12 March 1991 - Current
Mr KENNETT (Premier) -- I thank all members on both sides of the House who have contributed to the debate. Some contributions were worthwhile, and in a few moments, in the third-reading debate, we will address some of the issues raised. Therefore I will not go into any detail on these issues. While I accept that the opposition supports the thrust of the legislation and is concerned with some of its details, there is no doubt that the general theme of what Parliament is trying to do is accepted. Amendments are to be moved by the opposition, and we will respond to those amendments. Plainly, technical amendments will be moved by the government. The government is trying to recognise the changes that have taken place over the past 100 years. It is necessary for the government to adapt to change and to assist change to that end. While there has been some criticism from the opposition on the speed and method by which we have come to this position, most people in their own heart of hearts will know about the sorts of things we have been discussing tonight. In broader terms they have been discussed for 81 years. No new information has come forward as to general principles; it is more to the detail of how restructuring will be proceeded with. Based on the history of council restructuring over 81 years in Geelong, it is quite clear that the people of Geelong want leadership; they want to be able to put this continuing debate behind and to get on with the rest of their lives. Although some opposition members have referred on many occasions to a poll, members on this side say, Enough is enough. Let us get on with it . That is a legitimate government position, and I do not argue that. The government is charged with the responsibility to say that it will proceed down the path and bring an end to uncertainty as soon as possible. I say to the honourable member for Melbourne, who is in the Chamber and who led the debate for the opposition, that we might be cutting off our noses to spite our faces: the restructuring of councils may not only put councils at risk but also the State government. I interjected -- which was quite unruly at the time -- and suggested if the honourable member moved a motion for the abolition of State Parliament, certainly I would support that motion. I cannot speak for my colleagues, as the Bill has not been taken through all the due processes, and they are very keen that should be done, but I have long been an advocate for the restructure of government from Federal to local. As the honourable member for Melbourne concluded, we have too many councils and the Federal government has gained a range of authorities and powers that were not originally provided. Taxation powers were given to State and local government as a wartime measure in the days when Victoria had a structure of large land space, small population and very slow communications. Today there is still a large land mass and small population but instantaneous communications. The government must address the role of government at all levels and must become more efficient.
If the government does not do that, our community is going to demand it. This is part of the process Victoria is going through at the moment in assessing the financial situation of this State. The community wants the government to get its house in order. In the event that the Federal Parliament is not going to dissolve itself, it has some very real federal responsibilities: foreign affairs, defence, aviation policies, and so on, and given that it is unlikely that the Victorian Parliament is going to dissolve itself -- although I am happy to put it to the test if honourable members opposite so desire -- the next thing to do in Victoria is to get our own house in order quickly and to bring about as amicably as possible a restructure of local government throughout the State. The honourable member for Melbourne indicated that he thought Victoria might ultimately move to having 50 councils, which is a big reduction from 210. I do not know whether that is the right number, but it is not the target the government is aiming for. The government hopes to continue the process that has started quietly, without a rush, and ultimately to respond to councils and communities that want a better structure. Approaches have come from Bendigo, Ballarat and other local metropolitan councils that are all keen to work towards some form of locally driven restructuring. That is not something the government is forcing, but I think it is a natural outcome of what is occurring at the moment. If it were to happen, the processes in place at Geelong may provide a guide to handling it in the future, particularly when one has regard to the economic relativities of the councils in the areas concerned. That is where the KPMG Peat Marwick report, although some opposition members have criticised it, has been so valuable. The report provides a method for someone outside the political arena to look at the local government structure in a certain area to identify whether restructuring is going to benefit the community. The restructuring the government is proposing in Geelong will be of benefit because the government is fundamentally saying it will hold rates at the present level for four years. That is not a bad concession to give to a community at a time of high unemployment. Even in a period of no inflation, it is amazing how costs increase. If the government can hold the rates for four years it will give the community a great deal of certainty. The deficit levy is to be removed by 30 June 1996, as the government has always said, once Victoria returns to a balanced budget on its current account. A number of comments have been made about the concept that either small or big is not beautiful. I agree with that. There are no finite positions. No-one possesses all the wisdom of Solomon. Individually in terms of family and business or collectively as a Parliament, people can only do their best in assessing the information in front of them and trying to position communities for the future rather than simply reflecting the past. In looking at the proposals the government has taken into account local interest and economies of scale. The government cannot end up with small councils and then contract out. Victoria must operate on a broader base. Many comments have been made about the Borough of Queenscliffe and why it was excluded. The contribution of the honourable member for Melbourne before supper was better than what followed. A number of members opposite referred to Queenscliffe and why it has been excluded from the basic amalgamation. It was my view initially that Queenscliffe should have been included. When the government had a look at the KPMG report it outlined the way Queenscliffe was administered, which was in such a way that the people of Queenscliffe would not benefit by the amalgamation. In other words, the people of Queenscliffe have been running themselves well, and small or large communities that do well ought to be recognised. If the government cannot improve on the benefits, surely those communities deserve to be recognised. This is where I see a major conflict made by members on the other side. On one hand the opposition wants the government to recognise local interests, special effects, and so on, but on the other it wants the government to roll
Queenscliffe into the larger council, the argument being, as the honourable member for Melbourne said, that Queenscliffe happens to be more conservative than Labor in its make-up of population. I can assure all members that that was not the reason for the decision. Initially I was very much in favour of Queenscliffe being included. When one looks at the statistical information, if there is no benefit then there is no point bringing about change for the sake of change; one has to look at the whole question a little more rationally. The people of Geelong are more than ready for what is taking place. Some people are opposed to change and will always be opposed to change. When the government talks about municipal restructuring it invariably finds that the people most opposed to change are the councillors or people working for them. The majority of the community wants to be part of an area where there is certainty and an opportunity to participate in economic growth. I thank the vast majority of the community of Geelong for having the tolerance to go through this process over the past five years, in particular when there has been inquiry after inquiry and legal actions involving the waste of public moneys. I am confident that the community of Geelong is now ready for this next step. Comment was made that the commissioners are all going to be Liberal Party hacks, and mention was made of Mr Redlich. I happen to think Mr Redlich has a lot of skill, but it is extraordinary that it should be argued that it is all right for a Labor government to appoint him based on merit and then automatically exclude anyone the government may appoint on merit who happens to be a conservative. Honourable members interjecting. Mr Cole -- That's not true! Mr KENNETT -- It is patently not true! The people the government appoints to this commission will be people who it thinks are well qualified to do the job in the interests of the community of Geelong, being the Greater Geelong Council. I shall not mention names, but after the commission is announced I suggest that the honourable member for Melbourne will reconsider his words because he will be in for one hell of a shock. I am not going to mention the name, but the government has approached a member of the Labor Party to be a commissioner and that person has accepted. That has been done as part of the necessary process to hold the communities together. Mr Cole interjected. Mr KENNETT -- I suggest that the honourable member wait to see who is named. I thank the people of Geelong and those on the opposition benches who have made constructive suggestions. The Bill could not have come to fruition without a government that was committed to the interests of Geelong and its people, and it is only as a result of the restructuring that the people of Geelong and the surrounding districts will have greater opportunities. I thank the Minister for Local Government in another place who has had responsibility for the carriage of the legislation. Many honourable members have dreamed about this legislation for years; it is now becoming a reality. Extensive consultation has taken place and the Minister deserves credit for dealing with the isolated arguments and pressures in his endeavour to give Geelong a fresh start after 81 years of debate and argument. The Bill will provide to every person in Geelong the opportunities that he or she wants.