9 April 1946

17th Parliament · 3rd Session

The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

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SenatorLECKIE.- Has the Acting Leader of the Senate read a paragraph published in the Canberra Times to-day, in which the following statement was attributed to Mr. Colin Clark,who is described as the Director of the Bureau of Industry : -

The last 20 years had been a time of great difficulty for primary producers, but World terms of trade are now going to be reversed. An outstanding exception was woo), for which prospects were very poor. He added that Australia would only be able to continue selling woolat anything likea remunerative priceas she and other wool-producing countriesgreatly reduced the current output by replacing wool with cattle or mutton sheep to large degrees.

What authority had Mr. Clark to make that statement, and was it made with the sanction of the Government?

Senator ASHLEY:
Minister for Supply and Shipping · NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP

– I am not in a position to say what authority Mr. Clark had for the statement; the Government does not accept any responsibility with regard to it.

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Senator LARGE:

– I present the eighth progress report of the War Expenditure Committee.

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– I have received from Mrs. Uppill a letter of thanks for the resolution of sympathy passed by the Senate on the occasion of the death of ex-Scnator Oliver Uppill.

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Has the Minister representing the Minister for the Army read the press reports regarding evidence given in connexion witha serious fire at Nungarin, where a large quantity of tyres and tubes and othergovernment property was des troyed, indicating that the fire was deliberate? Will the Minister have the matter investigated, with a view to giving an assurance that adequate guards or fire appliances will be available in or near important government dumps or disposal centres in order to guarantee protection of the taxpayers’ property?

Senator FRASER:

– I shall place the matter before the Ministerfor the Army. I understand that an investigation took place in connexion with the destruction of the stores to which the honorable senator has referred.

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Estimated Cost

Senator ARNOLD:

asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -

What is the amount paid or estimated to be paid each year for -

Invalid pensions;

Sickness benefits;

Hospital benefits; and

Othercharges in relation to the health of the Australian people?

Senator FRASER:

– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -

  1. Estimated expenditure oninvalid pensions for year 1945-46, £5,100.000. Expenditure on invalid pensions to28th February, 1946, £3,470,000. 2.Estimated expenditure on sickness benefits for 1945-46, £550,000. Expenditure on sickness benefits to 28th February, 1946, £315,078.
  2. Hospital benefitscame into operation from 1st January, 1946, and complete figures are not available. Private hospital benefits commenced on18th February,1946, and the full scheme is not yet in operation. Estimated cost per annum for public hospitals, £3,500,000; private hospitals, £1,500,000 when the scheme is in full operation.
  3. The extent of the information required in question No. 4 is so great that it is not practicable togive the information required, hut if the honorable senator will inform me exactly what information is desired I shall try and make it available.

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Security Council - Russo-Pkrsian Dis pute - Peace Forces - Atomic Bombs.

Senator McLEAY:

asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -

  1. Is it a fact, as reported in the daily press of 5 th April, that the Australian delegate to the Security Council of the United Nations organization (Colonel Hodgson) was on the point of emulating the “walk-out” attitude of Russia at the previous day’s meetings but was persuaded by other delegates to remain?
  2. If this report bc true, will the Minister give some explanation asto the apparently persistent contrariness of Australia’s representatives, in contrast with the obvious unanimity being displayedby Great Britain andthe United States of America?
Senator ASHLEY:

– The Minister for

External Affairs has supplied the following answers : -

  1. No. Therehas never been any suggestion that the Australian representative would withdraw froma public meeting of the Security Council of which Australia is a member. The press report in question has reference no doubt to theprotest by the Australian representative against the Persian dispute being dealt with at private meetings of the Security Council instead of at public meetings. It is the Government’s view that the matter was not one to be dealt with behind closed doors.
  2. The Australian representative at the Security Councilhas adopted throughout a con- sistentttitnde that there should be the fullest investigation of the facts of the Persian dispute and, subsequently, a decision based on such facts alone. This attitude is in marked contrast to the attitude of those who at first pressed for immediate action’ in connexion with the dispute and then voted for adjournment of the matter until6th May. As a member of the Security Council, Australia is ready to co-operate with other members in giving effect to the principles and purposes of the charter. Where, however, action is proposed which appears to be inconsistentwith these purposes and principles, Australia would not be carrying out its duty as a member of the Council if it did not call attention to the fact.
Senator ARNOLD:

asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairsupon notice -

  1. . What progress has been made towards the sotting up of a United Nations Organization Peace Force?
  2. When the United Nations Organization has set up its force for the protection of the world peace, is it the intention of the possessors of the secret of the atomic bomb to make this knowledge available to this organization ?
Senator ASHLEY:

– The Minister for External Affairs has supplied the following answers : -

  1. In accordance with the provisions of Article 47 of the United Nations Charter a Military Staff Committee consisting of the representatives of the United Kingdom, United States, Soviet Union, France and China assembled in Washington on the 4th February, and. after a series of meetings, . drew up a draft Statute and draft rules of procedure. Both of these were referred to the Security Council for approval but have not yet been considered by the Council.

On the 18th February, 1945. the Security Council decided to request the Military Staff Committee to meet in New York simultaneously with the Security Council and directed that the Committee, as its first task, should examine from the military point of view, the provisions of Article 43 of the Charter. This . Article deals with the question of the negotiation of special military agreements between the Security Council and members of the United Nations. No report regarding the work of the committee in New York has yet been submitted to the Security Council.

  1. On the 22nd January, 1946, the United Nations Assembly adopted a resolution establishing an - Atomic Energy Commission of which Australia is a member, to deal with the problems raised by the discover)’ of atomic energy and other related matters. Under the terms of this resolution the commission is directed to proceed with the utmost despatch to inquire into all phases of the problem and to make recommendations thereon. In particular the commission is to make specific proposals -

    1. for extension between all nations of the exchange of basic scientific information for peaceful ends;
    2. for control of atomic energy to the extent necessary to ensure its use only for peaceful purposes;
    3. for the elimination from nationalarmaments of atomic weapons and of all other weapons adaptable to mass destruction;
    4. for effective safeguards by way of inspection, and other means, to protect complying States against the hazards of violations and evasions.

The United Kingdom, United States and Canada supported this resolution, which was carried unanimously. Attention is drawn, however, to the statement on atomic energy made by Mr. Attlee, President Truman and Mr. MacKenzie King at Washington on 15th November, 1945. The following is an extract from this statement: - “ We are not convinced that the spreading of the specialized information regarding the practical application of atomic energy before it is possible to devise effective reciprocal and enforceable safeguards acceptable to all nations would contribute to a constructive solution of the problem of the atomic bomb; on the contrary, we think it might have the opposite effect. We are, however, prepared to share on a reciprocal basis, with others of the United Nations, detailed information concerning the practical industrial application of atomic energy just as soon as effective enforceable safeguards against its use for destructive purposes can be devised.”

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Senator ASHLEY:

– On the 5th April, I promised Senator Sampson that I would ascertain for him the quantity of

Oregon held in bond in Sydney. I now inform the honorable senator that the quantity in bond on the 5th April was 15,427,257 superficial feet. The Tariff Board’s inquiry, mentioned in my interim reply, covered all questions connected with this timber.

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Shortageof Text-books.

Senator SAMPSON:

asked the Minis ter representing . the Minister for Postwar Reconstruction, upon notice -

  1. Is it a fact that ex-servicemen whose courses at the universities or other institutions have been delayed by the war, and students under the various reconstruction schemes, are sadly handicapped by the lack of the necessary text-books, which are practically unprocurable in the Commonwealth?.
  2. If so, will the Minister take immediate action to secure supplies of the required textbooks ?
Senator ASHLEY:

– The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction has supplied’ the fallowing answers : -

  1. The general text-book position in relation to university and similar courses is fair in senior years but difficult in first and second’ years. The position has been aggravated by shortages of paper and other, materials at the sources of supply (in Australia and in Britain) while large enrolments to-day total 20,000 at the universities against a normal prewar figure of. 14,000. The normal pre-war supply, even if available, would not therefore meet the present demand. 2: The Department of Post-war Reconstruction and the Universities Commission have already taken action to stimulate importation and local production.

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Advances to States - Constructional Work

Senator BRAND:

asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -

  1. What was the extent of financial assistance advanced to each State under the Commonwealth Housing Act 1928 for the building of homes ?
  2. How many houses were built under this agreement between the years. 1928 and 1939?.
Senator ASHLEY:

– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers: -

  1. This information is not available. The loans were made by the Commonwealth Savings Bank to housing authorities and they furnish no reports or statistics to the Commonwealth Savings Bank from which this information could be obtained.

