19th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. P. Adermann) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) on the ground of ill health.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) on the ground of ill health.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether progress was made and whether any decisions were reached at the conference that was held in Melbourne last week to discuss suggestions byAmerican interests that some arrangements should be made to pre-empt Australian wool for American stock-piling needs? What are the political, administrative and private interests of the American delegates to the conference?
– The American delegation to the conference to which the honorable gentleman has referred is led by the Counsellor to the American Embassy in Canberra. I am not aware of the political or private affiliations ofother members of the delegation, but I know that they are accredited by the United States Administration. At the conference, which is proceeding on an official basis, representatives of the United Kingdom, United States of America and the Dominions of New Zealand; South Africa and Australia are examining various suggestions that have been made on the best means by which the United States of America can procure the wool reserve that it requires for military purposes. No prior commitments were made, and the discussions are proceeding on the basis of examining the best means to adopt, if any special methods are required, to enable the United States of America to’ acquire the wool that it requires. Any decisions made will be announced as soon as possible after the conclusion of the conference, which is still proceeding.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say whether the recent decision of the Commonwealth to guarantee a price of 91/2d. per lb. for seed cotton has resulted in more land being planted for cotton this season than was planted in previous seasons?
– The information provided for me on the subject is that, up to the present, 7,000 acres have been planted to cotton in Queensland, compared with 3,600 acres under cotton at this time last year, and planting is still proceeding. It is evident, therefore, that the acreage under cotton in Queensland this year will be doubled, which seems to reflect clearly the added stability given to the industry by the undertaking of the present Government to guarantee a minimum ‘ price for seed cotton for a certain period.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that Australia lags far behind most other countries of the civilized world in the. treatment of its elderly people?- Is the right honorable gentleman aware that as a nation we do practically nothing to bring brightness and happiness into the lives of our older citizens, whereas other countries, notably Great Britain, have established nationwide authorities which function in conjunction with voluntary organizations to provide special housing accommodation for old people at nominal rental-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman must come to the point of his question. I have forbidden the making of long speeches at question time.
– I was merely mentioning the facilities provided for the welfare of old people in Great Britain. Is the Government prepared to issue a call to the nation to accept its responsibility in this vital matter? Will it encourage municipal councils and voluntary organizations to tackle the problem of giving a fair deal to our older citizens by providing financial assistance and also expert administrative guidance through the Department of Social Services.
– The answer to the first part of the honorable member’s question is “ No “, so the remaining parts of the honorable member’s question do not require an answer.
– Will the Minister for Labour and National Service state whether it is a fact that the training of persons who have been displaced from industry through injury lies within the province of the State governments which control technological institutions? ls it a fact that persons who are so affected become a charge on the social services of the Commonwealth ? Is it also a fact that the wastage of human life and happiness and the loss of economic units caused by such displacements arc seriously concerning many people ? If these are facts, will the Minister, in collaboration with the
States, consider the calling of a conference of representatives of State governments, State technological authorities, and organizations of employers and employees with a view to dealing with this wastage by endeavouring to restore such injured persons to health by occupational therapy treatment along the lines of that provided for ex-servicemen?
– I think .that there is at present very close co-operation between the Australian Government and State government instrumentalities on this important matter.
– The former Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, Mr. Dedman, instituted that system of cooperation a couple of years ago.
– My department has established a special section for the placement in industry of persons who have suffered injury or who are suffering from a disability of one kind or another. Action is taken for the training and recuperation of such persons where that can be done. I shall explore the honorable member’s suggestion. I realize that a good deal can bo done by curative treatment to render injured workers fit for replacement in industry. We shall see whether anything can.be done to increase co-operation between the Commonwealth and State authorities in this matter.
– Since a number of honorable members have shown concern about the possible effect that the payment on one day of an estimated sum of £67,000,000 in war gratuity will have on our national economy, will the Treasurer consider removing the present restrictions on the early payment of the gratuity? Will he also say whether it would be possible to spread the payments over several months prior to March, 1951, which is the month in which payment is due?
– The honorable gentleman was good enough to inform me of his intention to ask this question, and I have had the advantage of conferring with officers of the Treasury on the matter. The circumstances in which early payment of war gratuity may be made were determined some time ago by an all-party committee of honorable members. The date for payment of war gratuity is prescribed by the War Gratuity Act, and payment could only be spread as suggested if that act were amended. Any deferment of payment of :gratuity would amount to repudiation of the conditions under which the gratuity has been granted. However, there is :nothing to prevent any recipient of war gratuity payment from making an investment in a Commonwealth loan after the war gratuity has been paid on the 3rd March next.
– Is the Minister for Labour and National Service aware that under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act trade unions that desire to serve logs of claims upon employers, including claims arising out of the recent basic wage inquiry, are required to serve copies of such logs of claims upon every individual employer in the industry, and that every copy must be seat by registered post? In the pastoral industry many thousands of copies of claims have to be served on individual graziers. By contrast, the employers are required to serve only one log of claims, because service on the trade union concerned is regarded as service upon all employees in the particular industry concerned. Needless delay and confusion are caused by the onerous obligation imposed upon employees, and I ask the Minister to say whether, when the Government is preparing amendments to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, it will take into consideration the matter I have mentioned?
– Yes, the Government will be glad to look into the matter along, the lines suggested by the honorable member.
– As rumours are current that a request has been made for an increase of parliamentary pensions, based on the fact that payments into the fund nave exceeded the outgoings, does the Prime Minister agree that the retention in the fund in the early stage of the scheme of the excess of receipts over outgoings is essential in order to place the fund on a sound financial basis ? Will the right honorable gentleman inform the House whether he and the Cabinetare opposed to increasing the amount of pension payable to members with pension qualifications who retire in the future.
– This matter has not, so far as I know, engaged the attention of Cabinet, but I do know from conversations with my colleague the Treasurer, that the Commonwealth Actuary is at present investigating the fund in order that he may report upon its nature and extent.
– Has the Minister for National Development seen, a statement that was published in the Sunday Sun of the 19th November to the effect that the Austrian Government has refused to issue permits for the export of prefabricated houses? In view of the confusion that exists in the minds of the people about this matter, will the Minister inform the House how many prefabricated houses have been ordered from overseas and how many have been landed and erected in Australia ? Is there any truth in the rumour that all negotiations for the purchase of prefabricated houses overseas have collapsed?
– I have seen the reference in the press to this subject, which was in different terms from those stated by the honorable member. One of the State governments has ordered a few hundred prefabricated houses from Austria, and it may be that the Austrian Central Bank will not provide credit facilities to enable them to be exported. This matter is being investigated on behalf of the State government concerned. Several weeks ago I explained to the House the full position in connexion with the orders that have been placed abroad for prefabricated houses. I shall have the figures in relation to the number of prefabricated houses that have been ordered, the number that have arrived in this country so far, and the prospects of the arrival of additional numbers during the next twelve months brought up to date. I have not heard any rumour to the effect that arrangements for the importation of prefabricated houses have broken down. There is no truth whatever in that suggestion. On the contrary, the States are becoming increasingly active in calling for tenders for prefabricated houses. It is likely that : very considerable additional number will be ordered during the next month or two. and that during 1951 very large numbers of prefabricated houses will arrive from overseas and will be erected in this country. I shall advise the honorable member of the latest figures as early as possible.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs supply the House with any information beyond what has appeared in the press about the situation that has arisen over Egypt during the last few days? Is the British Government acting in consultation with the Australian Government on this matter? In view of Australia’s security interests in the Suez Canal zone, and, indeed, in the preservation of British power in the Middle East, will the Government do everything possible to support Mr. Bevin’s reported determination to maintain British troops in Egypt?
– The statement that was made recently by the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bevin, in the House of Commons revealed the policy of the British Government in relation to the treaty that exists between Great Britain and Egypt on this subject-matter. We have had discussions with the British Government about this subject, and. I think it is proper to say that the view? that have been expressed by the British Secretary of State are the views also of this Government. Although Australia is not a party to the agreement, and therefore not directly concerned in the issue, Australia has a very vital interest in this area, as has been revealed in two war? It is proper to say also that the Australian Government sees no reason to differ from the views that have been expressed by the British Secretary of State upon the term? of the treaty between the United Kingdom and Egypt.
– Did the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture meet representatives of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation in conference in Melbourne last week? Was the extension to ten years of the operation of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act discussed at that conference? Were any suggestions presented with a view to overcoming the apparent anomalies in that act and, if so, with what result?
– I met the executive of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, that is, the representatives df the affiliated, wheat-growing organization in each of the wheat-growing States, in Melbourne last Friday, when the federation placed before me ite views about the terms upon which it would, wish the operative period of the existing legislation in relation to wheat industry stabilization to be extended to ten years. That meeting followed an announcement that I had made at the last meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council to the effect that it was the policy of the Government to extend wheat stabilization to a ten-year period if the industry so desired and if the State governments were willing to co-operate, the latter condition being a prerequisite, because State legislation is necessary in connexion with the matter. In view of the fact that I had been absent from Australia for some time I did not attend the Melbourne conference to give the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation a.ny set views or to state the policy of the Australian Government in detail, but to give that body an opportunity to state its policy views. The federation stated its views at that quite lengthy conference, and in due course I shall present them, together with my own observations, to the Cabinet. By agreement, a further conference with the federation will be held sometime early in the New Year, and in due course a conference with the State governments will also be held in connexion with the same matter.
– About six weeks ago I asked the Minister for National Development a question about a request by the Premier of Queensland for Commonwealth assistance in connexion with the construction of new coke ovens either at Collinsville or at Bowen, and/or the extension of the existing coke ovens at Bowen. The Minister was at that time unable to supply me with an answer to my question, but he informed me that the Commonwealth investigating officer had not finalized his report on the matter. As that officer has already paid at least two visits to Queensland, can the Minister now say whether he has yet received the officer’s report and whether he will expedite a decision on the matter, as the present low output of coke in Australia is causing concern to industry?
– Yes, I have received a very voluminous report from the senior technical officer of my department who visited Bowen in company with State officers. The report is now being reduced in size to a reasonable bulk. I have been in touch by correspondence with the Premier of Queensland, and have advised him in very broad terms of the content of the report, which I hope will be in my hands within a very few days. I do not think it is appropriate at this time to indicate the trend of the report other than to say that it is not very optimistic.
– Has the Minister for External Affairs seen a recent report from Washington to the effect that the Government of the United States of America, while making it clear that it would support Holland in resisting Indonesian claims to Dutch New Guinea, has made a gesture of friendship to the new Republic of Indonesia by offering to train a first hatch of 60 Indonesian Air Force cadets? Has the Australian Government considered making a similar gesture?
– I did read something to that effect in an article by Mr. Wilkie in which he compared what he considered to be the enlightened attitude of the Government of the United States of America with what I assume he regarded as the much less enlightened attitude of the Australian Government, and said, in effect, that the American people, by extending such an assurance to the Dutch, and at the same time giving assistance to the Indonesians, had smoothly dealt with a difficult matter. The article was based on a statement alleged to have been made by a spokesman in the United States of America, but the statement was subsequently denied by him. I read the article carefully. Normally, I am disposed to accept statements of fact made by the writer of the article, although, as in this instance, I do not always agree with his conclusions.
– Will the Prime Minister amplify the statement that he made at the all-Australian local government convention on Monday last to the effect that he would like to see local governing bodies, State governments, and the Australian Government get together for a serious study of the nation’s financial problems? Does the Prime Minister’s statement mean that he recognizes that some degree of financial assistance must be granted to municipalities by the Commonwealth because of the numerous duties which they are called upon to perform, and which are beyond their financial capacity? If the State governments are not prepared to be represented at such a conference, will the Prime Minister consider the request of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations that a royal commission be appointed to inquire into proposals for defining and stabilizing the responsibilities and financial obligations of local governing bodies?
– I have not received a request from the association for the appointment of a royal commission. If, or when, such a request is received it will naturally be considered. I do not know that I need to amplify what I said on the occasion referred to by the honorable member. I did not say then or at any other time that the Commonwealth proposed to enter into financial relations with local governing authorities, or to assume responsibilities regarding them. As I pointed out, the Commonwealth deals with the States, and the States deal with the municipalities. I did say, and I repeat, that we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that in Australia we have the Australian Parliament, we have State parliaments and we have local governing authorities. All of them have very clear administrative responsibilities. I believe it to be essential to good government in Australia that all three administrative systems should be in a position to discharge their duties with competence. It was for that reason that I suggested that it would be useful for the Commonwealth, the States and the local governing authorities to discuss the broad question of how their respective powers could best be exercised, having regard to the financial capacity of the country as a whole. I notice with some regret that at least one State Premier has indicated that the matter is no business of ours. It is quite true, in a direct sense, that it is no business of ours, but a Commonwealth which is not aware of the significance of local government or of the responsibilities that it has to discharge, is itself not very well aware of some of the real problems of the country.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Immigration, concerns the absorption of new Australians after the completion of their twoyear contractual period in employment. Prior to their arrival in Australia many of these new Australians served qualifying periods at various skilled trades in the countries from which they have emigrated. Because of the disturbed political conditions in those countries, in some cases they lost the documents which proved that they had served that period of apprenticeship or training. I ask the Minister whether any arrangements have been made with or approaches made to, trade unions or other interested bodies for the trade testing of such migrants so that they may receive proper recognition and be absorbed into the unions concerned and be employed as tradesmen.
– Yes, arrangements are made where practicable in relation to those migrants who have the requisite skill in particular trades. The type of trade testing varies according to the trade in which the migrant seeks entry, and it varies to some extent in different States. I can assure the honorable member that arrangements have been made from time to time for trade testing to be carried out, and generally speaking the trade unions have shown themselves co-operative in that regard.
– Is the Treasurer awarethat asbestos cement water pressure pipesare imported from Europe by State and municipal authorities for urgent reticulation projects, and that such pipes are admitted to Australia, under by-law, free of duty? In view of the necessity for ample supplies of such pipes to overtake the lag in developmental work, can the Treasurer assure the House that such pipes will continue to be admitted to Australia, under by-law, free of duty after the 31st December, 1950 ?
– I shall treat the honorable member’s question as being on the notice-paper and give him an expeditious reply.
– My question is directed, to the Minister for Air. Has the Government considered adopting gliding as a valuable adjunct to the training of the air training corps? The Launceston Gliding Club is anxious and willing; to co-operate in the training of recruits.
– The Government recognizes that gliding is of assistance to aviation, and has doubled the subsidy previously given to gliding clubs. The Government is making £2,000 a year available for gliding clubs. As I understand’ the position, the Launceston Gliding Club desires that all lads in the air trainingcorps shall be given a gliding course of training, after which the club wishes to decide which trainees shall become pilots. The club would charge the Government, a fee of £10 for each trainee. That proposition has not been put forward by the Gliding Federation of Australia,, which the Government recognizes and assists generally. The Royal Australian Air Force can decide who should beaccepted for further training to becomemembers of air crews. It is not reasonable to expect every lad who joins the airtraining corps to take up gliding, because only about 10 per- cent, of them would ultimately become members of air crews. Gliding clubs and aero clubs are- “being assisted in other ways. The Launceston Aero Club will get a proportion of the 40 lads who are to be granted free flying scholarships each year by the Australian Government. It will also receive a proportion of the national service trainees and, in addition, some members of the university units, and some of the reserves. I can assure the honorable member that if we can help gliding further we shall do so. Consideration is being given to the setting up of a unit of the Royal Australian Air Force in Tasmania, in addition to the air training corps. The more we can collaborate with aero clubs the better it will be for flying generally.
– Has the Minister for Health endeavoured to ascertain from his departmental officials whether an instruction has been issued, perhaps without his authority, to doctors that they may make a charge of 5s. to pensioners after hours, which means, after 6 p.m.? If -such an instruction has been issued without his knowledge, will he ensure that it is countermanded ?
– I assure the honorable member that no instruction has been sent out, either by myself or by the Department of Health. Any information to the contrary that the honorable member may have has come from an unreliable source.
– Oan the POStmasterGeneral say whether the present -supply of locally manufactured and imported automatic telephone exchange equipment is sufficient for our present and future demands? Does the honorable -gentleman expect that the defence requirements of the United Kingdom and the United States of America will reduce the quantities of this equipment that are available in those countries for export to Australia?
– We have ordered a large quantity of automatic telephone exchange equipment to meet our needs for two or three years ahead. It is coming to hand rapidly and, in some instances, ahead of schedule. We do not expect any hold up in the production of this equipment in Great Britain at present. At least we have had no notification of any delay in fulfilling our orders, and we hope that we shall be able to accelerate the installation of automatic telephone exchanges, complete with modern equipment, throughout the Commonwealth, and particularly in rural areas.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that owing to the shortage of interconnecting lines between automatic exchanges in suburbs on the north side of Sydney Harbour and the city, subscribers connected to northern exchanges find it difficult to get connexions with city telephones at busy periods? They get only the engaged signal when they dial the first letter of the number that they desire to raise. Can the Minister inform me what progress has been made in laying the new submarine cable which is designed to obviate these delays?
– The department recognizes the difficulty to which the honorable member has directed attention. Considerable delays have occurred in the making of calls by subscribers connected to exchanges in North Sydney to subscribers across the harbour. Those delays have been due to an insufficiency of submarine interconnecting cable. A short while ago steps were taken to overcome them and I am hopeful that the new submarine cable will be installed about the end of January, or early in February.
– Which year?
– Order ! Too much audible conversation is taking place on the front Opposition bench. The honorable member foi’ Melbourne and the honorable member for East Sydney, who ask more questions than other honorable members are continually interrupting, and thus preventing other honorable members from asking questions and receiving replies in a satisfactory manner.
– The submarine cable will be installed about three years ahead of any date by which a Labour government could install it. The new cable will provide from 1,000 to 1,100 additional circuits across the harbour, and these additional lines should overcome the delays to which the honorable member has referred.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether the Government proposes to pay a subsidy to dairy farmers on milk produced for manufacturing purposes other than for the production of butter and cheese? This matter is very important to some producers in making future price agreements. A few months ago it was believed that the Government intended to restore the subsidy on milk for processing purposes, other than butter and cheese production, which had been discontinued by the Chifley Government after the prices referendum, and some price agreements were made on that understanding. Since then, however, it has been stated that the subsidy will he paid not to farmers but to manufacturers. In other words, the subsidy will be payable not on milk produced, but on the processed article produced for local consumption only. In order that future price agreements may be made, it is very important that an authoritative statement should be issued on this matter, and I ask the Minister whether he is prepared to make such a statement now?
– When the present Government assumed office, part of the subsidy that the farmer Government had engaged to pay in respect of the production of butter and cheese was about to cease. The present Government agreed to renew the subsidy, and in due course, increased it and, at the same time, decided to offer to pay a comparable subsidy in respect of the manufacture of processed milk, provided that manufacturers made a contribution to a stabilization fund similar to that which manufacturers of butter and cheese made in respect of the subsidy payable to them. I had various conferences with representatives of the manufacturers of processed milk. After some fairly straight talking, I may say, it was agreed that they would form a company along the lines of the equalization company that the butter and cheese manufacturers have formed and that that company should contribute to an equalization fund. Thus that section of the industry would become entitled to receive the subsidy. Those negotiations proceeded until a few months ago, when they were very close to being finalized. Frankly, I do not know whether they have since been finalized. If they have not, no fault attaches to the Government on that score. I shall ascertain the facts and make a statement upon the subject as soon as possible.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say whether tobacco grown in Australia is sold to the tobacco combine in circumstances in which the Government has no say in the control of its distribution? Is it a fact that the tobacco combine has appointed its own committee to handle the distribution of tobacco? Is it a fact that the public have no means of approaching that committee, and that its only address is a post office box number? Will the Minister take up this matter with a view to ensuring that the Government shall have some say in the distribution of tobacco and that the public shall be enabled to approach that committee directly ?
Mi’. McEWEN.-It is not a fact that all Australian produced-tobacco is sold to any so-called combine. One of the principal tobacco-producing areas in Australia is situated in the MareebaDimbulah district of North Queensland, in the electorate of the honorable member for Leichhardt. In that area the tobaccogrowers have established a co-operative company which sells .their tobacco by public auction and, in turn, as one of its activities, buys back at public auction a very large quantity of the tobacco produced in the area, -manufactures it unblended with imported tobacco, and sells it on behalf of the growers. That is one instance of direct sale to the Australian public of unblended Australian tobacco. The body which is known as the tobacco distribution committee, or by some such title, is related to the tobacco manufacturing branch of the industry. As that branch of the industry comes under the administration of the Minister for Trade and Customs, I shall bring the honorable member’s question to his notice.
– Has the Prime Minister observed that, since the Commonwealth has been divested of power to impose war-time controls, there has “been a tendency on the part of certain trade organizations to establish their own controls and to institute restrictive trade practices which are inimical to the interests of the consuming public, both in relation to price and volume of production, and which are also prejudicial to retailers who are prevented from entering into free and unfettered competition with more favoured firms which receive preferential treatment at the hands of these trade organizations? In this regard, I refer to recent happenings in the tobacco trade which were mentioned in the question asked earlier by the honorable member for Cunningham and also to restrictive practices in relation to petrol distribution and in the rice and tobacco-growing industries. In view of that trend, will the Prime Minister discuss the matter with the States with a. view to the introduction of joint Commonwealth and State legislation to provide for a reference of power to the Commonwealth to enable it effectively to cope with the situation along the lines of the Sherman anti-trust laws in operation in the United States of America? Alternatively, will he endeavour to obtain power for the Commonwealth by way of a referendum to deal with trusts, combines and monopolies?
– The answer to the first question is “ No “.
– What about the other questions?
– They do not arise, because the answer to the first question is in the negative.
– I should like to explain that the question which I shall address to the Prime Minister is tinctured with a certain amount of unpleasantness, but that will not deter me from asking it. Can the right honorable gentleman inform me whether a refrigerator has been installed in the offices of the Public Service Board? What was the cost to the taxpayer of that installation? Has the refrigerator been used for the storage of alcoholic liquor? If it has been used for that purpose, will the Prime Minister inform me who purchased the liquor, what it cost, and under what vote it was purchased?
– And who consumed it?
– What is the address?
– Order! I ask honorable gentlemen not to interrupt the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory when he is asking a question.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether a refrigerator is now to be regarded as standard departmental equipment? Does the Government consider that such a practice is desirable?
– As the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory will appreciate, I do not know the answer to his questions. I have never been in the offices of the Public Service Board, and, therefore, I have no idea whatever of the amenities that it may include, but I shall ascertain the position.
Motion (.by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
Debate resumed from the 21st November (vide page 2704), on motion by Mr. Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Whilst this bill provides for an increase of the allocation of money by the Commonwealth to the States for road purposes, the Opposition regards it as completely inadequate to meet the unsatisfactory condition of roads throughout Australia at the present time, and as inconsistent with the promises made by members of the present Government during the last general election campaign. Perhaps the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) will tell the House what has become of the grandiose scheme which was announced at that time in the coloured pamphlet, For a Liberal Australia,, in which it was stated -
Over the next five years, we shall borrow £250,000,000, the interest and sinking fund to come from the petrol tax.
That statement was supported by the Treasurer in many of the addresses that he delivered during the last general election campaign. I have said that this bill will increase the allocation of money by the Commonwealth to the States for road purposes, but I point out that the position of road transport has never been more acute than it is at the present time. Any person who travels over the road systems in the various States of the Commonwealth must recognize that that important aspect of transportation is rapidly deteriorating. It should not be a question of a few million pounds being spent on roads, but a matter of hundreds of millions of pounds being expended in order to put the roads throughout the Commonwealth in a proper condition. “While this Government talks about the urgency and the need for providing for home defence, I suggest to it that nothing is more important in any scheme of defence than an adequate transport system. The Government has apparently abandoned the plan to modernize and standardize the railway systems, because nothing has been heard of the plan since it took office, other than the fact that the scheme has been referred to a subcommittee of Cabinet. That matter, which was raised by the preceding Government and met with strong public support, has been shelved by this Government; but for political reasons, it does not wish to announce a complete abandonment of the plan. The Government instead says that the plan has been referred to a sub-committee of Cabinet, and up to the present time we have not heard anything concerning the deliberations of that sub-committee.
The railway systems of the Commonwealth are in a shocking condition, and as the result of their deterioration more and more transport has been diverted to the roads. Because of the added traffic on the roads they too are rapidly deteriorating. It is not a question of granting limited financial assistance to the States for the purpose of patching up. the -roads and of carrying out maintenance; in many cases it will be a. question of complete reconstruction. It is necessary to consider that heavy vehicles are now using roads which were never constructed to carry such vehicles. Any one who travels on the road between Canberra and Sydney at the present time must be shocked by its condition. Yet, it is one of our main arterial roads. I ask the Government what use it is to talk about the defence of the continent unless it provides a proper system of transport. I do not ask for roads in preference to railways, or railways and1 roads in preference to airways, because I consider that the various means of transport have their part to play in a properly co-ordinated system. Because it is obviously beyond the financial capacity of the States or the local governing authorities to carry out all the maintenance and reconstruction that are required, the Australian Government, should provide more assistance than it has done previously and should make available the requisite financial resources to enable substantial and modern arterial road systems to be constructed throughout the Commonwealth. Between Brisbane and Adelaide, if for no other reason than that of defence, in my opinion there should be a four-lane highway, built to modern standards and capable of carrying the heaviest equipment.
During the last war there was norolling stock on the railway systemsadequate to take heavy military equipment and it was necessary to improvise from day to day in order to meet the demands occasioned by the war. The road systems were also inadequate to meet the heavy demands made on them by the Army. If an attack occurred in the north of Australia at the present time the transport systems in that areawould be found to be totally inadequate.. I suggest that the Government has tackled’ transport problems in a piecemeal way,, although at the time of the last election it apparently considered that somethingmore should be done concerning transport than had been done by any previous. government. Ttc members of the present Government parties spoke of borrowing £250,000,000 and meeting the interest and sinking fund payments from the petrol tax. It now proposes to increase the charge for road purposes upon the moneys received by way of customs duty and excise tax on petrol by setting aside for the next five years an additional 3d. a gallon of. customs duty on imported petrol and 3d. a gallon excise on locally produced petrol. Those increases it is claimed will bring in approximately £ 12,000,000. It may be rightly argued by the Government at the present moment that some of the States and many of the local governing authorities, even if they bad the money, would not have the physical capacity to put all their roads in first-class conditions, because they lack the equipment and man-power. This is a matter of national planning, and transport ought to -take, an important place in national planning. Apparently the Government has discarded the views that were previously expressed by its members and now proposes to put transport on one side as though it were of slight importance and should be left solely as a responsibility of the States. The States must not be expected to bear the full brunt of providing adequate road systems throughout the Commonwealth. I remind honorable members of a statement on roads which the present Treasurer made in his policy speech during the general election campaign. It reads as follows : -
Years of socialist misrule, and continued raids for revenue purposes on the proceeds of the petrol tax, have led to a grave deterioration in our road system.
Raids on the petrol tax! When I was Minister for Transport I recognized that the petrol tax was not imposed solely for the purpose of providing funds for road construction. But members of the present Government, who were then in Opposition, did not hold that opinion at that time. They argued that all proceeds of the petrol tax should be devoted to the construction and maintenance of roads throughout Australia. They said that it was a tax upon a section of the community for a special purpose, and that any diversion of the revenue from the tax to other purposes represented misappropriation of funds by the
Government. Many members of the then Opposition, including the present Treasurer, expressed that view.
– I have never advanced that argument.
– Then, when the right honorable gentleman has an opportunity to do so, he might explain to us what he meant when he spoke in his policy speech of- continued raids for revenue purposes on the proceeds of the petrol tax.
The right honorable gentleman’s statement on that occasion clearly meant that, in his opinion, revenue from the petrol tax should not have been included with the general revenue but should have been made available for the improvement of the road systems of the Commonwealth.
