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Tuesday, 20 November 1973
Page: 1910

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I introduce a Bill to alter the Constitution in relation to borrowings for, and financial assistance to, local government bodies. The aim of the proposed amendment to the constitution which will be submitted to a referendum at the time of the next Senate election is to make funds available direct to the local government, both by way of grants and by loans at lower interest rates, so that urban and rural councils and other local government bodies can be freed from the straitened circumstances of the past. It is part of the Government's policy, not only to ease the increasing burden of rates on the people of Australia but also to make possible significant improvements in municipal services which for 23 years under previous Australian Governments have been shamefully neglected. It is therefore a matter of importance to every Australian including every home owner and aspiring home owner in the country.

It is high time an Australian Government used its authority and its resources to make it easier for local governments to have access to the funds they need to help the people in relation to their streets, drains, sewerage and all other local services to which as taxpayers they are entitled. The Australian Government is wholly committed to this. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) said in the Australian Labor Party's policy speech last year:

Let there be no mistake about Labor's determination to make local government a genuine partner in the federal system.

At the more recent Constitutional Convention in Sydney he said:

If the financial agreement were being drawn up today it would be inconceivable that these authorities- that is, local government authorities- would be overlooked.

In may of this year, the Australian Government asked this Parliament to pass the Grants Commission Act which empowers the Commission to inquire into, and report on, applications from approved local government bodies for grants. This was one of our election undertakings and one of the first to be honoured.

In October- just a month ago- at a meeting with the heads of government of the States the Government took new initiatives on behalf of local government. We made 2 proposals. One was that elected local government should have both a voice and a vote in the loan council. The other was that the Australian Government be empowered to borrow on behalf of elected local government. The meeting was abortive. There was no consensus to enable the Australian Government to proceed without delay.

This Bill, therefore, is designed to deal with one of those .proposals- that is, to add a new placitum to section 51 empowering the Commonwealth to borrow on behalf of local governmentand at the same time to add a new section 96a empowering the Parliament to make grants of financial assistance direct to local government. It will take us another step along the road towards giving local government its rightful place in our affairs.

At present the local government authorities raise loan funds themselves, subject to the gentlemen's agreement, or obtain loan funds from the States. The loan funds from the States are raised as part of the ordinary loan programs of the States under the financial agreement. The Bill will give local government an additional source of funds. It will give the Australian Parliament express authority to make provision for the borrowing of loan funds by the Australian Government on behalf of local government bodies.

At the recent Constitutional Convention the Prime Minister said perhaps the most important amendment that could be achieved for 1973 and beyond would be an amendment to do just thismake it possible for the Australian Government to borrow directly on behalf of local government bodies. The Bill will also give this Parliament power to grant funds to these bodies in the same way as it does to the States. The intention is to grant financial assistance only to elected local government bodies. This access to public funds on better conditions and in a more direct way has been a facility sought by local governments through the Australian Council of Local Government Associations. The Government considers the need to be both real and urgent. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.

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