30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that:
There is a growing interest and concern in all sections of Australian society for the conservation of the environment, natural and man-made.
That there are also rapidly growing pressures by powerful forces tending towards the destruction of the Australian heritage.
That it is therefore urgent to appoint the Australian Heritage Commission, which was approved by both sides of this Parliament and to give the Commission sufficient independent staff, resources and funds.
That Technical Assistance Grants and Administrative Support Grants to community organizations are needed to partially redress the gross imbalance in technical expertise and resources suffered by community groups in pressing the community ‘s case against the exploiter.
That a proper balance between the Governments program of public austerity and the need for action in conservation would be a modest increase in the budget allocations in these areas over that of 1975-76.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Burr, Mr Haslem, Mr Lucock and Mr Hurford.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled; the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we condemn the invasion of the Democratic Republic of East Timor by Indonesia, the deaths of six Australian journalists in East Timor, and the stopping of a ship carrying humanitarian aid by the Australian Government; and your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will; cease all military, economic and trade aid to Indonesia, will cease training officers of the Indonesian army, will uphold any actions to remove the Indonesian presence from East Timor and further will; recognise the Democratic Republic of East Timor, assist volunteers to get humanitarian aid into territory held by the Democratic Republic of East Timor, will use ships, planes and forces of the Australian Government to deliver humanitarian aid to East Timor, will support the Democratic Republic of East Timor’s proposal of a neutral zone in East
Timor and will hold a public enquiry into the circumstances and causes of death of the Australian journalists.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Armitage, Mr Innes and Mr Keith Johnson.
To the Honourable the Speaker, and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the three service cadet forces have great value in the development of the youth of Australia.
That the disbanding of the cadet forces will disperse accumulated expertise and interest of those involved, and in some cases negate the efforts of many people over many years.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will reconsider its decision and that the Government will reinstate the cadet forces.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Braithwaite and Mr McVeigh.
Petition to the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of electors of the Division of Leichhardt respectfully showeth that both the School Cadets and the Naval, Army and Air Cadets provide character building and disciplinary training for the future citizens of this Commonwealth.
The Cadets also provide some basic team training for our youngsters which must be considered to be valuable in these times of vandalism and drug taking. The estimated cost of the Cadets is only a fraction of the cost to our community ( i.e. the Australian community) from vandalism and drug problems.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the government will immediately rescind its intention to disband the Cadets.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Thomson.
To the Speaker and the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned of Australia respectfully showeth that there are certain matters concerning the Molonglo Arterial- Western Distributor not sufficiently considered in the Molonglo Parkway Enquiry. 1972/73 and subsequent technical reports. These matters arc itemised below.
We your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Molonglo Arterial-Western Distributor be deferred until these matters be investigated and reported on.
Your petitioners consider the disruption, increased health hazards and ecological imbalance resulting from the implementation of the project to be highly dangerous to the well being of residents in the area affected.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Fry and Mr Haslem.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that, considering the Government’s stated policy on Aboriginal Affairs and on the environment:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will urge the Government to commission an inquiry into the Aurukun Associates Agreement Act 1975 and refuse an export licence to the consortium involved until properly documented terms of agreement have been decided upon after consultation with the Aurukun Community.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: That the undersigned persons believe that:
The $300 limit on income tax deductibility in respect of personal residential land and water rates is unrealistic and is a discriminatory income tax penalty.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take steps to see that the aforesaid limitation is removed entirely or substantially increased.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned residents of the Australian Capital Territory respectfully showeth:
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government not to proceed with the introduction of self-government for the Australian Capital Territory until the residents of the Australian Capital Territory are consulted, by means of a referendum, on the issue.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Haslem.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country is causing and will cause widespread inconvenience, confusion, expense and distress.
That there is no certainty that any significant benefits or indeed any benefits at all will follow the use of the new weights and measures.
That the traditional weights and measures are eminently satisfactory.
Your petitioners therefore pray: that the Metric Conversion Act be repealed, and that the Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional and familiar units to be restored to those areas where the greatest inconvenience and distress are occurring, that is to say, in meteorology, in road distances, in sport, in the building and allied trades, in the printing trade, and in retail trade.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr McVeigh.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble Petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the existence of a system of double taxation of personal incomes whereby both the Australian Government and State Governments had the power to vary personal income taxes would mean that taxpayers who worked in more than one State in any year would:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that a system of double income tax on personal incomes be not reintroduced.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas the natural environment of Fraser Island is so outstanding that it should be identified as part of the World Natural Heritage, and whereas the Island should be conserved for the enjoyment of this and future generations,
Your petitioners humbly pray that the members, in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Ruddock.
– In view of the continuing conflict occurring in Lebanon, can the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs say what action is being taken to process more rapidly the thousands of applications his Department is holding on behalf of prospective immigrants from Lebanon? Has any consideration been given to enlarging our present staff in Beirut and to relaxing our immigration requirements to allow a larger number of Lebanese citizens to migrate to Australia on compassionate grounds?
-The Government in fact has made an announcement about its attitude towards potential migrants from the Lebanon. As the honourable member would be aware, the situation in that country is extremely difficult. The Australian Embassy has had to be moved and I believe it is operating out of a hotel at this stage. A senior migration officer has remained in the Lebanon despite the difficulties associated with his continued presence there and the dangers to his life. There are a great number of applications for people to come from the Lebanon and in assessing those applications obviously we must give preference and priority to close family reunions.
The number of applications means that we cannot deal with all of them, particularly as we have only one officer in Beirut. We are giving preference to cases involving close family reunions. I believe that our officer deserves the greatest credit for the manner in which he is carrying out his duties in that position. We also are assisting Lebanese visitors in Australia by allowing them to apply for an extension to their visitor visas so that they may stay here until the situation becomes clarified. The individual cases of people who have escaped from the Lebanon and who have applied to come here are being looked at also.
– I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether he has investigated the allegation by the Leader of the Opposition that views expressed by the Governor-General in a speech to the Indian Law Institute were withheld from the Australian High Commissioner in Delhi and from Departments and Ministers in Canberra?
-I have had the matter investigated. I cannot speak these days for the previous High Commissioner to India, who is closer to the Leader of the Opposition than he is to those on this side of the House, but as a result of the investigation I made the Australian High Commission in Delhi has reported that it holds the Governor-General’s Speech on file. So presumably the previous High Commissioner had it available to him had he sought the file. Furthermore, the High Commission handled arrangements, according to the advice tendered to me, for the distribution of the speech to the audience at the meeting of the Institute at which Sir John Kerr spoke. I also understand that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet holds a copy of the speech on its files. I have been advised also that the program for the previous Australian High Commissioner in Delhi for 28 February 1975 includes attendance at the Governor-General’s address. So he also heard it being delivered. Finally, and incidentally, I understand the National Library has copies of the speech on file, a photo copy of which from the journal of the Indian Law Institute is here.
– I preface my question to the Deputy Prime Minister by drawing his attention to the fact that the French Atomic Energy Commission, through one of its subsidiaries, has applied for an exploration licence to search for uranium in New South Wales. I ask: Did the French Atomic Energy Commission make this application with the approval of the Federal
Government? If not, was the Deputy Prime Minister aware of the French body’s intention to apply for a licence? Would the Federal Government grant an export licence to the French Atomic Energy Commission to export uranium in any form if the application in New South Wales was successful and uranium was subsequently found?
– I have seen newspaper reports about the French Atomic Energy Commission seeking a permit to explore for uranium north of the Broken Hill area in New South Wales. This is the first I have heard of the suggestion. There has been no information passed to me. Whether there has been information with my Department I will have to ascertain. But it is a matter for the New South Wales Government to make a judgment as to whether it will grant such a permit to that Commission. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition goes on to surmise what we would do if we were asked to grant a permit. Certainly in New South Wales we really have not the authority to grant permits -
– An export permit. Do not act dumb.
– The honourable member for Blaxland should not talk about dumbness because he might wear the cap. With regard to an export permit, I am afraid that there is quite a gap between a permit to explore for uranium and a permit to export uranium. Firstly the uranium has to be found, then developed before it can be exported. If such a deposit were found, its development would have to conform with our rules which will be laid down. Then the company concerned will have to have permission to export the uranium. It is a purely hypothetical question when we get into that realm and one which I am not capable of answering because it is hypothetical.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry, refers to the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on assistance to new land farmers in Western Australia. The Minister will recall that the report recommended that discussions should take place between the Commonwealth Government and the Western Australian Government on help to such farmers. I ask: Firstly, can the Minister indicate what action has been taken to date on the recommendations in that report? Secondly, can he say whether discussions have yet taken place between the 2 governments? If not, when is it expected that such discussions will take place?
-I thank the honourable member for Canning for the question. It is true that there are tremendous problems amongst the new land settlers in Western Australia. The Industries Assistance Commission report presented recommendations which might help to accommodate some of the difficulties of those farmers. Discussions have taken place with the Western Australian Government. In addition however, the honourable gentleman would be aware that there is a further IAC report on rural reconstruction which was published only this week. Many of the recommendations with respect to those new land settlers relate to matters covered by that rural reconstruction report. Decisions on action to be taken, need to be seen in conjunction with decisions to be taken on the rural reconstruction recommendations. The honourable gentleman can be assured however that the particular difficulties to which I know he is addressing himself, will be covered in an examination of that second report as well as the first by the Government. Of course some advantage has already flowed to those new land settlers from the Government’s adoption of the IAC report on the restoration of the superphosphate bounty.
– I direct my question to the Foreign Minister. A week ago, the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs told me that the Government would consider financial assistance to Mozambique for her losses in applying sanctions against Rhodesia, if an approach were made through either the Secretary-General of the United Nations or the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Since the Commonwealth Secretary-General is in that area and on the day I asked the question the Security Council unanimously voted economic aid to Mozambique, and the Secretary-General expressed the hope that there would be a prompt, generous response to the Council ‘s appeal, I ask the Minister what response the Australian Government has made?
-I understand that the Minister for Primary Industry, while acting on my behalf gave an undertaking that we would be examining the matter. I reiterate that undertaking. Since the Acting Minister’s reply to a question without notice from the Leader of the Opposition, a telegram was received from the Commonwealth Secretary-General indicating that he would be discussing with the Mozambique Government the question of international support for Mozambique following the imposition of sanctions against Rhodesia. The Secretary-General also recalled the decision of the Commonwealth Heads of Government at Kingston last year on aid to Mozambique. I understand that the Commonwealth SecretaryGeneral has now returned from that visit to Mozambique and has indicated that he will be discussing his findings with the United Nations Secretary-General on 25 March- tomorrow, our time- and will advise Commonwealth governments in more specific terms after that meeting.
The Leader of the Opposition also referred to the resolution adopted unanimously by the United Nations Security Council. Apart from calling on all states to provide financial, technical and material assistance, as I recall it the resolution also requested the Secretary-General in collaboration with the specialised agencies of the United Nations to organise all forms of assistance to Mozambique. In accordance with this the Secretary-General has since announced that a mission led by Sir Robert Jackson will visit Mozambique without delay to begin discussions on a program of economic and technical assistance. The Government will consider carefully the outcome of the discussions by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and the United Nations mission with the Mozambique Government.
-Is the Minister for Transport aware of the disastrous effect of the gradual reduction of Government subsidies to small local airlines as a result of a decision by the Labor Government? Is he aware that in the last 18 months scheduled air services have been withdrawn from 41 towns, communities and properties in north Queensland as a direct result of the reduction of subsidies, and that on 1 July this year services will be withdrawn from a further 12 areas? Will the Minister continue the remaining subsidies due to be withdrawn on 1 July this year until the whole problem of scheduled air services to isolated areas can be investigated?
– The Government is concerned about maintaining services to isolated communities. As an instance of our concern the House will recall that the present Government rejected the increase- in the case of general aviation of up to 300 per cent- in air navigation charges that was proposed by the previous Government. We introduced a Bill to increase air navigation charges only by the percentage specified in the 2- airline policy agreement, namely, 15 per cent.
This will be of major assistance to the air charterers in the remote areas. The previous Administration set out a policy of reducing the subsidies over a period and of course the air charterers have felt the effects of that. They have also felt the effects of the downturn in the economy in these rural areas. Again, a lot of that is the responsibility of the previous Administration because of its poor handling of both the economy and its trade policies. We are endeavouring to straighten out the matters in the economy itself and to overcome the trade difficulties to get the rural industries back on their feet. Of course this will be of major significance to air charter operations. Insofar as the subsidy itself is concerned, in the tight economic climate in which we find ourselves I am not able to confirm any assistance from that source but I am hopeful that the other actions we are taking in the economy will lift the operations of services like Bush Pilots Airways Ltd which I know are of great concern to the honourable member.
-Has the attention of the Attorney-General been drawn to statements made on AM this morning in which the South Australian Attorney-General expressed his concern that the Australian Legal Aid Office in Adelaide is now open only Vh days per week, resulting in a much reduced service to the public by the ALAO? Does this indicate a rejection by the Government of pre-election pledges regarding this necessary service to the less fortunate in society? With the obvious downgrading of the service, does it indicate that implementation of the previous Government’s intention to establish ALAO services in major provincial cities in South Australia is now very remote?
– My attention has been drawn to the statement of the Attorney-General of South Australia. It is one of a number of misstatements, I have to say, that the AttorneyGeneral has made in relation to legal aid in recent weeks. For the information of honourable members, I point out that in the Adelaide branch of the Australian Legal Aid Office there is a shop front office that operates on the ground floor. Then there is the main office which operates on the twelfth floor. The shopfront office is manned by lawyers who meet people coming off the street and then refer them up to the twelfth floor. The fact is that for administrative reasons the shopfront office opens now for only 2Vi days a week; but the facilities of the Australian Legal Aid Office are continuing to operate on the twelfth floor. Members of the public are able to go there at any time of the day and the facilities are available there.
Of course, honourable members are aware that at present I am conducting a review of legal aid. I have already had discussions with the Attorneys-General of the various States and with the Law Council of Australia. Honourable members will have seen in recent weeks that the means test in relation to legal aid was tightened a little in order to enable the Australian Legal Aid Office to remain within the monthly commitment determined by the Labor Government, of $lm per month for legal aid. The Government is continuing to administer legal aid at the same level as the Labor Government. It has not been reduced. Additional offices have not been opened, simply for the reason that a review is being conducted. It is hoped that that review will be brought to an end at an early date.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. Does the right honourable gentleman have any information concerning appeals by political parties to multinational companies for funds?
-Mr Speaker -
– Just by chance.
-Yes, just by chance. I have seen some reports of an appeal which included an appeal apparently to multinational companies. It was a somewhat interesting appeal because the Leader of the Opposition joined himself with somebody who comes from a university that he despises and whose intellectual capacity, he says, is inadequate for the Australian Labor Party. I would think that some multinationals might well respond to that appeal with some favour because they are in debt to the Leader of the Opposition for having led the former Labor Government into defeat last December, as every person in Australia is in debt to the Leader of the Opposition for having led his Party to the worst defeat of any political party in the history of Australia. I only hope that in pursuing the appeal the honourable gentleman will save his Party 18c by not posting an appeal to our advertising agency.
– I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs a question. When he announced in the House the $50,000 aid to Guatemala after the earthquake in that country which rendered one million people homeless- a sum of money which was somewhat less than very poor countries gave for relief in Darwin-he said that there would be a possibility of some further assistance being given if any request were made. I ask the honourable gentleman whether there has been any advance on the $50,000.
-It is my recollection that after detailing the amount- the honourable member may recall better than I do- I said that I was looking also at other aspects. What I had in mind was the informal discussion that I had had with representatives of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, during which they indicated to me that they would prefer the Government not to give a cash donation but in fact to work up a form of development assistance for Guatemala, which they felt would be more effective in the long run. Nevertheless, it was the considered judgment of the Government that the form of assistance that I indicated in the House was what was directly required at that time. I am still open to further suggestions, and I wish to take up with members of the Australian Development Assistance Agency, as it still is at this date, the prospect of development assistance for Guatemala. It will be appreciated that the attitude of the Government is that there are other areas in which aid programs must be worked out. The demands on the Government’s aid programs are many and varied, but I will again take on board the specific suggestion made in the House by the honourable member in relation to long term development assistance rather than a further grant of cash.
-My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Can he inform the House of the cost last year of running the Lodge and Kirribilli House?
– I do not have the figures for the whole of last year but I have them for the last part of the year for both places. In the last 6 months of last year the Lodge cost the Australian taxpayer $64,941, running at an annual rate of $129,882. Kirribilli House, where perhaps the then incumbent spent a somewhat greater part of his time, cost $75,379 for that same 6 months, running at an annual rate of significantly over $150,000. The total annual rate paid by the taxpayer for both the honourable gentleman’s houses was $280,000 or a little more. The fact that both residences were being paid for by the taxpayer for the benefit of one particular person -
– Tell us about Manila. Tell us about Singapore.
– Honourable gentlemen opposite do not like the facts of life about their Leader. That is why they keep on trying to hide them. But I think that a few people have a right to know and a few people have a right to be able to understand. Both places were costing the Australian taxpayer $280,000 and, since I thought that this was much too great a subvention by the Australian taxpayer to house the Prime Minister of this country, it is one of the significant reasons that Kirribilli was returned to its proper purpose as a residence which can be used by distinguished overseas guests who come to this country and not as a second house provided by the taxpayer for the Prime Minister.
– I call the honourable member for Maribymong
– If you want to declare it on you will get it, right over the top of you. Tell us what happened in Manila.
-Order! The honourable member for Maribyrnong will resume his seat. The honourable member for Melbourne is making too much noise and is making threats by way of interjection
– What about the Leader of the Government?
-The honourable member for Melbourne keeps speaking while I am addressing him. I would ask him to remain silent through the remainder of question time.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Health. In view of the growing community concern at the inadequate number of salaried specialists appointed to the staff of the Canberra Community Hospital and the concurrent increase in popularity of the salaried hospital services, has the Minister met, and if not when will he meet, the salaried medical specialist staff at the hospital to learn its needs at first hand, rather than depending solely upon discussions with the Australian Medical Association and the private specialists in the Australian Capital Territory, both of which groups have been opposed to the whole concept of salaried medical staffing for the Canberra Hospital?
– I have had one series of discussions with representatives of the Australian Capital Territory Medical Association to try to assure them that this Government was not in the business of driving the private practitioners out of the Australian Capital Territory and that we were trying to ensure that there would be proper co-operation between the private practitioners of
Canberra and members of the salaried medical staff. In the very near future I will be talking with the salaried members of the medical staff of our 2 hospitals, who I might say have done a splendid job. The Australian Capital Territory is short of medical officers and there is an even greater shortage in the Northern Territory. I am very conscious of the shortage of medical staff in the Australian Capital Territory. I am also very conscious of the great need to get the sort of teamwork that is necessary between private practitioners and the salaried practitioners in Canberra. Of course, we cannot make any final determinations as to what changes may be made or will be made in the Australian Capital Territory until the Medibank review committee reports to the Government.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. During the many visits he has made to various defence force establishments throughout the Commonwealth has the Minister been queried at all as to proposed changes in the commutation of defence force retirement fund benefits? Will the Minister advise whether any change is proposed? If so, what is the normal procedure to be followed in introducing such a change?
– Yes, this matter has been brought to my notice on a great number of occasions and it has caused me considerable anxiety. (Opposition members interjecting)-
– This is a matter of some seriousness to those who serve in the defence forces. It is not a matter of jocularity. May I make it quite clear that there is no proposal before the Government to disturb the commutation provisions of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act and to my knowledge there is no such proposal in contemplation. I do not know who originated this rumour. 1 would like to meet him. He would be saved from one horrible fate by one fact; if we were not in the middle of Lent I would eat him.
– I ask the Prime Minister: What progress was he able to make in his discussions with the Premier of Queensland last week in persuading the Premier to make the statutory appointments to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Great Barrier Reef Consultative Committee and to facilitate the demarcation of the border between Australia and Papua New Guinea?
-As to the latter part of the question, some preliminary matters came under discussion, but my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs Will be having substantive discussions with the Premier, I would hope in the relatively near future. The Government has determined its attitude on those matters and it will be pursuing them at the proper time. So far as the other matter is concerned, the honourable gentleman will be delighted to hear that it did not come up for discussion.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. Is the Minister aware of the large number of inquiries from constituents to members relating to Government policy on the reintroduction of the homes savings grant assistance for first home buyers? Can the Minister advise the House and those waiting constituents when it is anticipated the homes savings grant legislation will be introduced?
– Yes, I am aware that a great number of representations have been made to individual members in relation to this matter. Honourable members will be aware of the Government’s commitment to introduce a homes savings grant scheme. However, there have been certain administrative difficulties in devising a scheme that is fair to everyone. Having said that, I should make it clear that proposals are now before the Government and they will be considered shortly. It is hoped that a decision can be announced very soon.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Health. I refer to the hostel for intellectually handicapped children at Bruce in the Australian Capital Territory -
– Why are you not in it?
-Order! The honourable member for Hume will withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it.
-I refer to the hostel for intellectually handicapped children at Bruce in the Australian Capital Territory which I believe will be ready in May for occupation by 40 intellectually handicapped children. Can the Minister give me an assurance that the full complement of 68 staff will be available to administer the hostel and that the intellectually handicapped residents of the hostel will not be disadvantaged by staff ceilings imposed by the Government?
– I shall have discussions with the Minister for Social Security and bring to her attention the substance of the question asked by the honourable member for Fraser. Clearly he is concerned that the staff cuts could affect the operation of the hostel for intellectually handicapped children at Bruce. I shall convey his concern to the Minister and give him a reply in due course.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Following the Prime Minister’s statement to the House yesterday that cigarette and tobacco advertising on television and radio will cease from September this year, will the Minister advise whether this ban will be applied only to the electronic media, or will he be initiating moves, along with State authorities, to ban also cigarette and tobacco advertising from the Press, billboards and movie houses, and through the sponsorship by tobacco companies of sporting events, sporting teams, cultural and community groups?
– The ban on cigarette and cigarette tobacco advertising will apply only to the media under Federal jurisdiction, namely, the electronic media. At the State Health Ministers conference last year it was agreed to work towards uniform legislation to control cigarette advertising in newspapers, magazines, handbills, pamphlets, leaflets, cinema slides, theatres and by any other means. I understand that the committee looking into this matter will be reporting to the Australian Health Ministers Conference in June this year on the progress it has made in achieving uniform legislation to cover the areas that are outside Commonwealth jurisdiction.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister. I refer to a telex sent to government departments on 18 March from his Department referring to decision No. 325 (EC), seeking advice, inter alia, on the consequences of limiting expenditure in the 1976-77 Budget to amounts already committed or to the revised 1975-76 money estimates. Would he not agree that either course represents an extremely severe cutback in government expenditure in real terms, with consequent savage effects on the economy, especially on the private sector? Therefore 1 further ask: Why is he contemplating such a savage measure for the 1976-77 Budget?
-The honourable gentleman would be quite wrong to draw any particular interpretations from an interdepartmental memorandum.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Transport. I refer to recent reports that the Government is considering the implementation of a tyre tax on road transport vehicles as a substitute to funds supplied by the Commonwealth Aid Roads grants. Is he aware that such a tax could well impose an increase of 40 per cent in road freight charges to the Northera Territory? In view of the fact that the Commonwealth Railways now seldom complete a service from Port Augusta to Alice Springs and the fact that the bulk of freights have to be carried by road, will he give serious consideration to his own attitude towards such a revenue raising scheme rather than assisting freight operators who need help under these circumstances?
– In recent years a number of proposals have been put forward to replace the State-raised interstate transport charges. One of the proposals is the tax mentioned by the honourable member. There is nothing before this Government in relation to that matter, other than the recommendation by the Bureau of Roads which has suggested that this matter be studied. We will look responsibly at the suggestion made by the Bureau of Roads, and when looking at it I will have in mind the serious implications raised by the honourable member in his question.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Is it true that the serial Blue Hills has been broadcast twice daily at 1 p.m. and 6.45 p.m. on Australian Broadcasting Commission radio stations? Are we now up to episode No. 5,888 and probably about to approach the climax of the story? Has the 6.45 p.m. re-broadcast been cancelled because of lack of finance? Is this unfair to listeners who work during the day and who now may never find out who got whom and how?
-I must confess that I never listen to Blue Hills. Honourable members will appreciate that we would not wish to interfere with any internal management decision of the Australian Broadcasting Commission such as that referred to by the honourable member. The only time that we would express any real concern would be if parliamentary broadcasts were diminished in any way. I imagine that that would reduce the entertainment for the Australian nation much more than would any reduction in Blue Hills.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. Is the Minister aware of the serious state of the building industry in New South Wales? Is he aware of the critical shortage of rental accommodation? Will the Minister seek the urgent introduction of measures designed to encourage investment in rental accommodation, pending the Australian dream of maximum home ownership again becoming a reality?
– I am aware of reports about the difficult situation faced by the building industry in New South Wales and the Government is concerned at the shortage of rental accommodation. We are examining tax provisions which would allow depreciation on new dwellings among a number of possible ways to encourage private investment in new buildings for rental residential purposes. However, the matter is a complex one which goes beyond the housing field, and it would be unwise to make any decisions without detailed consideration of all the issues involved.
– I ask the Foreign Minister a question. Is it a fact that he has informed leaders of the Greek Cypriot community in Australia that the Government will not honour the invitation which I extended to the President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios- the senior Commonwealth head of government- during the Commonwealth heads of government meeting last May? Has the Minister refused to see Greek Cypriot leaders in Australia to discuss the invitation and referred them instead to a middle level public servant? What other invitations extended by my Government to heads of state or government have been dishonoured or deferred by this Government?
– The Iraqis came.
-The Iraqis? Well, we never got to the bottom of that. Is that an official request now- for the Iraqis? In answer to the Leader of the Opposition’s question, let me say that it is correct that we are not taking up the invitation that was extended to Archbishop
Makarios. It is not correct that I personally have refused to see members of the Greek Cypriot community. If departmental officers on my behalf, either in my absence from Australia or for any other reason, have refused to see them, I certainly will discuss the matter with those citizens, ‘ should they wish me to do so. To answer the last portion of the honourable member’s question so far as I recall it, we are reviewing all the invitations extended throughout the extensive visits overseas by the former Prime Minister and his Ministers. In accordance with the constraints imposed on the Australian economy at present we will reach our conclusion in due course. I can assure the Leader of the Opposition that the thrust of the question regarding the concern of citizens as echoed by him is a matter I am prepared to discuss with them.
