A century of overcrowded homes: How we reported the story of housing in Australia
by Chris King
Chris King. Author provided.
If the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War were the crises in Australia’s domestic political history, then the housing crisis in 1957 stands as one of its defining events. It wasn’t just about the Depression, which did its share of damage – there was also the war and the war was accompanied by rationing leading to shortages of food, fuel and labour.
The government’s response to the housing crisis was also a key feature of that era; many of the same government policies – such as the Housing Commission and the Australian Housing Scheme (AHS) – were used in the 1940s by the Labor government to deal with the housing crisis.
With the rise of the Australian Labor Party and the emergence of John Curtin as prime minister in 1945, the Labor government was faced with a housing problem that would continue through the 1960s. The AHS was created as a response to that problem.
Between 1945 and 1957, the government established the Central Land Board (CLB) and the National Mortgage Corporation (NMC) to deal with the crisis. CLB had power to give preferential mortgages to landholders and the state-controlled NMC was a conduit for loans to borrowers.
The CLB and NMC were established by the government with the support of the then-Australian Labor Party, which led the formation of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). These two bodies were intended as an alternative to the private banks.
ALP leaders such as Arthur Calwell, George Reid and Bill Hayden had made housing available to the public as a right. The ALP also provided housing funding through public works and social grants, which included infrastructure, health, education, social welfare and unemployment relief.
Labor’s commitment to public ownership in housing was not simply a political position. This commitment was reflected by the party’s policies regarding state housing.
In 1947, the government’s Housing Commission – now the Housing Division – recommended legislation to the Parliament to provide state housing. When the recommendation was finally presented to the Parliament in 1949, it proposed a State Housing Scheme.
The Labor government did not take up the CLB/NMC recommendation. Instead, it went with its own proposal. The Housing Act of 1949 provided for a new