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Tuesday, 9 May 1972
Page: 1466

Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) - I wish to make a few observations on the 2 measures which are before the chamber and which are of special significance to my own State of Tasmania. Right from the inception of this particular scheme of grants, Tasmania has been a claimant State and has had to obtain assistance through the activities of the Commonwealth Grants Commission to enable it to put up a performance equivalent to the performance put up by the other States. The idea behind this has its origins in the early part of the Second World War when powers over certain areas of taxation were referred to the Commonwealth. With the utilisation of section 96 of the Constitution, it was possible for grants to be made to the States to enable them to carry on their services. In a document entitled Commonwealth Grants Commission, 37th report, 1970' and the supplement to it, which deals with reports on applications made by the States of South Australia and Tasmania for financial assistance from the Parliament of the Commonwealth under section 96 of the Constitution, some interesting references are made to the bases on which judgments are made on the level of grants to be provided to the various States and for the various types of services.

Senator Wilkinsonhas commented upon the arrangements made in these 2 Bills insofar as the quantum of assistance to the various States is concerned. But. as I 'lave said, I am particularly concerned about the situation in Tasmania. My concern has been further accelerated by something which occurred in September of last year when the then Premier of Tasmania raised the question of the attitude which was current in the minds of people who were engaged in the affairs of the Grants Commission in relation to the benefit which is conferred by grants to the smaller States or to the less populous areas within States for specific purposes. The Premier at the time said that it had come to his notice that officers of the Commission had voiced the opinion that it was something in the nature of policy of the Commission not to grant aid to the smaller and less populous areas because the benefit derived from those grants were less evident in those sorts of areas than in the more populous areas of the nation.

I understand from my own reading of the various types of financial arrangements and the approaches made on the various bases to judge the appropriateness of grants made to the various areas, that in fact something of the nature of a philosophy does exist. That was very worrying to the Premier of Tasmania at the time. Of course, it was subsequently refuted by the Treasurer of the day to whose notice this particular comment had come. But it was a comment that was made in the Press at the time, and I took it up in a direct approach to the Treasurer and suggested to him that if this was the thinking in the minds of officers engaged in the affairs of the Commonwealth Grants Commission it was time something was done about it because, as I have said, the allegation had been refuted.

An area of doubt still exists there, especially when it is understood that this is something in the nature of a philosophy of the people who are concerned with the provision of monetary funds to assist the various purposes and services of the States. It is interesting to note in this report that a judgment is made on the basis of difference in fiscal capacity. Obviously it comes down to a judgment of the sufficiency of funds to enable the various States to provide services of an average overall scope and standard.

I think it should be put on record that on page 12 and subsequent pages the report points out some most interesting things, lt states that Tasmania has little more than 3 per cent of the total population of the Commonwealth, and goes on:

Tasmania's growth rate is comparatively low, so its comparatively small percentage of the population of the 6 States tends to decline further. . . . Tasmania has the 'youngest' population of all the States, in terms of preschool and school-age sections of the population ... it has the lowest proportion of population in the 'working-age' group, and a comparatively low proportion of elderly people. Thus it has ihe lowest proportion of workforce to total population.

I mention these things because they are all factors taken into account in a total judgment of the appropriateness of the funds which are provided to carry on the services of the State. Of course, these sorts of things naturally would be brought into account when judging the relative positions of the other States involved. As we know, over the past several years South Australia has been a claimant State; Western Australia was a claimant State; Queensland, as I understand it, now is becoming a claimant State. These factors ought to be known and understood as bases of judgment in relation to the amount of grant which is to be provided for the various States to enable them to match the standards of the other States.

Senator Gair - What is the total population of Tasmania?

Senator DEVITT - Approximately 389.000 or 390,000 people. It represents about 3 per cent of the total population of the nation. Tasmania has other problems which 1 pointed out in some detail on the last Thursday night that we met which make life in certain areas extremely difficult indeed. The Commission in its report further states that Tasmania has a comparatively low fiscal capacity, and then continues with an aspect which I emphasised some days ago:

The greater proportion of young people in Tasmania tends to produce a relatively greater need for expenditure on education and for infant and child welfare services. . . . that State may need to incur greater expenditure per head of population in order to provide government services. It is consistent with this that Tasmania has a comparatively high percentage of Slate government employees to total occupied persons.

It then goes on to say that Tasmania has a comparatively low taxable capacity. The report further suggests that Tasmania has a higher proportion of its work force in mining and quarrying than has any other State except Western Australia; that it has a lower proportion of the work force in the commerce, finance, property, etc. industry group than has any other State; that it is notable for the relative importance of dairying and forestry, in which industries its net value of production per head of population is considerably higher than the figures for other States, and for the relatively low value of its pastoral production. These primary industry characteristics also affect the size structure of rural holdings. On average these are much smaller in Tasmania than in other States. The report also states:

The level of personal income per head of population in Tasmania is approximately fifteen per cent below the Australian average. . . . 1 suggest that these are extremely significant figures in relation to the ability of Tasmania to match performance relative to the performance of the other States, and these are the things which concern me very greatly. It is reported that Tasmania is approximately 9 per cent below the average in relation to expenditure per capita on alcoholic drink; that Tasmania is well below any other State in relation to railway operations.; that its operating results in this field showed the largest deficit per capita of any State in the Commonwealth; that railway employment as a percentage of population is lowest in Tasmania; that there has been also a reduction in passenger journeys per route mile, especially in Tasmania, and that operating results per capita, as estimated by the Commission, have improved in all States except Tasmania. I mention these points and again draw the attention of the Senate to their relevance which gives credence and credibility, I suggest very strongly to the Senate, to the representations that are made from time to time in this chamber in the interests of our small island State.

According to the Commission, in the field of education, the ratio of pupils at government schools to total population is much higher in Tasmania than in other States; that there is a higher proportion of government to non-government school enrolments; that the degree of utilisation of public hospitals in Tasmania about equals the average; that the cumulative total of Tasmania's net loan expenditure has more than doubled in the last decade, and is much higher in Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia than in the other States, and that the relatively high expenditure on housing in South Australia and Tasmania partly reflects the fact that those States for a number of years were not parties to the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement. In summary the report states:

The greatest single item of expenditure in Tasmania has been hydro-electric works but this relatively high capital expenditure has not imposed any burden on the budget as the scheme is financially self-supporting. In Tasmania road expenditure has been relatively much greater than in any other State, reflecting the high cost of road construction and maintenance due to topographical conditions.

I mention those things as a background to the economic situation in the State of Tasmania. In relatively recent days I have referred to other matters of a financial nature as they relate to the economic performance of the State which place us at a very serious disadvantage. While I do not want to cry wolf in this respect, I do think it is necessary for us from time to time to make judgments and to turn our minds to the particular problems that are being experienced by other States of the Commonwealth. Of course, grants which are provided for Tasmania are matched against the performance of the standard States. I suggest that this tends to take away from those States which have become claimant States their right to autonomy and their right to implement policies which the political party in government at a particular time wishes to implement in the interests of that State. That government cannot implement those policies.

Debate interrupted.

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