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Friday, 27 November 1959

Mr TURNBULL (Mallee) .- The subject on which I wish to speak is covered by a word which I believe is the most hackneyed in Australia but describes one of our greatest objectives. The word is " decentralization ". Why are we unable to decentralize our population in this country? That is one question. The next question I ask is: Has it become a tragedy in this country, in this atomic age, and as far as its economy is concerned, that most of our population is concentrated in a few cities on our seaboard?

That is the first "question. Why are we unable to bring about decentralization? I believe the answer is that our approach to decentralization is of too general a nature. There is nothing definite or objective about it. Let me give a very homely illustration to show how lack of definiteness ends by producing no results. If I said to a man, " Come and see me sometime up at my home in Boort ", he would probably take that as just a generality, and would not visit me. But if I said to him, " Come and see me on Tuesday ", giving him a definite date, he may come and visit me. We must be definite about things if we want results.

So I suggest that this Parliament and the State Parliaments, in order to gain what should be our objectives in decentralization, should do something definite about the matter. With that object in view, during the sitting of this House I addressed a question to the Prime Minister on the subject. I have not a copy of the question with me. because this is an impromptu speech, but its effect was as follows: It. is generally known that the States and the Commonwealth regard the concentration of population on our seaboard as a tragedy. Will the Prime Minister, therefore, convene a meeting of the Commonwealth and the States to discuss decentralization, with the object of taking some definite action about it? The Prime Minister's answer to that question was that he did not consider it was necessary to have a special meeting on the subject, because at the Premiers' Conference every year all sorts of matters were discussed, and decentralization could be discussed there. I want to ask now whether decentralization has been discussed, as a definite matter of importance, at a Premiers' Conference. Members of the Opposition are calling out " No ", and I think that on this occasion I can thoroughly agree with them.

Let me put it this way: As far as I know there has never been any definite discussion about, or approach to, decentralization at a Premiers' Conference. The subject may have been spoken about in. passing, but no definite proposals on it. have ever been before a Premiers' Conference.

What is the first definite thing we can. do about decentralization? We can calf a meeting of the Commonwealth and the States. What can the meeting do? Will it. just discuss decentralization in a generalway without having any definite objectivebefore it, and without any definite actionbeing taken? If that happens, the meeting, will be a complete loss. So, first, I put forward the suggestion that each Staterun a competition to select the area in 'the State, surrounding a town, which has the. greatest potential for decentralization. It is of no use trying to dencentralize people to places that have no potential for decentralization. The area must have the best possible water supply, and good soil for the growing of primary products for export. It must have many other things that are necessary if a place is to be suitable for decentralization.

Now, there are held in this country competitions in which awards are made to towns which have the best garden features, the best architecture, and so on. I believe that one town in each State, which can show that it has the best potential for decentralization, should be the object of the combinedwork of the Commonwealth Government and the State Governments by becoming, if I may put it this way, a centre for decentralization in that State. Once the area was given more population and sufficient financial help it very soon would be able to develop under its own power. The scheme could then be extended to include another area in the State. I believe that in this way we could 'get some genuine decentralization under way.

What could the Commonwealth Government do in this regard? It would be impossible to name one Commonwealth department that could not help in a decentralization policy directed towards one particular area in each State. If the Commonwealth appointed a liaison officer to co-ordinate the activities of all the Commonwealth departments in respect of such a decentralization scheme as I have suggested, some very definite action would be the result. At the same time, the State Governments could appoint liaison officers to co-ordinate the work of State departments, and also to co-ordinate Commonwealth and State activities under the scheme. Something a State could do, for instance, would be to allow, for a certain initial period, lower rail freights to operate for the selected area, until that area was able to attract more population and to develop. If the State Ministers for Agriculture were able to give certain inducements for the production of certain primary goods whose export could be facilitated in some way by the Minister for Trade, so that they would have a favorable and profitable sale overseas, the selected area in each State could be helped to be developed rapidly. However, all those things would have to be properly coordinated as between departments in both the Commonwealth and State spheres, and as between the Commonwealth and States as a whole.

