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Thursday, 2 December 1971
Page: 4037


Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - This is a most important Bill in terms of the magnitude of finance provided to or for the States. In regard to the actual payments to or for the States on works and ho,,sing programmes the amount involved in 1969- 70 was $2.41 6m. Tn 1970-71 the amount was $2,843m. For 1971-72 the amount has been estimated at $2,93 lm. These are extremely large amounts of money. I want to speak principally with respect to certain projects such as works programmes in relation to Commonwealth-State financial agreements. One thing I do believe is that a needle or some stimulant should be given to the Government or to some of the departments for which the Government is always ranking excuses. Time and time again I have asked questions in this Parliament concerning the progress of particular projects - they may be concerned with roads, Water, power or land development - and every time 1 get the answer 'lt is under investigation'. Obviously considerable time must be spent in investigations. I would be the first to admit that. 1 would expect adequate investigations, particularly in the scientific and technical fields, to determine the proper allocation of scarce resources, but one becomes tired of the type of answer that one receives all the time, especially when one knows that analyses have been completed. I speak, in this regard, particularly of water development projects. It would seem that in most instances the Government plays politics, lt watts for the most opportune lime before advising the States, through Cabinet, on water development projects. This results in undue hardship in many areas of Australia to those people who are waiting for State or Commonwealth decisions relative to their particular problems.

The beef roads programme has been a major project year in and vear out. This programme is a 5-yearly programme but, as has been pointed out many times in this House by myself and other honourable members, there is need for an early decision before the completion of a 5-yearly programme. It is obvious that roads must be completed. It is also obvious, from undertakings being given by the Government, that the beef roads scheme will continue. It is essential that some announcement to this effect should be made by the Government. The Government should indicate to the States what roads are to be constructed and what money will be available for those roads. If this were done it would minimise losses which could be brought about by plant being moved from one location and then having to be moved back. The same arguments apply to water conservation projects. 1 have not been able to ascertain accurately how long it had been since the Government has made a decision under the water development programme. It certainly has been a considerable time - well over 12 months. In my home State of Queensland, for example, people in the Burdekin area have been waiting since 1949 for a decision from this Government on the Burdekin Basin. Who will forget the famous election words of Sir Arthur Fadden, the then Leader of the Country Party, in 1949 when he said: 'We will build the Burdekin dam'? Not $1 of Commonwealth money has been spent on this project. A lot of promises have been made, there has been buck passing and the Queensland Government has been blamed, but no Commonwealth money has been made available. I refer also to the North Eton project, This area is intensively settled, agriculturally, but it is susceptible to drought, experiencing on an average one drought every 3i years, lt is ait area in which there is every justification for tho expenditure of Commonwealth money on water conservation, lt would be a sound economic project as long as the Government delays making a decision economic and financial hardship will be caused to the people there. Most of the land in the potential catchment area is frozen. No improvements can be made because one makes improvements al one's own risk and most farmers are not prepared to take that risk. The Government should make an early decision one way or another. It should not procrastinate and make excuses, lt should not say that the matter is under investigation or keep on blaming the relevant departments. In most cases the departments have forwarded reports which, frequently, are in the hands of interdepartmental committees. Those who have served on interdepartmental committees know that these committees are a most iniquitous means of stalling decisions.

I turn now to matters associated with the Postmaster-General's Department, although I appreciate that strictly this is not a State matter. However, the States are concerned if the Commonwealth Government cannot find the time or the money necessary to increase the efficiency of this Department. In my own area, and in other areas of Australia, there is a 12 months delay in securing the provision of multi-coin telephone boxes. I am quite certain that the 2 Ministers who are present in the chamber now - the Minister for the Army (Mr Peacock) and the Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp) - would not know of this situation. Australia is a nation with vast unemployed resources, yet there is this delay in securing multi-con telephone boxes. In my own electorate there are 7 applicants for this facility. All applicants are good in the sense that the provision of this facility would actually show a profit to the Commonwealth Government. One applicant is the Returned Services League Club in Mackay, which has 1,200 active members who patronise the club exceptionally well, as anyone familiar with the club will know. That club has been told that it will be 14 months before it can get a multi-coin telephone box. This is an incredible situation. Why cannot Australian resources be used to make available this facility or ordinary public telephone boxes for that matter? This may be only a minor point but it illustrates that if the Commonwealth is seeking revenue there are avenues available to it.

Another factor which greatly disturbs Federal and State members of Parliament concerns the closing of country post offices. lt is extremely difficult to get any information on this matter. Suddenly, out of the night, comes an order and a post office is closed, and then all hell breaks loose. Every farmer and every worker in the area concerned protests to his Federal or State member. Why cannot we get advanced information on the closing of post offices? Why cannot the Postmaster-General (Sir Alan Hulme) tell Federal members that a certain post office will be closed so that, if necessary, they can organise activity to try to prevent its closure? However, that is not done, and frequently a member is overseas or elsewhere when the post office is closed. This is a type of fly by night tactic with which most honourable members, particularly those in rural areas, have to contend. I think it is wrong, because no investigation is made upon which we can argue. The decision is simply a departmental decision.

All people who live or work in country areas know that the local post office is virtually the heart of an area. Many country post offices have served their districts for over 50 years, and served them well. Not only are they the heart of an area, they also are the social centre of an area, and to suddenly see them closed by a policy decision is a retrograde step. I hope that before this Parliament goes into recess the Country Party will side with the Opposition to stop the Postmaster-General from taking the dictatorial action of closing down country post offices. This matter may not be important to the Postmaster-General's

Department but it is extremely important to the Australian public. If money is nol available for post office facilities, a thorough look should be had by members of the Cabinet at priorities.

Recently a policy was announced of giving country people a higher priority with respect to the provision of telephones, but every district engineer throughout the nation regards this as a joke. It is all very well to formulate a policy but unless additional money is made available the people will be no better off. The announcement of such a policy causes heartaches for people who race into the local post offices or district telephone offices complaining that they are not being provided with telephones within a certain time. I have had to tell people that they might get it by the year 2000 if they are lucky because, in some areas, it is not possible to get an estimate under 10 years. What sort of a policy is this? It is essential that something should be done.

I should like to say - I point out to the Minister that he was 2 minutes late in starting the debate - to the Minister and to those officers who are in attendance and who can convey this back to their respective departments that it is high time that we received progress reports in this Parliament on the projects that have been financed by the Commonwealth. We make available, say, $10Om for a project and that is the last we ever hear of it in the Parliament. 1 have no doubt that officers of the department concerned see progress reports but, as I have stated time and time again in this House to the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz), we are entitled to know how efficiently this money is being spent. For example, is there efficient use of finance on the Ord River project, the beef road, the brigalow area and the various irrigation and power projects throughout the southern States of Australia? We in the Parliament want to know how efficiently that money is being spent and whether mistakes have been made, so that these mistakes can be rectified in the future. I think that this is important from the point of view of a Federal Parliament which, after all, debates at length and passes a Bill, or whatever it might be. on the recommendations of the Government and that is the last we as a Parliament ever hear of it. So, it is essential that we do receive progress reports.

I conclude by saying that there must be more co-operation with the States and more money made available with priority given to the most urgent development projects. Will the Government or the Government departments responsible, for goodness sake, put a needle or some sort of a stimulant into themselves so that we may have quicker answers to our questions? I do not want continually to be asking the Minister for National Development how the Burdekin project is going. I have been asking him for 6 years now and I am still receiving the same answer - that is under investigation. We have asked how particular road projects are going and again we are always told that they are under investigation. Tt is high time that we made a positive decision ip fairness to people in the metropolitan and country areas who are actually waiting for a decision.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.







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