the applicant commenced to lay the foundations of his home. Does the Minister maintain or have the right to say what ‘exceptional circumstances’ are? Does the Minister have any discretion as to what date shall be admitted? I sincerely hope so and 1 hope that I can have an assurance on this matter. 1 firmly believe that the Minister, not the Secretary, should have the final word, as is the case, for example, with immigration referrals. Much has been said about the decision to set down conditions for credit unions to be classified as acceptable under this scheme.
– You are a banker’s man.
– Just a minute, Tom. Time does not permit me to develop any thesis on this subject. Nobody would deny t hatcredit unions are big business or that they will become even bigger in the near future, but I would reject out of hand the amendment that the Opposition has put forward. It is not at issue with the points that they have raised in the context of the home savings grant scheme. It should not be forgotten that one of the prime purposes of the scheme - and that is what we are discussing - is to increase the total proportion of savings available for housing purposes. Now, I believe with the Government’s proposals the door has been opened for credit unions themselves to consider whether they plan to move away from consumer credit finance and into home loans, and to do so significantly. State law limits as in New South Wales at the present time, and as the previous speaker so rightly put forward, the most a credit union can lend for any one loan, and not specifically for housing, is $4,000 whereas we have placed limits which clash. Quite obviously then, there will be areas of negotiation - if I can put it that way - only if the credit union movement- -and here is the important fact - is prepared to move significantly into the field of prime home financing as would seem to have been the experience overseas.
I believe we can assume that the local administrators of credit unions are not unaware of overseas trends in their movement and I commend to them the experience of the credit union movement in Canada. In the full calendar year of 1968 the credit union movement in Canada is reported in the International Credit Union Year Book - and I gather this is authentic and creditable - as having organised loans amounting to $507.8m and of these 54.1% amounting to $274. 7m were in the form of real estate loans while only 20.5% of their loans are made for automobiles. In the same International Year Book it states that of $ 10,526m loans made in 1968 by credit unions in the United States, something like $865. 4m were made for real estate. Admittedly there is wide variation between the States in the United States of America. For example, in Massachusetts real estate loans accounted for 81.9% of all loans made in that State during 1968. At the Other end of the scale, there are such States as Pennsylvania, where less than 1% of loans were made for this type of loan. Obviously the credit union movement overseas is not agreed as to which direction it should universally follow and I believe that in its formative years in Australia the credit union movement here must decide whether it is to move into real estate finance with its inbuilt long-term loans or remain in the field of consumer finance where it will be borrowing and lending short - a sound financial principle for all dealers in finance to follow.
So I suggest that it is not the homes savings grant scheme per se, nor whether the credit union movement is up for criticism or cross-examination. This is not the case. Rather, this Bill has shown to the credit union movement that it is a time for them and them alone to determine what their future role in the Australian money market and financial scene is going to be. There is no question that whatever role they decide upon it will have a significant part to play in the coming decade. The president of New South Wales Credit Union League Ltd, Mr K. Miller, said in his 13th annual report:
The League and the Federation is investigating the feasibility and advisability of establishing a credit union bank. These investigations are continuing but it is evident at this stage that they will be lengthy and involved.
Now whether this Mr Miller - this Mr K. Miller-
– This Mr Miller!
– I know several Mr Millers and I know several Mr K. Millers. Whether it is away from consumer credit finance and whether it is starting a credit union saving bank and trading bank throughout Australia is for the movement itself to discover. It should be said that we on the Government side make no criticism of the credit union movement. In fact, we are concerned to see that all forms of credit are made available to the Australian community and in this pattern we readily admit and welcome the role of credit unions.
Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
– I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), but I think it will soon be apparent to the House that my views on the homes savings grant scheme go further than either his amendment or the amending Bill itself could accommodate. This Bill seeks to amend the Homes Savings Grant Act, and it therefore provides a welcome opportunity to review the working of the parent Act over the 6-year period of its operation. In particular it provides us with the opportunity to consider again a number of basic questions. Firstly, just what was it that the Homes Savings Grant Act was meant to achieve? Secondly, have these aims in fact been achieved? Thirdly, if they have not been achieved, will the present amending Bill do anything to improve the situation?
The first proposal for this scheme came in Sir Robert Menzies’ policy speech for the 1963 election. At that time the only clue he gave to the reasoning behind the grants was when he said this:
There is a special difficulty experienced by young married people, particularly in the age group up to 35, in financing the purchase of a dwelling.
That is all he said by way of justification. From there he went on to give details of the subsidy proposed. If one may say so. in retrospect, that seems a very bald and inadequate justification for a scheme which by the end of this financial year will have involved the Commonwealth in an expenditure of over $75m. But accepting that Sir Robert Menzies did recognise the problems of young people in financing a home, a further basic question remains: What was so serious about the problems in 1963 that was not serious in the 14 previous years in which Sir Robert Menzies had been Prime Minister and in which he had consistently refused to bring the Commonwealth into direct responsibility for housing finance?
The answer to that question, of course, lies in the sudden spurt in housing costs around that period. It needs to be recognised that that increase in housing costs cannot be attributedto building costs, which by and large only increased in line with the general level of inflationary trends. It was not a problem of housing interest rates either, although in the meantime that has become a very serious problem. The real problem in 1963 lay in the sudden and uncontrolled inflationary spiral in land costs. Stripped of embellishments, this scheme was introduced to cushion the effect of inflated land prices. The measure of its success or failure therefore is to be found in its influence, if any, on that inflation. 1 would like at this stage to refer to the experience in Western Australia where we have the situation documented in an authoritative way in the so-called McCarrey report. This report was prepared by an independent committee set up by the Western Australian Liberal Government in 1967. This report documented a number of facts which are relevant to this discussion. For example, it indicates that in a suburb likeDianella, which is in the centre of my own electorate, the price of an average block of land went from $960 in 1957 to $2,160 in 1 963 and then increased further to $4,820 in 1967.I might add that this pattern of increasing prices, and of increases at an increasing rate, continued through 1968 and into the first half of 1969 and it is only in the last 6 months that there has been some levelling off from the 1969 peak level. Even so, the same block referred to in the McCarrey report as costing $4,820 in 1967 could not be bought today for less than $6,500 or $7,000.
The McCarrey report also indicated the particular difficulties faced by the working man in this area. It pointed out that in the period from 1956 to 1967, over a period when minimum weekly wage rates rose by 40%, the cost of land rose, by 400%. In the same period the proportion that the cost of land bears to the total cost of a home went from 12% to 331/2%. Of special significance to the Bill we are now discussing is the pattern of land prices before and after the homes savings grants were introduced. In this context I wish to quote clause 2.13 of the McCarrey report, which reads as follows:
There is evidence that the rate of increase of land prices throughout the metropolitan area, although rapid before 1963, accelerated from that year on.
In other words, the rate of land price inflation actually increased following the introduction of the homes savings grant scheme. I do not want to draw the long bow and try to suggest that this increase in land price inflation took place because of homes savings grants, although that is the sort of convoluted logic which I have started to learn from honourable members on the Government side in recent weeks.
However, whether or not one could have expected the position to gel worse at that time, one thing was certain, and that is that the homes savings grant scheme was not going to make the position any better. The reason for that is that the scheme tackles the problem from the ‘ wrong end. This scheme does not combat land price inflation; it subsidises it. Instead of tackling the problem at its source, it waits for all the damage to be done and then offers to reduce slightly the cost involved. Even then its contribution is limited to the financial aspect of the cost only. 1 want to say at least in passing that the cost to the community arising from this inflationary trend of land prices goes well beyond bare monetary considerations. The high cost of land means dearer housing and higher rents. That is obvious. But it has also led directly to increased waiting periods for low cost housing. Without, at this stage, going into the reasons why this does result directly from the land crisis, I would merely indicate how bad the situation is. Again I take Western Australia as an example. The last figures I have show that the State Housing Commission there has a waiting list of 15,183 and a waiting period which now ranges from 4 years 2 months for 2 bedroom rental homes up to 4 years 10 months for 3 bedroom purchase homes. In fact, the ramifications of the position extend even further than that and now affect the very way in which we live. The Australian accommodation pattern itself is affected.
In a rather unctuous passage in the second reading speech when introducing this Act in 1964, the then Minister for Housing said:
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.
Then comes the punch line:
The Government seeks, moreover, to foster a healthy property-owning democracy of sturdy independent individuals and regards home ownership as a basic ingredient.
Well, that may be the Government’s ideal. But what have we got? What we have is a situation where houses - owner occupied and rented - are decreasing as a proportion of accommodation as a whole; and rental accommodation in flats, and in minimum area flats at that, is the growing trend. In 1958 flats represented 3.5% of all dwellings built in Western Australia. In 1968-69 they represented 21.6% of all dwellings in Western Australia, a sixfold increase over that 10-year period.
I do not want to elaborate on all the consequences of the situation for fear of getting too far away from the Bill under consideration. It is enough to say that these trends are both dramatic and serious. By the end of this year we will have spent more than $75m on homes savings grants. Surely we are entitled to ask whether this money could have been better spent. If we recognise how basic the land prices crisis is to the problem, this question follows: Could we use these funds in some other way to solve the problem of land prices? I believe that we could. It has taken a remarkable combination of pessimism and defeatism on the part of the Government to prevent such an attempt from being made.
I refer again to the speech made by the then Minister for Housing when he introduced the original legislation in 1964. He pretty well gave up the ghost at the beginning. His comment on this matter was:
There is little the Commonwealth Government can do about the price of land. Basically, in a fully employed economy additional resources can only be devoted to housing if less are applied elsewhere. One cannot eat one’s cake and have it.
The same sort of negative approach was followed by the present Government when, during our discussion of land prices as a matter of urgency on 19th March this year, the Minister representing the Minister for Housing said:
The facts of life are that, as more and more families wish to live in our capital cities and close to places of employment land prices must rise.
That is probably true, but must land prices rise by 400% while wages are rising by 40%? Must this enormous disparity between increased land prices and increased wages, as documented in the McCarrey report, continue and be tolerated? Only the Labor Party has evolved any sort of policy for Federal action on land prices. To put it in a nutshell, we have said that the Commonwealth should be making grants to the States to purchase, develop and subdivide land and then sell it at cost. This scheme has been criticised by the Government as being too expensive, impractical and, worst of all, Socialist.
As to its being expensive, let me say that the $75m and more that we have already spent on the homes savings grant scheme is also expensive, especially when we consider that the funds thus applied have been used to feed the problem that we were setting out to starve. As to the claim that the scheme is impractical, I can only say that no evidence to that effect has been produced. As to its being such a dreadful and terrible Socialist concept, the remarkable thing is that Labor’s scheme runs very closely parallel to the scheme produced by the McCarrey Committee which,I again emphasise, was a committee set up by a Liberal government. The Committee suggested the setting up of an urban land commission whose activities would closely parallel what we suggest. I should make it clear though that the Committee’s scheme differed from ours in that it did not suggest that the land thus developed should necessarily be sold at cost.
There is one other thing that I would like to say about the criticism that our scheme is too expensive. In the long term our scheme would cost nothing. We are not suggesting that the Commonwealth should provide funds for the States to purchase, develop and sub-divide land and then give it away free. We are suggesting that the development and sub-division should precede a sale at cost. In the long term all the funds provided by the Commonwealth to the States would come back directly or indirectly as subsequent purchasers paid for their lots.
Handouts are always popular, even if they are ineffective. The withdrawal of handouts is correspondingly unpopular. At the same time, I would hope that a Labour government would scrap the proposed scheme and apply the funds released to solving the problem at its source rather than subsidising it at its end point. Instead of attempting to help by paying $500 at the end point we should be looking for ways to save the home purchaser far more than that amount by attacking land prices, by attacking housing interest rates and by attacking inefficiencies in building. In that way we would achieve far more at far less cost.
A previous speaker in this debate attempted to make the point that in some way the homes savings grant scheme did contribute to what he felt was a reasonable sort of housing situation. Ignoring for the moment the argument as to how reasonable the situation is, let us look at how effective or helpful the grants have been. The honourable member quoted figures showing that in covering the year ended in June 1965 to the year ending in June 1969, inclusive expenditure on homes savings grants amounted to $62m. I think it is fair to say that the suggestion was that in some positive and practical way that contributes to solving the housing problem. In that same period from 1965 to 1969 the cost of new dwellings only - and this scheme is not restricted to new dwellings - amounted to $4,812,000,000, not including the cost of the land. The proposition that $62m would help is farcical when compared . with that figure. It would not even pay for the flywire. It is less than 1% of the total, taking into consideration land costs.
The weaknesses of this scheme do not lie only in those factors which made it necessary to introduce the. present Bill. The weaknesses do not lie only in the Bill itself, although during the Committee stage I hope to discuss some of the factors in the Bill which are inequitable, certainly from the point of view of the people of Western Australia. The weaknesses of the scheme do not even lie in the inequities which will remain after the Bill is adopted. Its essential weakness lies in the fact that it is a scheme which was introduced to help the election prospects of the Government in 1963 rather than to help the housing prospects of the people whom the Government said it was setting out to help. It was an election gimmick. It was ill considered in its inception. It has been enormously expensive, but virtually useless in its operation. It should not simply be amended now. It should be replaced.
– We have just heard a speech from the honourable member for Perth(Mr Berinson) which was a fair indication to the entire Parliament that the Australian Labor Party is completely incapable of grasping the essence of this particular scheme. If the honourable member had done his research properly he would have gone back into the past and would have found quite easily that the basis of this scheme is to provide an incentive for saving. He drew red herrings across the whole argument by referring to land prices. Mr
– That is a reflection on the Chair.
-The honourable member for Griffith has been here sufficiently long to know that he should not reflect on the Chair. I think this is the second occasion on which he has made this imputation. I suggest that the honourable member obey Standing Orders and not cast any reflection on the Chair.
– I was only suggesting, Sir, that you were extremely tolerant and wise. I was saying, before the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) interrupted, that we have here an example of where the Labor Party just cannot understand the meaning of the word incentive’. Here we have the basis of the difference between Socialism and Liberalism. The Labor Party subscribes to a scheme whereby the cake is cut into many pieces and handed out. But it seems to overlook completely the question of where the next cake is to come from.
The Government, since 1963 when the then Prime Minister Menzies announced details of this scheme, has set about providing incentive. It may surprise the honourable member who has just sat down that I am not necessarily in agreement with everything about the Bill before the House or the amendments to the Bill. During the course of this debate I will be making certain suggestions. But I would remind the honourable member that this nation has the best record of housing of any nation in the world.
Opposition members - -Oh
– Honourable members on the Opposition side of the House say: ‘Oh!’. From the way they speak at times one would think that Australians were living in mud huts down in the electorate of Wills. But this is not the case. One only has to travel throughout the world to see that this nation is indeed fortunate. This fortune has not just come about by chance but has been brought about by the fact that Labor has lost the
On 4th May 1967 I considered this subject to be of such importance that I made it the subject of my maiden speech. This is just under 3 years ago. I recall then referring to the words of the English essayist, Sidney Smith, who in 1843 said that a comfortable house is a great source of happiness, health and good conscience. I believe that the provision of a house adds a lot to the entire social structure of a nation. If children are given the opportunity to have the environment of their own home, they certainly will grow up better citizens. If they are given the opportunity to have the environment of even a government home they are still lucky enough to have the feeling of belonging to something. Sometimes when we listen to members of the Opposition we wonder exactly what they belong to and we cannot help but wonder whether they were gypsies roaming through the centre of Australia in the early part of their lives.
But what is the Government proposing on this occasion and what are the amendments under discussion? The Government is introducing an amendment whereby young people who have to expend an amount of up to $17,500 will now be eligible for a home savings grant of $500 if they have saved the necessary amount of $1,500. Furthermore, the Government proposes to eliminate the requirement whereby a young person or couple have to mark their account specifically ‘Home Savings Account’. Whilst in the minds of some this requirement may have formed the very basis of the point of view that we have to show young people that they were saving for a purpose, it seemed terribly unfair to me over the years that some young people, who had perhaps arrived from another country and who did not adequately understand the language were missing out on a grant because of this ignorance. Of course, there were also other young people who just did not realise that they had to go to their bank manager in order to mark their account ‘Home Savings Account’. The amendment of this provision is an indication of the . attitude of the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who comes from Queensland and who throughout the years has shown a tremendous interest and understanding of the scheme and a desire to make it possible for everyone to benefit.
A further amendment will extend the eligibility for a grant to divorced persons aged less than 36 years with 1 or more dependent children. The eligibility and other provisions relating to these persons will be broadly similar to those applying to young widowed persons with dependent children who were admitted to the scheme in November 1966. 1 notice that an honourable member is raising his eyebrows. But he was not here when the scheme was changed in 1967. There will also be a transition period, in this case up to 31st December 1970, during which the acceptable savings of eligible divorced persons may be held in a wide variety of forms.
The Opposition has moved a number of amendments tonight, and I propose to come back to these amendments shortly. However, 1 feel it only right that for the sake of the record I should give some figures which 1 believe the Opposition would rather not see written into Hansard. When we look back over the last few years we see that in the period 28th March 1964 to 30th June 1965, the first year of the scheme, 25,079 applications for grants were approved and the amount paid out was $11,510,000. Also, for that period the approved average grant was $458. In the following period 1965-66, 29,647 applications were approved and $13,347,000 was paid out at an average of $450 for each grant. In the following period 1966-67 there were 27,768 applications and the amount approved was $11,987,000. In the next period there was an increase in applications approved to 32,518. In that period the amount approved was $13,446,000 at an average of $414. I suggest with great respect that this was the result of the Government’s broadening of the scheme. This is an indication of a renewal of interest by the young peope of the nation. In the following period of 1968-69 there was a decrease again with 30,630 applications approved and a pay out $12,703,000 with an average of $415. These figures tell a story.
I make reference to the increased cost of home building and refer to the quarterly bulletin of building statistics for the September quarter 1969 and make particular reference to the number of people who are being excluded from the scheme. 1 do this because only 2 weeks ago I was at the home of one of my very close friends of many years standing. He has been married for 5 years and his wife is now expecting a baby. My friend and his wife will be moving into a new home in August, the construction of which is to be started possibly this week. I said to’ my friend: Have you a home savings account?’ He said to me: ‘That is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about’. The point is that I had reminded him of this scheme. He was upset because there was now a restriction of $17,500 on the maximum cost of the home. As I said earlier, I have known this man for many years, and like quite a number of my friends he neither drinks nor smokes. Because of this and because he had a working wife, over a number of years he had been able to save quite a deal of money. My friend had a home savings account at his bank for 5 years. But he suddenly learnt that his new home together with land and everything else was to cost $18,500. This is what he spoke to me about and I assure honourable members that I would hate to repeat in this House what he said about the scheme because after 5 years saving he had found that a means test was involved. I seriously suggest that such a means test is indeed unfortunate, and unnecessary. The figures show that 85,756 homes were built in 1967-68. Because of the restriction on the value of a home which may attract the grant approximately 6,000 people who would otherwise have qualified for a grant under the scheme were unfortunate enough to miss out. In 1968-69, we see an indication of the continued improvement in home ownership in this nation and we see that the number of homes completed had increased to 91,546. The figures show that approximately 9,000 people would have been ineligible. After hearing what the honourable member for Perth said I certainly will go back to my electorate and tell the people in the 25 suburbs on the south side of the Brisbane River that the Labor Party will abandon this scheme if it gets into office.