– I preface my question to the Treasurer by referring to the instability and uncertainties which have developed on European foreign exchange markets in recent days, particularly the drop in the rate for sterling against the United States dollar, the decision by France to remove the franc from the so-called European currency snake and the consequential virtual disintegration of the snake. Can the Treasurer give the House more information on this matter? In particular, can he assure the House that these latest moves will not endanger the position of the Australian dollar relative to the currencies of its major trading partners?
– The Government, of course, has maintained a very close watch on developments in the international monetary scene. As the honourable gentleman implied in his question, the House will be very much aware that the British pound has depreciated against the United States dollar by some 5 per cent since 4 March. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that recent currency changes will have any significant effect on the overall level of Australia’s imports and exports. The House will know that Australia’s exchange control system operates so as to balance out individual currency changes of the type referred to and to leave our overall competitive position largely unaffected. However, the Government continues to watch the position. In fact, detailed briefing papers which the honourable gentleman may wish to see are available from me. They can be made available to him after question time.
-I ask the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs a question about the rejection of applications for citizenship on the basis of secret reports. I interviewed 3 men during the weekend whose applications for citizenship have been rejected. On questioning them I found that the common ground for rejection was some kind of suspected political activity- in 2 cases right wing and in one case left wing. Is it a fact that some hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have had their applications for citizenship rejected because of some secret report about which they know nothing and about which members of Parliament like myself who make representations are told nothing? Is the Minister satisfied to continue such a system which, unfortunately, has been going on for a long time under many governments? Will he undertake to review the situation and attempt to find some way in which people whose ambitions for citizenship are summarily rejected will have an opportunity to defend themselves.
– I am aware that some people have had their applications for citizenship rejected as a result of reports made available to the Minister of the time. As the honourable gentleman said, Ministers for Immigration of all political persuasions have adopted that practice in the past. I am not aware whether the numbers he mentioned are accurate- 1 doubt it- but certainly I will seek to find out. I have been concerned about the practice and I certainly will undertake to see whether there is some other way in which the reasons for the rejection of applications for citizenship can be made available either to members of Parliament making representations on behalf of individuals or to the individuals themselves. But I would point out that I regard citizenship as a very great privilege and not something to be given lightly or without some investigation of the individual involved. I think it is important that those investigations be carried out in order that people who are granted citizenship can truthfully be said to deserve it.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Does the honourable gentleman recall receiving a letter sent to him on 13 February by the representative of the Cyprian community of Melbourne and Victoria, the Pan Hellenic Committee for the Relief and Independence of Cyprus and the Federation of Cyprian Communities of Australia, seeking an appointment with him either in Melbourne or in Canberra in order to discuss the invitation to Archbishop Makarios? I ask him whether he remembers replying on 8 March to that representative in these terms:
As I am leaving on an overseas visit this weekend, I regret that I will be unable to receive you, to discuss these matters in greater detail in the near future. Should you wish to take this up with the Department while I am overseas perhaps you could get in touch with the head of the Europe branch of the Department, Mr . . .
The name of the person concerned is given. If the honourable gentleman recalls these passages, does he wish to modify the reply that he gave me earlier?
– I said in answer to the earlier question of the Leader of the Opposition that I was prepared to meet with members of the Greek Cypriot community. I stand by that. I recall the letter. I also recall writing to a Mr Alfred Kouris about this matter. It may be that that was on it. He is a member of the Liberal Party. He stood as a candidate at the last election. I see him from time to time.
– But you said -
-I know what I said last time. The honourable member does not need to project himself as a rent-a-mouth in this House.
– I just want you to be truthful.
– There are many precedents that have been relied upon by honourable members opposite for forgetting about letters and documents which were signed. I put it to the House that my intent was a preparedness to see these people. I was not able to see them because of that visit. I regarded the tone of the letter that they had written as being one of very real concern for the visit to proceed. Therefore it would have been advantageous for officials in my Department to have discussed the matter. I reiterate now what I said before, that is, that I am prepared, particularly in the light of the thrust of the Leader of the Opposition’s earlier question and his handy reminder here, to see those who are concerned about this matter. When I said that we had not taken up the invitation extended, I might have better phrased the language and have said we had not taken the invitation forward.
I added in the answer that we were currently reviewing the extensive number of invitations which had been issued throughout the honourable gentleman’s journey and other journeys around the world. It means, of course, that we have not excluded the possibility of Archbishop Makarios visiting Australia. It does mean that we do not foresee his visiting Australia in the very near future. I again reiterate that those letters, firstly, were received by me and, secondly, sent by me. I apologise if the dates and the nature of my recollection were not as forthcoming as they ought to have been. I cannot carry it all with me.
-That is much better.
-I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition accepts the apology. I am prepared to see those citizens who are concerned about the matter.
– Pursuant to section 7 (7) of the Remuneration Tribunals Act 1973-1975, I present a copy of the Remuneration Tribunal determination relating to the Administrative Review Committee and the independent inquiry to determine the fees for medical benefit purposes, 1 January 1976 to 31 December 1976.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report on the Australian Education Council meeting held in Sydney on 1 2 and 13 February 1976.
– Pursuant to section 19 (2) of the Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement Act 1970-73 I present the annual report of the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board for the year ended 30 June 1975, together with financial statements and the report of the AuditorGeneral on those statements.
Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation. I refer to my answer to the House yesterday in relation to certain divorce proceedings. Since question time yesterday I have been in touch with the former counsel in that case to whom I referred in my answer. I rang to inform him that I had agreed to give his name to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and that the Leader of the Opposition might ring him. I told him that I had informed the House that on the basis of the previous discussion with him I was perfectly satisfied that in relation to this matter there was no extraordinary procedure. He repeated that in his view, having in mind the circumstances of the case, this was so.
He went on, however, to inform me of a number of matters which I had not previously known and which I think, in the light of my answer yesterday, I should bring to the attention of the House. He told me that prior to the matter being heard he did apply to a judge of the Supreme Court to have the matter expedited. He said that the judge to whom he had applied indicated, after hearing his reasons, that the matter could be heard at the end of the day several days later. The judge also said that the matter would not be listed. He informed me that the non-listing of the matter and the hearing of it at the end of the day were matters discussed with the judge in doing his best for his client. They were not sought by his client. He also informed me that in his wide experience applications for expedition had been made prior to that time in other matters and for varying reasons which had been successful. The matter came on on a later day and at the end of the day and was dealt with. The decree nisi was made absolute forthwith. He informs me that this had happened in other cases of which he is aware.
I understand that the petition in this matter was filed on 17 March 1975 and was heard on 18 April 1975. In making inquiries into this matter I was concerned, as would be other honourable members, with the possibility that in the administration of the divorce laws expedition and special treatment might have been given to particular people or groups of people. I am firmly of the view that that should not happen. Clearly enough, on the basis of these additional facts, this particular matter was not treated in the same way as all other cases, as I believed and indicated yesterday. I regret any impression that it was, conveyed by my answers yesterday.
- Mr Speaker, I wish to make 2 personal explanations.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. I was misrepresented today by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) at question time and yesterday afternoon by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) in a debate on a matter of urgency. In question time today the Minister for Foreign Affairs replied to a question concerning the Governor-General’s speech to the Indian Law Institute last February to which I referred in a speech 2 days ago.
It is a fact, as I knew at the time I made my speech, that the Governor-General’s speech to the Indian Law Institute was typed and roneoed by the Australian High Commission in New Delhi. The Governor-General sent me, and also, I believe, sent the Department of Foreign Affairs, a report on his visit to India and neighbouring countries. He did not attach to the report, or separately give me, a copy of the speech with its novel views on his powers. The copy of the journal of the Indian Law Institute containing the Governor-General’s thesis was received by the National Library on 23 December 1975.
– Your own High Commissioner.
– But he did not send it and he was not asked to send it to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra. The Governor-General himself did not send it with the report which he sent to the Department. The Governor-General did not send it to me with the report he sent to me.
Yesterday afternoon the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs suggested that I had stated, during my speech on the matter of public importance, that the Acting Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission was not ‘quite up to his job’. I made no such suggestion. I hold no such view. It is quite clear from a reading of my speech that I was drawing attention to the need for a permanent appointment to the chairmanship of the ABC. I would be more than happy for Dr Hackett himself who is, among other things, an experienced broadcaster, to be appointed chairman. I said as much in an interview for This Day Tonight last night and regret that that segment of the interview was not played. In my speech in the House I specifically commended Dr Hackett for resisting the threats to the independence and integrity of the Commission. Dr Hackett was appointed a Commissioner by my Government and I have nothing but the highest regard for him. It would be absurd to place any other meaning on my speech in the House yesterday afternoon.
- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I claim to have been misrepresented by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam). Implicit in the explanation just given by the Leader of the Opposition is that I have mislead the House. This is incorrect. I was asked the question: Had I investigated an allegation made by the Leader of the Opposition that copies of the Governor-General’s speech were withheld from the Australian High Commissioner in Delhi and from departments and Ministers in Canberra. I replied that copies of that speech are on file in Delhi. They were therefore available at any time to the Australian High Commissioner, Mr Bruce Grant, or indeed to the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister had he requested that speech to be forwarded. I am not aware of any request being made by the then Prime Minister for that speech. Unless a request had been made, it would be difficult for him to substantiate the allegation that copies were withheld. The speech is on file. The speech is clearly available.
– Order! The Minister is debating the matter. He should be making only a personal explanation.
– The speech is on file and I can rest the matter on that. Finally, I said at the end of my answer ‘incidentally, the speech is available in the National Library’. So the fact that it was made available later in the year has nothing much to do with it. The fact is that the speech was prepared in the High Commission, distributed by the High Commission and held as a copy by the High Commission; ipso facto it was available to the Government.
- Mr Speaker, I wish it to be quite clear that in the report which the GovernorGeneral sent to me on his visit to India and neighbouring countries he did not refer to this speech.
-That has been made clear already.
– Yes. I believe also that in the report he sent the Department of Foreign Affairs he did not refer to this speech. He did not send me separately a copy of the speech. It was not attached to his report, and I believe the same -
– Did you ask him for it?
– I was never told about it.
– Were you told about all his other speeches?
– In many cases, yes. The Governor-General did favour me with his utterances and his writings on some occasions. He did not direct my attention to this particular speech, although he gave me a report of his visit.
Motion (by Mr Malcolm Fraser) agreed to:
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom) on the ground of ill health.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Loan Bill 1976.
Loan Bill (No. 2) 1976
Meat Export Charge Amendment Bill 1 976.
-In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969-1974, I present the thirtyninth general report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make a short statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-I thank the House. I simply want to express my gratitude for the courtesy of the present Chairman of the Public Works Committee, the honourable member for Wakefield, in allowing me to present the report to the House, in view of the fact that the report covers the period during which I was Chairman of the Committee. The report highlights the expeditious way in which the Committee dealt with its business and went about its tasks. I want to express thanks to Mr Dick Fenton, the secretary of the Committee, Mr Peter Roberts, the assistant secretary, and Mr Lawrie La/an and especially to Mrs Jean Thompson, who went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that the reports of the Committee were prepared on time. Whilst I have the opportunity, I should like to express gratitude for the 4 years’ service on the Committee given freely by Senator Poyser, 4’/2 years given by Senator Jessop and 3 years given by Mr Len Keogh. Those 3 gentlemen are no longer members of the Committee. But during the time they served on the Committee, they were valuable and worthwhile members. My gratitude to them should be recorded.
-Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make a statement on the same subject.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I wish to reiterate what the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) has said and particularly to pay a tribute to Senator Poyser and Senator Jessop. I thought that both of them served the Committee very well indeed. I should also like to pay another tribute and that is to the present vicechairman, the previous chairman of the Committee, the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson). I am certain that 1 speak for all the members of the Committee when I say that he handled his job very well indeed. The members of the Committee are in his debt for the way in which he upheld the traditions of the Public Works Committee.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair)- by leave- agreed to:
That in accordance with the provisions of the Australian National University Act 1946-1975, this House elects Mr Ruddock to be a member of the Council of the Australian National University, to and including 27 August 1 976.
Debate resumed from 18 March on motion by Mr MacKellar:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill 1976 makes an allocation to the States of $364.6m. It is an allocation made under the Hayden Budget by the Whitlam Government. It is one of the largest amounts of money ever allocated in this Parliament for this type of housing. Under the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement in the last year of the McMahon Government, $169m was made available. In the first year of the Whitlam Government that amount was increased to $2 18m. In the 1974-75 financial year, some $385m was made available. A little over $10m of that amount was made available in the last month of 1975 and consequently was not spent in the financial year 1974-75, but in this financial year. In this financial year, $364.6m has been made available. So over the last 2 financial years, an average of $3 75m has been spent on welfare housing. This was one of our achievements during the 3 years that Labor was in government. The provision of funds for welfare housing was one of the major achievements in the changing of resource allocation in our economy. For a great period of time it has been very difficult indeed for people to acquire a home. Over the years the housing commission waiting lists have grown until they have about 100 000 people on them. In fact in the financial year ended June 1974 there were still some 90 063 people on housing commission waiting lists, and 35 673 of those were in New South Wales. By September 1975 the figure had increased to 108 104, with 38 834-nearly 40 000- of them in New South Wales. Most of those, of course, were in Sydney. One of the major reasons for that situation is that the acquisition of a home, particularly in New South
Wales and more so in Sydney, is becoming an economic impossibility. In our Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement we set out to overcome that problem; but we also had other interrelated programs in urban and regional development with which I will deal in some respects at a later time.
Of course, the Labor Government inherited a backlog that had accrued over a quarter of a century. It was extremely difficult to overcome these problems in the short period of 3 years that we were in government. To some extent we dealt with the problem as it concerned people earning up to 85 per cent of average weekly earnings. Those are the people who are eligible for assistance to acquire a home under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Another group whose income may be up to 95 per cent of average weekly earnings was able to be helped through the advance section of the Home Builders Account. That group of people also came within the provisions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Even though there was a substantial waiting list, at least those people were in a position to acquire or to rent a home under this system.
Even under our Administration the sad situation arose that, because of the rising costs of construction and land, people whose earnings were between 95 per cent and 135 per cent of average weekly earnings could not receive these forms of assistance. That is why, when we set up the Australian Housing Corporation, we tried to use it to overcome some of the problems of that sector of the community. We proposed a deferred mortgage repayment scheme to try to overcome some of the repayment problems, because we found that people earning between 95 per cent and 135 per cent of average weekly earnings certainly could not meet the requirement that their mortgage repayments not exceed 25 per cent of their weekly earnings. An amount of $20m was provided in the Hayden Budget for this purpose. But, of course, we know that honourable members opposite have cancelled that proposal and that they intend to abolish the Australian Housing Corporation. In the present circumstances there is no way that people earning between 95 per cent and 135 per cent of average weekly earnings will be able to get a home. They cannot meet the necessary deposit or monthly repayments.
There was another group of people who found it extremely difficult to obtain a home, even under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I am not trying to say that people should be referred to as the respectable poor and the not so respectable poor, but the facts of life are that to get a loan in order to purchase a house or to rent a house under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement one has to be a part of the respectable poor. The real poor, the needy poor, the alcoholic, the misfit, and sometimes the non-conventional- a great sector of needy poorare not catered for under this Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I know that my colleagues, the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) and the former member for Phillip, who were Ministers responsible for housing, in fact were concerned about this sector. We were trying to formulate policies for that sector as well. So, we have a problem within our community. Firstly, we have the very needy poor who are not catered for and, secondly, we have the people earning between 95 per cent and 135 per cent of average weekly earnings.
We were trying to deal with these problems in an interrelated manner. In the 23 years prior to our taking government, all the money was being made available for housing construction and in many cases it was being used to create big estates such as the Mount Druitt estate and the developments at Lalor Park and Seven Hills in the western corridor of Sydney, some 25 miles from the central business district or the General Post Office in Sydney. They were located well away from public transport and job opportunities. Very few social amenities at all were available for the people living in those areas. The counterpart of this sort of development near Sydney is the development at the other end of the pendulum in Melbourne, where enormous high rise housing commission development is occurring in North Melbourne. Many problems were created by such development.
I am not trying to pass the blame on to the State housing commissions, but because money was extremely tight and dear under the previous conservative governments the States had to undertake such development. In the last year of the previous conservative Government, the Commonwealth provided funds for housing to the States at the Commonwealth bond rate. One of the great achievements of the honourable member for Hughes, who introduced the 1973 Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, was to bring down that interest rate from the then current Commonwealth bond rate of 7 per cent to 4 per cent. Now the long term bond rate is 10.5 per cent and that housing finance interest rate is still 4 per cent. In other words, under the 1973 Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement we are subsidising the States by 6.5 percent on their money. Most of the $364m that is being made available this year is being subsidised by about 6.5 per cent. That is a necessary subsidy. Of course, 30 per cent of that money still goes into the Home Builders Account at an interest rate of 4Vi per cent, slightly above the 4 per cent rate. But it is a generous contribution by the Australian Government. I hope that this Government does not sabotage the situation so that the States will not be able to proceed in their own way on those generous financial terms. If I have any understanding at all of the Federal Treasury, no doubt enormous pressure will be exerted in the Budget context to try to alter the terms and conditions set down by my colleague the honourable member for Hughes.
I believe that the whole housing problem has to be looked at afresh and that the community should be more involved in this problem. That is why the Labor Government tried to deal with the many aspects of housing over a wide spectrum. The Labor Government tried to integrate our overall urban policies. We set up what we called an area improvement program in the western suburbs of Sydney. This program was applied to those local government areas that had been saddled, if I could use that term, with large State housing estates. We had to try to bring community centres, child minding centres and health centres into these places so that they could be made gentler areas in which to live.
We made grants for the planting of trees because this was the last thing in the world on which the housing commissions would spend money. Grants were made for trees to be planted in parks and recreation areas to try to make the areas around them gentler places in which to live. We also tried to improve the modes of transport and to integrate the States’ transport systems. Further, we tried to provide job opportunities closer to the housing estates because we knew of the enormous distances people have to travel to and from work. I think there are many aspects of the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement that should be examined. I think that the agreement is to some extent a monument. It is something in which we can take pride, but that is not to say that it cannot be improved in the interests of the needy people.
I want to make some criticisms of the present Government and to give the House some idea of the strategy that was in our minds when determining the amount of money made available last financial year and this financial year. As I have said, in monetary terms approximately the same amount of money was made available this financial year as was made available last financial year. The amount of money in money terms made available last financial year was $38Sm and this financial year it is $365m. As I have also pointed out, $10m was allocated in the last month of the last financial year and this amount will be actually spent in this financial year. This is the amount of money that was set in budgetary terms. Honourable members will know that we were trying within our disciplines to keep the budget deficit as low as we possibly could. We also had in mind that there would be an upturn in the building industry in the second half of this financial year. Unfortunately the stimulus needed to achieve this has not been created to the extent that we believed to be necessary.
This matter was discussed within the Cabinet of the previous Government and it was thought that if it was necessary to make more funds available to the public sector in the field of welfare housing those funds would be made available if resources, men and material were available. This was the understanding of the Ministers of the previous Government. But of course we know that the last thing that the present Government would ever do would be to increase government expenditure, particularly in the field of welfare housing. We know that there are 2 ways in which the stimulus could be created. One way would be by advancing money through the Builders’ Account which would make money available to the terminating building societies. In this way a stimulus would be created in the building industry, in this case in the private sector. At least the State housing commissions certainly could use that money if it was available.
Another of our policies that we tried to implement in the housing field was the establishment of urban land councils. The need for these instrumentalities can be seen from the enormous waiting lists for housing commission homes in New South Wales, particularly in Sydney. Why is it that 39 000 people are on the waiting list in New South Wales but 19 000 people in Victoria? New South Wales does not have double the population of Victoria. Most of the 39 000 people in New South Wales and 19 000 to 20 000 people in Victoria live in Sydney and Melbourne respectively. Why is there this difference? I suggest that one of the reasons is that the major component in the cost of building a house is of course the enormous cost of residential land. This situation has existed particularly, in the past, again today, under conservative governments in Canberra which have always felt that land is not the prerogative of the Australian Government. When we were in Opposition previously I was able to prove that between 1950 and 1970 the cost of land in New South Wales actually rose 3 ‘A times faster than average weekly earnings. Urban land is the most inflationary component in the housing sector. Of course, it has levelled out in recent years due to the economic measures that were taken by the Labor Government but I have no doubt that once building pressures come on again the cost of residential land will again start to spiral.
The Labor Government was able to make money available to a New South Wales conservative Government which entered into an agreement with us to set up urban land councils. The philosophy of the urban land council program was to acquire large tracts of land before they were zoned from non-urban to urban, to buy that land at a reasonable price, subdivide it and develop it both in the public sector and the private sector and make it available to people at a reasonable price. It was proposed that areas would be laid out in a similar manner to land in Canberra so that job opportunities, cultural facilities and other facilities would be available. It was envisaged that the private and public sector would be integrated in this scheme.
The average price of a block of land in Sydney, for example, some 25 miles west of the General Post Office is between $18,000 and $20,000. The urban land council will be able to make land available now at something like $9,000 and $9,500 a block. That has been another achievement of the previous Government. The New South Wales conservative Government should have had the land on the market for the last few months. However, I have no doubt that because there has been a change of government in the federal sphere this program has been slowed up.
I commend the New South Wales Housing Commission which co-operated a great deal in integrating its programs and policies in respect of the new concept of the urban land council. I think that in the long term, if money continues to flow from the Australian Government to the State Governments, the welfare housing program will receive a much better deal. But I doubt very much that that will be the case. It is my personal view that the sector that will suffer greatly under the present Administration will be not only the public sector but also the welfare sector which is a most needy sector in our community. I believe that it will be harder and harder for people to acquire and own their own homes. Many people will have to live under difficult conditions.
I want to point out one aspect of the legislation which is of interest when it comes from this conservative Government even with the enormous majority it has in the House of Representatives and the majority it has in the Senate. Essentially the Bill is a normal special appropriation Bill, but it also includes an extra appropriation to cover the supply period in the 1976-77 financial year. The Bill is unusual in that it appropriates the sum of $ 182.3m for Supply period purposes but then limits the Supply period to 3 1 December. Normally, Supply moneys are available until the end of the financial year, in this case 30 June 1 977, or until they earlier run out. Obviously the Government thinks that by using this technique it will be able to prevent an election being forced on it in the future by appropriation being refused. That could be the only reason for having a clause like this in the Bill. The reference by the Minister in his speech to a non-existent clause bears out this contention. The Minister said: … the Bill recognises that, in exceptional circumstances as occurred this year when passage of the authorising legislation was delayed, it may be necessary to continue payments beyond the 6-month period for which specific financial provision is made. The Bill provides that interim payments may be made for welfare housing under the authority of section 5 of the Financial Agreement Act 1928 as advances supplementary to the advances under the approved Loan Council program.
There is no such clause in this Bill. Not only has the Minister shown the Parliament that he does not know what is contained in the Bill but he has also misled the Parliament by stating that certain powers not contained in the Bill are actually there. More importantly, he has shown this Government’s intention to put itself above the Parliament by inserting clauses in Bills which would allow it to obtain money for specific purposes without reference to this Parliament. I will leave the lawyers and other advisers to the Government to give the Minister the real reasons why that section has been included in the second reading speech.
In conclusion, I want to stress that I believe a greater allocation of money should be made to this area, even though we face a substantial deficit at this stage. A lot of resources in the community are not being used and greater sums could be made available without any pressure on the economy. I believe that the number of people on housing commission waiting lists could be reduced substantially from 108 000 while the opportunity is available and while there is either no competition from the private sector or the private sector is not responding as expected. I believe that a stimulus to the public sector, particularly in the welfare area, would provide a stimulus to the economy. It might get the economy moving in such a way that, in an area such as housing, which has a cumulative effect on the economy, people could move back into employment. If more houses are built then more prime cost items such as baths and stoves and refrigerators are needed. More furnishings, more furniture, more carpets and other amenities are needed. In my view, this would assist in creating a stimulus to the economy, and I would encourage the Government to act in that way.
The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar), who is at the table, only represents the Minister in another place who is responsible for the former Department of Urban and Regional Development, a portfolio which once had some muscle in the Cabinet. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Senator Greenwood) has power in name only. He has no power in the Cabinet because he is not even on the Government’s economic committee. We all know that in resources allocation a Minister needs a voice in the economic committee of Cabinet if he is going to make any impact on Budget expenditure. I believe that the problem of housing assistance will pull down the Fraser Government because the people who were in the saddle for so many years in the Federal Treasury are still there. They look at the economy in a broad-brush way and not in the detailed way that the Department of Urban and Regional Development was set up to do. That Department had some say at least in the more detailed aspects of the economy and considered the human problems that needed to be overcome. It examined problems involving the social, economic and environmental aspects of life, and that is what is needed now.
That is important when we examine the very delicate problems involved in the lives of people who live in Housing Commission estates. They should not be isolated in far off estates such as those in the western suburbs of Sydney or in the granite pill boxes of high rise development in North Melbourne. We need to have a better social understanding if the people who live in those houses are to lead a fuller life.
Although the Opposition does not oppose the Bill, we believe that the Government should be encouraged to provide a stimulus to the economy and inject more money into this area than is at present being injected. As I said earlier, if the Opposition were in government now, with the circumstances that are prevailing in the second half of the financial year, I am quite sure it would make available more money for this sector of the economy to try to overcome the backlag in public housing and to give a stimulus to the economy.
– It was at the Launceston Conference in 1971 that the present Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) first blossomed as an expert in housing. I must say that since those heady days he has learned very little. Certainly he demonstrated again this afternoon that not much by way of real knowledge of a situation has come his way. Looking at the honourable member on the other side of the chamber, I can only think of the advice that was given to Moses as he climbed to the top of Pisgah. The Lord showed him the land beyond and said: ‘I bid you to see with your own eyes but you shall not go over there.’ So the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will remain where he is. But he was correct in one thing that he said. A very serious situation is occurring today in respect of Australian housing, and I want to devote what few minutes are available to me to that subject.
