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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 7092


Mrs CROSIO (6:17 PM) —At this juncture I would like to touch on local government because it does come under this area of responsibility that we are now dealing with in Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1999-2000 . If one takes into account the 700-odd local government councils around Australia and looks at their budgets, something like $14 billion is spent or 2.4 per cent of the GDP. Those councils employ about 142,000 people or three per cent of our national work force. Yet they are all now unanimous in the fact that they do not support the GST.

Why don't local governments support it? Well, in 1997, this government cut over $15 million out of their budget. In the area that I represent, the two councils have already seen all the flood mitigation programs being stopped. Of course, the Commonwealth's answer to that is that it does not believe that flooding and flood mitigation is a Commonwealth responsibility; it should fall on the states. That does not help my councils, which still have $30 million worth of flood mitigation work to be done. Yet the Commonwealth is no longer funding any flood mitigation works.

On top of that, local government is now going to be faced with the Howard government and Democrat amendments. Local governments will now have a GST, but they are being told it will not apply to rates. Local government provides a lot more services than just collecting rates. I would like to put on the record some of the local government activities that are now likely to be subject to a GST. Under regulation and licensing, there is advertising, air pollution, animals, boarding houses, building inspections, building regulations, cemeteries, crematoriums, eating places, fairs, amusements, incinerators, sewerage, water pollution, zoning and planning. Community service activities are aerodromes, aged and disabled housing, caravan/camping grounds, cemeteries, morgues, child-care centres, community halls, dental clinics, dump incinerators, festivals, health centres, home help/nursing, household garbage, immunisation, libraries, mapping, Meals on Wheels, museums, art galleries, parking meters, parks and gardens, preschools, preservation of historic places, public housing, public transport, recyling, refuges, school holiday programs, senior citizen centres, swimming pools and tourist information, just to name a few.

And yet local government, which has always been recognised as a third tier of government throughout Australia, is being told by the Howard government that it will not really be affected by the GST. Little wonder that local government is now concerned, given some of those areas I have just read out that are going to have the GST. Another point that councils, particularly the ones I represent, have raised with me on numerous occasions is that they are not only unhappy with the GST—and they join all the other local governments around Australia in that—but also most concerned that before the last election an election promise, which originally came out of Liberal Party headquarters representing Mr Howard, was made that local government councils would not come under the GST. Of course that was subsequently denied. It must have been one of those non-core promises. Councils have also asked on more than one occasion who is going to pay them for upgrading their accounting systems once a GST becomes fact. Who is going to pay them—other than the ratepayers—to have accounting systems in place to collect the GST on every fee and charge and to then have another system in place to look at the claims and back the GST on inputs? In other words, they have got to take it in; they have got to take it out; they have got to do exactly what small businesses are going to do. As local government councils say, they are a service industry, yet they are going to be hobbled by what this government is trying to do with the GST.

The government, in saying that they would not put the GST on rates, thereby making local government councils exempt from rates, were not honest enough to come forward and say, `Rates are really a tax, so you cannot put the GST, as a tax, on another tax.' I believe that is one of the reasons, if the government want to be honest, why the GST was never introduced onto the rates. Councils are saying that most of the services they are now providing are being subsidised by the rates they collect, but at the same time they have still got no answers to all of the questions in all of the meetings they have had with the government. All they are being told is, `This is what is going to happen; this is what is going to go.'

I believe the people of Australia are going to wake up to that and, when the GST does come in, councils of all political persuasions will stand united. Some councils are non-political, but others certainly have political representatives elected as endorsed candidates. Yet they are all united in this one cause: they do not believe that this GST should be coming into services which they, as another tier of government, provide to the people of Australia. Again, I speak on behalf of my own councils, but I know I also speak on behalf of others with their local government areas throughout the state and throughout this nation. They say, `Enough is enough. You can't expect us to be a tier of government with money being taken out of the overall funding for local government time and time again by this budget and by the previous budget and expect us to exercise or implement a GST and collect this GST for the government.' They are not going to be recompensed for it, so who is going to pick up the tab if not the ratepayers? Their rates are high enough now as it is, yet that extra fee is going to be placed on them as another burden which this government has bestowed on the people. (Time expired)