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Wednesday, 4 December 1974
Page: 3114

Senator CARRICK (New South Wales) - In opening my remarks on this Bill last night I drew attention to the fundamental fact that the Commonwealth Constitution provides no power to a Commonwealth Government to legislate directly with regard to urban and regional affairs. That power lies directly and wholly with the States. I pointed out that therefore any attempt on the part of the Commonwealth to move in this direction must be done under section 96 of the Constitution by arrangements with the States. In fact, the nature of this Bill is to seek to make such arrangements. I went on to point out that the first initiative, the genesis of action at the Commonwealth level in urban and regional affairs, was that taken by the McMahon Liberal-Country Party Government in September 1972 when it was foreshadowed, and subsequently put into legislation in the following month, that the Government would :et up what became NURDA- the National Urban and Regional Development Authority. That Authority was set up with the objective of cooperating with the States in all matters relating to urban and regional development. It had as its Chairman Sir John Overall, and the first task given to it was to work out a 5-year plan and to table that plan by June 1973. That was done. The Government changed, NURDA became the Cities Commission, and the Cities Commission tabled that report, which was the basis for subsequent action.

I should also indicate that in late 1972 the McMahon Government foreshadowed a series of major financial undertakings in the urban and regional spheres. For example, there was initiated the proposal that some $80m a year be made available for land acquisition and other matters. In addition, some $330m would be made available over a period for the improvement of public transport, some $95m would be made available in loans and grants to upgrade interstate and intrastate railways, and provision was made to complete vital links through Australia, including Alice Springs, by the standard gauge railway. So a very great deal of programmed work was foreshadowed in late 1972.

I start on the basis that all governments and indeed all sections of the community are as one in desiring to improve the urban environment and to improve what is now known as the quality of life. The real argument, the real test, is not the goal but the methodology of reaching the goal. This Bill sets out a particular methodology, and it is in examination of that methodology that I wish to speak on behalf of the Opposition. When the McMahon Government announced its major intervention in urban and regional affairs it laid down 2 main principles. It said that Commonwealth Government intervention would be one of full co-operation with the States, it would be one of recognition of the essential and primary sovereignty of the States, and it would be one in which the Commonwealth, in denning the principles and reaching agreement with the States, would allow the States to carry out the programs without any oppressive conditions- and that is fundamental to any such program. But under the McMahon Government the Commonwealth went one step further and said this: It is no use developing all sorts of grandiose schemes for growth centres or satellite cities or any other high sounding projects unless the government of the day can guarantee the economic viability of the community which would be established. Quite clearly, it would be a dreadful thing to entice people into a new growth area, to entice them away from their existing jobs and existing communities and then shatter their families .because of the decline in economic structure. Indeed, this became the major principle. In other words, it was clear to the government of the day that the first test of any program should be to develop a national strategy, a national policy, an overall plan, and that that plan must, quite apart from taking into account the attractive qualities of a particular area, look to that area as one which would sustain families economically over the years. This in fact was done, and it was done by that Government in the maintenance in particular of manufacturing policies which provided continuous full employment. The Government of the day recognised that in a country where the major wealth producing industries- agriculture and minerals- were not labour intensive it was the prime duty of government to sustain and to protect industries so that we could have full gainful employment. This was done.

This Bill should be examined against these principles. It should be examined against the fact that the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) in another place said that the Bill has three main objectives. The first is to approve programs of urban and regional development as between the Commonwealth Minister and the State Minister or Ministers. The second is to provide that the Commonwealth Government can make an agreement with the State governments upon the nature of the financial assistance. The third objective is to provide that the agreements, when made, should be tabled in this Parliament. The speech of the Minister read admirably. The theme advanced by the Minister was that this was a venture in pure cooperative federalism. If indeed the actions of the Commonwealth Government of the past 2 years had demonstrated co-operative federalism I would certainly be the very first to applaud what has happened. The very reverse is true.

