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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2208

Senator PRIMMER —My question is directed to the Minister for Finance. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to allegations that local government will have to retrench staff as a result of the Government's decision on Commonwealth funding to local government announced in last week's economic statement? Is there any truth in that allegation?

Senator WALSH —I have seen such allegations and they are, of course, baseless. I was a little surprised to be told yesterday that they had been repeated, apparently uncritically, by Senator Peter Rae in the debate on the Appropriation Bills. The decision announced last week is that local government will receive a 2 per cent real increase in funds from the Federal tax sharing arrangements. How anyone could conclude that any organisation which was granted a 2 per cent real increase in funding would, as a result of that decision, be forced to retrench staff, is a matter for wide-eyed conjecture.

It is plainly untrue that any local government authority will have to retrench staff because of that decision. It is of course possible that some local authorities may not be able to engage additional staff which they may have planned to engage. For example, I noticed recently an advertisement from the Melbourne City Council advertising a position on a three-year contract at $31,230 a year for a 'sector strategist'. I was not aware of what a 'sector strategist' is or what a sector strategist's duties may be, so I read through the rest of the advertisement and was enlightened in this way:

The sector strategist will be responsible for developing -implementing policy in relation to a number of sectors in the inner urban economy and will work closely with a range of public, private and labour movement bodies.

And so it went on in similar imprecise terms. I was expecting to come across a line which informed me that the sector strategist would 'interact at the interface' but that was not there!

Whether any local government authority decides to retrench an existing staff member in order to engage, say, a sector strategist or a number of sector strategists is, I suppose, a matter for decision of that local government authority. But the fact remains that no local government authority will be required to retrench staff because of the quite generous decision, under the circumstances, of the Federal Government to increase tax sharing payments to local government in the next financial year by 2 per cent in real terms.