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Wednesday, 12 April 1972
Page: 1538

Dr JENKINS (Scullin) - I think the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) has given to this House a good analysis of the grants that are made available in these types of Bills, how the money is applied and the conditions that apply to them. The honourable member, like myself, is a former member of a State parliament and he knows only too well what it is like to look at the problem from the other end. Having entered this debate at short notice, I cannot offer the analysis of loans and grants which the honourable member for Melbourne Ports was able to put, but one of the things that are striking, if one looks at the variety of purposes for which these grants and loan moneys are used, is the very diversity of them. I noticed a question from a former colleague of mine in the Victorian Parliament in which he asked, in regard to these State grants, special financial assistance grants, emergency grants and the actual tax reimbursements, about the variety of purposes for which these moneys could be used. In essence the reply covered some 2 foolscap pages.

When one gets such a diversity of uses for States grants moneys one also gets a diversity of excuses for inaction. I was pleased to read that the Premiers went away from the recent Premiers Conference warmly welcoming the amounts that were given to them, but that becomes rather inconsistent when one looks at some of the problems that confront the States because of the rigidity imposed upon them by these grants. Rather than quote from political sources, I wish to quote a comment that was made by a leading Melbourne surgeon in talking of the road toll. The comment appeared in an article in the 'Medical Journal of Australia' of 1st April this year. In talking of the road toll he said:

There has developed a frightening, permanent epidemic, resulting in the loss of 10 Australian lives each day and a similar number surviving with catastrophic injuries, more than half of them under 30 years of age.

Honourable members may wonder at the relevance of that quotation. He then went on to point out the following:

At the political level, the College-

That is, the Royal Australian College of Surgeons - discovered that this crisis has become a defenceless, non-combatant casualty In the complicated Commonwealth-State status struggle, which ls strangling the efforts of Australians for advancement. After 2 centuries of their own energetic efforts, supplemented by the recent fortuitous discovery of valuable natural resources, they deserve a much better way of life than has been accomplished so far. The fight between Canberra centralist and State federalist philosophies is frustrating the sincere and energetic attempts of research workers in the field of road crash prevention to have their recommended countermeasures implemented. As a result, the public servants of the 3 levels of government have become, subliminally conditioned to dispose of the problems of road safely administration into the 'too hard* basket.

That is a rather damning statement with regard to these agreements. It refers to one problem in particular, but it also refers to the fact that when these things are discussed the Commonwealth will wash its hands of the problem and say: 'That is a State responsibility' and the States will say: The grants we receive from the Commonwealth are quite insufficient for us to be able to carry out the practical work in respect to roads, in respect to the safety devices required in cars, in respect to policing the various regulations that apply' and so on. So we have that in-built argument going on all the time. As the honour able member for Melbourne Ports indicated with regard to the actual amounts and the interest payments involved, there is a need for a review of the financial relationships between the States and the Commonwealth and a need for a review of the relationships that are discussed at the Premiers Conference. Perhaps there would be great virtue in the suggestion that a constitutional convention be held by the Commonwealth and the States. Perhaps that could offer some solutions. I feel, however, that it could develop into a parochial dog fight.

In the closing stages of his address the honourable member for Melbourne Ports talked of the problems throughout the world of urban planning and of the necessity for grants for public works, particularly in the urban areas. Public works have been defined by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) as including hospitals, schools, water, sewerage projects and the like. The urban areas are facing the real problems of today. It is these areas that suffer most from the failure of the 2 levels of government to agree. It is a shocking thing that one is able to pick up a newspaper in one of our capital cities - I refer to the Melbourne 'Herald' of Friday, 24th March - and read this heading: 'Yarra "a sewer" says Rossiter'. Mr Rossiter happens to be the Minister for Health in the Victorian Parliament. On his own admission he is sure that he would never allow his grandchildren to swim in the Yarra. I am sure that that might concern one of the Ministers in this House. He said that until all the areas east of Doncaster and north of North Balwyn are sewered there will continue to be a heavy concentration of bacteria in the water. He said that all the Health Department in that State could do about it was warn people not to drink the water or swim in it. The area he was talking about as needing sewerage to combat that problem is within a 10-mile radius of the centre of the city of Melbourne. After years of development the Slate Government has not had the finance available to it to do work which would prevent this pollution occurring. Even worse than that is the fact that such pollution spreads further up the river to its source.

