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Tuesday, 26 February 1985
Page: 220

Mr EVERINGHAM(5.29) —Mr Speaker, please accept my congratulations on your election to your high office. I certainly agree with the honourable member for Dobell (Mr Lee) that a lot more money was needed for sewerage while the Whitlam Government was around. This Government, in outlining its programs for the next three years, speaks today of creating a stronger, fairer and more equitable Australian society. This commitment is of particular interest to the people I seek to represent both in the electorate of the Northern Territory and in my broader shadow ministerial responsibilities for local government and northern development. That is because the Territory electorate, the local government arena and all of northern Australia must rely upon the vision of the Government, to a considerable extent, for their sustenance and progress. Indeed, with the current media fad for naming members of this Parliament after their favourite occupations, I might be known as the member for the least influential. Certainly I would prefer that tag to the one of member for those under the influence, although that is how my areas of electoral and portfolio responsibilities might be seen.

More than most other Australians, those in the Northern Territory, local government and all of northern Australia are under the influence of decisions taken at the Federal level. The words 'creating a stronger, fairer and more equitable Australian society' are nice words and sound great. But does the reality match the rhetoric? I must say at the outset that I am not greatly encouraged by these words, despite, or perhaps because of, the familiar ring that they contain. I am not encouraged because-let us face it-they were practically the only words in the Governor-General's Speech on which we can hang our hats. There were precious few mentions of local government or of the north, although once again we are to be the guinea pigs. Cash up front for exploration licences is to get its Australian premiere in the waters to our north.

Honourable members will expect me to speak at length on the Northern Territory and I will not disappoint them, but, first, I shall deal briefly with the problems of local government. We are all familiar with local government. We tend to take it for granted. But the third tier of government deals with grass-roots problems, and with increasing pressures on its services and severe limitations on its revenue raising potential, local government is clearly headed for greater difficulties. As someone said at a recent local government conference, the Commonwealth Government has the money, the State governments have the power and local government has the problems. These problems cannot be solved by the Commonwealth alone. The States must be involved. My few short years in local government taught me that there are no easy solutions and it will take me some time to come to grips with those problems. But we will all certainly have to ensure that we do come to grips with them, or we will risk the wrath of the electorate at the grass-roots level.

I will be keeping a close eye on the work of the new Department of Community Services which has been given a brief to ensure that services are equitably distributed and better co-ordinated with those of the States, local government and community groups. Let us hope that this will not turn out to be just another departmental exercise in viewing grass-roots problems from on high, or a power grab by empire-building bureaucrats.

Turning now to my northern responsibilities, I recall the words of Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, who in 1904 asked Federal Parliament whether it was 'prepared to confess our incapacity to cope with the development of one half of Australia' north of a line from the Gascoyne River to Gladstone. I do not know whether the Parliament ever collectively made such a confession, but I do know that there are some three million square kilometres of northern Australia in which a little under 800,000 Australians live. That is about 48 per cent of our continent, containing about 5 per cent of our population, which seems to me to answer Mr Deakin's question. But there is hope. The Government now speaks of a more equitable Australia. That principle must apply on a geographic as well as a socio-economic basis.

We hear through the media that even the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) now sees the need for a railway to link north and south, if only to carry Federal funds to the Northern Territory. Last year in Adelaide the Special Minister of State (Mr Young), under some election pressure, I might add, said that the railway would eventually be built-no doubt recalling the promises given to South Australia and the Northern Territory by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) in the previous year, shortly before the 1983 election. It is true that they broke their promises, claiming that an unexpected deficit made the necessary expenditure impossible. Of course, the completion date could have been deferred beyond the projected 1988, to make allowance for the deficit, but that may have been too simple. Instead, the Government got Mr Hill of the State Rail Authority to invent a unique and incomprehensible methodology which, he said, made the railway not viable. The Minister for Transport is so proud of Mr Hill's methodology that he refused to release it to us under the Freedom of Information Act. The Government ignores the fact that the unquestionably independent Canadian Pacific Railway disagrees with it, that the Institute of Defence Studies recommends the project as a top defence priority and that the Department of the Arts, Heritage and Environment has recommended that, on social grounds, the railway should be built. Let us ignore altogether the Australian Labor Party's social audit approach to transport infrastructure. Of course, Australian governments have been promising the railway since 1910 so perhaps northern Australians might be forgiven for questioning the sincerity of this Government's commitment to a more equitable Australia.

