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Thursday, 15 November 1973
Page: 1844

Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) -The Ordinance which is under examination at the present time has existed in Canberra for a number of years. But there is now a move to increase the sewerage rate for people and for business in the Australian Capital Territory. Senator Wood has moved that the sewerage rate for businesses be that which exists at the present time. I believe that there is a good argument for this. The document that Senator O 'Byrne produced to the Senate is most interesting. I believe that a reading of the Hansard report of what he said will leave one as fully unaware of the facts as if one were to attempt to study the document from which he read. This document has been presented by a member of the Government as being a comparability study for 1972-73 of hotels and motels based on the National Roads and Motorists' Association Accommodation ratings. If I remember his remarks correctly, what Senator O 'Byrne attempted to do with this document was to compare the rates for water and sewerage for a hotel such as the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney- they would be some $500 a room or unit- with those for a hotel such as the Lakeside International Hotel in the Australian Capital Territory which would pay $97.82 a room or unit.

I have just received this document and I have examined it only quickly. But it is completely irresponsible to suggest that the figures here provide any basis for comparisons of what might be charged by local authorities for water and sewerage rates for a particular room in either the Australian Capital Territory or in capital cities. Let me take one example: Mr President, as you are a Victorian you may know the Hotel Australia in Melbourne very well. I think that I am correct in saying that the rates charged by the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works are generally levied on the premises as a whole. They are not levied on a room basis. I imagine that what has happened here is that the total rate that is payable to the MMBW as a whole is divided by the number of rooms in the Hotel Australia. There are 102 rooms in that hotel. It is shown in this document that the total water and sewerage rate is $ 1 88.92 and the general rate is $21 1.37, giving a total of $400.29 for each of the 102 rooms in the Hotel Australia. The total charge a room according to this document is purported to be $782. Of course, this is entirely wrong to anyone who knows anything about the hotel business.

The Hotel Australia would contain numerous restaurants, function rooms, foyer entrances, book selling stalls and other facilities to which the total rates paid would have to be applied. In short, dividing the number of rooms in a Melbourne hotel into the total rates payable for that hotel would not provide a reliable basis for comparison with a hotel in the Australian Capital Territory. If we examine the comparison of some of the rates that are payable in the Australian Capital Territory in the various hotels that are instanced, we find that a completely wrong set of figures has been produced. Looking at this document, it would appear that one could name at least 8 or 9 hotels outside the Australian Capital Territory that pay well under the present $90 a room which it is suggested that the Lakeside Hotel is paying at the moment. I would discount the figures in the absence of further explanation. Canberra relies very heavily on tourism. It appears to me that the claim that the tourist industry should pay a higher rate per toilet than is paid in a domestic household is wrong because it is a charge that is levied on a highly selective basis. Apparently, one section of the community is required to pay double the rate charged to the rest of the community for exactly the same service.

I notice that in the submission put forward by the Australian National Travel Association it is stated that the business community in Canberra has a combined total of less than 12 per cent of the flushing units in Canberra but is required to pay rates totalling $357,700 or more than 2 1 per cent of the total estimated revenue from sewerage rates in the forthcoming year. That appears to be entirely inequitable. The new charge of $50 a unit would have a particularly punitive impact on the travel industry which obviously in these days has to provide flushing units, in addition to the normal ratio of units in public and staff areas, at the rate of at least one unit per guest. Of course, every unit is not used. What an entirely unfair proposition it is to compare hotel rooms with private residences. I was advised yesterday that about 68 per cent or 69 per cent of hotel rooms in Canberra are occupied at any one time. This is not a particularly good rate and whether such an enterprise in Canberra is a commercial undertaking is a matter for the owners to decide.

The increased tax obviously means that the tourist industry in this city will have to charge people looking for accommodation a higher tariff.

I can remember the then Opposition arguing in this place a year or so ago that cheaper accommodation should be available in Canberra. The present Government has a supposed preoccupation with the containment of inflation. This is certainly something that is wanted by the people of Australia at present. An additional sewerage rates bill of about $250,000 on the Canberra business community in one year can only have a serious inflationary effect. Such a charge will increase rentals and accommodation tariffs. Senator Drake-Brockman, the Leader of the Australian Country Party, indicated our view some little time ago on this matter. I have pleasure in supporting Senator Wood's proposal to disallow the ordinance.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Wood's) be agreed to.

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