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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr J R FRASER . - It has become the practice for some members in the Parliament in the debate on the Estimates, to express their criticism of the administration of the Aus tralian Capital Territory and, more particularly, their criticisms of the residents of the Australian Capital Territory. Such criticism was expressed late this afternoon by the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie). Some reply to his remarks has already been made by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), and I propose to have something further to say on the criticisms that the honorable member for Moore has expressed.

I think I am correct in quoting the honorable member as saying that Canberra was some sort of a Utopia in which people were maintained, more or less in luxury, by the highly rated and highly taxed residents of the States. If we are to speak in defence of the taxpayers or ratepayers of the States, let me say at once that the criticism expressed by the honorable member tor Moore has been expressed by a member who, I would say, five week-ends out of six flies from this place at the earliest opportunity to his home in Western Australia at a cost to the taxpayer of about £90 a week.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! That is nothing to do with the Estimates before the committee.

Mr J R FRASER - I was hoping to assess the value of the honorable member's criticism. I propose to say this on the Estimates: The people of the Australian Capital Territory pay income tax at the same rate as everybody else in the Commonwealth pays income tax. It may be that, because this is a younger community than exists in most other parts of Australia - the majority of the people in this Territory are in the earning ages - the rate of tax paid per head in this Territory is the highest in Australia. The people of this Territory contribute income tax at the same rates applicable to individuals everywhere else in Australia, but at a higher rate per head of population. They contribute to every subsidy that is paid to every State. They contribute their full share of all the payments that are made to all the States by way of special grants, by way of tax reimbursements and in other ways. The Territory, as such, receives no reimbursement of income tax payments. This Territory has one of the highest ratios of motor cars to population in any part of Australia. Its citizens pay petrol tax at the same rate as other citizens in Australia, but, unlike, the States, this Territory receives no return of the petrol tax that is collected and no such payment is credited to the account of the Territory for the maintenance of its minor roads. I have not the figures available here

Mr Hulme - Who pays for the roads'/

Mr J R FRASER - The Commonwealth makes the roads. If the honorable member for Petrie will allow me, I shall say this to him: It has been very clearly demonstrated that if the Territory were credited, as the States are credited, with reimbursements of income tax, and if the Territory were credited with portion of the petrol tax payments, the accounts of the Australian Capital Territory would show a -surplus. Those are facts which I put before this committee. It is quite wrong to accuse the people of this Territory, in effect, of living on the backs of the taxpayers living in the States.

Coming to the items of expenditure that have been under criticism, we could ask the honorable member for Moore or any other member of the Australian Country party whether he would cut down on the expenditure on general lands services. Would they cut down on the eradication of noxious weeds, on rabbit and dingo extermination, on bush lire prevention, on the alleviation of distress, on surveys, on garbage and sanitary services, or on other matters which, in the States, clearly are the responsibility of a State government or a municipal or civic authority? Would the honorable member for Moore or any other member of the Australian Country party cut down on those activities of the Government which here must act in the role of State government and municipal government, as well as in the role of the Commonwealth? I believe it is quite clear that if the accounts -of the Territory were to show that reimbursement of income tax and the reimbursement of petrol tax to which I have referred, the Territory's accounts would disclose a surplus. Perhaps it might be an interesting exercise for members of the Public Accounts Committee, in their spare time, to delve into that problem a little. It is hardly apt for honorable members who come from the States, which grudgingly concede to this Parliament the powers it is able to exercise under the Constitution - -representing, as they do, areas which are controlled, at the local government level, by shire councils and municipal councils - to criticize the people of this Territory who are deprived of the right to govern themselves in their day-to-day affairs. Even the citizens of Bungendore, Woop Woop or Mugwump have that right which is denied to the citizens of the Australian Capital Territory.

Over the years, there has been considerable agitation for Canberra residents to have this right because they are living in the city which is the seat of the Australian Government, and many of its senior citizens are engaged in the framing and implementing of government policy. But despite that agitation and the presentation of report after report on this matter, no action has been taken. It is sometimes argued that it is not possible to divide the functions of governing this Territory according to those which are properly exercised by the Commonwealth Parliament and those which should be exercised by a local council. The task may be difficult, but it is not insuperable and it should be tackled. The people of Canberra are prepared to pay their proper proportion of the cost of day-to-day administration. There is a rate element in every rental charged in the Territory, whether it be for house or land, and these rates are not disproportionate to those charged in a town of similar population. 1 do not say of similar size, because a normal Australian town with a population similar to that of Canberra would not extend over such a large area as this capital city. It may surprise some honorable members who do not have the opportunity to spend much time in Canberra to know that it now extends for 7 miles in a direct line from north to south. That is a substantial measurement for any city.

The task of assessing the charges that could properly be imposed on the citizens of Canberra to maintain it as their home town, as against the charges in which the national government is involved to maintain this capital as a planned city, should be undertaken and a decision made. It was recommended in the Cole report and more recently in the report of the Senate select committee that the people of the Territory should be given the right, the privilege and the duty of governing themselves in their day-to-day affairs. A correspondent in the " Canberra Times " a day or two ago expressed the view that the people in Canberra were a complacent lot.

I think I know what he meant, but the word " complacent " was hardly correct. He would have more properly stated the position if he had said that the people of Canberra have been frustrated in their dealings with the Government because all too frequently any proposal that they have put forward has come up against the blank wall of officialdom. So many schemes have foundered on that rock that the people have lost heart in their attempts to deal with the government of the day. They can see errors being made in the development of this city, but they are denied the opportunity to express their views. In this city, the Government is in control, not only as the Commonwealth Government, but also as the State government, the municipal council, the landlord of everybody and the employer of 60 or 70 per cent, of the population of the Territory. That fact demonstrates the real responsibility of the Government, and emphasizes the need for it to take some action to share that responsibility with the people.

I understand that opportunity will be given for the consideration by both Houses of this Parliament to the widening of representation on the National Capital Planning and Development Committee. I have constantly advocated that that should be done, so that residents of Canberra might be represented by people who have a wide knowledge of the development of this city and who have had a long association with cultural, sporting and other activities in this community. I hope that the Minister will agree to that wider representation. This Parliament needs to be made aware of its responsibility for the government and growth of the national Capital, and that can best he achieved, as I have said on previous occasions, by the setting up of a joint standing parliamentary committee to oversee its development. This matter is listed on the notice-papers of both Houses, and I hope that when it is debated members on both sides will express their views, and that a decision will be made to establish a committee of members from each House. I hope, also, that when they sit jointly something effective may be done in overseeing the development of the national Capital, and that a report will be made to the Parliament. f hone that the interest of members of Parliament in the national Capital will be extended. I am pleased to know that several Ministers, including the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), reside in the Australian Capital Territory. Their personal knowledge of local conditions will be of great value, and should contribute not only to the proper development of this capital city, but also to the welfare of its residents.

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