Previous Labor governments did have a vision which, although we may not have agreed with it, did at least encompass all of Australia-although they also had Rex Patterson-while this Government seems to have little real interest in or sympathy with northern aspirations. Perhaps that is not so surprising as it has no Minister from further north than Ipswich. Certainly, the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Gayler) and the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay) seem to be among the castrati of the fourth grade. It is just another example of the lack of influence of which I have spoken.

Let us contrast the Governor-General's Speech, which really only mentioned the north to tax it, with the 1982 ALP policy document 'North Queensland-Future Directions'. Of course, those were vote-grabbing days. I will cite some initiatives from that document:

Domestic passengers to be able to use the Townsville international terminal.

Air fare reductions through 'no frills' services.

Upgrading and increased local control of regional broadcasting.

An Inter-State Commission to ensure more equitable--

there is that phrase again-

transport costs.

Increased defence commitment to north Queensland, including five patrol boats to be built at Cairns.

Cut out sales tax on freight.

Sugar industry assistance.

There are a whole lot more. These initiatives are a reflection of north Queensland's problems. But today, it seems, the Government hopes that they will just go away. Of course, they will not. As for creating employment, so far 300 people have been laid off because of the failure to keep the promise on building patrol boats in Cairns.

Let us look at the sugar industry. Six hundred growers are likely to have to leave the industry and whole districts along the Queensland coast are dependent on it for their economic survival. In 1982, in 1983 and in 1984 this Government promised to give assistance to the industry, but to date absolutely nothing has been forthcoming. I can tell honourable members, from my recent visit to the area, that the growers in north Queensland are desperate. Why do not Government members go north and tell the people up there about a stronger, fairer and more equitable Australia?

We should pity the poor tobacco growers. I know it is not fashionable to talk about tobacco today, unless to sneer. But we are talking about equity and we are all agreed that we hold with that. We should spare a thought for the tobacco growers who are facing increasing pressure to become more competitive in what has always been a back-breaking family enterprise. Growers understand the need to be competitive but, first, they would like a more equitable share of the price of a packet of cigarettes. A packet of smokes costs up to $2, of which the grower receives a lousy 4c. From tobacco sales Australian tobacco growers receive about $70m while governments receive in excess of $1 billion in tax on tobacco products. Is that equity? So far it seems that the Government's commitment to equity does not stand up to closer scrutiny and nor do the Government's policies seem to assist a stronger Australia.

The north relies heavily on citizen forces for the defence of our coastline. The men and women who volunteer are often professional and technical experts who draw good salaries in their own right. Men and women of this calibre are required for the north-west mobile force-one of the most effective units we have-which operates from Arnhem Land to the Pilbara. But at the last Budget the Government decided to make our reservists pay tax on half of their Army pay. The result has been disastrous because the Government's decision has pushed them into the highest tax bracket. The result has been a loss of about 30 per cent of the force's manpower, and an even greater loss of morale.

What of policies leading to the current uranium debacle which has made us an international laughing stock? Is it fair and equitable to say to one State that it may go ahead with developing its uranium deposits while other States, and the Northern Territory, may not? Is mining uranium moral in some States and immoral in others? What sort of hypocritical, canting humbug is that? Do such policies make Australians stronger? Some figures may help this Parliament judge the answer to that. Conservative estimates are that the discounted value of national income generated if all current and proposed uranium mines in the Territory were allowed to proceed would be some $9,000m by the year 2000, of which $1,600m would stay in the Territory. The loss of income if only existing uranium mines are allowed to fill the existing contracts will be $6,300m by the year 2000, with the Territory missing out on $1,300m. While the north's potential continues to be strangled by this sort of Left-Right-Centre hybrid ideology, we will need a railway to freight Federal funds northwards. If the mines were allowed to proceed, we would need the railway to send those thousands of millions of dollars to Federal coffers. In addition, thousands of jobs would be generated, but honourable members opposite would prefer those jobs to be created in South Africa, Canada or Botswana-anywhere but Australia.

