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Wednesday, 30 April 1969

Senator TOOHEY (South Australia) -I move:

That the Sewerage Kates Ordinance 1968, as contained in Australian Capital Territory Ordinance No. 30 of 1968, and made under the Seal of Government (Administration) Act 1910-1965, be disallowed, on the ground that the necessary revenue should be collected by means of a rate based onthe assessed annual value, the improved capital value or the unimproved capital value of the land concerned.

The Opposition is asking the Senate to disallow this Ordinance which proposes sewerage charges in Canberra. Before I get on to the matter of advising the Senate of the reasons for asking that the Ordinance be disallowed, perhaps I can dispense with some of the frivolities that crept into discussion on this subject since this tax was first mooted by the Department of the Interior. It has been described as a lavvy levy and as an attack on the seat of Government. Those people with nimble minds have even connected it, in some extraordinary way, with being a tax on piano stools with some reference to a lonely farmhouse on the south coast of New South Wales. If I did not dispose of these frivolous things at the beginning of the short address I want to make in support of our motion for disallowance, I suppose inevitably they would creep in by way of interjection.

Senator Prowse - Will you hog the lot?

Senator TOOHEY - Yes. I thought I would help the Senate by dealing with the frivolities at the beginning.

Senator Marriott - You have been sitting on this.

Senator TOOHEY - Not for all that long. BeforeI traverse the background of this matterI want to draw the attention of the Senate to the Ordinance itself, which I have before me. It is an extraordinary document. I strongly suggest to honourable senatorsthat they read it if they have a little time at their disposal. Perhaps one of the most simple passages is this one, clause 1 1 (2.), which states:

In the last preceding sub-section -

(a)   a reference to the erection of an additional building on land shall be read as a reference to the erection of a building on land on which a building containing a flushed sanitary fixture is erected immediately before the erection of that building; and

(b)   a reference to the erection of a building, other than an additional building, on land shall be read as a reference to the erection of a building on land on which either no building is erected or no building containing a flushed sanitary fixture is erected immediately before the erection of the building.

This is delightfully clear, I am sure, to every honourable senator and I am sure that the people of Canberra will have no difficulty whatever in deciphering what is meant by it. The Ordinance goes on to deal with the formula on which the amount is calculated. It says:


I suppose that this formula is necessary because of certain legal requirements but to me it seems to be one of the most hopelessly jumbled explanations of the particular sub-clause that it has ever been my displeasure to read since I became a member of the Senate. There is very little else in the Ordinance to help one if one wishes to arrive at exactly what is meant.

In more simple termsI want to remind the Senate of the background to this matter. For over 30 years, up to 1960, the residents of Canberra paid water rates, general rates and sewerage rates based on an assessed annual value of the land. Of course, that is the way in which quite a number of local government bodies throughout Australia calculate rates in their respective areas. In 1960 the present Government introduced in Canberra a new system of water charges involving a flat rate payment plus a charge for excess water. Now the Government proposes to introduce a sewerage rate - perhaps it could be better described as a sewerage charge - of$10 a year for the first two toilets and a lesser amount for additional toilets. This to me seems to be a novel idea. I do not know where the Government obtained this idea of specifically taxing the toilet itself. It may well be that this is done in some States of the Commonwealth, or indeed, in some regional areas. I know of no capital cities which adopt similar procedures. To me it seems to be an unfair tax. It seems to be an extraordinary way of arriving at conclusions as to what residents of an area should pay for services.

There is no reason, in my opinion, for the Government to depart from procedures that have stood the test of time in the various States of the Commonwealth merely because Canberra happens to belong to the Government and is administered by it. This certainly is a departure from the traditional way in which these matters are calculated in the respective States of the Commonwealth.

This Ordinance, and other things that have happened in Canberra in recent years, have been described as taxation without representation. I think it is quite fair to say - and I do not think it is an overstatement - that this Ordinance has caused considerable resentment in all sections of the community in the Australian Capital Territory. The resentment has been general. It has been felt by all classes in the community. It has been contributed to by the Press. I think it is fair to say that in the Australian Capital Territory there is a fairly responsible Press in the 'Canberra Times' and other newspapers which disseminate news of a local character within the Territory. 1 think it fair to say that the Canberra Times' has supported the people in their almost united objection to the way in which this proposed tax has been initiated and in the way that it is to be levied.

