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Wednesday, 23 May 1973
Page: 2519

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - 1 thank the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) who moved that the previous debate be adjourned to enable me to speak on this Bill now. I appreciate the courtesy. This Bill is very significant, not merely for what it does but for what it can do. It should properly be divided into 2 sections, the first relating to the good it can do and the second relating to the bad it can do. I propose to deal with both aspects. But first I want to describe the way in which I understand, from my reading of the Bill, it will operate. The Grants Commission Act has lasted for very many years. Under it States, which are often called the mendicant States, have been able to go to the Grants Commission and point out how they have suffered from the lack of services to their citizens.

It is very important that this project had been undertaken because that is the way in which we have obtained equality for people throughout the whole of Australia. In this sense Australia is different from most other countries which have distinct regional differences - whether they are province or State differences or whatever is the political subdivision - in their standards. Australia does not have those differences. It is a remarkable factor of Australia when compared with other countries. A very great deal has been done through the Australian Loan Council and the Premiers' Conferences and especially through the operations of the Grants Commission. The Act is now to be repealed by this Bill. The new Grants Commission to be set up under the Bill will deal not only with States but also with local governing bodies.

Clause 5 of the Bill, a short clause, reads:

References in this Act to the grant of special assistance to a State are references to the grant of financial assistance to a State for the purpose of making possible for the State, by reasonable effort, to function at a standard not appreciably below the standards of other States.

On a reading of the Bill it seems to me to be clear that the old concepts of the Grants Commission will be maintained, for that was the test that has been applied in the Grants Commission. Therefore, it will continue to have the effect of equalling out between the States the services which the States give and will prevent the creation of great divergencies of standards between people resident in different States. I accept that there is no essential change in that matter. Therefore I do not intend to say any more on that aspect.

However, clause 6 of the Bill is a very significant clause, lt is the clause which enables the local government bodies to come to the Grants Commission. It has 3 . subclauses. The first is one which enables the Commission, in looking at a regional body and making recommendations about it, to give an equality between the regional bodies approved so that a regional body can provide services by reasonable efforts of its own which equate with the services provided by other regional bodies which are not declared as regional bodies and which therefore do not have access to the Grants Commission. To put it in its simple form, the idea of it is to create equality between, for example, municipality A which is unable to rate at a level which would provide the services, because of the low value of the properties, because of drought or because of the great distances that are involved in the municipality, and a small, relatively highly valued inner surburban area such as Kew, if the citizens of Kew do not mind my using them as an example, where the rate is high because the values are high and where demographically the people are at higher age levels and the municipality is an older one in which all the services have been provided over a period of time. That is the basic point about granting local government bodies access to the Grants Commission.

The other 2 paragraphs are the necessary corollaries to that. Paragraph (b) provides that there should be a balance between each of the local government bodies in the agreed areas, so that if one regional body is approved the services it provides ought to equate with those provided by another regional body which is approved, so that we get equality. The necessary third corollary is that there be balance between the individual municipalities that make up the region so that municipality A is equivalent to muncipality B, and provided they take reasonable self-help decisions there should be equality within the region.

That is the basis upon which we must approach this legislation. In approaching it, however, one needs to know what is an approved regional body. It is a term that we know not in Commonwealth legislation. It is, as a term, something which needs definition to tell us what it is. We may think of a region as the region of Murchison, the region of Broken Hill or of Gippsland. But what is the region for the purposes of this Bill? The way in which one finds that is to go to clause 17 of the Bill, because the definition at the commencement of the Bill says that an approved regional organisation means an organisation or body that is approved under section 17. I believe that in clause 17 we find a major fault in the legislation.

Clause 17 of the Bill says that the Minister for Urban and Regional Development may by instrument in writing approve an organisation or body that represents or acts on behalf of the local governing bodies established in a region as an approved regional organisation. So primarily the approved regional organisation is not a local government body. It is some other creature created for the purpose of representing or acting for a group of local government bodies, ft may be called the Murray Valley Development League, it may be called the Citizens Progress for a New State, it may be called any sort of thing; but if the Minister decides to approve it it becomes a body that can receive money, how much money depending upon the will of the Grants Commission and the decision of the States. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development quite clearly is not equipped to make this decision, not because of any personal characteristics of the honourable gentleman but simply because as a Minister in the Commonwealth Government he cannot have the information necessary to make that judgment. There is only one place where any such judgment can be made, and that is in the States. The States would be obviously the correct authorities to decide what should be an approved regional authority.

The Prime Minister in introducing this Bill used these words:

The grouping of authorities into regions and the approval of regional organisations will be carried out in full consultation with the States.

