23rd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Address-in-Reply: Acknowledgment by Her Majesty the Queen.
– I desire to inform the House that I have received from His Excellency the Administrator the following communication in connexion with the Address-in-Reply: -
I have to inform you that the Address-in-Reply which you presented to me on 23rd March, 1961, has been laid before Her Majesty The Queen.
It is The Queen’s wish that I express to you and to members of the House of Representatives Her Majesty’s sincere thanks for the loyal message to which your address gives expression.
Administrator. 15th May, 1961.
Mr. J. R. FRASER presented a petition from certain citizens of the Australian Capital Territory praying that the Government will take immediate action to defer the rental increases on government-owned dwellings in Canberra and immediately promote an inquiry into rentals in relation to costs of living in Canberra and the need for the establishment of a Canberra basic wage.
– I wish to inform the House that the Minister for Defence has accepted the invitation of the United Kingdom Minister for Defence to visit the United Kingdom for talks with the defence authorities there. He will also have discussions with the new United States defence administration. He left Australia on 13th May and will be away for approximately five weeks. During this time the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Paltridge) will act as Minister for Defence. The Minister for Supply will represent the Minister for Civil Aviation and the Acting Minister for Defence in this
House for the remainder of this sessional period. I should add that during the absence of the Minister for Defence the Minister for Supply will sit in Cabinet.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. T direct his attention to the fact that the Prime Minister is reported to have said on a television programme a fortnight ago that if the number of unemployed exceeded 80,000, the Government would have to give serious attention to the problem. I understand from the Minister’s own figures that the number of unemployed is now 89,000. 1 direct the attention of the Minister also to the fact that according to the Commonwealth Statistician the total number of persons employed in Australia decreased by nearly 14,000 between February and March of this year, and that 12,000 of these persons had been employed in the field of manufacture.
– This is a speech.
– 1 am asking a question.
– lt is not a question.
– Order! The Leader of the Opposition is giving a great deal of information. Some latitude is allowed the Leader of the Opposition in the asking of questions, but I suggest that there is a limit to such latitude.
– I am trying to make the question as intelligible as I can to the Minister for Labour and National Service. In view of the facts that 1 have stated and the additional facts that 112,000 more Australians come on to the labour market each year, and that employment in manufacturing is now at a lower level than a year ago, will the Government take the necessary urgent remedial action to enable the manufacturers of Australia to make employment available to more people?
– I have pointed out to the House that the Government has the problem of employment under continuous review. Only this morning, the Prime Minister initiated discussions in Cabinet on this difficult problem, and that was only one of several meetings which we have had on this matter. I can add little to what I have already said on the problem of unemployment, both in the urgency debate on this subject a couple of weeks ago and in answers to questions asked by various honorable members. We are doing all in our power to ensure that, in what I think it is fair to call a transition period, the number of unemployed is kept to a minimum. We will continue to do all that we can. Again I assure the House that this matter is under continuous review by the Government.
– My question is addressed to the Treasurer. In view of the obvious difficulties associated with attempts to solve the problems of primary industries by overall measures to stabilize costs - let alone reduce them - will the Government give consideration to sectional measures to alleviate the difficulties faced by these industries and so enable them almost immediately to make a contribution to our export income? In particular, will the Government consider introducing a subsidy on superphosphate?
– The honorable gentleman provided as interesting preface to the immediate point of his question. It is the policy of the Government to encourage exports with a view to expanding our income from these commodities. We have given some quite recent evidence of our intentions in this regard. The matter which the honorable member has raised, whilst undoubtedly important, would normally be the subject of review at budget time and I shall see that it is not overlooked in discussions on the next Budget.
– I wish to ask the Treasurer a question concerning the operation of the International Monetary Fund of which, at one time, be had the distinction of being chairman. First, does Australia still avail itself of the transitional arrangements of Article XIV.? Secondly, is it a fact, as stated by the managing director of the Fund at the annual meeting on 26th September, 1960, that under Article XIV. countries have the right only to maintain and adapt restrictions and that, therefore, an introduction or reintroduction of restrictions would already require the prior approval of the Fund under Article VIII., even though the country still has the status of Article XIV.? Thirdly, does this not mean that Australia could now reimpose import controls or introduce exchange control only with the prior approval of the Fund and that devaluation within the limits-
– Order! The honorable member should ask his question.
– Is devaluation within the limit set by the Fund now the only course really open to Australia to correct the balance-of-payments crisis? Fourthly-
– Order! I think the honorable member is now inviting debate.
– Fourthly, has the Government any intention of abandoning-
– Order! The honorable member is now inviting debate. He is also giving information. I ask the honorable member to ask his question.
– I do not want to have to repeat it again.
– I hope that the honorable member will not do so.
– I have asked the Treasurer: Does not what has now taken place mean - and this is the burden of the question - that Australia can now reimpose import controls or introduce exchange control only with the prior approval of the International Monetary Fund? I should like the right honorable gentleman to answer that.
– Australia does adhere to Article XIV. to which the honorable gentleman has referred. There has been a good deal of discussion over recent years by countries which are still in that situation about whether it would be appropriate to make a move from that article to Article VIII. I shall study the detail of the honorable gentleman’s question and see that he gets a considered reply.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. I direct his attention to the fact that the Victorian Government has just announced that the Traffic Commission has embarked on six long-term projects for research into the causes of road accidents and ways of reducing them. I ask whether the recent report of the Senate Select Committee on Road Safety was made available to the Victorian Government. I also ask whether, in view of the fact that the road toll has reached appalling proportions and is costing the lives of thousands of Australians every year, the Commonwealth Government can co-operate with the governments of Victoria and the other States in order that effective action may be taken at the national level.
– My attention has been directed to the fact that the Victorian Government is undertaking these inquiries, and this is a matter for gratification, because it will mean that that Government will have the results of a study of any particular difficulties involved in road safety in Victoria. Anything at all that can be done to constitute a lessening of the road toll must be of benefit to the motorists and the pedestrians in the community. Speaking from memory, I believe that a copy of the report of the Senate committee has been made available to the Victorian Government. I think that the Victorian Premier expressed gratification at receiving the information contained therein, and the report quite possibly will assist in the inquiry that is being made.
As for the number of Australians killed on the roads, that is a matter with which everybody is concerned. Honorable members are doubtless aware that the Commonwealth Government has recently re-formed the Australian Road Safety Council, which has a representative from every State. These representatives are men of capacity and ability. The recommendations made by the council are placed before the Australian Transport Advisory Council, on which the Minister in charge of transport and traffic matters in each State sits in person. The council discusses the recommendations of the Australian Road Safety Council and each State Minister departs with the idea of having such definite proposals implemented in his own State. I agree that the toll of road accidents is very heavy, but we feel that the action being taken through these channels for the overall education of Australian motorists is contributing to a lessening of that toll.
– Does the Minister for Social Services recall receiving from the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association of New South Wales representations for an amendment of the Aged Persons Homes Act in order to extend its provisions to the physically handicapped who require housing, but who cannot afford high-rental dwellings? In view of the splendid work of this association, which has established hostels and sheltered workshops, will the Minister sympathetically consider this plea?
– I share the admiration of the honorable member for the work that is being done by those who are associated with organizations which are working for the welfare of the physically handicapped and the maimed wherever they are to be found. It is true that these organizations have made representations to me as, I think, has every member of this House, for an extension of the scope of the Aged Persons Homes Act to include these organizations as bodies approved under the terms of the act. The matter will be given my careful consideration.
– I address a question to the Treasurer. It is prompted by the fact that I have noticed conflicting reports of the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures with relation to trading bank advances for April, 1961. One report states that advances fell by £5,300,000 while the other states that they increased by that amount. Which report is correct?
– Trading bank advances have risen by the £5,300,000 to which the honorable member refers. I think the misunderstanding has occurred through some one studying rather quickly the document released by the Commonwealth Statistician, lt so happens that the figure for April appears in that document above the figure for March. The person making the statement that advances fell during that period has misread the occurrence of the two figures.
This, of course, is the time of year when bank advances normally do rise because ot the higher requirement of customers in the period in which income tax payments become due. It was to strengthen the liquidity of the banking system during this period that the Government’s action requiring a decrease in advances by the end of March was taken.
– I ask the Treasurer whether he has seen the statement by Sir John Crawford to the effect that the investment of overseas funds in Australia in the last ten months amounted to something over £250,000,000. Does the Treasurer agree with Sir John Crawford that, for the foreseeable future, this annual average must be maintained? If he does, will he say how these funds are being invested? Further, will not there be considerable danger to Australia’s economy in the payment of dividends upon these immense amounts, and in the repatriation of any of that money should the overseas investors require that to be done?
– I have not seen the statement by Sir John Crawford to which the honorable member refers, but L am glad to report that there is a steady flow of investment capital into this country, with very great resultant benefits to Australia in that, it has enabled us to sustain employment and development to a very much greater degree than would have been possible had we to rely solely upon our own resources.
I again direct attention to the fact that the attitude of the Australian Labour Party mystifies honorable members on this side of the House in that members like the honorable member for Scullin appear to be both critical and indeed apprehensive of this trend, whereas other prominent members of the Labour Party from other parliaments are seeking to increase the investment of overseas capital in their own States by sending missions overseas to seek such investment
– I ask the Treasurer: Is he able to inform the House whether this Government has entered into arrangements with the Victorian Liberal Government to finance 88 new co-operative housing societies in Victoria to the extent of £16,500,000 under the new housing agreement measure? If this is so, will the Treasurer inform me whether the allocation of this sum will mean a further reduction in the already reduced funds made available to the Victorian Housing Commission and the consequent cutting down of the already inadequate number of homes being built? Further, will the Treasurer inform me whether it is possible to enter into an agreement of this nature before the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is ratified by this Parliament? If this is not so, will the Treasurer agree that the statement made by Mr. Bolte, the Liberal Premier of Victoria, is just another stunt to fool the people further and to cloud the tragic position of the building industry in Victoria, and in Australia generally?
– A bill dealing with the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States is on the noticepaper and is to be debated before the Parliament goes into recess. Consequently, I do not propose to debate the matter now with the honorable gentleman. I am not aware of any special arrangement with one State which does not apply to all.
– My question to the Minister for Labour and National Service, in his capacity as Acting Attorney-General, relates to the hope and expectation that oil will be discovered in Australia in such quantities as will be of benefit to us as a nation. If such a strike does occur, has the Australian Government any authority to direct that a supply of oil shall be conserved for a national emergency? If for any other reasons the flow of oil ought to be restricted, has the Government any power to ensure that this is done? Bearing in mind that oil prospecting in Australia is being conducted, in the main, by overseas interests and overseas capital - for which we are grateful - what would be the position if one of these companies discovered oil and decided, for its own purposes, to restrict the flow? Would the Government have the power to override such a decision? Will the Acting Attorney-General have a study made of existing legislation in Canada and the United States of America, where action had to be taken at one stage against an oil monopoly?
– The honorable gentleman has raised a matter of considerable interest and great national importance. As to the first part of his question, relating to a national emergency, I take it he means that oil should be conserved for defence purposes.
– That is so.
– In that case, if it is clearly for defence purposes, I am sure that the Commonwealth would have authority, under its defence powers, to take any action it considered necessary for national safety. As for controlling the flow of oil that may be found to exist in commercial quantities, the honorable gentleman can rest assured that either the Commonwealth Government or the appropriate State government would have the necessary power. Probably the State government would have it. However, I shall obtain information from the Crown law officers on that point and let him have it. As to the last part of the question, we welcome the fact that these overseas companies have come to Australia and are putting in a really worth-while effort to find oil here. If it is found, it can only be of great benefit to us and, in a lesser degree, of benefit to them. So far as I am aware, there is no evidence to suggest that, having found oil in commercial quantities, a company would wish to restrict the flow. On the contrary, there is sound reason to believe that the oil search companies are pursuing their endeavours sensibly and wisely and that if they do discover oil, they will wish to sell it.
– Has the Minister for Primary Industry seen a reported statement by a Mr. Dunwoodie of the Bowden pearling group of Thursday Island, alleging that the Commonwealth Government has forced his company into voluntary liquidation? Is this statement true? Is this the same company which, with others, has been endeavouring by various methods to take control of the native pearling fleet at Thursday Island?
– I have seen some reference to a statement by a representative of the Bowden pearling organization which has operated in Queensland waters since the thirties. As for the statement - if such a statement was made - that the company has been forced into liquidation by the Government’s credit squeeze, I point out that we took economic action last November, and that the period from Christmas until Easter has been the off season for pearling. Consequently, the pearling fleet was not operating in that period. Three other companies operate quite successfully in the Torres Strait area. I understand that the firm to which the honorable member has referred was trying to make certain financial arrangements last year and in the year prior to that, so probably its problems have arisen from other causes - perhaps from management - and not as the result of any government action.
– My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Is it a fact that the Government’s recent financial measures have been partly designed to effect a transfer of labour and other resources from what the Government regards as nonessential industries to essential industries? Presuming that the Government now regards the economy as being better balanced, how is it proposed that such a balance be maintained? Will selective credit controls be maintained as a permanent fixture? Does he agree that the virtual abolition of controls on hire purchase as from June could easily lead to a return to the boom in so-called non-essential industries and a further stimulus to imports? Finally, what does the Government propose to do to avoid the recurrence of cycles of expansion followed by painful contraction as happened in 1951, 1956 and 1961?
– From time to time either I or some other member of the Government states the view taken of the economic situation. The reasons for our policies have, I think, been clearly stated and repeated here from time to time. Later in the year, of course, the House as a whole will have another opportunity to discuss this matter. It was recently discussed during the debates on Supply and Additional Estimates, and I believe it would be entirely inopportune to attempt to canvass all these issues at the present stage.
– Is the Treasurer able to give any information on the progress of the efforts made by Ministers during the last two months to secure additional releases of capital for building timber houses, especially in country districts?
– The Government has been dealing with the question of increasing the financial provision for housing by various means and I hope that within a very short time a more detailed statement can be made upon that matter. It has been the subject of various Cabinet discussions over recent weeks and, as my colleagues, the Minister for Labour and National Service, has already pointed out to the House, even as recently as to-day, further consideration was being directed to it.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Defence. By way of preface I refer to a reply given to me by the Minister for the Army showing that in the Australian Regular Army there are 1,154 more officers than men and, including the Citizen Military Forces, the average is one officer per man. Will the Minister state whether this is the basis on which the armed forces are being expanded and whether an essential requirement is one officer to look after a private? Will he also state whether the defence policy is to recruit only officers, or is it to be taken that there are very few recruits prepared to enlist as privates? Will the Minister further state whether one of the topics being discussed by the Minister for Defence while abroad is the rather strange composition of the Australian military forces which may be likened to the Portuguese Army - all officers and no men?
– I believe that the position as the honorable member has stated it is quite incorrect. However, I will obtain the correct figures and will let the honorable member have them.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I refer to the recent encouraging announcement that expenditure has been approved by the Commonwealth for the initial survey costs for the rail standardization scheme in Western Australia. Can the right honorable gentleman add any further details relative to the stage reached in the negotiations between the Commonwealth and the Western Australian Government in this matter? Is it a fact that this vast undertaking should proceed without delay when the survey has been completed?
– The statement I made about the survey was, of course, without any commitment on the project itself. That matter is at present under very close and active examination and negotiation, and I am not at present able to say anything more about it.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Immigration by stating that migrants who send gift parcels to relatives in countries under Soviet control must pay high charges, and forward the parcels through Sweden when their destination is one of the Baltic countries. The cost of sending a pair of Australian blankets to Estonia recently amounted to £9 16s. 4d., plus the purchase price. Will the Minister confer with the appropriate Soviet authority to see whether parcels can be forwarded direct, and also whether a substantial reduction of tax and charges on gift parcels can be obtained?
– I shall certainly investigate the honorable gentleman’s request and take steps to see whether action on the lines he has indicated can be profitably taken. However, I remind him that in dealing with the Soviet one is dealing with, to say the very least of it, a country of great imponderables. So I think it is only fair for him to realize that it may be more than difficult to bring about the result he desires.
– In view of the report that Great Britain may go it alone in space research and development can the Minister for Supply say whether any discussions are taking place between the United Kingdom Government and the Australian Government which might lead to increased activity at Woomera, and also at Talgarno, in Western Australia?
– There have been no recent discussions between the United Kingdom Government and the Australian Government on this matter. The report to which the honorable gentleman refers is a newspaper report from overseas. I inform the honorable member and also the House that, in fact, the tempo of activity at Woomera has increased quite considerably since production of the Blue Streak rocket as a defence weapon was terminated.
– Does the Minister for Labour and National Service recall a recent press statement in which he said, inter alia, that the steel industry was now in a position to meet all demands for both the local and export markets? Is the Minister aware that requests now being made by the local market, including the plumbing trade, for barbed wire, fencing wire and other steel commodities, are being refused on the ground that those commodities are in short supply? Also, is the Minister aware that orders for barbed wire and fencing wire from overseas are similarly being refused? Can the Minister reconcile the alleged lack of orders mentioned by the steel industry as the reason for sacking employees with the fact that the same interests are telling potential buyers that their orders cannot be met because of a scarcity of steel?
– I should immediately correct the honorable gentleman by saying that I did not refer in any statement that I made, in the House or elsewhere, to the capacity of the industry to satisfy export orders. I repeat that, with the exception of specialized sales, the company concerned is now in a position to supply Australia’s primary steel requirements promptly. That statement still stands. As to the rest of the honorable gentleman’s question, he wishes me to engage in a debate when he should, in fact, be seeking an answer to a question. I am not prepared to enter into a debate on a matter like this during question time.
– As it is in the national interest to encourage the playing of amateur sport will the Treasurer consider favorably the removal of sales tax from all sporting goods bought by amateur players?
– The honorable gentleman’s very interesting question raises immediately one query in my mind: How is the vendor to determine whether the purchaser is an amateur player? As the honorable gentleman no doubt realizes, questions of this sort cannot receive a direct reply at this stage of the parliamentary session, but I shall note the question for examination with other problems at budget time.
– I ask the Treasurer whether he has seen two statements published yesterday by Sir John Crawford, the first of which was -
We are near the point, in my view, where the credit squeeze ought to be relaxed regardless of the external situation.
-Order! Is the honorable member’s question based on a newspaper report?
– It is quite an accurate report.
– If the honorable member vouches for the accuracy of the figures-
– There are no figures. The second statement was -
If driven to a choice of weapons in curbing imports, I would choose import licensing in preference to devaluation or across the board tariffs.
Is this view of the man who was until recently head of the Department of Trade also the view of the Treasury? If the Treasurer declines to say what that view is, will he recognize that a failure to do so at the present time will aggravate the uncertainty now felt by all those who are responsible for making decisions about investments and production in Australia?
– In answering this question, I find it necessary to point out that the Opposition seems to have taken the curious course this afternoon of raising, in the guise of questions, argumentative propositions which could more appropriately have been brought to my attention when the Supply legislation was before the Parliament only about a week ago. Clearly, in raising those matters, they have not kept within what I understand to be the requirements of the Standing Orders and I do not propose to pursue the invitation extended by this honorable member and others to debate these matters at present.
– You cannot take it!
– I can not merely take it but I can give it in the right circumstances and on the right occasions, as honorable gentlemen opposite have had reason to appreciate from time to time. There are many commentators on the Government’s policies. They come from various quarters and have various backgrounds. The only quality that the critics in general have in common is that of criticism, but I do not say that of Sir John Crawford, who is a man for whom I have great respect. This Government takes its decisions on the best advice and the best information it can secure. It brings experienced judgment to its policies and I believe most thoughtful people in this country, at any rate, are convinced that there is no better informed body of men to make vital economic decisions than the Government which at present holds office in Australia.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. Will he consider inviting suggestions for telephone directory improvements from the public of Western Australia before authorizing the printing of the next telephone directory for Western Australia? If this is not practicable, will he consider revising, for easier quick reference, those sections of the Western Australian directory which begin with the letters “ W.A.” or the words “ West Australia “ and “ Western Australia “?
– I am always glad to take into account any suggestions made for the improvement of telephone directories. As I have said in reply to previous questions in this House, the determination of the form and the printing of telephone directories since the considerable extension of telephone services and the introduction of new methods have posed a problem for the department, which aims to produce the directories in the most easily understood form. Already quite a number of representations have been made to the department, and I shall be happy to consider any others that may be made. Any suggestions that the honorable member for Stirling may have will certainly receive attention. Some of the directories being produced under the amended procedure are now becoming available, and I believe it will be found that in the main there will be a considerable improvement over the next year in the presentation of these directories. As to the honorable member’s particular reference to the styling of Western Australia in the directories, I shall see that this matter also is given attention.
– Will the Minister for Health defer consideration in this House of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Bill until a provision is inserted that the commissioners who are to run the laboratories shall not be directors, officers or employees of any corporation the business of which is wholly or mainly that of producing or selling biological products, or, in other words, until the bill is amended to include a provision comparable to that relating to the appointment of members of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation?
– Perhaps the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has not been in communication with the Leader of the Opposition. I gave that honorable gentleman an undertaking, when I discussed this bill with him the other night, that I would introduce such an amendment at the appropriate time.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral: Is it a fact that the Australian Broadcasting Commission has recently made surveys of a commercial nature concerning the use of listening time by radio and television audiences, and that it has sold the information gained as a result of these surveys to outside firms? If this is so, does the Minister consider that this class of activity is within the province of the Australian Broadcasting Commission?
– As I understand the honorable member’s question, the suggestion is that certain information obtained as the result of a survey has been sold to outside interests. I have no knowledge of anything of the kind having been done, and I should think it is most unlikely that the honorable member’s information is correct. However, I shall certainly have some inquiries made into the matter that the honorable member has raised, and I will inform him of the result in due course.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Social Services. I have previously raised with him the matter of the provision of financial assistance for organizations actively engaged in the establishment of senior citizens’ centres. Does the Minister agree that such centres are capable of contributing substantially to the health and well-being of our elderly citizens? Has he or have his colleagues considered subsidizing such organizations on a basis similar to that applying in the case of subsidies granted under the Aged Persons Homes Act, or, for that matter, in the case of grants made available through the various States?
– I agree that community centres established to provide amenities for aged men and women serve a useful purpose. Representations have been made to me from time to time that the organizations responsible for the establishment of these centres should be .assisted under the Aged Persons Homes Act. However, I remind the honorable member for Hughes, and honorable members generally, that the Aged Persons Homes Act was designed to assist in providing accommodation for homeless men and women of pensionable age.
– We merely ask for similar assistance.
– Order! The honorable member has asked his question.
– Until that great social need is adequately met, it would be idle, in my opinion, to consider an extensions of the aged persons homes scheme along the lines suggested by the honorable member for Hughes.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral say what is the present position regarding the Australian manufacture and supply of equipment for rural automatic telephone exchanges? To what extent is Australian industry meeting requirements for these exchanges? Will there be any increase in the number of exchanges available for installation during the coming financial year? When will information be available regarding the allocation of rural automatic exchanges in the various districts in Queensland in the next financial year?
– All equipment for rural automatic exchange installations throughout Australia has been obtained for several years past, including the current financial year, from Australian manufacturers. This practice will continue to be followed in the future, but in the forthcoming financial year, as a temporary measure, equipment for about half the number of rural automatic exchanges installed will be of Australian manufacture. The remainder of the exchanges installed will be of the cross-bar type, and the equipment will be assembled in Australia from components imported from Sweden, the country which, in conjunction with one or two other European countries, has developed the cross-bar type of equipment. The honorable member for Darling Downs will well know what I refer to as cross-bar equipment, because it was in his city of Toowoomba that we carried out quite recently the first large-scale installation of cross-bar equipment in an automatic exchange. There had been one or two pilot plants previously installed in Australia, but this was the first large-scale installation. It is our intention to apply the cross-bar principle progressively to rural automatic exchanges, and therefore in the next year some of the equipment will be assembled in Australia from imported components. In the following financial year, however, that is about 1963-64, we expect to be in a position to have all the cross-bar components manufactured in Australia.
The honorable member also inquired concerning the number of exchanges to be installed in the next financial year. I point out to him that it is not possible now to say to what degree the country automatic exchange principle will be extended simply by referring to the numbers of rural automatic exchanges installed, because we are now adopting a policy of providing more and more large country automatic exchanges in which several smaller exchanges are amalgamated. The question, therefore, depends on the number of country automatic exchange lines installed rather than the number of actual rural automatic exchanges installed. In that regard I can tell the honorable member that there has been a steady increase over the last three years or more of the number of country automatic exchange lines. The number has increased by at least 4,000, as a result of the department’s policy. That policy will be continued.
Assent to the following bills reported: -
Judges’ Pensions Bill 1961.
Export Payments Insurance Corporation Bill 1961.
Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Bill 1961.
National Health Bill 1961.
Debate resumed from 9th May (vide page 1603), on motion by Mr. Osborne -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The measure before the House is a bill to amend the Cellulose Acetate Flake Bounty Act 1956-1959. It is a small measure, but, Mr. Speaker, it is of considerable importance to the people of the Commonwealth of Australia. Under the terms of the existing act, which will expire on 30th June, C.S.R. Chemicals Proprietary Limited is entitled to draw from the people of Australia, by way of bounty,10d. for every pound of cellulose acetate Sake produced. The pro duct in question is the raw material from which rayon fibre is spun, and, of course, rayon fibre is the raw material for weaving all sorts of rayon textiles. Perhaps one of the most important uses for rayon is the rayon cord for rubber tires and similar products.
It seems that, owing to pressure of work, the Australian Tariff Board has been unable to complete its inquiry into the justification for a continuation of the bounty. The Government, therefore, has decided that, pending the receipt of the board’s report, the payment of bounty shall be continued until 31st December, or for any such shorter period as the Government, in its wisdom, may decide as suitable.
Mr. Speaker, the Opposition supports the measure. I support it, but with some reluctance, because, after all, this measure is designed to pay a bounty to a very wealthy and successful commercial enterprise which has operated in Australia for a very great number of years. The efficiency of its management, so far as I am able to judge, is unexceptionable. It is a highly efficient commercial enterprise, basically founded on Australian sugar, with some interest in sugar in Fiji and, perhaps, in other places. It has, fortunately, within recent years, invested its available funds in a variety of enterprises other than sugar. I will not name them all, but quite recently it made a very large investment, which is good for Australia, at Bacchus Marsh, in Victoria, where a very large factory has been established to manufacture wallboard.
Over the whole history of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited we find that it has prospered. It has provided employment for a very large number of Australians and its profits can only be called enormous. This morning, I picked up the Melbourne “ Age “, and I found that the £20 shares of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited were quoted at £80 12s. 6d. On yesterday’s stock market, the shares rose by 2s. 6d., and I am wondering whether that rise was due to the fact that this legislation will be enacted by the Parliament this week.
It is remarkable how, when these very large concerns show a loss in one sector of their production they are able to obtain from the Government a bounty on that sector until they can make a profit on it.
Let us consider the position of an enterprising individual who establishes a small business, producing a useful commodity and employing say, ten, fifteen or twenty men. He sees an opportunity to launch out into the production of some ancillary article on which, at first, he may show a loss. He decides to carry that loss with the profits of his other production. He gets no assistance by way of bounty from anybody. He works on his accumulated fat. Yet, here we have a company, the £20 shares of which are quoted at £80 12s. 6d., which is able to persuade the Government that it should receive lOd. a lb. bounty on its production of cellulose acetate flake for another six months because, at the moment, the production of that commodity is not profitable and it cannot compete successfully against the imported article! That is all very interesting. If the Government does not approve of the proposal, the company could simply and calmly say, “ Well, no more production of cellulose acetate flake “ - the raw material from which rayon thread is spun and which is used in the production of motor car tyres. Then it would be necessary for the Government to do something worse than support this company by way of a bounty. It would have to accept the importation of this product from manufacturers abroad who would rob us of more than this company will rob us, perhaps, in the future.
As a matter of fact, when protection ot an industry is necessary I prefer a bounty to a tariff in most instances because all the taxpayers of Australia carry the cost of a bounty whereas tariff protection invariably means that the cost is passed on only to the consumer of the article concerned. If tariff protection were given to cellulose flake production milady’s dress might be increased in price. I think that a bounty is infinitely preferable to tariff protection for the assistance of an Australian indusry.
The company concerned in this case is most efficient, but I have no doubt that in the past, it has been a thief as far as the people of Australia are concerned because its profits have been extortionate. Probably it deserves protection in respect of cellulose acetate manufacture because it will continue to employ thousands of Australian men and women in the production of what is now an essential commodity. When I spoke of the company being a thief. I meant a commercial, legalized thief. That thievery has been possible because of the neglect of this Parliament and of this Government in particular to exercise some reasonable control over the company’s activities. The Government should assume a power to exercise reasonable control over the activities of this organization at a time like this, when, by virtue of this Administration’s economic policy, the number of unemployed in Australia to-day totals probably 160,000. The registered number is 80,000, and we know that always as many do not register as do register. Therefore, we get a total of 160,000 unemployed if those registered as unemployed number 80,000. In no circumstances will the Opposition do anything which would in any way detrimentally affect the opportunities for employment in this industry, and for that reason we support this measure as a result of which every taxpayer in Australia will be required to contribute to the bounty paid to the company in question.
