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Tuesday, 16 November 1976
Page: 2710

Mr HASLEM (Canberra) -The Payroll Tax (Territories) Assessment Amendment Bill is a very important piece of legislation for the people in the Australian Capital Territory. Honourable members will remember that the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) in delivering his Budget Speech stated that the exemption levels on payroll tax were to be doubled from $20,800 to $41,600 per annum. When he introduced this legislation the Treasurer indicated that the exemption level was to be improved to $48,000. This legislation is a recognition of the need for business in the Australian Capital Territory to be placed on the same basis as its competitors in the surrounding areas of New South Wales and Victoria. It is a recognition which this Government has quickly made and which was not made last year by the Labor Government when we dragged somewhat behind the other States. It is a quick reaction to the improvements introduced by Victoria and New South Wales after the Federal Budget- an introduction carried through in recognition of the need to support small businesses in Canberra at a time when they are suffering some difficulty. It is the first piece of legislation introduced by the Government specifically for the benefit of the business community in the Territory and as such highlights the changed attitude of this Government compared with that of the Whitlam Government which did everything possible to beat business in Canberra into the ground.

I take this opportunity to outline the Government's policy in relation to business development in Canberra and to examine the current status of business in the Territory which the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) canvassed in his speech. I do not do so because I feel there is something special about the business sector in Canberra compared with the public sector but because it is a sector absolutely vital to the proper growth of the Australian Capital Territory. We must have a private sector in Canberra if this Territory is to grow, to prosper and to gain maturity. The policy on which the Government went to the people in November and December last year capsuled this belief. It stated:

The Liberal and National Country Parties believe that the Australian Capital Territory and its region is too dependent upon public sector expenditure for employment and business stability. We will seek ways to encourage private enterprisebased industries and businesses to locate in Canberra, and in the regional towns, to increase employment opportunities for Canberra and adjacent New South Wales residents alike, particularly school leavers, women and university graduates.

At a time when the Government has a clear directive from the people that they want the size of big government reduced and its interference in their lives and its rapacious need for funding diminished, the need for support for the private sector in Canberra is obvious. Employment opportunities in Canberra for many years have been those offered by the public sector. This has been a company town and our young people have relied heavily on the Public Service for jobs.

With the introduction of staff ceilings in the Commonwealth Public Service, this ready access to jobs for our school leavers has at least in part diminished.

I suggest that the reliance built up in Canberra for easy employment in government has been growing to unhealthy levels. Many of our young people were rushing into the warm bosom of our Public Service in a quite uncritical way and in many cases without thinking of the alternatives or even realising that there were other forms of employment. Many found employment in such large organisations as the Public Service departments unfulfilling and stultifying. Those young people who wished to express their individuality and independence were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Public Service and left disillusioned and bored in many cases. With a small private sector in Canberra there were few alternative job choices and many young people on becoming disillusioned with Public Service employment were forced to leave Canberra and their families and go interstate. It is obvious that it is imperative to expand the employment base of Canberra, firstly, because of reduced employment and recruitment in the Public Service and, secondly, because an unhealthy reliance on one area of employment is undesirable in any community.

I believe it is possible even for the Opposition to support the public sector and the private sector in this way. The real question is what the Government has done in its 11 months of office to widen the employment base and to encourage the private sector to expand in Canberra. I will leave aside the general thrust of the Government's economic policy at this stage as I want to discuss the long term thrust of our policy in Canberra, not the short term aberrations that the honourable member for Adelaide has been speaking about.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr HASLEM - Prior to the suspension of the sitting I asked the question: What has the Government done in its 11 months in office to widen the employment base and encourage the private sector in Canberra to expand? One of the first initiatives of the Government, in recognising that the Australian Capital Territory needs a wider economic base, was the creation of a unit within the Department of the Capital Territory to attract business and industry to Canberra. Advertisements soon will be appearing in newspapers throughout Australia emphasising the benefits of establishing business and industry in the A.C.T., with particular encouragement being given to light, non-polluting industries.

