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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4406


Mr MacKELLAR (Warringah) - I was most interested to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) conclude by reading out some aspects of his Party's policy on decentralisation. This bears very closely on what has been said today because one member of his Party obviously cannot agree with that policy as he has moved for the appointment of a select committee to investigate these aspects of decentralisation.

Members of the Opposition seem surprised when the Government refuses to countenance the setting up of various select committees. But I wonder whether members of the Opposition realise just how many select committees they have proposed establishing in the life of this Parliament. I wonder whether they realise the physical problems associated with setting up and servicing that number of select committees. I think that it might be useful for the Australian people and for members of the Opposition to know the number of select committees that the Opposition has proposed during this Parliament.

Proposals by the Opposition have been made to appoint select committees to inquire into the following Bills: The Loan (Qantas Airways Limited) Bill, the Air Navigation Bill, the Social Services Bill, the Superannuation Bill, the Repatriation Bill, the Social Services Bill (No. 2), the New South Wales Grant (Flood Mitigation) Bill, the Post and Telegraph Bill, the Repatriation Bill (No. 2), the Loan (War Service Land Settlement) Bill (1970) and the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Bill .1970.

The appointment of select committees has been proposed to deal with airport and harbour development, decentralisation and an amendment to the motion that the House take note of the paper - 'Service Employment, Committee of Inquiry' seeking the appointment of a joint select committee. Not content with that, 6 motions seeking the suspension of Standing Orders to enable motions to be moved proposing the appointment of select committees have been moved by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitiam), the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage), the honourable member for Bendigo (Mi Kennedy) and the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). In all, 21 addi tional select committees have been proposed by the Opposition during the life of this Parliament. Anybody in his right senses would realise that the members of this Parliament have more to do than merely belong to select committees of this Parliament. If . every request for the appointment of a select committee proposed by the Opposition was taken up, 21 select committees would be operating in the House of Representatives. One wonders why, in this proliferation of requests for select committees, the Opposition is not brave enough to decide policies for itself and to come out and tell the Australian people what its policies are instead of hiding behind requests for the establishment of select committees which would result in other people doing the work of the Opposition for it while its members get on with the internal strife which dogs the Australian Labor Party.

The honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) has opened up a most interesting area of debate. I agree with quite a number of things that the honourable member has said. This is an area in which we are all tremendously interested not only as members of Parliament but as dwellers in this country. The honourable member seemed surprised that the proportion of people on the land was declining. I cannot understand why this fact comes as such a surprise to members of the Opposition. The historical fact is that, as the economy of a country develops sophistication, a declining proportion of that country's population will be engaged in rural industry. This has happened everywhere in the world. Yet this development seems to come as a bit of a surprise to members of the Opposition and particularly the honourable member for Corio. It is not hard, if one thinks about it - without the need to set up a select committee - to find out the reasons for this decline.

This decline has occurred not only in the numbers of people with country holdings but also in small country towns and their populations. If one investigates or thinks about this trend, it is not very difficult to come up with an answer as to the reasons for the development. There has been an accelerating technological change in the carrying on of the business of primary production all over the world. As a country becomes agriculturally more sophisticated, the technical change in the machinery which is used to produce primary products inevitably whittles away the number of human beings required to take part in agricultural production. The number of people required to perform rural work inevitably declines as technical change proliferates in country areas. But not only has this occurred but also has the demand for services in small country towns declined.

Other changes occur as economic sophistication increases in a country. A most important one which has nol been mentioned during this debate is the improvement in transport facilities available to country people. I refer not only to the motor car and light aircraft in more remote areas but also to the quality and extent of the road system. I come from a small country town. T can remember very clearly the numbers of horses and sulkies that were to be seen in the country areas of north western New South Wales just after the Second World War. Now, a sulky is virtually a museum piece. It would be unusual to find' a horse and sulky being used anywhere in country areas. The resUlt is that people not only have the opportunity to travel more widely but also in many cases have the facility to travel and do travel more widely than they did.

Where do they go? They go to the larger country areas and they go to the cities more frequently than they did in the past. I can remember when it was really a big effort to travel 330 miles from the north west of New South Wales to Sydney. One thought about this trip for some days and prepared for it most carefully. It could take up to 2 days in an old Morris car. Now one can literally hop into ones car and undertake this trip in 8 hours or less. The reason for the decline in smaller country towns, which is being called into question today, is not only that not as much farm work by country citizens is required as was in the past but also that the land owners living around the small country towns do not need the provision of the back up facilities that they had in the past.