I sometimes think, Mr. Speaker, that some of these great concerns - they are benefactors to Australia in many ways, it is true - do not sufficiently look at the duty that they owe to the nation. Why do they not say to themselves, “ Our accumulation of profits over the years has increased the value of our £20 shares to about £80, and we are prepared to continue to employ men on the manufacture of this commodity even though we show a loss for the first four or five years “? What has Australia paid C.S.R. Chemicals Proprietary Limited in bounty over the past few years? Here are the figures: The bounty was £113,258 in 1957; £100,981 in 1958; £124,286 in 1959; and £120,033 in 1960- a total of £458,558 in four years. This bounty has been paid for the production of a commodity which is valuable to Australia from the stand-point of defence and the development of employment opportunities for our people. But surely there comes a time when some of these great commercial concerns should carry some of the losses themselves instead of forever assuming the role of mendicants and asking this Parliament for hand-outs until they can stand on their own feet. In this instance, the hand-out has totalled almost £500,000. I think that this is outrageous.
– Then why does not the honorable member oppose the bill?
– I have to support it, because we on this side of the House will not do anything as a matter of expediency to worsen the present position for which the Government that the honorable member supports is directly responsible. However, we at all times qualify our support for this sort of bounty payment by saying, as I have frequently said: It is better to have the industry here in Australia producing in this country and providing opportunities for scientific and industrial development and for employment as well as ensuring the supply of a commodity in time of war or some other emergency. For reasons such as these, we have always been forthright protectionists, and we favour the payment of a bounty in this instance.
It is true that, with respect to this bounty, an American interest comes into the picture. This bounty is not paid just for the benefit of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. That company is associated with an American chemical company - the Dow company - in C.S.R. Chemicals Proprietary Limited, the know-how for which, 1 understand, has been provided by the American company. The Dow company will, of course, have the right to draw tribute from the profits when any are made and to remit profits to the United States of America. I know of no proposal under the terms of this or any other measure to bring into the Commonwealth Treasury, until such time as an amount equivalent to the bounty received by the company has been returned to the Commonwealth, any part of the profits that will eventually be earned by the Dow organization.
As I have said, we support the measure, although I have been critical of what is being done. For the sake of Australia’s general welfare, the Opposition supports the bill. But I think that as time goes on we should reconsider the payment of bounties to powerful concerns and the refusal to support the little man who has the initiative to go into enterprise and bear the losses himself for a period. From time to time in this great Commonwealth of ours, people with an accumulation of capital put their life’s savings into farming. Sometimes a person jogs along for twenty years, living at a bare subsistence level, until a property becomes profitable, lt is true that some subsidies have been and are still being paid in respect of primary production. Most - in fact, practically all - were initiated during the term of office of a Labour government. Unfortunately, the need for them continues, because, since 1949, this Government has allowed everincreasing inflation to raise costs of production in the agricultural industries to a level at which many primary producers cannot possibly survive in their industry unless they receive bounties. As a result, bounties are paid. The Australian Labour Party has always supported the payment of them. But, in this instance, we have a bounty paid to a great concern which can sell its £20 shares on the market to-morrow at £80 12s. 6d. each. That organization says to the Parliament, “ Give us a hand-out “. Yet the big bosses in organizations such as this are the people who are most critical of social services. They talk about pensioners and others as mendicants and decry what they term the terrible costs of social services.
As I have said, Mr. Speaker, this measure has our support. 1 hope that, as a result of a very early change in government, the economic situation in this country will be so favorable as to make great companies and individuals feel that it is no longer necessary or expedient to ask the people to pay a bounty on any product.
– in reply - Mr. Speaker, I do not want to take up the time of the House unduly on this short, though necessary, measure. I wish only to point out one fact. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) said that he and the Australian Labour Party support the bill. He then proceeded to produce a series of arguments the only logical conclusion to which, if Opposition members believe the arguments, is that they should oppose this measure. The reason why the honorable member finds himself in this impossible position is clear: His whole argument was based on a fallacy. This bounty is paid, not for the benefit of C.S.R. Chemicals Proprietary Limited, but for the benefit of the enterprise which depends on the company’s output of cellulose acetate flake for the manufacture of rayon yarn. The bounty is paid also for the benefit of the textile manufacturers who need rayon yarn and for the benefit of the people who depend for their livelihood on the production of rayon yarn in Australia. The fact that there is in this country only one producer of cellulose acetate flake indicates that the production of this raw material is not profitable unless supported by a bounty. These are the reasons why the bounty is paid and why the Government proposes to extend its payment until such time as the Tariff Board can report on the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 9th May (vide page 1603), on motion by Mr. Cramer -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill seeks to validate certain payments made to members of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force between 1947 and 1960. The Opposition does not oppose it. We appreciate that it merely recognizes the action taken by the members of another place towards the end of last year when they disallowed regulations under which the Government had proposed to validate the payments made to servicemen during the relevant period. But the Opposition believes that some criticism should be levelled at the Government for its gross neglect in failing to validate these payments during a period of twelve years in the case of the Army, ten years in the case of the Air Force and two years in the case of the Navy, although we admit at once that perhaps no great criticism should be levelled at it with respect to payments made by the Navy.
Towards the end of last year regulation No. 6, relating to military finance, regulation No. 30, dealing with Air Force finance, and regulation No. 36, relating to Navy finance, were disallowed in another place. It was pointed out then that although the matter had been brought to the notice of the Government by the Auditor-General for five successive years, no action had been taken by the Government to validate payments which were, in fact, made contrary to the accepted procedure of this Parliament. It is not suggested that any action should be taken with respect to those previous payment, but the point was made - and well made in my opinion - in that other place, that the Government should have taken action years ago to validate the payments which we are now seeking to validate by this bill.
It is true that under section 124 of the Defence Act the Government has power to make regulations providing for increases in allowances and pay to members of the services, but that section also imposes upon the Government an obligation to publish the regulations in the “ Gazette “ and, if Parliament is sitting, to inform this Parliament of them within fourteen days of their promulgation; or, if Parliament is not sitting, to inform Parliament within fourteen day after it resumes. Instead of doing so in this instance, the Government waited for eleven years before taking action either to promulgate regulations or to inform the Parliament of the payments that were, in fact, made illegally. And the important point is that more than £100,000,000 is involved in these payments.
It is now almost nine months since the regulations were disallowed in another place, and now, in the dying stages of the session, a bill is brought before us to validate the payments which have been made. As I have pointed out already, the Opposition does not oppose the bill because it supported the disallowance of the regulations in another place, but I am sure many honorable members will share my view that this Government does far too much by regulation. I have no doubt that the Government is well aware that the Regulations and Ordinances Committee of the Senate recommended that payments in excess of £2,000,000 should always be submitted to Parliament for its approval. This bill does not give effect to that recommendation; it merely validates payments which have been made in the past. I assert on behalf of the Opposition and, I am sure, on behalf of many honorable members on the Government side, that the Government might well have given effect to the recommendation of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. After all, as a general rule, when we deal with pay and allowances for members of the defence forces we are dealing with very large sums, and in a case like this where the amount exceeds more than £2,000,000, the Government should seek the approval of the Parliament. But the Government does not attempt to do that: it merely indicates that the regulations will be submitted to Parliament in future in the manner prescribed by the Defence Act. The Minister has also given us an assurance that in future the regulations authorizing the payments will be submitted to Parliament and, while I accept that assurance, I repeat on behalf of the Opposition that Parliament ought to be given the opportunity to express either approval or disapproval when large amounts such as that mentioned here are involved.
I stated at the commencement of my remarks that the Opposition does not oppose the passage of this legislation, but it does take the opportunity of criticizing the government for its failure to take the necessary action before now. It is now almost twelve years since regulations validating payment to certain members of the defence forces should have been submitted for the approval of this Parliament. If the Government had been able to pursue the course it endeavoured to follow last year, these payments would have been validated by regulation instead of by act of parliament. In other words, this Parliament would not have been given the opportunity to validate the payment of more than £100,000,000. In those circumstances. I believe that the Regulations and Ordinances Committee acted quite properly and correctly in moving for the disallowance in another place of the regulations to which I have referred.
I conclude on the note that the Opposition is satisfied with the Minister’s assurance that in future regulations dealing with payments to members of the defence forces will be submitted to this Parliament for approval in accordance with section 124 of the Defence Act.
Mr. HULME (Petrie - Minister for nent aspects of this matter is that this legislation is necessary to validate payments which were made subsequent to 7th August, 1947. It is clear, therefore, that when this Government assumed office in December, 1949, a period of 2i years had already elapsed in which the previous government had taken no action to validate the payments made to members of the defence forces.
– But that does not excuse the delay by this Government.
– I am not suggesting that it does excuse if, I am merely suggesting that, as the previous government had delayed validation of these payments for 2i years, there might have been good reason for further delay. And there was good reason. It was the heavy accumulation of work at that time. Since then, that accumulation has been added to each year, with the result that it was impossible to follow the practice which had been adopted in 1937 - the practice of preparing regulations and presenting them to Parliament for approval. The accumulation to which I refer related to work of the Parliamentary Draftsman. I suppose if one were to table in this House all the papers involved in this problem one would need a suitcase to carry them here. This is not something which can be done merely by writing a few pages of regulations or drafting an act. This is a stupendous task. The Government has already made its apologies through the Minister for the Army for the delay that has taken place, and it has given an undertaking that this situation will not occur in the future. I repeat that undertaking.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 10th May (vide page 1697), on motion by Mr. Davidson -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– The Opposition does not oppose this bill. In fact, we agree that the proposed amendments to the act are really necessary. At the same time, however, we feel that the Government is to be condemned for restricting the scope of the bill by drawing it in such a way that the Parliament is prevented from dealing with other very important defects in the Broadcasting and Television Act.
– This is a second-reading speech.
– We are taking the bill as a whole.
– But you cannot make a second-reading speech in committee.
– We are taking the bill as a whole and I am entitled to deal with it as a whole. I am criticizing the bill because its clauses are too restricted.
– I rise to order, Mr. Chairman. I do not want to prevent an honorable member from making his speech, but I should like your ruling on this point: When a bill is taken as a whole, are we not obliged to deal with the clauses of the bill and not to make a general secondreading speech?
– I uphold the point of order that the honorable member for Mallee has raised. Even when a bill is taken as a whole, honorable members must deal specifically with the clauses. The scope of this bill is limited, and I ask the honorable member for Hindmarsh not to stray too far from the clauses.
– In particular, I want to criticize the title of the bill because it is too restricted. The title is, “ A Bill for an Act Relating to Licences in respect of Broadcast Receivers and Television Receivers let out on hire “. The Government is to be criticized for having introduced a bill bearing such an unduly restricted title. The title should have been wide enough to have enabled the Parliament to deal with commercial television stations and the charges that they make for televising political programmes. The title of the bill should have been wide enough to enable me to direct attention to the fact that if a political party wishes to have a programme televised over seven commercial stations simultaneously the cost is £1,058 a minute.
– On a point of order, Mr. Chairman; I suggest that the honorable member for Hindmarsh is attempting to use the title of the bill to canvass matters which are not included in the bill.
– The point of order raised by the Postmaster-General is well taken. The honorable member for Hindmarsh must not canvass the matters that he has mentioned. He must direct his remarks to the bill before the committee and not to what he considers the bill should be.
– I point out, Mr. Chairman, that this is a bill relating to licences in respect of broadcast receivers and television receivers. If those receivers receive something they diffuse it, and therefore one should be able to discuss what comes out of them. Or is it suggested that they are dumb and have no message? Surely if one is able to talk about broadcast receivers and television receivers one must be able to talk about the programmes that come out of those receivers.
– The honorable member for Parkes omitted the last four words of the title of the bill, which are “let out on hire “. The bill relates only to broadcast and television receivers let out on hire, not to broadcast and television receivers generally.
– But if they are let out on hire they have a function to disseminate broadcast and television programmes. I suggest that you have adopted a very narrow concept. Mr. Chairman, and that is most unlike you.
– I stated that the honorable member for Parkes had omitted the last four words of the title. He also omitted the three words, “ relating to licences “. Those two factors must be taken together. I call the honorable member for Hindmarsh.
– I am still not satisfied with the position because there is no doubt that the Government is very touchy about broadcasting and television, and the fact that it has drawn this bill in such a narrow way indicates to me that we ought to have a closer look at it. The Government has adopted this new practice of describing legislation in such a way that debate is restricted. This is “ A Bill for an Act Relating to Licences in respect of Broadcast Receivers and Television Receivers let out on hire “. The Government relies on those words to restrict debate. I persist in criticizing the Government for introducing a bill relating only to licences in respect of broadcast receivers and television receivers let out on hire when there are so many other important matters that ought to be dealt with. For instance, when the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Bill was introduced the whole subject was thrown open for discussion in committee. In fact, on that occasionI proposed certain amendments in committee because the bill, having been thrown into the ring, gave the Opposition the right to deal with any aspect of it. That is why I say that this exorbitant charge which the television stations are making for political programmes-
– Order! If the honorable member for Hindmarsh intends to continue along those lines I shall ask him to resume his seat.
– In that case, Mr. Chairman, I shall move dissent from your ruling. I move -
That the ruling be dissented from.
In speaking to the motion, Mr. Chairman
– Order! There can be no debate on a motion for dissent from the ruling of the Chair. (Mr. Clyde Cameron having submitted his objection to the ruling in writing) -
Question put -
That the ruling be dissented from.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause.
.- I move -
That the following new clause be added to the bill:- “4. Section one hundred of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942-1960 is amended by omitting sub-section (6.) and inserting in its stead the following sub-section: - (6.) A licensee shall not broadcast or televise an advertisement relating to -
a substance or appliance for which a therapeutic use is claimed, or
a substance, appliance, method or technique for which cosmetic and/or physiological advantages are claimed, unless the text of the proposed advertisement has been approved by the
Director-General of Health, or, on appeal to the Minister under this section, by the Minister.’.”.
I take this course in order to give effect to the strong recommendations passed by the National Health and Medical Research Council at its meeting on 12th May last year and reiterated at its meeting on 27th and 28th October last year, and in order to repair the failure of the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) and the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) over the ensuing year and half-year, to give effect to the recommendations.
Honorable members will notice that this resolution is set out in “ Hansard “ of 6th December last, at page 3670, in answer to a question which I had placed on the notice-paper-
-Order! I must rule the proposed new clause out of order because it is not relevant to the bill before the committee.
– ThenI reluctantly move -
That the ruling be dissented from.
How much longer must-
– Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition may only move dissent from the Chairman’s ruling, and there can be no debate on the motion.
– On a point of order, Mr. Chairman: You have already ruled, and the committee has sustained your ruling, that matters like this which are outside the scope of the bill are out of order. Is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in order in again asking for a ruling from the Chair?
– This is apart from the ruling already given by the Chair. This is a ruling on an amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. (Mr. Whitlam having submitted his objection to the ruling in writing) -
Question put -
That the ruling be dissented from.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Majority . . 22
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 11th May (vide 1777), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- As explained by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), the amendments contained in this legislation are of a technical kind and arise from the legislation recently passed which provided for alterations of income tax provisions relative to investment by insurance companies and superannuation funds. The House will recall that that legislation made it almost inevitable that insurance companies should put 30 per cent, of their future investments into public securities - 20 per cent, into Commonwealth securities and 10 per cent, into semi-government institution securities. In order to be able to do that it is necessary for insurance companies to segregate their accounts in such a way that it may be determined whether or not they are conforming to the direction of the Government and, consequently, whether they are eligible for the tax concessions.
We have not had a great deal of time to scrutinize this amending legislation, and must again take on faith what the Treasurer has said as to its intent. I think, though, that one thing that was significant in the Treasurer’s speech was the mention that at the moment a large part of the information that is provided by superannuation funds and insurance companies is limited to certain statistical data. As was pointed out in the debate on the income tax legislation, superannuation funds are of some significance now. The fifteenth report of the Insurance Commissioner for the year ended 31st December last shows that companies registered under the Life Insurance Act completed ordinary policies for sums totalling £800,000,000, of which 25.6 per cent, or roughly a quarter related to superannuation schemes. So the annual increment in superannuation schemes in this twelve months was of the order of £200,000,000. Now that the business is of this extent, it would seem that the time has come when information other than merely statistical information should be required in this field.
There is another matter of some importance in regard to superannuation schemes. Schemes which seek benefits because they conform with taxation requirements are scrutinized by the Commissioner of Taxation to ascertain whether they do conform to these requirements, but apart from that scrutiny, the funds are largely administered by the companies themselves or trustees, and they are not required to provide the sort of information that insurance companies provide. The funds are important because they give, or are supposed to give, rights to employees in certain circumstances. The employees make contributions, for which they receive taxation concessions, and the employing organizations make contributions for which they also receive taxation concessions. But apparently, except for the scrutiny by the Commissioner of Taxation to see whether they fall within the province of taxation requirements, they are not subject to any degree of public scrutiny as are life assurance companies. Because of the nature and extent of these funds - and they are growing - I suggest that the time has come when there ought to be some sort of registration of them. There ought to be a body to which an aggrieved member of a fund could appeal if he felt that he had - victimized by those who control the fund.
The Government seems to think that mobility of labour is good, but to an extent some of the funds tie employees to a firm. An employee who leaves a firm has no further right in the fund to which he was a subscriber, even though that fund has received benefits by way of rebates that have been borne by the public revenue. I suggest that if an individual leaves one fund, he should be able to transfer his rights to a similar fund, if it exists, in his new employment. The Government should give particular scrutiny to this matter, because same of the funds are identified with the employing organization. The main assets of some funds are shares in the company employing the contributors. This may have been quite good whilst things were buoyant and some gain could be expected from the shares. But at the moment, some employeare ceasing to be beneficiaries of funds and are leaving at a time when the prevailing climate in the undertaking is pessimism rather than optimism. The Government should consider bringing these funds within the purview of the Insurance Commissioner just as are insurance companies which handle superannuation business.
Other matters to which T should like to direct attention are mentioned in a passage in the fourteenth annual report of the
Insurance Commissioner. The passage reads -
An important feature of recent years has been the developing interest shown by overseas insurance companies in Australia as a field for the transaction of life insurance business. In addition, the recent move by a number of Australian life insurance companies into general insurance business has resulted in some general insurance companies entering the life insurance field.
Two matters mentioned in this passage call for attention. As is pointed out, there is a growing tendency for overseas life assurance companies to enter the Australian field. This means a drain on our foreign reserves, a position that is critical at the moment. It would seem that in the life assurance field we have mainly what is called the mutual form of life assurance company, in which there are no shareholders as such but in which the benefit or the increment in assets is distributed amongst all the policy-holders, according to their contributions as measured by premiums. At least, the goodwill and the growth is retained in Australia. In view of the good record of life assurance in Australia, I regard the invasion of the Australian field by foreign companies as an unhealthy sign. Again, I think it is time that the Government considered these matters.
The other matter raised by the Insurance Commissioner is the growing tendency for what is called general insurance - that is fire, accident, burglary and so on - to be undertaken by life assurance companies. Alternatively, I suppose on the spur of competition, companies in the general field are tending to invade the life assurance field. Whether that is healthy competition, I do not intend to argue. However, the point at the moment is that there is no control in Australia, as there is in the field of life assurance, over this very big field of general insurance. T have not the figures at my fingertips at the moment, but I think it was said in a previous debate that this business of general insurance amounted to £150,000,000 a year. That is a significant figure in terms of our national income. These companies register under various State laws, but most of them operate on a national rather than a purely State basis. Many of them are foreign companies. I suppose a preponderant number of fire insurance companies are British, not Australian. However, the point is that they are not subject to any kind of control in
Australia. They are not subject to any scrutiny as to whether their premium rates are fair in terms of the services they claim to provide and the risks they aim to cover.
I suggest that this too is a field that the Government could well consider, particularly as some life assurance companies are entering the field. It may be that the amount of business done by life assurance companies in the general field could affect their life assurance business. I do not know whether that would be so, but at least this field of insurance is ripe for the same kind of public scrutiny as is given to life assurance companies under the Life Insurance Act of 1945. The Opposition does not oppose this bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it merely provides the technical machinery necessary for companies to determine whether or not they are entitled to the tax concessions that were discussed in this House some weeks ago. I merely make those few remarks about insurance generally, while offering no objection to the bill itself.
– in reply - The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has raised some interesting points, most of which have already been considered by the Government. However, I shall give further study to them in the light of what the honorable member has put to us. The honorable member suggested that the Parliament was being asked to accept what he rightly interprets to be largely a machinery measure, almost on a basis of fate. It may comfort him a little if I tell him, and other members of the House, that since the earlier legislation was discussed in this Parliament representatives of the life offices have taken the opportunity to go through the details of the proposals with officers of the Treasury and with the Insurance Commissioner, and I am informed that they have suggested no particular amendments. They feel that any questions that may crop up in the future can be dealt with administratively.
Since we discussed this matter previously, the fifteenth annual report of the Insurance Commissioner has been tabled in the House. A press release from the office of the commissioner reveals some interesting facts, which I think should be placed on the record, as they confirm the points made at an earlier stage, and give further details regarding them. It appears from this report that the total assets of all life office companies held in Australia increased during 1960 by more than £82,000,000, and amounted to approximately £1,009,000,000 at the end of the year. Loans on mortgage increased by £34,000,000, and £31,000,000 was invested in company shares. I think that is probably the highest figure of total company investment ever recorded. The total amount invested in public securities, on the other hand, including Commonwealth Government securities, declined by £7,000,000 during the year. This decline was due in part to the transfer by one company of public securities to a subsidiary company carrying on superannuation business, but the overall result was an actual reduction of public security investment in the course of the year. The high rate of investment in company shares reinforces the statement I made earlier to the House, that as matters stood before our legislation was brought in, there was an inbuilt discrimination, in effect, operating in favour of company share investment and against public security investment.
I thought the House would be interested to have these facts brought to its notice. At the committee stage, I shall introduce an amendment which I have been advised is now considered desirable. I hope the committee will agree to it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 9 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Sections forty-one and forty-two of the Principal Act are repealed and the following sections inserted in their stead: -
“42b. - (1.) Where a company that carries on superannuation business pays an amount in respect of income tax as defined by the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act 1936-1961 -
– I move -
Omit sub-section (2.) of proposed section fortytwo b, insert the following sub-section: - “ ‘ (2.) A reference in the last preceding subsection to an amount paid, or an amount that a company reasonably considers would have been payable, by the company in respect of income tax shall, where an amount has been apportioned, or would have been subject to apportionment, as the case may be, under section forty-two of this Act, be read as a reference to that part of the amount that was, or would have been, apportioned, as the case may be, under that section to the life insurance business carried on by the company.’.”.
This amendment replaces sub-clause (2.) of proposed section 42b in the bill by a new sub-clause (2.). Proposed section 42b is intended to ensure that the benefit of any saving in taxation on the superannuation business of a company is passed on to the superannuation policy holders of the company. This amount may have to be determined after apportioning the total tax paid by a company between life insurance business and other business. Sub-clause (2.) is intended to provide that, in such cases, the tax saving for superannuation policy holders shall be related to the amount of tax apportioned to the company’s life insurance business. This intention was not made quite clear in the original sub-clause (2.). The new subclause (2.) clears up this difficulty by referring specifically to the amount of taxation that was, or would have been, apportioned to the life insurance business of the company.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 11th May (vide page 1829), on motion by Mr. McMahon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill will give effect to the third agreement dealt with by this Parliament in connexion with relations between the Commonwealth and the States in respect of housing. The first agreement was introduced into the Parliament in 1945. It provided for loans on a 53-year basis at an interest rate of 3 per cent. It also made provision for rental rebates for persons whose incomes did not exceed the basic wage. The Commonwealth agreed to accept three-fifths, and the States two-fifths, of losses incurred under the agreement.
The second agreement was negotiated in 1956. It might be more accurate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to say that there was no agreement at all, because the States were told that they could either accept the proposal or leave it. However, a bill was introduced into this Parliament in 1956 to ratify the second agreement. It reduced the maximum period of repayments in respect of a house purchased under the legislation from 53 years to 45 years. At the same time, the interest rate was increased from 3 per cent to 4 per cent. A further provision was made to the effect that State housing authorities would have to make available in the first two years of the operation of the agreement 20 per cent of the total funds at their disposal to co-operative building societies, and 30 per cent in the remaining three years of the life of the agreement. That agreement has operated for five years. The first agreement, introduced in 1945, was for a period of ten years. The 1956 agreement, to which I have been referring, expires on 30th June next.
I believe that mis House should clearly understand that we are now debating an agreement which the States themselves have not yet seen. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) must be well aware of that.
– If they have any interest in financing house construction they should be prepared to sign the agreement.
– On this basis alone I believe that the Government deserves the fullest condemnation from this Parliament. The Minister said in his second-reading speech -
At the present time we cannot say positively that all the States will accept the agreement. We believe, however, that they will do so.
The Minister believes that the States will accept this agreement. The Minister is well aware that, in April, 1960, more than twelve months ago, six State Ministers for housing met in this city to discuss the next Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, knowing that the present agreement was to -expire on 30th June, 1961. They asked then that they be given an early draft of the agreement. Now we are debating a bill which provides an agreement which the States themselves have not had the opportunity to peruse. The Minister knows that the various State Ministers are opposed to this agreement on at least one ground. I shall refer to that later in my address.
The State Ministers have no desire to accept this agreement but the Minister is saying to them, in effect, “ Here it is; take it or leave it “. The State Ministers have been very badly treated in this respect by the Commonwealth Government. More than twelve months ago they asked for an early draft of the agreement. It was never made available to them. Yet the Federal Minister responsible for housing, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), notified the various State Ministers of the agreement by telegram on the day on which this bill was introduced into this Parliament.
As late as 4th May, the State Minister for Housing in Tasmania, Mr. Madden, wrote to the Minister for National Development pointing out that Tasmania could not accept this agreement in its present form. Yet, on the day on which the bill was introduced in another place, the Tasmanian Minister received a telegram apologizing for the fact that the bill had to be introduced. We know that the bill had to be passed before 30th June of this year, but that does not excuse the Government because it has had more than twelve months in which to reach agreement with the various State Ministers for housing. It has neglected to do so and in that respect I believe that it deserves to be condemned by this Parliament. There are, as the Minister knows, several points on which the Tasmanian Minister, at least, is at variance with the Government on this agreement. I hope to be able to cover that matter later in my address.
The fact remains that although this agreement is not acceptable to the States in its present form, the States are being told that they must either accept it or leave it. The State Ministers have no option but to accept it. In view of the fact that the State Ministers approached the Minister for National Development so many months ago, believe that they were entitled to receive a copy of the agreement before it was introduced into this Parliament. There seems to me to be no reasonable excuse for the Minister for National Development sending out a telegram to State Ministers on the day on which he introduces a bill into the Parliament, apologizing for not having let them know earlier the contents of the bill.
The Minister has indicated that there are no great changes in the agreement and that only in respect of one or two details will the States find themselves at variance with this Government. The repayment period remains at 45 years. The interest rate is to be the long-term bond rate, less 1 per cent., and on this point the State Ministers found themselves at variance with the Minister for National Development. As the long-term bond rate is now 54 per cent., the States will have to pay an interest rate of 4i per cent., or an increase of three-eighths of 1 per cent, on the rate under the 1956 agreement. One of the great difficulties in providing housing to-day, particularly for people on low incomes, is the margin of security required for a housing loan, whether it is for a home erected by a State housing authority, a co-operative building society, or the War Service Homes Division.
The increase in the interest rate by threeeighths of 1 per cent, will substantially increase the cost of a home. An increase of 1 per cent, in the interest rate increases the cost of a home by approximately onethird, so an increase of three-eighths of 1 per cent, will result in a substantial increase in the cost of homes in the various States. The Minister is well aware of that. He knows, too, the various State Ministers disputed that the interest rate should rise with the increase in the long-term bond rate. In 1945, under the original housing agreement, we adopted the principle that the interest rate should be as low as possible and it was fixed at 3 per cent., which is even lower than the interest rate now payable by applicants for war service homes. The war service homes rate of interest is a generous rate. The Opposition acknowledges that. But we believe that if it is possible for the Government’s own instrumentality, the War Services Homes Division, to provide homes for ex-servicemen at the reasonable rate of 3i per cent, and still make a substantial profit, as it has over the years, it should be possible for this Parliament to authorize loans to the various States at a minimum rate of interest.
Since this Government came to power, in 1949, there has been a substantial increase in interest rates. I have already pointed out that, in 1945, the interest rate under the original agreement was 3 per cent. Under the new agreement, the rate now will be 4J per cent., an increase of three-eighths of 1 per cent. This will substantially add to the cost of a home. The State Ministers will have no option but to accept this interest rate because it will be legalized by this bill.