At this time 1 think it is appropriate to mention that the elected members of the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council recently resigned in a mass protest against this and other measures introduced by the Government. This is evidence of the general dissatisfaction in the community here about the relationship between the Department of the Interior and the people of Canberra. When 1 mention the Department of the Interior I do not want the Senate to think that 1 am embarking on an attack on the Department or on any of its officers. I am not doing so. I am stating a fact which is known to anybody who has followed, even in a cursory manner, the events which have occurred in the Aus tralian Capital Territory during the last 12 months or so. There is no doubt that anybody who has made even the most cursory examination of these events knows that there is considerable and general dissatisfaction in the Australian Capital Territory which has resulted in a general breaking down of the relationship between thc people and the Government.

On Sunday I drove around Canberra, as I do from time to time because as a member of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory T like to keep in touch wilh what is happening in the Territory, and I was over at Regatta Point. Honourable senators may or may not know that a forum has been established al Regatta Point and in the last few months people have been prone to give forth on various matters which, in their belief at least, have some importance in the life of residents of the Australian Capital Territory. One of the speakers on Sunday was an exmember of the Advisory Council. He had resigned from that body. 1 believe he represented the Liberal Party on it. One had only to listen to him to find out just how deep is the resentment on the part of residents of the Territory of the type of imposition represented by this Ordinance. I do not suggest that the Ordinance is the sole reason for the mass resignation of the members of the Advisory Council, but 1 suggest thai it is one of the things which in no small way have contributed to the general spirit of dissatisfaction and disenchantment in thc Australian Capital Territory about the big brother altitude which residents claim - I do not claim this, but residents* do - exists here today.

Several factors have intruded to produce this rising tide of resentment. The proposed closure of the Canberra Abattoir is one of the things which have caused considerable disaffection and hostility in the community. These matters serve to illustrate just how widespread the dissatisfaction and the disenchantment are. The mass resignation of members of the Advisory Council has severed the means of communication between the Government and the people of Canberra. We have before us an Ordinance whose character is deeply interwoven wilh the resentment and the hostility which exists in this community today. The Senate would be very wise if it gave the deepest considera- tion to the question of whether or not such an Ordinance should be introduced - an Ordinance which, as I said at the beginning of my speech, has met with widespread resentment and has no support even from the most co-operative Government supporters in this community.

When we consider this disaffection and these problems which must of course disturb the minds of honourable senators, I think it is important for us to be aware that in the national capital of necessity there must be a separation between the development of Canberra and the things associated with the development of the Parliament and the dreams of those who decided that this would be the national capital. There must be a separation between the functions of Canberra as a city and as the home of the national Parliament. Where there was a likelihood of local activity impinging upon the concept of the national capital, I would be the last to suggest that the local people should have the right to disturb that concept. This is a responsibility for governments alone. By the same token it seems to me that the need to preserve this concept has led to a drastic and unnecessary restriction of the rights of the people of the Australian Capital Territory. It is because of this restriction that I think we should give considerable thoughtto what is contained in this Ordinance and indeed we should give considerable thought to the establishment of a farbetter relationship between the Government and the people of the Territory than that which exists today. That is the problem which the Government has in maintainingthe necessary degree of authority over the development of Canberra. As I have said that degree of authority has eroded, to some extent, the rights of the people. There has never been a proper understanding ofthe problem, to my knowledge. In the 15 years that I have been a member ofthe Senate I have never known Parliamentto consider what could be done to achieve a better relationship between the Department of the Interior, whose task it is to administer the capital, and the people.

I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that today the population of Canberra is between 105,000 and 110,000 - a city of not inconsiderable size. Perhaps in the next 12 months the population will be in the vicinity of 150,000. I find it hardto believe that in a community of this size we should have a situation in which the local people do not have the slightest say in determining even the most minute aspects of local government. People from the States can determine the width of the Canberra roads - an extraordinary situation - the type of sub-division and even the nature of some of the elementary services that are provided to the community. Senator Marriott is shaking his head.I do not know whether in agreement or disagreement.

Senator Marriott - In disagreement.

