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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 1032

Mr ALLAN MORRIS(10.35) —I speak in this debate on a matter which is extremely important to the future of Newcastle. On Saturday, 24 September, Newcastle residents will go to the polls in an election for the Lord Mayor and a city council. Candidates for Lord Mayor include the present Lord Mayor, Alderman Joy Cummings, who in 1974 became Australia's first lady Lord Mayor. Joy Cummings is a lady of rare talents and is held in high esteem by politicians of all political persuasion all over Australia. In fact, during the presentation of the Address-in-Reply at Government House I was approached by a front bencher from the other side of the House who inquired of Alderman Cummings, indicating not only how far and wide she is known but also how much she is admired.

Her major opponent for Lord Mayor is one Donald Geddes whose major claim to fame is that he is going to bully the State and Federal governments. His most spectacular campaign stunt to date has been to leave an empty bus parked all round Newcastle with his name on it. This bus is as empty as his rhetoric. It has no purpose other than to proclaim its own existence. For the past three years Alderman Cummings has had a hostile council in which Geddes has been able by various deals to gain sufficient votes to become Deputy Lord Mayor. He and his non-Labor coalition have dominated all positions within the Council and its representative bodies, yet they have been totally unable to exercise any real constructive leadership within the Council itself. Of course, this year for the first time the Liberal Party has endorsed candidates for the Newcastle City Council, a move I welcome because it means that for the first time the Liberal Party is taking local government seriously. That is long overdue.

My fears centre mainly around the amount of money being spent in this election. The Australian Labor Party candidates and our Party membership have been fund raising for three years. We have raised the sum of $11,000, which we are very proud of. We think it is an appropriate amount for an election for a council the size of that in Newcastle. However, Geddes and his strangely named and supposedly non-political citizens group will outspend us by at least five to one and probably closer to six to one. Whilst their opulent and extravagant campaign has no real substance, like their bus, it must be paid for. My concern is about who foots the bill and what the real price of that campaign will be. Their candidates, who incidentally include a member of the Liberal Party, an ex- secretary of the National Party and a real estate agent, appear in the main not to be wealthy and there have been no clear signs of any major fund raising exercises. But what must concern me is the fact that in recent years increasingly difficult development issues have faced our city and its residents. Geddes has almost invariably supported developers and a major issue was one in which Geddes supported a project which would have required a breach of the Council's height code by some 50 per cent. The encroachment of flats in some of our older residential areas has caused great bitterness and it has been supported almost completely by Geddes and his colleagues.

Changes to the State Electoral Act and proposed changes to the Federal Electoral Act require election donations to be made public. However, no such provisions apply to local government elections. I consider that this current election justifies a similar provision. How on earth can aldermen, with a taxable allowance of $1,000 a year, raise $50,000 or $60,000 for an election campaign? The potential for special treatment, for favourable consideration and for council decisions which maximise a developer's profit is enormous. Given that local government election expenses are not tax deductible, it is possible that advertising bills are being paid for by individuals or companies as part of their operational accounts, which means that it may well be that the Australian taxpayer is paying almost half the cost.

Local government has a tremendous capacity to do good for Australia. It has a great capacity to do harm as well if the motives are not right. Does anybody seriously think that people who donate the kind of money involved will not call the tune and that the invisible financiers will not extract a price? I believe that the voters of Newcastle will see through the razmataz of this self- proclaimed bully who wants to be a part time lord mayor. Having been a member of the Council with this candidate for six years, I have had more than enough opportunity to judge his contribution, which has certainly been part time. In fact, years ago I dubbed him the absentee alderman.

I do not really imagine that Neville Wran and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) are quaking in their shoes about this self-proclaimed bully. However, I am concerned that the Prime Minister and the Premier have a great interest in the future of Newcastle and the reconstruction of New South Wales and Australia. I am sure they will be interested to know who is prepared to invest so heavily in gaining control of a council in this way and what their real motives might be. What undertakings have been given? What promises have been made? The amount of money, of course, in council terms is great but in terms of the profitability of projects it is actually very small.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.