The Minister for National Development, five years ago, made available to honorable members a very important and most informative document entitled “The Housing Situation “. It is a great pity that the Minister has not made further reports of this kind available. This report contained a great deal of information which was useful to honorable members on both sides of the House and of interest to people outside this Parliament. That was five years ago. In that document, the Minister for National Development indicated that if we could construct 77,000 homes in Australia each year the backlog of homes required would be overcome iri five years. I think that the Minister for Labour and National Service is well aware that, since that report was issued, we have not been able to construct 77,000 homes a year. Last year, we exceeded that figure by a substantial number, and I certainly give the Government full credit for that.
This year, with the Government’s credit restrictions, finance for a home is much more difficult to obtain than it was in 1960. We know that the figures for this year have already indicated a substantial reduction in the number of homes being built. In the March quarter of this year fewer new houses and flats were begun than in any quarter of any year since the end of 1958. Only 19,928 new houses and flats were begun in the March quarter of this year, compared with 23,594 in the December quarter of I960, and 22,569 in the March quarter of 1960 - a substantial drop compared with both of the earlier periods. The number of houses begun dropped from 18.727 in the December quarter of 1960 to 17,049 in the March quarter of 1960, and the number of flats from 4,867 to 2,879. In every instance, there has been a substantia] reduction. This applies to all new dwellings, whether constructed by State housing authorities or by private builders or co-operative building societies, or even by the War Service Homes Division, which is this Government’s own instrumentality. So it is obvious that the prediction by the Minister for National Development that the housing backlog would be overtaken in 1961 will not be fulfilled.
I believe that honorable members are aware of the fact that, as the available figures show, the number of homes constructed by State housing authorities in every State, also, has fallen substantially. These are homes that are built for people on very low incomes who can afford only small deposits. Indeed, they are the only homes that many of these people can hope to obtain, and they can get them only because of the low deposits required and the terms generally, which in many instances are generous. The number of these homes being constructed, also, has dropped substantially. I believe that this Parliament ought to understand, from all these figures, that the situation is just as serious now as it was when the Minister for National Development made his report almost five years ago. 1 have referred to the number of homes constructed in this country and indicated that the figures for the March quarter of this year show a substantia] decline compared with those for the corresponding quarter of 1960. I do not think that there is likely to be any improvement in the rate of construction throughout this year. While the Government’s credit restrictions remain in force it is practically impossible for people, particularly those in the lower income groups, to obtain dwellings on reasonable deposits. 1 turn now to the interest factor, Mr. Speaker. The Opposition believes that the interest charged with respect to homes constructed by State housing authorities should be as low as possible. We believe that the new rate of 4f per cent, is not in accord with the generous terms of the 1945 Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, and the increase of i per cent, will impose additional hardships. The States, inevitably, must pass on the increased cost to the people who obtain the homes built by the State authorities. I believe that this Government ought to have waited at least until it had had the opportunity of discussing this matter further with the various State Ministers who found themselves in complete disagreement with this Government’s contention that the interest rate should be increased. The ruling rate of interest in Tasmania and Victoria for homes constructed by the State authorities is 4i per cent., that in New South Wales 41 per cent., that in South Australia 5 per cent, and that in Western Australia and Queensland 5i per cent. The increase of J per cent, in the rate of interest charged on funds made available under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, naturally, will raise the rates of interest that must be charged by the States on homes constructed by the State authorities.
I have already mentioned deposits. Very generous terms in the way of low deposits are available in most of the States to applicants for homes constructed by the State instrumentalities. Tn Western Australia and New South Wales the deposit is only f 50.
In Victoria it is £100, in South Australia £200 and in Queensland £250. No deposit at all is required in Tasmania. Perhaps 1 may point out that in the three States in which the lowest deposits prevail there are Labour governments. In all the States the deposit is so low as to be reasonably generous. I believe that these low deposits put homes within the means of the people for whom this Parliament originally legislated when it approved the 1956 agreement. Those people are enabled by these low deposits to obtain homes on reasonable terms.
I am of the opinion that the housing situation in this country has not improved as the Opposition would have liked during the period in which this Government- has been in office. When the present Administration took office in 1949, after the immediate postwar years, there was a backlog of approximately 150,000 homes in this country. As the figures that are available to honorable members indicate, State instrumentalities are able to construct approximately 9,000 homes each year. But, at the end of last year, more than 75,000 applicants on the books of State instrumentalities were awaiting homes. So another nine years will pass at the present rate of construction, even if no further applications are received, before we accommodate all the people who have already sought the assistance of the State authorities.
The position has not improved, and the Government’s policy in ‘allocating to cooperative building societies a greater proportion of the sums made available to the States each year has deprived the cooperative building societies and other instrumentalities of funds from other sources from which they previously obtained finance. The net result is that not only the number of homes built by State instrumentalities but also the number constructed by the various housing societies has fallen substantially. I know that various Government supporters have expressed in this House the view that by making more money available to cooperative building societies we shall get more homes. I say at once that that is a complete fallacy. We may get more expensive homes, but we certainly shall not get more homes.
I think that this opinion can be substantiated by the figures that have been made available by the Commonwealth Statistician to indicate the number of houses and flats completed under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. In 1956-57, 9,663 homes were completed under this agreement. In 1957-58, 10,045 were completed and in 1959-60 the number had fallen to 9,353 - a substantial decline. In the September quarter of 1960, 1,806 homes were completed under the agreement. There was a slight improvement in the December quarter, the number completed being 2,336. I point out again for the benefit of honorable members that if wc are building only approximately 9,500 homes each year under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement and there are 75,000 applicants for these homes, it is obvious that, even without the extra applications which will be made this year, next year and the year after, some years will elapse before all applicants can be satisfied. The position is the same in connexion with the funds made available to co-operative building societies. Ever since the 1956 agreement, under which the amount to be made available to cooperative building societies was increased from 20 per cent, in the first two years to 30 per cent, for the remaining three years there has been less money available to the societies from other institutions, as is shown by the figures published for New South Wales, one of the few States in which such figures are available. Those statistics show that in 1959-60 the co-operative building societies of New South Wales built approximately 6,000 homes. They also disclose that in the years from 1950-51 to 1959-60, when less money was available to cooperative building societies from the Commonwealth, those societies built half as many homes again as they had been able to build in the years when they received more money from Commonwealth sources. One reason for this is that, although they are now receiving more money from Commonwealth sources, they are obtaining less from what were the recognized channels prior to the 1956 agreement. For example, in 1949, the co-operative building societies received £12,015,000 from private sources but, by the time the 1956 agreement was signed, that figure had dropped to £6,627,000. From 1949 onwards, there was a gradual diminution in the amount of money available to co-operative building societies from banks, insurance companies and other organizations. Had they not been assisted by the Commonwealth Savings Bank and the Commonwealth Trading Bank, those societies would have been extremely short of funds last year. This is borne out by the fact that whereas £98,000,000 was made available to the societies by insurance companies, hanks and other sources, £27,800,000 was provided by the Commonwealth Trading Bank and £78,000,000 by the Commonwealth Savings Bank. Between them, the two Commonwealth bank organizations provided more than 76 per cent, of the total funds made available to the co-operative building societies of New South Wales in that year. The position is much the same in every State, in that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement has been responsible for channelling more funds to building societies at the expense of the State housing instrumentalities.
I hope that the House will understand that 1 am not in any way criticizing the co-operative building societies. I believe that they serve a very useful purpose in the community. They have been instrumental in providing homes for a great number of people. Many of these societies have been operating for a great number of years, and they are playing a magnificent part in providing homes during a period of critical housing shortage, but we of the Opposition say that the funds made available to State instrumentalities should not be reduced in order to make more money available to co-operative building societies.
The number of applications outstanding in all States indicates that the amount of money made available to State instrumentalities should be increased rather than reduced. If the Government believes that money should be made available to co-operative building societies - and we think it should - then it should not be provided at the expense of the State instrumentalities. The 1961 agreement does not indicate how much money will be made available to the States; it merely indicates that again 30 per cent, must be made available to the co-operative building societies. We all know that when they met in Canberra in April, 1960, the State Minis- ters for Housing opposed a suggestion by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) that the amount to be made available to co-operative building societies should be increased to 33-J per cent. Had they agreed to the suggestion, still less money would have been available for State housing instrumentalities. As a result of their protests, the figure for co-operative building societies remained at 30 per cent.
I do not believe that the making available of more money by the Commonwealth to these various instrumentalities has meant the building of more homes. On the contrary, 1 believe that fewer homes are being built by both the State housing authorities and the co-operative building societies. When we appreciate that whereas £12,000,000 was made available to co-operative building societies in 1949, only £8,000,000 was available to them in 1961, it must be obvious that they could not build more than two-thirds of the number of homes they constructed in 1949 because the value of the Australian £1 has declined substantially over the period. The States have told this Government that they believe that the various co-operative building societies have a useful part to play in the housing programmes of the States, but they have also emphasized that the amount of money made available to the States should not be reduced in order to increase the amount made available to the cooperative building societies.
That brings me to another extremely important point that gives some indication of the completely illogical approach by the Minister for National Development to the problem of housing. I refer to the fact that one clause in the agreement vests in the Minister for National Development the final say as to how much money will be made available to societies other than those already engaged in home building. At the present time, there are no co-operative building societies in South Australia, but there is a banking institution. In Tasmania, there are co-operative building societies, permanent building societies and the Agricultural Bank of Tasmania. The Agricultural Bank of Tasmania has been functioning for more than 40 years and has been instrumental in having built a great number of homes for people in the lower income bracket.
Actually, in Tasmania, there are two instrumentalities over which the Government has control. One is the State Housing Department and the other is the Agricultural Bank of Tasmania. The State Housing Department provides homes on very little or no deposit, whilst the Agricultural Bank of Tasmania provides homes on as little as 5 per cent, deposit. The Minister for National Development has said that he is no longer prepared, under this agreement, to make funds available to the Agricultural Bank of Tasmania. The State Minister for Housing will have to apply to the Minister for National Development for funds. But the Commonwealth Minister may say, “ I do not believe that the Agricultural Bank comes within the scope of a lending authority “, in which case the Agricultural Bank would receive no finance.
That is one of the points on which the Tasmanian Minister found himself at complete variance with the Minister for National Development. I understand that on 4th May - only last week - the State Minister wrote to the Minister for National Development indicating that his Government wanted an assurance on this point before it would ratify the agreement but he was completely ignored. So at this stage an instrumentality in Tasmania which has existed for nearly half a century, which has been providing homes on a low deposit, and which now has more than 900 persons on its list waiting for homes, could be refused finance by the Commonwealth Government. These are matters to which the Government should give immediate consideration. I want an assurance in this Parliament that the Agricultural Bank will not be forced out of existence as a result of the Government’s actions. It has provided generous financial assistance to the people of Tasmania and it has helped many people to secure homes that they otherwise would not have been able to obtain because they could not provide the security required by other lending institutions.
It might be said, too, that there is no housing shortage for large numbers of people in Australia. Those who themselves are adequately housed may not experience this problem although they may be aware of it socially. But thousands of young married couples, as well as all those young people who are contemplating marriage, are concerned about accommodation. They will be unable to secure it either under this new agreement or under any other proposal that the Government has advanced. New Australians are coming to this country at the rate of 125,000 a year and I believe that it would be safe to assume that at least 40 per cent, of them are married couples. No doubt they have the same aspirations as we all have to be decently housed. Then there is the neglected section of our community - the age and other pensioners who number almost 10 per cent, of our population and who to-day in many instances are living in slum areas or in circumstances that could be improved greatly. Many of them are paying exorbitant rents that they cannot afford.
This Government has made no attempt to correct that situation. Nor has it made any attempt to face up to its responsibilities in relation to the clearance of slum areas. The only bodies which can tackle the problem of slum clearance and the eradication of sub-standard dwellings are the State housing authorities. But under the terms of the legislation which we are debating now the States will have less money for that purpose in 1961 than they have had in other years.
The Opposition does not oppose the legislation because to do so would mean that after 30th June next the States would not have any Commonwealth finance available to them for housing, but I have taken the opportunity, as will honorable members from this side of the House who follow me in the debate, to point out some of the Government’s failings in its attitude towards the provision of homes.
.- I believe that the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) made an honest and sincere attempt to justify the actions of the State Ministers for Housing. As he mentioned, the agreement that we are now discussing is the third between the Commonwealth and the States. The first agreement was negotiated in 1945, when Labour was in office. The second, which was drawn up in 1955, and became operative in 1956, was negotiated by the present Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner).
As the proposed agreement differs from the others in only minor details, I should imagine that the State Ministers would have had a pretty fair idea of what to expect. Further, the State Ministers met the Minister for National Development in February or March of this year and the Ministers again met in Perth on 11th April last, without Commonwealth officers being present, to discuss various aspects of this agreement. Between then and now the State Ministers could have decided whether the agreement was satisfactory to them. 1 understand that, for fairly obvious reasons, at least four States agree completely with the proposed variations.
The honorable member for Bass said that the States are not receiving sufficient money to enable them to run their housing programmes, but if one looks at the consolidated statement of receipts and expenditure for the month ended 30th April last, which has been issued by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), it will be fairly evident that although the allocation under this agreement was £37,200,000 for the yean or approximately £3,100,000 a month, by the end of April, 1961, the States had drawn not £31,000,000, as was their right, but only £25,445,000. In other words, £5,500,000 more could have been drawn by the States had they been in parlous circumstances, but this amount remained untouched. Perhaps, in terms of overall finance, £5.500,000 is not a lot of money, but in these days when people need houses it is a fair sum and, in my opinion, it should have been used by the States for the purpose that was originally agreed upon.
The new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is a follow-on to the previous two agreements. The State Ministers have a full knowledge of the contents of the earlier agreements and are well acquainted with what the new agreement contains. It is true that if they find that they cannot subscribe to the agreement they will not receive any money from the Commonwealth. What could the States do in such a case? They could call up money, as the Commonwealth does, and pay the longterm interest rate of 51 per cent, for it. But, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, they obtain money from the Commonwealth at 41 per cent, and, in view of the large sum of money that is involved, 1 per cent, represents a considerable amount at the end of the year. The Commonwealth is in the same posi tion as are the States. It has to borrow money on the loan market and pay for it as the States would have to if they did not subscribe to this agreement. The Commonwealth pays 5i per cent, on its borrowings. Throughout, the Commonwealth interest rates have increased considerably, but the States, because they obtain money from the Commonwealth for housing, pay only 4f per cent. To my mind, they are obtaining finance at a reasonable rate of interest.
Each State, therefore, is aware of the broad outline of the agreement and of the proposed minor variations, which may be summed up in this way: First, the interest rate has been increased from 4 per cent., as it was in the 1956 agreement, to 4f per cent. But even in the 1956 agreement the interest rate was 1 per cent, below the long-term bond rate, as it is in the new agreement. Under present conditions, in which interest rates have increased throughout the whole monetary system, this rate must be considered reasonable. There can be no justification for demanding a lower interest rate than 41 per cent. As I have stated, if the States act independently, as they may, and call up loan funds as the Commonwealth does, they will have to pay the present long-term bond rate of 51 per cent. The second variation in the agreement is that each State is bound to use 5 per cent, of the moneys allocated to the housing required by the defence forces, and the Commonwealth matches this 5 per cent, by allocating a similar or greater amount depending on the requirements. The third variation is that the States now have the right to negotiate the sale of homes constructed under the 1945 agreement on their own terms, deposits and interest rates. This extends the 1956 agreement which limited the number of houses which could be sold. The terms do not have to be referred to the Commonwealth Government but will be negotiated by the States as sovereign States. The fourth variation is that the States can now erect large-scale blocks of flats in inner metropolitan areas subject to Commonwealth approval. I understand that hitherto the States could erect blocks of flats of up to three stories only. Now they can erect blocks of sixteen, twenty or twenty-five stories, or of whatever number of stories they determine. In addition to the above, the provision stands whereby 30 per cent, of the funds is to be used for the provision of finance for the home builder’s account. There is no doubt in my mind that home builders must be assisted in this way by the Commonwealth if we are to get a diversification of home building in the various States.
This agreement with the States and its implementation by them has proved a very useful contribution to the building of homes since the war, and particularly in the immediate post-war years if was an essential factor in stabilizing the industry. I believe that in obtaining and handling of finance most emphasis should be placed on the need for younger couples to contribute to a scheme of home finance even before they are married. To do this and to ensure a less circuitous movement of moneys from the source to their use, much has been said regarding the need for a national insurance corporation to stimulate investment in home building. Such a body would attract finance for home building, particularly from young people, and at the same time it would en« sure that certain types of investment in permanent building societies would be used for this purpose. Throughout Australia almost 100 permanent building societies are working continually for the purpose of building homes in the various States, but unfortunately in one or two States they have not established themselves to the same extent as they have in New South Wales and Victoria. A national insurance corporation would be able to channel finance through these permanent home-building societies to the building industry. The overall effect would be to eliminate the peaks and cavities now experienced by builders. In addition, and more importantly, it would tend to reduce second mortgages where high rates of interest are paid, and this would be a salutary deterrent to inflation.
It is so obvious that the building industry, particularly the home-building industry, has contributed greatly to inflation, and many of the so-called fringe institutions have developed as a result of financing land development and the erection of homes. Each move in the past few years has contributed to inflation in all industries. A national insurance corporation would not only have uniform lending conditions and interest rates but would also be able to pay back interest on moneys invested in the corporation by young couples and other people interested in investing in such a corporation. A reduction of second mortgages for new home building, as I said earlier, would steady the industry for all time, and this would be a major contribution to the elimination of inflation in this field. In many respects the building industry has been the Cinderella industry throughout Australia, principally because of the builders themselves. Many large building and construction companies have developed from small-time spec builders but are now handling between them something like £600,000,000 per annum, approximately two-thirds of which enters the home-building field. This industry is the keystone of our economy. Honorable members will recall that during 1929-30 this industry was the barometer which forecast the depression in the early 1930’s. There is no doubt that the building industrytakes the rap first, and it is then passed on to all the industries which manufacture for building construction. In view of the high volume of finance it now handles, the industry, together with the co-operatives, should pledge itself to establish a national insurance corporation and thus clear the way for future planning.
At the same time, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done with respect to research for the construction of ordinary homes. The normally accepted facilities in a home fed by plumbing, electricity, gas and air circulation, if that is used, vary to such a degree that there is no common formula for these services, although the end result is specified. It has been suggested - it is a suggestion with which I agree - that a federal building research group should be financed by adding £1 for every £1,000 invested in homes; and this small amount would add not more than £3 or £5 to the cost of each home. The savings inhome construction on standardization alone would be of a high order and technically would put the industry on a higher professional plane. The £1 per £1,000 could be collected, if thought fit, in the form of a stamp duty, and it could be passed over to a properly constituted building research institute. Our immigration programme, together with the high rate of marriages that must take place in the 1960’s warrants, first, that the cost of homes be reduced, and secondly, that spec building activities be eliminated. There is no doubt that the next ten years will show the need for a streamlined building industry capable of producing with efficiency and regularity. But this will not be done if speculators continue to use boom periods to excite the imagination of those needing homes and to depress the industry and potential buyers when minor deflationary conditions occur. Young married couples to-day are deserving of homes at reasonable deposits and with longterm repayments, and this Government must and will show the way.
– 1 congratulate the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn) on having made a valuable contribution to this debate, but he completely spoiled it by his concluding remarks. In other words, he attempted to get square with the Government again because exception might be taken by some Government supporters to some of his most revolutionary concepts so far as the future of the building industry in this country is concerned. He is a rebel, in every sense of the word, in the ideas he puts forward. I do not think he need be ashamed of them, because the ideas that he has promulgated will have to be accepted in some form or other by the Australian community in less than ten years’ time.
I regret that this bill is before the House at the present juncture and that it is being discussed in the dying hours of the sessional period. The measure is of such importance that it should not be rushed through. Furthermore, the Government has shown very little courtesy to the State governments in attempting to push through this agreement, as it is termed, without getting the consent of all the six State governments. The measure is called a housing agreement bill, but I fail to see how it is an agreement when actually the States are hostile to some of the clauses contained in it. Of the six States, four agreed to it more or less under duress, and the other two have not yet agreed to it. They are holding up agreement on certain clauses. I consider that the
Government, knowing that the present act expired on 30th June next, should have made arrangements last year for the wholematter to be thrashed out conclusively with the State governments, and should have brought the resulting bill before this House earlier in the session when, for five or six weeks, we had nothing to do here except fill in time. We could then have dealt with the legislation in the proper fashion, instead of in this hurried manner. The whole thing, should certainly have been discussed first with the Premiers and the Ministers for housing in the various States. That was not done, and I suspect strongly that what the Government is doing to us to-day, and what it did to the State governments recently, is of deliberate intent, because the Government knows that the agreement is not fully supported even by Liberal members of Parliament in Victoria.
In 1945, when this agreement became law originally, it gave satisfaction all over the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, in 1956, when the agreement was re-enacted for five years, the alterations then made in it whittled away the efficiency of the Statehousing instrumentalities. The 1956 agreement contained many radical departures from the 1945 agreement, and the result was that the State housing commissions, which had been doing a first-rate job up to then, found their activities stifled in many instances. They found that they could not produce the results that they were originally established to produce. I have said this 100 times before in this House, and I will continue to say it. Members on the Government side seem to have lost all recollection of why the State housing authorities were formed. They were formed for the purpose of providing accommodation for people in the lower income groups. Government supporters may quote as much as they like statistics showing that 80,000 or 90,000 houses were built last year. The fact remains that people in the lower income groups have not received the benefit of all that home building activity.
The people who really need houses are the people in the lower income groups, and if it were not for the activities of State housing commissions most of them would have to live in tents, garages or wash houses, because there is no provision of low rental accommodation for those unfortunate people except by State instrumentalities. Government supporters do not seem to worry about this Cinderella section of the community. They are satisfied as long as somebody can trot out figures about the number of houses built last year or this year. But if one analyses the salary groups who are getting all the houses, one unfolds a very sorry story indeed, because people in the lower income groups are now in a worse position in regard to housing than they have been in for many years. I shall prove that statement shortly by citing, not my figures, but official figures released by the authorities concerned.
In 1956, the States had no alternative but to accept the new agreement. The Commonwealth stood over them with a bludgeon, and told them that if they did not accept the new agreement they would be the losers. So the States were forced to accept an agreement which they had not designed, and which they knew would not work. Indeed, time has demonstrated that the 1956 agreement has not produced the goods.
The present measure is based on false premises, to judge from the statements made by the Minister who introduced it in each House. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), when introducing the bill in this House, made a most remarkable statement. He said -
When the 1956 agreement was completed there was clear evidence of a very considerable housing shortage throughout Australia. Since then this shortage has been greatly reduced; I believe, in fact, that it is now only a real problem in some States, particularly in New South Wales and perhaps in Victoria.
Perhaps in Victoria! Surely Liberal members from Victoria will not allow that statement by the Minister to go unchallenged. He said that “ perhaps in Victoria “ there was a housing shortage. In making that statement he was completely out of kilter with Victorian Liberal State members. The Victorian Minister for Housing, Mr. Petty, is a very conscientious gentleman. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) laughs scoffingly at that statement. I can tell him that the Minister for Housing in Victoria is held in far higher esteem in regard to housing than is the honorable member for Fawkner. The Minister for Housing in, Victoria tries to get things done, but all we get here from the honorable member for Fawkner is scoffing laughter when I mention the Minister’s name.
I quote now from a recent issue of the Melbourne “ Age “. Under the heading, “ Minister sick and tired of housing statistics “, that newspaper reported as follows: -
The Minister for Housing (Mr. Petty) is “ sick and tired” of being presented with statistics designed to prove that Australian housing requirements are being catered for adequately.
Indicating this last night, Mr. Petty said he wished some of the people who used the statistics supplied could come down from their ivory castles and learn at first hand of the hardship and heartbreak.
Apparently Mr. Petty thinks that there is a housing shortage in Victoria. In that he is at distinct variance with the Minister for Labour and National Service, who thinks that “ perhaps “ there is a housing shortage in Victoria.
When the Minister for Housing made the statement the report of which I am reading, he was making a speech at the opening at Scotch College of the third autumn forum on trends and problems in building and real estate, of the Economic Society of Australia and New Zealand. The report continued -
Day in and day out Australian and New Zealand men and women had to be told money was not available to finance them the purchase of a home.
In many cases they had saved enough money to pay a deposit of 25 to 35 per cent, of the price. “ Only when one comes into daily contact with young people marrying with a desire to set up their own homes and have families is the real tragedy of this shortage of finance brought home”, Mr. Petty said.
There are Mr. Petty’s comments, and I suggest that we should take far more notice of them. Apparently, the Minister for Labour and National Service does not know anything about the real problem. I strongly suspect that the honorable member for Fawkner also does not know anything about it, because if he did he would not laugh scoffingly when Mr. Petty’s name is mentioned, thereby seeking to ridicule Mr. Petty. If the honorable member were to give a bit more consideration to this great problem, he would find that even in his own electorate there are many housing difficulties. But, I repeat, the Minister for Labour and National Service said that there was “ perhaps “ a housing shortage in Victoria.
Now I turn to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), who made the most remarkable statement ever made by a Minister in this Parliament when he was introducing this measure in the Senate. He said -
There are about 10,000 people on the Housing Commission waiting lists in Australia to-day. There are about 16,000 people waiting for a war service borne. That is a total of 26,000 people waiting for bornes.
What an incredible statement to make! Does the honorable member for Fawkner agree that there are only 10,000 people waiting for housing commission homes in Australia? All 1 can say is that if that statement is an indication of the knowledge possessed by the Minister for National Development of the housing problems of the people it is time the Government made a change in that portfolio. Apparently, the Minister for National Development has been misled. I should not like to say that he has misled another place. The figures he gave are incredible figures. Let us see what the Victorian Housing Commission has to say about things in its latest report - and do not forget that Victoria is only one State out of six. Referring to the year ended 30th June last year, the commission’s report said -
The year just completed has been a record one for the building of houses and flats in this State - 26,219 units - but there should be no complacent thinking that the demand for housing is being met, and in particular-
And this is the point I consistently make - the demand for lower cost housing within the reach of the person of average means.
The commission then went on to say -
This Commission’s experience which relates primarily to demand for lower cost housing is that the current demand is not being met. For the last two years applications for housing remaining unsatisfied at the end of the year have increased by 2,000 per annum until at the 30th June last the Commission was holding 17,231 unsatisfied applications - 13,360 in the metropolitan area and 3,871 in the country.
The Minister for National Development said that many people on housing commission lists did not want houses, that their needs had been met in some other way after they had made application to the commission. The report of the Victorian Housing Commission continued -
These are all current applications as each year the Commission requires each applicant to confirm that his need for housing assistance still exists. Waiting time for a dwelling in the metropolitan area can exceed three years.
At 30th June last year, the Victorian Housing Commission had 17,231 outstanding applications, but on making inquiries recently I was informed that the commission’s current requirements are just on 18,000. Yet the Minister for National Development said that only 10,000 applications were outstanding. As the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) said, when opening the debate for the Opposition, 75,000 applications have been lodged with housing commissions. Surely a Minister who says that there are 10,000 applications when really there are 75,000 could no longer expect to have the confidence of the Government or the Opposition. He is totally unfitted for his job. This is shown by his tardy recognition of the fact that this agreement should have been completed months ago before it was brought to the Parliament. Here, it is brought to the Parliament in the last week of the sessional period although it has not been signed by two States.
– They have not seen the agreement yet.
– That is so. How can the
Government continue with this Minister any longer? He misleads the Parliament on the facts. His figure is 10,000, but the official figure is 75,000. If any one should be replaced, it is the Minister for National Development, whose approach to this vexatious problem is completely unreal.
The more we look at the problem, the more evident it becomes that the position of the low-income group is going from bad to worse. This is not hard to understand. The decline had its genesis in the 1956 agreement, which said that for the first two years 20 per cent, of the funds formerly provided for housing commissions should go to co-operative building societies and for the following three years, 30 per cent, should go to co-operative building societies. The Victorian Housing Commission, which previously received £10,600,000, or thereabouts, received only £7,500,000, or £3.100,000 less. It is not hard to understand why the number of applications for homes has increased. Before the 1956 agreement, the Victorian Housing Commission had 11,250 applications. Now it has approximately 18,000. As the commission receives less money, naturally it builds fewer houses. In N*w
South Wales, before the 1956 agreement, there were 24,654 applications and in June, 1960, there were approximately 28,000. Before the 1956 agreement, South Australia had 9,684 applications, and in June, 1960, had 10,134. This increase has been caused by the fact that over the last five years housing commissions have had less money than they had formerly.
I shall give an example to show how this operates in Victoria. In 1956, the Victorian Housing Commission built 4,152 home units; in 1960, it built 2,607, a decline of about 1,500 home units. It can be seen, therefore, that the position is going from bad to worse. Apparently no other provision is being made because private enterprise to-day is not building low rental units. Before the depression, it was the custom for a man who wished to retire to build three or four villas and rent them at an ordinary rental, which at that stage was £1 or 25s. a week. This provided all the rental accommodation needed by the lower income group. But that is a thing of the past. The ordinary four or five-roomed villa is not being built now for rental purposes by private enterprise. It is true that private enterprise is building large blocks of flats, but these are let at extravagant rentals which the average worker cannot afford to pay.
