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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4402

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Leader of the Opposition) - 1 am disappointed that the honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon) did not see fit lo support the proposition of my colleague, thc honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes), that the House of Representatives set up a select committee to inquire into and report upon the future of provincial cities and regional development. The crux of the proposition is to set up a select committee. Any select committee has representatives from both sides of the House: any select committee has a Government supporter as its chairman and a majority of Government members. I am certain that there would be a great degree and a growing degree of common interest between members from both sides of this House if they were to get down together and consider this subject. I will concede that the honourable member for Denison, coming from the smallest of Australia's State capitals and from a State which does have some other considerable centres of urban development, could contribute to the proceedings of such a committee. A committee is bipartisan. There is a remarkable solidarity among the members of any committee which is set up in this Parliament. I am disappointed that the honourable gentleman did not support the idea.

Even if, however, the idea is too novel for Government members, it is not a new idea. Back in 1961, a former Leader of the Australian Country Party - not the immediate past one or the one before that, but the one before that, Sir Earle Page - moved that there be an expert committee appointed to inquire into and report on the best means of securing effective decentralisation of population, industry, communications and administration. He was supported by the late Mr David Drummond, with whom I worked for nearly 4 years on the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Review. I came to know and to respect and to share Mr Drummond's ideas of decentralisation. I prefer the term 'concentrated' or 'accelerated development'. However one describes it, Mr Drummond showed as Minister for Education in New South Wales in the 1930s that there are fields where governments can accelerate the development of some areas. Where now would the city of Armidale be in New South Wales were is not for the teachers college which Mr Drummond sited there and for the university which he initiated there?

Education and science is clearly a field where great initiatives can be taken, particularly in the tertiary field - in which, of course, the Australian Labor Party includes, even if the Liberal Party does not, the question of teacher education - and where the Commonwealth can contribute to the accelerated development of centres now. On that occasion, back on 27th April 1961, the former honourable member for Bendigo, Mr Beaton, moved an amendment to detail further matters upon which the expert committee should make recommendations, but he supported the establishment of such a committee.I was the second speaker on our side. The time for the debate ran out; I was given the right to continue my remarks; the matter remained on the notice paper; the debate was never concluded; and no vote had been taken when the Parliament was dissolved for the 1961 elections.

On 29th April 1965, Mr Beaton himself moved a motion to set up a joint parliamentary committee - not an expert committee; a joint parliamentary committee - to investigate this matter. I ask leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard the text of Mr Beaton's proposal for this committee and the subjects which it was to cover.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Isleave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -

(a)   a joint parliamentary committee consisting of Government and Opposition Members from both Houses be appointed to enquire into and report on the best means by which the Commonwealth, by co-operation with the States and local government, may secure more balanced development of population, industry, communications and administration;

(b)   the committee make recommendations in regard to -

(i)   those industries which shouldbe established in provincial, country and northern areas;

(ii)   concessions in individual, company, sales or other taxation to encourage such industries;

(iii)   other concessions and assistance;

(iv)   government investment either alone or jointly with private investment to develop or establish such industries;

(v)   communications, housing, transport, water, power, light and fuel;

(vi)   the decentralization of government administration;

(vii)   education, medical and other facilities in decentralized areas; and

(viii)   any related matters which in the opinion of the committee will assist in obtaining more balanced developments; and

(c)   the committee be empowered to call evidence from any person, organization or authority it sees fit.

Mr WHITLAM - Mr Beatonwas followed by Mr McMahon, who was then Minister for Labour and National Service, then by the honourable member for Kal- goorlie (Mr Collard), and then by the Minister for Primary Industry at the time, Mr Anthony, who said about this proposal:

His suggestion -

That is Mr Beaton's- that a joint paliamenlary committee should be set up to deal with this problem is a bit late, really. His proposal would not fit the bill as well as what the Government has proposed already. At the premiers Conference held in July last year - that is, 1964 - it was suggested that there should be joint meet ings between Commonwealth . authorities and State departments to go into this problem of decentralisation throughout Australia. On 5th and 6th March this year- that is, 1965 - there was a meeting of representatives of the States and the Commonwealth, which shows a positive action to try to do something about this major problem.

That was the Commonwealth and State Officials Committee on Decentralisation. It has since met on 3 occasions - on 30th November 1966, 7th February 1969 and 12th October last. It is because of our exasperation with this Official Committee, which was set up after the Premiers Conference in 1964 and behind which the present Leader of the Country Party hid in 1965, that we move again for the establishment of a parliamentary committee. It is inconceivable that if there had been a parliamentary committee it would have taken as long to consider and to recommend measures for decentralisation as this Officials Committee has taken. The Officials Committee has met 4 times in over 7 years. We know that when either House of this Parliament sets up a committee it acts as an amazing catalyst and spur to official committees. The Nimmo Committee was set up within a month of the Senate setting up, pursuant to a promise I made in the 1967 Senate election that there would be a Senate select committee to look into medical and hospital costs. People act very quickly in these circumstances. Let us set up a parliamentary committee; a committee which would have a few advisers; one which would report promptly; and one, above all, which would get members on both sides to tackle these matters.