– The honourable member for Sydney , has just waddled into the chamber and apparently has not heard the previous speaker from his Party, who said that when Labor comes to power this scheme will be abolished. The number of people who missed out in the quarter ending September 1969 was approximately 2.000. I know that members of the Labor Party are not very sympathetic with people who can build a home costing more than $17,500 or, prior to the introduction of this Bill, more than $15,000. But if they are to subscribe to the theory and philosophy of equality they should take everything into account. I underline the fact that some people, because of thrift and specialfortunate circumstances, have been able to save the necessary money to qualify for a grant. If the basis of the scheme is an incentive I do not believe that the Government has any right to impose a cut-out figure on the value of the home for which a grant may be paid and separate some people from others. 1 hope that the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes), who is sitting at the table, will convey these sentiments to the Minister for Housing so that when next she brings in amending legislation we can consider the points I have made. 1 would like to refer at this stage to the number of marriages each year compared to the number of grants. If we look back over the last few years we see that for the year 1964-65, which was the first year after the introduction of the scheme, we had 90,280 marriages in the nation, yet only 25,079 grants were paid. The following year we had 95,126 marriages and 29,647 grants paid. The following year there were 97,984 marriages and 27,768 grants. In 1967-68 there were 102,509 marriages and 32,518 grants, and in J.968-69 there were 109,630 marriages and 30,630 grants. A study of these figures will indicate that just under one-third of couples who are being married are in fact receiving the grant. Is not the Government fully aware that such a large number of people are not participating in the scheme?
The figures I stated earlier for approved applications has not sustained a great improvement since the inception of the scheme, particularly when we take into account the number of houses that have been completed in the last few years. In 1964 a total of 105,220 houses and flats were completed. In 1965 the number was 115,170; in 1966 it was 111,962; in 1967 it was 111,892; in 1968 it was 120,170, and in 1969 it was 130,687. Is the scheme achieving what it was originally intended to achieve? Whilst I totally disagree with the honourable member for Perth, 1 do not feel that we are continuing to improve the scheme sufficiently to keep pace with the rate of development in housing in Australia.
Furthermore, the original figure of $500 which was announced as the amount of the grant by the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, has well and truly been eroded since the scheme was introduced so many years ago. In my maiden speech in this House 1 pointed out that the amount of $500 which was announced in 1964 had fallen in value to $451 by 1967. Today the original $500 is worth only $421. Perhaps some of the things I have mentioned here tonight explain why there has not been an apparent increase in interest in this scheme. In fact I would suggest with great respect that the declining value of the grant could be contributing to a loss of interest in the scheme.
I turn to the question of those who are eligible and those who are ineligible. Some years ago I made a rather deep study of the ages at which Australians marry and related my findings to the cut-out figure of 36 years of age for people who can benefit under this scheme. Since then I have done another survey and I find that today my original figures remain unaltered. My surveys showed that 11% of bridegrooms and 8.2% of brides are over the age of 36. This means that quite a percentage of the population is being excluded from the scheme. I mentioned earlier the restriction in relation to the value of the house.I now mention the age restriction. This matter should be considered more seriously by the Government. I notice that the Minister for Health is taking notes of these points and I know that he will refer them to the Minister for Housing in the very near future.
Another matter I wish to raise at this stage concerns credit unions. The Labor Party has moved an amendment to widen the scope of credit union participation. A letter was writtten to me some weeks ago by a representative of the Queensland Credit Union League Ltd. I acknowledged his letter and took the matter up with the Minister for Housing- to find out the Government’s latest policy on credit unions and Homes Savings Grant. I believe it only fair that the contents of Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin’s letter should be read into Hansard so that people who might want to evaluate the amount of assistance that is given to credit unions can have a complete and proper understanding of the Government’s attitude in this matter. She wrote to Mr Stephens on 9th April 1970, and I believe that the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) saw a delegation of representatives from the credit unions. This is what she had to say:
I refer to your letter of 6 March 1970 advising me of your League’s views on the proposed amendments to the Homes Savings Grant Act which will set- out the conditions with which individual credit unions must comply so that savings held with them may become acceptable for the purposes of the scheme.
For some time the Government has been aware that a number of credit unions have been seeking to have savings held with them accepted for purposes of the scheme. When the scheme was last amended in 1967, . I informed honourable senators that I would carefully consider any proposed further amendments designed to admit savings with the larger credit unions if they were to make sizeable loans to their members for the acquisition of homes.
That particular sentence should be carefully underlined. The letter continues:
Although we have not received any such proposals, I and my colleagues have not forgotten the wish of the credit union movement that savings deposited with individual credit unions be acceptable. We therefore decided to provide for this in the amendments now before the Parliament, and to set out clearly the conditions that an individual credit union must satisfy before savings with it may be accepted.
There must be conditions if the main purposes of the scheme are not to be abandoned.
After listening to the honourable member for Perth I can understand the Labor Party’s misconceptions about the scheme, because his comments indicate a lack of comprehension. The letter continues:
These purposes are to encourage young Australians to save to acquire a home of their own after marriage and - this is also most important - to deposit their savings with those lending institutions that make large and long-term loans for home ownership, and so to expand the volume of savings available for relatively large loans for the acquisition of homes.
When the situation of the credit unions was reviewed in 1967, there was no doubt that these unions, although assisting their members to improve and furnish their homes, and to meet a small deposit gap in acquiring their homes, were not offering housing loans of comparable size, and on comparable terms and conditions, as those offered by banks and building and housing societies.
Since that time quite a number of credit unions have been making larger loans and for longer periods, even though they are not yet making many first mortgage housing loans as large as those being offered by the major institutional lenders. But the time may not be too distant when they will be doing this and so be fulfilling one of the essential purposes of the scheme.
True, as was frankly admitted in the second reading speech during which the conditions were set out, it is appreciated that very few, if any, credit unions are yet in a position to meet these conditions. The legislation was no ‘sleight of hand’ trick, and I strongly resent this insinuation.
The conditions are not impossible conditions. I have been informed by the Registrars in two States that some credit unions have made housing loans of $5,000, $6,000 and even $10,000 to individual members. Savings with these unions may be able to qualify in the near future. Only 20% of annual lending by a credit union must be in the form of loans for the acquisition of homes, and only threequarters of this must be loans of not less than $7,000 and for a minimum period of 12 years.
We are asking Parliament to amend the Homes Savings Grant Act to open the door for savings with a credit union to become acceptable if it wishes to make a reasonable effort in lending to its members for the acquisition of homes. That is the purpose of our home savings grant scheme. Any credit union that wishes the savings held by its members to become acceptable may proceed to do so by making a number of large and long-term bousing loans.
Annabelle J. Rankin
This letter was written as recently as 9th April, lt is obvious, having listened to their remarks, that honourable members opposite do not fully understand the meaning of the word ‘incentive’. They do not fully understand the meaning of this scheme. They more or less regard the sum of $71m paid out to 164,000 young people as being a complete waste of money. This is a most regrettable attitude. As long as this Government remains in office we will continue with this scheme but, more importantly, just as we did in 1967 and just as we are doing now, we will continue to improve it.
I remind the Minister for Health, who is sitting at the table, of my personal dissatisfaction with the home valuation cutoff point of $17,500 as it affects people who have paid a wee bit more than that figure and also with the diminishing value of the $500 grant which is made. We heard the leading speaker of the Opposition refer to this grant as a loan. It is not a loan; it is a payment without strings attached. A person has only to meet the fairly liberalised qualifications imposed under this scheme in order to receive the cheque. By this legislation we are ensuring that the nation gets the maximum benefit from the implementation of a scheme of incentive. We must ensure, however, that we do not let the incentive diminish as we are presently witnessing, with the value of money being eroded.
– I thank the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) for the entertainment he has given us. I listen with delight to his speeches because they always contain an element of mirth which shows that he is not merely a man of profundity and gravity but a man who, at various times, can blend with those qualities a degree of humour and levity. He stated that Opposition members shared a number of misconceptions as to the nature of this legislation, that we are under a number of delusions about this Act. Having noted what he said in the course of his speech, it seems apparent to me that he shares those so called delusions with us. For example, the point that the Australian Labor Party often makes about the value of the $500 grant being eroded was made by him. He would have done a very good job had he come over and joined us because many of the things he said, when he was not attacking us, were mainly in agreement with us.
There is one thing with which we cannot agree. The honourable member said that the Australian Government has the best housing record in the world. Superficially it is quite true that Australia has a very large percentage of home ownership. This, however, is not the point. One of the main points that the Labor Party often brings up is the fact that many people are living in sub-standard housing. If a person travels through many parts of Melbourne, and many parts of the electorates throughout Australia, he will find sub-standard houses which are worth $2,000, $4,000 or perhaps $5,000. They are all owned, but who is proud to occupy them, and what person can say that that standard of living is civilised? That is the whole point. In addition some 30% of the Australian people do not own their own homes, lt is not a question of their not owning their own homes as a matter of deliberate choice or of their lacking the incentive of thrift and providence - qualities that the Liberals are accustomed to waxing rhetorical and eloquent about. It is a matter of sheer economic circumstances over which they have no control but over which this Government has control and against which it has failed to take effective action. Nothing is more apparent than that the ability of the State housing authorities to deal with the housing problems of people on low incomes has never been lower. Let us not repeat this nonsense about our having the best housing record in the world without looking into the problem and seeing what is exactly the case.
I should like to query a number of other statements made by the honourable member for Griffi’th. He was carried away in the course of his speech. He obviously enjoys his speeches as do we, but for different reasons. One statement he made was that one member on this side of the House referred to the grant as being a loan. The honourable member for Griffith made rapid speed to correct him. This is not a loan’, said the honourable member for Griffith, ‘but a grant without strings attached’. What a load of nonsense! Let us take a look at the little green booklet that has been published and see what strings are attached. This is one of the most mystifying pieces of legislation that the Government has ever inflicted upon the Australian people. You would need a legal education to find your way through the document. Many people 1 have consulted in the banking industry, people who deal over the counter with individuals who come in with their housing problems, say it is virtually like reading an Act of Parliament. This is one of the other criticisms we have made. But the honourable member should not say there are no strings attached. Of course there are strings attached. A person over 36 years of age cannot get it. If the house and land have a total in value in excess of $17,500 the applicant cannot get it. Those are strings.
The honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) also explained the dilatory tactics of the Government in introducing this legislation. He blamed the Opposition. He said we had been delaying the passage of legislation. He blamed the Labor Party for its dilatory tactics, whereas in fact, if the Government had really wanted to introduce this amending Bill earlier it could have done so on that marathon and notable one day sitting on 25th November last year. All it needed to do was to introduce an amending Bill of one or two lines. Do not blame the Labor Party; it is the Government itself which has put off the introduction of this legislation. Much play is being made on the Government side about the boon that the $500 represents. As far as I am concerned it is a boon and there is no doubt about it. Nobody rejects $500. It is an addition to the resources of people buying houses. But that is not the point. If the $500 was intended originally to cope with the problems of financing a house and land, problems faced by young people under 36, surely this should also be its objective today. What we in the Labor Party are saying is not so much that this is not of assistance to married couples but that it is not tackling the problem at its roots. The roots of the problem are in the costs of land which have been escalating for 10 years, the costs of the house itself, the very high interest rate, the lack of finance for buying a home and the difficulty of meeting the deposit gap between the first mortgage and the price one has to pay for house and land. That is what we are dealing with.
There is one other aspect that we are particularly concerned about and that is the fact that there are still so many people without their own homes. We do not believe this can be rectified overnight. Nobody on this side says that it can. But what we look for are serious plans which show some willingness to tackle the problem. There are still thousands of people who do not have their own homes. I believe some 70% of homes in 1961 were owned or being purchased by the occupier. The figure has not risen much since then and much of the increase since that time in the building of dwellings has been in the construction of flats. This is a point that we on this side are concerned about, too. The comparative stagnation of the figures for home owners and home buyers is the result of the policy qf this Government and in particular the result of the lack of policies on the Government’s part.
Just how valuable is the grant of $500? I mentioned it before but I want to go into it further. Actually the honourable member for
Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) has already eroded the arguments of the Government. If the Government claims it was originally aimed at giving relief to the married couples who must meet the high cost of land and housing surely one would expect by the same logic that the rate of the grant would have been varied to cope with the cost flow. However, this is not the case. It was a good election gimmick in 1964 and the grant remains fixed. To show that the contribution of $500 is becoming less meaningful, we should compare the pertinent figures. I would like to be able to quote the cost of a house plus land but unfortunately due to this Government’s lack of concern with statistics and its lack of interest in planning in general it does not have figures available on the cost of land. However, we can say that in the period 1964-65 the average cost of a house in Australia without land was $7,880. Of this amount $500 represented a percentage of 6.34. Last year the average cost of a house in Australia was $9,994. So today, taken purely on the average cost of housing, the grant represents 5%. We can see that the value of the grant is being consistently eroded.
If we had the figures available for the cost of land in 1964-65 and could compare it with the present cost, because the cost of land has been escalating, we would see that the value of the grant is even less than the figure I have given. I do not want to make much play of this point for the real point is that the Government if it is interested in assisting young couples to cope with the high cost of housing, would be dealing with the real problems. What are these? Obviously one of the main problems these days is land prices. We have had a debate on this subject in this House. Honourable members on this side will remember that last week an Opposition member raised the question of land prices for debate as a matter of public importance. The Government was so sensitive that it decided to cut him off and only one honourable member was allowed to speak. One other honourable member from this side tonight has mentioned the cost of land, particularly in Western Australia. We regard it as a national problem. It is not just a State problem or a local problem. It is a national problem that should be dealt with nationally. Unless this problem is tackled the value of the Government’s grant will continue to depreciate. The subsidy will be given not to married home buyers themselves but to the speculator and the wide range of financial interests which profit from the home buyers.
The Government has certainly taken into account that there are rising costs facing the home buyers. This is evident from the fact that the Government has increased the maximum amount on which the grant is available from $15,000 to $17,500. But what is the point of doing this if the Government is not tackling the problem at its roots? How serious have been these increases in land costs? A recent report in February of this year by the Housing Industry Association has stated that over the last 10 years the price of land in Australian mainland cities has risen by 300%. That is a staggering increase in price but the trend has been allowed to continue unchecked and with the connivance of this apathetic Government. It is a staggering increase and just how serious an increase it is can be seen by comparing it with the rise in the consumer prices over this period. While land prices have shot up by 300% the rise in the consumer prices has been 24%. Why has this rise in land prices taken place? One reason is that there has been a scarcity of land. The speculative policy of profiteers who are holding back broad acres for later sale is artificially increasing the demand through scarcity. One other factor has been the general effect of rising costs. Another factor has been the tight zoning of land. But the most important factor of all - this reflects very badly on the relations between Commonwealth, State and local governments - has been that the development of land by private developers using high interest money has replaced the development of land by local or State authorities using low interest money.
These recent years have seen a gradual changeover from the development of land by municipal and State authorities using public moneys at cheaper interest rates. The burden of providing such services as fully constructed bitumen roads, footpaths, easement drainages, water reticulation, outfall drainage, electricity and park reserves has been thrown upon the private developers who have passed on the costs of their high interest expenditure to the land purchasers. In Melbourne 10 years ago blocks with unmade roads and limited services were available in and around the city for as little as $1,000. Today a reasonable block would cost $4,000 in new suburbs of ordinary standards. The Housing Industry Association has claimed that an extra $2,000 has been put on the price of land by the changeover from development by local and State authorities to development by private authorities. The Housing Industry Association states that it is estimated that for Australia as a whole over $150m annually is paid for roads and services previously provided out of public loan moneys. Why should we be concerned? Perhaps we should not. According to the Government we should just sit back and say that this is the free enterprise economy coming into effect and nothing can be done about it.
We on this side of the House are concerned for these reasons: Firstly, high land prices are delaying home ownership for many people. They are also a major burden for people on middle incomes and for the family man. High land costs limit the number of houses that need to be built. These high costs are absorbing an ever increasing proportion of housing finance and an ever increasing proportion of investment capital. It is for this reason that Mr R. S. Prentice, in a recent article in ‘Austfact’, said that the price of land was becoming a very serious national problem. What is the Government doing about this problem? Well, it is doing nothing.
– What is the occupation of Mr Prentice?
– The Minister may look it up and find out for himself. He should have better manners. The Government is doing nothing about this problem. It is finding refuge and retreat again in the old 19th century term of ‘laissez-faire’ - leave everything alone. What the Government will do is increase the loan available from $15,000 to $17,500. But that does not deal with the problem.
What should be done? Obviously, at the centre of this problem is the whole crisis in relations between the Commonwealth Government and State and local governments. The starvation of funds from State and local governments has forced them to pass costs on to private developers who in turn are passing the costs back to the purchasers of land. So it is high time that some very serious re-examination was made of financial relationships between the Commonwealth Government on the one hand and State governments and local authorities on the other hand. As far as the Australian Labor Party is concerned, this is a problem of national and serious significance. We would make advances to State governments to enable them to purchase, at a reasonable price, develop and resell land at cost prices to home buyers. The Labor Party would establish a department of housing and urban affairs.
I have mentioned so far the escalating costs of land. One other important factor is the factor of the rising costs of homes themselves. The evidence of this increase in the cost of housing can be shown by Commonwealth figures. In 1959-60, the average cost of a new home in Australia was $6,433. In 1966-67, the average cost for a new house in Australia was $3,966. By 1968-69, the average cost had risen to $9,994. Now, this is an indication of what has been happening. Statistics have been taken out by one of Australia’s largest home construction firms. I mention again my earlier reference to ‘Austfact’ and the statement by Mr R. S. Prentice. The figures which he quoted related to Sydney. They have been taken from a comprehensive range of homes for middle and lower income earners. From 1959 to 1969 the average cost of land had risen by 182%. That was the increase for these areas covered by this large home building firm. In the same period the average cost of a house had increased by 68%. So a very significant increase has occurred in the cost of housing over these 10 years. This increase of 68% should be compared with the 24% that I referred to earlier as the general rise in consumer prices.
Why has this rise taken place? One factor that I do not want to go into in detail now is the increase in the physical size of houses and the increase in their contents. Australians are becoming used to having bigger, better homes. This certainly has contributed to the increase in price. Of course, a general rise in prices has occurred. Prices normally have been reasonably stable due particularly to competition in the industry and the efficiency of the industry. Prices now are high enough to make the task of buying a home a task of major proportions. This is why we are worried about the present situation. Again, the policy of the Government is to say: ‘Well, once again, this is this beautiful blind force of the market coming into operation. We have been used to it for hundreds of years, you know. We are familiar with it and we are used to it. We will dodge the problem.’ The Australian Labor Party maintains that if some sort of uniform regulations for the Australian building industry as a whole could be introduced very significant savings could be made on the price of a house. We calculate that some $600 could be saved on the price of an average house. It is about time that uniform building regulations were introduced into Australia.
