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Thursday, 25 May 1989
Page: 2746

Senator HILL(8.12) —That is an astonishing answer and cannot be let lie in its present form. I can only assume that the Minister fails to understand what has happened in relation to the ACT funding, which comes under the Commonwealth's obligations to the Territory and particularly under this portfolio. I guess we have to take him back and give him a little history lesson. That is a bit disappointing because we wanted to keep the business moving tonight. The Minister will be--

Senator Cook —Don't bother doing a gratuitous thing like giving me a history lesson because I have an interest in keeping the business going.

Senator HILL —The Minister does not understand.

Senator Cook —If you miscue, despite your experience, and start asking questions in an inappropriate portfolio, I can hardly answer them here.

Senator HILL —Let me remind the Minister that for some hours in the Estimates Committee debate we went through with this Department the undertakings that were given in relation to the finances of the Commonwealth vis-a-vis self-government and the new self-governing Territory. The officers of this Department answered questions on that. Tonight we can go through one by one all the questions that were left outstanding by the financial officers within this Department concerning the financial relationship between the Commonwealth and the self-governing Territory.

Senator Macklin —Are you going to do that? Is that a threat or a promise?

Senator HILL —If the Minister persists with the attitude that we have seen displayed tonight we will make it a promise. It seems to us that the people of the ACT, at the very least, can hear from this Minister under this head under which the whole matter has been debated from the start of the self- government Bills through to the negotiation of the outstanding financial relationship-not through Treasury, not through the Department of Finance, but through this Department. The Minister would realise that if he read the Estimates. The people of the ACT have a right to know the Commonwealth's position on all the outstanding financial matters. The Government said that for 1988-89-the year in which this new self- governing body of the Australian Capital Territory came into being-it would honour its financial undertakings. It said that for the next two years it would maintain the finance in real terms. The officers of this Department-not the Department of Finance; the officers of this Department-have been busy calculating exactly what that means in dollars. They talk about it in these Estimates. The officers of this Department say to us that it is an extremely difficult task. Yet tonight the Minister tries to pass the buck to somebody else. Nevertheless, it is maintained that the Government will honour its undertaking to maintain finances for the Australian Capital Territory in real terms for two years. Following that, there is to be a transitional period when it will be phased out. What is the Government's current attitude to that? What calculations are being made that will end up putting the new self-governing Territory in the same financial relationship as the States of Australia vis-a-vis the Commonwealth? What is the Government's attitude now?

Whether the Minister likes to acknowledge it or not-he is the first person in Australia I have heard deny that in fact the Government has reneged on its promise-implicitly the Government acknowledged that at the conference last week, because it then entered into these special side arrangements with Chief Minister Follett. Nevertheless, I guess this Minister has not kept up with that debate. But he does have a responsibility to the Senate tonight. He has been given the task of handling these appropriations and the people of the Australian Capital Territory want to know whether the reneging on this promise means that other promises that have been made about the continuing financial affairs of the Commonwealth in respect of the Territory will not be honoured.