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Tuesday, 26 March 1985
Page: 839

Senator REID(9.54) —The Governor-General's address to the Parliament, written by the Government, gave a glowing account of many areas of government activity. I want to analyse exactly where we are going in Canberra, how we are going to get there and what the present signs indicate for the future of this Territory. Is it, I wonder, that the people of Canberra are being taken for granted by this Government, or does the Labor Government really just not care about the people of Canberra? The honourable member for Fraser (Mr Langmore) gave his maiden speech in the other place just recently. It was reported in some detail in the Canberra Times under the heading: 'Major Problems in ACT Administration'. There seems to be a number of problems in a number of areas which give us good reason to wonder exactly what the future holds.

We are entitled to expect that self-government will occur. It ought to occur quite soon if one is to believe the statement in the Governor-General's address to the Parliament on 21 April 1983, when he said:

My Government is committed to bringing self-government to the Australian Capital Territory. As a first step, a broad range of local government powers will be transferred to the House of Assembly.

In twenty months that did not occur. It is strange indeed that in the Governor-General's Speech which we heard just recently there was not one reference to self-government. The Governor-General did not refer to the Australian Capital Territory at all. If it is a fact that the Government is not proceeding to self-government for the Australian Capital Territory, we are entitled to know what arrangements will be put in place for the future of this community. If it is proceeding to self-government, as seems likely, we are also entitled to know what the arrangements will be.

We have had the report of the National Capital Development Commission. We have had the Grants Commission report, which perhaps raised more questions than it provided answers. We have had the report of the Task Force on Self Government. We are told there is to be a paper presented on options. We have had a paper relating to options in education. The whole question of self-government certainly seems to have generated a great deal of paper, but not yet the answers as to what is to happen to this community in future years. If one looks at what is happening and the rundown in so many areas, one becomes concerned about the growing list. I am in no sense suggesting that the present Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes) is responsible for this. He has had the job for only a very short time and for about four weeks of that time he was in ill health. There are signs that he takes quite seriously the job that he has, but prior to his becoming the Minister a number of things occurred which gradually added up to a picture which gives us cause for concern.

We can analyse some of the things to which I have alluded. In the area of housing we saw in August 1984 the sudden and dramatic demise of the Commissioner for Housing loans scheme. It had been a scheme that had been, one might say, talked up by the previous Minister. He had spoken frequently about his aspirations for providing housing. While that is very commendable, he ought not to have allowed his words and his encouragement, especially to low income earners, to exceed his potential to deliver. It transpired that within a few days of the presentation of the 1984 Budget the Commissioner for Housing loans scheme was dry of funds. It had to receive an additional $7m even to honour those commitments which very clearly legally had to be honoured. Of course, there were many other people on the list for the loans who had very high expectations, as they were entitled to have, and had taken steps that they reasonably could have been expected to take towards getting a house. They were not only disappointed but in many instances also quite shattered. Many had made moves in expectation of what they would be able to do.

Just the other day we learned that there had been no sale of government houses since September 1983, and they were only ever sold to lower income earners. The qualifications for buying one of those were such that nobody in rented government accommodation was eligible to purchase. What possible scheme could exist which would preclude people in that category from purchasing? It was supposed that if they could not purchase on the open market they would be able to purchase a government house. Eventually, there was no money left for this possibility in any event. We have had problems with young people, in particular, in need of accommodation which has not been available. Young people have had sit-ins in a number of dwellings in an attempt to demonstrate their need for accommodation. I am not suggesting that their action was right, nor am I condoning it; but it does highlight the problem.

Last year we were told by the previous Minister for Territories, in announcing the community housing expansion program to which he pledged $669,000, that the program was a model that could well be taken up nationally. It seems that the program is now being abandoned. Only $400,000 of the allotted sum has been given to the program and it seems that the balance of the funds has been withdrawn. We have had a proposition from a private sector developer to turn a drive-in theatre site into a mobile home park. This could be done quite quickly and would provide lower cost accommodation. It would provide, in the short term and quickly, accommodation for those who wish to come to Canberra to work in the building industry. As a result of the new Parliament House project, the Australian Defence Force Academy project and other projects, the building industry in the Australian Capital Territory is fairly buoyant at the moment. For some reason that I fail to understand, the NCDC appears to have rejected that proposition out of hand. If it has good reason for doing so, it does not seem to have made it apparent.

