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Wednesday, 30 April 1969

Senator WILKINSON (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I appreciate the interjection. The reason why we come off best is not always because of logic but because of numbers. We on this side usually can state a case and our logic is unanswerable. I really deplore, as do other honourable senators on this side of the chamber, including members of the Australian Democratic Labor Party, the fact that it should be necessary to bring on a debate of this nature concerning the Australian Capital Territory when we have other impol t;ints matters to discuss, particularly when we are on the air. Quite conceivably the people of Australia could feel that the only thing about which we in the Parliament are concerned is a matter of no moment to Australia as a whole. However, apart from one honourable member in another place who represents the people of the Australian Capital Territory, I believe that the Senate is practically the only avenue open to the people of Canberra to express their views because they can approach senators and ask them to state their case. lt is important to point out at this stage that honourabe senators on the Government side have criticised us and have said that this debate is political and is being used as a political weapon, but I think it should be remembered that the eight members of the Advisory Council who resigned because of this sewerage levy comprised three members of the Australian Labor Party, two members of the Liberal Party--

Senator Toohey - I think they have been disowned now.

Senator WILKINSON - I do not think so. The remaining three are independents. The Council represented a cross-section of the community. As far as I know, there have not been any members of the Democratic Labor Party on the Advisory Council but if there were I am sure that they, as residents of Canberra, would appreciate the problem much better than we do who merely fly in and out of this city.

J shall say a few words about Canberra itself and about the way in which we should be looking at the situation in this year 1969. When Canberra was established it was intended to be the show window of Australia to other countries of the world, through the diplomatic corps, so that they would know that this was our national capital. For that reason everything possible was done to make it a show window. I do not know how many trees have been planted to beautify Canberra but it is more than two million. Those trees have been planted because this is the national capital of Australia, not because of the people living here. In the early days - this applied for a number of years - hedges were planted in the front of all houses because front fences were not allowed. The hedges and what are called here the nature strips were cut by employees of the Department of the Interior. Why was this done? It was done so that members of the diplomatic corps could see that this was the national capital of Australia of which we were proud.

Let us not forget that in those early days Canberra was remote from the centres of civilisation in Australia. There were not the Boeing 727 or the DC9 aircraft. There were none of the services that we have now. This was a remote capital city. Members of Parliament remained in Canberra for the whole sessional period. No-one could go back to Perth, for example, lt just could not be done. Now we go back to Perth every weekend. That is why I said that we are in a different position from that of the residents of Canberra. We do not live here. We come here only while the Parliament is sitting. In those early days it was necessary for Canberra to be controlled and administered by the Department of the Interior and the Advisory Council was set up to advise the Minister on local affairs. But the Advisory Council cannot act in the same way as can an ordinary local government authority, lt seems to me that the time has come - in fact I believe that the time is long past - when Canberra should be administered by a tocal government authority so that the people of this city would have a direct say in what goes on in it.

Senator Little - The Opposition's motion will not achieve that.

Senator WILKINSON - The motion seeks lo provide a more equitable basis for rating purposes. Even in his own speech the honourable senator could not claim that the basis was equitable. In our motion we state that the revenue should be collected by means of a rate based on the assessed annual val'ue, the improved capital value or the unimproved capital value of the land concerned. You have only to fix a basis and you can introduce any rate. The charge would vary depending on the assessed annual value or the other two bases that have been mentioned. This is not the time to introduce a proposal relating to the establishment of a local government authority but if a local1 government authority were controlling Canberra the kind of levy we are now discussing would be handled automatically by that body.

A point that has been missed in all the contributions that have been made so far on the Opposition's motion is that at no stage has the Opposition admitted that the amounts stated relating to revenue and expenditure are a true indication of the revenue required to meet the expenditure.

Senator Little - You think it should be more?

Senator WILKINSON - We consider that it should be less, or at least I do after having spoken to former members of the Advisory Council on this matter. They have produced a report - it is not one of the White Papers which were produced at the last minute last night and do not mean anything, although it is typed on white paper - which has been distributed to Government members to show the true position. In the report they have pointed out that the sewerage rate is paid when a person buys his land. That is part of the existing arrangement. Now the Government seeks to impose something additional. The Council says that if anything extra is required a basis for assessment should be decided upon first and then a rate struck which is equitable to all members of the Canberra community. That aspect has been ignored so far in the debate. Some people have rushed in and said that our proposal is political and others have said that we are trying to do something which we are not trying to do. We are trying to introduce something which is fair to the people of Canberra.

The only thing in our proposal in relation to which we could be criticised - I agree with Senator Little on this - is that we have not stated, and 1 do not see how we could have done so. that a local government authority should be set up but perhaps that is a matter which could be brought forward in another place as a private member's bill. That could not be clone here. I do not think anybody in Canberra is objecting to a fair assessment of what is required to meet the costs. The people of Canberra are prepared to pay. providing the charge is distributed amongst the community on an equitable basis.

I believe that the motion we have put forward is perfectly reasonable. We of the Opposition have had many inquiries from the citizens of Canberra about this matter. I hope that honourable senators opposite have had similar inquiries. The people of Canberra believe that the proper and reasonable way to meet the cost of sewerage services in their city is as set out in our motion. Although honourable senators opposite and senators of the Australian Democratic Labor Party have voiced opposition to the motion, I hope that there are amongst them some who will concede its value. Senator Webster is shaking his head. I am not sure whether he is rattling it or whether he is indicating that he is joining us. I believe that our motion is worth while and T hope that the Senate will be prepared to support it.

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