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Thursday, 27 April 1972
Page: 1399

Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) - On behalf of Senator Willesee 1 move:

Thai the Senate considers that the Government has (ailed to make reasonable financial arrangements wilh the States for carrying out the activities of the Stales, local government and semi.governmental authorities. 1 am conscious as I rise to address myself to this motion that this is the third occasion I have risen to speak since the suspension of the sitting for dinner. However, I am reassured by the fact that one is not really in difficulty in rising for the third time, but in sinking for the third time. However. I am somewhat reassured by my own judgment of the situation because this notice of motion I standing in the name of Senator Willesee on the notice paper has been there since 12th March 1970 - over 2 years. A great deal of water has passed under the bridge in the intervening period. I seriously suggest to the Senate that in that time the imbalance nf financial relationships between the 3 levels of government in Australia has undergone a quite serious change not. I regret to say, for the better but for the worse. The conditions which existed when Senator Willesee was prompted to give notice that he would move this motion have developed to a stage where in certain areas of governmental responsibility - in using that rather loose term 1 intend it to encompass the 3 levels of government in Australia - the serious difficulties which were fell at thai time have worsened.

I suggest to the Senate that the time for a complete review of the relativity of responsibility between the 3 levels of government in Australia has arrived. I refer to the federal level, the States in the exercise of their sovereign powers, and the hundreds of local government instrumentalities throughout Australia. This need becomes more apparent as time passes and is evidenced by a growing demand from the area of local government responsibility throughout Australia for a serious debate on the whole question of the relationship of that area of responsibility to the national Parliament and the State parliaments.

In order to put this in its proper perspective one ought to say that in the past several years there has been no appreciable increase in the debt of the Commonwealth Government, but there has been a substantial increase in the indebtedness of several State governments. I have heard it said thai the debts of State governments in the past several years - certainly in the postwar years - have increased fourfold, seriously diminishing the ability of that level of government adequately to perform its proper function in the community. I use the word adequately' in its fullest sense. I hope that honourable senators will forgive me for again pointing out that the financial indebtedness of local government instrumentalities throughout Australia has increased, so we are told, sevenfold, eightfold or ninefold.

Surely this position must suggest to any thinking person who is concerned for the welfare of the 3 levels of government in Australia that the time has arrived, if it has not passed, for a get-together of the 3 elements of government in Australia to attempt to arrive at a proper basis of judgment of the constitutional limitations of those 3 levels and the means which may be found to enable them adequately to discharge their functions in the community. As honourable senators know, I speak from a base of some experience in local government. 1 do not want to over emphasise that aspect at the moment, but it is quite apparent to me that each level of government has its area of responsibility in the nation. If one form of government or more than one form of government is not able for some reason or another adequately to perform the allotted functions, surely the whole structure or base of intergovernmental relationships is in a condition of imbalance. We ought to assume our share of responsibility to ensure that a proper balance is restored to the 3 levels of government.

At this stage I will not comment on whether from the inception of government in Australia there has been a complete compatibility or acceptable relationship between the 3 levels of government. There may never have been a proper state of balance, but that does not take away the basis of my argument that the time has now arrived, if it has not passed, when serious consideration should be given to an attempt to restore the balance or proper relationship of the 3 forms of government. Surely no honourable senator or any thinking person in the Australian community would consider for a moment that the 3 levels of government are able adequately to discharge their allotted functions.

Senator Willesee'smotion says that the Senate considers that the Government has failed to make reasonable financial arrangements with the States. He does not say that the Government has not attempted to do so, but whatever attempts have been made, the results suggest that the Government has failed to make reasonable financial arrangements with the States for carrying out the activities of the State governments, local government authorities and semi-governmental authorities throughout Australia. Even if we concede that the problems of local government are not completely surmountable and that some residual difficulties and areas of disputation between the 3 levels of government will remain, we must surely accept that local government has in the pursuit of the collection of its revenues in sufficient quantity to perform its function reached saturation point. It cannot continue to increase the level of rates and other charges against the communities in which it operates without imposing very severe hardship indeed on the people in those communities. Surely it is the responsibility of government to attempt to establish some proper form of balance in the area of revenue raising which would not unduly burden certain sections of the Australian community. I know it is not accepted, yet it is a fact that in the Australian community there are areas of poverty. There are areas where the incomes of people and families are below an established subsistence level. Yet these people are required by the municipal authorities - there seems to be no escape from this - to make quite a substantial contribution towards the revenues of the local government instrumentalities for the performance of their functions.