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Senator LAMP:

asked the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -

Will the Acting Minister explain why apples are selling for 8d. per lb. in Canberra and for 5s. per 40-l.b. case in Tasmania?

Senator ASHLEY:

– The Acting Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following answer: -

Apples for sale in Canberra are purchased in the Sydney market, at which place in recent weeks prices have ranged from 3s. to 22s. per case according to the variety and the quality of the fruit. To these prices, must be added freight charges to Canberra and retailer’s margin at a rate slightly below or slightly above 2d. per lb. according to the cost into store. The range of permissible retail prices in Canberra at present is therefore from 3d. to 9d. per lb.

The maximum ceiling price for apples has not been reached in Tasmania during the current season because of the excellent crop.

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asked the Minister representing the ActingMinister for Trade and Customs, upon notice-

  1. Is the statement in the press of 2nd April, attributed to Mr. De Mello Indian Legation Press Attache, correct, viz.: - that India; has relaxed import restrictions on Australian good’s but that there has been no relaxation of Australia’s import licensing?
  2. If so, will he present to the Senate a statement as to the reasons for the continued restrictions being imposed on Australian importers?
Senator ASHLEY:

– The Acting Minister for Trade and Customs ‘has supplied the following answers : -

  1. reference to the press report shows that Mr. De Hello’s statement was .that “ India was relaxing -its import controls, but he understood that Australia’s exports were still, subject to licences being issued “.

Export restrictions have been lifted on a considerable number of items during recent months, and- such restrictions now obtain only in respect of goods which are in short supply locally and control of which is necessary for tha proper .functioning of the Australian economy.

Any restrictions on exports are general and do not apply to India particularly.

For purposes of the Australian Import Licensing control, imports of Indian origin are subject to the rules applicable to imports from the sterling area generally. On the basis of the total value of imports from the sterling :urea in the base year, more than 00 per” cent, of goods normally imported from the sterling area, Including India, are exempt from the license requirement and may be freely imported to the extent that the goods’ are available. Applications for the remaining 40 per cent, are, in general, dealt with on their respective merits. “The principal difficulty in the matter of imports from India, however, is availability for export. Many goods, including raw cotton, cotton piece goods, cotton yarns, linseed, ground nuts mid oil-seeds, which represent the principal imports from India, cannot be supplied in the quantities Australia needs. Generally speaking, import licences are granted for such quantities of these goods as are available to Australian importers.

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Second Reading

Debate resumed from the 5th April,’ (vide page 1093); on motion by Senator Gollin as -

That the bill be now read a second time.

Senator SAMPSON:

. When I obtained leave to conclude ray remarks on the 5th April, I was about to refer to the eligibility of certain former members of our armed forces to obtain the benefits of our war-service homes legislation. This measure extends the benefits of the .principal act to members of the mercantile marine, including seamen who were engaged on the Australian coastal trade during the war. The Australian Legion of ex-Service Men and Women, membership of which is open to all who wore the King’s uniform during the war, is concerned because certain of its members are beyond the scope of the

War Service Home’s Act, and this amending bi’13. The following is an extract from a letter that I received from the legion.

Under the Re-establishment and Employment Act. any man or woman who served in any part of the armed forces for a period of six months is entitled to rehabilitation rights.

Housing, as a special aspect of rehabilitation, is dealt with separately under the War Service Homes Act, which was passed shortly after the last war.

The persons who are entitled to housing assistance under this act, are those who fall within the “definition of “ Australian soldier “. this definition, since an early stage in this war., has been construed as including all members of the armed forces except militiamen who were not posted and did not serve abroad.

We 1haw from time to time made strong representations to have this anomaly remedied.

Our action was prompted by the belief that the Government desired to rehabilitate all service men and women, and not only a section , 01 them.

This belief was supported by the fact that miltiamen were called up for service anywhere in the South West Pacific area and served where they were ordered to serve.

Most of these men were volunteers, and many had no opportunity, because of medical or other reasons, to join the Australian Imperial Force or to serve abroad.

In fact amongst those who were ordered and did serve abroad, is numbered two winners of the V.C., and winners of countless lesser decorations for valour.

We were astounded to find that the provisions of the Amendment Bill now before the House did not extend the benefit of housing assistance to these men but was mainly directed to introducing merchant seamen on civilian pay as air additional category, although these same men are not included within the rehabilitation scope of the Reestablishment Act.(

It appears to me to be .an unpardonable example of vindictive prejudice that the Government is not prepared to assist the families of militiamen, after having seen fit to create two armies and to accept their services. lt appear.* that it requires Considerable courage to champion their cause, but little courage to call them .” Chocos “ and to heap Contempt upon them.

The House ‘of Representatives has already seen fit to accept this as a just position. J feel that members of the Senate are prepared to realize -that the only basis of rehabilitation should be the man’s need and not the man’s merit.

One half of the members of this Association saw service overseas, and they are not prepared to deny the need of any other serviceman.

I agree with those who ‘believe that the benefits of the “Wai- Service Homes Act should be extended to those people. During the war years the construction of war service homes was almost completely suspended, and applications for these dwellings to-day number many thousands, whereas building operations are almost negligible. I hope that within the next financial year, the activities of the .War Service Homes Commission will be increased substantially. One frequently hears the statement that the housing problem in this country is colossal ; but I suggest that the construction of homes is a task for small industrial undertakings. Prior to the war, many small contractors were busy in every State, and at present thousands of them have sufficient capital and equipment to build ordinary Australian homes of the bungalow type, but, in the supply of building materials, preference is now given in the main to government-sponsored schemes. Small builders are endeavouring to erect homes in Launceston, but are experiencing great difficulty in obtaining the necessary supplies. The Government should stimulate the output of these materials. I am glad that the sales tax in respect of many of them has been removed, and I hope that many more will be exempted. That would do much to overcome the shortage, and would encourage private contractors. I am pleased that one of the objects of the Commonwealth housing scheme is to help prospective home buyers by arranging their finance.

I am gratified to know that the activities of the War Service Homes Commission are to be extended o the Australian Capital Territory. This is a most desirable amendment, because a large number of ex-servicemen’ in this territory desire to acquire their own homes. A good deal has been said in ‘a rather sneering manner about what has been done by the War Service Homes Commission, whose record up to the middle of 1940 was highly creditable. I shall not cover the ground which has been ably traversed by Senator Collett. At the 30th June, 1940, the number of applications approved was 44.207, and at that date 37,385 homes had been provided. The expenditure on war service homes had then been £29,775,146, and the total receipts by the commission during that period amounted to ££7,715,874, of which £10,555,701 was paid- into the National Debt Sinking Fund. An illuminating feature is that the arrears of instalments outstanding at the 30th June, 1940, amounted to £664,180, or 2.7S per cent, of the total instalments due.” That is a fine record, and reflects great credit on, not only the commission, but also the “ diggers “ who are obtaining their homes through the commission, particularly when we remember the dark and grim depression years between 1929 and 1933.

I hope that the commission will set its face against building any homes merely as a temporary expedient. Prior to World War I., many of the - buildings of the Royal Military College at Duntroon in ‘which the cadets were housed were of poor construction. They were cold in winter and hot in summer. -It was said that they were intended for only temporary use, but they were occupied until about 1935, when they were so dilapidated that they were a disgrace to the Commonwealth authorities. On the outskirts of Launceston, the Government of Tasmania has erected homes at a cost of £1,060 each. They are not well built, and no sewerage has been provided. They are situated in n portion of the city area which is liable to fog, dampness and floods^ and by their erection the State Government has created potential slums. We should, guard against that danger, and I hope that the War Service Homes Commission will insist on building only houses that are well designed and solidly constructed. Much of the necessary work could be done by private contractors under the supervision of the staff of the commission. The provision of only £800,1)00 on the Estimates this year for War Service Homes is a mere “bagatelle”, and I hope that the vote in the coming year will be trebled or quadrupled. An active policy should be pursued in the next financial year in providing homes for the thousands of fighting men who are sorely in need of accommodation for their wives and children and themselves. I welcome the bill as an indication that the commission is about to embark on a vigorous policy of home building.

