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Tuesday, 30 May 2000
Page: 16595

Mr HARDGRAVE (9:53 PM) —Certainly my electoral neighbour and colleague the member for Rankin is right in part in his summation of his contribution to this debate tonight. One identifiable group in the community will be worse off after 1 July, and they will be the Labor Party members of parliament who have spent the last couple of years running around trying to perpetuate their confected anger about the government's taxation proposals, proposals that were clearly outlined and accurately enunciated prior to the last election—and guess what? Being implemented in full, apart from what has been tampered with in the other place. The most extraordinary thing about all the contributions we hear from those opposite when it comes to discussion about this taxation system which starts on 1 July is that, if it was all so bad, why didn't they just pass in the Senate everything that this government promised it would do, bring it into law, expose it to the people and then reap the electoral goodwill that they believed would come? The fact of the matter is that those opposite are now stuck like flies to sticky paper, as Sir Joh Bjelke Peterson used to say. They are stuck on the flypaper.

Mr HARDGRAVE —Don't you worry about that, member for Rankin. After 1 July the people of Australia will be able to judge for themselves because they will clearly know that their pay packets, their pension packets and their cost of living will alter in such a way that there will be a positive result for them.

The other part of the argument that clearly needs to be rebuked and outlined is that, for some reason or other, the member for Rankin believes that councils in this country are somehow or other creatures of the Commonwealth. My conscience is clear on the matter of recognition of local authorities. I remember voting yes in a referendum about a dozen years ago for them to have some sort of constitutional recognition. Although I think in hindsight an awkward proposition was put, nevertheless in good faith I voted in favour of that particular proposition. The fact of the matter is that councils are created under acts of the various state governments. One would submit that any contribution made by the Commonwealth—and we make a lot of contributions to local authorities; I will go into that in detail in a moment—will always be subject to two things: firstly, the ability of councils to generate their own income through rates, fees and charges; and, secondly, the obligation of the states to properly finance those instrumentalities that they themselves create—or, for that matter, destroy—by act of parliament.

The overall obligation as far as local authorities are concerned constitutionally, ethically and legislatively certainly rests with the state government ahead of the Commonwealth. Despite that, the Commonwealth government contributes a massive amount of direct federal assistance in the form of federal assistance grants, FAGs—$1.32 billion in this most recent budget; $1.32 billion of additional top up. In regard to my own state of Queensland, it is $169.9 million in general purpose grants, and for local roads an additional $76.1 million. That is a total of $246 million into the state of Queensland. To dissect that a little further, in my own electorate of Moreton, which is serviced by two city councils, Logan City Council, the third largest local authority in Queensland, received a total of $3.979453 million in 1999-2000, while the Brisbane City Council received $20.326878 million in the same financial year. That is about $24½ million going to the councils which service the people of the Moreton electorate. I have to say that that is a sizeable contribution from the Commonwealth government—which is really only adding top ups and extras—to something that is the responsibility of the states. Given that the central premise of one of the great reforms that comes out of this new taxation system is a growth tax that goes directly to the states—the goods and services tax—the states will be even more well disposed to providing additional funds whenever necessary to the instrumentalities they create or destroy, that is, the local authorities. Despite all that, the Commonwealth maintains, and will continue to maintain, a direct funding commitment in the form of federal assistance grants to give the councils the extra—the edge, if you like. In that regard, I think it is only right and proper that in this place we raise from time to time those sorts of local government issues. If we have a stake in the performance of local authorities through the money that we contribute, then we should be able to critique and comment on those matters.

I want to pay a quick tribute to Senator the Hon. Ian Macdonald, the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government, and the minister directly responsible for this. A colleague of mine from Queensland, Senator Macdonald has never been afraid, particularly with his strong local government direct representation role in the past, to make himself available to inspect first-hand just how well that money is actually spent in various local authorities. In fact, in recent times in the lead-up to the local government elections that occurred in Queensland Senator Macdonald rightly made himself available to attend public meetings in the city of Brisbane. But it is extraordinary how paranoid and outrageous was the reception received by Senator Macdonald from Labor councillors. For that matter, I think even the member for Oxley was at this particular meeting I remember at Acacia Ridge. How outrageous and how paranoid they were to think that someone with authority, someone with some understanding of local government matters, could actually come and speak to local people about the parlous state of representation that they were having to endure from Labor Party councillors in the city of Brisbane.