I have mentioned two problems so far dealing with the cost of housing and the problems facing married couples when they buy a house. One other problem which I will not go into in very great detail has been the scarcity of capital and the scarcity of loan money available for home buyers, coupled with high interest rates and, in particular, the cost of the second mortgage. I do not think I will go any further into that subject. Suffice it to say, those people in low income groups are in a particularly bad situation as far as finding finance is concerned. There are approximately 1 million Australians who subsist on incomes which are below the poverty line or which are only marginally above it. This is a problem that concerns us very seriously. We are concerned with the problems of middle income groups but we are concerned in particular with those people who, unless they receive assistance to buy homes, cannot get the housing that they must have.
– They never will under Capitalism.
– That is quite right. The low income, often handicapped, occupants of sub-standard dwellings are not likely ever to be able to purchase or even to rent satisfactory dwellings. State housing authorities have at least 50,000 people on their waiting lists, with waiting lists running from 3 years to 4 years. This is a problem of tremendous proportions and very little is being done to tackle it. This state of affairs contrasts very markedly with what the previous speaker said about the high rate of home ownership in Australia. This is the other side of the picture which should be looked at. I tura to the situation of the low income earner who receives between $50 and $60 per week. These people - and I represent many of them in my electorate - find great difficulty in saving a deposit and in obtaining an adequate loan. Many of them are currently in flats. Their problems are not eased by the 25% regulation which takes into account only the breadwinner’s basic income. They would need to save at least 3 years or 4 years to get a loan. The problem of these people is something worthy of consideration.
A very significant growth has occurred in the number of flats being built. Why are these flats being built? Again, this is the result of Government policy - Liberal Government policy - a conservative government policy. It is the result of the high price of land, which this Government has allowed to increase, as well as the rising costs of housing and the high interest rates. Because of these factors many people are finding it impossible to buy a home. They are forced into living in flats, not by preference but simply because of the policies of this Government. Many of these people are on low incomes. They are people who earn $60 per week or below. As I say, I represent very many of them in my electorate. These are the people about whom I am particularly concerned.
These people face the problem of finding the money to raise a deposit. This is a problem for people living on an income of less than $60 per week. The problem is even greater for people, with children, who are on $40 a week. T know many of these people too. They must first find a deposit and then they must be able to get a loan sufficient for their requirements from a savings bank. Quite often they cannot do so. The shortage of low interest loans is obliging married couples to accept their first mortgage from a building society at at least 7i%. Then, the deposit gap between the loan and the full price may often be made up by an additional second mortgage or through finance company loans at 13% or 1.4%. The point is this: The loans available from the low interest lenders are becoming difficult for many people to obtain in the first place but, worse than that, they are becoming irrelevant because of the high cost of land and housing.
There are many comments that I would like to make finally on institutions that provide money for people on lower incomes. One thing that I do wish to object to is the recent withdrawal of concessions from friendly societies. This will mean that the costs of the friendly societies will be increased. These costs again will be passed on to the many people on lower and middle incomes who are seeking housing finance from these friendly societies. I take this opportunity to register my protest at the Government’s lack of control over this situation.
– lt has the control.
– Yes. Perhaps I should say its lack of regulation. 1 am concerned also with the co-operative housing societies. I think that the amount of the loans that these societies provide at the present moment go up to as much as $8,900. I think that it is time that the level of these loans was raised too. In Victoria, as at December last year, these housing societies lent at an interest rate of from 43 % to 6% . In some cases up to $7,500 is lent and in other cases up to $8,900. The period of loan varies from 26 to 30 years, Obviously they are a vital source of finance for low income earners. Everything should be done to facilitate their services to low income earners. I believe the loans should be boosted to $10,000. This would mean that more money would be necessary for them so that they could still deal wilh the same number, indeed an increasing number, of clients. The Commonwealth Government is in a position, constitutionally, to enable this to be done.
I shall refer now to credit unions. They are valuable also for low income earners. Figures provided by the Australian Federation of Credit Unions suggest that from 15% to 20% of their loans are for land and housing purchases and about 15% for home improvements. Although they may charge an average interest rate of 10% reducible on their loans, in fact the loans are very cheap for, whereas o’.her institutions may lend for 7i% additional charges by those institutions may boost the interest rate to 10%. I refer to charges for cheques and insurance. I have been informed by representatives of 1 credit union in my electorate that a loan of $1,000 a year over 1 year by a credit union may be as cheap as $60 after adjustments are made. Such charges as insurance are included free in a credit union loan.
What is the Government’s policy towards credit unions? When homes savings grants were first introduced deposits in credit unions were accepted for homes savings grant purposes. Later this eligibility was withdrawn. No reason was given by the Government. Strangely enough credit unions still have not been able to get a reason from the Government as to why their recognition as institutions attracting the homes savings grant has been withdrawn. Even the speech read by the Minister for the Navy (Mr Killen) did not contain any reason as to why credit unions are not accepted. How does the Government deal with these organisations? lt excludes them from the homes savings grant. How does it do this? Well, the minimum loan for three-quarters of housing loans must be $7,000. the Government says. In fact - this is the cruel and cynical aspect of it - State government regulations actually prevent credit unions from lending up to this amount. Of course the Government is aware of this. In Victoria a limit of $3,000 is set on a credit union loan. The maximum loan in New South Wales is $4,000. Therefore automatically the Government has simply legislated them out of eligibility.
Furthermore, a credit union must lend up to a total of $50,000 for homes to become eligible under the homes savings grant scheme. The limitations on the membership of credit unions prevent this from happening. Many credit unions simply could not reach this figure. In other words. 70% of credit unions are immediately excluded from the scheme. The Government also demands that the maximum interest to be charged by the credit unions must be, according to the Act, 7i% . This figure needs closer examination because many of the regular institutions may actually charge up to 10%. Also, credit unions charge only 10% reducible, and included in the arrangement is free loan protection insurance. This is not provided free by any other lenders. Therefore the Minister actually has drawn up legislation saying that credit unions will be eligible but then admits quite openly that few credit unions could benefit under the regulations.
I believe that the Government’s policy towards credit unions is very unjust and very severe. There are only 3 institutions into which people put their savings as opposed to their investments. They are savings banks, building societies and credit unions. Yet credit unions are the only institutions excluded from eligibility under the homes savings grant scheme. This means that many young married couples who borrow from credit unions in order to buy houses, land or to carry out improvements to their homes are prevented from putting their savings to their own benefit and that of their fellow members. I point out also that credit unions provide a very valuable service, particularly to low income earners, in the form of second mortgages. It has become increasingly difficult for young married couples to pay for a house. Credit unions are playing an increasingly vital role in providing second mortgages and loans to enable people to furnish and equip their homes.
I point out to the Government, as have the credit unions, that they have no wish to enter substantially into long term financing of housing. One honourable member earlier this evening said that the credit unions had not clarified their attitude as to how they would develop in this sphere. One thing that they have clarified to the Government is that they do not intend to enter into the long term financing of housing. They are satisfied with what is being done by building societies. Indeed, they contribute to building societies by investing their surplus funds in them.
I believe that the Government should redraft this Bill, so far as it concerns credit unions, in accordance with the amendments put forward by the Labor Party. It should recognise the credit unions as acceptable institutions to attract the homes savings grant. Why should it do this? To do so would increase the savings deposited with them and would also increase the funds available to building societies for long term housing loans. If the Government is concerned about the availability of finance to the people on low and middle incomes then it should show its sincerity by redrafting this Bill.
Mr ROBINSON (Cowper) [9.151- The Homes Savings Grants Bill provides for an increase from $15,000 to $17,500 in the limit to the value of a home which may attract a Commonwealth homes savings grant. It implements the Government’s undertaking, given at the last general election, to raise this limit. In addition, of course, it contains other amendments to the Act. I believe that this is progressive legislation. It is evidence of the Government’s determination to carry forward a practical policy.
This evening we have been listening to a very wide ranging debate. One wonders whether members of. the Opposition believe that all the housing problems in Australia can be solved merely by talking about them during discussion of a specific proposition without adopting a general approach which would permit improvements and alterations in those areas about which they have found reason to complain. I believe that the contrary is the case.
I want to emphasise the real purpose of this legislation. The underlying purpose of the introduction of the homes savings grant scheme was to encourage people to save. It was designed to give them an incentive to build or buy their own homes. The record of accomplishment in this direction is seen in the remarkable extent to which this scheme has been called upon by young people in Australia. Since 1964 a total amount of $71m has been expended to benefit 164,000 applicants. When the scheme was first proposed by the then leader of the Government, Sir Robert Menzies, few of us believed that it would develop to be such a great encouragement and incentive. If by alterations and extensions we were to lose the main principle of the scheme, or if we were to change the basis upon which it has been founded, then I believe we would lose its value.
There are many problems in housing in Australia and the Government has not denied this. State governments also have not denied it. However, there have been great accomplishments. The provision of housing in Australia has been running at a record level, due to the policies of this very house conscious Government. It is house conscious to the point that it has shown that the Opposition again is way out in any proposition it has advanced to outstrip the Government in attracting the support of the electors. There is no doubt that at the time of its inception this homes savings grant scheme created the kind of incentive which was absolutely essential if we were to avoid a very obvious pitfall which faced the nation. [Quorum formed].
When I was interrupted I was referring to the fact that there was growing affluence among young people in the community when the homes savings grant scheme was introduced. It was necessary to encourage them to see the wisdom of putting their money into housing rather than motor cars or something else that would not in the long run produce for them the security of a home or the opportunity to have a home of their own and to get away from the very thing which over the years the Labor Party had advocated - a situation in which too many people were renting homes; too many people did not have a stake in the country and did not have a home they could call their own.
If we were to analyse closely the impact of this scheme we would find that it has had a great influence in bringing about a higher level of home ownership. This has happened despite the ever present incentives for young people to channel their money in some other direction, such as attractive hire purchase proposals and attractive propositions offered to them day by day by commercial interests to put their money somewhere else. I believe that this is a fundamental and important consideration. It is one which the Opposition has chosen not even to recognise. On the other hand the Opposition has chosen again to throw down the gauntlet to this Government, alleging that it has failed to find the resources for homes; that it has failed to grapple with the problem of rising land costs; that it has failed to produce a solution to what is an inescapable situation in a growing economy. I would be the first to say that I would like to see land prices stabilised; that I would like to see building costs stabilised. But I want to know how these things may be achieved.
On another occasion in this chamber the right honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell) had an answer to the problem. I think every Australian should be reminded of what he said. This was not the first time he has advanced such a solution. He said there could be no solution while the Government continued in office; that capitalism could never do anything about the problem. What he meant was that the answer is Socialism. Having seen something of what happens in a Socialist state I can tell the right honourable gentleman that he is far from the mark. He had an opportunity a year or so ago to see for himself what happens in a Socialist state. He visited the Soviet Union. If his impressions of that visit are that there is a better level of housing in Russia than there is in Australia he must have had his eyes closed while he was in that part of the world. To compare housing in Russia with housing in Australia is like comparing chalk with cheese. Whether it be a Socialist state or a capitalist community of the kind we are proud to continue to try to develop, pressures will exist. They exist simply because the population of the world is increasing. There is a clamour for a rise in standards of living. This is commendable. The Government has done a tremendous job to meet all these demands and it is wrong for the Opposition to claim otherwise.
Let me turn briefly to the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition. The Opposition has moved that the Bill should be redrafted to bring credit unions wholly within the scope of the homes savings grant scheme. If we are to ensure a continuing flow of capital for home building surely we must ensure that the preponderance of funds going into savings accounts is channelled into that sector of the financial structure of the country that will yield most for the purpose of financing home building. If the credit unions are able to show their capacity to meet this requirement, the legislation gives them the opportunity to participate. I am in no way opposed to the operation of credit unions. I believe that they are a very desirable and very useful medium for encouraging people to participate in a particular kind of ‘financial adventure, if I may so term it, but it would be a sorry day if credit unions were to become the only source of saving that the people had. Credit unions have failed to recognise this factor. I hope they will see the wisdom of expanding their operations so that they may qualify under this legislation, but certainly there is no justification for accepting the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition.
I wish to raise a particular point that is of special interest to me, affecting as it does my electorate. I doubt whether any credit union located in a country area would have the capacity to develop to the stage where it could comply with the provisions of this legislation. So the matter of the autonomy of the credit union or of its branches arises. When 1 recall some of- the very caustic statements published in ‘Quest’, the official organ of the credit unions, I wonder whether it would be a good thing for the country if credit unions were to operate collectively because there was certainly a very strong political flavour about some of the expressions in ‘Quest’ prior to the last elections. At that time the credit unions, in their efforts to get the Government to act in the interests of their members, adopted the policy of telling their members flatly not to vote for anybody except a member of the Labor Party. I wonder whether that policy represented the views of individual members of credit unions. I wonder whether a publication such as ‘Quest’ has a right to express a view of that kind on behalf of contributors to credit unions. I am sure that it does not. There is quite a difference between the right of freedom of expression and the use of contributors’ funds for purposes of the kind I have described. 1 would suggest that those who exercise an executive role in credit unions should look at the situation. If they put their house in order in some respect they may be able to convince the Government that there is a little more justification in their claim than what we have before us at present would suggest.
I pass on to the one other point raised in the amendment, of which (here are 3 sections. 1 refer to the backdating of the provisions of this Bill to 31st December 1967. We would all be delighted to be able to do that but there must be some responsibility in terms of budgeting. There must be some consideration of what is practical from an administrative point of view. It has always been the practice to give some indication of Government policy. If it is within the competency of whoever gives an undertaking to date legislation from a time which is related to the undertaking, that is provided in the legislation. It is, I believe, quite proper for the legislation to be retrospective to October 1969 but certainly it is just a little beyond what would be practical to suggest that it be dated back to December 1967.
The Bill also provides for the resolving of some anomalies which have existed in the legislation. These are progressive improvements for the operation of the scheme and I commend them because I have experienced in my own work as a member some of the disabilities in matters raised by constituents. The Bill will clear aside irksome difficulties which some applicants have experienced. But what I think is essential is for there to be at ali times an effort to encourage people to realise the value of the scheme and to take advantage of it - not to leave them in doubt and not to try to sow the seeds of dissatisfaction in the minds of young people who will make use of this very useful and attractive incentive towards owning their own home.
I hope much of what has been said by the Opposition tonight will not deter young people from taking advantage of this very useful means of improving their opportunity to become the owners of a home, to build a place for themselves and for their families and to become a really positive part of the Australian nation - to become stake-holders, so to speak, in a material way in this nation of ours. If the Opposition believes that it ought to be any other way, if it believes there is some other scheme which would do a better job, we would be glad to know of it and we would be glad to hear it described. I think it was the honourable member for Perth who said that we should step in and authorise - I do not know in what constitutional way this was to be done - the States to buy up all available land, to develop it and then make it available for housing. The first question is: Who would pay the bill? From where would the resources come? How would we in the long run find a solution to the tremendous drain on our national resources if we were to do this? I put it to the House that such a proposition has no merit in point of practical application. If we look at what Labor administrations have done in the States in the past we can see that any attempt to socialise land has in fact been the main springboard ultimately to cause disastrous inflationary tendencies in land values. If a government takes charge of available lands - large sections of areas suitable for sub-division for housing - the immediate pressure that goes on all other available land is absolutely astronomical. We saw it in New South Wales under a Labor administration. We saw the disastrous effects of it which are still being felt, and the only sensible approach that has been possible since that time is the current proposition of the State Government to bring in a measure which will ensure that developers will in future add to the cost of sub-dividing the cost of development in terms of seeing to it that there is a responsibility shouldered by the developer to see that the land is put into a suitable state for use before it is sold. This will tend to curb the inflationary tendencies. But it is very late in the day for the reason that so much damage has been done under a Labor administration.
There are many other facets of housing which can be debated but the purpose of the House in considering this measure is a fairly restricted one and I believe that having spoken of these aspects that are important on the precise provisions of the Bill this is all that is appropriate at this time. I commend the Bill to the House and express the hope that it will be just the forerunner of further liberalisation of this scheme as the years go on.
– The honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) could talk himself blue in the face with all his platitudes and cliches on this subject but the fact of the matter is that the success of the Government’s housing scheme - of any government’s housing schemes - is finally measured by the houses in which people live; whether they can pay for them, and have sufficient money left for the other essentials of life; whether they can get them at reasonable prices without being exploited; and whether sufficient homes are available in decent environments. I think the answer to that kind of criteria is an emphatic no. The fact of the matter is that this Government over the years, as is the case in 1970, has failed to show an appreciation of the fundamental factors associted with the housing problem. It has never looked, for example, at the question of effective land utilisation. One has only to read the daily Press to get some kind of a bead on this proposition.
In the ‘Australian’ a couple of weeks ago an architect proposing a developmental plan for Canberra outlined a scheme which embodied private courtyards to contemporary styled housing in a garden-like setting, and he was able to show that without sacrificing anything at all one could double the land utilisation or the number of houses and the people one could accommodate on an acre of land. But there is nothing like this being contemplated at the present time. I suppose it is fair to say there are too many people being permitted to compete for too little land in a given area. In New South Wales there are enormous problems. Some people say that N.S.W. stands for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong. The fact of the matter is that people are loading into that region and there is great competition for land.
How long is it since we have heard this Government talk sensibly and persuasively about the need for decentralisation, regionalisation and the matter of deploying our industries through incentive schemes into other areas. When all is said and done all land is useless until it is provided with services which are made available from public revenue. We ought to ensure that we exploit the possibilities available to us to take industry into parts that will give new life to country areas. One might have thought that the honourable member for Cowper, who sits on the cross benches and who represents the Australian Country Party ostensibly, would have said something along these lines. There is a need to rejuvenate country towns and to give them houses and assistance in this way. But nothing has been said along these lines. Of course, the most important fundamental necessity that is continuously being disregarded by this Government is the need to provide adequate credit for the young people. Would anybody be prepared to say at this unhappy stage in the history of housing in Australia that our young people are able to get what ought to be their birthright - the amount of money that they need at reasonable rates of interest with which to acquire a home?
We are told by the honourable member for Cowper and the honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) and others who have spoken earlier in this debate that there is an unnecessary and pedantic quibble going on about this matter as though there is no problem in the housing field. 1 went to the Parliamentary Library and I asked for figures on the number of outstanding housing applications in connection with established lending institutions in Australia. First of all, there is the War Service Homes Division. I was told that as at 30th June 1969 there were 4,350 outstanding applicants to the Division. There is no need for me to labour this point. Recently the Opposition brought forward for discussion a matter of definite public importance to draw attention to the fact not only that there is a large number of outstanding applications but that the Government has allowed the War Service Homes Division to run out of money, and months will pass before the young ex-servicemen from Vietnam will be able to receive this assistance.