The position of the housing commissions is getting desperate. As I have said, the Victorian Housing Commission is receiving £3,100,000 less than it received in previous years. But in addition, increasing building costs have meant that fewer homes can be built with the same amount of money. The figures have not yet been released, but I understand that for the year ended 30th June, 1961, there will be a decrease of 300 in the number of home units completed as compared with the preceding year. This results from the fact that building costs have increased because this Government has refused to combat inflation. This is a very serious position for the Victorian Housing Commission.
The serious decline in the number of units being built for rental purposes is causing alarming social consequences. Last year, the Victorian Housing Commission let 712 new units in the metropolitan area. But in the same period, 1,150 dwellings were demolished in the suburbs to make way for service stations, factories and so on. Some of these dwellings were also acquired by the Housing Commission for slum reclamation. It is probable that 700 of the 1,150 dwellings demolished were rental units. So the Housing Commission is not even keeping pace with the rate of demolition of rental accommodation. This is causing considerable worry in Melbourne, and recently the Director of Social Services for the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, Mr. David Scott, said -
The most alarming feature of the housing problem was the shortage of rental housing for lowincome families who could not afford to buy homes on even the smallest deposit.
Mr. Scott was very concerned, and quite rightly so when the figures 1 have given are examined. When the agreement was altered five years ago to provide financial accommodation for co-operative building societies, the Australian Labour Party said that it was not opposed to co-operative building societies. As a matter of fact, many members on this side of the House are directors of such societies, as are members on the other side of the House. In that way, we give practical assistance to the co-operative movement. Nevertheless, we were of the opinion that it was not a wise move to divert money from the housing commissions to the co-operative building societies, because the housing commissions would not be able to build as many homes and the co-operative building societies would not receive the extra money that they thought they would receive. In the course of the debate at that time, I pointed out what would happen. I said that although the cooperative building societies would receive from the Commonwealth £2,000,000 for two years and £3,000,000 for the next three years, other sources of finance would dry up. That is exactly what happened.
In this connexion I think I should read what the Victorian Housing Commission had to say about this matter, because, after all, that commission is the expert in housing in Victoria. It has naturally watched very closely the operation of the agreement over the last five years, because it lost £2,000,000 a year for the first two years, and £3,000,000 a year for the other three years of the life of the 1956 agreement. Talking about the contemplated new agreement the commission said, in its latest report -
In any new Agreement there should be no diversion of funds to Co-operative Housing. The diversion of funds in the current Agreement has not produced the desired result. These funds were intended to be supplemental to funds derived from private sources, but instead private funds have diminished roughly in proportion to the increase in Agreement funds diverted.
That is exactly what we said would happen five years ago. The commission’s report continues -
Additional finance for the Co-operatives should not be at the expense of the Commission. The Commission needs the whole of the funds being provided under the Commonwealth-State Agreement to provide housing for rental and for sale on low deposits for those persons in the community not able to afford high rents or to finance their housing through other financial sources because of the high initial deposits required.
That is the opinion of the Victorian Housing Commission, and I quite realize that because of these considerations the agreement has not worked out in the way the Government believed it would.
Not only has the Victorian Housing Commission directed attention to the drying up of private sources of capital for co-operative societies; not only did I forecast that this would happen five years ago; the State Premiers have also shown that this has happened. When they had a conference last year to deal with the subject of housing, and Mr. Petty, the Victorian Minister for Housing, opposed the diversion of more than 30 per cent, of funds under the agreement to co-operative societies, the Premier of South Australia, Sir Thomas Playford, interjected and said -
Your figures show the co-operatives have been worse off because other sources of finance have dried up.
Mr. Petty replied
The Commonwealth Bank cut off funds as soon as the co-operatives began to get money under the housing agreement, which resulted in the co-operatives being no better off.
In other words, what the Labour Party predicted five years ago has been shown to have occurred, out of the mouths of the Liberal Premier of South Australia and the Minister for Housing in the Liberal Government of Victoria.
The co-operative society movement in Victoria has also directed attention to the trend in connexion with sources of finance for co-operatives. A couple of years ago a graph appeared in the quarterly magazine of the societies. I showed it to the House in the course of a speech that I made later. It showed that as money came in from the Commonwealth Government for the cooperative societies, funds from private sources decreased in the same proportion. In other words, the co-operative societies were no better off. How idiotic can the Government get? Here we have a situation in which the co-operative societies are no better off after getting money from the Commonwealth Bank, while, on the other hand, the State housing authorities are infinitely worse off. In Victoria, for example, over five years the housing commission has lost ?13,000,000. I venture to say that if the commission had had that extra amount available to it over the last five years it would not now have a waiting list of 18,000 applicants. The Government’s predictions for the five years were obviously ill founded. It has been conclusively proved, on the undeniable evidence that I have gathered from unimpeachable sources - and I have given not just my opinion but the opinion of people who have made a close study of the subject - that the 19S6 agreement has completely failed in its stated objective of providing accommodation for people in the low-income group. These problems could have been hammered out if the Commonwealth had consulted the State housing authorities some months ago, and if it had allowed a decent amount of time for the House to debate this measure. We would then have got a far better deal for the housing authorities than they will get under this legislation.
In the few minutes that remain to me I want to express my disappointment at the fact that the new agreement does not make any special provision for slum reclamation. I had thought, having in mind the accumulation of evidence that has been gathered by social workers and housing authorities in the various States, that at long last the Commonwealth Government would have accepted its obligation in this regard and provided under the agreement a separate amount of money for slum clearance. Everybody in this House must appreciate the social evils associated with slums. Unfortunately, the State governments have riot sufficient money to deal with the problem, and they certainly will not get enough money under this legislation. The Victorian Housing Commission, for instance, will not be able to deal with the problem with the miserly £7,000,000 that will be allocated to it. It has so many applications from people who are not now living in slums that it cannot possibly tackle the slum problem. The Housing Commission is spending £650,000 on slum reclamation. It is receiving £500,000 from the State Government, and it will provide the remaining £150,000 from its own funds. With that money it proclaims and buys up slum areas. The proclamation of new areas is now practically at a standstill. The commission is in the unpalatable position of having sites half-cleared and being unable to finish the job of making sites suitable for rebuilding. The commission says emphatically that if it is to do the job at all it must get additional money, and that money can come from only one source, the Commonwealth Government, which has the power of the purse.
Many problems are associated with slum reclamation. As soon as you start the job you lose money. The value of the house that is demolished is lost immediately and cannot be recovered. All that is left is the value of the land. Experience has shown that reclaimed land, after clearance, has a value equivalent to about half the acquisition cost. The job is beyond the resources of the States, and they must get fairly large financial support from the Commonwealth. If they do not get it the problem will remain unsolved. Apparently it must remain unsolved for the next five years, for I understand that this agreement will operate until 1966. Overseas experience has shown that slum areas can be reclaimed only if the problem is considered one of national importance. In other words, the federal authority must come to the party.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
.- Before I start the main part of my speech I feel that, for the record, I should correct a few of the remarks made by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) before the suspension of the sitting. He said that certain remarks had been made by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), in another place, dealing with the housing shortage, particularly in Victoria. What the Minister for National Development actually said in referring to the subject of waiting lists was that different waiting lists could not be simply added together to give a complete picture of the housing shortage. He said that if the Victorian Housing Commission, for example, had a waiting list of 10,000 - not that it did have such a list, but if it had one - and if there were 16,000 applicants for war service homes, you could not say that the total housing shortage was 26,000, because quite a number of people would be applicants in both groups. He did not say, at any time, that the waiting list for homes with the Victorian Housing Commission at that moment was 10,000.
As I want to develop this theme, which will be vitally important to the rest of my remarks, we should get this correct, right from the start. It is most unusual for the honorable member for Batman to make a misstatement of such a nature because he is usually the most accurate member of the Opposition. I feel that, on this occasion, he has not been as close to truth as is normally his custom. We have come to expect from the honorable member an extremely lucid statement on the subject of housing on which, as we know, he has a tremendous lot of knowledge, but on this occasion he has not developed the story fully. He has only stated half of the facts. I think he tried to drive a wedge between myself and the Minister for Housing in Victoria, Mr. Petty. The reason that I laughed at that stage of his remarks was that I have co-operated very closely with Mr. Petty, who represents, in the State House, half of my electorate of Fawkner. To me it was laughable that the honorable member should think that Mr. Petty and I were divided on this matter.
The honorable member dealt with the question of inflation. He said, quite rightly, that housing costs had risen since the war as a result of inflation. But what has the Government been doing ever since November but tackling this great problem? If there is one thing about which members of the Opposition are hammering at us all the time it is the credit squeeze that we introduced in November for the very purpose of checking the inflationary spiral. I am surprised that the honorable member for Batman has not yet realized our intentions, which are made evident.
By the rate at which the Government has been enabling the construction of houses it has done something to diminish the effects of land speculation. Gradually, we are improving some aspects of housing costs. If the honorable member for Batman will listen to the rest of my remarks he will see how this whole picture is gradually coming into perspective and a more sensible situation being achieved.
Let us look at the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement as it will be affected by the bill before the House. We have to realize that the houses built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement represent only a part of the total number of houses built in Australia in any one year. The important thing is to look at the whole housing situation and then to see the results of the agreement. I agree that the honorable member for Batman has a very great housing problem in his electorate. My electorate of Fawkner is not very far away from Batman and I hope that, when I credit him with a knowledge of the housing situation, he will acknowledge that I, too, have a housing problem in my electorate. I hope that he will give me credit, also, for spending as much time as he does - probably more - in trying to get to understand the housing problem.
I propose to present all the facts, not just some of them as the honorable member attempted to do during his speech. He did not quite get to the bottom of the problem. The first thing to remember is that, since 1956, when the existing housing agreement was brought into operation, the rate of home building, both flats and houses, has never been higher. The rate was 80,000 homes per year in 1956 and it has gradually grown each year until, in the last quarter of 1960, the rate of completion of homes was equivalent to 100,000 homes per year. So at the end of 1960 the rate of housing construction was higher than it had ever been in the history of Australia.
We now have to look at the proportion of homes that were built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), in leading for the Opposition on this subject, criticized the proportion of houses that had to be built through cooperative building societies. He criticized the. fact that, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, only 70 per cent, of homes could be built by bodies other than co-operative societies. In considering this subject, surely the honorable member should first have directed his attention to the role of the Australian Loan Council, which, after all, decides the total allocation to be made for housing under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The bill that we are discussing stipulates only the proportion of the money that is to be devoted to co-operative building societies and to other bodies such as State housing commissions. We are deciding only how the cake should be cut up; not the size of the cake. As always, that will be done by the Loan Council. So if the Opposition feels that not enough money is being provided by State housing authorities, surely the first place in which attention should be drawn to this point is at the meeting of the State Treasurers with the Commonwealth Treasurer which forms the Loan Council.
Next, let us see how the 1956 housing agreement has worked. I think that there can be no doubt whatsoever that it has done a great deal to promote the work of the co-operative housing societies. As the honorable member for Batman knows, I am a director of a co-operative building society so I have a very personal knowledge of how these things are worked. I know that he also has such a knowledge. I am absolutely certain that the result of this agreement has been to further the work of cooperative housing societies.
We on this side of the House believe that we should do all that we can to encourage home ownership and that there is no better method of encouraging home ownership than through the growth of co-operative building societies. I believe that the 1956 agreement has played its part towards that end. I am, therefore, pleased to see that, under the new agreement which we are now discussing, the quota of 30 per cent, for building societies will be continued. There can be no doubt that, as a result of this provision, more houses are built from the total allocation of money provided under the Commonwaelth and State Housing Agreement than would be built if all the money went to the State housing commissions. Let us not doubt for a moment that it is manifest to all those who have looked at the way in which the 1956 agreement has worked and the way in which the 1961 agreement will work that more houses are built for every £1,000,000 provided under an agreement of this kind than were built under, say, the 1945 agreement in which there was not a similar clause.
I welcome the remarks made by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn) concerning the need to encourage young people to save for homes. I believe that we all hope to see in the future an extension of the housing agreement incorporating some clause that will encourage young people to save for their own homes before they are actually ready to buy. If, as the honorable member suggested, we can, by means of some kind of insurance society or permanent building society, encourage young people to start saving for a home, we shall do something to which all of us, I am sure, subscribe. Any such scheme must provide an assurance that, if young people save long enough and save a sufficient amount for themselves when the time comes for them to marry and they need a home they will be able to get it straight away through some form of building society.
These problems that I have mentioned are some of the problems that ought to be discussed when we are considering agreements such as that which has existed since 1956 and the new agreement which we are now discussing. As the honorable member for Balaclava pointed out, the new agreement is changed very little from the old one. The pattern which has developed so well since 1956 will be continued for another five years. However, I think that it is important that as we look at the new agreement we look well ahead into the future at the general housing situation. It is important that right at the start a survey of Australia’s housing needs be made. That is why I am certain that all of us welcome the fact that there will be a census within the next six weeks. Only at the time of a census can one accurately evaluate the housing situation and determine what the shortage is and what are the needs of Australia’s citizens at any particular time. I believe that all the figures on which honorable members on both sides of the House are working at the present time are, to a degree, based on guess-work. As a consequence, even some of the figures that I use in this speech may have to be modified in the light of the census to be taken on 30th June. But I think that an examination of the situation over the whole of Australia at the present time will show that the housing shortage is not very great except in the inner metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne. As the honorable member for Batman said, the shortage is probably mainly of homes at low rental in those two cities. I think that the present shortage anywhere else in the Commonwealth is unlikely to be very great.
Let us have a look first of all at the overall building rate. If we assume that migration will continue at the rate of about 1 per cent, of the population annually, and that present birth rates and marriage rates will continue, it would seem that we at present need 70,000 new homes a year to satisfy the new demand. Then there is the backlog which has to be overtaken. The really difficult thing to determine is what the backlog really is and what would be a reasonable time within which to eliminate it. I believe that a building rate of between 75,000 and 85,000 houses and flats a year would satisfy the new demand and eliminate the existing backlog within five years. One of my authorities for this statement is the Fabian Society. I understand that the person who will be my opponent at the next election is a prominent member of that society. Four years ago, the society published a booklet in which it stated that the rate of construction of houses and flats need not be more than 75,000 a year. It is interesting that a society that, presumably, has the backing of Opposition members is content with that rate of construction.
I am convinced, on the figures now available - although they may have to be revised in the light of the census - that a building rate of this order would remove the backlog within five years. That was the general thinking at the time when the 1956 agreement was entered into. In most of the years since 1956, considerably more than this number of houses has been built. I welcome the Government’s statement today that, as the rate of construction has fallen below 80,000 a year, it should be restored as soon as possible to that level. Everybody on this side of the House knows that the Government is making a very wise move in trying to restore the building rate to about 80,000 houses a year. We on this side of the chamber know that the Government is always on the ball in this matter. It closely watches the vital building industry from day to day in order to ensure its stability.
I take issue with Opposition members when they deal with the waiting lists for State housing authority homes. They should analyse these lists. There are said to be 17,200 applicants on the waiting list in Victoria. Let us have a look at the conditions in which these people live. The honorable member for Batman accused me of laughing when he mentioned this matter. I had to laugh at his statements. Mr. Petty, the Minister of Housing in Victoria, and I have worked together very closely in analysing the backlog in housing and the waiting list of applicants for homes in Victoria. That is obvious to anybody who knows anything about the matter, but the honorable member for Batman said that we had not co-operated with each other at all.
The first thing to consider when we analyse the waiting list is that everybody on the list is in a house. These applicants are not at present living in garages or tents, or in Fawkner Park. All of them are living in houses, and I think that that is important. Let us not kid ourselves that they are living in garages and the like as has been suggested. The honorable member for Batman would be well advised to do what I have done and analyse this waiting list. All the people on it are not in the needy circumstances that he would have us believe. Here is one case in which the total income of the household is £65 a week. This applicant is a bookmaker. His rent is £5 a week. I cannot feel that he is really in needy circumstances. Here is another case in which a family’s income totals £42 10s. a week, out of which £7 is paid in rent for a house with two bedrooms, a lounge and a kitchen. Honorable members opposite should have a look at some of these cases. I emphasize here that pensioners are not included on the list to which I am referring, and I make no comment whatever with respect to pensioners. This list refers to people in ordinary working life. Not many of them are in the process of being evicted. Each one of them gives a reason for his application and, before discussing the problem further, we should examine each one closely. I do not think the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has done that. Most of the people who are on the waiting list are those who want to improve their housing standards. They are not people who want to get houses; they are people who want better houses than the ones they are in or houses for which they will pay less rent. It is quite obvious that under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement housing for some people is becoming, in fact, a social service, in that rent is being subsidized.
To emphasize this, let us examine the general housing position in each of the States. I think the honorable member for Batman will agree that the supposedly worst housing shortages are in the cities of Sydney and Melbourne. I have taken the trouble to prepare a table of the ratio of population to dwellings in each of the capital cities, and although some have to be taken as at 30th June, 1959, and others as at 31st December, 1959, the actual ratio is still roughly similar. I do not think I have time to give all the figures. Suffice it to say that as at 30th June, 1959, the ratio in Sydney was 3.43 people per dwelling. In Melbourne, it was 3.29 people per dwelling and in Brisbane it was 3.64. The ratio in Adelaide was 3.51 people per dwelling while in Hobart it was 3.74 and in Perth 3.37. The lesson to be learned from those figures is that where the actual number of people per dwelling was highest, and where the number of houses in proportion to the population was best, we had the supposedly greatest housing shortages. It is a fact that in Sydney and Melbourne we have a better ratio of dwellings per population than has any other capital city in Australia, and perhaps than had any other part of the world.
Nowhere else in the world is there a better housing situation than that which obtains in Sydney and Melbourne at the present time, and I submit that all honorable members must look at the overall situation and try to analyse the reasons for it.
If, therefore, the ratio in Sydney and Melbourne is better than in any other city we have to decide for ourselves what are some of the reasons for that position. My belief is that it is because there is a subsidy for housing as a result of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. To my mind, this form of subsidy has been encouraged by the operation of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement and, as long as the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement exists in its present form, the rent for some houses will continue to be subsidized. It is unfortunate that this form of rent subsidy has not been applied on a uniform basis throughout the Commonwealth. Some people who have been lucky enough to get a commission home have been experiencing a much higher standard of living than those who have not been so fortunate. We should all recognize that housing has been subsidized with the acquiescence of the Commonwealth Government. With this in mind, we should consider housing to be a social service and should make the subsidy uniform, through a means test, for every one in Australia. I know that there is a means test now, but it applies only at the time when a person applies for a home. It does not apply at the time he gets the home, and certainly it does not apply at any time throughout the rest of his life while he is occupying that home.
If we do not provide uniform rent subsidies, the waiting lists with State housing commissions will continue to grow, and we shall be committed for many years ahead to pouring a large amount of capital into State housing. On the other hand, if we adopted a uniform system of rent subsidy, it might encourage investors to build low-cost homes for rental in the knowledge that they would get an economic return for their investment. In addition, persons now on the waiting list with housing commissions would be able to rent existing homes because they could afford to pay an economic rent for them. In due course, the waiting lists would be reduced, and the Commonwealth would not be called upon to contribute so much money under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
As we are now bringing a new agreement into operation, we should consider not what the position is now, but what it will be in five years’ time. We should also ask ourselves whether the Commonwealth Government should be in the housing field at all, or whether this is not entirely a matter for the State governments. But if the Commonwealth is to stay in the field of housing, then we should recognize that housing is becoming a form of social service. Therefore, why should we not take it upon ourselves to ensure that a uniform means test is applied to all people applying for housing commission homes, and to see that it is followed up at regular intervals?
All these things should be considered when any future agreement is being negotiated. The housing pattern has become distorted during the fifteen years for which the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement has been in operation. Of course, we all remember Mr. Dedman who said that he did not intend to see little capitalists created as a result of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, but I emphasize that, as a result of the housing policy pursued by this Government, 80 per cent, of the people in Australia own their own homes, and it is quite manifest to everybody that every Australian wants to be a little capitalist, that every Australian wants to own his own home if that is at all possible. We should also ensure that private enterprise is enabled to play its part in society by building homes for the people. I sincerely hope that in any future agreement which is entered into provision is made for private enterprise to play its part in the construction of homes. We have already made a good start with co-operative building societies, and I am certain that this work can be continued in the future.
Those. I believe, are the kind of thoughts we should have in our minds not only now, but also during the next five years, because it is important that we make a thorough analysis of the housing situation in Australia and that we take proper steps to deal with the overall situation, and not with part of the problem only, as we should do if we adopted some of the proposals advocated by the honorable member for Batman this evening. I support the proposed new agreement, and I hope that during the next five years the Minister will take note of some of the matters I have raised this evening, for I believe it is important that they be given every consideration when the agreement is being reviewed in 1964.
.- I agree with the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) that the demand for and supply of housing throughout Australia should be considered on an Australiawide basis, and I regret that there are no dovetailed or comprehensive figures available to honorable members of either place in this Parliament when this legislation comes up at five-yearly intervals or when the annual appropriation bills pursuant to the agreement are under consideration. He stated that we shall have to wait until the census has been taken at the end of next month before we shall know the most important features of the housing position in Australia. The last census that was taken seven years ago revealed that 49,148 Australian families were then living in sheds and huts, and that 107,216 Australian families were living in portions of houses. We do not know to what extent the position has improved or deteriorated since then. An annual report is made to the Parliament of operations under the War Service Homes Act, but no annual report is made to this Parliament, which under this act provides all the funds, of how many houses are sought or supplied for rental or purchase through the housing commissions of the States, how many houses are sought from, or supplied by, building societies for applicants who seek loans to purchase or erect dwellings, or how many houses are sought by, or supplied for, serving members of the forces under this agreement, as it is called.
I propose to rely, first, on figures and statements taken from the annual reports which are made to every State Parliament of the operations of their commissions and trusts with the money that this Parliament supplies, and, secondly, on answers which I have received to questions I have put on the notice-paper, addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for National
Development (Senator Spooner), who sits in another place.
This bill will be cited as the Housing Agreement Act 1961. Actually there is no housing agreement so far between the Commonwealth and the States, just as there was no housing agreement between the Commonwealth and the States in 1956, when we last dealt with a bill similarly named. There was an agreement in 1945, but the 1956 and the 1961 acts have, in fact, merely laid down the terms and conditions which the Commonwealth will attach to the annual grants which it will make under section 96 of the Constitution to any States which are prepared to accept the grants on those terms and conditions. This bill should be called the States Grants (Housing) Bill 1961.
The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) referred to the Australian Loan Council. It is true that representatives of the State governments can state at the Loan Council meeting how much of their Commonwealth grants they wish to be made available under the housing agreement 1956 or the housing agreement of 1961, but the States are not given the option of saying how much money they want, in total, for this purpose and for public works, together. For the last ten years the Commonwealth has stated at the Australian Loan Council meeting that it proposes to allow the States a certain fixed sum of money for their public works, plus their housing requirements. The Commonwealth has been able to do that because it has raised from loans, at the most, only two-thirds of the money so granted. It has raised the balance from taxation. In other words, the Commonwealth has been able effectively to fix the limit beyond which the States may not go in public works and housing. The States have had the option only of saying what proportion of the total sum that has been made available to them they will take under the terms and conditions relating to housing set out in this bill and its predecessor.
In April last year the State housing Ministers gathered to discuss the operation of the act which then had a further fourteen months to run. They decided unanimously to seek an early draft of the agreement which would have to replace the 1956 act so that they would have some time before the end of this session of our Parliament to debate and discuss the arrangements which would obtain in the following five years, or whatever period would be decided by the Commonwealth. None of the States was given a copy of this agreement, as it is called, before it was presented in the other place last week. Their requests on the general question were ignored, just as their requests on every single feature of the agreement have been ignored, except that the Commonwealth abandoned its proposal to increase the proportion of the Commonwealth funds to be diverted annually from housing commissions to building societies.
This bill varies from the 1956 legislation in only one significant aspect - that relating to interest.
– What about the sale of houses?
– I said that there is only one significant variation. The variation concerning the sale of houses amounts to this: Henceforth occupants of houses built by the State housing commissions from 1945 until the end of June, 1956, will be able to purchase the houses on the same conditions as houses built subsequently. In other words, they will be able to purchase houses on the conditions laid down by each State under the 1956 agreement instead of on the conditions laid down by the Commonwealth in the 1955 variation of the 1945 agreement. There is one significant all-pervasive variation in the agreement, and it concerns interest rates. The net result of it will be that until the Commonwealth increases the interest rate on its bonds yet again, every State government will have to pay to the Commonwealth’, in respect of the money spent by the housing commissions, an interest rate of 41 per cent, instead of 4 per cent. From 1945 until the end of June, 1956, the interest rate was 3 per cent. It then became 4 per cent, and remained at that figure for the following five years. Now, and until there is a further increase in the bond rate, it will be 4i per cent. In terms of pounds, shillings and pence, this means that persons who obtained houses under the agreement now expiring had to pay about 12s. a week more rent than they would have had to pav if the interest rate had remained at 3 per cent. Under the new agreement they will have to pay about 18s. a week more rent than they would have had to pay if the interest rate had remained at 3 per cent.
– How much more does the Commonwealth contribute?
Order! The honorable member for Lilley is not in his right seat.
– Or in his right mind, Mr. Speaker. Most of the houses that will be built under this agreement will be made available for purchase, not for rental. In New South Wales 80 per cent, of houses built by the Housing Commission will continue to be made available for persons who enter into contracts to buy them. In the other five States about one-half the houses built will be made available for persons who enter into contracts to buy them. The repayment instalments in respect of these houses will be about £2 10s. a month more under the new agreement than they would have been if the interest rate had remained at 3 per cent. The equivalent of an extra week’s instalment will be added to the monthly repayments. Repayments will be 16s. a month more than if the interest rate had remained at 4 per cent.
All housing commissions have referred to this problem of the effect of the increased interest rate on repayment instalments or on rentals. The annual report of the South Australian Housing Trust for the year ended 30th June, 1960, stated -
The Trust considers it to be of considerable importance that loan funds should continue to be provided for housing purposes at an interest rate not greater than 4 per cent. . . . Loan money at this rate has had the obvious result of keeping rents substantially lower than would have been the case if the interest rate were that paid for ordinary long-term borrowing.
The increase in interest rates over the last ten years in relation not only to this form of housing but also to building society loans and bank overdrafts has obliged a borrower to repay an additional sum equivalent to one-third of the amount that he originally borrowed. If he borrows £3,000 for 30 years to purchase or erect a house he will now have to repay an additional £1,000 because of the three increases in interest rates which the Menzies Government has imposed during its term of office. The cost of accommodation depends more on the interest charged than on the cost of labour and materials combined. We will have this anomalous position: If there are two houses of identical cost as to land, services and structure, and one is occupied on the 30th of next month and the other on the 1st of the following month, the occupant of the second one will pay 6s. more per week than the occupant of the first. If they are purchasing their dwellings, the occupant of the second will pay 1 6s. per month more than the occupant of the first. That is what it means in pounds, shillings and pence over 53 years during which a tenant has to repay the Commonwealth for the house or over 45 years in which a purchaser can repay. So much for the substantial variation between this new agreement and the one which is expiring.
I come now to the general housing situation, more particularly as it concerns the persons who seek houses under this agreement. The general situation in this country in the first quarter of this year was mainly the result of the Government’s credit squeeze of last November. The value of new houses and flats approved in the four months from December last to March last was 22 per cent, less than the figure for the corresponding four months a year earlier. The pattern of housing has been affected by the horror Budget of August, 1951, the supplementary Budget of March, 1956, and the credit squeeze and panic Budget of last November, in the same way in each case.
The Minister was correct in saying that this bill provides a stable component in the national housing programme. It is a diminishing component, but is more stable than any other component. Much has been stated about the estimate of the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) in another place with regard to the housing shortage in Australia. His figures have been constantly challenged by the State Housing Ministers. Since the honorable gentleman has been mentioned by honorable members on both sides of the House, I shall quote the Minister for Housing in the Victorian Parliament, who stated eighteen months ago that he estimated the housing deficiency in that State to be from 35,000 to 40,000 houses. Applications for housing commission houses numbered 17,000, applications for co-operative housing society homes num bered 10,000, and the people seeking finance from other sources numbered from 8,000 to 13,000.
The Registrar of Co-operative Housing Societies in Victoria thus reported on this to the State Parliament -
From inquiries made, it seemed to me that the Minister’s estimate was very near the mark. That being the case, the shortage throughout Australia at the 30th June, 1959, must have been very much greater than the 50,000 units as estimated by the Department of National Development.
