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Wednesday, 12 April 1972
Page: 1548


Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - The House is debating the States Grants Bill 1972. Its purpose is to amend the States Grants Act (No. 2) of 1971 to authorise the payment to the States in 1971-72 of further special revenue assistance totalling some $15m. Tonight a great deal has been said about the position in which the States find themselves in relation to revenue and comparing the position of the States with that of the Commonwealth which is, of course, responsible for the collection of funds. 1 do not doubt that while ever there is this type of redistribution of funds there will always be some degree of discontent. It is natural to assume that this would be so because, after all. the States do need a lot of funds for their purposes and the Commonwealth has the responsibility of seeing that the taxation burden on the community is no greater than is required to keep the prosperity of this country at the level it desires to see. So there is a gap in between that can never be fully met. The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) commented on this particular aspect and the fact that the Commonwealth Government does so well. He put up a case for the States. I am inclined to think that probably it was for home consumption to some extent. I wonder whether the honourable member for Stirling would advocate a return of taxing powers to the States. This is one of the tests by which we can judge whether the States are getting a reasonable return from the taxes that are collected from them.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the problems that the States have to meet. My own State of Queensland has problems of distance and while we take some pride from the fact that it is probably the most decentralised State there are these problems of distance and problems of isolation although perhaps they are not as great as in Western

Australia in some respects. However they are still great and there is need for tremendous developmental work to take place there. Not sufficient funds are available to provide for that development. On the other hand it must be remembered - I think the honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon) made the point - that the State of Tasmania receives from the Commonwealth, in round figures, a little more than li times the amount of money collected in that State. So there is a balance in these things and we have to recognise the fact that one cannot get exact agreement between the Commonwealth and the States on this matter. The fact is that the need for funds always will be greater than the funds that are available.

I was interested in the comments of my friend the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) who usually is very gentlemanly in his approach to debates. However he did play a little bit of politics tonight. He noted that in a State election year the Liberal governments usually get considerable assistance by way of grants. I have forgotten his exact words but he intended to convey that this was a method adopted by the Commonwealth Government to assist its colleagues in the State sphere. I wondered at his expressing that view because he is usually fairly alert in these matters. I remind him that in one of the Bills we are discussing it is proposed that New South Wales should get no less than $ 17.5m by way of special assistance for its Budget and it is not an election year in New South Wales. It is easy to make such statements but they are not always borne out by facts. In this particular case 1 Would say that the honourable member's argument does not hold water and is not valid because the remainder of the moneys involved are to be distributed to the States on a prorata basis in the way such moneys are normally distributed. So I take the honourable member for Melbourne Ports to task on this. I believe that he was playing a little bit of politics when he made those comments.

I disagree with him on this point but I agree with him strongly in his comments on the value of colour television coming into Australia at a time when the money that would be required to provide this amenity - if one likes to call it that - could be so much better spent and when black and white television is still required in many of the more sparsely settled areas of the Commonwealth. While progress has been made in the provision of television stations and while stations are being provided in outlying areas of my electorate they will serve only the towns and their immediate areas and a lot of deserving people still will not be getting black and white television. Yet we are considering the enormous cost of colour television in Australia. I am not opposed to progress of any kind and I would not be opposed even to colour television if, in fact, it had the degree of priority that I think it deserves and if the other requirements of government, both Federal and State, had been more effectively provided.

I should like now to touch on a subject which has been mentioned in the course of this debate tonight. It is a subject in which I am very interested and about which I am concerned, namely, the position of local government. My colleague, the honourable member for Denison, said that he did not feel that this now should be a responsibility of the Commonwealth Government, but the cold hard facts are that it has to be the responsibility of someone to see that local government gets its just desserts in the provision of revenue. I make particular reference to the local authorities in areas that are well removed from the capital cities. Capital cities, and perhaps even provincial cities, at least have maintained the value of the properties from which their ratable revenue comes but in rural areas there are many properties now which have been reduced very considerably in value and which do not return a commensurate income. Sometimes in recent years there has been no income, yet these people are still called upon to provide what I feel is an undue share of the contribution to local government revenue.

It is time that a very close examination was made of the revenue required for local government. I believe it is receiving consideration. The methods adopted now are out of date, particularly in rural areas. Local government is being called upon from time to time to accept even greater responsibilties than it did in days gone by. As an example perhaps I could cite the local ownership plan for aerodromes. This is a very good thing in many respects but it does place an additional cost on local authorities. There is a need to provide more amenities in the areas than normally accepted in the past. Local governments are getting subsidies from the States and the States may perhaps feel that they are contributing too by way of revenue through the Department of Main Roads or some comparable department, whatever it may be called. No doubt they have been relieved of some of their responsibilities but the need for and the cost of roads are increasing every year.

One of the essential factors in the development of this nation is more and more good arterial roads not only for the carriage of our produce but also to enable our tourists both from within this country and from overseas to look at areas they would not be able to visit otherwise. If we had a better road system we would gain more through tourism which is now a rapidly growing industry in Queensland. By doing this we contribute in the most beneficial way to decentralisation. For example, although beef roads do not altogether come into this category, local government is relieved of the burden of providing them. Beef roads provide a very great saving because there is a lack of bruising of the stock coming in from the channel country in my area. It is surprising to look at the figures which have been given to me. Australia has a great opportunity to supply beef to the world today. It can be assisted in this task by the construction of more and better roads in these areas. There are few better ways in which the Commonwealth Government can contribute to the progress and development of outlying areas, and at the same time show a return on capital invested, than in the construction of roads. So I make a plea for greater consideration to be given to local government, whatever method might be adopted for doing it, and even if the Commonwealth has to become involved with local government to a greater extent than it has been I believe this involvement would be fully justified in the light of changed circumstances.

The Government, of course, is called upon to do many things and we cannot really expect it to fill the gap. It will be called upon to provide more funds to assist the States in education. Although the Commonwealth has been accepting a greater responsibility in this field and the expenditure of the States has been increasing, the standard of education that has been provided has improved but not beyond what it ought to be because on an international comparison we still have to lift our standards. There will be continuing demands on the Commonwealth. One to which I would like now to refer is a very deserving cause. It is the Isolated Children's Parents Association in which there is not a very large number involved. Quite a few of these children are among the underprivileged In the Commonwealth, so I believe the Commonwealth either directly or through grants will have to provide the States with the funds. The States have their education authorities and, naturally, I believe they will have to do the administration work but it is only reasonable that the Commonwealth should contribute to this field. I hope that this is something that every honourable member in this House will be prepared to support. My time is getting on and I do not want to take up the last minute of it as so often seems to be the aim of some honourable members who feel it a duty to keep on talking even though they have made the points they wanted to make. In view of the continuing increase in funds that the Commonwealth has made available to the States, the States can hardly claim that the Commonwealth has not appreciated their needs or taken reasonable and generous action to meet them.

Debate (on motion by Mr Hurford) adjourned.







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