I was told that the Housing Commission of New South Wales as at 30th June 1968 - I think the figure is probably worse at 30th June 1969 - had 26,892 outstanding applications. That is the situation in one State, the State of New South Wales. The Housing Commission of Victoria as at the end of June 1969 had 14,295 outstanding applications. Figures were not available for Queensland or South Australia. The State Housing Commission of Western Australia as at 30th June 1968 had 17,300 outstanding applications. Good heavens, we are told that 175,000 migrants are going to arrive in Australia this year and approximately one-third of them are likely to leave the ship in the west and look for houses. The situation is bad enough now but how- bad will it be with the invasion of such a large number of house-hungry people. The Director for Housing in Tasmania, had 2,445 outstanding applications listed as at the end of June last year. So out of the 4 States that have been mentioned, some 61,032 applications for housing are outstanding with the State housing authorities.. There are other lending bodies which are not listed here, such as insurance companies, building societies and banks. How many people are waiting for housing through these organisations? How long have they been waiting?
In 1968 the State housing authorities together built 10,371 homes, and during that year they had 52,315 applications. So they arc steadfastly dropping behind. One wonders if honourable members opposite have any earnest heartfelt conviction in relation to the need to assail the problems that are concerning the people. We wonder what the Government’s proposals are concerning the need for slum clearance. I glanced at a report the other day. lt .said that in Melbourne there were between 1.000 and 5,000 acres of slums which required to be cleared urgently. The report said that the rate of clearance was 1 5 to 20 acres a year. Yet there is no proposal, or even apparent concern, to look at these matters.
Some recriminations -have been passed in the chamber tonight about a contention by an Opposition member that housing authorities could be assisted to engage in the forward acquisition df sites. Does the Government want public money to spend on purchasing Housing Commission sites after the price has become inflated, or does it want value for money? The sensible business-like approach to this matter is to earmark the site and acquire it by option or the best means available as early as possible. Yet this proposal has been rubbished in the House. One wonders what motivates people and whether honourable members opposite speak for banks or some other organisation rather than the public interest? We were told by the honourable member for Cowper that these proposals should not be countenanced and that they cannot be implemented. My own shire President, Councillor Geitzelt, who is visiting Canberra at the present time, has told me that his local government authority made in excess of $lm out of its own land project. It is a matter of acquiring residue land, consolidating, planning, and making it available to couples at reasonable rates. Unfortunately there is a tendency sometimes for these schemes to be exploited. The Councillor also mentioned as an aside that someone bought a block of land the other day, sold it within an hour and made $2,000 profit. I admit that that kind of problem is very hard to resolve.
I notice the honourable member for Cook shaking his head. He gives us the impression that there is nothing serious to talk about in regard to the housing needs of young Australian couples. I would like to refer the honourable member to the report by the Housing Industry Association, which is not an adjunct of the Australian Labor Party. It is a national organisation of the building industry, the banks, the building societies and estate agents. What did it have to say about the housing position generally? It said:
More than 60,000 Australian families are living in sub-standard accommodation.
This report was the result of a 12 months survey. The report continued:
The majority are forced to occupy their homes because they have neither the resources nor the income to obtain better accommodation.
We believe that people should be given the incentive to save, but we also believe some consideration ought to be extended to people who have not a saving capacity of any consequence. No doubt many of them would be included among the 60,000 people referred to in the Housing Industry Association’s report.
The report also said that the cost of land has more than trebled in 3 years. Should not this matter occupy the attention of this Parliament? One would feel that with all the loquaciousness of honourable members on the opposite side - the self-righteous and pious pronouncements on this matter - the problem of the cost of land might at least have been identified. What will the position be if the problem is left unattended for yet another 3 years? The report then went on to list a number of points of action. The report was delivered to this Government, in particular to the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) and, if I am not mistaken, to the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton).
This impartial and expert authority drew attention to the need for lower interest rates. What has been done about that? It is ironical that recently interest rates went up to 71% in this country. Let us see what has happened on the same day in the United Kingdom - poor old Britain which is supposed to be battered and down on its knees taking its last breath under a Socialist Government, according to honourable members opposite. On the very day that the interest rate went up in this country for all sorts of purposes, including housing, it went down to the same extent in the United Kingdom. Yet Australia is supposed to be relatively prosperous. The Housing Industry Association called for larger loans to tie in the first and second mortgages. We remember this Government’s alleged panacea for this problem. It established the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, which has not had a useful effect, in my view. After all, no-one ever lost money by lending it for housing. Can any honourable member tell me that in recent years, in contemporary times, lending money for housing has been a risky business. Of course it has not. The effect this has had has been to increase the price of housing and the young people who are forced to insure have had to carry the cost of the insurance.
The reason people have not been prepared to invest in housing is not because of risk but because it has been relatively more profitable to invest in short term lending, such as hire purchase and matters of that nature, where people can turn over their money quickly. There is a limit to the capacity of people to repay long term loans, such as loans for housing purposes. The Government has failed to see even this elementary point. The Housing industry Association called for assistance with the provision of land at lower rates and it called for action to limit the rising land prices. Sydney land prices have risen by an average of 10% each year over the last 10 years. Honourable members opposite should express some kind of view on this subject if they seek to prevail in the face of the problem.
For the 12 months ended August 1969 the average land prices rose by 14.9%. It is said that prices are rising much faster than people can save. The ratio of land prices to housing prices is moving very sharply. Once the ratio used to be 25% represented by the cost of land and 75% represented by the cost of housing. In the best of situations now we find that the ratio is 50-50. In my own area out in the Sutherland sbire, which is about 17 miles from Sydney, Parkes Development is pushing through virgin bush country with its sub-divisions. The price of a piece of land on an undulating site will be about $10,000 or $12,000. If it has a flickering view of the Woranora River the price will run to $15,000. To maintain the ratio of today’s land and housing prices a purchaser would be spending a total of $30,000 on his house and land. A report which is available indicates that if one borrows $19,000 - and lots of people in my area have to do this - at the standard rates of interest that prevail generally at the present time one will have to pay back no less than $31,000 in interest alone. On top of that the principal will have to be paid. So a total of $50,000 can be expended for a $19,000 loan. Surely this kind of thing justifies the attention of honourable members opposite.
We on this side of the House wonder whether any thought, has been given to the future provision of homes! We are told that by 1972 we will need 156,000 homes per annum. I understand that last year 130,000 homes were provided. The requirement was 142,000. We are lagging behind now and we are not gearing up to meet the situation with which we will be confronted in a few short years. Twenty-one years have gone by since the Liberal-Country Party came to office in this Parliament. To sum up its record in the field of housing one could say that it has used the housing situation as an economic weapon in difficult times. In 1960 and 1961, when the credit squeeze beset us, one of the first industries hit, together with the motor vehicle industry, was the housing industry. It is obvious that the Government has not found any way out of the problem. Young people are now being adversely affected.
During this Government’s period of office interest rates have risen by 42% in the case of loans made available by the Commonwealth Savings Bank; by an average of 87% in the case of the trading banks, and by 112% in the case of life assurance companies. That can be contrasted with the record of the Chifley Government. I do not want to harp on the past except to mention that compassion was a characteristic of everything done by the Chifley Government. Its 53-year loans were made available at interest rates of 3%. The Government met three-fifths of the rebates which were made available to low income families by the States. Rents under the 1956 housing agreement were $6 per week, but now they are as high as $20. One-fifth of a person’s income was expended on a home. Now the proportion has risen to an unprecedented level. The Opposition wonders why the Government is not concerning itself with matters mentioned by some of my colleagues. There is a need for building research. We are told that $3m per annum is being expended at the present time. The Master Builders Federation of Australia has asked for a compulsory levy amounting to 0.1% to be placed on builders. This would yield a considerable amount of money and could save over $100m a year.
A country that is encouraging home construction to the extent that we are ought to be trying to get value for money. What are we doing about modern techniques? Dramatic experiments are being carried out overseas with fibreglass homes that look like space ships. They are round in shape and can be transported by helicopter and landed on the site. They have insulation, air conditioning and all the facilities that seem to characterise contemporary living. These homes are being moulded in sections, bolted together and landed with the least possible construction costs. That seems to me to be the kind of dramatic approach that we should be looking at here, together with other pre-fabrication techniques. There is a lack of imagination and a lack of serious interest in this subject. I have talked about some of the potentialities of housing which the Government ought to be tantilised into looking at. Now I want to go back sharply to the Bill for the short time that remains. It is not necessary for me to outline the purpose of the Bill because its net effect is little enough. The Opposition has proposed that we should lift the ceiling limit on the value of homes which attract a grant. It has advocated that credit unions should be accommodated. In general, from the inception of this legislation in 1964, it has proposed the elimination of all the bugs and bureaucratic features which have caused so much difficulty to so many young couples. Originally the Opposition proposed that widows and divorcees should be included in the scheme, that the age limit should be lifted and that the ceiling limit should be lifted. Slowly the Government is coming to recognise the merit in what the Opposition contended 6 long years ago. Six long years have passed and the people concerned have been disadvantaged. Six months have now transpired since the Government was elected with a mandate to initiate the proposals that are in the Bill. The long and unnecessary delay in giving legislative effect to these problems undoubtedly has caused hardship and inconvenience to many couples who have been unable to delay entering into a contract to build or buy a home after waiting for the day when the Government would assist them with their problems.
The restrictive technicalities of the legislation have already resulted in 15,738 applications being rejected up. to 1969. Nearly 16,000 young couples, or double that number of people, with hopes and expectations of assistance in the financing of their homes, have been disillusioned. They are the people who have suffered. Some 16,000 others have tenaciously battled through the tangle of technicalities to secure a subsidy after having previously been rejected. They needed to be tenacious. To qualify for the maximum benefit a couple must save $1,500. Savings of up to $600 a year in any one year can count towards the grant. My Party’s first objection is that many needy young home seekers do not have that kind of savings capacity. It is interesting to note the reasons why people have been rejected. Most of these reasons are not being confronted in the proposals before the House at the moment. It is interesting to establish from the fifth annual report of the Secretary of the Department of Housing that for the year 1968-69 1,062 applicants were rejected on the ground that their savings were not held in an acceptable form. That number represents 24.7% of the total rejections for the year. In addition to that, 742 applicant couples, or 17.3% of the total, were rejected on the ground that their acceptable savings were not held for the limited period of 3 years. Together these 2 groups of rejections represent 42% of the total rejections for the year. The report goes on to outline that publicity was given to the requirement to set up savings in an acceptable account, lt was pointed out that publicity given to this requirement by the Department had been supplemented by extensive advertising by the banks and many building societies and also by television, radio and the Press. One wonders what the total cost of all the advertising of these restrictive provisions and the cost of the pamphlets and booklets was. Just what was it all for, since the Government has now decided that all of these restrictions are not necessary anyway? What was the virtue that this so-called free enterprise Government saw in the regimentation that provided that the savings of young couples had to be in this prescribed kind of account? What is so sacrosanct about savings being in a Government decreed acceptable form? Would it have been less virtuous for a prudent couple to have withdrawn their capital and maybe spent it on land or turned it over in some other investment or to utilise it for the purpose of buying a car should the need arise and then convert it into cash at the time the money was needed for a home? Maybe a couple could utilise (heir savings for the purchase of a caravan and convert it when the money was needed. Is it undesirable for young couples to invest their money on the Stock Exchange or with group investments, government bonds or such safe investing authorities such as electricity authorities or water boards? What would be so undesirable if young couples invested in a lucrative dividend bearing company such as the Lend Lease Corporation Ltd, of which the present Treasurer (Mr Bury) was a director, or L. J. Hooker Ltd, of which a former Treasurer is still a director? What is so unscrupulous about young couples putting their savings in insurance, credit unions or superannuation? What sort of holy cow is there that brings all of this regimentation to bear in an unnecessary way? Would a young member of this Parliament be expected to save other than through his superannuation? In other words, 10,062 appplicants in 1968-69 need not have been rejected at all on the grounds that their savings were not held in an acceptable form.
Now that the horse has bolted the Government is seeing the folly of its ways in some regards and the legislation is being amended. Will the rejected cases be reviewed favourably and retrospectively? How far back will they be reviewed? Of the cases rejected, 742 were excluded on the ground that acceptable savings were not held for 3 years. Other applications were rejected on the grounds that the value of the home Was in excess of the statutory limit. Last year the Government rejected 765 applications - 17.8% of the total - because the value of the home exceeded the statutory limit of $15,000. In fact, the Government does not really care what a home costs. It has never shown any interest in this matter. Interest rates have run riot to such an extent that in the period of their loan people are paying more than double the capital which they borrow. This problem is becoming more serious as each year goes by.
In 1967-68 only 442 applications were rejected on the grounds that the value of the home exceeded the limit but 765 appli cations were rejected last year. There is an unaccountable lack of discretion in dealing with applicants. The same house could cost greatly varying amounts according to the part of Australia in which it is built. Land and building costs are much higher in Sydney and Perth, for example, than they are in other capital cities. The Government in effect is saying that it wants to encourage young people to save, but not to save too much. The Government is saying: ‘You cannot go in for a decent sized house. We want you to live in boxes - not big boxes but little boxes - that cannot cost more than $15,000 or when this Bill is passed cannot cost more than $17,500’. Who has the greatest commitment to saving: The couple with the low mortgage or the couple with the high mortgage? After all, the purpose of this Bill is to encourage people to save. Why is the Government so concerned about this unnecessary restriction? A couple aspiring to build a modest home would save so much money. The maximum limit at the moment is $15,000 and the proposed maximum limit will be $17,500. This figure includes the value of the land, the home and other improvements. Obviously, when these restrictions are laid out young couples with capacity can find a way over problems of this kind.
I know people who have built their homes and left many of the improvements until the home was completed.. They succeeded in attracting a housing grant and, of course, after the grant was made available they set about providing fences, paths, garages and things of this kind. But the unsuspecting can get trapped by technicalities such as the one to which I have referred. If time permitted 1 would have been able to enunciate many other technicalities. If one set out deliberately to contrive a series of traps to discourage young people from what is supposed to be the genuine purpose of this legislation one could not do better than come up with this unholy schemozzle which in no effective way represents the answer to the housing problems being encountered by thousands of young couples and, indeed, the home hungry public throughout Australia.
– This afternoon on this very important Bill we have had a discussion from the Opposition ranging over the whole field of housing. 1 do not think such a wide discussion comes within the ambit of this Bill. I know that because of some of the amendments proposed honourable members opposite have been permitted to touch upon various matters. I do not propose tonight to take members of the Opposition to task in relation to all of the things which they mentioned. I would think that the important parts of their speeches have been confined to the question of the increased price of land - and everyone knows that land prices have increased - and also, as was mentioned by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) in particular, the historical background of this legislation. It was alleged by both the honourable member for Reid and the honourable member for Perth (Mx Berinson) that this Bill was only a sort of election gimmick. This, of course, is quite a foolish statement to make. Honourable members opposite then went on to deal with their advocacy of credit unions being permitted tobe recognised in this legislation. lt appals me that so few people seem to appreciate the fundamental cause of the increased price of land in Australia. The increased price of land affects every city - some more than others perhaps. The increased price of land is not peculiar to any city. The basic reason behind the increased price of land is that there is not sufficient land available to meet the demand. This situation was brought about largely by government interference which was prompted in the first place, of course, by the Australian Labor Party in the kind of legislation that it left this Government. 1 say advisedly that many of the Liberal Party governments in Australia seem to forget the fundamental reason why the land problem cannot be cured by government interference. Local government authorities in my opinion have grown up in recent years with an idea that they can interfere with the development and the availability of land.
The bureaucracy has greater control over land development in this day and age. Of course each of the States has its own planning authority. Planning is very good in its own way provided that the planning authorities understand the objectives they are trying to achieve. All local government councils practise land zoning and town planning. In other words, all the forms of government in Australia impose a restriction on the availability of land. This has brought about a number of things. Under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, housing commissions have been created in all the States of Australia and have acquired big areas of land. The War Service Homes Division has also acquired large areas of land, in every city. In addition, because of its approach to investment in land, the Australian Labor Party introduced fringe banking when it was in power. The Labor Party destroyed very effectively the inducement for investment in land by the legislation it introduced. As a result organisations and. developers acquired land in bulk in various areas and shut out the possibility of development of sufficient land to meet the demands of the people. As a consequence there has been an enormous rise in the price of land. This is because a Labor government did not allow free enterprise to operate.
– There are 6 State governments too.
– I am not accusing only the Labor Party.
– What are the State governments doing about it?.
– Honourable members opposite have given their cure for the problem. I have listened to them very carefully today. They propose that the State governments should acquire areas of land, develop it and sell it to the people at cost or near cost. That is their idea. It was rather unfortunate that the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) mentioned the Chifley Government, I did not want to talk about this matter, but the honourable member for Hughes raised the question of the Chifley Government and the terms that it laid down. I would remind him that when the Labor Party was in power in this Federal Parliament the Chifley Government tried to introduce a national housing commission not along the lines of the existing State housing commisisons but for the whole of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Commonwealth was to take complete control over the housing of the people of Australia.
In the legislation introduced by the Labor Government no provision whatever was made for the ownership of homes by the people. Let honourable members opposite deny that if they can. If they go back over the legislation they will find that what I say is true. Members of the Labor Party tonight have been advocating home ownership in a subtle way. I do not think their hearts are in it. They would rather socialise the lot. The Chifley Government introduced legislation which would virtually have prohibited home ownership in Australia. That legislation was found to be invalid. It was ultra vires the Constitution. As a result the State housing commissions were set up under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreements.
The first of those agreements provided no encouragement whatever for home ownership. If honourable members go back to the original agreement in 1945 they will see no provision whatever for the encouragement of home ownership in Australia. There was a scheme for renting houses to the people. Indeed, under that scheme people would not have been able to choose in which suburb they would live or what kind of house they would live in. In other words, they were to be subjected to Socialism. They were to be directed where to go by the Government. They were to have a number on their back, as it were. This was Labor’s idea, and this is the fundamental idea that it still has in relation to housing. Honourable members opposite have suggested nothing of real importance in relation to this Bill.
The honourable member for Reid and the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Kennedy) spoke about the rising costs of housing. We all know that the costs of constructing houses have risen. These costs rise only in accordance with the general rise in the costs of labour and material and in accordance with the demand by the people for housing. The other component is the cost of land, and I have spoken about that before. Therefore there is only one problem. As an honourable member said here today, this Government has done more for housing than any other Government in the history of Australia. Homes have been constructed on the basis of providing 1 home for every 2b people by which the population has increased. The proportion of homes built has been even higher in recent years. When
Labor was in office it was constructing 1 home for every 4 people by which the population had increased.
– That was just after the Second World War.
– That is all right, but never in the history of the Labor Party did it do anything for housing. In broad terms, there is only one problem in housing in Australia, and that is the availability of cheap renting houses for the indigent people. Other than that, sufficient housing is available. There are problems relating to the scarcity of finance in certain directions, but this Bill was never intended to be a cure for all the problems of housing. There are other pieces of legislation relating to housing.
This scheme in itself is a magnificent one. It is a magnificent conception. It is a brilliant idea and is an encouragement to the people, particularly the young people. The results that have been achieved since the homes savings grant scheme was introduced in 1964 - that is less than 6 years ago - prove my contention. Certain figures have been quoted, but I have the latest figures. They were up to date as at the time of the election. They show that as a result of this legislation 164,000 young marrieds have become home owners. I do not think that can be sneezed at. They have been given grants without any strings attached and without any discrimination whatever. They have been given a total of $71m in grants. I think that is pretty magnificent. But the most important aspect of the success of the scheme is that those 164,000 young married people are better citizens for having received this grant.