Another matter to which I refer is the question of making good use of government money which is spent in the Australian Capital Territory. The previous Minister certainly embarked upon a project of land development by the private sector of which the Liberal Party of Australia had previously approved and adopted as a policy but had not got under way. It is not necessary for vast amounts of government money to be used for land development. Of course, the cost of land development is recovered from the sale of land and in the last couple of years millions and millions of dollars from the sale of land in this community have gone into Consolidated Revenue. However, the problem with the presentation of figures means that on the one hand money spent by the National Capital Development Commission on developing and servicing land is shown as a cost and something that is spent on our behalf, but the money that is recovered by the Government appears in some other set of papers as income and the two are not related. Certainly the profits that are taken out of this community in relation to land development show up nowhere as something which has been contributed by this community.

Recently the Government embarked upon the development of the Chisholm shopping centre. It was delayed considerably but it is finally under way. Both the land servicing and the development of the shopping centre are to be a private sector development. I think it is very clear to everybody that when the Tuggeranong town centre development goes ahead it also ought to be a private sector development. No taxpayers' money should be diverted to that project. At present it seems that the Canberra Commercial Development Authority has been given the go-ahead but has received no money. A recent article indicated that the Chairman of that Authority still believed that it ought to be another government shopping centre, as is the Belconnen Shopping Mall. I totally disagree with taxpayers' funds being used to provide anything towards shopping centres in the Australian Capital Territory or elsewhere and it is not too late to see that this development is done properly.

Any honourable senators who do not know the exact site of the Tuggeranong town centre will be amused, no doubt, to find that it is situated close to the Murrumbidgee River, right on the edge of the Tuggeranong development, given the commitment by Mr Uren not to develop the west bank of the Murrumbidgee, a decision which I support. Perhaps the siting of the Tuggeranong town centre-if it is to be town centre-ought to be seriously reviewed. These are just some of the matters of concern in the area of housing which perhaps come under the heading given to the report in relation to the speech of the honourable member for Fraser; that is, 'major problems in Australian Capital Territory administration'.

We have also had a pretty sorry history in health. We now have waiting lists for elective surgery. I could hardly count the number of times in the last couple of years that elective surgery lists have been cancelled at short notice for one reason or another relating to industrial disputation. We have experienced delay in the opening of Ward 12B-the mental health ward-at the Woden Valley Hospital. We have waited many years to get the mental health ordinance and finally-

Senator Grimes —Margaret, this is the national Parliament. We don't want any of this council stuff.

Senator REID —I am very disappointed that the Minister for Community Services is not more sympathetic to the plight of my constituents. About 14 Ministers have responsibilities for areas of administration in the Australian Capital Territory. Perhaps the Minister missed my reference earlier to the developments concerning self-government. The Government needs to decide whether the various Ministers are going to look after the Australian Capital Territory or whether there will be self-government. At present we seem to have the worst of all worlds. The opening of Ward 12B was delayed for a variety of reasons, including a variety of industrial disputes and lack of staff. It was alleged that our nursing staff were paid less than those who worked in other places and staff could not be recruited.

Recently we had a similar problem with the detoxification unit at the Woden Valley Hospital, although an article in yesterday's newspaper indicated that it may yet open on time. It is to be hoped that it will. Had there not been the delays, perhaps it could have been opened sooner. We had a hospital strike. It is a bit hard to describe what it was all about. It started when the unions attempted to have defined the role of nursing and non-nursing staff and to get adequate staff numbers. It is certainly a pity that the matter developed into the sort of dispute that it did. It was dragged on even further by the actions of the Hospital Employees Federation of Australia. I think that the Royal Australian Nursing Federation had a great deal to say, and rightly so, about the claims that were being made, but it was certainly the patients who came off second best as a result of the dispute and as a result of the Government not taking steps to see that people were working and doing the job that they were supposed to be doing.

