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Thursday, 23 August 1973
Page: 308

Mr GORTON (Higgins) - At the outset 1 wish the thank the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) for having made available to me yesterday a copy of the speech which he delivered today.

But having said that, I would like to point out to him, in case he has not noticed it, that there is in today's 'Australian Financial Review' a complete breakdown of the moneys proposed to be distributed by the Minister and his Department - a greater breakdown even than that which appears in the Minister's speech today. I suggest that it is not treating this House with really proper consideration for these matters to be given to the newspapers and published in the newspapers before the opportunity to debate them in this House arises.

Mr Uren - I can assure you that these details were not given to any newspapers by me or my office.

Mr GORTON - The Minister has indicated that the details were not given to the newspapers by him or by anyone of whom he knows, and I accept that, but I think that the greatest of care should be taken to see that this does not in fact happen. The Opposition does not object to the general principles enunciated in this statement. I put aside some of the remarks which I would regard as political sniping and which I think neither affect the proposals in the statement nor adorn the speech. Rather, I want to get down to a consideration of the actual principles themselves. There are some matters to which I think we can raise objection not in principle but in the method of operation. There are other areas in which I believe we need a good deal more information than in fact has been provided to this House so far.

We do not object to the principle of creating new regional cities, nor do we object to the idea of creating system cities which, in the speech, are described as being on the fringes of the existing metropolitan areas. I trust that they would be a reasonable distance away and that the fringe would not be too narrow. Of course, we do not object to the principle of improving the facilities in the existing cities of Melbourne and Sydney which we agree are overcrowded and arc growing too fast, and their growth ought to be diminished. Nor, of course, can any reasonable man have any objection to studies being carried out in various parts of Australia in order to seek to decide where the best opportunities are provided to establish new cities or where the best areas are in the vicinity of existing cities. I hope the Minister will realise that these studies, which I am glad to see will be tabled in this House, are not necessarily to be accepted by this House as being the last definitive word on the matter; but that they will be regarded purely as a starting point for discussion which has been arrived at by consideration by people who have studied in this field.

There are a number of other matters to which I would like to refer. The first one is the statement - and it is a clear statement - that 'subject to the areas selected for assistance in this program being acceptable to the various State governments, and subject to mutually acceptable arrangements for it being worked out between the Australian Government and respective State governments, the national Government is allocating $33m in its new city program as repayable loans'. I would like the House to consider why this money is being provided in the form of repayable loans. It is almost certain that the money will not be raised on the market as a loan but that it will come from revenue collected by the Commonwealth Government. In our previous discussions with the States on CommonwealthState financial relations, one of the valid objections made by the States - and sometimes they did have a valid objection - was that the Commonwealth had, for a long time, been collecting money in the form of revenue, making it available under the name of a loan to the States, and charging the States interest on that money - thereby greatly increasing the cost to the States of anything on which that money was spent - and pretending that it was only loan money when in fact it was not. We, as a Government, were so impressed by this argument that we embarked on a program of relieving the States of the charges on some $ 1,000m of the money which had been provided from revenue by way of a loan.

This to me seems to be a retrograde step. It seems to me to be a step which is going back to the idea of collecting money from revenue, pretending it is loan funds and charging interest on it, thereby raising the cost - and it will raise the cost - of establishing cities, and raising the cost to everybody who lives in those cities after they are established. I do not know what interest rate will be charged - we have not been told that - but let us suppose that a rate of 6 per cent is charged. It is quite clear that on this first advance of $33m and on the future advances which will be required if this idea of making this money repayable loans is to be adhered to, there will be a great increase in cost to the cities and it will be a retrograde step on the part of the Commonwealth-State financial relations.

I seriously suggest to the Government that not only in this field - I now express a personal opinion when I go beyond this field - but also in many other fields of Government expenditure - whether it is done by the Federal Government or by a State government with money provided out of revenue and where there is no competition in the establishment of such facilities, private enterprise competing with the Government - the Government could well consider going much further in providing grants rather than interest payable loans. I believe that in this case this should certainly be something that the Government does. It is one great defect in the statement.

The second thing that disturbs me is what is contained in the same paragraph of the statement to which I have referred. It states: . . subject to mutually acceptable arrangements . . . being worked out between the Australian Government and respective State governments . . .

