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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 741

Senator VIGOR(7.59) —I would like to make a few short points about the shabby treatment that has been meted out this year to local government. I think it is very important that when the report of the National Inquiry into Local Government Finance is presented in October, the Government and this Parliament give the report detailed and sensitive consideration. With the announcement of the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) that there will not be any referendums before 1987, the constitutional recognition of local government has been placed on a back-burner, despite the fact that it was recommended by the Australian Constitutional Convention. State governments will still be able to dismiss local councils for a variety of political reasons totally unrelated to standards of administration.

Earlier this week a deal was made between right wing Labor and Liberal aldermen to de- stabilise the Sydney City Council and prevent reforms from being carried out in that city. Last May that same right wing Labor and Liberal partnership ganged up in this Parliament to make it possible for personal income tax sharing moneys to be snatched from local government at the last moment. Councils in New South Wales were nearly half way into their financial year. They had to readjust their budgets, cut services, and let opportunities go because of the rate-pegging regime that had been introduced by the Wran Government. The problem would not have been so bad if either the Government or the Opposition had stuck to the promise of 2 per cent of personal income tax for local government. For instance, the shire of Warracknabeal wrote to me saying:

Council cannot believe that the Liberal and National Party voted with Labor in slicing back the promised 2% and has written to the leaders of both parties requesting an explanation.

At this stage I do not believe that the Council has received an explanation. Mr Howard said at the time of the mini-Budget that local government had been treated gently. I do not believe this to be the case. The newly-appointed shadow Minister, Mr Beale, has said that local government should not get anything. No wonder Opposition senators lined up to make sure the councils would not get the money they were promised. The Australian Democrats alone stood up for local government in this situation.

I hope that the report of the Self Inquiry into Local Government Finance will be read without prejudice or political opportunism. I hope that honourable senators will take the opportunity to consult the transcript of evidence on some of the key points and take heed of the views of those who serve this level of government which is closest to the people. The whole exercise of taking evidence, collecting factual material and analysing data will have been pointless if the Government and the Parliament take a knee-jerk reaction or sweep the report under the table. The report is due out between now and the time the Parliament returns. I believe that we should take careful note of it. Local government should be our partner in serving Australians everywhere. Let us recognise it as such.