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Wednesday, 11 October 1972
Page: 1436

Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) - This Bill provides for grants to be made to the States as a result of arrangements agreed between the Commonwealth and the Stales at the Premiers Conference held in June this year. It provides for the grants which are included in the Budget arrangements as payments to the States, including funds to be made available to the States, directly or indirectly, to finance State works and housing programmes to the extent of $3,449m - an increase of almost $400m as compared with the grants made last year. I quote those figures as a background to the comments that I shall make on this legislation. However, I ought to point out first that the revisions that have been made in this Bill are in 3 forms. A total of 8112m is to be added to the financial assistance grants payable to the States in 1972-73. An additional grant of $2 per capita, which was paid to both New South Wales and Victoria each year, has been increased to S3. 50 per capita in 1972-73. These latter amounts will be added to the formula grants so that they will escalate in future years. Thirdly, it was agreed that a special temporary addition of S3. 5m would be made to the financial assistance grants payable to Western Australia in 1972-73. The overall effect of these 3 revisions is that SI 28m will be added to the financial assistance grants that will be produced in 1972-73 by the arrangements embodied in the existing legislation. The figures that were supplied by the Minister show that the estimated total financial assistance grants payable to Tasmania in 1971-73 will be S79.4m. It would appear from those figures that Tasmania, in relation to the size of its population, is being relatively well treated.

As has been said so frequently, the overall problems associated with the management of State finances have got so far out of hand that a completely new approach must be made to the financing of State and local government administrations. The formula which has been devised and which is contained in this legislation is in my view a temporary measure which does no more than overcome the immediate pressing problems and, in many respects, does not meet those problems.

I wish to support the case that was so well outlined in the 39th report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission and also to refer to some observations that were made in other places relating to the most vexed problem of State and local government finances. In paragraph 25 on page 18 of the Commonwealth Grants Commission report, the Commission states:

There are some significant interstate differences in age distribution. Tasmania has the youngest population, of all States, in terms of pre-school and school-age sections of the population. In addition it has the lowest proportion of population in the 'working-age' group and a comparatively low proportion of elderly, people. Therefore, it has the lowest proportion of work force to total population. New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have the lowest proportions of population in the 'school-age' group and highest proportions in the 'working-age' section of the population.

The Commission states further:

Queensland has the second lowest proportion of population in the 'working-age' group but the highest proportion of elderly people (65 and over).

I quote that paragraph to illustrate the variation in the problems which beset the individual States and the great burden that has been placed on my State of Tasmania in relation to the provisions necessary for this younger age group in a modern society.

First and foremost, the health of the nation not only must be maintained but also must continually be improved. This means that the States have a continual call on their resources to provide health services, hospitals, clinics, mobile dental facilities, school health inspections aud many other requirements needed in the. whole field of health. This responsibility rests not only with the State governments but runs into the local government area. The same requirements exist in relation to the provision of schools. Tasmania has the added responsibility, when compared with the other States, of giving its children the equality of opportunity that is rightly theirs. The States require not only well trained teachers who are able to impart their knowledge to the children but also the establishment in the environment of the schools themselves of the standards which have been set in Canberra and which should be a yardstick for the standards to which the other States should aspire and which they should seek to maintain. When we compare the standards of the schools in the States, which are financed by the relatively inadequate funds made available under the present CommonwealthState arrangements, much remains to be desired.

The other problem which the States face - particularly is this problem faced by Tasmania - concerns the greatly expanding and avaricious motor vehicle industry which is pouring all types of motor transport onto the roads and in the process is making handsome profits. The motor vehicle industry depends on the capacity of Slate governments and local government authorities to provide road facilities for the means of transport that it produces.

Senator Webster - Why do you criticise the industry? It is not pouring vehicles onto the roads. People are buying these vehicles. People are not being forced to buy them. Why do you people constantly criticise industry?

Senator O'BYRNE - Why do you constantly interject?

Senator Webster - Because there is so much to interject about and because what you say is so foolish.

Senator O'BYRNE - The whole point is that the motor vehicle industry persuades people to use private transport. The money could be better directed towards improving the quality of life.

Senator Webster - That is your policy - to direct everybody on every matter.

Senator O'BYRNE - Why does this niggling stupidity appear before an election? Cannot people be rational when an election is to be held? Elections are always with us, either for the House of Representatives, the Senate or for a State government. When an election is on, honourable senators opposite suffer from the same fever, the same disease. They must be political.

Senator Mulvihill - Profits as usual.

