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Monday, 1 June 1987
Page: 3712

Mr UREN (Minister for Local Government and Administrative Services) —in reply-I thank the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Snow) and other members who have spoken in the debate for their kind words. The Local Government (Financial Assistance) Amendment Bill is a loss for local government, and I recognise that. I want to correct the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), and that is one of the major reasons why I rose to speak. The sad thing about the honourable member for Denison is that he always cries wolf. When he has got a good case nobody ever listens to him. I am afraid that this is one of those occasions on which he has cried wolf. He does not know what he is talking about. There is no contradiction between the second reading speech and the explanatory memorandum. In the second reading speech I said:

The changes will not affect the amount being provided to the local government under the Act.

That statement is correct. There will be no changes in the sum provided under the Act. The cost to local government will not result from changes in the sum available under the Act, but from the fact that local government will not have the same opportunity to invest those grants under the Act as it did in past years. The savings to the Commonwealth, as stated in the explanatory memorandum, of $27m have been carefully estimated by Treasury. It is a result of public sector borrowing requirement savings within the year and is a complicated calculation. I am confident that the Treasury is right in its figures.

The amount that will be made available this year will be $640m. I say with some pride-seeing that I was the Minister responsible for local government-that when the first breakthrough was made it was $56m. It has risen to $640m this year. During that period local government has moved from being a body responsible for kerbing and guttering, roads and garbage to a body responsible for broader human and community services. At the end of my second reading speech I expressed the thought that local government was the level of government nearest the people. I correct the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Reith), who intimated that in the years I have been in politics all I have tried to do as a socialist member of parliament in bringing forward policies is to centralise power. That is just the opposite. My whole philosophy is to decentralise power, to give people a greater say at the grass roots so that they can determine what they will spend their taxes on and the priorities of how it should be spent. As far as I am concerned, one of the delights of my portfolio is that it involves intervention in favour of the people at the grass roots level. This year we will be spending over $1 billion. This is a 50 per cent increase on expenditure at the local government level in the last year of the Fraser Government. I do not want to dwell on that matter. I have made the point. I thank honourable members for the moderate way they have received this legislation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.