Senator AYLETT:

– I, too, welcome the bill. ‘ Senator Sampson referred to unsatisfactory temporary buildings erected at Duntroon and at Launceston. Similar buildings were erected by the War Service Homes Commission after the end of the war of 1914-18. The commission has undoubtedly done a good job in more recent years, but many mistakes were made in the early stages of its activities. Some of the dwellings erected were mere shells, and were, as Senator Sampson said of the temporary structures at Duntroon, freezing in winter and hot-houses in summer. We must be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The proposal to increase to £1,250 the amount which may be advanced for a war-service home is wise, but I fear that even that increase will full a long way short of the amount required to build a comfortable home. Since the war of 1939-45 commenced the cost of most building materials has increased by 100 per cent. That i3 certainly so in respect of timber. In view of the big building programme to be undertaken throughout the Commonwealth it would be wise to overhaul the control of the prices of building materials. Prior to the war of 1914-1S saw-millers hauled timber by means of bullocks and horses. Later it was contended that, by mechanize ing haulage, costs would be reduced, but the effect has been just the opposite. We must not lose sight of the fact that ex-servicemen will for the most part have to pay excessive prices for homes. Wages have been pegged so that the explanation of the increased costs cannot be found in a higher wages bill. Nor can it be said that the machinery in the mills throughout the Commonwealth has all worn out and that replacements on a large scale have been necessary. It may be said that the increased costs have been incurred through having to haul timber longer distances to the mills, hut that problem could be met, as indeed” it has been met in many instances, by removing the mills nearer to the timber. There is no doubt that the increased costs of timber are out of proportion to what they should be. I do not overlook the fact that the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner has authorized the increases, but there must be some factors which he has not taken into consideration. If it be contended that the higher costs are due to increased prices for machinery, I reply that, in that event, it would be wise to get back to haulage by horses and bullocks. What is true in respect of timber is true also of bricks; prices have risen by over 50 per cent. It cannot be said that the clay costs more, or that the wages of the workers have increased. It may be .that transport costs have increased slightly, but not sufficient to justify the increases permitted by the Prices Commissioner. These are matters which either the Government or the War Service Homes Commission should investigate. It may be possible to break through the ring which controls timber and bricks, and so reduce prices. But timber and bricks are not the only materials used in building. Other materials used in large quantities are gravel, sand, and cement. It cannot be said that ample supplies of these materials are not easily obtainable. In the past, numbers of homes have been built of cement, with satisfactory results. Concrete houses do not require so much skilled labour as is necessary for homes built of brick or timber, and as the materials for ma-king concrete are available in large quantities in all States, such homes should be cheaper than some of other construction. It may still be contended that fittings are not available for homes. If that be so, it is time that the authorities took some action in the matter. The war .has been over for seven months, and there has been time to convert factories from war-time activities to the production of the things most needed for home construction. The building of .homes has been given first priority, and therefore such things as windows, doors, and fittings generally, should now be produced in large quantities. No great change-over of factories is necessary for their manufacture. If it be true that fittings are in short supply, it must be because manufacturers have fallen down on the job. During the war prompt action was taken to supply necessary materials for war purposes. Even when new factories were needed, no obstacle was allowed to stand in the way of their erection. These factories are not needed to-day and could rapidly be converted to peace-time production. The State Governments are falling down on their job in this respect. Although the Commonwealth Government has offered them factories on very liberal terms in order to encourage the production of civil requirements in short supply, they have been most reluctant to accept them and have endeavoured to foist them on to- privateenterprise, thus expanding the -monopolies which already exist in the production of essential requirements. As the States have been unwilling to accept their responsibilities in this regard, and as private enterprise has shown little or no interest in the matter, the Commonwealth Government should use its powers under the National Security Regulations to utilize these factories for the production of fixtures and fittings, the shortage of which is accentuating the problem of house -construction. Honorable senators opposite will probably refer to the shortage of galvanized iron, and its effect construction. But what is there to prevent the use of substitute roofing materials such as tiles or asbestos cement, tor the manufacture of which- ample labour is available?

I am “gratified to note that this bill proposes to extend the benefits of the act to members of the mercantile marine who served in ships trading between Australian ports amd w& so gallantly served their country during the War years. After listening to some of the- remarks made- some time ago by those who sit in , opposition, one might gain the. impression that members of the mercantile marine’ who served in Australian waters were in no danger- during- the war years Whilst they wei;e prepared to admit that those who served in New Guinea, waters were in danger they would have us- believe that those who served in’ ships plying between Australian! ports were mot subjected to the hazards of submarine attacks. It is> wel known,, however, that submarines were- active in Bass Strait, and at times’ came very close to the entrance of Port Phillip Bay and that’ midget summaries penetrated the boom, defences of Sydney Harbour and attacked shipping lying at anchorage there. Can it. be said,, then,, that members of the mercantile marine who- served in vessels on the Australian coast were immune from danger? Some honorable senators opposite show an extraordinary lack of consistency. Although they believed that the benefits of this legislation should be given to members of the mercantile marine serving outside Australian waters, during the debate on the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill an amendment was embodied in the bill moved by an honorable senator opposite which denied to members of the mercantile marine the preference accorded to returned soldiers.

I propose now to deal with the rate of interest charged on advances made by the War Service Homes Commission for the purpose of building or acquiring homes. The rate of interest is fixed by this bill at ‘&% per cent, as against 5 per cent, in the original legislation. However, any advantage which borrowers may obtain from the reduced rate of interest will be more than off set by higher building costs to-day as compared with those obtaining after the war of 1914-18. In my opinion it should not be necessary to charge as high a rate as 3$ per cent. I know that honorable senators opposite will contend that as we have to pay approximately that rate of interest on money raised for this purpose, the fixing of a lower rate would be uneconomic. In my view however, it should not be necessary to borrow money for this purpose. The Commonwealth Bank should issue sufficient credit to make advances for- the purpose of constructing or acquiring not only war service homes but also all other homes now financed through government instrumentalities-. If this were done- a much lower rate of interest could” be fixed, there would be ample protection for the bank ‘in the assets thus created, and all repayment moneys on the loans advanced’ would go back into the bank. If we continue the policy of borrowing, money on the open market for purposes of this kind’ we shall have to continue to impose heavy interest burdens on those’ seeking the benefits of this legislation.

Senator Collett:

– -Does the Government, propose to do that?

Senator AYLETT:

– L merely suggest that it should do so. I am. hopeful however that if it is not prepared to accept’ the suggestion now, the date upon which it will do so is not far distant.

I should like benefits of the act extended by this bill to enable the “War Service Homes Commission to lift encumbrances and mortgages on buildings erected on land held under perpetual lease-hold from a private owner. Senator Sampson said that members of the Citizen Military Forces who served overseas would not be eligible for the benefits provided under the bill. That is incorrect. I am certain that any member of the Citizen Military Forces who served overseas can qualify for a home under this measure.

Senator Sampson:

– I was. referring to members of the Citizen Military Forces who had not served outside Australia; they are not covered by the measure. 1

Senator AYLETT:

– The honorable senator wants to give to members of the Citizen Military Forces who did not leave base jobs in this country equal treatment with those who served abroad.

Senator Sampson:

– But that is not their fault.

Senator AYLETT:

– Would the honorable senator say. that members .of the Citizen Military Forces who did not leave Australia are entitled to priority over men who were obliged to work in munitions factories for the duration of the war? Would he give to members of the Citizen Military Forces who did not leave Victoria Barracks in Melbourne equal treatment with men who’ fought, throughout the Middle East campaign, at Tobruk, and in Crete, Greece and New Guinea? A man who saw service no further afield than Victoria Barracks should not be given priority over a man who worked in war factories. However, T remind the honorable senator that no section of the people will be overlooked in the Government’s housing programme. The Government will concentrate on its housing policy until such -time as all people, whether they we rr- members of the forces or not, are able to obtain a home. The Government will carry out its policy in co-operation with the States until homes are provided i£o.r .all.

Senator Sampson:

– But this is a war service homes measure.

Senator AYLETT:

– Yes ; and the honorable senator wants to extend equal privileges to men who did not leave Victoria Barracks in Melbourne to men who fought in all theatres of war.

Senator Sampson:

– No, but to every man who wore the King’s uniform.

Sen’ator AYLETT.- The honorable senator says that a man, who wore the King’s uniform and was engaged solely as, say, a chaff eur to drive the Minister for the Army around Mel bourne, -is enti tled to the same privileges as a man who saw active service overseas. I am confident that the honorable senator would not. advocate that in a general election campaign.

Senator Sampson:

– I would.

Senator AYLETT:

– If his suggestion were adopted, men who had not left Australia would probably obtain homes before men who had served overseas. That may be the view of the honorable senator, but I am pleased that it is not the Government’s view. Senator Sampson directed attention to certain houses being constructed in Launceston’ which he claimed were jerry-built. He said they were not sewered, and were of an inferior type; and he expressed the hope that the War Service Homes Commission would not construct any bouses of that type. I remind the honorable senator that sewerage facilities will be installed in those homes, but he overlooks the fact that the most urgent need was to erect those structures. I also contradict his statement that, these homes were built in areas which are subject to floods. In the flood which occurred in 1929, and which was the most disastrous in the history of Launceston, the water did not approach the areas where these homes are situated.

Senator Sampson:

– The honorable senator does not seem to know very much about the place.

