24th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I address a question to the Acting Minister for Trade. Does the Government approve the reported proposal of the Australian Wool Bureau to develop the wool textile industry in Communist China? Does the Government intend to provide, either directly or indirectly, funds for such expansion, if projected talks between the chairman and the managing director of the International Wool Secretariat and Communist Chinese officials result in agreement being reached? Finally, does the Government realize the dangers of international trade with red China, and will it consider the harm that the proposed move could do to the export trade of our best wool customer, Japan?
– I have not studied the statement made by Sir William Gunn, but I have cut out a report of it, and it is on my table. I have not yet had a chance to read it. I understand that the statement refers to the promotion of wool sales to red China. We have been trading with red China, in wool and other commodities, for a considerable time, and therefore the promotion of trade in wool with that area, which is in the hands of the Australian Wool Bureau, would be simply in furtherance of an existing set of conditions. If the honorable senator places his question on the notice-paper I will obtain from the Minister for Trade a full and comprehensive answer.
– My question also is addressed to the Acting Minister for Trade. Is the Minister aware of a plan, reported to be in the theory stage, to establish a common market between Japan, India and Burma? Has any approach been made to Australia regarding this matter, which has been freely referred to by the chairman of Japan’s largest electronics firm? Does the Minister think that, if such a market eventuated, it would be very important for Australia to join it?
– I have not noted the particular form of common market to which the honorable senator has referred, but I have noticed from time to time references to proposals to set up common markets amongst Eastern countries. I have never been able to understand the view that it would be of advantage to Australia to join such a market; that is, if the proposed arrangement mentioned by the honorable senator is similar to that of the European Common Market, because under such arrangements there is a common tariff between the countries concerned. Therefore, at this stage, without knowing the likely conditions of entry or the exact nature of the proposal, I should not think that it would be of interest to Australia.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport whether the governments concerned expect a substantial increase in rail passenger traffic as a result of the opening of the standard gauge passenger service between Melbourne and Sydney. Is it a fact that the passenger cars to be used on the trains are the last word in rail travel comfort? Has the Commonwealth Government made, or does it intend to make, representations for new cars to be used on the Goulburn-Canberra service and. as far as the service itself is concerned, for the running times to be greatly improved, in order to encourage more rail travel to Canberra from cities in the southern States, particularly Melbourne, now that there is no break of gauge?
– I think that the railway systems of both Victoria and New South Wales could reasonably expect an increase of traffic as a result of improved services consequent upon the opening of the standard gauge line between Sydney and Melbourne. Frankly, I do not know whether consideration has been given to the interesting proposal mentioned by the honorable senator - that better facilities be provided on the Goulburn-Canberra line. I will refer that part of the question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport, Mr. Opperman.
– In directing a question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, I refer to and congratulate the Postmaster-General upon the success of his department in inaugurating a direct automatic dialling service between Canberra and Sydney. As Victoria now appears to have become the dominant State in the federation will the Minister advise the Senate when a like service will be available between Canberra and Melbourne?
– Of course, Mr. President, Victoria is the dominant State. I am unable to tell the honorable senator the specific date when a service of this kind will be put into operation between Canberra and Melbourne. Plans ire well in hand for the completion of the work, and I know that the Postmaster-General is doing his utmost to expedite it.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport: What tankers, if any, operate interstate services on temporary permits? How many interstate trips were made by these vessels during the last six months? What wages were paid to crew members during this period? How do those wages compare with those paid to Australian crews?
– I cannot answer the question in detail, so I shall have to ask for it to be put on the notice-paper. It is well known that tankers on the Australian coast operate under i he exemption provisions of the Navigation A et.
– The Union Oil Development Corporation issued a press statement at 12.30 p.m. to-day. The corporation reports that a preliminary production test was conducted at the lower zone, 5,795 to 5,827 feet, in the UnionKernA.O.G. Moonie No. 2 well. The well flowed at a rate of 1,392 barrels per day of 44 A.P.I. gravity clear oil through a 1-inch bottom hole choke for three hours. A daily rate of 240,000 cubic feet of gas was recorded. The statement goes on to refer to other matters affecting the future programme of the company. Anticipating that I would be asked a question about this matter, I asked Dr. Raggatt to elucidate the report for me. This is his comment -
The report of a production test of the lower sand at Moonie No. 2 giving 44 degrees A.P.I, gravity oil at the rate of 1,392 barrels per day and 240,000 cubic feet of gas per’ day through a § inch choke confirms the extension of the reservoir tested in Moonie No. 1 as far as No. 2, a distance of two-thirds of a mile, without significant change.
In other words, it shows that the reservoir at that depth at the Moonie No. 1 well Is still in existence two-thirds of a mile away. Dr. Raggatt added -
The only useful further comment that can be made is that the result is in line with expectations based on the information so far obtained in the assessment of the field.
In other words, that is what it was expected would be found.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the Minister for Customs and Excise, by pointing out that a couple of weeks ago a circular letter on the subject of scrap metal was sent to most members of the Parliament. I have had an opportunity to talk to the Minister about it, but I now ask him whether he is in a position to make a report to the Parliament.
– Senator Arnold was good enough to mention to me that he was interested in this matter. I have had some inquiries made and am now able to say that controls on the export of scrap iron and steel have been in existence since 1938. From 1956 onwards there has been a sixmonthly review of the policy in the light of the demand for and the availability of scrap. The controls have as their objective the ensuring of adequate supplies of scrap to the foundries and steel mills and are similar to controls in the United Kingdom, Japan and countries of the European Coal and Steel Community. In view of altered circumstances within Australia and the increased demand for scrap metal, with a consequent rise in prices, the Department of Trade is now calling together all interested parties for a complete review of the policy.
– I address to the Acting Minister for Trade questions supplementary to that asked by Senator Cole. First, I ask whether the Minister is aware that Sir William Gunn, when asked whether red China could afford to pay for big quantities of wool, is reported to have said -
The record of the People’s Republic of China is that it has always paid.
Is this a fact? Secondly, can the Minister inform me whether red China has ever repudiated its obligations and refused to pay’ moneys owing to Japan and Ceylon, or to any other country? Thirdly, in view of the fact that red China already owes Australia a considerable sum for wheat, is it desirable to extend further credit to a Communist country when trade is one of the Communists’ chief cold war weapons?
– Generally speaking, mainland China has a very high reputation among exporting countries for meeting its financial commitments. As far as I am aware, there has been no instance of repudiation since the war. If the honorable senator places on the notice-paper the question covering the two instances he has mentioned, I shall obtain some details. I repeat that I have no recollection of any repudiation on the part of mainland China since the war.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Territories. In view of the excellent quality of the booklet, “Australian Territories “, issued by the Department of Territories, and1 its content of valuable information which is not readily available in reference or text-books, will the Minister consider issuing copies of the booklet to secondary school libraries throughout Australia?
– I certainly agree with the honorable senator’s description of these publications as being of first-class quality. They really are. I might say that in a small way I have anticipated her request for a general distribution of these publications to secondary schools by myself distri buting two or three to schools of my acquaintance in my own State. I shall be pleased to refer the question to the Minister for Territories.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport. In the negotiations which are now reported as taking place with the New South Wales Department of Railways for the taking over by New South Wales of the Queanbeyan-Canberra line, will due regard be paid to the interests of Commonwealth railway employees, some of whom have established, over the years, homes in, and other associations with, Canberra which it would be difficult for them to break up if they were transferred to work on the Commonwealth line in South Australia or Western Australia? Could those employees who so desired be given the option of transfer to the New South Wales railways service, with due regard to the preservation of their superannuation and other rights? I understand that similar arrangements have been made when State activities have been taken over by the Commonwealth.
– I have no doubt that in the negotiations referred to the welfare and the future of the men in Commonwealth employ will be taken into account. In order that I may get a full and comprehensive answer, I ask that the question be put on the notice-paper.
– Can the Minister representing the Treasurer inform me of the approximate value of the special accounts or reserve accounts that are held by the Reserve Bank of Australia for the trading banks? Can he say, in a general way, in what form the moneys are invested? Can he inform the Senate of the operations of the Reserve Bank relevant to these reserve accounts over the last twelve months?
– No. Even in a general way, I would not attempt to answer the question. I shall refer it to the Treasurer and get a quick reply for the honorable senator.
– [ direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Did the Minister for Defence, during his discussions with the United Kingdom Defence Minister, Mr. Watkinson, in Singapore last week, recommend the building up of Darwin as a major defence base in the Commonwealth defence plan? In view of the failure of Singapore in the last war as a strategic defence base, and having regard to the present armed unrest over Dutch New Guinea, at Australia’s front door, will the Minister give an assurance that Darwin, an important Australian port, is not being neglected?
– I am not aware that there was a discussion of the details of Australia’s internal defence arrangements during the conversations between my colleague, Mr. Townley, and Mr. Watkinson. It was more a case of contact between the two Ministers in order to get an understanding of the British overall plan for this area. I should think it very improbable that there were discussions about Darwin or any other details of Australia’s defence proposals. One thing that became clear in the discussions was that the United Kingdom had decided to rely upon the continuance of Singapore as a base in this part of the world.
– My question without notice is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. By way of preface, I ref *r him to the statement attributed to Sir Wil iam Gunn, as reported in to-day’s Sydney Daily Telegraph “. I quote from the article -
Sir William said the Australian wool industry had reached a stage where it must closely examine productivity.
The industry must produce wool at a price the world could afford to pay.
Sir William said he hoped an examination of productivity would be one of the first problems the proposed Australian Wool Commission would tackle.
The Commission may be set up by July next year.
I ask the Minister whether a wool commission has yei been appointed. If it has not been appointed, is it proposed to appoint one? Would such a commission have the scope claimed for it by Sir William Gunn? Would it not be possible to appoint the commission before July next year, the date predicted by Sir William Gunn?
– No wool commission has yet been appointed. As the. Senate well knows, it was recommended by the committee of inquiry that was set up recently to inquire into wool marketing. The establishment of a wool commission to take control of marketing and all other matters pertaining to the wool industry was one of the chief recommendations of that committee. Senator Laught has asked whether the formation of this commission could be expedited. I would say in reply to him that that is a matter for the industry concerned. The Government has always adhered to a policy that has placed the responsibility for marketing, as well as the control of their industry, in the hands of those concerned. Until the wool industry is in a position to consider the committee’s report in detail and to make considered recommendations I assure the honorable senator that the Government will not take any action that is not endorsed by the growers.
– I ask the! Minister representing the Minister for Trade whether New Zealand recently announced a tightening up of that country’s import licensing arrangements. Can the Minister inform me whether the New Zealand Government is a party to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and if so, whether the steps taken by the New Zealand Government are in accordance with the objectives of that body, namely, the protection of the balance of trade. As Australian trade with New Zealand represents a significant proportion of our export earnings, to what extent is it expected that our exports to New Zealand will be reduced?
– New Zealand is a party to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, as the honorable senator suggests. Under that agreement, it is quite competent for a country to protect its overseas reserves by way of import restrictions. I understand that the new restrictions do affect Australia to a small degree in some particular items, but that they still leave with us quite a valuable market in New Zealand. They will not cause great harm to Australian trade.
– I direct a question to the Minister for National Development. In view of the importance of the question asked earlier by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin and of the reply given by the Minister for National Development, together with a statement by Dr. Raggatt, I ask the Minister whether the oil strike that he talked about at Moonie No. 2 was at the second level? Was this the level that gave the production that he mentioned - I think he said 1,392 barrels per day under test? Was there not another level of oil in this drill hole that was equal to the level of the Moonie No. 1 strike?
– The story runs something like this: At the first well, the flow was 2,196 barrels a day at the 5,800 to 5,900 feet level. In the second well a flow of 2,592 barrels a day was obtained at between 5,651 and 5,765 feet. That oil in the second well was obtained at a level a couple of hundred feet less than the level at which the strike in the first well was made. The big question was: Is this a second stratum of oil or is it the same stratum repeated at a higher level? The general opinion among geologists and others with knowledge on the subject was that it was a second stratum of oil. The strike announced to-day at the 5,795 feet level at a rate of 1,392 barrels a day confirms the continuance of the stratum that was discovered in the first well, which is two-thirds of a mile away. The position now is that oil has been found in two strata of sands. This result is only what was expected. When the strike was made at 5,651 feet everybody was confident that it was a second stratum and that the first stratum would be discovered again when drilling was taken a further 200 feet. The strike that has been announced to-day confirms what everybody thought.
– It confirms the existence of two strata.
– Yes. This is what everybody expected.
– I direct a question to the Minister assisting the Minister for External Affairs. 1 am prompted to ask my question because I find myself unable to answer- intelligently the questions that have been directed to me about this matter by women’s organizations in this country. I hope that the Minister will be able to assist me. Is the Minister aware that a talented South Australian woman diplomat, Miss Cynthia Nelson, has been appointed to the position of First Secretary to the Australian Embassy in Washington? Is the Minister aware that she has been appointed to a position previously held by a man, but that she is to be paid a rate applicable to a female? Will the Minister state in what way her duties will differ from those of the previous male occupant of the position?
– I am aware of the circumstances mentioned by the honorable senator. This matter was raised in the Senate last week by another honorable senator, who asked why Miss Nelson was appointed to a position at a rate of pay lower than that which a male would have received in the same position. I am aware, both from my knowledge of the department and from personal knowledge, of the ability of Miss Nelson. Miss Nelson was formerly in charge of our legation in Saigon, and acted as counsellor there. She is receiving less pay in her new position than a male would receive, and this is because of Public Service Board rulings on this matter, which lay down rates of pay applicable to males and females. The Public Service Board is very largely outside government control. That is the reason for the anomaly referred to by Senator Robertson.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General been directed to the many complaints about the deterioration of radio reception because of an increase of static since the abandonment of the experiments in frequency modulation broadcasting? Will he reconsider his decision not to continue frequency modulation broadcasting in the areas where it is practicable?
– This matter has been brought before the Senate on innumerable occasions by Sena:or Hannan from Victoria. Anticipating that he would still be forcing this issue, I am having a statement on frequency modulation broadcasting prepared by the PostriasterGeneral’s Department. As soon as that statement is completed I shall make it available and, at the same time, answe Senator McCallum’s question.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Ministe for External Affairs, relates to the question asked by Senator Robertson and the Minister’s answer thereto in which he admitted that an anomaly exists in that Miss Nelson receives a lesser salary than a man holding the same office would receive. In view of the Minister’s expressed belief that an anomaly exists, is the Government bound to respect the decision of the Public Service Board rather than the International Labour Organization convention, to which the Government was a party, made in 1951?
– If the Public Service Board’s decisions in these matters, which are applicable to the whole of the Public Service, were not to be followed, it would be necessary to introduce legislation which had applica.ion to the whole of government employment. Senator Robertson asked nie a specific question about the appointment of a specific person, and I answered ti at particular question. The matter could b>: dealt with by legislation that would cover the whole field of the Public Service, but unless such legislation is enacted we are bound by Public Service Board decisions.
– My question, which I direct to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, rela’es to the acquisition of important works of art produced by Australian artists. By way of preface, I invite the Minister’s attention to a recent sale of works of art in Sydney. In that sale of part of Mr. Norman Schureck’s art collection some very valuable Australian works of art were sold. Many of them were painted by ore of Australia’s foremost artists, Mr. W.iliam Dobell. At that auction most of the State art galleries were represented, but no one from the Commonwealth was present. I suggest that that indicates a lack of interest by Commonwealth authorities in the acquisition of such works. Very important works of art have been lost to the nation for that reason. Will the Minister consider taking up with the Prime Minister the matter of a review of the policy of the Government in relation to the acquisition of works of art, which I understand is co-ordinated by a committee upon which the Leader of the Opposition sits, to ensure that more interest is taken in these matters so that important works of art by outstanding Australians will not be lost to the nation?
– I saw the press report of the sale of these paintings. I read it with great interest. Indeed, I thought that I would like to buy one of them until I saw the prices in this morning’s newspapers. I doubt very much whether Senator Vincent is correct when he says that no one representing the Commonwealth was present. I also doubt whether it is accurate to say that the purchase of these and other similar pictures was not considered by the Commonwealth. I think decisions were made; but as I am expressing only thoughts, I believe it would be better for Senator Vincent to put his question on the notice-paper. I will then make certain of the facts.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, relates to the position in Algeria at the present time. What is the referendum proposal that France is submitting to the people early next month, and to what electors will it be submitted?
– I should like that question to be placed on the notice-paper so that the exact wording of the referendum proposal, which it is important to state accurately, can be given to the honorable senator.
– My question, which is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, is supplementary to those asked by my colleague, Senator Robertson, and by Senator Tangney. Can the Minister say when the Government is likely to give effect to the recommendation contained in the Boyer committee report on what it claimed were anachronistic conditions in relation to the employment of women in the Public Service?
– I give Senator Wedgwood the answer that the matter is under consideration.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The following answers have been supplied: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
Labour inquiry into apprenticeship by a special committee, but the appropriate departments of Queensland and Tasmania were not consulted?
– The Minister for Labour and’ National Service has supplied the following information: - 1 and 2. The honorable senator’s questions appear to be based upon a misunderstanding. For some years now my department has been actively concerned with ways in which the shortages of tradesmen might be relieved and public attention drawn to the whole problem. Amongst other things, it provides the chairman (the secretary of m-j department) for the Australian Apprenticeship Advisory Committee on which are represented all the Australian apprenticeship and technical education authorities. This committee, which was constituted by the Commonwealth and State governments, has given a great deal of attention to various aspects of the Australian apprenticeship arrangements and different methods of training skilled workers.
The meeting in Melbourne in February which gave rise to the honorable senator’s questions really stemmed from th: recognition by the advisory committee that same issues required a more broadly based and di tailed study by a small group which included people from both sides of industry. It was, as appears clearly from the booklet “ Training for Skilled Occupations “, essentially a study group composed of men of experience each able to contribute something from his knowledge of the matters under discussion. It included some members of the advisory committee to provide a link with the thinking of hat committee. There was thus no question of constituting a special committee to make an iiquiry into apprenticeship, nor of any need for inter-Governmental consultation. The group v as not concerned with the particular systems practised in any individual State. lt is of the essence of a study group that it should be small. To have made the membership of the group representative would have meant a very large meeting. For example, on the official side there are 21 Labour departments, technical education and apprenticeship authorities, not to mention the arbitration tribinals which have much to do with apprenticeship. The trade unions and the employers’ organizations concerned with apprenticeship are numerou ;. And there are other bodies as well which an. concerned with the training of skilled workers.