Let us consider the degree of importance that is attached to the development and maintenance of road systems by the present Government. The bill provides for the allocation of more Commonwealth money for road works than has ever been appropriated for such -purposes in any other year. I admit that, but a false impression may be conveyed by the mere statement of that fact. In assessing the Government’s proposals, we must have regard to the increase of revenues and also to the additional costs of road construction to-day. Those costs have increased to the same degree as have other costs. Therefore, we should consider how much road construction and maintenance work will be financed by the extra funds. Members of the present Government declared when they were in Opposition that local government bodies were not benefiting to the degree that they should benefit from Commonwealth financial grants. They said that the Australian Government should have made direct payments to those bodies because the State governments had a tendency to add grants from the Commonwealth to their general revenue accounts and then expend the money on projects in the vicinity of the big cities and on main roads with the result that sparsely populated areas were neglected. The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald), who led the attack against the Labour Government when the previous bill on this subject was before the House made a great feature in his speech of what he described as the failure of that Government to make, direct grants to local government bodies. However, the Treasurer has declared that this Government has no intention of interfering with the State governments in connexion with the distribution of funds allotted for road works. The Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act 1947, which was sponsored by the Chifley Government, provided that a portion of the money allocated to the States for road works was to be ear-marked for expenditure upon roads in sparsely populated areas, timber country and rural areas. The Chifley Government was the first government to ear-mark money for that purpose. After the enactment of that measure, many local authorities were, for the first time, given financial assistance in respect of road works as the result of a Commonwealth grant. In 1947, £1,000,000 was ear-marked for expenditure upon roads in sparsely populated areas. In 1948, the allocation was increased to £2,000,000, and in 1949 to £3,000,000. The Chifley Government ensured that those sums would be expended by the States upon the purposes for which they were made available, because the States were required to submit to the Commonwealth each year a statement of proposed expenditure upon roads in sparsely populated areas for approval by Commonwealth authorities. The Treasurer has tried to make it appear that that practice will be continued under this measure, but I challenge him to refer the House to a clause of the bill that would enable the Commonwealth to police the distribution of money granted to the States for that purpose. All that this measure requires is that each year a State AuditorGeneral shall certify, after the money has been expended, that it has been expended upon the purposes for which the Commonwealth Parliament voted it.
The Chifley Government provided that schedules of proposed works should be submitted by the States to the Commonwealth for approval before the works were begun, but this Government has departed from that practice. Under this measure, decisions as to where the money is to be expended will be made almost, exclusively by State governments.
In many respects, State governments do not differ from federal governments. They have a tendency to expend money in the places where the greatest voting population resides and which are important to them from . an electoral stand-point. Therefore, as a result of this measure, sparsely populated areas will be largely neglected. It is clear from the Treasurer’s second-reading speech that there will be a grave departure from the previous practice. Hitherto, local governing authorities have not been permitted to use the special grant from the Commonwealth for road purposes in sparsely populated areas and upon roads within the boundaries or in the vicinity of country towns. I do not suggest that country towns are not entitled to good roads, but I do submit that it is a retrograde step to. abandon the practice of earmarking money solely for expenditure upon roads in sparsely populated areas. The development of this country will be retarded by that action. An adequate and efficient transport system is essential to national development, and we must have efficient road systems before we can develop our outback areas. Honorable gentlemen opposite are prone to tell the electors that members of the Labour party represent the industrial population and are concerned only with the cities, but an examination of the records of this Parliament will show that upon every occasion when any of these issues has been raised in the Parliament, the Labour party has always approached it from the national stand-point. It recognizes that Australian citizens who live in outback areas, where there are very few voters, are entitled to the same consideration from this Parliament as are citizens who reside in the more populous areas.
The Commonwealth became directly interested in transport for the first time during the war years. By “ directly interested “, I mean interested from the administrative viewpoint. The Labour party established the Department of Transport, and doubtless transport would have been a separate portfolio if the Chifley Government had been successful at the last general election. Transport is very important to the Commonwealth and to national development. The Labour party recognized that the Commonwealth was the only authority in this country with sufficient financial resources to finance the work in respect of transport that was required to be undertaken throughout Australia. Let us examine what this Government has done in connexion with the administration of the transport activities of the Commonwealth. First, it gave the transport portfolio to a member of the Government who is, in my opinion, probably one of the most incompetent members of a very incompetent team.
– ‘Order ! Pergonal reflections are entirely out of order.
– I did not make a personal reflection; I expressed a personal opinion. The transport portfolio was given to the present Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), who quickly disposed of it. Whether he did so at the request of his colleagues, or because he wanted to get rid of it, I do not know. Then the portfolio was taken over by the present Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) after a reconstruction of the Cabinet. What has happened to the section of the Department of Fuel, Shipping and Transport that is supposed to deal with transport matters?
I have mentioned the importance of a properly co-ordinated transport system in the Commonwealth. The Chifley Government, recognizing that the States had great authority in connexion with transport and knowing that the Commonwealth Parliament could not legislate directly in relation to it, established the Australian Transport Advisory Council. It consisted of the State Ministers for Transport, and the appropriate Commonwealth Minister, who acted as chairman. It did valuable work. I say, in fairness to the States, that they co-operated with the Commonwealth. Great progress was made by the committees that were established to deal with matters such as uniform vehicular standards and uniform traffic laws. One would imagine that party politics would not enter into the administration of a properly co-ordinated transport system, but apparently this Government believes that they do. As far as I know, the Australian Transport Advisory Council has not met since this Government assumed office, and no indication has been given of whether it will meet again.
Let me tell the House of one incident which shows the interest that the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport is taking in the transport problem. When the Minister was asked by a member associated with the Australian Transport Advisory Council - I refer, not to a government official, but to a man prominent in the transport industry - when the council was likely to meet, he said, “ What body is that? “ He did not even know that it existed, and had to be told that there was a body known as the Australian Transport Advisory Council. The honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) was a member of the council for a considerable period. He and the State Ministers who were associated with it know of the great work that was done by that organization, but this Government is allowing it to die. The Government believes that when it has provided the States with money for expenditure upon roads, it can wash its hands of transport problems.
As I have said, this measure may appear to be somewhat similar to the measure introduced by the Chifley Government. It provides that the States may expend a portion of the money allocated to them upon the improvement of havens for fishermen and upon the provision of roadmaking equipment for local authorities which are unable to purchase the equipment for themselves. But my point is that the measure will leave entirely to the State governments the decision of how the money provided- by the Commonwealth shall be expended. I think that that is a very grave mistake on the part of the Government, which should appoint a Minister whose sole duty would be to administer transport and to co-ordinate all forms of transport. Unless some measure of co-ordination is introduced there is every possibility that the position of the national transport system will become chaotic. I have directed attention to the great difficulties that have arisen in the past in obtaining agreement amongst the States, and that difficulty has confronted every Commonwealth administration. Labour established a degree of co-operation with the
States, and why should not that cooperation, which has obtained such beneficial results for the people of Australia, be continued? Does the Treasurer suggest that the mere provision of £12,000,000 is sufficient to place our roads in a proper condition, having regard to the tremendous demands made on our roads by heavy traffic to-day ? Of course, the right honorable gentleman would not suggest that it was because such a contention would be ridiculous.
As I said earlier, hundreds of millions of pounds will have to be expended on our roads if they are to be placed in a proper condition. Road transport is vitally necessary to’ the development of industry and to the success of any developmental project. The various means of transport - rail, road, sea and air - all have their part to play in national development. In some instances the provision of first-class roads will provide the:best means of transport, whilst in other instances railways may provide the most efficient and cheapest form of transport. It is obvious that the present Government has no plans for transport. It has made of the former Department of Transport a kind of Cinderella agency of the Government. It removed Mr. Paul, who was the secretary of the former Department of Transport, from his position notwithstanding that that officer is one of the most efficient public servants that we have. Mr. Paul and his predecessor, Mr. Murphy, devoted many years to the preparation of plans, in co-operation with State governments, to improve the transport facilities of this country. Apparently, all their work has been cast aside because the Government is not concerned about transport, and has no. plan to improve it.
– The previous Labour Government did not leave us any good roads.
– The honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins), who has just interjected, evidently has very little knowledge of the problems that confront transport authorities to-day. In fact, those difficulties have become progressively worse and the condition of our roads during the last two or three years has been worse than it had ever been. Of course, the explanation of that state of affairs lies in the inadequacy of the roads, which were built many years ago, to carry the heavy vehicles which travel over them to-day. For proof of that assertion we need not look further than the road which links Canberra with the main southern highway. That road is crumbling to dust, and all that the Commonwealth and New South Wales are doing is to patch the holes in it from time to time. The plain fact is that when that road, and most other highways, were constructed heavy vehicles of the kind that are using the roads to-day were unknown. Because of the inability of our railways to handle all the traffic offering to-day it is necessary that much of it shall be transported by road. Great quantities of goods consigned interstate often have to be carried by road because the interstate shipping lines and railways cannot cope with the freight offering. It is idle, therefore, to suggest that heavy vehicles should be prohibited at the present time from using the roads. Although the Commonwealth is providing comparatively large sums of money for expenditure by the States upon roads, it does not ensure that that money shall be properly expended by supervising the expenditure. One thing is clear ; that is that if heavy vehicles continue to pound roads that were not built to carry such traffic it will not be very long before we shall have no usable first-class roads. I am merely outlining the difficulties that confront us because of the lack of interest in this matter displayed by the present Government, and I am not suggesting what course of action should be adopted. I do not know whether the Commonwealth, in co-operation with the States, should take action to prohibit the transport of loads above a certain weight over particular highways, or whether the highways themselves should be strengthened to carry heavy vehicles. The latter course would, no doubt, involve the expenditure of considerable sums of money, and would make large demands upon our a vailable labour and materials.
I ask honorable gentlemen to consider for a moment the restraining effect upon our great programme of national works that is exercised by the condition of our roads. If the Commonwealth provided all the money sought by local authorities foi1 the improvement of their roads we should still not be much better off, because neither sufficient labour nor enough materials are available to make any worthwhile improvement. I have previously directed attention to the foolish way in which the present Government is aggravating our present difficulties by its unbalanced programme of migration. Although we have not nearly sufficient facilities to provide proper economic conditions and decent living standards for our people huge numbers of migrants continue to be imported to this country. Too many departments and government agencies are acting independently of each other. There is no co-ordinating authority and no system of national planning. “Whilst I am not attempting at the moment to differentiate between the relative merits of various works projects, and whilst I do not suggest that we should concentrate on any particular national work, I think that it should be evident to any one that before we can carry out any large-scale national developmental programme our roads must be placed in a proper condi-tion. If the principal reason for the failure of the States to do their job of maintaining the roads in proper condition is due to a shortage of labour and materials, the Commonwealth should give high priority to the provision of men and materials for that purpose. Of what use will it be for the Government to talk of its developmental plans if our transport system collapses?
In considering this matter, it is most important that honorable members should not lose sight of the fact that road transport is only one aspect of the national system of communications, of which our railways are a most important part. The expenditure of large sums of money and the provision of man-power and materials will be required to restore our railways to their proper place in the transport system. It is all very well for the Government to talk about housing schemes, but it is of no use to attempt to settle people in new areas if proper means of transport are not provided for residents in those areas. Similarly, it is idle for the Government to plan huge developmental schemes if the industries to be established cannot be served by an efficient system of transport.
Transport must always precede development, and either an efficient railway service or good roads must be provided in any new area. In departing from the principle laid down by the previous Labour Administration that proper transport services must be provided before the attempt is made to develop the remote areas of Australia, the Government is making a very bad mistake. Under the scheme proposed by the present Government all that will happen is that from time to time large sums of money will be handed to the States by the Commonwealth, but the Commonwealth will not have any control over the expenditure of that money. All the States will need to do is to obtain certificates from their respective AuditorsGeneral that they have expended the money upon road maintenance or construction. I repeat that no supervision whatever by the Commonwealth will be exercised over the expenditure of that money. The Opposition therefore regards the present measure as inadequate to meet the situation, and views the action of the Government in placing the control of transport in the hands of a Minister who has to administer a number of other matters as a retrograde step, That Minister already has too much to do to permit him to devote sufficient time to transport matters, and we believe that a Minister should be appointed whose sole duty would be to concern himself with transport problems.
I summarize my remarks by saying that there should be greater co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States. If the principal difficulty that confronts the States in providing an efficient system of road transport is lack of finance, the Commonwealth should provide the necessary finance. If the principal reason for the failure of the States to provide efficient transport is shortage of labour and materials, the Commonwealth should consider restricting less essential undertakings which are making undue demands on our resources, in order that sufficient men and materials may be made avails able for the improvement and extension of roads and railways, which is our paramount need. The Government should ensure that the Australian Transport Advisory Council, which was established by a Labour administration, shall not become a dead letter, but that it shall continue to function as an active unit in co-ordinating transport of all kinds. In conclusion, we hope that the Government will introduce a progressive transport policy, and that it will not content itself with making hand-outs of money to the States, such as is proposed in this measure. The Government should realize its duty to treat transport as a matter of national importance which should supersede all party political considerations.
.- I was astounded to hear the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) suggest that the Government should take notice of suggestions by the Australian Labour party in connexion with transport matters. If the suggestions that were advanced by the honorable member are indicative of the suggestions that would be advocated by Labour, I am convinced that neither the present Government nor any other government could learn from Labour anything that would be of advantage to the people of this country. As honorable members are aware, the honorable member for East Sydney was Minister for Transport in the former Labour Government. His remarks constituted an indictment not only of the Labour administration generally, but also of himself particularly. He stated that the roads have been in a worse condition during the last two or three years than they ever were before. The honorable member was a Minister less than twelve months ago. All honorable members will agree with his contention that the roads have deteriorated because of the great strains that have been imposed upon them, but I point out that that deterioration has been a gradual process. It has been accentuated by the increased road haulage of goods, since business people have realized the advantages of that form of transportation compared with transportation of goods by rail. Because of the enormous saving of time that is effected by the carriage of goods by road, road transportation is seriously rivalling the railways. The Government is fully conscious of the fact that great strains will continue to be imposed on the main and arterial roads of this country. This is a very important aspect of the matter. Prom the irrelevant remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney it is obvious that he has lost sight of the intention of the measure. The preamble to the bill reads -
To grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund sums for the purpose of Financial Assistance to the States to be applied in the Construction, Reconstruction, Maintenance and Repair of Roads and Works connected with Transport, and for other purposes.
At the recent conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, the State Premiers, when advising the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) of the maximum amount that each State could utilize during the forthcoming twelve months, admitted that they had been unable to expend £5,000,000 of the previous year’s grants. It is utterly stupid for the honorable member for East Sydney to suggest, in the light of these circumstances, that additional amounts should be allotted to the States for this purpose. Another great indictment of the administration of the former Government was the honorable member’s contention that an expenditure of £100,000,000 would be needed in order to restore to good condition the roads of this country. The honorable member has stated that no money will be expended for road purposes in the sparsely populated areas. However, sub-clause (1.) of clause 7 makes specific provision for the construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of roads in sparsely populated areas. It is true that in the past grants have been expended principally on the construction and maintenance of main and arterial roads. Money has not previously been granted to local governing authorities to construct and maintain roads within their boundaries. The Government is exhibiting a true sense of responsibility by now providing for financial assistance to be made available to local governing bodies for the purchase of road-making machinery, and the construction and maintenance of roads. I consider that all possible assistance should be given to those authorities.
During the last few years, there has been a great increase of home-building in this country, and local governing authorities have experienced difficulty in providing roads giving access to new home areas, because of the acute shortage of labour and materials. Lack of finance, also, has been a major factor. As a result of the provision of funds, pursuant to this measure, local governing authorities will be able to purchase road-making equipment for the purpose of providing vehicular access to the many new home areas that have been developed. The bill is worthy of the greatest commendation, because it is an earnest of the desire of the Government to improve conditions in rural areas. Representations were made to the former Government by the local governing bodies, for the appropriation of 6d. a gallon of the proceeds of the petrol tax for road construction purposes. The Labour Administration turned a deaf ear to those requests. However, this Government is making provision, by means of the measure now before the House, for payment to the States each year for the next five years, out of the trust account to be established, of approximately £12,000,000 for road construction and maintenance. I consider that the proposed scheme has more to commend it than has the suggestion of the honorable member for East Sydney that a committee should be established to co-ordinate road construction and maintenance. I consider that it is best for the State governments to have the responsibility of allocating this money and of deciding on how it shall be expended, because they know the requirements of their own States more intimately than would any committee that might be constituted in connexion with the matter. I understand that the Victorian Country Roads Board does not expend in the metropolitan areas one penny of the money allotted to it, and therefore any statement by the honorable member for East Sydney that implies that the money to be provided under the measure will be expended in some areas for the purpose of vote-catching is incorrect. The honor-“ able member said that an insufficient amount of money was being expended on roads, yet some of the Premiers at the last conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in Canberra stated that the amounts that were being made available to them by the Commonwealth w«re the absolute limit of what they would be able to utilize on road work. So once again the honorable member for East Sydney has made a long speech about a matter that he has not taken the opportunity or the trouble to examine sufficiently to enable him to present the facts to the House in their proper perspective. 1 consider that a slight amendment should be made to clause 6 which deals with the amount that is to be available for expenditure on road works in local governing areas. I do not quarrel with the principle that the Government shall make this money available to the States so that they can pass it on to the localgoverning bodies for expenditure, but I consider that a provision should be included in the measure to prevent the expenditure, on the construction of new _ roads or on the repair of existing roads, of the money that will be allocated to local governing bodies. There is no doubt that in many instances local governing bodies will consider it more desirable to expend the money on the repair of existing roads than on the construction of new roads in recently settled areas. I do not think that it is the intention of the Government or of any administrative body that preference shall be given to the repair of old roads rather than to the construction of new roads to serve areas that have been opened up recently. For that reason some amendment should be made to clause 6 to provide that no money shall be allocated for expenditure on the reconstruction of existing roads. Local governing bodies should accept ‘the obligation to observe such a principle. The Government has made an honest attempt to grant the States sufficient money to meet their road commitments. I consider that the House will agree that the bill is very lenient, that it meets the situation and that it is deserving of commendation.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker-
– I direct your attention to the state of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During this debate the Labour benches have been almost entirely empty.
– Oder ! The honorable gentleman may call for a quorum, but he may not make a speech on the matter. [Quorum formed.’]
– When I was so rudely interrupted-
– Order t The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) was quite in order in calling for a quorum in accordance with the Standing Orders. The honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) will proceed immediately with his speech.
– I was just beginning my speech when I was interrupted by the honorable member for Mackellar.
– Order ! The honorable member must not reflect on action correctly taken under the Standing Orders. The honorable member for Mackellar acted quite within his rights when he called for a quorum.
– I -was pleased to hear the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) say in his second-reading speech - 1 need not stress here the importance for a country like Australia of a sound and efficient roads system. Transportation always has been, and probably always will be, one of the basic economic needs of this country, and Toads are tine of the main factors in the problem of transportation. From a developmental standpoint roads are the means oi tapping large areas of valuable resources. From the productivity standpoint roads involve the difference between slow, arduous and costly transportation and the fast and cheap movement of goods from place to place. From the defence standpoint roads,, together with railways and airways, provide the strategic lifelines for the land defence of the continent. With the development of motor transportation -the relative importance of roads has grown enormously, and it will probably continue to grow.
I am in entire agreement with those remarks. The right honorable gentleman will agree with me, however, that the strength of a chain is no greater than the strength of its weakest link. The effectiveness of a roadway is determined by the facility with which traffic can pass over the narrowest or most congested part of it. A roadway, to be effective, should be able to carry traffic in an uninterrupted flow over the whole of its length. That is not so in Victoria, and probably is not so in other parts of Australia. I am more acquainted with road conditions in Vic toria than elsewhere. There are bottlenecks in the Melbourne area that cause serious traffic jams and delays. Places like High-street, St. Kilda, Chapel-street, Prahran, and Sydney-road, Brunswick, are examples of bottlenecks in what are virtually national highways. Those roadways pass through suburban areas and become very narrow. Because of the heavy traffic they carry, these roads should be wider rather than narrower than others. If the roads are to bc available for defence purposes they should be able to carry traffic without interruption. Sydney-road, which passes through the northern suburbs of Melbourne, is a part of the main highway from Melbourne to Sydney. During the last war, it carried much military traffic, but the congestion was so bad that “the authorities arranged for military traffic to pass over the road either in .the early morning or late in the evening. The money that is to be allocated under this measure should be used to get rid of bottlenecks that restrict traffic and hamper the development of cities. .A transport authority should be appointed that would be able to view traffic requirements, whether of the city or of the country as a whole, and draw up a balanced developmental programme that would be in the best interests of the nation. No single municipality can raise sufficient money to widen a thoroughfare like Sydney road, or to build an alternative highway.
– Municipalities may apply to the State governments for assistance.
– The honorable member himself pointed out that the Country Roads Board in Victoria did not spend one penny on metropolitan roads. That is because of the prejudice of members of the Australian Country party against city interests. Much of the State revenue is raised in the metropolitan area, but it is expended on country roads, despite the fact that the improvement of a highway such as Sydney-road would enable the farmers to get their produce more readily to the markets, ‘the railway or the seaboard. Nothing is likely to be done while the Country Roads Board’s policy is subject to politicians with a narrow parochial outlook, who are incapable of realizing where their best interests lie.
– Is Sydney-road in the honorable member’s electorate ?
– Yes, and Sydney-road serves all the northern part of Victoria. « As a matter of fact, big transport lorries from as far away as Sydney pass .over Sydney-road, and the local municipality must maintain it.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– I have been dealing with the expenditure of part of the money raised from the petrol tax and granted by the Commonwealth to the States for the purpose of reconstructing and maintaining roads. I repeat that some of this money should be used to eliminate traffic bottlenecks within the metropolitan area of Melbourne, and, perhaps, also those within the metropolitan areas of other cities in Australia. I suggest that these bottlenecks should be eliminated by the widening of existing roads or by the building of subsidiary roads to carry the overflow traffic past the bottlenecks. Honorable members will agree that the elimination of road bottlenecks by the widening of existing roads or the construction of new roads is a matter that has been too long delayed. These bottlenecks menace the safety of road-users and have cost us many valuable lives. I have already mentioned in particular Chapel-street, Prahran, Highstreet, St. Kilda, and Sydney-road. Brunswick. All those roads are located in Melbourne, and I am certain that honorable members who know them will agree with me that money should be spent in eliminating the dangers to be found along them. Occasionally honorable members have pointed out the menace of motor traffic to human life, and I suggest that one method by which many lives might be preserved would be to make roads which carry heavy traffic safer for their users. That can be done by widening narrow roads or by constructing by-pass roads.
The expenditure of money as I have suggested will not only save life but it will also ultimately save money. Motor traffic is so held up and slowed down in the areas that I have mentioned that I have no hesitation in saying that the loss caused to industry by the man-hours wasted would amount to a considerable sum of money. Perhaps it would amount to more than £1,000,000 per annum. It would therefore be a business-like proposition to spend some money on these roads to make them safer and, incidentally, to make them carry safely a greater volume of traffic. If these roads are widened, or additional by-pass roads constructed, a large amount of money will be saved to the nation each year. The Australian Parliament should, as it were, say to the States, “ Although we grant you this large sum of money to be expended upon the maintenance and development of your roads systems, we consider that we, as the providers of the money, should have some supervision over its expenditure “. Then the Australian Parliament should indicate to the States how it requires a certain proportion of the money to be spent. If this money i9 spent in the way that I advocate, the industrial potential of the community will be increased, strategic arterial roads will be established, and the bottlenecks which are a menace to the lives of the people will be eliminated. Moreover, local business will be transacted more efficiently and the appearance of our great cities, a not inconsiderable matter, will be greatly improved. ‘ ..
Delay in eliminating road bottlenecks will be costly and dangerous. It will be costly because such work has already been put off so long that every day’s further delay makes it more expensive, and it will be dangerous because people are losing their lives on the roads every day. Perhaps an overall plan could be prepared and followed so that all future roads would be built to carry all the traffic that they could reasonably be expected to carry in their lifetime. They could also be constructed to fit into a general plan. Although I have emphasized the condition of the main road between Sydney and Melbourne, there are others which should also bn dealt with. I used that road merely as an example of the roads upon which money should be expended in the national interests. I mention that road particularly because in Victoria and elsewhere a belief has grown up that the only areas which need assistance in the maintenance and construction of roads are the country areas. The desirable improvements in the metropolitan areas have .been neglected. Every honorable member who represents a metropolitan electorate knows of places in his city where great traffic congestion occurs because of the lack of bridges or because of the narrowness of existing bridges. It may be said that it is the responsibility of municipalities to provide money for the construction and maintenance of bridges, but a municipality’s revenue is limited by the rateable property in the municipality, and vast sums of money are required to repair the blunders of the past. In most cities the exits, entrances and bridges need a great deal of attention. I suggest that this Government, which is a National Government, should not adopt the attitude of Pontius Pilate and say, in effect, “We know that the municipalities cannot do the work, but it is not our business, it is their business; therefore, we shall wash our hands of the matter “. This bill provides, of course, that the States shall not be restricted in their expenditure of the money. They may expend it in the way that I have outlined, but I suggest that they will not do that. In the interests of the defence and the t development of this country, the Government should insist on the elimination of bottlenecks to ensure that the money provided by the Commonwealth for road building and maintenance purposes shall be expended to the best advantage.
.- At the outbreak of World War II., when defence communications became of supreme importance, the various State and local governing road-building organizations proved of immense value to this country. In the preceding years, with the assistance of Commonwealth funds, the main roads boards of the States had been able to establish efficient and well-equipped roadbuilding units. When the crisis came, and it was necessary to build strategic roads rapidly throughout the Commonwealth, the equipment of those boards and of the local governing authorities was available for immediate service, and made a magnificent contribution to our war effort. The foundation of the State roadbuilding organizations was the Federal Aid Roads Agreement of 1926, which was made while the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) was Treasurer of the Commonwealth. That agreement made possible a comprehensive plan for improving existing roads and building * new roads throughout the Commonwealth. The legislation under which that agreement was made was drafted after an investigation of the system then operating in the United States of America and we were fortunate in having the successful experience of that nation before us as a guide.
The honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) has shown that he appreciates the responsibility of the Commonwealth in the construction and maintenance of roads, although he deplored the prevalence of the belief that road work was necessary only in the country areas. It is gratifying to know that the honorable member has sensed this urge for the construction of developmental roads, but I am afraid that although the urge exists, the country roads do not. During the last seven years, there has been little progress in road construction in country areas. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), in his usual reckless fashion, claimed that this Government was not meeting its obligations in respect of road construction work and road transport generally. The honorable member was Minister for Transport in the Chifley Government, and during his five years of office, he had ample opportunity to inaugurate a road building and maintenance programme that would have been sufficient at least to catch up with the lag that occurred during the war years. The honorable member failed miserably to do even that, and the poor condition of roads throughout the Commonwealth today can be attributed largely to his maladministration. When the war ended, !,e honorable member had a chance to restore to the main roads boards and localgoverning bodies the road-building equipment that had been impressed for war purposes, and to make available to those authorities funds for the restoration of roads to first-class condition. Instead, however, the then government sold the roadmaking machinery in the islands, and showed little regard for the efficiency of road-building organization in this country. Had the then Minister acted promptly in the interests of the State authorities, and provided them with the equipment and finance that they sought, our roads to-day would be infinitely better than they are. The poor condition of our roads is the result of socialism. Wherever there is socialism there is deterioration and decay. To-day, we are suffering from the results of eight years of Labour rule, including five years of administration by the honorable member for East Sydney.