Before I do so, let me say that this Bill is generous in that money is made available at 5 per cent to people who obtain homes from housing commissions and at 4 1/2 per cent to those institutions and societies which obtain money through the home builders account. To that extent it is a valuable welfare measure and one that ought to be supported. Nevertheless, from that situation the commentaries err, and they make a very great error. They err in this respect: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition had some idea that housing in Australia was not too good and his first instinct was to say: ‘What you should do is make more money available for this kind of housing.’ He fails to understand that welfare housing cannot be used and ought not to be used as the principal compensating agent for a downturn in the level of housing activity in Australia. It is an addition. It ought not to be used as a principal compensating factor but compensating factors there ought to be and serious compensating factors ought to be brought into operation in 2 States of Australia. I refer to New South Wales and Queensland.
For my first piece of evidence I refer to a very valuable report of the National Indicative Planning Council on the Housing Industry which has been given little publicity. It was released early this year; not long ago. The report deals with the time before the introduction of the present monetary policy of the Government and before the run on building societies last week in one State. It deals with the likely level of activity in housing in Australia. I refer to page 10 of that report because it is from this situation that housing activity has deteriorated. In looking at what is a feasible level of housing activity by the June quarter of this year compared with the actual level of housing activity for the same period in terms of commencements in housing one sees that New South Wales was then presumed- and this is an overstatement of the position- to be operating at 1 8.7 per cent below feasible, workable, possible, probable capacity. Queensland was 13.9 per cent below feasible, probable capacity. Today one can only say that in the next quarter of this year New South Wales will be operating at well over 20 per cent below what is a reasonable and feasible level of activity and Queensland will be operating at well over 25 per cent below capacity -a situation which has been exacerbated by what happened to the building societies last week.
It is with those factors that I want to deal this afternoon and I can deal with them this afternoon because in his speech the Minister assisting the Treasurer (Mr Eric Robinson) made it quite clear that he had a view of the level of the activity in the private housing sector on which the proposals were projected.
I quote from his speech:
Meanwhile, signs of recovery in the private sector emerged around the middle of 1975 and a continued high level of activity in most States can be expected.
That is just no longer the case. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition nods his head. He would be the most dangerous man in Australia to let loose on the housing industry. He could not even pick up how serious the situation is and he is supposed to be the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I want to look at the reasons why we are in this desperate situation and ways in which compensating measures ought to be applied. I do not believe they can be ignored. The background reason is the level of the economy and the economic activity that was heritaged- to coin a word- to this Government when it came to power on 13 December. One could only say that after the riot of extravagance comes the pinch of want. The pinch of want is being felt in terms which are not necessarily bad but one has to get the economy into a stage of equilibrium. The pinch of want is being distributed unfairly over the breadth of Australia and over the breadth of Australian States. It has always been my view that when an economy was to be brought into line and sacrifices were to be made those sacrifices ought to be distributed as widely as possible and as equitably as possible. In other words, that is a sense of the fairness of the distribution of burdens with which I think most Australians would agree. But unfortunately monetary policy has fallen particularly heavily upon New South Wales and Queensland and has fallen particularly heavily upon those States for a number of reasons.
At the end of 1975 New South Wales was climbing very delicately out of the trough of housing activity in which it had been plunged for nearly the previous 2 years. Queensland was coming out of it rather better than New South Wales. Current monetary policy has plunged both those States into a trough and that plain fact has to be acknowledged. After all, even at the last quarter of last year- the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) is attempting to interject; he does not even understand this- in the construction of flats New South Wales was still 60-odd per cent below its peak of activity. That peak of activity 18 months earlier was too high but 60 per cent below is far too great a decline to be contemplated. Queensland was well over 50 per cent below its peak activity.
What I am saying is this: Due to monetary policies involving bonds which had been floated a greater volume of money has been soaked out of those 2 States than out of the other States of the Commonwealth. It has been soaked out of those 2 States first of all because of the structure of the financial corporations in New South Wales and Queensland. There are two common factors concerning those corporations. In the housing field the Commonwealth Savings Bank dominates savings bank activities in New South Wales and in Queensland. It has more than twice the amount of deposits and activities of savings banks in each of those 2 States. One is a legacy of history. The other is by deliberate choice of government. The second point is that building societies in New South Wales and in Queensland bulk more largely than those in all of the other States of the Commonwealth except one in terms of the proportion of housing activity for which they are responsible. The difference is simply that both of those States had attempted to keep the rates of interest which were payable to building society depositors and therefore to borrowers, below those which were operable in the rest of Australia, and they have now paid the price because they attempted to keep costs low by keeping interest rates low. It is a convoluted piece of reasoning to put into operation a national monetary policy which will penalise those States and those areas which have attempted to keep their interest rates lower than in the rest of the Commonwealth. I believe that is a very unfair and a very unjust proposition. If people could be persuaded to invest in those States at lower rates than those applicable in other States why should they be penalised? Why should those people suffer more in those States?
Before the run on building societies last week, the amount of funds that could be lent during the January to June period this year in New South Wales was already revised downwards by $120m and in Queensland was already revised down by between $40m and $50m from that source of funds alone. I hope that the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs who is sitting at the table and who I presume is listening to this, and listening intensely, will be able to respond to these propositions when he replies at the end of this debate because housing is a very personal matter. It is a matter that concerns a basicenvironment for young people growing up and a basic environment for young people when they are married and when they are engaged in early family formation. First of all, building societies in those 2 States, because of their size and because of their interest rates, suffered more than building societies in the other States and because of their size the housing industry is suffering more in those 2 States than in the other States.
I turn to the other factor which is an interesting one. I refer to the Commonwealth Savings Bank. Savings bank money is often the best source of funds which can be obtained in housing. Some banks impose too many conditions, but it is money available on very reasonable terms.
– What do you call reasonable terms?
– The most reasonable term I would like is .0 per cent. The money is available certainly at quite reasonable terms. The Commonwealth Savings Bank throughout Australia have over quite a long period of time maintained a smaller proportion of its assets in housing than have the other savings banks. I have charted the position over many years. I do not understand it. Why a bank which has connections with the national government should have less of its funds devoted to housing than the other saving banks have is beyond my comprehension, especially when one remembers the charter under which it was set up.
In December last, according to the latest details from the banking gazette- I use this information merely to illustrate the point I am making- the Commonwealth Savings Bank had 341/4 per cent of its depositors’ balances in housing loans. The State Savings Bank of Victoria had 38’/2 per cent. It has been consistently higher. The private savings banks had more than 39 per cent. That position has persisted for a long time. The Commonwealth Savings Bank has a dominant position in the 2 States in which the building societies and their depositors have felt the cold winds of monetary policy more than have those in the rest of Australia. There has therefore been a clear conflux or concatenation of events which are disadvantaging people in those States. I accept the proposition that when the previous Government went out of office there had to be restraints. I accept the proposition that there had to be common sense. I also accept the proposition, on a basic principle of federalism, that those burdens ought to be distributed and ought to be seen to be distributed. If they are not distributed, compensating propositions should be put forward.
There is another part of this proposition which deserves a little elaboration. It applies to my home State of Queensland, whose structure is so similar to that of New South Wales in this respect. With the run on the funds in the building societies in the last week, people will suffer, in addition to what occurred previously, in 2 ways: Funds will be transferred to other financial institutions such as trading banks, savings banks and so on. If those funds are lent from those institutions there will be a leakage of funds which will not be available for housing, and a smaller proportion of funds will be available for housing than if those funds had remained in the building societies. In addition, there is the simple psychological fact that coming so soon after a run, financial institutions which are the alternative receptors of those funds will be rather cagey about lending. Of course, there was the run on the societies itself. So I make those points. I hope they are appreciated. There are 4 financial arguments which apply. Two of them apply to New South Wales. The four apply to my home State. They are: The position of the Commonwealth Savings Bank and the position of building -societies; and, in my home State, the run on building societies and the leakage to the alternative areas to which the funds which have been taken out of those societies have gone.
I do not believe that a national government, with the financial powers it has, can remain watching to see that things continue as they are and hoping that nothing further will happen. Therefore, I believe that the Government should look at three or four proposals. It should have some very hard words with those who are running the Commonwealth Savings Bank to see whether it can uplift its performances to those of the other savings banks. So far its performance has not been as good. The Bank ought to uplift its performances in the 2 States that are hardest hit. For example, if it were to uplift its performance in New South Wales to the average of the savings banks, more than $80m extra would be made available immediately for housing purposes there. If it were to maintain the same proportions in housing activity as the private savings banks in Queensland more than $30m extra would be made available immediately. This flexibility which is available to the Commonwealth Savings Bank ought to be grasped now. This is the kind of occasion on which it could step in and make compensating activity. Secondly, it ought to look at the possibility of transferring funds and credit balances from some State offices to those areas where there will be the greatest demand. The area of greatest demand, on the advice of the National Indicative Planning Council, is the 2 northern States of Australia.
The third point- I hope it is looked at- is that the Government should look again at instituting the kind of activity which was instituted at the end of 1974 when $150m was to be made available through savings banks for housing purposes in Australia. It does not necessarily have to go through savings banks, but that kind of proposal could be put forward. That kind of proposal ought to be examined seriously, to bring some short term equilibrium to an industry which is declining most seriously in those 2 parts of the Commonwealth. Justice requires that if there is to be a contraction of money supply and of the volume of money that contraction be spread, both in terms of the interest rate charges people pay and the volume of money available to people who would negotiate housing loans in the various States. Action can be taken with respect to that. I do not believe that the size of the Budget deficit ought necessarily to be a completely impenetrable barrier to those kinds of considerations. The housing situation is a little different from that which the Minister indicated when he made his speech. He was not able to foresee all the events that have occurred and all the events that are presently in train. Even if he could not foresee them, which is a reasonable proposition, I do not believe those events can be ignored.
In the June quarter of this year it is quite possible that in New South Wales some tens of millions of dollars less will be available for housing than would reasonably have been expected 2 months ago. In Queensland during the June quarter of this year activity will be at least 25 per cent below what is possible with the resources that would be available in a position of economic equilibrium. Those downturns, which are quite severe, should be examined. I suggest to the Government that it look at those 3 ways of correcting a short term but serious downturn in the position. Once the housing industry declines, there is a loss of resources to that industry which it takes a long time to attract back again.
-The honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) has issued to the Government a very serious warning which I hope will be heeded. I agree with his contention that dark clouds are gathering over the Australian housing scene, and gathering with such intensity as to threaten the wellbeing not only of the home seeking community but also of a large number of people who are involved in the housing industry and its associated activities. This industry is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, industries in this country. It is regrettable that in these difficult times responsibility once again has fallen into the hands of a government which, in its previous history, has shown no interest in planning the affairs of this country. It has been a laissez-faire political combination over the years that housing has been under consideration. Now we have reached the stage at which the new Government has declared its intention to strike a death blow at housing. It is about to abolish the Australian Housing Corporation. I think it has already achieved that.
– The Australian Housing Corporation was the death blow to the industry.
-The honourable member for Bendigo may not be aware of the great enthusiasm with which the various sections of the building industry greeted the announcement of the establishment of the Housing Corporation.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, do you want me to shout him down? I am prepared to do so, but it could get a little ungainly.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Bonnett)Order! I remind the honourable member for Bendigo that interjections are completely out of order.
-The Australian Housing Corporation was supported enthusiastically by many groups in this country as one would expect it to be, because it simply represented in Australia the same kind of initiative as has been taken in comparable countries such as the United States of America, Canada and New Zealand. It is apparent that there are more people in communities today who, because of the rising costs of land, money, labour and materials, will never be able to get either their own home or a rented house unless they receive assistance from an instrumentality like the Australian Housing Corporation.
The fact of the matter is that the vast predominance of people in the United States and Canada who obtain nouses now receive such assistance. The pressures are such that the number of people who have in the last 2 years taken single dwellings has halved while on the other hand the number of people who have been forced into condominiums, town houses, units and the like - the medium density-type housing has doubled. That is a reflection of the difficulties that people encounter. On a large scale in those countries assistance is being given for the purchase and rental of homes. Not only have the Department of Housing and the Housing Corporation received this death blow but also the whole building and construction industry has been assailed. The honourable member for Bendigo is laughing at the fact that 250 construction programs have been cancelled, postponed or abandoned. He will soon see the chickens come home to roost when the effects of the curtailment or elimination of those programs become apparent.
Now we know that there will be further attacks. I am reliably advised and I confidently predict that very heavy inroads will be made into the tax deductibility scheme on mortgage interest that is in operation at present. The Government is going to cut expenditure in that area. In addition I can see that a home savings grant scheme will be introduced which will be a debauchery in terms of equity. It will be a scheme based on a very dubious premise. Government funds will be made available to people who in many instances will not need them. Already a great deal of concern has been expressed about that proposal. I understand that Cabinet has decided against the proposal put by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Senator Greenwood) to speed up the reintroduction of the home savings grant scheme. In a way this is good because the scheme as we had it indicated to us at election time lacked a great deal of principle.
There is the sorry situation. Not only are we to see a tax of the type I have mentioned but also in every conceivable form a lack of enthusiasm is being displayed by this Government in housing matters. Never a day goes by without somebody expressing concern that the Woolloomooloo housing scheme is under threat, the Glebe housing scheme is under threat, or that the growth centres will not receive the same kind of enthusiastic backing from this Government as they received from the previous Government. We have come through a difficult time in housing while the Labor Party was in government. It is a fact that we were able to come out of a trough much more quickly than we have come out of troughs on previous occasions. We will always have troughs, and I do not know whether the honourable member for Lilley who is interjecting wants to attribute to the Labor Government some blame for the situation that prevails at present. However, the fact is that the Labor Government did at least initiate some new machinery and set about planning the housing industry with a view to avoiding the periodic debacle that takes place.
Let me give briefly an account of the situation which the Labor Government inherited. The increase in the money supply which till 197 1 was normally about 6 per cent to 8 per cent a year was suddenly allowed to jump to some 26 per cent. Of course the housing industry then found itself flooded with excess demand. The value of housing loans by banks, building societies and life offices almost trebled in a 2-year period from $l,250m in 1970-71 to $2,988m in 1972-73. In every way the Liberal-Country Party coalition in the period preceding the election of a Labor Government inflated the building industry and put it in very dire straits. The number of loans made available between 1971 and 1973 for housing purposes rose from 135 000 to 245 000. A lot of people would say that that was a very good achievement and in many respects it is, but a lot of money was made available and the Government did nothing about providing a comparable increase in the supply of materials and manpower. As a result we found the house construction period increasing and, of course, the cost of houses rising. There was a shortage of all kinds of materials. There certainly was a shortage of essential manpower and it was this Government which set about the task of restoring equilibrium. By the time it went out of office it had achieved a great deal of success.
– Do you mean the Government to which you belonged?
-The Government of which I was a member. It went out of office on 1 1 November last as a result of the coup d’etat. There is a lot of evidence to substantiate what I have been saying. I will not be able to deal with it all now but I have with me a notice headed ‘Review 1 975 ‘ issued by the Permanent Building Societies Association and published in the newspapers on 1 December 1975. In other words, it is a review of building society activity in the last year of the Labor Government. Are the building societies squealing with agony? They said in this review:
The Permanent Building Societies in New South Wales . . . over $1,600 million strong!
As the year draws to a close it is estimated that investment and savings with the 26 member societies in the Permanent Building Societies Association increased in 197S by about $400 million to a new peak of $ 1 ,670 million.
It goes on at some length but also states:
More than 2000 new loans a month are currently being made to home seekers. There are over 90 000 families already buying their own homes with loans from these societies.
The general effect of that substantial announcement which was published in every daily newspaper in New South Wales was that the permanent building society movement was elated with the year of administration by the Labor Government. Now things have changed. We find that action has been taken by this Government already which has had the effect of forcing up interest rates for a number of people obtaining finance from these same building societies in New South Wales. The special savings bonds introduced by the Treasury which attracted subscriptions to 10 February of $565.2m have caused a very great crisis because of the very high rate of interest which they carry. Concurrent with that development was a call by the Treasury on statutory reserves of 1 per cent which again was dealing with a liquidity situation by taking money out of circulation. So we have had 2 things, a reduction in the money supply and a competitive interest rate which certainly had the effect of forcing up interest rates for a number of building society members. The net effect of what has happened to societies affected in New South Wales is that repayments on a building society loan of $20,000 will rise by $200 a year. Many young families will be slugged for another $4 or $5 a week. Worse than that, many people will now be deprived of a loan because of the increased income needed to satisfy the eligibility test. To qualify for an average $20,000 loan a family will need an income of at least $9,600 per annum- and many of them do not have it. This is one of the early effects of this Government’s action.
In the short time that I have I will talk specifically about the State Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill. This Bill authorises the Treasury to advance to the States for the current financial year $364.6m for welfare housing. As the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) said, the advances are to be made under the 1973-1974 Housing Agreement which I, as a former Minister for Housing and Construction, successfully negotiated with the States. In fact, that Agreement represented one of the earliest major achievements of the Labor Government following its success in the 1972 election. It demonstrated the willingness and the capacity of a Labor government to work co-operatively with the States to mutual advantage and for the benefit of the people. It was hailed by State Housing Ministers as a major rescue operation for State housing programs, without which they would have been doomed to degeneration. Without the Agreement expenditure under State housing programs would have remained at a pathetically low level. Interest rates would have risen to astronomical heights and put rents and home purchase instalments beyond the level of the low income earners whom the State housing authorities are intended to serve. This Government sits very uncomfortably with the 1973-1974 5-year Housing Agreement. It does not like it at all. Very pertinent remarks in the second reading speech of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) indicated that. Where does the Government stand on the fundamental, philosophical objectives which the Agreement incorporates? The State housing programs have never been a priority with Liberal-Country Party governments. Even the level of funding in the past reflects that fact.
The 1972-73 Budget provided $ 163.2m for State housing. One of my earliest measures after taking office in 1973 was to introduce a Bill which increased this allocation by $6.6m to take up the slack in the building industry through an intensified public housing program. This brought the 1972-73 expenditure to $ 169.8m. Then the new Agreement became operative. In 1973-74 the allocation went up from $ 163 m in the previous year to $2 1 8.7m, an increase of 26 per cent. In 1974-75 the allocation was first set at $235m and then increased by another $ 150m to $385m, an increase of about 60 per cent. This was designed to maximise the capacity of the public sector to take up the slack which was occurring at that time. There was a downturn of available funds which was necessary because the Government realised that it could never build any more houses than available manpower and material dictated. All the money in the world does not increase a government’s capacity to build houses unless it does something about those matching resources- manpower and material.
Last financial year $385m was made available for public housing programs. Now of course, under this Bill, the amount is to be reduced to $364.6m. The minister said:
Some States are currently experiencing difficulties in maintaining their welfare housing programs- difficulties I might add, that are a direct legacy of the previous Government.
I have no idea what he was trying to say. Perhaps he will be able to explain it. Does he resent the fact that the former Labor Government responded to the States’ call for additional funds as the last year went by? Does he know that every State, whether led by Liberal, National Country Party or Labor governments, asked for money and that the Australian Labor Government responded to their call? I take it from the comment made by the Minister in his second reading speech that he was opposed to the high level of funds made available by the Labor Government.
Houses commenced in 1974-75 by State housing authorities reached a record level of 1 1 463. 1 do not suppose anybody can quibble about that as a net effect of Labor policy. The Minister was able proudly to predict that 13 800 houses are likely to be completed in the public sector during 1975-76, which again would be a record achievement. In other words, this Government now has the good fortune to be able to complete a record number of houses this year- the houses which the Labor administration commenced last year. In totality, Labor did a great deal to restore the equilibrium and it chalked up a very proud achievement in strongly supporting the public sector to assist the deprived people whose incomes did not normally reach 85 per cent of average incomes. They are the ones who go into housing commission homes. We also sought to build up a stock of rental homes. We also made homes available to people whose incomes did not exceed 95 per cent of average weekly earnings and made loans available to them at 5% per cent- an enviable record in every sense. The Housing Agreement was a great milestone in the history of welfare housing in this country and I hope to see a lot more Government enthusiasm about its future than we have seen today.
– I am afraid it is true that the Labor Government struck Australia like cyclone Tracy struck Darwin. It left a great deal of cleaning up to be done in the housing field and in other fields. I can only hope that the present Government will show a little more resolution and skill in cleaning up the housing mess than the Labor Government exhibited in cleaning up the effects of cyclone Tracy in Darwin. I listened with some attention to what was said by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) and the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson). I hope that they will not take it offensively if I say that they miss their speech writers. It is true of them and of other front benchers in the former Labor Government that they do not speak as well now as they did when they had departmental officers writing their speeches for them.
I also listened with a great deal of attention to what the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) had to say. I think that he put before the House matters which are well worth serious consideration. Of course, he does have some particular expertise in this field. What he said about the comparative conditions of Queensland and New South Wales in relation to those of other parts of Australia and the reasons for their difficulties should be engaging the attention of the Government and engaging its sympathetic consideration in terms of future policy.
The States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill which is before us deals predominantly with what is known as welfare housing. Welfare housing is important. I doubt whether it is as important as the preliminary statistics would indicate. There are large backlogs of applications for welfare housing, of course. Many of the people who submitted those applications, it will be found on examination, are already well housed and are asking really not so much for new housing as for cheaper housing. It may be that many of them- I think it will be the majority of them- do merit that special consideration and that cheaper housing. But not all of them are in that category.
Welfare housing is only a part of housing; housing is only a part of the building industry; and the building industry is only one section of the general Australian economy. Yet all of these things have to be looked at together. We have to see welfare housing, which is the subject matter of this Bill, in relation to the whole of the building industry. I think it is worth while mentioning to the House that in point of general activity the program for this year, which was set down initially by the Labor Government, of course, is not much bigger than the program that was set down in 1972-73 by the McMahon Government. It is bigger in money terms because of the rise in the cost of building during that period, but in terms of actual industrial activity in the building industry it is not much greater, if indeed it be greater at all. What has happened is that in the first half of this financial year more than half of the program, in terms of activity, has been committed. So unless there is some additional subvention- it appears that there is not going to be some additional subvention- the level of activity in the second half of the financial year is likely to be significantly less than that in the first half of the financial year, and that is a matter of some significance for the industry as a whole.
I want to deal with the position of the industry as a whole, not in terms of figures, because I do not have time at the present moment to do that. I hope I shall have a chance to deal with it in terms of exact figures at some future date. In the meantime, let me deal with it in terms of generalities. The building industry is sick, and it is sick as an aftermath of the maladministration of the previous Government, as well as for other causes. However, it is sick primarily as a result of past maladministration. There is in prospect very little activity in the form of commercial building, whether it be of offices or of factories. There is still in the pipeline a good bit of residual activity in these fields, but it is tapering off rapidly. By the end of May it is likely that there will be not so much in the pipeline and by the end of September there will be very much less. Apart from possible government contracts, for which the documentation has been fully drawn up- the contracts have been suspended and kept on icethe industry will take a long time to start up again. Government contracts can come fairly quickly through the pipeline; private contracts cannot because of the shift of costs, the shift of finance and the lack of final documentation. So one must reach the conclusion that from September onwards the non-dwelling section of the industry will face a very considerable decline. That can be alleviated only by government activity.
The housing industry also is not nearly so buoyant as the statistics quoted would indicate. Commencements are not likely to keep pace with approvals, and all commencements may not even be carried forward to completion. There is a tremendous jam in finance, and that is likely to continue. The honourable member for Lilley, I think very rightly, drew attention to the particular circumstances in New South Wales and Queensland of the financial impediments which would make activity in those States somewhat less than that in the other States of Australia. In Queensland the latest troubles with the building societies only a few days ago, even though those troubles have been overcome to some extent, will undoubtedly adversely affect the rate of building commencements in Queensland. For that reason, and for other reasons which the honourable member for Lilley specified and which deserve detailed study by the Government, Queensland should receive special help.
So should New South Wales, because in New South Wales the housing industry has over the past few months been at a far more depressed level than is the average in Australia. That is due, I think very largely, to an old historical accident, because the evil that men do in politics sometimes lives after them for generations and decades. I believe that the fact that the housing situation in New South Wales is worse than in other
States stems very largely from something that happened in 1930, and that is the collapse of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales as a result of the Lang policies in those days. That is something which echoes on and on. In New South Wales we had our independent, very large savings bank which mobilised funds in New South Wales and used them for the purposes of New South Wales. When Lang, who in his little way was as disastrous as the cyclone Tracy of just a few months ago- I refer to the present Federal Opposition when it was in government in Canberra- allowed the Government Savings Bank to be destroyed it was taken over by the Commonwealth Savings Bank. The Commonwealth Savings Bank has been unable to give to New South Wales the same degree of preference as the old Government Savings Bank would have given.
That should be contrasted with the position in Victoria. Victoria was more fortunate because it was able to maintain its savings bank. It did not have the Lang disaster of the depression years and it was able to maintain its own savings bank. So in Victoria the Victorian Savings Bank, very rightly, properly and understandably, looks to the interests of the Victorian people. That is its business, and nobody blames it for carrying out its own proper business. In Victoria there is access to the funds of the State Savings Bank as well as to the funds of the Commonwealth Savings Bank. I know that if one goes to the Commonwealth Savings Bank the management says that it gives preference to New South Wales because in New South Wales it is carrying out a double function. I know that it will be said that in New South Wales the Rural Bank has been promoted to take up some of the functions of the old savings bank. But, still and all, the position is that financially, since the depression of the 1930s- that is, for 45 years- New South Wales has been at a disadvantage and the disaster of the Lang regime echoes on and on through the decades. If there is one lesson which should be learnt from this, it is the electoral imprudence of ever letting the Labor Party remain in power. New South Wales still suffers from this and it is one of the main reasons why in 1975-76 the housing position is so much worse in New South Wales than in other States.
– Has it nothing to do with land costs?
– It very largely echoes back to what happened in the 1930s. I agree with my honourable friend, the honourable member for Reid, that this is not the sole reason, but it probably is the main reason. I suggest that the
Commonwealth Bank, the Commonwealth Savings Bank in particular, should give a much greater degree to preference to New South Wales, realising that in that State it is carrying out the functions which in Victoria are carried out by the State Savings Bank. Let me repeat that I do not criticise in any way the activities of the State Savings Bank of Victoria; it does properly what it is meant to do for Victorians.
As for the present position of the building industry, as I think I said a moment ago, we rely too much on what I call historical statistics. I refer to them as being historical because when we get them they are months or quarters out of date. It is important that we look much more to the current statistics and that we have much more up to date figures. I do not think that the Treasury analysis is statistically competent. I believe that we have to have more up to date and alive people in the Treasury and that we should not be bemused by the Treasury as this Government and its predecessor very often have been bemused by the use of historical statistics; that is, out of date statistics.