The Minister for National Development himself gave me the numbers of applications received by Housing Commissions during the last financial year and the number of applicants still on their lists at the end of that financial year, in an answer to a question reported in “ Hansard “ on 8th November last. The housing shortage in Australia is greatest in the industrial metropolises of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. The Minister told me that during the previous financial year in New South Wales there were 13,418 applications, in Victoria 11,432 and in South Australia 8,786 and that in those three States the numbers still on the list at the end of the financial year were, respectively, 27,908, 17,231 and 11,800. He reported that in the whole of Australia there were 70,000 people still on housing commission lists. That is what the Minister himself told the Parliament in answer to my question.
– That is the number of persons, not of families.
– Yes; one would therefore have to multiply the number of persons seeking accommodation by at least four. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) gave the impression that the persons who seek housing commission houses are bookmakers revealing incomes of over £60 a week. In actual fact all housing commissions carry out the provisions of the agreement and expressly acknowledge their obligation to construct dwellings for families of low or moderate means. The New South Wales Housing Commission reported for last year that 19 per cent, of the applications for homes were from families with an income of under £12 a week, 2.7 per cent, were from families with incomes of £12 to £15 a week, 31.9 per cent, were from families with incomes of from £15 to £18 a week, 22.4 per cent, were from families with incomes of from £18 to £20 a week and 12.7 per cent, were from families with incomes of from £20 to £25 a week. Only 11.3 per cent, of the applications were from families whose total income exceeded £25 a week. The significance of the finance, 65 per cent, of which goes to the housing commissions under this bill, is that the housing commissions provide the only houses to purchasers on small deposits. They provide the only houses, other than holiday lettings, which are being built for rental purposes.
– I think the honorable member misunderstood me. The one thing that is important is that this was the income when they applied. If the income rises subsequently it is not revealed by a later test.
– I do not think that applies in all cases, because the reply from the Minister for National Development, which I quoted in part, stated that many of these applications were then being reviewed. The honorable member will know that the annual reports of all the housing commissions refer to reviews of outstanding applications. The Victorian Housing Commission reported -
This commission’s experience which relates primarily to demand for lower cost housing is that current demand is not being met.
The South Australian Housing Trust reported -
It seems that satisfactory new housing for this large section of the population- that is married people with families in the low income level - can only be provided by some agency of the State.
The Director of Housing in Tasmania reported -
The demand for Government-built homes is not decreasing and is, in fact, stronger.
There can be no question that all the housing commissions report to their parliaments and that the State Housing Ministers report to their parliaments and proclaim week by week, or month by month, that the demand for housing for purchase on low deposit and for rental is far from met and is in fact increasing.
I shall now refer to the question of the supply of housing commission houses. Last financial year, a smaller percentage of the total number of new houses in Australia was supplied by the housing commissions than in any other year that this Government has been in office. That is, it is supplying a smaller proportion of houses. I will show how the position has deteriorated as to total number by comparing the last two years of the 1945-56 agreement, under which all the money was spent on housing commission houses, with the first two years of the agreement now expiring, during which 75 per cent, of the money was spent on housing commission houses, and with the last two financial years, during which 65 per cent, of the money was spent on housing commission houses. In those three successive two-year periods the number of houses provided by housing commissions for sale or rental fell from 26,255 to 19,708 to 18,783. So much for the supply. The demand for public housing is increasing but the supply is decreasing. What will be the demand in the future?
– You tell us.
– I thought the honorable member was beyond any interest in this matter. We can tell what the future demand will be from the expected population of people of marriageable age in the next decade, based on the figures for recent years. Persons between the ages of twenty and 24 years numbered, at the end of June, 1959, 647,000; at the end of June, 1964, the figure will be 773,000; at the end of June, 1969, it will be 1,025,000. These are not housing commission figures. They are not taken from replies given to me by the Minister for National Development. These are estimates from volume 5, No. I, of “ Trends “, the economic publication of the Rural Bank of New South Wales.
We can see that the demand in ten years from persons of marriageable age will go up by more than 50 per cent. Are we anticipating that demand? Again I come to the question of the cost of housing. In the last ten years the cost of housing in Australia has at least doubled. The amount of money which one has been able to borrow from any agency - the War Service Homes Division, building societies, savings banks, life assurance societies and - rare cases indeed - trading banks, has gone up by 50 per cent. only. Honorable members will recall that the War Services Homes Division has reported that in every State, between 1949-50 and 1959-60, the average cost of dwelling house and land has more than doubled. In the Australian Capital Territory, incidentally, it has nearly trebled. I shall give the average position for all housing in Australia between those two dates. Here, I am following the favorite ambit of honorable members opposite, who divide the population of Australia by the number of houses in Australia, irrespective of the age of the population or the age of the houses, and then say that the quotient is getting smaller and that therefore things must be for the best in this best of all possible worlds. I am following, Sir, the same pattern by dividing the value of houses in that decennium, as given by the Commonwealth Statistician, by the number of houses completed in the period, and the quotient, which is the average cost of the houses, as given by the Statistician, went up from £1,620 to £3,220. There, again, that figure doubled in the ten years. “ Trends “ said that from 1949 to 1959 housing costs have moved up by 118 per cent., compared with an increase of 87 per cent, in retail prices. The number of gadgets, the number of power plugs and that sort of thing in a house may have increased, but the quality of the materials has declined in recent years. The materials are less durable and the houses require more maintenance. The increase in the cost of housing has at least doubled in the last ten years.
– Who was it who promised to put value back into the £1? Does the Deputy Leader of the Opposition remember?
– I do not think it matters very much, because he will be on the scene for probably only another year.
Now I come to the availability of money for the purchase of a house. I have not time to go through all the details, but honorable gentlemen will know that the amount of money that one can borrow in order to purchase a house has not doubled in that ten-year period. It has risen by only one-half at most from any source. That is to say, the deposit required has gone up not only proportionately, but absolutely, in the last ten years.
I have only a few minutes left in which to refer to the other continuing features of the 1956 housing agreement. Thirty per cent, of the money is still to be diverted to building societies. That diversion is made necessary only by the Government’s tinkering with bank lending and insurance company lending. One of the unfortunate consequences of the Government’s requiring life assurance societies to invest in government bonds will be exactly the same as when it required life assurance societies to do the same in 1951 - that is, there will be less money for building societies from that source. In actual fact there has been a general decline in the last few years of money for building societies from all sources. Last year, although there was an increase over the previous year, there was still very much less money raised from nongovernment sources by building societies than in any other year since 1952-53. In New South Wales £8,085,000 was raised last year as against £11,730,000 in 1952-53. In Victoria the corresponding figures were £4,843,000 and £6,209,000. The Government has had to divert public funds to building societies because it has allowed banks to decrease their advances to those societies and has required life assurance societies to decrease theirs.
Another feature continuing In the agreement is in respect of service dwellings. The Government acknowledges that in every State the housing commission or trust or department carries out project building for servicemen with greater economy than the Government could achieve through any of its own agencies. The Government endorses the State building practices in this regard but here again, in a field for which the Commonwealth could itself cater, the Commonwealth is failing to meet the demand. The service Ministers told me last year that in respect of the previous financial year 1,425 Army personnel were allotted married quarters under this act, but 1,903 were still awaiting them. The corresponding figures for the Navy were 757 and 722, and for the Air Force 998 and 1,509. The Government does not have to depend on the States to house these servicemen. It can do the job itself, but it is not doing the job adequately.
Remaining features which all the States ask for and which the Government is still ignoring are the provision of Commonwealth funds for slum clearance, Commonwealth funds for rental rebates - as under the 1945 agreement - and Commonwealth funds for the erection of aged persons’ homes by the States. The Commonwealth Government, like the Federal Government in the United States, is the only agency in this country which can provide funds for such purposes.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- During the last half-hour I have listened very closely to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). I am rather lost to know whether he is actually supporting the bill or is against it. Judging from the tone of his speech, which was a little sour, I should have thought that he was against it, but he did not say as much as that. He did quote a series of figures, however. I have listened to few speeches in which so many figures have been quoted. It is rather difficult to follow a speech in which there is so much quoting of figures. I think that if all these figures were put into an electronic computing machine the end result would be that the Commonwealth Government has not done a bad job in the field of building homes. That must be the opinion of the Opposition, because it seems to be supporting the bill in this House, although the Opposition in another place sought to have numerous amendments made to the bill. Apparently the falsities of those amendments were made so clear that the Opposition in this House does not intend to introduce them.
This bill provides financial assistance to the States for housing purposes. In the forthcoming year, 1961-62, £36,400,000
Will be made available towards the building of homes by State housing commissions and by building societies. The total amount allocated by the Australian Loan Council ls £230,000,000, and out of this amount £36,400,000 will be made available for housing.
– It is not enough.
– The Opposition says it is not enough for housing, but Opposition members are always complaining about insufficient money being provided by this Government. I want to make it clear that 65 per cent, of the £230,000,000 allocated by the Australian Loan Council for public works, housing and other purposes, comes from Commonwealth revenue. If the Commonwealth Government did not tax the people to raise this money, most of the public works in Australia would be cut very severely. One important point about the new housing agreement is that we are giving money to the States at a concessional rate of interest. The States will pay 1 per cent, less than the long-term bond rate. They will pay 41 per cent, while the Commonwealth pays 5i per cent, to the people from whom the money is borrowed on the bond market.
The Opposition has said that the Government was a little late in introducing the bill. I quite agree. But what is the reason for this? The delay has not been occasioned by this Government. Two meetings of State Ministers for Housing have been held to consider the new agreement and correspondence has been passing back and forth. Four of the States agreed to the new proposal at the last conference, but two States, Tasmania and South Australia, did not agree - not on the general overall policy, but on the allocation of money to building societies. They wanted more money to go to the State banks instead of to the building societies. This was a minor technicality in the overall context of the agreement. It was only on Monday of last week that Tasmania and South Australia accepted the new agreement. How could this bill have been introduced into the House until they had agreed?
Some Opposition members have claimed that the State governments have not had time to discuss this agreement before their Parliaments. What chance has the New South Wales Parliament to discuss the matter when it looks as though that Parliament will not meet again until next August or September? After the defeat of the New South Wales Government at the recent referendum, it seems a bit sensitive about the Parliament meeting; it does not want some of its policies exposed.
The housing agreement was first brought in by the Chifley Government in 1945, and I give that Government credit for having done so. It is a very worthy measure providing money for the housing of people in the low income brackets. We made an alteration to the agreement in 1956 so that people in the low income brackets who were thrifty could obtain money to build their own homes. I refer to the fact that 30 per cent, of the money available under the agreement was earmarked for building societies. I think building societies are very fine organizations. People should be encouraged to own their homes, to plan the type of homes they want, to supervise their construction and even to help in their construction. With a housing commission, the only choice they have is to make an application for a home or not to make an application.
The Commonwealth, through this agreement, has helped to develop building societies where they did not exist before. When this provision was first made in 1956, Queensland could not use the whole of the 30 per cent, of the allocation for that State. It was issued by the State bank. But by the last financial year building societies in Queensland had grown to such an extent that they were able to take up the whole of the 30 per cent. In 1956, there were only three building societies in the whole of Tasmania, but now ten building societies in that State are helping people to build their homes. We on this side of the House encourage people to do this.
Let us go back to the 1945 agreement brought down by the Labour Government. It was a very good move and I am not criticizing it. At that time, there was an urgent need for homes. We had just emerged from a period of war when no homes were built. Any sort of home fulfilled the need then. However, one provision of Labour’s agreement made it virtually impossible for the States to sell the homes to the tenants. If a home were sold to the tenant, the full price of the house had to be paid to the Government. What person in the low income brackets could draw out a sum sufficient to nav for a home? Such a person can purchase a home only on terms extending over many years. Labour, of course, did not want to encourage home-ownership. 1 emphasize that point to the people of Australia. What did Mr. Dedman say? He said, “We are building up little capitalists by giving them their own homes “.
– That is worn out.
– It is worn out? My word, it is factual. A remark like that just cannot be worn out. But we can see how sensitive Labour is on this matter.
– Tell us what was said about Mr. Menzies.
– You ought to ask me what I will say about you.
– Well, say it about me.
-Order! The honorable member for Watson will remain silent.
– The New South Wales Government and the Australian Labour Party once thought that the role of a landlord was a soft one; but they have learned the error of their ways. Other governments also have learned the folly of being a landlord. Since the 1956 agreement, the New South Wales Government has sold 72.3 per cent, of the houses built by the housing commission to the tenants. Other governments have given tenants the right to ownership.
– Labour governments!
– Yes, and they agreed that it did not pay to be a landlord. But what hypocrisy! The Labour governments introduced landlord and tenant legislation which prevented persons who had been thrifty in the ‘thirties and ‘forties from obtaining a fair rental for the homes they owned. The legislation provided that the rent of privately owned homes could not be raised unless the landlord went through the rigmarole of appearing before a fair rents court. Even then the rent was increased by only a small amount and only if the landlord spent money on painting and effecting whatever repairs might be required. The Labour governments have discovered the folly of being landlords and are getting om of the landlord business. In Victoria 40 per cent, of the houses built by the housing commission in the last five years have been sold to the occupants of them. For Queensland the proportion is 58.4 per cent., for
Western Australia 39.4 per cent., and for Tasmania 81.2 per cent. Now let rae get back to the position in New South Wales.
– What was the figure for Tasmania?
– It was 81.2 per cent.
– That is not bad for a Labour government.
– Evidently the Tasmanian Government believes in encouraging home ownership, unlike the Labour Government of which Mr. Dedman was a Minister.
– Order! The honorable member will address the Chair.
– We find that the housing commission in New South Wales has concentrated its home-building activities in the metropolitan areas. Of all commission homes built in that State, 79.5 per cent, have been built in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong, the industrial areas. Only 20.5 per cent, of housing commission homes have been built in the country areas. The accent is obviously on the city areas. [Quorum formed.] I think the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) for directing attention to the state of the House, because I wanted members of the Opposition of whom very few have been in the House, to hear my remarks.
I have shown that the New South Wales Housing Commission has placed the accent on the industrial areas in its home-building programmes. Of course, the argument is advanced that the greatest demand for houses is in industrial ‘areas. I agree that the demand for housing commission houses is probably greater in city areas than it is in country areas, but I make the point that in country centres people like to build their houses with assistance granted by building societies. A person may have a block of land, perhaps a block that has been given to him. He likes to watch his house being built and to supervise its construction. He has a personal interest in the tradesmen building the house. People in the country do not like housing commission houses to the same degree as city folk. Groups of such houses are built together, and this tends to make the people occupying them appear isolated from the rest of the community. Honorable members opposite may signify their disagreement with me if they wish, but what I have stated is the fact. People in the country like to express themselves in the way they think fit. Why should they be forced to build their houses according to a set pattern? Having these considerations in mind, I suggest that the demand for houses built with building society finance is very much greater than the demand for housing commission homes.
We all know that serious problems have recently confronted the timber industry, and I have been doing quite a lot of work trying to help in overcoming these problems. I have approached all the building societies in my area, and let me say at this stage that there are as many building societies in my district as there are in the whole of Tasmania. I find that the demand for finance from these societies is so great that they could use an extra £600,000 at the present time. Yet we find honorable members opposite contending that the New South Wales Housing Commission’s needs should be given first consideration in the allocation of money between those authorities and building societies. At the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers I would like to have seen the adoption of the proposal originally put up by this Government, which was that 33A per cent, of the available funds should go to building societies, because I think that these societies represent the finest way of spending this kind of money.
I have mentioned the problem in the timber industry. We are giving money to help build more homes.
– Giving it?
– Well, we are lending it - making it available - for the building of more homes, and we hope that the building of more homes will help the sawmillers who are having difficulty in selling their timber and maintaining employment in their mills. I point out, however, that the expenditure of this money in country areas will help the timber industry more than if it is expended in city areas. In the metropolitan area of Sydney last year 36,000 houses were built. Of these, 16,690 were of brick or brick veneer, in which not a great deal of timber was used, whilst about 17,000 houses were of timber-frame construction. About half of the total number were of brick and half were timber-framed. The timber industry is experiencing difficulty in the Richmond-Tweed district, the Clarence district and the Oxley area. These districts cover my electorate as well as the electorates of Lyne, New England and Cowper. We find that in the Richmond-Tweed district only 34 brick houses were built of a total of 523. The rest were of timber. In the Clarence area only 37 of 294 were of brick, whilst in the Oxley area only two brick houses were built, the remainder being timber.
If the New South Wales Government wants to help the timber industry it will obviously try to channel the available money, either for housing commission houses or for building societies, to country areas, because a much greater proportion of timber houses are built in those areas than is the case in the cities, where half the houses are built of brick.
– Should the bricklayers be unemployed?
– It is all very well for the honorable member to make such remarks. I do not say that all the money should go to the country areas. I merely submit that the allocation at present, as between country and metropolitan areas, is disproportionate. Give a bit more to the country areas. This would be more equitable than the present arrangement, and it would also help the timber industry.
One of the points about which I am a little concerned is that when the available money is split up and a proportion allocated to building societies, only the terminating societies are allowed to benefit. Perhaps there is some wisdom in this policy, but I believe that some part of the money should go to permanent building societies. Both kinds of societies are fulfilling very important purposes in the building of homes. In Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia the State governments allow a certain proportion of the available money to go to permanent building societies.
After reading newspapers, not only in my own area but also in all other parts of Aus tralia, I must conclude that the press is laying all the blame for the slump in the timber industry on the Commonwealth Government. I do not say that the Commonwealth Government should not accept some of the blame, but we do not accept all of it. Of all the homes built in Australia, 25 per cent, are built with money provided by this Government. We have not cut down the volume of that money in any way. In fact, in some directions we have increased it.
The Government makes money available under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. It makes £35,000,000 available to the War Service Homes Division. It makes additional money available for homes for defence service personnel. It makes money available for homes for the aged and for housing in the Australian Capital Territory. Of the homes built in Australia, 25 per cent, are financed by the Commonwealth Government. In no way has the Government reduced its financing of home construction. When the Government introduced its economic measures the Reserve Bank of Australia issued a directive to the trading banks that finance for the building of homes should in no way be curtailed.
I accept that there is a problem in this connexion because industries are suffering. A small group of Country Party members including the honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock), the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), and the honorable member >for New England (Mr. Drummond), have worked on this problem. Nobody has worried about it more than they have. The Government parties are continually making endeavours to make finance available for homes. All that honorable members opposite can do is to criticize in this matter. They will not examine the matter constructively to see what can be done.
There has been a drop in home-building in the northern areas of Australia. Through the War Service Homes Division, extra money has been channelled to Queensland. Advertisements have been placed in newspapers to the effect that money is available for the building of homes there and that in turn helps the north-west of New South Wales. We have got the Commonwealth
Savings Bank to make more money available. Recently, the Reserve Bank released another £17,500,000 with the tag that it was to be used for the building of homes. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth), on behalf of the Government, has emphasized that the maximum amount of Australian timber possible will be used in the construction of all Commonwealth buildings. Such an instruction has not been issued by the State governments.
In my area, imported Oregon is being used in the construction of schools and technical colleges. It is brought 600 miles from Sydney for that purpose. Why can local timber not be used? I have said that the Government has recognized the problem and is trying to do something about it. It recognizes that if land speculation goes wild it makes it more expensive for a young man to build a home because he has to buy the land on which to build it.
One purpose of the Government’s economic measures was to curb land speculation. And they have done a very good job in that direction. The Opposition agrees that this is necessary. Why does the New South Wales Government play along with land speculation? Look at what it did at Balgowlah last week-end! In auctioning blocks of land it imposed reserve prices of between £2,000 and £4,000. It is providing only for the capitalist. Why does it not provide for the working man? If it wanted to provide for the working man it could have allocated the land by ballot. If it wanted to maintain the standards of the area it could have put a housing covenant on each block. Why put a reserve price of between £2,000 and £4,000 on the land? The State government is setting the pace for speculators.
That there is a problem I have agreed. We have tried to do something about it. Wc have been forthright in our approach and we shall continue to try to do something about it. The Australian Country Party has been making every endeavour to do something about it. The New South Wales Government must accept a lot of responsibility for the price of homes because of excessive freight rates and excessive royalties on timber. I invite honorable members to read the Tariff Boards’ report on timber. It states that New South Wales hardwood scantling timbers are among the highest priced in Australia.
The Sydney wholesale price is £7 4s., compared with £5 3s. 6d. in Melbourne. The report states that the high price in New South Wales is largely due to high transport costs and royalties.
This matter has been brought up in the last three reports of the Tariff Board. What has the New South Wales Government done about it? Not a single thing! It is trying to finance forests and reafforestation out of revenue from royalties. That is poor financing. Why should the present generation pay for reafforestation which will benefit people in 30 or 40 years’ time? Other States finance this type of activity out of loan allocations. The New South Wales Government spends from loan moneys only approximately £500,000 out of a total expenditure of £7,000,000 on reafforestation projects each year. Most of the money for this purpose is obtained from royalties which push up the cost of timber. From the Tariff Board report it may be seen that the highest royalties in Australia are charged in New South Wales.
I am also critical of the saw-millers’ organizations in New South Wales. They have been constantly criticizing this Government. If their members had a bit of courage and gumption they would also attack the New South Wales Government. Who do they not attack the New South Wales Government? It is because they are living in a state of fear because of their experience of increased freight rates. They have seen shipping pushed off the coast. They know that forest timber allocations can be altered or refused and the use of forestry roads can be held up. So they have to hold their tongues. It is the State Government that they should be attacking.
A reduction of freight rates has the same effect as an extra duty on imported timber. In fact, it is much better because it helps to lower the cost of homes. But a duty on timber boosts prices. A royalty on timber boosts the cost of homes. The whole attitude of the New South Wales Government in financing reafforestation out of revenue is bad. It is poor financing and it is a pity that the State Government will not take a lead from some of the other States. We try to do our job in this Parliament. We are trying to assist the building societies. We are giving money to the housing commissions. We are lending it at 1 per cent, less than the Australian Loan
Council has to pay for it. We are encouraging home ownership which, apparently, the Opposition does not like. We are trying to stimulate the building of more homes in Australia by arranging for the Reserve Bank to release more money. Let the States do something by cutting timber royalties or freight rates or both. Nothing would help the timber industry in my area more than a reduction of royalties. The State Government has placed a superroyalty on timber sent from my area to Brisbane. It is trying to stop New South Wales timber from going to Queensland. It cannot prevent that legally, because of section 92 of the Constitution, but it has tried to stop it by putting additional royalty on all timber leaving northern New South Wales for Queensland. That is one of the big markets for the saw-milling industry in New South Wales.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) has given a classical example of something about which the Opposition has been telling the Government over the years. He mentioned the number of homes that have been purchased from State housing authorities. I suggest to him that that is ample evidence of what is required in Australia to-‘day. People want to buy homes on a low deposit at cheap interest. The Opposition is not opposing this bill, but we feel that it does not go far enough. The honorable member for Richmond has taken the New South Wales Government to task concerning the cost of timber in his electorate. He fails to understand that hardwoods are not grown to any great extent in New South Wales and must be brought from Victoria and Tasmania.
The honorable member referred to cooperatives in country districts, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let me tell Government supporters that co-operatives in Victoria cannot get the money they need. I should like any Government supporter who can assist to help a co-operative society of which T am a director to get nearly £100,000 that we are asking for and have been asking for since last January. It does not look as if we shall get it before next December. That is the sort of speed with which the co-opera tive societies are getting money under this Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
It is interesting for us on this side of the House to hear honorable members opposite talking about what they are going to do to boost housing. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) told us to-day that the Cabinet had had a discussion about the matter only this morning. The truth is that the building industry in Australia has practically collapsed, and the Government is still doing nothing but discuss it. This Administration has not produced a plan to arrest the deterioration in the industry that it has caused. Perhaps the only highlight in the debate that has taken place so far to-day on this bill has been the advancement of socialistic policy by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn), who is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia, and by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), who mentioned a statement made in another place by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). I intend to deal with that later.
This bill has been introduced into this Parliament at a time when the building industry in Australia is in an absolutely chaotic condition as a result of this Government’s credit squeeze. I am sure that the State housing authorities throughout the country view with great alarm the condition of the industry. Their resources already are stretched far beyond their capacity to cope with the incessant demand being made on them for homes for rental and for purchase by people on lower incomes, and those on moderate incomes, as was mentioned by the Minister for National Development, that is. people who are fortunate enough to be earning enough to meet the repayments on a housing commission home. The housing commissions throughout Australia surely view with a great deal of alarm the deplorable position into which the building industry has been plunged by this Government. The fact that big building organizations such as Paynes Properties Proprietary Limited and A. V. Jennings Construction Company Proprietary Limited have virtually ceased home-building in Victoria, and, indeed, throughout Australia, throws additional pressure on the already over-taxed and absolutely inadequate resources of State housing authorities.
The Minister for National Development, in his second-reading speech on this bill in another place, mentioned the housing agreement and said - lt is aimed … at the construction of dwellings for families of low . . . means . . .
We have no quarrel with that. We support that objective.
– We have always said that that should be the aim.
– Yes; we have said that ever since the first agreement was entered into. The Minister for National Development went on to say -
When the 19S6 agreement was completed there was … a very considerable housing shortage throughout Australia. Since then this shortage has been greatly reduced.
Many figures have been cited in this chamber, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by various Ministers, and particularly by the Minister lor Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon). When the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) cited some figures earlier to-day, the Minister went to some pains to try to show that the Leader of the Opposition did not know what he was talking about. In effect, the Minister was trying to establish that figures compiled by responsible government departments are absolutely absurd. Yet the Minister for National Development rests on those figures when it suits him. The quarterly bulletin of building statistics gives a different picture, and I want to examine the position. This bulletin absolutely belies the statements made by the Minister for National Development and the repeated claim by the Government that the housing shortage has been overcome. The off-again-on-again economic policies of this Government have plunged the building industry into a sorry mess, and our only consolation is that we can thank God that the Labour Government had the wisdom to introduce the legislation that made possible the establishment of the various State housing organizations. One can only shudder at the thought of what would have been the housing conditions of thousands of decent and hard-working Australians at the present time if it were not for the State housing authorities.
I turn now to some figures, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In 1952, 80,000 new houses were constructed. In 1953, 64,000 were constructed - a decline of 16,000, despite the back-lag in 1952. By the end of 1954, about 60,000 homes were under construction. In 1955, the number under construction again was about 60,000. In spite of these rates of construction, the back-lag continued. By December, 1956, only 53,000 homes were under construction, and in the December quarter of 1958 the number of homes under construction had fallen below 50,000.
– That was certainly shocking by anybody’s standards - even by the standards of the under-developed nations. It is obvious that despite the Government’s claim that the housing shortage has been overcome the position has deteriorated year by year. From time to time, the Government has tried to take refuge by pointing to the number of flats constructed. But even here there have been considerable fluctuations. Perhaps Government supporters forgot about the 1953 credit squeeze. At that time, the construction rate for flats fell to 1,500 a year compared with 4,000 in 1952, and the rate remained at about the 1953 level until 1958, when the number of flats built increased to about 4,000 a year again. In general, the construction of flats does little to relieve the plight of the people on low incomes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For instance, housing commission flats are let at rentals that workers on low incomes find difficult to pay. The only reason why the majority of the people in flats accept this form of accommodation is that they are unable to obtain finance to build or buy a home on terms that they can meet out of their pay envelope. Flat life is not the kind of home life that the average Australian wants. He demands a home in which he can raise his family in the truly Australian manner.
Since we are dealing with figures, it is interesting to take note of those given by Mr. Turnbull, the Acting Minister of Housing in Victoria, in September, 1959.
Perhaps the honorable member for Fawkner would laugh at these figures if he were in the chamber. Mr. Turnbull said there were 13,911 applicants for 2,400 government homes, that only 2,400 tenancies were expected to become available in 1959-60 and that the number of applicants in the metropolitan area was 10,197 and in country areas 3,714.
– Who said that?
– A man with the same name as yours.
– Make it clear that I did not say it.
– He was not the honorable member for Mallee. On 3rd October of the same year the New South Wales Minister for Housing, Mr. Landa, is reported in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ as having said -
The State needs 50,000 homes.
There was a shortage of more than 50,000 homes in New South Wales. There were 26,000 applicants outstanding with the Housing Commission, 20,000 people waiting for finance through building societies and another 7,000 unsatisfied applicants for War Service homes.
Mr Landa said demand on the Housing Commission showed no sign of easing.
New applications were coming in from people who had been unable to obtain relief from their housing difficulties in any other way.
In other words, they could not obtain finance. When we remember the many claims made by honorable members on the Government side that the deplorable housing position in Australia has been overcome, Mr. Landa’s remarks are most interesting. The report continued -
Mr Landa was commenting on a statement made by the Minister for the Army (Mr J. O. Cramer) in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. Speaking on the Loan (Housing) Bill, which authorized the grant of £36,080,000 to the States for housing, Mr Cramer said Australia’s housing shortage would be over in two years.