Mr Beaton'smotion in 1965 never came to a vote. At 12.30 p.m., which was the cut-off time for General Business at that time, our Whip moved that the time for the discussion be extended to 12.45 p.m. Government supporters voted against this extension of time, although Mr Anthonywas on his feet at the time when the debate was interrupted. The list of Government members who voted against the extension of time for Mr Anthony was headed by Mr Anthony himself. The 1966 elections Came before the debate could ever be resumed. Then. Mr Beaton again, on 13th April 1967 raised the matter for a third time. AsI say, it is not a new matter, but for the Government it is still a novel one.

I come then to this Officials Committee.

I asked the new Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) when he took over what were the names and positions of the Commonwealth members of the Committee. On 6th May last he gave me the following answer:

.   . it is not the policy of this Government to disclose the type of information for which the honourable member asks.

I put a question on this matter on the notice paper for the Minister for Trade and Industry, the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony), because he had admitted that his Department was represented on this joint Committee. It transpires, from an answer which he gave on29th September, recalling a pre-McMahon Government answer on 14th April last year, that the departments represented on the Committee are the Prime Minister's, Treasury, Trade and Industry, Primary Industry, National Development and Labour and National Service. Firstly, it is remarkable that the Postmaster-General's Department is not represented on the Committee. All the State Committees which have investigated this matter have pointed out that communications in the hands of the Commonwealth are a key cost item in accelerated development. Secondly, the Department of Shipping and Transport is not represented on the Committee. Clearly, the Commonwealth's responsibilities, its sole initiatives in rebuilding country railways, and its responsibilities for building roads, should be considered. Nor is the Department of Civil Aviation represented on the Committee; the State committees have pointed out the Commonwealth's crucial role in regard to aerodromes. Nor is the Department of Education and Science represented on the Committee, as I have already mentioned. Where would Townsville be now but for the Com- monwealth contributions in the field of education and science? A- concluding example is that the Department of the Environment, Aborigines and . the Arts, which is now responsible for tourism, is not represented on the Committee. If there is any new industry which will give employment in the country and which will earn export income in Australia, it is tourism.

The motion refers to provincial cities. I wish that Australians who live outside the State capitals would rid themselves of the idea that the word 'city' is a 4-letter word, a dirty word. The future of decentralisation in Australia depends on building Up cities. It is only in the Australian federation that one would ever use the word 'city' as a synonym for 'State capital'. In the American federation and in the Canadian federation one does not have this colonial definition of city' as a State capital. There are more cities outside the State capitals in the United States or outside the provincial capitals in Canada than there are capitals. The future of Australia, the future comfort of the population of our State capitals, and the future prosperity of the people who still live in the country depend on building up existing centres and creating cities.

I have mentioned one very clear example, that of Albury-Wodonga. It is important because it is a production and communications centre geographically' midway between Canberra and Melbourne, lt is an area to which I have suggested that the Commonwealth might transfer sonic of its remaining departments in Melbourne. Perhaps I might be allowed to incorporate in Hansard a reply which the Prime Minister gave me on 3rd December last to a couple of questions I had asked without notice on this suggestion; the Prime Minister's letter giving the advice which he said, in answer to my question, he would seek from the Public Service Board:

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Isleave granted? There being no objection leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-- Dear Mr Whitlam,

On 30 November 1971 'you asked me a 'question relating to decentralisation and the location of Commonwealth Government Departments.

Since the question was asked I have received a report from the Chairman of the Public Service Board on tha possible transfer of central offices of Commonwealth departments still located in Melbourne to a mid-point such as Albury-Wodonga Instead of to Canberra. In his advice the Chairman of the Board said:

It is apparent that there would be significant costs in terms of departmental operating efficiency if the central offices of some departments were transferred to a' country centre outside of Canberra. One major difficulty would be the recruitment and retention of a sufficient number of staff, particularly specialised and senior staff, in such a location. There would also bc direct costs, such as additional transport and communication expenses, over those arising if the units were located in Canberra or Melbourne. From the viewpoint of C.P.S. administration, therefore, the Board would have no reason to. recommend the transfer of central offices of Commonwealth Departments to A Albury Wodonga . '

I also undertook to make enquiries about the present position regarding the report of the Commonwealth/State Officials' Committee on Decentralisation. The Report of the Committee has not yet been received by the Government. The Committee is in the course of preparing its Report which, when completed, will be for consideration by the Commonwealth and State Governments.

Yours sincerely, william Mcmahon;. (William McMahon)

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