So far from there being any question of ignoring the Victorian Apprenticeship Commission or any other body, official or non-official, I was so impressed by the study group’s observations that I immediately wrote to all State Ministers of Labour, to my colleague’.- in the Government whose departments employ apprentices, to the principal employer organizations and to the Australian Council of Trade Unions sending on the booklet referred to which contains these observa tions and the material prepared by the department for the group, and urging their general support for action designed to increase the intake of apprentices along the lines of the observations.
No exception can be taken to the way in which my department acted. Indeed, I was fully aware of what was happening. My only hope is that the observations will be studied and acted on by those concerned. It has been a matter of much gratification to me that the group’s observations have been well received. The demand for copies of the booklet has been very heavy indeed.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The following answers have been furnished: -
Motion (by Senator Spooner)- by leave - agreed to -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the National Library Act 1960, the Senate elects the President, Senator the Honorable Sir Alister McMullin, to be a member of the Council of the National Library of Australia from this day until the first day of sitting of the Twenty-fifth Parliament.
Debate resumed from 27th March (vide page 630), on motion by Senator Henty -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The bill before the Senate is one of limited extent and purpose. The present act authorizes the payment of drawbacks of duties on goods exported, or enables regulations to be made for that purpose. It does the same in regard to certain remissions of excise duty. However, it is doubtful whether the act authorizes the whole of the regulations providing for remissions and refunds of duties in all circumstances. Because of the doubts that have arisen, it is now proposed to insert an appropriate new section in the act, authorizing the making of regulations to deal with remissions, refunds and drawbacks generally.
The other action taken by the bill is to repeal sections 73 and 74 of the principal act. The matters those sections cover will now be dealt with by regulations. The sections relate to refunds on tobacco sent back to store for reconditioning and restoration because it has deteriorated. The Opposition offers no objection to the measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative. . .
Bill read asecond time, andpassed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 27th March (vide page 629), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The bill is designed to make availableanother £7,500,000 not primarily for home-building but for the curious purpose of stimulating home-building. Already a sum of £42,900,000 has been made available for this financial year. I should have thought that the Government would have really concerned itself with the best way of stimulating home-building rather than with using this means, as it has said, for the purpose of trying to pick up the economy of Australia. We know that the Government, if it so desired, could have made this money available to stimulate the building of hotels, picture shows and so forth; but, as I have indicated, the loan is to be made available to the States for the purpose of building homes. Whilst the Opposition does not oppose the measure, we say that once again the Government is tackling the problem of a depressed economy from the wrong end. It has done that on many occasions. It applied the credit squeeze, which caused a dampening down of activity throughout the economy and a reduction of the value of investments.
A very distinguished senator in the person of Senator Sir Walter Cooper and I are the only survivors of the Social Security Committee of 1942. That committee submitted to the Parliament a unanimous report on Australia’s housing needs. Let me read to the Senate some of the thoughts that we expressed in our report. We said that unless there were adequate and healthy housing conditions for the Australian people we could not hope to establish and maintain proper standards of public health, child welfare, and morality, which are prerequisites to the building up of a healthy, virile and great people. Further on in our examination of this problem we said -
The extent of the problem may be judged from the estimated deficiency of more than 100,000 homes to meet Australian needs, and in addition, from the existence of about 50,000 sub-standard dwellings accommodating large numbers of men, women and children under slum conditions, in which disease and delinquency thrive . . .
There was an accumulating deficit each year of an additional 30,000 homes during the war years. So by the end of the war in 1945 there would have been an additional deficiency of 100,000 homes, making a total deficiency of approximately 250,000 homes. We suggested that the problem ought to be tackled on a national basis and that the Parliament, vh;rh was collecting the finance and disbursing it to the States, ought to lay down conditions under which the States could build 1 tomes.
Although the Government believes there is a demand each yea1 for not fewer than 80,000 homes, I note that last year only 70,000 were commenced. Most States have laws which peg rents, with the result that investors who have invested their money in this way have been penalized. Although landlords may not be well regarded by other people throughout Australia, as investors they are entitled, like any other investor, to a fair return on their money. But over the last 20 years, because of the demand for housing and because until adequate housing was provided rents would soar, governments have seen fit to peg rents. Therefore, they have imposed on this class of investor a penalty which is not applied to other people, and there is almost no private building for rental.
In addition to the reed for the building of homes we have the problem of slum clearance, which can be tackled only by State governments. Bu as the State governments say they cannot obtain from the Commonwealth sufficient money to meet their ordinary needs, w; cannot expect them to make available large sums of money for compensation for the tiaring down of slums and for the re-building of those areas. The problem must be regaded as a Commonwealth responsibility. We have not yet accepted the challenge that has been placed before us in this regard. I have said in this place before that v e are lazy in dealing with many important piroblems. There comes to my mind the needs of aged and invalid people. Instead of trying to ascertain the best way in which to tackle this problem we simply pay these people a sum of money each week and say to them, “ Look after your own problem “. A single pensioner who lives in a room md has to meet all the commitments associated therewith receives only £4 10s. a week. But a pensioner who lives with a son oi daughter and has a greater degree of comfort also receives £4 10s. a week.
– What about the subsidy on the basis of :’.2 for £1 for aged persons’ homes?
– -What about it?
– You say that that is all the Government does.
– I fail to see the point the honorable senator is trying to make. If the Commonwealth is helping the States in that way, that is all to the good; but it still does not overcome the problem of providing adequate housing. The problem I am trying to place before the Senate is that the demand for homes throughout Australia is now so great that it cannot be tackled properly by State authorities. This is a Commonwealth responsibility, but it is being shelved, just as other Commonwealth responsibilities have been shelved. The responsibility for aged and invalid people is being shelved, simply by paying out to each and every one of them a certain amount of money. We hope that we have thereby solved the problem, but that is not the way to approach it. In other countries, the matter has been approached in many different ways. Much more kindness and consideration has been shown to aged and invalid people.
With regard to housing, the Commonwealth cannot simply say to the States, “ We shall make available a certain amount of money. You can pick up the problem at that point and do the best you can.” We know that we are not building enough homes. The Commonwealth is providing an extra £7,500,000, but not for the purpose of meeting the housing demand. The Government’s attitude is curious. It proposes in this way to stimulate industry and help to overcome the economic depression into which we have sunk in the last year or two. That is not the way in which we ought to tackle the problem. Whether or not the provision of this extra £7,500,000 will help in curing the economic difficulties into which the Government has led us, I do not know. First, we must engender in the people confidence that they will be able to find money to buy homes. The purchase of a home involves a pretty big expenditure for ordinary people. Most homes are built on credit, and people are not prepared to undertake commitments to repay large sums of money unless they see a reasonable chance of their being able to make the repayments. The difficulty will not be overcome quickly merely by making extra money available to State Governments and building societies.
The Commonwealth ought to give much more consideration to the matter of interest rates. Young people who wish .to get married and settle down in a home face the problem of obtaining a piece of land and erecting a dwelling costing £3,000 or £4,000. If they have to pay 6 per cent, or 7 per cent, on that expenditure, they carry a heavy burden of debt for many years. In those conditions, people will not rush into the purchase of homes.
I hope that this measure will help to stimulate the economy, but up to now we have not seen much evidence that it will do so. The number of applications for homes does not encourage us to believe that there will be any quick recovery or that the provision of this money will help very greatly towards a solution of the problem. I wish the Government well with its plan. I hope that it will lead to an encouragement of home-building and will stimulate the economy quickly. But I deplore the fact that the Government is making this extra money available, not for the purpose of meeting the housing demand or of providing relief in this tremendous problem, but mainly in order to stimulate industry. While we have that type of thinking, we shall not solve the big problems that arise year after year. It is that sort of thinking that leads us into traps such as that into which the Government fell last year, when it tied up industry throughout Australia to such an extent. It is now desperately trying to find a way out of its economic problems.
Although the Government is prepared to make available to the States large sums of money for home-building, it is not doing its job effectively, efficiently, or as it ought to be done by any authority faced with the responsibility of tackling a national problem. The Commonwealth must not only find money. It must also plan standards and decide where and how quickly developments should take place. It should consider what is required and what is the demand. The Commonwealth should lay down conditions to building authorities, whether they be State governments or building societies. It should undertake to find the money for these authorities to achieve the objectives desired by the Commonwealth. It is a shocking indictment of Australian governments that, in this year of grace, in all the major cities, terrible slum conditions still exist. I should have thought that after 15 or 16 years of peace we would have been able to achieve much in the demolition of slums, and the provision of better housing for our people, which is still a most serious problem.
The Opposition does not wish to impede the passage of this bill, but we think that the Government is being lazy. It is not doing its job by saying simply, “We are trying to stimulate the economy and at the same time build some homes “. The Opposition regards housing as a national responsibility which cannot properly be tackled by the States. We have had the problem for many years, and it is time that the Government faced up to it and provided to authorities throughout Australia plans for development and money to achieve what is wanted. The Opposition hopes that the Government’s plans to stimulate the economy will bear fruit and that the economy will pick up quickly. It hopes that the additional money to be provided under this legislation will be of assistance, but says that in the future housing development should be planned.
– The purpose of this bill is to give the Treasurer authority to raise loan moneys totalling £7,500,000 for financial assistance to the States for housing. This amount will be in addition to the £42,900,000 already authorized under the Loan Housing Act of 1961, thus making a total authorization for this year of £50,400,000. This is about £13,200,000 more than the amount advanced to the States for the same purpose in 1960-61. As Senator Arnold said, the Government’s decision to increase the level of advances under the housing agreement by £7,500,000 was one of the measures taken to stimulate activity and employment in the building industry.
It is axiomatic that the building industry is one of the main barometers of stability in the economy. If we are to have a stable economy, we must have a high measure of stability in the building industry. As most of my comments will be related to New South Wales, where, regrettably, the housing problem is at its worst in the Commonwealth, I think I should explain that that State will get an extra £2,400,000, making a total of £17,003,000 for housing purposes for the year 1961-62. Advances to the States of the moneys eferred to in this bill will be made under he authority of the Housing Agreement Act 1961, which provides that the Treasurer shall advance moneys in accordance with the housing agreement with each o;’ the six States. This agreement came into operation during the present year, and, naturally, was the subject of debate in this place. Honorable senators will recall that a minimum of 30 per cent, of advances must be set aside in each State to go into its own building account and be channelled through the co-operative building society movement and other like authorities. The Commonwealth advances this money for repayment over a period of 53 years at an interest rate 1 per cent, below the long term rate. I have given those basic details as a proper background to the debate this afternoon.
Senator Arnold, who led for the Opposition, said a moment ago, among other things, that this Government was lazy in its attitude towards housirg and in its approach to the problem. Of course, I think that is a rather unwise statement against the background of the history of the achievements of this Government in the field of housing. Since the Labour Party went out of power payments to the States under the Commonwealth and State Homing Agreement have increased by no less than 300 per cent. In 1949-50, the last year in which the Labour Government w is in office, the Commonwealth allocation Id housing was something like £17,200,00( . I should like the Senate to reflect upor that amount in the light of what Senator Arnold had to say about the Commonwealth’s responsibility in housing. I repeat that in the financial year 1949-50, the last ye ir of office of the Labour Government, ;he Commonwealth’s contribution to the States for housing was £17,200,000. This fin ancial year the Commonwealth’s contribution will be of the order of £50,500,000. In the five-year period from 1945 to 1950, immediately prior to the compulsory retirement from office of the Labour Party, the Commonwealth contributed £63,000,000 to housing. In the last five years of office of this Government, Under the same programme and with similar legislation, the i contribution has been no less than £19* ,000,000. Senator Kennelly is looking at ne with a glint in his eye and I think that he is going to say, “ What about the difference in the value of money? “ Paying due regard to the change in the value of money, the fact is that there is a vast difference between £63,000,000 and £198,000,000. Since this Government has been in office no less than 32 per cent, of the existing homes in Australia have been built; and my colleague on my right reminds me that 75 per cent, of all homes in Australia are under home-ownership. That is a very high percentage, probably one of the highest in the world.
A good deal has been said about our housing problems and this measure in another place, and in this debate so far much has been said by the Senator who led for the Opposition. On this issue of responsibility for housing I want to say that, despite what Senator Arnold says, the fact is that under our parliamentary system we have a Federal government and State governments, which have sovereign rights - and mark you, Mr. Acting Deputy President, the States are very jealous of their sovereign rights. The States have responsibility for housing. It is perfectly true that the Commonwealth holds the funds, but I have already shown how the Commonwealth disburses those funds to the States. In this debate it is a very fair proposition to consider what the States are doing with the money that the Commonwealth Government has so generously given to them during its term of office. Because I am a New South Wales senator and because it is recognized that that State’s housing position is the worst in the Commonwealth, it is natural for me in the limited time available to deal almost exclusively with New South Wales.
I have before me a cutting from a newspaper dated 23rd February, 1962. It is taken from a leading article of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of that date. Even Senator Ormonde will admit that that is not a newspaper traditionally on the side of the Government. I should almost be inclined to say that it supports the Opposition. The article is headed, “Shocking Housing Record of N.S W. Government.”
– That was addressed to the State electors.
– It is a report on housing, a task which, in the main is supposed to be carried out with funds pro*vided by the Commonwealth, first through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement and secondly - and I propose to deal with this aspect in a moment - through loan funds agreed upon at meetings of the Australian Loan Council at which the States make their applications and then allocate the funds for housing. I have read some inaccurate things in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of late, but this is one of the most accurate articles I have read. I would say that it is completely free from party political bias. With that preamble I want to make some reference to what is stated in the main portion of the article. If I read it in part, I am sure the Senate will agree that I am not attempting to give undue emphasis, but am doing so only for the sake of convenience. The article reads in part -
New South Wales has less excuse than other States for scarce, low-quality and dear dwelling accommodation, because population during the past seven years has increased here at a slower rate than in other parts of Australia, except Tasmania.
Nevertheless, the Housing Commission in its recent report had to inform the Minister, Mr. Landa, that it had received more new applications (15,482) in 1961-62 than in any year since 1954-55, and that the total number of outstanding applications (35,230) on June 30, 1961, was *’ the highest since the inception of the Commission “.
This went to prove that the State had not made any real impact on the problem. The article goes on-
Inhabitants of this State are four times as numerous as those of South Australia.
– Was that printed before a certain event in New South Wales known as the State elections?
– I would not know what you are referring to. The truth is the truth every day. It would not matter if it were published in leap year; it is still the truth. Nor would it matter if it were published on Christmas Day. It is still the fact showing the housing record of the New South Wales Government. The article goes on -
Yet the Housing Commission completed 161 fewer home dwellings for our people in 1961-62 than did the Housing Trust for South Australians.
I do not have to bring forward figures to draw a comparison between the housing income of South Australia and the housing income of New South Wales. The article continues -
Yet the Housing Commission completed 161 fewer new dwellings for our people in 1961-62 than did the Housing Trust for South Australians. And it had 250 fewer dwellings “ under construction “ on June 30, 1961.
The N.S.W. Housing Commission, instead of relieving the situation when private building slumped in the latter half of 1960-61, actually accentuated the housing shortage. Families were displaced as a preliminary to slum clearance and emergency units were demolished, besides which the number of new dwellings completed fell by 349 from the previous year’s level to 3,153.
The Commission suggests that the reasons for so few dwellings having been completed during the year was that 430 flats in the Surry Hills project had not been handed over as expected.
The reason for that is given as a shortage of bricks from the State Brickworks. Apparently, that undertaking is not producing the necessary materials in the way that it should. Dealing with the application of ordinary loan funds, the article goes on -
The article is quite lengthy. If called upon to do so I would be happy to table it so that all honorable senators may use it in the debate. The article clearly shows that the New South Wales Labour Government, which has been in office for some 23 years, has failed to spend the money that it has received for housing as prudently and efficiently as the other States have spent their allocations.
We all know that under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement at least 30 per cent, of all money allocated to the States must be channelled through the co-operative building society movement.
– Is that a good idea?
– I think it is a wonderful idea. I want to deal with this matter to show how the co-operative building society movement in New South Wales is obliged to operate to the detriment of home seekers in the middle and lower income groups. The Commonwealth lends money to the States on the basis of repayment over 53 years. The States lend their allocations to co-operative building society movements and similar organizations with repayment over shorter periods. The
Commonwealth is, in effect, providing the States with a fund that can be used two or three times over. I consider that the New South Wales Government is at fault in requiring the cooperative building society movement in New South Wales to lend money to home seekers on the basis of repayment over a period of 26 years. That is a short term. At one stage the period was as short as 22i years. Other financial institutions extend repayments over 30 years and longer. In the case of a war service home,” repayment is made over a period of 40 years. I concede that a war service loan is given in recognition of a man’s contribution to this country during war-time. But any housing loan obtained from a bank or an insurance company would be repayable over a period of 30 years or longer. If a loan is to be repaid over a period of 26 years the individual repayment instalments are correspondingly heavy, and become a burden to a man in the lower-income group.
– -Is the Commonwealth involved in thi;?
– No, but the States are. The Commonwealth gives the money to the States, and says that they shall use 30 per cent, of it through the co-operative building society movement. The States lay down tie conditions governing the use of that 30 per cent.