There is no reference in the Bill to consultation with the States. Quite clearly there must be consultation. This morning during question time 1 drew the attention of the Prime Minister to this deficiency in the Bill and he indicated that if I could provide a proposed amendment he would consider it.

Mr Whitlam - Would the Leader of the Opposition like me to intervene at this stage?


Mr Whitlam - by leave - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) asked me in question time about this matter, and since then he has let me have a copy of the amendments which he will move in Committee. Three of them suggest the insertion of the words 'after consultation with the appropriate Minister of the State concerned' in the relevant clauses of the Bill. We will accept those words which he proposes to insert in those clauses. At this stage might I say that I would still like to consider the fourth amendment, which would require the Commission to report not only to the Federal Minister but to the appropriate Minister of the State concerned. I have some doubt as to whether that should be incorporated in the legislation. I am not sure whether, because the Commission is appointed by Federal authorities, one should require the Federal authority to report to a State Minister. Let me consider that, and perhaps the Leader of the Opposition and I might discuss it. I tell him that we will accept the 3 amendments which suggest that the words after consultation with the appropriate Minister of the State concerned' should be inserted.

Mr SNEDDEN - I thank the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) for making that indication to me. I appreciate it. I will be glad if he further considers the fourth of the proposed amendments. While he is considering that I would be grateful if he would also consider a matter which I feel is a fault in the legislation but which, because I did not raise it at question time this morning, I had not pursued. I now raise it in accordance with my intention during the course of my speech. Under the clauses of the Bill the Minister for Urban and Regional Development may by instrument in writing approve an organisation. An instrument in writing is a method by which an organisation can be approved. I readily acknowledge that that is a method by which it could be done, but for reasons which I hope to point out later this Bill must not be allowed to do more than what the Prime Minister in his second reading speech said he intended it to do.

I do not want, and I am sure the Prime Minister in no circumstances would want, some future government to use this Bill as an instrument for patronage to individual municipal councils. It does have in it that capacity. For instance, an approved regional authority. while it is a body which represents or acts for a group, can under the terms of clause 17 of the Bill be a single municipal authority. It would therefore be possible to pick out municipality XYZ and the Minister whoever he may be at the time, could by instrument in writing, make it an approved regional organisation and then give it patronage for political purposes. I put it to the Prime Minister that the correct way in which this should be done is in such a way that it has the supervision of Parliament. With the supervision of Parliament the correct way is to do it by way of regulation and there would be a capacity for debate and it could be argued that it is being done for patronage if that is what some future government - and I am sure it is clear to the Prime Minister-


Mr SNEDDEN - I appreciate that. It will be moved by somebody on this side of the House that the words 'by regulation' be substituted for the words 'by instrument in writing'.

Mr Whitlam - The consequence being that if either House objected to the regulation it could be disallowed.

Mr SNEDDEN - That is right. I thank the Prime Minister for that interjection. I come now to applications for assistance. The application is to be direct from the approved regional organisation to the Minister. The Minister concerned is the Special Minister of State. That does not appear from the legislation but it does appear from the second reading speech and no doubt the administrative arrangements order will so provide for the Special Minister of State to be the recipient of the application. The Minister will then send a copy of it to the appropriate State Minister. The appropriate State Minister is the State Minister who is prescribed.

If I may claim the attention of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) and the Prime Minister for a moment, there is another matter that I wish to raise. The first definition in clause 4 defines 'appropriate Minister' as follows: appropriate Minister', in relation to a State, means such Minister of the Crown of that State as is prescribed . . .

I would not want to think that the Federal Government would go to the point of prescribing the State Minister. This surely must be a matter for the States to decide. I am. sure that the Prime Minister would agree with that.

Mr Whitlam - I certainly accept that. I am not sure what wording should be used. I imagine it would be some such wording as the Premier notifies the Prime Minister'.

Mr SNEDDEN - Something of that order. A copy of the application goes to the Minister, the Minister being the Special Minister for State. Clause 18 (3) provides that the Minister - that is whoever the Minister may be and at the present time it is Senator Willesee - may, in his discretion, refer to the Commission for inquiry and report the application that has been received. Normally I am very reluctant to give unlimited discretions especially discretions of this kind to a Minister but on this occasion I will not say to the Prime Minister: 'I would like you to take away that discretion', because if the Government feels that the discretion ought to lay there all I can say is jolly good luck to the man with the discretion because he will be under enormous pressures. It will be a terrible job. The Minister will have great pressures on him. He will be asked: 'Why did you not refer this?' It will be said: 'You must refer it'. The pressures on him will be such that if I were Senator Willesee I would be saying: Please do not give me this discretion'. But I leave it no higher than that at this time.

