13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon.G. H. Mackay) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– By way of per sonal explanation, I desire to correct a misrepresentation regarding the attitude of the Country party towards tobacco duties. A report published in the Melbourne Herald of the 14th March is headed -
MOVE TO EXPELMR. GREGORY.
Tension OverNewTobacco Duties.
The report states, inter alia -
It was revealed to-day that during the discussion in the Country party, of the campaign against the new tobacco duties, a move was made to expel Mr. Gregory (Western Australia) for his opposition to the leader (Dr. Earle Page ) .
The trouble arose over Mr. Gregory’s hostility to the campaign for the old high rates of protection for the tobacco industry.
After a heated debate, a motion was put forward that the party should unanimously support Dr. Earle Page.
Mr. Gregory indignantly opposed this, stating that, in no circumstances, would he accept it. He also complained about the propaganda being put out on behalf of the Country party, and said that it did not square with the Country party’s platform or pledges.
The motion for his expulsion was then put forward, and, although this was defeated, by the intervention of Mr. Paterson, a state of high tension exists within the Country party ranks.
That statement is an absolute fabrication. The expulsion of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) was not even discussed. This misrepresentation is in keeping with the propaganda on the tariff issue in which the Melbourne Herald customarily indulges.
– I rise to a personal explanation. I desire that my attitude to the tobacco duties shall be clearly understood. A proposal was made at a meeting of the Country party that it should support a certain motion; I declined to be bound by it. There was some objection to my action, but there is no ground for the suggestion that my expulsion from the Country party was moved. Throughout I endorsed the Government’s action regarding the tobacco duties.
– In view of the greatly enhanced price now payable for gold, and the necessity for saving money wherever possible so that the finances of the Commonwealth may be conserved, will the Assistant Treasurer give early consideration to the desirability of discontinuing the gold bounty?
– All bounties are receiving the earnest consideration of the Ministry. Whilst the Government is prepared to render assistance that is likely to be of general benefit to the Australian people, it is not prepared to continue any payment that assists only one section of the people, particularly if such assistance is found to be no longer necessary.
– The Melbourne Leader of the 12th March, publishes the following statement: -
The Lyons Ministry has prepared for submission to the Premiers Conference a plan aiming at the restriction of primary production, particularly in regard to fruit and rice.
Will the Prime Minister state whether that report is correct?
– There is no truth in it. I had never previously heard of such a proposal.
– Does the Minister for Trade and Customs anticipate that large stocks of cotton yarn will be dumped into Australia before the new cotton duties are considered by Parliament? What action does he propose to take if dumping on a large scale should take place between the tabling of the new duties and their ratification, rejection, or amendment by Parliament?
– I shall be pleased to consider the matter.
– The Prime Minister is reported in the Melbourne Argus to have said at Wollongong -
The Ministry would have to consider the use of credits to carry out reproductive works and provide for the unemployed.
Had the honorable gentleman in mind, a modified form of inflation, or definitely restricted inflation for the relief of the unemployed such as was proposed by the Scullin Ministry in the Fiduciary Notes Bill which was rejected by the Senate?
– I had in mind neither proposal.
– Is the Minister for Health able to furnish the House with any information regarding the alleged cure for tuberculosis sponsored by M. Spahlinger?
– In reply to questions on the subject asked by several honorable members, I have prepared the following statement : -
By last” mail was received from the High Commissioner’s Office a statement containing the formulae disclosed by M. Spahlinger of his anti-tuberculosis remedies. The actual text of the disclosure is attached.
It is to be noted that the formulae relate only to vaccines to be administered to - for the preventive vaccination of the animals or humans, respectively, against tuberculosis. No remedy for the treatment of tuberculosis in a human is included.
The preventive vaccination of human beings against tuberculosis is a development recently introduced in some European countries, but the department considers that this procedure must be further considered. The directions given in the formula supplied are not complete enough to permit of such deliberation; consequently it is proposed to defer action in this direction until further information has been sought. The vaccination of apparently healthy persons against tuberculosis is not a procedure which can be adopted in this country without very careful consideration.
Concerning the vaccination of bovine animals against tuberculosis, the formula will be placed before the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and a discussion will take place as to the practicability or advisability of proceeding with the preparation of a vaccine.
It is, however, necessary to point out that the formulae are expressed only in the most general terms, are incomplete, and that the preparation of these substances requires at least one year; and it is greatly to be regretted that, after all the’ discussion which has occurred during the last ten years about the cures which Spahlinger is stated to have effected, the formulae disclosed do not contain any reference to the treatment of persons affected with tuberculosis.
I lay on the table certain further information, of which a limited number of copies is available.
– I asked a question of the Minister for Health some time ago regarding the Spahlinger treatment, and he promised to let me have a reply. Do you not think, Mr. Speaker, that in courtesy he should have replied to me rather than to another honorable member whom he had inspired to ask this question to-day?
– Replies to questions are entirely within the discretion of Ministers; beyond seeing that they conform to the Standing Orders, the Chair has no authority over them.
Case of Mr. Sabine
– Has the Minister for Health had representations made to him concerning a New Guinea planter named Sabine? If so, what departmental action is to be taken with regard to them?
– That case has come under the notice of the Government. The papers relating to it have been asked for, and the Government is awaiting opportunity to give them consideration.
– Is the Mr. Reading, whose name was mentioned in a telegram sent to the Premier of New South Wales for the purpose of setting up a committee to deal with the problem of unemployment, the gentleman connected with the British- Australasian Tobacco Company?
– Yes, and he is also a member of the Commonwealth Bank Board.
– Has the Acting Attorney-General seen the statement with regard to communism in today’s Sydney Morning Herald reported to have been made by Mr. Maitland Paxton of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia, and, if so, will he take steps to expedite the introduction of the long delayed measure dealing with Communists ?
– I have seen the statement attributed to Mr. Paxton. I understood him to refer to certain children who, it is suggested, are being taught communistic doctrines. If that is so, and proof can be furnished that thereis any such practice, ample powers are provided under the Crimes Act to deal with the matter. I shall be obliged to the honorable member if he will give me any further information on the subject that he may possess.
– Has the Government yet decided whether the census is to be taken or not?
– The matter has not been decided; it is now under the consideration of the Government.
– Oan the Minister for Trade and Customs furnish further information regarding the deferred duties on iron piping?
– It has been decided to defer these duties until the 1st of June next. This decision is based on a recommendation arising out of a special inquiry recently held by the Tai-iff Board.
Supply of Military Haversacks
– I received a letter recently “ from the chairman of the Unemployment Council in Adelaide, asking if the Defence Department could spare any military haversacks. “Will the Assistant Minister for Defence look into that matter, and, if possible, provide a number of haversacks for the Adelaide organization ?
– I shall be pleased to inquire into the matter, and see if the honorable member’s representations can be acceded to. I shall advise him on the matter as early as possible.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the rainfall returns displayed at the post office in the King’s Hall do not give the rainfall at Canberra, although the records for every other important centre in Australia are supplied?
– The matter will be looked into.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that British manufacturers are charging Australian purchasers of rabbit-proof netting from 15 per cent, to 20 per cent, more than is paid by settlers in South Africa and New Zealand? Because of the enormous increase in the number of rabbits in Australia, and the great menace they constitute to future development, will the Government remove the proclamation bringing wire netting under the provisions of the anti-dumping legislation, ‘ so that. an opportunity may be afforded in Australia to buy this netting in the ‘ cheapest market?
– I am not aware that the position is as set out by the honorable member, but I shall be pleased to make inquiries regarding it.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether there is any truth in the newspaper report that during the general election campaign he made a compact with Mr. Eric Campbell, of the New Guard, that in return for the support of that organization he would arrange for the deportation of certain individuals if he became Prime Minister ?
– The statement is untrue. I did not at any time ask anything of Mr. Campbell, or the New Guard, but I appreciate the enthusiasm they showed for my party, and the assistance they rendered during the election campaign.
– In view of the legislation to be introduced by the Govern ment to deal with Communists, will the Prime Minister state- whether there is any truth in the announcement in the press that, during the last election campaign, the’ United Australia party sought the assistance of 1,500 members of the New Guard for the protection of the leader of the United Australia party at the meeting in the Sydney Town Hall, a;t. which he delivered his policy-speech 1 Did the honorable gentleman promise the leader of this rebel organization that, in the event of being returned to office, he would include in his programme a bill for” the deportation of Communists, and was a note written on the margin of the Prime Minister’s policy-speech “ at the request of Mr. Campbell, the leader of the New Guard ?” Is the Prime Minister aware that Mr. Campbell has defied both- the Commonwealth and the NewSouth Wales Governments in the matter of the payment of his taxes, and advocates the non-payment of taxes until such time as governments carry out their promises to the New Guard?
– I reply first to the last of the honorable ‘member’s questions. I have no knowledge of what has taken place between Colonel Campbell and the taxation departments of New South Wales and the Commonwealth. Colonel Campbell made no request that I should include anything in my policy-speech, nor. was any promise given of the kind suggested.
– Has the Prime Minis ter seen the newspaper report of a speech of Mr. Eric Campbell, the leader of the New Guard, delivered at Manly on the 14th instant, in which he referred to the Prime Minister’s intention to stop the activities of the New Guard ?
Campbell expressed amazement at the statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) on Friday, regarding military associations. He did not think that the Prime Minister was so unwise as to include the New Guard. “ When the election campaign was in progress, Mr. Lyons would lie down and let us wipe our feet on him, because we protected him. When he made a speech at the Sydney Town Hall, 1.500 new guardsmen were present at his urgent request.”
If that statement is correct, I ask the Prime Minister whether, apart from any encouragement given to the New Guard by reason of its protection having been sought by the Leader of the Government, he is of the opinion that, by allowing himself to be used as a convenience for dirty footwear-
– Order ! I remind honorable members generally, and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) in particular, that questions must not contain statements, the purpose of a question being to elicit, not to give, information. The honorable member is not in order in framing his question as he has done.
– I submit that my question complies with the Standing Orders. [ desire to- know whether the report to which I have referred is correct and, if so, whether the Prime Minister, by allowing himself to be used as a convenience for dirty footwear, is not lessening the demand for doormats and causing further unemployment in the mat making industry?
– I cannot allow a question of that nature.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the New Guard is composed of young Australians whose ages range from 20 to 30 years ? Will the honorable gentleman give those young people every encouragement in their efforts to stir up the public conscience against the Langites and their confederates, the Communists?
– I have no knowledge as to the ages of the members of the New Guard; but I would encourage any organization that, in a legal and constitutional way, seeks to remove Langism from the life of this country.
– In view of the fact that the United Australia party pledged itself during the recent election campaign that, if it were returned to power, it would lessen unemployment, and as the depression and unemployment existing in the Australian mat-making industry is considerable, does not the Prime Minister consider that further unemployment will be created if he allows himself to be used as a doormat by the New Guard movement?
– Order ! I have already informed the honorable member that I will not countenance such questions.
– In view of the fact that the Government has no doubt as to its constitutional powers under section 6 of , the Financial Agreements Enforcement Act, what logical reason is there for its refusal to make available to the Opposition the legal opinions which removed such doubt, in order that members of the Opposition may be equally satisfied on the matter before the taxpayer is further penalized to provide for the normal and reasonable needs of lawyers, that is, protracted litigation and huge fees?
– It is not the practice, nor would it be wise, to make available the legal opinions given to governments, particularly in connexion with a matter that may be the subject of an important, decision.
– Will the Prime Minister say what was in his mind, when in a speech delivered at Wollongong, he said that his Ministry would have to consider using the credit of the country and gettingaway from the old system of borrowing: in order to relieve unemployment?
– I had in mind the intention of the Government to exercise every possible economy in governmental expenditure in order to make available sums of money for work for the unemployed. If, after investigation by the Commonwealth and State Governments, definite proposals are made with the object of providing employment, it would be easier for us to obtain the necessary finance to carry them out, either by government or private enterprise if the credit of the country were improved.
– I have received from Perth a telegram advising that manufacturers of raw material, as well as finished goods, particularly those of iron and steel, are dumping their wares in the various States with a view to increasing the price to the public. Has the Minister received similar complaints from the other States, and if so, what action does he propose to take in regard to the suggested restraint of trade?
– The only complaint
I have received came from Victoria. It concerns barbed wire and nails, and is receiving the earnest consideration of the Government.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs say what action the Government is taking to prevent the dumping of tobacco leaf, and what power the Customs Department has to prevent dumping ? Further, will he say where he proposes to obtain his revenue if tobacco leaf is not to be allowed to enter this country ?
– It has frequently been stated that, if necessary, the Government will not hesitate to ration the imports of tobacco to an extent sufficient to ensure the consumption of the saleable portion of this year’s Australian tobacco crop. Any action in that direction would be by means of a proclamation. Obviously, there would be some loss of duty, inasmuch as the total impost on imported leaf is less than that on Australian leaf.
– Has the Minister seen the statement in this morning’s press that, owing to concessions granted by this country as from the 1st March, the German super tariff has been removed? Will he say what concessions have been granted, and how they have been made?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member has referred. I take it that he refers to the recent tariff changes, o
– Is it a fact that disabled soldiers from the country who wish to interview officers of the Repatriation Department on Saturday mornings are unable to do so because of the operation in the department of the five-day week? If so, is it the Government’s intention to allow the practice to continue?
– The five-day week has been in operation in the Repatriation Department for some time, in accordance with regulations which were gazetted by the late Government. The present Government is making inquiries and considering carefully what arrangement would enable the work of the several departments of the Public Service to be carried out most economically and efficiently, combined with the maximum of service to the public which finds the money to enable them to carry on.
– Is the Assistant Treasurer aware that there are, in Australia, many ex-Imperial soldiers who are receiving invalid pensions on account of incapacity due to war injuries but who, because of a provision in the Imperial Act, providing that a claim for a war pension will not be recognized unless it is lodged within seven years of the date of discharge, are not in receipt of war pensions? Will the right honorable gentleman, when he reaches London, make representation to the Imperial Government regarding the burden which Australia has to carry because of the provisions of the Imperial Act ?
– It would be improper for the Commonwealth Government 1o make representations to the British Government as to the administration of its Pensions Act with regard to ex-soldiers. This Government would certainly resent similar representations being made to it by the Imperial Government. The matter is purely a domestic one, and I cannot give the honorable member the undertaking that he seeks. If imperial exsoldiers admitted to citizenship of the Commonwealth become a burden on this Government, their case must be dealt with under the general rules that govern application for an invalid or other pension.
– Apropros of an advertisement that has appeared in the Government Gazette calling for applications for the position of Commonwealth liaison officer in London, what comment has the Prime Minister to make on the following statement which appeared in Melbourne Age on Friday last: -
Members of the Public Service Association hold that these conditions have been so arranged that Mr. K. Officer, who was appointed to his present position of temporary clerk in the External Affairs Department, by the Bruce-Page Government, could be the only successful applicant.
Will the honorable gentleman have inquiries made to see whether the conditions attaching to this appointment have been so framed that it will be impossible for anybody other than Mr. Keith Officer to be gazetted as the successful appointee ?
– I was not aware of the statement to which the honorable gentleman has directed my attention, though I am confident that there has been no arrangement which would restrict the field of applicants for this position. If such an arrangement exists, it has been made without the consent of the Government. I shall have the matter investigated.
asked the Acting Minister for External Affairs, upon notice-
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
(a)F. K. Officer.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained, and will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
In what manner are available funds obtained by the Loan Council allocated as between the Commonwealth and the States, and under what section of the Financial Agreement is such allocation governed and determined ?
