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Wednesday, 30 August 1972
Page: 940

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - In rising to join in this year's Budget debate I would like to make some comments about the remarks made by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) who has just finished speaking. In the closing stages of his contribution he made some pious reference to violence in the trade union movement. I find that very strange coming from a representative of a government that is violent, a government that practises violence, a government that has blood on its hands from Vietnam, the blood of the children of Vietnam and the blood of Australian men. It is a government that supports the regimes of South Africa and Rhodesia and then piously speaks about violence in the trade union movement in Australia.

It seems that the Minister was arguing against himself on more than one occasion. He mentioned the unemployment figures and disputed the forecasts that had been made by members of the Opposition. He accused members on this side of the House of not accurately representing the situation. I would level the same accusation against him because his department - probably under his instruction and, I would think, his deliberate instruction - does not accurately present the picture of the number of unemployed in Australia. His Department presents to us the figures of those who are registered for unemployment but these figures do not take into account the housewives who leave industry and go back home because there are no jobs for them. They do not register as being unemployed nor do they receive unemployment relief as their husbands are employed. The Department's figures do not take into account the number of students who went back to school at the start of this year, who will still be there at the end of this year and at the start of next year. They are unemployed people, or to put it another way, they are a labour resource which is not being used. There is a big difference between those registered for unemployment and a labour resource or labour potential that is not being used. This situation is caused by the direct action of this Government. The Minister has said that the list of measures taken by this Government are well known. He was speaking of the unemployment situation. The actions taken are well known. They are well known to 100,000 men walking the streets every day looking for work. He said that the figures df the number of man-days lost through strikes show only the tip of the iceberg. That could be right, but his unemployment figures are also only the tip of the iceberg.

He mentioned the strike involving the State Electricity Commission of Victoria and the oil industry strike and the hardship that they caused the workers who were put out of work because of them. But he neglected to tell us that both the SEC strike and the oil industry strike - which was a national strike - were the direct result of Government interference in industrial affairs. He did not tell us that Sir Henry Bolte, the then Premier of Victoria, played a direct role by requesting the Chamber of Manufactures to advise its members to close their factories and stand men down so that things would look bad for the unions.

He did not tell us that the McMahon Government played a very significant role in the oil strike. I can assure the Minister that the people of Australia are saying that the oil companies had only one spokesman and that was the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon). Everybody knows Mr Hawke and that he was speaking on behalf of the unions involved. They all know Mr Halfpenny and that he was speaking on behalf of the unions. But nobody heard anybody except those in this Government speak on behalf of the oil companies. This Government put itself in the position of being the spokesman for the oil companies during the strike because as part of its desperate plan to find some sort of issue to bring up for the coming election - it knows it has lost the elections - it was casting around trying to draw on the law and order issue and trying to associate the trade unions with it.

Members on the Government side certainly have reduced this debate to a level of personal attack on members of the Opposition. One after the other - the honourable member for Ballaarat (Mr Erwin), the honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley) and the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan) and many others - they have refrained from speaking about issues relating to the Budget. They have all used glowing terms to describe it.'They have referred to it as a magnificent Budget. Magnificent for whom? That is what I would like to know. They have dragged out every adjective to describe the Budget but' it is still as bad as it was the day it was presented. The Minister for Immigration (Dr Forbes) made one of the most dastardly contributions I have ever heard in this House; in fact he made no contribution at all. I am surprised that he so demeaned himself and stooped to such a level. The Australian people will not be hoodwinked by the desperate actions of these desperate men.

Leaving that matter on one side, I would like to read to the House the amendment which was moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). It said:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: the House condemns the Budget because it fails to define adequate economic and social goals for Australia;

That is the part to which I would like to draw attention - and in particular because it provides no programme for restoring full employment, no means of checking the costs and prices of goods and land, no framework for improving the standards of education, health, welfare and public transport and no national plan for our capital cities and regional centres'.