Senator Ormonde will be particularly interested in my next emarks which relate to the amount of money that may be lent to a home seeker, ti New South Wales, the maximum loan for housing purposes under the agreement s £3,250, or 80 per cent., whichever is the lesser. Let us suppose that a ten- square timber-frame cottage without embellishments will cost something less than £400 a square. Let us put the cost of th;.t cottage at £3,500. Let us suppose that land would cost £1,500 -you would be struggling to buy a block of land to-day in the County of Cumberland for £1,500. So the total cost of the dwelling and land is £5,000. It is no good worrying about a loan of 80 per cent., because the maximum that may be obtained is £3,250. That means that the home seeker must have an initial cash deposit of £1,750. A family mar in the lower-income group is struggling te find £1,750. The £5,000 cost does not take into account stamp duty and legal costs involved in building a home. Here I am bound to say that the co-operative building society movement has reduced those costs to the irreducible minimum. But let us be a little more realistic, and set the cost of a tensquare home at £4,000. Let us say that the land costs £1,750 - you would still be struggling to buy a block of land to-day in the County of Cumberland for £1,750. The total cost to the home seeker is now £5,750. The maximum loan that he can obtain is £3,250, so he needs a cash deposit of £2,500, not to mention his other costs.
– You would not pay £400 a square for a timber home, would you?
– I suggest that a timber-frame cottage of ten squares to-day will cost in the vicinity of £400 a square.
– You are being robbed.
– That is beside the point. The difficulty to-day is not lack of funds. The Commonwealth, to its credit, has ensured that funds are available for housing purposes. The difficulty in getting more houses built is the reluctance or inability of people to finance their equity, in a home. If it is sensible the New South Wales Government will raise the present loan limit of £3,250 to something like £4,000. Then people would be able to finance a home with a deposit of about £1,000. I suggest that a working man who has a deposit of £1,000 to put into a home has done a magnificent job and it is in the interests of this country that such people should be encouraged.
– Does that happen in other States?
– I do not know what the figures are for other States. I would not presume to argue about other States, but I know what they are in New South Wales. As one who has spent a lifetime in this type of work, I can talk with some knowledge of the subject. I shall come back to the value of land in a moment because there is a clear case to be answered in that respect.
There is no doubt in my mind that the problem to-day in launching home-building and getting the home-building industry moving is not so much a lack of money; because this Government has ensured that the States receive money under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The problem is to convince the States that their obligations require them to make the terms and conditions of loans so attractive as to encourage people to become homeowners. That cannot be done on the figures I have cited, with a maximum loan of £3,250 or 80 per cent, of the value of the house. 1 wish to refer to one other matter.
– That State Government about which you are speaking might advance the same argument as the Leader of the Government in the Senate advanced about six or eight months ago when we wanted to increase the maximum loan.
– No. I think Senator Kennelly is twisting the argument. I do not use the word “ twisting “ in an uncharitable way. If Senator Kennelly is referring to the War Service Homes Act, there is no doubt that this Government, to its credit, has recognized this very problem and met it. I am saying in my own right that, despite all the generosity of this Government and- the fact that it has given more money for housing than has any other government, the New South Wales Government will never solve the problem until it does two things. First the State Housing Commission, which handles 70 per cent, of the allocation, must spend its money more efficiently. It must not waste the loan funds that it is supposed to put into housing on projects which are left lying idle for years. The Commission must consider its overhead and administrative costs and reduce them to the level in other States. In relation to the other 30 per cent, of the money provided, the New South Wales Government must alter the terms so that people can borrow money with a reasonable prospect of obtaining an equity in their homes.
I wish to deal now with the value of land. Everybody realizes that this is a factor in housing. As long as we have in New South Wales a government which continues to do the things the present State Government is doing, we will never have cheaper land in that State. In the County of Cumberland we have a planning authority which has a wonderful practice of trickling pieces of land out of green belt restrictions from time to time, thereby creating false prices for land. It means that the working man - the man whom we are trying to help and whom members of the Opposition also are trying to help - does not get a fair go because he cannot buy land at a reasonable price.
Finally, I wish to refer to 16,000 blocks of land that are tied up by the dead hand of officialdom in New South Wales. The sale of those blocks would provide a reasonable opportunity for people to acquire land; but it is held up because of a conflict between the planning authority and the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board, which is a governmental authority. I have in my hand a photostat copy of an article that appeared in a newspaper which I am sure members of the Opposition will agree is a most reliable newspaper, because they have been advocating its virtues for a long time. This article is headed, “Deadlock Over Water Costs Holds Up 16,000 Home Blocks”. That sort of thing creates false prices for land. In this case the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board has said to the owners, in effect, “ Look here, if you want to subdivide and sell this land you will have to pay about £900,000 for reticulation “. The point is that the reticulation for which the owners would have to pay is not just for that land. The owners were to be asked to lend money to the board for water reticulation for about 40 per cent, of some additional blocks in which they have no interest at all.
– How far out of the city is that land?
– It is in the
Baulkham Hills-Blacktown area.
– It is about 30 miles out.
– I would say it is about 25 or 30 miles out of the city. Certain parts of it might be closer than that. It is in an area which is ideal for subdivision. It is beautiful land for subdivision. Yet the sale of these 16,000 blocks is being held up for an interminable time. Consequently, people who want land cannot get it. When they want to buy land the price is fictitious and they are priced o it of the market.
In conclusion I poi it out that the Commonwealth Government is providing the funds for housing anc that under the Constitution the States ha /e responsibilities for housing. In my view New South Wales is not accepting its responsibilities because it is making the terms and conditions under which people can acquire homes too difficult. That tends to aggravate the housing problem. There is no housing shortage in the other States where this problem has been met. The problem exists only in New South Wales where the terms and conditions have been made too difficult for people to acquire homes. In supporting this bill, I say that the record of this Government in providing money for housing to the States is magnificent, and I believe it should receive the approbation and approval of all parties in this chamber.
– The only feature of Senator Anderson’s speech that attracted my attention in particular was his quotation from the “ Sydney Morning Herald “. Over the past few months we have heard many condemnatory remarks about that newspaper. Perhaps Senator Anderson was creating a new look on the part of supporters of the Government to the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ by quoting something that evidently he thought was worthy of quotation. I also direct the attention of the Senate to some other aspects of Senator Anderson’s speech. He singled out the New South Wales Government for bis attack. In my opinion he made unsubstantiated attacks on its administration of housing. Let us get the whole picture in its right perspective. As every one knows, the State governments to-day are irrevocably attached to the Commonwealth chariot, and the speed of the hub of the wheel determines the speed of the rim
– Who made that the position?
– Our forbears, the framers of our Constitution. I believe that the only way that this country can develop and expand and reach full maturity is by this arrangement wor] ung in the way that it vu intended to work and in accordance with any modifications that we are able to make.
Senator Anderson made great play on the generosity of the Federal Government in making these grants. I remind honorable senators that every penny of this money, plus interest, will be repaid1 to the Federal Government. This year the Federal Government will receive in repayments of previous loans - not necessarily loans made by the present Government which is temporarily in office - an amount of £17,800,000. The Government claims that under this bill £50,000,000 is being provided for housing in the States this year. The truth is that the Government is getting back £17,800,000, so the total amount that it is providing as a loan to the States is £32,200,000.
Let us see how generous the Federal Government really is. When the Minister introduced this bill he laid great stress on the need to stimulate the building of homes. There is no more worthy objective than the stimulation of home building and the provision of homes for the Australian people and those who come to this country from other parts of the world. The provision of homes is a continuing problem and one that we have to face. Each time that a census is taken it shows a progressive increase of population. We have a responsibility to anticipate that trend by building an increasing number of houses each year. Although it is rather a pity that the Department of National Development is no longer issuing the publication which showed trends in housing, there are figures which showed that by 1962 there would be a need for 90,000 houses, and by 1965, a need for 93,000 houses. By 1970 there would be a need for 107,000 houses.
– They are Hall’s figures, are they?
– They are the figures of Dr. Hall, of ‘ the Australian National University.
– You want to remember that they are his maximum figures.
– The Leader of the Government has reminded me that they are Dr. Hall’s maximum figures. I was associated with an investigation into population trends relating to the need for bridges over the Molonglo River at Canberra and we were given certain estimates of the future population of Canberra. We queried them and asked our advisers to return and substantiate the figures. We thought that the estimates were maximum figures, but within the short period of five years they were proved to be too conservative. Population is increasing in all areas of Australia, and the maximum figures that are given usually turn out to be actual figures in the long run. I am prepared to accept Dr. Hall’s judgment, and I am also prepared to say that time will prove his figures to be on the conservative side.
– You will notice that, in the same article, he made quite plain his view that this housing boom would probably burst, and that we were going too fast and building too many houses.
– That is one of the main points on which I want to come to grips with the Government. We must ask ourselves whether it is a matter of stimulating the building of houses by putting money into the community, through the housing authorities in the States, or whether incentives should be given to private enterprise to do its share in building houses. Incidentally, in recent years the proportion of houses built by private enterprise has dropped at an alarming rate. There has been a drop of more than 25 per cent. In a country such as Australia, which is a young and developing country, we should try to make it our objective to provide every person with a decent home and to replace existing sub-standard homes. Wherever you go , throughout Australia, Mr. Acting Deputy President, you find buildings that were erected temporarily to relieve critical periods of accommodation shortage. There is nothing so permanent as a temporary building.
– This Parliament House, for instance.
– This Parliament House was built as a temporary home for the Parliament. I understand that there are plans for a permanent building to be erected in the future.
– This is only a temporary Parliament House. It is a permanent building.
– That is quite true. It will probably be used for some other pur pose in the future. I want to stress that not only are we failing to meet the high and growing demand for houses, but we are doing practically nothing at all by way of planning for slum clearance and the replacement of sub-standard houses.
The whole of the building industry has suffered a very severe setback in the last twelve months as a result of a deliberate and predetermined Government policy. It is my strongly held view that the standard of living and the state of the economy rest on our housing policy. Of all the articles that a man buys, his house gives him the most use and enjoyment.
– It is his castle.
– Yes. The more pride a man has in his home, the more contented he is. The pride in home ownership is transmitted from street to suburb, from town to city, and finally to the nation. Because of it you have a happier and a more contented community. The policy of the Government deliberately to reduce building activity in the community is to be deplored. When we analyse the impact on the community made by the restriction of home-building we realize that such a restriction is probably the most ruthlessly effective way to apply a credit squeeze. I have stated before in this chamber that the use of our natural resources, our God-given resources, is one of man’s first prerogatives. There is perhaps nothing that can be turned to more uses than a tree growing in the bush. There were trees growing in Australia, for our eventual use and benefit, before white people ever came here. Reafforestation is a most important activity for civilized people to engage in. Unless there is a demand for timber, all the activities associated with the timber industry are curtailed. The tree itself, when it is cut down and taken to the mill, provides work for all manner of people. Loggers, with a high degree of dexterity and ability, snig and haul the logs through the bush. The equipment that is used in these activities not only provides employment, but requires a high degree of skill to operate. The1 people associated with logging are fine types of Australians, yet this industry has been greatly depressed by the setback the building industry has experienced recently. Once a log reaches the mill, it is cut into useful sizes and shapes, and it spreads throughout the whole of man’s activities. His chair, his desk, his bed, his floors, his furniture, the newspaper that he reads and the writing paper that he uses are made largely from wood.
The building industry is, in effect, the most important industry in the community to-day. It employs great numbers of skilled tradesmen. If it is depressed, that affects large numbers of carpenters, cabinetmakers, bricklayers, plasterers, painters, paper-hangers, electricians and other people. In addition, employers in the industry say that as they cannot see a prospect of continuity of employment for their men, they will not take on more apprentices. We are facing the critical situation to-day that our school-leavers are placed similarly to those who left school during the depression. The young people ask themselves the question, “What does life hold for us in the future? We cannot get a job, let alone an apprenticeship.” Unless those controlling the skilled industries are given an incentive to plan for the future, a very grave social problem will be created. The application of a credit squeeze to the building industry, restricting the building of homes, has wide repercussions.
During the course of his speech, Senator Anderson referred to conditions in New South Wales. The figures that I have show that at the end of June of last year there were 35,230 outstanding applications with the Housing Commission of New South Wales for houses for rent or purchase. At the end of December, the number had increased to 37,000. In Victoria, at the end of June there were 14,024 outstanding applications, and by the end of December the number had increased to 15,221. In South Australia the number of outstanding applications is 11,800. Those figures speak for themselves. There is a high and rising demand for houses. The provision of another £7,500,000 by this bill will undoubtedly stimulate activity in the building industry during the next few months, but when you divide the cost of a modern house into that amount of £7,500,000., you see that the move being made by the Government will make, as it were, only a scratch on the surface of the problem.
– It will provid’ only 1,500 houses.
– I am reminded that it will provide only 1,500 houses.
– It will provide 2,400. houses.
– It all depends on the State in which the houses are built. The other day I quoted figures relating to war service homes- which showed that it cost £6,350 to build a war service home in Canberra. The figure of 2,400 would have to be reduced considerably if the cost of the houses built were equivalent to the cost of a war service home in Canberra.
– The Australian average cost is a little over £4,000.
– I understand that the average cost is a little over £4,000, but people who borrow from building societies do not necessarily build to the standards adopted by housing commissions. Many people who are fortunate enough to be able to obtain the finance that they require from a building society want a house that is better than the standard cottage.
Another important factor, as I have said, is that the private building sector has reduced the amount of money that it is prepared to invest in the building industry. That is a bad state of affairs. The cost of houses seems to be increasing yearly and the amount of money that the States have available, including the amount to be provided by this bill, is not enough to enable them to meet the demand. We must remember that the States can use only 65 per cent, of the money allotted to them, the remaining portion being made available to building societies or, if necessary, for the building of servicemen’s homes. The allocation to the co-operative building societies is in a very good cause, because these societies are playing a most important part in the effort to overtake the housing lag.
Senator Anderson claimed that 32 per cent, of existing homes were built during the regime of the present Government. When that statement is analysed, we see that what the Government has done is not anything out of the ordinary. There has been a great increase in population during that period, and there was a great lag in home-building during the depression years, from 1930 onwards. From 1939 until 1945, virtually no homes were built except those essential for war purposes. The claim that 32 per cent, of existing homes were built during the regime of this Government is not of much importance. What is important is that not enough homes have been built to meet the demand that has existed.
The Opposition adopts the attitude that it must be thankful for small mercies. It is thankful for this amount of £7,500,000, which will stimulate activity in the great building industry. It will stimulate the building of homes for those people who need them. I do not believe the economy could be stimulated in a more effective way than that. Immediately you start the process of building a home money is put into circulation. It is used for the payment of wages, the purchase of materials and the replacement of various items. It starts the cycle which the Government now wishes to see speeded up and which is not only highly desirable but really overdue.
Although we on this side of the Senate do not oppose the measure, we believe we must continue to be critical of a policy which creates a situation in which building tempo is controlled by credit policy. If any section of activity should be protected, it is the building industry. Persons who are associated with the industry should be able to plan ahead. Employers should be able to keep their good tradesmen working as a team. To be able to do that leads to increased efficiency and affects the ultimate cost of a home. I mentioned earlier that employers should be able to take on trained apprentices, but that can be done only when they guarantee continuity of employment.
As I said earlier, the allocation of this additional sum of £7,500,000 will help to increase the rate of building. The challenge in front of us is not only the need to catch up with the demand for housing but also to get on with the problem of slum clearance and the acquisition of land for use as parkland and the widening of streets and so forth. Of course, such projects cost money.
I should like to say a word or two about the disability suffered by people who are building homes and which is caused by the unseemly conduct of people who are associated with the sub-division of land. I know that a lot of capital is needed to provide kerbing and guttering, to seal roads and to provide amenities and services for a newly opened area; but in my view the cost of blocks of land in such areas is far in excess of what it should be. ,’eople expect to get far too much profit . :om the sub-division of land. The speculator has been able to reap a harvest. If ever the national good could be served, it could be done by curbing the activities of land speculators who are placing a tremendous burden on the ordinary family man. We wish the bill a speedy passage. We hope it is only a soupcon of bigger things in the future.
– We should always be quite clear in our minds about what we are voting for so that responsibility and the praise or blame can be rightly apportioned. In the rough and tumble of debate there is always a tendency for an Opposition to say that the Government should do more than it is doing. Both honorable senators opposite who have already spoken have said that. I intend to say in a very elementary way exactly what the bill does, and how much responsibility rests on us and on other people.
This is a very short bill. I have read it through about ten times. It contains only four clauses; fortunately, there is not even a schedule. All that it is designed to do is to provide a sum of £7,500,000 in addition to the £42,900,000 that has already been appropriated for the purpose we are considering. The actual implementation of this legislation will be done by other bodies. Some speakers have almost lost sight of the fact that there are two spending authorities. The money will be paid to the States, but the building societies and other approved bodies enter into the picture.
To some extent, another body is involved. At meetings of the Australian Loan Council, at which every State in the Commonwealth is represented, an overall limit of loans is fixed. That money is divided among the States according to an agreed formula. That is something which nobody controls; the formula has been agreed upon and it is not departed from. Then each State nominates the amount of money it requires for housing. That money comes not from the State’s share of loan money but from the Commonwealth. Senator Anderson has spoken about the responsibility of the States. He knows a great deal more about this matter than I do, so I shall not tread on the ground that he has covered. It should be remembered that, if the money is spent by a State housing authority directly, the State determines the type of house that shall be built, its location, the selection of tenants and the terms of sale. I believe only very general stipulations were made in earlier housing legislation. They provided, for example, that the money was meant for people on low and moderate incomes.
There is a considerable number of people in the community who can afford to pay for the building of their own homes or to buy homes without any help whatever. That fact should be kept in mind by people who say, as Senator Arnold did, that we are not doing enough to overtake the lag in building. It is not the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to overtake the full building lag. If it tried to do so, it might produce a dangerous boom. The responsibility of the Commonwealth Government is to help people on low and moderate incomes to obtain housing. It is important to remember that that is done by providing money at a rate of interest which is 1 per cent, below the bond rate. Very fortunate is the borrower who is able to obtain money at a rate of interest equivalent to the bond rate in order to build a home. As honorable senators know, the average rate is much higher than that. Many unfortunate people whom I know - they have brought their cases to me - are paying on second mortgages a rate of interest which I think is beyond the means of the average person.
