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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3297

Senator STEELE HALL (South AustraliaLeader of the Liberal Movement) - I move:

Leave out 'revoke or', insert 'with the concurrence of a State'.

This is the first of my amendments and it is a test for the others. I hope that the Committee will agree to this amendment. The clause as amended would read:

For the purposes of section 6, the Minister may approve major building projects undertaken or proposed to be undertaken during the period to which this Act applies in connexion with institutions of technical and further education in a State, and may, with the concurrence of a State, vary any such approval.

As it reads now, the Minister may revoke or vary any such approval. That seems to me to be a totally unwarranted power to give to the Minister in addition to all his other quite complete controlling and supervisory powers in relation to approval and inquiry and all the other many-sided facets of control involved in giving his approval. It seems completely unwarranted alongside those powers for him to be given the power to revoke a decision already made.

In the passage of the Commonwealth-States roads legislation we asked why the Minister wanted a revocation power in the legislation. When it was all boiled down and the amendment was moved and discussed, we could find no reason except that he wanted it as an additional control measure. The Minister may reply that he would like to have this power and would use it sparingly and would never in any way be vindictive. But already this year 2 Federal Ministers have indicated that they will, if necessary, be vindictive. One remembers the dissension that arose in New South Wales in regard to the further construction and the demolition to make way for construction of a freeway. Without entering any part of the argument as to whether the freeway ought to have been proceeded with, I point out that the facts of life are that 2 Federal Ministers said in the media they would take away New South Wales roads money which was needed for purposes other than the specific freeway construction if the New South Wales Government did not comply with their wishes. In my view that was a most vindictive and totally subversive view taken by the Federal Ministers in relation to the New South Wales roads program. The power given in this clause gives that sort of Minister, whom 1 have clearly outlined in the example which I have just given, the ability to say to a State: 'Not only may I not approve your future projects but I shall revoke my approval of this project you have half-completed'. It is a power that is completely unwarranted and, as I have said, it can be described only as a vindictive power. There can be no other reason for it because the Federal Minister has every other aspect of control in establishing the program in the first instance.

It is a far cry from the view of Federation which would say that a handsome and proper sum of financial assistance should be given to the States to work out a technical education program to come to this point where the Minister not only approves but also may revoke. I come from a State which has a proud record in education.

Senator BROWN (VICTORIA) - What about technical education?

Senator STEELE HALL - It has a proud record in much of technical education also. Senator McLaren would be aware that the Liberal Country League Government in South Australia in 1968 dramatically restored capital expenditure on education which had been reduced dramatically by his Party when it was in office from 1965-1968. They are the facts of life. No papering over of the dramatic reduction in capital expenditure on education by his Party when it was in office from 1965 to 1968 will hide that fact. We come from a State which revised education. I am pleased to say that a subsequent Labor Government followed that lead and continued to help education in South Australia. So we have nothing to fear in South Australia from our development of education.

Having said that, I return to a point which I made during my speech on the second reading of this Bill. If the Senate allows this revocation power to proceed we must forget the fiction that we believe in the existence of States as separate governing entitites. We had better forget that fiction and get on with the business of building a supreme Commonwealth Government. That is what we will be doing if we allow this clause to remain in the Bill. I do not believe that we should be sidetracked by the issue- important though it may be to those who want this assistance- that the States might not receive this money until March. The responsibility for that does not rest on those who will safeguard some small amount of State initiative. If this Bill is delayed it will be because the Australian Labor Government refuses to recall the House of Representatives before Christmas. There is no factor which prevents the recalling the House of Representatives before Christmas.

Senator Missen - It is a political factor.

Senator STEELE HALL -Only a political factor is involved, as Senator Missen said. No other practical factor is involved. I repudiate any suggestion that the responsibility for delay in this measure or in relation to any other Bill this week rests with those who amend those Bills. The responsibility will sit squarely on the shoulders of the Australian Government. I put to honourable senators the very great importance of this issue. The decision that the Government makes will certainly set the course for future action or nonaction in relation to similar powers which are taken by the Australian Government in relation to expenditure of funds by the States. I remind the Senate, as I said in my speech on the second reading of this Bill, that with this sort of power being extended by Bill after Bill passed by this House, the States are rapidly becoming constitutional skeletons and ultimately will become unnecessary in the system of Australian Government.

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