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Wednesday, 7 September 1960

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) .- 1 am very glad that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) has raised this matter. The only difference between him and me on this question is that I would advocate a permanent commission of revision rather than commissions set up ad hoc every now and again. A permanent body would enable us to make adjustments from time to time as required.

Mr Whitlam - I would not differ from the right honorable member on that aspect.

Sir EARLE PAGE - That seems to be the only difference between us. I shall deal now with what I tried to discuss during last night's debate. We have in existence the Commonwealth Grants Commission, for which provision is made in the set of estimates we are now discussing. And that body, which was appointed, it was thought, for a year or two in the early 1930's, has been functioning ever since and has done extraordinarily good work in recommending to the Commonwealth Government how much money should be allocated to maintain the standards in certain of the States. It seems to me that since the introduction of uniform taxation the position of all the States should have been examined year by year, just as there has been an examination each year by the Commonwealth Grants Commission of the position of Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia under the present system. That should be done in order to ensure that the conditions in the various States are maintained at the level of the average or standard. Because of the progress that has taken place in the development of this country generally, I think we should revise the system we have had in the past.

Looking back over the financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States, we find that they have been changed on four occasions. They were made, first, by the convention that drew up the Constitution, which provided that for the first ten years of federation the States would receive three-quarters of the customs revenue. That arrangement did not work out because as soon as the Commonwealth started to pay pensions there was not enough money to be returned to the States. Next, the system of per capita payments to the States was brought in, but that arrangement, too, did not work very well. Arguments arose as to whether those payments should be increased or decreased. Next we had the Financial Agreement. In formulating that agreement we said we would settle the matter of borrowing and money grants for many years. Seven or eight years later we had to face the problem of the needs of what have been called the mendicant States. When the taxing powers were taken completely from the States the system was changed again.

I believe that the time has arrived when we have to set out to deal with the position in some lasting way. It is worth while noting what has happened regarding the committee which was appointed to examine the needs of our universities. It is to continue for all time in order to ensure that the differences which occur owing to our progress and development and the increase in our population are taken into account. Honorable members can see why I am against an ad hoc commission being appointed to deal with education. I advocate the appointment of a permanent body which will be able to deal with matters as they arise. That is especially necessary because, since the introduction of uniform taxation, the increase of production in Australia relative to the increase of population has definitely changed. The figures show that over the last eighteen or twenty years production has risen by probably 300 per cent, and our population has increased by 40 or 50 per cent. This illustrates that a very different position has now arisen.

I do not think we will get anywhere in dealing with these problems until we examine the question of what is necessary for the development of this country and matters such as education, the provision of water and electricity supplies and other essentials. We should face up to the situation. Instead of the Commonwealth Government saying to the States from time to time "We will give you £10,000,000 or £20,000,000 more ", the position should be determined by an impartial commission or committee which could sit frequently and take all the relevant facts into account. Such a body should have experts capable of dealing with all the various forms of development and such matters as education.

It is obvious .that if we are ever to get anywhere as a nation we must educate our children thoroughly to make sure that in the future we will have experts and leaders. We must train our young men in general to be the most intelligent workers possible. I find that the United States of America is dealing with the matter in this way, as a federation; and to quote an instance I refer to the way in which that country handles its water supply problems. I think America would have available eight or ten times as much water as is available here, and yet it is found necessary to have an organization to take into account all the factors I have mentioned, such as the rate of growth of production being faster than the rate of growth of population. America examines the position to see what are the benefits that come from the proper use of water-

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