But basically, in any case, the stated policies of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and his Government are fundamentally opposed to entering into co-operative federalism. The Prime Minister has made it clear officially on behalf of his Government that he is determined to produce a centralised government in Australia and not one in which there are State governments and local governments with their sovereignties. That is beyond doubt. In document after document he has spelt that out. He has gone to municipal and shire authorities and told them that he believes that 900 bodies should not exist, that they should be amalgamated into some 40 bodies. He has said in his Fabian lectures that there should be only one parliament, and that the lower House, that all the rest should disappear and that there should be a series of some 40 or 50 regions. The Prime Minister has laid this down. As late as the second half of 1972- almost on the brink of the election in which he was made Prime Ministerthe Prime Minister in his Fabian lecture said these things:

I want you to think about this proposition: Any function of our society which can be hitched to the star of the Commonwealth grows in quality and affluence. Any function or activity which is financially limited to the States will grow slowly or even decline. Further, a function will be fairly financed to the extent that the Commonwealth finds the money for it. A function will be unfairly and inadequately financed if the whole burden falls upon the States.

He said this, of course, in the context of what he had written in his book entitled 'Labor and the Constitution'. I quote:

Much can be achieved by Labor members of the State parliaments in effectuating Labor's aims of more effective powers for the national parliament and for local government. Their role is to bring about their own dissolution.

Quite clearly the Prime Minister has laid it on the line that he will not be associated with cooperative federalism, that he will take his Cabinet and his Government into the total centralisation of power. Putting aside words, the essential fact is that his actions have backed this up. In the 2 years that Labor has been the Government there has been a major percentage decline in the amounts of money which have gone to the States by way of direct reimbursement grants, and there has been a major percentage increase in the amount of money which has gone to the States by way of tied grants. The percentage of tied grants, when compared with the total percentage, has risen very significantly. The percentage of untied reimbursement grants has fallen very significantly. That is utterly demonstrable.

Equally we had the quite extraordinary situation of the Prime Minister going to the Premiers Conference which was held before this recent Federal Budget was introduced and calling upon and demanding of the Premiers that they should cut their spending. He said that there must be a cut in State spending because this was absolutely necessary to overcome inflation. He went on to say, incidentally, that the Premiers had asked for more money for loan funds and they had based their request upon the fact that inflation- this was in June- July- was running at 1 3 per cent and they would need more money because of that. They based it on the assumption that inflation would increase. The Prime Minister rejected the premise that inflation would increase, although in fact it has almost doubled since then. He insisted on the States cutting back their spending but, of course, in his own Budget he increased Commonwealth spending by 33 per cent. That is the situation in which we face this so-called cooperative federalism.

The States themselves have been confronted by the impact of the Government's policies in this way: Every local council- I had something to say in the Senate a few days ago on thisconfronted with inflation, confronted with a credit squeeze and the worsening economic conditions, is now in a state of severe financial crisis. This morning I heard on a news broadcast that the Gunning Shire Council is cutting its work program, is sacking its people, because of its reduction in spending power as a result of reduced revenue from rates. No doubt it has had difficulty in borrowing money because of the credit squeeze and is therefore faced with limited funds. If this is the Commonwealth Government's program to widen urban and regional development, then of course it should be one that will progressively move into the shires and municipalities in order to assist them. The simple fact is that despite the noise being made about local government bodies receiving money through the Grants Commission, these grants represent petty cash in the present situation. They simply help to lessen the deficit that has resulted from inflation. The failure of their borrowing programs is such that these grants would represent only a fiddling amount of finance which could be used in an attempt to offset these deficits. Every local government body that I visited had the same tale. They said: 'We are asked to fill in forms; we are asked to make phone calls; we are subjected to questionnaires; we are subjected to duplicated visits by Commonwealth officers; we are incurring enormous time and enormous expense in filling in forms, and out of it we get nothing at all'. Let me express this sort of feeling in the words of a member of the State Premiers. I invited the various Premiers to comment upon the nature of this Bill. The Premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court, wrote to me by telex as follows:

Our Government's experience of co-operative federalism is that it is not working. We would welcome the opportunity of being invited to consult as equals with the Commonwealth Government:

In the formation of policy within which States and local government are expected to perform:

In the creation of ground rules for the introduction of various programs.

There is an urgent need for the Commonwealth Government to recognise our traditional constitutional responsibilities and act accordingly to ensure that the resource of people and material is not wasted as at present.

