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Tuesday, 18 March 1980
Page: 737


Senator GIETZELT (New South Wales) - I suggest that perhaps the three amendments, which are probably in the process of being circulated, be dealt with together because they express the principles stated by the Opposition during the second reading debate and they are consequential one upon the other. Therefore I seek leave to move the three amendments together.

Leave granted.


Senator GIETZELT - I move:

(   1 ) Page 1, after clause 2, insert the following new clause: 2a. The long title of the Principal Act is amended by adding 'and the financing of the Australian Capital Territory".'.

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(2) Page 2, clause 3, lines 4 and 5, leave outfinancing of works and services provided in respect of. insert 'receipt and expenditure of public funds within'.

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(3) Page 2, clause 3, proposed section 16b, sub-section (2), leave out the sub-section, insert the following new sub-section:

(2 ) In sub-section (1 ),receipt and expenditure of pub lic funds includes all aspects of public finance whether of a type normally provided or collected by Commonwealth, State or local governments either together or separately.".'.

After clause 2 I would seek to add clause 2a which would include the wordsand the financing of the Australian Capital Territory', because in the original Act the Commonwealth Grants Commission had the capacity to examine the finances of the States and of the Northern Territory, but that had not hitherto been part of the responsibility of the Grants Commission. Now the Commission will probably be advised- it is at the whim of the Minister- that there should be a new section added which will give it the capacity to examine the finances of the Australian Capital Territory.

I appreciate what the Minister said in reply to the second reading debate, that government agencies have given their approval to the Bill. They believe that the terms of reference will be broad enough because the Ministers concerned will set up the terms of reference so that they will embrace all of the aspects that ought to be examined when we look at the financing of all of the works and services in the Australian Capital Territory. I think that perhaps the Minister is being wrongly advised when he is told that the terms of reference relate only to the goods and services that are normally in the areas of State and local government responsibility. As we are aware there are services in Canberra which are beyond the scope of local and State governments. We are concerned with the information being widely understood and widely available. In that respect I would have thought that the Government would have been sympathetic to the Opposition's amendment because of what I believe to be a common belief in this place about the need for information. The principles embodied in the Freedom of Information Bill provide that information shall be readily available for citizens to comprehend and to have access to it. Limitations are placed upon the information as embodied in the Bill, whereas our amendment opens the door completely to a full range inquiry into all of the funding arrangements in the Australian Capital Territory.

In respect to the Commonwealth Grants Commission activities, the Premiers Conference and the Loan Council, the finances of the States are examined in great detail. There is not one aspect of State finances that is not under the scrutiny of the Commonwealth Government and the Treasury. The Grants Commission finally makes allocations of funds on the way in which it considers the States operate their own internal financial affairs. So there is no problem of a public ventilation. As we know, at the annual meeting of the Loan Council the Australian Government makes available certain sums of loan moneys for public works infrastructure. We are aware that on the last occasion, I think for the first time, the Commonwealth Government agreed that the States could raise loan moneys overseas for infrastructure development within various State boundaries. It did so on the basis of a full ventilation and understanding of the manner in which State finances were examined by Commonwealth authorities.

If it is good enough to do it at that level then it is on the basis of that information being freely available that the Commonwealth Grants Commission then determines the priorities of funding to make up a levelling of arrangements in respect of the States own internal finances as they relate to Federal grants. Surely we are not asking too much to suggest that the same openhandedness, evenhandedness and open book principles ought to exist in respect of what inquiry will be undertaken in the Australian Capital Territory. That is why we have suggested deleting the words financing of works and services provided in respect of and placing instead the wordsreceipt and expenditure of public funds within' the Australian Capital Territory. There is subsidisation and functions are carried out by the Commonwealth which are not available to the States that go beyond the normal Commonwealth-State relations. I think that honourable senators will agree with me that when a proper inquiry is conducted on the basis of all the information that is available, so often the problem is not the refusal to provide information but having so much information that one is not able to have it readily available or to have the capacity to understand and comprehend such information readily. That is a problem which members of Parliament have. I am sure it is a problem which officers of the Senate have from time to time. The difficulty is to have the information readily available and understandable. So much more is that necessary from the point of view of the citizen.

One would have thought that in this piece of legislation no objection would be raised to having the information freely available. Of course, in the same manner we suggest that deletion of proposed sub-section (2) and the insertion of the words: receipt and expenditure of public funds' includes all aspects of public finance whether of a type normally provided or collected by Commonwealth, State or local governments either together or separately.

Whilst I appreciate that the Minister did meet me somewhat on this matter, he has not satisfied me that he has been properly advised. The sort of information that we are seeking here is that which has been agitated for by the Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly. The information we are seeking here is such that we can use it to answer questions in public forums about what citizens outside Canberra believe is a misuse of financial resources in the national capital.

All speakers in the debate do not agree with the generally held view that Canberra has more funds available for community facilities than other parts of Australia. That is a view commonly held. I certainly cannot put my finger precisely on the information to disabuse that view. In fact, the further from Canberra one travels, the more one finds the criticism that Canberra is some sort of a hothouse, a special little place or a unique experiment. In the back blocks of Queensland and Western Australia or in the farflung parts of our Commonwealth that criticism is expressed constantly. It is difficult for us to have in one report the type of information which we believe this Bill ought to encompass. I refer to information not just relating to goods and services that are normally provided by local government and State government but also to those provided by the Commonwealth in the unique way in which it makes funds available here.

For example, funds are made available for housing in Canberra which are not readily available in other parts of the Commonwealth. I am not talking of the war service housing schemes. I am talking of the generous rates at which housing loans are made available and about the way in which much of the development costs are borne by the Commonwealth in respect of overall development in the Australian Capital Territory. The Commission, which we are asking to carry out an inquiry, ought to have the opportunity to look at every aspect. In those circumstances, we believe that the amendment that we have moved is in line with public opinion. It is in line with principles of freedom of information. It is certainly in line with our philosophy that governments ought to make available to citizens the sort of information that will enable value judgments to be made, free of all the prejudices that currently exist about development inside the Australian Capital Territory. I urge that mature consideration be given to the amendment I have moved.

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The second amendment refers to the 'receipt and expenditure of public funds within' and the final amendment refers to 'receipt and expenditure of public funds', including aspects of public finance, whether of a type normally provided or collected by the Commonwealth, State or local governments, either together or separately. The suggestion that we should incorporate receipts and expenditure instead of works and services is in my view and the view of the Government a more restrictive circumstance. It is on that ground that I find it not possible to accept the amendments that the Opposition has moved to this Bill.

Amendments negatived.

Bill agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.







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