Senator AYLETT:

– Evidently, Senator Sampson has only viewed these houses from high ground a considerable distance away. He should take the trouble to. inspect them more closely. When he does so he will find that his statements are inaccurate. I also point out that those homes are being constructed under the supervision of State government officers who will ensure that they are erected strictly to specification. Therefore, it cannot be said that they are jerry-built. They are certainly not being constructed in the manner in- which private contractors, who are personal friends of the honorable senator, are building homes in other areas in Launceston. I sincerely hope that the “War -Service Homes Commission will not permit houses of that kind to be constructed. These private contractors in Launceston are buying condemned bouses and with the material from those structures are re-erecting homes which they are selling to the public at a profit of approximately 100 per cent. Those homes are not equal to those which the honorable senator has condemned. The honorable senator is silent on that point. He knows that I have stated the facts.

I am pleased that the provisions of the principal net have been liberalized, and I’ sincerely hope that steps will be taken immediately to make good the lack of supplies of materials and labour in order to expedite home building. Should it be found that private enterprise is falling down on its job in this respect, as it did during the war years, the Government should have no hesitation in taking action under the National Security legislation i;> order to speed up the production of essential materials. It is evident that, the majority of the States have been riding for so long upon the back of the Commonwealth under war conditions that they have become lazy mIld have failed to realize their responsibility in the provision of homes.

Senator COOPER:

. -r-The bill will confer considerable benefits upon not only ex-service personnel, but also others including merchant seamen. I commend the Government particularly upon the provision whereby crown land held on perpetual lease will be accepted as security by the War Service Homes Commission. For some years now I have been urging the Government to make provision along those lines in order to enable many people eligible for war service homes, who are able to obtain sites on perpetual lease from the Crown, to enjoy the benefits of this legislation.

In many towns of Queensland, particularly mining towns, land is held on a perpetual leasehold basis, and, in the. past, ex-servicemen residing in those areas have been denied the benefits of the War Service Homes Act. I am happy to see that the Government has decided now to accept perpetual leasehold land as security for the construction of war service homes.

Provision is also made in this measure for the inclusion of merchant seamen within the scope of the act. I agree wholeheartedly -with this proposal, but, I believe that first priority in the provision of war service homes should be given to ex-servicemen and women who served their country on the various battle fronts. Because enlistment in the Australian armed forces during the war just concluded greatly exceeded those during the war of 1914-18, the demand for war service homes on this occasion will be much greater. The problem is intensified by the fact that the construction of homes during the first nine months of the present post-war period is substantially less than it was during the corresponding period after the war of 1914-1 S. I believe, therefore, that men and women who have seen active service should have priority in securing war service homes.

The bill provides for an increase of the maximum advance for the construction of war service homes from £950 to £1,250. This step is being taken, not to provide better class homes, but to meet increased building costs. On many occasions I have advocated in this chamber that provision should be made in war service homes contracts for a review of capital values at specified periods, say, five, seven, or ten years, so” that, should building costs fall, tenants could be given relief from the commitments which they undertook when high values obtained. Many applicants for war service homes to-day have been on war service for five years, six years, or even longer, and have not had an opportunity to purchase homes during that period, whereas other members of the community who have not seen service at a- battle front, although they have been carrying on important war-time jobs in this country, have been able to purchase houses at pegged prices. There is no pegged price on the homes now being constructed, and their cost is much higher than in 1939. Again I urge the Govern- ment to consider the inclusion in Avar service homes contracts a provision for a review of capital costs so that occupants of war service homes may enjoy the benefit of any reduction of building costs which may occur in’ the future. Should prices rise, however. I believe that no additional commitments should- be imposed upon occupants, because, after all, this country owes a debt to those citizens who fought for it.

Housing generally is one of the paramount problems in this country to-day. I agree with Senator Aylett that somebody seems to have fallen down on the job of ensuring a rapid flow of essential materials. The Minister for Works and Housing (M.r. Lazzarini) said on the 18th July, 1945, that, subject to releases from the services, he expected that a sufficient supply of building materials would be available in every State to meet each quarter’s requirements. It is now nearly nine months since that statement was made; yet building materials are more difficult- to obtain now than they were then.

Senator Clothier:

– Quite a number of houses are being built at present.

Senator COOPER:

– Yes, but building activity to-day is not nearly so great as it was during the war, when apparently ample supplies of materials were available for the construction of military camps and other service establishments. I assume that the production of these materials has continued during the past nine months, but in Queensland to-day it is almost impossible to get corrugated iron, or iron of any kind. Builders seeking roofing iron are usually referred to asbestos manufacturers, only to find that even for this material the demand is so great that there is a long list of prospective purchasers. Corrugated asbestos sheets are made entirely from Australian materials, and I understand that the manufacturing process is not difficult. Many factories have been engaged on the% production of asbestos sheets during the war, and I see no reason why their output could not be increased to relieve the acute shortage existing to-day.

Senator Clothier:

– Some of the houses built in Brisbane were of such poor construction that they had to be pulled down and rebuilt.

Senator COOPER:

– That fault can be brought home to the Government. It cannot fairly say that it was not forewarned. The first report of the Social Security Committee, dated the 21st September, 1941, stressed the fact that a housing planning authority should be set up immediately. The committee devoted the whole of its fourth report, dated the 20th May, 1942, to housing from all aspects. That report was presented nearly four years ago,. but the Government has allowed the matter to get out of hand, and is now passing the job on to the States, which do not seem to be doing much better than the Commonwealth has done.

Senator Ashley:

– Does the honorable senator suggest that we should have been building houses four years ago ?

Senator COOPER:

- No ; but planning authority had then been established.

Senator Armstrong:

– The Japanese were not far away from Australia at that time.

Senator COOPER:

– That is so, but it does not excuse the Government for its inaction. Long ago the people were assured that it was planning ahead .and would prevent any disruption in the change-over from war-time to peace-time production. Admittedly the war with Japan terminated before the Government was ready with all of its plans, but it should have known that the struggle might be concluded at any time. The lack of housing is an acute problem in all of the States, and the people are getting restless. Large premises are being occupied by individuals who have taken the law into their own hands. I desire to assist the Government as far as I can, without criticizing it unduly, but it must accept responsibility for the present unsatisfactory position. It has been in office for several years, and it induced the people to believe that when peace was proclaimed no delay would occur in the provision of the housing so urgently needed by (he people. From 1918 to 1939 or 1D40 the War Service Homes Commission did excellent work, and I my commendation.

Senator Ashley:

– What did the Government -which the honorable senator supported do in that period ?

Senator COOPER:

– The War Service Homes Commission has built over 21,000 houses, according to its report .for the year ended the 30th June, 1945, many of which were erected when the Government of which I was a supporter was in office. Since the inception of its operations, the exact number of houses completed by the commission to the 30th June, 1945, was 21,379. The homes purchased numbered 13,032, the mortgages discharged, 3,112, and the transfers and resales, 3,771. On the 8th May next, twelve months will have elapsed since peace was signed in Europe, but how many houses have been built by the department since that time? From the 1st July, 1945, to the 2Sth February, 1946, only ‘61 houses have been built. During that period applications were lodged for about 12,000 homes, but is it possible to make up that leeway, in view of the fact that only 61 houses have been built since last July? The problem is rendered even more difficult of solution by the fact that probably about ‘300,000 service men and women still have to be discharged, and many of them will require houses.

Senator Herbert Hays:

– What is the estimated number of homes required for ex-members of the services? Would it be as high as 50,000?

Senator COOPER:

– It would be more than that. Many servicemen awaiting discharge are faced with the prospect of having to go without homes of their own for years, and that will make them discontented. In every State buildings have been occupied for service purposes. There is a large block of buildings near Victoria Park, Brisbane, and I suggest that they should be taken over in order to provide temporary accommodation for families in distress through inability to obtain homes. If buildings of this kind were utilized for that purpose, instead of being demolished or removed, the small army of men that would be required to pull them down and erect them elsewhere could be more profitably employed in the construction of new homes, thus relieving the shortage.

I recommend the Government to review the whole matter of the supply and distribution of building materials. Certain materials are in very short supply, one most important item. being nails. Three weeks ago I was informed that it was practically impossible to buy nails in Brisbane.

Senator Large:

– They have been in short supply for five years.

Senator COOPER:

– I know that they have been almost unprocurable since the strike occurred at the gas works at Newcastle last October, and. the shortage will continue until the manufacturers can make up the leeway experienced during the five months when no nails were manufactured. That difficulty,, however, could have been overcome. Otherbuilding materials in short supply arekitchen fittings, sinks, basins, baths, and other plumbing requisites. When wardescended upon us, many factories were converted at short notice from peace: timeto war-time production, and I see no. reason why they could not resume production of the goods now in short supply.The Government should concentrate on preserving a proper” balance in the supply of all essential materials. M.any men are anxious to obtain employment’ in thebuilding trades, but they cannot get work because of the shortage of supplies. If the Government would stimulate production of the goods which are urgently needed, the housing problem would befar less acute than at present.