To add to the work being done by the Department of the Capital Territory, private enterprise has established the Canberra and Regional Development Committee. This Committee is pushing forward quickly and decisively and is inviting executives of companies interested in establishing new businesses in Canberra and its region, or in expanding existing ones, to promotion and information sessions in Sydney and Melbourne in the next month or so. At those interstate sessions members of the Committee, all of whom have been drawn from private enterprise, will explain the advantages and opportunities for businessmen in the Canberra region. The Committee will explain the facts of commercial life in this area and the roles of bodies such as the National Capital Development Commission and the Department of the Capital Territory.

The Committee is identifying the advantages of the region and will give publicity to this aspect. It is also researching other incentives which the Government may offer as an inducement to private concerns to match the incentives offered by State governments through their industry development branches. In doing so both the Department and the private sector Committee have firmly in their minds the need to ensure that the industry attracted to the area will not have deleterious effects on the character of Canberra. The industry to be attracted should complement the unique attraction of the area rather than detract from it. To assist in this initiative the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Staley) has already made a number of moves aimed at building up Canberra's light industries. The Minister has approved some 30 leases for a wide variety of industrial purposes, ranging from bakeries to a tannery. Further industries are negotiating with a view to expanding or establishing their activities in the A.C.T. I have been led to believe by the Minister that about 30 different industries are negotiating at the moment.

I think this indicates the interest of the Government in firmly building up a wider employment base in Canberra- a base built on supplying an affluent regional population of some 300 000- and I have no doubt that, given the continued strong government we have seen over the last 1 1 months, characterised by uncompromising stands against inflation, economic maturity for Canberra will be seen and will be achieved. It is imperative that Canberra becomes a real city- a city of Australia experiencing the breadth of Australian life and not just a special city of bureaucrats, politicians and academics. It will be a better city, a city of more light and shade and, most importantly, a city with a diversity of employment opportunities for the children of its residents, which must be important to us all.

Many people will challenge what I am saying in relation to the encouragement of the private sector by this Government at this point in time- I emphasise the words 'at this point in time'- particularly in Canberra, where the private sector is so intricately linked with the growth and prosperity of the public sector. During 1976 we nave had many dire predictions from the Opposition and some industry sources about what was in store for Canberra. Not, many of those predictions have come to fruition. Unemployment in Canberra has risen since this Government came to office last December, but the amount of unemployment has not grown as much in the last 1 1 months under our administration as it had previously under the former Government. There seems to have been a steadying down in Canberra. Businessmen can now make decisions on the future; business administration seems to be much firmer; shops are being built in the suburbs; developers are taking up commercial sites; and builders can quote on jobs with some certainty in relation to labour costs and material charges. Certainly the tempo of unbridled growth has changed. If I may say so, the headlong gallop towards the great god of growth has slowed to an orderly trot. The inflated expectations of the Whitlam years have been pricked and normal and manageable growth is the order of the day.

I do not deny that there are some business enterprises in Canberra which are feeling the pinch at the moment. That is why the improved level of payroll tax exemption is especially welcome at this time. Private enterprise is much more efficient now than it was 12 months ago. It is lean and, I might say, hungry and fit to compete and the consumer must benefit from this through greater competition and more stable prices. During 1975 prices in Canberra spiralled and we all suffered. In 1976 prices are coming under control and proper competition is being restored.

The big question for Canberra at the moment is whether business is running down. The Chamber of Commerce in Canberra has asked that question of its members in relation to the 3 months ended August 1976 compared with the same period last year. The answer is not really surprising as the August quarter in 1975 was a period of hothouse growth. The survey indicates that businessmen allied to the building industry are severely depressed. The incomes of architects and other professional groups are at low levels and the outlook for them is critical. These groups built up their capacity quite dramatically during the Whitlam years when the people's taxes were flooded into the area of urban development. These people are now suffering.