I propose to cite certain figures to prove how incapable the honorable member for East Sydney was of discharging his responsibilities as Minister for Transport. I only hope that the honorable member is never again entrusted with a portfolio. In the three years immediately prior to the outbreak of World War II., the nonsocialist administration in the Commonwealth sphere paid to the States approximately £3,800,000 a year for road maintenance and construction work. At that time, too, money had some value, and road construction work had reached a high standard of efficiency. During the war, of course, other responsibilities claimed first priority, and attention could be given only to strategic roads. When the war ended in 1.945, the Chifley Government was confronted with the task of bringing our roads back to a serviceable condition, but its failure to provide adequately for that work is shown clearly by the following list of grants made in the succeeding years : -
Those grants show little evidence of any real determination on the part of the Chifley Administration to tackle this job energetically. This measure provides foi a grant of £12,000,000 each year for five years to the States for road construction and maintenance, under prescribed conditions. It is the largest contribution that has ever been made for such work. The measure proves conclusively that this Government appre ciates its responsibilities to the nation and intends to get on with the job. However, although we all appreciate this grant of £12,000,000, not one honorable member, I am sure, considers that that sum will be sufficient for the huge task that lies before this nation. The Government has been in office for only eleven months, but so far, in all its activities, it has shown its determination to make good, and I am sure that as soon as the States, through their main roads boards and local governing authorities, are able to co-ordinate their road-building activities once more, the Commonwealth will be prepared to provide even greater financial assistance until our roads have been restored to a reasonable condition I know of no legislation that -could be of greater importance from the stand-point of land settlement and rural production. The Government must persevere with its policy of decentralization, and it can best do so by assisting the authorities concerned to provide modern roads.
I have already referred to the reasons for the introduction of the Federal Aids Roads Act 1926. Under that legislation, the government of the day approached the national roads problem in a practical manner, and as a result great progress was made up to the outbreak of the recent war. However, during and since that conflict we have discovered that the standards of construction of roads observed in the past are inadequate if we are to provide highways capable of carrying the heavy vehicles of the type that have been brought into service. We must now review those standards and make provision for the construction of roads to serve the needs of modern transport. First-class roads not only provide essential means of communication and help substantially in rural production but they are also a means of lowering transport costs generally. One of our greatest needs to-day is to lower those costs. By improving roads we can save running costs, prolong the life of vehicles and tyres and reduce expenditure on petrol and oil. Such savings would represent a valuable investment in the nation’s interests and would be of great assistance to the economy generally.
The latest official figures show that as at the 31st December, 1949, Australia had 1,388 miles of concrete roads, 118,811 miles of bitumen, or tarred, roads and 369,401 miles of gravel roads and many thousands of miles of unformed roads. Those figures will give some idea of the tremendous task that confronts the nation in dealing with this problem. Not only have modern transport developments necessitated the construction of roads of heavier type; but in addition, construction costs have increased to a considerable degree. The cost of construction of concrete roads is estimated at £20,000 a mile and the maintenance cost of such roads is estimated at from £25 to £30 a mile. The cost of construction of bitumen roads is estimated at £14,500 a mile and the maintenance cost of such roads is estimated at from £130 to £170 a mile. The cost of construction of macadamized gravel roads is estimated at £4,500 a mile and the maintenance cost of such roads is estimated at from £150 to £170 a mile. The cost of construction of ordinary gravel roads is estimated at £3,000 a mile and the maintenance cost of such roads is estimated at from £100 to £140 a mile. Whilst the cost of construction of concrete roads is highest, the maintenance cost of such roads is lowest ; and we know from experience that concrete roads represent the best investment in the long run. Those figures give a further indication of the task that confronts the nation in respect of the construction and maintenance of roads. In a recent report the Victorian Country Roads Board estimated that the present cost of constructing roads is 150 per cent, greater than the cost of construction was in 1939. During the same period petrol consumption in this country has increased by only 25 per cent. Having regard to those facts, the sum that is now being made available for road construction under this’ legislation falls far short of that which will be required to enable governmental and semi-governmental authorities to deal effectively with this problem.
I welcome the Government’s proposal under this legislation to allocate 35 per cent, of the total sum to be made available for expenditure on rural roads. No people in the community have suffered to a greater degree through lack of adequate road services than have the primary producers. They have stood up to their responsibilities to produce the food requirements of the nation despite the most severe handicaps caused by floods and by the lack of adequate roads. I pay tribute to the primary producing community for the contribution that they have made to the well being of our economy. Therefore, I am pleased that the Government is now making this provision for the construction of roads that will give speedy relief to them. In the face of great difficulties, including lack of adequate finance, local government bodies generally have done their best to maintain roads in their respective areas. In my own electorate those difficulties have been increased during’ the last two years by disastrous floods. _ Every river in my electorate has broken its banks on at least one, some on two, occasions within that period and the floodwaters, in their rush from the ranges to the coast, have scoured out most of the roads. Those roads which still remain passable are exceedingly rough and the task of repairing them is beyond the financial resources of the local government bodies concerned, which are thankful that in June last, following the disastrous floods that occurred at that time, the Government promptly made financial and other assistance available to them for immediate relief. However, they require still further relief if they are to be enabled to repair the damage that has been caused by floods in their areas. The task of restoring roads in heavy rainfall districts is tremendous. In this respect I make a plea for further assistance to the shires of Bellingen, Nambucca, Macleay, Hastings, Manning and Gloucester, and municipalities within that area. Roads in those shires have deteriorated to such a degree that their restoration is completely beyond the financial capacity of the local governing authorities, which should be assisted in that work by the State governments in conjunction with the Australian Government.
In recent years the highways constructed in the northern areas of New South Wales have been subjected to great wear and tear as the result of the increasing number of very heavy transports that use them. The great bulk of the hardwood requirements of the State housing scheme are obtained in those areas. Much of the timber is transported by heavy jinkers, which cause heavy wear and tear on road surfaces. During the recent rail strike, all transport was restricted to roads, and as a result all the highways and those roads which give access to timber areas are in a particularly bad state of repair and require considerable reconstruction. The change over in the method of operation of the dairying industry has also adversely affected country roads. Ten years ago the bulk of the milk produced in the northern areas of New South Wales was converted to cream and transported three or four times weekly to the nearest butter factory for manufacture into butter. Now, the great bulk of the milk produced in those areas is transported in a fresh state daily in large tankers to the factories and the increased haulage from the farms to the factories has accelerated wear and tear on country roads.
I am pleased to note that provision is made in this bill for the assistance of the fishing industry which is of great importance to New South Wales and to Australia generally. That proposal marks a progressive step forward on the part of the Government. The provision of additional boat harbours and jetties along the north coast is greatly needed and will be much appreciated not only by the fishermen but also by the people generally, who regard fish as a necessary supplement to their diet. Having regard to present road construction costs the provision of £12,000,000 for road purposes will not go very far. The grants will be very rapidly expended or allocated by the road authorities. The time has come when the Australian Government must accept responsibility for the construction and maintenance of highways, as distinct from providing for the construction, repair and maintenance of our general roads. The Government should consider the desirability of arranging a special loan fcu; highway construction purposes. The Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) should consider the calling of a conference of road authorities throughout Australia for the purpose of evolving a scheme for the construction and extension of highways of a kind suitable for carrying motor transport of the heaviest type. Means should be explored for the construction of such highways at the lowest possible cost. That can be achieved only by adopting a long-term programme, say, a ten-year programme and by floating a special loan for the purpose of financing the work, making it a charge on tha nation.
– Does the honorablemember believe that the States will beable to expend the grants made to them; for road purposes this year?
– Yes, the States and the local governing bodies have established the requisite organizations and they will be able to push ahead with their road constructing programmes without delay. We must make a determined effort to improve our road system throughout Australia.. Huge national works projects are contemplated and others are now in progress. The authorities in charge- of those projects have the necessary organization and equipment to undertake the work of road construction. They should be given allocations from the dollar loan to enable them to import additional road-making plant and equipment for that purpose. No instrumentality can economically build roads mile by mile. All roadconstructing authorities must work to a planned programme. We must abandon the past practice of constructing 4 or 5 miles of road here and another 4 or 5 miles there. All road construction work should be co-ordinated and form part of a master plan, so that roads may be constructed rapidly and economically. A much more determined effort should be made to build roads than has been made in the past. I trust that the Government will consider the summoning of a conference at an early date for the purpose of discussing a national road plan in which particular emphasis is placed on the construction of highways through the coasta l areas so that in the near future a satisfactory road system may be available for defence as well as civil requirements.
Long-term plans should be drawn up and the requisite finance arranged to enable road projects to be implemented in accordance with a regular construction programme.
The honorable member for East Sydney had a good deal to say about the national developmental proposals of the Government. The honorable gentleman conveniently overlooked the fact that this Government has been in office for only eleven months and that it has not yet had time to carry its proposals to an advanced stage. I trust that the national works programme will embody a progressive plan of road construction with emphasis on highways suitable for use by heavy motor transports travelling at high speeds. The provision of such roads will be necessary to meet the expansion of Australian industries that will result from the implementation of our immigration and national developmental proposals. A few years ago very few industries established in country areas needed heavy motor transports. To-day, heavy motor vehicles with great carrying capacity are to be seen in all country areas. Good roads are needed for their economical and safe operation.
In making these grants available to the States and local governing authorities the Government should emphasize the importance of the rehabilitation of rural roads as well as highways. I think I am right in saying that to-day the New South Wales Main Roads Board is embarrassed by the shortage of funds necessary to enable it to carry out its works programme. All that body is able’ to do is to try to maintain the existing road system which is deteriorating rapidly because of the increasing use of heavy motor transports.
.- I am pleased to have an opportunity to take part in this debate. I intend not to be critical, but to make helpful suggestions. It is the duty of the Opposition to assist the Government and not merely to be a carping critic of its proposals. I hope to be able to offer some constructive and helpful suggestions. Under this bill it is proposed to provide approximately £12,000.000 for the construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of roads and works conected with transport and for other purposes. The honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) criticized the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), the former Minister for Transport, for his policy and actions when he was in office.
– I criticized him for what he had not done.
– I thank the honorable member for that correction. I have been incapacitated for nearly two and a half years, and have been able to attend meetings of the Parliament only at rare intervals, but I read with considerable interest that the former Minister tried to carry out a project which was under consideration when Billy was a boy. Honorable members know how old Billy is.
– Who is Billy?
– The right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes). The honorable member for East Sydney attempted to begin the colossal work of standardizing railway gauges. The honorable member for Lyne pointed out that, during the time the honorable member for East Sydney was the Minister for Transport, amounts totalling approximately £19,000,000 had been made available for road purposes. This bill will provide an amount of £12,000,000 for similar purposes during the current financial year. I shall not elaborate that matter, but I should like to develop the thought expressed by the honorable member for Lyne when he said that he hoped that important works would be undertaken with that money. Governmental constructing authorities build roads, but no provision is made for protecting them. That neglect has caused the roads to deteriorate seriously during the last few years, and every effort should be made to safeguard them in future. I had the privilege of visiting Europe in 1945-46, and I recall that I saw in Holland more waterways than roads for transport purposes.
The honorable member for Lyne has referred, to low-lying areas in New South Wales that are devastated by floods from time to time. I propose to make a suggestion to prevent flood damage in the future. The various States are dependent upon New South Wales coal for their gas and electricity supplies, and for power for industry. The honorable member for Lyne has recalled that his constituency has suffered from two floods in two years, but I inform him that the Hunter Valley has suffered from three disastrous floods in eighteen months. I realize that the Commonwealth will claim that floodprevention measures are a State responsibility, but the suggestion that I shall make is truly national in character. Such a project would be too vast for the Government of New South “Wales to undertake. I suggest that a concrete wall should be constructed along the two banks of the Hunter River, and that that waterway be dredged as far as Muswellbrook. Wool, wheat and coal could be loaded on to ships at various points along the Hunter River. That form of decentralization would relieve the congestion that occurs from time to time at the port of Newcastle. But even greater progress may be made. Canals could be constructed from Hexham to Wallsend, which is another coal-producing centre, and from Maitland to Cessnock, and coal could be transported by those waterways instead of by rail. Transport would not be interrupted during a period of torrential rains, as railway services are now disrupted -by floods. From time to time, when I have been coming to Canberra, I have been obliged to travel across flooded areas in small boats. It would have been too bad far me had the craft capsized on one of those trips since I have been incapacitated. The residents of the coal-fields had to travel by small boats during the floods, and children were not able to go to school, because the normal methods of transport were paralysed. Floods occur all too frequently for our liking in the Hunter Valley.
– Is not a Labour government in office in New South Wales?
– I have carefully explained to the House that the project which I suggest is too large for a State government to undertake. Such work is a national responsibility. I have expressed the opinion in this House that it is regrettable that a flood did not disrupt communications in the Hunter district during World War II. Had it done so, the government of the day would have considered the construction of an all-weather, dry, railway link as a national responsibility, and probably would have considered the canal scheme which I have described. The construction of those waterways is the solution of the problem. However, difficulties arise from parochialism. The people of Maitland do not favour the construction of an all-wealther, dry, railway link that would by-pass their town, regardless of the fact that it is flooded from time to time. They suffer from the effects of the floods, and they want the whole community also to suffer. But a rail link from Singleton through Cessnock, Kurri Kurri and on to the J. and A. Brown line, or through Cessnock to Morisset, is essential. The extreme parochialism and jealousy of Maitland, Cessnock and Kurri Kurri, not one of which towns is willing to be by-passed by such a link, causes them to view my proposal with concern, and, consequently, I am in somewhat of a jam. Nevertheless, I have the moral courage to say what I believe is right, and although I encounter the risk of losing favour politically by my persistence, I do not believe many of my constituents would be so narrow-minded or parochial as to withdraw their support from me. I, and they as well, advocate an all-weather dry railway and roadway, or at least canals for the purposes of transport of coal and general merchandise. Such provision would also safeguard home dwellers from, the disastrous floods that occur from time to time. However, I believe that I have suggested a practical solution of the difficulty.
The electorate of Hunter, as it was known before this year, was considerably altered in the latest redistribution of seats. I was too ill to occupy my seat in the House when the redistribution proposals were being considered, but had I been here, I should have strongly objected to the name “ Hunter “ being given to the seat which I now represent. My reasons for adopting that attitude are not far to seek. The Hunter River does not flow through any part of. the constituency of that name, although I admit, in passing, that it receives the backwash of the floods from the Hunter Valley. The Parliament should have taken the opportunity, when considering the redistribution of seats, to pay its respect to a great person by calling the present electorate of Hunter after Professor Sir Edgeworth David, who discovered the wonderful seam of coal at Greta. The electorate which should have been called Hunter, has been named Paterson, although Paterson was not associated with it in any way.
– The Parliament desired to preserve Hunter for James.
– Well, it does not matter now. I was not able to take part in the debate on the redistribution of seats, and I regret that the opportunity was lost to pay a tribute to Professor Sir Edgeworth David.
I do not wish to be a carping critic. I believe, from my long experience in the Parliament, that an Opposition should offer constructive suggestions for the solution of national problems and difficulties, and .should not criticize government policy merely for the sake of doing so. I admit that I have been guilty on such a count on occasions in the past, hut I am innocent of such a charge this afternoon. . I wish that the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) were here because he visited the Hunter district during the war and saw the transport bottlenecks in that area and he might be able to reply to some of my healthy criticism. I recall that the late Lieutenant- General Fewtrell pointed out to the right ! honorable gentleman the bottleneck at Hexham. I mentioned the flood risk at the time, and the general commented, “ Now you have said a mouthful “. The present Treasurer, who was the acting Prime Minister at that time, asked how the problem could be solved, and LieutenantGeneral Fewtrell told him that the solution would be to construct an allweather dry railway link between the J. and A. Brown colliery railway and the West Wallsend-Cockle Creek railway which at this point connects with the SydneyNewcastleBrisbaneGreat Northern railway. A distance of only li miles would be required to make the connexion. I do not know why that solution has not been applied. I know that the local government authorities are asking that a line be constructed from Singleton through Cessnock, but such a project would be hampered by the rail shortage. There should be little difficulty in providing sufficient steel rails for the link that I have mentioned.
Does the Government want to hear another moan from “ Old Rowley “ when the next flood occurs ? I have been moaning about floods in the Hunter district since 1942, but nothing has been done about them yet, and I shall have to continue to moan until appropriate action is taken, even though I dislike doing so. The honorable member for Lyne mentioned a number of local government authorities. The bodies that suffered most from the effects of the floods and the cutting-up of roads during the coal lift were the Kearsley Shire Council, the Cessnock Municipal Council, the Lower Hunter Shire Council, the Lake Macquarie Shire Council and the Greater City of Newcastle Municipal Council. Ministers have not visited that area since there has been a change of government, but I hope that the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) will go there some day, because the roads will shake him up so much-
– I have been to Newcastle and Maitland.
– ‘Come to the Hunter electorate. Maitland is not in that electorate now. I was sorry to lose it from the division that I represent, because Maitland has always provided a damned good counterblast against communism for me.
– I apologize, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The condition of the roads in the Hunter electorate is tragic. I travel over them frequently and I am glad that my pelvic bone has healed properly because otherwise the jolts suffered during such trips might fracture it again.
The bill provides that, for the next five years, an amount equivalent to 6d. a gallon customs duty on imported petrol used for civilian consumption and 3£d. a gallon excise on locally used petrol shall be set aside for road works. I consider that local government bodies are better equipped than are the .State governments to handle funds for the construction and maintenance of roads. I do not want to be critical of the State governments, but the fact is that the local authorities are intimately acquainted with the general condition of roads in their areas. The money for road works will be paid into a special trust account and, in my opinion, local government bodies should be asked to submit claims upon that account for compensation for road damage. The claims could be examined in detail and amounts could then be allotted for expenditure in specific areas. The claims of councils in the Hunter electorate would merit the most sympathetic attention. I have already mentioned certain local government bodies that have suffered considerably from the effect upon roads in their areas of floods and heavy traffic. I should have mentioned also the municipality of Maitland. I do not represent Maitland now, and I have no wish to poach upon the preserves of the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall), but I cannot forget that I represented Maitland in this Parliament for over 20 years. The residents of that district have in me a great friend. If funds for road works are- allocated to the State governments, they will be distributed to all parts of every State instead of principally to the most needy areas. The fact that the districts that I have mentioned have suffered severely as the result of three floods during the last eighteen months cannot be ignored. Local government bodies in that area deserve substantial assistance. The roads for which they are responsible were extensively damaged during the war, when between 12,000 and 14,000 troops were stationed at a large military camp at Greta. Furthermore, that camp now accommodates 15,000 immigrants. Heavy tanks and guns damaged the roads during the war, and the essential transport services that are now provided for the immigrants are wreaking further havoc on them.
The local authorities should be allotted generous amounts of money from the proposed trust account. The Government should specify the districts in which grants made from the account should be expended. There has always been a tendency on the part of all governments, both State and Commonwealth, to give perquisites to the residents of electorates that are looked upon as “ swinging seats “.
A friend of mine in Maitland, which is represented by the honorable member for Paterson, said that it was high time that a. new post office was provided for Maitland. However, he came to the conclusion that because Maitland was not a “ swinging” seat there was little hope of the Government building a new post office there. He said to me that although Maitland was represented by a member of the Liberal party it did not appear to receive fair consideration from the Government, and that even if the area were represented by a member of the Australian Labour party it would not be any better off while the present Government was in office. Of course, his remarks have much point. I need only to recall that in the electorate of Corio, which is a “swinging “ seat, the governments of the past authorized the construction of a post office which is larger than the post office at Newcastle, notwithstanding that the town in which the post office was built has only approximately 1,000 residents.. Of course, the Government was wise in looking after the honorable member who then represented Corio, and was one of its supporters.
Although the Treasurer promised, during the last election campaign, that £250,000,000 would be expended on roads throughout Australia, the measure now before us provides for the expenditure of only £12,000,000. As I have already pointed out, the improvement and extension of railway facilities is of equal importance to the construction of roads. Twenty years ago I advocated that a water canal should be constructed between Maitland and Newcastle, but nothing has been done because the Commonwealth considers that it is a matter for the New South Wales Government, and the Government of that State adopts the attitude that the improvement of transport facilities in the Maitland area would only be justified as a defence measure, and defence is not a responsibility of State governments. However, the construction of a canal such as I have advocated would enable large quantities of primary products to be transported by water and would relieve the congestion of the roads and railways. In addition, it would enable thousands of acres of valuable land that is now inundated to be reclaimed. I point out that Hexham ia low-lying and is almost on sea level. Dredging and deepening of the Hunte River would enable ocean-going liners to navigate that river, and Maitland and Singleton would become ports from which exports could be shipped overseas. This would relieve the congestion at Newcastle. That leads me to recall that many years ago, when the present right honorable member for Bradfield was Prime Minister, a lot of land was resumed at Port Stephens and Salamander Bay for the construction of a naval base. Work was commenced there, and the site chosen was most suitable. Port Stephens has a far bigger harbour than has Newcastle-
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the measure under consideration.
– I shall connect my remarks with the bill by pointing out that if an inland water canal were constructed from Lake Macquarie through Cockle Creek, Brush Creek and Ironbark Creek into the Hunter River, ships could travel from Lake Macquarie to Maitland, and a canal could be constructed to Port Stephens. The land surrounding Port Stephens is low-lying, and an inland water canal would be an ideal means of providing economical communication between Port Stephens, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. I conclude my remarks by repeating that the Government should take steps to ensure that the money it makes available to the States is expended in the areas that badly need better means c>f communication.
.- I have great pleasure in speaking in the debate on this measure because I represent a country electorate in Queensland which will, I hope, obtain some benefit from the passage of the bill. The money made available by the Commonwealth for expenditure on main roads has been increased from £5,800,000 last year to £7,200,000 during the current financial year, and the grant for roads in rural areas has been increased from £3,000,000 to £4,200,000. It is clear, therefore, that the present Government, which proposes to provide more money than was allocated by the preceding Government, realizes the importance of improving our roads. Another pleasing feature of the measure is that it will enable road-making authorities to embark on a five-year plan because they will know the amounts that will be provided for them during that period. I point out, however, that the measure is open to criticism in that, with the exception of Tasmania, the grants for all States will be calculated on the same basis. On the face of it, that provision may appear to be quite fair to all States, but on examination honorable members will realize that the States of Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia will not be treated as fairly as will the States of New South Wales and Victoria. The three large States that I have mentioned have a much smaller population than have New South Wales and Victoria. They have not been settled so intensively, and in consequence their road systems are not nearly so well developed as those of the other two States. Furthermore, the large towns in the States of Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia are separated by much greater distances than are the towns in New South Wales and Victoria. One has only to visit Queensland to realize that the roads in that State are much worse than those of New South Wales and Victoria. It follows, therefore, that justice requires that a larger allocation should have been made to Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia than that proposed.
Although I should like a larger allocation to be made to Queensland, I am pleased that the money that is proposed to be provided will be expended on developmental roads in sparsely settled areas. In the past State authorities have been greatly confused about the proper distribution that should be made of grants for roads received from the Commonwealth. No one seemed to know how the money should be applied, and very few local authorities seemed to be aware of the procedure to obtain grants to develop rural areas. When small grants were received by local authorities they were often frittered away on the construction of small roads to benefit only a few favoured individuals. However, express provisions of this measure make the purpose of the grant quite clear. Apparently, the money for local authorities is to be expended on the improvement and construction of roads other than main roads and highways. Clause 7 (1.) of the bill makes it quite clear that the money is to be expended on roads in rural areas - including developmental roads, feeder roads, roads in sparsely populated areas and in soldier settlement areas and roads in country municipalities and shires.
The effect of the grant should be to assist greatly local authorities in Queensland which have only small populations and receive, in consequence, only small revenues.
The provision in the bill for the expenditure of money on the construction and maintenance of strategic roads is also very pleasing. Queensland has a big responsibility to provide efficient highways, because in the event of Australia again being threatened with invasion, no State will be called upon to bear heavier military traffic than will Queensland. In consequence of the heavy traffic that passed over Queensland highways during the recent war the roads north of Maryborough are in a deplorable condition. Should another war occur the defence of northern Australia will be seriously jeopardized unless those roads are improved. I sincerely hope, therefore, that in the national interests, as well as in the interests of Queeusland, some of the money received from the Commonwealth will be expended on the improvement of the main roads in that State.
– It may not be.
– That brings me to a point that I particularly desire to make. Although the Commonwealth is anxious to treat the local authorities in Queensland fairly, unfortunately the expenditure of the money granted to Queensland will come under the control of one of the greatest political rogues in the history of that State.
– I rise to order. I am not a representative of Queensland, but I take exception to the remark made by the honorable member to the effect that the Premier of Queensland is a rogue.
– The Standing Orders do not provide any protection for State politicians. The honorable member is in order, and may continue his remarks.
– There is ample evidence in Queensland that the funds granted to that State by the Commonwealth have been administered with the greatest political bias. Funds are used on projects in electorates where the Labour party thinks it can obtain political advantage by winning or regaining seats in the State Parliament. Some shires which badly need funds for expenditure upon their roads find that they cannot get even the scrapings from the bottom of the bin. The reason why the State Government will not provide funds for them is that the Labour Government does not consider that it can gain any political advantage by allocating funds to .them. In fact, the administration by the Government of Queensland of Commonwealth funds for road work is the great weakness-in the whole scheme. As an indication of the difficulties that confront many local authorities I shall read a letter that was recently sent from the shire clerk of a Queensland shire to the Main Roads Commission in Brisbane. The letter is as follows : -
I have, on direction of the above Council, to make application for a grant of £5,000 under the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act of 1947.
It is proposed that the money be used in the building up of roads within the shire which are traversed by certain mail routes.
These roads are for the most part merely bush tracks, and are in urgent need of reforming. For many months past the mailmen have been unable to provide an adequate service owing to the state of the roads.
As the heavy expense of work in hand, and the purchase of new plant more than offsets the small revenue of this Shire, your favorable reply to this application would be appreciated.
Although the Queensland Government had a surplus of more than £1,000,000 in its funds for road development last year, the council of that particular shire had to go on its bended knees and beg for the allocation of a paltry £5,000 so that its roads could be improved sufficiently to enable the delivery of mails to be made in that area. Why should not that shire council and other local authorities receive freely the money that is provided for them by the Commonwealth? After all, funds are not made available by the Commonwealth to the Premier of Queensland to enable him to play the part of a political Eather Christmas ! The money is intended to be expended throughout the State, but because of the frustration of the Commonwealth’s intentions the scheme breaks down. In fact, I think that the maladministration of the Commonwealth grant to Queensland constitutes a scandal. The Premier of Queensland seems to be entirely devoid of principle. So long as he can obtain political advantage in some way or other from the distribution of government moneys, he does not care at whose expense he gains that advantage. I bring before the House the fact that Queensland farmers, who are struggling; under conditions almost as bad as those which the pioneers had to endure, in order to produce foodstuffs for the support .of the city populations, have to use horses and buggies to visit towns because the roads are impassable by motor vehicles. But in other areas that have returned good Labour men to the Queensland Parliament corners have been cut off and the tops of hills have been chopped off to give better visibility. As long as the Premier of Queensland can get votes for the members of his party he does not care what he does, but the poor old farmer cannot get a penny expended on roads in his area, and never will be able to do so while Mr. Hanlon is in power in Queensland. The only solution I can see is that not only should 35 per cent, of the money be made available to the country roads authority but the shires should have control of the expenditure of the remaining 65 per cent, less £100,000, that is to be allocated for main roads. If this money were divided among the shires for expenditure by them we should be able to use the shires as contracting authorities which would employ the labour and the equipment that they already have on hand to draw up plans and specifications. The construction of main roads could then be proceeded with expeditiously. I believe that if the shires had the necessary finances they would he able to go ahead and provide roads right out into the outback areas of the State. It is of no use to talk about a shortage of labour, as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has done. The letter that I have just read to the House came from a shire that had plenty of man-power and that was not asking for machinery or for the materials to build a road. All it was asking for was the money to go ahead and pay its way. Right throughout Queensland there are aldermen and shire councillors, who are the worst paid men in the Commonwealth and who are doing the mightiest work in the Commonwealth. They have to watch their shires go bankrupt because a miserable State Government is playing party politics with money tha t it is holding in -trust and is betraying the people and the State. Let us by-pass this scandalous administration in Queensland and ensure that the money to be provided to Queensland under this measure goes where it will be used honestly. If we do not adopt that course then not only shall we discover that in Queensland, farmers will leave their farms and that there will be a drift of young people away from country areas, but we shall also find that unless good roads are provided in Queensland and the main roads in that State are put into good shape for defence purposes, the whole of Australia will suffer when an emergency arises. We must do these things.
– We shall have no “ Brisbane line “ in those circumstances.