I have, as is surely well-known in this Senate, on a number of occasions endeavoured to prompt the Government into some deeper consideration of the use of section 96 of the Constitution which provides that special grants can be made available for certain purposes. Of course within the responsibility of State governments there are revenue raising areas which we might well consider at this time could be handed over to local government authorities. One point which comes to mind is the imposition of land tax. I suggest that if we are going to indulge in a consideration of a re-arrangement of the revenue raising functions of the 3 levels of government we may consider that it is now appropriate in the modern context for local government to raise revenue by the medium of land tax which is currently the province of State government authorities. Without going into great detail, which is necessary to make a thorough evaluation of the matter, this may well be an area which could be handed over to local government authorities.

Of course in the Federal taxation field in recent times we have seen an instance where the Federal Government has decided that the growth tax or the payroll tax should be the responsibility of State government instrumentalities. In fact that decision has been consummated by the Federal Government and the collection of payroll tax has been handed over to State government authorities. I am mindful of the particular problems which exist in Tasmania where our problems in the field of intergovernmental relationships seem to be far greater and accentuated by a number of economic and physical factors which we have not the power to resolve at the moment.

Dealing with the imposition of the payroll tax, it was the decision of the State Premiers that having assumed the responsibility for the collection of payroll tax they would levy it at a certain level. As I understand if they increase the tax from 2i per cent to 3i per cent but there were certain exemptions from the imposition of the tax. It is the common decision of the Premiers and agreed to by the Commonwealth that it is not within the competence of State government authorities to levy that tax in any other way. If States were to attempt to exercise what is surely in the tax raising field their sovereign right, if they were to attempt to so moderate the impact of payroll tax on certain areas within their States because of isolation, economic or climatic factors or matters of that kind they would attract an adverse judgment of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. If a decision were made by a State to ease the imposition of payroll tax in a particular area for some reason that State would attract an adverse balance and it would be financially disadvantged by so doing. So it is not correct to say that because this payroll tax or growth tax has been handed to the States they have an ability to vary the tax to meet particular conditions in a State.

When 1 made some inquiries recently I was interested in a decision, made in 1945 by Prime Minister Chifley in his capacity of Treasurer at that time, to make special allowance to give taxation relief to certain regions within States. Certain zonal areas were defined within which the imposition of income tax was eased for some special reason. As I understand it at the moment the greater part of Western Australia because of conditions there enjoys the benefit of relief from the common levels of income tax. In the Northern Territory because of climatic conditions, distance factors or other economic factors which were judged at that time to be important in the consideration of the decision relief was given. Similarly in Tasmania where parts of the western region - which is still relatively isolated and subject to pretty severe climatic conditions and where additional economic burdens are placed on the people who live there - the Chifley Government decided that there would be special tax zone allowance areas. On a number of occasions in the intervening years since 1945 when that decision was made and implemented questions have been raised as to the constitutionality of that decision because of section 99 of the Constitution which concerns itself with the relative position of States and with not giving an advantage to one State over another. Having regard to the provisions of clause (ii) of section 51 of the Constitution which deals with the taxation powers of the Commonwealth there have been occasions when people have turned their minds to a consideration of whether the decision of the Chifley Government to institute these relief areas was ultra vires the Constitution. Recently I was most interested and intrigued to receive an assurance from people who are concerned with constitutional law that where an Act speaks about States or part of States - I think that is the terminology used - in a serious judgment on constitutional grounds, this has been held not to refer to States or parts of States within the meaning of the Constitution. I accept that. The only reason I accept it is because I would not know the true position. I do not know how States and parts of States cannot be States and parts of States. But there are many occasions, I suggest, within the responsibility of honourable senators where legal terminology completely befuddles us.

Senator Mulvihill - The law is an ass.

Senator DEVITT - Someone has said that the law is an ass. That remark was followed by another comment which escapes me for the moment. But that is the situation. Whether there is now some validity in the argument that States and parts of States cannot be given preferential treatment because of section 99 of the Constitution I do not know but 1 have been told that the decision of 1945 has complete validity and would withstand a challenge in the High Court. 1 certainly hope that it would because I think that it is wise and sensible.