Senator NASH’ (Western Australia)’ [4.2SJ. - This measure, will add considerably to the value of the principal act. Members of the mercantile marine are toreceive greater benefits under this legislation than they were able to get under the original measure. As I understand theproposal, it provides that members of the mercantile marine who have served in the waters along the east coast of Australia will participate in the benefits. In my opinion, that is only fair. Many enemy mines have been found on Australian beaches, and vessels which ply in mineinvested waters are always in danger of* destruction.

Senator Sampson was concerned thatmembers of the militia would not be entitled to the benefits of this legislation. I understand that the proposal embracesmembers of the Australian Imperial’ Force, the Royal Australian Air Force- and the Royal Australian Navy who enlisted for active service outside Australia, even if they did not actually serve overseas. I understand also the members of the militia are not eligible for the benefits of this legislation .unless they actually served outside the geographical boundaries of Australia. It will be seemtherefore that,- in some measure, the bill’ meets the desire of Senator Sampson.

The honorable senator also advocated that the Government should stimulate the supply of building materials. With that view I am in hearty accord. Every effort must- be made by not only the Commonwealth Government, but also State governments to expedite building construction. Although the position is acute, I do not admit that the present Government is responsible for it. During the war, particularly at certain critical periods, it would have been most unwise to concentrate on the production of building materials to the detriment of the war effort. The supply of large quantities of building materials was essential to the prosecution of the war. It was impossible to provide those materials for war- purposes, and at the sa me time to have them available in large quantities for the building of houses. Timber which is, perhaps, the most essential building material, was used extensively during the war by not only the Australian defence authorities but also allied forces outside Australia. In Western Australia, which is the biggest timber exporting State, there is now no timber available for home construction other than timber in a green state. Unseasoned timber is quite unsuited for the construction of homes; it twists and shrinks, and soon causes - buildings to depreciate, thereby causing heavy maintenance costs. When I was in the United States of America recently, I learned that Australia, had its representatives there seeking timber for home construction in Australia. I learned, too, that in both the United- States of America and Canada the timber available for export to Australia was small in quantity. Despite their huge timber forests, those countries did not have all the timber necessary for their own requirements, and were trying to import certain classes of timber from other countries. So essential a requirement as timber for house construction, should not be made the football of politics. We should co-operate to ascertain the best way to meet the shortage of building materials. The West Australian of the 6th February last contained a report of a conference of representativesof the building industry of that State. One paragraph reads-

A timber merchant said that timber was. short in this State because of outsidedemands. It had been impossible to put down board for seasoning since 1942 because of thewar. If drying kilns were multiplied by ten, they would still be insufficient to meet thedemand for dried timber.

Timber is still being exported from Western Australia to the eastern States, and. that has caused some criticism in Western Australia.. Most of it is heavy jarrah in an unseasoned state and, therefore, it is not likely to be used for homeconstruction, because I understand that jarrah is not used as much for building purposes in the eastern States as in Western Australia. -In addition to timber,, the building of homes calls for large supplies of bricks, cement and other materials. In my opinion, a case has been made out for the Government to establish its own organization for the production of essential home building requirements. In saying that, I wish it to be clearly understood that I do not belittle private enterprise and its accomplishments. Private enterprise has done a good job in Australia, and it will continue to do so. The control of building has been passed over to the States, which are now the authorities entrusted with the responsibility of erecting homes.

Senator Herbert Hays:

– They havethe machinery for the purpose.

Senator NASH:

– I do not know that that is so. The general practice in the States is to let contracts for the erection of homes, so that for the most part, the necessary equipment is the property of private contractors. At the moment, I am not so greatly concerned with the construction of homes as with the supply of essential building materials. The War Service Homes Commission which is a Commonwealth instrumentality ‘ may build homes only for one section of the community. So long as we have to rely on a number of sources for supplies of essential building requirements, I fear that we shall not make rapid progress in the building of homes. It is for that reason that I advocate that the Commonwealth Government should set up its own supply organization. It could produce bricks and take over existing timber concessions. In Western Australia, on the banks of a river, there is an area of land, several miles in length and also several miles wide covered with some excellent timber, to which no one can gain access. In view of the urgent need for timber for home construction, the timber on that area should become the property of the Commonwealth or the State, and should be used to meet the present urgent demand.

Senator Herbert Hays:

– Is the timber growing on private land ?

Senator NASH:

– It is growing on land which was given away by an early colonial government. There is plenty of unseasoned timber in Western Australia, but there are not sufficient drying kilns to treat it. More kilns should be provided so that seasoned timber may be made available for home construction.

A difficult situation exists also in respect of bricks. The Government of Western Australia has its own brick-making plant, but for some time it has not been working at full capacity. The reason is not that the plant is not available but that key men and other labour are not available.

Senator Leckie:

– Is there not also a shortage of coal?

Senator NASH:

– No. The Collie coalminers have done a good job in making coal available for essential industries. Coal is required for the making of bricks, but I have not heard of a shortage of coal being given as the reason for bricks being scarce in Western Australia. It should be made a Commonwealth instrumentality as only by that means can the great difficulties under which it labours be overcome. The award covering the brick-making industry in Western Australia which dates back to 1927 was revised in 1936 and the wages then fixed have not since been altered. Under the wage-pegging regulation it is not possible to increase the rate of pay for men employed in industry, unless it can be proved that anomalies have arisen or that conditions of employment have changed. 1 believe it would be possible to argue that sufficient reasons exist to-day for a variation of the award covering the brickmaking industry.

Senator Herbert Hays:

– Is the brickmaking industry in Western Australia working under a Commonwealth award ?

Senator NASH:

– No, as in the case of the majority of industries in Western Australia, it is working under an award of the State Arbitration Court. In fact, very few Commonwealth awards apply in Western Australia. Men who have returned from the war who were previously employed in the brick-making industry are not prepared to go back to it because they can get better conditions and more congenial employment in other industries. The men working in the clay pits are still doing hard “ yacker “ for a remuneration which is pitifully small by comparison with that paid in other industries, and consequently the brick-making industry is languishing.

Senator Herbert Hays:

– That is the responsibility of the Government.

Senator NASH:

– I am endeavouring to show that if the construction of houses for the people ‘were made a responsibility of the Commonwealth Government we may be able to do much to end the shortage of building materials. I have received a communication dated the 14th February, 1946, which indicates that in 1939 pressed bricks were selling in Western Australia at £3 8s’. a thousand. The present price is £5 a thousand. Similarly,, wire cut bricks which were selling in 1939 for £3 4s. a thousand are to-day sold at £4 5s. a thousand. There’ has been no increase of labour costs in the industry during that period. These increases of the cost of building materials may be justified but there is a grave, disparity between them and the pegged wages paid to the people engaged in their production. What is happening in the brick-making industry is probably happening in other industries associated with the manufacture of building materials.

Senator- Herbert Hays. - Did the Prices Commissioner approve of the increase of the price of bricks ? If so, there must have been good reasons advanced for such approval.

Senator NASH:

– I understand that one reason advanced in support of the application to raise the price of bricks, was the increased cost of coal.

Senator Ashley:

– There was no control of prices in 1939.

Senator NASH:

– That is -so, and many other controls have since been abolished. For instance, we now have no control over labour; there is no longer industrial conscription about which we have heard so much in this chamber; but we are not able to man adequately industries engaged in the production of many essential requirements, .including building materials.

Senator Sampson referred to the lethargy manifested, by people during the war years in regard to post-war requirements. All honorable senators, irrespective of political party, will readily agree that paramount in the minds of all people in this country during the war years was the successful prosecution of the war, and that all other things were rightly made subservient to the objective. Honorable senators on the one hand claim that the Government should have been planning for the post-war period while the war was still being waged, and on the other twit the Government with having produced a number of blue prints but little eke. Right through the period of the war the Government was planning for the peace, and I believe that it has done an effective job in overcoming so many of the difficulties with which it found itself confronted when peace eventually caine. In a comprehensive review giving details of the various housing schemes in which the Commonwealth Government is interested which was forwarded to me under- cover of a letter dated the 18th March, 1946, the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lazzarini) had this to -say in connexion with the Government Experimental Building Station at North Ryde, New South Wales: -

In the search for lower housing costs, much detailed study is being given to the requirements of the prefabricated house. Although the development of small, well-equipped prefabricated houses is going on rapidly in England and elsewhere, it is doubtful whether any of these dwellings would be suitable for Australian conditions without modification, and so far no permanent prefabrication scheme, except in concrete, has received .wide acceptance. For this reason four . prefabri cated houses are being sent to Australia by the British Ministry of Works. The types, which will be erected at the station are, Tarran (concrete and plywood), Airoh (aluminium), Uniseco (concrete slabs) and Arcon (steel frame, asbestos covered).