There is no doubt that there is a huge arrogance and moral corruption, at the very least, associated with the Soorley administration in Brisbane. I say so against the background of knowing that there are ratepayer funded spin doctors who are out there—day in, day out—perpetuating and creating myths of their own amongst media outlets in the city of Brisbane. It is all designed for political purposes, funded by the ratepayers of Brisbane. So when I see $20-odd million going into the City of Brisbane from the Commonwealth I start to wonder how much further that money could go if we were not paying for something like 57 spin doctors—PR agents and journalists on the payroll of the City of Brisbane following the direction of this arrogant lord mayor that we have in Brisbane. These are spin doctors who get onto media outlets and create stories about mobile phone towers; who are trying to suggest that after 3½ years of having powers under the Telecommunications Act 1997, which rightly gives planning priority on mobile phone towers to the hands of local authorities, somehow or other in some mysterious way every mobile phone tower that goes up around the city of Brisbane is the fault of `Johnny Howard'—according to what the Lord Mayor of Brisbane told the council chamber on 16 May this year—or Peter Costello. The Lord Mayor said in fact that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are:

... ripping the money out of the community to put a tower on that corner, we want one on this corner, put a tower on this building.

That is some reflection perhaps on the budget surplus that was achieved. It is a pathetic irony that the Lord Mayor of Brisbane should be complaining about the powers that he has had for the last 3½ years—powers that he never had under the previous government—to properly coordinate and plan the placement of infrastructure for telecommunications in Brisbane. I find it awfully amusing—and Mr Deputy Speaker Nehl, you would not be surprised to know this—that the Lord Mayor of Brisbane does not particularly like me. The Lord Mayor of Brisbane, in fact, told the council chamber:

... when the next Federal election comes, let me tell Gary Hardgrave down there in Moreton I'll be going around every street down there where there's one—

I think he is talking about mobile phone towers—

and I'll be calling a meeting and saying listen this tower is here because of Gary Hardgrave, this tower is here because of Gary Hardgrave.

The fact of the matter is every tower that goes into Brisbane is there because the Lord Mayor of Brisbane and his council have planned it accordingly. It is a very simple matter. To prove that point even more it is worth knowing that the Brisbane City Council is in fact enjoying about a $2 million per year bonus—the Lord Mayor told the council chamber today—which they are making out of the fees that they collect from the towers when they are sited as a result of the planning that has occurred.

Mr Sciacca —Only the high impact towers.

Mr HARDGRAVE —The member for Bowman talks about high impact towers. What is interesting is that under the Telecommunications Act 1997 there is a specified regulation which says very clearly that no telecommunications tower can be regarded as low impact, which is the other myth that the Lord Mayor has his 57 spin doctors working on. He is trying to get up this line that the Commonwealth retains some power to plan low impact facilities, and that is certainly true, but no new telecommunications tower—by the definition contained within the act—is in fact a low impact tower. So it is the big fib that is being perpetuated by the spin doctors at the behest of the Lord Mayor of Brisbane.

This Lord Mayor of Brisbane during the lead-up to the council election campaign picked up the phone and abused a constituent of mine. He could have abused a number of people around Brisbane. But Mrs Jean Burnett, an 83-year-old lady who lives at Moorooka, had committed the mortal sin of criticising the Lord Mayor of Brisbane because the 116 bus route did not go where she felt it should and did not give her the sort of bus service she believed she needed. After Mrs Burnett wrote a letter praising my efforts—because she had given up on the local councillor; he did not return phone calls; she had given up on the Lord Mayor of Brisbane—to represent her concern in regard to a bus route, which I would do again tomorrow, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane rang her up at 5.20 one afternoon and tore shreds off her. This is an act of the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, a man who is paid as much in benefits as the Prime Minister of this country. I think that is a form of thuggery that should not go unrecorded in this place. The Lord Mayor of Brisbane has arrogance that knows virtually no bounds.

I, as a federal member of parliament, will continue to take an interest in local government matters in my electorate, for a number of reasons. One is because of the money that we as a level of government put into local government in Brisbane alone, and the other is because people are just not getting the performance they want out of this current Brisbane City Council. I have fixed more cracked footpaths, more blocked sewerage mains and more potholes than I care to even think about. Why? Because people give up on their local Labor councillors and pick up the phone and call me. The heart of the matter is the Lord Mayor has a real desire to campaign against me at the next federal election because he knows that I keep doing the job that his own councillors are not doing. He has written to me and threatened to campaign strongly against me at the next federal election. Quite frankly, based on the substance of his arguments to date, I am looking forward to just that.

