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Tuesday, 6 March 1973
Page: 253

Mr COOKE (Petrie) - 1 am deeply conscious of the honour which the electors of Petrie have placed on my shoulders in sending me to this House. I would be remiss if I did not pay a tribute at this early stage to the previous occupant of this seat. I was a boy in primary school when Sir Alan Hulme won the seat of Petrie shortly after the War. Sir Alan held that seat for over 20 years and gave unparalleled service to the people of Petrie. Not only did he do that; he achieved distinction in Parliament and rendered great service to the country as a Minister of State. 1 hope that the people of Petrie will continue to send me to this place so that I may emulate Sir Alan's long period of service and also retire from this House after an equally long tenure of the seat with the goodwill of the people whom I have represented for that time.

The Governor-General's Speech which was delivered last Tuesday was an interesting document. It contains for the most part slogantype promises which give nothing but the bare bones of what is proposed in the legislative programs to be placed before the House. If one looks at it casually one might be forgiven for saying that a few years ago this speech would have been made in a State parlia ment, because most of the matters of substance which are referred to in it are matters for which the Constitution gives responsibility primarily to the States. But be that as it may, the performance of the Government in delivering the goods, as it were, on its promises in the fields of domestic policy, particularly those related to urban development and urban growth, housing, transport and education will determine whether it survives for another term. It would have been better, I think, had the Governor-General prefaced his remarks by giving us some indication of the definition of terms to be used in his speech, because one notices that it gives repeated reassurances that the Commonwealth Government is to cooperate with the States; that it will co-operate with local government authorities; that it will co-operate with private schools; that it will co-operate with everybody. I have never got the word in my electorate that the Australian Labor Party was wedded to the idea of federalism; yet so much emphasis is placed on it in the Governor-General's Speech that it leads one to believe that we are entering a new era in which co-operation means something different from what we have expected in the past.

If we look at the action of this Government since it took office a few months ago co-operation may mean: 'If you do nol do what you are told you will not get any money.' In fact in Queensland we have had ample demonstrations of this up to date. We had an instant meddling by the Commonwealth in the affairs of the territorial confines of Queensland very shortly after the election. We had in addition a situation fairly recently in which the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) virtually threatened the people of Queensland with a loss of a substantial grant of money if they did not be quiet and take the Government on its face value. This is the sort of blackmail that I suspect we will see from the Government in the future. I need only remind the House that it was a great Queenslander, Sir Samuel Griffith, who drew up the Federal Constitution, and the reasons for drawing a Federal Constitution are as valid today as they were in 1901. I need only refer to the fact that the Sassenachs south of the Tweed occupy 79 seats in this House as against 18 for Queensland. We have difficulty even in getting adequate representation in sporting teams. Honourable members will find many people in Brisbane who will tell them that national rugby league teams are decided on the basis of State bias, with the predominance going to New South Wales. So if that is the position in the field of sport how much more so must it be in the field of politics? The representation of New South Wales in the new Labor Government would indicate that Queensland can expect nothing from this Government except the raw prawn.

I now turn to just one or two of the domestic policies which are briefly outlined in the Governor-General's Speech, and I turn first to the proposals on housing. As I have said, the Speech gives us nothing of the details. We have to read the newspapers to find out the intentions of the Government in the field of housing. But if we look at what the Government says in the Speech we see that it is to make money available for the States to provide leasehold houses. There were various other proposals put during the election, in Queensland at any rate, that led one to believe that the whole emphasis of this Labor Government was to be towards leasehold of land and homes rather than purchase. If you want to go on a tour of my electorate I can quite readily point out to you those homes which are leased from either the Queensland Housing Commission or private landlords because they are readily identifiable from their state of dilapidation and the rack and ruin that the gardens and the yards have gone to. If one looks at the experience of other countries, particularly the United Kingdom, where council houses have been a problem to local councils and national government alike for many, many years, it seems strange that at a time when everybody else in the world is moving away from leasehold tenure of houses as a solution to the housing problem this Government should make a giant step in that direction. After all, money paid for rent is dead money. I do not care, Sir, whether you say that people want to rent homes that they can afford because their purse cannot afford the deposit to purchase a home. It is well known that, if a person applies to the Queensland Housing Commission for a rental home and establishes his reliability in paying the rent over a period of time, and if he continues to occupy that home until he has paid in rent an amount equivalent to the deposit that is necessary, he can convert to purchasing the home. That seems to be a much more desirable solution than the course charted by the Government in simply providing leasehold houses ad nauseam for people, because the largest single investment of Australians is in their home and most people - even ordinary working people - look forward to their retirement in the knowledge that at least they will own the home in which they live. This Government would attack that principle and put young people into leasehold houses and keep them there during their working lives; and then in their retirement they would have nothing permanent that they could call their own.

While on the matter of housing, I should like to refer to suggestions that have been made to lower the interest rate payable on home finance. It is well known that the majority of finance for homes presently is provided by building societies, which have to compete with other lending institutions. The success of building societies depends upon the ready availability of money to the depositor and also upon the return he receives on his money. It is not the large financier who invests in building societies; it is the average working man who puts his savings into a building society because of the interest rate, the security and the readily accessible nature of his investment. If the rate of interest on home loans is to be artificially lowered, the vast majority of small investors in building societies will withdraw their funds because they will find alternative avenues of investment which return them much more and the housing field will suffer a crippling loss.

