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Wednesday, 16 October 1974
Page: 1761

Senator EVERETT (Tasmania) - It is a remarkable but sad reflection on the objectivity of the Liberal-Country Party Opposition that in a debate on a measure which generously ensures the future governmental financial viability of the State of Tasmania it should, through its principal speaker in the debate, confine itself to vilifying the Australian Government and hardly mentioning the name of the measure being debated. Senator Rae certainly failed to refer to any of the terms of the measure or to attempt to explain to the Senate what it is all about. The pattern that was followed by Senator Rae is similar to that which was followed in the House of Representatives when this Bill was debated in that chamber. For Senator Rae to organise his emotional approach by relying on editorial headings in the newspaper of his own city shows how bankrupt he is of any real arguments with which to attack the Australian Government. Since he did not deign to explain what this Bill is about, I suppose the first speaker in the debate on this side of the chamber today ought to do so. It is a Bill which has 3 basic objectives.

Senator Rae - Does every speaker have to explain the Bill?

Senator EVERETT -The honourable senator has already spoken for half an hour. If he cannot take a little criticism such as that then he is not learning very fast. There are 3 points that I would make as to what this Bill does. Firstly, it increases by $ 15m the amount of financial assistance to Tasmania in the current financial year. Secondly, it writes into the States Grants Act 1973 the sum of $ 15m as part of the base upon which future grants under that Act to the State of Tasmania will be determined. In other words, it provides a permanent extra growth factor of $15m. Thirdly, it is clearly the means whereby Tasmania was able to escape from the Grants Commission system to which it had been tied for some 41 years and, so far as smokers in Tasmania were concerned, it was the means whereby they did not, following the judgment of the High Court of Australia early this year, have to continue to pay the tax which had been imposed despite the opinion of the High Court.

All that is of the essence of this Bill, and Senator Rae did not make one syllable of reference to it. I thought that we could have done without his reliance upon the editorials of the 'Examiner'. The uncontroverted fact- this ought to be stated in view of the irrelevant remarks of Senator Rae- is that as a result of this Bill the total grants to Tasmania in the current financial year are nearly double the total of those grants in the last full year of Liberal-Country Party administration, namely 1971-72. When I refer to the total grants, I include all general purpose grants and all special purpose grants, both capital and income. The figures, which I have taken from official documents, are these: In 1971-72, which was the last full year of Liberal-Country Party administration, the total of those grants was, in round figures, $122m. In 1972-73, during which period both major parties were in government, the figure was $ 140m. In 1973-74, which was the first full year of Labor administration, the figure was $164m. In 1974-75, which is the current financial year, the total is $2 1 5 m. So the total has been increased to $2 15m in a space of 3 years.

Yet the debate on the Bill which provides for that amount is used by Senator Rae as the vehicle for a vilification of the Australian Government, that told us nothing new, that was largely unsubstantiated, that was not particularised and which, I suggest, was simply a product of his anti-Labor attitude. But, of course, he is not consistent in his anti-Labor attitude because for some little time he has been flirting with the unions in Tasmania. He was away from the Senate for a time yesterday flirting with the unions on a matter which he said was of such importance that the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) should have laid aside what he was doing in Canberra and travelled to Tasmania to attend this epoch making rally. Even Tasmania's anti-Labor Press gave it the heading: 'North Snubs Union Rally'. That is the mighty meeting that this senator, who flirts with the unions when he thinks it might advantage him, suggests presumably that all members of Parliament and senators from Tasmania should have attended.

Let me return to the measure that is before the Senate. An important factor in this Bill is that the specific increase of $ 15m in the grant for Tasmania for the current financial year will be written into the base figure for calculating on an escalating basis the grants for future years. This means that in perpetuity, so long as this legislation remains, Tasmania will receive an added growth factor. It was the absence of a growth factor that for almost the whole of the period of Liberal administration- between 1949 and 1972-held Tasmania back. That fact was asserted time after time in my hearing by the Premier of Tasmania, Mr Bethune, between 1969 and 1972. That has been remedied by a Labor Government.

I will confine myself for the time being at least to the contents of this Bill. The legislation is historic because, as I have said, it is the practical vehicle whereby Tasmania can get out of the clutches of the Grants Commission. The disadvantages of being in the clutches of the Grants Commission, quite apart from the actual grants that are made, are matters that I will refer to later. I have said that as a result of this Bill and other measures the total grants to Tasmania for the current financial year are nearly double those for the last full year of the Liberal Administration. But quite apart from that general statement, the simple fact is- contrary to the impression that Senator Rae would seek to create- that many areas in Tasmania have been completely revitalised by the new initiatives of the Australian Government in less than 2 years.

Senator Rae -Tell us about the $500,000 grant.