Tourism has been declining in Canberra, as it has been doing elsewhere in Australia. This is due in part to a slight reduction in the number of tourists visiting the Australian Capital Territory, but is due mainly to the quite impossible wage rates that unions extracted from a compliant Administration during the Whitlam years. People just cannot afford to pay the rates which hotels, motels and restaurants must now charge. They are opting for shorter stays and camping holidays. The effects on employment in our tourist industry have been savage and staff retrenchments have been widespread. Proprietors of restaurants had the unsavoury task last year of refusing employment to staff over the usually busy Christmas period because double and treble time rates make it quite uneconomic for them to open their enterprises. Many instances of staff offering to work for time-and-a-quarter and time-and-a-half rates have been mentioned to me but, of course, their employers cannot take up the offers.

On the other hand, small retailers have been maintaining their position fairly well. Improved turnovers have been experienced in shopping centres in the outlying areas of Canberra where parking and shopping are more convenient. These smaller businesses, which are often operated by their owners, are doing quite well because they have had some success in containing cost increases. The payroll tax which is the subject of the debate tonight will help those people further and reward their enterprise. It will help them to compete with the larger firms. However, the impact of wage increases is still with us. Seventy per cent of the businesses recording increased turnovers have found that their wage costs have grown faster than their turnover percentage has improved.

It is evident that the business community in Canberra is becoming stronger and surer of economic recovery, due to the solidity and the strength of the economic policy that is being put forward. We are seeing signs of cost increases stabilising and inflation being brought under control. Business people in Canberra recognise that bringing government spending under control is an important prerequisite to stable economic management. They are still concerned by the difficulties of recruiting and holding good staff but I understand that this problem is easing. Many retail and service business houses look to a steady improvement in general business conditions up to Christmas with a general resurgence in March-April next year.

Living in my electorate 7 days a week, which is not the experience of most other members of the Parliament, keeps me close to the people who elected me. I can assure members of the House that even in this embattled city of Canberra where we have taken many knocks over the past few months there is a general feeling of satisfaction with the general mode of Government administration. Businessmen expected the economy to be pulled under control. Public servants wanted their Service to be brought back to the level of professionalism that had been their pride for many years and builders wanted to build rather than spend all their time combatting strikes and escalating demands from subcontractors. The people of Canberra were sick and tired of seeing their suburbs being built without facilities and the relentless sprawl of suburbia consuming the beautiful countryside. Many people who do not live in Canberra believe this is the town of the handout mentality. Those of us who live here and love the city know that this is not so. We want work, a good environment with the sort of community facilities modern urban living should provide and the right to earn and pay our way.

The former Government turned the town into an experimental goldfish bowl in which our taxes rose and inflation ate away our savings. Now we have a government that is interested in governing Canberra like any other part of Australia. We have been asked to pay our way and to contribute to the running cost of this city through increased rents, increased bus charges and some increase in interest rates. Many other people who live in Canberra have said that they are not unhappy with the increase in government rents and interest rates because under the Labor Party those people who borrowed from building societies, banks and insurance companies had their interest rates put up 2 years ago. They do not think that it was so unfair for the rest of the community to be brought into line. All this has been done with the introduction of an extremely fair rental and interest rate rebate scheme for those on lower incomes.

Good government has returned to Canberra. We are still uncertain; we are worried about jobs for our school leavers; but on balance my constituents are feeling relieved after the first 11 months of Liberal-National Country Party

Government. Quite candidly, I think they thought it was going to be worse than it has been. In spite of the huffing and puffing of the honourable member for Adelaide who spoke before the sitting was suspended for dinner, and the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) who is trying to bring the economy down with talk of devaluation, the economy is on the mend. The long haul back to economic sanity is progressing well. The legislative and other measures to broaden the economic base of Canberra which are being introduced by the Government recognise the advantages of sound economic planning and a sound economic base for the Australian Capital Territory as it approaches maturity.

I will be followed in this debate by the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) who represents the other half of Canberra. I might say without prejudice that he does it very well. I am sure he is very pleased to see the sound economic management that is coming into Canberra because under the Government of the Party he represents he saw over a period of 3 years a large part of his electorate being developed with very little community faculties and very few of the proper facilities for the people who live there. I would think that all in all Canberra is becoming pleased with the measures being introduced by this Government. The business people particularly are very pleased with this new payroll tax legislation.

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