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Friday, 29 May 1987
Page: 3651

Mr UREN (Minister for Local Government and Administrative Services)(3.55) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill amends the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1986 to implement the decision announced in the statement of the Treasurer (Mr Keating) on 13 May to introduce a system of quarterly instalments for the payment of the Commonwealth's general purpose assistance for local government. This amendment will apply with effect from 1987-88. A system of quarterly instalments will enable the Commonwealth to better match outlays and receipts resulting in a saving in public debt interest payments due to a reduced financing task within each year. As the Treasurer indicated in his statement on 13 May, a sustainable recovery in Australia's economic fortunes requires governments at all levels to exercise restraint.

The introduction of a system of quarterly payments to local government complements the decisions to cut back on the Commonwealth's own purpose outlays and the decisions taken at the Premiers Conference and Loan Council meetings on 25 May 1987 to cut back on the Commonwealth's general purpose payments to the States. Under the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1986, the amount of general purpose assistance in 1987-88 will be escalated in line with the change in the consumer price index in the year to the March quarter 1988 over the previous year. Previously, the Commonwealth has made a payment, usually during September, to each of the States and the Northern Territory, for distribution to local governing bodies of their estimated annual entitlements; that is, a single lump sum early in the financial year. The amendment provided for in this Bill will mean, so far as practicable, that annual entitlements will be paid in equal quarterly instalments.

The Government proposes to make these payments no later than 15 of August, November, February and May respectively. It will not be possible, however, to make a quarterly payment by mid-August in 1987. This payment will be made at the same time as in previous years, that is, normally before the end of September. The new arrangements will mean that, from 1988-89, the first payment to local government will occur at least four weeks earlier than had previously been the case. The changes in this Bill will not affect the amount being provided to local government under the Act, but there will be some loss of benefit to local government, principally as a result of interest revenue forgone.

This is possibly the last time I will speak to the Parliament as Minister responsible for local government. It has been a privilege for me to serve in this capacity. I have great faith in local government. I am proud of the record of our Government with regard to local government and I am confident that our co-operative achievements will endure and that local government will continue to evolve as a responsive and responsible partner in the democratic government of our nation.

I am proud to say that I was a Minister of the Whitlam Labor Government that introduced untied grants to local government back in 1974. In that year we made $56m available to local government. I am proud to say that in the year ahead of us the amount made available in untied grants to local government will be around $640m. So over the years I have been in politics, and also under my stewardship, I have seen the evolutionary development and growth of local government. I have seen local government develop from kerbing and guttering, through roads and garbage to the broad human services. I have great faith that in the long term, through the democratic process, there will be a great future for human services and the broadening of the responsibility of local government. It gives me some pride to have been a part of that historical development. I commend the Bill to the House and I table the explanatory memorandum.

Madam SPEAKER —I would like to add to the Minister's remarks that it is sad for the House to have him addressing it today for the last time and he is right to have had pride in his achievements.

Mr Uren —With your indulgence, Madam Speaker, I said that this is possibly my last contribution. I might say that, if the Leader of the House gives me the opportunity, I will make a statement before I leave this Parliament about the achievement of our Government in local government but as you know, Madam Speaker, next week will be a hurly-burly and I may not have the opportunity.

Madam SPEAKER —That is why I made my point. I might not get a chance either.

Debate (on motion by Mr Reith) adjourned.