– Moneys borrowed by the Loan Council are allocated between the Commonwealth and the States in accordance with decisions of the Loan Council made under clauses 3, 5 and 6 of Part I. of the Financial Agreement.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What was (a) the net balances (all funds) of the Commonwealth and each State Government as at 30th June, 1929, and (b) the balances of the loan fund account of the Commonwealth and each State Government as at the same date.
– The information is being obtained, and will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Rural Credits Branch
– On the 9th March, the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) asked the following question, without notice: -
Is the Treasurer aware that, since the Commonwealth Bank obtained control of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales, many persons who had obtained advances for house-building from the rural credits branch, and had paid their instalments regularly for five years, have been threatened with eviction because, owing to unemployment, they cannot maintain their payments? I have been informed that some of the houses thus compulsorily vacated have fallen into disrepair, and the security of the bank is diminishing considerably. Will the Treasurer inquire whether the purchasers who arc temporarily embarrassed can be allowed to continue in occupation of their homes until their circumstances improve?
The following information has been supplied by the Commonwealth Bank: -
The Commonwealth Bank did not take over the Advances for Homes Department of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales, and has no connexion with, or responsibility for, the matters referred to, which are still under the control; of the commissioners of the New South Wales institution.
Provision of Credit
– On the 25th February, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
The following replies have been furnished by the Commonwealth Bank: - 1 and 2. £50,000,000 credit was not made available to the Government Savings Bank, but upon the absorption of that institution by the Commonwealth Savings Bank liabilities exceeding £59,000,000 were taken over by the Commonwealth Savings Bank in consideration of the transfer to it of assets extended at a similar amount.
Telephonic Communication with Mainland.
– On the 10th March, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Guy) asked a question without notice regarding the linking of Tasmania with the mainland by telephone’. At the time I promised to make inquiries, and now desire to inform the honorable member that, subject to parliamentary approval of the recommendation of the Public Works Committee, this work will be proceeded with as early as the financial position permits. The department realizes the importance of the service and is anxious that it should be established as early as practicable.
– On the 9th March, the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) asked me a question, without notice, as to the cost per gallon of manufacturing petrol from the shale oil obtained at Newnes. On looking into the request of the honorable member, I find that compliance therewith would involve a departure from the accepted practice of commercial interests of regarding costs of production as confidential. In the circumstances, and having regard particularly to the fact that certain negotiations are pending in relation to Newnes, I regret that it is not possible to comply with the request.
– On the 4th March, the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) asked the Assistant Treasurer a question, without notice, regarding certain land at Tighe’s Hill, Newcastle, on which coal - the property of the Commonwealth - had been stored. The matter is one which comes within the administrative activities of the Prime Minister’s Department. The position is that certain additional information regarding the matter is at present being sought by the department through the officer-in-charge, Federal and Naval Coal Stocks, Newcastle. As soon as this information is to hand, further consideration will be given to the representations which have been made, and it is hoped that early action to finalize the matter will be possible.
– On the 24th February, the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) asked the following questions, upon, notice: -
I am now in a position to furnish the following replies : -
– On the 25th February, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) asked me the following questions, upon notice : -
I am now in a position to furnish the following reply: -
Assent to the following bills reported : -
Financial Agreements (Commonwealth Liability) Bill.
Financial Agreements Enforcement Bill.
– by leave - In view of the discussion that has taken place on the subject of unemployment, 1 shall read to the House the text of a telegram which I despatched to the Premiers of the various States on Saturday last. It is as follows : -
My Government has been giving the most earnest consideration to the question of the re-absorption into employment of those who are unemployed in Australia to-day. This question transcends in importance all other matters that occupy the attention of governments at the present time. As a result of its deliberations, my Government is convinced that the problem can be grappled successfully only if it is approached from two distinct angles. The first of these necessitates the adoption of a policy that has as its objective the maintenance and expansion of both our primary and secondary industries, with a consequent increase in the avenues of employment for our people. The rapidity with which results will flow from such a policy depends upon steps being taken upon an international basis to rehabilitate the general financial and economic situation and bring about an advance in world commodity prices. The second concerns the possibility of immediate action to tide over the period which must inevitably elapse before results can be expected from the first line of approach. The slump, particularly in capital construction of all kinds, is so great that only a common effort can give the needed momentum to a recovery. In this effort governments will probably play an important part. Insofar as that part involves expenditure it is conditioned by the amount of money governments can provide for such a purpose. This question is closely bound up with the state of budgets in view of the fact that deficits are being financed by short-dated loans. There are obvious limitations to the short-term finance that can beneficially be provided, and the general financial situation gives little prospect of the raising of long-term loans.
It is recognized that reliable budget forecasts for the financial year 1932-33 cannot be made until June at the earliest. At the same time, m3’ Government feels that action towards the alleviation of employment is too urgent for so long a delay. It, therefore, suggests that a conference of Premiers and Treasurers be held in Melbourne on Tuesday, 12th April, to consider steps which may be taken to assist in the solution of the unemployment problem. As it is imperative that some information should be available to such a conference with regard to the budgetary position for 1932-33, my Government further suggests that tentative estimates should be prepared upon the basis of the expenditure for the present year, and the existing sources of revenue and the incidence of taxation. I would point out that such estimates are only for the purpose of obtaining an indication of the trend of public finance and arc not contemplated as a basis for the consideration of the requirements of governments for the year 1932-33. My Government has in contemplation that a further meeting of Premiers should be held at the beginning of June, when in the light of the more authoritative information that will then be available the budget estimates for the year 1932-33 could be considered. In preparing the tentative estimates it is not proposed, owing to the shortness of the time available, and the expense involved, to call a meeting of Under Treasurers. It will, however, of course be imperative that such a .meeting should take place before the holding of the June conference. In order to assist the Premiers Conference in April, my Government suggests that a special committee be appointed immediately to make a preliminary survey of the economic problem as a basis “for discussion at the conference. This committee, in addition to making suggestions and recommendations in relation to the ultimate objective of the complete reabsorption into employment of our people, would also deal with the question of how best governments can assist immediately in alleviating the present situation. With regard to the latter point they should be asked to advise generally whether a useful initial impetus towards a general revival would be given by any form of government action, either directly or in co-operation with private enterprise. In this connection they would consider such questions as what are the latent financial resources, which might be utilized for the immediate provision of avenues of employment; whether it is preferable to use them by the means of short or long term borrowing; in what proportion such borrowing should be allocated to the meeting’ of budgetary deficits and to the creation of avenues of employment.
It is thought that the most effective work would be done by a small committee; that the most suitable personnel would be two business men and the four economists who were signatories to the report which was presented to the Premiers Conference last year. In view of the limited time available, it is not practicable to delay the appointment of the committee pending consultation with all governments as to its personnel. My Government, therefore, proposes that the committee be immediately constituted, and that the personnel be Messrs. C. H. Reading, of Sydney; G. S. Coleman, of Melbourne, and Professors Copland, Giblin, Melville, and Shann. Owing to Professor Copland’s absence from Australia at the moment, he will be unable to act immediately, but it is hoped that his assistance will be available in the later stages of the committee’s deliberations.
I trust that you will be prepared to concur in these proposals, and I should greatly appreciate a reply by telegram at your earliest convenience. I shall also be glad if you will be good enough to arrange for information to be supplied to the committee relevant to the subjects that are to be considered. The headings under which information is required will be sent immediately and it is hoped that as much of this as is possible will be supplied at the earliest practicable date.
APPRECIATION of Activities.
– by leave - A few days ago, I received’ from Sir John Higgins and the other members of the Central Wool Committee, the final report of that body, and I think it appropriate that I, as Prime Minister, should publicly acknowledge on behalf of the Government and the people of the Commonwealth, the debt of gratitude that we owe to the chairman and members of the Central Wool Committee, the chairman and members of each of the State Wool Committees, and to all of those technical advisers, honorary insurance advisers, and officials who have contributed, each in his respective sphere, towards the successful completion of what can only be described as a gigantic task.
The Commonwealth of Australia Central Wool Committee was appointed in 1916 to control, under the direction of the Prime Minister, the administration of the War Precautions Wool and Sheepskins Regulations.
It was necessary,, during those dark days of war, that the nation’s principal source of wealth should be adequately protected, and that the sale of our chief primary product should be effected under the best possible conditions obtainable for Australia. The Central Wool Committee has done both of those things. I think that we must all agree that the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who was the leader of the Government of the Commonwealth during that important period of our history, displayed true wisdom in his choice of Sir John Higgins to guide the destinies of the central wool organization.
The .outstanding position which Sir John Higgins had won for himself in the commercial life of Australia afforded every justification for optimism as to the outcome of the committee’s work. I go further, and say that his chairmanship of the committee was from the outset a guarantee that the huge task entrusted to the committee would be discharged with the conspicuous ability that had distinguished Sir John’s previous career.
It must not be forgotten that the whole of the work of the Central Wool Committee, as well as that of the State Wool Committees, from the time of their initiation in November, 1916, has been performed by the members in an honorary capacity. I feel, therefore, that, while our gratitude to Sir John Higgins is great indeed, we should acknowledge also our obligation to those patriotic Australians who, without financial recompense, devoted so much time and energy to the important work assigned to them.
From beginning to end the enormous wool and sheepskins transactions of the Central Wool Committee, which amounted to no less a sum than £242,689,899, were conducted without cost to the funds of the Commonwealth, the whole of the expenditure being borne by the interests concerned.
I do not propose to make any detailed explanation of the scheme under which our wool was sold through the committee, as we are now chiefly concerned with the result of the committee’s work.
The following epitome of the monetary transactions relating to the acquisition of Australian wool and sheepskins by the British Government through the committee, reveals the magnitude of the operations: -
The committee has generously acknowledged and drawn special attention to the services rendered to it by the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor’s Office, particularly by the Crown Solicitor, Mr. W. H. Sharwood, personally, and by the Commonwealth Auditor-General’s Office, through its officer, Mr. H. C. Hine.
A.I.C.A., B.Com., Commonwealth Audit Inspector. It has also recorded its appreciation of the services of its successive secretaries, chief accountant, assistant accountant, and staff generally, and of the unfailing assistance rendered by their hankers, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in London and Melbourne.
The Commonwealth Government is glad to know that the services of its officers have merited and received the approbation of the committee. These officers effectively seconded the members of the central committee and the members of the various State committees, and contributed in no small measure to the success of the- committee in carrying out what has been described as the largest wool transaction in the history of the world, as well as the biggest commercial transaction conducted during the war period through the agency of the Commonwealth Government.
– I move -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until 11 a.m to-morrow.
The object is to complete the programme of the Government by Thursday, and incidentally to avoid the necessity for allnight or very late sittings.
– What programme is contemplated ?
– The first business will be the resumption of the debate on the motion for the second reading of the War Service Homes Bill, to be followed by the debate on the motion for the second reading of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Bill. Then, there will be the resolutions under the Financial Agreements Enforcement Act.
– When will they be brought forward?
– To-morrow. I have promised honorable members the opportunity for a further discussion of the question of unemployment. I suggest that the whole of the Government business be disposed of to-morrow, and that Thursday be devoted to that debate. A conference of the different State Governments on the subject is to be held, and the opportunity will be afforded to this
House to make suggestions for its consideration.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act - Regu lations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 155.
Customs Act - Regulations (Cinematograph Films) - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 24.
New Guinea Act - Ordinance of1932 - No. 3 -Public Health.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance of 1932-No. 5 - Dentists Registration.
Debate resumed from the 10th March (vide page 953) on motion by Mr.
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I offer no objection to this bill, because I feel that the proposed amendments are desirable and necessary for the proper administration of the act, and to carry out the intentions of Parliament when that legislation was enacted. The act has not been administered detrimentally to purchasers or borrowers under it. The object of the bill is to validate regulation 17, which has been in operation since 1921. That regulation makes provision for the recovery of instalments of purchase money due to the War Service Homes Commissioner where the contract for sale has been cancelled under section 36 of the act. The bill places beyond all doubt the position of the Commissioner regarding the powers which he has exercised since the commencement of the act. A judgment of the Supreme Court of Victoria in December last revealed that certain doubts existed in respect of the power exercised by the Commissioner. The object of this measure is to remove that and other anomalies. The administration of the War Service Homes Act has been most sympathetic, and I take this opportunity to express my appreciation of the sympathetic manner in which all matters brought by me under the notice of the department have been treated by the Commissioner and his officers in New–
South Wales. The purchasers of war service homes have been fortunate in being able, by making a nominal deposit, to purchase homes under the act, and they have no cause for complaint in respect of any matters that they have placed before the Commissioner for his consideration. Recently, however, the financial stringency has forced many occupants to vacate their homes. Others, although endeavouring to meet their obligations, are looking to the Government for some relief. The statement of the Minister last week that a special committee of inquiry is to be appointed, was most timely, and I congratulate the Government on its action. I am confident that the committee, as a result of its inquiries, will submit a useful and valuable report which, when presented to this House, will give honorable members an opportunity to review all matters affecting the administration of Avar service homes. I am particularly pleased that the Government is not going outside the Commonwealth Public Service in appointing the personnel of this committee. We are extremely fortunate indeed that Major Treloar, who at present is direc-tor of the Australian War Memorial, has been appointed. He is a young public servant who has had a distinguished career. Knowing his qualifications, I believe that he and those associated with him on the committee - Mr. W. C. Thomas, sub-accountant of the Commonwealth Treasury, Mr. G. C. Allen, investigating officer of the Taxation Department; and Mr. Smale, the secretary of the committee - will submit to the Government -recommendations, which if given effect, will ensure fair and just treatment to the purchasers of war service homes. I welcome this innovation, because the appointment of the committee within the Public Service obviates the necessity for setting up some outside body at unnecessary expense. The purchasers of war service homes are, in respect of falling land values, in a predicament similar to that of purchasers of homes under various State housing schemes, and they are, therefore, looking to the Government for sympathetic treatment when the report of the sub-committee is made available. The existing unfortunate economic conditions have forced many of the occupants of war service homes to vacate them. The Commonwealth has provided out of its funds approximately 37,000 homes. That undoubtedly is a fine achievement. It shows that the Commonwealth has assisted returned soldiers to secure their own homes. Unfortunately, of that 37,000 homes, some 600 have been vacated, and have reverted to the commission.
– The number is now 884.
– That information is later than that contained in the last report of the commission. It shows the vital necessity for reviewing at the earliest opportunity the administration of war service homes. Of these 600 houses that had reverted to the commission about 300 were occupied by other tenants. That, of course, had minimized to some extent the loss incurred by the vacation of war Service homes.
The bill contains a number of amendments to the act. One amendment is designed to allow the commissioner to let unoccupied houses. That practice has been carried on in the past although there has been some doubt as to its legality. The measure enables the commissioner to serve notices where the purchaser or borrower is deceased. In addition, it gives definitely to the commissioner certain other powers about which some doubt has previously existed. Since July, 1930, the Commonwealth Government has. not, so far as I can gather, made available any loans under the War Service Homes Act. Although there is justification for that action, it is regrettable that the Commonwealth has seen fit to discontinue such a laudable scheme, and is thus contributing to the depression in the building trade. I understand that the Scullin Government, in coming to its decision, was influenced by the increasing number of vacant homes, but despite that, I submit that for war service homes loans should be available to re-, turned men who are in a position which would justify the commissioner in making an advance. The building operations of the war service homes branch should be resumed at the earliest moment. Generally speaking, the returned men and war widows who have purchased homes under the act have played the game by meeting their obligations, and therefore their claims for relief should be given the fullest consideration by this Government. It is gratifying to note that when conditions in this country were normal only one per cent. of the instalments due were in arrears. To-day three per cent. of the instalments are in arrears. The manner in which the purchasers of war service homes have in the past met their obligations is satisfactory and commendable, and that fact shouldbe an incentive to this House, and to the Government particularly, to give them sympathetic consideration in this time of stress.