Senator EVERETT -The honourable senator, who has spoken for a full half hour and still wants to continue his speech from his seat, .will not divert me from quoting from proper documents and from illustrating the point I am making. I have said that large areas have been opened up in Tasmania as a result of the initiatives of the present Government. I refer to expenditure on new areas, expenditure on areas which had been left financially arid over a period of nearly a quarter of a century. They are set out in an extremely convenient form on pages 4 and 5 of the document headed 'Grants to Tasmania' which was part of the Tasmanian Budget papers which were tabled in the House of Assembly in Tasmania a few weeks ago in relation to the present Budget. It is a document that I would commend to Senator Rae. Since last time I referred to a document he asked whether he could borrow it by my tabling it, I offer to do the same thing in relation to this one if he is interested at all. But I doubt whether he is interested.

I just mention a few of the areas that, by virtue of Australian Government initiative, have been made fertile in a period of less than 2 years. I use the same words as are used in the document to which I have referred. These areas are as follows: Dental therapy assistance, pre-school education, community recreation complexes, the State Strategy Plan, urban public transport, community health, community mental health and the National Estate. I will not pause to read them all as there are 2 pages of them. But it is because of what the present Government has done that that situation is possible. It is a gross distortion of the truth for Senator Rae to use this measure as a vehicle for a general condemnation of a Government which has shown more interest in Tasmania, both when in Opposition and in the past period of nearly 2 years, than was shown by the Liberal-Country Party Administration for nearly a quarter of a century.

As you no doubt know, Mr President, before 1972 it was a rarity to see a Liberal Minister in Tasmania. The children in the streets used to stare at them and ask 'Who are they?' as if they were men from the moon. What a contrast even then with the attitude of the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) who, as Leader of the Opposition, made himself familiar with Tasmania's problems. I well remember the occasion when he responded to an invitation to go to a tiny placeMount Nelson- near Hobart and open a school dental clinic on a Saturday morning. That is the measure of the interest that the present Prime Minister had in Tasmania. The measure of the interest that the Liberal Party had in Tasmania is that its members were hardly ever seen, except at election time. I do not wonder that, according to Press reports, the Liberal Party has decided to introduce a special platform into its policy called the Tasmanian platform. I can understand that after its clean-sweep defeat in 1972 in the House of Representatives and after its clean-sweep defeat in 1974 in the House of Representatives it would take heed from the Labor Party and say to itself 'It's time; we must think again', because 10 ducks and 10 innings is a pretty poor political record.

Senator Mulvihill - You would not get a game in the Fifth Eleven on that performance.

Senator EVERETT - If he was supported by some of his union friends maybe he would get a game, but it was not a very promising performance yesterday, was it? The Labor Party is not at all concerned that at long last, after 25 weary years, the Liberal Party has at last decided that Tasmania is of sufficient importance to merit some special policy considerations. The Government welcomes it. It would be delighted. But it knows of course from past experience that for a quarter of a century the Liberal Party was not interested and it wonders what has caused this sudden interest in Tasmania. What is it?

Senator Grimes - Senator Townley?

Senator EVERETT -No, I do not believe that it is related at all to Senator Townley. I believe that it is a question of trying to impress the selectors after 10 ducks in succession. Reverting to the Bill -

Senator Rae - That is interesting.

Senator EVERETT -At least the honourable senator who interjects now knows that it is customary at times in a speech on a Bill to refer to its terms. I come back for the third or fourth time to the Bill. I imagine that the honourable senator is rather sorry that he did not refer to it in at least one sentence. I have said that, as a result of this Bill and other measures, the total grants for Tasmania of all kinds for the current financial year will be a little more than $2 1 5m. The significance of that, I suggest, is seen more clearly when the Tasmanian Budget is analysed. This is of extreme importance when the general, unparticularised charge of neglect has been made as it has been this afternoon. According to the Budget figures- again for Senator Rae's benefit I will let him see the official papers if he wishes- the estimated total Consolidated Revenue for Tasmania this financial year will be $247.9m. The estimated Loan Fund expenditure will be $86. 5m, making a total of $334.4m. So when one considers that $2 15m of that revenue and capital expenditure is being found from Australian Government sources one realises that the simple arithmetical fact is that about two-thirds of the total funds available for Tasmania come directly from the Australian Government. That I suggest is a record that the Liberal Party never got near in nearly a quarter of a century. I suggest that its new Tasmanian platform will not go within a bull 's roar of it, if I can put it that way.

Senator Rae - Just tell us about inflation at the same time and what effect that has on these figures.

