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Thursday, 28 November 1974
Page: 2921

Senator COTTON (New South Wales) - The Opposition does not oppose this Bill. Its main purpose is to provide special grants of $24.795m to Queensland and $23. 5m to South Australia. These grants flow from the recommendations contained in the 4 1st report of the Grants Commission for special assistance to those States. I think it is well known by the Parliament that the Grants Commission in its operations seeks to find areas in which there is need for assistance in certain States, based upon the situation in the 2 main States of New South Wales and Victoria, and, through its recommendations to make special assistance grants to those particular States. It is pointed out in the second reading speech of the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) that when these grants were first instituted they were the only form of grant that was available for these purposes. But now compensation for this particular area of deficiency is coming more from the higher per capita grants for the four less populous States than it does to the special assistance areas. These special assistance areas still exist and supplement that deficiency. One might observe in passing that if the Commission is indeed to continue the process of making assistance available by higher per capita assistance, it may well be that there will be a diminution of the functions of the Grants Commission which, of course, would be regretted in many ways because it has a very high reputation and its work has, I think, been quite remarkable.

One is referred in the second reading speech to the Commission's report of this year and to a new method of assessment of the need which is contained in paragraphs 3.16 to 3.30 of the report. I have been through those paragraphs. They are most interesting. I do not propose to refer to them in detail here, but it does suffice to say that there has been some obvious discussion between the Treasury and the Commission on the method of assessment. Treasury has suggested different methods of arriving at the grants. The Commission has taken this into account. There have been hearings with the States. There have been discussions about these particular matters. A conclusion has been reached that a new style of assessing these grants might well be worth taking up, and it has been taken up. The Commission states on page 34 of its report:

Queensland and South Australia indicated that the new approach was generally acceptable but Tasmania did not see any real advantage in its adoption. In particular, Tasmania considered that an expression of the grant in the manner proposed gave the appearance of the Commission making a scries of grants for specific purposes.

The report continues:

The Commission has decided to adopt a new approach in this Report.

On reading the report, it seems that this ought to present no difficulty to anybody who is involved in getting a grant. It may refine the process; it may make it a bit more precise. To that extent it would seem to me to be desirable.

Also in the second reading speech we are referred to the principles under which the Commission operates as contained in its third report. Without going into great detail, those principles also are quite interesting as an expression of the view of the Commission in the days when it was set up. I quote one or two passages from that report:

Putting the matter in quite general terms the conclusion we have arrived at is that with a group of States operating under a Federal Constitution it is impossible to adjust a financial scheme so that the financial resources available to each would be exactly apportioned to the expense of the function it is to perform.

Some members of the union will have a potential financial superiority and others may have less than they need. Inequalities of this kind may at times become so acute that correction is imperative. In the Australian Federation this superiority of financial resources exists in the Commonwealth.

This report was written quite a long while ago but we are hearing the same sort of words taking form now. It is still argued that it is a continuous process between the Commonwealth and the States to seek to get justice and some form of equality of living standards and opportunity in the Australian scene. It is equally of interest to note that the writers of this third report so many years ago stated that the grounds of the claims of the States can be classified under the following general heads: Defective working of the Constitution; effects of Commonwealth policy; poverty of resources and economic inequalities; and financial needs. One might say that through the passage of the years little seems to have changed. One still wonders whether we do not have to grow up a great deal faster in Australia and learn to work together more effectively to see that all Australians maximise their opportunities and have the greatest possible living standards.

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