But we are not told precisely or even generally - except in a very general way - what arrangements would be acceptable to the Commonwealth. They have to be mutally acceptable. But what would be acceptable to the Commonwealth? If we are to take what has happened in this field in Western Australia as an indication of What would be acceptable to the Commonwealth, then I believe that this House should not give such a b ank cheque because I believe that what has happened in this field in Western Australia is an infringement on the proper and just rights of individual Australian citizens and is completely bad in principle. There has been introduced in Western Australia, through the Western Australian Parliament, by a Government of the same persuasion as the Commonwealth Government and I believe - I may be wrong - as a result of discussions between the Commonwealth Government and the Western Australian Government, provisions for land acquisition which I do not believe this House should accept because the results of this action have been that land can be declared, that is, frozen, and nobody is able to raise a mortgage on the land or to sell the land. Even if probate is required, people cannot get rid of their land, once it has been declared, for an indefinite length of time.

There is no limit on the amount of time for which this land can be frozen and not used by the Government and not able to be used by the individual. That must surely be wrong. Also, there is no indication in what has happened in Western Australia - and I think we can take that as a pilot scheme for what is happening here - as to what price is to be paid for land when it is acquired. We can understand the proposition that at the time the study is being carried out and for a reasonable period of time to allow that study to be carried out, there should not be an avenue for speculators to enter the area and push land prices up. We can understand that. We cannot understand that it is right or proper to put a blanket prohibition on the use of land for an indefinite period of time. This was done in New South Wales on one occasion in the case of soldier settlement blocks.

Mr Cohen - Not by this Government.

Mr GORTON - No, but it was done and it caused a great deal of hardship and a great deal of injustice. I am not throwing this at anybody. I am saying that it happened and it can happen again. On the indications of what has happened in Western Australia, it is likely to happen again unless the Minister tells us-

Mr Uren - We have agreed that wherever there is a case of hardship we will acquire the land immediately.

Mr GORTON - The Minister now informs me - the House will be interested to know this - that he has agreed with Western Australia that whenever there is a case of hardship the Commonwealth Government will acquire the land. I take it that the Minister means that the land will be acquired under the constitutional requirement of a just price.

Mr Uren - The State will acquire it. We will .finance the acquisition.

Mr GORTON - That is What I was coming to. That is another great weakness, I think, in this statement. The Commonwealth Constitution provides that when land is acquired from a private citizen a just price must be paid and that if a just price is not paid the citizen may resort to the courts which will decide whether the price offered is just or not. The Constitution gives an individual citizen a protection against big government.

Mr Uren - Under what conditions can the Commonwealth acquire it? It can acquire it only in certain circumstances, such as if it is to be used as Commonwealth property.

Mr GORTON - We are talking about something that the Minister said the Commonwealth was to acquire. He went on to say that although this was to be acquired it would not be acquired under conditions which required just terms of acquisition. He has made those 2 statements to the House.

Mr Uren - But look-

Mr GORTON - Let us have a debate later. There really is quite a serious principle involved here. If land is to be acquired, it appears that it will be mutually acceptable to the States and the Commonwealth for the States to acquire the land although they do not have the legal obligation to pay anything for that land. They can set any price on it they like and the Commonwealth can avoid having to pay a just price. I believe this is entirely wrong. I can understand that if an area were selected for study a just price would be the price for that area before it was gazetted as being accepted for study.

Mr Cohen - There has been no freeze on land in New South Wales. You can still buy and sell land.

Mr GORTON - There is in Western Australia.

Mr Beazley - There is nothing of the sort.

Mr GORTON - There is in Westeran Australia. Land obviously is going to be acquired. I take it that even the honourable member for Robertson would agree that if we are to build a new city in some place we have to acquire the land somehow at some stage. The point I make is that, although we were not told so in this statement, it has now become completely apparent that the Commonwealth, although it is the driving force behind all this, will not acquire the land. Instead it will get the States to acquire the land, thereby removing one protection which an individual citizen ought to have. Let me reiterate that I am not suggesting that the Commonwealth should have to pay an inflated price as a result of the selection of an area on which a city may be built.

Mr Uren - Yes, you are.