I wish to stress the fact that 30 per cent, of the total amount which is made available for housing passes through building societies or other approved bodies. Legislation containing that provision was introduced by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) after the earlier method of financing home building through the States had been used for many years. I fully approve that legislation. It has very many desirable features. First, it brings in bodies which erect houses in a business-like way and which have an interest in producing them at a lower cost. Secondly, it encourages thrift and helps people who are determined to do something for themselves. I am not one of those people who decry State action if that action is necessary. The long argument that has been waged between people who want the State to assume all responsibility and -those who want the kind’ of private enterprise we had in the nineteenth century should cease; it is barrenand futile. We all know that the State - by which I mean the general governmental body - must enter many fields from which it formerly withheld. But it should not go in only for the sake of going in. It should not go in if the work is being done satisfactorily by some other authority. In this field of home building, 1 think everybody to-day is convinced that the Commonwealth must and shall stay. I have no doubt whatever that the electors are convinced on that, point.
This money is deposited in a home builders’ account. There is a very good feature about that. The account holds not only what the Government is paying into it regularly, but also repayments. In dealing with building societies, people usually start with a substantial deposit. That is an advantage in itself. Moreover, they pay off their loans in a much shorter time. They pay the money back in 31 years instead of 56 years, which is the normal’ term under the State housing schemes. That is a tremendous advantage. Years ago I was a member of a home-building society. I never drew anything out of it; I did not own a home until very recently, when I bought it without any assistance. But I knew something of the work of that society, which consisted of very fine people, all of whom were determined to help themselves. They demanded no concessions or favours if they were not prepared to play their own part. There is nothing more healthy than the development of those societies. They, are most highly developed in New South Wales, but the principle which is embodied in the legislation has led .to an. extension- o£ their growth in other States. I understand ‘ that there were none in South Australia. South Australia, of course, is the peculiar State. It is superior to other States and does everything in its own way. For some reason or other, it could get along without building societies, but I believe that the bodies it had were excellent.
– These societies are not completely non-existent there.
– No, but they are less developed in South Australia, Tasmania and some other States than they are in New South Wales. One good effect of this legislation has been to encourage building societies throughout Australia. I have not the figures with me, but I know that there has been a considerable increase in the number of societies throughout the Commonwealth. Whereas originally only 20 per cent, of the money provided went to these bodies, the amount now is 30 per cent. 1 would be very happy if in time the percentage increased so that these societies could be the sole housing body. I am not saying that State housing is completely unsatisfactory, lt is not. It has produced some very good residences, but in some places State houses are distressingly monotonous and not worth the money paid for them. Housing societies, in which people are intimately associated with the building of their own homes, are less likely to produce that result than is a large body of officials.
One special feature of the bill is the provision relating to homes for serving members of the defence forces. It is an arguable question - at any rate, it used to be - whether bodies which employ people should provide homes for them. I think it is a very good thing for any body, whether government or private, to be concerned with the homes of its employees, but not to the extent of dictating where the employees should live, because that could degenerate into a form of coercion. In the absence of ability of people to provide homes for themselves, it is good if the bodies with which they are associated can do it. It is especially important that the Government should see that serving members of the defence forces are well housed. Obviously, this will add to the efficiency of the forces, which in time of peace it is sometimes difficult to maintain.
I want to answer the argument that it is the duty of the Federal Government to take over virtually every sphere of activity with regard to building. It is not unfair to say that one can get that idea from something that Senator Arnold said, and certainly from something that Senator O’Byrne said. The Federal Government may be compelled to undertake further responsibilities, but it should hesitate before it undertakes any responsibility that a State or municipality can undertake. A huge centralized organization always lacks something in efficiency. If it has efficiency, it is an efficiency which destroys initiative and freedom among the people lower down. I know it is easy to say that the Federal Government is the most impressive body, that it has the most money and, therefore, that it should be the maid of all work, but the maid of all work is not generally the best cook or the best housekeeper.
I want to keep the functions of the Federal Government as small as they possibly can be kept. Our main function, of which we very seldom think but of which we could be rudely reminded at any moment, is to preserve this continent from external attack and to make sure that it will be a home for ourselves in the future. Therefore, one of our most important functions is defence. Defence is a very unpopular subject, because most people think that it means preparing for war. Defence means having a bargaining counter, having bargaining ability. Any government that went to the country with a demand for a largely increased defence vote would find it very difficult to weather the storm at the polls, but it is something that every member of this Senate must seriously face. In every policy that concerns our future, where we have to deal with other nations, the question is asked: What is your weight? How much do you count? That is so in the United Nations or in bargaining between nations. It was put to me very directly by a gentleman in another country when I said, “ I wish we had more weight in the councils of your country “. He said very bluntly, “ How much do you pay for it? “ If we expect that we will get moral support and possibly material support, whether from the United Kingdom or the United States, it is a very strong argument to be able to say, “ Our defence forces in proportion to their size are as efficient as yours. Our defence expenditure is at least roughly proportionate to yours.” We cannot expect the taxpayers of another country to say, “We shall support you, whatever you do “. I mention that in this debate because it is very relevant. When any people demand increased expenditure for any purpose, however worthy, let us remember that we need money - I think we need more money - for defence. Certainly, we need efficient expenditure of all the money that we can find.
This measure is a prudent measure. It does not try to cover the whole field but it will provide houses for the people, I think, by the most convenient and economical method that can be found. I am greatly sympathetic with the point raised by Senator 0’Byrne that we should have slum clearance. We need a great deal of city re-planning, but the first responsibility for that must be on the people living in the cities and, after that, on the people of the States in which the cities are situated. If they can produce an economical, sensible and good plan for slum clearance, which can be financed only by federal aid, I would look very kindly at the proposal, but it is not for the Federal Government to go out, ahead of a clear demand from the States, and say that it will take that responsibility, in effect, out of the hands of the States.
This is a short measure, and I do not think it demands long discussion. If we can make clear what the issues are, what our responsibility is, and what other people have responsibilities to implement the legislation, then we make clear why we support the bill. I thoroughly approve of the bill. I approve the limitations which members of the Opposition have criticized, as well as the main features of the measure.
– I am sure that this bill will gladden the heart of Senator Spooner who is now at the table, because he has taken a greater interest than anybody else in the housing of the people of this country. He has done a great deal to help those who are really doing something for themselves in acquiring a home. I am very pleased that this bill has been brought forward not only because it will expand the work that Senator Spooner has been doing. As we know, quite an amount of unemployment has been brought about in this country through certain factors - there is no need to speak about them here - and I believe that the quickest method of getting men back to work is to provide the money for the construction of homes. With houses waiting to be built there are immediate jobs for unemployed workmen, the unskilled and the skilled. They can be put back to work very rapidly by spending these Government grants on home building.
In Tasmania we have had quite a slump in the timber industry, and this measure could help in a small degree to relieve unemployment in that industry by enabling the mills to get back into full production. At the present time Tasmanian mills are carrying stocks of from 30,000,000 to 40,000,000 superficial feet of timber over and above normal stocks. That timber has to be shifted and it can be shifted by being used for flooring and framework in the construction of homes. We are looking forward to this measure alleviating to a certain extent the pile-up of timber stocks in Tasmania.
I hope that a good proportion of the money to go to the States for housing under this measure will go to the co-operative housing societies. These societies have been mentioned in the debate this afternoon and I am sure that, knowing the Minister’s keen interest in the field of co-operative housing, some of the money will be diverted to them. The housing co-operatives are doing a great job in housing people who are willing to help themselves - and that means 95 per cent, of those who need a home. Cooperative housing societies, with the help of the allocations of money from State housing grants, initiated by this Government, are doing much to help those people. Senator McCallum spoke about the housing co-operative movement in the various States and he said that Tasmania has not gone very far in this field. I should say that Tasmania has gone quite a long way in the co-operative housing movement.
To-day I want to refer to the disparaging remarks that were made about housing cooperatives by the honorable member for Wilmot in another place. He seemed to belittle the co-operative movement in Tasmania, mainly because it was connected in some way, so he said, with the Democratic Labour Party. I should like to give the Senate a brief account of the early history of the housing co-operative movement in that State. When the Commonwealth Government insisted that 20 per cent. - it is now 30 per cent. - of the housing moneys made available to the States was to be allocated to the housing co-operatives, other States took advantage of the arrangement. Tasmania did not do so. It took its allocation for housing co-operatives through the State instrumentality known as the Agricultural Bank because there were no cooperative societies in Tasmania, and the bank was accepted by the Minister as the approved authority for the disbursement of this proportion of the housing funds. There was no co-operative housing legislation in Tasmania, and I am afraid that there is still no such legislation on its statute-book. The State Government is always promising to bring down such a measure, but it has not yet done so. It has made some amendments to some building acts, which cover the position at present, but Tasmania has no legislation specifically to cover co-operative housing societies.
We in Tasmania - and I think the idea originated with the Democratic Labour Party, though there was no party political bias so far as we were concerned - thought that a co-operative housing movement in Tasmania would be a good thing. The Democratic Labour Party decided that it would examine the position to see whether a movement could be formed in Tasmania. As I have said, there was no appropriate legislation but after a lot of searching through the statute-book we came across the Factories Act of 1927, under which we could form a co-operative building society. We used that act to form the first housing co-operative society in Tasmania. Peculiarly enough, that society has not been changed from its original statutory basis; it is still founded on the Factories Act of 1927. Those of us interested in this move received a great many rebuffs from the Premier, the Minister for Housing and others in the Tasmanian Government. One would have thought that a Labour government would have been only too pleased to help these co-operatives and to help house the people most of whom incidentally, would vote for that Government. By contrast to the rebuffs from the Tasmanian Government, we were greatly helped by the Victorian co-operative societies and our rights as a new co-operative movement were safeguarded by the Minister for National Development in this Parliament. The growth of co-operative housing societies in Tasmania to their present stage where they have become a movement of great advantage to the people of that State is due to a large extent to the help given by the Victorian co-operative building movement and to the attitude of the Minister for National Development. The Tasmanian Government did not want the average home seeker to build through a building society because it wanted to channel all housing funds through the Agricultural Bank. The Tasmanian Government has succeeded to a certain extent in retaining in the Agricultural Bank quite a large percentage of the money that is allocated to that State for housing purposes. I hope that in future all of the housing funds will be handed over to the co-operative societies in Tasmania.
Some reference has been made to interest rates charged for housing loans. The Commonwealth has borrowed the money that it is providing under this bill, and that money must be repaid with interest. Honorable senators have said that the States must repay their allocations with interest. Naturally they must. The Commonwealth lends money to Tasmania at a low rate of interest. The benefits flowing from that low rate of interest should be passed on to the home builder. But the Labour Government in Tasmania increases the interest rate when the money is lent through co-operative societies to home seekers. I think the present rate charged to home builders is 41 per cent. The Tasmanian Treasury charges half of 1 per cent, when it hands the money over to the Agricultural Bank. That rate does not appear to be high, but when repayment is spread over 30 years quite a deal of money is involved. I do not think that this kind of thing happens in the other States. There the money is handed over to the cooperative societies, which pay the same rate as the Federal Government charges the States. The Tasmanian Government makes a profit of half of 1 per cent, on all of the money from Treasury funds that is used for housing purposes. The Agricultural Bank then lends the money to the co-operative societies, and charges them a quarter of 1 per cent. I can understand a bank charging a rate of interest. That is quite in order, but why should the Government charge half of 1 per cent, when it re-lends the money that is lent to it by the Commonwealth? The person who finally pays is the person who wants a home.
The co-operative societies in Tasmania are progressing very favorably. They are well run. The first society started only three or four years ago. Two years elapsed before its rules were drawn up and approved. The Australian Democratic Labour Party drew up rules for the first co-operative in Tasmania. Other co-operatives simply paid ls. to get a copy of our rules. We did not mind their doing that, because in the long run they would help the people. At present, 20 or 25 co-operatives are in existence in Tasmania. They have no connexion with the Australian Democratic Labour Party. They use the party’s rules, but they are run by various organizations, such as the Public Service and trade unions. The co-operatives have extended their activities, and have received loans of about £250,000 from bodies outside the Government. Those loans have been made by insurance companies and other organizations. The result is that the co-operatives have been able to build more homes for the people. It is imperative that more help be given to the co-operatives so that they can house the people. Senator Spooner has been the leading light in the Commonwealth sphere for a number of years in the matter of housing. I hope that he will continue his good work. He has shown that if people are willing to help themselves, they can get a home.
I am pleased to see this bill before the Senate. I am sure that it will receive unanimous approbation because it makes more money available for housing purposes. I hope that, when the Budget is brought down later in the year, still more money will be made available for housing the people of this country.
Sitting suspended from 5.42 to 8 p.m.
– Mr. President, the purpose of the bill that we are discussing to-night is to provide an additional £7,500,000 to the States for additional home-building. This provision brings the total amount that will be available to the States for this purpose this year to £50,400,000. This sum of money will be of immense benefit in stimulating the home-building industry throughout Australia.
I believe that this provision has another very important facet. Of the total sum, £17,000,000 will be provided to building societies this year, compared with £11,000,000 last year. That is an additional amount of approximately £6,000,000.
I like the system of financing homebuilding through building societies and their allied institutions such as the savings banks, because it provides the opportunity for a couple to build a home according to their own ideas and through their own architect. Often the home portrays the character of the couple who will live in it. I believe that individual home builders and the character of individual homes portray the real character of a town or city.
We have been able to build up a great number of homeowners in Australia. That is a policy which I strongly support; it is a great step forward. I believe in people owning their homes. They feel that they have a stake in the land. It breeds in them a sense of responsibility and a sense of belonging to the nation. With that comes all that is good in the development of a nation. Sometimes members of the Australian Labour Party disagree with our philosophy on this matter. They call Australia a nation of little capitalists. They do not like building a nation of little capitalists.
– That is petty and small.
– I thought it was, too. I have always thought that that attitude of the Opposition was just as the honorable senator described it - petty and small. I agree with that. That is why I believe that the policy that we have developed over the years augurs well for Australia as a nation. I noticed with great interest that through the home builders’ account 254 new co-operative societies have been established in New South Wales, 200 in Victoria, 34 in Queensland, 22 in Western Australia and 15 in Tasmania. They are all new societies and surely they are playing their part - it is a great part - in developing homebuilding in this nation, together with the savings banks. I am not unmindful of the great part that the savings banks have played in home building in Australia. I hope that before long they will be able to play an ever greater part. I hope that the savings banks will be able to help to swell the funds that are being made available under this bill to stimulate the building industry. At the present time, by law, savings banks have to maintain a certain rate of liquidity. That is a very sound, proper and necessary provision because the people want to be able to go into their savings banks, write out withdrawal forms and receive cash on the dot.
– Can you tell us when that provision was initiated?
– No, I cannot. I understand that about 70 per cent, of a savings bank’s funds must be kept in government securities or in funds that can be liquidated in a reasonable time. That keeps the liquidity of the savings banks in good fettle.
There is a feeling among the savings banks that that percentage is a little high. They believe that it could be reduced by perhaps 10 per cent, without impairing in any way their liquidity. The money represented by that 10 per cent, reduction could then be advanced for housing. That would certainly increase the funds that are available for home building. 1 hope that the Government will consider that matter shortly and see whether it is possible for additional sums to be made available by the savings banks. I mentioned a reduction of 10 per cent. That figure may be too high or too low. The savings banks themselves are the best judges of that aspect.
Another purpose of this bill, of course, is to stimulate the economy through homebuilding, which includes the building of flats. I have never been able to reconcile myself to the belief that one can gain the same sense of ownership and belonging in a flat as one gains in a home, particularly if it has a good piece of land around it. I believe that such a home breeds something in a young couple. Of course, I realize fully that in the older cities an immense amount of work needs to be done in the demolition of slums in areas which call for high-density building. Many of the States have done a great deal towards overcoming the slum problem. Particularly in Sydney and Melbourne - the two greatest cities of the Commonwealth - a great deal of high-density building has been done. I believe it improves the areas a great deal in comparison with the slums that previously existed there. This is the work of the States. It has been said that this type of work should be tackled on a national basis, but I cannot agree with such an infiltration by the Commonwealth into what is purely a State matter. T do not believe that it is the Commonwealth’s function.
A large amount of money is made available to the States. They, in turn, have the right to say how they will use that money and to what extent they will enter into slum clearance and the development of slum areas.
I note with great interest that this year an additional amount of £528,000 is being made available to my State of Tasmania for housing. That will bring the total sum to be made available in Tasmania this year to almost £3,000,000. The provision of such an amount will be of great benefit to a State of the size of Tasmania, but that is not the only benefit that will accrue. Because of the sums of money that are being made available to the States of Victoria and* South Australia, I hope shortly to see in Melbourne and Adelaide a great acceleration in the rate of home building. Those cities are very important markets for the Tasmanian timber industry, one of the great industries of the State. In Tasmania, we have some of the most efficient and modern timber mills in Australia. It is true that we also have some older mills that are not so modern, but they are rapidly being modernized. The Tasmanian timber industry, overall, is bringing itself to the state of efficiency which it must achieve if it is to compete successfully with timber industries elsewhere. I say, therefore, that the increase of home building in Melbourne and Adelaide which I confidently expect to see will mean a great deal to the Tasmanian timber industry.
It is not only the timber industry which will benefit greatly from that acceleration of home building. The ancillary industries associated with the timber industry, such as the hardboard industry and the industries manufacturing galvanized iron, tiles and other roofing materials, bricks, cement and all the items that go to the building of a home, also will benefit, anc? there will be additional opportunities for employment. I point out, Mr. President, that last month’s record reduction of nearly 20,000 in the number of unemployed was achieved before measures such as that now before the Senate had begun to take effect. That is a point which honorable senators should grasp. The measures proposed by the Government were only initiated in midFebruary.
– You should have started earlier.
– It is so easy to be wise after the event. You can always be a prophet when the answer is already known. An Opposition may sit and wait, and its members can become great prophets after events have happened. I hope that the Opposition in this place will be in opposition for a long time. While it is in that position it does not have to initiate anything or take the risk of doing so. I repeat that this great drop of almost 20,000 in February in the unemployment figures occurred before the stimulation of the building industry and the ancillary industries that I have mentioned. I am sure that when we see the March figures they will indicate that the measures which the Government has taken have helped even more to relieve the unemployment position.