Senator TOOHEY - Apparently he is doing so in disagreement. He andI are members of the ACT Committee and share at least the desire to do the best we possibly can lor the people of Canberra. I think he shares my belief that membership ofthe Committee imposes upon both of us an obligation to recognise some of the just complaints of the people. It may well be that the Committee's terms of reference preclude itfrom doing some of the things that ought to be done. Nevertheless the knowledge we obtain as members of the Committee enables us to see much more clearly than other honourable senators some of the disabilities and tensions which have crept into the community life of Canberra and which have created something in the nature of a crisis between the people and the Government. I do not think Senator Marriott would disagree with that contention. The Minister forthe Interior (Mr Nixon) has claimed in this dispute- -it is a dispute and it is idle to say that it is anything less than that - that the people of Canberra are more fortunate than residents of other capital cities because today every block is sewered. How can we assess the validity or otherwise of what the Minister said unless we can examine these statements against the background of all other rents and charges that the people of the Australian Capital Territory have to pay?

I am not even sure in my own mind that an injustice is being done to the people of Canberra, but at least before I make a decision as to whether or not there is injustice I would want before me - and I think the people of Canberra arc entitled to have before them - much more detailed information as to the validity of this lax than is available at present. Because of this 1 ask honourable senators to turn their thoughts in that direction. I believe that il they do they will be doing a service to the Senate and to the people of Canberra as well. It could be that if facts are provided - when I say that, I mean if unassailable evidence is placed before the people of Canberra that the tax being levied on them is not an imposition - the people will accept the position and accept it with good grace. [ do not think the people of Canberra would want to have any greater facilities than the people who live in other capita! cities have, but I believe that the disaffection that has been created by this proposed tax has been brought about largely by the paucity of information and the lack of communication. The Government with its big brother attitude has decided to impose this tax. It has said: 'We think it good for the people of Canberra and they have to lake it whether they like i; or not'.

The people of Canberra have not between them and the Government the usual buffers that exist in other States. In South Australia, of course, if the State Government imposes conditions of an oppressive character under the Local Government Act the people can discuss them through their representatives at the local government level in the metropolitan and district councils. They have an articulate body to speak for them, not a body overloaded with representatives of the Government in which they can be outvoted at any time no matter how strongly they feel about an issue. There is no doubt that the decision of the elected members of the Advisory Council to resign in a body was largely brought about by this sense of frustration with this over-riding authority of the Commonwealth not only on matters affecting thc concept of the national capital but on every phase of local government life in the Territory. It is against this background that I ask the Senate to consider very deeply whether or not this Ordinance should be disallowed.

Let me make it clear again that 1 am not attacking the Minister or his predecessor and I am not attacking the Department. Senator Marriott knows that as members of the Australian Capital Territory Committee we had certain disagreements with both the present Minister for the Interior and his predecessor, but at no time did the

Committee believe that either of those two gentlemen was doing other than the best that he could do in the field in which he had to work. 1 think that the problems that afflict Canberra today are not problems provided by this or that Minister for the Interior. Let me hasten to say also that Interior is probably one of the most difficult portfolios to administer. This sort of thing has grown up over the years. It has resulted from the fact that no attempt has been made to separate the concept of the national capital and the rights of the local people in matters affecting their own daily lives. Sooner or later the Parliament has to lay down some guide lines which will enable these pressures to be taken off and enable the people of Canberra to make some intelligent decisions in respect of their own future and their own operations.

Because of this, the first priority is that this Ordinance be disallowed. If it were disallowed, this would provide a climate for a much more amicable relationship between the people and the Department of thc Interior and, in fact, the Government itself. I tusk the Senate to remember that before such drastic changes as that proposed in this new tax in Canberra could be effected in most States, ii would have to run the gauntlet of considerable debate and discussion by people who had some right of determination. But the people here have no such right, no such channel, no such avenue, and because of this they are handicapped cruelly in this type of decision. I ask the Senate to remember that, contrary to the statement by the Minister, the residents of Canberra have paid sewerage charges for over 30 years on the assessed value of land, lt is true that in 1960 this situation changed but overall statements have been made which created the impression that the people of Canberra have not at any time had sewerage charges imposed on them. I want to correct that impression now.

I say finally that in the atmosphere of hostility that at present prevails between the people and the Government it would be folly to proceed with this ordinance. This is a decidedly novel tax. I ask the Senate to disallow the ordinance and when diplomatic relations between the parties to the dispute improve we can get down to a discussion of the way in which a sewerage tax, if it is justified, should be implemented in Canberra.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - ls the motion seconded?

Senator Cohen - Yes.

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