Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 283

Senator REID(5.33) —The Commonwealth Grants Commission Inquiry into Australian Capital Territory Finances report is of great importance to the Australian Capital Territory. The report was commissioned some time ago to try to ascertain the relationship of the finances to the people of Canberra especially in view of the fact that there is a move towards self- government. It is clear that the Australian Labor Party is anxious to move towards self-government. A commitment was given by its then leader when he opened the campaign for the House of Assembly on 21 May 1982. He assured the people of Canberra then that self-government would be brought in within 12 months of Labor attaining government federally. That did not happen but it has been pursued vigorously by the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) since he became Minister in March last year.

The Australian Labor Party branch council at its meeting of 19 June 1983 called for self-government to be transferred by 1 July 1984. Clearly the Minister has not been able to agree with the Party's request but nonetheless is pursuing it as hard as he can. The Minister has before him the task force report on the implementation of self-government for the Australian Capital Territory. He has before him and has had since May 1982 the White committee review of the Role and Functions of the National Capital Development Commission, a report to which he has not yet responded. Its role in the future of Canberra also is important. We now have the task force report to consider and we have not had the Government's response to the White report to which I referred.

The alarming part of the Minister's response to the task force report was that even though there was a recommendation that at the earliest opportunity the Government should make a commitment to the principle that national functions in the Australian Capital Territory will continue to be funded by the Commonwealth following self-government, the Minister in his tabling statement did not make that commitment. Again yesterday when the Minister tabled this very important finance report he failed to make any sort of commitment to funding.

The report points out that there is a lower level revenue base in the Australian Capital Territory because of the absence of big business, the high level of public service employment which did not pay payroll tax and the reluctance to collect and the inefficiency in collecting taxes and charges. I do not know whether that was written before or after the Minister indicated that he would not pursue arrears of rent on government housing. This no doubt has exacerbated the problem. The report also refers to the cost of health services. I doubt that that relates to our hospitals being more costly than others, but it may well relate to the fact that we have a number of community health centres with paid doctors running them which I believe is a far more costly way of providing health services than is necessary. They are matters still to be looked into.

The Minister has announced that an interdepartmental committee will be set up consisting of people from the Department of Territories and Local Government, Treasury and the Department of Finance to work out some arrangement. I find it strange indeed that after the Grants Commission spent so much time on the matter an interdepartmental committee should now be left to pursue it. I would have thought that the Grants Commission could get as close as could be to working out the financial situation. Perhaps now we have the real answer as to why Labor when last in office was not able to fulfil its firm promise that self-government would be brought in. Mr Whitlam and Mr Bryant both made that commitment but neither was able to do it. It may well be that the information now obtained indicates how difficult it is. The Territory does not have the same revenue raising base as the States. We do not have rail, port and road charges. We do not have access to agricultural and manufacturing charges. We do not have oil and minerals on which to raise levy as do the States. Only one-third of our population employed in the private sector pays payroll tax. Of course, this is very much a small business sector with most businesses employing very few people . In the States roughly two-thirds of their employed population in the private sector pay payroll tax. Therefore, there are very significant matters to be looked at.

The people of this Territory want a referendum before the matter proceeds. It is very clear that that is their wish. Many petitions have been presented in this place indicating that. Many more signatures have been obtained. I fail to see why the Minister will not listen and grant the people the opportunity to vote on whether they want self-government. Maybe it will be a matter of writing on ballot papers in the election.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The time for consideration of Government Papers has expired. As a number of papers have not been considered I draw the attention of honourable senators to the fact that they can be raised under General Business if honourable senators so choose if no motion has been moved about them.

Senator REID —Mr Deputy President, in that case I seek leave to continue my remarks later on this issue.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Reid, you do not need leave. You may raise the matter under General Business if you wish to.