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Thursday, 10 November 1983
Page: 2642

Mr BRAITHWAITE(9.55) —Over the last six months I have travelled rather extensively through the Northern Territory as part of my responsibilities as shadow Minister for northern development and local government. What has appalled me in these visits is the cavalier attitude being taken by this Labor Government towards the Northern Territory in its breaking of promise after promise and the negativism of its elected representative, the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Reeves), who has become purely an apologist for the Labor Government in Canberra. All I can say is thank goodness for Senator Bernie Kilgariff who, being a member of the other place, is able to give voice to the real concerns of the Northern Territory in Canberra because they are not being properly expressed by its member in the House.

The reference in the mini-Budget by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) that the Northern Territory was generously treated properly reflects Labor's whole attitude to the Northern Territory. Firstly, I refer to the infamous decision to torpedo the Darwin-Alice Springs railway. An undertaking by the Fraser Government and a promise by the Labor Party was that the Commonwealth would contribute to the whole of the costs, as it did towards the South Australian section of the line. What happened to that is now history. It was replaced by a promise to spend $5m on a review which will specifically not take into account the defence advantages of that railway link. The Labor Government reasons that when the report is available it will take into account the defence factors. Let us look at Labor's record on this aspect of defence. It has scrapped the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, phased out the fixed-wing aircraft, taxed the reserve forces pay, reduced the defence personnel and scrapped the army cadets and the North Queensland Military Band.

What hope is there for any sympathy for Labor towards Northern Territory defence? Absolutely none. As far as I am concerned, the $5m is only window dressing. The uranium decision last Monday was purely a political decision and not one based on a principle or a policy. The decision means that uranium mining at Jabiluka and Koongarra mines and those in South Australia and Queensland, apart from those specifically excluded, is now completely stymied. Even though there is fairly common agreement among leaders of the Aboriginal Land Councils in favour of uranium mining, Labor has stopped Northern Territory production of uranium in midstream. It is a decision aimed directly at disadvantaging every Northern Territorian, the same result that eventuated from the scrapping of the Alice Springs-Darwin railway line.

How can the Northern Territory become truly independent if Labor denies it an industry that moves it towards economic independence and an opportunity for employment and population growth, a prejudiced decision forced on the Northern Territory people by the left-wing, radical, communist backed section of the Labor Party? Compensation for such loss is being sought. I suggest that no one in the Northern Territory hold his breath on this, for one has only to look at the Franklin Dam compensation promises or to ask any Tasmanian to see the pittance that this Labor Government will offer. Yet the honourable member for the Northern Territory on Tuesday of this week defended in this House the no- extension uranium decision of the Government and the loss of thousands of jobs at those new developments.

The Canberra government looks as though it is also ready to muscle in on the very carefully arranged financial arrangements between the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth set at the time of self-government. For instance, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding), has said that he would seek a change in those financial arrangements so that funds could be taken from the Northern Territory and given to Aboriginal communities to pay for water and electricity. Clearly this is in contravention of what was arranged with the Territory Government in 1978. In addition to this, the Federal Treasurer said in June that the Northern Territory may be included in a review of State taxation sharing relativities. From the manner in which this Government intervenes in these matters and in view of Labor's pre-conceived impression that the Northern Territory is generously treated, the Northern Territory is in no doubt that such a review would mean only a slash in the Northern Territory's tax-sharing arrangements. But these actions are equivalent to tearing up the constitutional arrangements that exist between the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth. This is a massive repudiation of the principle of allowing the Northern Territory Government the right to govern itself.

I am not sure whether all these interventions are a result of the claims made by the honourable member for the Northern Territory about that Government with respect to the spending of Territory funds. All I can say about that is that the highly respected Commonwealth Grants Commission received the claim from the Territory for the 16.9 per cent special appropriation and the Commission recommended its payment. Like all public expenditure, this is subject to the Auditor-General's report that the Government is spending its funds on the purpose for which they were allocated, and the Auditor-General has been so satisfied.

There is evidence of other discrimination by this Federal Labor Government. For instance, the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund apparently advised the proponents of a tourist hotel of 300 rooms in Alice Springs that it could not finance it because it already had too many hotels in its portfolio. Yet I understand the same fund intends financing a large hotel in Canberra. I ask the Minister responsible to look urgently at this complaint because if the government accepts such a proposition the people of the Territory can only assume, as they do at the moment, that this Federal Labor Government is out to strangle them and to stifle what is an infant tourist industry at the moment.

Debate interrupted.