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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1310

Senator PETER BAUME(5.38) —I am delighted that Senator Cooney rose to speak as a senator from Victoria. From his moderate tone honourable senators may gather that Victoria has not done too badly out of the recommendations. From the impassioned comments of some of my colleagues it will not be very difficult to work out which States have ended up on the short end of the recommendations.

Senator Robert Ray —Are you saying they are crook?

Senator PETER BAUME —Not at all. I am about to make the point. It has been said by some cynics that in politics matters of principle are matters of money. It has also been said that matters of high principle are matters of a lot of money. These Commonwealth Grants Commission recommendations in fact are matters of high principle because they involve the distribution of certain moneys between the States on some basis other than on a per capita basis. I have been here long enough to see a number of reports come in from the Grants Commission and to see on each occasion the representatives of those States which stood to lose money, recommending that the Commission's report be put aside and that the decision be made on some other political basis.

It seems to me that there is one valid ground of criticism with which people may come to the Senate, and that is to say that the basis on which the Grants Commission works is a basis which they wish to question or that the formula which the Grants Commission uses is not an appropriate formula. But they cannot come here and argue that, having put it out to the umpire, as Senator Cooney says, the recommendations are, ipso facto, ones which should be rejected simply because they disadvantage a particular State which an honourable senator might represent. I have been here when several Grants Commission reports have been presented and on each occasion have seen the recommendations of the Grants Commission, which by the way have had a marvellous constancy about them in the way they have sought to recommend action, set aside by different governments on the grounds of political pressure.

We have sent the Commission to do a job. It has sent back a message. The message is a message which some people do not like. I am concerned only that now they may try to kill the messenger, as one response to the report. Whatever else they do, it is not fair to put Mr Justice Rae Else-Mitchell and his Commission under attack because people may not like the recommendations. I am perfectly prepared to accept that certain honourable senators may think that the Grants Commission has been given the wrong brief. That is all they can argue. They cannot come back and say: 'What we are really against, irrespective of the argument, is that our State came out on the short end'. That is to argue that relativities between the States never alter and that the formula which was put into place some 30 or 40 years ago is the only one which can remain.

I can think of few problems more difficult for a government to face than the response to a Grants Commission report. This has not been a report from the Government. It has been a report from the Commission. I agree with honourable senators that it requires longer debate. However, as someone from New South Wales, which I understand has been in Grants Commission terms a donor State from the beginning, I say that we are very interested to see how the debate unfolds. However, we would like to see it unfold on the basis of some generosity for Mr Justice Rae Else-Mitchell and his Commission. I suggest that those who wish to attack the findings of the Commission do so on the basis that it was given a wrong brief, not that it did not do its job properly.