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Speech at the opening of the New Lithgow City Council Administration block



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SPEECH BY THE PRIME M IN ISTER ,

THE HON. E .G . WHITLAM, Q . C . , M. P

AT THE OPENING OF THE NEW LITHGOW CITY COUNCIL ADMINISTRATION BLOCK,

. LITHGOW,

SATURDAY 3 AUGUST 1974 '

August 1974 w i l l prove an im p o r t a n t

MONTH FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN LlTHGOW AND

THROUGHOUT THE NATION. FOR LITHGOW, IT WILL

MEAN THE ACQUISITION OF MODERN OFFICES FROM

WHICH THE COUNCIL C A N ADMINISTER THE AFFAIRS OF

t h e c i t y , Th i s has r e s u l t e d e n t i r e l y from

THE EFFORTS OF THE COUNCIL WHICH RAISED THE

$ 4 4 0 ,0 0 0 NECESSARY FOR THE COMPLETION OF WHAT

IT ENVISAGES AS THE FIRST OF THREE PARTS OF

A C IV IC CENTRE FOR LlTHGOW.

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The im p o r t a n c e of t h i s month for m u n i c i p a l

AND SHIRE COUNCILS THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY IS THAT IT

WILL SEE BROUGHT TO FRUITION ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT

ADVANCES IN THE HISTORY OF AUSTRALIAN LOCAL GOVERNMENT.

IN THE NEXT WEEK OR SO THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT WILL

RECEIVE THE FIRST REPORT OF THE GRANTS COMMISSION ON

APPLICATIONS BY LOCAL GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES FOR

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FROM THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT.

La t e r i n t h e month t h e Ca b i n e t w i l l h a v e t h i s r e p o r t

BY AN INDEPENDENT AND NON-POLITICAL BODY TO GUIDE IT

AS IT DRAFTS THE BUDGET. WHEN THE BUDGET ITSELF IS

BROUGHT DOWN NEXT MONTH IT WILL CONTAIN FOR THE FIRST

TIME GRANTS TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT DESIGNED TO OVERCOME

INEQUALITIES BETWEEN DIFFERENT REGIONS IN AUSTRALIA,

Th i s p r o c ess r e p r e s e n t s a major b r ea k t h r o u g h

FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT. I t RESULTS FROM LEGISLATION

INTRODUCED BY THE GOVERNMENT LAST YEAR TO EXPAND THE

FUNCTIONS OF THE GRANTS COMMISSION. ΪΗ Ε COMMISSION

WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1933 TO PROVIDE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR

SPECIAL GRANTS TO BE PAID TO CLAIMANT STATES UNDER

Se c t io n 96 of t h e Co n s t i t u t i o n , A t v a r io u s t i m e s i n

THE PAST 41 YEARS THESE STATES HAVE INCLUDED QUEENSLAND,

South Au s t r a l i a , We s t e r n Au s t r a l ia and Ta s m a n i a ,

The b a s is of m a k in g such grants has b een t h e r e c o g n it io n

THAT AT VARIOUS TIMES SOME STATES HAVE BEEN LESS ADVANTAGED

THAN OTHERS, BOTH IN TERMS OF FINANCE AND SERVICES.

The Co m m is s io n has se r v e d t h e purpose of h e l p in g to

reduce such i n e q u a l i t i e s betw een St a t e s .

. . . / 3

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Wi t h t h e passa ge of t h e new Gr a n t s Co m m is s io n

Ac t l a s t y e a r , t h e Go v e r n m e n t has now empowered t h e

/ Co m m is s io n to e x a m in e not j u s t t h e i n e q u a l i t i e s b etw een

t h e St a t e s bu t also the i n e q u a l i t i e s t h a t e x i s t betw een

r e g io n s i n t h e one St a t e . Th i s r e c o g n is e s t h a t , w h il e

a p a r t ic u l a r St a t e o v e r a l l may b e i n a h e a l t h y f i n a n c i a l

p o s i t i o n , t h e r e may be a r eas w i t h i n i t t h a t l a c k a d e q u a t e

s e r v ic e s and f a c i l i t i e s . The l o c a l c o u n c il s i n such

A REGION MAY LACK THE FINANCIAL RESOURCES TO OVERCOME

THOSE DEFICIENCIES AND EVEN THE STATE GOVERNMENT MAY

NOT BE ABLE TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE HELP. I n FACT IT IS

QUITE OBVIOUS THAT IF THE D IS A B IL IT IE S OF SOME AREAS

of Au s t r a l ia are to be overcome t h e n a t io n a l g over n m en t

MUST PROVIDE SPECIAL GRANTS. THAT WAS THE PRINCIPLE

GUIDING THE GRANTS COMMISSION WHEN.IT BEGAN HEARING

' APPLICATIONS FOR SUPPORT FROM REGIONAL GROUPINGS OF

COUNCILS THROUGHOUT AUSTRALIA EARLY THIS YEAR. "

Such a s s is t a n c e i s long o verdu e i n Au s t r a l i a .

