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Wednesday, 3 November 1976
Page: 2319

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

The table read as follows-


Mr HURFORD - I thank the Minister and the House. The Australian Council of Local Government Associations certainly has not been taken in by the Treasurer. On 27 May, the Treasurer answered a question from the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards) regarding local government funding. He answered by referring to a massive increase in general purpose funds. When challenged by me on the subject of specific purpose grants-I must admit by way of interjectionthe Treasurer, in a convoluted fashion, asserted:

.   . when the amount for specific purpose grants is included with the amount for general purpose assistance grants, local government will be decidedly better off than it was under the Labor Party's administration.

This simply is not true. The secretariat of the Council of Local Government Associations checked the Budget papers very carefully and found that the Treasurer's claim, to use their words, 'has not been met'. Presumably, the Treasurer did not intend actually to mislead anyone, but it is a fact that local government will not be better off this year than last year, as shown by the table now incorporated in Hansard.

In framing this Bill, the present Government has abandoned all pretence that its federalism theory really meant anything. The Sydney Morning Herald editorial of Tuesday, 2 November 1976 found that the provisions of this Bill gave, "The Federal Government sweeping powers including that of veto'. Some hurried changes to which I have alluded already have now been made, but they do not alter the purport of the point I am making. Surely it is hypocrisy reaching almost dizzy heights for a coalition which has made a crusade of branding the Australian Labor Government centralist to produce legislation such as this. The surprised exclamations of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) that he could not really see what the States were complaining about must rank with the fiddling of Nero as an example of splendid self-absolution. Eventually, when black and white were pointed out to him he was able to come to the conclusion that there might be something in the Premiers' protestations. His admission to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) at question time yesterday hardly covered all the criticisms made by the Premiers, as I have already said. I repeat again that the only reasonable course open to the Government on both of these Bills is to withdraw them and consult with the States before resubmitting them to this Parliament in a redrafted form.

The Austraiian Labor Party's attitude on local government funding is straightforward. We believe that local government has a vital role to play in partnership with State and Federal governments in the provision of services to the Australian people. Obviously, as local government is closer to the recipients of services there are some functions for which local government people are the best administrators. Labor recognised this and instituted a system of direct grants to local government. Perhaps we did en in distributing all funds on a needs basis. The concept certainly was not essentially faulty but the furore created by those councils which received no funds managed to distract from the benefits received by the majority of local government organisations on a needs basis in Australia. Labor wanted local government to have direct access to the Grants Commission. This was vehemently opposed by the conservative LiberalNational Country Parties. The rationale that they put forward was that they believed the States knew better how to distribute funds to local government as the Federal body was too remote. Labor believed that if Federal money was used, the Federal government had a responsibility to ensure that the distribution of those funds was in the national interest.

It appeared until yesterday that the present Government's policy did not agree with this. But now we find the Prime Minister tells the States that the Federal Government must have a firm say in the distribution of Federal funds to local government. There is little difference here between the attitudes of successive governments. But why had the present Government untruthfully gone through the sham of heaping the odium of centralism upon the Labor Government for doing something with which it now agrees? Why go to all the trouble and cost of setting up State Grants Commissions if the Federal Government will still be the final arbiter on Federal funds? Surely the Australian Grants Commission could do the job equally well. I know that the Labor States were thoroughly satisfied with the job done by the Australian Grants Commission. I believe that the same applies to the Liberal States. We have here the spectacle of a government which pays lip service to efficiency and yet sets up all these separate State bureaucracies in the form of local government grants commissions. We have been given insufficient cause for the establishment of the 6 separate State bureaucracies in the form of these grants commissions. We understood from the Government's fine words that it was intent on cutting back the bureaucracy. Obviously, the other driving force behind the Government- the fixation with the destruction of all things Labor proposed- has won the day.

If the Government is to continue with this multi-commission farce, at least let us see the establishment of an overseeing and monitoring role for the Australian Grants Commission. Let us use that body's expertise and let it report directly to the Australian Parliament on whether the funds are being dispersed in accordance with our wishes rather than perpetrate the big-brother intervention into State affairs as ordered by this Bill and still perpetrated by this Bill even after the amendments made hurriedly in the last 24 hours.

I now canvass in detail some of the objections that have been put forward to specific parts of the Bill. As a preface, I draw the attention of the House to the remarks of the Premier of Victoria regarding the Bill. I do not have time to go into those details. I wish to point out that in a way which can only be described as discourteous, as the member leading for the Opposition in the debate I have not been given copies of these amendments to the Bill. That is the sort of cavalier, discourteous and arrogant way in which the Opposition has been treated. I was told by the Treasurer's office that I would be informed of the changes as soon as anyone else. I received late in the day, after others had received it, a Press release. I received it after the rest of the nation had received it. I have not yet at this moment been paid the courtesy of being told what the amendments are to the Bill.

Mr Kelly

Mr HURFORD - It is all very well for the honourable member for Wakefield and others to make those sorts of noises. There is much more that one would like to talk about in regard to the details of this local government Bill, but how can one do so when one is not given the courtesy of knowing what alterations have been made to it? Close examination of the original Bill by the Opposition and the States revealed that parts of sections 4 and 6 were capable of reducing any State's local government Grants Commission to little more than arms of the Federal Government. Yet this Federal Government pretends that it is not a centralist government. I think it is amazing that the States were left so much in the dark. Mr Speaker, I notice that my time has expired. I thank you for not pulling me up earlier.

Mr SPEAKER -Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Stewart - I second the amendment.

Debate (on motion by Mr Wilson) adjourned.

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