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Thursday, 13 April 1972
Page: 1655

Mr GARLAND (Curtin) (Minister for Supply) - in reply - The debate on the 2 Bills before the House - the States Grants Bill and the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill (No. 2) - has been a wideranging one. I do not propose to try to answer every point raised, although I will see to it that where a matter has been raised which calls for some comment it is provided to the honourable member concerned. First of all I think it should be noted that these Bills, in spite of all that has been said, have the unanimous support of honourable members on both sides of the House. Without going into the detail given in the second reading speeches which introduced the Bills, the assistance provided in the Bills is very substantial. However, it is only a small part of the very large amount of assistance given by the Commonwealth to the States to help them to discharge, at their own discretion, their constitutional responsibilities. Recognising the States needs, the Commonwealth in recent times has increased dramatically its assistance to the States. For instance, it is estimated that the amount provided during the year 1971-72 will be almost $290m more than the States would have received under the arrangements which existed previously. 1 turn now to the major points raised. Honourable members mentioned - particularly those who spoke early in the debate - the position of local government authorities. Apparently it has to be said many times in this House before it sinks in that local government authorities are created and function under State laws. They are basically a State responsibility.

Mr Keogh - Who said that?

Mr GARLAND - The honourable member will have to read some constitutional law; 1 cannot help him any further. The Commonwealth makes available for the general assistance of the States large amounts of money. The States have to decide their competing priorities between the needs of local government and between the needs of country and city. I note that the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) has now walked out of the chamber. He apparently does not want to hear this.

Mr Giles - He would want to leave the chamber-.

Mr GARLAND - Yes, after the speech he made he would want to. He clearly does not understand the difference between a general grant and a specific grant. I point out that the sum total of the general grants made by the Commonwealth to the States is greater than one-quarter of the total funds which the Commonwealth receives per annum. One must add to that figure the special purpose grants which are made from time to time in legislation passing through this Parliament. The Commonwealth has as part of its budgetary consideration to decide what can be done from time to time, given the other demands on the resources available to it, to put the States in a position where they can adequately meet their financial responsibilities including their responsibilities in respect of local authorities given the competing priorities, which they like the Commonwealth encounter.

I turn from those general points which amazingly seem to have been lost sight of in this debate. 1 listened with interest to the shadow Treasurer for the Opposition, the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) and 1 must say that 1 enjoyed his remarks as I usually do, although I did not agree with all of them. He put the issues of the 2 Bills in such a broad scope that when one examines them one finds that they lack substance. While one might agree with a number of the points that the honourable member made and the concepts he put foward, he did not come to grips with any of the problems and he ended on the note that CommonwealthState relationships generally came up at the fag ends of debates as though they are of no significance. Honourable members have had an opportunity in this debate to go into these matters. Very few honourable members have availed themselves of the opportunity to do so. I ask the honourable member for Melbourne Ports where in his remarks can we find any solutions. There are none. Where, indeed, can we find any proposals? There are none. So I say with seriousness that the honourable member's contribution was therefore without substance and was almost entirely theoretical.

The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb), whom we heard before the dinner suspension, said that there were off-setting reductions to the financial assitance grants when payroll tax was handed over and that the transfer of payroll tax did not make the States any better off. When payroll tax was transferred to the States the Commonwealth reduced its financial assistance grants by a figure which was S22m less than the revenue lost to the Commonwealth when the payroll tax was transferred. This repesented a net gain to the States before they increased the rate of payroll tax. In relation to the other points the honourable member made, in spite of the tables of statistics which he had incorporated in Hansard, I can say only in a fairly friendly way to my West Australian friend that his remarks were appallingly glib and mindlessly parochial. His speech showed no understanding of these financial matters but considerable understanding for what he belives certain people would like to hear. lt was not policy he was putting forward but propaganda.

The honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) said, amongst other things, that when the Commonwealth made tied grants the States would not make any further effort beyond that necessary to match the Commonwealth grants. He seems to have missed the whole point of this legislation. These Bills provide general purpose grants, not specific purpose grants. In fact, 85 per cent of all revenue grants and 70 per cent of all grants to the States are general purpose grants which the States can dispose of as they wish. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie, too, showed that he had no understanding of these matters.

The honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Kennedy) then treated us in this debate to yet another of his instalments of misrepresentation of educational standards in Australia. He spoke in particular of the science grants and facilities. So these points, too, must be made again: Independent schools in each State have standards committees which determine from among the independent schools which have the most urgent need. In addition there are 2 advisory committees, one for Catholic schools and one for non-Catholic independent schools. These committees determine the timing; in other words, they decide which school will receive the grant first.

They then make recommendations. The honourable member for Bendigo apparently delights in picking out particular schools in an effort to give them some publicity but the particular school he mentioned is one of those which received a recommendation by these independent and objective committees. Decisions on the allocation of funds to State high schools are made very properly by the State government concerned.

As I mentioned, the honourable member for Bendigo referred to a particular school and what he had to say about this school was in line with some remarks which he made and which were reported in the Melbourne 'Age' on 8th April 1972. However, his statement was completely wrong, for he was reported as saying that there was only one science pupil studying for the leaving examination at this school. The correct figure is 17. This year the school to which he referred has 116 pupils. The principle laid down for a school to qualify for a science laboratory is that it must have 28 science teaching periods. Thus the school is entitled to 2 laboratories on Australia-wide standards. In fact, 85 per cent of all capital funds allocated to government schools for the provision of science laboratories, libraries and teacher training is allocated to 78 per cent of children - those in government schools. As the House knows, the Government recently provided S20m to the States in special funds. So, I draw from those remarks about schools the conclusion that it is nonsense to compare a particular independent school with a particular government school. One must, in all fairness, look at the situation as a whole. It always will be possible to take a particular example - an unrepresentative example - but, to be fair and responsible, one must look at the question in the totality.

The honourable member for Bowman (Mr Keogh), who, as we have heard, really is very able at interjecting, raised the question of educational matters in Queensland, as did other honourable members. I suppose it would not be unfair to relate that to the State election which shortly is to be held in Queensland. The honourable member for Bowman made a claim that the needs of the unemployed in Brisbane were not being met by the rural unemployment relief grant announced at the Premiers

Conference. As a result of the Premiers Conference, there was made available to Queensland additional general purpose funds of $2. 3m, capital grants of $1.1 8m, and additional loan funds of $2. 86m. None of this assistance is tied in any way. It is available for the Queensland State Government to allocate, as it desires, wholly to relieve rural unemployment.

As I mentioned earlier, the honourable member for Kalgoorlie needs to understand this point when talking about the needs of the country areas versus those of the cities. Of course, the country areas do have needs and it is open to the State authorities to use general funds in any way that they believe is correct. I remind the House of the Bill that I introduced not long ago to provide an additional $9m to Queensland as a result of the report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission.

Having made those points, let me conclude by saying that in the various matters which have been raised demands were made and I think that some of them were made sincerely. However, they were demands made in isolation. Demands which are worthy - as I have indicated, some of them are not - are considerd by the Government, which has the responsibility of balancing its priorities. It is very easy to make promises. It is very easy for members of the Opposition to say what they would do if they were in government and ' to involve themselves now in a commitment to spend vast sums of money. But the Commonwealth Government, through the Commonwealth Treasury, has the responsibility for the whole economy and for safeguarding the public purse and expending the funds of the people in the best possible way among competing needs.

MrKENNEDY (Bendigo)- Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?

Mr KENNEDY - Yes. The charge was made by the Minister for Supply (Mr Garland) that the figures I quoted relating to a particular private school were wrong. The information which was given to me and which I used was contained in the 'Australian' of 24th January this year. The

Australian' ran a series of articles on particular private schools - the most lavish and most exclusive private schools in Australia. In the series there was an article on Clyde, a school on which $63,000 in total costs has been spent on science laboratories. The article stated:

Last year new science Laboratories were opened and the number taking physics, chemistry and mathematics at leaving level has increased from one to eight.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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