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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3880

Mr BERINSON (PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I direct my question to the Minister for Urban and Regional Development. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to a reported statement by the Leader of the Opposition in Western Australia, Sir Charles Court, that it was good to see some members of the Commonwealth's proposed regional groupings deciding to have nothing to do with the proposals? Was he also reported as saying that the Australian Government's regional proposal would destroy local government? Is it a major function of the regional groupings to facilitate applications for direct grants through the Grants Commission? If so, what would the consequences be for councils refusing to join? What possible detriment to councils could arise from their membership of regional groupings and, in particular, could the Minister indicate how direct assistance from the Grants Commission could possibly destroy local government?

Mr UREN - In the earlier session of this Parliament we introduced an amending Bill relating to the Grants Commission. It was to bring about the equalisation of regions, as is the case with the Grants Commission dealing with the claimant States. There are some 900 local government authorities in Australia. One of the reasons for drawing them together into some 68 regions for the purpose of making applications for assistance was the enormous work force that would otherwise be created. As honourable members know, the debt of local government authorities created by the previous Government is enormous. The servicing debt of the previous Australian Government increased by about only 50 per cent during its 23 years in office, but during that time local government debt increased by something like 2,000 per cent and the debt of semi-government authorities by 2,800 per cent. So that local government authorities might get assistance we are asking them to come together as regional groups, to make applications to the Australian Government so that there can be a topping up process and an equalisation of regions within Australia.

Sir CharlesCourt has made some comments about the centralism of the Australian Government. I stress that the policy of the Australian Government is to build up and strengthen local government bodies. It is not seeking centralised power. Regionalisation is not centralisation. Our policy is unlike that of Sir Charles Court when he was Deputy Premier in Western Australia and that of some of the other States. Can anybody deny that in fact 70 per cent of the population of Western Australia lives in Perth and that centralisation has been created in that State or that centralisation has occurred in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane? Could we have any more centralisation than has occurred under State governments in Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland? We seek to strengthen the base of local government, and ons of the steps we are taking to strengthen local government is to allow local government authorities to make application to the Australian Government for aid through the Grants Commission.

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