I turn now to a few observations in relation to the situation which exists in my home State of Tasmania. We are a relatively small State. We have an area of 27,000 square miles and a population of under 400,000 people as I think 1 mentioned earlier in the day in another context. Naturally, we have fairly limited resources because of our geographical area and the extent of our population. Tasmania is suffering from a further serious bugbear. It is one which is bedevilling us at the present time. I am very much afraid that it will grow in importance and in significance as time goes by.

We accept the fact that Tasmania is a sovereign State within the Constitution which provides for 6 States in the Commonwealth. We have a relativity with those 6 States in the Commonwealth. There is general acceptance, I would hope, of the fact that there should be no discrimination as between one State and another. I think that the time has come when we must accept that any State having a particular serious disability, such as Tasmania has - I will mention it in a moment - ought to be subject to some most special consideration. The consideration that should be given ought to be a type of consideration which can be demonstrated to every man, woman and child in the community in order to show that the particular situation is accepted in the total Commonwealth context, and some adjustment should be made to off-set that disability.

I think that it is now generally known, surely, throughout the Australian nation, that Tasmania is the only State in the Commonwealth which has virtually one form of transportation for the carriage of its goods interstate and overseas. Other States have a road system. They have a rail system. They may use, if they wish, sea transportation also. Tasmania is confined to one form of transport only. It so happens that this is the dearest form of transportation. I now make a serious suggestion to overcome the difficulties which I could enumerate at great length and which flow as a consequence of the problems inherent in the transportation of our goods interstate. I seriously suggest that the time has arrived when the Commonwealth ought to consider most seriously indeed the placing of the whole of Tasmania into a special taxation zone area having regard to its specific disability.

Let us face the facts of life. Tasmania is not maintaining its place in relation to the performances of the other States. It cannot do so. I believe that that sentiment is enshrined in the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Primary and Secondary Industry and Trade which inquired into and reported upon freight rates on the Australian National Line shipping services to and from Tasmania. If the Committee did not report in so many words, at least it well and truly implied quite clearly in its recommendations that evidence was available to the effect that Tasmania, because of the serious disability under which it was operating, could not maintain its position alongside the other States and in the same sort of relationship or relativity as it had done in the past

We cannot close our eyes to this fact. I do not want honourable senators to close their eyes to it. I think that it is an essential part of the business of Government to ensure that every part of this Common- wealth has an equal opportunity. Where special disabilities exist, as indeed there are special disabilities in relation to Tasmania, those disabilities should be openly faced, their implications discussed in all respects and some measure or means introduced to maintain the relativity of performances between each of the States.

Recently, as honourable senators will recall, I asked a question in this Senate concerning the hundreds of people who had inundated me with complaints expressing dissatisfaction at the performance of the Australian National Line. I am talking about the passenger service now. Hundreds of people were asking: Why cannot we get bookings on these ships?' In the question that I asked in the Senate I sought information on how many vacant berths there were on the ANL ships operating to Tasmania - there are 3 ships, one from Sydney and 2 from the principal port of Victoria, Melbourne - during 3 significant months, November and December of 1971 and January of 1972. I did so because I was being deluged with queries from people who had tried to secure bookings on these ships, months and months ahead of sailing dates. One of them was on 19th January. That was the day when bookings opened in Melbourne. These intending passengers could not get on the vessel. I asked why these ships were sailing with 80 or more berths unoccupied when people were being told: 'We cannot get you on the ship but, if you drive down, to ship side before the ship departs, you are bound to get on because there will be vacant berths.' That is not good enough.

Recently I asked a question as to what action was to be taken to bring to book those people who were responsible for this state of affairs. Somebody must be responsible because the ANL is a national undertaking on behalf of the people of Australia who are partners in this industry. I would suggest that $300,000 was lost in the 3 months that I have mentioned as a consequence of people who sought to secure bookings being unable to make those bookings. There were 11,580 vacant berths on these ships travelling to and from Tasmania during the 3 months of November and December 1971 and January 1972. This was a time when people were breaking their necks to get onto these ships.

Senator McManus - What was the explanation from the Australian National Line?

Senator DEVITT - We have not an explanation. Through the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Nixon) I thank the ANL for its frankness in this matter. I have done my business through the Minister. There has been no acknowledgement. I have a question before the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton). I have asked what action is being taken or will be taken to find out the reason for the bungling and gross mismanagement of the affairs of the ANL.