In the end the Government's solution seemed to be to abolish the Capital Territory Health Commission overnight without giving any thought whatever to having an appropriate administration to take its place. A few days later some temporary authority was put in place and, hopefully, it is running the hospital system at present. One can hardly imagine why anyone would abolish the Health Commission without having thought through the arrangements which would be needed to be made by the authority which would take its place.

As is well known, we have had problems in Canberra in relation to the care of the aged. I remind the Senate that in the election campaign in 1973 we were promised the establishment of the Office of Aged Care. We were again promised it in the recent election campaign and the Minister may tell us soon exactly when it will come into being. It is certainly an office which would be of interest to the Australian Capital Territory. A number of elderly people in the Australian Capital Territory-about 109-have been classified as being in need of nursing home care and are not able to obtain beds. For more than a year one bed at Morling Lodge has not been able to be occupied. I told the Senate the sorry story about that bed on a previous occasion. Because one more bed ended up in the place than the number for which it was licensed, it was not able to be used. At one stage when a patient was in it as a result of the Department's approving it, Morling Lodge was told to get the patient out of it.

Senator Grimes —Now, now, that is not right and you know it.

Senator REID —I think that if the Minister reads the correspondence he will find that it is. There are many areas in which people in the Australian Capital Territory have been unhappy about the way their health services have been affected. One area I would like looked into is the cost of providing health centres in relation to the services which they provide in a community which is well served by doctors; it is not an area where there is a shortage. I am not for a minute suggesting that we need to have more money spent in the area of health, but I would seriously question, as I did in the area I dealt with previously, whether money is being spent wisely and the best use is being made of it.

We have had considerable union activity for the last couple of years. It seems that every time a union wants to have an argument about something the first thing it does is place some kind of a ban on Radford College one way or another. That sort of thing seems to bob up regularly. The newspaper headlines seem to recur: 'Work bans to hit schools'-that related to the development of the Belconnen college-'TLC told of threat by Government on schools'; 'BLF bans, roadway blocked by builders'; 'Parliament House site picketed'; 'Union bans housing concrete deliveries'; 'Unions row seen behind strike'. That related to a building site in Civic. There is another one 'Disputes threatening Australian Capital Territory milk supplies', but that referred to a dispute outside the Australian Capital Territory. Somehow people seem to think it is convenient to pick on those within the Australian Capital Territory in order to resolve their problems. The linen dispute has recurred from time to time. The one in relation to the Belconnen college development is interesting. The Teachers Federation and the Trades and Labour Council introduced bans because they did not like the site on which the college was to be built. There are other arguments in relation to whether the college was needed. There can be no doubt whatever that a shortage of places for years 11 and 12 is coming up in the near future. It seems there was argument between the National Capital Development Commission and the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority as to whether the college was needed. The NCDC now seems to have agreed that it is, but it leaves the community with an uncertain feeling as to whether it is in Canberra's long term interest to expand the existing colleges so that in 10 years we will have viable colleges or to build another one now. The decision is to go ahead with the fourth college in that area, but banning the site because it was not liked by the Teachers Federation and the Trades and Labour Council displayed an unacceptable way to governing of this community and determining the way in which things will be done in the Australian Capital Territory.

I cannot let this debate pass without mention of the fire-fighters union and its activities. A commissioner was appointed many months ago now and there has been dispute with the union ever since. Its members have refused to acknowledge this man as commissioner and there seems to be a stalemate. The union makes accusations that five of the fire trucks are really unsafe. I raised this matter yesterday in Question Time and got a most unsatisfactory answer from the Government. All I sought to do was to get an assurance for constituents in the Australian Capital Territory that if anyone needed a fire engine to come to a fire at his or her house the units which are provided are, in fact, in proper condition to do the job that they are supposed to do. I did not get such an assurance. Whatever disputes there may be between the Government and the fire-fighters, I hope that we can have an assurance from the Government that the units are serviceable.