– I agree. But there are plenty of good roads in Brisbane itself because there are plenty of good Labour men in that city. However, there are no good roads in country areas because the country men have too much sense to vote Labour, and they have to pay for their good sense by suffering from a lack of good road facilities. This bill is a good measure in itself and I commend it to the House. The extra money to be made available under it should do a great deal for Australia’s development. But I am most unhappy and miserable to think that some of that extra money that is to be made available to the State governments has to pass through the hands of the present Premier of Queensland. I do not trust him. Nobody trusts him, and Queensland’ will be in a- sorry state while he and his “ Yes-men “ in the Labour party, continue to control its affairs. I say “ Well done ! “ to the other States. They will get their roads. But I say “ Pity help Queensland “ while it has Mr. Hanlon as its Premier.
.- The subject-matter of this bill is of national importance and the Government should have placed more emphasis on that fact. The speeches that have been made on the measure from both sides of the House show that honorable members consider it to be a matter of vital interest to the Commonwealth. It is obvious that the provision of better roads throughout Australia is closely related to o.ur defence needs, and so I consider that at the very least some national road plan should have been included in the bill, as well as an agreement with the States regarding the time of the completion of such a plan. It appears to me that the Government has washed its hands of all responsibility in relation to the provision of roads except insofar as it makes monetary grants to the States for expenditure on road work. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) stressed the value to defence of the provision of good roads, but the bill contains no guarantee that the Government will get full value in the way of an improvement of our defence potentialities for the money that it is granting to the States. It is absolutely futile for the Government to be talking about training men for defence when there is a possibility that such training may be reduced to a farce through the lack of a co-ordinated roads development plan. The bill is lacking in that very important respect, and it is unfortunate that it will find general acceptance in this Parliament only because it will mean that an increased amount of money will be going to the States. The bill should be withdrawn and a national roads plan should be incorporated in it to prevent our future defence plans from being reduced to a farce. If the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) would consider withdrawing the bill and having it redrafted on those lines I am sure that he would thereby satisfy more people than are satisfied by the bill as it stands.
This bill is also related directly to the national economy. Road transport is increasing in volume and in importance. One reason for that development is that more people are using their own means of transport from place to place because it is more reliable and convenient than is public transport. In addition, many heavy freights are transported over the road systems of our country. As a result, arterial roads that are constructed nowadays need to be of excellent standard and of extraordinary width, not only so that they will be able to cope with the needs of heavy motor transport but also to ensure that they will be able to cope with the needs of heavy motor transport, but also to ensure that there will be safety on the roads in face of the high speeds of which modern vehicles are capable, and that they will be able to transport the goods over the roads. The Commonwealth must ultimately take a direct interest in national road construction. At the moment, however, it seems to have washed its hands completely of responsibility in relation to actual road construction. It certainly has no national roads policy. Instead, it is handing over the whole problem to the States. Other honorable members have stressed the part that feeder roads play in the opening up of country areas. The Commonwealth should ensure that the money to be provided under the measure is not expended on political lines as was claimed by the honorable member for Capricornia in relation to Queensland. I remind that honorable member that the same sort of thing also happens in other States. Provision should be made by the Commonwealth to see that this money is expended in the. most economic way and not along political lines. The Commonwealth should also accept the responsibility of supervising the expenditure of the money so as to assist in the policy of decentralization that must play a very important part in our defence preparations. If the Commonwealth simply carries out the decentralization policy without any regard to the expenditure of money on roads, it will fall down on its responsibility.
This bill is also closely related to road safety. The bill makes provision for the expenditure of approximately £100,000 in connexion with the matter but such an amount can be regarded as only a very minor provision when the expenditure of it is spread over the whole Commonwealth. I presume that under the heading of expenditure on road safety will come such items as the provision of signs, lines and lights, which are somewhat costly, as well as propaganda connected with road courtesy. Expenditure on these matters would be only a small part of the amount of expenditure that is actually necessary to ensure road safety. One of the best means to ensure road safety would be to build alternate routes so as to allow traffic to divide in a rational manner. In some parts of Melbourne there are roads which have to bear more than a rational weight of traffic. About ten or fifteen years ago the municipality with which I am particularly associated sought the reservation of land for the construction of a highway so that traffic proceeding eastwards and south eastwards from the city might be directed over a certain route that would by-pass the congested roads that lead through the inner suburbs. Nothing has been done about that application as was discovered when the municipality decided to make a recommendation about the opening up of an alternative route. It called a conference to secure the support of other municipalities. It was then necessary for those councils to reach agreement and to present a case to the Ministor for Public “Works. The case was presented but the Minister considered that it would be unwise for him to take responsibility in the matter until he had consulted with other State authorities. A further conference was called with such bodies as the Tow Planning Authority, the Country Roads Board, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, and the Victorian Housing Commission. The last-mentioned body was very much concerned because the proposed highway would pass through one of its recently acquired estates. At that conference of all the appropriate authorities the Housing Commission, as one of the parties at the conference, threw a spanner into the works by indicating that ‘ it would require further advice before it would be prepared to give its blessing to the scheme. Many months elapsed before the commission was able to obtain what it called “ authoritative advice “. When the commission had been satisfied and a further conference had been called, it was found that some of the municipalities which had joined in the initial scheme had grown a little cold because land had not been acquired immediately, and much of the land that would ultimately be required had been built upon and would, therefore, cost much more to resume. The State Government then appointed a new planning authority and handed over control of the scheme to the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. When the municipalities sought to confer with the new body they discovered that it had no authority to reserve lands required for the establishment of a new highway, that it had power only to plan and that it had been given three years in which to draw up a plan. When agreement is ultimately reached, if it ever is, a great difficulty will arise over who will pay for the scheme and who will accept responsibility for the paying of the many costs associated with the resumption of land. The resumption of land will cost a large sum of money. One weakness in the bill is associated with the case that I am citing, because while this money is to be provided for the construction, maintenance and repair of roads, no provision is being made in respect of land acquisition. If the State Government decides to shelve its responsibility it may indicate that no authority has been given under the bill for State governments to contribute to the cost of land acquisition, which is a considerable part of the cost of the establishment of a highway such as I have mentioned.
Before road construction can he put in hand costs must be incurred for land acquisition, legal activities in connexion with land acquisition and in connexion with the purchasing of houses and land associated with acquired land upon which the road is to bo constructed. Last but not least the heavy costs associated with road construction itself must be borne. Many honorable members will realize that the construction of a highway does not involve building merely 50 feet of lightly surfaced roadway. It involves the construction of between 80 and 120 feet of solid surface. People who live close to the highway but who receive no direct benefit from it, feel that it is unjust when they are charged with part of the extravagant cost associated with such a highway. lt is impracticable to charge the initial costs of road-making to abutting owners. It seems to be a weakness of this bill that no provision is made for the costs associated with acquisition of land for the purpose of building a highway. In Victoria, the Country Roads Board, which has1 charge of the arterial roads of the State, has from time to time initiated the necessary action to widen its highways. Always this same difficulty occurs about appeals from abutting owners who feel that they are aggrieved through the road being widened and through its effect on adjacent land. Then again the matter of road construction brings forth a good deal of political representation. While this remains a State matter there is a good deal of political interference quite different from that suggested by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce).
The provisions in the bill are for the construction and upkeep of roads. The bill assumes that the money granted to the States is a recognition by the Commonwealth of only part of the responsibility in connexion with roads. The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has said that other responsibilities must be carried by the States and municipalities. Some such responsibilities might be carried by the States, but it is difficult to see how a municipality can be expected to carry any burden in relation to the construction and upkeep of arterial roads. Some municipalities have very small monetary reserves at the close of the financial year, and the only money that they have to spare after provision for the normal conduct of the municipalities, is used for the maintenance of private streets which have already been constructed and for which the municipality must make provision. The number of men employed by the municipalities and the amount of money that they have to spare after expenditure on municipal affairs does not go beyond the point of making provision for the maintenance of such private streets. ‘
Although increased sums are provided for the States, it appears, as stated by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), that there is not sufficient money to meet the increased cost associated with the construction of new roads. To give an example of how the cost of road construction has increased, I shall quote certain figures. In pre-war days the cost of street construction in an average municipality in Melbourne was between 18s. 6d. and 25s. a foot. To-day £3 a foot would be a very reasonable cost. Where heavy road construction is required, the cost is about £5 10s. a foot. In the construction of highways such as the one that I have been speaking of, where there is an SO ft. to 120 ft. road, £10 or £12 would be the present cost of construction.
The increased amount of money with which the States are to be provided as a result of the introduction of this measure is not nearly sufficient to meet the increased costs which will be associated with the necessary programme of development in each of the States concerned. It is interesting for me to note that provision is made in this bill for the State governments to purchase road-making equipment. This is a good provision, although it may be greatly misused. Road-making equipment is costly and difficult to obtain. Bulldozers, front-end loaders, tractors and other heavy earth-moving equipment are largely uneconomic unless they are in constant use, because the cost of maintenance is so great. If the Government is to be assured that this money will be spent to the best advantage it will be necessary for it to make provision for a plant pool to be formed by several municipalities. If such a pool were formed and a representative from each- municipality appointed to control the issue of equipment, there is no doubt that such heavy earthmoving equipment could be used economically and profitably by all concerned. This matter has been canvassed before, but I understand that under the Local Government Act of Victoria it is not possible for municipalities to combine to organize such a pool. The Australian Government should make provision for the establishment of a plant pool under a State scheme so that municipalities can draw equipment from the pool how and when they require it. They could pay a hire price for such plant. It is very important that the Commonwealth should ensure that its money will be spent to the best advantage, and, therefore, it should look into this matter to see whether it is possible to provide for the establishment of such a pool. I offer this advice although I do not know whether the Treasurer will be prepared to take an interest in it.
The Government has completely surrendered its proper interest because after all it has the responsibility of providing finance. It has accepted that responsibility, but it has not accepted the responsibility of ensuring that this money is expended to the best advantage. The Government should accept the obligation of supervising the proper economic spending of the money it provides. It should ensure that the road plans of the States fit into defence requirements. The Government is washing its hands completely of that responsibility, and is handing over this money to the States without any control over the expenditure of it. The Commonwealth should have the power of approving, of the economic developments suggested by the States when this money is being expended by them. The economic development of the States and the degree of decentralization practised are related to defence over which the Commonwealth must exercise more than a passing supervision. The Australian ‘Government should also carefully scrutinize the plans made by the States to ensure that they are conducive to road safety. If the bill could be amended to make the Commonwealth accept its rational share of responsibility in the spending of the money itwould be greatly improved and those criticisms, both veiled and actual, offered by honorable members to-day, would, be largely nullified. The Commonwealth should accept its obligations in regard to defence, economy and road safety in Australia.
– Honorable members will agree with many of the things said by the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews). For example, they will agree that it is desirable to have an arrangement for the pooling and the most efficient use of road machinery. But they will not agree that these arrangements should be made by the Australian Government, because honorable members on this side feel, and I think rightly, that there is a province of the States into which the Commonwealth should not trespass unduly. This air of patronage and universal control which seems to be the prevailing philosophy of the Labour party on this matter is not one that should commend itself to the people of Australia. Honorable members on this side agree substantially with many of the things said by honorable members opposite about this measure, things which have been said with even more clarity and force by honorable members on this side. I do not agree with the proposition that these arrangements should be Commonwealth rather than State responsibilities. The States should retain their identity and their decentralized administrations because they know how the money can best be expended within their borders. The States should retain that degree of independence and in various ways, as I have said in this House on a previous occasion, they should be given a greater degree of financial independence.
I turn now to the deterioration of the Australian roads system that has taken place. That deterioration is evident to everybody; its full seriousness can scarcely be exaggerated. On this point I agree with even the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), with whom I very rarely find myself in agreement. As another honorable member said, some of his remarks could be construed as criticism of his own administration when he was Minister for Transport. Nevertheless, I agree with what he and other honorable members have said about the serious deterioration of the Australian roads system. In this respect I shall direct my remarks primarily to conditions that exist in New South Wales with which I am familiar. At the same time, I have no reason to believe that the other States are not confronted with a similar problem. The deterioration of our roads system has not only been more shocking in recent years than it was hitherto, as the honorable member for East Sydney has said, but also threatens to become still worse.
I attribute that deterioration to three factors. The first factor is the lag that has arisen by reason of the fact that we are living on real capital that was piled up by the construction of roads from 1930 to 1940 but has not been effectively maintained. The effects of the nonmaintenance of roads do not make themselves immediately apparent. Repairs to roads may be postponed for two or four years without involving substantial permanent loss, but when repairs are deferred beyond a certain critical point the whole structure of roads disintegrates with the result that the authorities responsible for their maintenance must contemplate major repairs. That lag in maintenance is due to the shortage of equipment, materials and labour and to our general inability to get things done at present; and it is in contrast with what happened before the outbreak of the recent war. That factor is only one phase of a process that is apparent over a wider field that includes many essential industries. However, it applies with shocking severity to the construction and maintenance of roads. This lag in maintenance arises from the fact that we are living on our road capital, because roads represent real capital.
The second factor is, perhaps, the most serious of the’ three. I refer to the change of the type of vehicle and to the increase of the volume of traffic, on main roads. Vehicles now in general use are much more weighty than their forerunners and, therefore, require roads of heavier types than were constructed in the past. It is estimated that in respect of roads ‘that are not capable of taking. 25- ton gross loads the cost of maintenance is from eight to ten times a mile as great as the cost of the maintenance of highways which without disintegration will carry a gross load of from 5 to 8 tons. “Honorable members will agree that the greatest damage is caused to roads by comparatively few vehicles of the heaviest types. Correlated with the change of type of vehicle is the substantial increase, estimated at 10 per cent, per annum, of the volume of traffic. Honorable members, including the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear),- have directed attention to the bottlenecks and delays that are caused as a result of the increase of the volume of traffic.
The third factor that has contributed to the deterioration of roads - and this applies to a greater degree in .the eastern States - is the chance factor that the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) mentioned. I refer to the great deterioration that has been caused by long spells of wet weather during recent years. Under suan conditions moisture seeps through the road surface to the base with the result that under heavy traffic the structure as a whole may break down. This factor in conjunction with the use of vehicles of the heaviest types has revealed the weakness of the roads system in New South “Wales and has produced a situation which, if it is not remedied, may prove to be catastrophic. Each of the three factors that I have mentioned is operating to-day.
I shall now consider possible means of meeting these problems. The lag to which I have referred is due to the fact that whilst the general standard of effort in industry has declined as a result of the introduction of improved techniques and methods of manufacture, those new techniques have not yet made their full impact on road construction and maintenance. With a reduction of the standard of effort in industry generally we have not gained by improving techniques in road making. I commend the Government for introducing this legislation because it holds out the prospect that these improved techniques will he applied in road making. Through the use of overseas funds and the allocation of dollars which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in contradistinction to the attitude that his predecessor adopted, succeeded in obtaining, the Government is now enabled to make available new road-making machinery to an unprecedented degree. It is to be hoped that as that policy is progressively applied the new techniques in road making that have been developed overseas will make their impact upon the Australian roads system, particularly in the construction of main roads. That policy gives cause for hope that the lag to which I have referred will be -overtaken.
It is indisputable that the use of vehicles of the heaviest types for long hauls has been encouraged in most instances because alternative transport has not been available. To-day, goods are being moved by road which, normally, would be moved more economically and more expeditiously by rail or sea. Consequently, the load on the roads has been correspondingly accentuated by the present lags in rail and sea transport. Those lags are primarily due to a shortage of coal. Because of lack of adequate supplies of coal we are not able to use even our existing locomotives and rollingstock to their full capacity. For that reason the railways have been obliged to reduce speeds and to curtail schedules. This coal lag has caused a shortage of sheet steel which is mainly responsible for the cumulative shortage of rollingstock. If adequate supplies of coal were available, the railways would be in a position to handle most of the goods that are now transported between capital cities by road in vehicles of the heaviest type. The factors that have led to the chronic coal shortage have been revealed with dramatic effect in the present rail stoppage in Victoria in which State practically all transport has been thrown on to the roads. The same factors are in evidence on the waterfront and are responsible for slowing down the turnround of interstate ships and the shortage of shipping space. In this respect the Government’s plans have been held up by the Opposition’s refusal to pass through the Senate a bill that might have helped it to remove present bottlenecks and shortages of coal and steel and also to restore normal conditions on the waterfront. All persons are suffering from a lowering of their standard of living because of the Opposition’s action in that respect, and they will continue to suffer in that way for as long as the lag to which I have referred is allowed to continue. Of course, I should not be in order in discussing a measure that is now the subject of litigation. However, but for the dilly dallying and shilly shallying of the Opposition that measure would have come before the courts many months ago and, perhaps, we should by now have overcome our present troubles. The blame for the present lags and bottlenecks must be laid at the door of honorable members opposite. As a result of their attitude before and since they were elected to office, the present tremendous increase has taken place in heavy road transport which economically should not be borne by the roads at all. The nation will be called upon to foot a bill .of from £30,000,000 to £40,000,000 in order to restore existing roads to first-class order, and that cost will have a corresponding effect in reducing the standard of living of every Australian. Unfortunately, that sum represents only a fraction of the total loss that will thereby be incurred by the nation as a whole. However, whilst that factor accounts for a substantial part of the tremendous increase of heavy road traffic, it does not account for the whole of it. It may be considered desirable that heavy road transport, in a limited application, is here to stay, and that we should be concerting a policy to deal with that situation. Obviously, it cannot be dealt with simply on the basis of taxing the present heavy hauliers out of existence, because if I am correct in thinking that there is a place in the general transport system for heavy road transport, by which I mean not the heavy inter-capital hauls, but the shorter hauls, obviously the heavy transport now on the roads is only a small part of the contingent to come, and should not be called upon to carry the entire fiscal burden. It is true that a large proportion of that transport is dieselpowered, and, therefore, does not contribute very much to excise. The States tax the diesel-powered units at higher rates but it is probable that those imposts are not sufficient to compensate for the damage that is done by vehicles to the roads.
We need a new programme for building our main highways to a much higher standard, so that they may take the heavy traffic without suffering permanent damage. That matter is the responsibility of the States, and I am gratified to see that the Commonwealth is making available this amount of money, which is adequate in relation to its responsibilities, although Opposition members have said that it does not cover by any means the whole amount that will have to be expended on roads. I believe that the States should bear their responsibilities in that matter, while exercising the privilege of allocating exactly where the money shall be expended inside their borders. Their decentralized authority has a far better knowledge of that than any centralized bureaucrat in Canberra can hope to possess. It may well be that the problem of road destruction is co-related with the speed of the vehicle, and’ whilst on our main highways we need the kind of construction that will carry the heavy vehicles at the highest possible speeds consonant with safety, it may be that, on the by-roads on which they will travel, a much more drastic speed limit will have to be enforced in order to prevent them from knocking those roads to pieces. This is a detailed matter which, as I have indicated, should be within the province of the States rather than of the Commonwealth, but it is not a matter than can be baulked, or put aside.
We can reasonably look forward to some extensions of the railways. I do not agree with the proposal for the standardization of the whole railway system, which the honorable member for East Sydnev apparently considers his particular child,” although he is a little young to be its real father, but some small parts of that scheme should definitely be pressed to completion. The construction of a standardized gauge from Albury to the vicinity of Melbourne, which would run independently of the existing broad-gauge line, is obviously desirable, as also is a link from Broken Hill to Adelaide and to the east-west railway. If those comparatively small works are undertaken, and the requisite supplies of coal are obtained, as I believe they will be, so that the existing transport facilities can be used to their full capacity, a great deal - not all - of the damage done to the roads by the heavy fast vehicles will be eliminated. I believe, and honorable members on both sides of the House have emphasized the point, that we need a plan to get rid of traffic bottlenecks, and to segregate “ through “ traffic from local traffic, but such matters come within the province of the States, and this Par liament should not adopt a too patronizing and paternal interference with them.
The third factor with which I shall deal is the incidence of wet weather, although, obviously, we cannot do anything about it. I regard it as a problem for the States, and not primarily for the Commonwealth, but since the maximum damage is done while the base courses are wet, a prudent roads administration should pay particular attention to the use of main roads by super-heavy vehicles at a time when they cause maximum damage. That is a little practical point, which it is not our responsibility to implement, but it may not be entirely outside our responsibility to direct the attention of the States to it.
I notice that clause 10 of the bill makes provision for the Commonwealth to allocate £500,000 a year towards the maintenance and repair of strategic roads, and roads of access to Commonwealth property. I wonder whether the Treasurer will consider the advisability of accepting a small amendment to make it possible to expend a part of that money on roads that are considered of defence significance in relation to production. I refer particularly, although not exclusively, to the roads that may service new coal-mines and coal areas. It appears to me that there is some call to empower the Minister to expend money for those purposes, which may have a nearer relation to defence than has the so-called strategic road proper. I do not intend to press that point with any great vigour, because I am not certain of the definition of “ strategic road “, and I believe that the Minister already has a wide discretion, but it may be desirable to make its implication a little clearer.
I summarize my remarks by saying that this bill should receive the unanimous support of honorable members. It represents the greatest forward step that has yet been taken in the matter of roads, and discharges the responsibilities that devolve upon the Commonwealth with respect to them. I do not believe that the Commonwealth should assume universal powers and responsibilities, and I note that this legislation leaves something for the States to do. I hope that it will be the forerunner of an improved road system throughout Australia.
.- The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) is undoubtedly at his best when he makes constructive suggestions, and is definitely at his worst when he is tearing Opposition members to pieces. In this debate, we have seen him and heard him in a new role, namely, that of a constructive thinker, and I hope that be will not accept a word of advice in the wrong spirit when I tell him that he will go much further in this Parliament as a constructive thinker than he would as a destructive critic of the Labour party. I congratulate him on his informative speech, and I regret that the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) was not present to hear it.
I also hope to make some constructive proposals, because I agree with the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) that party politics should be forgotten in a debate on a subject of this kind, and that honorable members should approach it from an impartial, unbiased and unprejudiced stand-point. I shall endeavour to place the matter in its proper perspective. The preceding Labour Government raised the vast problem of roads from the realm of parochialism to that of national thought and planning, and thereby made a big contribution to the understanding of it. It is futile for the Liberal party- Australian Country party Government to claim that it is the saviour of Australia’s roads because it is merely carrying on from the point at which the preceding Labour Government left off.
– Who originally formulated the policy on roads?
– The preceding Labour Government.
– Nonsense! Has not the honorable member heard of the Federal Aid Roads Agreement, which was formulated by the Bruce-Page Government in 1925?
– I remind the Minister for Air (Mr. White) that the Labour Government pioneered the matter in one vital respect, if not in three vital respects.
– I concede that.
– I refer, of course, to specific grants for country roads.
– But the honorable member should know the history of the scheme. It was formulated in 1925 by the Bruce-Page Government.
– Nothing of the sort! The specific grant to municipalities for country roads was made in 1947. That was a new feature. I regret that the Minister’s knowledge of the subject is not up to. date.
– Why does not the honorable member confine his remarks to rabbits in Tasmania?
– Order! The honorable member for Wilmot is entitled to make his speech without interruption.
– I agree that the Federal Aid Roads Agreement was formulated in 1925.
– Why did not the honorable member say so instead of misleading the House ?
– The Minister is incapable of recognizing a fact, because he is so biased and prejudiced.
– Let the honorable member keep to the truth.
– An amount of £3,000,000 was allocated last year for municipal councils, and in that respect, the preceding Labour Government pioneered new ground. The provision for strategic roads, for the Australian Road Safety Council and for the Transport Advisory Council, was originally made by that Administration. The present Government should not attempt to claim all the credit, for the assistance that has been given to the States for road purposes. In my opinion, the municipal’ councils should be our main concern, because they are at the base of the pyramid of our democratic system. They are the local government, in the real meaning of the term. Their financial resources in respect of roads have been completely exhausted. The rates that have been imposed for road purposes in Tasmania, at any rate, cannot be increased, and additional revenue cannot bc derived from that source. Consequently, the local governing bodies have been obliged to look to another authority, the States,’ for assistance ; but the States cannot help them, and they look to the Commonwealth.
– -The Commonwealth is providing assistance for them in this bill. They did not receive such assistance before.
– They received assistance from the preceding Labour Government.
– That is not so.
– An allocation of £3,000,000 was made for the municipal councils. Tasmania’s share of that amount was £150,000, which was earmarked specifically for municipal councils’ roads in that .State.
– -When was that?
– It is regrettable that Government supporters have no knowledge of this subject.
– The honorable member for Wilmot is completely reckless in the statements that he makes.
– This Government should be given credit when it has been earned. I should like to mention at this stage three important matters. The provision under this bill for State and municipal roads exceeds by approximately £1,200,000 the allocation that was made last year. That increase is gratifying. The following table shows the expenditure on roads last year, and the estimated expenditure this year: -
That is satisfactory. During the last three years I have constantly urged that more money be made available to municipal councils for the construction and repair of roads. Therefore, I wholeheartedly support this provision. The total amount of £12,000,000 that is to be allocated annually to road purposes will be provided by setting aside 6d. a gallon of the customs duty on imported petrol used for civil consumption and 3Jd. a gallon of the excise on locally produced petrol. Thirty-five per cent, of the total amount will be set aside as a special grant for rural roads. That is a commendable provision. The grants for general road purposes and for rural roads will be distributed according to the formula that was formerly used. Tasmania will receive 5 per cent, of the total, and the remainder -will be distributed amongst the five mainland States.
The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has claimed that the amounts that will be available for road works will increase as petrol consumption increases. There is a weakness in his argument in that respect. The total estimated provision of £12,000,000 will remain unchanged each year unless petrol consumption increases because the deductions from customs and excise charges will be maintained at a constant rate. The right honorable gentleman has selected a risky basis for his expectation of increased revenue. The Labour Administration increased the allotment of funds for road works each year, but now there is a distinct possibility that there will be no increase, or only a very slight increase, during the next five years. The right honorable gentleman said, in his second-reading speech -
On present trends in petrol consumption, the proposed payments will increase by about £1,000,000 a year, though it is, of course, not possible to predict whether the present trends will be maintained. I should point out that under the former legislation only part of the total payments increased with petrol consumption, so that the proposals in this bill afford the possibility of a greater annual rate of increase in road payments.
The prospect of an annual increase, therefore, is no better than a mere possibility. That is a distinct weakness in the Government’s plan.
I am wholeheartedly in favour of the arrangement by which payments will be made on a five-year basis. Municipal councils in the electorate that I represent have made representations to me in favour of such a scheme. It will guarantee to them a minimum income for road works for the next five years and thus will enable them to plan their works effectively. On the 12th September, the clerk of the- Deloraine Council wrote to me in the following terms: -
Assistance received by this Council by way of Grant from Petrol Tax Funds over the past few years lias proved very beneficial to the Council and enabled its road plant and road gang to be increased.
However it would be more desirable from the Council’s point of view if it knew that such assistance would continue for a specified period so that plans for the future can be mapped out and financed.
At present a yearly allocation has been made to the Council and this is not known until almost the beginning of the financial year in respect of which it is made.
Your assistance and co-operation in this matter would be deeply appreciated.
That letter expressed the general view of other councils in the electorate, and I am glad that the Treasurer has decided to afford them some measure of security. Previously they led a hand-to-mouth existence from year to year and were unable to budget in advance for road works. For the next five years they will enjoy a sense of certainty about their incomes for such undertakings.
I am glad that State authorities will continue to exercise the right to make revenue from the petrol tax available for the construction of jetties for fishermen and other harbour facilities. The Treasurer stated during his speech -
I mentioned earlier that the bill provides that one-sixth of the grant for general roads purposes may be used by the States at their discretion for works connected with road and water transport. It was recognized in earlier years that some people who used petrol and paid tax on it did not use the roads in their ordinary business and, therefore, they received no direct benefit from the roads grants. Typical of such people would be the owners of fishing boats and motor launches. For that reason the States were permitted to use a portion of the grants for transport works other than roads and under that provision the States were able to make money available to construct boat havens and jetties for the benefit of owners and users of email water-craft. The relevant provision in this bill is intended to serve a similar purpose.
I congratulate the Treasurer upon his decision to maintain that arrangement, which was introduced by the Chifley Government three or four years ago. The electorate that I represent includes some of the northern and eastern coast-line of
Tasmania, and I know that the provision has been of great help to many fishermen. For example, at Bicheno £700 was expended on a new jetty and at Port Sorrell £250 was expended on the extension of the existing Jetty.