That was in October. 1959. I can only say that the opinion of the Minister for the Army is consistent with that expressed by other Government speakers in that it indicates an absolute lack of realization by this Government of the country’s greatest social problem. Mr. Landa went on to say -
Perhaps Mr Cramer was thinking in terms of the rosy state of affairs in Canberra where the Federal Government has spent £5,000,000 in one year in providing housing. Contrast this with the £8,000,000 eked out to New South Wales under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
He went on to say -
There was little doubt that 35,000 homes a year could be built if finance was available to the industry, but even this rate would not be enough in view of the heavy migration programme and a growing marriage rate.
– And there is the credit squeeze on top of that.
– Yes. This was the state of affairs in 1959. Let me take a little further the figures quoted by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). The Acting Minister for Housing in Victoria, Mr. Turnbull, told the world in general that in that year there was a shortage of 13,911 homes in that State. In November of that same year, Mr. Petty said -
To meet population increases and eliminate the backlag by June, 1963, 126,000 dwellings will be required over the next four years.
Mr. Petty then went on to say that the requirements would be 30,000 houses in 1960, 31,000 in 1961, 32,000 in 1962 and 33,000 in 1963. He also said that about 24,000 houses had been built in Victoria during the past twelve months. He added that co-operative housing societies had about 10,000 people waiting to be admitted at that time.
– Who is Mr. Petty?
– He is the Minister for Housing in the Liberal Government in Victoria. He admitted that by November of that year the number of people waiting for housing commission homes in Victoria had jumped from 13,911 to 17,000. At that time the total housing shortage in Victoria was 40,000, and the combined shortages in Victoria and New South Wales were 90,000 homes in 1959.
Let me give further evidence of the housing position in Victoria. The Deputy Director of the Housing Commission in Victoria, Mr. Gaskin, when giving evidence before the parliamentary committee on the distribution of population said -
The Housing Commission is only now examining applications for metropolitan tenancies made early in 1957.
He said that when giving evidence before the committee on 27th October, 1960. He was being questioned at the time about how the Victorian Housing Commission would fit into the Government’s plan for decentralization. He went on to say -
The Commission at present did not have the money to satisfy the demand that would come for houses with new industries in country areas. Funds made available to the Commission had been substantially reduced in recent years and diverted to other channels.
Expansion could be achieved only at the expense of a decrease elsewhere in the housing programme.
That statement was made by a man who knows all about the housing position in Victoria. The Premier of Victoria, Mr. Bolte, said this -
The Government’s policy of removing controls is now paying dividends in increased building activity in Victoria.
He added that figures issued from Canberra showed that nearly 21,000 new permits for homes and flats had been issued in Victoria for the first eight months of I960, and that house and flat building in the State could be a record that year as there were 20,000 marriages a year in Victoria. He stated also that well over 20,000 houses were being built annually and he claimed that this showed that the Government was taking care of housing for young couples. Finally, he very modestly said that the Government was also catching up a little with the lag.
Since the cessation of hostilities in 1945, this country has faced up to a number of problems. Perhaps the greatest problem which arose immediately after the war was the transition of industry from a war-time to a peace-time basis; and it must be said to the everlasting credit of the then Labour Government that that transition was made without inconvenience to any person or industry. Contrast that with the transition mentioned by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) this morning when referring to the 90,000 persons who are now unemployed. It is not much of a transition for a person to be removed from his job, probably to remain unemployed for the rest of his life. Another problem that has arisen since 1945 and which still agitates this country and this House is that of housing. We have this problem despite the fact that we have the material, the labour and the necessary finance. Although we have the men and the materials, and, without doubt, the finance, there is in Australia a shortage of 100,000 homes. More strangely still, we have in the vicinity of 100,000 unemployed. Just imagine, 100,000 unemployed and a shortage of 100,000 homes! We have these two great social scourges in the midst of the greatest period of development that this country has ever witnessed. We have unemployment when, for example, there is a desperate need for more schools and more hospitals, and an urgent need for extensive national projects in the north of Australia in Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory. We have this unemployment when there is a need for additional water storage facilities, more and better roads, more extensive agriculture and increased power supplies. We have unemployment when there is a need for transport co-ordination and better transport facilities. We have these problems and, at the same time, we have thousands of migrants pouring into the country, and an ever-increasing birthrate. We have unemployment and a housing shortage when the very basis of our moral obligations to the people we are bringing to our shores is to provide them with homes and employment.
The resources to overcome the housing shortage and unemployment are available. All that is required is for the Government to have the courage to declare housing a national emergency. If this were done, the problems of the housing commissions, and unemployment, soon would disappear. To rid the country of these two scourges requires only that the Government should make available cheap money amounting to about £40,000,000. One thing is certainthis is an investment on which the country cannot lose. Further, as the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) stated, it is a moral obligation of far greater importance than spending £36,000,000 on aircraft and large sums of money on atomic research and space missiles.
When one speaks of moral obligations I point out that there is one great obligation that we must never forget. It is the obligation which was undertaken by all the free nations of the world during the Second World War, and it may be expressed in the words, “ Freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of religion and freedom of speech “. Included among those who are suffering the misery of unemployment and the lack of housing are many who fought to give us those four freedoms. They fought to give us a better world and, to my way of thinking, unemployment and lack of housing are not features of the kind of better world that they would appreciate.
At the risk of being charged with repetition, I repeat that it would be a tragic circumstance if legislation of this kind were not a feature of the business of this House at this time. It is a tragic circumstance that in this period of prosperity unlimited we still have in our midst emergency housing settlements. But in the face of this fact we learn that in the first quarter of this year the number of building approvals dropped by almost 5,000. However, government building in 1960 increased. One, therefore, is entitled to think that if the Government is increasing its building programme, even as it was during the boom period of last year, while the programme of private enterprise is dropping, there should be real concern at the unsatisfactory overall picture. After all, a drop of 50 per cent, in the rate of building over three months is unbelievable, more so when government building increases.
This position without doubt is disastrous, but it is extraordinary when one realizes that the Government was calling for increased production and the private building industry was doing the thing that it was requested and in fact encouraged to do. One wonders how the housing commissions will cope with the shambles into which this Government has plunged the country.
Mention was made in 1959 of a shortage of houses in Australia and Mr. Bolte, the Premier of Victoria, congratulated the Government on the building boom. But when the building boom bubble burst, Mr. Bolte was reported in the Melbourne “ Herald “ of 1st February, 1961, in this way -
Bolte seeks more cash for houses. Victoria will try to get more money for housing at next week’s Loan Council talks in Canberra. Il wants the Federal Government to ease restrictions on house finance.
To-day, Cabinet was discussing what it will do about the deplorable condition of the building industry in Australia. The article continues -
The Premier, Mr. Bolte, said to-day he would raise the issue and ask for early action. He added: “ The housing industry is the key to the over-all economy “.
I agree with him - “ Unless it is healthy, sound and progressive, you can run into untold difficulties.”
The Minister for Housing, Mr. Petty, is then reported in these terms -
The easing of housing finance within the next month or so was essential to avoid not only unemployment in the building industry, but deterioration of Victoria’s acute housing position.
The position is quite clear. That is the kind of contradiction that has been going on. In February of this year the Premier of Victoria contradicted what he said in 1959. A further contradiction may be seen in the Treasurer’s statements. On 13th April, 1961, he said-
The rate of house building would not be allowed to return to last year’s boom level.
But on 3rd May, in a reply to questions that I had put to him, he stated -
The Government will boost home building.
This contradiction, indecision, disregard and inactivity goes on while 1,000 acres of slums are blighting the inner areas of the metropolis of Melbourne and while thousands of people want homes. The fact that old-established firms in Victoria like Clements Langford Proprietary Limited and G. A. Winwood Proprietary Limited, and contract home-building firms like Evandale Estates Proprietary Limited and Clayton Timber and Trading Proprietary Limited should find themselves in the hands of creditors reflects no credit on this Government. On the contrary, it indicates the Government’s complete and utter lack of ability to handle the greatest problem affecting the lives of the people of this country to-day.
For the reasons that I have stated, every member on this side of the House demands that more, and cheap, money be made available at once to the home-building industry and to housing co-operatives, and that the Government make adequate funds available to housing commissions so that the demands being made upon them can be met.
.- There seems to be an air of unreality about many of the arguments that have been advanced by the Opposition to-night. This probably can be explained by the speech of the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), who stated that the Opposition did not intend to oppose the bill. Quite a number of honorable gentlemen opposite who have participated in the debate appear to have spoken more for effect than for the purpose of making any serious contribution to it. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) quoted many figures and, with characteristic skill, reconciled one with the other, but he did not draw from those figures the conclusions which I have known him to be capable of drawing.
An ironical situation arises. The honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr Mclvor) said on, I think, two occasions, that we should give the people cheap money at low interest rates. He also attacked the Government for allowing inflation to exist and to continue. If there is anything more stupidly inflationary than the suggestion that cheap money should be made available at low interest rates for this and for that, particularly at this time and in the conditions which confront us, I do not know what it is. I remind the House, however, that if that is the attitude of the Opposition - and I gather that it is, because every member opposite who has spoken in this debate has advocated either that or something similar - it is in direct contrast to the attitude of the late leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Chifley, whom they are very anxious to quote on each and every occasion. The action of Mr. Chifley when Prime Minister and Treasurer, when the first agreement was made, is in direct and distinct contrast to all the contributions made by members of the Opposition to the debate to-night. Indicating their lack of realism, my distinguished friend the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), whom I congratulate on his sincerity, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam), concluded their remarks with requests, suggestions, or demands - if you like - that the Commonwealth should make available, either inside or outside this agreement, more money for slum clearance. I remind those honorable gentlemen and other honorable members that included in the purposes of the 1945 act were, first, housing projects, and secondly, slum clearance. That agreement operated for ten years, from 1945 to 1955, and I invite any member of this House to point to any substantial project for slum clearance that was undertaken in any part of australia in those ten years. I would be very happy to hear about such a project. That is not to say that slum clearance is not a real and urgent need in the community. The point I am making is that this sort of unreality does nothing to solve it. We cannot dismiss this proposition, as honorable members might attempt to dismiss other propositions, by merely saying “ Make more money available “. Obviously to make more money available in the sense suggested would solve nothing. Such action would aggravate inflation, and we have had a bitter experience in that respect over the last few years. Let us endeavour, as my distinguished colleague from Fawkner (Mr. Howson) did, to analyse the problem. It is not sufficient to quote, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did, the numbers of applications for State housing commission houses, war service homes, co-operative building society houses, and so on. Such figures by themselves mean nothing.
I suggest that there are at least four sections of this problem of housing. The first is the problem of those with the money with which to buy homes. The second is the problem of those who need time to pay on extended terms. The third relates to those who cannot afford to buy a house or pay an economic rent; and the fourth is the problem of those who for various reasons or circumstances prefer to rent houses. It is all part of the common problem. To deal with these problems we have to deal with each section as such. Otherwise, we will become confused as some of my friends opposite have been confused to-night. The present agreement and that which preceded it have done a certain amount to help those who wanted to occupy rented houses. Latterly, the agreement has helped those who wished to buy houses on extended terms; but the other sections have not been helped to any great extent over the last few years. They are the people to whom my friend the member for Fawkner referred as those who cannot afford to pay an economic rent. Something, but only a little, has been done for them. The other section comprises those who normally could afford to buy houses for themselves in the usual way by raising overdrafts.
I suggest to the House that sooner or later we will be forced, if we are to continue this sort of legislation, to accept the situation that the honorable member for Fawkner mentioned and regard persons who cannot afford to buy houses or pay an economical rent, as a social responsibility, and treat their needs as a social service and directly subsidize it. We would have to subsidize it on terms that would satisfy every member of this House that the money was made available to deal with this particular problem. I say, further, that we will never solve the housing problem by building through government agencies. The honorable member for Fawkner, the member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn) and others on this side of the chamber have said that the co-operative building societies can build and have built more houses for the same amount of money than government agencies have, whether they have been housing commissions, housing trusts, or anything else. That is true-
– That is because of the bigger deposit.
– Not at all. If honorable members analyse the figures they will find that housing commission figures do not compare favorably with those of the cooperative building movement.
– That is not true.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! The honorable member for Yarra will have his opportunity to speak.
– I do not believe we will ever solve this problem by creating huge government building agencies. They are too expensive and too cumbersome. The relative inefficiency of government enterprise as against private enterprise destroys any possibility of solving the problem in that way. Ultimately we will be forced to accept the situation that we must rely on the most efficient agency of building construction; and on all the evidence available that is private enterprise under proper financial administration.
I come now to the sort of thing which was introduced into the debate by the Deputy
Leader of the Opposition when he referred to budgetary action which the Government had taken and implied that there was some malign design by the Government to harass housing development. Of course, that is not so. Any one who deals with realities knows that the action which the Government has taken was rendered inevitable as a result of the impact of world forces, such as the fall of world prices for the products which we export. The economics of this country affect its financial position, and almost every section of activity in the country reacts accordingly; it cannot do otherwise. To suggest that such reaction could be obviated is to deny facts and realities.
I want to mention briefly the sort of thing to which the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) referred so frequently when he quoted comments by various State ministers that appear to be contrary to statements made inside this House. That is probably the situation, and there are two reasons for it. First, I can understand the astonishment of my friends opposite when people on our political side, both in the State parliaments and here, differ one from the other or from the party without any fear of being expelled. It is true that there are differences of opinion on our side. There are differences of opinion in any live, dynamic party. It is only in a party that is controlled by socialism, by the threat of expulsion and by dictatorial authority that one does not get differences, or, if there are differences, the members are not allowed to voice them.
– What a lot of humbug you talk!
– It may well seem to be humbug to people of the honorable gentleman’s political faith, but I do not think that people who follow the general pattern of democracy would find it very difficult to agree with me. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Kelly) reminds me that the right to express differing views is a cherished freedom of the Liberal Party.
I want to turn now for a few minutes to another aspect of this matter. Reference has been made on both sides of the House to sales by the New South Wales and Victorian housing commissions since 1955. This comes back to the problem of interest. The truth is that the houses built by a housing commission in any State are to a degree subsidized in respect of the interest rate. That is acknowledged by everybody. Purchasers of those houses are also subsidized in the form of a low deposit compared with the deposit required and expected in other circumstances. These houses are, in fact, a very good buy for the individuals concerned, at the expense of the taxpayers. Those who advocate a lower interest rate, or criticize the existing interest rate, are saying, in effect, that they believe that the people in that particular section of the community, who may or may not be suffering hardship, should be subsidized by the rest of the community. I think it was the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) who quoted from the report of a housing conference held in Victoria a year or so ago. If 1 recall correctly, there appeared in the same report the statement - which was not contradicted - that 70 per cent, of the first 1,200 or 1,300 houses built by the Victorian Housing Commission under the 1945 agreement were still occupied in 1959 by the original tenants. So for twelve, thirteen or fourteen years the taxpayer had been subsidizing those people by rent subsidies, cost subsidies and so on. Those people received considerable benefit at the expense of the community in general. If they were people who could not afford to pay an economic rent, or could not afford to buy a house, I think the community might well accept the responsibility; but if, on the other hand, they were of the class mentioned by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), or allied to it, I do not think the community should be called upon to accept such a responsibility. To suggest otherwise is to indulge in political propaganda.
Finally, I turn to the question of disagreement between State housing ministers and ministers and members in this Parliament. That is one of the inescapable facts that follows the forced development on which we have embarked in this country, first under a Labour Government and now under this Government. The situation has been created that there is so much demand for finance, so much demand at times for goods and services, that there is a struggle for what is left. That is particularly true of the amount of money that can be borrowed or raised by taxation to finance essential Government works. It is regrettable, but as long as this system continueswe must accept as a permanent fact that representatives of the States and representatives of the Commonwealth will argue, because their responsibilities differ, and neither any State nor the Commonwealth has sufficient funds to meet all requirements and to enable it to do all it would like to do.
So I come back to the practical suggestion made by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn). I think the long-range solution to this problem is for governments to keep out of building and let us rely upon private enterprise building. I do not see why the Commonwealth and the States could not agree on the amount of finance that should be made available over a period for expenditure on housing in Australia. I think that that agreement could be achieved. I believe that housing costs should be insulated against shocks to our economy and the rise and fall of overseas prices.
– That is a hopeless attitude.
– I do not think it is. We are reaching agreement with the States now, be it a rather unhappy agreement. 1 think that it would be easier to reach agreement on the level of finance for housing. That would have to be accompanied by common action - I do not dismiss the real possibilities of common action in this country - by the Commonwealth and the States to restrict the activities of land and housing speculators. There is no dispute that such people have been responsible for a very substantial increase in the prices of houses and land.
– We will agree with you there.
– As long as we can agree on something, we are not doing so badly. I think that those things can be done. I think that we could secure an agreement between governments and financial institutions to make a permanent level of building finance available if there were complementary Commonwealth and State legislation which would guarantee a reasonable level of costs for a period. It is not much good deciding on a figure if it cannot be related to costs, so that the number of units is constant. This seems to me to be positive action which we could well take in the future. The Commonwealth and the States will have five years to consider problems arising under the new agreement, which I believe will be concluded. I believe that if people here and elsewhere could think of these problems away from the atmosphere of political argument we might find agreement in considerable areas. If we could go so far in 1955, then in 1966, when we would still be carrying on this programme of forced development, we could meet the problems by real policies instead of policies which bear little relation to the realities of the situation.
What I have said demonstrates my support of the bill. I believe that it is the best bill we could submit at the present time. I also believe that considerable research must be devoted to this problem on the level of reality, not on the level of politics.
– While I appreciate the kindly manner of the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) I am afraid that there are a number of things about which I want to disagree with him in a fairly definite way. The first is the cheerful reliance he places on private enterprise to provide the housing needed in this country. I do not share the honorable gentleman’s confident expectations in that respect. Unfortunately, in the very recent past, big private institutions have threatened the Government when the Government has tried to divert funds held by those engaged in insurance activities away from very profitable activities which were not helpful to the nation to what might be regarded as the fundamental needs of the community. As a member of Parliament, I have had people come to me, even as late as yesterday, and tell me that they are renting a couple of rooms in an old house that has been subdivided and are being charged £7 a week by private enterprise, even though they are only a pensioner couple. Private enterprise has not done the job in the past, and whilst 1 would not suggest for one moment that we should have totally and completely governmental enterprise in this field - I think competition is good in all spheres - I would have to express some diffidence at any suggestion that we should totally rely on private enterprise.
The provision of homes is a matter of fundamental and most pervasive consequence in the social and economic fabric of any community. Housing is not just a matter of sheltering people from the elements. It is the focal point for the social group - in our community called the family - to come together and mutually assist each other. The breakdown of the family unit is all too often traceable to inadequate housing. The throwing together of young married couples still reliant on parents or parents-in-law for housing has led in many instances to their separation or divorce. Child delinquency is often traceable on the one hand to inadequate housing and on the other hand to a resentment against a community that does not provide for that child the same amenities that it provides for the neighbouring child. All these matters have this pervasive influence in the community.
The home is the focal point of the family unit and without it the family unit seems to lose some of the cementing substance that keeps it together in a genuine way. To my mind, without continuing with too many generalities, this Government has never really faced the problem of a national plan for housing. When I say a national plan for housing, I am really limiting myself more than I want to do. I have complained in this place on more than one occasion that the Government has not produced a national plan for genuine national development. I make it more embracing than merely housing. It seems to me that a young nation like Australia, embarking on the kind of immigration programme that it has, should above all try to plan in a systematic and economic way for the national development of the community. I would think that a government which takes upon itself the responsibility of bringing into the country in the past more than 100,000 people a year and for the next five years an average of 125,000 people a year, would also accept a responsibility for housing those people, for finding them employment and for distributing them throughout the Australian continent in a way that would be beneficial to the national development.
A few weeks ago, members of the Australian Country Party moved a motion in this House that amounted virtually to a bitter complaint about the lack of decentralization. The housing problem today is very much tied up with the problem of decentralization. Despite anything that the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) might say in regret about the number of houses being built in country areas by the housing commissions, my experience is rather sadly to the contrary in many country towns. I have mentioned in this place before the case of a very close friend of mine who won a land ballot in Queensland a short time ago. He wanted to go there to help develop the cattle industry. Not only did he find it impossible to raise finance from the banking institutions, including the Commonwealth Development Bank, to engage in this laudable development enterprise, but he also found it impossible to sell his home in a country town not so very far away from this National Capital. In many country towns, some of them substantial towns, houses can be had for almost nothing. People cannot almost give them away. Towns which had an important railway component and have now lost it through dieselization, and towns that have had no industrial development because the Commonwealth Government has shown no inclination to provide the financial inducement that might lead industries to establish themselves there, have these scarce homes, these great assets, going to waste. This arises from a mal-distribution of our Australian population.
What the Government must do, if it really wants to tackle the housing problem, is to tackle the much broader problem of national development. It should in a systematic and planned way provide our community, which is growing by immigration and by natural increase, with the basic and fundamental facilities that it is likely to need in the country areas. These facilities include housing, the provision of water, sewerage, schools, hospitals and so on. I do not think that any one would claim that any attempt is being made to evolve such a systematic plan. As a result, we have the position that members of the Australian Country Party have all too belatedly recognized. We have the gross mal-distribution of population and into the bargain we have the mal-distribution of our industrial development and other resources. In manyinstances, the impact of our rapidly increasing population is driving up the costs of land and of housing and is exerting intense pressure on the ancillary resourcessuch as telephones, sewerage and urban roads.
We hear talk of inflation and speculation in land. We are told that this is making it very difficult for young couples to establish themselves and the high cost of land’ is confronting them with a grave problem when they seek to build a home. All this arises from the fact that so many peopleseek to confine themselves within half a dozen major spots in this great continent.. A lot of the inflationary spiral, of the landboom and of the speculation attaching tohome construction derives from the fact that we are not planning a genuine dispersal of our population, our industries and our resources.
A Government spokesman a short time ago predicted that within two years the. housing lag would be overcome. The simple fact is that to-day we are further away from attaining this desirable end than we were a couple of years ago. We are not significantly nearer to tackling the problem of slum clearance than we were several years ago. Every housing commission report regrets the fact that not nearly as much has been done as could be desired and that the number of slum dwellings which need to be cleared is growing all the time.
– That is not so in Western Australia.
– I do not know about Western Australia. There may be different circumstances in that State, having regard to its comparatively small population. But with regard to the more populous States nobody could deny that in travelling from the airports to the cores of the cities, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, one must notice the derelict homes that people are supposed to live in and in which they have to make their community lives.
– There are parts of Perth in which a bulldozer could be put to good use.
– I am prepared to be educated on that aspect, too. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) now tells me that Perth is not totally free from this scourge. The simple fact is that not only are we not catching up on this problem of slum clearance; it is really getting further away from us. As the years go by homes are becoming older and naturally are deteriorating. To-day we are scarcely doing more than keeping pace with the number of new homes that are required by our increasing population, increasing both by immigration and by natural increase.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) and other honorable members have referred to the changing composition of the Australian population. This change is natural enough. Not only has there been a great increase in the number of births in post-war years; even more significant is the fact that by our immigration policy we are bringing into the country a select group of people. When I say “ select “ 1 mean that they are of a particular age distribution. We are not bringing in many elderly people, and certainly nothing like the proportion of them that would normally be found in a community. We are bringing in a large proportion of people of marriageable age, or of young couples who are already married, or of people with young families. As a consequence, it is to be expected that in the years ahead the number of people in the younger age groups will continue to represent a large proportion of our population. This trend will become more and more pronounced. There will, consequently, be an even greater demand for housing than is being felt at the present time.
These are just some of the problems that are facing us in the field of housing. Our immigration programme is not tied to the provision of housing, and it is not tied to any policy of decentralization. These two defects in the programme are aggravating the overall position.
Some very laudatory remarks have been made - and justifiably, I suppose - about the increase in the number of people who own their own homes. We say “ own “ their own homes, but they are really in the process of paying them off over periods of 45 or 50 years. Nevertheless, there is a vast differ- ence between paying rent and paying off one’s home. In the latter case a person has the satisfaction of knowing that he has an asset; that any improvement he makes to it is in his own interest and for his own ultimate gain. Quite frankly, I approve of the principle of home ownership, but I do not believe that we should engage in any doctrinaire programme of forcing every person to own his own home. That, I am afraid, is what is happening in Australia to-day. People cannot get homes to rent at anything like a reasonable rental. We are pressurizing people into owning their own homes. Many people who are buying their homes in this community have millstones around their necks, inhibiting their enjoyment of other things, which they would rather enjoy than tie themselves down by trying to own their homes. We must be careful, I suggest, in this matter. The housing commissions are among the few institutions in our community that set out to cater for such people.
There are all kinds of personal reasons why people might not want to own their homes. There are many people who move around in their employment. These include public servants and people attached to various commercial institutions, especially the sizeable ones, such as banks. Even people employed by the big chain store organizations are in this category. They can hope for promotion only by moving around. Yet these people are being forced into a position that they do not want to be placed in, and that they would not be in if they had a choice. They do not want to purchase homes. In one sense they are in much the same category as the people we have spoken of who are paying rent. They have no great vested interest in maintaining their homes, because they know that within five years or so they will have to move on to some other place. They consider it a great injustice to have to go to the trouble of raising finance and complying with all the administrative details associated with the purchase of a home.
I make a strong plea that the housing commissions be given full authority, consistent with the availability of materials and workmen, to go ahead and build as many of these homes as the community desires. This, of course, was its charge under the 1945 agreement. The housing commissions were to get whatever money they could make use of. The only limitation, as I have said, was according to the availabality of workmen and materials. At that time this constituted a real limitation, but to-day, of course, the position is quite different. We have timber stacked waiting to be used. We have people being put out of employment because the Government has depressed the demand for housing, just as it has depressed the demand for many other things in our community, so that we can import all kinds of things that we do not really need.
To-day the official figure given for the number of unemployed is 90,000, and this, of course, is nothing like the total number of people unemployed in the country. Builders are going out of business. I know of many such cases in my own area, and I am sure every other honorable member knows of similar cases. They are going out of business, and they will not be able to start up again overnight. They have dispersed their employees and their capital equipment, and they have had to seek a livelihood in some other field. The ancillary products needed when homes are completed, such as furnishing materials, are piling up in the stores because people cannot buy them. All these things are happening, while at the same time we are faced with these wretched statistics. I do not particularly like citing a lot of statistics, but the available figures show that home building in this country is declining dramatically.
– To the extent of 50 per cent.
– I know that it showed a decline of 28 per cent, in the quarter ended December last, as compared with the same quarter of the previous year. 1 understand now that it has declined by 50 per cent, over the first quarter of this year. This is at a time, as I have said, when we are faced with an immigration load to which we committed ourselves at the very beginning of this year. This shows the lack of planning, the lack of integration. We are committed to an increased immigration programme, not just to the maintenance of our established programme, while at the same time we are depressing the number of homes that are being built or that will be built in the near future) - and all this, as I say, in the face of a backlag of applications for housing commission homes and for homes through co-operative building societies. In addition to all this, we know that in the very near future a vastly increased proportion of our population will consist of people of marriageable age, seeking homes. It surpasses comprehension that the Government could embark on such a programme.
At least there is some encouragement in the fact that, under pressure, the Government will make some additional credit available for home building. The sooner it does so the better it will be for everybody.
– It will be too late.
– It could be too late, but sometimes late is a lot better than never. Looking back at the. programme of the last eight years, from 1952 to 1960, we find that in the first four years, from 1952-1956, when the 1945-55 agreement was in operation, the New South Wales Housing Commission built 49,202 homes. In the next four years, despite a dramatically increasing population, the Housing Commission built only 38,491 homes, or more than 10,500 fewer. Admittedly, in the latter four-year period some housing finance was diverted to building societies. They built another 8,935 homes, making a total of 47,426. But even with the help of the co-operative building societies, the number of homes built in New South Wales between 1956 and 1960 was about 47,000 compared with about 49,000 from 1952 to 1956.
It is pretty hard to understand what the Government is really planning to do about the whole problem. Builders, like everybody else at this stage, are being very cautious. How can you blame them? Imagine any man setting himself up in the building industry only to have his head chopped off within a month or so by arbitrary credit restrictions! I have no time to dwell on the fact that the Government has introduced this legislation before the State Ministers or the State Parliaments have had an opportunity to indicate their final agreement to it. The Government has often paraded its respect for the federal system. I do not know what the States think about the Government’s notion of a federal system1. The Government does not evidence a spirit of co-operation when it introduces legislation, of this kind: into- this House before State Ministers have; signified their acquiescence in it.
