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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 2423

Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Opposition) - The Liberal Party will vote against this Bill. It will vote against the Bill because it is unnecessary, because it is a further erosion of the Constitution and because it is an underhand way of grabbing powers from the States to centralise arbitrary power in Canberra. The Liberal Party acknowledges the emphatic right of local government to receive assistance by way of funds, according to the total capacity of the nation to produce funds. We do not believe that local government should be treated like poor country cousins. It should not be given an occasional handout by the Federal Government and told to go home and make do. We believe that local government should receive extra money. We further believe that it is within the Government's power now, under the present Constitution, to make this money available. Section 96 of the Constitution states: the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.

I repeat, 'on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit'. Therefore it is possible for the Federal Government to make grants to local government now under section 96 of the Constitution.

The proposed alterations to the Constitution are irrelevant and unnecessary. The Government is proposing another bureaucracy in a fast growing bureaucratic system. There are almost 1,000 municipalities in this country. Imagine the machinery which would be necessary to examine the affairs of these municipalities and to decide which ones were doing what, why they were doing it, how they were doing it, whether they needed assistance, if so what assistance and how much assistance. I ask: Does local government really believe that it will get a better deal from a bureaucratic organisation such as this? Will its claims be heard more readily? I doubt it. What is more likely to happen is that local government will become enmeshed in a tangle of red tape created by the Federal Australian Labor Party Government and paid for by the long-suffering taxpayer. What could and should happen under the present Constitution is that money going to local governments ought to go to them via the State governments. There is nothing to stop this Parliament appropriating X number of dollars as a national purpose for local government, to be distributed to the State governments on a prescribed formula and to be distributed among local government bodies by the 6 State governments.

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