– Three per cent. is not inordinate.
Mr.RILEY. - It is not, but I dare say the percentage will increase. I am anxious that every consideration should be given to the occupants of war service homes, and I am sure that this bill will not operate to make their condition more irksome. While we all desire that sympathetic treatment should be accorded war service homes occupants, it is also necessary that the interests of the Commonwealth should be protected. It is for that purpose that this amending bill has been brought down. I am sure that the committee which has been set up will do what is fair both to the occupants of the homes and to the Commonwealth.
I suggest that the Government, as a means of relieving unemployment, might consider extending the building operations of the War Service Homes Department. Unemployment is perhaps more serious in the building trade than in any other at the present time, and if the activities of the War Service Homes Department could be renewed, it would provide employment for many bricklayers, carpenters, and other tradesmen. In 1928-29, £1,606,469 was voted for war service homes construction and purchase. In the following year the amount was reduced by nearly £500,000, and stood at £1,154,161, while for the year 1930-31 the sum expended was only £157,613. I know of many ex-service men who wish to acquire homes, but owing to the policy embarked upon eighteen months ago, their claims are not receiving consideration. I hope that the Government, when considering the Estimates for next year, will recommend for war service homes construction an amount at least equal to that expended in 1929-30. I am sure that the independent committee which has been appointed to inquire into war service homes will furnish the Government with a valuable report. This bill is not intended to be comprehensive, and the matter will no doubt be brought before the House again when the committee’s report is presented.
.- Speaking as a returned soldier, I should like to express my appreciation of the speech of the honorable member who has just resumed his seat. He described the bill as being sympathetic as far as possible to the occupants of war service homes; I hope it will be. The Minister, when introducing the bill, described it as largely a machinery measure. The present is no time to do anything which will bear at all harshly on the occupants of war service homes. This bill deals with, among other matters, the taking possession of homes, and the effecting of repairs. I happen to know something of the construction of many war service homes, and while the commission should be given credit for exercising close supervision, there is no doubt that, during the early stages of war service homes construction, many homes were badly built. One series of homes of which I know were found, a few days after completion, to have been so badly built that it was necessary to ask for an inquiry.
– Were they built by contract?
– Yes. I inspected some of the houses, and found that the bricks were of such poor quality that they could be rubbed away with the finger. I ascertained that for myself. In some cases, the window sashes were as much as 1¼ inches out of plumb. It must be evident that the cost of maintenance and repairs for houses built in such a fashion must be unreasonably high. In another instance which came under my observation, the verandah was constructed by the contractor in such a way that rain water instead of running off it, ran back towards the door. This piece of work had been visited by the inspector, and had, apparently, been passed by him.
The honorable member for Cook (Mr. Riley) said that payments on war service homes were only 3 per cent. in arrears.
That is a particularly good record. It is possible that the percentage will increase, because returned soldiers, like every one else, are under great disabilities at the present time. Many of these men, when they entered into obligations regarding homes, were earning four or five pounds a week. They are now earning, perhaps, two pounds a week, or are out of employment altogether. Many expected that when their families grew up they would be able to contribute something towards the cost of the home, whereas they now find that the members of their families are unable to get employment, an’d have to be maintained. Clause 36 of the bill gives the commissioner power to take possession of homes, cancel contracts, and sue 1 for money if payments are three months overdue. This is not the time to pass a measure of that kind.
Last week, I asked a question in the House regarding sewerage for war service homes. If the War Service Homes Commissioner has constructed houses in areas which are sewered, it is not right to leave them -unconnected with the sewerage system. In one instance, the municipal council has agreed to do the work of sewering the houses, and allow the occupants to pay the cost over an extended period. The council merely asks that the War Service Homes Department shall guarantee the cost. The Minister, in reply to my question, said that no money was available to make such a grant. I remind him that no grant is necessary. From its experience, the department need not expect a greater percentage of default than two or three per cent, at the most. Not only would the occupants of war service homes obtain tha benefit of sewerage if this plan were followed, but the work provided would go some way towards relieving unemployment. I also direct the attention of the Assistant Minister to the serious losses which occur when houses which revert to the control of the commission are left untenanted. Unfortunately, a practice has grown up in New South Wales, and, I suppose in the other States, among certain persons, to enter unoccupied houses and remove whatever they can, either .for their own use or for conversion into cash.
– That does’ not apply only to war sendee homes.
– I did not say that it did. If these homes are to be protected, so that they may, if necessary, be sold at a reasonable price, it is bad policy on the part of the commission to allow them to become untenanted. It would pay to leave a tenant in possession, even if he is temporarily unable to meet his instalments, to keep the property in order, and prevent the wilful destruction which so often happens.
– Does the honorable member know of any unemployed men who were put out of war service homes within the last two years?
– My Government issued the instruction that no men who were out of work were to be compelled to vacate their houses.
– No occupant of a war service home has been ejected since this Government took office.
– I have received a communication in which the following paragraph appears: -
We wish to cite the case of James Dryden, of Cochrane-road, Thirroul, who was removed from his home in August last. This man when he entered into the contract for the purchase of his home six and a half years ago was earning £4 10s. per week; now his average earnings are £2 5s. a week, and he has four grown-up children, none of whom are working. The house has since remained vacant; it has produced no rent during the whole of the time, and, in addition, it has depreciated in value through wanton damage at least £50, besides the natural depreciation in vacant houses.
– Was he ejected?
– The letter says that he was removed from his home in August last.
– The question is, did he pay any rent?
– Will the honorable member supply me with particulars of the case he has cited, so that inquiries may be made?
– I shall do so. I do not suggest that the War Service Homes Commission, the previous Government, or this Government has been unsympathetic towards the occupants of war service homes; I am merely citing instances in which the regulations have operated harshly towards occupants. Under the present proposals, the conditions are, I submit, likely to be harder than they have been in the past. If this is merely a machinery hill, it would appear that some of its provisions are hardly necessary at the present juncture. We are told that this measure is merely to facilitate the working of the act and the regulations framed under it; but I contend that it will make the conditions of occupants a little more difficult than they have been in the past. What is proposed should, I contend, have been deferred until conditions generally are a little more prosperous.
.- Without giving the measure very close attention, it would appear that some of its provisions are innocuous. When I first heard that it was the intention of the Government to introduce an amending war service homes bill I assumed, without perhaps any ground for- the assumption, that it would afford relief to those occupying war service homes. An examination of the measure shows that it is a bill framed by a departmental official to validate regulation 17, which the Full Court of Victoria declared ultra vires. This measure is now submitted to validate that regulation, and to make it retrospective.
– It has been in operation for eleven or twelve years.
– The fact that it has been in force for that period does not prove its justice or validity. Other departments are administered under regulations. For instance, under one clause in the Navigation Act, pages and pages of regulations have been framed by departmental officers, and concerning them Parliament knows very little. On the first occasion on which the regulation in question was tested it was found to be ultra vires, and the Government now introduces this bill to close up a loophole in the act. I join with the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll) in what he has said in support of those occupying war service homes, and congratulate him upon the fact that his maiden speech in this chamber should have been upon so worthy a subject. I agree with the honorable member that this is not the time to make conditions more severe for returned soldiers, who are worthy of any preference that can be given to them. It is unfair and inequitable that an act which has been in operation all these years should be amended when a conference is to be held to inquire into the whole ‘ matter.
– The honorable member is quite wrong.
– I am not. I heard what the Assistant Minister said, and I intend to correct him on a few of the points on which he was wrong. He said just now that occupants of war service homes, even if out of work, are not ejected, and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) said that when his Government was in office a similar policy was adopted.
– I said that definite instructions were given to that effect. If such occupants were ejected, the Government’s instructions were disobeyed.
– In October last, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) moved the adjournment of the House to discuss the subject of war service homes, and his remarks on that occasion were supported by honorable members on both sides of the chamber including myself. It was not regarded as a party matter. During the discussion the then Assistant Minister (Mr. Cunningham) made a statement on the subject. I then received the following telegram from the State Executive in Victoria : -
Secretary Savings Bank Victoria which controls wor service homes Victoria states bank not bound by assurance Cunningham Hansard 7th October but no evictions unemployed tenants declares bank will evict at its discretion suggests you question Cunningham what action he proposes make assurance effective Victoria in absence action much qualify statement to House.
– Are the houses referred to in that telegram under the control of the War Service Homes Commission or the State Savings Bank ai Victoria 2
– In 1926, the Commonwealth Government entered into an agreement with the State Savings Bank of Victoria under which all the war service homes in that State were placed under the control of that institution. The Commonwealth insisted on the payment of principal and interest whether the bank had, or had not, received the money from the tenants. The State Savings Bank of Victoria has the right under the agreement to evict tenants, and it has evicted them ; but in doing so, its action has been tempered by finding houses for evicted tenants in other districts. We have heard nothing about that from the Assistant Minister. Under the agreement between the Commonwealth and the bank they can be evicted.
– Does that condition not exist in other States?
– I am referring now only to Victoria; but I understand that a somewhat similar arrangement has been made in South Australia. A subcommittee of Cabinet was appointed by the Scullin Government to deal with this matter and I congratulate the present Government upon setting up a committee. There should he a greater reduction in the interest payable by the occupants of war service homes. I submit that what is fair for the creditor is also fair for the debtor. The, people of Australia, who were creditors of the Commonwealth and had lent money to the Federal Government - with the exception of 3 per cent. - voluntarily agreed to reduce their interest rates by 22£ per cent. The remainder converted under compulsion. The Commonwealth’s debtors, the returned soldiers in this instance, are entitled to a similar reduction instead of the i per cent, reduction made by the late Government. Although no reduction has been made by this Government, the conference which is to be held shortly may make a recommendation in that regard.
– The interest rate is low.
– It is too high, considering the reductions made in other directions. I do not know any of the members of the proposed committee, with the exception of the chairman, whom I regard as a particularly suitable man. In Major Treloar, we have a returned soldier who will sift thoroughly all the matters that come before him.
– But -will the interest question be submitted to the committee? I was under the impression that it had already been decided.
– That point was not cleared up in the speech of the honorable Minister.
– It was the subject of a special statement. The interest question has been decided.
– If that is so, the hands of the committee have been tied. I ask the Minister to indicate in his reply the exact terms of reference to this committee. It appears to me that the committee has a string on it, the string being this bill. I was under the impression that the statement made by the Minister recently on the subject of interest di’d not finally determine the matter, but that it would be re-opened when this committee was making its investigation. It has been argued that it is impossible to reduce the interest rate because some of the money loaned to the soldiers to buy war service homes was borrowed overseas, but that is small satisfaction to the man who is in distress. What does he care whether the money was borrowed at home or abroad?
– Men who bought homes with money borrowed locally may apply for 224 per cent, reduction of interest.
– But not below 5 per cent.
– It is a mere quibble to say that the interest cannot be reduced because some of the money was borrowed overseas. We ought to face the facts.
I cannot understand why the Government should want us to pass this bill with such indecent haste, and before the investigation committee has met. In my opinion, consideration of the measure should be deferred until the report of that committee has been obtained. We are labouring under a grave disability in considering the bill at present, for our information is restricted to that obtainable from the Minister, the department, or our own personal contact with returned soldiers. If we could wait until the report of the committee is available, we should be much better equipped to deal with the bill.
– Will the committee inquire into the high price paid for land for war service homes purposes?
– I do not know; but I certainly think it should do so. Profiteering was indulged in, and high prices charged to the Government for land for soldier settlement purposes, and because of this many returned men have hardly been able to scratch a living from their holdings. A few have succeeded in doing so, but very many others have failed through no fault of their own. Unduly high prices were also paid for land bought for war service homes purposes. Honorable members should contrast what this Government is proposing to do for the occupants of war service homes with what the Victorian Government has done for soldier settlers. Victoria spent £24,140,000 in placing 11,400 settlers on the land. The concessions granted to these men have amounted to £4,203,000, the land values have been reduced by £250,000, and an amount of £1,370,124 has been written off in respect of excess cost of buildings. But very little has been done to help the occupants of war service homes. There was a slight reduction in charges in 1923. The Auditor-General has pointed out that the spending of money on war service homes by the Commonwealth Government has been an excellent investment. He has shown clearly that the men have acquitted themselves as might be expected of them, yet the Government has brought down a bill designed to make things still harder for them. In his annual report for the year ended the 30th June, 1931, the Auditor-General says, in connexion with war service homes -
It is of interest to note that this is .the first year in which a reduction in the liability to the Treasury has been effected. Such reduction indicating that repayments of principle and interests are in excess of expenditure plus interest on capital. In fact, capital expenditure has been reduced to a minimum,. and is now practically confined to repairs and maintenance of homes abandoned by purchasers.
He also pointed out that -
The percentage of arrears to instalments due has increased from 2.19, compared with 1.12 in 1929-30.
The greatest increase occurred in New South Wales, where unemployment is most acute. No doubt, the percentage of arrears has increased since that time; but it is quite evident that the men have done their best to meet their obligations in spite of scandals associated with the building of war service homes such as those to which the honorable member foi’ Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll) referred. Land scandals and timber scandals were occurring about the time some of us returned from active service. Many jerry-built houses came into the hands of the returned men who had been thrifty enough to invest their gratuity and savings in a home of their own. In spite of all this, the occupants of these homes have not unduly protested. It is, therefore, regrettable that a bill of this description should have been introduced before the investigation committee has had an opportunity to present a report to the Government on the subject.
The most important amendment to the principal Act, the Minister informed us, was designed to validate regulation 17, and so make it legal for the commission to sue for arrears. We were told that about £10,000 had been collected under regulation 17, but that £28,000 was still outstanding, and that the Government was afraid that application might be made for the refund of money already paid. But surely it cannot be argued that there is any urgency in the matter. Only one case has succeeded, and every individual occupant will have to take his case to the court for determination.
The next amendment, in point df importance, has relation to repairs. According to the Minister, the commission should be empowered to maintain houses, and the amendment will give it legal authority to do so. Another amendment is designed to permit the commission to let houses that become empty. At present, if a house becomes empty, it may be sold to anybody, whether he is a returned man or not.
– May a returned man let his house if he desires to do so ?
– I think he may do so with the consent of the commission: Some of the men who put their money into war service homes on their return from the war, are in a most unhappy position. A man may have bought a house in 1920 for £800, and its value today may be only £500. Many war service homes are in distant suburbs. I have very few of them in my constituency, but I know that there are many in the division of Henty. The men bought homes in distant suburbs, because of the favorable terms that were available at that time; but to-day they are feeling the detrimental effects of living at a distance from the city. They have to pay higher rail fares,. and, in other ways, are handicapped. The result has been that many men have abandoned their war service homes, and have rented houses nearer the city at a considerably cheaper rate than they were paying previously.
A perpetuation of the present state of affairs will mean the penalizing of our best returned men. The man who squandered his substance has now no binding property obligations. We know very well that many of the men who bought war service homes are government employees, who have had their salaries or wages reduced to such a point that they are now finding it very difficult to make ends meet. I shall be told that men who are in difficulties are not being forced to pay their rent ; but the amount they are in arrears is being placed to their debit, and they will be required to continue their payments for a greater number of years than was stipulated in their contract in order that they may repay their full indebtedness. Of the 2,000 men who were retrenched in the Postmaster-General’s Department last year, 1,500 were returned soldiers, who have very little chance of getting back to their old standard of home comfort. In these circumstances, we should not hastily pass this bill, even though it would validate something that is allegedly wrong.