As I said before,, I believe that the Government, should, provide as. much money as the State housing authorities can use. The State housing authorities are almost the only institutions which are providing a substantial number of houses for rental; particularly for lower income groups. That is why I am so interested in this matter. The State governments are very upset, as are the occupants of housing commission homes, that this Government is increasing the, rate of. interest from 4 per cent, to 4i per cent. When 1 was talking, with the Minister for Housing in. New South. Wales this afternoon,, he said that this, will mean that tha average occupant of a housing commission home, will have his. rent, increased by 5s. or 6s. a. week.. He also reminded me that the waiting; lists for housing commission homes, are getting- longer…
In June, 1959, the- New South Wales Housing Commission bad a- waiting list of 25)4 13’ people. Now; two years- later, instead of the waiting list being shorter, there are 33,000 people waiting for homes. Do not think that this- situation is- peculiar to New South Wales. The1 report of the Victorian Housing: Commission; states that its problem has. been aggravated.. The building of new homes for rental and sale is an increasing problem- in Victoria and’ the State Government is able to do little- about slum, clearance. The practice of charging people different amounts of rent for the same kind of home always strikes me as bad. Persons who were lucky enough to get housing commissions homes built under the 1945 agreement, even if they obtained them only in 1955,. are paying infinitely less rental than others who obtained homes built under the later agreement.
One of the things that stings me as I am sure that it stings every person of humane spirit is the neglect of the elderly, the sick and the unemployed in the community; A number of very old people come to me wanting: to know whether the New South Wales Housing Commission can do any thing for them. They have been living in some dingy place and- have even been thrown out of that. They have nowhere to go. The Housing Commission in New South Wales is still dealing with applications lodged in L954-55. That indicates what chance these old people have of obtaining accommodation from that commission.
The rental rebate system inaugurated by the Chifley Labour Government which allowed old people and others to pay a rent commensurate with their financial statuswas callously and coldly wiped aside by the present Government. Up to that time, the Commonwealth Government bore threefifths of the cost of this kind of concession and the States bore two-fifths of it. Now, if the States were not doing anything about rebate,, these people could go hang. Fortunately, a number of States, including New South Wales, are bearing the brunt of looking after such people from their ownrevenue.
The New South Wales Government spends, I think, about £250,000 a year in subsidizing the rents of age pensioners anr! sick unemployed, people who would be thrown out onto the streets otherwise. This Government has not any great credit due to it for its treatment of at least some sections of our aged people. Of course, under the aged persons homes legislation, the Commonwealth Government gives a generous subsidy on homes built for the aged by charitable institutions. For the life of- me, I cannot understand why the Government is not prepared to assist State governments to provide homes for the aged. This is the whole trend.. The Commonwealth is shuffling off many of its social services responsibilities to aged people. I was glad to- hear the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis), a Government supporter, suggest that this should be recognized as a social service- responsibility.
Up to now, the State governments have had to meet the cost of rebates of rent to pensioners. They provide a home at £lr 10s.. a- week for a pensioner couple, and at £1 a week for a single pensioner. The cost of that subsidy is- borne- solely by the State governments-.. The New South- Wales Government also accepts the social service obligation of subsidizing the payment of municipal rates- by a’ged persons and others in need who own their own homes. The local councils themselves bear part of the cost. All this is part of the pattern of evasion by the Commonwealth of its responsibilities in social service matters. It is too quick to transform public utilities into what it calls business enterprises and to charge everybody, including pensioners, the same flat rate.
The report of the Victorian Housing Commission for 1959-60 says -
In spite of large increases in the total number of dwellings completed over the last few years there is every indication that sufficient houses and flats are not being built to meet the demands of new household formation and the migrant intake. Any suggestion that there should be a slowing down of house production on the basis of the back-lag having been nearly met would seem to be premature.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) has been moralizing, but his moralization has been based on quite wrong premises. I now issue a challenge to the honorable member for Barton to go to Melbourne and travel from the airport into the city by the route taken by the air company’s coaches and show me a single house which is under order of demolition. If he can do so I shall be surprised. The honorable member said that there are many houses in the metropolitan areas, especially of Melbourne and Sydney, that should be demolished, and referred particularly to the drive in from the airports. I wa:U to know whether he will take up my challenge, or whether he will apologize to the many people in the inner metropolitan area of Melbourne who take tremendous pride in their homes and keep them well. There is not one home along the route between the airport and the city that is threatened with demolition, as the honorable member well knows. I am certain that he will not take up my challenge. He has the facts wrong; so how much notice can we take of anything that he has said?
There is another thing. The honorable member for Barton stated that people who are said to own their own homes are, in fact, paying them off over 45 or 50 years. T should like to know whether he can tell me of any more than 2 per cent. - and I think that is putting it high - of people who are paying for their own homes and who are paying them off over a term of 50 years. There are many people, of course, who have obtained finance from the War Service Homes Division and who are paying off homes over 45 years. But that is the longest term offered. As far as I know, there is no other comparable with it. To suggest that some people are paying off homes over a period of 50 years is to talk humbug.
The honorable member said also that he does not want a doctrinaire approach to housing or to see a situation in which people are forced to own their own homes. I am very glad to say that honorable members on this side of the House do not think that people should be forced to own their own homes; nor have they any doctrinaire approach to housing. They do not, for instance, have the doctrinaire approach of Mr. Dedman, a former member for Corio, who said that he did not want to see Australia a country of small capitalists who owned their own homes. Everybody knows what happened to Mr. Dedman. He was thrown out of this Parliament by the vote of the people of Corio, who returned in his place a very worthy honorable member who has represented the electorate very well ever since. To suggest that people should not own their own homes is to talk nonsense.
– The honorable member will not be here for long.
– I may not be here for long, but if I depart my departure will at least be honorable. The honorable member for Yarra might consider whether his presence here will be honorable.
Another aspect of the housing situation is that if homes are to be provided for rental there arises the very important consideration of whether they should be provided by private enterprise or under governmental building programmes. I personally favour private enterprise, and I know that there are very public-spirited people - in Melbourne, at least, and I think throughout Australia - who are engaged in the building industry, and financial and other activities related to the building industry, and who are seeking to construct houses or flats for rental. I think that they will handle the job very well if they are given encouragement.
The honorable member for Barton went on to say, by way of criticism of this Government, that he cannot understand why this bill had been introduced before a State Minister had had a chance to state his attitude to the proposed new housing agreement. Quite obviously, the honorable member has not read the bill or the agreement, and he certainly did not listen to the secondreading speech made by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), who made perfectly clear the reason why the measure had been introduced at this time. I wonder whether the honorable member for Barton would be prepared to accept responsibility for failing to enact this measure and allowing moneys provided under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement to dry up by 30th June next. Of course he would not accept such responsibility. Indeed, responsibility is something with which he is not very familiar. The honorable member then talked about the rebate system which was introduced by the Chifley Government and which was ended by this Government. Probably lie is unaware of the fact that three State governments to-day provide for rebate systems, and the Government of New South Wales - a Labour government- is not one of them. That is the position, but apparently the honorable member is unaware of it.
– There is a subsidy.
– I shall tell the’ honorable member how the rent subsidy has departed from the old concept. There has been a reduction of 1 per cent, in the interest rate paid by the States. The State governments were deliberately put in a position in which they could exercise their own responsibility and make their own judgment about the amount of the subsidy. As I said, the Labour Government in New South Wales, which is much beloved of the honorable member, gives no subsidy.
– The subsidy amounts to £250,000 a year.
– The honorable member gave details of that, but he was talking about aged people. I am talking about the renting of homes built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, in respect of which the New South Wales Government provides no subsidy.
Housing is fundamental to all Australians, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a matter on which all governments, all parties and all thinking people have very real common views. The common view is that the proper housing of our people is part of our way of life and that proper housing raises the standard of living of a population of ever-increasing homogeneity. One of the greatest contributions to the achievement of this aim has been the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. But I should point out that the contribution made by that agreement has been relatively small. In the financial year 1959-60, in which a great number of houses were built in this country, 13,896 were provided under the terms of this agreement. So, when we consider this agreement and talk about housing generally, we should pay proper tribute to the traditional sources of funds for home-building, which, in the post-war years in this country have played a tremendous part in the provision of dwellings for Australia’s population.
It is true to say about this agreement which the Commonwealth has negotiated with the States that the States desire it, need it and accept it. Furthermore, they will administer it. So there is little point in attempting to criticize the Commonwealth Government over it. The matter is in the hands of the States. Representatives of the States, meeting together as the Australian Loan Council, determine the total loan programme for the financial year. By an agreed formula, they then split up the total amount between the States, and any individual State can determine for itself how much of its total allocation will be devoted to housing. So any criticism of this Government arising out of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is barren.
This agreement has played and will continue to play a great part in housing the people of Australia, but let us not put it in a wrong perspective. Australia has building up in the next decade a demographic problem of great immensity. Indeed, the onset of it is upon us now. As a result of the peculiarities of the birth rate, we shall find a much higher percentage of the population of marriageable age in the next decade than has been the case in the past, and as a consequence there will be more people seeking homes. Furthermore, our immigration policy is bringing to Australia great numbers of people who need to be housed. But when we think of the problems ahead of us and of the need for a great housing programme, we ought to bear in mind that our standard of living as a nation is high and that our standard of housing is very high by contrast with standards in other countries, as judged by the number of people to each dwelling, the number of houses built, and so on. Perhaps the simplest corollary for examination is the description by a British newspaper man of his visit to the wife of Major Gagarin just after that gentleman had become famous for his departure from the earth. While this matter was in the mind of everybody, a British newspaperman went to visit Major Gagarin’s wife, and he described how he walked up to the fourth floor of an apartment house and there, in this apartment house lived Mrs. Gagarin and her children in two rooms. And this is a major of the Russian Army! Can we take that as a simple statement of the standard of housing in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and then can we look at our own and say, “ Have we anything to be ashamed of?”. The answer will inevitably be that we have nothing to be ashamed of although it is true that greater effort needs to be made. Greater effort will be made, and the achievement will be worth while.
There has been some criticism of the builders’ account. As we know, for the last three years of the term of the 1956 agreement, 30 per cent, of the total funds allocated by the States had to go into the builders’ account and from there be distributed amongst the private organizations in the economy which were providing finance for home construction. The 30 per cent, was set principally for two reasons. The first was to enable more houses to be built with the money and the second to enable people to own their own homes. An examination of the records will disclose that in New South Wales 29.2 per cent, of the total homes built were built under builders’ account. That is not a very good figure. In Victoria, where 30 per cent, of the funds were applied to builders’ account, 34 per cent, of the total number of houses built were constructed with money from the builders’ account. In Queensland, the proportion was 40 per cent, and in South Australia they just broke even with 30 per cent. In Western Australia, the proportion was 36 per cent., but in Tasmania it dropped deplorably to 26 per cent. So, the figures reveal that in New South Wales, under a Labour government, only 29.2 per cent, of the total number of houses built were financed with money from the builders’ account, and that in Tasmania, again under a Labour government, the proportion was only 26 per cent, whereas under Liberal governments, the figures for the other States were Victoria 34 per cent., Queensland 40 per cent., South Australia 30 per cent. - breaking even - and Western Australia 36 per cent.
As time progresses and the money that has gone out from the builders’ account comes back to the builders’ account, even more houses will be built with the same money because, under co-operative or permanent building society mortgages the money will be returned in from 30 to 31 years whereas money borrowed direct from the Commonwealth is not required by the agreement to be repaid for 53 years. So, by the builders’ account method, we get more houses for our money. It is as simple as that. Furthermore, we get a higher percentage of people owning their own homes, and I, for one, think that highly desirable. I recognize that some people want to rent homes, and we must provide for them, but, generally speaking, I should like to see the number of people owning their own homes climb even higher.
There is another interesting aspect of the problem. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) spoke of the fall-off in building in the December quarter. Let us look at the figures. In the year 1959-60, 3,351 dwellings were provided by the State housing authorities in New South Wales. In the six months to 31st December 1960, only 1,303 homes were built. And so it is with all the States. The figure for the six months from 1st July to 31st December runs at a rate considerably lower than half the total constructions for the previous twelve months. The figure for the whole of Australia in the last six months of last year was 4,142, whereas for the full year before that it was 9,353. So that for the last six months of last year, the rate was appreciably lower than 50 per cent, of the figure for the full twelve months. One wonders how this could be because it must be remembered that the first quarter of this financial year - the September quarter of 1960 - was a quarter in which the house construction rate was running at a figure well over 100,000. Further than that, money had been specifically allocated for the purpose and one would have thought that the house construction in that area would have run on uninterrupted by any other aspects of financial policy. But it did not do so and the reason is perfectly clear to see. When we look to the fact that in the September quarter home construction was running at well over 100,000 a year, it becomes quite apparent that the State government building authorities could not obtain either contractors or workmen to do the job. As a consequence, the number of homes built by the States fell and the States did not use anywhere near their full allocation of money. This factor was adverted to by my good friend and colleague the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn), but he spoke of the money aspect. I have added to that picture and given the house construction aspect. This clearly shows that the Government had to take very drastic economic measures in order to overcome a very serious situation.
The other aspect with which I wish to deal is the provision in the proposed new agreement under which State government authorities will be permitted to build flats in excess of three stories high when the Minister agrees, or in those localities which are determined to be in a metropolitan area. This raises the joint questions of slum reclamation and flat construction. I realize that it is a very great objective to have slum reclamation and to erect in place of slums multi-story flats, but a matter which concerns me very greatly is whether or not we are merely going to create a situation in which in the future, instead of having single or two-story slums, we will have multi-story slums. Many honorable members have been overseas. They have seen New York, Dublin, Glasgow and other parts of Britain in which multi-story flats have merely meant the concentration of poor living standards and the exemplification of slum conditions. Indeed, the very slum conditions that we complain of in Australia are not nearly so drastic in their socially undesirable effects as are the multi-story slums of some overseas countries. I am concerned to ensure that in the attempt to cure one problem we do not recreate for ourselves a much more enduring and extreme problem in the future.
Multi-story flats raise a great number of problems. For instance, I saw published in the press some plans of the State Housing Commission of Victoria and, from reading the legend accompanying those plans, it became apparent to me that up to five stories the tenants will not have the benefit of an elevator. An elevator is to be provided only for those tenants beyond five stories up. This raises two problems. The first is that, because of the necessity to climb steps, there must be a selection of tenants for the higher stories, and there must also be a selection of tenants for the lower stories. Then you have the problem of maintenance and of paying for the lifts. Perhaps we will have the gettone system which I saw in Italy. There, in order to ride in an elevator, one has to obtain from the portiere downstairs small tokens that can be inserted in a slot in the elevator. This leads to a curious practice. People sit in the lift on the ground floor and send a child on foot to the eighth floor to press the button and call the lift to that floor. This saves them perhaps five lire. I cannot think of anything quite so socially demoralizing as such a practice. lt is true that multi-story buildings may overcome the problem to some extent but I think that Australians have in mind a villa-type residence that is self-contained. Although economically it is almost disastrous to pursue that aspect, I think that we ought to bear in mind that fundamentally it is desirable for Australian families to have separate residences. Then there need be only a compromise between the desire for a separate residence and the necessity to have flats. Do not let us pursue the objective of multi-story flats. I, for one, would greatly deprecate such a move.
The State governments, in the exercise of their sovereign powers, are responsible for housing. They have the very unenviable task of rationalizing what I believe to be an essential feature of the Australian character, that is, the desire for a separate dwelling, and the difficulty associated with the provision of services in multi-story residences. I think that the State governments up till now have made a genuine effort to meet their responsibilities, but I am afraid that in many respects they have made an unsuccessful effort at rationalization. I hope that in the forthcoming years a far better means of rationalization will be found. We would then save funds that are now being used for the provision of new services instead of the utilization of old services. With the money saved we shall be able to embark on a truly adventurous programme in the ‘sixties so that at the end of this decade we shall be able to look back on it and say that this indeed was a decade of boldness.
– I am extremely grateful to the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) for foregoing about eight minutes of his allotted time so that I can have an early opportunity to reply to the points that he has raised. I think that probably it was to his advantage to curtail his speech because the arguments that he advanced were most remarkable. I intend to deal with them at some length. After hearing the honorable member it is important to clarify the issue which the House is deliberating at present. This bill enables the Commonwealth to complete an agreement with the States relating to finance for housing purposes. The five-year 1956 agreement will expire on 30th June, 1961. It has financed about 47,000 housing commission homes and about 18,000 through building societies. Something like another £10,000,000 has been spent on providing houses for serving members of the forces. This bill includes a draft agreement - I emphasize that it is a draft agreement only - in the form of amendments to the 1956 agreement.
The existing agreement expires in fourteen days. It is unfortunate that the States have not had time to become parties to the Government’s proposals. In fact, in another place the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) admitted not so long ago that he had received a telegram from the Tasmanian Minister for Housing requesting particulars of the Government’s proposals. The original plan - the Labour plan - was a co-operative one which was fully understood by the States and on which there was complete agreement. One wonders how any State government can possibly plan its programme when, with only fourteen days remaining before the agreement expires the States are not fully au fait or in agreement with the Commonwealth’s proposals. In effect, the Commonwealth has stated that it will introduce an agreement just before the expiry date of the existing one and the States can take it or leave it. What matters is not what the States want but what the Commonwealth wants.
At this early stage I wish to refer to some of the points that were made by the honorable member for Bruce because I cannot help but come to the conclusion, after hearing his speech, that he very rarely allows facts or the truth to interfere with a good story. He completely disregarded the facts when he attempted to take to task my colleague, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds). He demonstrated his embarrassingly limited knowledge of his own State. It is bad for any member not to know the housing situation in his own State because housing is one of the most important social issues to-day. Clearly, he is out of touch.
– Neither apparently does he know of the Commonwealth’s action in piling up flats in Canberra.
– That is true. In particular I want to answer the honorable member’s contentions about the slum clearance programme in the decadent areas of Victoria. The honorable member for Barton stated that as one drives from the Sydney or the Melbourne airport to the city one passes through decadent areas in which are second-class homes that should be replaced. The honorable member for Bruce stated that such a suggestion was utter rubbish, and he challenged the honorable member for Barton to go to Victoria and to point out these homes to him. lt is clear that the honorable member for Bruce has never taken the trouble to read the annual report of the Victorian Housing Commission. If he had, he would have noted that in the suburbs of Melbourne there are the following decadent areas: - In North Melbourne, 59.3 acres, in Carlton, 123.2 acres-
– Will you accept my challenge?
– Do not tell me that North Melbourne is not in the vicinity of the airport. Do not tell me that one does not pass through the Carlton area when travelling from the airport to the city. The honorable member probably travelled that route this morning, if my information is correct. In Fitzroy there are 118.5 acres, in Collingwood 121.2 acres, in Richmond 180.2 acres, in Prahran 79.8 acres, in South Melbourne 189.6 acres, and in Port Melbourne 101.5 acres, making a total of 973.3 acres which have been declared decadent areas. It is interesting to note too that the commission’s orders at 30th June, 1960, provided for the demolition of 2,813 homes and 3,512 flats, a total of 6,325 units, many of them in the Carlton and North Melbourne areas.
Let us consider this angle further because the honorable member for Bruce has demonstrated that he is unaware of the unfortunate living conditions of many people in Victoria. The annual report of the Victorian Housing Commission indicated during 1959-60 that 30 acres - a miserable 30 acres - of slum area were acquired, proclaimed or substantially acquired for re-development because of the sub-standard nature of the homes. Surveys were conducted to ascertain the extent of depressed areas in Melbourne. The report states -
These surveys disclosed that some 1,000 acres of housing should be replaced now. At an estimated cost of £30,000 per acre to acquire and clear these areas the total cost would be in the vicinity of £50,000,000. Currently the Commission has available to it £500,000 per annum from State Government sources. Commonwealth assistance is required if this slum problem is to be dealt with in a realistic manner.
This all comes down to the fact that £50,000,000 is needed to reclaim the slum areas in Melbourne. So I say to the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) that it is time he had a look at these figures and realized that the Liberal Government in Victoria has drawn the Commonwealth Government’s attention to a fact of which he apparently has not become aware. He also challenged my colleague, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds), in respect of the rebate of rent arrangement in New South Wales. In fact, he want so far as :to say that there is no rent rebate system in operation in that State. Quite an amount of space is devoted to this matter in the annual report of the New South Wales Housing Commission. I will not have time to read it all, but, inter alia, it says -
This original provision for aged persons was made under a rental rebate scheme for which the first agreement provided and single persons on low incomes often paid a rental of as little as 8s. per week. These dwellings are still let where necessary at sub-economic rentals.
So I cannot understand the honorable member for Bruce disregarding the facts of this situation. The Government of New South Wales is spending £250,000 each year on rental rebates. I never thought that any member of the Commonwealth Parliament would be unaware of these basic and fundamental facts. I remind the House that the war has been over for sixteen long years, but the housing shortage persists to an alarming degree. In recent times the Government has aggravated this position alarmingly as the result of its credit squeeze. Of course, there were limited funds available in the past, but these funds are drying up at a rapid rate as the result of the credit squeeze. I do not think the Government would want to deny that this was one of the effects which it attempted to achieve in restricting credit, because it failed to introduce any discriminatory arrangement. It did not, for example, say, “ We will restrict the money made available for motor cars but ensure that money shall be available for housing “. It dropped a wet blanket on the lot and everybody was adversely affected.
Young couples are in a hopeless position to-day. Unlike most honorable members, I have an office in the heart of my electorate and young couples, contemplating marriage, come in and ask, “Where can we get finance for housing?” I am unable to advise them, and I do not think that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), who is sitting at the table, would be in any better position to do so. These young couples have to live in garages, or humpies, or wherever they can find shelter because the money they need as a deposit to buy a home from a speculative builder is beyond the resources of the average Australian couple. The honorable member for Barton has pointed out the long waiting period for housing commission houses throughout Australia. Reference has been made by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) to the War Service Homes Division and what we have done in that respect. Although it is sixteen years since the war ended we still have 20,000 Australian ex-servicemen lined up awaiting homes. I am informed that the number is 22,000 and I accept the correction. There are 22,000 ex-servicemen lined up for war service homes, and many of them have been waiting for long periods. What happens to them when they are required to wait? They are sent to money lenders to get finance at 10 per cent, interest, if they are lucky. What is wrong with the Commonwealth saying, “ These people are accepted ex-servicemen who have established their eligibility and as soon as eligibility is established we will ensure that the Commonwealth Bank or some other Government instrumentality will underwrite their loans so that they will not be forced into the hands of money lenders “?
The other day 1 went to the annual dinner of the Master Builders Association. The vice-president of the New South Wales branch of the association was present, and after reminding all assembled there that the association was non-political and non-sectarian he proceeded bitterly to attack the Menzies Government, and the large number of builders present applauded him enthusiastically. He deplored the lack of discrimination in respect of- the Government’s economic squeeze and pointed out that housing was the lifeblood of Australia’s economy and involved a great work force and their way of life. He particularly indicted the Government for its lack of understanding and comprehension about this overall problem and the lack of any integrated plan. Complaints were made by speakers at the meeting that the number of apprenticeships was falling off at an alarming rate. “ What is going to happen in the future “, they asked, “ because no lad these days can be encouraged to come into such an insecure industry?” This is the Government which brings in 125,000 immigrants every year. Only the other day the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) told me the Govern ment was not intending to restrict the immigration programme to dimensions compatible with the availability of employment or of housing. It is going to bring migrants in at the same rate in the. future as in the past. In other words, we are going to import unemployment and, indeed, slum and inadequate housing conditions.
Wherever we go in any capital or large provincial city in Australia we find many of these unfortunate people who are forced to take occupancy of tenement houses in close proximity to industrial centres. The Government, when it goes on in this way, is completely irresponsible. One of the things that everybody is concerned about is the fact that the fringe banking institutions have taken the place of the regular banks which in the past made money available at a reasonable rate of interest to young people needing homes. In these days there have emerged new organizations which attract adventure shares and offer, in the daily newspapers, interest rates of ten, twelve or fifteen per cent, which they are able to pass on in the interest rates which have to be repaid by young people whom they finance. Not one member of the Government has stood up and expressed any concern about this fact. 1 would like to contrast that attitude and the Government’s misdemeanours in respect of housing with the Labour Government’s attitude in 1943 when it established the Commonwealth Housing Commission which was the forerunner of the present plan and of all the housing agreements we have had. It was a great humane concept which was followed by the first Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement in 1945, and that of 1956, and the Chifley Government’s arrangements which, of course, were of particular benefit to the low-income group. The Commonwealth Housing Commission advised that the Government had responsibility for the low-income group which, after all, is estimated at 20 per cent, of the population. It is the responsibility of the State authorities in Australia, the report said, as is the case in other parts of the world. Everybody knows how the Governments of Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and so many other countries are building houses through government-fostered schemes. It is an accepted principle. Under the Labour Government’s plan we got down to fundamentals and said “ The interest rate is going to be at a bare minimum. It is going to cover management costs .and not much more “. The Government should not make enormous profits over and above management costs, even in respect of the War Service Homes Division. “We said at that time that the repayments were to be made over 53 years and that there was to be a rental rebate scheme, in respect of which the Commonwealth would bear three-fifths of any loss incurred whilst the State concerned would be responsible for two-fifths of the loss. We said, “ It is a reasonable thing to expect the people oi Australia to pay no more than one-fifth of their income in respect of housing “. This, of course, is the principle which has been recommended by the United Nations, and it is the very yardstick of housing throughout the world. Of course the second agreement, in 1956, was a bit different. It was an agreement for five years and the interest rate went up by 1 per cent, to 4 per cent., and no rebate scheme at all was provided. If the States wanted to do it, they had to do it out of their own resources. Somebody asked: Why is the State Government selling land at high rates? The States are selling land at high rates in order to finance their rental rebate schemes. That is being done not only in New South Wales, but also in Victoria, as the Victorian Housing Commission report shows.
It was the Government supported by honorable members opposite that abolished the rental rebate scheme, failing to recognize that there are people in the community with incomes not capable of meeting the economic rent of a home. What do honorable members opposite suggest be done with such people? Do they suggest that those people be put on the Domain or on the Yarra bank? That is what a Liberal government in New South Wales did at the height of the depression. It gave such people £5 with which to buy hessian and old corrugated iron to stick up on the banks of the Cook’s River for use as homes. That is the record of the political side represented by honorable gentlemen opposite, yet they dare to criticize the Labour Government which introduced the rental rebate system - a system which they have had the temerity, the indecency, to abolish.
What have they invoked after that? They have said, “ We are going to make heavy inroads into the amount of finance made available for providing houses for the lowincome earners “. In the first two yeaTS of this five-year agreement, 20 per cent, of the money made available will have to be diverted to building societies and in the remaining three years 30 per cent, will have to be diverted to building societies. The Labour Government set the pace and established the pattern of things with the insurance companies and the banks before it went out of office. After all, those organizations are dealing with the people’s money. They were using this money to finance building societies throughout Australia. This Government has withdrawn a large amount of the money that was made available for providing housing for low-income people and has directed it to the building societies to accommodate people who could find a decent-sized deposit. Then, of course, the Government went on to delete the slum clearance pro.gramme to which I have referred, particularly in Victoria. The report of the Victorian Housing Commission states that £50,000,000 worth of acquisitions and demolitions are urgently needed in that State alone. So, nobody can be terribly happy about the new agreement, which is a mere apology for an agreement compared with the wonderful, humane scheme initiated by a Labour government.
At the end of the war, Mr. Speaker, there was a shortage of .300,000 houses. Since that time we have built about 1,000,000 houses, but there is still a great shortage. In New South Wales, there are 31,000 outstanding applications for housing commission homes. The Victorian Housing Commission has 13,000 people on its list for homes. In Queensland, 7,700 are listed for housing commission assistance; in Western Australia, 4,000; in Tasmania, 2,900; and in South Australia, 9,900 - a total of 68,000 lined up for housing commission assistance.
Then, too, the Government is not even doing well in respect of building societies, remarkable as it may seem. Only 6.000 homes were provided in 1960 by building societies, as against 9,000 provided from the same source as far back as 1950. I was interested to read some comments made by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) in another place. He said -
There are about 10,000 people on housing commission waiting lists in Australia to-day. There are about 16,000 people waiting for a war service home. That is a total of about 26,000 people waiting for homes.
How the Minister for National Development can reconcile that figure of 10,000 with the figures given in the reports of the various housing commissions, I cannot understand. This seems to indicate an irresponsible attitude. It is certainly a clear indication that that Minister is no more capable of providing a decent housing programme than he has shown himself to be capable of providing a programme of national development for this country. It is time the Government woke up to the fact that in another place there is a Minister who is doing the people of Australia a great disservice. How out of touch with things the Minister for National Development really is!
I have been able to ascertain that the New South Wales Housing Commission has 13,418 new applications. Seventy-six per cent, of the applicants earn between £12 and £20 a week and 19 per cent, of them earn under £12 a week. Only a State housing commission can accommodate people of that kind. Can the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) or the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) name any master builder in their electorates who is prepared to build houses for such people? I repeat that 19 per cent, of the people concerned earn under £12 a week. Can those people afford a deposit on a house? Of course not! Yet a short time ago the Minister for National Development made a statement which indicates-
– Order! The honorable member must bear in mind that the Standing Orders prevent his making reference to a debate which has been current in another place. There has been some reference to it, I know, but I ask the honorable gentleman not to dwell on it for too long.