If there is one thing that Tasmania has, it is a tourist potential. While in so many other respects we may not be able to match the performances of the other States of the Commonwealth, here is an area in which we can. But it is completely impossible for us to do this if we cannot use fully the facilities that have been provided through the money made available by the nation - that is, the Australian people - for this purpose. I am waiting patiently for the answer to my question.

Senator McManus - Does the honourable senator think-

Senator DEVITT - 1 will answer the honourable senator in a moment. 1 seek an answer as to what the Government has done, firstly, to correct this situation and, secondly, to ensure that, in future, people who want to travel on these ships will be able to do so. Since the revelation of this gross mismanagement - there is no other term that I can use to describe it - people have beseiged and deluged me with questions as to what will happen in the future. I cannot tell them at the moment. But surely when the Minister provides me with an answer as to what will be done about this matter, the situation will be clarified anc! the whole matter will be revealed to the community as it should be. The Tasmanian shipping service will occupy the proper position that it should in the economy of that State. Now, Senator McManus had something to ask rae?

Senator McManus - I was only going to suggest that perhaps the booking clerk was a Queenslander.

Senator DEVITT - I think that Queensland is a magnificant State for tourists. But this is a most serious matter as far as we in Tasmania are concerned, particularly when we hear it stated that the management of the Australian National Line has said that it will lose Sim this year on its operations and 1 can establish where it has lost $300,000 in 3 months, fs it any wonder that in those circumstances such an annual loss is incurred? I do not think that the situation is acceptable and I do not think that it ought to be accepted by the Parliament of this nation. The sort of performance which we have seen from the Australian National Line should not be allowed to continue.

Recently. I was contacted by some people in Hobart who said: 'We wish to get on the National Line ship to travel to Victoria and then to do a tour of the mainland Stales. We have made some inquiries through our booking agency in Hobart and it tells us that there is no possibility of getting on the ship. Can you do something for us?' I said: 'Look, f will make some inquiries for you'. In my most charitable mood, I did this only to be informed that, unless I was able to advise the name of the booking agency through which these people had attempted to make a booking and was prepared to disclose that information, I would not get very far with my inquiries.

I asked: 'How many agencies have you?' Believe it or not, there are 16 agencies in Hobart alone. If a person makes a booking with one of these agencies, apparently some type of communication goes to a computer somewhere. If a similar inquiry is made at another agency, that also goes to the computer. On the day that the ship is due to sail, it probably has a full complement of passengers. It has been established that many agencies are all trying to book accommodation and that ultimately people get accommodated.

A member of my family had an unhappy experience of this. On a particular day, after having almost despaired of being able to bring his car and his family to Tasmania, and after having made an alternative decision to go to Queensland or somewhere else, on the one day 2 of the agencies through which he had been making inquiries said: 'Bring in your deposit and we will get you on'. There is bungling, mismanagement and maladministration. 1 make no apologies for making statements of that kind.

Senator Mulvihill - Would you say that the first interest is the booking agent, not the passenger?

Senator DEVITT - The National Line is not allowed to do its own bookings. That is one of the oddities of the situation.

Senator Poyser - We made a recommendation on that in our report.

Senator DEVITT - That is so. This enterprise is not allowed to perform its own functions. Maybe we are spoiled; I do not know. We are so used to going to an airways booking office, being picked up by an airways bus, being taken to an airport and having our baggage and other things that we have with us looked after, that it came as something of a shock to me when, on an occasion some years ago in Sydney, I tried to find the headquarters of the Australian National Line. I was to travel on the 'Empress of Australia' that night. The booking was made through the officers of this Parliament. I was trying to establish where 1 should deposit my suitcase and my goods. I visited about 3 shipping agents' offices. Eventually I tracked down the one that was responsible for bookings on the Empress of Australia'. I said: 'Where can I leave my bags?' The agent said: 'You can book them down at the railway station'. I said: 'I am not going to Tasmania by train. I am going by boat. I want to go on the "Empress of Australia". I understand that you are the agents for the "Empress of Australia". Please may I put my suitcase here?' He said: 'No. We have nowhere to put your suitcase. We are not a reception centre for people going to Tasmania'. I said: 'What will I do, sit out in Pitt Street on my case?' He said: 'No. Go down to the railway station'. I said: 'No. Perhaps I can look after that part of the business. What time do I pick up the vehicle that is going to the ship?' The ship was some distance away.

