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Tuesday, 15 May 1973
Page: 2061

Mr GARLAND (Curtin) - The former Government introduced into this House towards the end of last year the National Urban and Regional Development Bill and this Cities Commission Bill makes minor changes to that Act. Principally it changes the title of the Act to the Cities Commission Act. In the debate on this Bill last week my colleagues pointed out the paucity of the changes which are proposed. It is interesting to consider why it is sought to change the name of the Act in this way.I do not think we have to look any further than the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) who spent most of last year running around this country making statements - not very convincingly - about what he would do as Minister. Now, after 5 months or so in office, he comes into this House with a tiny Bill which, in the main, seeks only to change the name of the relevant authority from National Urban and Regional Development Authority to Cities Commission. But he went on and made a speech. I have a copy of the speech which he issued. It covers some 8 pages. I have read it closely and, really, I find very little in it. The impression one is left with is that of a Minister trying hard to make a case for a Bill which he has brought in to this House. He is trying hard to make a case which would indicate that he has been able to introduce a number of innovations and that he has been able to produce out of all that research and work which last year he assured us he was carrying out on behalf of the then Opposition, justification for changing the Act which the previous Government brought through the House. He wants to show that he can see a new way in which the cities can be improved on in which regional development can be carried out in the national interest as part of a larger national purpose.

On examination of the Minister's speech we find - I invite the House to read it carefully - that there is no substance of any consequence in it. My colleague the right honourable member for Higgins, the former Prime Minister, Mr Gorton, pointed this out clearly when taking the lead for the Opposition. Indeed in the course of his remarks he challenged the Minister to point out what these deep differences were. It is clear from Hansard that the Minister was not able to do that. I think a point of significance was made by the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Drummond) last Thursday night and it ought to be emphasised - that is, the clear emphasis which this Minister gives to development of the 2 big cities, Melbourne and Sydney, in which he is interested and in which I believe this Government is interested to the disadvantage of the rest of Australia. It is indicative of the Government's intentions that its concentration is on those 2 big cities which certainly have rights and which certainly need assistance but not at the expense of the rest of the country. One can see the movement of this Government towards helping those cities particularly, I emphasise, the outer suburbs of them simply because that is where, at the last election, the Government received its electoral support and not in many other regions of this country. The Australian Labour Party claims to be a great national party. This Government claims to be interested in great national purposes. But its concentration, on one issue after another, is on the 2 big cities and very little else. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) made great grandstanding of the effort that is being put into Albury-Wodonga. The arguments are not to assist that area but to alleviate the pressures on Melbourne and Sydney. No feasibility study has been carried out in respect of the expenditure which is to be poured into that region - this by a government which, when in Opposition, was at great pains to criticise the previous Government whenever expenditure was made in respect of which there had been a detailed analysis. I for one stand in this place and say that I believe that principle then enunciated by the Opposition was, in the main, correct. Yet, at the very first opportunity and in an area requiring direct and indirect expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, no feasibility study has been carried out. In particular, we have the words that have been spun by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development who, I see, has departed from the table, in spite of the fact that he is responsible for this Bill; in all that torrent of words there would seem to be a concentration on Sydney and Melbourne, and indirectly on those 2 cities by the support for the area of AlburyWodonga. It is clear that, having made that expenditure, the Commonwealth can go very little further in helping other regions which have just claims. I submit that it makes the words of the Minister hollow indeed.

Let me return to the second reading speech of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development because, as 1 said, this Bill represents the result of his work during his first 5 months in office, and, presumably, the result of the work that he did in the year or two when he was shadow minister responsible for this area. In his speech, he said: lt is the objective of the Cities Commission and my Department to make federalism work. Federalism is a partnership in a spirit of mutual co-operation at all levels of government.

Mr Speaker,you know only too well, as a member of the Government Party, the cant that is involved in that statement. Here is a government which is opposed to federalism and al] that it stands for; here is a government headed by a Prime Minister who on one occasion described the States as the greatest divisive factor in Australia today: here is a government which, without consulting the States, wishes to abolish the Privy Council appeals and which, without consulting the States, has brought into this House the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill, without any attempt at co-operation with the States. Yet the Minister for Urban and Regional Development can stand and talk about the objective being to make federalism work. So much for that statement.

This Government aims at achieving unitary government in Australia and I say in respect of this Bill, as I will in respect of many Bills that will come into this House, that this action is of the greatest danger to the small States. I take the opportunity of saying that it will affect in particular my own State of Western Australia and the State of Queensland because of the action which the Government is already taking in damaging the structure of the mineral industries of those States on which this country greatly relies for its external income.

Those are general comments which I make because I believe this Bill must be seen in the context of the objectives which the Government has shown in the broad. I return to the Minister for Urban and Regional Development. He simply must face up to the fact that, in going around this country talking as he has, he has been shown to be an active pedlar of empty words and objectives. He has attempted to conjure up a grand vision of urban and regional development and this puny result is restrictive. Throughout his remarks he has attempted to show a newness of policy, a broader policy and an initiative which he has brought to this area where, as I said, none exists. Indeed, the Minister has relied almost entirely on last year's Bill which established the National Urban and Regional Development Authority, making only a few amendments.

I should like to refer to another section of the Minister's speech in which he tried to justify the amendments which are to be made in order to show some newness of policy. He referred to an amendment which he moved in the House last year as the shadow minister, presumably having some knowledge of the subject. The Minister quoted in full this section of his remarks on the National Urban and Regional Authority Bill. It takes up half a page and I suppose that helped to fill out his address a little. He referred to the previous body as a mere investigatory and advisory body which would have no authority. He used such phrases as 'to cope with the problems of urban and regional development'; 'to deal with the continuing growth of capital cities and regional centres and to integrate plans for transportation and land use'; 'to coordinate the allocation of resources'. These are all loose and grandiose concepts. He then goes on to say, in trying to justify this Bill, that under this Bill - meaning his own - the role of the Cities Commission will be greatly strengthened. That is what the Minister says in relation to a Bill that does little but change the name from the National Urban and Regional Development Authority to the Cities Commission. With all the new advisers which the Minister now has and with his Department expanding rapidly, it is surprising to me that these comments and these policies have not taken on more of a practical aspect. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development still operates as a Minister who is just spinning words and who is a talking shop. What more of his work can there be than is contained in the Minister's second reading speech when he makes this comment:

In the speech I referred to earlier, I claimed that under this Government the National Urban and Regional Development Authority would wither on the vine. It should be clear now that, as the Cities Commission, the Authority will be playing a more active and useful role than that envisaged for it by the previous Government.

This document cannot but convince one that only very small amendments are proposed. The only change is to emphasise expenditure in the cities, which is all the Minister is interested in. Yet he seeks by mere assertion, without any backup, to make a comment which would imply that he has been able to achieve some great change and that he can see things far better and will achieve far more.

I conclude on that point. I regard this Bill simply as an attempted justification by the Minister of all the words that he has spun in the last couple of years and all the publicity he has received for the office which he now holds and in which obviously he has been given free rein for the time being. This Bill is just an attempt to show that he is achieving something practical and helpful, but really it provides only for a change of emphasis so that as funds become available they will be used for the benefit of Melbourne and Sydney and not substantially for any other regions. This will cut out the ambitions and the rights of many other regions, including rural areas and the cities and towns in Australia, which rightly are looking for some assistance in regional development. If that assistance were provided it would give them real help and would not be just words.

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