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Tuesday, 20 November 1973
Page: 3557

Mr MORRIS (Shortland) - In speaking to the estimates for the Department of Urban and Regional Development I want to say something about the dramatic progress that has been achieved for local government by the Australian Labor Government in its first year of office. This Government, in accordance with its election campaign pledge of 1972, is committed to the strengthening and upgrading of local government. Local government is an important partner in government. The Australian Government pursues a course of giving greater recognition to the role it plays and the responsibility it has in our 3-tier system of government. It is the Labor Party's policy to try to ease the burden of increasing rates on home owners and intending home owners, and at the same time to see that there is opportunity for important improvements in the range and quality of municipal services.

Municipal, city and shire councils have come a long way in the years since Federation. Major items of expenditure by local governments today are public works; health administration, including garbage collection and disposal; public services; administrative and general expenses; the maintenance of municipal property; and the acquisition of assets. High works outlays dominate the expenditure of most local authorities and in the majority of cases a continuing rise in total annual spending has also occurred. With recurrent cost increases, improving standards of living and growing public wants, the expansion in local government spending has often exceeded the rate of population growth. We live today in a time when the public looks more and more to local government for increased services, particularly in the field of welfare. This Government is looking to greater community involvement in the implementation of its social welfare programs by seeking the participation of councils in the decision making process at the local level.

The financial position of local government has rapidly worsened in the period since World War II. It operates under a set of financial arrangements that were drawn up in the period immediately following World War I. They were arrangements based on the situation and needs of the 1920s when local government borrowing was relatively insignificant. This Government has taken several steps to improve the financial position of local government. Firstly, at the insistence of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), for the first time local government was represented at the Australian Constitutional Convention. Secondly, the 1973-74 Budget provides an amount of $30m to reduce the backlog of sewerage services in the States. Thirdly, we have seen the establishment of the Cities Commission to plan and develop new cities, to develop new areas on proper planning principles and to assist regional groupings in the presentation of applications to the Grants Commission. Fourthly, we have seen the enlargement of the Australian Grants Commission and the granting of local government access to it through regional groupings. This access to grants from the Grants Commission will go far in assisting local councils in lesser privileged areas more effectively to provide municipal, health and welfare services for their communities.

Fifthly, we have seen the establishment of land commissions to stabilise land prices in the respective States and to give the mass of the people an opportunity to obtain a home and land at a reasonable price. Sixthly, despite the opposition from the Liberal and Country Party members, the Constitution Alteration (Local Government Bodies) Bill has passed this chamber and has been sent to the Senate for approval. If the Senate rejects the Bill it will be passed again in this chamber in the new year and the Australian people will have the opportunity at the referendum to be held in conjunction with the next Senate election to authorise an amendment to the Constitution which will give local government access to the Australian Loan Council for borrowings. This will mean longer term borrowing and lower interest rates for councils, and what amounts to a saving for ratepayers.

At this stage what does local government think of the action that has been taken by the Australian Government? Let me mention a couple of the motions put to the Australian Council of Local Government Associations by the New South Wales Local Government Association executive. The first was:

That the Australian Government be formally thanked for its assistance in securing local government representation at the Australian Constitutional Convention.

Another motion was:

That local government in all States join together for the purpose of mounting a strong publicity campaign to inform the public on the importance to local government of a 'Yes' vote at the proposed referendum concerning the admission of local government to the Australian Council.

It is interesting to note that at the meeting of the Australian Council in Hobart last week the Council unanimously carried a decision supporting the case at the referendum for access by local government to the Australian Loan Council and to establish a body to operate at the national level to seek finance for local government. The Opposition parties have steadfastly opposed any upgrading of the status of local government. One can judge this only as an exercise in hypocrisy. Many members of the respective political parties are also active in local government. I do not think that anybody in public life today fails to see the bind in which local government is caught financially. It is said at the local level that local government should be upgraded, that it should be given assistance and recognition. But here in the place where it matters and in the Senate, Opposition members join together under a different set of hats to oppose local government.

In conclusion let me refer to the continued approach of the Australian Country Party members, particularly, to draw a difference between the needs of the urban areas and the needs of the rural areas in development. According to my observations, their attitude is to alienate the views of the country population and those of the metropolitan areas. To me this is patent divisiveness. The reactionary political parties have always existed on a policy of divide and rule, trying to show people that they are different from them. After all, urban dwellers and rural dwellers are Australians. Both rural towns and metropolitan areas ought to be developed under the best planning principles, under the best access to finance and under the most efficient methods possible. After 23 years of standing still under Liberal-Country Party administration there has been a change. The sweeping out of the old brigade and the arrival of the new Australian Labor Party Government has resulted in recognition being given to local government and the institution of new principles of planning and developing our cities as well as decentralisation. The Albury-Wodonga Development Bill, which was introduced this evening is clear evidence that the Government is acting as quickly as it can to develop areas away from metropolitan and urban regions on the basis of developing Australia in the best interests of Australia.

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