Senator O'BYRNE - That is quite true. Some of these organisations are imposing great burdens on State governments. 1 divert from this point to refer to the lack of planning that has occurred in respect of our immigration policy. The Commonwealth, through its recruiting officers in various countries, offers a golden handshake to intending migrants and in colourful brochures which sometimes do not contain the facts relating to employment opportunities in Australia invites these people to our country. When they arrive on our shores they are handed nice little brochures by the immigration authorities and are dispersed to the States. The big headaches then begin for the . State and local government authorities which must handle what should essentially be a Commonwealth responsibility. State and local government authorities are accruing greater debts and have increasing requirements for loan moneys. These involve high interest and repayment charges. These matters all should be the responsibility of the Commonwealth. But we never see a frontal attack made on so many of these problems which disadvantage the States.

To follow up some of these points that 1 am making with regard to the added expenditure incurred by the States in providing facilities, I turn to the problem of pollution. Most people are aware or are becoming aware of the problems of the environment. Yet in Tasmania we have the problem of the pollution of our rivers. The handling of this problem is beyond the resources of our local government and our State Government, particularly as the State Government has a very sharply pruned Budget and greatly reduced resources. Yet we do not find any reference being made to assisting Tasmania to deal with this problem.

Mining operations have been carried on in Tasmania for many years and the effluent from these mines has been discharged into our rivers which are the source of our fresh water supplies. At times of flood, these rivers overflow their banks and all sorts of chemical substances are deposited in our soil causing a deterio ration in the quality of that soil. In the north of Tasmania 30,000 tons of untreated sewage are flowing into the Tamar River. Parts of the Tasmanian coastline are being polluted by effluent from various factories. These matters are in abeyance. The Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution drew attention to this great problem in very strong and certain terms, yet none of the State or local government authorities can consider solving the problem because of the economics involved. While I believe that this new formula of distribution for which provision is being made in this legislation will put sticking plaster over the sore and will cover it from public view temporarily, it will not be long before we see the little red tell-tale marks coming up again and the sore will be bigger and deeper in the coming years. 1 hope that this will be the last year ;n which we will have to worry about this type of formula. Unless there is a Commonwealth and State conference to review the Constitution, so provision can be made for the States and the Commonwealth to live together much more amicably and with much more financial stability than is the case at the present time, something will have to give.

Senator Webster - Really, you mean that you see the Commonwealth directing the States on all of those matters.

Senator O'BYRNE - Senator Websteris putting words into my mouth, as he usually tries to do.

Senator Webster - I am the only one listening to what you have to say. On that basis, I understand what you have said.

Senator O'BYRNE - Lots of people outside are very interested in what goes on in this Senate. When they hear interjections like those made by Senator Webster, they do not like them because they disturb their train of thought. However, it is of great importance that as speedily as possible we should come to grips with a constitutional review which will include a good look at section 96 of the Constitution and at the shortcomings of the whole of our Constitution. We are not operating within the vision of the framers of the Constitution, and after 72 years, with so few alterations having been made to the Constitution by referenda, we are really using the horse and buggy technique in a high speed age. For that reason I believe that an impasse has been reached between the Commonwealth and the States and local government in which the Commonwealth has obtained and maintained power over the purse, by its power over taxation, and the States are getting a very poor part of the deal.

I hope that with this type of legislation under which we are sort of a generous godfather giving handouts to the States, there will be a much more reasonable distribution and that better facilities will be provided to the States to enable them to bear the growing burden of responsibilities that are being handed on to them both in tennis of the repayment of interest charges and in coping with Commonwealth policies such as the immigration policy, which should be the responsibility of the Commonwealth. The matter of the railway systems rapidly comes to mind. Of course, the States have to maintain this most essential part of their transport system. We find that in practically every State this need for an efficient railway system is growing, yet the States have not the finances to enable them to meet the challenge.

We do not oppose the legislation. This practice of distributing money to the STates in this way has grown up over the years. The Commonwealth Grants Commission in its report gave a very comprehensive outline of all the submissions that were made and of the terms under which these .era Us are being made and I recommend the report to people who are interested in this matter. I believe that under the circumstances the Commission does a very good job in evaluating this matter within the terms of the present Constitution. All I say in conclusion is that I hope that as soon as possible the States and the Commonwealth will get together in conjunction with those people who are capable of having a deep and hard look at the inadequacies of our present Constitution, particularly as they relate to Commonwealth-State financial relations. When that is done, the better it will be for us as a nation.

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