The Lord Mayor of Brisbane, I guess, at the heart of the matter is upset because we got a 6½ per cent swing against him in my area. Whilst it was not a city-wide result, it was certainly a strong result against him. Why? Because I pointed out very clearly to the people of Brisbane that this Lord Mayor will not help the unemployed in our city by providing Work for the Dole programs, by giving support and sponsorship and assistance to those community groups, those church groups in my electorate that are having to pick up the cudgel while the biggest employer of people in my city turns its back on the young unemployed. The people of my electorate have responded in strong numbers—about 1,100 physical responses to me in an electorate-wide survey from people who want the Lord Mayor of Brisbane to pull his head in and to stop this arrogant anti-federal government stance that he has and to cooperate with the Work for the Dole program to provide opportunities to young people.

On another front, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane has his spin doctors telling community groups that, as a result of the new tax system, they will have to meet the cost of the GST on any grant they get from the council. This particular Lord Mayor of Brisbane is good at giving grants—he gives out a little bit here and a little bit there to various community groups trying to curry a bit of favour. But he has not told the full story—that, as a result of the new taxation system, he should and must give more in the form of a grant and then repatriate that additional cost against his own input tax possibilities as a registered entity under the ABN scheme and the new taxation system. So we have the Lord Mayor of Brisbane trying to blame the government for giving less. Any community group that gets less from the Brisbane City Council after 1 July is getting less because of the direct decision of the Lord Mayor of Brisbane and his Labor council rather than anything to do with the new taxation system.

Self-funded retirees in my area are still waiting to be treated the same way as pensioned retirees in the form of lower household rates. The Lord Mayor will not give self-funded retirees the opportunity to have a rate rebate, to have a certain rebate returned on the rates that they pay. There is no reward for effort for self-funded retirees. Then there is the matter of proper truck and transport corridors around Brisbane. People in my electorate are facing day in and day out the problems of trucks finding their own way around the city of Brisbane without any proper signage recommending the correct route to follow. I have mentioned in this place—on too many occasions, I guess, for those opposite—the facts surrounding the Griffith arterial road, which is the combination of Granard, Riawena, Kessels and Mount Gravatt-Capalaba roads that link Ipswich Road and the Gateway Arterial. They basically form the national road freight corridor—a corridor created by a sleazy little deal in 1991 when the then state Labor government and the then federal Labor government agreed to swap responsibilities. Basically, the state gave the federal government the road and as a result they effected a potential cost shift.

Labor councillors and the Labor Lord Mayor of Brisbane are running around trying to blame the federal government for the noise from that road when we only have noise from the trucks on that road because of their complete failure to properly plan and offer designated truck routes through suburban Brisbane. I have got people who back out onto that road daily. They play russian roulette with B-double trucks, trucks that really do not want to travel on that road because it is poorly designed for the purpose that it has been set aside for by this lazy and sleazy deal that happened in 1991.

When I look at the amount of money that goes into the City of Brisbane from the Commonwealth and I look at the matters contained within this bill, I see we are helping out and are providing an additional, extra, boost of funds. But I think it is incumbent upon me to remind all that it is important for this council to actually do some of the things that people expect it to do. Local government is supposed to be the level of government closest to the people. We have in place in Brisbane—and, sadly, we will have it there for a few more years yet because they have just been re-elected—the most arrogant of administrations. So soon after their re-election in late March we have seen a retirement from responsibility by Labor Party councillors. We have seen a Lord Mayor of Brisbane who is already retiring from public events which he used to go to. We have seen Labor councillors on extended holidays, being not available and not showing up to fetes and things like that which they always used to show up to. We have already seen them go into slow mode. They have discredited the concept of four-year terms. They are the first councillors who have been elected for a four-year term in Queensland. They have discredited it already because so soon into their four-year term so many of them have retired from—

Mr Sciacca —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: the member cannot possibly say that. They have been re-elected for about three or four weeks. How you can work out that they—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—There is no point of order. Resume your seat. The honourable member for Moreton has the call.

Mr HARDGRAVE —The member for Bowman represents an area that in the main includes a completely different council to Brisbane. He does not necessarily fully understand exactly what is occurring in my area—fortunately, he is not the representative, I am. But it is a statement of fact that we have already seen this administration retire from the activities of council. The Lord Mayor of Brisbane has forecast that this is his last term and I suspect that, the further we go into the four years, the less we will see of him—and a lot of people in my area cannot wait for the day when he has finally gone.