Briefly there is:

A lack of co-operative federalism: Inadequate consultation through poor recognition of the part to be played by the State and local councils: Duplication of effort: Overlapping of functions:

Because of the lack of real consultation, clear guidelines are not available and programs are not integrated.

The Western Australian Premier goes on in much longer terms to point out the difficulties, the arguments and the frustrations that have been experienced through the various programs. The Leader of the Opposition in South Australia, Dr Eastick, had this to say:

We ... are concerned at strictures placed by Commonwealth direction on States which might conflict with their own priorities. States ought not to be tied to future substantialrepayments of interest and principal on loan moneys without having largest say in deciding programs being thus financed.

The Treasurer of the Queensland State Government, Sir Gordon Chalk, in a long letter of response pointed out all these things that Sir Charles Court had said and added: 'Why could not the Australian Government give the States the money by way of reimbursement grants and let the States do these things?'. He went on to point out that the method at this moment involved enormous delays, with promised money for programs coming forward half a year or more later, and therefore added nothing to the attempt to rehabilitate the community in this present situation of growing unemployment. His letter echoed that of Sir Charles Court.

The Minister for State Development and Decentralisation in Victoria, Mr Murray Byrne, reiterated these points. He said:

The State Government must establish its own priorities in its Budget. The legislation could well be used by the Commonwealth to establish a different order of priorities. With the power of approval given the Commonwealth Minister by sections 4 and 7, it could well prove that the 'approval of programs' vested in him could result in an imposition of Commonwealth priorities.

He went on to point out that delays in making money available make planning extremely difficult and said:

Despite all the assurances given by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development, money made available for land purchases in the Albury-Wodonga region has now all been spent and the States have had to cease land purchases. It is essential that the Commonwealth honour promises made by them in connection with Albury-Wodonga and lift from the two States the unnecessary burdens placed on them by the dilatoriness of the Commonwealth.

For most of the 1973-74 financial year, moneys allocated to the rural city of Wodonga by the Commonwealth were not available and additional works had to be paid for by either bank overdraft or moneys made available from the State to ensure contractors were paid.

He then added, in relation to expensive duplication, the following statement:

The administrative cost associated with pursuing this course appears to be a matter of no consequence to the present Commonwealth regime.

This duplication of resources and effort is a matter to be deplored and it is without doubt that the States and municipal administration machinery which has been built up and perfected over an extraordinarily long period of time could be used by the Commonwealth to a greater extent than it currently is and would without doubt, be far more economical to the people of Australia.

The Minister for Local Government and Planning in Victoria, Mr Allan Hunt, has said exactly the same things. He has drawn attention to the fact that although the Bill and the Minister suggest that this is co-operation it is in fact coercion. I pause there to say that when I refer to clause 7 of the Bill I am referring to the clause 7 which was in the Bill in another place.

Senator Cavanagh - It was deleted.

Senator CARRICK - I acknowledge the fact that the Minister for Urban and Regional Development when approached agreed to the deletion of that clause and I thank him through Senator Cavanagh. Clause 7 therefore is not pertinent now. However it does point out that in agreements which are to be made with the States coercive provisions are made and are likely to be made. The main criticism- and I do not want to be a carping critic- of this Bill and of the Government's action is that the Commonwealth seeks to intrude its tentacles right through to the grass roots of the community. It does not seek merely to create, initiate or help form a good idea. It does not seek merely to provide the finance from its coffers as the main tax raiser. It does not seek simply to confer, to consult and to co-operate with State governments, municipalities or shires. The very reverse is true. It demands of them a massive series of impositions. It enforces certain inelastic lines of action, the effect of which is that the Commonwealth more and more is dictating a predominant part of the activities of a State. If the Commonwealth prescribes and enforces the marginal operations of a State Budget and what the State does with its own flexible amounts, it is imposing its will on the whole State because it takes that flexibility away from the State.

The real grouch and the real criticism by the States and local government is not with the goal or concept. That is shared by governments and people alike. The idea of improving our cities, the idea of giving better breathing lungs to our growth areas, the idea of giving people an opportunity to decentralise are first class objectives. It is the methodology that is criticised. The argument is that the States are being forced into being merely puppets of the Commonwealth. The local municipalities and shires have been forced into regions. They were told they would have direct access to the Grants Commission but, of course, they did not. They had to form regions and approach the Minister cap in hand and ask for permission, and the money will go through the regions. The variety of different activities within the regions, the duplication of functions and the expenditure of money are such that they are extravagant, wasteful and extremely irritating. They can be done better by those people who are elected by the people of Australia to do these very things.