Only one genuine criticism can be made on the -debit side of the bill. It has already been stressed by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who pointed out that municipal councils, as they are known in Tasmania, and shire councils, as they are known on the mainland, will have no guarantee that they will receive from the State authorities the total amounts that they need, or even the amounts that will be allocated to them. The legislation that was enacted by the Chifley Government set aside £3,000,000 a year for such councils, and that amount was distributed amongst them by the State authorities on the basis of their needs. Tasmania received £150,000 of the total and last year the average allocation for each of 49 councils in that State was between £2,000 and £2,500. The bill provides no guarantee that municipal councils will receive £3,000,000 a year under this scheme. However, I hope that the State authorities, which will be responsible for the allocation of funds, will ensure that they shall receive not less than £3,000,000 for the year.
The general road problems of Australia were well stated by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). Great strides have been made since the horse and buggy days. We are now in the era of the bulldozer and the heavy motor truck. Highways, secondary roads, feeder roads, and even side roads leading to farm properties are required to carry very heavy traffic. I believe that modern vehicles are wearing down our roads faster than we can repair them. A time will come when we shall have to declare a state of national emergency in relation to our roads and deal with the problem as though we were preparing for a war. A national effort in which the Commonwealth and the State authorities will combine to use all available resources will be required. I can foresee no alternative. The destruction of our roads cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely at the present rate. Sooner or later they will be broken down to their foundations and an immense effort will be needed in order to restore them. The heavy traffic of these days includes huge trucks that carry such loads as logs from forests to sawmills, which are now situated where electric power is available. Our great building programme has increased the demand for timber. Hydro-electric power stations are being established in some States further inland than was contemplated a few years ago. The decentralization of housing and of industries also is causing the traffic on our roads to be heavier than it was formerly. Vast quantities of equipment have to be transported from the cities to country centres, and. manufactured products have to be moved from the new industrial areas to seaports and railheads. Primary producers are using heavy motor vehicles and these are causing considerable damage to the entire network of roads in all States. Each year bigger and bigger motor trucks are brought into use to carry heavy loads over bitumen and gravel roads. Large quantities of such commodities as timber, sand, and cement are hauled along our highways for building projects. Wool, wheat, fruit, potatoes and other primary products are transported for vast distances over all kinds of roads. Heavy machinery is moved on modern American low-slung trailers. Motor trucks are used even to carry motor cars from South Australia to Sydney. Prefabricated homes are shifted hundreds of miles on specially constructed motor trucks. For example,. in Tasmania such buildings are moved by roads from Devonport through the Great Lakes area ‘ in the highlands to the big new settlement at Bronte Park. The effect upon road surfaces is disastrous. The damage would not be very severe if heavy vehicles did not exceed a speed of 30 miles an hour, but many of them travel at 40 ot 50 miles an hour and this causes havoc. Over-speeding and over-loading are serious offences.
I offer some suggestions to the Government for its earnest consideration. Road construction and repair work should be given a high order of priority for money, man-power and materials. The importation of road-making machinery should be encouraged, and additional dollar quotas should be made available for such equipment. Extra quotas of steel also should be made available, if possible, to local manufacturers of roadmaking equipment. In that way, dollars would be saved by avoiding the importation of that kind of material. There should be some plan for the formation of road construction and repair gangs of immigrant workers which could cooperate in defined areas and could be financed by the Commonwealth from receipts from the petrol tax if necessary. Those gangs should be equipped with modern machinery which could be purchased by the State out of the petrol tax allocations and that machinery could be lent to local governing authorities. The gangs could operate where there was the most road activity and could keep country roads under constant supervision. They could go where they were needed most between municipalities, acting independently of municipal councils. They could go where the road problem was the greatest. Experienced, men should be placed in charge of them. They could do an enormous amount of good in areas where the municipal council had insufficient resources to attend to its roads. There should be more . co-operation between local governing bodies and public works departments in order to cut down costs and expedite repairs. At present, each council or shire has its own limited man-power and machinery resources.’ If two or three councils were to combine their man-power and machinery in order to maintain the roads that cut their boundaries and link them together what a tremendous saving of cost and time would be possible ! There are one or two areas in Tasmania where that system is being tried on a small scale and I think that it could be adopted throughout Australia. Public works departments usually have better machinery than do most councils and if they would co-operate with councils in performing work within the council boundaries that would expedite repairs and make the roads much better than they are. I hope that the Government is encouraging the production of bitumen within Australia. I understand that bitumen was produced in Victoria last year and the the Vacuum Oil Company was interested in the project. I also understand that bitumen is imported from Mexico. Its production in Australia would save dollars and time.
Mi Mackinnon. - It is being produced in New South Wales.
– Stricter policing of heavy trucks, particularly those that travel over gravel roads, should be enforced. Speed is costing not only precious lives but also thousands of pounds on road repairs. Considerable damage is done to roads by the tremendous loads of 10 tons and more which speed over them at 40 and 50 miles an hour. The destruction is far more rapid on gravel roads than on bitumen. What have we in this country for the construction of roads apart from bitumen and concrete? Gravel! Gravel is an absolute menace to our roads. When it is put down without any binding material it breaks away during the first dry spell and forms corrugations which have to be removed by a grader. Thousands of pounds is expended in pouring gravel on to the roads without proper binding and after two months they are in nearly as bad condition as they have ever been. Engineers should try to work some clay material into gravel in order to bind it. I have seen roads made in that way in Tasmania and they have lasted three or four times as long as purely gravel roads. I want to refer to the Road Safety Council.
– The honorable member spoke on that subject recently.
– I want to stress it again. The number of deaths on our roads could be reduced by the adoption of twelve principles. Pillion-riding on motor cycles should be restricted or completely abolished- Speed reducing governors should be attached to motor cycles which are involved in more accidents than are vehicles of any other type in proportion to their numbers. More police patrol cars should be provided. The Commonwealth Government should allocate petrol tax moneys to the State governments for the specific purpose of putting more patrol cars on the roads. Stricter tests in the course of which temperament should be considered should bo given before the issue of licences. Periodical road and temperament tests should be given to drivers in order to keep them as fit as are aircraft captains who are subjected to a test of this type. There should be more traffic police. More education on road conduct should be given in schools, where instruction on the subject should begin. If there are insufficient police to give this instruction the subject should be included in the school curriculum. Stricter penalties should be imposed for traffic offences, especially drunkenness. Most men know when they are going to get drunk. When a man lines up at a bar he knows that if he stays there for a quarter of an hour he will bo less able to drive his car.
– Order I The honorable member’s time has expired-
.- I have reached certain conclusions on this matter, on which all seem to agree. Those conclusions are that the serious deterioration of roads in Australia is inimical to our progress and economic security ; that motor transport depends on good roads for efficiency and economy; that because of dollar restrictions it is vital that the best use be made of motor vehicles and motor spirit; that motor transport has become increasingly important in Australia owing to the uncertainty of the availability of rail transport ; and that an adequate allocation of moneys- by the Australian Government to the States for road construction and maintenance is urgently necessary and desirable. The amount proposed to be set aside, under this legislation is approximately £12,000,000, which is £2,600,000 more than the sum provided for the same purpose last year.- That sum works out at 6d. a gallon of customs duty on imported petrol entered for civil consumption and 3£d. a gallon of the excise on locally produced petrol. It is proposed that these amounts shall be paid over a five-year period. Petrol consumption increases, each year and the amount of money available for the maintenance of roads will increase in like ratioThere is nothing in the Constitution which would prevent the Government from inceasing the amount so allocated from 6d. to 7d. or 8d. a gallon or to any other amount that it chooses to fix. Ever since I have been in this Parliament I have been trying to have the total receipts for the petrol tax paid by motor vehicle users made available for the purpose of road construction and maintenance. The necessity for the construction and reconstruction of roads is closely connected with the quantity of petrol used. I think that moneys received from the petrol tax should be allocated on that basis. To a certain degree this measure associates the quantity of petrol sold with the extent to which roads are used. I had hoped that a larger amount would have been provided for the construction and maintenance of roads and I shall continue to advocate the allocation of a larger sum for this purpose. It has been pointed out on numerous occasions that the £3,000,000 allocated for the maintenance of roads in sparsely populated areas by the last Government was not all used.
– That is not true.
– It is true, but there was a reason for it.
– Tasmania received its entire allocation.
– It has been stated that a certain amount of money bas remained unexpended. The former Government allocated petrol tax receipts on two different bases. One applied to sparsely populated areas and the other to general road-making. Due to petrol rationing and man-power shortages, it was impracticable for councils and other bodies to send their limited equipment to isolated areas and it became increasingly important to expend as much as possible on the roads that carried the greatest volume of traffic. This legislation proposes to increase the expenditure on rural roads from £3,000,000 to £4,200,000, and it is proposed to widen the sphere in which this money can be used. Money was previously set aside under this heading foi use in sparsely populated areas only, but clause 7 of the bill before the House applies to - roads in rural areas (including developmental roads, feeder roads, roads in sparsely populated areas, and in soldier settlement areas and roads in country municipalities and shires) , but does not apply to a highway, trunk roads or main roads for which other provision is made. The total amount of the grant for rural areas is 35 per cent, of the total sum paid into the trust account, and the bill states specifically that the money must be used for the purposes enumerated in it. The money will be paid by the Commonwealth into the trust account, from which it will be distributed to the States for payment to local authorities, which have to account to the Commonwealth for the expenditure of it. Those provisions make it clear that the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), who criticized the Government, had not read the bill.
– The Opposition contends that the measure does not provide for proper supervision by the Commonwealth of the expenditure of the money.
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has complained that the measure does not include provision for control by the Commonwealth of the expenditure of road grants. However, the honorable gentleman may recall that when a measure similar to the present one was being debated some time ago, I said that it was preferable for the expenditure of the money to be left to the State authorities.
– The Commonwealth never intended to control the detailed expenditure, and it was not the practice of the previous Government to do so. That Government merely required the States to submit schedules of proposed works.
– That is so. The schedules had to be approved of by the Minister for Transport. However, I think that shire councils and local authorities will be treated much more fairly under the present measure. The local authorities must of necessity be more conversant with the needs of their districts than any Minister in Canberra would be. It is inconceivable that some authority in Canberra should know more about the needs of a shire in some remote part of Australia than would the local shire councillors. I agree with the provision contained in the measure for State governments to distribute the grant to local authorities because most State governments invariably include Ministers who are familiar with country requirements. For instance, every member of the present Victorian Government represents a rural constituency, and each of them possesses personal knowledge of country requirements. The actual expenditure of the money allocated to local authorities will be left in the hands of those authorities. I have always paid tribute to shire councillors, who are unpaid servants of the people and perform a great work for the country. One shire councillor recently remarked to me that shire councillors, like members of Parliament, receive plenty of abuse, but, unlike members of Parliament, are not paid for their services. It is contended that the traffic bottle-neck that exist9 at Coburg in Victoria cannot be removed without the provision of a special grant.’ However, I remind honorable gentlemen who represent metropolitan electorates in Victoria that 60 per cent, of the population of that State resides in the metropolitan area. Surely the local government authorities in that area can provide sufficient funds from the substantial revenue that they derive from rates.
Exception has been taken in the course of this debate to certain areas having received favorable treatment because of their strong political “ pull “, the existence of which cannot be denied. Why is it that city areas invariably receive the most generous treatment from governments? Undoubtedly the explanation is that metropolitan areas elect more members to the various parliaments than do country areas and, in consequence, they are able to exercise more influence upon governments. Unfortunately the tendency to weight the scales in favour of city-dwellers to the disadvantage of country residents continues. In the redistribution of electoral boundaries that occurred prior to the last general election thirteen additional electoral divisions were established in Victoria, of which eight are situated in the city and only five in the country. The concentration of political power in the hands of city residents must accentuate the present trend towards centralization, and no real progress will be made until the country areas are more fairly represented to the Parliament in relation to their true value.
One effect of the passage of this measure will be that it will provide funds with which local government bodies in rural areas may improve the condition of the roads in their towns, many of which are now in a shocking state of neglect. Whilst I believe that the bill is a step in the right direction, I do not consider that it goes far enough. However, I am not impressed by the criticism of the measure uttered by members of the Opposition, who contend that many more millions of pounds should be provided for road construction by the present Government. After all, the political party to which they belong was in power for eight years, but it did not attempt to provide anything like the amount of money that members of the Opposition now contend should be provided for road purposes. In order to be quite fair to the preceding Labour Government, I admit that it increased, the grant for road purposes. However, the sums that it provided were not adequate, and were infinitely smaller than the amount which members of the Opposition now contend should be provided by the present Government. As an example of the attitude displayed by the previous Administration towards grants for country roads I recall that on the 7th July, 1949, when I moved the adjournment of the House to discuss as a definite matter of urgent public importance the need to make more money available for expenditure upon country roads, the then Government had no hesitation in applying the gag to the debate although only the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition had spoken to my motion.
I also commend the present Government for permitting local government authorities to purchase machinery for road-making purposes.
– Local authorities always had the right to have money allocated for the purchase of road-making machinery.
– That may be so, but now there is no need to seek approval from Canberra. However,’ the fact remains that whenever I raised the matter during the last Parliament, members of the then Government always contended that country shire councils did not possess roadmaking plant to carry out the necessary works. On one occasion I pointed out that at least two shire councils in Victoria, those of Swan Hill and Stawell, one of which is situated in the electorate that I represent, possessed the necessary plant. The then Prime Minister replied that a number of shire councils in the electorate that he represented did not possess road-making machinery and that because of that fact lie was convinced that country shires generally did not possess the necessary plant. However, under the present legislation shire councils will be able to purchase the necessary machinery for road making, and they can thank the present Government for that concession. In conclusion, I support the bill and express the hope that in future more money will be made ‘available to country shire councils. I hope that ultimately all the revenue derived by the Commonwealth from petrol tax will be made available to the States for road construction and maintenance.
.- When the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) rose to take part in the debate I thought that he would not be able to find an opportunity to voice his usual criticism of the coalminers. However, to my astonishment, he contrived to include in his remarks on the bill a condemnation of the coalminers. By a curious process of reasoning he reached the conclusion that the coal-miners are responsible for the present unsatisfactory condition of our roads. He argued that the miners were not producing sufficient coal, that in consequence sufficient steel was riot available for the manufacture of road-making machinery in Australia, and that because, until recently, road-ma’king machinery could not be imported, the coal-miners were really responsible for the neglected condition of our roads. I do not propose to say anything about that contention, which is obviously absurd, except that the actual relationship between roads and coal is exactly the reverse of that stated by the honorable gentleman. Because of the shockingly bad condition of many roads in. coal-mining areas, particularly on the south coast of New South Wales, the production of coal has been seriously impeded. During the recent floods the transport of coal and steel in the Illawarra area was almost brought to a standstill because the roads were virtually impassable.
Whilst I do not often find myself in agreement with the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), I agree with the honorable gentleman on this occasion that the present measure is both necessary and desirable. The principal features of the bill were set out by the Treasurer at the beginning of his speech yesterday. They are as follows : -
To make available each year for roads a larger amount of money than under the former legislation and to ensure that the aggregate grant will increase as petrol consumption increases.
To provide from this money a specific grant to the States for roads in rural areas as well us a grant for general roads purposes.
To give the States express permission to use any part of either of these grants to assist local authorities in the construction and upkeep of roads.
I think that special grants should be made to the big industrial areas because it is more important to the nation that good roads should be provided in those areas than that roads should be improved in rural areas. I am thinking particularly of the very heavy traffic that passes over roads in the Wollongong-Port Kembla area. Huge vehicles are being used to haul steel from Port Kembla to Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide, and are working havoc on the roads. The New South Wales Government Bailways are not able to transport all the heavy materials required to be moved, and it is necessary to use road transport in order to do so. The reason why the railways are unable to move those materials, as they formerly did, is that they have not sufficient rolling-stock. Of course, the New South Wales Government should not be blamed for the shortage of rolling-stock, which is really due to the neglect of our railways during the recent war.
– Were not the railways suffering from shortage of rolling-stock before the war?
– The New South Wales railways were not then suffering from a shortage of rolling-stock. Before the recent war motor vehicles were not used to haul metal, which was always transported by rail.
– Another contributing factor is the shortage of shipping due to the loss of ships during the war.
– I do not agree. The number of ships available in the coastal service is approximately the same as was available before the war. The real cause of our present transport difficulties lies in the recent war.
– The honorable member does not blame Mr. McGirr ?
– Certainly not.
– What did the honorable member mean when he said that the war was responsible for our present transport difficulties ?
– It is obvious that when so many men were withdrawn from industry for the armed services the manufacture of railway rolling-stock had to be neglected. The war went on for many years and the shortage of rolling-stock that occurred in consequence is very serious.
Some time ago, I asked the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) whether he would make available a larger proportion of the revenue derived from petrol tax for road purposes, and in reply to my question the right honorable gentleman stated that the Government intended to borrow £250,000,000 for road-making purposes and that the revenue from the petrol tax would be used to pay the interest on that loan. I contend, however, that the entire revenue from the petrol tax should be distributed to the States to maintain and construct roads. I think that it is quite wrong for the Government to pass into the Consolidated Revenue Fund the revenue from the petrol tax. instead of expending it upon our roads. Many councils unfortunately are unable to purchase the heavy road-making plants that are now available, some of which can do as much work as 100 men. I have seen them in use in connexion with the repair of flood damage in the south coast area of New South Wale3, where they were shifting a large part of a mountain-side. The ability to purchase such plants would save shire councils much worry and delay because under present conditions it is impossible for them to find sufficient labour for work on the roads. It was a Labour government in New South Wales that instituted the New South Wales
Main Roads Board which is one of the finest public bodies that has ever operated in that State. It has a marvellous organization and so the allocation for New South Wales under this bill should be handed over to it to be expended on work on roads. Some shire councils in New South Wales face tremendous expenditure, which has become necessary as a result of the very heavy rains this year. The Government will have to go -to their assistance so that roads in New South Wales, which are in a very bad condition indeed, may be made properly passable.
The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) dealt with road safety, which I regard as one of the most important subjects that we could deal with. The number of deaths on our roads has reached such an enormous figure that, something must be done about it. It is of little use for us to expend great sums to bring immigrants to this country if we fail to take care of them after they have arrived in this country by allowing a continuance of the conditions that lead to the deaths of many of them on our roads. Various means of decreasing the number of road accidents have been suggested. Drunken and careless drivers are often blamed for the high road toll. They are certainly responsible for a large percentage of road accidents but there are also other reasons for such accidents. Some people contend that we should have more police to direct road traffic and to ensure that people shall be protected. In my opinion, however, one of the main reasons for road accidents in Australia is the narrowness of our roads. Those honorable members who have travelled abroad will no doubt have seen some of the splendid roads that have been laid down in other countries. When I visited Italy I saw the splendid road built during Mussolini’s regime from Naples to Rome and also some other fine roads in Europe. It would pay us to expend our money in the construction of such roads. Some of our roads, in addition to being narrow, are covered with bitumen only in the centre, with the result that the wheels of cars get bogged in the gravel at the sides of the road and accidents occur. If sufficient money were made available to enable bitumen to be laid over the whole road surface more lives would be saved than would be saved by any other means.
I consider that all the money that is collected from the tax on petrol should be made available to the main roads authorities and other authorities in the various States for expenditure on the construction and maintenance of roads. I also consider that the Australian Government should take some measure of responsibility for ensuring that Australia’s roads shall be widened.
.- We have travelled a long way on this subject and the going has been rough, having been mostly over fairly bad surfaces. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) this morning set off at a good clip and led us through the byways of his devious mind. Since he resumed his seat, however, we seem to have moved out into more open country and the debate has been continued in an atmosphere of good fellowship which I believe should mark other debates in this chamber. We went along the road, very safely even to the stage at which the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) gave us a very learned dissertation on roads, with only a passing reference to. communism - a fact that is very astonishing indeed - and with no mention at all of the absence of the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) who is obviously now browsing in the leafy lanes of legal argument. I thought that the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) would lead us into a much happier state away from his bitumen, gravel and dust, when he blandly told us that every car driver knows when he will become intoxicated. Unfortunately, he could not develop his ^argument because his time expired. I suggest that he may be a little innocent in these matters and might do well to place himself in the hands of his colleagues in order to gain more experience. If the roads of Tasmania are no better than that honorable member’s knowledge of intoxicants then there is ample need for a federal grant to finance work on them.
The present measure is designed to grant a larger amount of money to the
States for road work than has been granted by any former government. The bill also provides that the States shall be given special rights and I do not think that any honorable member on either side of the House will quibble with that aspect of the matter. The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) rightly stated that maintenance of roads is mainly a function of the States, except of course when they are on Commonwealth properties, and that being so, Commonwealth financial assistance for work on roads should be regarded as supplementary to State resources and not as relieving, the States of any obligation to provide their share of the additional finance for the large volume of road work that is now necessary. He also said -
Since it is clear, however, that a good deal more money will be required for -work on roads in the next few years the Government is again prepared to increase very substantially its contribution to this vital national work.
Not only does the Government propose to increase the amount to be provided for the States but it also proposes to make very wise provisions for giving greater powers to the States, which previously were required to submit to the Australian Government a programme of proposed works to be financed with Commonwealth grants, before such works were proceeded with. Such a practice is, no doubt, in line with the true socialist concept that everything should be referred to the Federal Government. The present Government, in accordance with its policy, will not require the States to submit a programme of works before they can proceed to expend the finance to be allocated to them under the measure. That fact will mean greater flexibility and quicker action by tie State governments in connexion with State road programmes. The States will welcome the fact that under this bill they can assume their proper functions and that they will be acting on their own behalf without having to refer certain matters for consideration by this Government.
The Treasurer is to be congratulated on his reasonable approach to this matter, not only because the Government proposes to grant an amount of £12,000,000 in lieu of the sum of £9,400,000 that was granted last year, but also because it has shown its appreciation of the difficulties of the States and the local governing bodies that are responsible for building new roads and maintaining existing roads. The .States and their local governing bodies have had a good deal of difficulty to contend with. Roads in New South Wales are in a bad condition, one reason for which is that the State authorities and the local governing bodies have had to face considerable problems. During the war years they found it impossible to obtain man-power to carry out maintenance work on the roads, and since the end of the war they have found it just as difficult to secure such labour even to keep existing roads in good condition, quite apart from embarking on any new road construction. New problems in connexion with roads require a new method of road construction. In my electorate there are a number of roads that were made originally to meet the requirements of horse-drawn traffic, and that were later of a good enough standard to carry light motor traffic such as trucks of up to 2i tons. Now, however, when many transport vehicles have a gross weight, loaded, of from 15 to 25 tons, not only the surface of roads but also the whole of the roads structure itself, is ruined. In addition, we have had an unusually wet season which has presented us with additional problems. The State and local governing bodies in New South Wales have done a very good job in trying to handle the tremendous problems that have faced them in connexion with roads and I am glad that this Parliament is taking a vital interest in the matter. Roads built nowadays must be able to carry modern heavy and speedy traffic. My electorate particularly is dependent on road transport for its supply needs, but owing to the bad state of the roads a great deal of damage is done to perishable products in transit by road to markets. I have consulted local councils in respect of that matter, and I have expressed every sympathy with them in the difficulties that they have been, and are, called upon to meet. Aldermen and shire councillors in. my division have seen their roads deteriorate and, through lack of finance, materials, equipment and labour, have been unable to do anything to prevent it. In addition to that, in common with the division of Lyne which was mentioned by the honorable member who represents it (Mr. Eggins), the division of Mitchell has had to contend with floods as a result of which the shires of Baulkham Hills, Hornsby, Nepean and Como, and the municipality of Windsor, have had great problems to deal with. It reflects considerable credit on them that they have been able to keep the roads open so that some traffic has been able to pass over them.
It is fitting that we should pay tribute to the members of local governing bodies for the manner in which they have tried to serve the community. They are engaged all the time, without payment, in giving service to the community. I have attended some meetings of local governing bodies in my division. They sit into the early hours of the morning, as this House did during the last 24 hours. They have made a great contribution to the welfare of their districts, yet the members and the staffs of local governing bodies are not always treated by various government departments with the respect that they deserve. Government officials frequently set themselves up as technical experts, and are inclined to treat with disdain the suggestions that are made to them by local governing bodies. We should do everything within our power to encourage the system of local government and to give local governing bodies every assistance that we possibly can. Better roads will depend on the greater expenditure of money and on the provision of better equipment. It is not of much use to make money available if the necessary equipment cannot be purchased. Some time ago one of the shire councils in my electorate ordered a grader which would have helped to improve the condition of the roads throughout the shire, but was unable to obtain delivery of it. It is estimated that by the time it takes delivery of this machine the price will have increased by several thousand pounds. I respectfully suggest to the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) that he should consider whether shire councils and other local government bodies should be given some priority in the allocation of machinery so that they may be able to obtain the equipment needed for the construction and maintenance of roads, with benefit to the whole of the community.
It is pleasing to honorable members on this side of the House to note that some provision has been made in the bill for a special grant to be made in respect of rural roads. Good roads are essential in rural districts, and are the best means of facilitating the progress of country areas. After means of easy and quick access to country districts have been provided all the other amenities of life follow. It can be optimistically anticipated that good roads will bring population to country districts, and that the increase of population will in its turn he the means of extending the services of electric light, electric power and reticulated water, and even perhaps postal and telegraph services. There is no reason why the people in the rural areas should not enjoy such amenities. Previously it has been doubtful whether people in rural areas have received their fair entitlement of money advanced by the Commonwealth to the States. In New South “Wales, by Act of Parliament, the State Government allocated to rural areas certain funds that had been provided by the Commonwealth. Those funds were insufficient for their needs. That system has not always been conducted on an equitable basis. I understand that the County of Cumberland has a surplus of money in its funds and that it was able to make a loan from that surplus to country roads funds. This bill provides that 35 per cent, of the money allocated to the States will be devoted to rural roads, and I believe that that is a fair means of ensuring just treatment of the people in the country. If it is found that country shires can use more money than has been provided, there will be power under this bill to grant funds from other parts of the allocation. Perhaps equipment and manpower will be restricting factors on the expenditure of the funds in certain areas, but the power will exist to enable State governments to devote other funds to the maintenance and extension of rural roads where necessary.
This bill provides for greater financial aid than has previously been granted because of the provision in the bill that advances shall be related to the sale of petrol. If petrol sales increase the amount of money to be made available to the .States will also increase. There is every indication in this country that as we progress more petrol will be sold. An important feature of this bill is the automatic provision for increased advances as the sales of petrol increase. I sympathize with the Treasurer in having to deal with the matters that he has before him, because I believe that in some respects he has inherited a legacy from the previous Government.
– The honorable member is talking rot.
– I certainly am not. To-day the honorable member for East Sydney condemned his own administration. I trust that this bill will have the support of the House because it is a reasonable approach to the matter of roads, and I believe that it will have a good effect on the whole of the community.
– The bill now before the House tells a different story from that told by the Government parties during the last general election campaign. At that time the country was treated to a “ hifalutin’ “ proposal for the borrowing of £250,000,000 to be advanced to the States for the construction of developmental roads and so on. Honorable members will remember that there is not one word about this in the budget speech delivered recently by the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden). In fact, the Government has told this House at times that it would not be possible at present to borrow even £100,000,000.
– That statement had nothing to do with the bill now before the House.
– I have received copies of the speeches made, by the Treasurer, and I assure the Minister for Air (Mr. White) that I know what I am talking about. The fact is that if the Government had borrowed the £250,000,000 that it was so fond of talking about during the general election campaign, the proceeds of the petrol tax would pay only the sinking fund and interest on it. That was a foolish and unjustifiable statement, and it completely lacked substance. In fact, the bill now before the House merely follows the lines originally laid down by a Labour government.
– A Labour government did not bring down the original legislation in connexion with this matter.