In that context, I deal with the apparent avowed intention of the Minister for Finance to sacrifice the Territory on the altar of cost savings. At self-government, a financial deal was struck with the Federal Government which sought only to bring services in the Territory up to the standards of New South Wales and Victoria. The financial formula was worked out to encourage and support population growth in the north. The agreement, under the memorandum of understanding, has gone a long way towards achieving those objectives. Honourable members should remember that when we negotiated that agreement against the might and resources of the Commonwealth, the Territory, before self-government, possessed just one Public Service level 1 financial adviser. There should be no need for me to assure this House that the Territory is not over-funded. The Commonwealth Grants Commission carries out an independent assessment and has found instead the need to top up funds. These financial arrangements make for a stronger, fairer and more equitable Australia, but it seems that they are now under attack. I ask honourable members what Federation is about if it is not to assist the disadvantaged areas of Australia; the Territory is, after all, one sixth of Australia. A mile of road in the Territory is no shorter or less costly to build.

I could hardly address this House without some reference to the land rights issue, although it seems to have been swept under the carpet in the Government's program. Land rights issues are different in each State and within States, but one thing is common to all States: There is enormous division about land rights in the community. We are now seeing divisions within the Government and within the Labor Party. The way in which land rights have been enacted and administered in the Territory has caused fear elsewhere. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) would do well, as he licks his wounds after his first term and ponders whether he will seek a closer acquaintance with the truth, to remember that the people on the ground have the most experience-the Territory has had eight years experience-of the effects of land rights.

Do honourable members opposite expect us to trust them after the king-hit decision about Ayers Rock? I have opposed land claims in the past, not because I am opposed to Aboriginals owning land, but because each successful claim amounts to a total alienation of any interest in the land the general community has. Aboriginal land should be held as far as possible on the same terms as land held by other Australians. I put some questions to honourable members. Should conversion of Territory land to Aboriginal freehold be completely open-ended? Should there be no government requirements on people to use pastoral land productively? Should land claims be allowed to be lodged repeatedly? Should there be no time limit for the lodgment and hearing of land claims? Should Crown land, including national parks already dedicated to a public purpose, be able to be claimed? If such claims are successful, should normal public access be denied? Finally, should the great majority of Aboriginals living on pastoral properties be prevented from gaining secure title to the land on which they live? Any honourable member who answers 'No' to only one of those questions believes that changes are necessary to the Land Rights Act in the Northern Territory.

Despite land rights legislation in the Territory, locking up almost half of the Territory to exploration, and despite the Government's uranium policies, Territorians, mainly through mining earnings, record a per capita export figure of some $4,000 per annum, as against an Australian average of a little over $1,000. Despite the odds, we are doing our best towards building a stronger Australia.

The Territory electorate has gained two new islands in the past year, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. I will visit those islands at the first opportunity. There is one plane a week and my visit will entail a 4,000 kilometre journey into the Indian Ocean on top of my electoral duties across 1.4 million square kilometres of Australia. I know that the people of Christmas Island have their own land problems, since there is not one square centimetre of land available for islanders on a freehold or leasehold basis. This means no market gardening, no horticulture of any kind, and precious little in the way of commercial retail space, as the Australian Government and mining companies hold it all. I know too that in many cases housing is in short supply and not up to the standards that would be considered acceptable in other parts of Australia.

The Northern Territory, indeed all north Australia, is a resource rich and energetic region, contributing to national goals; in many cases it does so in spite of government policies. With our small population and lack of a protected manufacturing sector, we are geared up with the right policies to take maximum advantage of the technological, nuclear society.

I have said that I am the member for the least influential, for those who most rely on equity and fair dealing. Inhabitants of the three million square kilometres of north Australia have just seven members to fight on their behalf. I will finish by quoting the words of Senator John Button, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, in September 1982. If honourable members read 'north Australia' for 'north Queensland', the sentiments apply equally well. Senator Button said:

North Queensland is an area with great natural resources and its contribution to Australia's financial health and stability has always been high. But is has rarely received a fair return for its contribution to the national wealth and in recognition of its strategic position. National governments have never fully grasped their obligations to north Queensland. The ALP is determined that this situation must end.

The Government's program for the next three years goes nowhere near living up to those words. North Australians, indeed all Australians, look to this Government for action, not words. They hope for a government which will set the lead, and build a stronger, fairer and more equitable Australia by relying on individual competitiveness and the great wealth of natural resources that our nation contains.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! Before I call the honourable member for Chifley, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's maiden speech. I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.