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Friday, 3 December 1976
Page: 3220

Mr WILSON (STURT, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Does the Prime Minister agree with the reported views of Professor Sawer, that despite the Government's federalism policy there will be a continued drift towards what he described as organic federalism, a type of federalism in which the Commonwealth sets all major policies, with the States retaining discretion only on administration and local adaption? Does the Prime Minister expect that the federalism policy will stem the growth of Commonwealth authority, or will Commonwealth domination continue, with the difference between this Government's federalism approach and that of Labor being only one of style and not of substance? What steps are being taken to lessen the Commonwealth 's dominance which now stems from the use of section 96 grants?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (WANNON, VICTORIA) (Prime Minister) - In relation to the last part of the question, the honourable member would know that there is an examination of Commonwealth programs to see which programs might more properly be undertaken and more efficiently administered by the States than by the Commonwealth. In that sort of operation it is really a question of seeing which things the Commonwealth ought to do best for all Australians and which things the States or local government are better placed to do on their own account for their own citizens. One of the things that Professor Sawer missed in that particular article was the fact that we do propose and have now half implemented- very major steps have already been taken- that there be much greater flexibility for the States in the determination of their own priorities. The federalism proposalsthe tax sharing that has already been introduced- give the States a much greater degree of flexibility. We have only to look at their last budgets to see that many of them had significant concessions in them without having to raise taxes. That was done as a result of the generosity of this Administration in developing the federalism proposals to provide the States with the opportunity to make their own decisions.

One thing and one thing only would be able to destroy the thrust of the federalism proposals and policies; one thing and one thing only would prevent a proper diversification of influence, responsibility and power coming from these particular matters. That would be the incapacity of State Premiers- of Labor State Premiers in particularto accept responsibility in areas where they ought to be responsible. If Premiers refuse to accept responsibility, set their own priorities for the things for which they have funds and then find matters at the bottom of the barrel so far as their priorities are concerned, they will come along and say that the Commonwealth must fund these things. If the Premiers take that course and refuse to accept responsibility in matters which are particularly in their own provinces, quite inevitably they tend to thrust more and more power onto the Commonwealth. So, if these developmental proposals are to work it will require the kind of co-operation that comes from people of our political philosophy; the sort of cooperation that one finds from Sir Charles Court or Mr Hamer and that one would find from Mr Bingham in Tasmania. I think that in his article and analysis Professor Sawer missed the very real difference in the philosophical thrust of our policies and those of the Australian Labor Party. In one lecture the Leader of the Opposition made it quite plain that the prime responsibility of State Labor leaders and State Labor parliamentarians was to legislate themselves out of business, as the Irish Parliament did in 1 80 1 .

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