In addition, cultural opportunities for people in small country towns are limited when compared with those available in larger country towns and in cities. It is only to be expected that the brightest sons of people in country areas will look for opportunities in places where they can realise their potential. They will seek opportunities for varied and interesting jobs. In other words, the pressure on them to move from country areas will be very strong. 1 deplore this. I deplore the necessity for it. But we must face the facts - -something which the Labor Party is not noted for doing. We must realise that this will occur and we should not be surprised when it does. 1 have been emphasising ma. nl\, the situation with respect to the smaller country towns. This pressure for movement is not so great in the larger country towns which have built up a certain amount of industrialisation. Another point is that cities of a reasonable size - I. am not referring to capital cities - offer considerable attractions for people from the country. This is particularly so with respect to. seaside cities. Those people who have lived in inland Australia, particularly in the hotter area's, will know just how pleasant it is at times lo get away from the physical conditions which obtain in those areas of Australia and go to a seaside town. Job opportunities and the variety of employment offered there are much greater and this is a big incentive for people to go to the cities. In addition the cultural opportunities are much hotter for people in cities than they are in country towns, particularly the small country towns.

The honourable member for Corio and other honourable members have quite rightly recognised the disadvantages of city dwelling, particularly in the major cities of Melbourne and Sydney. As we have heard frequently in this chamber, land costs in those cities have risen quite markedly, forcing people to move further and further out and developing the so-called urban sprawl with ali the problems that it engenders. We have overcrowding in many areas of the cities and this again leads to a whole series of physical and psychological problems. Transport difficulties in the major cities act as a deterrent to ' many people who might otherwise come to the cities, and quite rightly so. It is ridiculous that one spends up to 20 per cent of one's waking hours travelling to and from work. The environmental disturbance occurring in major cities is something which is quite properly becoming much more important. People are realising that if they want to live in circumstances which appear delightful to them they must pay for efforts to overcome environmental disturbance. They are realising also that in blindly building up major cities they are making a rod for their backs. A serious problem in major cities at the moment is the increase in the crime rate. These are just some of the features of city life which act as deterrents to people coming to major cities.

But let us face the situation and be honest about it. At the moment we have not only the historical pressures moving people from rural areas to city areas but also the rural crisis, the diminution of prices and. the loss of viability . of many rural enterprises. We have very strong factors moving people towards better job opportunities, a greater variety of jobs and better cultural facilities which are available to them in the cities. It will not do very much good to set up a select committee to inquire into these problems. The problems are before us and have been appreciated on both sides of the House. Why on earth would anybody set up a select committee to inquire into them? Anybody who has been a member of a select committee will know the time that it takes to conduct an investigation. The Leader of the Opposition detracts a little from this fact. He said it does not take very much time at all. The problems are more urgent than was suggested by the honourable member for Corio when moving this motion. It is just procrastination to suggest that we set up a select committee to inquire into these matters.

Nothing has been said about the responsibilities of the States in this respect. It is a typical Australian Labor Party proposal - Let us centralise the whole thing and we will provide the money'. It is another example of the way in which the Opposition would detract from the sovereignty of the States and the very real responsibilities of the States. Not a word was said about co-operation with the States in analysing this problem and seeking a solution. The Opposition says: 'Let us set up a select committee' - the 21st select committee that has been proposed in 2 years,

The Leader of the Opposition said that his policy was to select certain country towns. This, on the face of it, sounds tremendous. But he has not the courage to say which country towns he would select. He has not done this for the very good reason that he knows that as soon as he selects one country town or city he will have the rest of the country areas up in arms. He will gain votes in one place but lose votes in the other rural areas of Australia. Let us be perfectly frank about it. We on this side of the House, and I in the Budget debate this year, have outlined the problems of people in rural areas - and city areas - caused by the drift to the cities. I agree that there is a very real need, and I have said so, to develop growth centres in areas outside the major cities. But I cannot and will not agree that the way to do this is to set up the 21st proposed select committee of this Parliament to investigate the problems which are apparent not only to honourable members in this House but also to the State governments. The State governments have gone by the board in the measures proposed by the Opposition. Nothing has been said about the very real efforts of the New South Wales Government and its Department of Decentralisation.







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