Mr GORTON - No. I am not.

Mr Uren - What is a just price?

Mr GORTON - A just price could be the price - to use the words of the Minister - the day before the announcement was made to acquire the land or that the land had been selected for study. But there is no indication that that just price is to be paid.

Mr Uren - What is the just price of Lanyon?

Mr GORTON - The Minister has asked me what is the just price of land. He is the one who is going to acquire all this land. Surely to goodness, if he does not know at least we could go to the courts in accordance with the Constitution and act in a proper way by leaving it to somebody who does know.

Mr Uren - I said: What is the just price of Lanyon, the property in the Australian Capital Territory?

Mr GORTON - The Minister wants me to follow him down some little corridor. He actually said: 'What is the just price of Lanyon?' I believe it will be the price that is finally determined by any legal action that the owners of Lanyon might take. But that is not the point in this instance. It is not a laughing matter that land can be acquired without a just price being paid for it and really by a subterfuge. (Extension of time granted.) 1 thank the House and I thank the Minister. I will not take up a great deal more time. The points I have raised should be deep in everybody's mind. Another point which will be developed by my colleague the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) and which is quite apart from the point about which I have been speaking is that overseas experience has shown that on many occasions there is great detriment to individual citizens when an area is selected for study. People suffer hardship. They have their rights impringed upon. I will leave it to my colleague to develop that point and to show just how that has happened and what is being done about it in other countries.

I will move on to discuss the acquisition of land - it would do the Minister an awful lot of good to listen to my remarks instead of speaking to somebody else - in the Mornington Peninsula, Dandenong Ranges and Western Port areas in order to protect those areas. This is a good objective and one, subject to what I have said before, to which I would not object at all. But might it not be a reasonable approach for the Commonwealth, having decided to take this action in this field, to have wider ranging talks with State governments on the provision of finance for national parks and for those national parks to be placed under the control of a commission - call it what you will - drawn from State government and Commonwealth Government sources?

Mr Cohen - You may not be able to find any more commissions.

Mr GORTON - You can call it something else if you like. It should not be a commission consisting of public servants such as the commissions which are proliferating in this place. The parks would merely be withdrawn from the direct control of a State or the Commonwealth and placed under the control of the commission. The Commonwealth could provide for those national parks - the time has come to select national parks throughout Australia - a nationally financed corps of park rangers to make sure that those who enter that land do not destroy it. There should be available to the people engaged in such a corps an opportunity for promotion in national parks throughout Australia instead of merely within one State. 1 suggest that that could well be an improvement and it would be properly described as a new initiative, lt strikes me as odd to hear the Minister describe the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement as a new initiative and the Commonwealth - State Housing Agreement as a new initiative. I had been under the impression that they had been in operation for many years, but perhaps he or his colleagues have changed them a little.

One thing that this speech does make clear is that this Government requires that the new city to be developed in the Geelong area should be run by a development corporation, which I take to be something like the National Capital Development Commission, with authority, subject to the State Minister and the Commonweath Minister, to act as the NCDC acts as a planning body. I do not raise objection to that proposal. I think that Canberra is a clear indication of the success which can be achieved by the use of a planning body similar in nature to the NCDC. But what the speech does not make clear is whether the other areas referred to - Townsville, Gladstone and areas in Tasmania - also are to be placed under such development commissions. This, of course, would require State government acceptance of the idea. If these areas were placed under development commissions it would enable really proper development, such as we have seen the model for in this city, to take place.

For ourselves, I would finish by saying this: There seeks to be made in this speech some impression that no efforts have been made by the previous Government to develop areas outside of capital cities. This is not true. This particular approach has not been accepted, but I merely need to bring to the attention of the House the specific decisions made for this purpose in deciding, for example, to site the military establishment at Townsville, in deciding to push forward with the Townsville University - all of these with Government expenditure - the Townsville Teachers College, and the establishment there of the Institute of Marine Biology. These things were specifically designed to try to see that that area was built up as far as could be done with Commonwealth funds. If we can go further and if we can get the States to agree to place the whole planning of that area, which is growing fast as a result of the previous Government's actions, then the previous Government's actions will have been thoroughly justified and brought to an even more successful conclusion.

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