I have criticised the fact that the Government has delayed the appointment of a Chief Magistrate for over a year. The previous Chief Magistrate, Mr Hermes, resigned on 29 February 1984, having given considerable notice of his intention to do so. Still no Chief Magistrate has been appointed. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court gave notice some weeks ago of his intention to resign this coming Friday, 29 March, and as yet there has been no announcement of an appointment of a replacement. At this stage I pay tribute to Sir Richard Blackburn and the contribution that he has made to the workings of the Supreme Court and to this community. He has been pro-Chancellor and now Chancellor of the Australian National University during the time that he has been in Canberra. He is a person for whom I have a special place in my heart because he was Dean of the Faculty of Law when I was a student in Adelaide some years ago. I do not know that that is something that he would boast about but certainly it is a relationship that has meant a lot to me over the years. I was very pleased indeed when he came to be appointed to the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court and I certainly value the contribution that he has made.

In the area of our schools there are a number of issues of concern. Suffice it to say that 23 or 24 per cent of students are in non-government schools and now we have a report that indicates that another 24 per cent of parents would prefer to have their children educated in non-government schools if they could. It is a pity indeed for our government school system that it is not providing what parents want and what they are entitled to. In the main we certainly have good school buildings in Canberra and I regret very much indeed the findings of this report which show that so many of the parents are unhappy with what is going on, especially in secondary schools.

I will not go over again matters such as the postal service in Canberra, but certainly there have been comments about that on a number of occasions. I reiterate how poorly we were treated over the international sports facility grant. An amount of $1m was granted under the 1981 scheme which last year was withdrawn by the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) after the then Minister for Territories and Local Government had not advised him as to how the money should be spent. I am critical of the new scheme which gives us only $460,000. Under the previous scheme involving $25m, the Australian Capital Territory was to receive $1m; under the new scheme of $32m, we are getting only $460,000. It seems to me that we miss out both ways. I regret that things are going the way they are in the Australian Capital Territory.

Senator Grimes —It is a real ghost town!

Senator REID —I wish to raise a few matters and place them on record. I ask the Minister to have greater regard for the benefit of tourism in this year's Budget and not do as his predecessor did and tie down the Government's contribution and commitment to developing tourism, to diversifying this economy. Senator Grimes says that Canberra is a real ghost town and I know that he is being cynical. But I do not want this place to become merely a Public Service town. I want it to have an economy that is more diverse-as diverse as is possible. I want opportunities in this town for young people to have careers. I want them to be able to stay here in jobs other than just in the Public Service.

Senator Grimes —Who brought Wang here?

Senator REID —I think you did, alone and unaided!

Senator Grimes —Yes, and who else?

Senator REID —The Canberra Development Board was involved in bringing Wang here and Senator Grimes opened its office in Technology Park. There is a plaque to that effect and I was there to witness it.

Senator Grimes —It was a good day, was it not?

Senator REID —It was a good day. I am glad the Minister remembers it. I am glad that he thinks so fondly of Canberra. I ask the Minister to consider the benefits to young people and the future of this community in diversifying the economy and getting more companies like Wang into the area. I do not want to proceed in a way which will make Canberra more and more a Public Service town.

The things I am talking about are not things on which vast sums of money need to be spent. I am not asking for additional moneys to be spent in Canberra. I want the moneys available to be spent wisely in the best interests of the community. I do not want the Budget figures to be exaggerated as they were last year. I do not want this year's Budget to give on the one hand and on the other take away during the year, as happened with the community housing expansion program. What about the small business assistance program which was to have received $300,000? Nothing has happened at all on that. I would suggest that of the moneys that go into the community employment program some could be diverted to boosting the funds of the Canberra Development Board because-and the Minister has just reminded us of this by raising the question of Wang Computer Pty Ltd; not that Wang received money from the Board-by creating businesses one can create jobs that are long lasting. Some jobs created through the community employment program are of value to those who get them but to a greater extent I suggest they are of benefit to the recipients of the money. I would like to see the money spent more in a way which creates capital and businesses so that there are real jobs with long term prospects available. I believe better use could be made of the $2m allocated for the community employment program when one considers how much the Canberra Development Board has been able to do with the jobs from the little it has received. Its jobs are created at the cost of about $6,700, spent in capital, and the cost under the community employment program was $11,500 for a 45-week job. I believe it has now dropped to about $10,000 but it is for a lesser period. These are some of the things that I hope the Government will address in the weeks and months ahead because they are matters that relate to the long term wellbeing of the Australian Capital Territory.

Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.