Finally, I want to make one point on which I think the Opposition and I may find ourselves in agreement. Interest rates are far too high. I regret the policy of the recent Labor Government which forced interest rates up. I regret that the policy of the present Government has not yet forced interest rates further down. This Government did inherit a tremendous interest rate structure. With the present balance of our international accounts, we do not need to maintain in Australia a high interest rate structure for the purpose of keeping foreign funds. This may have been important in the past, but I do not think it is important today. We can get all interest rates down if we have a concerted drive to do so. The gap between the deposit rate of interest and the advance rate of interest will have to be maintained and the deposit rate of interest must come down with the advance rate of interest. This, of itself, will be economically good because it will reduce the present undue tendency to place savings sterilely in bank accounts.
There is a technical problem associated with the growth of what is sometimes defined as the money supply when deposits are included in that definition. That is a very bad definition; but it is being used currently, so I adopt it. One of the reasons why this is happening is that interest rates are too high. If we can reduce both deposit and advance rates we shall be helping the tendency to consume. We do not need an immense surge forward in consumption, because that would be dangerous and bad; but we do want to get consumption moving forward gradually and properly. If we can get interest rates down we will be helping the housing industry, not only in the welfare sector with which this Bill is concerned but also in the general sector with which the Government is, and should be, concerned. A big attack upon the interest rate structure is essential for a revival in non-welfare housing. I commend this Bill. I hope that the Government’s current obsession with the mythical deficit will not preclude in the future a further advance to the States for welfare housing which will enable at least the current level of real activity- I do not speak of activity in terms of money- to be maintained and, I hope, even increased.
-Usually the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) presents a great number of points of substance in his speech and thus allows the member who follows him in debate to take up some time replying to him. My analysis of his speech on this occasion suggests that he spent most of his time on an incorrect analysis of the lending institutions in New South Wales. I draw to his attention the fact that the Commonwealth Bank, as far as I am aware, expends the same proportion of its deposits received from New South Wales residents on housing lending as it does in the other States. If one accepts that fact, it makes nonsense of one of the points on which the honourable member for Mackellar spent much time.
– You could check that, you know.
– I believe it can be checked. This point has arisen in this House on a previous occasion. My memory is almost as good as that of the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr William McMahon), and I can remember the point being well answered previously.
Similarly, I draw to the attention of the honourable member for Mackellar the fact that although there may not be a separate State savings bank in New South Wales deposits are going into existing institutions. One of the series of institutions into which those deposits are going is the terminating building societies. I am reminded by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) that 60 per cent of funds going into terminating building societies in New South Wales are going into housing. So what one loses on the swings one gains on the roundabouts. I believe that the analysis of the honourable member for Mackellar does not stand up well. Of course, his main thesis is correct when he says that the Government, which I hope he is supporting only temporarily at the moment, is in an ideological straitjacket about the deficit. It is about this that I will be making my main contribution to this debate. The sooner that straitjacket is cast off and the sooner more funds are made available in an area such as housing, where there is an underemployment of men and resources, the better will the needs of the Australian people be satisfied.
There is no subject which has a greater impact on the quality of life of an Australian citizen and the citizens we represent than housing. From the representations I receive in my electorate office- it is a busy electorate office in a capital city, an urban electorate office- there is no area of activity where the needs are greater and the heartbreaks more severe than housing. I mention quickly in passing that this is so in my electorate office in Adelaide in spite of 2 important qualifying factors about Adelaide. One is that housing is mainly a State responsibility. When it comes to the needs of individual people, it is a State Government Department or a State statutory authority which has the prime responsibility. In other words, if desperate people wish to seek the help of their parliamentarian, they should and most often do, initially go to their State member, not their Federal member. But in spite of this, most of the time we find in my electorate office housing is near the top of the list, if not at the top of the list, when we examine the statistics of people ‘s needs as measured by their contact with my office.
I mentioned earlier that there is a second qualifying factor and that is that in my State of South Australia it is my belief that we have the best housing administration of any State in Australia. The waiting lists for houses are far shorter than elsewhere. The costs of land and of building are lower. More people are being housed adequately. Indeed more people are being housed in a higher standard of housing than in any other State in Australia. In spite of this, I use the experience of my own electorate office- indeed I use the results of my reading too- to lead me to the conclusion that housing is a priority subject for attention by this Australian Parliament.
The Bill we are debating today, the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill 1976, devotes attention to just one aspect of housing, namely what we call ‘welfare housing’. Of course we in the Labor Opposition cannot oppose the Bill which is based on our own Budget decision. But as the House has already learned from my colleagues, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Reid, and the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), both of whom had extensive experience in the housing sphere as Ministers in the last Labor Government, the amount appropriated for housing in that Labor Budget and in this Bill was only a second instalment. Inevitably there was more to come. It is not sufficient nor good enough to say that the amount is less than that appropriated in the previous financial year. There was a large additional amount appropriated at the end of the previous financial year to be spent in the current financial year, which helps explain the difference between the totals for the 2 financial years. In addition to that, this amount appropriated was not in any way considered to be a final amount. Just as there had been an additional amount appropriated in the previous financial year, as I have just mentioned, so there would have been an additional amount appropriated in this financial year provided that there was capacity for the industry to use the funds. Nowhere is it clearer than in the building industry that it is useless pumping more funds into the industry than there are men and women and materials to use those funds. Pumping in more funds when there is a shortage of trained building operatives, a shortage of bricks or timber or a shortage of any other vital ingredient for the building industry does no more than push up the costs and the prices in that industry. The supply of funds outstrips the demand for them. The result is raging demand inflation.
So this was an important determining factor when the hard decisions were made by the Labor Government in the last Budget about the sums of money to be available for welfare housing in this Bill. I must emphasise again that this amount was only a second instalment. As I said earlier, the first instalment was the instalment made at the end of the previous financial year. Let me lead on from this to say unequivocally that if Labor were in power and the same economic conditions prevailed as they do today, a third instalment of funds for the welfare housing field would be in the pipeline right now. I challenge the Government to match that claim. Liberal Party and National Country Party members of this Parliament know that housing needs are enormous. They know that there are surplus materials available right now. They know that there are building workers looking for jobs today. Are Government supporters prepared to come out and say that more funds for housing will be made available this financial year- soon, urgently- to take up the slack?
– What about the deficit?
– The honourable member for Petrie says: ‘What about the deficit?’ This is completely falling into the ideological straitjacket. The suggestion implicit in the honourable member’s question is refuted by the honourable member’s own colleague, the honourable member for Mackellar. It is a ridiculous straitjacket. While there are materials available and while there are men unemployed, there is no need to worship any deficit. I venture to say that honourable members opposite will not be prepared to make this essential promise. The reason for this is that they have got themselves into this straitjacket which I have just mentioned to the honourable member for Petrie. They are ignoring all the lessons of history. They are ignoring all the best economic advice. They are allowing unemployment of men and women to continue. In fact, by their policies, they are deliberately creating additional unemployment. They are allowing under-employment of resources, in this instance, building resources, to continue. All of this is because of a grossly misguided fixation about the Budget deficit. The Government’s policies are wrong. The hardship it is creating by these wrong policies are totally unnecessary.
Also in this context I am bound to make another valid point. I believe that if Labor were in power today, the number of building operatives unemployed and the availability of building materials would be less. In this first 100 days of a Liberal-National Country Party Government, we have seen an economic policy which is causing an increase in the rate of interest, which is causing a decline in the availability of funds and which is postponing a satisfactory return of business confidence. Certainly I believe that economic conditions will be improved later this year, but that will be nothing to do with this Government’s policies. On the contrary, the slow return to a higher level of economic activity will be the result of world economic conditions. A marked improvement is already evident in the United States of America. There are high hopes that Japan and West Germany and other developed countries will catch the wave. The grave danger is that our country will miss the wave of confidence because of the policies perpetrated by this Liberal-National Country Party Governmentthe credit squeeze, the cutting of Government expenditure, the scrooge-like attitudes and noises made on the need for belt tightening, the general pessimism permeating government circles which is hitting adversely the return of consumer confidence and thus the return of business confidence. These are disastrous policies. They are having the effect of postponing, as I have said already, the return of economic prosperity.
So the valid point is this: If Labor were in power there would have been a third instalment of funds for welfare housing, but that instalment would have been less than is necessary under this Liberal-National Country Party Government right now. Because the economy under Labor by now would be at a higher level of activity, there would not have been the pessimistic noises -
– Ha, Ha!
– Do I have to repeat myself? There would not have been the pessimistic noises emanating from government. There would not have been the developing credit squeeze, if I need to repeat myself again. There would not have been the higher interest rates. There would not have been so many building workers out of employment right now. There would not have been the great availability of building supplies which exists right now.
– The people did not have much confidence in you.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! I remind the honourable member for Petrie that interjections are out of order.
– I have to repeat myself because I see that my remarks have not sunk in to the honourable member for Petrie. Under Labor, the amount of the third instalment for welfare housing would not have needed to be so great as it is today. But there would have been that third instalment. The tragedy is that there is no such prospect for a third instalment for welfare housing from the Liberal and National Country parties. Having said that, let me own up that whatever vastly improved actions would have been taken by a Labor government would have been insufficient. Our plans for tackling the vast problems in the creation of adequate housing were only at their infant stages. We created the Australian Housing Corporation. This would have helped, particularly with the provision of funds for the deposit gap for those wishing to buy their own homes. This applies to the vast majority of Australians. It is a tragedy that this innovation has been postponed until Labor’s return to power.
We created the Indicative Planning Council. This body has only recently published its first report- an interim one. Its recommendations would have received far more response from an innovative Labor Government which would recognise the need for positive action in the public sphere than will be the case under the present
Liberal-National Country Party Government. So many of the needs in housing are on the supply side. The building industry must be planned in such a way that it operates more evenly. The peaks and troughs in its level of activity are a tragedy for the nation as well as for those ‘who work in the building industry. There must be more planning for an ‘even’ approach. This inevitably means more Government intervention at the planning stage to bring order where there is disorder today. But because the total needs are so great, the average level of activity must also be at a higher level than it has been hitherto.
We need more building resources. We need more building operatives. Here another Labor innovation- the national employment and training scheme- must be involved to play a larger role in ensuring that there are more building operatives when we get back to a higher level of economic activity. I am now devoting attention to the total housing sector, the private as well as the public sector. This is necessary when we realise what a small proportion of needs are satisfied by the public sector, by the funds for instance being made available through this Bill. I understand that only about 5 per cent of the housing needs of Australians are satisfied through welfare housing Bills. More and more of our people are turning to this welfare housing sector as the access point to housing mortgage loan funds moves up the income scale. Welfare housing will never satisfy the existing demands, leave alone satisfy new demands.
The urgency of these needs was highlighted last month in the publication of a report by the Australian Institute of Urban Studies. I believe that this Institute’s recommendations bear very close study. The report rejected emphasis on improving people’s incomes in favour of directly helping to stimulate the supply side of the equation. This valuable body outside government in the private sector recommended changes to depreciation allowances in taxation legislation to encourage the provision of rental accomodation. It recommended subsidies of a particular kind to people about to buy a house; not subsidies of a general kind, subsidies of a particular kind. Subsidies of a general kind such as the homes savings grant proposed by the Liberal-National Country Party Government were rejected by the Institute of Urban Studies. It recommended the provision of new forms of loans such as indexed mortgages or deferred pre-payment mortgages as options for home buyers. Above all, it recommended a co-ordinated housing policy for the whole country. In other words it recommended, in contradistinction to the policies of this
Government, more intervention not less on the part of the Australian Parliament in this important sphere, in these areas of great need.
This is what the Australian Labor Government was beginning to do. It highlights our attitudes to these Australian Government- State government relationships, co-operative federalism. The existence of a great area of need like this means that we must fulfil those needs. We must sit down with the State administration to co-ordinate and to stimulate the tackling of the problems. This is not a policy of withdrawal but one of active participation to help those people in need. We detect from this Government that its is a policy of withdrawal instead of moving in and sitting down with State administrations to tackle problems such as this one.
One of the results of such a co-operative federalism attitude could be making better use of existing State statutory corporations, or indeed if necessary, creating new statutory corporations to compete with the private sector. The needs are enormous. There is no better way to improve the way of life of those we represent, as I said earlier, than to improve their housing, than to seek to fulfil the needs in this housing area, to improve the housing of Australian people generally. Existing institutions, existing companies and the existing fragmented conglomeration of small builders are playing some valuable part but in toto they are not fulfilling the total needs. How about the Housing Trust of South Australia, a splendid statutory corporation being given the opportunity to enter the capital market, as does, for instance, the Electricity Trust of South Australia, to raise some of its own loan funds in order to build more houses- more houses which I have indicated are so drastically needed? It would have to set about this in a businesslike way. Because it may be able to borrow funds at a cheaper rate of interest than can the private sector and because also it may be able to be exempt from income tax, it should be able to build housing more cheaply than can the private sector. Because of these advantages it should, via a means test, satisfy that section of the market which cannot now afford the private sector housing. Therefore it would not reduce the demand for private sector housing. Certainly I believe this proposition ought to be considered. I know that it would mean an alteration to the Financial Agreement Act between the Australian Government and the State Government. But let us see the reasons, if there are any, why this should not be done.
Another point that I should like to make is that at the moment welfare housing, in such short supply, is going to a lot of people who do not need it. Perhaps rents should be related to incomes coming into households. I do not have time to develop that argument. In conclusion, I should like to say again that the housing area is one of urgent need. I am glad to see some funds being made available through this Bill. But it is a drop in the ocean. More is needed. Innovations are needed. Unfortunately at present we do not have the Government to fulfil those needs. Nevertheless, I support this Bill for the good reason that it was part of Labor Government policy.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I cannot recall the name of the journalist who recently wrote that the Australian Labor Party looks more comfortable in Opposition than it ever did in government. After viewing members of the Opposition and listening to them in the last few weeks, and indeed in this debate in which they have had their heavies such as the former Minister for Housing and Construction and the former Minister for Urban and Regional Development, I want to say that they are more comfortable in Opposition than in Government. I believe that they have a very small appreciation of the problems that face this country. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) talked about the disinterest of this Government in housing. Of course he failed to tell us- as did the last speaker, the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford)- about the record Budget deficits we had under Labor. Quite frankly, I cannot understand why the Labor Government did not double or even treble the Budget deficits that it had in the 1974-75 and 1975-76-the current financial year- Budgets. I did not hear any words of wisdom from the shadow Treasurer as to why the former Government did not double or treble the deficit.
The honourable member for Hughes also referred to the level of funding under the LiberalNational Country Party Government as against the level of funding under Labor. He failed to tell us about the 1 6 per cent to 20 per cent inflation in the period of the previous Government’s administration and the fact that we could run a government and come up with deficits that were not nearly as high and as damaging as those of the Labor Government. I do not call the present deficit a mythical deficit as the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Went worth) does, and fortunately for the Government, very few government supporters do. The honourable member for Mackellar drew the analogy, and drew it so beautifully, between the disaster of the Labor Government’s administration and Darwin after cyclone Tracy. I thought that was a gem.
Moving on to the legislation, I want to refer to the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill and also to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Act. After all, this Bill and the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Act are tied very closely together. This Bill, of course, is the appropriating legislation. The Housing Agreement Act 1973, which was amended in 1974, embraces an agreement entered into with the States for 5 years.
In looking at the total housing program it is interesting to note that it is funded as to approximately 13 per cent from government sources and as to 87 per cent from private sourcesthe private sources being mainly building societies, finance companies and savings banks. In Queensland the level of funding from government sources is as low as 10 per cent. The honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) seemed to be boasting, to say the least, about the level of government funding in his State. The reason why government funding is up to 13 per cent on average is that the level of government funding in South Australia is about 20 per cent.
We should look at where the 2 major parties, the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party, and with it the National Country Party of Australia, stand on the philosophy of home ownership. These philosophical views are very important and I want to deal with them in a little more detail. Seven out of 10 Australians today own their own homes or are paying off their homes. This is a significant figure, and it can be largely attributed to the good management and the pursuance of the policies of Liberal and National Country parties in 23 years of government. Australia has one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world. Home ownership is the great Australian dream. I hope it remains the great Australian dream and that the dreams of those in the community who are not as yet fortunate enough to own their own homes are fulfilled. I believe that the stability of a nation can be measured by the level of home ownership.
– It declined under Labor.
– It did decline under Labor, as my colleague reminds me. In looking at home ownership we have to discuss the importance to this nation of the stake that the people who own their own homes have. Such people are accumulating wealth; but they also have pride- a pride in their own person, a pride in their families, a pride in their own homes which flows on to a pride in their community and nation. To me this is of considerable importance. I want to compare that pride with the attitude of people who live in rental accommodation. I acknowledge that it is necessary to have in our cities and towns a certain volume of rental accommodation available, be it houses or flats. With few exceptions we find this inbred feeling in people who live in rental accommodation that: ‘This place/is not mine, so why worry about it’. This is a very dangerous attitude, and it is an attitude that unfortunately was perpetrated by the Labor Government to the detriment of this nation. In most instances rental homes are abused. In most instances the yards, the surrounds, the footpaths and everything else that goes with a rental home shows neglect. This, of course, leads to a lack of pride on the part of the individual and a lack of pride in his family which, quite often, is reflected in the children of that family. Such people become less community minded, work becomes a drudgery to them and they finish up in the lower or disadvantaged groups. So the people whom the Labor Government felt it was helping were being disadvantaged even further.
What worries me is that this attitude tends to divide our communities. On the one hand there are people who own their own home and who have a pride in their person and community. They get on. They improve and become more affluent but not necessarily wealthy. They have something to strive for. Their standard of living rises. On the other hand, there are the renters who unfortunately in many instances could not care less. They tend to slip back. Their standards worsen. I object to this division in our communities. Surely our objective should be to raise the standards of all people to the extent where we attain or very nearly attain 100 per cent home ownership.
I return to the philosophy of the 2 major parties. This matter really goes deeper than the question of encouraging home ownership. On the one hand, the Liberal and National Country parties encourage a person to be his own master, to fend for himself, to build up his pride and assets and to stand on his own feet. On the other hand, the Labor Party adopts the attitude that the Government will provide these amenities; so why should a person strive. The Labor Party creates the impression that the big brother Government will be there to look after you.
I am pleased that the philosophy of the Liberal and National Country parties supports the encouragement of home ownership. At question time this afternoon a question was asked about the reintroduction of the home savings grants scheme for first time home buyers. I believe that every government has to assist people, particularly young people and people who are endeavouring to obtain their first home, because one of the most difficult periods faced by home buyers in the initial stages is the bridging of the deposit gap. The Minister for Construction (Mr McLeay), who is sitting at the table and who was the former shadow Minister for Housing and Construction, realises exactly what I am talking about. The Minister had much to do with the formulation of our policy when we were in Opposition. He is to be congratulated for the work he did in that area.
I repeat that it is necessary to have some rental accommodation, because there are itinerant residents in all communities. It is necessary for young married people to have somewhere to go in the early years of their married life while they are getting on their feet and saving hard for thenfirst home. But surely rental accommodation must be considered to be only a stop gap measure. Our long term aim must be home ownership for everyone.
I turn to the housing position in Queensland because I am a little disappointed with the sum of $3 1.01m allocated to Queensland in the Bill. I do not say this as a criticism of the present Government because the Bill, of course, was introduced back in late August by the former Labor Government. The sums in the Bill were set in the Labor Government’s Budget. I was disturbed to note that Queensland is to receive only 8.5 per cent of the total amount of $364m for welfare housing.
– It is the biggest cut back in all the States.
– It is the biggest cut back in all the States. In addition, Tasmania and Western Australia lost $4m. Queensland in total lost $ 12.8m. One wonders why the Labor Government in framing its Budget saw fit to cut the allocation for welfare housing in respect of Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia. The stage was set by the previous Government As I have said, this Bill was originally introduced by Mr Riordan, the former Minister for Housing and Construction. Had this Government altered the content of the Bill it would either have had to increase the total quantity of funds or rearrange the amounts in the original legislation. Bearing in mind the present economic climate, which Labor members today see fit to ignore, and the fact that my Government has instituted expenditure cuts, there was only one course open to it; that was to introduce the Bill as it was originally introduced by the previous Labor Government.
I want to talk a little about the Queensland Housing Commission which like the housing authorities in all the other States is doing a very fine job. Housing authorities throughout Australia are all flooded with requests for houses. When one looks at the number of applications that are being received by these authorities one can see that an inadequate number of houses are being constructed in all States. The Queensland Housing Commission does all of its construction work by private contract, and that is in line with the private enterprise approach of both this Government and the Queensland Government.
– They get it more cheaply.
-As the honourable member for Darling Downs reminds me, they get it more cheaply. In other words, by putting the building of homes out to contract the Queensland Government is able in the long run to construct many more homes than it would otherwise. The only work force that the Queensland Housing Commission has is a maintenance gang. All of its capital construction work is carried out by contractors. But the disturbing thing, apart from the backlog that has to be caught up in Queensland, is the fact that many reputable builders who have built up a close association with the Queensland Housing Commission over a period are going to be left without continuity of work. As I said earlier, I cannot understand why the former Government cut so drastically the amount of funds allocated to Queensland. The Queensland Government has seen fit to try to alleviate the situation by providing some funds out of its own Budget, but the backlog at the moment is something like 6500 families with applications before the Commission. I understand that about one-third of those are of fairly high priority.
I have spoken to the new Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Senator Greenwood) in relation to amending the current housing agreement. It is a 5 -year agreement and there are 2 aspects of it that I believe should be amended. The first aspect which should be looked at very closely relates to the means test provisions, which I believe are unfair. There are a number of applicants now who do not qualify but who, in the considered opinions of the Housing Ministers in some of the States, should qualify. That point should be considered very closely. The second aspect, and this is a more serious one, is that the States should be able to determine what percentage of the funds they receive should go towards sale and rental accommodation. Obviously the percentage will vary from State to State and I do not know how we can sit here in Canberra and determine exactly what is going to happen in respect of each State. The original agreement provided for a maximum of 30 per cent of the funds to go towards salable homes, except in Tasmania where the maximum was as high as 50 per cent. In keeping with its philosophy on home ownership and its encouragement of home ownership, I hope that this Government will look at the housing agreements and amend them accordingly.
I want to refer briefly to low interest rates, because they are very attractive to borrowers. In accordance with the housing agreements, the interest rate is 4 per cent to the State housing authorities and 4 1/2 per cent to their home builders accounts. As the honourable member for Hughes said earlier, the fact that a maximum of 534 per cent is charged to borrowers is attractive. That is very important because with welfare housing we are looking in the main to the disadvantaged and low income groups. Despite the comments of some members of the Opposition, a number of members on this side of the House do show a deep concern for these matters. Indeed, the Government as a whole shows a deep concern. Honourable members opposite might dispute that but their statements are not correct. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) referred early in his speech to the needy poor. There is no doubt that quite a number of people in our communities are in the category to which he referred, but let me say that there are many other people who refuse to deprive themselves of some of their comforts and I believe that they should deprive themselves of them. They will not cut out gambling or the luxuries they enjoy in order to save for this very important item- the family home. Because they will not do that they want somebody running to their assistance, and of course they look to the Government. They think that governments have inexhaustible supplies of funds. It does not matter what level of government- local, State or Federal- one looks at; they all need to work to a budget. Of course, we did not see that with the Labor Government but the fact is that this Government does work to a budget. There is always a day of reckoning, and for the Labor Government that day of reckoning came last December.
I will refer briefly to the problem that exists in Queensland in relation to the building societies and was covered fully by the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns). There was a disastrous run on the funds of the building societies in Queensland and that has depleted the ready liquidity available for housing in that State. It is a very serious situation and a great blow to home building. Finally might I say that I believe that our family life, when it takes place in a home owned by the family, stands our nation in good stead for the future.
– Listening to the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges), one could be forgiven for wondering where one was and what one was listening to. I have never heard such a pompous, self-righteous address made in this House in all the time that I have been here. At no time since I have been a member of this House have I heard anybody divide the community so much as did the honourable member for Petrie. I have never heard such an insult offered to those who choose to rent their accommodation rather than own it. The great Party that the honourable member purports to represent says that it stands on the basis of freedom of the individual and freedom of choice, and promptly proceeds to assail those who exercise that freedom and choose to rent a house rather than buy. Because it suits the habits and the life style of the honourable member for Petrie to own his home- and I do not deny him that right- he believes that every Australian ought to conform to his style. I have news for him. The Australian community is made up of individuals. They should have the right to make their choice and not be pushed into a position, as the honourable member for Petrie obviously wants to push them.
He overlooked the fact that to buy a house anywhere- even welfare housing- requires some accumulation of capital by the intending buyer. Rented accommodation does not require that accumulation. The honourable member then explained that some people do not have that sort of capital because they will not cut down on their luxuries, as he described gambling and a few other things. Apparently they are things with which he does not agree and, because he does not agree with them, in his judgment those who engage in them are necessarily wrong. He also mentioned that private contractors do construct homes. I believe that to be true of every State, but the honourable member was speaking especially of Queensland. In answer to an interjection he said that it was cheaper to do it that way in Queensland. Looking at the maladministration of the Government in Queensland, I can well believe that. The Government there is so inept and so corrupt that it could not do anything properly, even build a house. It is relying on the public sector to construct its housing for it because it does not know how to do that itself. The same thing is true in Victoria, which also has an inept and corrupt Government. If the honourable member were serious about people having homes to own he would have branched out into the area of making homes cheaper for people to own. If he knew anything at all about the building industry- and I am sure that he is a quite competent pharmacist- he would know that today, in 1976, houses are being built no differently from the way in which they were built earlier. The technology of house construction has never changed and no research has been conducted into it or, if research has been conducted, it has not been made apparent.
This Bill provides $364.6m for the various States for welfare housing. In fact that is less than the amount provided last year, and in his second reading speech the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) justified that on the basis that the amount was set out in a Labor Budget anyhow and this Government did not feel like increasing it. It is a matter of conjecture, but I firmly believe that if Labor were still in government that amount would have been increased because of the escalation in building costs that is going on all the time. If this Government were only to match the amount that was allocated last year the amount would need to be of the order of $500m instead of $364m.