I strongly support the Government’s policy of increasing the number of home owners in Australia. For the reasons I have mentioned I support, too, the continued allocation of funds to building societies. Surely no one will try to discredit the Government’s record in the provision of war service homes. It cannot be denied that we have a great record in that respect. I hope that we shall soon see the day when, as a nation, we are able to give greater financial benefits to our younger people, and to make even better provision for them. There is no greater character builder for a young couple than the opportunity for them to start married life in their own modest home, even though it may not contain a great deal of furniture. If they are able to start off in their own home, they can gradually improve it and add to its contents. We must never forget that we are moving towards an era when Australia will have a greater proportion of young people than ever before. If I remember my statistics correctly, within the next two or three years more than half of the people in Australia will be under 30 years of age. That will be a young nation indeed. If we can ensure that more and more of our young people have the opportunity to own their homes when they marry we shall be doing a great national service. I support the bill.
– Mr. President, I ask for leave to make my remarks at a later hour.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Gorton) read a first time.
.- I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to increase the rate of the stevedoring industry charge by lOd. per man hour from its present level of 2s. 6d. per man hour to a level of 3s. 4d. per man hour. The stevedoring industry charge is paid by the employers in the industry, the moneys collected go into Consolidated Revenue and, as provided under the Stevedoring Industry Act, equivalent amounts are paid to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. From its funds the Authority pays waterside workers attendance money and makes payments due for sick leave, statutory holidays, long service leave and annual leave.
The stevedoring industry charge was last increased in 1958, and since that time there has been a considerable increase in the amount of money required by the authority to enable it to make these payments. There are several reasons why more money to make these payments is now required. In the first place, there was a margins increase and basic wage rise. This meant that payments for sick leave, statutory holidays and annual leave rose. In the second place, there was an increase in the rate of attendance money from 24s. to 28s. 3d. per day. Attendance money payments have also risen considerably because of the falling off in shipping activity. Furthermore, following the stevedoring legislation last year, the authority became responsible for payments of long service leave to waterside workers.
Finally, and most significantly, the authority was required to assume a new responsibility - that of making payments for annual leave. This responsibility was assumed as from 1st July, 1959 and resulted from an application by the employers which was granted by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Before that date these payments, amounting to more than £1,000,000 a year, were made direct by the employers who levied themselves, on the average, about 9d. per man hour to meet them. As from that date the employers ceased to pay for annual leave and ceased to levy themselves, while the authority assumed responsibility for the payment, but the stevedoring industry charge of 2s 6d. per man hour was not increased. Up to the present the authority has been able to meet the payments for annual leave from a trust fund of some £1,200,000 handed over to it by the employers, which was, however, exhausted by June, 1961, and from its own reserves. It is necessary to increase the charge to enable the authority to meet all the payments now anticipated.
It will be seen that 9d. per man hour of the proposed increase of lOd. per man hour is the re-imposition of the average levy which was formerly paid by the shipowners and is required for payment of annual leave. The extra Id. per man hour from the proposed new charge is for the purpose of meeting the net increase in other costs which have come about since 1958 and to build up some reserves, including provision for long service commitments. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Kennelly) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 660).
– Like other honorable senators, I am pleased that additional money is being made available to meet some of the housing needs of the various States. I regret, however, that the amount allocated to Western Australia is not as large as we would have liked it to be. I understand that the decision on the allocation of the money was reached at a meeting of Premiers in Canberra, so the Premier of Western Australia must have had some reason for accepting the amount allocated to that State. Maybe the amount is comparatively small because the housing position in Western Australia is much better than that in other States. That is due in great measure - I say this advisedly - to the progressive policy that was followed by Mr. Graham, the Minister for Housing in the Hawke Labour Government. Mr. Graham’s name will always be associated with the tremendous strides that were made in housing development during his six years as Minister.
I should like to correct an error that was made in another place in relation to the Workers’ Homes Board, which was created over 50 years ago. Western Australia has had a housing policy, similar to that with which this bill deals, for over 50 years. The Scaddin Labour Government, on 9th January, 1912, brought down the housing bill which created the Workers’ Homes Commission. The Workers’ Homes Board was brought into being soon afterwards, and its main objective was to provide homes for lower paid workers. From 1912 onwards, various governments pursued this policy of providing lower-priced housing for the people of Western Australia. During the last few years, the Workers’ Homes Board became known as the State Housing Commission, but the work that the commission is doing is essentially the same as was done by the board. Over these 50 years, a great deal of development has taken place. Since the war, vast new areas have been opened up, the houses being constructed solely by the State Housing Commission.
It is idle for Government supporters to talk about the small number of nouses built during the period between 1941 and 1949, when Labour was in office. They realize as well as we do that for the five most vital years of that period Australia was a nation at war. The materials necessary for building homes were vitally needed in these years for defence purposes to meet the needs of our troops and other troops in New Guinea, the Northern Territory and elsewhere. Home-building was stagnant everywhere during those years, because the main concern of the Government was to see that the war effort went on with all vigour. Other things had to wait until that job was done.
After the war there was, of course, a terrific demand for houses. I can remember very clearly a time previous to that when there was another great housing shortage. It was not that we were short of houses, but that people were short of money to pay rents. Many people could not afford to rent a house during the days of the depression. Many houses were left empty while parents and children lived in makeshift camps throughout the various States. The crisis that developed after the war was in a different category altogether. Demobilization from the forces was taking place and 1,000,000 men and women had to be put back into work with the least possible dislocation of industry, and gradually the home-building lag had to be caught up with. Young people coming back from the war wanted to set up their own homes. The real cause of the housing shortage throughout Australia then was the necessary cessation of building during the war years.
We are very fortunate in Western Australia in that, to a great degree, we have solved our housing problems. We have not solved all our problems by any means, because I still have many people coming to me looking for houses. We have always had the co-operation of the State Government. No matter which political party has been in power, the State Housing Commission has given us the utmost co-operation. I think I can speak for all federal members when I say that. The commission has appointed a liaison officer, who gives federal members priority in discussions on these matters and helps us, wherever possible, with the problems that are posed to us.
During the Labour regime in Western Australia one very good feature developed in the housing settlements in the new districts. I refer to the practice of constructing small one-bedroom cottages for the aged, amongst the houses provided for families. In some cases, too, houses for natives were erected in country districts, on practically the same scale as for other workers in the districts. This was achieved only after a great deal of opposition, in some cases from local government authorities and from residents of the towns, but, irrespective of criticism, the job went ahead. I do not think I can be contradicted when I say that there has been more housing development by the State Housing Commission in the rural districts of Western Australia than has occured in the other States.
The housing difficulties in Australia are, of course, most acute in those States with most industrial development, where there are larger populations than we have in the west, and where there are greater industrial populations centralized in the big cities. Because of that, the major portion of the extra grant is to go to New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. I am hoping that this extra money will help those States to solve, in some way, the difficulties which confront them. I notice that the Minister in his speech said that one reason for this measure is to stimulate activity and employment in the building industry. The housing of the people is a secondary consideration. While I hope that this objective will be achieved, I should like to issue a warning similar to that given by the Premier of Victoria, who stated that we must not expect any spectacular improvement in government employment, as a result of this increased grant, until after June. He said that if we can hold the fort until then, we will be doing well. I think that is completely true as far as the housing position is concerned.
Senator Henty said that the leeway in housing was already being made up when this bill was introduced. All the States had got down to the job of providing houses, and this grant would provide extra houses. I found upon investigation that some of the States had already begun a more intensive drive for home-building in the hope that the Commonwealth Government would come to their assistance. So some of this money really was ear-marked before becoming available.
We in Western Australia have been able to keep down our house-building costs. I am amazed every time I pick up a copy of the “ Canberra Times “ and read the notices advertising houses for sale. I do not know how the ordinary working-class man, the ordinary middle-class businessman or a person without a very large income can ever hope to obtain his own home in Canberra. If one looks through the list in the newspaper, one seldom sees a house in Canberra that can be bought for less than £5,000. There was one exception in this morning’s newspaper; a house in the £4,000 range was advertised. It was stated to be in need of repair, but the situation was good and therefore one could buy it at a bargain price. In Western Australia one can buy a very fine house for £4,000.
– You have a good government in that State.
– We will have a better one after Saturday next. The one point at which the policies of both parties in Western Australia almost touch is that of housing. The present Government has pursued in great measure the policy that was followed for six years by the Hawke Labour Government.
When I asked the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) about the disparity between the prices of homes in Canberra and those in Western Australia or other States nearer to Canberra, he said that the types of houses being built here are much superior to those being built in the State capitals. He said that because Canberra was the National Capital the houses had to be superior and therefore it was necessary to pay more for them. I am sure that even Mr. Freeth did not believe that. We in Western Australia are very jealous of the kind of housing we provide. The reason I have just mentioned cannot be the only reason for the tremendously high prices asked for houses here in the National Capital.
One reason why Western Australia was able to build houses so much more cheaply than other States was the fact that we had State saw-mills and State brickworks which always provided a plentiful supply of timber and bricks. Other raw materials were cheap when compared with similar materials in other States. But what did the Brand Government do? It sold the State saw-mills to the HaWker-Siddeley group. One did not mind the Government doing that so much, because it was part of the Government’s election policy. When all is said and done, it was returned to office. But within a week of the sale the price of timber rose. Those responsible did not even wait for a decent interval. Generally there is a decent interval between a death and a burial, but in this case the interval was not even decent. In fact, the announcement that the cost of timber would be increased immediately was made while the sale negotiations were still in progress. After the sale of the State brickworks there was a lag in the supply of bricks for new house construction.
Despite Mr. Freeth’s contention that in some places houses are sub-standard, we in
Western Australia are very proud of the fact that in the last twenty years a greater proportion of brick and tile-roof houses have been built in Western Australia than elsewhere in the Commonwealth. But there is one aspect of the matter of which I am not particularly proud. Although Western Australia has some excellent hardwoods, we have not done as much to develop the construction of timber homes as has been done in other countries. But on the whole we are very proud of the houses we have built.
Mr. Graham also undertook the building of flats. I remember senators from Western Australia criticizing Mr. Graham for building flats for the aged and for building the Wandana flats which house quite a number of people very close to the city. Personally, I am not very keen on flats; I am of the same mind as those honorable senators who like a garden and a home of their own. Nevertheless, flats do satisfy a need, particularly for elderly people who can no longer look after their own homes.
Provision is made for a certain amount of this increase of £7,500,000 to go to building societies, and for a certain amount of the government loan to be used for the construction of houses for ex-servicemen. If the Government can stipulate that a certain part of the money shall be earmarked for special purposes, I should like to know why it did not go a little further and earmark part of these loans for the erection of houses for physically-disabled persons. From time to time during the last four or five years I have raised this matter in the Senate. I have tried to persuade the authorities to provide not necessarily additional houses but for modifications to State houses For example, I have suggested that do-ways and passageways should be made wider so these people could wheel their chairs through their houses and be enabled to look after themselves. I was told that this could not be done because the houses were limited to more or less a dozen different plans and that, although there was no monotony in style, there was no provision in any of the plans for such modifications.
In this age when people can go around the world in three-quarters of an hour or so, it should not be beyond the capability of our leading architects to plan a home which could be used by paraplegics or other persons confined to wheel-chairs to enable them to get away from hospitals, hostels, or other institutions and enjoy home life. If that were done, these people would be enabled to lead an ordinary life in the community. I hope that, when housing proposals come before the Government later in the year, it will take to heart what I have said and will stipulate that some of the money that will be lent to the States for housing shall be spent on the provision of suitable houses for disabled persons. These people deserve something from us. It is not a matter of giving them something for nothing, because they would be paying rent and would be repaying the State for whatever money was invested.
The original agreement between the Commonwealth and the States contained a provision to the effect that widows should be charged economic rentals. It is very difficult to get homes for widows and pensioners at an economic rental. It is easy to imagine that, if several persons are trying to get occupancy of one house, the person who can pay the full rental will get preference. A lot remains to be done in this direction. I should like to know how many houses that have been built in Western Australia under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement have been allocated for the use of widows and other persons in necessitous circumstances. I do not think there are very many. Quite recently in Western Australia, after a great deal of agitation, the building of flats for civilian widows and aged spinsters was begun. I had to put in a plug for myself. That is quite a new departure; it is not covered by the agreement. We managed to have a few flats built, but for every one that has been built there are still more than 100 applicants who are waiting for this kind of accommodation.
One aspect of the Government’s housing policy with which I am in complete agreement is the provision of a subsidy on a £2-for-£l basis to charitable and other organizations which build homes for the aged. I still cannot see why this agreement cannot be extended to cover local governing bodies or even the States themselves. I mentioned this matter in the Senate earlier this year. There is a long waiting list of applicants for admission to the Mount
Henry Home and the Sunset Home, two of the State homes for the aged in Western Australia. When I tried to get two elderly women into one of these homes, I was told by officers of the Health Department that there was a waiting period of three years. Fortunately, or unfortunately, a heat wave intervened and quite a number of persons in the home died, making way. for others. It is dreadful to have to wait for death to intervene before being able to get needy people into homes for the aged. When the State Government is approached with regard to conditions in these homes and the need to air-condition them, we are told that no money is available. A State which has millions of pounds to spend on housing and which, it is suggested, has practically solved its housing problem, should be able to spend some money on improving homes for the aged. I do not think that any such homes should be built in our Western Australian climate without being equipped with airconditioning plant.
I come again to a point I have raised from time to time, upon which the Government is strangely reticent. I refer to the number of homes for the aged, built with the aid of the Commonwealth subsidy, which then demand lump sum payments, or key money, from tenants, who acquire no equity in the establishments. I know that this matter is a hardy annual, and it is getting hardier, judging from the letters that I have received from people who have gone into these places. They have found that although they have spent their life savings to get admission, and still have to pay rent, maintenance charges and insurance, if anything happens to them, or if they disagree with the management and are put out of the home, they have nothing. I think the Government should take a good look at the management of some of these homes and learn just where this money is going. In a reply given to me yesterday, the Minister said that no details were available as to these conditions in homes for which grants were made. Considering the millions of pounds that the Government has sunk into these homes, it is rather strange that it has no idea of the tenancy conditions applied by some of them.
Under the legislation applicable to homes for the aged, some money should go to State governments to improve their homes for the aged. If key money is to be charged in respect of- some homes, money should be provided for such organizations as shire councils to allow them to build homes in their own districts. These measures could result in nothing but good, and the Government would get a much better return for its outlay than it does from some of its other expenditure.
The Labour Party is not opposing the legislation. We are pleased that the Government has acknowledged the truth of what we said prior” to” 9th December, that is, that it would be necessary to issue treasury-bills in the new year to give increased grants to the States for employment and housing. We consider that the housing of the people is a definite social service, for which the Commonwealth Government must accept some responsibility, because the States are limited in what they can do by the extent of Commonwealthgrants. A great deal could be done by private builders, but to-day builders are not building on spec. That activity has gone. They can find much more profitable ways of investing their money. Hire-purchase companies are offering returns of 12 per
Cent, and, in some cases, 15 per cent., and huge discounts are allowed on goods bought through their firms. We cannot expect people to invest their money in houses for letting. In a majority of cases, the rents charged for such houses are beyond the capacity of the ordinary wage-earner. Therefore, there must be a cheap source of capital for building homes for the average worker, through State housing commissions, building societies and the Commonwealth Bank. Private banks are not very willing to lend money for housing. If they do offer to lend money for this purpose, the interest charged is so high that people just cannot afford to buy houses by this means.
I was rather surprised that at this stage, in 1962, Senator Henty should repeat the old cry of “little capitalist”. Fifty years ago - I am going back much further than Senator Henty went - a Labour Government established the Workers’ Homes Commission in Western Australia in order to provide good homes cheaply for the workers. As a matter of fact, many of the homes that the commission built in 1912, its first year of operation, are practically as good as they were then.
Just recently I was in one of the very first homes built. Although.it is 50 yearsold, its walls are not even cracked. I do. not know where to-day one would find such materials and workmanship. In those days, of course, costs were much lower. One really cannot compare them with to-day’s costs, because of the great difference in money values. The prospect of paying thousands of pounds for a house is alarming to many young couples. That is why they go to housing commissions for assistance in getting homes.
I want to pay a tribute to a fund in Western Australia - one of- the few private funds we have - which has done more than pay lip service in the matter of housing for the community. I refer to the McNess Homes Trust. Sir Charles McNess was a businessman who died some years ago, leaving a large sum of money. He was a very fine Christian gentleman and he decided that the best way of perpetuating his memory was in the bricks and mortar not of a tombstone but of houses .which could be let at rentals of 12s. 6d. a week to widows and age pensioners. That undertaking has developed over the years. It is now under the aegis of the Housing Commission. It was an excellent gesture by Sir Charles McNess to the State in which he made his money and to which he owed a lot. He is one of the few who have given back what they obtained. Years after his death he is, in effect, repaying the debt that he felt he owed the State. Not many private people build houses for letting. As long as this trend lasts, it behoves the Government to provide decent housing conditions for the people. This is one of the most important of all social services.
There is one feature that I think should be taken into account in relation to people who obtain a house from a State government instrumentality. If the bread-winner dies before paying off the house, the widow, in order to obtain the supplementary rent allowance of 10s. a week, in many cases has to give up her equity in the Stateprovided home and take it over on a rental basis. That has happened in quite a number of instances that have come to my notice. As long as the widow has an equity in the house, although she has to continue making full repayments, she cannot obtain -the .. supplementary allowance of 10s. a week from the Department of Social Services. I should like the governments of the various States to put into force the principle put forward by the Leader of the Labour Party in Western Australia, that is, that upon the death of a bread-winner, the government authority should make over the house to the widow without requiring any further payments. That is a policy carried out, I believe, by some insurance companies, or at least it was in the old days when those companies used to bother about housing, lt would be a not over-generous gesture, which would pay for itself in the end. lt would allow a widow to bring up her children in a decent house without having to worry over-much about the rental charges which she has to pay out of her pension.
The bill provides for an extra £7,500,000 to be made available to the States. Western Australia will not get out of it as much as 1 should like. Like Oliver Twist, we would always like more. At the same time, we thank God for small mercies.
