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Thursday, 24 May 1973
Page: 2609

Mr GARLAND (Curtin) - This debate is the continuation of the debate on the Grants Commission Bill. I take a much stronger view of the effect of this Bill than some of my colleagues do. I believe that the state of the federal system itself is involved. I think this matter is of such importance that it has been my desire to move an amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time. The amendment is known to my Party. I am not aware of any seconder and I have not actively solicited for a seconder. But such are the Standing Orders of this House that, because there is another amendment before the House, 1 am unable now to move my amendment because the motion before the House is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question. However I will continue to seek an opportunity to make an appropriate amendment. The Clerk has copies of it, and as far as I am concerned he may circulate them. The terms of the amendment that I foreshadow are:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: whilst recognising the need for additional funds for local government bodies in Australia, the House is of opinion that the Bill should be withdrawn and redrafted to provide that the grants scheme is compatible with the Australian Federal system and safeguards the constitutional relationship between the Commonwealth, States and local government and also ensures (i) no opportunity for circumvention of the States and (ii) the grant of additional funds to local authorities throughout Australia to the extent of not less than five per cent of Commonwealth income tax revenue within 3 years, with lesser sums available each year before then, commencing during the year 1973-74. The House further agrees that the re-drafted Bill be given adequate time for detailed examination by the Australian people and consultation by the Government with the bodies concerned, as the period of six days allowed for consideration of the present

Bill is too short a period to examine such farreaching financial proposals greatly affecting the Australian constitutional structure'.

That is my foreshadowed amendment. Today I emphasise the position of the States and the jeopardy in which this Bill puts them. The provisions in this Bill are so wide as to permit circumventing the States. Indeed, they can lead to draining the substance from the States and leaving them as shells. Step by step a government that wishes to do so can carry on and lead the States into that position. This Bill opens the possibilities of transferring administrative and practical powers from the States to chosen groups of local government authorities. That is why I say that the Federal system is at stake.

The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on behalf of his Government has made very clear his blueprint in this field. I believe he has been most straightforward about it in the last year or two. He is for a unitary government system for this country. He has not mentioned in his speeches a belief in centralism and he has not used phrases like Canberra control of what happens in every corner of Australia', but that is what unitary government means. This Government has shown a considerable tendency towards implementing unitary government in Australia. I instance what we have seen to be Government policy in a few weeks of sitting in this House. I instance the provisions of the Pipeline Authority Bill when it was introduced. It concerns more than just the building of a pipeline in Australia. It is an instrument for Federal Government control of natural gas and oil in Australia. The Senate amendments which the Prime Minister tried to wipe off and to denigrate at question time today have the full support of every member of the Liberal Party. Let that be clear. It is not support from just the senators, lt has the full support of all members of the Liberal Party. The amendments are aimed at removing the danger that that Bill presents to the States.

The Australian National Airlines Bill, as it was introduced, is an attempt at achieving more control by this Government. Look at the provisions of the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill, the provisions of the Housing legislation, the action by the Government in respect of the Privy Council and of attempts to create a viceroy instead of a GovernorGeneral in Australia. I do not quarrel with every detail in the proposals any more than I quarrel with every detail and provision in this Bill, but taken as a whole they show the clear direction of the Prime Minister and the Government. I say that the speeches of the Prime Minister are the clearest statement of what he wishes to do, of how he wishes to circumvent and to undercut the States.

Other countries have seen increasing value in having power diversified. There are illustrations of this in the United States and France. In the United Kingdom the Government in the last few weeks has announced a proposal to give seme control to the Scots. The ramifications of that have not been made fully clear but that legislation is an effort in a highly sophisticated country and it is comparable, I believe, with this one for the diversification of control - not just finance, but control. I believe that the Australian people have always wanted and will continue to want some balance of control against the exercise of power in Canberra. We know that administration away from the centre is very often - not always, but very often - more efficient, more economic, more socially effective and even wiser. A federal system, such as Australia has, does not mean that all power resides with the States. It does not mean that all power lies with the centre, in our case the Commonwealth. It means preserving a balance of power. Yet this Government has an open desire to upset that balance and to break the States. This proposed legislation is the most striking method of taking away the powers of the States without direct constitutional change and to that extent it is dishonest.

I listened yesterday afternoon with great care to the speeches. I will speak first of the speech made by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren), who is seated at the table. He spoke in very broad terms. He said that this Bill is historic and far-reaching. In that observation I could not agree with him more, but he went on to talk very broadly. He used the phrase 'better use of resources', whatever that means. His whole speech, as I said to him in another debate on a similar subject, was just a lot of word spinning to cover up, I believe, the deep purposes involved. It sought to cover them up with a lot of vague propaganda. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) spoke on this Bill before the Minister or Urban and Regional Affairs. 1 listened to him most attentively and I agree strongly with what he had to say in his arguments about the States. There was one very important incident in his speech. He said:

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.

I quite agree. He made a few more comments and he drew the Minister for Urban and Regional Development into saying by way of interjection:

It is not bypassing the Stales.

The Leader of the Opposition went on to challenge the Minister to say in his reply exactly what he meant by that interjection. He did not do so. The important point is that it does not matter what the Minister says in this House. It does not matter what assurances he gives. What matters is the provisions in this Bill. That is what guides the courts. That is what will confine the conduct of this Government and future governments. That is the clear law. There is no legal authority who will say that what is said in speeches or what is someone's intention has any weight whatever, and the Minister should know that.

I referred in my foreshadowed amendment to the grant of additional funds for local authorities. I want to say as clearly as I can that I recognise the great financial difficulties and needs which local government bodies have. That is the reason why I have included this provision which is based on a request by the local authorities themselves, lt is often said by the Prime Minister that State boundaries are outdated. The Prime Minister has said many times that he would see the formation of new boundaries and new regions. If boundaries are outdated - and he is yet to prove his case that he can get a better sei - clearly any new boundaries will become cut of date at some future time. One can always point out some anomaly by a line drawn or a regulation which finishes at a point. I take that argument as cheap.

We are dealing with deep matters. I will not say that the terms that I have drawn in this amendment, necessarily with some haste, are in fact as accurate and deeply researched as I would like them to be. I have drawn the amendment up and I put it to this House because I regard this matter so seriously and because I want to indicate how strongly I feel about the position of local government authorities which are entitled, I believe, to an obligation to receive specific and well defined funds in exchange for the realisation that the existing States have rights which must be preserved. In such far-reaching proposals it is just not possible to anticipate every aspect. I think it is important for local government authorities to realise, too, that they will not get any more autonomy under these proposals. This Government and the Labor Party have no generosity when it comes to other bodies having power and influence. I make the prediction that if this legislation is passed local government authorities will build up a reliance on the Federal finance they will receive from this source and then, in practice, come under the full influence of Canberra in every detail of their administration. Anyone who has seen help given by the Federal Parliament previously in that direction will know just in what detail the Canberra Ministers, on the recommendation of their departments, will involve themselves. The Labor Party welcomes all that. It is in accord with its principles and it has said it openly; so I do not criticise its behaviour in that way.

I conclude, having spoken deliberately, by saying that I view this as a matter of the utmost importance to the nation. I believe that the consequences are not fully realised across the nation or in the councils of the States. This great matter has been given hardly any treatment in the media. But I believe that when the consequences are realised, however long that takes, a deep and angry reaction rightly will be the result.

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