– Does the honourable member say that they would not have received this grant?
– I do not say that they would not have received it, but they have been assisted by this scheme. Members of the Labor Party do not seem to understand the fundamental reasons for the introduction of the homes savings grant scheme. The best feature of the scheme is that it provides encouragement to young people to save as soon as they start work or as soon as they get their money box. They start to save with a definite objective. Both young women and young men are encouraged to think of their future. They will look forward to being married one day, setting up a home of their own and rearing their own family, because this is the only way they can find real happiness in life. This Bill is an encouragement and an invitation to them to save and to plan for their future because the grant is made according to their savings.
The scheme is effective because it also interests the young people in civic affairs. In other words it makes better citizens of young people, because they are thinking and planning for their future. Another aspect that is sometimes overlooked is that by their saving for many years before they want the money they are helping other people to get homes. This, of course, is one of the reasons why the Government has asked that their savings be deposited with certain organisations or institutions that deal in housing. Tens of thousands of young Australians today are saving for the purposes that I have mentioned, ls this worth while? Is this not something that should be applauded by the Labor Party and everybody in Australia who has a proper love for their own country? The amendments introduced in the Bill are good, although some are long overdue.
– Hear, hear!
– Yes, long overdue. In the past the savings have had to be designated as homes savings accounts. The new amendment opens the door a little wider in this respect. I do not think it matters very much as long as the intention is clear - saving for a home. This is what we have to get across; the intention must be saving for a home. This intention can be evident in many ways, one of which is the purchasing of land in advance of requirement. This is saving for a home. This is recognised in the Bill. Money may be deposited with a bank or with a building society. These are authorised bodies and the principal bodies which deal substantially with the provision of homes.
The question of credit unions has been raised. I have no objection to credit unions. The honourable member for Reid dealt extensively with this aspect and said that in New South Wales credit unions could not lend more than $4,000 for a home, and in the Australian Capital Terri tory more than $2,000. What we have to remember is that the credit union system of saving is not designed for homes at all. This was never intended by the credit unions. These amendments give credit unions an invitation to alter their charter to provide for loans for homes but it would be quite unfair if we permitted credit unions to participate in this scheme . unless they were actually lending money for housing purposes. The honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) pointed out that credit unions were set up to provide consumer credit for people. They were not intended to provide money for housing.
– What about a block of land?
– A block of land is a different thing altogether. If a person buys a block of land from his savings that land is an acknowledged saving. It is not necessary to have a credit union for that purpose. This, in my opinion, is the best form of saving. If I were to advise the young people of Australia today I would tell them that there are two principal avenues for their savings.- One is to buy a block of land and the other is to invest their savings in the permanent building societies, which are the most important building institutions in Australia and which were specifically set up for one purpose.
– For profiteering.
– No, they were not.
– Not much!
– Did honourable members ever hear such a statement in their lives? The honourable member for Sturt interjects: ‘For profiteering’. Who gets the profit?
– They do.
– They do not. A permanent building society works on a simple basis. People are paid 6% interest on their deposits and money is loaned at from 7% to li% interest. The 1% to I i% difference meets the costs of running the building society. No question of profit comes into it, because the building societies are not run for profit at all. They are cooperative societies for the benefit of people who invest and borrow from them, and they are safe. That is the great thing about them.
In my opinion they are the best possible organisations for young people to invest their savings in, because those people get 6% interest on their savings and have money made available to them when they need it to build or buy their homes.
I am glad that the legislation proposes widening the category of persons eligible to receive the grant. There is no reason why there should be discrimination between young marrieds, widows, widowers or even divorced people with children, provided they need and want a home. This will be a useful amendment. Another important amendment relates to the Minister’s discretion to determine the date of commencement of a home. This discretion should be exercised very reasonably by the Minister. Occasions arise - I have had this experience in the time that the legislation has been operative - when people buy a block of land and temporarily build a shed or garage on it. But that cannot be regarded as the starting date of building. A couple may have plans approved for a home in anticipation of a wedding. There may be some delay in the wedding through illness or some other cause but in the meantime they may do some preliminary work themselves on the site. We cannot be too precipitate in relation to this matter; so this discretion is very important and should be exercised reasonably.
The honourable member for Reid kept on making a patent error, as did one other member opposite. I think, in referring to an increase in the loan from $14,000 to $17,500. That is not the loan but the total price that can be paid for or the valuation of the property on which a grant is given.
– It is the maximum loan.
– It is not the maximum loan. It is the amount paid for the property. The honourable member does not understand his own proposal. This is the amount paid for a property upon which a person may borrow. If he pays in excess of that amount he is not qualified for the grant. It is not the maximum loan. I think - and I say this advisedly to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) who is at the table and who has had a lifetime of experience in these matters-
– If a person pays $15,000 he can get a loan.
– The honourable member made his calculations this afternoon as though the whole of this money is a loan. It is not. He has not considered the equity that a person may have in the property - the deposit he may have paid.
– It might cost more than $15,000.
– But the amount of$1 7,500 is the outside price that they can pay for a property and remain eligible to get the grant.
– I am aware of that.
– But the honourable member did not say so. He called it a loan. I think that the amount of $17,500 is too low.
– The way you are putting up prices it will need to be $35,000.
– I know what the Government is doing about it. It is trying to determine some basis of means test, if we like to call it that. However, I think that this amount is not only unrealistic but it is inhibiting in many ways. We have spoken about the increasing cost of land and increasing construction costs. Apart from that young people who are planning for a family should be encouraged to buy or build as good a house as their future capacity to pay will enable them to build. If a young man has an obvious future ahead of him and can see his way clear in the years to come to have a better home, why should we inhibit him by restricting him to a home valued at $17,500. I think it is wrong. I do not think it is realistic at all and the Government should have another look at this. It is not even in line with current costs and I think we should raise this amount quite considerably. There are thousands of young men in Australia whose future income is assured by the very nature of their employment. They can now be supported, though they could not some years ago, by the insured loan they borrow through a permanent building society. The loan is insured through the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation - another magnificent institution set up by this Government. This enables young people to bridge the deposit gap and they need have only 5% or 10% of the value of the house. So with the $500 they get free and the $1,500 they save, they are able to buy a very nice house for the future. This is the result of the insurance scheme which was set up by this Government to protect buyers and building societies and to enable buyers to bridge the deposit gap. I believe the limit should be raised to not less than $20,000 at present.
– Move an amendment.
– I do not propose to move an amendment but I make that suggestion to the Government. Whilst the scheme has been very successful it has been administered too rigidly. That is my criticism of it. I think in this kind of legislation much more discretion should be allowed to the minister. I know that some quite serious injustices have occurred. These can happen particularly where a home is bought at the right price within the limit. However, before completion of the transaction the young man decides to add some improvements to it. I have noticed even when the owner does some minor improvements, such as painting the walls, with his own hands, he increases the value beyond the limit and he loses the $500. To my way of thinking that is ridiculous.
In another case a man may buy a block of land and enter into a contract within the limit set by the legislation. At the weekends he adds a little more himself by way of paths, rockeries and so on. Because he does that the value placed on it is beyond the limit. This then deprives him of his $500. I think that is quite absurd and quite ridiculous. More discretion should be given to the Minister in these borderline cases and the administration should not be as rigid as it has been up to this point of time. I believe that all these things are against the real spirit of the scheme, which is to encourage young people to be proud of home ownership. That is the incentive in the whole scheme.
I think the amendments moved by the Labor Party are quite absurd; they are not necessary at all. To go back to 1967 in an amendment is quite ridiculous. The Prime Minister announced this change in his policy speech and he made the legislation retrospective to the first business day after the election of 25th October of last year. That stands, but this amendment is quite foolish. The question of appeal against valuation should be covered by a greater degree of discretion being given to the Minister. He could deal with the case on its merits without in any. way destroying the incentive given to a young person to improve his home or to better himself. He should not be discouraged. Overall this is the most magnificent, piece of legislation that has even been inspired by a government for young people. The Labor Party would never have thought of it. I believe the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson) was genuine: and spoke for the Labor Party tonight when he said that when the Labor Party becomes the Government it will scrap this scheme.
– And introduce something of benefit for the young people.
– He said if Labor gets into power it will scrap this scheme. I sincerely hope the Government will take a little notice of what I have said. However, I say that this is magnificent legislation and serves the interests of the people of Australia.
-I call the honourable member for Wide Bay and I hope the House will come to order and hear the honourable member in silence.
– This being my maiden speech in this session .1 would hope that I might be accorded the privilege that has been given to honourable members making their maiden speeches. I feel at home following the honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) because the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), the honourable member for Bennelong and I have spoken in nearly every debate on housing since I have been here. He has not changed. When we proposed amendments for the inclusion of widows, divorced people and credit unions his attitude was the same as it is towards the amendments proposed by the Australian Labor Party on this’ occasion. He has acknowledged that the maximum value allowed is not in keeping with present day trends but this is an acknowledgment by the Government that the cost of housing has increased. I do not think he is prepared to acknowledge that the greater part of this cost is absorbed in the cost of land.
He has said this increased cost of land is a matter of demand; that there is not sufficient land to meet the demand. In the Northern Territory, particularly around Darwin, the Commonwealth of Australia has the sole prerogative in the acquisition and provision of land for home building, lt could be thought that here land would be readily available - there are vast spaces available - but the cost of land is such that many people, particularly wage earners, are deprived of the privilege of owning their home irrespective of what is provided under this legislation. This legislation is piecemeal legislation. The honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) when moving the amendment quoted the words of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, the then Prime Minister, in his election speech in 1963. He said:
But there are 2 special problems which we propose to help to solve.
He dealt with the homes savings grant and the housing loans insurance. The Homes Savings Grant Bill was introduced in May 1964 by the present Treasurer (Mr Bury). It is interesting to recall on that occasion he acknowledged the complexity of the legislation and said it was quite possible there could be various amendments to it. In fact he said if he was not responsible for the legislation he would not know what it was all about. These are the words of the present Treasurer, who was then Minister for Housing. He said that these measures were conceived during the 1963 election campaign, Typically, we had to wait until 9 months later for the introduction of the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation.
We cannot get away from the fact that the legislation now before us helps those people who have the money more than it does those who are trying to acquire it. No matter what may be said about incentives to people to save money, the fact is that those who do not have to save, who have money available to them because of their position or because of the circumstances into which they were born, have no difficulty at all in obtaining the maximum assistance while those who have to battle through their lives really must battle to obtain the maximum assistance under this legislation. These are the real facts of life.
I am reminded that the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Allan Fraser), who is back with us again in this House, on the occasion of the debate on the Homes Savings Grant Bill in 1964 pointed out to the House what a harvest would be reaped by a person such as the late Tommy
Manville - the much married Manville - who married 11 times. If each of his wives had been under 35 years of age Tommy Manville would have qualified in 1964 for §2,750 under this scheme while the amount after the passage of this legislation would be $5,500. There is no way in the world that Tommy Manville would be a person who would really be assisted by such a grant. That amount probably would pay for his expenses for one night only. It certainly would not pay for the alimony of any one of his 11 wives, although I understand that he married one of them twice. I make this point to illustrate that this scheme does assist more those people who already have the money rather than those who are trying to save the money.
Various speakers on the Government side have said that a need exists to encourage people to save in recognised forms so that the money saved will be made available for housing investment. We recognise various organisations such as building societies and the rest as approved savings organisations under this scheme. But we do not recognise savings in the form of insurance. After all, insurance companies are obliged to contribute considerably to Commonwealth loans. Nor do we recognise the investment of savings in Commonwealth loans which, I understand, if rumour has it correctly, will pay a higher rate of interest than the building societies - that is, 6% - in the very near future. So we do not even recognise savings in what are gilt edged securities, that is. Commonwealth bonds.
Through this measure the Government is recognising the increase in the cost of housing. The maximum amount in the original legislation in 1964 which attracted a grant was $14,000. This amount was increased in 1967 to $15,000. Under the present legislation it will be increased to $17,500. The Government purports in this Bill to recognise credit unions. People belonging to credit unions were led to believe that promises were given in this direction. I have a letter dated 6th March from Mr Stephens, the Manager of the Queensland Credit Union League Lid. He states:
The 17,500 members of the Queensland Credit Union Movement were elated to learn of the Federal Government’s intention to allow savings deposited by members in Credit Unions to qualify under the provisions of the Homes Savings Grant Act. Following the statement by the Minister for Housing, Dame Annabelle Rankin, in Canberra on Thursday 5th March 1970 which appeared in the Financial Review’ dated 6th March 1970, this elation has turned to utter dismay.
This statement by Dame Annabelle Rankin makes it abundantly clear that the Government is fully aware that existing Credit Unions cannot meet the conditions prescribed and hence will not qualify to participate under the Act.
The Government while pretending in one respect to recognise credit unions has, on the other hand, laid down conditions, which have been pointed out by previous speakers, that makes it almost impossible for credit unions to make such loans. This is certainly impossible in those States where restrictive legislation places upon the credit union movement requirements regarding loans which will mean that no credit union will be in a position to register as an approved saving society. I point out that in New South Wales where, as the honourable member for Reid pointed out, credit unions have assets of over $l00m with 70% of those assets available for loan, legislation limits the amount of each loan for housing purposes to $4,000. The Commonwealth requires a maximum loan of $7,000 to be made available for housing purposes otherwise applicants do not receive the benefit of this scheme. In Victoria the limit on credit union loans is $3,000. In South Australia the maximum loan that can be made by credit unions is $2,000. The same restriction applies in Western Australia. No limit exists in Queensland. In the Australian Capital Territory the maximum unsecured loan is $800 while the maximum for a secured loan is $2,000.
I wish to place on record the position of credit unions in Queensland. 1 refer first to the ABC Queensland Credit Union Ltd. It approved 76 loans for home purchases and home improvements last year which were valued at $41,550. In addition, 27% of loans for assistance with housing represented 27.2% of the value of all advances. The point that I wish to make is that a house is a house, but it takes more than just a roof, a floor and walls to make a home. This is the point: The credit union movement has played an important part in the provisions of bridging finance and second mortgage loans to cut down on repayments. These things are crippling young couples who are desirous of purchasing a home. Possibly these young couples are crippled for a lifetime because of the high interest rates charged. The credit union movement has played an important part by making funds available for bridging finance purposes.
I come now to the Clerks Credit Union Ltd in Queensland. In the last year it made 40 loans for home purchases and home improvement. These loans were valued at $13,840. I mention next the Royal Australian Nursing Federation Credit Union Ltd. These are all small credit unions. In the last financial year, that credit union allowed 1.7 loans for home purchase and home improvement valued at $11,450. That is not a large amount when we consider that under this legislation credit unions will be obliged to make available a loan of $7,000 for their applicants to be eligible for this grant.
In the period 1st July 1969 to 31st December 1969, the Queensland Teachers Credit Union Ltd approved 94 loans for land valued at $160,460, 38 loans for home purchase valued at $60,650 and 29 loans for home renovations valued at $32,100. The Postal Technicians Credit Union Ltd in that same period approved 14 loans for houses valued at $17,740, 31 loans for land valued at $37,345, 19 loans for home improvements valued at $14,710 and 4 loans for discharge of second mortgages valued at $4,490. The Australian Postal Credit Union (Qld) Ltd during the period from 1st June 1969 to the end of February 1970 granted 38 loans for the purchase of land valued at $52,600, 68 loans valued at $93,360 for the purchase of homes and the discharge of second mortgages, 57 loans for home renovations valued at $67,750 and 103 loans valued at $47,635 for house improvements. The University of Queensland (TALSA) Credit Union Ltd since its inception in 1967 has approved 19 loans for land valued at $23,410. As well, 23 loans valued at $22,150 were provided for assistance with house purchase and 72 loans were made available for home renovations and improvements valued at $44,840. The maximum loan presently being advanced by credit unions in Queensland is $2,000. Once again they do not qualify.
I think it would be a biased person indeed who would say that the credit union movement is not playing an important part in assisting in the purchase of homes and in saving for homes. One of the important points about the credit union movement is that there is personal contact with its members. There is close affinity between members because they meet in their daily work. Because of this close contact members are encouraged to budget to meet their annual expenses. They are taught and encouraged to save to meet the ordinary expenses that face everyone. I think this point is very important in this day and age when many people are encouraged to live today and pay tomorrow. People are encouraged to travel today and pay tomorrow; to buy today and pay tomorrow. They find out that they are paying not only tomorrow but the next day, the next day and the next day ad infinitum. Many people have to save to purchase furnishings and electrical goods for their homes. I would go so far as to say that nobody can tell me the price of a particular electrical appliance. The advertisements do not set out the real price to the buyer. They state that so much is allowed for a trade-in or that it is marked up or down. We see all sorts of prices. The price depends these days on how good a talker you are, on whom you know or what you have to trade-in. The price depends on what sort of deal you can get and there is no telling what it will be.
The credit union movement has assisted people to purchase household items. Sometimes it purchases such items in bulk. It encourages people to save for them and indemnifies them. It does play an important part mainly because of the close affinity of its members. Members are allowed loans on a personal basis and nothing more. Personal integrity is taken into account in arranging the loans. Recognition is paid to the applicant’s ability to pay but in most cases no security is sought. I say again that the credit union movement is playing an important part in assisting young home buyers, yet it is excluded from this legislation by what the honourable member for Reid aptly described as a thimble and pea trick.
What amendments have been made to the Act over the years? In 1964 the honourable member for Hughes moved various amendments to the Bill which was debated at that time. I recall that one of the amendments related to the eligibility of widows to this grant and the eligibility of people buying partly constructed homes or who were living in temporary accommodation. That was 6 years ago. Many people have been excluded from the benefit of this legislation because our amendments of that occasion were not approved by the Parliament. They were opposed vigorously by people such as the honourable member for Bennelong. Now those same people welcome such suggestions. They recognise that a widow or widower should be eligible. They recognise that people separated because of divorce should be eligible in certain instances. People who have acquired temporary accommodation which is not considered as being a permanent home also should be recognised.
I suggest that this legislation should give assistance to people who are endeavouring to raise finance to purchase a home that is 20 years of age or more. They find it easier, however, to arrange finance for the purchase of a new home. Some of these old homes are very well constructed. Some of them are in the developed area in the cities; some are large homes which suit young couples with families. However finance is not available to them and the amount of deposit required is too large. I have known instances of this myself which I have referred to the responsible Minister. I know of young couples who have purchased existing houses in order to acquire the land. But because such a purchase did not conform to the legislation at that particular time their application for a homes savings grant were not recognised as being for the first home purchased by them and they were not eligible. I produced building permits and the like from local authorities but the result was still the same.
I welcome this Bilk because it includes so many of the amendments put forward over the last 6 years by the Australian Labor Party. The suggestions are now recognised by the Government as having merit. Because of this the Opposition must support the Bill. However we do not believe that it goes far enough and I support the amendments put forward by the honourable member for Reid.