. 1 thank the Senate for the support given to the bill by both sides. It is a simple measure, by which the Parliament will give the Government authority to appropriate another £7,500,000 for housing. lt is part of the measures that the Government introduced in February for the purpose of accelerating the economy and reducing unemployment. As was mentioned earlier in the debate, the very good progress that was made in one month - February - in reducing unemployment by 19,246 was quite apart and distinct from the measures that the Government com.menced in February. The Opposition supports the bill. But the duty of Her Majesty’s Opposition is always to oppose, and though I do not propose to reply to all the comments that have come from both sides of the chamber I shall deal with some points that have been made against the Government by the Opposition while supporting the bill.
It might be appropriate to say at the commencement that it can be admitted on both sides of the chamber that this has been an interesting debate. It has been interesting to hear senators from the Various States express their views about housing in the light of the conditions that they have experienced in their respective States. Senator Anderson talked of New South Wales. Senator Cole talked of the growth of the building society movement in Tasmania. Senator O’Byrne gave us some interesting information about the timber industry in Tasmania, and he cited building statistics and statistics about the demand for homes, to which I shall refer later. Most senators who have spoken have shown a particular knowledge of some aspect of home ownership and the building industry. As I said, I do npt propose to reply to all the arguments that have been advanced. A number of them ranged away from the general purpose of the bill. But I do propose to refer to some of them and in making my comments I hope that I shall avoid replying in a disjointed way. I hope to be able to piece them together into a coherent story.
One of the big points that was raised by Senator Arnold, who led for the Opposition in the debate, was the extent of the Commonwealth’s interest in housing. I thought the honorable senator went too far afield altogether when he said that in view of the growth and development of the central Government, housing had become, in truth, a Commonwealth problem and that the Commonwealth Government should not only provide the money but also lay down standards of construction of homes and go very substantially into slum clearance and even, I understood him to mean, the planning of settlements, housing schemes, and, . indeed, town planning activities generally. This is one of the points on which I clash with Senator Arnold. The building of a home is so much an individual matter for the person going into the home that whilst it is true that there must be provision of governmental funds, the old adage still holds true - an Englishman’s home is his castle. The greater the proportion of homes in Australia that are built by private investment, as distinct from governmental funds, the happier the community we shall have and, indeed, the more satisfactory and more . appropriate housing schemes, will eventuate.
On the other hand, I want to make it quite clear that the Commonwealth as a government has not run away from this problem. Senator Arnold in some ways created the impression that the Commonwealth was not deeply concerned in housing, whereas quite the contrary is the case. At the present time the Commonwealth is providing no less than 26i per cent, of the houses and flats that are being built throughout Australia. Commonwealth expenditure on housing last year was something of the order of from £85,000,000 to £90,000,000 a year. Honorable senators may be interested to learn the break-up of that figure, the way in which housing is provided by various authorities. Under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement that we are now debating, 1 1 per cent, of the total houses in Australia are built by State housing commissions. Add to that a further 5 per cent, for homes built by building societies with money that comes from the Commonwealth under the housing agreement. So, the housing agreement itself is responsible for building approximately 16 per cent, of the total houses that are being constructed in Australia - 11 per cent, of them by housing commissions and 5 per cent, by building societies or o:her approved institutions.
The War Service Homes Division builds 9 per cent, of all the homes that are constructed in Australia, and the Commonwealth housing schemes in Canberra and the Northern Territory represent another 1 per cent, of all the homes built. That gives the figure of 26-J- per cent, which I have already mentioned. State Governments finance a further 3 per cent, of all homes built, and that makes a total of governmental activities 30 per cent., leaving the remaining 70 per cent, of all dwellings built in Australia financed by private savings, banks and insurance companies. I think we have to watch carefully to ensure that private investment continues to provide predominantly the finance for home building for two reasons. First, by and large the home being such an individual matter, the private builder - the private person with his own architect - more satisfactorily supplies his own wants and dictates.
– You get your own architect under this arrangement.
– I do not know that you can get your own architect under this scheme. You can get your own architect on the 30 per -cent. - of the money that is . appropriated to the building societies, but not on the remainder of it. I think we need to encourage private investment to come increasingly into home building and to maintain its interest in this field for two reasons. First, I think it is the appropriate way to build a home; and secondly, there are so many other things waiting to be done in Australia with the governmental finance that is available that where we can pass the big task over to private investment it is so much better that that should te done.
Senator O’Byrne in his remarks made two points that I want to deal with. First of all, he had a fair bit to say about the statistics that were prepared by Mr. Hill. Two gentlemen at the Australian National University, Mr. Hill and Mr. Hall, sometimes produce articles conjointly; sometimes they write articles separately. Senator O’Byrne quoted from one of those articles. I. start by making an acknowledgement ofthe work of those two gentlemen. There are very few working in the field of housing statistics. One of our needs in dealing with this problem is better statis’ics concerning the financial arrangements relating to the demand for houses. I think Senator O’Byrne quoted his figures out of context, although not deliberately. The two gentlemen to whom I have referred wrote an article for the December, 1960, issue of the “ Economic Record “, an article which attracted a great deal of attention from persons interested in housing. The theme of the article was a specific warning that if home building continued at the rate at which it was continuing in December, 1960, a slump was likely to occur because the demand for houses would be met. That statement puts on the figures a complexion different from that which Senator O’Byrne sought to put on them. Senator O’Byrne quoted figures to show that there was a demand for 90,000 houses a year. But, as he admitted in reply to an interjection by me, he did not say that that was a maximum figure, and he did not refer to the qualifications attached to that estimate in the article as it was originally prepared. (n the article several qualifications wereset out. One of those qualifications was that the marriage rate would remain constant. There was an error in respect of the marriage rate of about 6 per cent. Senator O’Byrne also made assumptions about the level of migration. But he made no allowance in his figure for slum clearance. He did make an allowance for demolition of buildings, and the concensus of opinion is that his estimate in respect of demolitions was substantially in excess of the estimate arrived at by other people. So it would not be inappropriate to reduce that maximum figure of housing demand by as much as 7 per cent, or 8 per cent.
The figure is, of course, an indication of the housing demand as distinct from the housing need. We must make allowances for the fact that housing standards are improving. As living standards rise, the average number of persons occupying a house decreases. The analysis that my department has made indicates an improvement in standards of housing as high as 11 per cent. I quote these figures because persons interested in housing are becoming increasingly reluctant to commit themselves to estimates of annual demand for housing. At this time my department will not make estimates. It says that the important figure in relation to housing - that is, the number of married people, bachelors and so on in the community - has not yet become available. Until figures become available showing the number of houses occupied and the marital status of the occupants, it will not be possible to produce accurate estimates of housing needs. Generally speaking, 1 think the present demand for houses in Australia is about 80,000 a year plus, but how much plus is a figure that may change. I have given this information because Senator O’Byrne laid great stress on the claim that a great wrong was done in reducing at the end of 1960 the housing rate of approximately 100,000 houses a year.
– That was when you applied the squeeze.
– That was when we steadied things down. People engaged in the building industry have conceded that the rate of home construction at that time was so substantially in excess of available resources, both of skilled labour aud materials, that nobody wanted to see a continuance of those conditions.
– What about the people! who wanted homes?
– If Senator Dittmer had been listening to me he would have realized that I endeavoured to cope with that situation. In round figures the rate of construction in 1951 was 74,000 houses. In 1960, the rate was 95,000 and in 1961 it was 88,000.
I think it is appropriate to give some: figures to show how easy it is to exaggerate the demand for houses. I do not want to create an atmosphere of self-satisfaction in what we are doing. It is difficult to maintain a level of construction in Australia which provides for the requirements of our people-
– Associated with a reasonable cost.
– . . . which does not overtax our resources and which, as Senator Dittmer has said, is associated with a reasonable cost.
A good deal has been said about the long lists of people requiring houses from the housing commissions. The figures contained in the last annual report of the Victorian Housing Commission are worth quoting again. Those figures show that the number of applications on hand at the beginning of the year - 17,200 - fell during the year by approximately 3,000. The interesting thing about these figures is that during the year no fewer than 7,000 appli-cations lapsed because the applicants did not reply to questionnaires, or failed to keep appointments that were made when they were informed that their demand could be satisfied, or for some other reason disqualified themselves. So, although 17,000 people were on the list at the beginning of the year, as the year advanced no fewer than 7,000 of these people were found not to need houses.
– Would the same position arise in the other States?
– That is a very interesting question. 1 would like to see each State housing commission conduct an examination of the names on its waiting list similar to the examination conducted in Victoria. In respect of war service homes, approximately 40 per cent, of applicants do not, for one reason or another, proceed with their applications.
– They get tired of the delay.
– There is no delay in obtaining a war service loan. Sixty per cent, of applicants for war service loans obtain them without any delay at all. I do not think it would be fair to compare that 40 per cent, for war service homes with the State housing authorities’ figures because we must remember that a proportion of war service homes applicants do not qualify for loans because they have not the requisite military service. So the proportion in the field of war service homes would be higher than in the State sphere. However, it is very interesting indeed to note that of 17,000 people on the waiting list for housing commission homes in Victoria, during one year 7,000 people found that their want was satisfied before their turn came to get a home. If that sort of exercise was conducted throughout the whole of Australia, we would have a far better id’ea of the need for houses and the people who are waiting for them. There is a good deal of exaggeration, of course, in these housing figures.
In my opinion the State housing authorities throughout Australia are doing very good work indeed. They are organizations and they are aiming to develop their activities. But, nationally, I believe we must watch the position to see that the State housing authorities do not usurp the place of the speculative builders and the people who build for resale. That could lead to a situation in which governments might put more money into housing than the circumstances warranted.
– Did I hear you say that you would not want the State housing authorities to usurp the function of the speculative builders?
– The original purpose qf the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was to provide rental housing; but for certain reasons the present situation - I am speaking from memory; I hope I am speaking reasonably accurately - is that the majority of the States, through their housing authorities, are selling a greater proportion of houses than they are renting. They are selling their houses with the benefit of low interest rates on money provided by the Commonwealth. They are selling- them on very small deposits. The Tasmanian Housing Department is selling them without deposits at all. The State authorities are selling their houses in competition with people who build houses and sell them on more reasonable terms and conditions. I am glad to have Senator Cole’s acknowledgment that the great strength of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is the allocation of a reasonable proportion of the money to building societies. Through those societies we are encouraging people who are saving and who are prepared to put down a reasonable deposit on their homes. Through the building societies we are getting very much greater value for our money, as expressed in the number of houses that are being built.
A number of calculations have been made. Money is lent by “the Commonwealth and is repayable by the States over a period of 53 years. One calculation that has been made is that during those 53 years the money will be used twice instead of once by the State housing authorities. Another calculation is that each £10,000,000 that is provided to the building societies yields 390 or 10½ per cent, more homes than would be built if that money was made available through the State housing authorities. That, of course, is only because the people who buy hom through the building societies put down bigger deposits than those who buy homes through the State housing authorities.
– And they pay a higher interest rate.
– They pay a higher interest rate because the money is channelled to them through the States which, with a few exceptions, make a charge for passing the money on to the building societies. Under the housing agreement the States are entitled to make that charge. Sometimes I think that in their generosity they might stand that charge themselves and let the building societies have that benefit.
The building societies give us better results on three grounds. First, they encourage thrift and saving which, in any language, is a good national attribute. The second ground is that a member of a building society saves and is prepared to put down a higher deposit on his house than if he buys through a State housing authority. The third ground is that the advances are repayable, by and large, over a period of 31 years, and the fact that the money made available by the Commonwealth to the States is repayable over a 53-year term means that the money goes out and comes back twice instead of once. Mr. President, I have covered as many of the points that have been raised in the debate as I can recollect. I conclude, as I started, by thanking the Senate for its assistance in this second-reading debate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 27th March (vide page 634), on the following paper presented by Senator Spooner -
River Murray Waters Act - Annual Report of the River Murray Commission, together with statements of gaugings and diversions, for the year 1960-61.
And on the motion by Senator Buttfield -
That the paper be printed.
– Mr. Acting Deputy President, I rise to support the motion for the printing of the Annual Report of the River Murray Commission for the year 1960-61. The report is dated 5th September, 1961, and covers , the year ended 30th June, 1961; but it was not tabled in the Senate until 8th March, 1962, and now this motion is being debated about nine months after the end of the period covered by the report. I suggest to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), in all charity, that in future years it might be possible to have a roneoed copy of the report of the commission presented to the Senate a few months, at the most, after the end of the financial year.
I invite the attention of the Minister to the fact that quite soon after the end of the financial year a roneoed report is presented to the Parliament by the Commonwealth Railways, and then the full report, presented in all its glory - well documented and containing pictures - reaches the Parliament at a later stage. The reason I mention this matter is that subsequent to 30th June perhaps the most important report ever presented by the River Murray Commission came before the Parliament. It was presented in October last. I shall refer to this matter again at a later stage of my remarks.
I compliment the River Murray Commission on the work performed during the year under consideration. In particular, I pay a great tribute to the distinguished engineers who are our commissioners. As a South Australian, naturally I am well acquainted with Mr. Dridan, and as a member of the Commonwealth Parliament I am also, of course, well acquainted with the work of Dr. Loder, who is the deputy chairman. I understand that in the absence of the Minister for National Development ‘ (Senator Spooner), who is the chairman of the commission, Dr. Loder presides
The main function of the River Murray Commission is to arrange for the construction and maintenance of the works set out in the River Murray Waters Agreement. The object of those works is to distribute the waters of the Murray in accordance with Part IV. of the agreement and, what is most important, to initiate and investigate proposals, for the better conservation and regulation of the river Murray waters. As Senator Buttfield said last night in her discussion of this report, the Murray River is of enormous importance to Australia. It is in effect the only large river in Aus* tralia, and its tributaries cover a vast area of our continent. Consequently, the report of a commission that deals with proposals for the better conservation and regulation of the waters of the Murray should receive great attention from the Senate.
Before proceeding with an examination of some of the matters dealt with in the report, I want to stress the significance of the report that was foreshadowed in the document before us and which came to this Parliament last October. That report is of particular importance to South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. I am interested to note in the report before the. Senate to-night that important construction work was carried out in connexion with the Hume dam, where the capacity of the reservoir was enlarged to 2,500,000 acre feet. I understand that that work was completed early in September, 196L Unfortunately, there has not been sufficient rainfall in the area serving the Hume dam to fill the dam, but of course it may be filled at any time. Australia will benefit greatly from the enlargement of the storage capacity of the Hume dam.
An interesting feature of the report is the way in which it illustrates the different rates of flow of the Murray River. The report is brilliant inasmuch as it covers practically every facet that a person interested in this river would need to know about. On page 8, there are statistics relating to the flow of the river at the Lake Victoria outlet. It is staggering to contemplate that in the month of October, 1960, 1,820,000 acre feet of water passed into South Australia, and yet, in April, 1961, only a few months later, the flow had dropped to 97,000 acre feet.
– Was that due to drought conditions?
– No. It was just an ordinary month of April. At that time, a large amount of water is taken for irrigation and other purposes in Victoria and New South Wales. In the spring months, when the river was being fed by melting snow, almost 2,000,000 acre feet of water passed into South Australia, but in the autumn months the flow had fallen to less than 100,000 acre feet. In other words, it was only about 5 per cent, of what it had been a few months before. I think I can do no better, to indicate the importance of damming this river, than to point to those figures.
In times of flood it is just as important that the flow be regulated as it is in times of shortage. The report of the River Murray Commission is an important document for honorable senators when it is considered from that angle. In May, 1960, Sir Thomas Playford, the Premier of South Australia, revealed in a television interview, and subsequently in discussions with the press, a plan for the construction of a dam to be known as the Chowilla dam. This dam was to be constructed in the vicinity of Renmark, in South Australia, near the point where the river Murray enters that State. At page 1131 of the Senate “ Hansard” of 17th October last there is printed a summary of the report of the River Murray Commission on the Chowilla dam project. From that summary I quote the following paragraph: -
The site of the proposed storage isa few miles down-stream of the. South Australian border. It would have a capacity of 4,600,000 acre feet and would be the largest reservoir in Australia. (Lake Eucumbene in the Snowy Scheme has a capacity of 3,860,000 acre feet and the enlarged Hume Reservoir has 2,500,000 acre feet.) The reservoir would inundate Lake Victoria Reservoir and over 400 square miles of land, most of which is in New South Wales and Victoria. The dam wall would be 3i miles long with an average height of 41 feet. The total cost of the project is estimated at £14,000,000.
A full report on this project is to be found in the report of the River Murray Commission which is summarized in “ Hansard “ of 17th October last. I seek the indulgence of the Senate to allow that report to be discussed in conjunction with the report of 30th June last. The previous report really brings up to date the matters referred to in the report before the Senate to-night.
Senator Buttfield, in her comments last night, referred to the importance of water to South Australia. I do not propose to traverse the excellent points made by her, but I remind the Senate that much of South Australia has a low rainfall. The metropolitan area, around the capital city of Adelaide, has about 65 per cent, of the population, and the average rainfall is approximately 20 inches. Possibly another 20 per cent, of the population of South Australia live in slightly better rainfall areas, and the remainder live in areas where the rainfall is as low as 5 inches a year. I refer to some very large settlements, such as Whyalla, Woomera, Port Augusta and Port Pirie. All of those towns are in areas where the rainfall is well below 10 inches a year. You can see the importance of a water supply to South Australia and realize how much the State is dependent upon the Murray.
From the figures I have quoted already it will be seen that the volume of water entering South Australia by way of the Murray in the autumn period of the year is normally only about one-twentieth of the volume that enters in the spring, yet the consumption of water is vastly greater in the summer and autumn than it is during the spring and winter. Those are problems which we hope will be solved, to some extent, by the imaginative plan that Sir Thomas Playford has put forward, and which, I say with gratitude, has been very carefully reported upon by the River Murray Commission. I understand that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), in his capacity as chairman of that commission, has been most active in the investigations that have been carried out.