Tourists like to be able to go to a centre from which the organisation works - the hub of its activity in the particular location - and be taken to the ship side to go aboard. This happens where the tourist industry is working properly. Only today I was looking at a brochure which offered all kinds of blandishments and inducements to travel on a particular shipping service. But that is not so of the ANL. The agent said: 'You get there the best way you can'. I said: 'Surely there should be some kind of link between the Australian National Line, the national shipping line, and Trans-Australia Airlines, the national airline, by which there could be shared facilities which would bring about a decrease in administrative costs or the overhead of the operations'. He said: 'That is not allowed. The system does not allow it'. We have come to a point at which such a situation is no longer acceptable to the people of Australia. There has to be a change in the system.

I suspect - I cannot be dogmatic about this - that lurking in the back of the minds of those responsible for the operations of the Australian National Line is a desire that its passenger services should be discontinued altogether. That will not happen so far as Tasmania is concerned because, if we are to have any kind of tourist industry in that State, we will fight for our rights to make sure that every ship sails with a full passenger load. We will not tolerate the loss of $300,000 in 3 months. If somebody challenges me on the figures, let him tell me what is the loss. As yet nobody has told me how much has been lost. The ships have to ply across the Strait and back again, lt has been suggested that the people working in the industry - members of the Seamen's Union and similar people - are not happy about the ships having full complements. They are the people who are unhappy about the present situation. They are the ones who are kicking up the fuss about it. They realise that their livelihood depends upon the continued operation of the Line.

We in Tasmania understand - we are becoming more accustomed to it each day - and appreciate the significance of the fact that our future lies very substantially in a proper development of the tourist industry. It happened in Israel. In 1947 and 1948 a group of people dedicated to the preservation of their type of society went into the rock and sand of the Middle East - into Israel - and out of that carved a farming area. They developed one of the best tourist industries in the world. We have all the advantages laid on in Tasmania. How can we sell the tourist industry to the world if the means of getting people there - the means by which they can travel in the comfort of their own vehicles and in their own good time - are to be denied to them? That is completely unacceptable to the people of Tasmania, and we will not tolerate that any longer. Here is a position crying out for some kind of remedy and crying out for a proper relationship between the various levels of government. The benefits of a tourist industry, or any other industry for that matter, flow right through. Industries are of great benefit to the revenues of the Commonwealth. They are of substantial benefit to the revenues of the States. Ultimately the economies of the State will be able to rely almost entirely, in circumstances which I can well imagine happening in the future, on the development and the proper nurturing and fostering of a tourist industry.

The lack of proper administration of the Line has been bedevilling us. It has been happening for many years, and the Minister for Shipping and Transport has been evasive. On each occasion that the matter has been raised the Minister has evaded it completely. He has accepted that it is a significant thing so far as Tasmania is concerned. Although other Tasmanian senators and I have raised the matter from time to time over a number of years, we still have the kind of thing happening to which I have just referred - 11,508 people unable to secure berths and 4,997 vacant berths on the 'Princess of Tasmania' into Devonport, a town which has grown to rely very heavily upon the flow of people through the area.

Senator Lillico - Where did you get those figures?

Senator DEVITT - I am so glad that Senator Lillico asked that question. I got them from a letter written by the Minister, and 1 believe him. The letter spelt them out in great detail. I have all the figures for the 'Empress of Australia', the 'Australian Trader' and the 'Princess of Tasmania'. I would be happy to let the honourable senator have them. I accept them. There were 11,508 vacant berths on the 3 ships in the crucial months of November and December 1971 and January 1972 when people were dying to travel, to visit their families and to do the other things which they have a right to do.

Senator Lillico - Are the figures for 2 months?

Senator DEVITT - They are for 3 months. I shall let the honourable senator have those figures because I know that he is interested in the matter. They are very significant figures. I have a copy of the letter. I think he is entitled to have a copy. I will give him one.

Senator McLaren - Do you think more people will want to travel to Tasmania next summer because of the change of government?

Senator DEVITT - I think there will be a substantial improvement in the position. At the moment nobody knows what is happening with the ANL. People in the Hobart area are concerned. I understand that in future all ANL passenger services to Hobart are to be discontinued.I believe that there is an intention on the part of the Government to discontinue altogether passenger services to Tasmania.I give notice that we will resist this with all the strength that we have.

Debate (on motion by Senator DrakeBrockman) adjourned.

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