If a man is forced to vacate his home, he gets no credit whatever for the improvements that he may have made during his occupancy. If the original cost of a house was £800, and if the amount owing on it was £500, because of the depreciation of values, the occupant would be lucky if he got £400 or £500 for the property, so that the whole of his equity in it would be lost. If through Unemployment a returned soldier is forced to vacate a home, the commission may decide that certain repairs are necessary, and debit him with the cost. One could say a great deal more about this subject, if time permitted. I know that the Government is anxious to pass the bill, but I urge the Minister to defer it until after the forthcoming conference. If this course is not adopted I shall be forced to conclude that the Government desires to pass the bill in order to tie the hands of the conference.
– The act has been in. operation for eleven or twelve years now, so a short delay would not mean much. It would be better if the Government got on with the business of providing means to relieve unemployment.
– Very many of these returned soldiers are unemployed, and if further charges are levied upon them in respect of repairs to homes which, through force of circumstances, they have been compelled to vacate, the Government, which, I know, sincerely desires to improve their lot, will at all events be misunderstood by them.
.- I am entirely opposed to the bill, and I cannot understand why the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Riley) should have given it his blessing. So far from affording relief to returned soldiers it will further harass them.
– That is not so.
– If the honorable member will study the bill he will discover that the Commissioner, and not occupants of. war service homes, will benefit from the passage of this measure.
– No alteration has been made in the obligations of returned soldiers.
– I do not agree with the Minister. The bill provides in clause 3 that the Commissioner may enter any home and may effect all repairs which he deems necessary, and the expenses thereby incurred, together with interest at the same annual rate as that which is payable on the purchase money or advance, as the case may be, shall be paid to the commissioner by the purchaser or borrower on demand or by such instalments and at such times as are prescribed, or the commissioner determines, and until repayment shall be a charge under the contract of sale or mortgage or other security upon the property . . .
No one can mistake the meaning of that language. In the event of an occupant of a war service home being unemployed, and falling into arrears with his payments, the commissioner may determine that certain renovations and repairs are necessary.
– That provision refers only to homes that have been vacated by returned soldiers.
– Nevertheless, it gives the commissioner power to enter a war service home at any time, and decide that certain repairs or renovations should be carried out. I also object to proposed new section 2, which provides that this amendment of the Principal Act shall he retrospective to 1918.
– The honorable member is quite wrong.
– For the Minister’s benefit I quote the proposed new section. It reads -
The amendment of the principal act made by sub-section I of this section shall be deemed to have commenced on the date of the commencement of the War Service Homes Act 1918, and any action or proceeding taken or instituted, prior to the commencement of this sub-section, under the provisions of any regulation made or purporting to have been made under the War Service Homes Act 1918, or under that act as amended by any subsequent act, for the recovery of any money which became due under a contract of sale at any time prior to the date of cancellation of the contract, shall be as valid and effectual as if section thirty-six of the principal act, as amended by sub-section 1 of this section, had been in force at the date of such action or proceeding, and the action or proceeding had been commenced under that section as so amended.
As a layman, that is the only meaning which I can read into the provision. The bill also seeks to repeal section 43 of the principal act, and to insert in its stead provisions authorizing the Commissioner to serve notices upon the estate of the deceased occupant or purchaser for the recovery of any money due. Will the honorable member for Cook say that this provision will benefit the unfortunate dependants of deceased soldiers ?
– That is the ordinary procedure.
– The benefits conferred upon returned soldiers and their dependants for sacrifices made during the war are insignificant compared to those given to another section of the community - not the bondholders alone, but shipping companies which suffered losses through enemy action. In some cases, so if is alleged, ships were deliberately destroyed by their owners in order to obtain compensation from the governments of the various nations engaged in the war. I agree with the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) that the passage of the bill should be deferred until after the approaching conference has been held. I have been instructed by four or five returned soldiers’ leagues in my division to oppose it.
– Returned soldiers’ leagues throughout Australia, with the exception of Victoria, have raised no objection to it.
– I do not like contradicting the Minister, but let me read a letter dated the 8th March addressed to me by Mr. G. H. Shaw, secretary of the Newcastle branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia.
– Was that not before the bill was circulated?
– The bill was circulated long before the Sth March. The letter says -
I thank you very much for your courtesy in forwarding a copy of the proposed amendments to the War Service Homes Act. These were placed before my committee at the meeting held on the 7th March, and were severely criticized; and during the discussion that* ensued it was pointed out that several of the amendments proposed were all to the. advantage of the commission, and that no benefit would be derived by the occupiers.
I have also letters from the Kurri Kurri, Wallsend, Cessnock, Weston and Abermain branches. They are couched in stronger terms, and tell me to fight like hell against the bill. I am sorry to have to correct the Minister, but he is absolutely wrong in saying that the whole of the leagues of Australia are in favour of these amendments.
Many hardships have been suffered by purchasers of these homes. Many soldiers were ejected from their homes during the regime of the Bruce-Page Government. When the then Minister for Markets (Mr. Paterson) was administering war service homes, I appealed to him to extend some humane consideration to the occupants of these homes. In Maitland, a soldier with three children was evicted. Many evictions have taken place in Kurri Kurri and other places. I have the names, and the departmental records can show the letters of protest I forwarded in respect of many who, subjected to harassing tactics and the continual threat of court proceedings, preferred to leave their homes rather than face a court with the certainty of being evicted. It was unemployment which prevented them from meeting their obligations to the department. In this connexion, I pay a tribute to the late Government. It did very little good, but what little it did do I am not anxious to overlook. When Mr. Parker Moloney was administering war service homes, he extended every sympathy to the occupiers of these homes, and even reinstated many who had been evicted by the Bruce-Page Government.
This bill is unnecessary. The act under which the homes have been administered for years past is harsh enough. Do not let us make it harsher. Let us even extend to the occupiers the consideration that many owners extend to their tenants. A home in Mayfield was resumed by the commission because the instalments had not been met, and the occupant, who happened to be the tenant of the purchaser, was evicted. The property was first purchased when the employment of the purchaser necessitated his living at Mayfield. He was subsequently transferred to Newcastle, and it was more convenient for him to live at Carrington. He therefore let his home at Mayfield, but the tenant subsequently became unemployed and accumulated arrears of rent. The owner would not evict the tenant. He preferred not to follow the inhuman policy of the commission as applied to occupiers who fail to pay their instalments, and, as a result, lost his house.
– When did this occur?
– About two years ago. I can furnish the particulars to the Minister at the conclusion of the debate.
Hardship has been inflicted in cases where the department has come to the decision that homes must be renovated, although the occupiers may not think that repairs are necessary. The Mayor of Cessnock has written to me saying that he has paid approximately £300 towards the purchase of his home, and still owes the original amount he contracted to pay. If the improvements for which these amendments make provision are to be effected, men may be thrown further into debt.
– That is not possible if a man is paying his weekly instalments. These are fixed on an actuarial basis, and in due course a man pays off both prin cipal and interest. No amount owing to the department could remain dormant if the occupier is paying his instalments.
– I do not wish the Minister to gather the impression that the. people to whom I am referring have fallen into arrears because they will not pay the instalments due. In each case unemployment has been responsible for the non-payment of instalments.
– I have appointed a committee to inquire into cases of the kind mentioned by the honorable member. They are not covered by this bill.
– I consider that the bill confers no benefit on the soldier occupant. Many requests have been made for a reduction in the purchase price of property in accordance with the Premiers plan, but there has not yet been a re-valuation of war service homes. The Valuer-General of New South Wales has reported that the value of property has fallen in New South Wales, and I dare say it has fallen in the other States too, yet there has been no reduction in the price of war service homes, nor is any such reduction proposed by this bill. The Government does not even propose to reduce rents in accordance with the Premiers plan.
– There has been no reduction by the Workers Homes Board in New South Wales.
– In New South Wales rents have been reduced by 22½ per cent. Some war service homes were built without proper outlets for waste water, and the purchasers are now being compelled by the local governing bodies to effect the necessary connexions with the sewerage system. I submitted to the commissioner one such case from Edward-street, Kurri Kurri; the shire council said that it could not be held responsible for an omission on the part of the commission when the home was built. The Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia has asked that when an occupier, through circumstances over which he has no control, is forced to surrender his property, he shall get the benefit of the full value of it, including the improvements. I had to deal with one case in Abermain where a home was sold at a price higher than the original purchase price, and the evicted occupant was not given the advantage of the added value.
– If the honorable member will let me have the name of that man I shall inquire into the case.
– The man was Mr. Endean, but the commission has all particulars of the case. The Returned Soldiers Congress resolved -
This congress requests that no evictions be made from war service homes where the arrears are caused by unemployment or other circumstances over which the occupant has no control.
That is a reasonable request, but I am afraid that the humane policy of the Scullin Ministry will be discontinued, and the commission will revert to the harsher treatment that characterized the administration of war service homes during the Bruce-Page regime. At that time many unfortunate men whose payments fell into arrears through unemployment were evicted from their homes. When an occupier through unemployment is forced to suspend his payments for a period the commission could be adequately protected by extending the period of purchase accordingly.
– That is fair.
– I propose to move an amendment to that effect in committee. The bill generally does not commend itself to the occupants of war service homes, particularly that provision which seeks to validate an invalid law and thus deprive the soldiers of their legal rights. Although one successful litigant named Davies successfully appealed to the Full Court in Melbourne, and is not to be robbed of the fruits of his victory, this amendment is being made retrospective in order to prevent other occupants from getting the benefit of the defect in the law.
– The case was won on a technical point. In the lower court arid the Supreme Court judgment was given for the Crown, but on final appeal to the Full Court judgment was given in favour of the occupant.
– Apart from the point dealt with by that judgment, this bill does propose to’ impose on the occupants of war service homes a retrospective liability. These men have made greater sacrifices than any other section of the community, and are entitled to special con sideration; for that reason the interest rate should be further reduced from 4£ per cent, to 2£ per cent. Owing to the general trade depression which has robbed men of their employment, a house for which the occupant contracted to pay £500 may ultimately cost him £1,100, through the accumulation of interest and penalties. Some of the purchasers are so far in arrears through no fault of their own that they have no prospect of ever becoming the owners of their homes. Another objectionable provision in the bill is that which enables the commission to sue the estate of a deceased soldier for the recovery of arrears. In committee I shall move several amendments, which I trust will be sympathetically considered by the Minister in charge of the bill.
.- It is futile to talk of the soldiers as having been harassed or being likely to receive anything but considerate treatment. The Scullin Government laid down and honestly administered the principle that where default was due to unemployment or any other cause over which the soldier had no control, the contract of purchase would not be enforced by ejectment or other drastic measures. The present Government is following that policy to the satisfaction of representative soldier organizations. The bill has two main objects. The first is to give to the Commissioner the right to recover amounts in respect of which the soldier purchaser has defaulted. An ordinary contract of sale contains a clause setting out the remedies available to the vendor if the purchaser should default. The War Service Homes Act purported to provide similar remedies, but the enumeration of them was defective. The act provides for the annulment of the contract, and for the commission to repossess itself of the house ; but it fails to provide the ordinary right to recover arrears from the purchaser. If the act had not attempted to enumerate the remedies available to the vendor, the right of’ recovery would have existed as a matter of ordinary law. An attempt was made to cure the omission by regulation, and for many years both the commission and the soldier occupants were of opinion that the ordinary conditions of a contract of sale applied to war service homes. Recently, however, one Davies took advantage of the defect in the act, and although there was no merit in his claim, the superior court gave judgment in his favour on a technical flaw. It is not desirable that the department should be required to refund many thousands of pounds that it has collected in accordance with what was believed by both vendor and purchaser to be the law. I doubt whether many soldiers would care to take advantage of the defect on which Davies succeeded; and it is questionable whether the administration of the act strictly in accordance with its language rather than its spirit would be in the interests of the soldiers. The act has been administered in a spirit of sympathy with, and consideration for the soldiers, and if an attempt were made to have their agreements carried out strictly in accordance with the law, it would be much to the disadvantage of the soldiers. Such legislation as this should be administered in a spirit of fairness, equity and good conscience; it is hot desirable to take advantage of technical defects which may have been discovered in the operation of the law.
A similar comment is applicable to the second defect which the bill seeks to remedy. In nearly all cases, the clause enabling the Commissioner to recover the sum expended on repairs is quite unnecessary. Up to the 30th June last, the occupants paid their contributions regularly, and I do not think that any other section of the community can be said to have done so well in that respect.
– They honoured all their contracts.
– At least 98 per cent of them did so, and these . are the men to whom the repairs clause has no application. The reputable occupant, who pays his way, will keep his house in order, and repairs will be unnecessary. The unfortunate but respectable soldier who may have to leave his home will not abandon it without giving notice, and before leaving the premises he will see that they are in a fair state of repair. That is all that is required under the conditions of contract. Of course, there are a few exsoldiers who will allow their homes to go to rack and ruin, but such delinquents are to be found among all sections. In those case1, the commission should have the right to effect repairs. If a property is tobe sold, it is necessary, in the interests of the soldiers, that repairs should be made before it is offered at auction. In assessing the sum to be allowed for the equity in a house it is fair to debit the soldier with the amount spent on’ repairs. Repairs mean renovations, and can be distinguished from improvements, which involve the addition of something that is new. The only risk is that a departmental officer might think it clever to include in the cost of repairs a work which amounted to an improvement, and that would operate unfairly against the ex-soldier. But the department can be trusted, I think, to act fairly towards the occupants in the future, as it has in the past. The only other complaint made is that this legislation is to be retrospective. Ordinarily that is a sound objection ; but, as I have pointed out, it is not desirable that the department should be obliged to refund moneys which have been paid to it. I do not consider that the retrospective operation of this measure is likely to prove unfair, because for years the department has believed that it had the power now sought, and giving it this power is not likely to make it search for new cases.
The suggestion has been made that the interest rate should be reduced to 2£ per cent., but that is quite impracticable. The money advanced for these homes costs the Government 4-£ per cent. Whatever the reduction may be, the loss has to be made up by the general community. Some day it may be desirable to consider the necessity for re-valuing these properties, but this is not a suitable time to raise that question, because values are now abnormally low. If it should prove, after a few years’ further experience, that these properties have permanently dropped below the value they had when they were sold, there might then be good reason for assessing the losses of the occupants due to the general depreciation of property through general economic conditions.
– Why not wait until the returned soldiers’ committee has made a recommendation on the matter?
– I would do that, if I thought the committee could suggest measures that would result in real improvement.
– That committee is authorized to suggest means by which the owners of war service homes can be kept in occupation of their premises, and no good object could be served by delaying this bill, which validates past acts.
– Whatever government may be in power, it must deal with the occupants of these homes sympathetically and fairly, and, therefore, I see no objection to bringing the conditions of contract into line with what was necessary in the first instance.
– There are seven or eight hundred returned soldiers in my electorate who are much disappointed to find that this bill makes no provision for relieving them of their difficulties, and they are anxious to have their whole position reviewed. They are glad that the Minister has agreed to have an inquiry made, and
H report presented regarding their efforts to complete the payments due with respectto their homes; but are disappointed that # purchaser of a war service home is not to be included on the committee. It seems to me that in the discussion this afternoon we have been dealing only with a position that should obtain in normal times. There seems to ;be good ground for the suggestion of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) that the consideration of this bill might well be postponed until the Government is furnished with the report of the special committee appointed to investigate the position of the occupants of war service homes.
– This measure validates past acts of administration, whereas the special committee is inquiring into a problem of the future.
– I am aware of -that; but I can show, I think, that the present and future positions of the occupants should be considered conjointly. I do not suggest that any government has failed to show every possible sympathy for the returned soldiers who are struggling to purchase their homes. I believe that the Minister has in mind a method of preventing the ejection of those who cannot meet their payments; but we should consider this measure in the light of the present circumstances of the purchasers. They bought their homes when values were high. On several occasions I have sat in conference with returned soldiers, and I find that the average purchaser entered into his commitments years ago, when he had every reason to believe that he could keep up his payments. He set out with the ambition to buy his home as quickly as- possible ; but every reasonable person must admit that it is impossible under present conditions for a large percentage of the occupants to carry out their original contracts. This bill strengthens the position of the commission in dealing with homes that have been deserted by the purchasers.