Senator EVERETT - How many goes does Senator Rae want? He speaks on the adjournment, he speaks on Bills but does not refer to them and he continually interjects. We know he is making a ploy and I propose to ignore him. I pass on to the third aspect of this Bill which I mention and that is the fact that it permits Tasmania to leave the Grants Commission system. The announcement that was made on 1 1 June this year by the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, and the Premier of Tasmania, Mr Reece, ended, I would remind the Senate, a continuous association between Tasmania and the Grants Commission for a period of 41 years dating back to the inception of the Grants Commission in the early 1930s. The announcement also ended Tasmania's association with section 96 of the Constitution because even long before the Grants Commission was established Tasmania had, going back to 1912-13, received section 96 grants from the national Government.

It is important that the Senate should appreciate from one who has had some experience of the operation of the system just what the advantages of this legislation are, particularly in the context of the Grants Commission that I have just mentioned. The first advantage is that starting with this financial year and continuing so long as the legislation remains, and escalating, Tasmania will receive an extra $15m. Compare that with the grants that it received in the past 3 years through the Grants Commission: 1970-71 $9.6m; 1971-72 9.65m; 1972-73 $10m; and 1 973-74 $ 10m. I point out in relation to those last 2 years that because of the arrangements made in June of this year between the Australian Government and the Tasmanian Government there were no completion grants, but unfortunately in recent years they had been running in the negative. So that was a fortuitous thing for Tasmania. As I have said, that extra amount is written in and, together with increases in population, increases in the average national wage and the betterment factor of 1 .8 per cent, ensures for Tasmania continuing governmental financial viability so long as the State is managed properly.

The second important aspect is that no matter what the Grants Commission said- and it kept saying it for over 40 years- as a matter of practical consideration it did influence Tasmanian Government policy. The Grants Commission was always careful to say: 'We are not directing you as to what your policy on any particular issue should be. All we say is that if you do a particular thing then, depending upon the position in the standard States of Victoria and New South Wales, you may be financially prejudicially affected'. A supreme example of that is in relation to poker machines which have been verboten on Tasmania for a very long time but which seem to grow from strength to strength in New South Wales. As a result of Tasmania not having poker machines and one of the standard States having them, Tasmania has for a very long time been penalised approximately Sim per annum. So the Grants Commission has been able indirectly and in effect to influence policy. Those days, so long as Tasmania does not have to go back to the Grants Commission have ended.

The third thing I mention simply for the sake of completeness but make no comment on is that the arrangement made between the Australian and Tasmanian Governments which has resulted in this legislation enabled the Tasmanian Government to put in mothballs the somewhat ill-fated tobacco tax legislation which caused so much controversy, at least after the High Court decision was given in February or March this year. That is what this legislation does for Tasmania. It has been said by Senator Rae that there is complete disinterest by the Australian Government in Tasmania. I have already indicated how, in contrast with the attitude of the LiberalCountry Party Government, the present Government has in effect saturated Tasmania with visits displaying its interest. I have had the welcome opportunity of being associated with a number of Ministers in my very brief time in the Senate on their visits to Tasmania. Dealing with the merits of this Bill I want to quote from what was said by the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) when it was debated in another place because I want to get back to the fundamentals of this Bill to indicate that Tasmania is receiving very just treatment indeed. As recorded at page 2009 of Hansard on 1 October, Mr Barnard said, speaking of the Bill:

It arose because we believed that the Tasmanian Government was entitled to some improvement in its financial affairs. When we are debating a Bill which involves an amount of $ 1 5m it should be remembered -

This is the point- that this is the amount that was asked for by the Premier of Tasmania- no more and no less. It was not reduced. The Treasury officials and I- at that time I was the Deputy Prime Minister- agreed that if this was the requirement of the Tasmanian Government it represented a fair proposal, and the $ 15m was granted.

Can Senator Rae or any of his colleagues point to a case in which his Government, their Government, treated Tasmania as generously as is summed up in that sentence I have read from Mr Barnard's speech? I think that Seantor Rae ought to hang his head in shame because he lives close to the Bell Bay railway and he knows- it has been stated so often- that the deal that was done by the Liberal-Country Party Government led by Mr McMahon in relation to assistance to Tasmania to establish that railway was the worst in the history of Federation. Contrast that with a situation in which every cent that is asked for by the Premier of the State is granted. What a mockery that makes of Senator Rae's criticism, in the context of this Bill, of the Australian Government!

Senator Rae - Given a chance I will reply to that.

Senator EVERETT - I do not doubt that the honourable senator will use up my last two or three minutes with another inane interjection. He does not need to tell us he will reply. He speaks on the adjournment most nights on this subject. It has become a nightly affair. I am proud to be associated with this Bill. I do not agree personally with everything that is done by the Australian Government in relation to Tasmania or any other State. One would be a rather weak creature if one meekly agreed with everything. But by and large the Australian Government has shown a real and genuine interest in Tasmania and in this Bill which is what we are really concerned with at this moment. It has acted generously and, I believe, wisely and in a way for which future generations of Australians will come to thank the Australian Government and not vilify it in the manner in which Senator Rae chose to do so tonight.

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