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Tuesday, 18 March 1980
Page: 736


Senator SCOTT (New South WalesMinister for Special Trade Representations) - I thank Senator Kilgariff and Senator Gietzelt for their contributions to the debate on the Commonwealth Grants Commission Amendment Bill 1979. The purpose of the Bill is to enable references of inquiries into matters relating to the financing of works and 'Services in the Australian Capital Territory to be considered by the Commonwealth Grants Commission. The Commonwealth Grants Commission was referred to at some length by Senator Gietzelt. He explained its operations. The Grants Commission inquires into and reports on the need of States and the Northern Territory for special assistance. The objective of this exercise is to equalise in some measure the standards of living or the way of life in various parts of Australia. It reviews the per capita relativities on which taxsharing assistance is based. In the third place it advises on the percentage distribution between States of the tax-sharing assistance to local government. The reputation of the Commonwealth Grants Commission is high. It is held by the Australian people to be a body of independence and strength and a real contributor to the financial circumstances as they are distributed in this country. Such a body is required by this legislation and, I believe, by the people of the Australian Capital Territory to inquire into the circumstances that govern the financing of works and services in the Territory. The Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly is a strong and clear supporter of this move by the Federal Government.

It is probably worth while sparing a moment or two in this debate to look at the unique character of the Australian Capital Territory. It is a part of Australia which has a number of dissimilarities to the States and the Northern Territory. The Capital Territory, of course, is peculiar in the composition of its people. About 60 per cent of the people in the Capital Territory are Commonwealth Government employees. Consequently, such revenue earning areas as payroll tax are not applicable in a very large degree. At the same time, because Canberra is the national capital it reaches, achieves and receives the plaudits of the Australian community for being a little more than just another city. Canberra has developed to the extent that it represents a little more than just another city because of its capacity and nature as the capital city of Australia. It has a very high standard of communication. It has vast and beautiful parks and gardensfacilities which are a credit to it and to Australia.

In mentioning these things I make the point that the cost of upkeep of such a place clearly would be significantly less if it did not reach for and accept standards such as it does, standards which 1 believe are necessary for a city of its nature. On the other hand, of course, we have to recognise that the mere fact that Canberra is a garden city and is the national capital makes it a considerable attraction to tourists from within Australia and without. That the city attracts a very significant number of visitors is, of course, a plus for its commercial enterprise. There are greater responsibilities on the Australian Capital Territory for being what it is. At the same time, the Australian Capital Territory's attraction to people outside probably brings in added revenue.

A method needs to be generally agreed upon for deciding the financial obligations, capacities and needs to cover the works and services of a city such as Canberra. That is exactly what this amendment Bill is all about. It seeks to give to the Commonwealth Grants Commission the job of investigating the financial needs of the works and services in the Australian Capital Territory. That the report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission be tabled and made public is acceptable to the people in the area and outside it. It is only with that sort of summary of the financial needs of the works and services in the Territory that the people who live in it can make a realistic judgment as to their ability, desire and determination to become ultimately a selfgoverning entity. The Australian Capital Territory has no separate fiscus. It is, therefore, somewhat different to all the States and the Northern Territory. As I have already said, this legislation has been referred to the Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly and has received the acceptance of that body. The Bill has also been approved by the Grants Commission itself as an appropriate piece of legislation to fit the circumstances. It has been approved by the Treasury, the Department of Finance and the Department of the Capital Territory. In other words, it seems to have a considerable degree of approval from a wide group of authorities.

There is no need to add a great deal to the words that I have spoken but I think I should refer to one or two matters that were raised by Senator Gietzelt. 1 have the feeling that he at least partially approved of the legislation before us. His criticism of it seemed to be criticism purely of degree rather than of basic intent. He was probably straying from the real objective of the legislation. The legislation intends to develop the situation in which the financing of works and services will become the province of the Grants Commission, an independent body which will make such financing public for everyone concerned to see and to analyse. The Parliamentary Counsel had received notice of the proposal to lengthen the title of the Act on a previous occasion and he considered that the title of the Bill was quite in order. One other matter to which Senator Gietzelt referred- of course it is true- is that citizens are entitled to know the costs for the financing of their city. That sort of material is available. The purpose of this legislation is so that people will know what the costs are. Its purpose is to appoint a body whose specific operation is to analyse the costing, the financing of the works and services over a very wide range in the Capital Territory.

Senator Gietzeltsays that we should remedy the omission of the Australian Capital Territory from the title of the Act. But it is not appropriate that the Australian Capital Territory should be in the title of the Act because it is not the financing of the Australian Capital Territory so much as it is the financing of the States and the Northern Territory. That is the crux of the problem. It is a report on the financing of the works and services of the Australian Capital Territory. I need only further say that the Bill was the result of a proposition put by the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott). Senator Gietzelt was concerned quite properly that the terms of reference may not be wide enough. The terms of reference that apply to the financing of the works and services of the Australian Capital Territory are extremely wide. The terms will ultimately be laid down, by agreement between the Minister for the Capital Territory, the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson), the Treasurer (Mr Howard) and the Minister for Administrative Services (Mr John McLeay). The terms of reference therefore, by nature and by design, will be extremely wide. I believe that this piece of legislation will fulfil a very necessary function for the Australian Capital Territory. It is well received in the Territory and it should be supported by this chamber.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

The Bill.







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