For example, when I go into an area, a municipality or shire, I seek to find out what is happening in terms of area improvement grants, Australian assistance grants, sewerage, water supply, sporting and recreation, and all I am told is an enormous story of forms that have to be filled in and of telephone calls that have to be made while nothing is done. That is the general picture. It is the picture of a government which was criticised by visiting experts from overseas who were invited to come here and look at the national urban and regional programs. Those experts pointed out that the fundamental error of the programs was that there was no national strategy and no national policy. They pointed out the need to ensure the viability of these areas.

I conclude with this question: If the Government is sincere, and I think it is, in wanting a better way of life for people, particularly for the underprivileged, why does it not do these things by consultation? Why does it seek by so much oppressive demand to make almost inelastic the activities of the States? We heard in this Senate yesterday the incredible story of one State saying that in the preparation of the documents necessary to justify its road grant it spent $700,000. The magnitude of that defies the mind. I was told that one stack of submissions on the road grants by one State stood nearly 3 feet tall. I received yesterday from a shire in Victoria a pile of submissions it has made. It stands on my desk and is some 2 inches or 3 inches thick. It has, of course, attracted no response. We will follow that up. But what an extraordinary situation it is. If we measure success by the amount of paper work done we must compliment these people. But why does not the Government simply say to the States or local governments: 'You are the people who are nearest to the people; you are nearest to the problem. We want an agreement from you that you will carry out these things. In the particularities with which you carry them out use your own initiative, use your own imagination'. Why should the Government get involved in this? We hear about municipalities and shires being short of funds. We heard a report on the news this morning of a municipality or a shire that is desperately short of funds because its roads grants were cut back by $100,000. What use is it to a shire if on the one hand it gets a few thousand dollars in local government grants if its road grants are cut back by $ 100,000? Where is the sense in this kind of thing? One cannot measure success of government policies by the business of intrusion. It must be measured by the result. Therefore we have before us not a program of co-operative federalism, but a program specified by the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam. It is a program designed to destroy the States and to amalgamate local government. That statement cannot be argued because the Prime Minister has said it is so. Does anyone say that the Leader of the Government is not speaking authoritatively or is not putting the policy of the Party?

Senator Gietzelt - So did the committee appointed by the New South Wales Government.

Senator CARRICK -Senator Gietzelt acknowledges that it is the policy of his Party. I am grateful for his intervention. I am merely saying that the assertion in the speech of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development, Mr Uren, that this is a Bill for co-operative federalism is not so. It is a Bill for the centralisation of power and indeed the destruction of the other tiers of government. The Bill seeks to put into future Appropriation Bills what are now single line entries in the back of this Bill. I do not criticise the amounts or the items as such. But an item such as Urban expansion and re-development, $124,750,000' as a single line item ought to be spelt out so that this Parliament can investigate it. There is no doubt that if we seek information on any one of these items we can get it.

There is provision in the Bill for the tabling of agreements between the States and the Commonwealth. I commend that. I would hope that this Senate would have the opportunity and the facilities made available to it to debate such agreements because they are important. This Bill is really an umbrella piece of legislation. In the past the Department has sought to do by individual pieces of legislation what it now seeks to do under an umbrella piece of legislation. Having secured the deletion of clause 7 from the Bill the Opposition does not oppose the Bill as it now stands. It does, however, urge the Government in reaching agreements with the States to be less coercive and to be more co-operative and to give the States the opportunity to function according to the principles employed in carrying out their jobs in the way they know. The Opposition urges the Government to stop the nonsense of this paper war, to cut out the gross and lavish expenditure on form filling that is going on, to stop the irritation caused by the little men with forms and questionnaires tearing all over Australia and to get on with the job of achieving true co-operative federalism. On that basis and in the spirit that the former Liberal Government set out the guidelines and set out some major policies running into hundreds of millions of dollars for this purpose, I support the Bill and give it a speedy passage through the Senate.

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