It is of no use trying to decentralize people from city areas if they do not want to be decentralized. A story was told recently of a man in Melbourne who had been out of work for some time. Some one said to him: " I have a job for you. A house goes with it, and the pay is better than you were getting before." The unemployed man said that that was the best news he had heard in the three or four months since he had lost his former employment, and asked where the job was. When he was told that it was at Wangaratta he said, " I'm not going there! " What is the use of trying to decentralize people who do not want to move from the cities in which they live? Instead of trying to move people holus-bolus out of cities like Brisbane or Sydney, in which they want to stay, you have to get hold of people who want to go out in to the country and make new lives for themselves.

If the Commonwealth Government and the State governments got together in a special conference with the genuine objective of achieving an integrated policy of decentralization, there is not the slightest doubt that we could achieve greater decentralization. I think that every member in the House, and practically everybody in the country, realizes that decentralization is necessary. The point is, do the political parties want it? Does a man who represents a metropolitan electorate in Melbourne want to lose some of his electors to a country area? He might not mind that happening but, of course, a man who had just started a corner shop in that electorate would not like to see the population drifting away to the country.

I realize that the suggestion I will now make will probably please neither the Liberal Party nor the Australian Labour Party. I have long advocated that the way to make decentralization work is through our electoral laws. I have often said that the electoral commissioners have the right, every time a redistribution of electorates is made, to provide a quota for an electorate that can be 20 per cent, on either side of the normal quota of 40,000. They can draw the boundaries of an electorate so that they embrace between 32,000 and 48,000 electors. It is open for them to go to either extreme. If the three commissioners exercised their right to draw boundaries in accordance with those margins, the effect would be to decentralize political representation. After all, if you want to decentralize people you have to decentralize the amenities that go with greater political representation. I suggest that if you had 48,000 electors in each metropolitan electorate and 32,000 electors in each decentralized area in the country, you would have better representation in the country and, of course, not quite so good representation as before in the cities. But in a metropolitan electorate you would still have a reasonable balance of political representation for the whole area. If the Victorian Government was able to build a satellite city at

Dandenong, Thomastown or Broadmeadows, surely they can build some much more widely decentralized towns and attract population to them.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

I think 1 shall take advantage of this opportunity to express my deep appreciation of the kindly references made to me by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Minister for Trade. I want to say that as far as I am concerned, knowing my own limitations, I am very grateful for the tolerance and the understanding of all members during my occupancy of this- office, and I hope that in future we all will still be able to get along well together and, above all, get the business of the House through and so expedite the work of the Parliament as a whole.

As to the staff of the House, I, too, would like to express my great appreciation to Mr. Turner and his colleagues for the loyalty and the efficiency that they have always shown to me since I have been associated with my present office. We all know that Mr. Turner came into office with a complete promoted staff. In addition to that, he had the great responsibility of organizing the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference which was held in Canberra early this month. Any one who has been close to him or associated with the job will realize just how much work was entailed in organizing that conference. He and his staff have done an excellent job. They have maintained the standard of efficient service in this place set by their predecessors. I have every confidence that the Clerk and those around him will continue to maintain that standard in the future.

I would like to thank the members of " Hansard " for their loyalty and cooperation in carrying out the responsible task they have to perform in this Parliament.

To my old friend, the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Bowden), who unfortunately had a medical appointment this morning and could not be with us, and to the temporary chairmen of committees, I extend my thanks for the excellent job they have all done in assisting me in the conduct, management and control of the House. 1 and all members of this House are grateful to everybody associated with the service of this place, from the front step to the cook-house, for what they have done during the last year. I express my appreciation of their loyalty, tolerance .and cooperation.

Now let me say something on behalf of the members of the staff, because they have no opportunity to speak for themselves in this place. Let me say how much they will all appreciate the friendly references that have been made by distinguished members of this chamber this morning. 1 want to say how grateful they are to all honorable members for their tolerance, their understanding and their co-operation in the problems that beset them. They derive a great deal of pleasure from serving in this place, and they hope that the standards of friendship and the dignity of Parliament that have been established in this chamber will be maintained. They will do everything within their ability to see that this is done.

Let me say a word of praise to my friends of the press. During my occupancy of this office I have had nothing but the greatest co-operation from those who control the press gallery. There may have been one or two misdemeanours over the period, but we are all prepared to turn a blind eye now and again.

I thank you all for what you have done and what you have said this morning. I am sure I am expressing the appreciation of the whole of the staff and everybody associated with Parliament when I acknowledge the kindly references that have been made to them.

Sitting suspended from 12.43 to 2.15 p.m.

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