– That may be correct, but the history of the matter is that the original legislation provided for a very small advance and any work carried out by the States had to be approved by the Commonwealth Minister for Works. Complete control of the money granted to the States was vested in the Commonwealth Minister for Works. It was not until the Scullin Government assumed office that that restriction upon the States’ activities was removed. At the time when Senator Barnes was Minister for Works the Scullin. Government decided to give to the States a free hand in the distribution of any money allocated under legislation of this type. Therefore, it will be seen that a conservative government originally placed the restriction on the activities of the States, but a Labour government abolished that restriction.
– The responsibility fox the expenditure of the money has always rested with State governments and local authorities.
– I know -the history of this matter fairly well because I was associated with the Minister for Works at the time I have spoken about. In fact, certain works were carried out in my electorate which could not have been carried out without the approval of Senator Barnes. However, that is merely history, and does not matter much. Later, when the grant to the States increased, certain, developments took place in New South Wales. All the money made available by the Australian Government to the New South Wales Government was in turu handed over to the New South Wales Main Roads Board. Perhaps the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) will remember something about that. The result of that action was that unless the Main Roads Board declared certain roads to be highways, trunk roads or main roads, they could not be subsidized. There was never any direct grant made to a local government authority. It is quite true that the
Main Roads Board employed the organizations of certain shires and municipalities to carry out road work on its behalf. When I was a member of the executive of the New South Wales Shires Association, that body organized a deputation to the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) about this matter. We pointed out to the right honorable gentleman that the grants being made by the Australian Government were not, in our opinion, being fairly distributed according to the road needs of New South Wales.
I am not conversant with the detailsof the roads organizations in States other than New South Wales although I understand that in Victoria the Country Roads Board, under the present director,, has done an excellent job. I have heard tributes paid from time to time to that organization. I do not say that splendid work was not done by the Main RoadsBoard of New South Wales but I dosay that that body completely controlled the expenditure of the money granted toNew South Wales by the Australian Government. The Main Roads Board of” New South Wales built magnificent highways and subsidized the building of main and trunk roads. In some cases it subsidized the complete construction of bridges and culverts and in other cases it declared roads to be highways and borethe expense of their construction and’ maintenance. When the deputation, which I have already mentioned, was received by the Prime Minister, I think: I said that the money allotted to the States- could be better distributed.
I have known large sums of money to be expended by the Main Roads Board of” New South Wales and by the controlling authorities in other States in order to level out hills and straighten bends so that greater visibility might: be given to road users. Those highways were certainly magnificent but when thetraveller left them in wet weather hecould not go more than 20 yards away from them without becoming bogged. There is an instance of that sort of” thing in my own electorate at the present time. The Main Roads Board hasstraightened out a perfectly good winding road which did not afford very good visibility. A vast sum of money has- been expended in order to give visibility on that road for some 450 feet ahead of the motor ear driver. When the Labour Government investigated this matter at the expiration of the previous agreement it decided that there should be a substantial allocation for the construction and maintenance of country roads in sparsely populated areas such as in the electorate of the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler). We so decided in order that an allocation could be made direct to the local government bodies in control of the sparsely populated areas. The chairmen of several shire councils in New South Wales have informed me that that was the most satisfactory form of assistance that had been made available to local government bodies. I am not suggesting that the amount so- made .available was sufficient to meet all their needs. Under that provision two shires, one being in my own electorate and the other adjoining my electorate, each received £5,000 and the chairmen of those bodies told me that previously they had not even dreamt of receiving such liberal assistance. That assistance, which was in addition to aid that was given to local government bodies by the State government, enabled them to expand their activities. One honorable member opposite pointed out that under this legislation local government bodies in sparsely populated areas can, at thendiscretion, use the money that is to be made available for the purchase of plant. They were permitted to do that under legislation that the last government passed. Although the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) said that in Western Australia no grants were made directly to shire councils, the Government of that State established a pool from which, those bodies could obtain roadmaking machinery on loan.
– That arrangement did not work very well ; certain legal complications arose.
– I was not aware that that was so. However, I am now explaining what local government bodies were permitted to do under the legislation that the last government passed. On one occasion when the sum of £276,000 was made available to the New .South Wales Government it decided upon its own initiative to set aside £120,000 of that amount for the construction of developmental roads. Previously, it was practically impossible in any circumstances for local government bodies to construct developmental roads or to obtain assistance for that specific purpose. That Government divided the remainder of the sum that I have mentioned among country shires and municipalities for the maintenance of outlying roads.
If the responsible State Minister so decided, grants were made to shires for the purpose of purchasing machinery. However, some shires were so small in area that for purposes of economy a number were obliged to share the same plant. After paying the salaries of an engineer or an engineer-clerk some shires did not have sufficient income to purchase adequate road-making machinery. One shire I have in mind had a plant that consisted of two horse-drawn graders and a tipdray. I repeat that the principle of making grants direct to local government bodies for specific road purposes was first embodied in legislation by the last Labour Government. It did that because it believed that State governments and main roads bodies were not distributing these grants fairly having regard to the need to provide reasonably good roads in sparsely settled areas. I realize that good roads cannot be provided for the purpose of serving the needs of only a few settlers. An individual may settle on a property that is situated, say, 10 miles from the main road. Eventually, he may build a home and replace his horse and sulky with a modern motor car, or truck, and then ask the local government body to build a road to connect his property with the main road. In one instance, a shire council built a road at a cost of £500 to link a property with the main road when the owner paid only 7s. 6d. a year in rates. Whilst we admire the pioneering spirit of individuals who settle in remote areas we must realize that local government bodies cannot be expected to meet their requirements in such circumstances. I agree with the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) that the use of vehicles of the heaviest types has been largely responsible for the damage that has been caused not only to main roads but also to feeder and rural roads. In New South Wales, the railways are unable to carry all the goods that are offering and that has led to the extension of road transport services in rural areas.
Supporters of the Government have commended it for providing for grants to be made through the States to municipalities for the construction and maintenance of roads. Whilst the provision of assistance to municipalities was not ruled out under legislation that the Labour Government passed, I believe that this provision will encourage local government bodies in densely populated areas to clamour for grants from these funds. Such bodies derive sufficient income from rates to enable them to pay the cost of all road work that they require to undertake in their areas. This relaxation of control over the expenditure of funds that are made available for road purposes will leave the way open to municipalities that can afford to do the work themselves to apply for grants for the purpose of constructing streets in thickly populated areas. Apparently, municipalities are to be given a free hand in expending any money that may be made available to them for road purposes. I have no doubt that if they get the opportunity to do so, they will endeavour to meet the C03t of construction of kerbing, guttering and footpaths from this source despite the fact that under the relevant legislation in each State municipal councils have power to charge half the cost in such work to ratepayers whose properties are thereby improved. Furthermore, the main roads authority in each State is responsible for the maintenance of arterial roads with a width of 20 feet that may run through thickly populated areas, whilst the local governing body concerned is responsible for the upkeep of the thoroughfare between the edges of the road and the kerbing. It is possible that in such instances the bodies concerned may apply for grants from this fund to enable them to surface that part of the thoroughfare for which the main roads authority is not responsible. This money could very easily be swallowed up if the clamour of municipalities for assistance for such purposes were met from this source.
Many shire councils urgently require to construct concrete causeways on country roads, parts of which have become impassable following heavy rains or storms. Under such conditions drivers of heavy vehicles have no hope of getting through on certain roads. Similarly, settlers who live up to 40 miles from the nearest town and who are often flood bound could be enabled to travel by road in practically any kind of weather if causeways were provided where they are now needed.
The provision of roads is not merely a matter of providing a lot of money for that purpose. For instance, as the Treasurer pointed out, of the money that the last Government made available to the States for road purposes, £5,500,000 remained unexpended as at the 30th June last. That money remained unexpended, not because the States did not wish to expend it, but because they were unable to obtain requisite plant and labour to carry out the work which they planned to undertake. It is now difficult to induce road maintenance workers to live in tents. They require caravans, or similar accommodation, to be provided for them. Therefore, regardless of the amount of money that the Government may make available for road construction and maintenance, it will not be a’ble to meet present requirements until adequate plant, material and labour become available. The problem has been aggravated in recent years as a result of heavy rains in Queensland and New South Wales and to some degree in Victoria. One could say that in the two first-named States recent floods have destroyed the main roads construction work of twenty years. Those roads must now be resheeted for considerable distances in order to carry vehicles of the heaviest types. Recently, I saw a diesel truck carrying a load of 300 bales of wool on a road on which bridges were originally constructed to take a load of not more than 15 tons.
I conclude by saying that this legislation varies only slightly in principle from that which the Labour Government passed. Unless the Government succeeds in putting value hack into the £1 the value that will be obtained from the expenditure of the sum of £12,000,000 that is to be made available under this legislation will not exceed that which could have been obtained for the expenditure of the sum of £9,400,000 that the
Labour Government made available for road purposes last year.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
Debate (on motion by Mr. White) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 21st November (vide page 2737), on motion by Mr. Holt-
Thai the ‘bill be now lead a second time.
.- -This bill deals principally with age and invalid pensions, but incidental reference is made to other social services. Therefore, I ask your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make passing reference to various social services, because it is difficult to deal with age and invalid pensions without discussing, in broad terms, social services generally. The Labour party takes great pride in the fact that it has always been closely associated, sometimes as a partner in introducing, and at other times as the originator of, various social services. 1 note that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), in his second-reading speech, stated that the expenditure on social services during the current financial year will amount to approximately £111,000,000. I recall that when I became the Treasurer in 1941, the total amount of expenditure on social services was approximately £17,000,000 per annum. Before that time, little or nothing had been done to provide social services for the people.
– That statement is not fair.
– I shall briefly trace the history of social services in this country. The only outstanding social service introduced by a conservative government is child endowment and, as I have mentioned on a number of occasions, I have no doubt that its decision was prompted by an intimation from the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, when adjourning the hearing of a basic wage claim, that unless endowment was paid for children in a family other than the first child, the basie wage would need to be increased substantially.
– A Liberal government introduced the old-age pension many years ago.
– At the instigation of the Labour party at that time.
– The political party responsible for the introduction of the old-age pension undoubtedly had the warm support of the Labour movement.
– That admission is rather different from the right honorable gentleman’s previous statement.
– I also recall that the satellites, or perhaps they were the masters, of the Conservative party, insisted that the financial emergency legislation should embody the provision that invalid and old-age pensions should be reduced during the economic depression of the early 1930’s, although distress and poverty were rife in the country in those years.
– The right honorable gentleman was a member of the Scullin Government, which reduced pensions.
– The banking interests of this country decreed aft that time that money would not be provided to carry on the ordinary governmental services unless pensions were reduced. The Lyons Government, which succeeded the Scullin Government, again reduced pensions.
– That is not so.
– Many people remember the iniquitous white card system that was introduced by the Lyons Government, under which the home of the recipient of a pension was sold after his death to repay the amount of the pension that he had received. I recount those facts in order to show that social services were on a small scale until the advent of the Labour Government in 1941.
– The right honorable gentleman’s account was most inaccurate until he was corrected.
– I have stated facts, and they cannot be refuted. The Minister for Air (Mr. White), may endeavour to contradict me, but most honorable members will recognize that
I have stated facts, regardless of the twist that may he given to them. It cannot he denied that when the Labour Government assumed office in 1941, the age pension was approximately £1 ls. a week. “When the Labour Government went out of office in 1949, the pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week. In addition, the means test had been substantially relaxed during those nine years.
One important point that I emphasize is that the Liberal party and the Australian Country party now recognize what they scathingly condemned in the past, namely, the inauguration of what they called the “ welfare State “. Members of the Conservative party argued years ago that people, even invalids, should provide for their own needs, and had no right to expect the State to assist them. That attitude has changed since the Labour Government enacted social security provisions during and since “World “War ti. I shall not mention ;all of them, but I refer specifically to the -establishment of the National “Welfare Fund. and to the social services contribution which may be described as a specific tax to provide for social security. The administration of conservative governments from federation until 1930 was conspicuous for inactivity in respect of providing social services. The Scullin Labour Government was forced hy the financial institutions of this country to reduce pensions in 1930-31, and, as I have mentioned, restrictive provisions were applied to the estates of pensioners by the Lyons Government. The conservatives now recognize the “welfare State “.
– Who are the conservatives?
– The Minister is one of them.
– If Government supporters are conservatives, Opposition members are Communists.
– The Minister is the most striking example of “a conservative that I can imagine. I refer to previous non-Labour governments as “ conservative “ governments, because I have difficulty in remembering the various names that they have adopted from time to time. I am gratified to learn that the
Minister is inclined to disown the title of “ conservative “. However, that is by the way. The Liberal party was accustomed to sneer at the “ welfare State “, but public opinion has forced it to recognize that the care of the less fortunate sections of the community is the responsibility of governments. Therefore, the Liberal party has travelled a long way in the last few years. I shall briefly examine its record in respect of social services before the Labour Government assumed office in 1941. Were medical and pharmaceutical benefits provided free of charge for the people in those days? Of course, they were not! It is perfectly true that, in 1938, a former Treasurer, Mr. Casey, introduced the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill which, if rumour is correct, was torpedoed by the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), and that the Attorney-General at that time, Mr. Menzies, resigned from the Government as a result of its failure, although it had a majority in the Senate and in this House, to proceed with that legislation. The only attempt that was ever made by a Liberal government to provide social security for the people was quickly abandoned under pressure from a section of that party, despite the fact that large sums of money had been expended on advisory committees and on arrangements with friendly societies to implement that scheme. The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) became the Prime Minister in 1939, but in spite of the indignation that he had displayed in the previous year at the failure to proceed with the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill, he had not attempted to provide social security for the people up to the time he went out of office in 1941. But the conservatives have since come to recognize the “welfare State”. I consider that “ conservatives “ is a fitting title for Government supporters.
– Yes, if the right honorable gentleman will describe himself as a socialist.
– If the Minister thinks that I shall be insulted by being called a socialist, he can forget it.
– The Leader of the Opposition was not proud of being called a socialist before the last general election.
– Government supporters “will not hurt my feelings with interjections of that kind. The Liberal party, which decried the “welfare State “ in the past, now boasts that an amount of £111,000,000 will be expended on social services during the current financial year. The Labour party welcomes that.
I shall now refer to the present , Government’s pre-election promise to put value back into the £1 and, in doing so, I shall speak without any great political rancour, because I realize the difficulties of the economic position. The .then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), in the last general election campaign, made specific reference to pensions in his policy speech as f ollows : -
Meanwhile, existing rates of pension will, of course, be at least maintained.
In those words, the right honorable gentleman gave a clear indication to the people that a Liberal government would not reduce pensions. I come now to the important part of his statement -
We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
Government suporters now claim that the then Leader of the Opposition did not promise, during the last general election campaign, that a Liberal partyAustralian Country party administration would put value back into the £1. The right honorable gentleman may not have promised to increase pensions, but he definitely gave to the pensioners, and indeed, to all sections of the community, an undertaking that the purchasing power of their money would be increased under the administration of a Liberal government. “Well, the Government has been in office for eleven months, during which the purchasing power of the £1 has steadily diminished. That leads me to point out that the benefit of the amount of 7s. 6d. a week, by which the pension is to be increased, will be more than offset by the decreased purchasing power of the £1. I know the difficulty of financing social security schemes. Supporters of the Government have talked about the means test. The policy of the Labour party is to eliminate the means test gradually, but the task will not be easy from a financial stand-point. The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) has said that its abolition would cost £60,000,000 a year, and that a commitment of that magnitude can not be lightly undertaken. Social services must not be financed by means of bank credit. I have said so repeatedly, and my party endorsed my policy in that respect throughout the years when it was in office.
This Government had been in power for ten months before it made any move to increase age and invalid pensions. They should have been increased early this year.
– And in 1949.
– The honorable member may have some justification for saying that. But the Labour party did not want to buy votes at the last general election by giving away a few favours on the eve of polling-day. I have always tried to preserve some semblance of political honesty, and I did not want to make any promises to the electors that could not be fulfilled. However, members of the present Government parties made certain definite promises that they have since entirely failed to honour. Such a charge can never be laid with justice at the door of the Labour party. Frankly, I opposed the taking of any action by the Labour Government on the eve of the general election that might have gained a few extra votes for its candidates in return for favours granted. This Government should have granted an all-round pensions increase of at least 5s. a week as soon as it came into office.
– As a former Treasurer, the right honorable gentleman knows very well that such increases are provided for in the budget.
– I remind the Minister for Air of an important human factor in relation to the Government’s budget proposals. The Public Service Arbitrator recently made an award for public servants which operated retro*spectively as from December, 1949. In other words, the increases that he granted were dated “back over a period of about ten months. In view of that decision,, the Government had some justification for giving favorable consideration to the needs of less fortunate members of the community. The Government has also introduced a bill which provides for the payment of increased salaries to justices of the High Court of Australia and others. The Chief Justice now receives a salary of £4,500 a year, and the Government proposes that it shall be increased by £500 with retrospective effect from the 1st July last. Other members of the judiciary will .benefit by a similar increase. Can honorable members imagine the nature of the feelings of a pensioner who lives alone on an income of £2 10s. a week upon reading about such increases?
Under the terms of the new Public Service award, many unmarried girls have just received lump-sum payments of £36, £37, and even more. A much better psychological impression would have been engendered amongst pensioners if the Government had acknowledged their needs as the result of rising costs by making the pension increase of 7s. 6d. a week effective from the beginning of the financial year instead of from the beginning of November. It has seen fit to make the £500 a year increase for justices of the High Court effective from the 1st July, and it could well have done likewise for the unfortunate pensioners. I do not reflect upon the justices or suggest that they are not worthy of higher salaries, and I make no complaints about the increases that have been granted to public servants, some of whom, I know, now receive £2,100 a year although previously they received £1,500 a year. Can supporters of the Government appreciate the emotions of pensioners when they compare their own situation with that of their more privileged fellow citizens? The pension increase of 7s. 6d. a week would have been fairly substantial had the cost of living remained normal. But prices have been rising all this year, and the increase will be of little help. In passing, I remark upon the dilatoriness of the Government in introducing the budget and the measures that will give effect to its financial plans. I cannot recall any previous occasion on which a budget was introduced so late in the year. The practice has been to present the budget to the Parliament within a couple of months of the end of the previous financial year. However, for some reason best known to the Government, we have not yet even started to discuss the Estimates. The Labour Government that came into office in 1941 did better than that. It presented its budget very promptly, although, of necessity, its plans had to be based very largely upon the plans of the previous Government.
The Labour party made no promises about pensions increases during the election campaign. It realized the nature of the economic problems that confronted the nation. However, the present Government parties were prepared to promise anything at all in order to win a few votes. They did not care by how much they deceived the public. I repeat that the promise to put value back into the £1 was either fraudulent-
– It is being carried out.
– Ask the housewife whether it is being carried out. Either that promise was made in complete ignorance of the economic influences that were operating in the country, or it was made deliberately in order to deceive the voters. The Labour party eased the conditions of pensioners. When it came into power, an invalid had to be classed as 100 per cent, totally and permanently incapacitated before he could receive an invalid pension. Widows’ pensions were payable only in New South Wales until the Labour Government of the Commonwealth made the benefit available throughout Australia. I recall a man in the electorate that I represent who had lost an arm, an eye and a foot but who was not considered to be totally and permanently incapacitated and therefore could not obtain an invalid pension. Labour relaxed that rule so. that a person suffering from about 85 per cent incapacity could qualify for a pension or a part pension. It also introduced an allowance for the wives of invalid pensioners. I admit that it is not a very handsome allowance, but this Government has made no attempt to increase it. Many invalids are not able to care for themselves, and that is why we provided a special benefit for wives and made an allowance of 5s. a week for the first child of a pensioner. The wife of an invalid pensioner is in an unfortunate situation, and the Treasurer might reasonably increase the allowance payable proportionately with the increase of the pensions.
The Government proposes to liberalize the means test in conjunction with the pensions increase so as to assist persons who have small independent incomes. However, the Labour party is chiefly concerned about the situation of the single man or woman living alone in a cottage or a room who has no income apart from the pension. I understand that 65 per cent, of the pensioners in Australia are in that unhappy plight and that an additional 15 per cent, receive amounts of only 5s. or less a week supplementary to their pension. I appreciate the difficulties that would be involved in applying a means test within a means test, but I prepared certain proposals when I was in office that would have been submitted to the Labour party for its approval had it been returned to power. I think that the case of the pensioner without extra income is the saddest of all. I am not greatly concerned about abolishing the means test so that everybody in the community above the prescribed age limit may receive an age pension, even though that is a part of Labour’s policy. I am not interested in making the pension available to persons like a man whom I know who has been receiving £30,000 a year for many years. Nor am I concerned about the Treasurer. I have an idea that he will be able to carry on without a pension.
– And so could the right honorable gentleman.
– Yes, I agree with the Minister. I am concerned about people on the lowest rung of the economic ladder, who suffer great hardship under present living conditions. Supporters of the Government may say that such individuals have been improvident, but I have never had any great respect for the art of money making. The improvidence of many persons has enabled others to make a great deal of money. Even at this late hour I appeal to the Government to give special consideration to the unfortunate pensioners who have no other income than their social service benefit.
The relaxation of the means test will not help them. The means test could be completely eliminated, but the old man or the old woman who lives in a room and receives only £2 10s. a week would not benefit in any way. The financial difficulties from which such pensioners suffer are hard to imagine. I make this appeal on behalf of those underprivileged people. Ninety per cent, of them probably have never had an opportunity to save money because they received limited incomes and had families to rear. Some of them may have been a little improvident but they are citizens of this country and we have the responsibility that one set of human beings has to another, namely, to help those underprivileged people.
.- I congratulate the Government upon the introduction of this measure which will fulfil another promise that was made by the present Government parties prior to the last general election. It would appear from criticism by honorable members of the Opposition that this Government was not attempting to carry out the promises that it made prior to gaining a mandate from the electors. But this is another important promise which the Government has kept. No promise was made to. increase pensions by 7s. 6d. a week. It would appear that the Opposition did not anticipate that the Government would or could make an increase of 7s. 6d. a week. Honorable members who support the Government said, before the last general election, that pensions would be reviewed. As the result of that review the substantial increase of 7s. 6d. a week, which will very much assist the old people and invalids, is to be made. I should like the increase to have been greater because I appreciate fully the very great difficulty that old people and invalids experience in making ends meet at present but the increase proposed will be the greatest ever made since a government of the same type as this one commenced the payment of pensions in 1908. It appears that, in the political world, the aged and invalid people can put their faith and trust only in a LiberalAustralian Country party government. They cannot hope to obtain similar treatment from the party that now composes the Opposition.
I have no doubt that the Government would have been able to give more to the old people had it not been for the extremely unusual financial circumstances in which it finds itself in this particular year. The increase proposed under this bill and under other forms of social services will add to the commitments of the Government an amount of £24,000,000 for this financial year. The total social services bill is at present no less than £111,000,000. In a year in which the Government is committed to extra expenditure that was not anticipated, I “think that the old people will be reasonable enough to realize that it has done as much as possible to help them. There is every reason to congratulate the Government upon the introduction of this bill.
St is extraordinary that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) should suggest, by inference, that the proposed increase should be greater when, in fact, that same gentleman had the opportunity for years past to give more money to these people. He has spoken in this debate in his usual style. In an appeal that he made on the basis of the human element, he tried to make pensioners believe that he would have clone better for them had he had the opportunity to do so. He had the opportunity and he did not do anything. No one can say that the cost of living was not high in 1949 or 1948. He has endeavoured to impress on the people that it is the fault of the Government that value has not been put into the £1. All the ingredients that make up the increased cost of living were manufactured by the Opposition when it was in office. So the blame for any increase of the cost of living and for any diminution of the value of the £1 rests fairly and squarely with honorable members of the Opposition. Since assuming office, the Government has carried out its promises and has endeavoured to introduce vital legislation which would have had a very great effect upon the cost of living, particularly one hill that was frustrated by the Opposition for so many months in this House and in another place. Yet the Leader of the Opposition has the temerity to tell the Government that it is responsible in some way for the rising cost of living.
I believe that the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) has spoken time after time about the poor age pensioners. I know that he is quite a decent fellow and may be sincere, hut he knows that this matter could have been rectified by his own party. A few weeks ago the Government received a petition asking for an increase of 7s. 6d. a week which was lodged at the instigation of some honorable members of the Opposition. It would appear that they did not expect that the Government would be able to give an increase of 7s. 6d. a week. Surely they must be agreeably astonished that it has been able to do so.
– Order ! There is too much conversation altogether on my left.
– The Government is not unaware of the requirements of age, invalid and other pensioners, but circumstances prevent it from doing any more for them than it is doing at this stage. However, I consider it to be an anomaly that an age pensioner who does not own a home and who therefore has to pay rent, is placed in an entirely different position from that of one who owns a home and has no other form of income. It would appear that a person may own a home of any value and still be entitled to the full pension that is received by a person who does not own a home and who has to pay rent.
– Do not the home-owners pay rates and insurance?
– Yes. But a very serious anomaly exists in relation to the permissible amount of property. The maximum value of property that may be owned without affecting pension rights is £750. If a person owns property worth more than £750 he is not entitled to a pension. He is entitled to a full pension if he owns property to the value of £100 and as the value of his property increases the amount of his pension is reduced until it becomes extinguished. I think the ratio of the reduction is £1 to every £10 of property.
– The honorable member had better study the subject a little more.
– I know it perfectly well. A person who owns a property that was worth £450 in 1939 and who has rented it for £1 a week should be entitled to a pension of £1 16s. 6d. a week, under this bill. Such a person would have to pay rates and taxes and other charges out of the rent of £1 a week and would have a gross income of £2 16s. 6d. a week. But the value of his property will have increased to approximately £800 or S900 by now, and due to the fact that a rent control system which pegs the rent at the amount payable on the 31st August, 1939, persists in Australia, particularly in New South “Wales, the rent cannot possibly be increased beyond £1 a week. This person should be entitled to an income of £2 16s. 6d. a week but he owns property the value of which prohibits him from receiving any pension. Yet he is entitled to receive, under State legislation, a rent of only £1 a week. Consequently, that person is to be completely denied the benefits’ of this bill. This matter affects not merely a few people, but many thousands of people throughout New South Wales and, indeed, throughout Australia. In the community to-day there is a section which might be called the “ new poor “. Many provident people who worked hard all their lives, made sacrifices and purchased properties with their savings in order to make themselves independent, now find that they are unable to obtain a livelihood from their properties and that they are not entitled to social services benefits because they own property. I know of many people who owned three or four cottages on their retirement and expected to be able to live more or less comfortably on the rents that they received from those cottages. Because of the regulations which pegged house rents, with the justice of which I am not concerned at the moment, they are deprived of the income which their properties would normally yield. Nevertheless they are expected to maintain- their properties in a proper state of repair and to pay the excess expenditure associated with the maintenance of property nowadays, but are prevented by the regulations from in creasing the rents of their properties to keep pace with their increased expenditure. Most of them have been compelled by force of circumstances to sell their properties one by one.
– What does the honorable gentleman suggest should be done to overcome that difficulty ?
– There are many remedies. The Government might consider, for instance, raising the rental value of the properties. I have examined some figures which show that a person would need to own property worth more than £5,000 at to-day’s values in order to obtain an income of £2 10s. a. week, which is the amount of the age pension to-day. Many aged and invalid persons are forced to pay rents for the houses which they occupy that are higher than the rents that they receive from the tenants of their own properties. Because of the operation of the tenancy laws they cannot obtain possession of their own properties, and they have to pay exorbitant rents in order to obtain housing accommodation for themselves.
– Does the honorable gentleman think that a means test should be imposed in determining eligibility for the age pension?
– I am not discussing that matter at the moment. I urge the Government to consider the matters that I have mentioned because the anomaly to which I have referred is causing considerable hardship to many people. Some of the properties owned by aged people, for which only low rents are paid, are occupied by rich people who could easily afford to pay higher rents. I suggest that the £750 limit on property that may be possessed by an applicant for an age or an invalid pension should be increased considerably. I do not know whether the Government has considered the matters that I have placed before it, but the distressing condition in which many small property owners find themselves to-day certainly needs to be alleviated.
– The Chifley Government increased the permissible property income from £400 to £750.
– I do not know about that. I know, however, that the Chifley
Government contributed very largely to the present unsatisfactory position.
