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Wednesday, 5 October 1983
Page: 1369

Mr HURFORD (Minister for Housing and Construction and Acting Treasurer)(3.58) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill provides for the appropriation from Consolidated Revenue of $16.9m to be paid to the Northern Territory in 1983-84 as a special assistance grant. Financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory are based on the memorandum of understanding agreed between the two governments in 1978. In accordance with arrangements set out in that memorandum, the Territory applied for a special assistance grant in respect of 1981-82 and the Commonwealth Grants Commission has now recommended that a grant of $16.9m be paid in respect of that year. The Grants Commission report on the matter has been tabled by my colleague the Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley).

To assist the Territory in its early years of self-government, the memorandum of understanding specifies an additional assistance grant for the years 1979-80 to 1984-85 inclusive, and requires that the Territory be paid, in each of those years, either a special grant or the additional assistance grant, whichever is the greater. To date, the Territory has received the additional assistance grant each year. In 1981-82 the additional assistance grant was $20m and, in 1982-83, $15m. In making its assessment of the Northern Territory's application for a special grant, the Grants Commission has, as required by the memorandum, disregarded the additional assistance grant paid in 1981-82. Thus, in effect, the Commission has assessed that the Territory required only an extra $16.9m to enable it to provide standards of government services not appreciably below the standards of the States, rather than the $20m it was actually paid by way of the additional assistance grant. The memorandum of understanding makes it clear, however, that, in deciding which grant is to be paid in any year, the comparison is to be made between the additional assistance grant specified for that year and the total amount of special grant recommended in that year. That applies regardless of the year to which the latter relates. For 1983-84, the special assistance grant specified in the memorandum is $10m and the $16.9m special grant recommended in respect of 1981-82 therefore becomes payable.

The arrangements I have just outlined were entered into by the previous Government and are, without doubt, very generous to the Territory. It should be said, however, that as time passes the case for the present treatment is altering and there will be a need for the financial arrangements with the Territory to be put on a comparable basis to those with the States. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Braithwaite) adjourned.