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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 2424

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate) -We are told by the Government that the purpose of the Constitution Alteration (Local Government Bodies) Bill is to make Federal funds available direct to local government bodies, by means of grants and low interest loans, to ease the burden of rates and to improve municipal services. An alteration to the Constitution is necessary before the Government can implement its plan, and the people are being asked at a referendum whether they believe that the constitutional alteration should be made.

This is one of 6 major changes to the Constitution proposed by the Labor Government. It is one of the 6 new avenues of power the Labor Government seeks from the electors by means of referendum. I believe that the people are well justified in asking just what is going on.

Senator MURPHY Yo u wUl not let them have their say

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate) Oh ! They are entitled to question the motives of a Government which, within a few months of taking office, wants to make sweeping changes to a Constitution which has stood the test of time since Federation. The answer, of course, is that the Labor Party wants more power. It claims that it cannot do what it wants to do without that additional power, and in almost every case it is angling to grab that power from the States. I want every AustraUan citizen who wUl be voting on this and other referendum issues to understand fully that the Constituion is the law and the letter of the AustraUan Federation and that Federation is a partnership of the States and the Commonwealth. What the Government is seeking to enact now is a huge takeover bid, with the powers given to the States by the Constitution being the takeover target. We are now learning the hard way that this socialist Labor Government has every intention of controlling the nation's means of production, distribution and exchange, as the socialist doctrine says it should.

Undermining the authority ofthe States is part of that program. If we aUow the plan to continue and to develop, as it wtil if not checked now, we wtil no longer have States in AustraUa, just as we would no longer have the Senate, which is the States House in Federal ParUament, if Labor had its way. Local government bodies are the creation of the States and are bound by State laws. It is no wonder the State governments, including the 3 Labor State governments, strongly oppose this measure. They know that chaos is the likely outcome, with local government falling under State administration on the one hand and financial control by Canberra on the other. Certainly local government needs ore funds. No political party is more acutely aware of this than is the Country Party. The increasing cost of providing community services has forced local government bodies to pass the burden on to the community by way of higher rates. Despite this the local government debt is increasing. My point is that it is not necessary to change the Constitution to alleviate the pressing financial difficulties of local government. The desired result can be achieved by the Federal Government increasing the funds made available to the State governments for distribution to local government. The Federal Government can do this under the Constitution as it now stands.

The proposal contained in this BUI also has to be viewed in relation to the Government's intention to group local government bodies into regional authorities. Every individual council and every ratepayer should consider carefully whether their particular local government body would be advantaged or disadvantaged by having to make application for financial assistance on a regional basis. Under the proposed local government regions scheme, councils wtil lose much of the individuality they now possess in seeking finance from the States. Additionally, when a region makes an application for direct assistance, consideration and determination virtually wUl rest with the Minister for Urban and Regional Development in distant Canberra. Is this what local government councUs want? Of course it is not. In my own State of Western Australia I know that many councUs are strongly opposed to the regional system.

Senator Milliner - How many? Tell us a couple of them?

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate) I was shocked recently to see the number of councUs that are coming forward and expressing this view. Despite their urgent need for increased financial assistance, local government councUs see the regions proposal and the direct Commonwealth assistance proposal as 2 further instances of Canberra's interference in the affairs of the States. The Country Party beheves that the financial requirements of local government should be determined after consultation between the States and local government bodies, taking into account their loan commitments, their overall financial responsibUities and the burden of rates on the ratepayers. The funds should be made avaUable by the Commonwealth and allocated to the States for distribution to local government in accordance with priorities determined by the States after consultation with local government. Because of the views which I have expressed, the Country Party wUl oppose this Bill.

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