– No, this measure helps those men. Power is sought to obtain the maximum profit for the ex-soldier on the sale of his house.
– All will agree that these homes should be kept in proper repair, and nobody suggests that a returned soldier would desire to live in unhealthy premises. Naturally, from time to time these homes require renovation ; but the occupants have got into arrears because their incomes have been reduced by at least one-third.
A large percentage of the men have been forced to join an organization for the purpose of obtaining redress of their grievances. They do not blame the Go- vernment for the commitments which they have to meet; they are merely endeavouring to show how difficult is their position on account of those commitments. Since they guaranteed to make regular weekly payments by way of interest and principal, in order to pay off the sums owing on their homes, their incomes have been reduced, on the average, by at least one-third. Yet it cannot be suggested that a similar reduction has been made in the amounts due by them. More than 50 per cent, of them are either totally or partially unemployed. The Government is quite justified in expecting these homes to be kept in proper order ; but whenever the department authorizes the renovation of a home, it adds to the already high arrears that are piling up against the occupant. The ex-soldiers are inclined to think that if they lived to the age of a thousand years they could never become the owners of their homes. They have now concluded that it would be better for them to abandon their homes, and take much cheaper houses, than to have the arrears piling up quarter after quarter. They do not take up this position because they are anxious to desert their homes. On the other hand the great majority of them would prefer to discharge their liability; they have, in fact, done much to add to the attractiveness of their dwellings. The War Service Homes Purchasers Association, which represents a large body of these men, is asking the department to consider wiping off a portion of the arrears that have accrued. In doing so they are merely asking to be treated as others are treated. It is not an uncommon thing for a government to declare- a moratorium under which the tenants of houses belonging to private landlords are not required to pay rent, in certain circumstances. They do not, however, always free the tenants of government properties from the necessity of paying their rent. Recently, a number of municipalities agreed not to demand rates and taxes from property owners who had freed their tenants from the necessity of paying rent. This bill does not do anything like that. If the Government would view this matter purely as a business proposition, it would realize that it would obtain more revenue from the purchasers of war service homes by relieving them of some of their arrears than if it insisted on full payment. If the arrears are allowed to accumulate, the purchasers will find their position hopeless, and will relinquish their homes. I agree with the honorable member for Balachava (Mr. White) that war service homes should, be maintained in good condition. Indeed, it is to the purchaser’s advantage to do so, since, in the event of the house being sold, any balance over and above his liability to the Government would go into his own pocket. However, in view of the depreciated value of house property, that is a remote possibility at this juncture. It is indeed strange, as the honorable member for Balaclava has said, for the Government to be tightening up the regulations against the returned soldiers at the very time that they were looking for relief from some of their obligations. The Minister would do well to hold the bill in abeyance until the report of the committee has been received. I am disappointed that the bill, instead of relieving the purchasers of war service homes, merely provides that they shall pay the last penny that they owe.
– That is an outrageous suggestion.
– In my opinion that is what the bill provides. The Minister ought to defer its consideration until the committee’s report has been received.
I am disappointed also that the Government has not seen fit to provide that the purchasers of war service homes shall have direct representation on the committee of inquiry. Surely they are in a better position to provide the committee with information than is any other person ! I wish to make it clear that I am not opposed to obvious loopholes in the act being repaired, or to the homes being maintained in good condition.
– That is all the bill provides.
– The Minister must be aware that since they entered into their contracts, many of the purchasers of these homes have been faced with conditions which have made it impossible for them to fulfill their .undertakings. Indeed, many of them have had to leave their homes because they could not pay what was owing on them. In doing so, they made a big sacrifice. The bill will make their position even more difficult. I urge the Minister not to proceed with this measure in committee until the report of the committee of inquiry has been received. I also stress the importance of giving the purchasers direct representation on the committee of inquiry.
– I wish to refer to some points mentioned by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) which originated with the United War Service Home Purchasers Association. First, I mention the alleged necessity for an alteration of the bill to overcome the difficulty which has arisen because of the Full Court of Victoria having found a regulation to be ultra vires. The Minister said that the bill would not in any way affect that decision - that V. S. Davies, who brought the case before the court. would not be affected by the decision. Apparently, Davies is the only man who will obtain any redress because of the action taken in the court, notwithstanding that behind him stood an organization whose members were as much concerned with the Court’s decision as he was. If each member of the association had approached the court, as Davies did, then I take it that all of them would have received the benefit of the decision secured by Davies. It would appear that the object of the Government is to get behind the decision of the court by making it apply only to Davies, not to those other members of the association who stood behind him. It is a common practice, when a number of men are similarly affected by some action, or decision, for only one case to be cited before the court. For the convenience of the court itself that is often done. But it is expected that any decision arrived at will apply to the whole of the members of the organization concerned. If, for instance, the members of a trade union feel that it is desirable that the court should be approached in relation to their wages, or conditions of employment, they submit a test case for the court’s decision, and they expect that any benefit which results from their action will apply to all the members of the trade union concerned.
– It would appear that the Government by introducing this measure is attempting to cheat the other members of the association who did not individually approach the court.
– The Government has rushed in with legislation the object of which is to deprive the other members of the association of benefits which the court held they should enjoy.
– Can the honorable member state the details of the case?
– Unfortunately, I cannot; but probably the Minister can do so. I suggest that he place this case in all its aspects before the House, so that we may be in a position to judge the measure impartially.
It is probable that there are other matters in connexion with which the association desires relief. Purchasers of war service homes, realizing that, as individuals, they were as a voice crying in the wilderness, formed an association with the object of obtaining some relief from the conditions imposed on them. The association, with whose object the honorable member for Melbourne Ports is probably more acquainted than I am, submits that this amending bill should not be finalized until every aspect of the case, as affecting its members, has been considered and dealt with. The Minister will probably say that the terms of reference to the committee of inquiry do not touch the alterations in this bill. If that is so the committee of inquiry is restricted in regard to matters which the association regards as vital.
– There is no doubt about that.
– That weakens the Minister’s case.
– This legislation validates what has been done in the past. The inquiry is designed to keep the soldiers in their homes.
– I would be glad if the Minister had been candid and had informed us that the Government had hurriedly introduced this amending bill in order to meet the position which has arisen because of the decision of the court. I maintain that, if Davies is entitled to redress, every member of the association to which he belongs is entitled to similar treatment.
The association maintains that the inquiry should be of an all-embracing nature. The views of the rank and file of the association have been placed before the House clearly by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). From those who are vitally concerned in this measure, we are most likely to obtain the truth. It may be that the officers of the association are in a more fortunate position than are many of its members, and that, therefore, they are not best equipped to put the case as affecting war service homes purchasers generally. Were the Government really desirous of helping the unfortunate purchasers of war service homes, it would defer further action until the report of the committee has been received.
I agree with the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that the purchasers of war service homes should he directly represented on the committee of inquiry. I cannot understand why the Government has not acceded to their request for representation. I hope that even now it will do so; suchaction would meet with general approval. Honorable members who have been in this chamber lor some years, particularly those who have been Cabinet Ministers, know that it is only now and then that an opportunity presents itself to introduce an amending bill. A government may admit that amendments are necessary to a measure, and promise that they will be introduced at an opportune time, but that is too indefinite and unsatisfactory to those concerned. I, therefore, feel that when an amending bill is before the House, we should consider every aspect of the matter it concerns. The occupants of war service homes are passing through difficult times, particularly in the northern districts of New South Wales which are represented by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), who put their case so well. I urge the Minister, even at this late stage, to accede to the request for a postponement of the bill.
.- J. also urge the Government not to proceed with this legislation hastily, particularly as it is expected that the act will again have to be amended after the investigating committee has lodged its report.
– The committee will have to visit all the States, and the exhaustive nature of its inquiry will necessitate at least four months being occupied in the investigation.
– It is unfortunate that such a long period must elapse before existing anomalies can be rectified. The disabilities of the occupants of war service homes are patent to all, and surely with the assistance of returned soldier organizations, the Government could obviate much of the travelling and questioning that it intends shall be done by the proposed committee.
There are certain features of the bill to which exception cannot be taken. I recognize that the responsibility of ownership must be acknowledged, also that it would be wrong to allow these homes to fall into serious disrepair through neglect on the part of the occupants. At the same time, we should not allow legislation of this description to be hurried through in an ill-digested state, as that could only result in hardship being inflicted on the occupants of war service homes. The
Government would be well-advised to delay action until it is better informed on the subject. From time to time I have been asked to place before the Government the case of occupants of war service homes in my electorate, and I must admit that on every occasion the most sympathetic consideration and assistance has been extended to me. For that I express my appreciation. I realize that the War Service Homes Department is confronted with one of the most difficult tasks associated with the affairs of returned soldiers. The haste with which the war service homes scheme was originated has resulted in many anomalies, which cause the department much concern. These houses were “constructed at a time when building costs were abnormally high, and land values were excessive, and so it is essential to do something to reduce valuations. The committee should deal specifically with that problem.
I agree with the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) that every encouragement should be given to the occupants of war service homes to remain in possession of them. Because of unemployment and other adverse circumtances, these unfortunate people have incurred arrears of rents which amount, in the aggregate, to an alarming figure. The Government would be well-advised to disregard those arrears for the time being, and allow the purchasers of war service homes to deal only with current commitments, leaving the arrears to be dealt with as part of the capital cost and extend the period of repayment. That would be preferable to forcing the tenants out of their houses, which would merely result in additional loss in expenditure to the Government. A similar idea was propounded by the originator of the “ thousand homes scheme “ in South Australia, but, unfortunately, the Government of that State was unable to appreciate its wisdom. I also think that this Government should reduce interest rates on war service homes by another half per cent., which would be in conformity with the action of the Stare Governments in its treatment of returned men.
I ask the Minister to recognize the claims of honorable members on this side, as well as those of honorable members opposite, in this matter, and to adjourn the debate. While I certainly cannot oppose the second reading of the measure, I feel that certain amendments should be incorporated in it to make it more comprehensive and sympathetic towards the purchasers of war service homes. At present, the benefits appear to be all on the side of the commission. Homeowners are to guard against disrepair, and make good arrears. Let them be given some quid pro quo. If that and certain other anomalies were adjusted, the measure would be more to my liking.
– I trust that the Minister will not agree to either adjourn the debate or withdraw the bill. This measure does not represent an attempt to deal with any of the wrongs from which the occupants of war service homes are suffering. The present Government has been in office only about ten weeks, and has not had time to investigate the position, which admittedly is serious. To accede to the requests of all honorable members would place a terrific strain on the finances of the Commonwealth. The Minister has done all that is possible in. the circumstances, by introducing a bill that will not cause injury to one occupier of a war service home.
– What does it do?
– It restates the position as it was thought to exist. The undertaking to purchase war service homes has been entered into by returned soldiers on a certain definite understanding, which for years has not been challenged. Recently, however, a returned soldier named Davies tested the matter in the courts, and finally obtained from the Full Bench of the Supreme Court of Victoria the decision that the interpretation of the Commissioner was wrong. With a view to protecting not his own money, but that of the people of this country, the Commissioner placed the matter before the Minister, who now seeks to remedy the position by this short amendment of the act. I understand that the sum of £38,000 is involved. The returned soldiers who entered into agreements to purchase homes believed that the Commissioner was acting rightly; but by juggling with the meaning of words, at which’ the legal fraternity are adept, the regulation in question was ruled to be ultra vires of the commission.
The Minister has already appointed a committee to inquire into the grievances of returned soldiers. Unquestionably, many of them are suffering acutely from the existing depression, and cannot keep up their payments. I understand thai the representatives of returned soldiers were consulted in regard to the personnel of the committee.
– They submitted three names, from which we selected one.
– The personnel of the committee ha3 the approval of the returned soldiers’ organizations.
– Not in Victoria.
– The Minister has said that it has the entire approval of Captain Dyett.
– He is the federal president of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia.
– Who is more entitled than the federal president of that body to speak on behalf of returned soldiers throughout the Commonwealth? These men have been urging the appointment of this committee for at least a year, probably longer. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) and others, during the time that they sat opposite, were insistent in their demand for the appointment of such a committee. Their efforts have produced at least this fruit. The bill is by no means a settlement of the grievances of those returned soldiers who have purchased war service homes. The whole matter must be investigated by a body of competent men, whose report will place us in a position to juda« as t.n what action ought to be taken.
– That is a reason for delaying the further consideration of this bill.
– We must protect the revenues of the country. The great bulk of returned men are not desirous of burgling the Treasury; they want to do what is honest and fair. I am’ confident that when the committee has presented its report a much more important bill, wh’ich will remedy many grievance;, will be brought to this House. I support this measure, and shall have pleasure in voting for it.
.- The figures in connexion with the payments of both interest and principal for war service homes speak for themselves. Until two or three years ago the arrears represented less than 1 per cent.; and, although we are now in the third year of the depression, that figure has not grown to the extent that might have been expected; I believe that it is slightly less than 3 per cent., which is remarkable in the circumstances.
As I understand the position, the Minister does not seek under the bill power to do anything beyond what has been done for a considerable time.
– Since the passing of the act.
– Rather, he seeks legislative authority for what apparently has been done on the strength of regulations which a judicial decision lays it down are beyond the authority of the act. A good deal of the opposition to the measure might be overcome if the honorable gentleman would accept an amendment which I understand is to be moved later by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll) to the proposed new sub-section1c, to limit the amount for which the borrower or the purchaser may be liable to the Commissioner with respect to expenditure on repairs or renovations, to an amount not exceeding such equity as the subsequent sale of the home might disclose him to possess. It is arguable that expenditure in that direction might result in a better price being obtained, and in some circumstances be the means of preserving an equity that otherwise might not exist. On the other hand, it might be shown that the expenditure of £30 or £40 on repairs might be the means of saving to the commission perhaps £100.
– How would the equity be ascertained?
– That would be rather difficult. I take it that the Commissioner adopts the view that a certain amount is due and owing to the commis sion : and one could safely lay it down chat any amount in excess of that sum could be regarded as the equity of the returned soldier.
– Would it not be conditional largely upon what was obtained at the sale?
– Doubtless it would be. I trust that the Minister will accept the amendment to which I have referred.
– This bill is designed to overcome certain difficulties arising out of a judgment of the Victorian Full Court, and does not grant any special concessions to returned soldiers. The Government has appointed a special committee, composed of senior returned soldier members of the Public Service, which has been requested -
– Does the Minister intend to incorporate in the act provisions relating to the setting up of this committee ?
– No. The Governmen has already appointed a committee, the first meeting of which will be held as soon as possible after Easter, probably on the 4th April next.
– Will the Government consider the appointment of a purchaser of a war service home?
– Among the persons appointed is a purchaser of a war service home. The selection of the members of the committee was so made as to ensure that the best persons available were appointed, and to give the returned soldier organizations direct representation. The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia was asked to submit a panel of names from which a representative of the returned soldiers could be selected.
– Does that league represent the majority of returned soldiers in Australia ?