In conclusion I say that the introduction of this measure represents another feather in the cap of the present Government, which has fulfilled its pre-election promise and has shown, not by a cheap exhibition of sympathy or by “ an appreciation of human values “ - to borrow a phrase from members of the Opposition - but by positive deeds that it possesses the proper outlook. It must be apparent to all sections of the community that the people of this country, including the workers, can hope to receive justice and fair play only from a government of the calibre of the present Administration. The present Government represents all sections of the community and not merely one section of the community. I believe that age and invalid pensioners will appreciate the difficulties that confront it and will realize that it has done its best for them. They know that they can look to the present Government, not only for sympathetic treatment, but also for justice.
.- The bill now before us is very important to a large section of the Australian people. It may truly be said that the application of social services is the best indication of the civilization and of the humanitarian progress of a nation. At the international conference on social services held at Philadelphia in 1944, a good deal of attention was given to the right of all members of the community to receive a minimum income. It was contended that the introduction of a proper system of social services was the most effective means by which a redistribution of the national income could be made, so that the most oppressed sections of the community could be assured of a minimum income which, even in the worst of times, would bear some relation to the general economic condition of the nation. The provision of an assured minimum income, it was believed, would also assist considerably to prevent the occurrence of economic peaks and booms and would provide some sort of buffer during the depths of a depression. When the theory of the need for assuring people of a minimum income was advanced it was clear that such an income must have relation to the state of prosperity and of the general economic development of the community. In other words, if a community undertakes to look after it3 aged and sick members and after those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to obtain an income for themselves, it is essential that as it progresses the income of the poorest section should keep pace with its progress. It is clear, therefore, that the proper test to be applied to the claims made by the Government and its supporters for the present measure is whether or not that measure bears a proper relationship to the general economic condition of the community.
I propose to place before the House a brief history of age and invalid pensions so that honorable members may examine the present position and decide for themselves whether the increases proposed in this measure keep pace with the progress of Australia during recent years. When the pensions scheme first came into opera tion in 1909 the pension for aged and invalid persons was fixed at 10s. a week. The last annual report of the Director-General of Social Services furnishes a complete history of the variations that have taken place in the rates of pension since that date. As I have said the pension rate in 1909 was 20s. a fortnight. Small increases were made over the years, and in 1938, the fortnightly payment was 40s. In other words, 28 years had elapsed before the rate was doubled. Even the greatest opponents of the Australian Labour party will agree that during that period of 28 years, in which progress was so slow, Labour was in office for only a few years. Between 193S and 1941, while Labour was out of office, the pension rate increased from 40s. to 43s. a fortnight. However, the most spectacular rise of the pension rate, and of social services generally, including the introduction of new social services, occurred under the Labour governments that were in office from 1941 to- 1949. The report to which I have already referred shows that between 1941 and 1949 trie pension rate increased from 43s. to 85s. a fortnight. In other words, in those eight years the pension rate was almost doubled. In addition to making that substantial increase of pensions Labour introduced social services of new types, including unemployment and sickness benefits, and a number of other benefits that I shall not mention now. It is clear, therefore, that in recent years an attempt has been made to increase pensions in proportion to the increase of the national productivity.
I propose to test the increases of payments proposed under this measure by comparing them with the increases of the national income during the last five years. I select that period because I believe that it would not be fair to take into account the pensions paid during the earlier period while the war was being fought. We have some idea of the progress made by the community and of the increase of national income that has occurred during the last five years, and in the light of that information we can make up our minds about whether or not we are giving to th6 recipients of social services a fair share of our productivity. I shall refer to the figures cited by the Treasurer when he presented his budget. Those figures show that the national income for 1945-46 was £1,303,000,000 and that it increased to £2,265,000,000 in 1949-50, an increase of 73 per cent. In 1944-45 the maximum rate of age and invalid pensions was 54s. a fortnight. If it be the intention of the Government to ensure that those in receipt of social services benefits shall receive at least a fair share of the increased national income it is reasonable to assume that the proposed increase of pensions should be approximately 73 per cent, above the 1945-46 maximum rate, which was 65s. a fortnight. A 73 per cent, increase of that rate would make the fortnightly pension 114s., or 14s. higher than is proposed in the measure. I remind honorable members of the words that were used by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his policy speech last December. He said -
The existing rates of pensions will, of course, be maintained.
That statement was a clear indication that pensions would not he reduced. He continued -
We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
It has obviously been impossible for the Government to increase the purchasing power of pensions during the last ten months; that is shown by the cost of living figures. Therefore, the only action that the Government should have taken if pensions were to be maintained and if their purchasing power, presumably, was to remain intact at a time when the Government had found that it was unable to put value hack into the £1, was one that would ensure that pensioners should be in the same position as basic wageearners by being given the benefit of cost of living wage adjustments. That is to say, their pensions should be increased in ratio to the increase of the cost of living, without any account being taken of the level of the national income.
– A Labour government completely rejected such a suggestion.
– That may be so, but I am now speaking about what the members of the present Government said during the last election, which was that they would retain the existing pensions. The Prime Minister used the words that I have already quoted, which were -
We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
This bill has been submitted to the Parliament by the Government and not by the Opposition, and the responsibility for matters connected with it is a government responsibility. The last increase of pensions was granted in August, 1948, and during the period of more than two years that has passed since then the cost of living has increased by 25 per cent., apart altogether from the £1 increase of the basic wage. Nominal wages have risen by 25 per cent, to match the increase of the cost of living. If the 1948 rate of 85s. a fortnight had been increased by 25 per cent, so as to retain the purchasing power of the pension, the increased rate would have been 106s. 3d. instead of 100s. I am not suggesting that the proposed increase of 7s. 6d. a week should not be paid to the pensioners, but honorable members opposite who are taking unto themselves such great credit because they have provided for the largest single increase of pensions that has ever taken place since pensions were established in this country, should not fool themselves by believing that the monetary value of the proposed increase of 7s. 6d. gives an indication of the real purchasing power of the increased pension. The fact is that this proposed increase of 7s. 6d. will not have as much purchasing power as that of some increases of 5s. that have been given in the past.
The questions that we have to decide are whether or not the proposed increases are sufficient in accordance with the circumstances of the times, and whether they are just and fair to the pensioners and others who participate in social service benefits. We should decide, after a full discussion of this matter, whether it is advisable for the Government to increase the rate by more than the proposed amount of 7s. 6d.
I heard the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) interject while the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) was speaking. He asked, “ Why did not the right honorable member’s Government do something in 1949 ? “ I take it that it is the Government’s policy to base its actions not upon the actions of the Opposition when it was in office, but upon its own election promises. If Government supporters believe that pensions should have been increased in 1949 they can provide that the increase now proposed shall be made retrospective to any date from which they consider that the pensions should have been increased. The real test is not what we should have done as a Government, but what the Government is prepared to do to see that pensioners shall obtain a fair and reasonable increase. I suggest that the proposed increase is negligible and is not in accordance with the capacity of the country to pay. A higher rate should be paid. If the Government is anxious to carry out its election promises then, even at this late hour, it can arrange to increase the rate above the amount now proposed.
There are other aspects of the bill, quite apart from the inadequacy of the proposed increase, that are worthy of discussion. There are certain omissions from it that require mention: I shall refer briefly to a matter that has already been dealt with by the Leader of the Opposition, that is, the failure of the Government to increase the allowance that is payable to the wife of an invalid or an incapacitated pensioner. The wife of an invalid pensioner receives an allowance of 24s., which is not made uniformly to age pensioners because it is only the wife of an incapacitated age pensioner who is entitled to receive it. If it be good that the pension rate should be increased in respect of the pensioner himself, then it is equally desirable that the rate payable to his wife should also be increased. The burdens that result from the increased cost of living fall just as heavily upon the pensioner’s wife as upon the pensioner. It is absurd to say that a pensioner cannot live on 42s. 6d. a week and that the rate must therefore be increased, but that his wife can continue to live on 24s. a week. I hope that some increase will be granted in that respect.
Another omission from the measure concerns the matter of sickness and unemployment benefits, that were introduced in 1944. The unemployment benefit is payable to a person who has been unemployed for more than seven days. The sickness benefit is payable to a person who has been absent on account of sickness also for more than seven days. The payment in each case is 25s. a week. An additional payment of 20s. a week is paid in respect of the wife of an unemployed or sick person who is receiving a benefit, and 5s. a week is paid in respect of each child. That provision is to remain unaltered. Whilst it might be claimed with a good deal of justification that unemployment is now almost negligible, and that those who become unemployed will quickly find other work and so no increase of the rate is necessary at present, that is not the case in respect of a person who is absent from work because of sickness. In many instances absence from work may result from typhoid fever, pneumonia or any of the many diseases that are fairly common in the community. The period away from work may be several weeks, and it is unfair to expect a family of a husband, wife and one child to live upon the meagre 50s. a week. Some provision should be made in the measure at least to correct the position.
I was glad to note that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr.
Holt) in introducing the bill brought to the notice of the House the peculiar position of persons injured during the course of their employment who believe that they are entitled to workers’ compensation. In some cases applications for workers compensation are refused on the ground that the particular cases do not come within the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act of the State concerned. Very often several weeks, and in some instances many months, pass ‘before it is actually determined whether or not some applicants are entitled to receive workers’ compensation. I suggest that in those cases the maximum period within which the worker shall be allowed to submit a claim for a sickness benefit be increased from thirteen weeks to 26 weeks. Several of the State workers’ compensation acts provide that an injured worker shall have 26 weeks in which to lodge his application for workers’ compensation. In cases of sickness such as dermatitis and other industrial diseases, very often some months elapse before there is a final determination of whether a worker’s claim comes within the ambit of the workers’ compensation act of the State concerned.
Another difficulty that the Minister might well bear in mind is in relation to persons who are entitled to sickness benefit because they have met with an accident that is not covered by workers’ compensation legislation. In many cases workers who meet with accidents are completely unaware that an accident entitles them to receive sickness benefit while they are absent from work. Unfortunately many workers who should have received sickness benefits while they were away from work as the result of an accident have made their applications for the benefit too late, and have therefore been disqualified from receiving it. I consider that if it were made clear in the measure that the term “ sickness “ covers .absence from work through accidents, we should overcome one difficulty. Incidentally, the permissible income allowed to a person who is receiving sickness or unemployment benefit is 20s. a week, whereas the permissible income allowed to age and invalid pensioners is 30s. a week. I suggest that it is desirable while this measure is before the Parliament, that the permissible income be raised to 30s. in respect of persons who receive unemployment and sicknessbenefits.
Before I conclude I shall deal with the means test. I say most sincerely that I think that the time has arrived when the House must give careful consideration to an overhaul of the means test. This matter was mentioned in the speech that the present Prime Minister made before the last general election, and I shall read a few sentences from it so as to indicate the lines along which he was thinking in December last. He then said -
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right and so completely get rid of the means test.
During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem with a view to presenting to you at the election of 1052 a scheme for your approval. . . . We are deeply conscious of the frequently unjust operation of the means test and of the penalty it imposes in many cases upon thrift. There are also grave anomalies associated with the position of persons who have contributed for their own superannuation benefits
Without an all round contributory system, there are enormous financial barriers to the immediate abolition of the means test. Indeed, the vast sums involved (not less than £70,000,000 a year ) , would add to the present devaluation of money and would, therefore, reduce the true value of the benefits now being paid. We desire however to adjust the anomalies I have referred to, and to make such modifications in the means test as we find possible pending a contributory scheme. This great human problem will have our urgent attention as a matter of priority.
In the light of that declaration it is permissible for me to ask what the Government has done. I stress that the present permissible income of 30s. a week in the case of age and invalid pensioners is quite inadequate in the financial circumstances of our times. If 30s. was a proper permissible income in 1948 it can be said with justice that it is now insufficient and that it should be increased. The permissible income of 30s. is not earned or received by 65 per cent, of the age pensioners. The statistics available show that 65 per cent, of the pensioners have no income whatever except their pensions. It is hard for a married couple on the age pension to live on £5 a week. Fifteen per cent, of the age pensioners have incomes which are never higher than 5s. a week. The great bulk of those people are persons who belong to friendly societies and lodges, and receive the maximum amount of 5s. allowed by those organizations to their members who are on their books through sickness. Only 20 per cent, of the pensioners are able to add to their incomes through employment. I suggest to the Minister in charge of the House (Mr. White) that it is desirable that every encouragement be given to those pensioners who are capable of playing their part in industry, to seek employment and earn more than 30s. a week. Under the present industrial conditions of shortage of labour and the necessity for increasing the production of the community, no handicap should be placed on age pensioners who desire to play their part in industry. I therefore strongly urge that the permissible income be increased to a sum above 30s. a week.
– It is an obligation of all democratic governments to care and provide for those who are unable to fend for themselves. It would be inhuman if it were otherwise, and it is pitiable that the Labour party seems to think that it has a monopoly of interest in the welfare of the people. I am sorry that such matters cannot be kept out of politics. I should like a matter such as this to be adjusted outside the Parliament so that it could not become a political football or an election banner.
The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has dealt with this matter in a reasoned way. His attitude contrasts sharply with that of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley), who endeavoured to mislead the House by saying that the only thing that this Government had ever done for the people was to widen the scope of child endowment, and that it was forced into taking that action. I intend to show to. honorable members that Liberal governments have been very forward in social services enactments. Notwithstanding all its pious professions and its claim that it has a monopoly of sympathy for the people who work, the Labour party has failed to do the right thing at the right time for those who need assistance. The honorable member for Bendigo brings a reasoning mind to the consideration of these matters, but in spite of his apparent study of social problems there were some extraordinary omissions from his speech and he seemed to be ignorant of important features of the matters he discussed.
One can deal with figures in a way that will confound as well as convince. The honorable gentleman said that if pensions could be put upon the basis of the Government making the payment accord with the national income the pension figure would be such and such. I remind him that it was a Liberal government which had the very factor that the honorable member mentioned incorporated in the payment of age pensions. I also, remind honorable members that the Labour party took that factor out of the payment of pensions in 1944.
– That factor was put in long before that time.
– To those honorable members of the Opposition who so glibly interject I shall quote the words of the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) when the Labour Government cancelled the rise and fall provision in the pensions enactment.
– I shall later quote to the Minister the earlier history.
– The earlier history will support my contention. On the 23rd February, 1944, the right honorable member for Barton is reported in Hansard in vol. 177 at page 447 to have said -
As si result of a further examination of the position, and having regard to the fact that considerable administrative work and many complications arise from the present system, the Government has decided to ask the Parliament to repeal the sections of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act which provide for the adjustment of the maximum rate of pension in accordance with the variations of the price index number.
The honorable member for Bendigo should remember those words. That which he asked should be done had in fact operated for years and only eliminated by the Labour government.
The honorable member traversed the history of this matter and spoke more correctly about it than did the Leader of the Opposition. But even so, he fell into several errors. He admitted that the age pension was introduced by a Liberal government in 1909, and spoke of its relationship to the basic wage, to other wages and to the national income. Then he mentioned a period of 28 years during which Labour was not in office-
– I said during a period of 28 years Labour was not in office except for a few years.
– That is so. But the honorable member did not tell the House that in that short period the Labour party reduced the age pension, and was the only government to do so. The House heard the Leader of the Opposition say, “ The bankers did it “. He again raised the cry that the bankers were the ogres and destroyers of democracy. The right honorable gentleman was a member of the government that reduced the age pension, and some honorable members of the Opposition who are here to-day were members of this House at that time also. That important matter was not mentioned in the speeches of the honorable member for Bendigo and the Leader of the Opposition.
– A Liberal government took the properties of the age pensioners from them.
– A little more bellowing from the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) is neither here nor there. 1 am relating historical facts. It is unpleasant no doubt for honorable members opposite to hear these things, but their interjections can make no difference to the facts. I have cited Dr. Evatt and the Scullin Government as the instruments responsible for the reduction of the age pension. I am merely correcting the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Bendigo by inserting the parts that they left out.
– I ‘know more of the part that the Minister played in that matter than he does himself.
– The honorable member for Hunter may be an authority on some subjects but he is certainly not an authority on this matter.
– I know that-
– Order ! There is too much interruption. The Minister is entitled to be heard in silence.
– The honorable member for Bendigo said that the increase granted by the Government was “ negligible “. A few weeks ago the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Davies) presented to the Parliament a petition from a number of people in his electorate praying that an increase of 7s. 6d. a week be granted to age pensioners. .Such an increase seemed at that time to be beyond his fondest hopes.
– The petition asked for the basic wage for pensioners.
– I suggest that the honorable member should read the petition again. It asked for an increase of 7s. 6d. a week. The honorable member must be fair. He knows the wording of the petition. The Government was able to smile when that petition was read because it had already made up its mind to increase the pension by 7s. 6d. a week. That being so, it is not hard to see why there is now a tinge of disappointment in “ the ranks of Tuscany “. The Labour party no doubt feels now that it is wrong for the Liberal party to have done something that it should have done years ago.
– The honorable member should get down to the human factor and tell us something about the sufferings of the people.
– For the honorable member’s information I inform him that when I talk about the age pensioners I am talking about human beings. As for the increase being negligible, I cite in relation to the means test the words of the Minister who introduced the bill. He said that the Government’s action will increase the surrender value of insurance policies, which will not now be a disqualification to the same degree. He also said that a person will be able to own his home and that a single pensioner will be able to have a total income of £4 a week, including pension, instead of one of £3 12s. 6d. as at present. He said further that a married couple, both in receipt of the pension, will be able to have between them a total income of £8 a week and also own their home instead of one of £7 5s. which they were permitted to have under the Labour Administration. Nobody can deny that those figures are accurate. Nobody believes that we can do too. much for aged people. One of the great tragedies of to-day is to be found in the condition of some aged people. It is too bad that so many people have to live in loneliness at the end of their days. Whatever governments have done to date seems to have been inadequate. There is much more needed in the way of buildings to house aged people, but we find that honorable members opposite will not even pay tribute to the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), whom they are constantly attacking, even though he recently introduced a free medicine scheme for age pensioners. The Labour Government did not actually accomplish anything in that respect. I simply wish to dispel the nonsense to which some honorable members opposite have given utterance. They have said that this measure is inadequate and will be of negligible benefit. No one will deny that the blind should receive all the help that the Government can possibly give to them. However, the Labour Government did not make any attempt to help that section of the community. Under this measure, the blind pension will be increased by 7s. 6d. a week, and recipients will be permitted to earn £8 a week in addition to the pension of £2 10s. a week.
Over 460,000 age pensioners will receive the increase that will be provided under this measure. That increase will cost an additional £S,250,000 a year, whilst it is estimated that the total expenditure on social services benefits alone will amount to £111,000,000 in a full financial year. Compare that amount with the record budget of £100,000,000, for which the government of the day budgeted in 1939 for the whole of the nation’s commitments. It is a pity that any party or any honorable member should criticize proposals of this kind that are designed to benefit deserving sections of the community. The Government also proposes to limit application of the means test in certain in- stances. Whilst the monetary benefit that will thus be provided will be relatively small, the principle of the adjustment i; important from a humane viewpoint. I refer to the exemption from the means test of unemployed ex-servicemen who apply for the unemployment benefit. The Labour Government persistently refused to make that concession available to ex-service personnel. That Government provided a sickness and an unemployment benefit of 27s. a week, which a person became eligible to receive after he, or she, had been unemployed for a period of thirteen weeks; but, in respect of ex-servicemen only, under the application of the means test, the rate of that benefit was correspondingly reduced if the applicant was already in receipt of a pension in excess of 20s. a week. Under this measure, exservice personnel will become eligible to receive the unemployment benefit without suffering the loss of any portion of any other pension that they may be receiving. When this matter was discussed while the present Government parties were in Opposition, they pressed the Labour government of the day to make an adjustment along the lines now proposed under this measure, and the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) said that he would refer the matter immediately to Cabinet.
Mr. Pollard interjecting,
– The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), although he is an ex-serviceman, did not have the “ guts “ at that time to vote in favour of that proposal. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) and other honorable members who are ex-servicemen expressed approval of the case that the Opposition at that time presented, but., of course, they did not support that proposal by their vote. No doubt, had they done so, they would have been expelled from the Labour party. In any event, the Labour Government refused to provide for unemployed ex-servicemen the benefit that is being provided for them under this measure. Under this legislation the present Government parties are also honouring the promise that they made at the last general election to liberalize the treatment of pensions payable to ex-service personnel generally. 1 remind the House that a Liberal government introduced child endowment. In spite of all the protestations of member? of the Labour party, governments that they supported failed to institute child endowment although it was obvious to them that in respect of the basis on which the basic wage is fixed a married man is unjustly treated compared with a single worker.
– Labour forced the Liberal Government to introduce child endowment.
– If that is so, how does the honorable member for Hunter explain the fact that when the present Government, during the last period of the current session, introduced legislation to provide endowment in respect of the first child in a family the Labour Opposition in the Senate stonewalled that measure and delayed its implementation for many months? What hypocrisy and humbug! Perhaps, I should not become heated in discussing these matters but one cannot help feeling annoyed when honorable members opposite persist in claiming that they are the friends of the workers, the aged and the infirm. The fact is that they cease even to think about the interests of those sections of the community after they are elected to the Parliament. Whilst honorable members opposite may be effective in a shouting war they are completely wanting when it comes to action. The scheme that the honorable member for Bendigo outlined was tried in the past by a Liberal government, but was cancelled out by a Labour government. We must regard as fair and reasonable the increase of benefits proposed to be made under this measure when we bear in mind the present high levels of taxes, the Government’s commitments in respect of defence and the fact that in a full financial year it will expend approximately £111,000,000 in the provision of social services benefits generally. Thus, under this measure, the Government is honouring one of the promises that its parties made at the last general election. It will take the first opportunity to do so, as well as to liberalize benefits and to adjust anomalies. The Government will carry out not only that part of its programme to which this measure relates but also its promises to deal effectively with the Red element in the community, to provide adequately for defence and to prevent the nationalization of the private banking institutions.
.- In view of the reasonable and temperate speeches delivered by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) and the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), it is a matter for regret that the Minister for Air (Mr. White) should have spoken in the strain in which he has just addressed the House. He admitted that he became rather heated in the course of his remarks. He was not sincere in his praise of the measure. The object of the bill is to amend legislation that was introduced by the Chifley Government in 1947 by increasing the rate of age and invalid pensions and class A widows’ pensions by 7s. 6d. and the rate of pension payable to other classes of widows by 5s. a week. Of the 340,000 age pensioners and 76,000 invalid pensioners in this country, approximately 65 per cent, have no income apart from their pension. Yet, in spite of rising costs and the failure of the Government to put value back into the £1, the Government is claiming great credit for this measure under which it proposes to make those paltry increases. Approximately 300,000 pensioners are obliged to live on a benefit of only £2 10s. a week. Those sections of the community are at the mercy of the Government.
I doubt very much whether the present Government will administer the social services legislation in the proper spirit and primarily with the object of doing justice to those sections of the community whom it was designed to benefit. I recall that the Lyons United Australia party Government obliged pensioners to mortgage their homes with the Government in order that upon their death the Government could recoup itself of every penny that it had paid to them by way of pension. That provision was enforced for a period of fifteen mouths until the Lyons Government in the face of strong public protest was obliged to abandon it. That was the most diabolical treatment to which pensioners have yet been subjected. In one case that came to my notice at the time, an old lady who was eligible to receive the age pension preferred to forgo the benefit when she was told that the home that ber husband and herself had worked all their lives to purchase must be mortgaged to the Government as security for repayment of the pension upon their demise. That lady was forced to depend upon the charity of relatives. Cases of that kind were numerous and they justify my fear that the present Government will not administer the social services legislation primarily for the benefit of those whom it was designed to benefit.
When Labour assumed office in 1941 the only social services benefits that were provided in the Commonwealth sphere were the age and the invalid pension of £1 ls. 6d. a week, the maternity allowance of from £4 10s. to £7 10s. subject to a means test and child endowment at the rate of 5s. a week for each child excepting the first child under the age of sixteen years. During its term of office Labour increased the age and the invalid pension to £2 2s. 6d. a week and trebled the maternity allowance in respect of which it abolished the means test. Labour also doubled the rate of child endowment by increasing it to 10s. a week and provided a pension for widows up to an amount of £2 8s. 6d. a week. Labour also introduced unemployment and sickness benefits, hospital benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, special benefits to sufferers from tuberculosis, allowances to wives lana children of invalid pensioners, and funeral benefits for age and invalid pensioners, whilst it also inaugurated a scheme to rehabilitate physically handicapped civilians. That record of humane legislation has not been equalled by any other political party. In respect of physically handicapped civilians, Labour provided a pension on the basis of 85 per cent, incapacity where as previously such a benefit was payable only on the basis of 100 per cent, incapacity. Under anti-Labour administrations many recipients of the invalid pension were deprived of that benefit simply because they were found to be capable of sweeping the floor, washing up dishes and performing other minor duties round the home. It was not uncommon for officers of the department to investigate such cases upon information that was supplied anonymously to the department. By providing for the payment of invalid pension on the basis of 85 per cent, incapacity Labour rectified such injustices. Labour also inaugurated a scheme under which invalid pensioners were trained to do work which they were physically capable of doing. Such pensioners were thus enabled to earn a little income by their own efforts. Many invalid pensioners are difficult subjects to handle, particularly under the rehabilitation scheme. Some of them are afflicted mentally, and object to being placed under the control of persons other than near relatives. If they do not submit to the physical examination, it is possible that they will be denied the invalid pension, and will not try to help themselves. The Government should closely watch that matter.
I appeal to the Government to grant a pension, without applying the means test, to invalid persons between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one years. I frankly admit that the preceding Labour Government did not see fit to accede to that request. It considered that the means test was liberal, but I did not agree with that view. However, the stage has been reached at which a parent, who maintains an invalid child, may be earning only the basic wage. About 1,000 invalids are in this category, and the payment of the pension to them would not involve a substantial increase of expenditure. Parents may be suffering considerable financial hardship in maintaining an invalid child. If the young person were healthy, he would be earning £5 or £6 a week, which is the ruling wage at the present tune, and would be making a substantial contribution to the maintenance of his parents’ home. Yet because the father has an income of, perhaps, £8 a week, the pension is not payable to the invalid while he remains at home. Of course, he would become eligible for the pension if he left the home, and, consequently, the act has the effect of forcing invalid children to leave their parents’ homes, in which they receive the best care and attention. I hope that the means test will be relaxed in such cases.
I consider that the wife of an invalid pensioner should be permitted to earn up to £5 10s. a week, and retain her allowance, provided she can prove that her work is not preventing her from caring for her husband. She may be able to work for a few hours a day washing, mending or cleaning for the purpose of supplementing her allowance, and still be able to care adequately for the invalid. She should be permitted to retain the allowance that is payable to the wife of an invalid, although she earns several pounds a week for herself. At present, such a woman is not permitted to have an income. I fear that the Government will not administer the act sympathetically, and I have excellent reasons for making that statement. A woman in my electorate died while she was pregnant, and the infant was not born alive. I made representations to the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) with a view to obtaining the maternity allowance for the husband, but the request was refused. The Minister wrote as follows: -
The act provides that a maternity allowance shall be granted in respect of each occasion on which a birth occurs and (a) a child is born alive and lives for not less than 12 hours.: or (fc) a child is not born alive or is born alive but lives for less than 12 hours and the Director-General is satisfied that the period of the intra-uterine life of the child was not lees than five and a half calender months.
The Act further provides that where a mother dies, any sum payable to her by way of maternity allowance or which would have been payable had she lived may be paid to the person who is considered best entitled to receive it.
From inquiries it has been ascertained that Mrs. X died in childbirth on 26th June, 11)50. The doctor has certified that at the time of her death the unborn child was developed to the stage of about 34 weeks gestation.
As a birth did not actually occur it is regretted that payment of a maternity allowance cannot be approved. 1 am, however, having the case further looked into with a view to seeing if some payment can be made to Mr. X and I hope to lie able to advise you of the result at an early date.
The unfortunate husband had to incur the same expense as if the child had been born, and> in addition, had to meet the hospital and funeral expenses in respect of his wife. He has four children and is a. worthy Australian, yet the Minister for Social Services quibbles about granting him the maternity allowance, to which he is justly entitled.