This Government is on some sort of austerity kick. The honourable member for Petrie spent some time talking about deficits. It seems that he has the wrong impression, as has the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). The honourable member for Petrie seems to believe that a deficit consists of money borrowed from another person. He used quite the wrong analogy. He should look on the Australian community as a family and say to himself, for argument’s sake: ‘My wife had funds available to her and I had funds available to me. We wanted to buy a car, so I used her funds and my funds to buy the car. We then owned the car. We were that much richer, or perhaps we were in exactly the same position because we transferred our cash into a fixed asset, but the family was no richer or poorer for the transaction that took place, except that we now had the use of a motor car. There was no money borrowed from a third person. There was no money owed to a third person. ‘ The honourable member for Petrie shakes his head. He holds his head in horror. This indicates that he, like his Prime Minister, is another follower of the
Adam Smith philosophy of economics. Were he really to think about this rather than follow the garbage that was put out in this House and in the electorate prior to the elections, he would understand what I am saying. His intelligence is not so low that he cannot follow such a simple argument.
I am not too sure that there is a passion among the people of Australia to own their own homes. The reason the ownership of homes in Australia is so high is that there is no preference given; there is no choice given. Under the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Act, as honourable members opposite well know, State housing commissions must build rental accommodation. I believe that in the past the building by the Victorian Housing Commission in particular has consisted of high rise flats which I would describe as concrete Weetie boxes of containerised misery. People are forced to live in those places. They have no choice in the matter. Those places are unsuitable for the people because the family must have children before it can be provided with accommodation by the Victorian Housing Commission. So the family has children- two or three children, sometimes more- and it is moved into these monstrosities which are unsuitable for that sort of habitation. All sorts of social problems are created in the local community simply because those places are unsuitable and the people who inhabit them do not have the choice.
If people refuse to live in this sort of accommodation they are forced to place themselves very heavily in debt, incurring a second mortgage so that they can acquire a place of their own. This places unbearable stresses on the family. Yet the honourable member for Petrie stands up in this place and self-righteously declares how wonderful it is that a very high percentage of the people in Australia own their own homes. He goes on to say that these houses are better cared for than rented houses. I dispute that; I dispute it most definitely. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that, except the honourable member’s own prejudices. I believe that the Australian people, rather than wanting to own their own homes, want security of tenure of premises. They simply want to know that they have accommodation. I confess to a bias in this matter. That is all I have ever wanted. I am not an accumulator of property, and I never will be. All I want is security of tenure of premises while I am alive and to ensure that when my wife lives on after me she will be accommodated. Apart from that, I have no views on the matter. The honourable member for
Petrie seems to believe that all that every Australian wants to do is to acquire about one-fifth of an acre of land, some 17& tons of bricks and mortar and a very comfortable dwelling, and to settle back and say: ‘That is it’. The honourable member may be in a different position from other people so far as meeting the very high repayment costs are concerned, I do not know; but I can assure him from my experience with my own son and daughter-in-law that great hardship is felt by those 2 young people in trying to do the very thing that honourable members opposite tell us is the dream of all Australians. I am very surprised at my fellow Australians if their dream is to get themselves up to their eyebrows in debt, so that their wives must go out to work to supplement the income in order to meet the repayments. If that is the dream of all Australians, then I am very disappointed in my fellow Australians.
The question of interest rates has been raised. I would not like to enter into a discussion now and try to give the reasons for interests rates being as high as they are. I have my own views on that. I do not think they should be so high in the field of housing. However, recognising this situation, the Australian Labor Party Government did give a concession to those who owed money when it made the interest component of their mortgage repayments tax deductible. Of course, a formula was applied to that concession. This helped to take some of the burden off the people who were paying off their homes. It is all very well to give people a grant to build their own home in the first place, but very often this simply increases the price of the house by the amount of the grant. It becomes a skim-off to the builder and is of no real value to the people who want to own a home. It is a once-only thing. However, the scheme proposed and put into operation by the Australian Labor Party Government was a continuing one. It was something of which the people who were buying their homes- not those who were going to buy but those were in fact buying their homes- were able to take advantage for evermore, were the scheme to be continued.
To the best of my information, this Government has done its utmost to destroy that scheme. I believe that the first 6 per cent of interest paid now is not a tax deduction. Yet honourable members opposite talk about people wanting to own their homes. I talk about the people who are of very limited means and want to own their homes. People buying their houses from the Housing Commission in Victoria are not paying much more than 6 per cent interest on their loans. In other words, what the Government has done to them effectively is to deny them a tax deduction each year in respect of the interest component of their mortgage repayments. These are the people who can least afford that sort of treatment. It is another hardship that this merciless Government has placed upon people who are not in a good position to defend themselves because they do not have the financial resources to do so.
This whole Bill is supposed to be about welfare housing. If honourable members are going to talk about welfare housing, surely they will be talking about people who have limited resources and people who are least able to defend themselves. It is of no interest to those who do not need that sort of support anyhow. Whilst this Bill does not provide as much money as is needed, coupled with the shortcomings of this Government which does not seem to care very much about people at that end of the social scale and which is pursuing its so-called austerity drive, these houses are built by private enterprise, as indicated by the honourable member for Petrie. The people who sit opposite are supposed to be the supporters of private enterprise. There is no shortage of building materials in Australia, except perhaps in isolated pockets such as the Northern Territory. Again, let me speak about Victoria. There is no shortage of building materials in Victoria. There is no shortage of timber, steel, glass, mortar, sand, cement, timber, tiles and all the other things that go into constructing a building. There is no shortage of the furnishings or the furbishings that go inside the building. There is no shortage of skilled tradesmen to erect the buildings. Yet, by denying funds to the States or rather by not improving the flow of funds to the States- of course, we must rely on governments in this respect and I have pointed out already that the one in Victoria is hopeless anyhow- or by not allowing a sufficient flow of funds to the State governments this Government is only doing injury to the building industry, which really needs a stimulus.
In Victoria land is not a real consideration, although I suppose the servicing of it is. The Victorian Housing Commission owns large tracts of undeveloped land at Broadmeadows. Over the last few years it has acquired tracts of land at both Melton and Sunbury. It can develop this land. It can build houses on it, provided the funds flow to it. Simply by leaving the figures at $364.6m the Commonwealth has effectively reduced the amount of money available to the State. The State will build fewer houses.
I spoke earlier about the need for new techniques in building houses. It seems to me that there are 2 ways to go about building more houses. We either continue to increase the flow of money to the States and continue to build houses in the traditional way or, if we are not prepared to do that, there is a responsibility on the Australian Government, because of the resources available to it, to develop new techniques in building houses. In this way, with the same amount of money, if houses can be constructed more economically by the use of new techniques, more dwellings can be constructed, more families can be accommodated. I raised some mirth on the other side of the House when I said that the techniques in building houses have not changed dramatically over the years. The only technique that has changed is the use of power tools rather than hand tools. I can assure those opposite who seem, through their laughter, to know absolutely nothing about the building industry, that the method of construction is still the same. There is still a penchant for placing terra cotta or clay tiles on roofs, needing a forest of timber underneath them to support their weight. There seems to be little use in the building industry of the new and lighter materials such as aluminium, duralumin or even steel. They are being used in some areas, but they are still being erected on site. There are no large housing factories in Australia, as there are in Sweden, which can prefabricate a building for erection on site. In that way families can be housed in a much shorter time, and the people can have a house perhaps at a lower cost.
The view that I express now is my own. I have not canvassed it within my party. I do not know whether it would be accepted or rejected by the party. My view is that if our society, as a society, is to be an ongoing thing, if it is to continue beyond our lifetime, if we are to construct buildings, if people are to own land in their own right the redevelopment of our towns and cities will be made virtually impossible in future. If land is in the ownership of only one person it is easier to redevelop areas or to replan towns. If the land is in the ownership of a multitude of people, because of the difficulties in treating with these people, it is virtually impossible to redevelop an area than has been developed for a long time. Because of changing life styles and changing uses by the community there could be a need to redesign a street layout or to reconstruct the buildings. We know the position in the older areas of our cities. The word ‘slums’ is not used commonly now, but it was some years ago, to describe those areas. My belief is that if the ownership of land is with one body it is a lot easier to overcome certain problems in future. However, conservative governments have consistently ruled in Australia. It seems that their penchant and their whole creed are based upon the ownership of land. That statement probably will not make me very popular with a lot of people, but I am here to express my views on these things. They are my views.
If houses were to cost less to build, either through a new technique or through some other reason, there would not be shortcomings in the various housing commissions throughout the nation. The commissions seem to be adept at constructing roads, providing sewerage, drainage and other services to the blocks of land that they own and of building houses on that land. In fact, they almost build new towns. The only thing is that they build nothing other than roads and houses and provide no services other than sewerage, drainage and reticulated services. There is no provision in any housing commission area for community facilities. I speak again specifically of Victoria. There are no public halls built in an area by the Housing Commission. There is no development of playing fields. Yet the Commission moves families into the area. In the area of Coolaroo the Housing Commission, an authority of the Victorian Government responsible for building houses, and the Education Department, an authority of the Victorian Government responsible for building schools, were working in the one area. It was planned to build about 500 homes and one school. Each home has at least Vh children. I do not know how the experts get a figure of half a child, but this is what they say. Consequently the Commission built 500 houses. On anybody’s arithmetic, there would be about 500 school-age children as soon as the houses were constructed. The Education Department felt that it did not have the funds to build the school that year. So it did not go ahead with the school. The planning is so bad that the Commission built the houses, but the Education Department did not build the school. This lack of planning is indicative of the inept government in Victoria. These services ought to be provided. When I put to the Victorian Housing Commission the argument about providing services it simply says: ‘If we were to do that we would build fewer houses’. I appreciate that fact. I wonder what is needed most or whether both go hand in glove. For that reason, I support the Bill. If I have any opposition to it, it is simply that the funds made available to the States are not enough.
-It is true that the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) usually makes a reasoned contribution to a debate. It is also true that those reasoned contributions usually show that he is riding his own pet hobby horse. Unfortunately today his saddle slipped, and he fell off. He stated that he was disappointed in the Australian people. I am disappointed in his efforts as a parliamentarian. All I suggest to him is that he accepts democracy and the will of the Australian people at the ballot box. If he reads his papers he will find out what happened in Victoria last Saturday. I suggest that then he should cleanse his jaundiced eyes.
In this legislation the Government, in effect, has had to feed on the past because this allocation is an amount which was decided upon by the Australian Labor Party when it was the government of this country. Australia has recorded that the Labor Party’s program for housing was incompetent in execution, dismal in theory and disastrous in practice. In Opposition on many occasions we had to make this Parliament the forum or the clearing house of blunt debate. During those 3 years too many Australians, too many Australian families in too many areas, had insurmountable problems of access to housing. In many cases housing of the most inadequate standard was not even available either in the short or the long term. For too many months the Labor Party used the truncheon of inflation, increased costs, both of labour and material, to batter the nation into accepting a proposition of home rental rather than home ownership, but it turned the screw too much. It caused too much frustration. Fortunately, on 13 December, we witnessed the end of a disastrous era in Australian history. The frustration of many Australian families in not being able to obtain housing was contributed to by an unsympathetic Labor Government which was unable to control interest rates and to provide encouragement to the private sector to build houses in all areas. The private sector was fossilised by the policy objectives of the Australian Labor Party.
This is the background of the present legislation. Therefore, it is appropriate in this debate to lay down a few policy objectives which I submit are necessary to strive for in any housing environment. We on this side of the House hold this simple belief: An environment must be created in which every Australian can plan confidently for the prospect of having his own special piece of Australia- his own home. Indicative of our concern in this vital field of housing is that, notwithstanding our statesmanlike decision to curtail government expenditure, we have maintained the level of expenditure for welfare housing at that which was appropriated in the 1975-76 Budget. Unfortunately, fewer houses will be built now than were envisaged because of the eroding effects of inflation and the recently announced increases in wages. This has resulted in a huge increase in the cost of all building materials.
It is essential in debates such as this to analyse some of the history associated with welfare housing agreements, so that we can learn from the mistakes that have been made and initiate reforms which will allow the system to function to the best advantage. It is true that there have been changes in details in welfare housing agreements over the years. In 1971-72 and 1972-73 the States obtained their housing allocations out of their approved Loan Council borrowing programs. The States Grants (Housing) Act 1971 provided the States with specific revenue grants in lieu of the interest rate concessions which had applied previously. Provision was made for additional rental assistance towards the cost of reduced rents charged to needy families in State housing authority homes. The impetus was given to the States to be responsible for the housing requirements of their inhabitants and I believe that they did a good job.
What the States have lacked over the last 3 years has been confidence in planning. A spark of confidence from the then barren financial incompetence on the treasury bench would have allowed the States to continue to do a respectable and reasonable job. They were placed under the control shackles of centralised Canberra and were virtually instructed how their money was to be spent. Obviously if democracy is to function as well as appear to function emphasis must be given in areas such as housing to control and authority from the States. Housing objectives can be achieved by the States on a mutually cooperative basis with private enterprise but it is most difficult and almost impossible when restraints and controls are imposed by people from a centralised point who are completely unaware of the local environment.
One of the reasons for the defeat of the Australian Labor Party Government on 13 December was that it was composed chiefly of Ministers and backbenchers who regularly led with their chin rather than with their left and consequently deserved what they got. We witnessed many classical attempts to hoodwink the Australian people and nowhere was this more prominent than in the welfare housing group. In a second reading speech which he made last year, the former Minister for Housing and Construction, Mr Joe Riordan, said:
The advances in 1975-76 will be maintained at the greatly increased 1974-75 level.
That type of dishonest approach to a delicate, sensitive and deserving section of the Australian people is abhorred by all decent Australians. This statement had 2 flaws. The Minister must have known that in real money terms the same amount advanced in 1975-76 as was advanced in 1974-75 would build fewer houses and house fewer people. During 1974-75 the price index of materials used in home building in the 6 capital cities rose by an average of 21.2 per cent, while the weekly wage rates in the building and construction industries rose by 20.6 per cent in the 12 months to May 1975.
If these costs were to continue at the same rate in 1975-76, the advances for 1975-76 as compared with 1974-75 would have to be increased proportionately by some weighted average of the increase in wages, building materials and land costs in order to provide the States with advances of the same real value as advances made in 1974-75. That type of statement by the then Minister was an instrument of deception which in effect became a weapon of war with people with housing problems. Many things are the legacy of the Hayden Budget and one of these unfortunately is that the Hayden Budget in its overall contract produced a housing and accommodation crisis. The backlog in housing following the Hayden Budget will now take an extra 15 years to meet, as assessed by some State authorities.
Other honourable members who have spoken in this debate have traversed the broad area of housing policy in Australia and I want to devote the remaining minutes of my speech to a portrayal of the position in Queensland. The reduction in Queensland’s allocation compared with its 1974-75 allocation is quite iniquitous. There is absolutely no reason for Queensland to be penalised for additional allocations during 1974-75 while New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia receive the same as they received last year. This cannot be justified by saying that Queensland received $6.4m extra in June 1975. That statement is totally irrelevant.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was pointing out the disadvantageous position of Queensland under the welfare housing arrangments. It is doubly unfortunate that Queensland is disadvantaged because it is led by a typical get-up-and-go Premier who acts and does things rather than talking and doing nothing. Queensland was ready to build more houses for needy people, as it indicated by seeking more money for welfare housing in March 1975, but the inept and lazy Labor Government did not give Queensland the money until June, after months of delay. This was right in the middle of winter. It did not care about the families who were homeless and cold in the middle of winter.
It is pertinent to remind the Australian people that in December 1974 the then Prime Minister, the Hon. E. G. Whitlam, told the Premiers Conference that he would provide every bit of money for housing that the States could spend. Obviously that was idle chatter. He did not mean it. In racing language, Queensland was touched by the then Prime Minister. An analysis of the per capita advances for welfare housing shows that the Australian average is $56.70 and the State averages are as follows: Tasmania, $119.50; South Australia, $91; Western Australia, $63.30; Victoria, $53.50; New South Wales, $51.40; and Queensland, only $37.50, notwithstanding the application by the Queensland Government in April 1975 following the challenge of the then Prime Minister in December 1974. No wonder those on the application list for family accommodation in Queensland as at 29 February totalled 6,490. This figure represents families with no permanent home because of the strategies and policies of the Australia Labor Party. It is unfortunate that the number is not being reduced, and it is expected to grow because the money that has been allocated under this Bill has already been committed.
Production of welfare housing is virtually at a standstill and there will be very little in the pipeline after 30 June 1976. 1 know that the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) in his second reading speech touched on the allocations for the first 6 months of 1976-77, but the situation will be quite critical in Queensland after 1 July because of the situation I have outlined. Quite obviously, no State, particularly the State of Queensland, can allow itself to be forced into a position, no matter how strongly it feels about an individual item, of precommitting itself to expenditure. It cannot do this because of the drastic financial and economic situation in which we have been left as a legacy of 3 years of Labor occupation of the treasury bench. People are looking for continuity of work. Indeed, the Queensland Housing Commission, as my friend the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) said, has built up a good team of contractors who specialise in welfare housing. Unless they can be kept continuously employed, 500 to 600 specialist tradesmen and contractors could be out of work at the end of this financial year. In supporting the remarks of the honourable member for Petrie I pay a tribute as he did to the many excellent free enterprise men who are building excellent quality commission homes for the Queensland Government for a fraction of what they would cost under the socialist policies of those who sit opposite. Of course the State cannot accept the offer which has been made by some of the contractors to whom the honourable member for Petrie and I referred to arrange their own finance to continue working and accept payment later in the year. I believe that the attitude of the Queensland contractors and the people who work for them is an act of statesmanship which it would do well for trade unions and trade union leaders to follow.
– Hear, hear!
-I am indebted to the honourable member for Hume, who quite obviously supports that contention. The offer of the Queensland contractors indicates the strength of the private sector in the economy. It is prepared to help the Government over periods of financial hardship.
The National Indicative Planning Council of the Housing Industry, which is a body representative of all people associated with housing, including master builders, bankers, developers, financiers, and housing industry and practical workers, showed that in December the home construction industry in Queensland was 14 per cent under used, which indicated an excess capacity in the industry estimated to be as much as 36 per cent at present. An injection of Queensland’s rightful share of welfare money would be quite appropriate to absorb a lot of this unused capacity and also make allowance for the expected shortfall in funds following the problems associated with building societies in Queensland recently.
I believe that certain areas of the Housing Agreement with the States should be reexamined. In particular I suggest that the formula that 70 per cent of the money be used for construction of homes for rental and 30 per cent for the construction of homes for resale is not in the most desirable proportion. We on the Government side believe in home ownership rather than home rental. I suggest for the consideration of various Ministers in the negotiation of any new agreement that they give special consideration to the position of a person who is eligible to obtain a rental home through the Housing Commission because he is in receipt of 85 per cent or less of the average weekly earnings per male unit employed- at present in Queensland this is $135 for a man, his wife and 2 childrenbut who is not allowed to purchase his home because his income has climbed above this figure. He is desirous of becoming a home owner rather than a home renter. He may have spent many months in making his house into a real home with gardens, etc., but he is forced to look elsewhere to purchase a home. I believe that if we do not assist such a person we are recreant to the responsibilities that are placed upon us as parliamentarians. There must, of course, be a means test for people seeking rental accommodation, but I cannot understand people being forced to leave it when they desire to purchase the home that they have built up. I believe that this is an absurd situation. We must encourage people to own their own homes and to improve their financial position.
A very special argument can also be advanced for particular consideration for Queensland because it has contributed out of its own resources to the infrastructure of many of the mining and associated developments in that State. These developments will have untold benefits not only for the State but also for the nation. I instance Moranbah, Blackwater and Dysart in the coal areas of the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) so well represented in this Parliament, the copper complex at Townsville, and the industrial growth at Gladstone, excellently represented by the honourable member for Capricornia (Mr Carige), which received a lot of the Queensland Government’s own funds to help attract private industry to the area. The people who used the accommodation provided were people who on account of their incomes were not able to participate in welfare housing, but housing had to be provided as part of the general scheme of the development. We had therefore a development of private industry which had special expertise in the construction area but which now has nowhere to go and nothing to do because of the drastic cutback in developmental exploration and the shortfall, in comparison to the Australian whole, of welfare housing being allocated in Queensland.
Queensland, I submit, has been badly treated, and this concerns me. At the Housing Ministers Conference in Brisbane in June 1975 the then Minister, as reported at page 84 of the conference report, said:
The funds that now will be available for Queensland and Western Australia are clearly advanced on the basis that they will be considered in the light of next year’s commitment in the same way as funds that have been made available to the other States will have to be considered next year in the light of what has been achieved and what has been made available in the last year.
The words ‘in the same way’ linked the June allocations to earlier allocations to the other States, but some of these other States have now been treated differently. Queensland sought $80m. At least $54m-$43.8m plus 25 per cent inflation factor- would have been necessary to produce a break-even point in the number of houses built; but the 1 974-75 allocation has been cut by 29 per cent to the $31m contained in this Bill.
The decision also has had a jarring effect on the terminating building societies, which are part of the Housing Agreement. These building societies have to plan their projects for any particular year well in advance of the start of” that year. Judging by all the utterances that have been heard, these terminating building societies planned their program in anticipation of the honouring of a pledge which was given by the then Prime Minister but which, of course, was not honoured. They were advised by the Queensland Government that, notwithstanding the promises, their allocation would have to be cut by 24 per cent, which caused widespread distress among potential members of those societies. I hope that the State governments can be advised earlywell prior to the new financial year- of what will be their allocations for the next year. To leave a State in ignorance of its allocation until well into August is to negate any orderly planning by both the Housing Commission and the terminating building societies. The damage resulting from this year’s Budget in the area of housing will be deep-seated and will take a lot of correcting. But we will correct the situation, because we believe that one of the main social considerations of our time is proper homes for all Australians and their children. Times are difficult, but by co-operating with private enterprise we will improve the efficiency with which the community’s productive resources are used and we also will recognise the interest of consumers, which in this instance is owning their own homes.
I conclude by emphasing that we on this side of the House stand full square behind the proposition of home ownership. We deplore the tactics and antics of the Government that was in office prior to the last election. I want the whole of Australia as a nation to know that if the present Opposition had been returned to govern this country it would have imposed a tax on home ownership.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In rising to support the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill, I may shock some of my colleagues by quoting from the report on housing of the Priorities Review Staff. As I said to another member earlier tonight, that report featured in the last Federal election campaign because one of its recommendations, I believe, incurred the wrath of the people of Australia. Regrettably, many people perhaps have been inclined to discard this very important work on the basis of that one recommendation which trangresses every principle which I would accept. Nevertheless, I commend to the House the following principles, as set out in chapter 6 on page 56 of the report on housing of the Priorities Review Staff:
Public housing policy has long been aimed at several worthy objectives; basically these are: redistribution to the poor via permanent habitation at concessional prices and rentals; rescue in emergencies for households or individuals at some point of crisis; the provision of choice of habitation, especially for the poor, by increasing low cost options and keeping the market diverse and competitive.
I embrace those basic principles of public housing; and I hope that the Liberal Party and the National Country Party embrace them, because I believe that more than anything else our Government has a duty to ensure that every Australian who desires to be housed is housed and, equally importantly, that every Australian who wishes to buy his own home has the opportunity to buy that home. I must say that I feel that it is more than just a matter of philosophy, because I am certain that honourable members opposite would accept the point of view that I now put, namely, that it must be the basic and inalienable right of every Australian and his family not only to own a piece of his native land but also to have the security of knowing that the dwelling in which he lives is his for life and can be passed on after his life to those members of his family who may be in a position to occupy it.
I do not want to be critical of the previous Government, because I feel that perhaps the time for criticism of the 3 years of the Whitlam regime has run out. It is a very negative approach for our Government simply to rely on criticising that which was done from 1972 to 1975. 1 commend to the House the view that we should put forward propositions which we believe are worth while. Frankly, some of those propositions, I believe, will be embraced and supported by honourable members opposite. I put the point, however, that in the 3 years of Labor administration there was a marked trend away from not only home building but also the right to home ownership, and that we were heading along lines which, had they been pursued, would have resulted in Australia becoming a nation of tenants; Australians would not have had the right to buy their own homes and would have been assured that leasehold and tenancy were just as good. In fact, I take the very strong point of view- I apply it particularly to those in the lower income brackets- that the right to the opportunity to own one ‘s own home is a right which no government should deny any person who lives in this country. I hope that the whole thrust and direction of our housing policy over the next 3 years will be to give Australians the right to buy their own homes.
I do not go back to the bad old days when we were told that if we followed certain policies we all would turn out to be little capitalists. I do not take the view that it is wrong for people to own their own homes. I take the view that it is right for people to own their own homes. I emphasise this point, at the risk of treading on toes: I believe that in some instances governments of both political colours have made available money that has been utilised by those who are well off and in a program of housing have overlooked people who should have been helped and have not been helped. There certainly have been people who have thrived on the housing policies of governments of both political colours. Frankly, in my opinion, they should not have been assisted. At the same time, there have been thousands upon thousands of Australians who for some reason or other have missed out all along the line.
In supporting the concept of home ownership I, as a federalist, put as strongly as I can the point of view that the need for decisions to be made on the spot in the States, where the effect of those decisions is being felt most, is absolutely imperative. I believe it must be realised that controls over housing become less efficient and more time wasting the further they are removed from the grass roots level. I believe it is fair to say that in no other field than housing does the effect of centralism create more hardship and more neglect; in no other field than housing can it be said that decisions made at a central point are more likely to be wrong than those made at the grass roots level.
I take some comfort from the fact that these questions were considered, and considered at some length, in a draft housing policy for Australia which was set out in a report of a task force of the Australian Institute of Urban Studies and which was prepared as a document for discussion at the eighth annual conference held on 23 October 1975. In that draft report of the Australian Institute of Urban Studies I find a very interesting resume of the problems which are facing Australia today in respect of housing. In answer to the question ‘What is wrong with housing?’, the comments which are made in this paper are somewhat revealing. The paper states:
Building, planning, and development regulations are in some cases insufficiently related to real needs.
Tasmania is the area about which I am best informed to speak, if I am well informed to speak at all. From the outset I want to say that unlike some people I do not play politics on a matter like housing. I have had an extremely happy relationship with Ministers for Housing in Tasmania and their departments, albeit they have been members of the opposite party in government in Tasmania since 1972. 1 have found nothing but co-operation and assistance from the Department of Housing in my home State. As late as today I confirmed that in a small State like Tasmania we have the incredible situation of having over 4000 people waiting for homes at present and the average waiting period to get a house is 2¥i years. I do not believe that anybody in the chamber would accept that it is a fair and reasonable proposition for intending home owners or tenants to wait Vh years to get a government home. In the southern area of Tasmania there are 2178 families waiting for homes; in the northern area there are 837; in the northwestern area there are 751; and King Island, Flinders Island and other isolated communities take up the balance. For 4000 famines to be waiting for homes in a State with a population of 400 000 is nothing short of a scandal; it is far too important to be overlooked by honourable members on either this side of the House or the other side.