– I do not think that anybody doubts that. The procedure followed on the present occasion was identical with that followed by previous governments, including the Scullin Government. The bill is designed to deal only with the urgent question of validating certain powers and actions taken under those powers that were thought to exist from the commencement of the war service homes administration. Since I took charge of this department, all my endeavours have been directed towards ensuring that the purchasers of war service homes remained in their homes. The policy definitely adopted by this Government - the policy that was in operation when this legislation was originally introduced - is that every endeavour is to be made to provide returned men with their own homes. The act was designed for that purpose. We are doing all in our power, taking into consideration the difficult times through which we are passing, to ensure that the returned man shall remain in his home. We are accepting, as instalments, small payments in accordance with the wages, salary, or income of the individual occupant. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) said a moment ago, a portion of that policy was introduced during the regime of the late Government. A man with a wife and three children, on an income of £3 18s. a week, pays only £1 a week. The payment diminishes pro rata, until the income reaches £2 3s. a week, in which case the returned soldier pays 2s. a week. On an income of £2 2s. a week and under the payment is only ls. a week. That policy has been adopted by this Government to ensure that, so far as possible, the exsoldier will remain in his home. The bill is designed only to rectify an anomaly under a judgment of the Supreme Court of Victoria, but opportunity has been taken by the Government to deal with one or two minor matters. The allegation of harshness, cruel administration, and lack of consideration has no application to this bill, and no act of administration on the part of this Government since it took office could justify any of those charges. The returned soldier occupant himself has made no complaint about this proposal.
– The Minister should hear the complaints of the returned soldiers in my electorate.
– This small measure was designed to amend only three sections of the act. When it became known that it was to be introduced, the president of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia asked me to make copies of the bill available to him. That was done on the 26th February, at the time the bill was introduced. Copies have been distributed among the States, and there has been no objection taken to this amending legislation except from Victoria in respect of one matter. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) quoted one protest against the bill, but he referred to a letter which was written to him two days before E made my second-reading speech in this House.
– After the first reading was agreed to I obtained a copy of the bill and circulated it. By return post I received a protest against the bill.
– If the honorable member’s interpretation of the bill is similar to the interpretation placed upon it by the writer of that unfortunate letter, I am not surprised that the resolution referred to was carried. The official representative of the Opposition in this House referred sympathetically to the administration of the department, which, he said, had always endeavoured to carry out the intention of the act. I also, from my personal experience of the department prior to and since I have been in charge of it, express my appreciation of the work of the officials. They have endeavoured to carry out the spirit of the act, at the same time dealing as leniently as possible, in the light of the circumstances, with all cases that have come under their notice. They have always had a difficult and delicate task, and have carried out their duties with sympathy and tact. While home purchasers who are unemployed or partially unemployed, or whose work is rationed, have been granted the definite concession of pro rata payments, the Government is requiring those who are in regular employment to honour - their obligations. I pay a tribute to the returned soldier occupants for the way in which they have stood up to their obligations. Since 1918, 37,000 homes have been erected, but only 32 evictions had taken place up to the time of the financial depression; the arrears representing 1 per cent, of the total payments due. That was a splendid record. The Government 13 now asking honorable members to validate the conditions under which this excellent record was created by the war service homes occupants.
– Will the Minister supply the House with particulars of the Davies case?
– Yes. Unfortunately, a number of homes have reverted to the commission. When I assumed control of the department, 884 homes had reverted to the commission, and of those 445 homes, representing more than 50 per cent., were situated in New South Wales.
– The total number of reversions represents less than 1 per cent, of the total number of houses erected.
– That is so.
– What percentage do those 445 homes in New South Wales bear to the total number of houses ?
– I shall obtain that information for the honorable member. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll) brought under my notice certain conditions in respect of homes in 3*ew South Wales, particularly at Goulburn, and raised several objections to this measure. The group of homes at Goulburn was built in 1919, not by the War Service Homes Commission, but by the Commonwealth Bank on behalf of the COInmission. The architect who supervised ihe building of those homes was sued by the “War Service Homes Commission in respect of faulty construction and the offer of £10,000 to indemnify the commission for damages was accepted. On receipt of that sum the commission offered to build for every soldier who had one of those faulty homes, a new home to his own design. That offer was accepted by all except two returned soldier occupants who desired to remain in their old homes, and in those instances the original price of the house was reduced to £600. The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia at Goulburn has been unstinted in its appreciation of the action of the commission in this connexion.
The difficulty in respect to the question of sewerage raised by the honorable member for Werriwa is finance; we cannot afford the expenditure of large sums of money at this time. Since the honorable member brought this matter under my notice, I have been in communication with the Goulburn City Council. I have informed that body that we shall be pleased to do all within our power to assist it. The commission is having considerable trouble, mainly in New South Wales, from vandalism in unoccupied houses. For this additional reason we are anxious to carry out our policy of keeping returned soldiers in their homes. If there is any equity in a property, we hope to preserve it for the returned soldier occupant.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– The purpose of this bill is to validate the action the Government has been taking since the War Service Homes Act was first put into operation. It is not proposed to increase in any way the obligations of the soldiers, and no additional powers are to be given to the Commissioner. The whole matter arises out of a case heard before the courts dealing with a returned soldier named Davies. He was £38 4s. 5d. in arrears in his payments. He had occupied a house since October, 1923, to the 26th February, 1931. He was in permanent employment as a shunter in the Victorian railways. He resides at Newport, His wage was in excess of the basic wage, and he made arrangements to pay the usual instalments, and a small sum in addition every month to overtake the arrears. That arrangement was not carried out, and the commission instituted proceedings after the issue of a final notice. The contract was cancelled, and the Commissioner took action to recover the amount in arrears, and was successful in the County Court. The matter then went to the Full Court, and, on a technical point, the decision went in favour of the occupant. It is in order to put beyond any doubt the legality of the regulation under which action was taken by the Commissioner that this amendment is being brought forward at the present time. The regulation which was declared by the court to be ultra vires will, in future, be a part of the act. It will be a sub-section in section 36 of the present act.
When the decision of the Full Court was made known, several applications were received by the Government for refunds of sums of money previously paid by occupants of war service homes under regulation 17. I issued a statement, which was published in all the leading newspapers of Australia, urging returned soldiers not to incur costs in making application through solicitors for refunds of payments they had made. I told them that the Government proposed to amend the act in order to carry out its original intention, so that they would only be wasting their money by taking legal action. This legislation has been brought down as early as possible, so as to protect the soldiers themselves, and to safeguard the revenue.
To-day several honorable members paid tribute to the occupants of war service homes for the exemplary way in which they had met their obligations under the terms of the contracts into whichthey had entered. I join with them in that tribute, and point out that, prior to the present depression, payments by occupants of war service homes were in arrears only to the extent of 1 per cent. Of the 37,000 occupants of war service homes only 32 had been ejected, and this excellent result had been achieved under the act as it stood before the judgment of the court was given. Therefore, I can see no reason why honorable members should raise any objection to the proposed amendment.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) referred to the case of a man named Endean. I have been advised by the officers of the department that this man is not a returned soldier.
– I did not say that he was
– He objected to the contract, and was freed from it on terms very favorable to himself. He said that he had been tricked by the agent, not by the department. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) asked what proportion of war service homes had been provided in New South Wales. Out of a total of 36,810 homes, 12,079, or 33 per cent., were provided in New South Wales. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) suggested that the Govern ment had not acted fairly in regard to the interest rate which returned soldiers were required to pay.
– I said that the Government ought to reduce the interest rate to soldiers in proportion to the reduction of interest rates paid by the Government to bondholders.
– The rate of interest payable by returned soldiers in 1918 was 5 per cent., on money borrowed by the Government at 51/4 per cent. Recently, as the result of the conversion loan, the late Treasurer reduced the rate of interest to returned soldiers from 5 per cent. to per cent. Several organizations have since requested that the rate of interest should be reduced by another1/2 per cent. The request has been carefully examined by the Government, and a statement has been drawn up, copies of which will be sent to the various organizations which have preferred requests. The statement is as follows: -
Your representations that the rate of interest on war service homes should be reduced to 4 per cent. from the rate at present charged, viz.,41/2per cent., to which rate interest charges were reduced as from the 1st August, 1931, in accordance with the undertaking given by the late Government in Mr. Theodore’s speech in Parliament on the 9th July, 1931 (see Hansard, volume 130, page 3741 ) have had the most careful consideration of the Government.
From what Mr. Theodore said on that occasion it has been assumed that the cost of administration is now borne by the purchasers of war service homes, and that the whole of the present interest charges met by the Commonwealth Government on money used in the erection or purchase, as the case may be, of war service homes plus the cost of maintenance is covered by the present interest charge of 41/2 per cent.
The facts of the case are as follow: -
Allowing for loan expenses and discounts at the time of flotation of the loans the effective rate of interest the Commonwealth is now paying on such of the money as was raised in Australia for war service homes is approximately41/2 per cent.
However, about one-third of the loan funds which have been used in the operations of the
War Service Homes Commission was derived 1 from overseas loans. As you are aware, the diminution of the interest charges now paid by the Commonwealth only applies to moneys raised in Australia, whereas the interest charges on overseas loans have had added to them the- present high exchange rates.
On the third of the money so used and raised overseas the interest rate is £5 4s. per cent., which, together with the exchange rate, means that this money is now costing the Commonwea.lth Gi per cent. The average rate of interest on money raised in Australia plus the money raised overseas is 5.2 per cent.
It will be seen, therefore, that in charging the purchasers of war service homes 4J per cent, interest for money which costs the Commonwealth Government 5.2 per cent., the Government is making a concession in favour of the soldier in interest rates of .7 per cent., amounting in the aggregate to about £125,000, and in addition, the Commonwealth Government is paying the whole cost of administration. This concession in interest rates is still considerably greater than when the war service homes scheme was first launched in 1918.
The fact is that the occupants of “war service homes are better off to-day than when the scheme was inaugurated in 1918. The honorable member for Balaclava further referred to alleged land and timber scandals, and made various other wild statements.
– I regard that statement as offensive to me. I did not make wild statements, but substantiated everything 1 said. I ask that the Minister withdraw his statement.
– If the honorable member for Balaclava regards the statement as offensive, I am’ sure the Minister will withdraw it.
– I am glad to withdraw the statement, and I agree with the honorable member that there has been nothing wild in connexion with the administration of the act. It is true that, when group settlements were being carried out under the War Service Homes Act, the administration did get considerably astray. That was recognized by the Bruce-Page Government in 1923, and a policy was framed to rectify the extraordinary and unfortunate position into which the administration of the department had drifted. At that time the department did not know what was the cost of many of the homes erected on the group system. Soldiers were returning in great numbers, and were being placed in homes before the group to which the homes belonged was finished, and before it was possible to ascertain the costThings became so tangled at that time that timber, bricks, and other material were being borrowed from one group for use in another, and no record wa3 kept of such transactions. Recognizing the manner in which the administration had become confused, the Government of the day decided that it would not charge soldiers a penny more than they had believed they would have to pay. It was arranged that the soldiers should be charged a maximum of £800 for homes, although many of the houses had cost £900, £1,000, and £1,100, and as much as £1,150. All of them were written down to £800, at a cost to the Commonwealth of £230,000. These points have, of course, been dealt with before. They are ancient history, as is the matter referred to by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll), who mentioned the unfortunate incident which took place at Goulburn. The homes at Goulburn were built thirteen years ago, not by the War Service Homes Commissioner, but by the Commonwealth Bank for the department. The architect in charge was proceeded against, and agreed to pay £10,000 as damages, which offer was accepted by the Government. Every soldier concerned was given the opportunity of going into a hew home built to his own design. Only two preferred to remain in their original homes, and they had the cost written down to £600 each.
This bill does not deal with those matters at all. It is a small measure designed to rectify the position created by a recent Full Court judgment. The problem of arrears in payments was mentioned by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway), but that matter will be dealt with by the committee of inquiry which has been set up by the Government. The terms of reference to the committee make it clear that all those economic problems which agitate the returned soldiers, the commissioner, and myself, as Minister, will be submitted to the committee for inquiry. When the committee brings down its report, Parliament will be asked to take into consideration its recommendations.
The honorable member for Hunter objected to the last clause of the bill, which gives the Commissioner power to serve notice on the executors of deceased soldiers. He suggested that the department was taking power to pursue the soldier, through his dependants, even beyond the grave. That is not the intention of the bill. This clause is designed merely to deal with a technical situation. It is necessary that the department shall serve notice on somebody in order legally to take possession of the house. There is no intention to claim any payment and none has been claimed. Every State housing act contains powers similar to those included in this bill, directly or indirectly bearing on repairs to properties, particulars of which I have before me, but which I do not think it necessary to quote.
The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) objected to what he termed the retrospective nature of this legislation. There is nothing retrospective in the bill. It provides the commission with those powers which the original act was intended to confer upon it.
– Does it not provide the power to let a property?
– I have definitely stated that, apart from the right to let a house, and to serve a notice under section 42, for which provision had not previously been made, no additional powers are granted. Under this measure no additional burdens are placed upon returned soldiers; the sole object of the bill is to assist the occupants of war service homes. Provision has been made for effecting repairs in order to ensure a better sale. If, when the property market is glutted, the Commissioner endeavoured to sell a home in a state of disrepear or semi-disrepair, a prospective buyer, who has so many properties from which to make a selection, would probably decline the offer. By placing a cottage in a good tenantable condition, a better price should be obtainable. The better the price obtained, the greater is the probability of the original borrower securing more than his equity in the property. This legislation has been submitted in the interest of returned soldier occupants. It is not the policy of the Government to harass a returned soldier who is in arrears in his payments.
The commission gives the following benefits to mortgagors and purchasers who vacate their homes : -
In rent purchase cases, i.e., where the security is a contract of sale and purchase, where the home is re-sold and a surplus occurs, the ex-purchaser is accorded the following concessions: -
In every instance the utmost consideration has been shown to the purchasers of war service homes. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) complained because the United War Service Homes Purchasers Association is not to be represented on the committee.
– In what State is that organization operating?
– In Victoria only. It is impossible for all such organizations to be represented on a committee which is to consist of three members; but I hope that that organization will avail itself of the opportunity to submit points for consideration by the committee, which I feel sure will give them the fullest consideration. The federal secretary of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia has advised me that every State branch of the league was supplied with a copy of the bill shortly after the date upon which the bill was introduced, the 26th February last. The only objection to the bill was that raised by the Victorian branch, which is opposed to one matter. The objections of certain soldiers’ organizations raised by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) were contained in a letter dated the 8th of March, but the provisions of the bill were not explained until the 10th of March. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) made some suggestion which, generally speaking, dealt with subjects which come within the scope of the inquiry to be conducted by the committee. I shall see that the members of that committee are supplied with a copy of the debate on this measure so that they will have an opportunity to study the points raised. There is, as I have stated, nothing in the bill to extend the powers of the commission beyond that of giving legal power to serve a notice upon the executor of a deceased tenant, the letting of properties by the commissioner, and provision to enable repairs to be undertaken to preserve the equity of the original borrower. The amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll) is at present under consideration and will be dealt with in committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
– I rise to a point of order. I desired, Mr. Chairman, to move an amendment to clause 2.
– Clause 2 has been passed.
– I dissent from your ruling.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.My ruling was that the consideration of the clause had been completed before the honorable member rose.
Clause 3 - (1.) Section thirty-six of the Principal Act is amended by inserting, after sub-section (1.), the following sub-sections: - “ (1a.) Notwithstanding the cancellation of any contract of sale, the Commissioner may sue for and recover from the purchaser any money which became due under the contract at any time prior to the date of cancellation of the contract.”
Section proposed to be amended -
.-I move -
That the words “ cancellation of the con tract,” proposed new sub-section 1a, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “the mutual vacation of the property.”
In cases of this kind there should be some mutual understanding between the Commissioner and the purchaser or the borrower prior to a property being vacated. In the absence of a provision such as I propose, there will be friction and possibly legal proceedings.
– The amendment is not in conformity with the spirit of the act and cannot therefore be accepted. If a property could be vacated only by mutual consent the Commissioner would be placed in an impossible position and there would be no necessity for this provision. This measure has been framed to meet all cases that may arise. When occupants wish to vacate war service homes the commission advises them to endeavour to meet their obligations, and points out the advantages of remaining in occupation.
