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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 283

Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLE(5.30) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the papers.

The Opposition welcomed the Commonwealth Grants Commission report on the financing of the Australian Capital Territory. The shadow Minister for the Australian Capital Territory, Mr Philip Ruddock, said that the report would enable debate on self-government to take place on a much more informed basis. I think that is so because the report placed before us was very comprehensive. It reveals in the most unambiguous terms the extent to which there might be additional cost for citizens of the Australian Capital Territory if any of the options proposed by the Commission for financing the Territory are accepted. As an instance of these additional costs, under a residual Territory method of financing territorial accounts an extra $373 per person would need to be found. For example, under a residual Commonwealth financing method an extra $191 per person will be required. With the Commission's preferred financing mechanisms the extra per capita amount would be $243 per person. I think it is fair to say that these amounts demonstrate why many people in the past have preferred to see the status quo remain as far as self-government in the Territory is concerned.

The Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) in his tabling statement has ignored these questions. In the Minister's remorseless quest for self-government he gives no assurance to the people of the Australian Capital Territory as to how these financial arrangements will be addressed. One of the principal public concerns about the report should be the extent to which the Commission discloses delay in the provision of information, the inability of most departments to separate expenditures in relation to Territory and national functions and the arbitary nature of judgments made in estimating national and Territory costs. While the Grants Commission cautions against the use of its tables as other than illustrations, the clear trend and direction of its study is clear. The cost of self-government to territorians would be significant. Now that the inquiry has revealed considerable above standard service levels in many areas of government activity, additional charges for territorians in years to come will be more difficult to resist.

The extent to which further inquiry is needed is confirmed by the Commission's final conclusion that a separate territory fiscus should be established as a basis for co-ordinated budgeting and annual reporting. Such a method of accounting is urgently required. No doubt a number of departments would need to give attention to that. Having regard to the Government's early election time table the interdepartmental committee and postponed action on an Australian Capital Territory fiscus to the 1985-86 Budget are devices to continue self- government as a matter of discussion, but with no further progress being made. I make these remarks at this stage. I feel sure that this report will be one that will invite discussion in more detail at more appropriate times. I simply draw attention to these recommendations and conclusions that have come from the Commission at this stage.