I should like to refer briefly to the matter of transport. This is something which concerns me very much because in my electorate we have a railway line which, under the n;:w proposals put forward by this Government, will be electrified. However, it is interesting to note that when the Prime Minister was asked, at a Press conference in Brisbane during the election campaign, what was his Party's policy on this matter, he told us that it was to electrify the railway in the northern corridor of Brisbane. Another questioner asked him where exactly was that corridor and the honourable gentleman did not know. Subsequently, in the Press, we were told that the Labor Government proposed to electrify 22 miles of railway in the northern part of Brisbane. Anyone who knows the northern part of Brisbane knows that Petrie, which is the end of the suburban line at present, is 16 miles from Brisbane; 22 miles of track would end up in the middle of nowhere. I hope that the Prime Minister has discovered exactly where the northern corridor of Brisbane is because I shall certainly be asking some questions about this matter at a later stage. The people in my electorate would certainly look forward to the provision of Commonwealth funds to assist in the electrification of the railway to Petrie. I also put forward a proposal to extend that railway line to Redcliffe, which is one of the largest residential areas adjacent to the Brisbane metropolitan area and which needs to be serviced by a railway. There is no railway to Redcliffe at the moment and the only means of access its residents have to the metropolis at present is over a somewhat antiquated highway.

I should like to refer to the question of education and the proposals which were made in the Governor-General's speech. It appears to me that the Government has its priorities the wrong way round in regard to education. It proposes an immediate relaxation of fees paid by students to universities. The Government proposes to take over all fees and to abolish them as from the beginning of 1974. Of course, this will not solve the problem of quotas and the people who are available to be educated in universities. It simply means that those who are intelligent enough to matriculate - they may not always be those in the lower income brackets - will pay no fees. It is curious that, in this session of Parliament, the Government has introduced a Bill to lower the voting age to 18 years. One might be forgiven for thinking that the abolition of university fees is simply a shoddy, political trick to endear the Government to potential voters at the next election.

As I said, the Government's priorities in regard to education appear to be wrong. If the Government wants to give equal opportunity in schooling to every child in Australia, it should concentrate on the primary field because it is there that the child takes his first steps up the education ladder. It is a well known statistical fact that 20 per cent of all primary school children have some specific learning defect, whether it is an inability to learn to read or an inability to do sums. However, only approximately 5 per cent have a severe learning difficulty. So, if these children are diagnosed early enough in primary school, they can be brought into the mainstream of education. Remedial teachers in primary school are vitally necessary if the Government is to implement its proposal to give genuine equality of opportunity to all children. If these children are diagnosed at that level of schooling they can proceed and learn as they move into the higher grades. If they are not diagnosed, it will be found that children will drop out of the educational stream because they just cannot cope with the information that is being thrust at them. We will have the drop-outs from high school who do not take advantage of the education system. So, I suggest that the Government has its priorities in the field of education the wrong way round.

I now refer to the subject of local government. I was very interested to see the reference to this matter in the Governor-General's Speech. As an old shire councillor and one who has been thrust into this rapidly expanding urban situation in the Petrie electorate, I know very well the problems of local government. The problem is to find sufficient money to carry out all those works which are required in a modern community, such as underground drainage, sewerage, water reticulation, street lights, surfacing of roads and the provision of parks. All these mundane ma t-rs must be provided by local government and money must be found. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister visited both the local authorities in the Petrie electorate and made certain promises to them. He made promises of financial assistance of which I shall remind him in due course; I expect that some action will come from the appropriate department in this regard.

It was interesting to note that in the Governor-General's Speech the only real proposal that was made to assist local government authorities was that they should be brought into the Loan Council, with a vote and a voice in the deliberations of that body. Are we to assume from that that what the Government is offering local authorities is loans? If that is so, then the Government is not going anywhere near meeting the problems that face local government. The problem of local government is to raise money. If a local authority is granted a loan, it must be repaid; and for every $50,000 worth of loan money which is raised by the Pine Rivers Shire in my electorate another cent in the dollar is added to the rates. So, this would seem to me to be a curious situation where the Federal Government is proposing to come into the field to assist local government in performing its functions adequately and the best that is being offered is simply a loan which will have to be repaid from the pockets of ratepayers.

One might hope that the Government will come forward with a proposal of direct grants, but this again leads to a danger that is unexpressed in the Governor-General's Speech. If one takes the Speech at its face value, then we are to have a virile federal system. But if one looks outside the Speech, at the performance of the Australian Labor Party over the years and at its performance since it became the Government on 2nd December, it leads one to believe that what is going to happen is that there will be a heavy concentration of power in Canberra and decisions which should properly be made at the local level by local councils and by State governments will be made by public servants in Canberra and the money will be dished out in Accordance with their subservient attitudes. If this is the case, proposals implementing that scheme will find me an implacable foe. If on the other hand the Government proposes schemes which will assist in alleviating urban problems, if it also preserves the dignity of people at the local level in allowing them an opportunity to be creative and also to take the decision themselves without any undue pressure from the centre and if the Commonwealth proposes that that should be the situation and the Commonwealth should simply be the fund-raising body for these ventures, then it will have my support.

Pear is expressed by many constituents in the Petrie electorate and other people in Queensland of the danger that their right to make decisions on matters affecting their personal lives will be transferred to Canberra. That situation will be a denial of the Constitution which, of course, apparently means nothing to the Government at the present time because it seems to have very little regard for it. The Government makes proposals without saying whether they are in conformity with the present Constitution. It may fairly be said that a constitutional convention is required to realign the responsibilities of State governments and local government with the available funds that they have to perform their tasks. I hope that in those deliberations the Commonwealth Government would approach the subject with a spirit of true federalism and would be prepared to make money available to local bodies without any strings attached so that they may make the decisions in the best interests of people in their areas.

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