Over the last 3 months since the election I have received over 97 applications for assistance from people wishing to get homes. I suppose that the other 2080 families who are waiting have not yet got around to contacting their new member or perhaps they have contacted somebody else. I believe it is worth reciting to this House some of the cases I have encountered. A family consisting of a husband and wife and 9 children, the husband being employed in a State government operation, namely, the Tasmanian railways, and having been transferred from Launceston to Hobart, found themselves having to wait week after week after week for a house. They were living in a caravan designed for honeymooners and tourists. This is a case involving a husband and wife and 9 children.
– That is his home?
-That is their home, as the honourable member for Griffith said.
– He would not want another honeymoon, would he?
– No. I am sure that the honourable member for Sydney is sympathetic. This man is an ordinary worker with the railways who was transferred from Launceston to Hobart. He would have lost his job had he not taken that transfer. He and his wife and 9 kiddies are living in a caravan. I came across a deserted wife living with her 3 children in a garage in one of the inner suburbs of Hobart. I came across another case of a supporting mother and 3 children living in a tent attached to a caravan. I encountered another case of a supporting deserted wife with 3 small children occupying a flat on the third floor of a Department of Housing building. She had to watch those kiddies 24 hours a day. The youngest one was found on the ledge of the balcony after she had walked from the sitting room for less than one minute.
I am sure that these are not isolated cases. I am sure there are similar cases right across the country. It seems to me terribly wrong that for some reason politicians- I blame politicians and include myself as I am a former State politicianand academics and advisers do not seem to come up with the proper solution. Somehow, somewhere along the line, we are getting to the situation where the housing problem in this country will be too big for any government to cure, notwithstanding the fact that this financial year the Government is spending $364m on housing.
I commend the Government and the Minister for Construction (Mr McLeay), who represents the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Senator Greenwood), for the fact that there has been no cutback in housing. I hope that that has brought approval from both sides of the House. Despite the acute budgetary situation there has been no cutback in housing and in approving this Bill we are approving precisely the same amount proposed by the previous Government in the 1975-76 Budget. I must say that Tasmania has done quite well and will be receiving $22m, approximately 6 per cent of the Australian total. For that allocation I express quite amicably my gratitude to the previous Government. I commend the present Government for not having cut it back, and I do not say that lightly. I add that an application from the Tasmanian Government for an additional short term benefit of the very small amount of $3m is regarded as being a matter of some importance in Tasmania. That application is being processed at present but hopefully it will be approved and will be available to Tasmania.
There is one particular matter I wish to mention on this occasion, something about which I feel very keenly. When decisions relating to housing are being made it is of the essence that they should be made in areas where priorities are most keenly observed and in areas where the priorities are best adjudged; and by that I refer to State governments and local government. It seems to me an extraordinary pity that a housing agreement was entered into in 1973 which will bind the Commonwealth and the States until 1978. By 1976 or 1977 it may become obvious to many of us that that agreement, although it might well have been the best available in 1973, is not going to be the best agreement to take us into the first half of the 1 980s. The proposition to which I specifically refer is the requirement that 30 per cent be the absolute maximum of funds available from the Commonwealth to the States which will be utilised for home ownership.
I do not believe that such a condition is a legitimate restriction on the right of State governments and the people living in those States to determine whether a person should have the right to buy a home. I was interested to find in the report of the Australian Institute of Urban Studies, to which I referred earlier, and in the paper which was debated back in October 1975 the surprising view expressed by many people that it is the people in the poorest income bracket who have a very strong desire, a particularly strong desire to buy their own homes. To me it is wrong to fetter the States with a conditionoriginally it was 20 per cent and now it is 30 per cent- which says that beyond a certain mark the States shall not permit one cent to be spent on houses which will be available for purchase. Similarly I think it is completely wrong and untenable that a person who goes into a home in accordance with a tenancy agreement and then wishes to become the purchaser, having improved that home and having tried to build it up and make it attractive for his family, finds that as his income has increased from the time he first became a tenant he is ineligible to become a purchaser because of the means test. It is morally wrong to deny that man the right to say: ‘I have been a tenant for 6 years and now I want to become a purchaser’.
I am no expert in this field and concede that point quite readily. It is a field into which I enter with some trepidation, even to speak in this debate. The point I urge upon the House is this: We should do everything as a government to give people the right to buy their own homes. I believe it is wrong to say to Australians: ‘You have the right to be citizens of this country, you have the right to vote, to drink, to drive motorcars and to do all these other things but the Government decrees that it is going to be difficult for you to buy your own homes. It is going to be difficult for you to get your own little piece of Australia upon which you can build your own little home which you can develop, which you an improve and which you can pass on to your children.’ As I understand it, it is the essence of the philosophy of the present Government to do everything conceivable to give Australians the right to buy their own homes. I understand that my honourable friends opposite take the view that tenancy is just as good. With respect to them, I am afraid that I do not agree.
I do not want to see Australia become a country of tenants and rent payers. I do not want to see Australians in the hands of landlords. I say that quite advisedly. I want to see Australians have the right to buy their own homes and the right to own their own little part of Australia. I believe that what I am saying tonight will have no effect until we come to debate appropriate legislation next year. It cannot affect the agreement which was entered into in August 1975. But
I hope that it will affect the thinking and the deliberations which take place over the next few months. With the dynamism and drive of our new federalism policy, with the States being given the opportunity to do things as they should have been permitted to do them under a federal system for 75 years- they are getting their first chance in the 76th year of our federation- I believe that we will be able to give the housing policy of this country a tremendous drive.
I use the words ‘housing policy’. Have we really got a housing policy? No- perhaps not. But with respect, I say that is not a mis-statement because in a federation, the problems of house owners in New South Wales may be totally different from those of house owners in South Australia. The priorities in Victoria might be quite different from those in Tasmania and Western Australia. I commend the Government for continuing the allocation as it has done. I hope that in the new federalism policy, we will see a situation where the important decisions will be made at grassroots level and that those who are meant to be served by the legislation we are passing tonight will be served by decisions made in the State where those people live and by the people who know them best. I support the Bill.
– in reply- I should like to thank the honourable members who have taken part in this debate. It has been a wide ranging one. Although the purpose of the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill is to authorise the Treasurer to advance to the States this financial year the sum of $364.6m for welfare housing, in fact those who have contributed to the debate have ranged right across the spectrum of housing and those aspects applying to it. I am sorry I was not present for the whole of the debate. I had an appointment which I could not break and I missed a couple of speeches. I do apologise for that. But I have received notes on what was said.
I think the main thing I would like to say at this stage is that in line with many of the comments put forward by honourable members speaking during this debate, the Government is concerned about aspects of the construction and housing industry, particularly in certain States. I shall certainly ensure that the contributions of honourable members are brought to the attention of the responsible Minister, who, of course is in another place. However, before moving on, I should like to comment on a couple of the contributions made by honourable members taking part in the debate. Firstly, I should like to deal with the contribution made by the Deputy
Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), who in the course of his speech made some charges which I believe need to be answered. I point out to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that this Bill is exactly the same as the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill (No. 2) of 1973 and the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill (No. 2) of 1974 except for appropriate differences in money amounts and the dates included in the Bill. So to suggest that in some way this Bill is a new departure is quite a long way from the actuality of the situation. In fact this Bill is identical with the Bill introduced by the Labor Government on 27 August 1975 to authorise advances in 1975-76, except for only one change and that is that 1975 was changed to 1976 in clause 1. At that stage of course the Bill was supported by the then Opposition but lapsed on the double dissolution.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition made a charge which I believe should be refuted. He said that in the second reading speech I had misled the House. This is not the case. The fact is that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition misread the speech, or if he has not misread the speech, he has not understood it. Probably the second is more accurate. The advances in respect of which provision is made in clause 7 are advances made to the States prior to the commencement of the Act- not after the commencement of the Act but prior to the commencement of this Act. They are exactly the same provisions as appeared in the Bill introduced by the honourable member’s Government last year. So to suggest that in some way I have misled the House in the second reading speech just does not accord with the facts.
Also, the honourable member’s statement that clause 8 is a new departure in providing advances of $ 182.3 m which may be made in the first 6 months of 1976-77, that is, from 1 July 1976 to 31 December 1976, is not correct. Again I point out that a similar clause has been included in this Act every year under the previous administration. So I should like to make it quite clear to the honourable member that in this case there was no new material introduced apart from the changing of the dates and there was certainly no misleading of the House.
The honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) made a typically thoughtful speech -
– Oh, good. I was wondering what you would say about it.
– The honourable member for Lilley, in making this typically thoughtful speech was canvassing issues which are wider than those included in the actual provisions of the Bill. But I do believe that the contribution he made did provide some food for thought in relation to the actions of the Government in the future. Certainly the 3 major points that he brought forward in relation to the Commonwealth Savings Bank and the future of the building societies in Queensland -
– And New South Wales.
-And the building societies in New South Wales- should be brought to the attention of the Minister. I certainly will undertake to do that. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson)- a previous Minister for Housing- in his contribution said that the amount under the Bill for 1975-76 had been reduced from the 1974-75 amount. He took us to task a little bit for that. I just point out to the honourable member for Hughes that in fact it was his own administration which undertook this reduction of funds. We have carried on the figures as brought into effect by the previous Labor administration. So any criticism of the reduction of funds should not be levelled at us so much as levelled at the honourable member’s own people. He also said that the 1 1 463 commencements for 1974-75 was a record. In fact, this is not so. Housing agreements commencments exceeded this figure of 1 1 463 in 1970-7 1, 1969-70, 1966-67 and in 1964-65. 1 think it is not unreasonable to point out that all these years were years of a Liberal-Country Party Government. In fact the record that the honourable member for Hughes claims is not a record and falls well short of previous commencments undertaken under previous Liberal-Country Party Governments.
The honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) suggested that the funding agreements should be amended to allow the South Australia Housing Trust to borrow on the capital market. If the honourable member for Adelaide checks this matter out he will find that the South Australia Housing Trust borrows against a loan program approved by the Australian Loan Council at rates determined by the Loan Council and in accordance with the provisions of the gentlemen’s agreement. Perhaps this is another case in which the honourable gentleman should do a little bit more investigation before he makes these statements. He also contends that the $364.6m for 1975-76 was intended by the Labor administration as a first instalment and that more would have been made available later in this year as had been done in 1974-75. Well, the honourable member can contend that but it is doubtful, if one looks at the history of the Labor Government’s decision, in preparing the 1975-76 Budget, to reduce the allocation from $385.4m last year to $364.6m this year. Whilst he can say that additional moneys would have been made available the fact that the amounts were reduced by his own Administration does not lend credence to his contention.
The honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) mentioned that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement should be amended to delete the needs test provisions and also to remove the restrictions on the sale of homes, a point that was also brought up by the last speaker in the debate, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman). The introduction of fairly uniform needs tests in the States was considered desirable when the Housing Agreement was being formulated in 1973 because of the wide disparity in eligibility conditions in the States at the time. There is a measure of flexibility in that each State may elect to adopt either the Australian figure or its own State figure for average weekly earnings in calculating its needs test. The Agreement provides further flexibility by allowing up to 1 5 per cent of the family dwellings provided by State housing authorities under the Agreement to be allocated to applicants outside the needs test. In relation to the removal of restrictions on the sale of homes, I point out to honourable members that the purpose of these restrictions is to build up the stock of rental dwellings as quickly as possible, thus reducing the period for which an applicant has to wait for a rental dwelling. It is suggested that in time this will also reduce the volume of funds required from year to year to replace dwellings that are sold. For instance, it was calculated in 1973 that the cost of replacing 22 700 Housing Commission dwellings in Sydney, which had been built at a cost of $126m, would be of the order of $500m. However, there are suggestions that each State should be allowed to decide for itself whether dwellings should be sold. This was the point raised by the honourable member for Denison.
The contribution of the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) was, I think, highlighted by a quite unprovoked attack on the honourable member for Petrie who I believe put forward a quite reasonable suggestion that Australians have a wish to own their own homes. The honourable member for Burke, as is his right, contended that this is not the case. I believe- this is only a belief on my part; as the honourable member for Burke stated, I do not have the figures to back it up-that if one looks at the evidence around us the contention that people do wish to own their own homes is supported by fairly solid evidence in the form of bricks and mortar which is available to be seen in every major city of Australia. The speech of the honourable member for Burke was notable for the fact that he came right out into the open and said as a good socialist that there should be only one owner of land in Australia, and that should be Big Brother government. However, I would commend the honourable member’s contribution because of bis support for new housing methods. The honourable member obviously has some specific expertise in this area. I agree with him on a personal level that there are advances which could be made in building techniques and certainly ones which should be looked at. If we can in some way bring down the costs of building this would benefit everybody. Overall, I think it has been a most interesting debate. I thank honourable members for their contributions to it and I reiterate that I shall make sure that their contributions are brought to the attention of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Senator Greenwood).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr MacKellar) read a third time.
The. following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
States Grants (Fruit Canneries) Bill 1976. Dried Vine Fruits Stabilization Amendment Bill 1976.
Debate resumed from 18 March on motion by Mr Viner:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I should like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the States Grants (Universities) Amendment Bill, the States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill, the
States Grants (Advanced Education) Amendment Bill and the States Grants (Technical and Further Education) Amendment Bill as they are associated measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 5 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 5 measures? There being no objection, I shall allow that course to be followed.
– At the outset let me say that the Opposition does not oppose the legislation or any section of it. It comprises, as suggested by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner), who represents the Minister for Education, a series of 5 Bills. We approve all of them but we wish to make a few comments. The legislation now submitted to the Parliament is in accordance with the previous Government’s intention that the funding, whether it be in the universities area, the colleges of advanced education area or the technical colleges area, be virtually for the calendar year 1976. We are not dealing with what might be deemed to be the normal triennium. In other words, this is a special year and the legislation is special in the sense that it relates to the cost of funding these various institutions for this particular year.
The first piece of legislation introduced by the Minister was the States Grants (Universities) Bill 1976. This Bill provides for substantial sums of money to be given to the State governments by way of grant for the universities in those States for the year 1976 in accordance with the information given to this House last year following the special investigation of the needs by the Universities Commission. In other words the funding is in accordance with the recommendations for 1976 which were also explicitly explained to the House in a statement made by my colleague the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) who was then the Minister for Education. The House will note that that statement indicated that the purpose of this Bill is to provide funds for the recurrent expenditure in 1976 to be maintained at the existing standard level and the expenditure on capital projects already commenced to be continued. It also includes provision for major new facilities at the universities specified in the schedule to the Bill.
May I make just a few comments on the States Grants (Universities) Bill which I think would apply also to the other pieces of legislation being considered in this cognate debate. There is deemed to be a relevant period which is the period that commenced on 20 November 1975 and which will end on the day immediately preceding the day on which the legislation receives royal assent. In other words, we are having to fund for a period that is current. This is to be done by way of reimbursement of the State governments who have already expended moneys in supporting, in the first Bill being considered, universities. There are provisions also for special funding of these grants in what I might deem to be a novel way. I notice that the States Grants (Universities) Bill provides in clause 2 1 that certain funding in accordance with clause 1 1 and clause 16 can be done out of either Consolidated Revenue or the Loan Fund. I think that is a significant matter for comment because I remember when in government we had difficulties in trying to convince Treasury officials that capital works, for example, could always be funded other than by Consolidated Revenue. This Bill seems to be clearly indicating that these particular capital expenditure schedules may be funded from Loan Fund. I think this could have some significance because such an arrangement could affect the deficit result in the budgetary situation. It is of some significance. I do not know whether the Minister will comment on this matter when he is replying, but the Opposition does notice it.
I now turn to the States Grants (Universities) Amendment Bill which is ancillary to the States Grants (Universities) Bill. In one short concise statement, this Bill will provide the additional moneys necessary to reimburse the States for moneys already expended in the triennium period. This legislation involves a $25m additional grant to the States, and makes a total contribution for the triennium of $1,1 67m. We support that legislation.
The next Bill is the States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill which provides for recurrent expenditure and capital expenditure. As I understand the situation, the Bill provides $296m for recurrent expenditure, $56m for capital expenditure and $lm in respect of administration costs for residential colleges. I note that there is some reference to a particular situation in Kalgoorlie. Apparently there is not- and I emphasise the word ‘apparently’- the support that was expected for the School of Mines by way of a college of advanced education. The Partridge report, which is a State report in Western Australia, deals with this matter. It is thought that this development can be suspended pending a determination of the State Government. The Opposition understands that to be the position and accordingly supports this legislation on that basis. The Opposition has not been able to check the situation in detail as it relates to the people of Kalgoorlie. I would assume that the Partridge report is accurate in the sense that no further expenditure should take place at Kalgoorlie if there is to be some phasing out or if the money is to be expended in technical college development there. To that extent we have no objection to the proposal.
The Minister in his second reading speech stated:
The funding in accordance to the established procedures to maintain values against cost increases will carry on until the end of 1976.
I do not think it is thought, nor should it be thought and I do not think that the Minister intended, that it would not carry on after 1976, the established procedures being procedures that would pick up the normal indexation inflationary aspect of funding. I just mention that because one of our colleagues thought there may be a difficulty in the future if the established procedures were deemed to apply only in 1976. I would presume and expect, and at any rate suggest, that this procedure would apply in all future funding of colleges of advanced education.
The States Grants (Advanced Education) Amendment Bill is an ancilliary piece of legislation to the States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill and also deals with colleges of advanced education. It seeks to reimburse the States or to pay the States for the additional expenditure in which they have been involved because of the cost escalation that has taken place during the triennium. This Bill involves additional moneys totalling $21m and makes a total of $743m payable for the triennium in respect of colleges of advanced education.
The fifth and final Bill is the States Grants (Technical and Further Education) Amendment Bill which seeks to amend the States Grants (Technical and Further Education) Act. This Act is slightly different from the others in that funding in the technical field was directly related to the financial year period and therefore would expire on 30 June next. The intention and design of the Bill is to carry the funding through to the end of this calendar year, so it is for a 6-month period. In other words, the legislation extends the funding from 1 July 1976 to the end of this year. I understand that the amount involved escalates by some $23.2m. Accordingly, the legislation covers some of the costs that have already occurred by way of escalation. The beneficiaries are detailed in the various schedules and are in accordance with the recommendations of the Technical and Further Education Commission and what was suggested by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) when he was Minister for Education. The Commission produced a report on recommendations for grants to the States for this period. That report was tabled in this House together with the Minister’s comments on it.
Very significant advances have been made in the field of technical education. Great progress has been made. I note that in the 2-year period since 1974 an additional 114000 enrolments have taken place in technical education throughout Australia. We welcome that increase.
In summary, the Opposition supports all S pieces of legislation. I would like to make a final comment. The national Parliament is often accused of being Big Brother and of interfering. Some people believe that it should stay out of the area of what are deemed to be State rights. But it has a definite role to play. The national Parliament can establish the needs of citizens, particularly in the education field. By setting up various commissions it is also able to work in close collaboration with the States and thereby identify their particular needs. If one looks at the immense amount of money involved in education granted by the national Government one must applaud the fact that there has been this interest in education at the national level. This interest cuts right across the political spectrum. It is not limited to the present Opposition and we give praise to previous governments in this respect. As a result education now is one of the most significant areas of expenditure in any Budget. I would suggest that it is one of the most important.
By becoming so involved as a national Parliament we have been able to achieve some uniformity of development in education throughout Australia. We have been able to get some idea of standards. We can offer new suggestions to the States and they in turn can offer them back to the national Parliament. One can readily appreciate how defective the educational standards would be if the national support were not there. Accordingly, I think, it is important that we maintain this interest by way of support for the States ‘ programs. By giving every person the opportunity for the best education to utilise his or her talents we are guaranteeing a very effective democracy. We are guaranteeing that people in Australia, despite variations in their pecuniary ability, have a chance to learn and develop their talents whether it be at universities, colleges of advanced education or technical colleges. The legislation before us is very significant. I am delighted that the present Government has continued to support it. Accordingly, the Opposition wishes a speedy passage to the legislation.
– I rise to support the 5 Bills before us which provide for the payment of grants to the States for various aspects of post-secondary education. In my remarks I will not be dealing so much with the first 2 Bills which deal with universities but rather with the 3 other Bills which relate to advanced education and technical and further education. I regretted that in the 1975 Budget there was a break in the triennial funding program for post-secondary education. Accordingly, the Bills now before the House are to provide finance for this year, before the recommencement of the triennial funding program. Whilst I regretted that break in the triennial program, I believe that it does have the compensating factor of giving us an opportunity to re-examine where we stand in the development of post-secondary educational facilities in this country so that the new triennial program can be embarked upon with some sort of evaluation in mind.
I want to make some remarks which are related to the role played in this country by colleges of advanced education and to some of the factors that ought to be considered in respect of future funding programs. In recent years there has been a remarkable spread of colleges of advanced education. Many of these colleges have provided many worthwhile initiatives in education. They have provided an avenue for many people, who otherwise would not qualify in the normal universities to gain a post-secondary education. Some of the worthwhile initiatives shown by the colleges have been in the development of courses which have filled gaps not covered in courses in the standard institutions which existed previously. Let me give a few small examples of the sorts of gaps that have been filled by various institutions of this nature. The Canberra College of Advanced Education has developed some very useful courses on local government administration, which is an increasingly important area of public administration in Australia. The College has provided for that need in a way that I believe no other tertiary institution in Australia is.
In my own capital city of Melbourne, the Caulfield Institute of Technology has developed some very useful and very pertinent computer courses. The courses can be used by managers in various businesses who may not have had the opportunity to become familiar with computer technology in the days when they undertook their initial education. Such people would include managers of businesses who must learn something about modern management information systems which employ computer techniques, accountants who must become familiar with the increasingly common systems of computerised financial reporting, and production managers who need some training in modern computerised methods of production control. The initiatives that have been taken are very useful, and no one would doubt that the money spent in developing the courses has been very well spent indeed. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology has developed some very useful management diploma courses of a type that are not provided in the university Master of Business Administration programs which often require people to attend for a year of full-time study at some stage during the course. The RMIT courses provide for the young business executive who must devote a great deal of time to his occupation but wants to gain some extra skills and insights by way of this type of study. The Caulfield Institute of Technology also has developed some very useful courses in administration.
However, there are developments in the colleges of advanced education which I believe give cause for some concern. There seems to be an increasing desire on the part of many of the colleges to develop a wide range of courses and a wide range of faculties which would turn them into copies of universities. I think we have to evaluate this trend and consider the extent to which we are getting value for our money in this development. It seems that many of the colleges of advanced education want to become universities. They want to offer a wide range of degrees or diplomas in the liberal arts or general studies. I fear that in seeking to staff these courses the colleges are spreading their resources too thinly and may not get the appropriate staff to develop courses of an adequate standard. I appreciate that the courses have a great value for many people who are coming back to education at a later stage in life- people who perhaps left school at a very early age and need to regain the habits of study. Many of the courses that have been developed by the colleges of advanced education are designed to cater for that sort of student who needs a gradual introduction to the methods of study so that he or she can then embark on a more rigorous vocational training of some sort in a rather more well-defined discipline. But I fear that a number of the courses are becoming courses for people who want something to do with their time, and perhaps we ought to be looking at types of facilities other than colleges of advanced education. If the resources of those colleges are spread too thinly many of the courses could become amorphous, do-nothing courses.
I mentioned that there is a search after status on the part of many of the colleges, and that is evidenced by the extent to which they seek to become degree-granting institutions. In seeking to grant a large number of degrees over a wide range of disciplines, I fear that the colleges could be in danger of debasing the value of those degrees in the long term. If a college of advanced education is offering a course which provides expertise in a particular subject, such as the local government area which is a specialty of the Canberra College of Advanced Education, then a qualification in that subject or that discipline at that particular institution will be valued and regarded very highly throughout the community. But, if there is a proliferation of degrees in general studies, the liberal arts or whatever they might be called, I fear that in the long run they will be regarded as fairly worthless bits of paper. I recall that some years ago it was a fairly standard joke to talk in the American context about a Ph.D. who had been to one of the second rate institutions in America and had taken out his Ph.D. after 18 months of part-time study, or something of that nature. I am not suggesting that we are going to that length in this country, but I feel that our tertiary institutions of education ought to be careful when developing their range of courses, that they do not debase the value of the qualifications they issue.
I should like to make passing reference to something the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) said in the second reading speech on the States Grants (Advanced Education) Amendment Bill 1976. He said:
The Bill also amends the schedules to show changed names for some colleges and incorporates a number of approved transfers of funds . . .
The change of name in the case of a number of these colleges indicates the sort of search after status that is evident. Every technical college becomes an Institute of Technology, and I do not object to that to any great extent. But if one looks through the schedule of names of the various institutes one finds that the longest name is that of a particular institution in Victoria. In Queensland the Brisbane Kindergarten Teachers College is still called the Kindergarten
Teachers College. In New South Wales the Sydney Kindergarten Teachers College is still called the Kindergarten Teachers College. But in Victoria the old Melbourne Kindergarten Teachers College- -MKTC as it was known- has now become the State College of Victoria- Institute of Early Childhood Development. I am not quite sure who evolved that name, but it seems to me that we have got into the habit of looking for grandiose names for our institutions. I make that only as a passing reference as to the way in which we seem to be searching for status in so much of our tertiary education.
Another factor in the development of colleges of advanced education has been a growing debate on the role of research in those institutions. When advanced education was reported on by the Martin Committee it recommended that increased opportunities in post-secondary vocational education were important for Australia’s future needs. The basic philosophy behind the formation of colleges of advanced education was that these institutions would provide genuine alternatives to universities for vocationally oriented students. I gather it was not anticipated that colleges of advanced education would have a great role to play in research. That was seen to be the university’s role. I have not made up my own mind on the role of research in colleges of advanced education, but I do believe that it is a subject that needs a great deal of consideration before we go much further in the development of this form of educational institution.