If we are to use these moneys in the urban areas we need a clear incentive to plan and provide for housing and all the services associated with it so that such risks do not develop. I think it is fairly accepted that a reasonable definition of pollution would be the addition by man of detectable amounts of deleterious substances to air, land and water. That is one of the responsibilities that the State must accept. Despite the fact that this, money is being applied to water and sewerage projects in the second largest city in the Commonwealth the needs have not been met. Indeed not only have they not been met but also a dangerous situation has been allowed to develop. One of the problems that the Commonwealth and the States have to solve in their financial relations is what has to be done for the future. How are cities to be planned? How is decentralisation to be promoted by the use of these State grants for the development of housing and all the attendant things that go with it. If one were to consider the application of these moneys to hospitals in the community one would find that the same thing is happening. The Premiers go away from the Premiers Conference supposedly satisfied with what the Commonwealth has given them in the way of States grants and loan assistance and the Commonwealth says that it has done its job. Yet we find that the construction of hospitals, the training of medical students and accommodation for patients is lagging well behind.

The University of Melbourne has had to suspend future planning on the development of clinical facilities. That suspension has been ordered for 2 reasons - firstly, the lack of adequate finance to the University as a whole and, secondly, the lack of a decision by the Commonwealth Government to pay for clinical teaching carried out by hospital personnel. Unless grants can be applied to these purposes, the community will be faced with 2 problems: Firstly, a lack of facilities in the way of physical buildings for the training of appropriate doctors to man the health services and, secondly, a lack of appropriate buildings to accommodate sick persons. This is further potentiated by the fact that, while there is on the list a variety of areas where Commonwealth finance is used by the States, the hospitals in Victoria will have a combined deficit of $10m this year. That will be the deficit for one year alone. Heaven knows what would be the total deficit over the last few years. We have further demands, as will occur with any developing community, for further educational train ing of people in institutions that are not the normal education institutions. The training of nurses in hospitals is an example. At present there are plans - there are certainly plans in Victoria and I believe that the attitude is spreading in Australia - to increase the curriculum for nurses to 1,600 hours total training. This in itself is more than double what they have done in the past. Here again the Commonwealth is blamed for not providing sufficient money to allow this training to take place, and the State washes its hands of responsibility on these grounds.

Recently I was present at the opening of a further extension to a mentally retarded children's centre where the older children were able to work in a sheltered workshop. The State Minister who was present said that the provision of such facilities cannot cope with the demand unless the Commonwealth is able to meet the further requirements of the States. So there is another area where people suffer, as Mr Grayton Brown said in the statement in the 'Medical Journal of Australia', because of this complicated Commonwealth-State struggle. These illustrations make it clear that it is well past the time when we can be satisfied with the form of the Premiers Conference, the form of discussion that takes place and the form of the States Grants Bills that are brought down to allow State governments to carry out their responsibilities.

The honourable member for Melbourne Ports mentioned tied grants. There should be no real requirement for these. When the States are given money for a specific purpose they should accept responsibility to carry out those works. The danger is that if a tied grant is made for development work the State will not make any further effort beyond that allowed for by the Commonwealth. This has been highlighted in recent years, in my State at any rate, with the development of universities and institutes for tertiary education. The State will match the grants given by the Commonwealth but will bear no more. It applies the same principle to other matching grants. The initiative has gone in the development of essential facilities in the community.

Insufficient provision is made for scholars in tertiary education. Indeed I think we should consider the nurses who require the nursing educational units and the increased hours of training as tertiary students. We are failing to assist persons in the community because we fail to face up to a different attitude to the provision of State grants. The situation becomes even worse at the local government level. Local government is the defenceless section of our 3-tiered system of government. The arguments that the Commonwealth and State governments have about the provision of money for hospitals, facilities for training, road safety measures, measures against pollution, sewerage and all the rest that man wants from his environment nowadays, are 10 times worse in the field of local government and the finance that is channelled through the States to assist local government bodies.

So in addressing myself to the States Grants Bill I have not attempted to analyse the financial implications of what is contained in this kind of Bill, but I have tried to indicate that it is all very well to talk about what these increased loan funds and capital will do. It is all very well to say that they will enable works to be carried out on hospitals, schools, water, sewerage projects and the like, but this kind of Bill completely ignores the requirements of the growing community that must be met by the States. Responsibility must be accepted by the Commonwealth, and there must be a reassessment of the relationships between the Commonwealth and State governments and the nature of the grants and loans that are given if we are effectively to plan our community for the benefit of man and see that we all receive a reasonable share of the community wealth and enjoyment as we should.

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