Mr Whitlam - What I will have to suffer is the Tariff Board.

Mr SNEDDEN - There will be a lot of suffering done. The point I ought to draw attention to is that there will now be direct access from local governing bodies to the Grants Commission so that there will be direct access upwards from the local governing authorities to the Federal authority, the Federal authority being the Grants Commission. On the downward thrust, that is the money coming down, it still will have to go through the States because there is no other way to get the money to the local governing bodies except by a section 96 grant. It is important to remember that a section 96 grant will have to be approved by the Commonwealth Parliament and it is very important in assessing this Bill to make that clear in our minds. This Parliament will retain ultimate authority as it ought to have over the distribution of monies under this Bill.

The Commission is to consist of a chairman and 4 to 6 members. The chairman will have administrative functions including assigning members. There is a of 6 members plus the chairman and a minimum of 4 members. If this Commission composed of 5 to 7 members can do the job and do it quickly and actually get the money to the local governing bodies then I will pay full tribute to them. But I feel that there will be a very long slow process before any product comes out of this Commission. I say in passing that I am very glad that Sir Leslie Melville has agreed to stay on as Chairman of this body. Sir Leslie Melville is an outstanding Australian. He has made a very great contribution to Australia and will continue to do so at least until September of next year. The Commission will have a very consuming task. The examinations will be slow. It will have to evolve standards and those standards will be very difficult to achieve because in order to make a recommendation as to special grants the Commission will have to consider what is an appropriate rating level, not just a rating level across the whole of the Commonwealth for all municipal bodies.

It will have to make decisions as to what is an appropriate rating to ensure that a municipality by its own reasonable efforts is contributing to the amount of services it can give. It will have very many sub-divisions of the level- of rating. It will also have very many sub-divisions of the level of service which municipalities should provide. For example, there will be the level of service in a scattered municipality as compared with the level of service for a confined metropolitan municipality. The Commission will have to particularise and it will take a very long time before it can establish criteria. I cannot express any confidence that there will be a quick flow of money to the municipalities. But we must assume that the Commission will do the job. In doing the job no doubt the members of the Commission will have regard to the differences between local government bodies. They will not be able just to strike a common rate for the purposes of this exercise by making a judgment on comparisons. If they did that it would be a capricious use of land values. For we all know the differences in land values whether the land be in the cities, country towns or scattered areas.

There are also very definite demographic structures. I have quite clearly in my mind the difference between the demographic structure of the City of Kew and the demographic structure of the City of Waverley within my own electorate. The City of Kew has older people than the City of Waverley. In Waver ley there are very many children. They are the children of parents who have bought their own houses and they have mortgages and repayments to meet. They are at the early stages of repayment and therefore will find the burden of meeting repayments much heavier than will those people who borrowed perhaps half the amount of money on mortgage 20 years ago and whose outgoings today are significantly less and whose capital appreciation on the house has been very great over the 20 years. So the demographic structure and the value of property makes a very big difference. In the inner city there are vast differences, for instance, between the City of Melbourne and the City of Fitzroy in the provision of services and what should be a proper level of service. In the outer metropolitan area there is a difference, for instance, between Kew and Knox. There are rural cities with surrounding shires. There cannot be common rating values in those instances. There cannot be the same standard of services required of both yet presumably if there is to be a regional body within the one region it will be the City of Benalla and the area outside it, or the City of Bendigo and the shires outside it, or the City of Wagga and so on.

One of the good things that this can do is to provide an opportunity to correct differences that come about for reasons beyond the control of people, because of the demographic difference in structure, the age structure, the value structure. Another very important thing, especially for rural areas, is that in case of drought or when an industry leaves an area - perhaps it is a manufacturing industry in a country town - or when an industry such as the canned fruit industry strikes trouble, the ratepayers have great difficulty meeting their commitments. One point which needs to be made abundantly clear is that the money will be coming out of the same pocket. This Bill is merely redistributing it. That is essentially what it is doing. However, the redistribution can contribute to social and welfare progress in municipal areas in terms of halls, libraries, swimming pools, community welfare centres, the community nurse nursing service, the family planning centre and so on. The bad features of the Bill, not that they will be realised immediately, but the way in which they can become bad, is by an erosion of the States, and if that happens the federal compact which we have and which is the basis of Australia's constitutional structure will be destroyed. It must not erode the States merely to erect in their place administrative units which lead to the atrophy of the States and their ultimate abolition. I spoke earlier of another possible bad effect and that is of patronage if they are selected out, but I hope that will now be cured. The amendment will certainly do what it can to prevent it happening.