Amendment negatived. “ (1c) Where the Commissioner has entered upon and taken possession of any land and dwelling-house -
– I move -
That after proposed new sub-section1c, paragraph a, the following proviso be added: -“ Provided that the amount which the purchaser or borrower is liable to pay to the Commissioner under this paragraph shall not in any event exceed the sum of Forty pounds.”
This amendment is in accordancewith the suggestions that I made in my secondreading speech. Its purpose is to prevent any unduly heavy expenditure for repairs and renovations being debited against a person who has been in occupation of a war service home, but has had to leave it.
– I have a prior amendment.
Amendment - by leave - temporarily withdrawn.
– I move -
That after the word “ necessary “, proposed new sub-section lc, paragraph a, the following words bo inserted “ not exceeding 2½ per centum of the original value of the property “.
If this amendment is made the War Service Homes Commission will not be able to effect costly repairs” to a property at the expense of the person who has vacated it. As I pointed out in my secondreading speech, the value of war service homes has fallen considerably. A house bought for £800 a few years ago is probably worth no more than £500 to-day. In these circumstances it would be unwise to permit any authority to make extensive repairs to a property or to spend a large sum in renovating it in the expectation of receiving a very much higher price at a sale. We do not know what agents the War Service Homes Commission appoints to do its work, but it would be distinctly unfair to a person who has had to vacate a home if he had to pay, or was debited with, a large sum for repairs and renovations.
– The Government cannot accept this amendment, but will accept the amendment moved by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll), and temporarily withdrawn. Consideration has been given to the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), and I wish to assure him and other honorable members that the commission will not incur any expense for repairs and renovations beyond the minimum amount necessary to effect a satisfactory sale of any property. As an evidence of the bona fides of the Government in this connexion, I am willing to stipulate that not more than £40 shall be spent in this way in any one case. I do not desire honorable members to imagine, however, that £40 will be spent in every instance. Only so much money will be spent as will put the property into a saleable condition. Such expenditure will be in the best interests of the soldier who may have an equity in the house, the commission, and the Government.
.- As the Government is not prepared to withdraw the bill, I am glad that it is at least willing to make some concession to the persons who are in difficulties with their war service homes. In the circumstances, I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendmen t - by leave - wi thd r a wn .
.- I move -
That after the word “ determines “, proposed new sub-section1c, paragraph a, the following words be inserted “ providing the purchaser or borrower has been and is in reasonable employment “.
It is not fair that the War Service Homes Commission should be the sole judge of the extent of the repairs and renovations necessary to any particular property. Many occupants of war service homes are, to-day, in a desperate plight, and severe hardship would be inflicted upon them if they were obliged to submit to the extensive renovation of their homes. Even if they were not called upon to pay for the work immediately, the liability in respect of it would be added to their total indebtedness and so their accumulated arrears would be increased. The officers of the commission should not be allowed to enter anybody’s home for the purpose of effecting repairs or renovations unless the occupant or the purchaser is willing. I hope the Government will accept my amendment.
– I point out to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) that proposed new subsection1c applies only to dwelling houses that the commission has entered and taken possession of, and does not apply to residences which are still occupied by the original owners. The honorable member’s remarks, therefore, have no application to section 36 of the principal act which is now being amended. They would have been appropriate perhaps if applied to section 31, but we have concluded our consideration of the amendments to that section. In any case, the officers of the War Service Homes Commission would not be likely to take action with regard to the renovation of a house which is still in occupation of the original purchaser, unless it was in a state of very serious disrepair. But with houses which have been abandoned the position is different.
– It might be essential to effect renovations and repairs to such a house in order to get a tenant or make a sale
– That is so. In such cases it is in the interests of the former owner of the house that it should be put into a condition to make the sale of it possible. I assure the honorable member for Hunter that the Government is giving every possible consideration to the circumstances of occupants of war service home who are in difficulties. If the work of these men has been rationed their payments are dealt with accordingly.
– If an abandoned house is renovated by the commission and subsequently sold for £100 more than it would otherwise have brought, it is surely beneficial to the former owner.
– Yes, because he would have more prospect of increasing his equity in the home.
– In the event of an abandoned house being renovated and repaired would the amount spent on such work be debited to the former owner ?
– It would be debited against the sale price.
– But supposing no sale were effected?
– In that case the cost is debited in the accounts of the Commissioner of War Service Homes against” that property, and if the house which is subsequently sold has been acquired on mortgage the mortgagor obtains the benefit of the sale, if it is more than his indebtedness. If the home were held under the rent pur chase or contract of sale system the interest of the purchaser in the home would cease upon the cancellation of the contract, and he would not receive any benefit from the sale.
.- I again direct attention to proposed new section 2, which provides that action taken under the proposed new sub-sections Ia to lc will be retrospective to 1918. This means that the commission may recover the cost of repair’s or renovations as far back as that year. I wish to safeguard returned soldiers from further indebtedness which may be due- to circumstances over which they have no control. Owing, to unemployment they may have fallen into arrears with their payments and been forced to vacate their homes. In a later provision, the commission is even given authority to serve notices on executors or administrators of estates of deceased soldiers.
– Apparently there is one aspect of the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll) that is not understood by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). As I understand the proposal, it means that while £40 may be the maximum to be expended on repairs by the commissioner, the soldier who has vacated his home may be sued for only the amount of his equity. If he has no equity in a property, the Commissioner will not be able to sue for anything spent on repairs. The returned soldier does not stand to lose anything by the amendment; in certain circumstances, he may gain something. Obviously, if a home were not repaired, it is practically certain that no sale would be effected, consequently there would bc no equity for the soldier. On the other hand, if a certain amount were expended to make a property more saleable, the soldier could not be debited with more than the amount of his equity in it. Actually there there might be a balance over and above the amount owing to the commission, and this would be paid to him.
.- The case cited by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) has no bearing on the amendment moved by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr.
James). The object of the latter is to ensure that before any claim can be made on a returned soldier, he must be proved to be in some reasonable employment. I would, however, point out that the amendment should have been moved at an earlier stage. These proposed new subsections deal with the situation that has arisen after the Commissioner has entered upon and taken possession of any land or dwelling house, so no good purpose can be effected by persisting with the amendment. The soldier, having vacated his home, the Commissioner has determined to effect certain repairs with the object of finding a buyer for it. If there is any equity belonging to the soldier after all expenses have been met, he will be entitled to receive it.
– I am not satisfied that the soldier, at this stage, is entirely freed of all liability. I incline still to the view that he has not rid himself of obligations which he entered into when he made the contract for the purchase of a home. I gather from the remarks of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr James) that even if a returned soldier is forced, through unemployment, to vacate his home, he will still be liable for the cost of repairs carried out by the Commissioner. It is true that such repairs may be necessary to ensure a sale at a better price, but under present conditions, the disposal of a war service home might not be an easy matter. The desire of the honorable member for Hunter is to safeguard the interests of a returned soldier who, after vacating a war service home, is in occupation of another property. The honorable member’s view, I take it, is that if a returned soldier’s income is merely sufficient to pay the rent and provide the bare necessaries of life, it should not be in the power of the Commissioner to harass him.
.- The purpose of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) is to protect a returned soldier from being sued for the cost of repairs up to £40 in the event of his not being in reasonable employment and having no equity in the property.
– In my own electorate four or five returned soldiers are being sued for arrears of payments although they have been ejected from their homes.
– There is now power in the act to sue a returned soldier for the arrears of his instalments. But in this case, so far as I can gather - the Minister, I hope, will either affirm or contradict me - the Government is not seeking power to sue a returned soldier for the cost of any repairs effected to a home unless the soldier has an equity in the property and a sale is effected. Thus, if a property were repaired at the cost of £40, and were sold at such a price as to show a loss, there would be no claim against the returned soldier for the cost of repairs. The Commissioner would be obliged to shoulder the whole of it. I can see no hope of being able to pass a law to define what is meant by “reasonable employment.” A man may have no employment at all, and yet be in enjoyment of a fairly good income. Again, what may be regarded by one person as reasonable employment might not be so regarded by another. We must not forget that this clause relates to repairs made to properties which have reverted to the Commissioner. Any provision to define the term “reasonable employment,” should have been inserted in an earlier section of the act. In any case, I think we must depend upon the administration to do the fair thing by returned soldiers, and in this respect we can only judge by experience, and by the policy of governments. Usually, instructions have been given to the Commissioner to take the lenient view. We must rely upon the administration’s sense of justice, and, I think, all will admit that hitherto every case of hardship has been dealt with sympathetically. If, however, any honorable member can cite cases of hardship due to unemployment of returned soldiers, which have not received sympathetic consideration, either during the administration of my government, or any other administration, we shall fight with him until justice is done, and I feel sure that we shall command the unanimous support of all honorable members.
– If a house is repaired at the cost of £40, and is not sold for twelve months, the Commissioner may take action against the former occupant for payment.
– That, I understand, is not the position. I gather, from what the Minister has said, that a claim for repairs against a returned soldier cannot be made unless he has an equity in the home.
– That is not right.
– That is the policy.
– ‘Paragraph a makes it clear that purchase money or advance is due to the Commissioner.
– I am informed by the Minister that a returned soldier is liable only for the amount of his equity in a property.
– If the house is sold at a profit, yes.
– I understand also that if there is a loss on resale, the Commissioner shoulders the whole of it.
– The committee must be satisfied that a returned soldier who has no equity in the place cannot be sued for any expenditure in respect of repairs. Can any honorable member imagine the Commissioner taking action to recover the cost of repairs against a returned soldier who, through unemployment or other circumstances over which he has no control, falls into arrears, is forced to vacate his home, and is without means? Right through this bill there is power given to thu Commissioner to sue for instalments when overdue. This is only right, but we can intimate to the administration that while we should provide that every man shall be held liable for his legitimate obligations, it is not the desire of Parliament to inflict hardship upon any returned soldiers. We cannot enact that the law shall operate in certain circumstances and not in others. We must, in the end, leave these matters to the administration, in the hope that the Commissioner will interpret generously the expressed will of this Parliament towards returned soldiers.
– In the main the supporting explanation of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) is correct. At no time in the history of the commission has it sued separately for the cost of repairs. Where a mortgage has been executed, and the purchaser is in arrears and leaves his home, either voluntarily or by ejectment, the property is repaired and sold. If it should be sold at a profit the borrower has an equity which goes to him. If, however, a loss is sustained the commission foots the bill. The position is different when there is a contract for sale. The power to call upon the soldier for the cost of the repairs exists, but in no instance will the commission pursue any soldier whose circumstances prevent him from meeting his obligations. In no instance is it done. This provision exists in all the housing legislation of the States.
– Does the Minister say definitely that if the soldier has no equity he is free ‘from the responsibility of meeting the cost of these repairs?
– Absolutely, so far as a mortgage is concerned. I appreciate the motive that has actuated the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) in moving his amendment, but it would be impracticable to administer it. The principle upon which the amendment is based is observed by the department wherever practicable; but it is impossible to embody it in any statute. It would be impossible to give a correct interpretation of any provision covering it. This bill has been brought down mainly to overcome legal difficulties caused by the interpretation placed upon our legislation by the Full Court of Victoria. We cannot run the risk of getting out of one difficulty and stepping deeper into another.
– If the soldier has no equity in the property he has vacated, can he be sued for the cost of the repairs to it?
– Where the property is subject to a mortgage, and the home is sold at a profit, the department pays to the soldier his equity; but if the price realized does not exceed the amount owing to the department, the cost of repairs is borne by the department. I hope that the committee will not agree to the amendment.
– I think that the Minister has confused the clause by his explanation. It seems to me that the contract between the War Service Homes Commission and the home purchaser is harsher than any ordinary contract for the purchase of a home. No person, who is selling a- house on instalments, would expect the purchaser to let him step in and say, “ I propose without your permission to spend £100 on this house in repairs, so that I may get a better price on selling it.” If there is no condition in the original act that soldiers’ homes are to be kept in reasonable repair while the payments are being made, it is certainly right to expect a home to be painted at least once every five years, and that reasonable repairs should be carried out about once every five years. The assets of the taxpayers of the country should be protected by preventing property in which the country’s money has been invested from getting into a state of disrepair. But if after a man vacates his home, possibly through unemployment, or it may be because circumstances have taken him away from the district in which his home has been erected, he cannot let it to a tenant until he gets permission from the Commissioner. If he is in Queensland he has first to write to Brisbane. Brisbane then gets in touch with Canberra, and Canberra .forwards the application to the Commissioner in Melbourne. I have handled these cases, and have found that it sometimes takes four or five months for a purchaser to secure permission to let his house to a tenant. Many men cannot afford to wait’ all that time and they are obliged to vacate the premises. But if this clause is allowed to pass they will still be liable to pay the cost of any subsequent repairs effected by the Commissioner. It is a one-sided arrange- - ment, which would not be countenanced between private parties.
– This provision is to be found in the Queensland legislation.
– If our legislation were on the lines of the Queensland legislation there would be no cause for complaint. In Queensland a purchaser of a worker’s dwelling is obliged to carry out painting and repairs every five years over a period of 20 years. Payments extend over 25 years in the case of workers’ homes; but in that case repairs are effected by the Government, and the cost is added to the regular instalments. When the purchaser of a home wishes to vacate it he gives notice to the Government. The department makes efforts to sell the property, or gives him permission to let the house for six months, or, at the most, twelve months. It does not say, “ We will not allow you to let it. We shall spend about £40 on it in repairs, and then sell it, but you will be liable for the £40 “. The provision in this bill, which enables the Commissioner to garnishee the purchaser’s salary to pay for repairs to the home he has vacated, is not to be found in any other legislation.
– Nor is it to be found in our bill.
– Then why is it necessary to make provision for the £40?
– That provision applies only when the commission is in possession.
– Under this bill the soldier is liable and can be sued for the £40.
– It may become a charge against the home.
– But the soldier is responsible. The contract stands against the soldier.
.- The Minister says that the Government does not propose to take any action against the purchaser of a war service home if he has no equity in the property; yet this amendment provides that if the Commissioner has taken possession of a home he can effect repairs, and their cost is made a charge against the borrower, or the purchaser who has any equity in it. I should not object if the Minister, as he stated in his speech, although he does not give effect to it in the bill, made provision that money spent in repairs after the Commissioner has taken possession of a house shall be made a charge upon the equity of the original purchaser. This clause, however, provides that the Commissioner can effect the repairs and make their cost a continual charge against the original purchaser until the amount is repaid. At any rate the power is there and if the Minister does not want it, why ask for it?
– The Commissioner can garnishee the purchaser’s pay for the cost of the repairs.
-Yes, and the Minister is anxious to make it retrospective to 1918. I do not like this provision. The charge should be against the equity only, and not against the person whose property may be resumed in all proper circumstances, but upon which repairs are effected. No garnishee order for the cost of repairs should be possible against a soldier purchaser who has vacated his home.
.- This clause gives to the Commissioner power to secure from the soldier the cost incurred in effecting repairs, and the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Mc Nicoll) suggests that there should be a limit of £40. The clause provides that the expenses incurred in effecting repairs shall be paid to the Commissioner by the purchaser or borrower on demand, or by such instalments, and at such times as are prescribed, or the Commissioner determines. There is thus a definite responsibility which the soldier has to accept.
– The cost of the repairs becomes a charge which is added to the instalments.
– There is nothing to satisfy me that the purchaser is not liable to be sued. Of course, I realize that the Government can get nothing from a man who has vacated his house through lack of means; but there is just a possibility that a man may subsequently secure employment at a wage which will enable him, in the eyes of the Commissioner, to meet the cost of the repairs effected on the home he has vacated.