It is in that context that I would like to raise the matter of local government. People usually close their minds when local government is mentioned. I have heard it referred to as a Cinderella. The Leader of the Opposition has moved this progressive amendment and it has received the expected response from Government members who have reached deeply into their armoury and brought out the ultimate weapon: Where is the money to come from? That expression has worn thin with use. The Treasurer (Mr Snedden) ignored local government, both in philosophy and fact, in this Budget He ignored the feature which is common to all Australians, rich and poor, city and country dweller, northerner and southerner, mainlander and islander, easterner and westerner, employed and unemployed, factory owner and housewife. The feature of which I speak is local government, involving cities, boroughs, shires and their respective councils, their officers, ratepayers and their functions. The role of local government in Australia has become that of collector of unpopular taxes.

Sitting suspended from 6.10 to 8 p.m.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Before the House suspended its sitting for dinner I was outlining how the superficial Government in the superficial Budget it has just introduced had neglected and completely overlooked the position of local government in the whole scheme of things. It would be true to say that successive Liberal Party, Country Party and Democratic Labor Party coalition governments have used local government as a repository for tasks for which the Federal Government wishes to have no responsibility. The present system of local government was imported from Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, and its original role was to tend to local matters such as roads, bridges, drainage, water supply, garbage collection and sewage disposal, planning and like matters which are considered fundamental to people living in communities and sharing benefits which they have Jointly provided. So came into being the expression that local government is closest to the people. It is perhaps closest in the sense of providing the basic needs of people, but it is as aloof in administration and representation as any other organised governmental activity. Rather than 3 tiers of government, I see an integrated system of government with no one level being nearer to or more aloof from the people than any other. Each level of government - Federal, State and local - is responsible for areas of jurisdiction and areas of tax collection.

Let us never forget that we as citizens of Australia wear many hats. We each pay taxes on our incomes, taxes on our purchases, rates on our land whether we rent it or own it, and rates to our water and sewerage authorities. We also pay many other taxes. Therefore when we speak of taxpayers we are speaking of ratepayers and vice versa. However there is one vital difference between rates on land and taxes on income, and that is that taxes take account of capacity to pay while rates take account only of the fact that people live, and they fall heavily on the poor and lightly on the rich. This brings me to the point which I wish to make, and I trust make strongly. Municipalities raise revenue to provide citizens with services, and many of the services provided can be measured and the cost allocated to recipients on an equitable basis. As an example, the total cost of the collection of household garbage is known and can be divided by the number of houses serviced so that the average cost of collecting a can of garbage from a house can be accurately measured. In the same way the cost of lighting streets, sweeping channels and maintaining drains and roads can be accurately measured and equally allocated among the community. In other words all share equally; therefore all should contribute equally.

But other services are thrust upon the municipalities for which they are not equipped to raise finance equitably. In this area we find health services and social services generally. It is not possible to measure the costs of these services and apportion them between rich and poor as they should be apportioned. The poor need health and welfare services, whilst those in better circumstances do not. However, as long as this function is thrust upon local councils and their system of revenue raising remains unchanged, we find that those who need social services are asked to pay more in rates so that better social services can be provided for those who cannot afford to pay the higher rates to their councils. Mr Deputy Speaker, if you find that statement confusing and circular in its logic, let me assure you that that is the confusing, illogical situation which exists in every one of the myriad of municipalities throughout the land.

The salient problems confronting municipalities today differ depending on the nature of the area for which the local council is responsible, but again they have a common denominator and that is the need for an injection of funds from outside the municipal area. Infant welfare facilities, pre-school centres, sporting fields and pavilions and public halls command priorities in newly developing areas and must compete with road, drainage and bridge construction. Of course the latter works gain the lion's share of available funds. The other necessary works must be deferred and on many occasions the deferment lasts until the children who required the services are grown and have spent their childhood without the benefit of these facilities. Developed areas, especially if they are old established areas, face other problems. Their needs are for municipal assistance to supplement the incomes of pensioners and for alleviation of the financially crippling burden of reconstruction of assets, especially roads, which have deteriorated because of usage and age.

The provision of a library service is regarded in this day and age as an integral feature of the education of the community; yet the ratepayer again bears the biggest share of the financial burden. In my own State of Victoria the running cost of libraries is shared between the State Government and the municipality. It was originally shared equally, with the State Government not being prepared to contribute more than 40c per head of population in the metropolitan area and 50c in the country areas. That ceiling has remained unchanged for many years, so that now the average cost of operating a municipal library is of the order of $1.20 per head of population a year. As the State still contributes only 40c the residents must contribute at the rate of 80c per head. This is another area in which the Federal Government can and should give a lead in assisting the municipal governments.

