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Thursday, 17 May 1973
Page: 2350

Mr McKENZIE (Diamond Valley) - I want to speak on the urgent need for constitutional change in this country, a subject which is, I think, rather appropriate having regard to what has gone on earlier this evening. As honourable members will know, the history of Federation in Australia had a rather tortuous path to follow during the late 1890s. The statesmen in this country - there were a few then - felt that there was an urgent need for Australia to be regarded as one nation, so a convention was called. Discussions extended over a number of years. It was decided to recommend to the Imperial Parliament that Australia become a Commonwealth, a federation of States. The Act to federate Australia and produce the Constitution finally was carried. It was a compromise constitution because State rights were just as strongly held then as they are now, perhaps more so. However, one wonders whether we have progressed very much in the last 70 years.

The Constitution was out of date when the Act was passed; it is even more out of date now. Therefore I greeted the news that a new constitutional convention was to be held with a great deal of satisfaction. This convention will meet shortly. Due, I believe, to the activity of the Australian Labor Party on the question of local government and the need for it to be represented, local government will be represented at that convention. At a meeting held last Monday the steering committee agreed to recommend to the convention that local government be given direct representation consisting of 3 representatives from each State, 2 from the Northern Territory and one from the Australian Capital Territory and that representatives from each State should include one representative of the capital of the State. The steering committee decided further that the representatives be nominated by local government, but that the method of selecting the 3 representatives from local government in each State would be left to the parliamentary delegation from that State. The point was that the parliamentary delegates from each State should decide who to ask to select the representatives of local government, not that the parliamentary delegates themselves would choose those representatives. I believe it is long overdue for local government to be represented at the highest councils of this nation.

Responsibilities of local government during the 70 years since Federation have changed a great deal. Local government bodies now are not concerned only with bridges, roads, draingage and associated matters. They are much more concerned with pre-schools and social welfare, providing sufficient public open spaces and sports ground and community recreation facilities generally. For far too long the ordinary ratepayer has had to bear the burden. One of the first steps we must take to see that the financial burden of supporting local government is spread more evenly, is to enable local government bodies to be properly represented where the real decisions are made. I believe that the coming convention will be a land mark.

One of the real problems of local government finance is that rates, generally speaking, are fixed on a flat basis. Regardless of income, the same amount of rates is paid. This is particularly noticeable in areas where the unimproved capital value rating system is employed. The system has many advantages, but it also has a disadvantage which I will describe. In a residential area a pensioner may live next door to a millionaire. The millionaire is paying marginal income tax at the rate of 66c in $1. If he pays $100 in rates he gets a refund of $66. If the pensioner is unfortunate enough to live in a State where no rebate is given, he receives nothing back from the $100 rates that he pays, because he pays no income tax. It is a ridiculous situation in which a millionaire pays about $33 in rates and a pensioner pays $100. That is only one of the inequities of the present system.

This Government is pledged to give local government finance from the Commonwealth

Grants Commission and to allow local government bodies to be represented at the Australian Loan Council. Therefore we should see a change in the situation. Referendums in the Commonwealth have not been very successful in getting proposals carried. It seems to me that a convention to operate on modern lines with overall representation is the best means of changing a set of rules, for that is what the Constitution is, designed in a horse and buggy era, for more modern structure. The disadvantages of the States in respect of the Constitution are only too well brought out by what is happening in the States.

I will refer briefly to my home State of Victoria. Let us look, for instance, at what is happening in regard to handicapped children. The Government has a policy concerning the welfare of handicapped children but it is not always able to implement it. The Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) invited a Victorian Government committee to give information to the Interim Schools Committee so that the Commonwealth could assist in the education of handicapped children in Victoria. The Victorian Government has not responded to the request. Experience in respect of a needs survey was similar. Victoria delayed giving information even to the Liberal Government that preceded the present Government. It did not make its material public in Victoria. It provided only limited information to the previous Government. Every other State co-operated.

In the field of transport, the Bureau oi Transport Economics sought information from all States on transport needs during the term of office of the McMahon Government. Mr Wilcox, the Victorian Minister for Transport, was completely unco-operative which meant that Victoria was placed last because of the total lack of information. The report of the Bureau said that Victoria was the only State which refused to provide full details of its capital requirements. Victoria refused to allow the Bureau to run its own check on the economic feasibility of its demands for assistance for new projects. There are many cases of this lack of co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth. As I said before, we need more national planning. I hope that the constitutional convention which will be held late this month and in succeeding months will be able to do something about making sure that the needs of this country are properly planned for.

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