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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 2214

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) -The Senate is very much indebted to Senator Durack for initiating this debate, which provides the occasion to draw attention to its subject matter, namely, the concentration in Canberra of excessive arbitrary power. It is particularly important that we take note of the stage that has been reached today because we are on the brink of a referendum at which the present Government is seeking power over 2 comprehensive subjectswideranging subjects practically without limit insofar as the significance of legislative power is concerned- prices and incomes. I think the subject of the debate can be discussed without displaying the venom that Senator Mulvihill exhibited, without the acrimony that Senator Young cited when he spoke of Premier Dunstan 's criticism of the Prime Minister and without reference to the acute and continuing differences between Mr Hawke and the Prime Minister. Instead, I propose to refer quite quietly to the concern expressed by the Premier of my own State, Tasmania. I should think that he is one of the most stable Labor Premiers who has held office in the last decade.

Senator Mulvihill - Did you vote for him?

Senator WRIGHT -Certainly not; but I recognise that there is some good in anybody, even in Senator Mulvihill on a few occasions. The Premier of Tasmania, Eric Reece, said in his Budget Speech that Tasmania has passed through the stage where it is dependent upon general reimbursement grants. Conditional special grants are now the means whereby the present Commonwealth Government is increasingly financing the States. When it is realised that the State is dependent upon federal grants and federal taxes to the extent of 72 per cent of its total Budget, one can understand that there is some anxiety as to the future competence of the State governments. Mr Reece went on to say that the establishment of priorities in expenditure policies has been to some extent taken out of the State's control. He said that the State will get a little more money, but that the price it must pay for having more money to spend is some loss of autonomy in the area of decision making. He went on to say that in those areas decisions are the direct decisions not of the State Government but of the Commonwealth Government, and that they are decisions which the State Government has been instigated by the Commonwealth Government to put into effect. He added that a future State government will always be in doubt as to the extent to which this encroaching Commonwealth power, particularly in Federal-State financial relations, will permit a State Treasurer to have any degree of independence. He pointed out that the State Treasurer is, in effect, directly spending the Commonwealth 's money at the dictation of the Commonwealth. He said that although in respect to some of those matters of Commonwealth money there is some benefit, they are accompanied by an equal reduction in the general grant. He instances tertiary education where this Government with one hand relieves the universities of direct financing and takes it over itself but, with the other, puts an entry in the other side of the ledger offsetting that by a reduction of the money available to the States.

Going from Mr Reece 's description of the matter, next take the States grants system which now operates so directly to the disadvantage of the 3 claimant States, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania. The first thing to note with regard to the States grants is that the enormous avalanche that has taken place in increased Commonwealth expenditure this year, a $2,000m increase from $ 10,000m to $ 12,000m, dwarfs the actual amount of money that is returned to the States. Secondly, the restrictive attitude of the Commonwealth Grants Commission is getting intolerable. At its behest we are asked now to compare the revenue from betting and lottery taxation with that received by New South Wales. If we do not keep pace with it our grant will be reduced. At its behest the chief arterial product of power in Tasmania, hydro-electricity, was submitted to a tax of 5 per cent a couple of years ago. This was at the direct behest of the Grants Commission. In the meetings of the Commission in Hobart in the last few days Sir Leslie Melville has been peering about the dust in the few corners looking for savings while Professor Matthews is on record as saying that Tasmania is in a preferential position. These are the things that make us continuously disappointed with the trends in the Commonwealth grant. Now that it is taking aboard responsibility for the direct financing of local government it is taking responsibility for selecting the fields in which local government should advance. That is becoming increasingly a matter of resentment by the small municipalities and the energetic local councillors who know much better than the Commonwealth where money should be spent upon local projects.

I come directly to these two current proposals. We know that it is merely an accident- a fortuitous accident- that somebody suggested to Mr Whitlam that he go for a constitutional referendum on prices and incomes. He had expressed his view that that was not a solvent of inflation, but the Caucus overbore him. We now have this bid by the Commonwealth Government for a comprehensive prices power. The Parliament and Government that can control the price of beef, control the price of motor cars, fix the price of boot leather and fix the price of calico can enforce its sovereignty in every field of man's activities. The incomes power is a little more intriguing. It is quite obvious, of course, that if one has power to say that parliamentary salaries shall be $2,000 a year one will have a considerable impact upon parliamentarians, and every other section of the community will understand that so directly when it is applied to them that they will know pretty well, whether a person is a wage earner, a doctor, a plumber, an electrical tradesman or engaged in any other field of life, that if the bureaucrat under the control of Mr Whitiam and his Government has the right to fix their incomes it will be a pretty severe and rigid system under which we are living whereby Canberra instead of local and State governments operate to effect people 's livelihoods.

We had a revealing disclosure the other day by Senator Murphy when introducing the Bill on incomes control. He said that the Government was not going to use it in a purely negative fashion but that it would enable this Parliament to guarantee basic standards that had not been within the competence of the Parliament hitherto. Yesterday in answer to a question which I put on notice he illustrated and affirmatively said that all these matters would be within the authority of the Canberra Parliament if the people could be pursuaded to vote 'yes' on the incomes referendum. Matters such as the basic wage, cost of living adjustments, equal pay, annual leave, the requirements for wages to be paid in money, protection of wages from garnishee, are used as bait to invite people to give the Government this power. Mr Whitlam was put on record yesterday in a report which showed how comprehensive the power was and drawing attention to the fact that it would not be unaccompanied by cost. Senator James McClelland said these processes are inexorable. Senator McAuliffe, whose remarks were not relevant to the Bill, showed how inevitable it is to have these increases in lavish expenditure to support these ever-growing policies of control and restriction by the Commonwealth Parliament. As Senator Durack pointed out, Mr Whitlam has been well publicised for his statement 'I am the greatest', but he has been comparatively without publicity on his claim to be the saviour, the one and only Prime Minister who wants all State parliaments abolished and only one House in this Parliament. That is the danger signal. That is why in a debate upon the constitutional concentration of power in this country it is appropriate to call attention to it today. It should be a warning against any wrong decision at the referendum on 8 December. So that the Senate may vote upon the subject, I move:

That the question be now put.

Question put.

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