I would commend to the House an article written by Beresford Stock, a senior lecturer in the School of Pharmacy at the South Australian Institute of Technology which can be found in the Australian Journal of Advanced Education of October last year. It is a very sober analysis of the factors for and against having research activity in colleges of advanced education. Beresford Stock comes out on the side of having research activity in colleges of advanced education on the basis that to attract the sort of staff you need you must be able to provide that community of scholars in which research can take place. I agree that that is a valid consideration. However, I just raise the question about the extent to which we ought to be encouraging research in colleges of advanced education and whether here we have another case of these institutions spreading their resources too thinly. I commend that article to the House as being a very useful contribution to the debate on that subject.
Of course there are some types of research which one can see are relevant and valid for a college of advanced education to undertake. In certain disciplines it is impossible to teach those disciplines unless you are really involved in the work of developing a body of thought on them. In the technical area, for example, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology has an organisation called Technisearch which can undertake contract research for commercial clients. This is a very useful inclusion in the total program of RMIT because it enables people within RMIT to see their training put into practice while they still have the opportunity within that institution to evaluate it and to see what sort of result it can have. That is obviously a very useful teaching aid, if I may put it in those terms. Also, in the business administration schools that we have in both universities and colleges of advanced education there is usually a requirement or a recommendation that lecturing staff in those courses should undertake some outside business consulting work so that they are kept in touch with the business world. This means that they are dealing with real problems rather than teaching students from the point of view of an academic ivory tower. There may be other avenues of research that are also valid but I raise the question as to the extent to which research has a part in colleges of advanced education.
I want to deal with a couple of other relatively small matters, in terms of the time that I will spend on them, that are marginally related to these Bills, and that is why I will spend only a small amount of time on them. I noticed recently in the newsletter of the Technical and Further Education Commission mention of the Commission’s research and investigation program which included some work that was being done on adult migrant education. I do not know what the long term plans for migrant education are or just who will be co-ordinating migrant education in this country. I think it is fair to say that a number of different programs of migrant education have been developed by various bodies- by the Department of Education in the Commonwealth sphere, by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and by other various State bodies- which do need some coordination. Let me give an example of where coordination is obviously badly needed. I have drawn this to the attention of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs because I think it is of concern to him in the ethnic affairs part of his portfolio.
In my electorate is the Eastbridge Hostel where, as honourable members may know, a number of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians have recently arrived. That hostel, as do other Commonwealth hostels, has an Education Centre. The structure of that education centre is as follows- I gather that it is not just limited to Eastbridge and that there is a similar situation existing in other centres: Firstly, the Language Training Supervisor in charge of that centre is employed by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. The teachers who have to teach the various courses with her are supplied by the Migrant Education Branch of the Victorian Education Department. The buildings and furniture which they use belong to Commonwealth Hostels Ltd. The teaching equipment is supplied by the Commonwealth Department of Education. I think honourable members can see that there are the seeds of lack of co-ordination at the very least. I have pointed this out to the Minister and suggested that someone has to control because if the language training supervisor determines in her best judgment that a certain type of course ought to be designed and the Migrant Education Branch of the Victorian Education Department takes an attitude that the teachers should not be teaching that sort of course in certain hours, there is obviously a source of some conflict. I believe it is just symptomatic of the situation of adult migrant education in this country. As I have said, that is marginally related to the Bills, so I will now move off that subject.
On the matter of adult education in the community I want to develop the thought that perhaps a number of the general courses which are being offered by colleges of advanced education could be offered by other sorts of institutions. It may well be that we do not need to have a college of advanced education for some of these general courses which are used by people as a way of updating their educational skills, learning the habits of study, perhaps even just doing something to involve themselves in the community such as getting out of the house and meeting other people. There may be all types of motives for undertaking a course and perhaps what we need to do is to develop some of the secondary technical schools, for example, in a way that enables them to be used to a much greater extent for adult classes rather than just the teenage classes which tends to be their emphasis at the present time. It may well be that we can find a good use for the facilities that already exists in the community or that are being developed for use at a limited time of the day. Perhaps we can get some extra usage out of them during the evenings. I have indeed made that suggestion to a group of people in my own electorate in Croydon who are presently putting together a submission to the State Minister for Education to try to convince him to develop a new co-educational technical school in the Croydon area. I have suggested that in planning for that school the authorities ought to take into account the lack of adult education facilities in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MartinOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I have a basic belief that when everybody agrees on something there is probably something wrong with that proposition; that if everybody or apparently everybody is agreeing that one must not criticise huge expenditure on tertiary education there is probably some rip-off involved; and that there are some questions which ought to be raised before everybody in this House pats the Government on the back as they patted the previous Government and will pat future governments for escalating expenditure on tertiary education.
I would like to draw the attention of the House to certain examples. Expenditure for colleges of advanced education for the triennium 1973-75 was $743m. For 1976 it will be $353m plus cost adjustments which became inevitable as a result of increases since last year. The proposal for 1976-78, which is in the report which recommended the amount for the triennium 1976-78, which was later suspended by the previous Government, is $ 1,682m at December 1974 costs. The corresponding figures for universities are: For the triennium 1973-75, $l,167m; for 1976, $498m plus cost adjustments. The proposed expenditure for 1976-78 is $l,780m at December 1974 costs. These were huge expenditures which had been recommended to the previous Government. They have been partly accepted and partly deferred. Similar figures will be again recommended for the next triennium.
There is an assumption that we must go back to the funding of universities and colleges of advanced education on a triennial basis. The proposal is justified on the basis that it enables colleges and universities to plan ahead, to expand and to do everything nicely. I am sure everybody in this community would like a guarantee that nothing can happen to them, at least for the next 3 years. Is this a reasonable proposition in a country which is trying to curtail expenditure? Is it not an elitist attempt to exclude spending on tertiary education from discussion and bargaining even though every other government department must submit to discussion and bargaining? Primary and secondary education, social security, health, housing, transport and everything else must be submitted to discussion and bargaining. I assume the relevant Ministers go to Cabinet before the Budget is drawn up and justify expenditure or fight a decrease in expenditure if there is an attempt to decrease it. Each year they get in there and bargain. For some reason or other, colleges of advanced education and universities try to get out of that bargaining by saying that they want to be funded on a triennial basis. I do not think the community at large necessarily accepts that proposition. I certainly do not. There is a danger that the most vocal groups in the community the groups in the community best able to express their point of view, are able to get away with what I call a rip off in education.
There have been these huge increases in expenditure on education. I am sure they have been of benefit to many students individually, but I am not so sure that they can be justified at a time when huge economies are contemplated in other areas of expenditure. We pamper university staffs and other staffs. I have not prepared my speech to any great extent.
– That is obvious.
– If the honourable member for Angas thinks about it he will realise that there is a limited amount of money available for expenditure by the Government. We are continually told that. He will also realise that the money committed to tertiary education takes a considerable amount away from that limited amount of money. We must discuss priorities.
University staffs have certain additional benefits. I refer to sabbaticals, for example. As I understand the history of sabbaticals, they were introduced into universities over 30 years ago, before the war, when Australian universities were treated as outposts of the Empire and it was difficult to attract competent lecturers and staff to Australian universities. They were promised that occasionally, once every six or seven years, they would be able to get back into the main stream in Europe, Britain or the United States of America and refresh their professional knowledge. Sabbaticals are no longer needed. There is no difficulty in staffing universities with our graduates or attracting able overseas graduates. There are able overseas graduates willing and keen to come to Australia. We cannot appoint all of them because there are not enough vacancies. Why do we still keep the sabbatical? Why has that become a holy cow? Only one group in the community is entitled to it. Now it seems to be one year off in every 5 years, plus travel expenses. That could be justified if we could not attract professional people under ordinary pay and conditions. Why should we still do that? Surely that sort of thing should be investigated and discussed, not just accepted as something which cannot be disputed at any stage.
I am a representative of this House on the Council of the Australian National University. From that Council I was appointed to its housing sub-committee. Last year I became aware- I am sure it was not a new discovery for most of the people who had been on the ANU Council for some time- that the rents charged for about 550 dwellings controlled and owned by the University were significantly less than the rents which the Rent Controller permits one to charge in Canberra. As most honourable members would know, it is extremely difficult to obtain rental accommodation in Canberra at controlled rents. Yet the University was not charging those rates; it was charging significantly less. It was not doing that for people who could not afford to pay full rents; it was doing that for people who were earning very much more than the average weekly earnings- professors, lecturers, senior lecturers, etc. I have no objection to subsidised rents for people who can put up a case that they need it. Obviously the rents of graduate students who are getting very poor incomes, about $3,000 or $4,000 a year, must be subsidised. I think very few people would dispute that. Is it really fair to subsidise the rent of a person who is getting over $20,000 a year? I think it is wrong to do so.
– What about politicians?
– I think it is wrong to subsidise the rents of politicians, Ministers, etc. There is nothing I can do about that. I thought it was wrong on the part of the ANU. By increasing the rents for the buildings owned by the ANU to the rates permitted by the Rent Controller, and still allowing deductions for those people who were entitled to reduced rents because of low income, a sum approaching $ 1 m extra will be obtained in rents by the ANU. It was not $ lm. If I remember rightly, it was over $800,000 a year. This was a tremendous amount. What possible justification could there be for taxpayers subsidising well off university staff for their accommodation?
I pay tribute at this stage to Mr Coleman, who is the relatively new bursar at the Australian National University, and to Professor Ian Ross who is one of the Deputy Vice-Chancellors. I think those are their positions. I can never quite remember the terminology of the hierarchy there. They took a leading part in bringing about these rent increases and were able to save the taxpayer a large amount of money. It is important to do that. I have mentioned only those 2 points- sabbaticals and subsidised grants, although subsidised grants no longer apply here and, I assume, never did apply in other areas of Australia. However, sabbaticals do apply in other areas in Australia and I am sure that if we went into the items of tertiary education expenditure we would find many other points which could be discussed in greater detail.
There is a proposition that we continually have to increase staff to reduce the student-staff ratio. I know that this is a pleasant thing to do if for no other reason than to promote people almost automatically because others come in at a junior level or below them. But can that necessarily be justified? Is there any evidence that we need a larger staff at universities? Maybe there is but I have not been shown that evidence and I have some doubt whether the people on the Universities Commission have been clearly convinced of the need for it. Certain assumptions are made.
In conclusion, I come back to my original point. Education, especially tertiary education, has become a holy cow in this country. People do not attack it or criticise it and, what is much worse, they do not question it If we accept the proposition that there should always be triennial funding, the difficulty as I see it is that there will never be any questioning because we are allocating expenditure for a 3-year period. It looks a huge amount of money and people will say: ‘ It is for 3 years, though’. Consequently we do not get down to details and do not question individual items of expenditure. That is bad: I am probably in a minority comprising only a few members of my own Party in expressing that point of view, but it is an issue which ought to be discussed in the community and in this Parliament when we are prepared to sit down and slash other expenditure which may well be much more justified than the expenditure on tertiary education.
– I am pleased to be able to make a contribution to this debate following that made by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). He may be somewhat surprised at the comments I am about to make. I was very impressed with his speech, as were some of my colleagues. In fact, some of them had the gall to suggest that perhaps it was time that he thought of joining us on this side of the House where one is free from the usual Party strictures in government and can make constructive contributions. It is pleasing to see that now that he is free from the shackles of government the honourable member, a member of the Opposition, is free to give to subjects some of that independent thought of which we know he is so capable and to put it before the House so constructively as he did this evening.
I wanted to make some general observations which are not totally in line with his because I do not have the knowledge that he has of the particular matters that he has mentioned, arising out of his own experience on the Australian National University Council. I am not sure that the words that he used, that is, that there has been in this area a gigantic rip-off, are fully justified. Generally speaking, I do believe that we have to be prepared to look at the tertiary area as much as any other area of government expenditure to satisfy ourselves that we are getting value for money and that the people we are turning out as graduates are able to play a worthwhile and constructive role after we have spent the large amount of public money that we do spend on bringing them to the point where they can call themselves graduates of a university or college of advanced education.
When one sits down and tries to do a cost benefit analysis of what a university degree means to the community and what it means to the person, it becomes a very difficult exercise. Those who have tried to give us some idea of what the benefits are as against the cost to the community have found it a difficult struggle. Notwithstanding the fact that there are no results from these studies and that the decisions are very much subjective, we should not allow our decisions in these areas to be guided so often by our emotions. In some of the past Universities Commission reports suggestions have been made that we ought not to leave it to the experts to tell us how much should be spent because these matters are largely for political decision.
The Bills that we are debating tonight, particularly the Bills in relation to universities, arise out of the 1976 recommendations of the Universities Commission, the one year when the triennium report was rejected by the former Government. In the introduction to the sixth report of the Universities Commission the criteria laid down by the former Government for determining programs for 1 976 are set out as follows:
Those were the criteria which the Commission had to work on and they formed the basis for its report. Clearly the matters raised by the honourable member for Prospect are not matters that the Commission in this report was able to consider, although no doubt in the preparation of its report for the next triennium these matters amongst others would quite possibly be open for review. The recommendation was accepted by the former Government and, from the report which forms the basis for this legislation, it was accepted by the present Government that recurrent expenditure is to be set at a level which maintains the present standards. Similarly, the same number of students in the relative age groups are to go on to university and tertiary education generally. These are important matters that we ought to consider.
I was very concerned about the cost benefit situation. As I mentioned earlier, the benefit of a university education accrues to the individual and to the society as a whole. They may be quantifiable in money terms or they may be, more subjective, in terms of human development and development of the intellect. But how does one quantify these benefits in a report? How does one undertake an analysis of these questions? Where does one bring into account the costs borne by students and families, including the income forgone during a period of study to gain employment later at a higher level and, presumably, with higher remuneration, and the cost of educational subsidies both direct and indirect? We have a situation now where tertiary education is free. In 1969 at the request of the Universities Commission while working on its report for the 1973-75 triennium, certain cost studies were initiated and costs were taken out for full-time students in particular faculties in Australian universities as at 1969. These were estimated by Dr C. Selby-Smith. I notice that it was suggested in the report that the results of this study closely resembled those gained by Dr B. R. Williams in his study for the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee reported in The Australian University of July 1972. Included is a table which sets out the cost but I will deal only with the total cost by way of faculty in 1969. The total cost for a full-time student in the faculty of veterinary science was $4,374; in agricultural science, $3,641; in medicine $3,479; in dentistry, $3,371; in engineering, $3,302; in science, $2,177; in architecture, $1,117; in arts, $1,535; in education, $1,456; in law, $1,363; and in economics, $1,334. That study was made in 1969; but, so far as I know, there have been no further studies on these matters. It would appear to me that those costs would be much higher today, particularly now that university fees have been done away with. Those studies indicate the cost to the community of producing a graduate in each of the faculties. As I mentioned, the cost in veterinary science was $4,374.
– It is much less in the faculty of law.
– It is much less in comparison. These are the costs that the community bears in order to produce graduates, without really knowing whether they are to be used effectively and without really having achieved adequate methods for manpower forecasting. Although there are problems associated with demands, there is certainly a recognition in the Universities Commission studies that social demand ought to have a place so that people who want to go to university, within reason, can be accommodated over and above what are recognised manpower needs. In universities in Sydney, in the arts faculties in particular, we have already seen evidence that we are producing more graduates than we are able to employ gainfully, and there ought to be greater consideration of the manpower needs. These questions ultimately must relate to the cost of university education and tertiary education generally.
These are the questions which this year have been largely overlooked and have not been part of an overall study by the Commission. Certainly the report upon which the programs for these Bills are being based is on the expenditure proposals fixed on the criteria in the report that I mentioned.
– I think your figures are yearly figures, not total figures.
-That may well be so.
– I am sure that medicine costs more than $3,600 for the 6-year course.
-I will clarify that for the honourable member. The figures related to the cost per equivalent full-time student for particular faculties in 1969. So they were average annual costs. I appreciate the honourable member making that clear. I do not think I alluded to whether they were yearly or total costs of producing graduates. We ought to know, in assessing our priorities, what these costs are. We ought to be prepared to look at them as individual members of Parliament, sometimes even perhaps across party boundaries if that can be achieved more often than it is. Clearly the matter in the report was from the direction of the former Government. The former Minister for Education, the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley), indicated that he accepted responsibility for the direction of the report. I certainly was very pleased with the recognition by the honourable member for Prospect of the need for us to look at spending in this area. I think it was implicit in what he was saying that he recognised the need to examine spending in all areas as this Government is doing.
I mention two other matters in relation to the problems facing students vis-a-vis capital expenditure in the universities and vis-a-vis the whole of the expenditure program that we now have. Tertiary allowances have to be considered by us also. I believe that the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) has these very much in mind, but clearly there ought to be a general recognition of the problems that we have with the tertiary allowance scheme as it was introduced by the former Government. I have raised from time to time some matters that have concerned me in relation to the administration of that scheme. When I spoke on the States Grants (Universities) Bill 197S last year I raised specific examples which I will not raise again but which I believe still need to be looked at.
I also mention the problems of university colleges. In the period of inflation through which we have been, from which we are still suffering and which we are endeavouring to control, university colleges, particularly at the newer universities, have had real problems which we have to recognise. When I spoke on the States Grants ( Universities) Bill 1975 I alluded to the problems faced by universities, such as Macquarie University, and I dare say Flinders University, Murdoch University and La Trobe University. Each of these universities in establishing colleges has led private organisations, very often church sponsored organisations, into a situation where they have had to raise a large amount of money to build new colleges. They have been faced with tremendous interest problems in servicing the money they had to borrow to build the colleges. Their problem is very different from the problem of funding and subsidising colleges in the older and more established universities. There was some recognition of the problem in the Universities Commission report in paragraph 8.1, which states:
The Commission is proposing the same increased level of recurrent grants for affiliated residential colleges and halls of residence as is recommended in . . . the Sixth Report.
I submit that that in itself does not recognise the particular problems which I know newer universities face as a result of interest charges on the debts that they have incurred in building colleges. I know that that again is a matter that the Minister has very much in mind. It may well be that some of the money from cost savings that could be initiated in these areas- the honourable member for Prospect canvassed the problems involved- might have to be expended in other areas. I believe that some of the priorities have to be looked at a little more closely than they have been to date.
It must be recognised that in this area of expenditure in which we have accepted the legislation prepared for the former Government, based upon the Universities Commission report and based upon the other reports received by the former Government, expenditures were generally pared very much in comparison with other expenditure programs that the previous Government permitted to go on. I submit that in the universities area and in the education area generally efforts to reduce expenditure had been made previously. This is the reason why the area of education, particularly as evidenced by the Bills that we are now discussing, has been left largely unimpaired in terms of the approach that this Government has taken to date. This is the reason why we have accepted fairly readily the reports and recommendations that we have received. But I do not think acceptance of those points in any way detracts from the need to examine very closely the total area of expenditure in universities. I think it gives the Government good reason to examine fairly closely the comments of the honourable member for Prospect, perhaps to submit to the Universities Commission that some of these matters are open for review, and to demand of the Universities Commission that a good deal more thought be given to these questions which I have raised on cost benefit and on manpower needs. Those things will have to be done if we are to get value for money in this area.
– I wish to deal mainly with the future rather than with the past. My reason for doing so is reports, which are now emanating, to the effect that financial guidelines are to be placed by Treasury upon the various education commissions and in fact that that has already been done. If it has been done, it is an unprecedented action. I refer to a report which appeared in the Australian Financial Review in the last few days. The report states a decision of the present Government to impose financial guidelines on the recommendations of the Schools Commission has delayed the Commission’s report. The article then goes on to point out that the report which was due at the end of this month will not now be finalised until June. The Government has given instructions- that is tantamount to what it says- that no publicity should be given to these financial guidelines because the Schools Commission has always independently- I make the point that it uses the word ‘independently’- formulated its recommendations on education expenditure.
In other words, there are two important points to be noted in this: Firstly, it is an interference with the independence of the various education commissions in making recommendations; secondly, it goes much further than that in that the Government is doing it very quietly, in a secretive manner, with very strict instructions to the various commissions that they should not give publicity to the Treasury guidelines- or government guidelines, if one wants to call them that, although they are actually guidelines recommended by Treasury- because it will show that there is governmental interference with the activities of the various commissions. The report in the Australian Financial Review to which I am referring goes on to say:
The Schools Commission has no argument with a Government ignoring or by-passing its advice, but could be expected to resent being told in advance what it should say on spending.
All four education commissions- I make this point because they are the subject matter of the Bills now before the House - have been, or will be, presented with financial guidelinesthe Universities Commission, the Schools Commission, the Commission for Technical and Further Education, and the Commission on Advanced Education.
– That is exactly what happened last year.
– I realise that the honourable member for Parramatta is still quite young but obviously he should listen more carefully. If he had been listening more carefully he would have heard me read this section of the newspaper report;
The Schools Commission has no argument with a Government ignoring or bypassing its advice, but could be expected to resent being told in advance what it should say on spending.
In the past there have been variations to its recommendations or advice, but there has never been any suggestion of the former Labor Government telling the Commission what it should report, what its advice should be. Obviously that is what is now being done. The newspaper article continues:
One commission is threatening to incorporate the guidelines into its final report.
The guidelines referred to are those being dictated to it by the Government on what it should report. In other words, once again the Treasury has told the Fraser Government what it should do and the Fraser Government as always is going to obey the dictates of Treasury. I sincerely hope that the particular commission concerned will make sure that it does publicise the guidelines which it has been instructed to follow. The article goes on to state:
Although this calendar year saw an interruption to the triennium form of funding, the former Labor Government claimed this as an exception.
I think that the honourable member for Parramatta should listen to what I am saying more carefully instead of chattering away to his neighbours because, once again, it refers to his interjection a little while ago which obviously showed that he was not concentrating and giving his, some think, undoubted intellect to the debate. The article continues:
Honourable members should keep in mind that it refers to Treasury again- is now pushing for continued annual funding.
In other words, that is an end to the whole principle of the Schools Commission and the various other commissions set up by the Labor Government to bring about reform in the field of education and under which a long term program is laid down for the future of education and spending in education generally. The article goes on to say:
This has aroused antagonism in the Department of Education, as has Treasury’s tight budgetary proposals.
Later on the article states:
It is obvious that this area appears attractive for pruning in this year’s tight Budget situation.
Despite undertakings given by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) during election campaigns and at various forums that education would continue to receive the high priority that it received under the Labor Government, it is very obvious that spending on education will get the chop in the coming Budget. I think that the charge made in that article is a very serious one indeed. It is to the effect that the Government is instructing the various commissions- I repeat that it is not only the Schools Commission but also the Universities Commission, the Commission for Technical and Further Education, and the Commission on Advanced Educationby giving them financial guidelines. In other words, it is instructing them as to the types of recommendations they shall bring in so that they will not, under any circumstance, the Government hopes, embarrass the Government.
I believe that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), who represents the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) in this chamber, should be frank with this House. He should give this House precise details of those financial guidelines which the Government has given to the various commissions. Instead of endeavouring to ensure by secretive means that the commissions bring in the reports that it wants, the Government, which says that it believes in open government, should be quite frank about this matter, remove the secrecy, and let us know the full and precise details of those guidelines, who recommended them, and who instructed that they be implemented. Was it the Prime Minister or was it the Minister himself? I think it is time that we were given that information because, without a doubt, it is going to have a very big impact upon the future education policies of this country. It should be remembered that it was a Labor Government which introduced the legislation to provide for the Schools Commission. We are aware that the Opposition at that time did not want it. In this instance I give credit to the National Country Party which joined with us in the Senate to allow the legislation establishing the Schools Commission and its funding to be passed by the Senate. The Liberal Party opposed that legislation at every opportunity.
– You remember that the National Country Party supported that Bill.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MartinOrder! The House was getting along very nicely until the honourable member for Hume walked in. I suggest that he should maintain silence.
– The honourable member for Hume is not noted in this Parliament for the wisdom of his remarks.
– Order! There is no necessity for the honourable member for Chifley to be provocative to the honourable member for Hume.
– I would not dream of being provocative. I do not think anybody could possibly provoke him. I do not think he has the intelligence.
– I resent that remark.
– I make the point -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, will I ask for the withdrawal or will you?
-Is the honourable member for Hume taking a point of order?
– I think he should withdraw it.
– Then stand up.
– If the honourable member for Hume wishes to address the Chair he will stand up.
– Yes. The honourable member for Chifley accused me of having no intelligence. I resent that remark, even from him.
-The honourable member for Hume claims that the statement by the honourable member for Chifley that he has no intelligence is offensive and I ask the honourable member for Chifley to withdraw the remark.
– My recollection of what I said was that he lacked the necessary intelligence. I sincerely hope that the honourable member for Hume is not so sensitive. This is a tough area. He is in a big school now and he should be a little less sensitive. I withdraw any implications which may hurt those extraordinary sensitivities. He should remember that this is a tough school. He needs to grow up. I was making the point that this was one of the few instances when I have agreed with the National Country Party, because it did join with the Labor Party to pass the Schools Commission legislation and the funding of that Commission. It was opposed by the Liberal Party. The present Prime Minister was strongly opposed to it. It is very obvious that the Prime Minister, who is a dictator in his own Party these days, is now dictating the policies of this Government on the funding of education. For that reason I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) to let us know precisely what the guidelines are.
This question was a fundamental policy issue in the election of 1972, just as it was in the election of 1974. The great mass of the Australian people showed quite clearly that they agreed with the Labor Party’s reforms in the field of education. There was no inference from the present Government, in the later stage of its period in Opposition- just before the last electionthat it would destroy this very important reform in the field of education. I assure the Government that it will get a very great backlash if we find a very serious deterioration in the level of funding for education purposes, as indicated in the report I mentioned, when the next Budget is brought down, presumably in August.
The final point I wish to make relates to technical and further education. I am very concerned that the New South Wales Government has decided that it will not proceed with its announced intention to build a technical college at Mount Druitt. That decision had been made and the land had been acquired but now the project has been abandoned. According to reports or statements by the New South Wales Government, the project has been abandoned because of the lack of funding by the present Federal Government, the Fraser Government. If the reports are correct, we face a very serious situation. I suspect that the New South Wales Government may be wrongly blaming the Federal Government. In view of the extra funds that New South Wales got under the last Budget I believe that the New South Wales Government could quite easily carry out its promised undertakings. I believe that that Government is reallocating the finance to other areas.
This situation is very serious because if ever an area needs a technical college it is the Mount Druitt area in the outer western suburbs of Sydney. There are more young children in that area than in any other area of similar size in Australia. The average age of the population in that area is 1 1 years. If the job is not started now we will not have the necessary facilities to provide technical education, that is to say non-graduate training, in an area where there will be a great demand for it.