Meanwhile, on the recommendation of the station and the Victorian Housing Commission, plans are going ahead for the production of a prototype of a prefabricated steel house based on a design developed by the Department of Aircraft Production. The results of this attempt to use the aircraft industry in the mass manufacture of houses will be made available to every State.

Apparently the experimental station has not been successful in evolving “a prefabricated house suitable to Australian conditions. On the vessel on which I returned from San Francisco recently I met a very prominent citizen of this country who told me of a project he had in mind of constructing houses of steel. He was confident of his ability to construct such a. house in a form acceptable to the Australian people and market it at a. reasonable price. I understand that he has since done so. Whether or not it represents the millenium in house construction I do not know, but at least it proves that construction media other than those -normally used have possibilities. Whilst I was overseas I was told by a very prominent Australian citizen that houses in England constructed of aluminium had proved acceptable to the people there. If aluminium houses were found suitable to the needs of this country they may provide a ready means for the profitable use of enormous quantities of scrap aluminium from aeroplanes damaged during the war or since made obsolete.

Senator Herbert Hays:

– What is wrong with concrete houses ?

Senator NASH:

– Concrete houses should be suitable and prove satisfactory both ‘ in durability and price. I know an engineer in Western Australia who has made a feature of designing concrete houses. He complained that he was at a loss to understand why his designs and construction proposals have not received the consideration to which he believes they are entitled. He is satisfied that he can build a concrete house, perfect in every detail and including all modern conveniences- and the most up-to-date ventilation, which would be acceptable to the people of this country. I understand that his designs and methods of construction are now under consideration by the housing authorities.

Senator Herbert Hays:

– The construction of concrete houses would go a long way towards overcoming- the shortage of bricks and timber. Sand and cement are readily available in all States.

Senator NASH:

-Cement manufacturers in Western Australia have hot been able to work their plants to full capacity because of their inability to obtain supplies of coal from the eastern States. The local production of coal is not sufficient to meet the needs of industry iri that State. The shortage of coal supplies is hampering industries in all States. I am quite prepared to admit that many of the problems that face us to-day have been brought about a3 the’ result of industrial upheavals. That is an. unfortunate state of affairs but it is by no means confined to Australia. I desire to see the housing plans of the Government implemented rapidly and efficiently because the shortage of houses is one of the’ major problems confronting the country. After listening to what some honorable senators opposite have said on this subject one would gain the impression that a housing shortage did not exist before. On the contrary the housing shortage that existed for many years has been accentuated ‘ because during the war period the resources of the nation were’ harnessed almost exclusively to the task of winning the war. We are- now faced with the problem of making up the leeway. Another factor which must be borne in mind is that very many people now have the money to buy their own homes, whereas in earlier years there were many more houses offered for sale than there were buyers with the money to buy them. I- do no’t agree with Senator Cooper when he says that although the war ended seven months ago, the Government, has done nothing to solve the problem. Pie pointed out that only 61 war service homes had been built: since the war ended. However, in addition to war service homes, the Govern ment, under its housing’ agreement with the States, has constructed 6,000 homes in six months, whilst another 8,000 homes are in the course of construction, and the target for, the first twelve months of the scheme is 24,000 homes. Of those houses, 50 per cent: must be made available to ex-service personnel. Therefore, the Government’s problem is not confined to the construction of war service homes. This work must be correlated with other phases of its- home-building programme.

A very important provision under the measure is - to increase the maximum amount of loan to a prospective purchaser of a war service home from £950 to £1,250. Perhaps, in my younger days, I had more responsibility than quite a number of people in rearing a family whilst, at the same time, I had also to pay off a home. I eventually paid off my home. Although the capital cost of the Home was only £700, it took me a long time to pay off that cost and to meet, interest at the rate of 7 per cent. Under the measure a loan of £1,250 will be made available to prospective purchasers. Whilst I realize the reason for that increase, I- understand that an intimation has been given that should that amount be found to be insufficient, steps will be taken to increase it. It seems to me that the more we allow costs to increase the more that figure will tend to become the minimum instead of the maximum loan that will be required by purchasers under this scheme. In order to illustrate my point I place before honorable senators a few calculations. Under the measure a prospective purchaser who receives the’ maximum loan of £1,250 will be obliged to pay a deposit of 10 per cent, leaving a balance of £1,125, which will bear interest at the rate of 8 J per cent. On that basis the annual interest payment will amount to £42 3s. 9d., which, however, may be. reduced if payments are based on quarterly rents. However, on a’ straight-out annual basis . the purchaser will pay approximately 16s. 3d. a week interest. The measure also provides that the purcha’ser must paly off th’e’ home over a period of 45 years, and on that basis he will pay the balance of £1,125 at the rate of £25 a year, or 9s. 7-^d. a week. Thus, apart from payments in respect of rates and taxes, assuming that these are to be met by the. purchaser,- his total payment in respect of interest and capital repayment will be £1 5=. 10M. a week. Assuming that the basic wage is £5 a week, a purchaser receiving that wage will have a balance of £3 14s.. 11/2d. a week on which to live and maintain his family. Chat is not a very comforting picture, hut it is due to the high building costs. No one can object to the rate of interest of 3-:j: per cent, because that is less than the rate to which the Government will be committed in respect of the capital from Which these loans will’ be provided. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the significance of the facts which I have stated. At the same time, I understand that under the Government’s “rent subsidy scheme purchasers can obtain homes for as low a rental as 8s. a week. Under that scheme a person may not be charged rental in excess of one-fifth of his wage which, on the basis of a wage of £5,. won] j be £1 a week. In that case a purchaser of a war service home would be relieved of weekly rental amounting to 5s. 10yd. However, I should like to know whether the rent subsidy scheme under which the Commonwealth pays threefifths and the State two-fifths of the subsidy, will apply to purchasers of war service homes. If that he so the purchaser in the circumstances I have mentioned will be afforded considerable relief. Nevertheless, in view of the facts I have given, every effort must be made to reduce building costs. The first corrective in that direction is to maintain strict supervision of costs on the present levels of wages. We cannot expect the average worker to rear a family and to pay £1,250 for a home with interest at the rate of 3$ per cent. A purchaser in such circumstances would be unable to meet his commitments, particularly should he be involved in considerable expenditure as the result of sickness in his family. Our problem is to build houses of a suitable character at as low a cost as possible. I do not suggest for one moment that we should erect merely four walls and call that a house. We must enable the worker to erect a modern home at as low a cost as possible. There is considerable room for the reduction .of building costs. Some one must be getting a big “ rake off “ on the basis of , present costs. I understand that the average estimate nf the cost of constructing a room of ordinary size is £200, making the total cost of a five-roomed house £1,000. How can the average worker obtain a decent home under those conditions? We must find a way out of this dilemma. The Government may subsidize buyers, but it is necessary that the worker give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, and that the contractor be prepared to accept a fair rate of interest and a moderate, profit. Only in that way shall we be able to reduce costs.

Dealing with the total cost of a home, the ‘ bill amends section 18 of the principal act by adding the words “or the fair value of the land as determined by the commissioner and approved by the Minister “. No satisfactory definition of “ fair value “ is given. I ask the Minister in charge of the bill to give attention to this point because there is a possibility that for want of a clear definition of those words litigation may occur. Nothing in the bill indicates how the fair value of the land is to be arrived at. Obviously, the commissioner’s determination will be approved by the M’ini’ster. As this measure is designed primarily to benefit the purchaser we should ensure that the determination of the fair value of the land will be on that basis. I commend the Government for the introduction of the measure. It will provide considerable benefits for those who have rendered noble service to this country.

Senator LECKIE:

.- Senator Nash, after referring to the benefits to be provided under the bill, expressed doubts concerning those benefits. He was very elaborate in his explanation of those doubts, but, at the same time, appeared to be hopeful that they were resolved somewhere in the measure. What is the salient point of the measure? It is that a house is going to cost at least £300 more than it costin the past. That is the clear pronouncewhich was previously obtainable for £950 ment of the bill, which acknowledges that under a Labour, government the cost of housing for ex-service personnel and every one else in the community has increased by nearly 32 per cent.; that a house will now cost £1,250. That increased cost will involve purchasers in additional payments in respect of interest and amortization payments. When the present Labour Government goes out of office and the parties represented by the Opposition again assume office-

Senator Ashley:

– That will be a long time.