– I should like to make some reference to a statement made by the Minister for National Development a short time ago, which shows that he begrudges money being made available for housing commission homes. He indicated in that statement that the Tasmanian Government is taking low deposits from people, and he said, in so many words, that it is an alarming thing for the States to sell houses in that way. He said that this would undermine the activities of private builders, who were forced to pay higher rates of interest. This was a statement by the Minister responsible for the housing programme. After all, we spend about £350,000,000 per annum on housing. Only about 10 per cent, of that amount is involved in the Commonwealth and States Housing Agreement - or about £35,000,000 per annum. Another 10 per cent, is involved in war service homes. The remaining 80 per cent, of this sum of £350,000,000 is expended by private enterprise. If one looks at the statement made in another place it seems that the Minister for National Development - the responsible Minister in this case - even begrudges the 20 per cent, which is being made available to the War Service Homes Division and the State housing authorities for the provision of housing for people on low incomes.
It is important to realize that the housing demand in Australia is increasing at quite a fast rate. In 1957 it was estimated that 121,000 people would reach the age of 21 years by 1967 and that by 1968 the number reaching that age would be 200,000 - almost double. We have seen the same sort of problem manifest itself in respect of high schools. There has become apparent in recent years a great need for additional high schools, and the same great need will shortly manifest itself in respect of housing. When the young people who were born in the post-war period become of marriageable age they will need houses. It is estimated that in New South Wales 25,000 new homes a year will be needed by 1961. Experts say that this figure will rise to 27,000 in 1965 and to 32,000 in 1970. The shortage of something like 80,000 homes can be overcome only if the rate of construction exceeds the annual increase in demand. There is a great need for an increase in the construction of homes to meet the increase in the demand for housing commission homes. In 1961 the yearly demand in New South Wales is expected to be 6,650 houses. This figure will rise to 8,500 by 1970 for the reasons I have mentioned. Unfortunately, the resources available to the housing commission are likely to cater for only something like 3,500 homes, instead of the 8,500 that will be necessary.
So there is a need to overhaul the whole approach to this housing problem. We need a long-range plan to deal with the matter. We obviously must think of the social effects of the housing shortage. At the present time in many States people are required to seek housing commission homes and are sent out to places like Lalor Park or Seven Hills. They may save £5 in rent but they are called upon to pay extra money in fares. There are many things that we have to take into account, many things that call for an integrated approach. We have to consider, for example, the costs of fares, the problem of traffic congestion and the need for building more roads and bridges. Does the Government ever think of making a comprehensive approach to the problem? Does it realize that people are being forced to travel three hours a day to and from their employment? Has it ever thought of the cost involved in the consumption of fuel by vehicles as a result of the disintegrated way in which it approaches the problem? Has it ever thought of the cost to the health of the work force resulting from this bad planning, long travelling and other matters? Not only do we need to consider town planning, we need also to consider the decaying suburbs and what will happen when suburbs covering huge areas deteriorate to the point where it will be unreasonable to live in them.
We have to think, in a long-term fashion, of the effect of migration. We have to think of the need to decentralize our population. It is all very well for the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) to talk about the need to build more homes in the country areas. He should realize the need also to provide employment for these people. He is one of the first to talk about mass unemployment in the area he represents. We have to think, too, of the need to plan a programme to ensure that there will be adequate tradesmen in the future. What approach do we have to’ the problem of finding apprentices? The Master Builders Association has said that at present no one is prepared to take on a new apprentice. This Government disregards the great development needs of the country. Even comprehensive statistics are not available. No one can obtain a bulletin which will show the housing requirements of the future, and we are now awaiting the Minister’s report on the result of the survey that has been made. For many years we have been unmindful of the need to consider this subject comprehensively with statistics. It is time the Government thought of appointing a permanent Commonwealth commission to look at this important problem of housing.
If I had time I would go through the various housing commission reports. In every one, the details of which I have available, there is a clear indication that the housing commissions are unable to cope with the current demand and that the demand is increasing at a rapid rate. It is clear that more money should be made available for housing than has been made available in the past five years.
– Where do you suggest you could get all the money that Labour thinks should be used?
– If we are going to deal with that question, we will have to contemplate seriously the prospects of the next election, because until we get rid of this Government we will not get value for the money spent on housing or anything else.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) proposed -
That the question be now put.
– I understand that an arrangement has been made to permit limited debate on the motion for the adjournment ‘of the House. I was unaware, of this. In the circumstances I ask for leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion - by leave - withdrawn.
– The matter I wish to raise may seem a comparatively small one to many people, but nonetheless it is very important. On a number of occasions, Opposition members, especially the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), have asked the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) whether some change had been made in the ruling about the amount that age and invalid pensioners may earn without affecting their pension. Honorable members will know that in the past a pensioner could earn £3 10s. a week without any interference to his pension. Under the merged means test, the position may well be that a pensioner could earn less than £3 10s. a week or that he could in fact earn £3 10s. a week if his assets did not exceed, in round figures, £200 in the case of a single person or £400 in the case of a married couple.
In the past, pensioners engaged in casual work - maybe a seasonal job for two or three months - have been permitted to earn in excess of £3 10s. a week, or whatever the allowable amount is, so long as they informed the department that their intention is to earn more than the permissible weekly amount of income but that they will not earn in excess of the permissible annual income. In other words, a pensioner allowed to earn £3 10s. a week could earn for the whole year £182 without affecting his pension. It could well be that instead of earning £3 10s. a week for every week of the year, a pensioner could take a job - to give a topical instance - in the Taxation Branch, which employs casual workers in the processing of taxation returns and earn £10, £12 or £15 a week. In another instance, a pensioner might take a job every second or third week and earn £10, £12 or even more a week. The taking of the census is another topical example. In the past, the department, presumably with the approval of the Minister, agreed to the pensioner earning these amounts, so long as he informed the department, after eight consecutive weeks, that he was earning in excess of £3. 10s.. a week,, or whatever the permissible income is under the merged means test, and so long, as he assured the department that he would not earn more than the total amount allowed for the full twelve months.
In the last month or two, however, the department has been sending, statements to practically all pensioners, informing them that they may earn only a certain, amount of income. In some instances, the pensioners cannot earn any income; they have assets equivalent to the income under the new merged means test. In respect of those allowed to earn some income, the statement sets out that if they work for two weeks in succession - not eight weeks - and earn more than the specified average weekly amount shown on the statement, they must inform the department and the pension will be adjusted immediately. I can understand the point of view of the department. I know that in the past some pensioners said they would not earn more than a certain amount in the year but, in fact, earned more than that amount. The department was then being saddled with the responsibility of recovering public money. Although this happens in some instances, I can see no reason why thousands of good, honest citizens who happen to be 65 years of age - or 60, in the case of a woman - should be prejudiced because of the misdemeanours of others.
The fact is, of course, that it is very difficult for a person to find a job that pays just £3 10s. a week. Of course, some pensioners, because of the assets they poscess, may be permitted to earn only, say, £2 a week, but it is very difficult to get a job that pays regularly the allowable income. There are plenty of opportunities - or there have been, although there are not so many now - for people to find jobs paying £10 or £12 a week. 1 know a man, for instance, who relieves a butcher every second week or so, and who earns about £10 or £12 a week for about six months of the year. Under the new arrangement this man will have his pension downgraded because for a couple of weeks he is earning a certain amount of money in excess of the allowable amount. His pension is adjusted on that basis instead of the basis that previously applied.
Some of these .’ pensioners . suspect, whether justifiably or not, that this is another way in which the Government tries to prevent such people from competing in the employment market. Jobs being scarce, they believe this is a device to discourage people from trying to obtain the casual work that is available in the community. Whether this is true or not I do not know, but I am concerned that people with meagre pensions of £5 a week, many of them paying rates and others paying fairly substantial rents, should not be able to go out and earn at least the paltry £3 10s. a week that they are entitled to earn, or some lesser amount, according to the provisions of the new means test.
This new procedure has been introduced in the last two or three months, apparently at the request, or at the insistence, of the Minister. My inquiries lead me to believe that the department just does not know where it stands on the matter. The departmental officers are very much in the dark. Many of my constituents are directly involved in this.
– Just how many are involved?
– There are lots of them. For instance, there are people who get odd jobs on the waterfront. We have been speaking during the last week or so about the stevedoring industry. Many elderly men can pick up casual work on the waterfront. There are others who take casual relieving jobs. Many retail stores, particularly the bigger organizations, require people to do casual relieving when their regular employees are ill or on leave. These people are on call and they may work for two or three weeks in succession. I do hot know what the position is in Western Australia, from which the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Cash) comes, but I know that in Sydney there are many of these people anxiously seeking work. More often than not they cannot get continuous permanent work, and they certainly cannot get continuous work that will pay just £3 10s. a week or less. They can, however, get jobs for perhaps three months, in which they would probably earn more, in total, than they are allowed to earn in a period of twelve months.
There is another point I would like to make. I preface my remarks in this connexion by saying that I have a very high regard for the officers of the Department of Social Services. Not only have I found them, in the main, most efficient, but 1 have also found them most courteous. Thai has been my experience, and I think it has also been the experience of many other members of this Parliament. But when you are dealing with a large organization such as the Department of Social Services - and, as I am reminded, it may be understaffed in certain sections - you must expect that some mistakes will be made. Mistakes have occurred, I regret to say, in cases in which pensioners have informed the department of changes in their circumstances.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- During question time to-day I directed a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon). It dealt with the steel industry, and it concerned both export and local markets. The Minister stated that he could not recall having made a statement to the effect that I suggested he had made. To refresh his memory, let me quote a passage from an article in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 10th May, 1961. It is to this effect-
Mr. McMahon said there were other difficulties in the steel industry because The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited could now supply all steel on demand.
Merchants and manufacturers were working off accumulated stocks of steel before coming into the market again.
No fall in production was anticipated in primary steel production by .B.H.P.
In view of the apparent contradictions in the statements of the Minister -and of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), and also in view of the experience of people who have tried to obtain export orders, and who have also tried to purchase steel commodities on the local market, I should like to place a few facts before the House. Having regard to the contradictory statements that have been made, it is difficult to understand the reason for the retrenchments that continue to be made in the industry. Let me quote, first, from a letter to the Editor, published in yesterday morning’s “ Sydney Morning Herald “-
I sought last week to place an order for 2,000 feet of one and a quarter inch galvanized waterpipe with the largest, and possibly the only, manufacturer of water-pipe in Australia, only to be told that there was not a foot of it available in Sydney or Newcastle, and I could not expect any before “ some time in June “.
This, at a time of heavy retrenchment in the steel industry, makes one wonder whose leg is being pulled and to what purpose.
This Government has repeatedly issued statements regarding its eagerness to build up exports. I have before me certain correspondence concerning certain attempts that were made to place orders on the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited for wire products to be exported to the United States of America. I understand that these products, which included fencing wire and barbed wire, have been in short supply on the local market for many a long day. In view of the condition of the local market, it is understandable that orders for export to the United States were not accepted. However, in view of the present position of the steel industry, with retrenchments going on continually, it is impossible to understand statements made concerning these orders. I have before me a letter that a constituent of mine received from the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, dated 17th March, 1961 -
We have for reply your letter dated February 27, addressed to Australian Wire Industries Pty. Ltd., one of our subsidiaries, in which you enquired about three types of wire.
We regret to inform you that the position, as indicated by us last May, continues to prevail and, therefore, we are still unable to be of any assistance.
In May of last year, the company informed this gentleman that because of the condition of the local market it was not able to accept his order. He addressed a similar inquiry to Lysaght Brothers and Company Proprietary Limited, and, on 21st March, 1961, he received the following reply from the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited: -
We have for reply your letter dated February 27, addressed to Lysaght Brothers & Company Pty. Ltd., one of our subsidiaries, in which you enquired for two types of wire. We regret to inform you that the present Australian demand for wire products precludes us from exporting for the time being.
Finally, on 23rd March, 1961, I received a letter from Mr. R. W. C. Swartzz, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen, which read, in part -
For the past eighteen months there has been a very heavy Australian demand for all types of fencing wires, and even though production has increased substantially, the producers have not been able to satisfy domestic requirements. In fact, to ensure equity, the producers are allocating supplies to distributors based on the previous pattern of deliveries; in addition there have been fairly large imports.
Because the producers give priority in supply to local users, they have been forced to cut back severely normal supplies to traditional markets in N.Z. and the various island areas in the south-west Pacific.
This letter indicated that it was in order for them to export these commodities because they were not able to meet local demands. I fail to see how the situation could have changed in the dramatic fashion which the Government attempts to put before the people. It is impossible to reconcile a heavy demand for exports of this kind overseas with the continuing retrenchments in the steel industry. Therefore, I bring these contradictory situations before the House. I will be pleased if the Minister for Labour and National Service will give me a satisfactory reply.
– I wish to comment further on the matter to which the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O’Connor) has referred. Like him, I am concerned about the dismissals which have taken place in the steel industry. I am completely confused by what is taking place in that industry to-day. The honorable member for Dalley referred to a failure to supply steel to a person who desires to buy a fairly substantial quantity - 5,000,000 dollars worth. I ‘have a cutting from the “ Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate “ of Thursday, 5th January, in which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) is reported as follows: -
Mr. Menzies said last night that the Government would discuss with the steel industry means of making Australia a major exporter of steel.
Upon examining the relevant figures, I find that instead of being a major exporter of steel we are a major importer of steel. I can only come to the conclusion that somebody is trying to pull the wool over somebody’s eyes, and I feel that it is the members of the Government. I have overseas trade statistics which are available to those who would like to see them and which I have taken from the monthly bulletin of the Bureau of Census and Statistics.
The value of imports of iron and steel in the form of bars, rods, hoops, ingots, &c, increased from £4,171,000 in March, 1960, to £10,746,000 in March, 1961. Imports of pipes, tubes and fittings increased from £1,582,000 to £2,860,000 in 1961. These figures should interest the honorable member for Dalley; they are obtainable from the Commonwealth Statistician. When they are analysed it is seen that imports of steel fittings of less than 3 inches increased from £170,558 to £669,863, imports of steel pipe, tube and fittings between 3 inches and 6 inches increased from £39,030 to £202,275, and imports of steel pipe, tube and fittings over 6 inches increased from £323,395 to £438,195.
Yet, in the steel industry, Stewarts and Lloyds dismissed over 40 men a couple of weeks ago because of a scarcity of orders. Another 143 men finished work there a week ago and another 32 will finish next Friday. The explanation for dismissals given by the company on every occasion is that as a result of the Government’s credit squeeze it has been unable to obtain orders. What is taking place? I do not know where imports are coming from. The information given by the Commonwealth Statistician does not include that detail. Are we to permit the importation of these materials which force unemployment on our people? It is the responsibility of the Government to do something of a concrete nature about this situation and to do it quickly, as the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) interjects. It is said that we have the cheapest steel in the world. It makes me wonder what is taking place.
Imports of plate and sheet, tinned, plated, polished and decorated, increased from £2,879,000 to £5,815,000 between March, 1960, and March, 1961. Other imports of plate and sheet in that period increased from £2,651,000 to £20,045,000. Imports of iron and steel wire, single strand, increased from £581,000 in 1960 to £2,819,000 in 1961. Imports of iron and steel for wire manufacture increased from £571,000 in March, 1960, to £916,000 in March, 1961.
– Where does it come from?
– I do not care where it comes from. When it is brought into this country it puts Australian workmen out of employment. I have stated the number of men dismissed by Stewarts and Lloyds. The Commonwealth Steel Company has dismissed 23 men. Lysaghts has indicated that, on 29th of this month, 312 iron workers will be displaced as well as 81 juniors and 100 tradesmen. Yet, we are continuing to import steel in the quantities I have mentioned.
The same conditions apply in the manufacture of wire rope. Mr. Laurie Short, Federal Secretary of the Australian Ironworkers Union, has reported that even though things are bad in Newcastle they are worse in Port Kembla. Yet, the Government sits idly by and one has to listen to the clap-trap of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) who claims that nothing is the matter. Last Wednesday, when I asked him a question, he said that it was just unfortunate for the men who were being displaced that we were importing steel. The steel industry has no future. Its position cannot be expected to improve until the Government does something about the credit squeeze and makes orders available. The Government should place some prohibition, if necessary, on the importation of steel in the form of pipes, wire and sheet steel. The value of motor cars imported into Australia has risen by about £15,000,000 since the first nine months of last year. The Government sits idly by and does nothing about it. I am sorry that the Government curtails free speech in this Parliament. In a time of national crisis one has to confine his speech to five minutes so that two members of the Opposition can speak. I express my resentment at the Government’s action in curtailing the remarks of honorable members. My remarks were curtailed in this House the other night because the Government would not permit a reasonable debate. I then expressed my opposition to the Government’s policy of credit restrictions which is displacing tradesmen and iron workers in the Newcastle district while the Government does nothing about the position.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . . . 22
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in theaffirmative.
House adjourned at 12.14 a.m. (Wednesday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
t asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
y asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
s asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
How many persons sought employment, what positions were vacant and how many persons were registered as receiving unemployment benefit at the Kogarah Employment Office, New South Wales, during ea-h month from November, I960, to March, 1961, inclusive?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The numbers of persons registered for employment and vacancies held at Kogarah District Employment Office at the end of each month from November, 1960, to March, 1961, were -
The figures relating to persons registered are in respect of persons who claimed when registering that they were not employed and who were recorded as unplaced at the dates shown. The figures include persons (i) who, since registering, had been referred to employers but whose placement had not been confirmed; (ii) who, since registering, may have obtained employment without notifying the Commonwealth Employment Service; and (Hi) receiving unemployment benefit. The department does not have available statistics showing the number of persons receiving unemployment benefit at the Kogarah office. Statistics of such persons are included in figures published monthly, of the numbers receiving unemployment benefit in the Sydney metropolitan area.
n asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
Commonwealth Government during this period to relieve unemployment in this State?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
More recently, to relieve the decline in building activity, the Commonwealth advanced £420,000 to the Queensland Housing Commission for the building of homes for servicemen, and the War Service Homes Administration has advertised in the Queensland press inviting eligible applicants to apply for loans. This action is additional to general measures which have application in Queensland - at the request of the Reserve Bank the Trading and Savings Banks are increasing advances for housing while the Commonwealth has speeded up its own works programme. This will also assist the timber and plywood industries which are of importance in Queensland.
The Queensland Government is making an immediate start on a road from Normanton to Julia Creek which will be an integral part of the general plan of road development in the beef cattle country in Queensland which the Commonwealth Government has promised to assist. The Commonwealth and Queensland Governments are also actively collaborating in an investigation of beef production in (he Northern areas of Queensland and the planning of measures to stimulate production. lt is a matter of notoriety that the TownsvilleMt. Isa railway rehabilitation scheme is already under way and engaging increasing numbers of men.
As has been announced by my colleague the Treasurer, the Government is at present’ examining the employment situation in every State and individual areas within each State.
It should be borne in mind that the centres of greatest unemployment in Queensland in the first few months of 1961 have been those which are habitually affected by the seasonal layoffs of labour from the meat and sugar industries over the summer and autumn months. Moreover, the incidence of unemployment in these centres, having regard to the growth from year to year in their respective work forces, has been very little higher this year than in recent years. The commencement of the 1961 export meat killing season has been delayed, and it is a fact that seasonal unemployment in some localities of the State, has extended for a longer period than usual. However, the meat killing season has now commenced and there are indications that the level of unemployment in these localities is on the decline.
y asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Commercial- ATN Sydney, 95 hours; TCN Sydney, 81 hours 15 minutes; GTV Melbourne, 78 hours 15 minutes; HSV Melbourne, 64 hours 55 minutes; BTQ Brisbane, 68 hours 25 minutes; QTQ Brisbane, 76 hours 30 minutes; ADS Adelaide, 70 hours 20 minutes; NWS Adelaide, 70 hours 30 minutes; TVW Perth, 54 hours 15 minutes; TVT Hobart, 39 hours 15 minutes.
National. - ABN Sydney, 56 hours 20 minutes; ABV Melbourne, 54 hours 30 minutes; ABQ Brisbane, 49 hours 15 minutes; ABS Adelaide 50 hours 15 minutes; ABW Perth, 63 hours 20 minutes; ABT Hobart, 51 hours 30 minutes.
y asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: -
The information sought by the honorable member could only be supplied from the Australian Broadcasting Commission and commercial television stations. I would be reluctant to impose on the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the commercial stations the heavy burden which would be involved by the examination of their records for the period since the commencement of their services, if the honorable member has any particular panel in mind I will ascertain the names of members, but it would be unreasonable to expect either the Australian Broadcasting Commission or the commercial stations to divulge the fees paid to panel members.
d asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. On 13th April, 1961, the AttorneyGeneral explained to the House some of the matters that he was considering in connexion with the report of the committee and some of the reasons why the Government did not propose to have an immediate referendum. I have said publicly that I did not anticipate that there would be a constitutional referendum before or at the next federal general election.
d asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. It is not possible to provide answers to the questions asked. The fact is that comprehensive statistics of the numbers c” apprentices completing training during the past len years and the numbers al present undergoing training are not available. Soils figures are published in reports of various State apprenticeship authorities, but the figures are not in every case complete in coverage and they vary 10 some extern in method pf. presentation horn Slate to slate. 1 am pleased 10 add that the Australian Apprenticeship Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of the State apprenticeship authorities, has agreed on the preparation of basic statistical information relating to apprenticeship on a uniform basis. The immediate objective is to complete information for the year 1959-60. This will become the basis of statistical information for the future.
m asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1-4. The Commonwealth/State apprenticeship inquiry made some 90 recommendations of widely differing character covering many aspects of apprenticeship training. The majority concerned the States, with whom the primary responsibility for apprenticeship lies, some required joint Commonwealth/State action, a few were matters for the Commonwealth alone. In quite a number of cases the report simply put the seal of approval on existing practices in the States.
To provide a detailed commentary on each of the recommendations would be a task of some magnitude. The following observations may meet the honorable member’s needs.
Following publication of the report, discussions took place between the Commonwealth and the States, particularly on major recommendations involving joint Commonwealth/State action. Flowing from these discussions the Australian Apprenticeship Advisory Committee was established by agreement between the Prime Minister and the State Premiers. The committee is an advisory body on apprenticeship and allied matters and comprises the Secretary, Department of Labour and National Service (chairman), and top-level representatives of the State apprenticeship and technical education authorities. It meets annually.
The formation of the Australian Apprenticeship Advisory Committee both gives effect to one of the principal recommendations of the inquiry and provides a means of ensuring continuous review of the progress made in implementing the recommendations. The committee has examined many of the recommendations. In some instances it has initiated action that has translated them into practical results. In others, further light has been thrown on the issues.
Among the results of the committee’s work are the action taken towards establishing for the first lime comprehensive and uniform Australiawide basic apprenticeship statistics, a fundamental requirement stressed by the committee of inquiry; the registration of Commonwealth apprentices with Stale apprenticeship authorities; the development of schedules of skills required in particular trades; and the co-ordination of technical college courses with on-the-job training.
So far as the Commonwealth itself is concerned, the Department of Labour and National Service has had a number of discussions wilh other departments to promote application of relevant apprenticeship inquiry findings to Commonwealth establishments. Matters covered in this way include training by Commonwealth authorities of full quotas and registration of Commonwealth apprentices with State authorities. As well, the Department of Labour and National Service has been able to contribute substantially to carrying out some of the general recommendations of the inquiry relating to career advising and general publicity about career opportunities. Through its vocational guidance activities it has given guidance to increasing numbers of school leavers. The number of career pamphlets issued by the department is now more than 70 covering all the main trades in addition to many other careers. Finally, through the Commonwealth Employment Service, considerable publicity has been given to the importance of choosing a career. During 1960 alone, there were over 2,600 screenings of occupational films to audiences totalling nearly 222,000. Of these some 200,000 were young people.
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answer: - 1 and 2. The Commonwealth Government fully recognizes the benefit which would result from the completion of the Snowy scheme ahead of schedule. For this reason it is pushing ahead with construction at a rate never achieved before in Australia. While the timing of certain contracts has been varied to achieve a more uniform rate of annual expenditure, the authority’s longterm construction programme has not been changed.
n asked the Minister for External
Affairs, upon notice -
Has President Kennedy of the United States of America given a unilateral guarantee that the United Slates will not permit Pathet Lao to cross the Mekong River?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Australian Government is not aware of any such unilateral guarantee. However, the United Slates is a signatory of the Manila Treaty by which the security of South-East Asia is collectively guaranteed.
n asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
Does the Australian Government recognize the Government led by Prince Souvanna Phouma or that led by Prince Boun Oum as the legal government of Laos?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Austraiian Government’s position on this matter was given in the Prime Minister’s statement of 27th April, 1961, the text of which is to be found on page 1251 in “Hansard” (House of Representatives) for the third session of the 23rd Parliament (first period), 1961.
m asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he follow the British Prime Minister iti appointing a royal commission, if necessary jointly with the States, to examine how ownership and control of newspapers, magazines and other periodicals and of associated television interests are coming into fewer hands and diminishing the variety of their news and opinions?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Government has no proposals for such an inquiry.
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Acting AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 to 4. All the questions rest on the assumption that at the inauguration of the Security Service a practice was established, under the last Labour Government, of advice by the Director-General of Security to the Leader of the Opposition along the lines indicated in the honorable member’s first question. The present Prime Minister informs me, from his own personal experience as Leader of the Opposition at that time, that there was in fact no such practice. The answer to the first question is therefore in the negative, and in the circumstances to answer the remaining questions would he pointless.
d asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Long Service Leave Ordinance in Australian Capital Territory.
m asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1 and 2. I am happy to be able to inform him that as a result of an application to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission by employers in the Australian Capital Territory the conditions of long service leave for shop assistants in the Territory have been agreed upon by the parties in a conference presided over by a member of the commission. This conference followed a hearing before a Full Bench of the commission. An order prescribing these conditions has not yet been issued by the commission, but I understand that the parties agreed, inter alia, that long service leave of thirteen weeks should be granted to workers after twenty years’ service with the one employer. I anticipate that long service leave will now extend to other industries in the Territory on the basis of the principle adopted in the shop assistants’ case. Applications have been filed to vary awards covering engine drivers and firemen, miscellaneous workers, clerks and hotel, hostel and boarding house employees. There is, therefore, no necessity to introduce long service leave by ordinance in the Australian Capital Territory.
m asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
Can the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority yet state the number of compensable injuries and fatalities which occurred in the stevedoring industry in the last year?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
On 31st August last, in reply to an identical question, I intimated that action was in train towards obtaining these and other statistics relating to industrial accidents. Since that date considerable progress has been made; for example, in the case of the stevedoring industry, the Shipowners’ Accident Prevention Organization is now collecting statistics in respect of about 70 per cent, of Australian ports and will extend the collection to the remainder as soon as possible. However, some time must still elapse before complete information is available.
m asked the Acting AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. Queensland, £1,470 per annum; South Australia, £1,300 per annum; Western Australia, £750 per annum.
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following answers: -
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
Will the Minister publicize the names and telephone numbers of the officers of the Department of Civil Aviation with whom residents near airports may lodge their complaints regarding the interruption to church services, lessons in schools, meetings and operatic and theatrical entertainments, caused by excessive noise from low-flying aircraft?
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following answers: -
Complaints of this nature should be made to the airport manager or officer in charge of the airport concerned. The relevant telephone numbers of these officers are already listed in the telephone directory.
m asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
The treaties which, by their terms, are subject to ratification, and which have been signed for Australia since World War II. but have not yet been ratified by Australia, are listed hereunder: -
According to the latest available information, the countries listed hereunder have either ratified or acceded to these treaties: -
Greece, Holy See, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Morocco, Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom and Yugoslavia;
No. 3), Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile (excepting Protocols Nos. 1 and 3), Costa Rica, Cuba (excepting Protocol No. 3), Czechoslovakia (excepting Protocol No. 1), Ecuador (excepting Protocol No. 3), France, Federal Republic of Germany, Haiti, Holy See, Iceland (excepting Protocols Nos. 1, 2 and 3), India, Ireland, Israel, Italy (excepting Protocol No. 1), Japan, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia (excepting Protocol No. 3), Liechtenstein (excepting Protocol No. 3), Luxembourg, Mexico (excepting Protocols Nos. 1 and 3), Monaco (excepting Protocol No. 3), Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland (excepting Protocol No. 3), United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Byelorussia, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Ghana, Guinea, Holy See, Hungary, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Leba non, Libya, Liechtenstein, Malaya, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Poland, Rumania, San Marino, Spain, Thailand, Ukraine, United Arab Republic (Egypt and Syria), Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Yugoslavia.
Senegal, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America.
Malaya, Senegal, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America.
Kingdom and the United States of America.
Senegal, Ukraine, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America.
Norway, South Africa, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United Kingdom and the United States of America. (Australia’s Instrument of Ratification has been executed and forwarded to the Australian Embassy, Washington, for deposit.)
Dahomey, Denmark, Finland, Haiti, Iceland, Israel, Ivory Coast, Malaya, Pakistan, Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Senegal, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Viet Nam, Yugoslavia.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 May 1961, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1961/19610516_reps_23_hor31/>.