Too MUCH OF THE PROVISION OF ESSENTIAL SERVICES IN

THIS COUNTRY HAS BEEN LEFT TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT.

Ne i t h e r th e Au s t r a l ia n nor St a t e Go v e r n m e n ts i n th e

PAST HAVE BEEN PREPARED TO HELP LOCAL GOVERNMENT TO

PROVIDE THOSE SERVICES. LOCAL GOVERNMENT HAS INDEED

BEEN NEGLECTED AND DOWNGRADED SINCE THE VERY BEGINNINGS

OF OUR FEDERATION.

,/4

The fram ers of our Co n s t i t u t i o n d i d not even

BOTHER TO MENTION LOCAL GOVERNMENT AT ALL. As LATE

AS 1 9 2 7 , WHEN THE FINANCIAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE

Commonwealth and t h e St a t e s was drawn u p , lo c a l

GOVERNMENT WAS STILL IGNORED. I t WAS NOT UNTIL

1936 t h a t t h e Loan Co u n c il began d e a l in g w it h th e

BORROWINGS OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES. YET

IN ALL THAT TIME THE SCALE OF OPERATIONS OF LOCAL

AND SEMI-GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES HAS GROWN MARKEDLY.·

The GROWTH HAS been p a r t ic u l a r l y g r e a t s in c e t h e

w a r. Th i s is im m e d ia t e l y o b v io u s i f we look a t

THE FIGURES OF COMPARATIVE DEBTS. THE INDEBTEDNESS

of t h e Commonwealth has not grown s i n c e t h e w a r.

But t h e d e b t s of lo c a l g overnm ent and s e m i - g over n m en t

AUTHORITIES HAVE MULTIPLIED MORE THAN 12 TIMES.

Lo c a l gover nm ent a u t h o r i t i e s are now borrow ing

MORE EACH YEAR THAN THE TOTAL AMOUNT OF THEIR '

OUTSTANDING DEBT ONLY 20 YEARS OR SO AGO.

, The costs of s e r v i c i n g t h e i r b o rr ow ing s

BEAR HEAVILY ON THE BUDGETS OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT

AUTHORITIES. OVERALL INTEREST PAYMENTS BY THE

' AUTHORITIES WOULD NOW BE EQUIVALENT TO ABOUT 12%

OF THEIR REVENUES. INTEREST PAYMENTS PLUS CAPITAL

REPAYMENTS AMOUNTED TO $ 1 7 7 .5 MILLION IN 1 9 7 0 / 7 1 ,

EQUIVALENT TO ABOUT 25% OF THEIR REVENUES.

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If we need further evidence of the f in a n c ia l plight

OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT WE NEED ONLY LOOK AT THE RECENT

REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE OF INQUIRY INTO LOCAL

Government Areas and Ad m in is t r a t io n in New South

Wa l e s, known as the Barnett Report. The committee

POINTED OUT THAT LOCAL GOVERNMENT'S SHARE OF TOTAL

GOVERNMENT EXPENDITURES HAS BEEN SHRINKING STEADILY

in Au s t r a l ia. In 1 9 6 9 /7 0 i t represented 7.4% of

TOTAL GOVERNMENT EXPENDITURE IN AUSTRALIA, COMPARED

with 21.6% in Canada, 25.4% in the Un it e d States

and 34.6% in Great Br i t a i n (where, i t must be

ADMITTED, THERE ARE NO STATE GOVERNMENTS).

Ye t, while the f i n a n c i a l pli ght of local

GOVERNMENT HAS WORSENED, WE LOOK TO . I T INCREASINGLY

TO MEET SO MANY OF OUR COMMUNITY NEEDS. INDEED THERE

HAS BEEN A QUITE NATURAL AND PREDICTABLE ACCELERATION

IN THE DEMANDS MADE BY THE COMMUNITY ON LOCAL

GOVERNMENT, We LOOK TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE

ROADS, SEWERAGE, RECREATION F A C IL IT IE S , HEALTH SERVICES

AND PLANNING. I n MOTE RECENT YEARS WE HAVE EXPECTED

IT TO EXPAND INTO SUCH AREAS AS HEALTH SERVICES AND

CHILD CARE CENTRES. THE BARNETT REPORT POINTED OUT

THAT, IN THE VIEW OF MOST SHIRE COUNCILS IN NEW SOUTH

Wa l e s, "their areas could not survive without a

CONTINUANCE OF LARGE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT GRANTS AND,