Debt servicing is completely out of hand and is assuredly responsible for municipalities going to the wall. Many examples can be quoted, but the record shows that total indebtedness for Victorian local authorities increased by 74 per cent from 1962 to 1967 as opposed to an increase of State Government indebtedness of 36 per cent. If other authorities such as the Metropoli tan Board of Works are included the percentage is higher and the Board of Works is paying more than 50 per cent of all its revenue just to service debts. It is obvious what is happening. Commonwealth and State governments show a dereliction of responsibility in their approach to problems, and poor old local government is being left to carry the ball. It just cannot go on. Cities, factories and denser habitation bring enormous environmental problems and the municipalities, through their health inspectors and limited testing facilities, will undoubtedly be left to try to cope. These facts are brought about either directly or indirectly by the action of the Commonwealth Government. It encourages factories, the growth of cities and closer and denser habitation of areas, but nowhere in the Budget does the Commonwealth Government accept any share of the responsibility for ensuring that municipalities are able to cope with this problem, which like so many others, especially the problem of social services, is being thrust upon them. We cannot allow this situation to continue or else the whole fabric of our society, which has become threadbare after 23 years of irresponsible government, will disintegrate entirely.

It is not my intention to be hypercritical and then leave it at that. Rather do ( trust that I can make some worthwhile contribution towards a solution, as I know that after the next Federal election, when a Labor government is installed, this problem will be not only assaulted but resolved. Firstly, it will be necessary to define, areas of responsibility and to recognise the peculiar skills and talents that pertain to each level of government. Government at the Commonwealth level is ideally structured to raise revenue equitably. Only a Commonwealth government can get into the pay packet and assess a person's capacity to pay taxes. The Commonwealth has also attracted great skills and talents in the administrative field. The States, on the other hand, are limited in their methods of raising revenue, but they have attracted people who are skilled at performing work and resolving technical problems, whereas the local councils are admirably equipped to inquire into and advise on the needs of their relatively smaller areas and are poorly equipped to raise finance on an equitable basis.

After defining these areas of action, I feel that it would be reasonable to say that a ratepayer as such should be responsible for the actual cost of measurable expenditure such as expenditure on the collection of garbage, lighting and cleaning of streets and related items as well as expenditure on the share of administration associated with these functions. The Commonwealth should be entirely responsible for the cost and provision of social services, health and social welfare programmes as advised by local councils and considered by a board or committee. Municipal libraries should be financed by the Commonwealth as part of the general education programme, as should preschool centres and child minding centres. Reconstruction of roads should be financed from taxes paid by motorists in the form of excise on motor fuel. A larger share of this revenue should come to municipalities. The exemption from rates enjoyed by properties owned by the Crown should be withdrawn, and the Crown should pay rates as any other landowner. Loan funds should be made available to local councils at a nominal rate of interest so that works can be carried out without local governments incurring crippling burdens to service these debts.

To sum up, this Budget makes no mention either by statement or inference of any attempt being made to rearrange the area of responsibility of governments. It mentions no effort to evolve a system of equitable financing. It contains just the usual conservative approach that that which exists will continue whether it has served us badly or not. Because of the importance of this subject there is much more that can be said. I have no doubt that at a later date it will be explored much more thoroughly than I have been able to do in the limited time available to me this evening. As long as the present structure continues we are going to have hardship thrust upon the people of this country who are ratepayers as well as taxpayers. There will be no relief because they will be bound to pay their rates as they are bound to pay their taxes. These will fall more heavily on the poor than on the rich. They will become more of a burden for those who cannot afford them and an ever-lightening load for those who can. The pensioners in our community and those who exist on social services are prob ably hit harder by municipal rates than the community generally. Yet once again, under the structure that exists, only those who pay rates are called upon to make a recompense to those who are pensioners. This is clearly a function of the Commonwealth Government in the Budget which has been described in glowing terms by honourable members on the other side of the House. I think they do this for a particular reason. There is no way known for any relief by local governments for those who are not in the position to pay their local rates. I call upon the Government to reconsider its position, to take this into account, to take some serious action and to give serious thought to resolving this very important question.

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