The honourable member for Bennelong and the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) referred to the acquisition of land by the Government. If it were not for the fact that the Commonwealth did acquire land in certain areas for the building of war service homes the cost of such homes would be far greater today. The Commonwealth over the years has acquired land for war service homes. The attitude of both those honourable members reminds me of a debate in this House about 20 years ago during which one honourable member said that there was plenty of land around Canberra on which war service homes could be constructed. He asked why this was not done. It was said then that he was not very far sighted. Today we can look back and say that it was not a bad idea. The Northern Territory also was mentioned in this respect. I think that if the Commonwealth Government had taken that advice, even though it was offered in a satirical fashion, it would have meant that the cost of homes today to individual persons would have been much less. The States are able to acquire land and they have kept prices down in areas where they have done so.
There is one further point that I would like to make, that is, that about 23% of Australia’s housing finance is provided by the Commonwealth under legislation introduced by the Chifley Labor Government in the immediate post-war period. The intention was to provide housing by making loans available to low income earners over a period of 53 years at an interest of 3% and by meeting three-fifths of the rental rebate in cases where the rental was more than one-fifth of the income of the person concerned. Therefore the record of the Australian Labor Party in the housing field stands unchanged in this respect. The first Labor Government in Queensland, the Ryan Government, introduced a measure to provide dwellings for workers on a similar basis of long term loans. The Commonwealth provides 23% of housing finance in Australia but I know many disappointed housing loan applicants. I know of many people who are purchasing homes from State housing commissions or housing authorities who are debarred from receiving this homes savings grant.
Several speakers in the debate have referred to the necessity for a uniform building code. They have pointed out that there are about 800 different regulations covering building in Australia. Sir Robert Jennings, for whose company I once worked, has estimated that this multiplicity of building regulations adds $600 to the cost of a home or $600m a year to the cost of housing in Australia. In the last 10 years the average cost of land has increased by 182% and the average cost of building a house has increased by 68%. The Government has acknowledged that building costs have increased. The Government has further contributed to the rise in building costs by increasing the bank interest rate by i%, which will be reflected in an increased interest rate on loans for housing. Under this Government interest rates have increased so considerably that the interest component of repayments on housing loans exceeds the component for principal, whereas when Labor was in office the interest component represented only a small percentage in the total repayment. The honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) asked what Labor proposed. The 2% rebate promised in his policy speech last year by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) would have provided a benefit of about $250 a year to young people on low incomes. Their interest payments would have been reduced by about $250 a year. This rebate would have been applied to persons in accordance not with their wealth or the wealth of their parents but in accordance with their needs. The honourable member for Bennelong need have no fear that the Labor Party will not continue to assist people who are deserving of a home. I am confident that a Labor government would make further progressive improvements in this legislation. I support the amendment moved so ably by the honourable member for Reid.
– The Bill contains some admirable amendments to the principal Act but in the main does not go far enough. It would be advisable at this stage to give a short resume of the history of this scheme. When the scheme was introduced there was no comparable legislation anywhere in the world which could give the Government guide lines with respect to such matters as the form of savings and the point at which the applicant would become eligible for a grant - the date of commencement of erection of the home or the date of signing of the contract. Because in the first year of the scheme persons eligible for a grant would nol be fully aware of the conditions under which they could obtain a grant, the Minister in charge of the legislation decided to interpret it liberally in favour of applicants. This was of great benefit to young people seeking assistance to obtain a home - people who in my opinion make up one of the most deserving sections of the community. But I regret that after the first year of operation of the scheme the tolerant and liberal interpretation was no longer applied. The legislation gave the Minister no discretion to deal with the many anomalies that could not possibly have been foreseen in the early stages.
The provision in this Bill to bring divorced persons with dependent children within the scope of the Act will meet with the approbation of most honourable members. Similarly, most honourable members will support the provision to increase to $17,500 the value of a residence which may attract a grant. I think that the conditions applying to credit unions are fair, just and reasonable. At present credit unions are geared to lend smaller amounts than are required by people erecting or purchasing their own homes. The provision that credit union loans for housing shall be not less than $7,000 will benefit many people.
Now let me deal with the general position. The scheme was initiated to encourage young people to save. The grant was intended to be a premium on thrift, but unfortunately the more thrifty have been penalised. I refer to the cost of building. In outlining the provisions of the scheme Sir Robert Menzies definitely stated that the cost of the home as distinct from its value would determine whether a person obtained a grant. The first pamphlets that were prepared by the Department of Housing and which were obtainable from post offices throughout the country referred to the cost of a home, not the value. The Labor Party is so inefficient that it has not realised this. The pamphlets that were available from post offices stated that if the cost of the home did not exceed $15,000 the owner was entitled to a grant. It is up to this Government to honour its promise. We should have stuck to that wording. It was a mistake; the Act refers to value, but we should have kept to the agreement that was embodied in the pamphlets that were distributed. I never agreed with the proposal that rooney in a savings bank account could not attract a grant unless the account was designated as a homes savings account. This was unfortunate. The scheme went through many phases. The purchasing of land on terms was included as a prescribed form of savings. That was good, but having gone as far as that we should have honoured the statements contained in the pamphlets that were issued.
I would like to say a few words about the high cost of homes in New South Wales. The major contributing factor to this high cost is the cost of land. Land in New South Wales is dear solely because the Labor Government in that State set up the Cumberland County .Council. Before this was done you could have bought land anywhere in the Parramatta or Merrylands area for $500 a block, but as soon as the Cumberland County Council was formed and engaged in its secret zoning of land, involving star chamber methods, land prices soared.
-Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Sturt cease interjecting. This is the second time this week that I have had to warn him. I suggest that he restrain himself from interjecting further.
– The Cumberland County Council was conceived in deceit. It was born and nurtured in corruption. It had no possible chance of ever being brought into being in New South Wales but for the deceit and the subterfuge used in bringing it about. Land owners were told that if they had negative zoning they would be compensated for injurious affection. People engaged valuators and solicitors and thousands upon thousands of applications went in for compensation for injurious affection. The very first case that went before the Land and Valuation Court was not upheld. The people associated with the introduction of the Cumberland County Council laughed and said: ‘We always knew that it would not survive’. So they brought it in in deceit and in subterfuge. Since then there has been a gradual increase in land prices. This has been brought about by thousands upon thousands of residential blocks of land that had been subdivided years before being put under the counter. This created a black market and even to the present time in the area in which I live thousands of blocks of land are lying idle which would have been developed but for the Cumberland County Council and its successor, the State Planning Authority of New South Wales. This land would have been built on. Men returning from the war purchased this land at very low cost and this is an area which would have gradually improved.
Mr Uren - I rise to a point of order. I have been tolerant, if I may so, toward the honourable member in not interjecting. He has been discussing the Cumberland County Council scheme for some time. I do not know that that is mentioned in the Bill. The hour is now late and I draw the honourable member’s attention to the Bill now before the House.
-Order! I might say that when I was in the chair earlier I allowed the honourable member for Perth some latitude in relation to this Bill. I might further say that as the question of land values is incorporated in the honourable member’s own amendment to the Bill the matters are relevant.
– Yes, the truth always hurts. The advent of the State Planning Authority after the Cumberland County Council which was reeking with so much-
– Mr Speaker, I have perused my amendment and I cannot see any mention of land values. If you, Mr Speaker, would inform me of where I mentioned land values I would appreciate this.
– I rule that the honourable member for Mitchell is in order in relation to paragraph (3) of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Reid which states: . . that an applicant should, where necessary, have the right on appeal to have land and dwellinghouse valued by a Government Valuer. . . .
– Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Cumberland County Council was so steeped in corruption and bribery that the then State Government had to get rid of it in some way, so the Government brought in the State Planning Authority which would be one of the most evil institutions ever established in Australia. It, too, because of its secret zoning, has caused confusion, inefficiency and uncertainty. Land owners do not know from day to day just what they can do with their properties. Marcus Clark’s land was described as green belt between Fox Valley and the Pacific Highway. The then Minister for Local Government in the Labor Administration in New South Wales stated that this land would be held in perpetuity as green belt for the future people of New South Wales. Now listen to me everyone. The amount paid, over within 12 months to allow it to be developed and received by some people was $500,000. This land was to have been reserved for posterity forever, but within 12 months it was taken over and the ‘side’ was $500,000. Honourable members ask me to prove this. How can one prove this with the stealth and cunningness of the people who are dealing with it? Luna Park comes into this. The honourable member who interjects is aware of the evil that has gone on in this area. Let him stand and be a man and express his opposition to it as I am doing now. The average person in Blacktown and in similar areas cannot buy a block of ground under $5,000 because of the corruption and the rottenness of a previous Government in New South Wales which is being perpetuated unfortunately and assisted by a Liberal Party at the present time in New South Wales.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Clauses 1 to A - by leave - taken together.
– The Opposition foreshadows that it will criticise clauses 1 to 4 but it will not divide the Committee. The Opposition will move that clause 5, covering credit unions, be postponed, and we will divide the Committee. We will criticise clauses 6 to 12 but we will not divide the Committee.
Immigration: Shipping Companies - Apple Crops: Protection from Hail Damage - Political Parties - Communist China - Gold Mining - Telegraph Services - Shipping.
Motion (by Dr Forbes) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I desire to bring to the attention of the House a matter concerned with immigration. 1 have kept closely in touch with the immigration programme over the years, not only because of my own interest as the Minister who first planned the post-war intake of migrants but more particularly because of its vital importance to Australia. The policy that has been followed by Ministers who succeeded me has generally followed the basic lines laid down at the commencement of the programme and has had my full support. However, recent newspaper reports of a change in policy in respect of the transport of migrants to Australia has concerned me somewhat. Previously, and in particular in recent years, our policy has followed the lines of employing air and sea transport in equal proportions, but now it would appear we are to use air transportation almost exclusively. Doubtless the exclusive use of air transportation will effect financial savings but, in my view, this should not be the main consideration in planning our migration programme. We have to take account of many factors. For instance, a journey by sea is in itself an attraction to those intending to migrate, particularly to families with small children who can be provided with better facilities and accommodation on a ship. Our recruiting could therefore suffer because about 50% of present applicants elect to travel by sea.
Secondly, experience has shown that migrants who travel by sea are better conditioned to take up a new life in this country. They have time to realise that they will have to face standards and circumstances which are different from what they have been used to. Thirdly, 3 or 4 weeks on a ship provided opportunity, so far as migrants from Europe are concerned, to teach them English and to inform both British and European passengers more fully on such important matters as government in all its phases, education, housing, hostels, employment and so on. Fourthly, I under stand that migrants who arrive by sea are more contented and settle down to a new life more readily than those who travel by air, because these people are one day in London, for example, and the next day in Albury. The transition is rather too rapid. Further, there is evidence to show that the returnee rate is higher amongst air migrants than amongst those who come by sea. Also the important responsibility of placing migrants in employment commensurate with their qualifications can be much better performed in the case of sea migrants than those who travel by air. In the former case, ample notice is available of their arrival and officers of the Department of Labour and National Service can board ships at Fremantle and interview workers during the voyage to the eastern States.
Other aspects which must be considered cover the work of voluntary organisations, such as churches, who nominate, accommodate and generally look after the reception of their nominees. They receive much earlier advice if migrants travel by sea and they are therefore better able to make the necessary arrangements for their reception. Another vital point in favour of sea transportation is that migrants can bring their personal effects and household belongings with them on the ship without charge,, whereas if they come by air they are substantially limited in the amount of baggage they can take with them and any excess has to be paid by the Government or the migrant. Doubtless these points have been fully weighed by the Minister for Immigration (Mr Lynch) in reaching his decision, but I. sincerely hope that he has not been unduly swayed by a desire to save money because in the long term this could not eventuate, particularly if the returnee rate increases. In any case, an air policy exclusively could react against the best interests of our migration programme.
There is one other matter on which I would like to touch. Recent articles in the Press, possibly inspired, do an injustice to a shipping company which has served this country well. I refer to the Sitmar Line which has transported migrants to Australia under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration from the early 1950s and under official contract to the Australian Government since 1956. I have no business connection with the Sitmar -Line but, like many honourable members on both sides of the House who have informed themselves as to the service being provided for migrants to Australia by this company, I have a full appreciation of the excellent way in which it has carried out its contracts. It is well known that with the advent of the Sitmar Line in 1956 stabilisation of the rates being charged to us by the shipping companies which carried migrants to Australia was brought about. This alone saved Australia many millions of dollars. Sitmar also introduced of its own volition improved food services and better facilities, including air conditioning through its ships. Migrants had complete access to all parts of its vessels; this did not obtain previously with other lines. I understand that Sitmar proved most cooperative in meeting departmental requirements in difficult situations which arose from time to time. Cut backs and increases in programmes by the Department were met by the company even though under the terms of its contract it could have refused to do so.
It is understood that during the next 3 years shipping, to a limited extent, will be employed as well as air transportation. Certain statements have been made that by using the new shipping contractors - Chandris Lines, as against Sitmar - a saving of $10m will be effected over a period of 3 years. From information which I have sought, this has proved to be a greatly exaggerated claim and, in any case, it should be remembered that the facilities and accommodation provided by Sitmar are of a higher standard. It must also be remembered that Sitmar’s contribution to Australia has not been limited to the intake of migrants. Its operations on the Australia run have enabled many young Australians to visit the United Kingdom and Europe at comparatively low fares.
Finally, I would like to say to the Minister that this company has carried 250,000 migrants to Australia without the loss of one life and to the satisfaction of those travelling on its vessels as well as to the contractual authorities. It has recently spent $57m in purchasing 2 comparatively new vessels and in reconverting them to its high standards. I hope that the excellent service given by this company is recognised by the Minister and that within any limita- tions that might apply he will see that everything possible is done to retain its ships on the Australia run, which could be in doubt if its services for the transportation of migrants is not utilised. The Government has made its decision. There can be no question about that. But I would like to see this Line encouraged to continue its operations on the Australia run, particularly in view of the fact that it has bought new vessels which it is reconverting.
– The right honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell) has a deserved reputation in the field of immigration. I have listened with interest to his comments in the House tonight and I wish to say to him that I appreciate the fact that he had foreshadowed to me his intention to raise this subject in the adjournment debate. The background to this issue is that in response to an invitation by the Government on 19th August last to all passenger shipping lines operating from Europe to Australia, 3 companies offered to carry migrants by sea on a contract basis. Following a careful - I emphasise the word ‘careful’ - assessment of these offers the Government decided to accept the offer from the Chandris Line and to contract with that company for its basic requirements, lt is expected that the contract with the Chandris Line will provide 36,000 firm berths over a 3-year period commencing on 1st July 1970. Up to 15,000 berths are to be taken at the option of the Commonwealth for the carriage of migrants from Britain and northern Europe. I emphasise that the arrangements are confined to Britain and northern Europe and do not include the transport of the balance of migrants from elsewhere in Europe. Within the 3-year period additional sea berths will be taken when offered by carriers other than the contract carrier and when required by the Government. The remainder of migrants under the assisted passage programme from the northern area will be carried by Qantas Airways Ltd and/ or its associates.
The new transport arrangements negotiated by the Government involve a change of contractor and an increased use of air movement for migrants. The decision to change contractors was not a reflection in any way upon the former contractor, the Sitmar Line. The service provided by that company has always been maintained at a high level over the many years in which it was engaged in migrant transport. In changing to a new contractor the Government was influenced by the significantly lower price per berth quoted and also by the smaller total of berths offered by the new contractor. This shows that the Government has a growing recognition of the increasing air component in migrant traffic while still leaving a choice of sea travel for those who prefer it. The new contractor, Chandris Line, has carried migrants for many years. The ships of its fleet which will be used for migrant traffic have always provided a completely satisfactory service. To those ships will be added a newly acquired vessel which will undergo a refit. The accommodation provided on this ship will be subject to inspection before it is used for migrant transport. The Chandris Line is engaged in normal commercial traffic as well as migrant transport and, as far as is known, will continue in the passenger trade in the future.
The new sea transport contract will be for basic requirements only. A much larger proportion of air transport will be used than previously. By the end of the 3-year period of the contract it is expected that approximately 75% of assisted passage migrants will travel by air from Britain and northern Europe. Already the movement of assisted passage migrants by air has grown to half the total assisted passage programme. This represents an exercise of the migrants’ own preference for this form of travel and is consistent with world trends in general passenger movement by air. The Government’s calculated use of more air transport now anticipates the requirements of the future and will make the transition more orderly.
The decision to increase the air component followed some months of careful analysis and examination of its implications and consultation with senior officers abroad. The Government and its advisers are satisfied that the decision will not adversely affect migrant programmes. This is underlined by the fact that programmes from areas where migrants are now moved totally by air have not suffered in any way because of this. There is advantage also to the migrant in the quicker voyage and the earlier entry into gainful employment in Australia. Thirty hours only in travelling time from Europe helps to diminish any initial sense of isolation from his homeland felt by the new settler. The Government’s decision for the next 3 years does not necessarily presuppose a move into total air transport in the future. I emphasise this in a particular way because of a number of misleading Press reports which have recently appeared. When transport contracts need to be renewed in 1973 the Government, on the basis of experience of the next 3 years, will naturally assess the desirability of such a move.
As well as being less expensive air transport, importantly, will be provided from our own national resources - I refer here to Qantas - although for limited periods, as in the past, some sub-chartering will be necessary. Thus there are national benefits which go beyond the immediate question of migrant transport and a necessary adjustment to developing changes in world travel. I emphasise that, contrary to the impression given by the right honourable member for Melbourne, it is not valid to say that 50% of migrants elect to travel by sea. There is really no question of election. Because of commitments to sea berths it has been necessary in the past to have this proportion of migrants travel by sea. As sea was the only method of transport offered to them, naturally they used it. This does not necessarily mean that had there been a wider choice of air travel a lesser proportion of people would not have travelled by sea.
The right honourable member for Melbourne also mentioned the advantage to migrants from Europe travelling by sea in that there is provision for training in the English language. As 85% to 90% of the people carried under this contract are from Britain there is little weight in the argument that by curtailing sea travel we are denying migrants the opportunity to learn English. There is no evidence at all available to me or to my Department which suggests that migrants settle down more readily if they travel by sea, or that there is a greater returnee rate amongst migrants who travel by air. In fact a survey undertaken by the psychologists of my Department concluded that, as a simple statistical exercise, there was no disproportionate breakdown according to the mode of travel. In this context it was not a disadvantage to travel by air as compared with travelling by sea. I do not see that the voluntary organisations or other people nominating migrants will be disadvantaged because of air travel. It should be remembered that 50%, and sometimes more than 50%, of migrants now travel from the United Kingdom by air. The difficulties mentioned by the right honourable member have not been noted in the past.
The large air movement of migrants over the past 10 years has demonstrated that the 88 lb of luggage a person provided for migrants coming by air has been sufficient to cover the belongings that they wished to bring with them. This is not seen as in any way limiting the programme or, for that matter, creating inconvenience to migrant travellers.
