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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4410

Mr GILES (Angas) - It is with a very great element of delight- 1 will not say with an element of surprise - that 1 rise to support the motion. 1 support the Government very sincerely in its attitude to this problem of non-metropolitan unemployment and I. support the measures that the Government has taken to deal with the problem. I think it is probably true to say that we have grown unused to a rapid response to a quickly emerging situation by the huge monolithic, almost amorphous masses that modern day governments have become. It is to the credit of the Ministers and the Government that such rapid action has been taken in this field. The philosophy of the scheme has already been spelt out in a fine statement by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) to the Parliament. At the risk of being repetitious 1 wish to look briefly at the philosophy behind the scheme. It is true that its implication is a short term one. It aims to take immediate action to help correct a problem that is not part of the overall economy of the nation. It aims to fill a gap before such measures as rural reconstruction, rural retraining, marginal dairying measures and new wool policies emerge, and before any of these longer term and more fundamental schemes start to bite into the rural economy. So we are faced with a hiatus period in which problems exist in certain regional areas. The scheme attempts to deal with the newly emerging problem of those areas so defined.

The Government aims to take specific action on a specific problem that applies intensely to specific areas of the economy. It will aid in relieving general hardship that has occurred in provincial centres and areas where the unemployment rate is very much higher than it is in metropolitan areas. Let me expand on that a little. It is apparent to all honourable members who have journeyed from main capital city areas to provincial centres such as Bendigo, Ballarat, Newcastle, Murray Bridge or Renmark, that the squeeze on the rural industries, which has come aboutlargely because the failure of prices for agricultural commodities to rise on overseas market has rubbed off on the home markets. It is not only those on rural blocks in these important provincial areas who are feeling the pinch. It is for this sortof reason that, to a degree - and to a degree only - the Government has decided to pour in funds at the rate of $2m a month to these areas.

I think that the added importance of this scheme is that it is not only the farmers who are feeling the squeeze but it is also the main street traders - the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker - and all those who arein business in these provincial centres. The scheme probably would not be a good one if it aimed to perpetuate jobs and employment in areas over and above the potential of those areas inthe years to come. But it is proper that this investment in the education and training of people, and the expertise of people there, should not be lost tothose areas. It is very important that, to a level, the facilities that are offered in those centres today should continue and increase so that. in time to come, when economic circumstances may well have changed; those areas of Australia with clean air, with beauty, with trees and with good facilities will have the capacity to attract people from some of the overcrowded cities with their smog problems and their diseconomies of scale.

It is becoming more apparent now than ever, before that diseconomies of scale, such as 3-level highways running through Los Angeles, amount to the investment of an enormous sum per person. If we can provide facilities in regional areas and provincial cities it will be to the ultimate advantage of Australia. I am not saying that the Government should go overboard in promoting the use of taxpayers' funds in areas that arc not economic. What I am saying is that this is one of a series of schemes fitting into a pattern that will hold out some hope to these areas in the future and will provide more liquidity for their main street shops and their facilities than they otherwise would have. It is worthy of note that this scheme introduced by the Government - it is a completely new piece of thinking - is limited in time to 30th June 1973. It is important that the House take note of this fact. It is limited to that time because we are not going to see or feel much benefit from rural reconstruction, rural retraining, marginal dairying measures or new wool policies for some time. It is right that, during the hiatus, the Government should firstly recognise that the problem exists and, secondly, do something about it.

Having discussed my idea of the practical philosophy behind the scheme let me now move on to the administration of it. Only yesterday the Federal Government completed itsdiscussions with the States on the administration of this scheme. I believe that certain facts are still undecided and need further clarification, but the Government has at this point of time tied in the major elements of this scheme with the States. Having nominally accepted the scheme the States now have to - in accordance with their function and their jurisdiction - draw up proper priorities for the use of the amount of taxpayers' funds provided for this purpose. Nobody would doubt that the States have more local expertise to decide whether work should be done on a major bridge at one provincial centre or on a toilet block somewhere else. That is not the sort of priority that we in this Parliament should decide.It is proper that the State governments should look at this and give advice. So the position is quite clearly that the Commonwealth has made available taxpayers' funds for this use, and now the States have to draw up proper priorities for the use of these funds.

It is to be hoped that most of this capital amount will go to local government authorities for their use in certain areas. I think it is worth mentioning in passing that local government authorities have already had quite a slice of taxpayers' funds in the past from drought aid that has been made available I think the granting of funds for drought relief purposes in different States has been very valuable to the Government. First of all. the Government has learnt a lot of the pitfalls from the use of capital in this way. Secondly it has had a look to see what projects can be worth while and what are a waste of money when administered by local government authorities. I hope these lessons are learnt and I hope that perhaps some labour that is skilled rather than unskilled will be available to local government authorities now so that more worthwhile projects can be undertaken.

There is, I gather, some area of disagreement in the thinking of the Parliament in general as regards the proportion of these funds that should be used for particular purposes. The Prime Minister in his statement mentioned the fact that- preferably no more than 25 per cent of these funds should be used for equipment and like purposes. This assistance is similar to the drought aid given in the past; it is meant for labour intensive projects. I would say in passing that 1 would have though there could well be a need for more than 25 per cent of the funds to be expended on equipment, depending on what projects are undertaken. There are only 2 ways in which funds in addition to 25 per cent of what is provided by the Commonwealth can be found for equipment. Either the States find them or there will be a request to this Government to provide added expenditure for that purpose. I see no problem involved in this. I note the fact that the maximum amount of elasticity has been left, according to the Prime Minister's statement, to. cope with just this sort of emergency. Although the sum of $2m a month has been mentioned in this statement, it will be adjustable from time to time according to the requirements of the situation.

I have figures to hand which give the proportion of unemployed State by State in metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. One quick look at these figures shows quite clearly that New South Wales, with nearly 9,000 unemployed in the metropolitan area, has a far greater number of unemployed. 11,700, in non-metropolitan areas. Different patterns emerge State by State. The situation in South Australia is at the opposite extreme from the figures I have quoted. In South Australia 72 per cent of unemployed are in the metropolitan area and 27 per cent are in the country, which is markedly different from the New South Wales position. I would just say in passing that I believe the Government must look carefully at the reasons for these figures. Not the least of the reasons for these figures is that three-quarters of the population of South Australia lives in Adelaide. In addition, a satellite city such as Elizabeth tends to distort the overall picture. I believe that a special allowance will be made for these circumstances. It certainly should be. In New South Wales, for instance, cities such as Newcastle and Wollongong, which are virtually the size of Adelaide, in terms of the definition in this statement would be provincial centres. I believe on the one hand that we must look at the statistics and their importance, but on the other hand 1 believe there must obviously be some re-patterning of the disbursement of this capital sum in order to achieve some fairness of distribution.

May I. finish up my remarks by saying that I give very great credit to the Government for acting so promptly in a specific area of need where assistance is necessary. I cannot remember any other occasion on which such aid has been directed so unerringly to the area where it is necessary. I see this assistance as part of an overall pattern. Not only do I see this as part of the pattern of the economic circumstances of the country and the Government's attempts to control inflation but also I see this as part of the pattern of the resurrection and the promoting of a more healthy rural atmosphere in years to come. It is an integral short term important part of this programme. I congratulate the Government and support it heavily in its ideas behind this scheme.

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