WITHOUT EXCEPTION, COUNCILS BELIEVED THE AUSTRALIAN

Government' s involvement in financing local government

WAS ESSENTIAL." :

. . . 7 6

The p r e s e n t Au s t r a l i a n Go vernm en t sha res t h a t b e l i e f

AND HAS TRIED TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE IN THE LAST 20

MONTHS. Our e x p a n s io n of t h e f u n c t io n s of t h e

Gr a n ts Co m m is s io n i s a m a jo r e x a m p l e of t h i s . W e

HAVE ALSO UPGRADED THE LEVEL OF AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT

ASSISTANCE TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN SUCH AREAS AS

Ab o r ig in a l , a d v a n c e m e n t , aged perso ns h o u s i n g , .

SOCIAL s e r v i c e s , sewerage and r e c r e a t i o n .

Un f o r t u n a t e l y we have not b een a b l e t o a c h i e v e

ALL THAT WE WANTED. LAST YEAR I TWICE ASKED THE

St a t e Pr e m ie r s to g i v e l o c a l g o ver n m en t a v o i c e and

a v o t e on t h e Loan Co u n c i l . I f i r s t made t h e r e q u e s t

a t t h e Co n s t i t u t i o n a l Co n v e n t io n i n Sy d n e y i n Se p t e m b e r .

I t o l d t h e Co n v e n t i o n :

" I have no doubt t h a t t h e o v e r r i d i n g

c o n s id e r a t io n i n many m i n d s here r e l a t e s to t h e

f i n a n c i a l r e l a t io n s betw een t h e Au s t r a l i a n Go v e r n m e n t

and t h e St a t e s . Some of you may p r e f e r to b e l i e v e t h a t

the o v e r r i d i n g c o n s i d e r a t io n i n my m in d i s t o c o n t in u e

AND EVEN COMPOUND THE PRESENT SITUATION BY WHICH THE

Na t i o n a l Go vernm en t d o m in a t e s t h e f i n a n c i a l r e l a t i o n s

BETWEEN IT AND THE STATES. T h a t' s NOT TRUE, My

OVERRIDING CONSIDERATION AND CONCERN IN THIS CONTEXT IS

TO BALANCE THE FUNCTIONS AND FINANCES OF THE AUSTRALIAN

Go v e r n m e n t , St a t e and l o c a l g o ver nm ents to e n s u r e

ADEQUATE SERVICES AND DEVELOPMENTS OF RESOURCES.

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I WISH EACH LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT TO BE IN A POSITION TO

PERFORM BETTER ITS ASSIGNED FUNCTIONS, FOR THE BETTER WELFARE

OF ALL OUR C IT IZ E N S , WHEREVER THEY L IV E ,"

The Pr e m ie r s r e j e c t e d my p r o p o s a l . I t was for t h i s reason

t h a t t h e Governm en t took t h e q u e s t io n to r e f e r e n d u m i n May t h i s

y e a r , W e sought t h e a p p r o v a l of t h e Au s t r a l ia n p e o p l e for an

amendment to t h e Co n s t i t u t i o n to allow t h e Au s t r a l ia n Go vernm en t

to make grants d i r e c t to lo c a l c o u n c il s and to borrow money on

THEIR BEHALF, No GOVERNMENT HAS EVER FOUND IT EASY TO WIN A

r e f e r e n d u m ; n e v e r t h e l e s s THIS REFERENDUM WAS CARRIED IN N ew

South Wa l e s and alm o st c a r r ie d i n V i c t o r i a and was s u p p o r t e d

BY 4 6 ,8 PER CENT OF THE ELECTORS IN ALL STATES.

T h i s d e f e a t w i l l make i t harder for us to pu r s u e our

OBJECTIVES OF UPGRADING LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND IMPROVING ITS

FINANCIAL POSITION. We WILL HAVE TO CONTINUE TO LIVE WITH

THE CUMBERSOME MACHINERY OF OLD, NEVERTHELESS OUR COMMITMENT

TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT REMAINS, We WANT TO SEE IT TAKE ITS

PROPER PLACE IN OUR THREE-TIERED SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT.:

WE WANT TO SEE THAT IT HAS THE FINANCIAL A B IL IT Y TO MEET AS

MANY OF THE DEMANDS THAT ARE MADE UPON IT AS POSSIBLE,

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