– If he is dispossessed his “ contract is cancelled.
- His contract is not cancelled by his vacating the house. The liability still remains upon him. I do not altogether like the words “ reasonable wage” in the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). I have in mind the case of a man who brought his sister to Australia and guaranteed the repayment of the passage money to the Government. When he made application to the migration authorities he was earning £4 a week. Evil times overtook him, and his average net weekly wage for fourteen weeks has been £1 7s. lOd. On that he has to maintain himself, his wife, and two children. When he applied to the commission for relief he was told that because he was in regular employment he is expected to live up to his obligations as far as he can ; the commission is not prepared to cancel his contract. The dangerous nature of this clause is indicated by the proposal of the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll) to limit the expenditure on repairs to £40. The Minister stated that the department will charge repairs only against the soldier’s equity in the house, but the bill does not say that. I want to know definitely what will be the liability of the dispossessed purchaser.
.- I approve of the clause. The soldier has a liability in respect of his home, and if he were vacating it he would probably prefer to have his equity protected by the expenditure of £40 on repairs rather than risk the sale of the property in a state of disrepair. A mistake will be made if any limit is specified because the department will probably spend up to that amount. I suggest to the committee that the interest of the soldier is protected when his house is put in a state of repair so that it will be more likely to be sold at a price which will enable him to get a return of his equity.
.- We cannot lift the soldier’s liability, for if he is unable to pay his instalments he certainly will not be able to pay the cost of repairs.
– Unless the house is sold well.
– In that event the cost of repairs will be a charge against hi3 equity. We know that many soldiers will never be able to meet their liabilities to the commission.
– Then why make them liable for repairs under this clause?
– They are already liable under their contracts to purchase.
– Is the liability of the soldier ended when his house is sold ?
– The liability of no mortgagee finishes when a sale takes place unless the proceeds are sufficient to liquidate the debt. If there is a liability on the purchaser to keep the property in a state of repair, and he allows it to fall into disrepair, the cost of putting it in order must be added to his liability.
– A soldier may have bought a house for £800, and he still owes £350, plus interest. Because he is unable to pay his instalments he surrenders the property. According to the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Mcnicoll), the commission may expend up to £40 on repairs, bringing the total capital debt to £840. At auction the property realizes only £600, and the soldier is liable for the balance of £240. As a potential owner of the home he should have the right to say whether the expenditure on repairs proposed by the commission is justified or whether he would prefer to take the risk of selling the house in its existing state, especially as the cost of repairs will be added to his liability. I invite the Minister to make a definite statement as to what will be the position of the soldier in circumstances such as I have outlined.
– The earlier speech of the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) was based on the assumption that four months would be occupied by a Queensland purchaser in obtaining through Brisbane, Canberra, and Melbourne permission from the commission to let his house. For some years now permission to let a war service home has not been required. I have already indicated the difficulties that would be experienced in interpreting the words “ reasonable employment,” mentioned in the amendment by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). But as this clause relates to a home that has been vacated by the purchaser, the fact that he is out of employment will be immaterial. War service homes are obtained either by purchase or borrowing. The borrower pays . a deposit of 10 per cent., and executes a mortgage; if he cannot pay this deposit he is allowed to enter into possession on signing a contract of sale. A borrower who has paid a deposit and signed a mortgage must live up to the conditions of his mortgage. Suppose that the borrower’s equity in a home that has been vacated and is to be sold, is £50, and that the repairs carried out by the commission cost £40 ; if the house realizes £100 above the original price, the soldier will get a return of his equity plus £10.
– Has the commission ever sold a house for more than the original price ?
– Certainly. If the sale yields less than the original cost the commission bears the loss, including the £40 paid for repairs.
– Does that end the soldier’s liability?
– Absolutely. In a case where an ex-soldier enters into a contract of sale, and is in arrears with his payments, the department must proceed to recover them. I ask the committee not to accept the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), but the Government has no objection to the amendment tabled by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll), which would meet the situation in every way. The Government desires that no hardship should be inflicted upon the occupants of war service homes. They should have every opportunity to remain in their homes as long as possible. An inquiry is now being conducted with a view to giving them every consideration in this respect, and the whole administration of the act has been sympathetic.
Amendment (by Mr. McNicoli.), agreed to -
That after proposed new sub-section lc, paragraph a, the following proviso be “inserted : - “ Provided that the amount which the purchaser or borrower is liable to pay to the Commissioner under this paragraph shall not in any event exceed the sum of Forty pounds “.
.- I move -
That, after proposed new sub-section lc, paragraph 6, the following paragraph be inserted : -
If, at any time, the Commissioner receives from the sale of a property more than the price charged to the previous purchaser (after making due allowances for the rise or fall in property values) such difference shall bc credited to the previous purchaser or borrower, provided that he or she can show the increased value is duc to improvements made by the previous purchaser or borrower.”
The Minister mentioned the case of Mr. Endean, which was satisfactorily settled, but he did not refer to the voluminous correspondence which took place before a settlement was reached. Although I withdrew my call for a division on my previous amendment seeing that it was not acceptable to the committee, I urge the Minister to accept the present amendment, which I intend to press to a division.
– I hasten to assure the committee that the Government cannot accept this amendment. Paragraph b of proposed new sub-section 1c merely provides that if the Commissioner is satisfied that it is not possible to effect an immediate sale of the property at a reasonable price he may let it. The honorable member by his amendment has gone entirely beyond the intentions of the Government.
– I have submitted a new paragraph.
.- I hope that the Minister will not dismiss lightly the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) which has much merit in it. Even if he cannot accept the amendment he should endeavour to clarify the position. An ex-soldier after having enlarged his house might lose his employment, get into arrears with his payments, and be forced to vacate the premises. In such a case, why should he not have the benefit of the increased value due to the additions he has effected to his property?
– If a house is sold at a price higher than the original cost, who receives the difference?
– It is impossible to legislate on the assumption that when a house is sold at auction or otherwise a certain price will be obtained. If improvements have been made to a property, the borrower should be assured of an enhanced price because of those improvements.
– If a house which cost £900, and upon which the ex-soldier has spent £200 in improvements is sold for £1100, does the ex-soldier receive the £200?
.- The committee is dealing, I take it, with the case in which a property is let until in the opinion of the Commissioner, it is possible to effect a sale at a reasonable price, and if the total proceeds exceed the total liabilities, the ex-soldier receives the balance. Sub-section 2 of section 36 provides -
The Commissioner shall apply the proceeds derived from any sale made in pursuance of this part, in payment, in the first instance, of all moneys due in respect of the land or laud and dwelling-house, and in the payment or repayment of any amount charged thereon in favour of the Commissioner, or of so much thereof as remains unpaid, and of all expenses incurred by the Commissioner in relation to the sale or otherwise with respect to the land or land and dwelling-house, and shall pay the balance (if any) to the persons appearing to the Minister to be entitled to receive it.
– On a point of order, I submit that the amendment cannot be accepted because, according to the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), a similar provision is contained in the principal act.
– The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) has merely expressed his personal opinion. Isuggest that it is for the committee to decide whether the proposed amendment should be made.
– I contend that subsection 2 of section 36 covers, in effect, the proposal of the honorable member for Hunter, and I also submit that the amendment is out of order.
– That sub-section makes no reference to a rise or fall in values.
-I have examined the amendment, and it is not identical with the sub-section referred to. Therefore I rule that the amendment is in order.
Question - That the paragraph proposed to be added be so added (Mr. James’ amendment) - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 30
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 4 (Service of notices).
– This clause is designed to give the commissioner power to serve notices.
– I rise to a point of order. I was standing on my feet to move an amendment to clause 3, when you, sir, called on the Assistant Minister to deal with clause 4. It was unfair to pass a clause to which I proposed to move an amendment without giving me a chance to do so.
– Order ! The honorable member must not reflect on the Chair by saying that it has acted unfairly. I put the question clearly “ that the clause, as amended, be agreed to,” and there was no dissent. The honorable member himself offered no objection until after the Minister had commenced speaking.
– This clause empowers the Commissioner to serve notices. It repeals section 43 of the principal act, which provides that any notice required by this act to be given may be served personally or by post- The phraseology of section 43 is incomplete, and consequently, added powers have been sought to enable technical notices to be served in the event of the decease of an occupant of a war service home. Under proposed new sub-section 2 of section 43, power is given for notices to be served by persons other than the commissioner. I confidently ask the committee to accept this clause.
Clause agreed to.
.- I desire to move for the insertion of a new clause.
– As the title of the bill is limited, the honorable member may not bring forward a new clause unless the title is amended.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment.
Motion (by Mr. Francis) - by leave - proposed -
That the report be adopted.
.- I am pleased that one amendment has been made to this measure. I have opposed the bill chiefly with the object of securing a postponement of its consideration until the report of the committee of inquiry has been received. I cannot see any great urgency for the bill. I hope that the information which has been placed before the committee will be considered carefully by the members of the committee of inquiry. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) asked if there were any instances of men having been evicted from war service homes. I trust that that matter will be included in the terms of reference to the* committee. In Victoria the administration of war service homes is in the hands of the State Savings Bank of Victoria, which body exercises its own discretion in the matter of eviction. A few purchasers of war service homes have been evicted, although I give the authorities credit for having accorded the most lenient terms to the men concerned. This agreement then should be considered by the committee of inquiry. I am pleased that the Government has decided to call a conference, and I hope that the committee to be appointed will go into the several matters which have been mentioned to-day as well as the rate of interest. The Minister said that the interest rate had been definitely fixed because the money had been borrowed abroad. It is little satisfaction to the occupant of a war service home to know that his interest cannot be reduced because the money was borrowed overseas. I do not suppose that one occupant of these homes inquired where the money came from. I hope that all the matters debated will receive careful consideration by the committee, and that it will give us a full report. I trust also that prompt action will be taken to give effect to its recommendations.
– I have consistently opposed this measure, although not with any intention of delaying the work of Parliament. I submit that my opposition to the measure has been reasonable, taking into consideration the procedure that was adopted in dealing with it. When a division takes place, it is necessary for honorable members to cross the floor to record their votes. It sometimes happens that, following a division, the Chairman of Committees puts certain questions to the committee before honorable members have regained their seats.
– I regret that I cannot allow the honorable member to refer to what happened in committee.
– I was referring to the procedure which has been followed on many occasions, and was pointing out how difficult it sometimes is for an honorable member who has crossed the floor, to get an opportunity to speak before the chairman has put the question and the clause is passsed. A few minutes ago I lost an opportunity of moving some important amendments which I had been requested by eleven branches of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia to bring forward. When I attempted to move them I was told I could not do so as the clause had been passed. Provision should be made in the bill that a purchaser of a war service home, -who is out of employment, shall have the period of his unemployment added to the term of his contract. An amendment to that effect could have been accepted by the Minister without any loss of dignity, even though it emanated from this section of the chamber.
– The honorable member may arrange with one of his colleagues in another place to move an amendment to that effect.
– Another provision which I hoped to insert was that no eviction of a purchaser or occupier of a war service home shall be made in cases where the arrears are caused by unemployment or other circumstances over which he has no control. We know that occupants are being evicted from war service homes.
– I gave the honorable member the assurance that such is not the case.
– During the lockout in the coal-fields of northern New South Wales, when the Bruce-Page Government was in office, these unfortunate people were being ejected in considerable numbers in the electorates of Hunter and Newcastle.
– I refer only to the action of this Government.
– The purchasers of war service homes are also continually receiving notices from the department threatening prosecution. That harassing method is akin to eviction, because the occupant’s leave their homes rather than face prosecution. Such tactics are wrong, and display no consideration for the returned men, and the widows of returned men who occupy war service homes. I have in mind a specific case of a widow at Bellbird who is continually receiving letters threatening her with eviction. I hope that, in future, honorable members will be given an opportunity to resume their seats after a division before the next clause is proceeded with.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Francis) - by leave - proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
.- I suggest to the Minister that the principle that was embodied in the last amendment that was submitted by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) is worthy of consideration. . I admit that the amendment needs to be re-drafted before it could be embodied in the measure.
A request is being made by those concerned that there should be a general writing down of these properties. 1 said, when Prime Minister, and 1 repeat ii now, that this is not a time for a general re-valuation or writing down of war service homes. We should wait until values regain stability before taking that action, lu the meantime the best that can be done is to administer this department in a humane and lenient way. One particular type of case needs special consideration. Assume that a returned soldier purchases a war service home, say, for £900, and that he improves the property by adding rooms at a cost of £300. He finds later that he cannot continue his payments, and abandons the home. The commission re-possesses itself of the home, and because of a drop in values sells it for £900, that figure being obtained only because of the improvements effected by the late occupant. The commission obtains the amount that it originally put into the property, while the late occupant loses, in addition to other moneys, the £300 expended in improvements. The purpose of the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Hunter was to give such a purchaser at least some return for the improvements effected by him. I suggest that the matter should receive consideration before the hill is submitted to another place. It was in order to focus attention upon the desirability of action along those lines that I and members of my party voted for the amendment. We admit that it needs re-drafting, but we realize that the principle is there.
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) has explained why he voted for the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). I think an explanation is also due by me. As a rule, I do not find myself in accord with honorable members who belong, as they themselves assert, to the real Labour party. I stated a case to the committee, which was almost identical with that cited by the Leader of the Opposition, and asked the Minister in charge of the bill to give a ruling about an amendment that I contemplated. My amendment was ruled out of order, but, having spoken in favour of the principle, I voted for the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), as I do not believe in walking out of the House to avoid registering my opinion, even when I am cbe only honorable member on this side of the House who holds such a view.
– I was under the impression that the committee which will investigate war Service homes would deal with a problem such as that which has bees mentioned. At the moment I am not familiar with the terms of reference of that commit tea.
– They are incorporated in Hansard. I have a copy available for the honorable member.
– Valuations are in a state of flux, and it may be impossible to determine such matters at this juncture, but rather as injustices arise.
– .For instance?
– I refer to the case that was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition. If it is impossible to arrive at a determination as to the proper basis on which a re-valuation and writing down shall be made, the Government should take some action to deal leniently with urgent cases, pending the time when the committee submits its report.
.- I ask the Minister, when considering these matters, to recognize the need for an immediate revision of the interest rate that is paid by purchasers of war service homes, and urge the Government to reduce that rate by a further $ per cent. It should not wait for another five months until the report of the committee is submitted.
Mr.FRANCIS (Moreton- Assistant Minister) [10.8]. - I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) that the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) could not be embodied in the hill in its present form, as it would be impossible to administer it as it stands. Between now and the time when the bill reaches another place, I will give my attention to the matterand see what can be done about it. I raised the objection that the amendment could not be added to a clause which dealt with granting power to let a. war service home. On that issue I was ruled out of order by the Chairman. I also contend that the procedure adopted with regard to the amendment was an unsatisfactory one, as if similar methods were generally adopted, a bill entirely different from that intended by the Government would he evolved in committee. I do not think that any general rule could be adopted to compensate the occupants of war service homes for any improvements that they have effected. In one ease the addition might be of value, in another it might detract from the worth of the home. I am quite certain that if a good case was made out, very favorable consideration would be given to it.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) also suggested that the present was not an opportune time to undertake a general revaluation of war service homes or a writing down of values. The intention of the Government is that the committee of inquiry which has been appointed shall submit recommendations that will enable the Government to formulate a plan covering a period not exceeding five years, so that the opportunity may be afforded to span over the difficult conditions through which we are passing. If the committee can lay down the outline of such a plan, I am confident that many of the anxieties of honorable members will be brushed aside, and that an excellent scheme will be evolved in the interest of the occupants of war service homes.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
House adjourned at 10.11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 March 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19320315_reps_13_133/>.