We get to the stage that we have an excellent report. The main theme running through the report is a forecast of the requirements of water for South Australia up to the year 2,000. The commission has worked on rainfall figures available for the last SO years, and has predicted that the same cycle of seasons is likely to occur in the future. That possibly is as scientific a way of approaching the problem as possible. The startling result of these calculations is that, until the year 2000 shortages will occur in fourteen years. If nothing is done about damming, New South Wales will suffer shortages on nine occasions, Victoria on eleven, and South Australian on twelve. If a storage dam is put in, shortages will occur on only three occasions between now and the year 2000. As I have said, the calculations are worked out on the probable rainfalls and uses of water up to the year 2000, and also on the climatic conditions of the previous 50 years. It will be seen, therefore, how important the proposed dam will be in eliminating shortages which could result in capital losses as well as annual losses in production during the years of shortage.
One interesting feature has been stressed in the report. If there were a repetition of the 1914-15 season - which, of course, was the greatest drought season in this century - New South Wales would receive only 22 per cent, of its water requirements - this is without any damming - Victoria would receive only 38 per cent., and South Australia only 56 per cent. Victoria and New South Wales would suffer considerably if there were a repetition of the conditions of 1914- 15. As you will realise, Sir, the water requirements of the States are governed by the terms of the River Murray Waters Act. One interesting point to remember is that even though Chowilla will be downstream from New South Wales and Victoria, it is possible, by adequate damming, that the 1,250,000 acre feet of water vouchsafed to South Australia under the agreement will be available each year without drawing on the supply from the Hume dam. As a South Australian I welcome that, even though South Australia has contributed to the cost of the Hume dam. I welcome the fact that South Australia will not look in the future to the Hume dam for the supply of its requirements.
I think we should look at the whole proposition through Australian eyes. The Senate, since I have been a member of it, has taken a most generous view of the problems of the various States. For instance, I have never heard serious objection from Tasmania, Queensland or Western Australia, to the provision of funds for the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme. No objection has been raised by people living in the southern States to the millions of pounds that have been voted by this Parliament for the Ord River scheme and other schemes in the north-west of Western Australia. I should like to feel that the approach of the people in the States not directly affected by the river Murray problems would be the same as the general approach by the Senate to problems of, say, Tasmania, of the north-west of Western Australia or Queensland.
– A broad national outlook.
– I agree with Senator Hannaford that there should be a broad national outlook. The saving of water anywhere is of great importance to Australia.
I have illustrated the precarious flow that occurs in the Murray during the autumn. One cannot deny that the agriculturalists along the tributaries in New South Wales and Victoria - I refer to projects along the Darling in New South Wales and the Ovens in Victoria - are using a great deal more water in their agricultural and horticultural work than ever before. Good luck to them, I say. We will be able to cope with their drawings if this dam is built in South Australia. This is a great project for saving one of the most precious things in Australia.
You will be interested, Sir, in how the negotiations are going down in South Australia. As you appreciate, negotiations have taken place between Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and the Commonwealth, but the sad story is that those negotiations are not proceeding as fast as we would like to see them proceed. The Commonwealth has been exemplary in its conduct of the negotiations. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said in his policy speech that the Commonwealth would make available a quarter of the cost of the dam on the assumption, of course, that the River Murray Commission would be handling the project and that water disposals would be in accordance with the formula laid down in the agreement supervised by the commission. But there has not been a great measure of agreement between the eastern States and South Australia.
I was interested to read in the Adelaide “ Advertiser “ of 1st February last a report of a speech delivered by Sir Thomas Playford at a luncheon held by the Adelaide Rotary Club. Sir Thomas said he was inclining to the view that, if the distribution of water as laid down in the River Murray Waters Agreement was not altered in favour of South Australia, it would hardly be worth while for South Australia to proceed on the lines of the project being carried out by the River Murray Commission. Sir Thomas said he was hopeful of continuing negotiations with the other States with a view to obtaining an improved ratio for South Australia.
He has had to consider seriously another plan to be implemented if the Chowilla dam is not constructed. He claims that foundation testing was under way for a time at Teal Flat, which is above Mannum. Of course, a dam there would be built entirely by South Australia. Speaking as a member of the National Parliament, I would be sorry to see a smaller dam built many miles downstream purely as a South Australian project. I believe that the construction of the Chowilla dam would be one of the very great national projects likely to come before the Senate within the next year or so. The Commonwealth should be intensely interested in this matter. Let us consider the Commonwealth undertakings that would be serviced by water from this dam. Practically all of Port Augusta is built around the Commonwealth Railways settlement. Vast railway workshops are there. All the employees of the Commonwealth Railways seem to be centred on Port Augusta. Without water piped from the river Murray, Port Augusta would be just a country village. Because of the avail ability of this w:: r, Port Augusta is a great electricity generating centre. It is also a great headquarters for the pastoral industry. The Commonwealth has millions of pounds invested in Port Augusta alone.
One hundred and twenty miles further on is Woomera. Woomera would be a village if water were not available. It would be quite impossible for that town to become the headquarters of the great space club of the British Commonwealth, as it is likely to become, without water from the river Murray. So the Commonwealth is vitally interested in this water in order to service Woomera. Senator Buttfield said last night that before the war Whyalla was a small town with a population of 800 people. Possibly it will have a population of 25,000 before 1970. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited alone proposes to spend £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 on the steelworks there. Without water from the river Murray, Whyalla would not have a population in excess of 300 or 400. These facts show the possibility of decentralization when water is available. The metropolitan area of South Australia would slip back very quickly if water from the normal reservoirs in the hills was not supplemented by water from the river Murray. The approach of the River Murray Commission is of great importance to South Australia and to a number of Commonwealth installations.
I conclude by expressing the hope that the Chowilla dam will be viewed by South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and the Commonwealth as being a great national project. I hope that now that the problems associated with the recent State elections appear to be behind the respective Premiers and now that the problems of the recent general election appear to be behind the Prime Minister, those gentlemen will be able to get together and push on with this great project.
– I support the motion. I take advantage of this opportunity to congratulate those who were responsible for compiling the report now before us. It is very clear and concise. It is easy to read and understand.
I submit that not only senators from South Australia, but also every other person in that State who is interested in its development and welfare is fully aware of the importance of water from the river
Murray. I do not imply that people outside South Australia also are not interested in South Australia’s water supply, but I believe they are not as aware of the situation as are the residents of that State. The importance of water is brought home very forcibly to people who live and work in the State, particularly those who have holdings which are dependent upon water from the river. Those people have a greater perception of the importance of the river Murray to South Australia.
Honorable senators will agree that water is vital to the existence of any country. It is of great significance in Australia. Although we occupy a vast continent only certain parts of it are habitable, because great areas have very little or no rainfall at all. The development of Australia is restricted by the availability of water. Therefore, every effort should be made to conserve the water we have. I daresay the Snowy Mountains scheme when completed will help to overcome a great part of the problem. But it will not provide a complete solution, because as Australia expands the need for water will increase. Every means must be exploited to ensure that the country will have sufficient water in the future to enable it to maintain its rate of progress and expansion. Senator Buttfield cited the quantities of water required for certain agricultural and manufactured products. In the agricultural field she cited the quantities required for wheat, wheaten hay and subterranean clover, and in the manufacturing field, the quantities required for a ton of paper and a ton of steel. Honorable senators will agree that if South Australia is to continue to advance both agriculturally and industrially, it must be provided with more water. If this is not done, the State will face a very serious crisis. Virtually all the available water storage sites have been utilized. We know of only one or two sites available for future dams for supplying the metropolitan area. One can see, therefore, the extent to which South Australia is dependent upon the river Murray. Water is reticulated many thousands of miles through the State, all of it coming from the river Murray. There are pipe lines from Adelaide to Mannum and from Morgan to Whyalla; These will -have to be duplicated in the very near future because they are not large enough to cope with the expansion that is occurring. Water is brought from the river not only to the metropolitan area, but also to far distant corners of the State. I believe that it now reaches Edithburg in the Yorke Peninsula, and the pipe lines extend to Woomera, Whyalla and Port Augusta. Without these water life-lines there would be no proper development. ‘ It is very important that the river Murray should be regarded as South Australia’s greatest life-line.
Under the River Murray Waters Agreement, South Australia is allowed a certain volume of water, but some of it is received at a time when it is not absolutely necessary. As Senator Laught said, in spring we receive more than we receive in autumn, because with the melting of the snows and the seasonal rainfall more water flows down the river. South Australia’s average rainfall is between 18 and 20 inches, and it is important that in autumn and summer water be conserved in every possible way. As Senator Laught said, this can be done only by storage.
The River Murray Commission included the following passage in its report for 1960-61:- .
In the report for the financial year 1959-60 reference, was made . to the investigation being carried out by the Commission into the South Australian Government proposal to construct a dam on the Lower Murray. It was reported that a Technical Committee had been established to examine the proposal from a hydrological point of view.
In September, 1960, the Committee submitted a preliminary report which indicated that even under the worst assumed conditions in regard to developments upstream, there would be sufficient surplus flows to fill a storage, such as the one proposed, sufficiently frequently to give real benefits.
The South Australian Government had initiated site investigations for a proposed dam at Chowilla about 6 miles below the South Australian-Victorian border. The preliminary designs were for an embankment with concrete lock and sluice structures to impound 4.55 million acre feet.
It is important that construction of the proposed dam at Chowilla be expedited. The dam would not result in South Australia’s receiving any more water. It would impound water that is now going to waste, setting it aside for use in lean or drought periods. The water that we now receive in spring is not fully used but runs away to the sea. In periods of drought or in dry seasons we have no water to fall back on.
In this chamber, I think in 1960, I quoted the statement by the South Australian Premier that by 1970 South Australia would be using all the water that it could safely depend upon receiving under the River Murray Waters Agreement. We now have only eight years in which to act. If the proposed dam, or some other dam, is not completed by 1970 or a little later, South Australia will face a very serious crisis.
I have spoken about water reticulation. About 95 per cent, of South Australia’s population is now dependent upon water from the river Murray. The proposed dam would tide South Australia over until some other methods of damming water were found, or until some other sites were located. Suitable water storage sites are so limited that we shall have to depend upon damming the Murray in various places for the provision of water for expansion.
It is regrettable that New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have not reached agreement. To such a project, when so much is at stake, there should be no parochial approach. There should be a national approach. The States should consider every angle. Even if the result were that two ‘ States received just a little less water in order to allow another State a little more, agreement should be reached quickly and without bickering. We in South Australia and the other States as well have to contend with more than a shortage of water, bad seasons and that sort of thing. We have the problem of evaporation. The report of the River Murray Commission for the year 1960-61 estimates that this year South Australia will lose 240,000 acre feet of water by evaporation. That is a great volume of water, and although I am not saying that there is a way to prevent evaporation, if some such means could be devised we in South Australia would gain so .much more water. However, this is a difficult problem and I feel that its solution lies in the far distant future.
Another point to be considered is that whenever the Murray drops below a certain level there is a danger of the water becoming too saline. There are salt cliffs near Renmark, and when the water. level drops to a certain point and the river flows through these salt cliffs the water becomes too saline and is unusable even for agricultural purposes because there is a tendency for the water, if it is too alkaline, to kill the vines or the trees that it is irrigating. I am pleased to see in the report of the River Murray Commission for the year 1960-61 that this problem is under consideration. At page 10 of the report appear these words: -
The results of salinity tests made in the lower Murray, are supplied to the Commission by the Constructing Authority for South Australia. A statement (Appendix IV.) showing the average monthly river heights at Murray Bridge, and average monthly salinity reading at Waikerie, Milang, Berri, Lake Victoria, Rufus River, and Lock 9 is attached to this Report.
A satisfactory level of salinity was maintained in the lower river. The maximum monthly averages were: -
Honorable senators can see that the commission has this problem under consideration all the time. The Opposition does not oppose the printing of this paper. We feel that the conservation of water is a problem that is not confined to the States. It is a national problem and everything should be done to ensure that the water that is now running to waste throughout the country is quickly conserved and put to use in our agricultural pursuits so that our closer settlement schemes can be augmented and people generally can be supplied with this essential commodity.
I hope that the Chowilla dam will be completed quickly. I believe that, on completion, it will solve the water problem in South Australia for many years to come. . I feel sure that State will continue to progress only so long as water is provided, as has been the case over recent years. As I said earlier, unless more water is available to South Australia it will have to come to a standstill - and we know what happens to any State or country that reaches a point where it has to cease expansion. Therefore, the sooner this dam is completed the better. I realize that the Federal Government and the State governments concerned are still trying .to keep this project on the move. South Australia needs better water storage, and that can come only from the proposed dam. From the reports that have been made, it is clear that, the site of the proposed dam will benefit South Australia as a whole.
– I have listened to this debate with very great interest and pleasure, and I agree with my colleagues who have spoken so far that the report demonstrates that a dam at Chowilla is practicable, that it would be the largest dam in Australia and that it would benefit our economy as a whole. It would benefit South Australia most of all, but Victoria and New South Wales would benefit considerably in that it might be possible even in years of stringency riot to require the release of water for South Australian purposes from the Hume weir. I think it would be better that this project be constructed under the River Murray Waters Agreement by the general authority so that all States could participate.
I must say that I cannot see the force of the argument that has been made that the ratio of 5:5:3 should be altered in favour of South Australia. It is true that that State is more dependent on the Murray than are the other States. Both Victoria and New South Wales are comparatively well watered, but only comparatively so. No Australian State has sufficient water. I suppose that Queensland, with its coastal area, is probably the best watered of all States. The whole of our eastern coastal region is well watered. We have more water in New South Wales, but we have more people, and there is a possibility of greater population growth. I want to say, though not to discourage my South Australian friends who are naturally more interested in this project than the rest of us, that if the building of the dam by the authority is being held up by argument, I do not think it is fair to describe such argument as being merely niggling or huckstering. After careful examination a formula was arrived at to satisfy the needs of three States. There should be no variation of that formula unless it will satisfy the reasonable requirements of the three States concerned. Apart from that objection to some of the views advanced by my colleagues, I am fully in accord with them and I hope it will be possible for this project to be undertaken by the River Murray Commission.
Senator O’FLAHERTY (South Australia) to what has been said on this matter. However, there are one or two corrections I want to make to comments that were made in the speech of Senator Buttfield. I think that her eulogy of the river Murray was a little far fetched. I think she said that the Murray was the fourth longest river in the world. I think she said that there were only three other rivers in the world longer than it. The fact is that the Murray is about the twenty-eighth river in the world in length, and about the fifteenth in size.
The River Murray Commission was established to enable New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia to use the waters of the river Murray. Senator Drury dealt at length with the proposal to build a dam at Chowilla. Senator Drury pointed out - he is supported by the report of the commission - that South Australia will not receive any more water because a dam is built at Chowilla, but will be able to obtain water at times when it is required. As Senator McCallum has pointed out, each of the three States concerned shares the cost of building and maintaining projects along the Murray. It has been suggested that Victoria and New South Wales should share with South Australia the cost of building the Chowilla dam. But Victoria and New South Wales claim that it is not fair to ask them to contribute to the cost because South Australia is the only State that would benefit from the release of waters backed up by the Chowilla dam. Victoria and New South Wales seem to forget that an area of more than 1,000,000 acres in their territories would benefit from the water stored by the Chowilla dam. Those States could use the water to irrigate that land, which now carries only a few sheep. With irrigation the land would be suitable for closer settlement.
In the course of this debate, or at some other stage, I should like the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) to tell me why disagreement has arisen between Victoria and South Australia over the building of the Chowilla dam. Has any agreement, apart from an agreement in respect of financing the project, been reached among the three States concerned? I understand that some arrangement has been made for financing the construction of the dam provided all States agree that it should be built. I should like the Minister to let me know what is the present position. Has any agreement been reached on the need to build the dam? Has the commission released a report oh the building of the dam? I understand that the commission consists mainly of engineers. Is it likely that New South Wales and Victoria will support the building of the dam, but will refuse to contribute towards its cost?
There has been quite a deal of controversy about this matter. I do not accept as gospel everything that I read in the newspapers. I think that a great deal of the material that has been appearing in the newspapers about the Chowilla dam is a long way from the truth. Some of the articles have had a political bias. You do not always get the truth when politics intrude. If the Minister will supply the information that I have sought I will say no more about the Chowilla dam.
I should like to bring another matter to the notice of the Minister. I understand that occasionally he attends meetings of the commission. The locks on the Murray were intended originally to assist the passage of ships up and down the river. In recent times very few vessels have been using the Murray. The result is that the locks have been maintained at a very high cost, and they are not being used for the purpose for which they were built. Shipping on the Murray has dwindled. There is now very little of it. Some ships ply the Murray near Mildura and Echuca, but very little use is made of the Murray elsewhere. At some times of the year a few tourist vessels may use one or two locks. No longer is cargo carried on the Murray. I should like the Minister to tell me whether there is any likelihood of the locks being used only to store water or whether they will be used for navigational purposes, as was the original intention. Is it possible to reduce the storage in the locks by opening the gates in order to clear the mud and silt from the basins behind the locks more often than they are being cleared at present?
I am not an engineer. In this matter 1 have to accept the statement of somebody who is supposed to know something about it. I am given to understand that some of the locks, particularly in the lower reaches, are silting up to such an extent that it is very dangerous to use the water for domestic purposes. The water is similar to Canberra water after a flood. It is dirty and seems to have a rather nasty smell. The river in its lower reaches is not used now for navigation. Would it be possible to clear the locks by opening the gates more often than they are opened at present and taking the silt to the sea or further down the river, so that the water would be purer than it is at present?
Three honorable senators who have spoken on this motion have mentioned that the water passes through a salt basin in South Australia. It also passes through another salt basin further upstream, but that does not make any difference. When the water in the river is a bit low it becomes charged with mineral, mostly magnesia, and is so -bad that it cannot be used for certain purposes. For instance, it cannot be used in a boiler that provides steam. As every bushman knows, the water can be boiled and then used for drinking; but one would be foolish to attempt to drink it without boiling it and letting it settle. Because of the salt content, generally magnesia, it is necessary for the locks to be flushed in order to clear the mud that is behind them. I ask the Minister whether the commission at any time has considered the possibility of removing the silt that collects behind the locks so that South Australians will have cleaner and better water than they have at present.