Senator LECKIE:

– But the new government will promptly reduce the cost of building houses. What horrifies me is the probability that ex-service personnel will be persuaded to build houses not at a cost of £1,250 - because that isonly the maximum amount that can be borrowed - but at a cost of approximately £.1.400, on which they will be obliged to pay interest, and at the end of a period of five years will find that the house that cost them £1,400 is worth only £.1.000 or £1,100. That is the salient fact which emerges from this bill. We cannot ignore it. It is useless for the Government to gloss over the present high cost of building. Senator Nash explained why the brickyards in Western Australia were not ‘producing a-s many bricks as previously. He said that the men did not like working at the brick works. The work was too hard for them, and they preferred to look for easier work. For that, he did not blame them. Then he said that under some planned economy those brickyards would increase their output. What does he mean by some planned economy? Does he mean industrial conscription? Evidently, that is the only way the Government can get the men to work at the brickyards in Western Australia. But the Government cannot have it both ways. If, at present, men will not work in brickyards, and the Government has some planned economy in mind, the first essential of such a plan will be to get men to work at those brickyards ; and that means industrial conscription. He did not say so in so many words; but that was the effect of his argument.

The Senate is indebted to Senator Collett for bis second-reading speech on this measure. His masterful collation of statistics and historical data showed clearly the falsity of the cry that one hears so frequently that the war service homes scheme inaugurated after the last war, and administered largely by anti-Labour governments, was a complete failure. On the contrary, it was a gigantic success. The honorable senator showed that 37,595 homes constructed, only 1,3S7 remained in the hands of the War Service Homes Commission through voidance of contracts. That achievement points to the outstanding success of the commission’s activities, and of the efforts of those who were responsible for the inauguration of the war service homes scheme. Senator Collett blew into thin air all the arguments’ that had been advanced by the honorable senators opposite in regard to the alleged failure of successive administrations formed by the parties now in opposition to implement an adequate housing scheme for ex-servicemen. Whether the success of the scheme was due to the commission or to the sound- ness of. the original planning, I cannot say, but the fact remains that the war service homes record of this country is outstanding. Senator Collett also pointed out that 16,182 war service homes, out of a total of 37,595, were now entirely owned by the ex-servicemen who went into them, and that the remainder were being transferred from the commission to the occupants at the rate- of 1,200 or 1,400 a year, so that in the not very distant future no war service homes at all will remain in the hands of the commission. “ Senator Collett’s speech was a worthy contribution to the prestige of this chamber, and the people of this country would be well advised to study it closely. All the points he made were conclusively supported by figures.

Amongst other things, this measure provides for an increase of the total advance on war service homes from £950” to £1,250. I am afraid that Senator Nash was not quite right when he said that the 10 per cent, would be subtracted from the £1,250. My interpretation of the provision is that the 10 per cent, will be added. Therefore, with the interest rate at 3? per cent., occupants of new war service homes will have to- pay an extra. 4s. 2d. a week. After paying the additional 4s. 2d. for five years, they will probably find that the .capital value of their houses have depreciated to the level existing five or six years ago. I cannot see any reason why some relief cannot be given in this regard. I. do not ‘blame the present Government altogether for the high cost of building to-day, although I believe that it has made a contribution to that increase. I realize that the war ended with unexpected rapidity, and the plans for peace-time activities had not been completed. The ‘preliminary planning for a -housing scheme should deal first with the provision of materials; but it seems to me, that this Government is seeking to build houses before ensuring an adequate supply of man-power and materials. Much of the additional cost of home construction is represented not in higher charges for materials, but in increased labour costs. It is estimated that the builder of a war service home to-day will pay approximately £150 or £160 more for labour than was paid in 1937-38. One hears considerable talk about mechanization of industry; but mechanization is not sufficient where a man does not do a full day’s work for a full day’s wage. Nothing can cure that. If men deliberately “ go slow “ in accordance with instructions from their unions, obviously production costs must increase.

Senator Aylett:

– Is the honorable senator implying that the sawmill workers a re going slow ?

Senator LECKIE:

– I am not speaking of sawmill workers. I am dealing with the actual construction of homes. It is common knowledge that the Builders Labourers Federation has ordered its members to “ go slow “. When workers are encouraged to “go slow” by the very people who should be telling them that upon their productive power depends the future prosperity of this country, what hope can there be for a reduction of costs?

Senator Aylett:

– I hope tha,t the honorable senator is referring to the State which he represents in this chamber - Victoria- because what he is saying does not apply to the other States.

Senator LECKIE:

– The conditions that I have described exist throughout the Commonwealth. Only Opposition speakers in this chamber, and in the House of Representatives have criticized the failure of many workers to do a fair day’s work; yet at least half of the increased cost of building homes is due to that factor.

Senator Courtice:

– The cream of the labour in the building industry went to the war.

Senator LECKIE:

– Of ‘ course. It all comes down to what the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Collings) said recently about three men doing only the work of one man. In these circumstances, it is only natural that production costs will rise.

I cannot join in the jubilation that has been expressed in regard to this measure. There are not many benefits in the bill about which one can be jubilant. The building industry is in the throes of a temporary crisis which no doubt will pass in time. I believe in looking forward. We should be prepared now to say to applicants for war service homes, “ These houses will cost £300 more than the legitimate price. Therefore, we shall establish a special fund, so that at some future date, should it become apparent that you have become overcharged for your homes by that amount, we shall be able to reduce your indebtedness “.

It would be much better for the people of Australia to face this problem now. I assume that as 37;000 war service homes were required for ex-servicemen of the war of 1914-18, there will be a demand for at least 50,000 houses on this occasion. The total additional cost therefore at £300 each will be £15,000,000. It would be better in the interest of the exservicemen themselves, and of the country generally if the Government were to decide now to subsidize its war service homes scheme to the extent of £15,000,000, rather than to promise a revaluation of the homes at some uncertain future date. To the ex-serviceman a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The plan to obtain interest-free money from the Commonwealth Bank does not appeal to me. I am confident that the people of Australia are willing to do the fair thing by our ex-service men and women. If war service homes are to cost another £15,000,000 in addition to the astronomical millions already earmarked for the rehabilitation of ex-service personnel, the best plan would be to make a gift of that money to war service homes purchasers now. I trust that the Government will consider this matter.

I regret that the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who .is in charge of this measure, is not present to hear this important discussion. Valuable suggestions have been made. It is most unsatisfactory to explain matters to a Minister who is not responsible for the measure. is a pity that the Vice-President of the Executive Council is not present to-day.

My object in speaking was ‘to point out that the benefits that will accrue to ex-service personnel from this, measure not not really so very great. In fact, war service homes purchasers may find the provisions of this bill an “ Old man of the Sea”, whomthey will not be able to remove from their shoulders. If the Government were to make a straight out gift of the £15,000,000 to which I have referred, it is probable that within twenty years, most occupants of war service homes would own their dwellings. The adoption of that proposal would decrease the period of repayment. I do not think that many merchant seamen will avail themselves “ of the benefits of this measure. . It is better that some seamen who did not sail in dangerous waters during the war should be able to obtain the benefits of our war service homes legislation - their number will be very few - than that those benefits should be denied in a deserving case. I do not wish ex-servicemen to labour under a false, impression. The Government has brought this country to a sorry pass. It lias increased the cost of building houses by from £300 to £400 each, and it is now faced with the responsibility of overcoming that difficulty. “When the opposition parties are returned to power they will take steps to have the position remedied. Senator Aylett and Senator Nash have told lis some of the reasons for the increased costs of building. Senator Nash explained that bricks cannot be made in Western Australia because men will not work in brickyards. Then he said that by some kind of planned economy bricks will still be produced. Does he imply that industrial conscription will be introduced? He cannot have it both, ways. I do not oppose the measure, but I point out that, although servicemen will be provided with houses, they will discover five or six years hence that their homes are not worth what they havepaid for them. The Government should look into the matter from that aspect, and’ should not make promises which cannot be fulfilled. The occupants should not be promised a mythical subsidy under certain conditions at a future date, but provisions should now be made so that they will be placed on a fair footing, instead of having a great burden placed upon them.