In terms of the public administration we must think of the policy distribution of government function. Policy distribution lies between the Commonwealth, State and local governments. It is a fundamental principle of public administration that administration should take place as close to the people as is possible consistent with good administration. It is also clear that policy areas must differ. Some of the policy decisions need to be taken close to people, other policy decisions need to be taken more in the centre of the federal system in Canberra. If this Bill is wrongly used, it will result not only in bad constitutional practice but also in bad public administration principles for it will move to the centre all policy decisions and the States will cease to be involved with policy. All policy decisions could be made in Canberra, and Canberra quite clearly is not a place in which proper policy decisions which affect local government areas can be taken. Clearly it cannot be. If policy becomes remote and moves away from the area where people are receiving the administration of the policies decided upon, it can be guaranteed that there will be a breakdown in administration. It can be guaranteed that the policy decisions will prove to be wrong, at least in some instances, and that as time goes on will become progressively more wrong.

Australia has 13 million people today but by the turn of the century it will have a minimum of 22 million. Whatever may seem attractive as a means of public administration or constitutional structure today will no longer be so in the year 2000 with a population of over 20 million. By half a century from now it is likely that the population of Australia will not be 22 million but will be approaching 35 million. In a major continent like ours, the concept of all policy decisions being taken in Canberra is frightening for the plain fact of the matter is that because a public servant works in Canberra he has no monopoly on knowledge, wisdom and policy initiatives.

What we need to do is ensure that the first units, the States, remain a fundamental political entity in our Australian Constitution. I have a totally opposite view to that of the Prime Minister in this respect. In answer to a question yesterday the Prime Minister said that he is a unionist and is looking for a unitary constitution. I say clearly that I and my Party favour a federal constitution. There can be no doubt about where we stand on that. As we develop our population, decentralisation and regional development must be real. We on this side have a commitment to that. The Country Party and the Liberal Party as a government set about regional development and urban improvement. It will take an immense amount of money and we must succeed in it. If we are to succeed in regional development, it is certainly true that we need the co-operation and assistance of State governments and we need them as units in political administration. (Extension of time granted). I thank the House. Decentralisation and regional development must be real. Local government needs adequate finance and adequate staff for the demands of people living in local government areas are very often directed principally to the local government body. We all know the honorary services of local government councillors and the number of hours they put into their work trying to solve problems in the provision of services. As time goes on local government bodies will need to provide more and more services. This is true across the whole spectrum of government and is no less true of local government. For them to respond adequately to the need for improvement in our living standards and social structure they must have finance and staff. There must also be strong citizen participation in local government and in that strong citizen participation we want those councillors and citizens to engage themselves in policy, not to be simply the administrative fingernail of the long finger and arm stretching out from the policy decisions taken beside Lake Burley Griffin. That will not work to the interests of the Australian people.

What we want the Federal Government to do is to produce a comprehensive policy rather than piecemeal elaboration through a series of Bills. We want consultation with the States for the local government bodies are created by the States. The States have the power to group them into more economically efficient areas. They have the responsibility to limit the rating powers of local government. They have the responsibility to empower local government to carry out services. The local government bodies need rating relief. Rating is becoming an increasing burden especially in rural areas and in the outer metropolitan suburban areas. The States are an essential part of this. The fact is that in this Bill there is a bypassing of the States, and in passing the money down this Parliament becomes watchdog for it. The direct approach from the local government bodies or the approved regional council - I note that the Minister for Urban and Regional Development shook his head when I said that-

Mr Uren - It is not bypassing the States.

Mr SNEDDEN - I am glad to have the assurance that it is not bypassing the States. This is a most important assurance to have. I ask the Minister when he responds in this debate to set out in detail the way in which the States will be brought into this so that there will not be open the accusation that the Federal Government is bypassing the States. I ask the Minister to do that when he responds and to spell it out in detail. What we need to have is a full comprehensive policy. It will be a major purpose of my Party to develop this full comprehensive policy which will fit local governments into their correct perspective consistent with the correct constitutional and political responsibility of the States in relation to the Commonwealth. The 3 tiers of government must be real because the people of Australia look to any one of the 3 tiers for their services; they do not differentiate between them. We must have the clear responsibility stated and those who have the responsibility must have the power to carry it out. There would be great value in a Green Paper so that the Australian people can assess what is the overall intent of the Labor Government's policy in this area.

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