I should also like the Minister to consider whether, if it is not possible for agreement to be reached on the Chowilla dam, a dam might be built in a basin further down the river Murray. Certainly, it is in the magnesia area and such a dam would flood the land of quite a number of people; but it would- be a means of backing up water, although not quite as much as would be backed up by the Chowilla dam. I believe the Chowilla dam will back up about 4,800,000 acre feet of water, whereas a dam in the basin further downstream would back up only about 1.000.000 acre feet of water. Has the Minister considered the possibility of helping South Australia to finance a dam just upstream from Blanche Town or Morgan, if the Chowilla dam is not agreed to by the States concerned? If it is possible for that information to be given to me, I would be very pleased to receive it. I am concerned about the supply of water to South Australia in the near future. Senator Buttfield told the
Senate that at present about 80 per cent, of the South Australian people rely upon river Murray water. I am concerned about the damming of the river in order to maintain wafer supplies for all those people in the near future. If the Minister would be good enough to obtain the information for which I have asked, I would not mind waiting for it. I leave the matter there.
– In supporting this motion, Madam Acting Deputy President, I make the observation that broadly the Senate finds itself in a state of unanimity on the motion. We are dealing with a matter that is of intense importance to the States concerned and especially to the nation as a whole. The report of the River Murray Commission refers to a river that is the lifeline of the nation, a line of spinal fluid, as it were. So, all of us who are interested in Australia’s well-being, national development, or production of any kind, naturally are interested in this report. As a South Australian senator, I am very happy to speak in support of the motion and to commend the report. This river, which winds its long and tortuous way across trie continent, is, as I have said, the lifeline of the nation. Its slow-flowing characteristics and the fact that for the last 100 miles it has a gradient of about one inch per mile mean that whilst it is the most important asset this nation has it also throws up many problems, some of which have been referred to to-night. Finally, the river empties into the 300 square miles that make up Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert.
As most of the speakers in to-night’s debate are from South Australia, we quickly turn to one item in the report. It might be argued that we are tending to be parochial and a little- provincial; but I believe I should submit with some emphasis that although we are dealing with something that benefits South Australia in particular, the Chowilla dam project and everything else contained in the report must be related to the rest of the continent. The mere fact of the size of the river Murray system - it has a basin of 400,000 square miles and is associated with a number of States - indicates clearly that this is a matter of national interest.
The report that is currently before the Senate is important for quite a number of reasons. First, it is the latest available printed statement by a body which has been given a job that is as important as any other job in the Commonwealth. This body is charged with the construction and maintenance of works pertaining to a river system of the dimensions I have indicated. It is also charged with the operation of works to distribute the waters of the river Murray, as well as with the initiation and investigation of proposals for the better conservation and regulation of those waters. By way of an aside, may I say that it is interesting to observe the relationship which the terms I have just stated bore to those set out in the Interstate Royal Commission of 1902, which probably was the official birth of this kind of movement. Those terms were concerned with inquiry into and report on conservation and distribution of water for purposes of irrigation, navigation and water supply. We have come from 1902 to 1962, so that this report before the Senate celebrates a kind of jubilee. The report of the commission for the year 1960-61 quickly brings us up to date by reminding us of the wide range of inquiries and activities carried out by the commission.
The report indicates right at the outset that the year under review was very largely occupied with activity at the Hume dam to strengthen the dam wall and increase its capacity to 2,500,000 acre feet. The work involved a considerable number of installations. The commission is to be commended for the attention that it devotes in its report to that project. Indeed, it is to be commended for the whole of the report. Throughout the document we can discern the commission’s awareness of the need to take advantage of every available opportunity to increase storage capacity. As might be expected, the report devotes considerable space to indicating the manner in which the commission has observed . the terms of the River Murray Waters Agreement. The regulation of water from the Hume reservoir, Lake Victoria and Yarrawonga weir is of particular interest to South Australia. We read that there was a full entitlement to Lake Victoria and that water was released from there through the summer months to make up the deficiency in the river flow. The flow to South Australia at the Lake Victoria outlet was almost 10,000,000 acre feet. As Senator Drury pointed out, there is a reference in the report to the quality of the water. There is an observation concerning the level of salinity in the lower reaches of the river. It is stated that the maximum monthly averages at Berri, Waikerie and Milang ranged from 304 parts per million to 357 parts per million.
It is not without significance, Madam, that a project which is of tremendous import for the whole Commonwealth, and particularly for Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, is referred to in more than one place in the report. It is also given quite a degree of priority, since it is mentioned very early in die report. I refer, of course, to the proposed water storage scheme at Chowilla, near Renmark, in South Australia. When the Chowilla stock run was discovered more than 100 years ago by Captain Sturt in his whaleboat, it was a lonely place. It is at the moment, and I hope it will be for some years to come, one of the most significant places in the Commonwealth. I had the pleasure to speak briefly on this scheme during the last Parliament, and I make no excuse for referring to it again in a little detail, because it is of particular significance to South Australians. ‘
In taking an interest in the scheme, in urging its completion and in fostering public interest in it, we are motivated by genuine reasons. We do not press the scheme in order to earn good marks or commendation of some kind or other. We do so because, as representatives of our State, we are acutely aware of the essential nature of the project. We are acutely aware of its importance to South Australia, as well as to the whole of the Commonwealth. In pleading for its early completion, I point out that I am putting forward more than just a plea for better treatment for South Australia. The scheme is concerned with much more than a crisis or an emergency. Any scheme which involves increased storage of water for South Australia is concerned with our survival.
Almost all of the population of South Australia is dependent on the Murray River for water. That point has been made by practically every speaker during the debate to-night, and especially by South Australian senators who have spoken. We are very much aware of that fact. It is. proper to point out that, despite our dependence on the Murray, the authorities and the people of the State have not just been content to watch the great river flow slowly by and casually accept the idea that they can do nothing to increase the supply of water. Reference to the chronological tables which appear in the South Australian “Year Book” will indicate that time after time measures have been taken by the government and other authorities to construct water storage works for the purpose of providing more water. In recent years we have read of the raising of the wall of the Mr Bold reservoir to give it an additional storage capacity of 11,000,000,000 gallons.
Contracts of various kinds have been let, such as for the extension of the MorganWhyalla pipeline, the famous pipeline which now goes to Iron Knob. There have been certain additions to the South Para reservoir which have increased its storage capacity by 1,500,000 gallons. There have been extensions to the Mannum-Adelaide pipeline. There has been work on the Myponga dam, and there have been many other works, including the construction of the Goolwa barrages some years ago. Though they may not have been strictly water storage projects, at least they have had an influence on the level of the waters in Lake Alexandria and the lower reaches of the Murray. They have made water available for vast areas of irrigation and for settled communities, which have been given every prospect for future expansion. In addition to those activities, in recent months we have seen the opening of projects such as Golden Heights near Waikerie, and Sunlands. Those, and other projects, mean that there are in South Australia public and private undertakings which are designed to conserve water for the purpose of increasing production. In due course they will provide for greater population growth, greater industrial development and increased production of many kinds.
Notwithstanding this growth and all the activities I have mentioned, it must be observed that while many of the projects have been under construction there have been from time to time periods of extreme drought, resulting in some of the driest periods in our,,history. In discussing this proposed scheme, we want to do so against the backdrop of the topography of South Australia, because if we do so we shall see that it has even greater significance and importance, as well as greater urgency. Three-quarters of South Australia’s area of some 400,000 square miles is described in various books and other documents as having an arid climate. A great proportion of the State has an average rainfall of less than twenty inches a year. Therefore, the task of maintaining the State, not only as a society, but in such a way that it will contribute to the national structure, is one of great difficulty. The provision of services, so far as the supply of water is concerned, is acutely difficult and certainly very challenging. Therefore, the proposed water storage scheme at Chowilla, as referred to in the report of the River Murray Commission, is of prime importsance and great urgency for South Australia.
In looking into some of the details of this scheme and in trying to obtain an assessment of the comments that has been made about it since it was first announced, I find that it has been described as the most economic and effective means of providing additional regulation of water supply in drought areas. In a normal year Chowilla might satisfy the whole of the South Australian requirement of 1,250,000 acre feet. That could save the need for large drawing off of water, and more water would then be available for irrigation systems in New South Wales and Victoria. The water impounded by the Chowilla dam could be used in South Australia, and at the same time the project could provide great benefits for Victoria and New South Wales. The River Murray Waters Agreement guarantees to South Australia a fixed minimum proportion of the waters that flow in the Murray. A limitation has been placed on the volume of water that Victoria and New South Wales may draw from the system. That is necessary to ensure that the South Australian quota will reach the South Australian border. In drought years there must be a regulation of the water in order to guarantee South Australia’s supply. Therefore, water which, in a drought year, is desperately needed by these two States must be allowed to flow down the river.- If the
Chowilla storage scheme could’ be established, guaranteeing South Australia’s supply on the spot, as it were, that would leave the river flow in years of drought available to the other two States.
The estimates show that the total water deficit in drought years could be reduced to less than one-quarter if the Chowilla scheme were constructed. Therefore, there is a great urgency for going ahead with this £14,000,000 project. The Commonwealth has indicated that it is prepared to find onequarter of the cost if the other three contracting parties will each find one-quarter also. In a press report recently, which dealt with the matter so far as Victoria is concerned, the suggestion was made that the £3,250,000 which Victoria might be required to find was the value of a year’s production from the land that the dam would enable to be brought into production. I am given to understand that this is an area of some 60,000 acres, about 37 miles west of Mildura. It is claimed that this area could become a second Mildura. In addition to producing irrigation crops of vines and oranges, the cotton-growing industry could be revived. The whole matter of water conservation and storage is of pressing importance. I submit that this water, and everything pertaining to it, is a trust as far as Australia is concerned, and that we need to concern ourselves very actively about it. The Murray drains an area covering roughly one-seventh of Australia, which means that a good part of Australia is involved. The Murray still sends millions of acre feet of water into the sea each year.
Moving along further, I sound another note of warning and of urgency, and I take leave to repeat in part what some other honorable senators have said concerning the growth of South Australia. It is important to highlight this growth, especially as it is set again a background of natural disadvantages. The State is growing rapidly. That may be a general statement, but, set against the circumstances which I outlined a moment ago, it is worthy of note. According to the 1961 census, the population of South Australia was 969,000-a considerable increase since the previous census. The city of Adelaide is growing rapidly, and it is expected to have a population of about 750,000 within a few years. AH honorable senators will have heard of the city of Elizabeth, with its present population of over 20,000. According to the authorities in South Australia, it can reasonably be expected to have a population of 90,000 within fifteen years. Wrapped up with that social development is a great pattern of industrial growth, quite remarkable for a community of our size. Not one part of this could go forward were it not for the water that we already obtain from the Murray.
Senator Buttfield and others have referred in detail to the growth of Whyalla and to the pipe-line from the Murray feeding Whyalla, Port Augusta and Woomera. These three places make a very interesting trio. We have been stressing the advantages of this scheme to South Australia, but here we find the Murray serving the Commonwealth, the State and the world in a very significant manner. What has gone on would be impossible without the aid of the river Murray and all that is associated with it. The 100,000 acres of irrigation culture in South Australia depends on the Murray. The whole pattern of production, of industry and of society leans very heavily on the river. The urgency of the matter is shown-, as every report indicates, by the fact that by the end of this decade a situation of some desperateness will have been reached, because the present water allocations will be insufficient. Time is of the essence of the matter. This storage installation is really a matter of urgency.
May I stress it in what I believe to be a wider way? .In the States in which tributaries of the Murray are situated, new schemes are going ahead. I agree with Senator Laught that, broadly speaking, those States are entitled to do what they are doing. Senator Buttfield made reference to the creeks and1 rivers in other States. In South Australia there are few, if any, creeks and rivers. I remember my first visit to Queensland some years ago, when I went by train from Brisbane to Mackay. I- was impressed by the number of rivers and streams that we crossed and by the volume of water in them. I do not want to pick out that State above all others, but that is just one impression I got. on one trip. South Australia has virtually no rivers and streams by those standards. There is nothing to prevent the other States from harnessing the tributaries of the Murray in their areas. In any pattern of State development that must be done. I have read of various diversion schemes in New South Wales, and I have seen the Menindie Lakes scheme. In Queensland there are some nine tributaries, with a combined length of 2,000 miles, supplying water to the Darling in its relation to the Murray. A scheme is afoot there. The system of tributaries in Victoria is receiving its share of this kind of attention as well. The more that this kind of thing continues, the greater will be the need and the greater will be the urgency for the Chowilla scheme. In whatever way the matter is looked at, the Chowilla scheme is one of urgency. It has not been placed in a position of priority in the commission’s report for nothing. I, for one, am anxious to see the implementation of the plan.
It should be observed that arrangements were made for the Prime Minister to meet the Premiers concerned. However, for various reasons, the meeting was postponed. Honorable senators may remember that very early in the session I asked a question concerning this matter and the Minister was good enough to bring me up to date upon it. I hope that arrangements will be made for this meeting to take place soon.
That is not all that is going on. The South Australian Government has spent something like £100,000 on investigations of the foundations for the Chowilla scheme. Already, a great deal of work has been done. I hope that in due course agreement will be reached with the other two States, Victoria and New South Wales, so that this urgent national scheme - I hope I have shown it to be an urgent national scheme - can be brought to fruition.
There are other aspects of the matter. Reference was made in this place recently to water conservation by the use of craters, and to desalination. These matters are all a part of national development, and in due course will no doubt be mentioned in the reports of the River Murray Commission. I have tried to highlight this report from the viewpoint that it is very much a national report. What is of interest to
South Australia is of importance to Commonwealthwide development. After all, any increase of population, any increase of production or any growth of industry in one State is of vital importance to all States. I commend the commission for its fine report, and I support the motion with pleasure.
. -Madam Acting Deputy President, I had not intended to take part in this debate and I am not fully equipped to do so at the moment, but as we still have a few minutes left before the Senate will adjourn I thought I should do so, more particularly as the activities of the River Murray Commission fall within the administration of my portfolio. I always think that the activities of the commission form one of the most important but least publicized aspects of the administration of the portfolio. I comfort myself with the thought that it is the least publicized because it is very efficient in its operations. As a rule, efficiency does not attract publicity.
The commission includes the three leading engineers from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. A great national task is entrusted to them. As some one has said to-night, the river Murray basin covers one-seventh of the total area of Australia. Within that basin is produced approximately one-half of Australia’s rural output and one-third of our total exports. Therefore, the regulation of the waters of the Murray is a big responsibility. These men are bound by a constitution which provides that all decisions shall be unanimous and that in the event of there not being unanimity an appeal shall be made to the Chief Justice of Tasmania. But in the history of the River Murray Commission there has never been an occasion on which there has not been a unanimous decision.
The average flow of the river Murray and its tributaries is approximately 12,000,000 acre feet of water a year, which is sufficient to cover the whole basin to a depth of only half an inch. That represents by far the lowest run-off of any river system in the world. Despite that disadvantage, since the Hume weir was constructed a comparatively short time ago a flow has been maintained throughout the whole length of the river Murray at all times, including the most severe drought period.
As is natural, the debate to-night has centred to a material degree around the proposed Chowilla dam. May I remind honorable senators that I thought the report of the River Murray Commission on this project was of such consequence that I had it incorporated in the “ Hansard “ report of 17th October last. It is readily available there for perusal by honorable senators. I do not propose to traverse the contents of the report. It was compiled in a most interesting way in that it adopted as a basis the records of the past 51 years and projected them 51 years into the future. It took account of the worst conditions that had been experienced and the. possibility of those conditions occurring again in the future. As the engineers have put to me, when you are considering any water conservation or irrigation scheme you must start on the basis of the worst conditions you are likely to experience, because that will be the limiting factor. It must npt be assumed that the only advantages which could flow from the building of the Chowilla dam are those which are recorded in the report, being the extent to which drought periods would be reduced or eliminated. The report states, in passing -
The Commission wishes to emphasize that the benefits derived from the Chowilla storage would by no means be confined to the occasional drought years.
Unless one pauses and thinks, ‘‘one can get an incorrect picture, because the report sets out in a statistical form the extent to which periods of restriction would be reduced or eliminated in the future but makes only a passing comment upon the fact that the dam, with its 4,800,000 acre feet of water, would be the largest water storage in Australia.
One of the extraordinary aspects of this matter is that during the years in which I have been the president of the River Murray Commission I have heard a lot of questions asked about why there were not additional storages along the river Murray. The reply given has always been, “We are using all the storage sites that we think are available “. But, hey presto, out of the blue came this extraordinarily large site which apparently had been seen by engineers but not properly surveyed or its potentiality envisaged. So when I first heard of the proposal, I had some reservations about it. I could hardly think that such a large site should have been available for such a long period.
The report of the commission has been circulated. The Commonwealth has said that it stands ready and prepared to find one-quarter of the capital cost of the work and to confer with the States, and that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) would attend the conference. That conference was convened to coincide with the meeting of the Australian Loan Council which was held in February. Elections were pending in some States and the meeting of the Loan Council took longer than anticipated, so only a brief conference was held. It was decided that the Premiers would meet again in March and April within the four corners of the legislation governing the River Murray Commission. It is wrong to say that there have been disputes among the Premiers. I have never heard of a large water conservation scheme being brought to fruition promptly. The rights to water within State boundaries and the use of it are always subject to a good deal of discussion. As the matter now stands, there is a general belief that the project will be carried out within the four corners of the functions of the River Murray Commission. There are yet to be discussions about the ratio in which the water will be shared. The usual ratio is 5: 5: 3, but the commission in its report has presented statistics for sharing the water equally between the three States concerned. As I said, that matter yet remains to be discussed by the three Premiers.
I share the view that has been expressed here that when the time is opportune, within the next few months, we will be able to reach agreement and will then go ahead with the construction of this dam. This is a matter of great importance to each of the four governments concerned. One cannot anticipate the decisions of those governments. We must wait until such time as their representatives sit around the table, discuss the report in detail and reach a conclusion on the manner in which they are willing to share the additional water and the manner in which the capital cost will be borne by them.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 March 1962, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1962/19620328_senate_24_s21/>.