Western Australia

– If the construction of single houses, instead of flats, had proceeded at a steady pace throughout theprewar period, the present shortage of homes would not have occurred. Flatsare erected because they return highrentals, but they are mostly occupied by people who have no families. Senator Nash has referred to housing conditionsin Western Australia. Plenty of room isavailable for house construction in that State, but a vigorous home-building programme has not been practicable becauseof factors attributable to the war. Without desiring to blame one government more than another for the present shortage of houses, I contend that an authorityshould have been appointed with power toexpend large sums of money in there ass production of building materials,, so that reserves could have been accumulated. A year ago I pointed out that a great deal of the timber being used wasso unseasoned that it warped soon after-‘ its use. In November last I saw somehouses being erected in a suburb of Brisbane, and soon afterwards I noticed that the window frames were being removed because the timber had seriously warpedThere was a shortage of bricks and timber during the war period, because the labour required’ for the manufacture of bricks and the dressing of timber was not available. When the Opposition parties were in power, labour was plentiful and wages were lower than they are at present. Bricks, plaster, iron and tiles were obtainable in ample quantities at that time, but very few houses were built. When’ I entered this Parliament there was a shortage of 365 houses in Canberra, but to-day at least 1,000 more homes are required.

The working man is not receiving any benefit from the increased cost of building. In Western Australia, a four-roomed brick house with two bedrooms can be bought for £900. I can vouch for that statement, because a member of ‘my own family recently purchased a brick house with all modern conveniences at that price. In “Victoria, £1,100 was recently charged for a. similar dwelling constructed of wood, and the land on which it was built measured only 33 feet by 80 feet. The erection of a home on a block of those dimensions should not be permitted. If building materials were made available on the mass production principle, the cost of building could be considerably reduced. In Western Australia, contractors erecting homes for the Government build about 25 houses in a particular locality and a certain quantity of bricks and timber is made available to them for that purpose. Often they find, it necessary to transfer their employees- from one group of houses to another, and that adds appreciably to the cost of the work. Senator Nash remarked that his house cost him £700. I occupy a four-roomed brick, the cost of which was only £450. I fail to see any justification for an increase of the price of a worker’s home to £1,000 or £1,250, but, admittedly, builders’ hardware and other fittings have increased in price by 40 or 50 per cent. Baths which formerly cost £4 10s. now cost about £7, and the cost of hot water geysers has increased ‘to about £7 each. I have been informed that a two-bedroom brick house, with an overall floor area of approximately 1,000 square feet, which would have cost £848 10s. to build in Victoria in 1939, would now cost £1,270. The increase of £421 10s. is accounted for by the fact that the cost of materials has increased by £142, the increased cost of labour is £179 10s. and increases due to other causes amount to £100. Included in “ other causes “ are delays in construction due to the irregular flow of materials to the job; the older and inexperienced labour employed, and the general difficulty in organizing the work to ensure the most efficient use of the labour available. The following table shows the increases of prices of material at present as compared with those in 1939 -

The statement has been made that the workers in the building industry are’ getting the benefit of- the increased costs, but that is not so.

I am pleased that efforts are being made to provide homes for ex-service men and women, but. special encouragement should be given to home-builders, particularly those who raise families. Those ex-servicemen who take up life on the land need special financial assistance for the provision of farming plant and equipment, but what better encouragement could be given to those who raise families than by making deductions from their liabilities in respect of their properties in accordance with the number of children they have? I suggest that, on the birth of the first child, their principal indebtedness should be reduced by £25, whilst for the second ‘ child it should be reduced by. £50,’ and foi’ the third by £75. That would encourage them to settle on the land and to increase the population. We are all agreed as to the need for immigrants, but in what better way could the population be expanded than by increasing the number of young Australians.? The cost of houses is too great, and the ratio of rents to income is far too high. No man should be called upon to pay as rent each week more than one day’s salary or wages. The main thing to-day is to concentrate on the mass production of building materials. I travelled on the transAustralian Railway recently with . Mr. Sinclair of the Western Australian Sawmills, and he told me that jarrah could not be produced in sufficient quantities to meet the demand because of the lack of labour. I brought the matter to the notice of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), but the reply was that during the war manpower for timber-getting was not available. He said that the Government could not provide men to fight the enemy and cut timber at the same time. That was a proper attitude to adopt at that time, because the country’s war effort had to have first consideration. I hope that no effort will be spared to ensure that the young men of this country, particularly the young married men, who have served it so faithfully will get the treatment that they deserve.


– Much has been said about the provision made for war service homes for the men who served in the war of 1914-18. Now we have to consider the men who served in the war that has just ended. As the result of our experience of the existing legislation we should be able to avoid some of the pitfalls into which we fell in the early days of the war service homes scheme. A good deal could be said regarding the treatment of exservicemen in the provision of homes, but no good purpose could be served by recriminations. Whoever has been to blame, the fact remains that the achievements of this National Parliament fall short of what they ought to have been in order to safeguard the interests of returned soldiers against excessive . values of land and houses after the war of 1914-1S. The present Government cannot now advance the excuse that Labour supporters have stressed for the failures of the Scullin Government; it has been said of that Government that it was in office, but not in power. That cannot be said of the present Government which has a majority in each House of the Parliament. Although many difficulties confront those who would provide homes for the people, because of the grave shortages of materials and labour, the Commonwealth Government must accept some of the responsibility for providing homes. It is not sufficient to say that the Government had done its best. Since the termination of hostilities servicemen have been discharged in large numbers, but many of them are still awaiting homes. Men who served in industry in Australia during the war years, including those who worked in munitions factories and other war establishments, have had many advantages over servicemen. Even before the war ended, there was curtailment of employment, and when hostilities ceased, large numbers of men in Australia transferred from war-time activities to civil employment. The result was that in many instances, jobs for which men of the fighting services should have had priority of claim were filled by men who had not left our shores. The treatment of ex-servicemen was the subject of criticism by the speaker at a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon at Wesley Church, Melbourne, on Sunday last. In the Melbourne Age of the Sth April, under the heading “ Returned men are not getting fair deal “ the following appears : -

The opinion was expressed by Reverend H. L. Hawkins at the Wesley Church P.S.A. yesterday that the majority of returned servicemen were not receiving a fair deal in their efforts to get back to normal living. He cited glaring cases of black marketing.

Desperate diggers trying to find a house for their families were being asked to pay exorbitant prices under .the lap. A request for £10 and “ half your deferred pay “ was not uncommon. Other cases were six guineas a week and £200 for furniture not worth £50, and another £150 under the lap. One returned man was told he could secure a house for 111,050, plus £400 cash before the contract was signed. Even calling in the C.I.B. did not help him to secure the property at a fair price. These were only some of the cases Mr. Hawkins said lie had personally handled in Sydney. A naval officer he knew lived with his wife in a motor car. When his wife had a -baby, the man was forced to obtain a trailer.

I do not say that the present Government is wholly responsible for these conditions, but what applies to Sydney applies also to the other capital cities of Australia. I ask leave to continue by remarks at a later date.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

page 1155



Motion (by Senator Ashley) proposed -

That the Senate do now adjourn.

Senator MATTNER:
South Australia

– It has been reported to me that about 5,000,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition may soon be destroyed at Darwin. It has been suggested that instead of destroying the ammunition, the Department of the Army should make it available to the authorities at Hermannburg Mission Station for utilization by natives in the destruction of dingoes. Probably some difficulties would have to be overcome, as I understand that generally aboriginals are not licensed to carry firearms. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Army to sec what can be done in this matter.

Senator FRASER:
Minister for Health and Minister for Social Services · WESTERN AUSTRALIA · ALP

– It is not the policy of the Department of the Army to destroy ammunition so long as it has an effective life.I am not aware of the circumstances surrounding the alleged intention to destroy ammunition at Darwin, and I shall ask the Minister for tho Army (Mr. Forde) to have inquiries made as to the accuracy of the report and the reason for any destruction that may be proposed. Honorable senators will be aware that ammunition must be kept constantly under inspection, particularly in the tropics, to ensure that defective ammunition is not issued for use, and it is quite possible that some of the ammunition referred to by the honorable senatorhas been declared to be defective and has been condemned. However, I shall ask the Minister for the Army to establish the facts, and on receipt of advice from him I will let the honorable senator have further advice at the earliest possible date. I shall also see that his suggestion that ammunition be made available for sale for the destruction of pests is given consideration. It is understood that ammunition can be purchased for this purpose at the present time, and I assume that the honorable senator is desirous of greater quantities being made available for sale than are at present available.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

page 1155


The following papers were presented : -

Contract Immigrants Act - Return for 1944.

Immigration Act - Return for 1944.

Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for - Commonwealth purposes -

Hobart, Tasmania.

Townsville, Queensland (2).

Postal purposes -

Alexandria, New South Wales.

Moe, Victoria.

National Security Act - National Security (Emergency Control)

Regulations - Orders -

Military powers during emergency - Revocations (2).

Torres Strait area prohibition of lights -Revocation.

York area communications - Revocation.

National Security (War Damage to Property) Regulations - WarDamage Commission - Report for 1945.

Senate adjourned at 5.58 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 9 April 1946, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.