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Thursday, 21 November 1974
Page: 2696

Senator WILLESEE (Western AustraliaMinister for Foreign Affairs) - in reply- I thank the Opposition for supporting the Bill. There have been some very exaggerated comments about it. Senator Carrick took the line that it was not providing enough money for what was required by local government. That is interesting because if the Opposition parties were in government there would have been nothing for local government. This is the scheme that we said before we came to government would come into being. It was criticised by the Government of the day which is now the Opposition. Senator Carrick went on to talk about destroying the States and destroying local governments. He used that exaggerated type of language. I do not think he was really serious in what he said. I think he thought he was out on a platform and had to use that type of language.

This Bill is illustrative of a part of the history of politics in this country. Whenever a Labor Government introduces something new, a new initiative, it is condemned by the Liberal and Country Parties, as was the case in the old days of the Nationalist governments. Those initiatives were criticised up hill and down dale but finally accepted. That is what the Opposition has done tonight. Members of the Opposition accepted a new scheme but at the same time made a sideswipe at it. Of course, members of the Opposition opposed the scheme completely before we became the Government.

Senator Carricksaid he would not criticise the Grants Commission. I have said over the years that if ever a student wanted to read a government report which was so near to excellence that it did not matter he should read all the Grants Commission reports, even when it dealt with the States. The honourable senator said that he would not criticise the Grants Commission but then set out to do just that. He said the people on the Grants Commission were becoming the dictators who were going around telling local governments how to rate. They are not doing that at all. The Grants Commission does not stop any local government from applying the rates it wants. What the Grants Commission set out to do has been made quite clear. The Commonwealth Grants Commission was asked to do for local government what it had been doing for the States for many decades- and what an excellent job it did- and that was to get some sort of equalisation between people living in the various States. We adopted the modern approach and said that not only should the people living in different States be brought as near as possible to the same standard of living but also the people living within the States.

There was some criticism of the fact that the Grants Commission was dealing with groups. As was pointed out in the second reading speech, there are about 900 local councils. Surely, in the name of common sense, that number makes it quite obvious that there was no possibility of any body of people or any single individual dealing with those local councils individually. Senator Scott said that because of the inflation which this Government deliberately created- again this exaggerated language- we had to introduce this type of legislation and this type of payment. The fact is that we foreshadowed this when in Opposition in the days when the present Opposition, then in government, claimed that there was no inflation. So we are not putting this before the Parliament because of inflation. It was talked about and the concept was created by the Labor Party when in Opposition. Senator Carrick said that the amount of money provided in this Bill is only 4 per cent of total local government expenditure but my advisers tell me that his figures are a little out because in 1972-73 the total expenditure of local government was $7 1 3m of which we are going to provide over $56m, which is much closer to 8 per cent than 4 per cent of the total.

This is not a matter of a dictatorship going around telling local governments at what level they should rate. As everybody knows, this legislation is merely trying to bring to what has been a very successful operation over many years some sort of equalisation between the States so that they are treated as equally as human hands can possibly do. It is all right to say that we ought to be handing money down to local government through the States as we have done since 1900. The fact is that we are living in a new era and local governments today are taking on responsibilities we never dreamed of a decade ago. The Government recognises this. The mere fact that the Opposition is supporting this Bill shows that it at least recognises that this initiative is one that ought to be taken and is here to stay. I do not take a lot of notice of some of the exaggerated language but some of the other remarks will be noted by the Grants Commission in time to come. I thank the Opposition for its support of the Bill.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.

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