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Thursday, 4 June 1987
Page: 3976


Mr KATTER —by leave-May I first of all say how very much we-and by `we' I mean the members of the Canberra Committee on Local Government-have appreciated the fact that we could always approach the Minister for Local Government and Administrative Services (Mr Uren) and his departmental officers. We realise that there was a genuine acceptance of the fact that we had a fairly heavy responsibility. The Canberra Committee was appointed by the local government movement in each State. It has been in existence for many years and I have had the privilege of chairing it for the last 12, as the Minister would know. We feel that it has been a fairly valuable means of liaison on a strictly non-political basis, and I say that in all sincerity, between the local government movement and this place and all that happens at a senior government level.

I would like to pay tribute to two successive directors of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations, Andy Walls and the present director, Llois Cutts. She is a highly dedicated person. I think her staff and her research officer have done a really splendid job. I also want to pass on my thanks to the people who are out on the hustings; that is those in local government, particularly those who constantly attend regional conferences and who do everything possible to establish a meaningful decentralisation of government. I do not think we ever pause long enough on this. I am sometimes very distressed to find that in all parties there seems to be not so much a lack of appreciation but a lack of understanding of the huge contribution that people in local government make to their own communities, to their own regions and, more particularly, to the nation, because in the aggregate they do a fantastically wonderful job.

I would like to dwell briefly on a matter mentioned by the Minister in his statement, and that is the constitutional recognition of local government. Just how long are we going to have to wait for this? Surely to goodness if we are sincere, if any party is sincere, in our desire to have genuine decentralisation and to keep our fingers on the pulse of what is really happening in this nation, we should realise that recognition should flow to the people who are responsible for that activity. The activity I refer to is the decentralisation of government. We who have been in local government-I have spent my entire life in local government in one capacity or another-realise that local government representatives are like firemen or politicians; they are on the job 24 hours a day.

I conclude by mentioning one or two other points. I get very concerned when I see promulgated policies which would have outside contractors come into an area in which the local work force is so dependent on the local authority for work. The argument has always been that one gets much more efficiency from some great contractor than from the local work force. I will argue against that till the end of my days. I could quote local authority after local authority-honourable members should keep in mind that my finger is on the pulse of the local government movement throughout Australia-which is highly efficient and gets the best day's work for a day's pay from its employees. When outside contractors come in to do the job they bring in strangers and displace half the local work force. If a little place such as Barcaldine lost its work force it would almost close the town down. I could mention other specific cases also. I stand very firmly by the principle that local government should employ local people and not go for outside contractors. We should not listen to the argument about efficiency; it is nonsense.

The local government movement throughout Australia is distressed by the May economic statement not only because of the $27m reduction in funds for local authorities but also because of the flow-over of other measures. We are all very curious to know how this $1 billion that the States must save will affect local authorities. I must say to the Minister that our Canberra committee that liaises between government and the local government movement appreciates the fact that there has not been a great rush to bring in the requirements of the report of the Self National Inquiry into Local Government Finance. The committee expressed to the Minister a wish that any action on various recommendations of the Self report be steady as you go because it is very necessary to assess how the regions and individual local authorities feel. It is working out that way and we hope it continues.

May I express a personal view, as did the Minister. It has been my great privilege to serve as chairman of that committee for the last 10, 12 or 14 years. I am very happy to have contributed to this debate.