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Wednesday, 7 June 2000
Page: 14796

Senator HUTCHINS (NaN:00:00) —In this debate on the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Amendment Bill 2000 I would like to make a few comments on how this bill, and the way it facilitates the introduction of the GST, will impact on areas that I am associated with in Sydney. The Labor Party of New South Wales has a very fine record of having members in this federal parliament who have had extensive experience in local government. Mrs Crosio, the member for Prospect, was the Mayor of Fairfield. The Chief Whip, Leo McLeay, was on Marrickville Council. Bob Horne was on a council up on the north coast; I cannot recall the name of it. Roger Price was the Deputy Mayor of Blacktown. John Murphy was, I think, the Mayor of Drummoyne. A number of other members in the federal parliament have had a distinguished career in local government.

People who have had that experience—I note there would be very few people in the government who would have experience in local government—can tell you exactly and directly the impact the GST will have on local government services and facilities. I have never had any experience in local government, but I have been involved in many local government campaigns in my life and I make sure that we get them up.

Senator McGauran —I have.

Senator HUTCHINS —For the benefit of Senator McGauran, we have a term in Sydney called `Pitt Street farmers'. I am told that in Victoria you call them `Collins Street farmers'. I talk from experience, having been involved in regional and rural councils in New South Wales. I have been advised by my colleagues of the detrimental effect the introduction of this GST will have on council services and facilities. In the 1997-98 budget the Howard government cut assistance to local government by $15 million, which has not been reinstated. We were told before the 1998 election that nobody would be worse off under the GST. As I will demonstrate in a moment, that is clearly untrue.

One of the areas I look after as a duty senator, Parramatta—a council that has a Labor lord mayor but is not controlled by the Labor Party—have advised me of what they see as the start-up costs of the implementation of the GST. Among the expenses they will have to find as a result of the GST coming in after 1 July will be the following. They believe that the use of their swimming pools will cost an additional $35,640 to their ratepayers. The hiring of sporting fields will cost $10,908. Library fees and services will cost $5,172. Parking fees will increase by $315,000 and golf course fees by $74,000. The hire of council halls will incur an additional cost to the ratepayers of $16,061.

These higher costs will affect school holiday programs, senior leisure centre learning, site inspection and testing fees and senior leisure learning activities. But that is not the end of it for a council the size of Parramatta. What they will have to do in addition—which they are already budgeting for—is to work out the derived costs of the GST. They are budgeting for expenses of over $160,000 this financial year to cover the imple-men-tation of the GST. This money will go to the pur-chase of new software for their ac-counting systems, computer upgrades, and labour associated costs for training and re-tention of an additional accountant to co-ordinate the council's quarterly tax returns.

This council will have to find another half a million dollars to continue the services they are currently providing to their ratepayers. Yet the government have only budgeted for $2.5 million to assist councils throughout Australia with the implementation of the GST. Parramatta Council, which is not a large council in terms of the size of Sydney, will have to find an additional half a million dollars. The Howard government went to the last election and said `No-one will be worse off.' That is clearly untrue. I would like to say more at the end of my comments about the truth that we should be trying to articulate as politicians.

I turn to another area I am involved with. I am a ratepayer of Penrith. Once again, we have an independent mayor there and a Labor minority. So these councils are not Labor controlled. I have been advised that for the hiring of sporting fields, say, the netball courts in Penrith—I think there are 28 or 30 or maybe even more netball courts—they are going to have to find an additional $14 per court per season, that is, little girls who run around on the netball courts all day Saturday are going to be slugged with an additional cost. If you hire a sporting field to play rugby league or rugby union or soccer, costs in the same category will increase by between $28 and $68 for each sporting club. You may notice, Madam Acting Deputy President, that I did not mention AFL because it is not all that popular up in Sydney, but it may be down in Tasmania.

The cost of hiring council halls in places like Cambridge Park, Andromeda Drive, Kingswood Park and Autumn Leaf Neighbourhood Centre, which may be used for twenty-firsts, weddings and sporting club presentations, will go up anywhere between $10 and $20. A yearly pass for a family into Penrith pool will cost an additional $64. The cost for that family will go up to $484. The Gold Squad Swimming Coaching Team there will have to pay an additional $13.50 per month per child. That adds up to $162 per annum. These are our future Olympians. They are going to get slugged by this mean government.

The council estimates that they will have to spend over $20,000 initially to upgrade and comply with the costs of collecting this tax. But it is not only there that the people of Penrith are being taken for granted. Miss Kelly, the member for Lindsay, seems to have some sort of direct pipeline to the Prime Minister. She might have a pipeline to the Prime Minister in publicity but we cannot get anything out of the Howard government for the residents of Penrith. The people of Penrith have been asking for funding for the preservation of parts of the ADI site at St Marys—refused. They have been asking for assistance in the flood mitigation works along the Hawkesbury River—refused. They have been asking for funds for the hydrotherapy pool at St Marys—refused. They have sought funding for several Federation Fund projects, and they have similarly been refused.

But I suppose one of the worst aspects of what the government has done that has been identified out there is a problem of community safety in the ramps off the M4 onto The Northern Road. The residents of Penrith went to the Commonwealth and asked for assistance in the black spot funding and, once again, it was refused. One lucky thing that came out of Western Sydney is the fact that we have a sympathetic and caring state Labor government and, because of community safety, that money was found and the problem has been fixed up. They are some of the difficulties that local governments will experience come 1 July. It is simply untrue that people will not be worse off. They simply will be worse off. Already councils are rightly preparing themselves for the backlash that will occur.

I said earlier that I wanted to speak briefly about people making promises that they cannot keep. I think it is really a difficulty for politicians, whatever side we are on, that, if we keep making these sorts of undertakings, then we should keep them because people despair of public affairs at the moment. I do not think we do ourselves any good by making outlandish promises that we never have any intention of keeping. If the government had made promises and they are going to keep them and look after their constituency—all well and fine. That is the nature of things. But when the they go to an election, when they mislead people, when they try to pull the wool over their eyes, people are rightly angry and frustrated when they do not deliver. If we look at it in terms of the politics of the day, you will note that both parties can get only between 77 per cent and 80 per cent of the primary vote—that has slipped in the last 20 years. It does not matter whether it is us or those on the government side, you should not make promises that you cannot keep, and you have misled people time and time again. I will tell you one thing, Madam Acting Deputy President—and I suppose senators here are lucky: your colleagues in the House of Representatives are going to get it in the neck next federal election, no matter what you do.