In that area we have the great body of the future tradesmen of this country. Honourable members should bear in mind that it was once said that west of a line drawn north and south through Parramatta are born approximately half the children in New South Wales. This is where we have the young people who are going to need technical training. They will desire such training. This is where we are going to have the industry of the future. In this part of the Sydney metropolitan area there will be great industrial development and accordingly we need the Mount Druitt technical college. This point originally was recognised by the State Government but it has welshed on its undertaking. I particularly request the Minister to look at this matter because it is very important indeed. Technical training in the outer western suburbs of Sydney is of vital importance, not just to that area and not just because I represent it, but because of the need to train our young people. Industry should have available to it in the future a suitably trained labour force.
– in reply- I thank honourable members for their contributions to this debate and I will deal with some of the points made by them. The honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Lionel Bowen) made a very efficient contribution when dealing with this legislation and pointed out how it followed the intentions of the previous Labor Government with respect to the funding of these institutions during this financial year. He raised 2 points about which I would like to comment. He referred to what he described as the novel way of funding some of the proposals, that is to say, by means of the Consolidated Revenue Fund or the Loan Fund. I refer, for example, to clause 21 of the States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill.
For the benefit of the honourable member I will explain the purpose of the clause to him in this way: The joint appropriation clauses will allow capital type expenditure under the programs for which financial assistance is provided in the Bills to be charged either to the Consolidated Revenue Fund or to the Loan Fund. They also include authority for the Treasurer to borrow for these purposes. The clauses do not affect the level of financial assistance approved by the Government and provided for in the Bills. The clauses are necessary to allow for greater flexibility in financial management and in particular to allow capital type expenditures to be charged against the Loan Fund. The clauses will have no effect whatever on expenditure on the approved education programs. They will not more adversely affect the Budget deficit than the legacy that has been left to the present Government by the former financial management of the previous Government.
The honourable gentleman also referred to Kalgoorlie. I was pleased to see that he did not attempt to play politics with the proposal for the funding of the Kalgoorlie School of Mines. May I point out to the honourable gentleman and other members in the House- I notice the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) in the chamberthat in the Bill funds are provided for the project. But the decision has been made that in view of the Partridge report and the necessity for the State Government of Western Australia to make a decision on that report, it would be inappropriate to proceed with the project at this stage. Of course when the State Government has made its decision, it will be considered by the Council for Advanced Education, which will in due course be making a recommendation to the Federal Government concerning the future of the Kalgoorlie School of Mines.
Another point which was raised by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith concerned cost escalation to the end of 1976 in compliance with the established procedures for expenditure. I assure the honourable gentleman that that does relate to the 1976 Bill-the Bill before the House. The Government will consider programs of the commissions for future years in the context of the 1976-77 Budget. I think that that will satisfy any doubts which the honourable gentleman and other honourable members on his side of the House have in their minds. The honourable gentleman further referred to the need for national support by the Federal Government of the State education systems. Of course it goes without saying that the Government recognises its national responsibilities in this field. Of course former Liberal-Country Party Governments have a long history of national support of tertiary and other education.
I was interested to listen to the contribution of the honourable member for Casey (Mr Falconer). The variety of points that were covered by him and what he had to say were all of a most constructive nature and are points which I am sure will be read with interest by the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick). They all have practical application. When the honourable member speaks of the need to watch that education institutions of the kind which are funded by these Bills do not debase the value of degrees granted by them, I think we would all agree with that sentiment. The honourable gentleman referred to migrant education and gave an example of a need for co-ordination which he had experienced within his own electorate. In answering a question the other day, I spoke on this and assured honourable members that the Government is aware of the need for fully supporting migrant education. The honourable member for Casey has drawn the attention of the House- again I am sure it will be taken into account by the Minister- to the need for coordination if these migrant education schemes are to have their full effect and value for those who need them.
Both the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) and the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) drew the attention of the House to the need to look for cost savings and the need to obtain real educational value for expenditure through these educational institutions. I think that the contribution of the honourable member for Parramatta, in referring to the average annual cost of producing a graduate, is something that needs to be borne in mind when we look at priorities in education.
The honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) raised 2 matters that I wish to comment upon particularly. He referred to an article in the Australian Financial Review which of course was sheer speculation, picked up by the honourable gentleman, charging the Government with all sorts of dreadful things, including secrecy. May I inform the honourable gentleman that the previous Government found itself unable to accept all the recommendations of the education commissions last year when they put forward programs for the years 1976-78, worth a total of about $6,400m. For this reason, having regard to the experience of the previous Labor Government, the present Government is considering issuing guidelines to the education commissions for the preparation of their reports in the 1977-79 triennium. This question is being looked at in the context of the Government’s examination of the overall budgetary situation for the next financial year. I do not think that any honourable member can cavil at that desire of the Government. Any guidelines provided to the commissions will be released publicly by the Government. The triennial reports of the commissions will be available for consideration by the Government in the Budget context.
With regard to the experience of the education commissions with the last Labor Government, this Government would not want to see the commissions put in the position where they have no financial guidelines and therefore are faced with the undesirable prospects, as they were last year, of having their proposals rejected by the Government because they do not fit in with the Government’s budgetary requirements. That is a situation which this Government seeks to avoid and one which I expect the education commissions will welcome. The honourable gentleman spoke of the Mount Druitt Technical College. I am informed that the Technical and Further Education Commission has no information that the New South Wales Government intends to obtain plans to build a technical college at Mount Druitt. That statement ought to deal with that speculation by the honourable gentleman. I thank all honourable members for their contribution to the debate. As I have said, I am sure that all the points raised will be of value in the considerations by the Minister.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Viner) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 18 March on motion by Mr Viner:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Viner) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 18 March on motion by Mr Viner:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Viner) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 18 March on motion by Mr Viner:
That the Bill be now read a second dme.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Viner) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 18 March on motion by Mr Viner:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Viner) read a third time.
Australian Broadcasting Commission- Rural Industries- Income Maintenance- Employment in Geelong
Motion (by Mr Viner) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I rise tonight to take up the debate that has been taking place both inside and outside the Parliament over the past several weeks regarding the future of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Again today we have seen demonstrated the differences that exist within the Government as to the future of the ABC. The only Party in this Parliament that is quite clear about the future of the ABC and what should be the future of the ABC is the Australian Labor Party. Whilst there are some spokesmen for the Government who are trying to do things in a more subtle fashion, there can be no doubt that the people of superior influence within the Government are hell bent on destroying the ABC.
There can be no doubt about that. It can be observed in the Parliament. It can be observed outside the Parliament. The fact that we are lacking any clear statement of policy about the future of the ABC is indicative of the confused thinking about the manner in which this Government is trying to dismantle what is the only remaining sane medium, especially electronic, left to us in Australia. I have heard the ravings of the National Country Party and also the most reactionary voices that come from the Government on this matter. It is extremely important that the Australian people understand exactly what is going on. The first move that has been taken behind the camouflage of not interfering with the
ABC has been a savage cutback in the expenditure for the ABC. Moneys that were made available to it out of the 1975-76 Budget have been reduced in addition to the extra responsibilities imposed, as has been pointed out in this Parliament, by virtue of the calling of the election of December 1975. We are seeing the dismantling of the ABC by stealth. This is what will happen. Already numbers of people have been dismissed from the ABC.
I now call upon the expertise of a person writing in a privately owned newspaper, the Daily Mirror, one of the newspapers belonging to the great friend of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), Rupert Murdoch. I shall quote from an article written by Jim Oram. Listen to what he has to say today:
The ABC is in danger. Its independence, the very reason for its existence, is under the heaviest attack in its 44-year history.
And should the attack be successful you can say goodbye to the far-reaching probes of Four Corners, the dramas like Rush and Seven Little Australians, the wide coverage of sport, the superior news service.
– How about Norman Gunston?
– Order! We have a very tight schedule at the moment as far as the adjournment debate is concerned. If it runs properly it is possible that quite a number of honourable members will be able to speak on the adjournment. The honourable members wishing to speak would require far more than the time available. I suggest that honourable members help themselves by not interjecting while one honourable member is speaking in the adjournment debate.
– Perhaps my time could be extended to cover that interruption, Mr Deputy Speaker. What is happening and what are the reasons for which we have to look at it? Why would any political Party be concerned about an independent news service or an independent probe into current affairs in this country? The service of ABC is the only service which cannot be manipulated by the present Government. When people say that on no fewer than 7 occasions -
– I rise to a point of order Mr Deputy Speaker. I think it is unparliamentary to say that this Government would manipulate the ABC. It was the last Government that manipulated the ABC.
– There is no point of order.
-When people say that on no fewer than 7 occasions Rupert Murdoch met with the Prime Minister during the past election campaign it means a great deal was going on between the privately owned Press and the present Government regarding what would appear in the newspapers. The New Journalist, which is run by the Australian Journalists Association and not by the Australian Labor Party, put out its news sheet after the election demonstrating to all and sundry the manner in which the Press of Australia had been used to put this Government into office. The allies of the privately owned Press in Australia are extremely important to this Government. But the ABC, which cannot be prostituted in the role it has to play in Australia, is a danger to this Government.
We see tonight’s statement by Senator Withers, which now has had to be contradicted by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson). Look at what Senator Withers had to say:
Do not raise the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The Australian Labor Party has been leaning on it for years. It is full of the Labor Party s supporters and has been pumping out the Labor Party’s propaganda year in and year out. That is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of notoriety. The sooner it is cleaned up the better as far as I am concerned.
What is this Government on about? What a humbug! We listened yesterday to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, who is of lesser influence than Senator Withers, telling us that the Government proposes to hold an inquiry or that there ought to be an inquiry into broadcasting and television in Australia. What are they after? They are after the complete dismantling of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
Let us take the question of advertising. The Government may say that in a Budget $130m would be required for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. But now we see the thin end of the wedge- the proposal to raise $20m by advertising. As the Acting Chairman of the ABC said, $20m this year will be $40m next year and $80m the year after, so that within 5 years the ABC will be a commercial station, the same as the rest of the stations which people watch and listen to. The ABC is the only channel which makes time available to political parties. It provides 120 minutes of free broadcasting time and 60 minutes of free television time, taken in 5-minute slots. Honourable members should try to book a 5- minute slot on a commercial television station in a metropolitan area. They should see what sort of reception they would get if they wanted to put something serious across the television stations of this country. The fact is that it is extremely important to the people of Australia that we preserve the independence and role of the ABC as they are.
If the present Government continues its interference with the ABC we will have nothing left in this country except an array of commercials to watch, and the programs which I have described to honourable members from the article of Jim Oram will be missing for the Australian viewers and the Australian listeners. Look at the lobby groups that have got together behind the Government to try to do this. No doubt they were great supporters of the Liberal and National Country Parties and helped them get into government, because for a long time they have had lots of views about what should happen to the ABC. It is no fluke that Rupert Murdoch, Warwick Fairfax and Philip Jones joined together in putting their views on the role of the ABC. They say: ‘Let it be more competitive; let it sell advertising; stop its role because it is taking money from us’.
We heard honourable members say yesterday: ‘We have to stop 2JJ; it is using 4-letter words; it is terrible’. They say that the whole of Australia is being degraded because 2JJ uses a 4-letter word about once every 3 months. Honourable members opposite are trying to stop 2JJ because their commercial backers are distraught at the fact that it has been able to attract to itself 6.7 per cent of the listeners in Sydney, according to the latest survey, when its programs are directed only at one section of the listening community. This is what the supporters of honourable members opposite are concerned about. They are concerned that they are not selling their jeans, records and whatever other commodities they want to sell to the listeners of 2JJ. They want to stop the present arrangement and put commercials on ABC radio and television.
There will be a great political battle over, this proposal because the ABC is the only thing left that has not been monopolised by private enterprise in this country. Imagine the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) or the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Sullivan) being the director of the ABC. My God, imagine that! As Jim Oram said in his Mirror article this afternoon -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I rise tonight to bring to the notice of the House the Jackson report on manufacturing industry, particularly as it refers to the meat industry in this country. Half the rural produce of Australia goes to manufacturing. But some of the factories which process it are outdated and inefficient and do not give the service that suppliers could reasonably expect. As a result, Mr Gordon Jackson concludes, the rural sector is being poorly served by manufacturing industry as it operates today. Mr Jackson was chairman of the committee the Australian Government appointed to advise on policies for the development of manufacturing industry. Mr Jackson, who is general manager and a director of CSR Ltd, which has large interests in sugar, cattle and sheep, says that the Green Paper on manufacturing is as relevant as the saleyards to people who depend on rural industry for a living.
Using the meat industry as an example of how country people are receiving a bad deal from manufacturing industry, Mr Jackson said the auctioneer’s hammer in the saleyards might end a rural activity, but it also was the beginning of a manufacturing activity. A Press article issued on 7 January stated: ‘The efficiency of the industry which takes over when the cattle are driven out of the saleyards is extremely important to the man who produces the cattle- just as important to him in the long run as efficiency of production on his own property, ‘ Mr Jackson said. ‘The meat processing industry was one of seven manufacturing sectors examined by the committee, and we found much that needed improving. ‘Some plants had built-in reluctance to improve or make changes because of the seasonal nature of the work. Some had been built early in the century. In some cases doors to cold rooms were so small that only one man at a time could enter. Some plants had considered increasing the size of doors to enable forklifts to be used, but had decided against because of cost and lack of incentive and foresight. ‘Conditions for people who worked in the plants left much to be desired. Accidents at the rate of ISO per day were not untypical of large abattoirs. They ranged from minor cuts to serious damage to tendons and amputation of fingers. ‘First aid facilities were often inadequate. ‘The men and women workers were also exposed to certain diseases transmissable from animals to humans. These zoonotic diseases include bovine brucellosis, Q fever and lepto spirosis. In recent years about 5 per cent to 6 per cent of adult breeding cattle slaughtered in New South Wales have positively reacted to the test for bovine brucellosis. The number of humans who have caught the disease is not known but the effects include fever and muscle spasms and on rare occasions sterility. ‘The industry is fragmented and characterised by a wide variation in the size and scale of individual units. Many operate below optimum levels. ‘Manufacturing industry needs to be changed to serve the country as it should. A great deal of change is needed, because the Green Paper emphasis is on what the country expects from manufacturing rather than the other way around. The policies suggested for manufacturing would be a positive help to farmers- with their costs, as well as their incomes. Tariff’s would be reduced gradually, but inexorably; prices for such things as tractors and farm machinery would thereby be reduced. ‘The Green Paper suggests how processing industries might be upgraded and made more efficient, more internationally competitive and more export-oriented so that they could serve their suppliers far better than they do now. ‘The trend to lower tariffs would logically be associated with a trend towards a lower international value of the Australian dollar, which would mean higher prices on the farm for primary exports. ‘The Green Paper calls for less concentration of industry in the main cities as a means of improving the quality of work life, and for more employment opportunities for young people in the country centres. ‘
Mr Jackson said industry organisation of primary production was far ahead of manufacturing. ‘The State departments of agriculture have been developed much further than the departments concerned with secondary industry,’ he said. ‘We suggest a stronger organisation in each State, and new organisations which would broadly correspond to the Australian Agricultural Council and the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, as well as councils for each major sector of manufacturing industry. ‘
Mr Jackson urged country people to interest themselves in the Green Paper proposals and the policies which might flow from them, and to encourage representatives of organisations to which they might belong, to ensure that they had a voice in the formulation of policies which would be adopted and implemented in the future.
Those remarks made by Mr Jackson in the Green Paper are very damaging indeed to the meat industry of Australia and could affect seriously the exports of meat from many of our country abattoirs. I understand that the person responsible for making the report inspected only 3 meatworks- one in Brisbane, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney. We have approximately 100 meatworks in Australia and 70 of them are export meatworks.
The Jackson report also mentions that capital expenditure on works in Australia was $107,678 in 1973; $1,197,547 in 1974; $346,081 in 1975; and $1,330,000 in 1976. 1 do not know where he obtained those figures because in the last 8 years over $100m has been spent in Australian abattoirs on capital works. That has had to be done because of United States Department of Agriculture meat regulations. That department sent its own inspectors to this country to see that our meatworks were brought up to date. Mr Jackson might be a very able man in the business world, being an executive of CSR Limited, but I feel that he has relied far too much on reports from other people to include in his report on manufacturing industry. The Federal Meatworks Association is very concerned with the inaccuracies in the report. It has taken up the matter and written to Mr Jackson but he has skipped around the answers to the questions they have asked. I hope that some action will be taken to acquaint him with the real position of meatworks in Australia.
They are up to date; they are amongst the finest in the world, and Mr Jackson should be told that.
– I should like to take up a point raised by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) in respect of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I take issue with the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) on the conflict and his obligation to come clean with the Australian people. The Minister has indicated clearly that there is going to be another inquiry. There have been 1 inquiries into this matter in about 4 years and the Priorities Review Staff also had a view on the subject. I challenge the Minister to say whether or not he agrees with the words of the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers), who said in another place:
Do not raise the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The Australian Labor Party has been leaning on it for years. It is full of the Labor Party s supporters and has been pumping out the Labor Party’s propaganda year in and year out. That is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of notoriety. The sooner it is cleaned up the better as far as I am concerned. It is rather remarkable that honourable senators opposite always rush to the defence of their friends.
I challenge the Minister to say whether he agrees with that statement in relation to the people who are involved with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. If the Minister has enough courage he will come out and say that he does agree, but what end do we reach by going through the poppycock of inquiry after inquiry? I agree that the article referred to by the honourable member for Port Adelaide opens up the whole field. What has happened over a period of time is that the individuals in the media have had an armchair ride. The people who import films into this country and who have destroyed Australian potential and talent are represented by members on the Government side. They believe that the people who want to export Australian talent, those who are going to reduce to a minimum the Australian content in Australian television, are going about it objectively.
Eventually the Minister or the Government has to make a decision on whether the ABC is going to be shackled and not able to act as an independent organisation in presenting to the Australian people that which they desire to see. If the Government is going to do that and if it is going to hand the ABC over to private individuals, it should have enough guts to come out and say so. It should have enough guts not to pull the wool over people’s eyes, but to say that it joins with the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations, which has continually monopolised the media. As the honourable member for Port Adelaide said, the reason for this reaction and the reason that a campaign is being mounted to control the whole band of broadcasting as well as television is that the ABC is becoming a threat. It seems to me that that is consistent, as far as the Government is concerned, with the facts put before a committee of the previous Government when it was suggested that perhaps there was an argument that the then Opposition opposed having increased numbers of broadcasting stations because there were too many in the field at that time. They said that if it were the case that the Government decided there would be an increase in the number of outlets to consumers -
– What does that mean?
– You would not know. You would be better off back in the cow bail where you belong. The honourable member for Hume continually interjects.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member for Hume will cease interjecting.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The honourable member for Hume continually addresses the Chair from a sitting position. I think he ought to be informed that he is required to stand when he addresses the Chair.
-Order! I have requested the honourable member for Hume to cease interjecting.
– The people from the Federation believe that there should not be any further outlets, but that if there are, they should come under the control of one organisation. We have here exactly the same proposition being spelled put by the representatives of the Government. If that is not the case, let us have an answer from them. We should be told clearly and unequivocally that the Government disagrees with the view put by Senator Withers and that the independence of the Australian Broadcasting Commission is fundamental.
– Of course it is.
– You would not know. You are only a lap dog to the Prime Minister.
– He cannot even count. He has nearly been knocked over once.
-Order! I would suggest that the honourable member for Melbourne continue his speech and make no side remarks to interjections that are out of order in the first place.
– I apologise once again, Mr Deputy Speaker, for my reaction to individuals who should know a little better, as they sit on the front bench on the Government side. I will return to the point I was making. I think that the Government has a clear responsibility. There is a conflict in the statements made by Senator Withers and by the Minister who is responsible for this area. The Minister has got to come clean with those who are dependent on his answer. The Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations has had a bonanza. As I said before, it imports films into this country at a fraction of their former cost and shows them after they have been worn out in the United States. It has dumped television programs on to the Australian consumer. This can in no way assist Australian talent. It can in no way increase the Australian content in programs. I make the point very clearly that in no way do the people who hold television licences at the present moment give effect to their obligations under the terms of the licences they hold. If honourable members refer back to the inquiries which were held and the terms on which licences were issued they will realise that the percentage of Australian content in programs should be far removed from what it is at the present moment.
I challenge the Minister once again to tell this House in the future what he intends to do about this. Does he intend to change the terms of the licences? Does he intend to require the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations to adhere to their obligations? The Minister is obligated to ensure that the same fate will not befall the Australian Broadcasting Commission as a result of its coming under the control of the commercial bodies. This proposition has been put time and time again by the commercial stations and it has again been raised. There has been inquiry after inquiry. There is enough information available to enable the Minister to make up his own mind. If there is a conflict between Senator Withers and the Minister then this House should be told what it is all about.
Last but not least I point out that ethnic community radio is at risk because the Government intends to hand it over to private enterprise. The Government is under an obligation to the individuals who put its supporters on the benches opposite to ensure that all outlets in radio and television, irrespective of whether they are in the general area or are in ethnic or access radio areas, and that all commercial broadcasting and television stations will abide by the philosophy spelt out by the people to whom I have referred and who presented the reports.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I cannot let this opportunity pass without commenting on the peculiar outburst by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) and the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes). As far as I can see, their attitude to the media, their assessment, is not whether a program is objective or honest or even interesting. It is whether the medium in question does or does not support the Australian Labor Party. In 1972 when the Murdoch Press supported the Labor Party, Mr Rupert Murdoch was the darling of that Party. Now that he has seen through the Labor Party supporters, they regard him as some sort of monster. I think they must realise that when they have, through their performance and their policies, earned the respect of the community they will be favourably reported by the media, but not until then. What they seem to resent and what gets under their skin is that they are honestly and accurately reported by the media. They do not like what they see in the mirror. Well, on their showing at 2 recent elections the Australian people do not like the look of them much either. I think that is enough on the hangups of the honourable members for Port Adelaide and the honourable member for Melbourne.
I would like to deal with a more important subject which affects one of my constituents. I draw to the attention of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) the fact that one of my constituents received a grant of $1, 100-odd under the Structural Adjustment Assistance program. The money was received in December 1974 and January 1975. Two weeks ago this man received a letter from the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations in which the key paragraphs are these:
The Government’s original decision provided income maintenance assistance to persons whose employment was terminated as a direct result of tariff reductions.
It has recently been established that . . .
The man ‘s company is named- was dependent on another company or companies for business, and it was the effect of lower tariffs on those companies that in turn, affected your employment.
This means that your retrenchment could not be directly attributed to tariff reductions.
The Government, after careful consideration of persons like yourself who experienced these ‘secondary effects’, decided not to extend its original decision beyond paying persons directly affected.
Accordingly, I regret that the Income Maintenance of $ 1 , 1 45. 1 8 paid to you was in error, and must be repaid in accordance with Treasury Regulations.
I do not think it is reasonable to expect these retrospective payments to be made, particularly in this case. The man concerned is nearly 60 years of age. He is about to retire on a Service pension and the repayment of this sum, which was expended well over a year ago, would involve him in considerable hardship. I think this case is one that could and should be reviewed by the Minister. I would be very interested to hear his views on the matter.
– I will leave a couple of minutes in this debate to enable the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) to reply. I also am aware of a number of cases similar to the one raised by the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer). I want to raise very briefly a matter which is of some concern to me and I would hope also the Minister. I have been informed that a number of people are likely to be retrenched at the Godfrey Hirst mills in Geelong because of the lack of protection or because of competition in the market and a falling off in sales of carpets. This is allied to the falling off in the building and other construction areas.
The company concerned has approached the appropriate Minister. He has said that unless it can show that substantial damage has been done to a substantial proportion of the industry then a reference to the Temporary Assistance Authority cannot be made. I point out that if the company has to wait until substantial damage is done then the retrenchments will have already taken place. There are about 164 people involved at these mills. It will then be too late to repair the damage. I would like the Minister to take up this matter with the appropriate Minister because he will be as aware as I am of the difficulties that persons displaced in this manner will have in finding alternative employment.
– I must admit it sounds odd to me to hear the words just spoken by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) whose Government was responsible for destroying much of Geelong ‘s industry in the last couple of years. I shall take up with my colleague the question that the honourable member has raised. I thank the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) for paying me the courtesy of informing me that he was going to bring up the subject of income maintenance tonight. It is a sorry story in itself. It is a condemnation of the ineptitude of the previous Government. Income maintenance was made necessary as a direct result of that Government’s disastrous economic policies and it is one more unwelcome legacy left to this Government. Some payments to people were made in error by my Department under the Structural Adjustment Assistance scheme at a time when the Department was working under very great pressure in attempting to cope with a large volume of claims due to the all too successful campaign of industrial destruction waged by the Labor Government. The whole position is indeed a difficult and delicate one.
The Department had no authority to pay these people and, notwithstanding that the error was not the fault of the claimants, it has an obligation to recover the amounts overpaid. There are cases in which some people at the company in question were paid in error and others were not paid. So obviously if the repayment demand is waived their colleagues have every right to demand payment also. I should say that at present my Department has suspended recovery action pending detailed investigation into the administrative and legal implications of the situation. I should mention that where a person is able to establish that repayment will impose hardship on him arrangements can be made for the repayments to be made by instalment. In cases of extreme hardship my Department can seek authority from the Treasury to waive the repayment.
-Order! It being 1 1 p.m. the House stands adjourned until 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
The following answer to a question upon notice was circulated:
1 ) What sums, and for what purposes, were given to the Wayside Chapel, Kings Cross, N.S.W. by-
) What will be the details for 1975-76.
1 ) (a) The following direct grants were made during the last 5 financial years. 1970-71 Nil. 197 1- 72 Nil. 1972- 73 the Australian Council for the Arts (now the Australia Council) approved a ‘special projects’ grant of $5,000, made up of $3,000 to be used for the salary of an art and drama director and $2,000 for guest tutors in the arts and crafts. 1973- 74 Nil. 1974- 75 (i) The Australia Council approved a grant of $500 to the Wayside Theatre for a program of multi arts activities for children and adults which was entitled ‘A People’s Party’. (it) In February 1975 an International Women’s Year grant of $3,000 was made to assist the operation of a service called ‘Prevention’ which aims to provide a counselling service for parents who feel they may be under stress to the point of harming their children.
There are no grants approved for 1975-76.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 March 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1976/19760324_reps_30_hor98/>.