In summary, the new arrangements recently negotiated by this Government, and for which I accept responsibility as the Minister responsible for this portfolio, will involve, firstly, a change of sea contractor; secondly, the increased use of air transport by Qantas but no actual commitment to total air movement in the future; thirdly, the preservation of a choice of sea transport for those who prefer it; fourthly, a considerable saving in transport costs; and finally, in my own view and in the view of the most senior officers of my Department in Canberra with whom I have been in close consultation and of officers overseas with whom I have been in telephonic communication, no adverse effect will result to the total immigration programme. I am confident, as is my Department, that the new arrangements for the carriage of migrants will prove to be effective in future years.
– One of the greatest hazards of fruit growers is hail. I suppose that the Tasmanian fruit growers suffer more from hail damage than do any other fruit growers in Australia. I want to put up a proposition tonight that might help towards a part solution of the problem. The rockets th’at are used to disperse hail from hail laden clouds are not manufactured in Australia. They are manufactured in Italy and they come from Genoa to Adelaide by ship. One thousand five hundred rockets in special storage compartments on these Italian ships cost the growers who want to use this method of preventing hail damage $15,000. The freight costs to Australia are $3,200 and $1,800 extra to come down to Hobart. I am not asking that we build the rockets in Australia. I do not know whether it is possible or whether we have the facilities to build hail rockets in this country. But the rocket is designed as a non-fragmentation shell and it is used in a standard anti-aircraft gun.
Interestingly enough, we understand that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is employing artillery units in hail affected areas to fire these rockets. Russia is using artillery units on practice exercises to fire rockets from anti-aircraft guns into affected areas so helping to break up hail and greatly minimise the damage. In fact, statistics that have been given to me indicate that in the USSR a 7.2% average hail risk has dropped down to a 0.2% risk over 1 million acres of area affected by hail. If this can be done in one country it can be done in our country. I am sure we are all prepared to accept from other countries, even if we disagree with their political philosophy, anything in the fields of medicine or science of benefit to ourselves. We are internationalists when it comes to music, drama, literature, science, education and a host of other human fields of activity. I think we ought, to make some inquiries into the field of hail damage protection to see how this exercise is actually carried out. We might be able to use Australian Army units in these areas, although the timing of such assistance would, of course, be the trouble. I think if the rockets fit the standard anti-aircraft gun they could be used in the hail affected areas of this country, namely areas in New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.
If the Army agreed to undertake such work it would be serving a very real purpose. At the moment Army exercises are carried out in open areas and shells are being sent into no man’s land. This is of no use whatever and is not serving any purpose. If the Army were used in this field I believe it might help to solve some of the serious problems of hail damage to crops. The Tamar valley in the north and the Huon valley in the south are the principle apple growing areas in Tasmania. Several growers have had their entire crops wiped out by hail in a matter of 5 or 10 minutes. This has reduced the size of their crops to about 20%. The Tasmanian Government is working out . hail insurance schemes by which loans can be made to orchardists in the Huon valley that were hit by hail recently. I will take this matter up further with the Minister for the Army (Mr Peacock) who is at a Cabinet meeting at the moment and could not come into the House to hear what I have had to say. But I think I should talk this over with the Minister and get him to inquire whether it is possible for the Army to co-operate, with the use of artillery, in preventinghail damage to crops.
-I want to refer to some remarks made during the adjournment debate last Thursday evening by the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Cope). Whilst 1 am sure that honourable members on this side can respect a good Labor man, and 1 am sure that his integrity is high, the honourable member for Sydney made some implications in his speech which I think should be answered. Firstly, he implied that no associations exist between members of the Australian Labor Party and Communists; secondly that there is no danger to Australia from China; and thirdly that the Liberals unfairly scare the Australian people.I think that is a fair summation of 3 points implicit in the honourable gentleman’s speech. 1 would like to take one at a time the points made by the honourable member. The honourable member for Sydney made great play of the luncheons and dinners that were held by members of the Liberal Party on very odd occasions with Communists. But the question is the nature Of association between members of Parliament and Communists and the character of the association itself. As evidence I refer to the associations, which we see and of which we warn the Australian people, between members of the Labor Party and Communists. I produce as evidence the well known use of unity tickets in union elections and the co-operation which is evident between members of these 2 parties. I also refer to certain changed views of members of the Opposition. I would like to quote a report of some remarks made by the right honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell) in February 1965. The right honourable member said:
The demand of the Soviet Government for the immediate departure of all Americans and other foreign forces from South Vietnam would be in the interests neither of the people of South Vietnam nor the people of Australia. Its immediate consequence must be a Communist takeover of
South Vietnam snuffing out the hope of freedom and of democratic independence in that country and extending the areas of Communist control closer to their country.
-I rise on a point of order. Is not the honourable member referring to a debate that was adjourned in this House last night?
– Order! There is no cause to take a point of order. The canvassing of a previous debate of the session - and I have ruled in this way before - is in order.
– We all recognise that this is a well known time wasting tactic which has been employed by the Labor Party a great deal in this Parliament. 1 point out that the right honourable gentleman is quite a convert in respect of that matter.
– Is it in order for an honourable gentleman to cast reflections upon a member of the Privy Council, a Papal Knight and a Doctor of Laws in the way that he has?
– Order! The honourable member for Hindmarsh well knows the rules of the adjournment debate and he has used them to great advantage. I would suggest that there has been no implication. If there is any implication the Chair will look after it.
– I suggest that many of the policies of the 2 parties I have mentioned are indistinguishable and that the 3 items that I have given show some close association - not casual and remote association, but a good deal of association - with officials of unions controlled by Communists. There are, of course, as every person in this country knows, a large number of strikes which are held purely for political purposes and are against the economic interests of the unionists themselves. This association is a blatant one.
I now turn to what the honourable member for Sydney had to say about China. Let us look at the evidence. Might I, with all respect to the revered and respected right honourable member for Melbourne, quote a statement made in this House by him on 10th August 1954 as reported at page 128 of Hansard. He said:
Our problem today is how we can associate with them-
In this context he was referring to other Asian countries - in a fight against the on-rash of Communism, and how we can associate with them to stop the red lava of Communism sweeping ever onward and ever southward.
In the same speech, reported at page 131 of Hansard, the right honourable gentleman said:
We cannot survive in this part of the world unless we can shelter under the protecting wing of the American eagle. We have to be friendly with the United States of America, and we ought to promote the greatest possible friendship with that country.
– Who said that?
– The right honourable member for Melbourne. Let us look at the evidence of existing threats from China that is in front of us. Let us look at China’s international relations, its past roles in Korea, India and Tibet, its open support of all the national liberation fronts in each South East Asian country, its extraordinary diplomatic behaviour in London, in the African states and elsewhere, and at its own radio broadcasts. Its own official statements are filled with unreasonable statements and misrepresentations and with a hatred of almost every nation. It has a vast military programme.
– Does the honourable member favour wheat sales to China?
– The honourable member can be cynical if he wishes; I prefer to be realistic. China has a vast military programme for the invention of nuclear weapons; it has a standing army of 3 million men; and, as we all know, it is well advanced in the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles which are expected to reach sophistication by 1974. This programme is at great cost to the Chinese economy. What is this cost for? By whom is China threatened? In the face of these realities, this Government must be prepared to meet threats to our future and present security. It has the responsibility. Its present policy is to carry out that responsibility. The Liberal Party pamphlet to which the honourable member for Sydney referred was a fair pictorial representation of this reasoning.
The aim of this Government in its relations with China is not and has never been to contain China as honourable gentlemen have said. That country has the same right to exist as has Australia and has the same right to exist as has China’s own neighbours. What we need and what we have acted positively to achieve is co-existence not as vassals, not with an attitude of suzerainty, but as independent nations controlling their own destiny. A certain equilibrium of co-existence has been achieved at this moment with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and 1 believe that further improvement can be made after further testing through diplomatic and perhaps military means.
The line so far has been drawn after events in Berlin and Cuba and the line will continue to be drawn. The equilibrium has been set under the nuclear umbrella, as President Kennedy said very clearly. He tried very hard with Khrushchev in 1961 to improve matters, but he was angry and disappointed by the result, as Arthur Schlesinger has recalled in his books. That equilibrium was only achieved later by direct military confrontation. So as some accommodation has been reached with the USSR it can also be achieved with China, but it will be harder and will take longer because the Chinese see themselves, for historical and other reasons, as the centre of the world. They are more stubborn, perhaps because of their isolation and a feeling of superiority. The present Chinese leadership represents a more orthodox MarxistLeninist leadership. Whether it be traditional imperialism or a genuine belief in Marxist-Leninism is of little practical political significance to us.
- Mr Speaker-
– After the devastating attack on me by the honourable member for Curtin I would like to answer him immediately if 1 may.
-Is the honourable member requesting preference in the debate or raising a point of order?
– I would like preference in the debate.
-The rules of the adjournment debate are that when members place their names with the Speaker they are called in that order. The honourable member will have an opportunity to reply after the honourable member for Kalgoorlie has spoken.
– After listening to the pious remarks of the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland), I find it very hard to believe that just for the sake of a few miserable dollars he would have represented in his previous capacity a leading Communist in Australia in relation to his taxation returns.
-Order! The honourable member for Dawson will withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw.
– During the distressing days of the early 1930s when so many people found it quite impossible to obtain employment and when so many people were on the verge of starvation the gold mining industry of Western Australia played a very important part, in fact a lifesaving part, in relieving the suffering of people caught up in the wave of unemployment and depression. Tonight I rise to make a plea to the Government to recognise the value of the gold mining industry and to come to the aid of those who are dependent upon the industry. Very recently the Great Boulder gold mine in Kalgoorlie discontinued mining operations. It was reported in the Press on Tuesday that the directors of the North Kalgoorlie gold mine had announced their intention to suspend operations also. The Press also drew attention to the fact that Lake Vie and Star gold mines were tapering off their production as well.
The reason why the gold mines are unable to continue their operations is one of economics. There has been no increase in the price of gold since the 1930s, and since then there has been a steady increase in production costs. Those 2 factors together have eventally brought about the situation that we witness in the industry today. There is no shortage of gold-bearing ore. There is no desire on anybody’s part that gold mining operations should cease. It is purely a matter of economics. The mines cannot continue without some additional assistance under the Gold Mining Industry Assistance Act or by some other measure.
This is why I asked the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) yesterday at question time to take some steps towards easing the situation.
The reply of the Prime Minister and his attitude to the content of my question were in my opinion quite callous and contemptuous in the extreme. His remarks could not hurt me because I do not matter, but they were of great significance to the people of Kalgoorlie and the people of Western Australia generally. He appeared to be completely uninterested and quite unconcerned with the problems facing not only those employed in the gold mining industry but also those dependent in any way upon it. I appreciate that the Prime Minister is naturally a little bit touchy and a little bit keyed up at question time, expecting that all questions will be rather curly and of a political nature. I would hope that his attitude to my question yesterday was adopted only because he was not properly aware of the actual problems, difficulties and sufferings which will certainly be brought down by the closure of the gold mines in Kalgoorlie and other centres o! Western Australia in the near future.
I take the opportunity tonight to appeal to the Prime Minister and those who sit behind him to treat this matter with the seriousness, sympathy, concern, sincerity and urgency that it deserves. I want them to realise and appreciate that the granting of additional financial assistance over each of the next 5 or 6 years will mean the difference between acute and widespread suffering being caused to a large number of good, solid Australian and new-Australian citizens and little or no suffering whatsoever. I am not exaggerating what will happen.
I am not exaggerating the certainty of human suffering and loss. I am simply placing before this House the situation which so many people will face if the gold mining industry collapses. According to statistics, the best part of 23,000 people looked to the gold mining industry in 1968 and have looked to it since then for their livelihood. Approximately 3,000 men have been working in the mines, and a very substantial number of them are permanent residents of Kalgoorlie, or would be permanent residents while the mines continued to operate. They have their homes and their families in Kalgoorlie or are raising families in Kalgoorlie. For many of them their only asset is their home. Many of those recently settled, such as migrants, are still in the process of buying their homes and the closure of the gold mining will simply mean that a substantial number of these people will be obliged to pack up and leave Kalgoorlie without a penny to bless themselves with. The only alternative will be for the breadwinner to leave his family in Kalgoorlie and go elsewhere to obtain employment. For most this will mean a distance of several hundred miles between their home and family and their place of employment. This is certainly not a state of affairs that I would wish to impose on anybody.
It is a fact that some of those displaced will be absorbed into the nickel industry. On present indications the majority of those now employed in the gold mining industry would be absorbed into the nickel industry if the gold mines could continue for a further 5 or 6 years, but certainly they cannot be absorbed now or even in the near future. Therefore the move that is necessary right now is to ascertain just what is required and just what can be done to keep the gold mining industry in operation at least until such time as the nickel industry becomes firmly established as an active mining operation. People who gain their news or information only from Press or Australian Broadcasting Commission sources arc likely to have a completely false picture of the actual situation regarding nickel. Nickel mines will not generally employ the number of men that gold mines do; so more nickel mines will need to be established.
If a person looks at the share market he may arrive at the conclusion that there are hundreds of nickel mines or companies actively engaged in mining operations when in actual fact, and in practically all cases, the companies have not struck a blow other than to peg a lot of claims. Practically the whole of the country is pegged but only in a few instances have the companies or leaseholders carried out. any actual mining operations. Some have put down a few drill holes and some have dug out the odd samples but largely there is no real mining activity at all. Even where eventually payable nickel deposits are located it will be quite a long time before they can go earnestly into mining operations. As honourable members can readily see. it is not a simple matter of men transferring from one type of mining to another. At the very best there will be a considerable time lag and it is that time lag (hat must be provided for.
Another disturbing thought arises from the Prime Ministers reply of yesterday. He said that we can scarcely expect the taxpayers to finance the running of a gold mine at a loss. But, Mr Speaker, let us look at the expenditure on subsidies. Last year the dairy industry was subsidised to the extent of $27m, wheat price stabilisation by almost $43m, tractor industries by $2.25m, ship construction by SI 2.5m, and the poultry industry by Slim. Does the Prime Minister’s reply to me yesterday mean that those industries can forget about receiving any more subsidies? If that happens and those industries lose their subsidies 1 suggest that they will not be able to continue other than at a loss. On the other hand let us look at the handouts to companies by way of industrial research and development grants. The Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd received §180,500; the British Motor Corporation, §174,500; Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd, $134,000; and General Motors-Holden’s Pty Ltd, $482,000. How does the Government justify those handouts? How does the Prime Minister justify those handouts of taxpayers’ money if the’ Government is not prepared to use just a little to assist the gold mining industry? Surely the Prime Minister and Government members would not suggest that taxpayers would rather give handouts to General Motors-Holdens Pty Ltd, BHP or Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd than to people who are facing extreme financial difficulties. I am quite certain they would not. I hope that the Prime Minister and his Government will reconsider his reply of yesterday and will give sympathetic and favourable consideration to my plea on behalf of those engaged in the gold mining industry. Again I ask the Prime Minister to arrange for officers of the appropriate departments to come to Kalgoorlie to examine the situation with a view to granting assistance to preserve the industry until such time at least as the nickel industry can absorb the displaced persons.
Thursday, 16 April 1970
- Mr Speaker, I rise to make a personal explanation.
-Order! Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I deny acting for a Communist for fees. I have never knowingly acted for a Communist or had political relationship with one. I challenge the honourable member for Kalgoorlie to name him.
– I listened intently to the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland). I have listened to the several speeches he has made in this Parliament. All of them have been considered, rational and based on some semblance of research. Just what got into the honourable member tonight is beyond me. I do not know whether his Liberal masters have told him to stir the old Red bogy or to raise the Communist tin can in the Parliament tonight, but whatever the reason I can assure him that he has not earned any credit for himself from this side of the House.
– He would not want any credit from you.
– That is a matter of opinion. Frequently in this new Parliament we have heard smear tactics by members of the Government parties trying to link members of the Opposition with the Communist Party. Quite frequently when one asks Government members outside the House why they did this they say: ‘Well, you know, politics are polities’. In other words they do not believe it themselves. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) stated categorically that the honourable member for Curtin, in his legal capacity, had represented a Communist. The honourable member for Curtin took a point of order and said that he did not. I was amazed and I said - I repeat what I said - that he was a hypocrite. You. Mr Speaker, quite rightly asked me to withdraw that remark.
-Order! The honourable member will again withdraw it.
- Mr Speaker, I withdraw it. I do not know why the honourable member for Curtin wanted to degrade himself in the Parliament tonight when trying to make a speech that I am quite certain he does not believe. I want to get on to an important topic now - the question of tele phones. I concern myself with the refusal of the Government to provide continuous telegraph facilities - continuous in the sense of 7 days a week - for important north Queensland towns. I believe that the refusal to do so shows a pathetic lack of appreciation of the importance of north Queensland areas to the economy of Australia. The practice of closing down on Saturday afternoons, Saturday nights and Sundays, telegram or telegraph facilities in north Queensland, except for Townsville and I think Cairns, is a glaring example of this deficiency. In my own area, the district of Mackay, which after all is one of the most important economic areas in the north, there is only one way to lodge a telegram on a Saturday afternoon and that is by telephoning Rockhampton or Townsville. This costs money. I believe this shows a deplorable lack of planning, that it is a semblance of the financial problems which confront the administration of the Post Office, and that it indicates the financial mess associated with priorities. For many years the Mackay district was the Cinderella of development in the north. It was the last major centre in Australia to receive television, although in terms of the size of the viewing public it was entitled to a higher priority than many areas that received a television service earlier than it did. Up till a few years ago large aircraft could not land there because the runway was too short. It was the only major port in Australia which did not have an all-weather road to its hinterland, which is an important intensive beef cattle area. These deficiencies have been rectified now. But we are still faced with this retrograde policy of not having efficient telegraph facilities available for 7 days a week. In other words, on Saturday afternoon, all day Sunday and Sunday night the city of Mackay is blacked out from the rest of the world, except that one can ring Townsville or Rockhampton to lodge a telegram. The serious deficiencies were shown in stark reality during the recent cyclone ‘Ada’. There is no need to go into that again because it is well known, but it has caused very serious problems.
The fact is that telegram facilities were not available at the height of the cyclone when it destroyed holiday resorts like Hayman Island, South Molle, Daydream Island and the coastal resort of Shute Harbour.
There were not telegraph facilities available in the important centre of Mackay.I maintain this is an archaic and retrograde step in 1970. Let us have a look at the area. It is the most important sugar growing area of Australia. It is hub and the tourist centre of the Great Barrier Reef. At present it is the main centre of activity for the large scale development by Utah Construction and Engineering Pty Ltd of the Goonyella coal deposits. Its importance can be gauged by the fact that it has the fourth most important airport in Australia outside the capital cities. Is it any wonder that sometimes when influential tourists from southern regions or overseas come to Mackay at the weekend they believe they have suddenly landed at some hillbilly town? They cannot send a telegram. They are told to get in the multi-coin box. To try to find change they perhaps go to the local pie shop so that they can ring Rockhampton to send a telegram.
This is one of the most important cities in the north. Even people in the Northern Territory who are linked with the Flying Doctor Service can send telegrams on 7 days a week. One would think that in this year of 1970, 200 years after Captain Cook came here, at least we would have telegram facilities in the richest sugar growing area in Australia and one of the most important areas for the tourist industry in Australia for 7 days a week.
