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Wednesday, 11 October 1972
Page: 1439

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) - 1 rise merely to indicate that the Australian

Democratic Labor Party supports this Bill. It is one of those types of Bills that come forward following agreement between the Commonwealth and the States, and is a further legislatvie acknowledgment of the continuing unsatisfactory financial relationship between the Commonwealth and the States - something that must ultimately be resolved in a quasi-permanent form otherwise these periodic adjustments will have to be made, very often accompanied by differences between the Commonwealth and the States and differences between the States themselves.

So far as the State of Queensland is concerned, of course, there has been a recent major development in that Queensland has now become a claimant State under the Commonwealth Grants Commission. I know it was suggested that if this happened Queensland's free public hospital system would be in jeopardy and might even be destroyed. Of course, that has not happened and it will not happen. As far as I can see. the only threat to Queensland's public hospital system might well be the health policy which is propounded by the Australian Labor Party. That is the real threat, and the threat that was to manifest itself in Queensland's becoming a claimant State has not developed as was predicted by the apostles of doom.

The constitutional convention which is contemplated at the instance of the States, in which the Commonwealth will participate and about which a steering committee has met already to plan the mode of approach for a review of the Constitution, undoubtedly will take into its ambit of consideration this vexed question of Commonwealth and State financial relations, and it is certainly time that that was done. I think that honourable senators who have had an opportunity to attend Premiers Conferences or have seen these periodic Bills coming through the Senate, in some way trying to retrieve the difficult and contradictory financial conditions which have developed will welcome some permanent and final solution of this very difficult question. We can only hope that that will be one of the early matters considered by the constitutional convention because we must always remember that under the present concept of the Constitution the States are substantially the developing and construction authorities, that the Commonwealth has complete control over the major resources of revenue, and that the reconciliation of those 2 things can be accompanied only by the development and the projection of a proper financial formula. As I say, we hope that this will come about.

I do not think it is necessary, if one speaks specifically and relevantly to the Bill, to discuss it in any detail. It has 3 provisions - two pertaining particularly to Victoria and New South Wales and one to Western Australia. There is no particular provision applying to the State of Queensland, but we of the Democratic Labor Party welcome these 3 provisions - retrieving positions as they should equitably be retrieved in the 2 States to which I first referred and in the third State. Western Australia, to which I also have made some reference. This gives the States an opportunity to balance budgets over which they had virtually lost control because of circumstances beyond their disposition. After all. the wage rises comma from the federal arbitration court under federal awards and flowing through were matters in which the States could be only the inheritor1; and in no sense the architects. They were not the disposers under a testament: they were the beneficiaries of the economic difficulties that followed from these determinations. They placed their budgetary positions in very considerable difficulty. They put them, to use a vulgarism, out of plumb and the Commonwealth had to go to their support and retrieve the position.

That, in principle, is not a good position, lt is a contradiction of the old principle relating to representation and taxation: that those who have the responsibility and entitlement to spend money should have the responsibility of raising it. That is contradicted in the new situation because, as I say. the revenue power virtually is concentrated in the Commonwealth and the expenditure opportunities, apart from defence and things of that nature, virtually are confined to the States. That is a position which should not bc allowed to continue. A much more realistic approach must be discovered and developed. We hope that in time we will see the elimination of this type of Bill and that with the emergence of a more permanent and more viable financial relationship on a proper basis between the Commonwealth and the States, we will see automatic adjustments without the necessity for legislative intervention from time to time which only follows traumas, discordances and confrontations between the Commonwealth and the States. Fortunately those were few in number at the Premiers Conference on this occasion and they lacked the intensity which has become traditional and even customary in more recent years at meetings of the Australian Loan Council and the Premiers Conference.

The Democratic Labor Party supports this Bill with the fond hope that it may not be the first or one of a succession of Bills that we will see in future years. We hope that we may be coming to the end of this type of procedure and that the rationalisation and normalisation of CommonwealthState financial relations, access to revenue and opportunities for expenditure - in particular, in the sphere of local government which finds itself in continuing difficulties - will eliminate all these problems in the future. Subject to those qualifications, the Democratic Labor Party supports the Bill.

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