I raise again the question of telephone facilities on the highways. Between Mackay and Rockhampton there is a 150 mile stretch of the No. 1 road in Australia, the highway stretching from Adelaide to Cairns, in which there are no public telephones at all. People who have travelled over this route know full well the serious problems which arise in times of emergency through accidents, floods or the recent cyclone. There is no way of communicating with the outside world. If the creeks are up, people are marooned and there is no telephone. Two years ago I mentioned in this House the murders and the sniping that took place on this highway - an infamous highway - and still we have no telephone facilities. Like the people of the north, I totally reject the claim by the Government that telephone and telegram facilities cannot be provided simply because it is not economically justified. After all a government which can squander something like $200m. on the Fill cannot argue on economic grounds that it cannot provide telephone facilities on a highway or telegram facilities in one of the most important cities in the north of Australia.I ask the Government to do something about this matter.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I wish to refer to the Government’s decision to permit Burns Philp and Co. Ltd to sell its Australian ship Moresby’ which is a 3,820 dead weight ton ship built in Newcastle in 1965. It has since been engaged on the Australia to New Guinea trade manned by Australian deck officers, engineers and crew at Australian rates of pay and under Australian conditions. The only conclusion one can come to is that Burns Philp and Co. Ltd wish to dispose of this ship and continue to do as they are doing at the present moment - that is, have their ships either chartered from overseas or registered overseas so that they can use cheap labour. 1 want to refer to a few ships which this company either owns or charters at present. First of all there is the ‘Montoro’, a 3,800 dead weight ton ship chartered in London in1 956. In February 1970 the company changed the crew, which at that time was a Malay crew, to’ a New Guinea crew. I want to give a comparison of the wages paid to these overseas crews. When the ‘Montoro’ had a Malay crew the bosun was paid $98.60 a month, an able seaman received $52.22 per month and a greaser received $54.81 per month. When the company changed from a Malay crew to the New Guinea crew it was able to pay the bosun $39 per month as against $98.60 for the Malay bosun, and the able seaman and greaser were paid $26 per month. This company is not worried about who they employ. All they want is the cheapest possible labour. The ‘Montoro’ has Australian officers and engineers and Chinese cooks, stewards and fitters.
The ‘Tulagi’, another ship owned by Burns Philp and Co. Ltd is a 2,360 dead weight ton ship. She was built in London in 1955. In 1968 it changed from a Singapore Chinese crew to a New Guinea crew and on 4th November 1969 changed to a
Solomon Island crew. This same ship employs a mixture of Solomon Islanders and Singapore Chinese cooks, stewards and fitters. The chief cook received SI 16 per month, the stewards $52.22 per month and the second cook $58 per month. The same company chartered other ships. One is the Marsina’, which is owned by the China Navigation Co. Ltd. It has European mates and engineers and a Hong Kong crew; the Sira’, which is a Norwegian flag ship, has European officers and engineers and a Singapore crew. The wages and conditions provided are of a’ much lower standard than those to which Australian seamen are entitled. I will give a comparison between the rates and conditions provided for New Guinea seamen, Solomon Islanders, Chinese and the rest of them and Australian seamen. An Australian bosun, for example, would receive $58 per week, an able seaman $54 per week and a greaser $54 per week. Just compare those rates of pay with the rates paid to New Guinean seamen on those ships.
I want to emphasise one particular point at this stage. I do not object, and the Seamens’ Union does not object, to New Guinean seamen- being employed on ships operating in the Australia-New Guinea trade. We object to the Australian seamen being removed. We object to Chinese crews from Singapore and Hong Kong being employed on this New Guinea-Australia trade. We believe that mixed crews of Australian and New Guinean seamen should be used. If the Government wants to put the New Guinean seamen on one ship and the Australians on the other, then that is all right as far as I am concerned. However. I strongly object to the Government allowing Burns Philp and Co. Ltd to dispose of its ships. It is disposing of them one by one and is chartering ships from overseas in order to use cheap labour and to avoid paying Australian rates of pay and working to Australian conditions.
One would think that Burns Philp was going bad and was losing money. However when one examines the company’s financial statements, as published in the Labour daily, the ‘Daily Telegraph’, of 3rd December 1969, one finds that Burns Philp and Co. Ltd made a profit, as at 30th June 1969, of $5,668,023. It was able to declare a dividend of 121%. The profit of over $5.6m represented an earning rate of 24.9%. This was not a flash in the pan for this company. In 1965 it declared a dividend of 10% and an earning rate of 26.5%. In 1966 its dividend was 10% and its earning rate 31.9%. The dividend in 1967 was 10% and the earning rate 26.1%. In 1968 the dividend was 121% and the earning rate 28.6%. This is one of the wealthiest companies in Australia. It is well known that it is not a small company. It is not a meat pie show. Last year it had a turnover of $120m. Yet it sloops to this type of trading. It is prepared to dismiss all its Australian seamen so that it can engage cheap labour, whether New Guinean or Malay. I have cited the example of this company being prepared to get rid of Malays because it had to pay them too much, and then engaging New Guinean workers. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) has on numerous occasions drawn to the attention of the Government the exploitation of labour in New Guinea. This case is a further example of the exploitation of labour.
This Government is allowing Burns Philp to dispose of its ships. It should force the company not only to retain the ships it owns at the present time but also to engage Australian and New Guinean crews so that the trade between New Guinea and Australia can be carried on on a joint basis. I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) to have a good look at this matter. 1 ask him to tell us why he has allowed Burns Philp to sell the ‘Moresby’, a ship built at the State Dockyard in Newcastle about 5 years ago.
This is not an isolated example of the exploitation taking place in the AustraliaNew Guinea trade. The Karlander-New Guinea Line Ltd, a large shipping company, has some 6 ships operating on the AustraliaNew Guinea trade. The ‘Solott’ has a New Guinea crew. So also has the ‘Silidre Timur’, the ‘Salmaua’ and the ‘Saidor’. The Sletholm’ has a Chinese-Hong Kong crew, as does the ‘Sletsjord’. One of the worst features of this, apart from the exploitation of cheap labour, is the fact that many of the officers and crew are not qualified or certificated. I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that officers of his own Department stated, at the recent inquiry into the sinking off Darwin of the ‘Sedco Helen’, that one of the reasons for that incident was that there were insufficient qualified seamen and certificated officers on board at the time. Possibly the same thing could happen in the case of ships I have mentioned. I do not want to point the bone at anyone but the facts are available.
I want the Minister, in reply, to tell the House why he approved the sale of the Moresby’ and why he is allowing Burns Philp, a wealthy company, to exploit labour in the Australia-New Guinea trade. This concerns not only Burns Philp but other companies which are operating services between New Guinea and Australia and are using cheap labour and are working men in conditions which are well and truly below those applying to Australian seamen.
– I am glad the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) has raised this matter because a number of telegrams have been forwarded to me in the last couple of days in relation to the potential sale of the Moresby’. A couple of points have to be realised. To my mind it is immaterial whether the company involved in this case, Burns Philp and Co. Ltd, is operating at a profit or loss. There is no denying that it is a substantial company. The important points about this ship is whether it is suited to the trade; whether it is capable of being operated competitively and of maintaining freight rates at a level which enables goods to be moved backwards and forwards between Australia and New Guinea; whether it is operating profitably; whether reasonable wages are being paid and whether reasonable conditions are applied, and so on. I do not think the overall profitability of the company has any bearing on the matter. 1 was glad to hear the honourable member for Newcastle say that he does not object to Papua and New Guinea crews being employed in this trade. I believe it is absolutely essential that indigenes of the Territory be given increasing opportunities to man and operate vessels in this trade. I hope that they become competent seamen and officers and so on in these vessels which, increasingly, will be required to carry goods to and from the Territory.
Having dealt with those two matters I refer now to the particular incident raised. It is important to realise that although the
Morseby’ was built only a few years ago there is no doubt that according to the voyage results - I have inspected them - she has been operating at a loss. She has been operating at a loss for several reasons. Firstly, she is no longer suited to the trade as it is now geared. She is unable to utilise side port loading and she cannot readily handle palletised or container cargoes. In short, she is not a vessel which can turn round quickly at either end. She does not receive preferential wharf treatment when she arrives in ports in Papua and New Guinea. Frequently she is left waiting out in the stream while other ships are discharged. The end result is that returns on her operations have been grossly unsatisfactory. I have seen the voyage results supplied by the company and am quite convinced that the company has not been able to operate her economically.
There is one other thing which has to be recognised. Whilst it is true that this ship was built in Australia under subsidy arrangements, such subsidies are not provided in order to help ship owners. The subsidy is provided to help Australian shipyards. I hope that we will be able to get more and more orders for Australian shipyards. We must try to get the shipyards in the position of being able to attract orders from overseas. In order to achieve this objective it could well be that subsidies will have to be paid for a number of vessels which are not to be owned by Australians or registered in Australia. This is already so because quite a number of vessels built in Australian shipyards and on which the ship building subsidy was paid, are registered under a number of flags. Certainly not all of them are manned by Australian crews. I see that again as being an issue not related to the basic question which I know concerns members of the unions involved and that is whether there is adequate employment for Australian seamen and marine officers on ships around the Australian coast. I do not think any of us believes that ships sail only to provide employment. Just as politicians nominally come here to provide a service to their constituents - that is certainly the attitude of those on this side of the House - so too I believe that seamen are in the trade substantially to help to operate an efficient transport service.
I would hope that the service between Australia and Papua and New Guinea would not have to pass out of the hands of Australians. I hope to see an increasing number of ships manned and operated by Papuan and New Guinean crews but let them share the operation of those vessels with Australians to the maximum extent possible. So although the Burns Philp company has outlined the economic problems which in my opinion justify its sale of the Moresby’ I have told the company that 1 believe it is essential that as soon as possible an Australian manned vessel, preferably Australian built, should return to the trade. I have suggested to the company that initially it is ils responsibility to try to introduce such a ship but 1 have also said that if the company is not in a position to do this 1 intend to try to attract other shipping companies into the field.
The honourable member for Newcastle mentioned the Karlander Line in somewhat derogatory terms. Let me point out to the honourable member that the same line is at present introducing 2 vessels into service between ports substantially in northern Australia and southern Australia, particularly between Gove and Sydney or Melbourne, but also to Port Moresby. They are imported vessels but they will be operated under the Australian flag with Australian crews. They are to be replaced by vessels for which orders are to be placed with Australian yards. One of those vessels is already in service and the other is about to enter service.
– Both are in service.
– -The second is about to come into service. Both will provide employment for Australian seamen. The 2 vessels will be replaced by Australian built ships just as every other newly introduced vessel on the coast may be imported provided it is replaced with an Australian built vessel. 1 would hope that as these 2 vessels become suited to the trade they will be able to operate economically and will to some extent replace the Moresby’ as she goes off the trade. I reiterate that I regret that an Australian manned vessel should, through economic circumstances, be forced out of the trade. I would hope that another vessel or other vessels, in addition to the 2 to which I have referred, operated by the Karlander Line, might be introduced into the trade. I hope that the Burns Philp company would feel that it has an obligation to re-enter the trade with another vessel which one would hope would be manned by Australians, built in Australia and would be suitable to the trade and consequently operate profitably.
Mr COPE (Sydney) [12.34 a.m.J- The honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland), who unfortunately has left the chamber, referred tonight to a speech that I made last Thursday night in the debate on the adjournment. He stated that there is some kind of alliance or co-operation between the Communist Party and the Labor Party. I would like him to give the names of the members who he alleges are associated with the Communist Party. For too long we have had too many of these gutter innuendoes aimed at members of the Opposition. J think the late Ben Chifley was revered by everybody in Australia irrespective of his or her politics, yet by innuendo Ben Chifley was classified by honourable members opposite during the 1949 election campaign as pro-Communist and a fellow traveller. Some of the people who made those allegations were not fit to clean Mr Chifley s shoes.
Let us examine the history of this Government. In 1954 Mr Roger Dean, who is to be our Consul-General in New York, was elected on Communist Party preferences. As a result he was referred to as the Red Dean. In 1955 Senator McCallum was elected on Jim Healy’s preferences. In 1961 the results were so close that we had to wait a fortnight to know who was to govern the country. Sir Robert Menzies was pacing up and down his study. The suspense was killing. The Menzies Government was returned on Communist Party preferences. The honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), who is now Minister for the Navy, saved the Menzies Government by winning his scat by a very close margin on Communist preferences. He once said that he would rather resign from the Parliament than accept election on Communist Party preferences. 1 do not think you, Mr Speaker, have yet received his written resignation. Following the honourable member’s election in 1961 Sir Robert Menzies said: ‘Killen, you are magnificent.’
– He still is.
– He still is. Let us examine the relationship of the Labor Party with the trade union movement. It is well known that but for the Labor Party the Communist Party would control almost every trade union in Australia. This cannot be denied. I wonder how many honourable members opposite have had trade union experience. Perhaps one member of the Country Party has had such experience but I venture to suggest that few others on the Government side have had any such experience. In the 21 years since the Liberal-Country Party coalition came to power we have heard a lot about the Communist Party but not one case of Communist Party subversion has been brought to trial in those 21 years. If there has been any Communist subversion in that time obviously the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has fallen down on the job. Not one person has been charged with subversive activities since this Government was elected in 1949 but Dr Evatt, who was Attorney-General in the Chifley Government, prosecuted the Communists and. raided their headquarters in George Street, Sydney.
– Are you in favour of that?
– If the honourable member knows of a case of Communist subversion let him submit it to the proper authorities so that charges may be laid. I. have here a photostat copy of a propaganda sheet issued by the Liberal Party for the 1966 elections. For some reason China was not coloured red on that propaganda sheet. The caption reads: ‘Just where do you draw the line against Communist aggression?’ The implication is that China is our enemy. If this is so Government supporters are guilty of treason. They cannot have it both ways for you cannot trade with an enemy. As soon as the Second World War broke out the Menzies Government had to introduce legislation to prohibit trading with the enemy. If China is an enemy of Australia the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) is guilty of treason because he and his colleagues in the Country Party are trading with China. Some of the wheat has been diverted to feed the army of North Vietnam. Honourable members opposite know this. Is the sale of that wheat to China an act of treason? Government supporters cannot have it both ways. They cannot condemn China on the one hand and on the other hand accept China’s gold. If Government supporters want to make allegations about the Labor Party and Communists they must be fair dinkum.
The honourable member for Curtin said that the Communist Party’s policy is similar to that of the Labor Party. It is also similar to that of the Government. Otherwise, honourable members in subsidy corner over here, or ‘Gunn’s Gully’ as we call it, would not have any subsidies. They would not have any subsidies if it were not for policies similar to those of the Labor Party and the Communist Party. But that is inescapable. Of course some parts of our policy must be like that of the Communist Party just as is the Government’s policy in regard to social services, repatriation and the like. That is a ridiculous argument to put up. I suggest that before honourable members opposite refer to the trade union movement they should have a little bit of experience within the movement so that they will know what they are talking about.
Before honourable members opposite utter innuendos against people with the malicious gutter type tactics that were used against Mr Chifley they should put specific cases, name the people and name the instances to which they refer. Otherwise, of course, they are just using the old Com. bogy stuff that we have been listening to ever since I came into this Parliament.
– I rise to a point of order. I think that the honourable member for Sydney has inadvertently misrepresented me when he referred to that corner of the House as Gun’s Gully. I do not think I have been long enough in this House to have any part of it named after me.
-Order! There is no valid point of order.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.42 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
United Kingdom Rural Policy
asked the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Australia’s market size and that of her international competitors, meant that for the producing sector of the economy, market sharing, and even survival, depended on forward economic planning. In the rural, mining, and manufacturing sectors, the accountancy profession is particularly suited to this task.’
asked the Minister for Trade and Industry the following question, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is:
asked the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable gentleman’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice:
– In export statistics it is possible to identify exports of kangaroo meat and undressed fur skins of kangaroos and wallabies. Exports of other kangaroo products are not recorded separately.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The following details have been supplied by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics.
Information relating to the production of motor vehicles from1950, is given in Table I below.
Finished and partly finished Motor Vehicles for the years prior to 1963-64 the series represent the production of bodies assembled from local and imported panels, b) Not available. (p) Preliminary - subject to revision.
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
What has been the outcome of the review of the terms of Australia’s acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (Hansard, 13th May 1969, page 1734, question nos. 1423 and 1424).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The review of the terms of Australia’s acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the Internationa) Court of Justice, mentioned in my pre
decessor’s answer to the honourable member’s previous questions, has not yet concluded. If a decision is made to alter the existing terms, it will of course be communicated to the House.
Sugar Industry in Fiji (Question No. 543)
ns asked the Minister for
External Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Foreign Service Training Courses (Question No. 182)
asked the Minister for
External Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable members questions is as follows:
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The position in respect of the 113 deferred applications is as follows:
The position in respect pf the 30 deferred applications is as follows:
The position in respect of the 76 deferred applications is as follows:
asked the Minister for National Service, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The reason for the President of the Commission not setting the appeal down for hearing soon after the stay applications had been decided is apparent from the following extract from a decision handed down on 15th July 1968, in which the Commission, inter alia, extended stay orders previously granted:
I would like to add for myself as President that it should be manifest to the industrial world and also to the representatives of the parties and especially to this particular union that it is impossible for me to set this down for hearing at present. It is not the wish of the organised employers or the organised trade unions that the two issues of equal rates for females and males and the abolition of interstate differentials be tested at this particular point of time. Indeed it will be clear - and I recommend to the union that it look at the transcript of today’s proceedings before Mr Senior Commissioner Taylor m regard to the forthcoming national wage case, where the representatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions made it clear that the A.C.T.U. did not want the issue of equal pay for men and women or the abolition of interstate differentials decided at or even during the national wage cases which are going to commence on 6th August; they wanted those issues decided separately and later than that
It will be seen therefore that it would be impracticable to the point of absurdity if I were to put this appeal down for hearing at the present time.’
asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice:
Will he examine the feasibility and advisability of amending Conciliation and Arbitration Regulation 127 in such a way as to ensure that when an organisation makes application to change the conditions of eligibility for membership, or the description of the industry in connection with which it is registered, the words proposed to be added or omitted shall be clearly indicated by the notice which must be advertised in the Gazette’.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The files on applications made under section 139 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act may be inspected at the Industrial Registries and, under long standing arrangements, these flies are marked by the Registry staff so as to show clearly the precise changes in wording sought. Nevertheless, I shall look into the proposal embodied in the honourable member’s question.
asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for External Territories, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
That in conformity with the policy of the Australian Government of involving the indigenous people of Papua and New Guinea increasingly in the processes of decision making, this House recommends that -
any application in respect of which a decision has not been arrived at thirty days after its receipt shall be reported to the Administrator’s Executive Council with an explanation of the reason for the delay.
As I told the House of Representatives on 17th March, I am having an examination made to see whether procedures can be tightened up to keep delays to a minimum.
A statement will be made tothe House of Assembly in due course on the whole matter.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 April 1970, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1970/19700415_reps_27_hor66/>.