– Does the honorable gentleman really approve of that claim?
– Most decidedly I do: I now direct attention to the failure of the Government to increase the unemployment and sickness benefits, which have not been varied since they were introduced in 1944. Everybody recognizes that the payment of 25s. a week for an individual, or £2 10s. a week for a family, in 1950, is only equivalent to the amount of the dole a few years ago. Sickness will always be with the worker, and claims for the payment of sickness benefit will always be received by the Department of Social Services. Government supporters may claim that Australia is enjoying a period of full employment, but I remind them that the fear of unemployment constantly worries the worker. Industrial trouble could easily occur, and result in many thousands of men becoming unemployed. They may have been earning £14, £10 or £S a week, and they will receive the miserable sum of only 25s. a week while they are unemployed. How will they be able to exist on that pittance? The Government should re-examine the unemployment and sickness benefits, and increase them without delay.
.- Members of the Labour party, when they discuss such subjects as social services, invariably say, “ The people are the best judges of what a government is doing”. Let us examine what the people have thought of Labour governments since the beginning of federation in 1901. For nearly 34 years, the Labour party has been what it is to-day, the Opposition. I do not propose to trace the growth of social services in this country, but I shall show what the people have thought of the administration of Labour governments by showing how they have voted. They rejected the Labour party on so many occasions that its record in the early days of federation could not be regarded as enviable. That is undeniable. Members of the Labour party, when the Chifley Government was in office last year, often said, “ The people have placed us in office, and, therefore, they are satisfied with our administration “. I have shown that the Labour party has been in office in this Parliament for fifteen years of the 49 years of federation. Evidently, it has not impressed the people, because it is again the Opposition, and, so far as I can see, is likely to remain there indefinitely.
The honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) made one sensible remark. He may have made others. I wrote down the statement that impressed me, because I regarded it as a gem. He said that the pensioners were at the mercy of the government of the day. How true that statement was! Let us examine the position of the pensioners during the last two years. The age and invalid pension was increased on the 21st October, 1948, and the preceding Labour Government was defeated at the last general election on the 10th December, 1949. What did it do for the pensioners during that intervening period? Opposition members may answer that question if they like to do so.
Government Supporters. - Nothing !
– That is the answer. The Liberal party and the Australian Country party were then in Opposition, and continually urged the then Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) to give sympathetic consideration to the plight of the pensioners. Between October, 1948, and December, 1949, the payable basic wage was increased by 13s., but pensions were not increased during that period. The pensioners cried out in vain. The present Government has been in office for eleven months, and, by a strange coincidence, the payable basic wage has increased in that period by 13s. What has this Government done for the pensioners? It- has increased the rate of pension by 7s. 6d. a week.
– That is not so.
– This bill provides that the rate of the pension shall be increased by 7s. 6d. a week, if the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) wishes to be so technical.
– The basic wage has increased this year by £1 13s. a week.
– I referred to the payable basic wage, because the recent increase of £1 does not become payable until next month. Members of the Labour party should be practical. They look at technicalities, and try to work them into realities, thereby arriving at half-truths.
Opposition members claim that the pension should be related to the basic wage. Why did the preceding Labour Government take no action. Its supporters claim to be consistent, but they squeal when this Government does the right thing for the pensioners. The increase will be the most generous that has ever been granted to the pensioners. It had to be so, because the Government had to make up a great deal of leeway. The pensioners will realize that they were deserted by the Labour Government and that this Government has had to come to their aid as quickly as possible. Never again will they trust the Labour party because they will remember that, over a period when the basic wage increased by 13s., a Labour government did not vary the rate of pension. The increase of the amount of permissible income to make possible a return of £8 a week for a man and wife and to £4 a week for a single pensioner has already been discussed at length and I shall not deal with it further.
The provision for the increase of war pensions is one of the most important features of the bill. This, too, has been discussed at some length, but the subject cannot be dealt with too often. Many comparatively new members of the Opposition appear to have no regard at all for the actions of Labour governments in the past. I listened attentively to the Leaderof the Opposition (Mr. Chifley), and I noticed that he did not fall into the trapsthat had deceived the novices amongst: his supporters. He carefully evaded them like an old campaigner and did not discuss this subject. New membersof the Opposition rush in where theirleader fears to tread. Under the termsof this measure, a war pensioner whobecomes unemployed or falls ill will for the first time be eligible for the unemployment or the sickness benefit. Members of the present Government parties battled strenuously on many occasions with theobject of winning that right for them, but the Chifley Government remained obdurate. When the bill becomes law,, war pensioners who are qualified for unemployment and sickness benefits will be permitted to have income amounting, to 20s. a week apart from their pension and! still receive the maximum rate of benefit..
That right has been worth fighting for. “We knew that the Chifley Government would not yield it, but we considered that our debt to ex-servicemen was so great that we could do no less than fight for their cause on all possible occasions.
– What about the 3s. a day subsistence allowance that was claimed for former prisoners of war?
– The honorable member is indulging in the old game of introducing irrelevant subjects in order to evade unpleasant truths. The pensions increase will be of great benefit to many deserving citizens, and I am pleased that it will be made retrospective to the 1st November. It is particularly gratifying to know that the extra money will be available in time for the Christmas season. Probably some pensioners will have more money with which to celebrate that festive occasion than the railway strikers in Victoria will have. The case for Labour on this issue has been exploded, and there is no need for me to debate it further. The House should pass the bill as quickly as possible so that the increase can be paid promptly.
.- I have listened attentively to the debate and I was particularly interested in the speech that was made by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). Prior to the readjustment of electoral boundaries last year, the honorable gentleman represented the electorate of Wimmera, and I am reminded that the former honorable member for Wimmera, Mr. Alex Wilson, helped the Labour party to gain power and to introduce such enlightened measures as those which provided for the widows’ pension and increased child endowment benefits. Mr. Wilson and the former honorable member for Henty, Mr. Coles, disowned the anti-Labour government and assisted the late Mr. Curtin to establish the administration that achieved so much for Australia.
The Minister for Air (Mr. White) condemned the actions of the Labour party when it was in power, but he was one of those honorable gentlemen who voted, against the wishes of a majority of the Labour party, for the reduction of pensions during the regime of the Scullin Government. His name is featured with the “ Ayes “ in the record of the vital division on that issue that occurred in this chamber on the 9th July, 1931. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) also voted against that pensions cut. The Minister later used his vote in support of the Lyons Government in order to take away the right of a pensioner to bequeath his property to his widow. That act conferred upon the government of the day the power to sell the property of a deceased pensioner in order to recover from the proceeds all or a part of the amount of the payments that had been made to him. It was one of the most tragic acts in Australia’s history. The political party to which the Minister then belonged was split over the Premiers plan, which included that iniquitous provision. I have always fought very hard for pensioners and I object to the attacks of Government supporters, whose record in relation to their dealings with pensioners is of a decidedly unpleasant character. I admit that the nation was suffering from the effects of a severe economic depression in 1931 and that some of my colleagues in the Labour party went back on their tracks then in the interests of what they termed the financial security of the country. The reduction of the rate of pensions at that time by 2s. 6d. a week was tragic.
– Was not the honorable member a supporter of the Scullin Government ?
– Yes, but I and many other members of the Labour party voted against the reduction of pensions. The facts are on record in Hansard of the 9th July, 1931.
The proposed increase of pensions has been long overdue. Honorable members know that I was prevented from attending in this chamber for a long time because of ill health. I assure them that, but for my enforced absence, my voice would have been raised here long ago in support of pensions increases. The Minister for Air and the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) have criticized the Labour party, and particularly the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), for repealing the regulation under which the rate of age and invalid pensions was related to the cost of living index so that it would rise or fall by 6d. a week according to each variation of the index by one unit. The right honorable member for Barton in fact deserves great credit for the repeal of that provision. I am in favour of relating pensions to the cost of living, but at the time when the regulation was abolished, conditions were bad and any reduction of the rate of the pensions would have been unjust. I consider now that the rate should he fixed at a minimum of £2 15s. a week, and that thereafter it should be varied according to any rise or fall of the cost of living. However, I have no doubt that the Minister for Air would not support that proposal. He supported the Premiers plan under which pensions were reduced from 17s. 6d. to 15s. a week and under which the government of the day gained the authority to take possession of the property of a dead pensioner. Pitiful scenes were enacted at my home every Sunday at that period. Old people came to me crying about the loss of their properties. Some of them were widows whose sons had helped them to pay off the debts on homes that had been bequeathed to them by husbands who had been killed in mine accidents. But the Government took possession of the houses, even though they rightly belonged to the sons. There were dozens of such cases. There are many casualties and deaths in the great mining industry and many widows depend upon their remaining sons to help them to live and rear the rest of the family.
I appreciate the increase of 7s. 6d. a week, but it is not enough. I could never understand why the widow who draws a B class pension is expected to live for 5s. a week less than a widow who draws an A class pension. Under this bill it is proposed to increase the B class pension by 2s. 6d. less than the A class. How can a widow of 50 years of age with no children on a B class pension live for 7s. 6d. a week less than a widow on an A class pension, or an age or invalid pensioner? It is tragic that such a principle should apply. At the committee stage I hope to move an amendment to provide that the B class pension shall be increased to the same degree as the A class.
The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) said that there are ano- malies in the act. They have been in it for a long time. The anomaly to which I take objection is that pensions are based on the improved capital value of any property that a pensioner may own apart from the home he resides in. Local governing authorities like the ValuerGeneral to increase property valuations because they assess their rates on the basis of those valuations. One of the most peculiar things I know of is that a town clerk’s salary is based on the improved capital value of the land within the area of the municipality, and the engineer’s salary is based on the amount that he is able to expend on engineering services. Why should the value of the property of age and invalid pensioners or of any other pensioner be assessed on the basis of its improved capital value? The act should be amended in the same way as the Income Tax Assessment Act has been amended so that pensions may be granted according to the revenueproducing capacity of the property. That would be fair and reasonable. I am speaking now of property other than the home in which the pensioner resides. Many pensioners have a couple of little houses which may be mere weatherboard structures worth less than £1,000, but, because they cannot live in both of them, the amount of their pension is reduced by the value of the one which is not their residence. I have advised such people to sell their houses and to put the whole of the proceeds from the sale into a decent home and to live in it. Irrespective of the value of the property in which a pensioner resides, he can draw a full pension. If he is married he can also receive £3 a week rent by sub-letting a part of his home so long as he resides in it. That is an anomaly. Some people may own only vacant land, but their pensions are reduced in accordance with its value.
I admire the stand that was taken by the Chifley Government. I remember the bargaining which took, place during the general election campaign before the last. The present Treasurer (Mr. Fadden), who was then Deputy Leader of the Opposition, said, “ I shall reduce taxes by 28 per cent.’’. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who was then Leader of the
Opposition, said, “ I shall reduce taxes by 26 per cent.”. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley), who was then Prime Minister, said, “I can promise nothing until such time as the finances of this country warrant and then I shall give such reductions as the economy of the country can stand “. Although he had promised nothing, he finally introduced a bill which provided for income tax to be reduced by 33$ per cent. The Leader of the Opposition has never made rash promises which he could see no way of fulfilling. I agree with his contention that, as the Government made its promises to the electors during December, the increased rates of pension should commence at least from the 1st January, not from November. Personally, I think that the Government should make the increases retrospective to the day on which it was elected.
I urge the Government to give the widow who is in receipt of a B class pension the same increase as it proposes to give to the widow and to the age or invalid pensioner who is in receipt of an A class pension. I urge it also to assess pensions on the revenue-producing capacity of property instead of on the improved capital value.
– I rise to support this excellent bill, which provides for the payment of the highest pensions that can be given under present conditions. I do not believe that the bill represents the Government’s final word on this subject and I shall indicate some avenues which may or may not be open in the future, depending on the development of the economic situation. Honorable members have just heard the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) thrashing about in the shallow waters of past history like a stranded whale left by the receding tide. History provides two inescapable conclusions. One is that the proposed increase of pensions will be the greatest ever made in the history of the Commonwealth. Furthermore, the estimated total increase of social services payments for this year is by far the biggest in the history of the Commonwealth. Last year the Australian Government expended some £93,000,000 on these services. This year it is proposed to expend some £122,000,000, an increase of £29,000,000, which is more than twice the biggest previous increase of social services. If honorable members of the Opposition do not realize the goodwill of the Government that lies behind that gesture then they are not willing to see or to learn. Before the war the Commonwealth’s social services cost approximately £16,000,000. Of the total of £122,000,000, which it is proposed to expend on these services during the current financial year, almost £100,000,000 is to be expended on invalid and age pensions, which will cost about £51,000,000, and on child endowment, which will cost about £45,600,000. Those two items bulk so large in social services expenditure that they require five-sixths of the vote for that purpose. When we examine the figures in the present budget we realize that the amount that may be expended on social services is limited by the budgetary position of the nation, because, after all, social services have to be paid for. They represent a transfer of wealth, in the form of real goods and services, from one section of the community to another. Even if the Government finances the immediate payment of social services by the issue of treasury-bills, the community still has to pay for the social services because the expenditure incurred upon them reflects itself in increased prices of goods, which affects all members of the community. The budgetary situation is therefore the main consideration in determining the amount of money that can be allocated for expenditure upon social services. Although the budget is influenced by many commitments, which do not alter greatly from year to year, the two principal variable factors are the index of productivity and the amount allocated for expenditure upon defence. It is obvious that the allocation for defence must always depend on circumstances outside our control, because we do not determine the friendliness or the hostility of the outside world, or the circumstances which render a large programme of defence works necessary or make a small programme possible. The other matter, which I shall not discuss in any detail, is the factor of productivity.
As I have said, the two principal social services on which money is expended are pensions and child endowment. The great distinction between those two services is that child endowment is paid without applicants having to submit to a means test, whereas pensions are granted only subject to a means test of both income and property. Honorable members will recall that the limit of property that disqualifies a person for an age or invalid pension is £750, and that deductions are made from the pension granted to an applicant who possesses property valued at even only £100. It seems to me that the only practicable way in which our social services scheme may be liberalized is by eliminating, or, at least, relaxing the operation of the means test in age and invalid pensions. However, any such liberalization must be limited by the budgetary position of the nation, which, as I have already pointed out, is dependent upon the index of national productivity and the expenditure upon defence. I have long considered that the means test -causes inequity and that it requires urgent review. I repeat now my hope that the Government will review the operation of the means test at the earliest possible moment. I think that the Government will agree with me that some form of means test is necessary for applicants for invalid pensions because the granting of pensions to such persons depends upon the opinion of medical practitioners, and we all know that it is possible for unscrupulous persons by malingering to induce medical practitioners to grant certificates to them. It is obvious, therefore, that a means test will always be necessary in applications for invalid pensions. However, it seems clear that the continued application of the means test to applicants for age pensions is an unfortunate temporary necessity because of the present budgetary difficulties of the Government. As the budgetary position improves I trust that we shall be able to alleviate, and ultimately remove altogether, the operation of the means test. a3 the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) remarked, the means test at present disqualifies approximately 60 per cent, of aged persons from receiving pensions. Before the recent war approximately 55 per cent, of aged people were disqualified by the means test from receiving pensions. The reason for the increase of the number of persons disqualified is that the rise of the cost of living has not been fully compensated for by the increase of the permissible income and property limits.
In considering this matter, one must have regard to the fundamental changes that have taken place in the average age of the population. Comparatively speaking, we were formerly a young people; now we have become an ageing people. As the birth-rate diminishes, the proportion of elderly people in the community becomes greater. It is obvious, furthermore, that the increased expectation of life has added cumulatively to the process. However, I believe that the recent increase of the average age of the community is merely a temporary factor that will soon be corrected by the younger average age of the migrants who are arriving in this country in such large numbers. The effect of their arrival will be to defer the ageing tendency of the community which I have mentioned for another ten, fifteen, or even twenty years. In planning any long-range policy of social services we must take into account the big changes that may occur in the future, and we must bear in mind that even our survival as a nation may be threatened.
At the present moment the removal of the means test would cost the community about £65,000,000 a year. That is a very large sum, and the immedate inflationary effect of releasing that amount into the community, and of financing the payment of the huge amount by the issue of treasury-bills, would be very considerable. However, I consider that insufficient attention has been paid to the anti-inflationary effects that would follow a removal of the means test on applicants for age pensions. I shall mention three anti-inflationary factors which the removal of the test would have.
In the first place the removal of the means test would have the effect of encouraging men of 65 years of age to continue in gainful occupation. After all, a man should have full freedom of choice to decide for himself when he should retire from work, and he should not be compelled arbitrarily to retire when he reaches a certain age. Incidentally, it often happens that the arbitrary retirement of men at a certain age leads to their physical deterioration and causes unnecessary unhappiness. However, consideration of the viewpoint that the retirement of any individual should be a matter for his own freedom of choice presents certain consequential difficulties. After all, we do need to make room for the young people coming up through the ranks, and we do not want the whole machine to he clogged by too much seniority at the top, which would probably be an inevitable consequence of encouraging men over 65 years of age to remain in their jobs. A partial relaxation of the means test would encourage the retirement of older men at a proper age without compelling them to retire. Many of those who retire from a strenuous fulltime occupation could engage in part-time occupation to the benefit, not only of themselves, but also of the whole community. Insofar as the removal of the means test would add to the numbers of people available for employment in production it would have an anti-inflationary effect. It was most noticeable during the war, when people were discouraged from retiring, and even those who had retired accepted other employment and that the availability of aged persons added considerably to the common pool of employment.
– Does the honorable gentleman suggest that men should continue to work after they reach the retiring age and also receive the pension?
– Yes. I say that we should remove the means test, and permit people to exercise free choice about whether they should retire. Let me distinguish between the position of invalid pensioners and that of age pensioners. An applicant for an invalid pension must obviously be subjected to some kind of means test because, after all, in most cases it is a matter of medical opinion whether or not such a person is fit to continue working. No such COn si deration arises in connexion with applicants for age pensions. A man reaches a certain age on a particular date, and there seems to be no reason why he should be debarred from receiving a pension. That is the first anti-inflationary effect which the removal of the means test would have, and to which I direct the attention of the House.
The next matter to which I direct attention is that under the present legislation a man who has saved money during his working life for his retirement receives very little better treatment than another man who has not saved any money. The consequence of the failure of our present scheme to discriminate between those who have saved and those who have not saved, is that there is a general disinclination amongst people to save money because they fear that they will render themselves ineligible for the age pension. The consequence is that a large volume of money is . expended by people who would otherwise be encouraged to save their money. If people were encouraged to save their money in contemplation of their retirement, the effect would be that a considerable sum would be withdrawn from circulation, which would be most beneficial for the community.
The third anti-inflationary effect that the removal of the present means test would have is that which was mentioned by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) in the course of his speech. He said that many people deliberately spend their money in order to make themselves eligible to receive an age pension; and that is a natural tendency. It is clear that the expenditure of money by certain people, not by their own choice, but because of the operation of the present legislation, generates further inflationary pressure in the community. Although it is true that the relaxation or removal of the means test would have the immediate effect of releasing increasing inflationary pressure, that pressure would, in my opinion, be effectively counter-balanced by the anti-inflationary effects that I have mentioned, of making available more people for the production pool, of increasing current savings and of a deferment of the squandering of accumulated savings. It may well be that in a reasonably short time those anti-inflationary effects would .be of greater consequence than the inflationary effect itself.
I have spoken of economic factors, but it is obvious that there are other factors of a non-economic character which should weigh with us. The administration of any means test is not only a burden on the administration, but it is also troublesome, unpleasant and hard for the people against whom it is directed. That is inherent in its very nature, and does not entirely spring from the efficiency or inefficiency of the manner in which it is administered, ecause of the nature of the means test it must cause hardship and unhappiness and, ultimately, since we desire to alleviate both hardship and unhappiness, we must consider some relaxation of it.
I shall instance two special cases in relation to the application of the means test. The first is that of the man who has saved up for an annuity or for a superannuation pension. He put aside money when prices were lower than they are now and when he had reason to believe that an income upon retirement of £3 or £4 a week, measured by the standards of the time when he started to save, would provide him with reasonable comfort in his old age. Now he finds that the means test disqualifies him from receiving a pension because he is in receipt of a superannuation pension that is only a fraction greater than the pension that he is not entitled to receive. That is an unfair position, and it is giving rise to a sense of injustice among the section of the community affected, and rightly and understandably so. One of the greatest sufferers from rising prices who is not receiving adequate attention from the rather insincere Opposition supporters is the man who has saved up for his superannuation and is now caught as prices rise, as they have been rising over the past decade. When I refer to the increase of prices I am not referring to something that has occurred in recent months, but to a process that has been going on for ten years.
The second special case is that of a person who has put aside some capital with the intention of buying a home to which he could retire, believing that the capital he saved would not bring him within the ambit of the means test. He now finds himself in a most terrible dilemma. Probably because of the ineffi- ciency of the building trade and the consequent rise of the prices of houses, he finds himself unable to buy or build the house that he has saved up for. On the other hand, the possession of his relatively small liquid assets debars him from receiving the pension. He has the choice of living from hand to mouth, in the hope that he will be able to buy a house later on, or of spending his accumulated savings, thereby reducing himself to the position of a pauper, in order to be eligible to. draw a pension. That is the kind of inhumane choice that we should endeavour to ensure people shall not have to make.
Those two cases are not the only cases. It is the basic philosophy of honorable members on this side of the House that, whereas we wish to ward off want from everybody, we believe that people who have made an effort to help themselves should fare better than those who have made no such effort, although we wish that nobody, whether provident or improvident, should starve. That being our basic philosophy, we feel that as soon as possible - and I emphasize that I do not consider it to be possible in this budget - the means test should be relaxed and eventually eliminated. Some small relaxations have been provided for in the budget. I know that the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) and the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) have longrange and big plans under consideration for dealing with this problem. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his policy speech during the last general election campaign stated that he would bring down a measure for a referendum of the people in relation to the payment of pensions without the operation of the means test. I am sure that that promise will be honoured. We are working constructively to eliminate an injustice that has been accumulating over many years. I believe also that whilst the difficulty of eliminating the means test is still considerable it may not be as great as some honorable members may fear, because of the anti-inflationary effects to which I have directed attention.
We should raise pensions to as high a rate as possible, but I emphasize the words “ as possible “, because the level of national productivity and the requirements of defence condition the amount of money that we have available for the payment of pensions. If we try to overspend that amount all that will happen will be that we shall, ourselves, raise prices and the community will have to pay the added cost represented by the increase of prices. At a given level there is only a certain distance that we can go and, as I have said, the Government has given an earnest of its intentions by providing in this budget for an increase of the social services allocations to an amount that is more than twice as big as has been provided in any previous budget. Humane and decentralized administration can help to make more effective the pensions that wc are paying. More can be done, perhaps not by the Commonwealth, but by the States, .towards making humane and local arrangements that will help pensioners to maintain their local and family ties, while enjoying to the full the security of their pensions.
I am not one of those people who believe that honorable members opposite deliberately screwed the pensioner down when the Government that they supported was in office. I know that they had good intentions but the trouble was that the policy that they espouse makes for an economic condition that reduces the nation’s capacity to pay pensions. For that reason a good pension policy must always emanate, in the last analysis, from an anti-socialist government. I make that statement not because I wish to impugn the intentions of honorable members opposite but because I believe that as a result of what they do and what they support when in office they bring about an economic state of affairs that makes it impossible to maintain high rates of social services and to make equitable provision for those people who, because of the means test, are still debarred from eligibility for full pensions. The Government is faced with a lag of economic policy that it has inherited from its predecessor. “We cannot change the picture overnight. We have made one very big and significant change by increasing the total expenditure on social services to a figure more than twice that which has been provided in any previous Commonwealth budget. We cannot do everything at once but we shall eventually do more than we have done.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Dal?) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 2879).
– I support the bill, but before commenting upon it I point out that it irons out many of the anomalies that have existed in similar legislation of the past. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), in leading the debate for the Opposition this morning, made statements that are, in fact, a very serious indictment of his own administration as Minister for Transport in the previous Government and of that Government itself. He complained very loudly about the serious condition of roads throughout Australia. I agree with him, but I remind him that the condition of these roads has not come about in the last few months but that it is the result of conditions that arose during his administration as Minister for Transport. When we were in Opposition Ave made many attempts to direct the attention of the honorable member and the Government of which he was a member to the condition of the roads that had been caused by the lack of labour and materials during the war and post-war periods. We claimed time and time again that one of the major activities of the Chifley Government should have been the provision of equipment and materials for the repair of existing roads and the construction of new roads, but we were not heeded. As far as honorable members opposite were concerned, we were always in the wrong. The proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof. Local government authorities have available more than £5,000,000 that they have been unable to expend on road works in the last few years, not because they did. not wish to spend it but because they have not been able to obtain the necessary equipment. In Western Australia a great deal of road transport is engaged in carrying wheat to the seaboard because of the condition of the State railways and over the years the roads have suffered in consequence. The deterioration of the roads in that State is not the result of lack of money. I repeat that the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney were an indictment of himself and of the Government of which he was a member.
– The honorable member stated that the Chifley Government gave millions of pounds for expenditure by local government bodies on road works, but that they could not expend it.
– That was because of lack of initiative on the part of the Government of which the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) was a great supporter. “We tried to bring home to the Chifley Government the fact that lack of money was not the trouble in those days. The trouble was the lack of equipment to enable local government authorities to get on with road works. The lack of equipment was actually caused by the lack of production of the basic materials. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley), when speaking on this measure, and speaking. I believe, from memory, said that when the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) made his policy speech he said something about raising £250,000,000 some of which was to be expended on roads. I defy any honorable member of the Opposition to read into the Treasurer’s speech anything at all to indicate that any of the £250,000,000 mentioned would be spent on roads.
– What about the Prime Minister’s policy speech?
– The Leader of the Opposition was to-day referring to the Treasurer. The only connexion between the £250,000,000 that he mentioned and this measure is the payment of the interest and sinking fund by annual appropriations from the petrol tax. The Leader of the Opposition said that under the 1947 act, which was introduced by the then Minister for Transport, and under the amendments of 1948 and 1949, a specific amount was made available to local government authorities throughout the country for the construction and maintenance of roads in sparsely populated areas. I have read the 1947 act and the two amendments of it, which authorized further appropriations from the trust account, and I find that section 6 (5.) of the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act 1947, reads - (5.) An amount payable to the States under the last preceding sub-section shall be apportioned in accordance with sub-section (2.) of this section and any such amount paid te a State shall be subject to the following conditions : -
Clause 7 of the bill is worded in very similar terms, for it reads, in part -
This section applies in relation to roads in rural areas (including developmental roads, feeder roads, roads in sparsely populated areas and in soldier settlement areas and roads in country municipalities and shires) . .
That means the same as section 6 of the 1947 act meant although the phraseology is a little different. Nobody can read into that provision that any substantial amount is set aside for roads in sparsely populated areas. The amount is actually set aside for rural roads, which classification can include roads in sparsely populated areas. The Leader of the Opposition was endeavouring to mislead the House when he said that the act provided a specific amount for roads in sparsely populated areas.
– One million pounds was provided in 1947, £2,000,000 in 1948 and £3,000,000 in 1949.
– Yes, but I remind the honorable member that £2,600,000 will be applied this year for the same purpose as £1,000,000 was applied in 1947.
– The increased allocation will not represent the same amount of work as was provided for by the Labour Government in 1949.
– That remains to be proved, and we can register the honorable member’s remarks for future reference. This bill irons out some of the anomalies which existed in the previous legislation. For instance, it gives some assistance to country municipalities. I asked the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) to explain the set-up in
Tasmania so that I could have it clear in my mind. In Western Australia there is a system of municipalities and roads hoards, and in the eastern States a system of municipalities and shires. Country municipalities were not entitled to any consideration under the previous legislation. In this bill there is a provision to make money available for the construction and maintenance of roads in exsoldier settlement areas. That has hitherto been somewhat of a load that has been carried by local government authorities where big estates have been made available for the land settlement of ex-servicemen. Under the federal aid roads agreements, no power was given to the State government to make money available for those purposes. I do not blame the previous Government for that, but where big estates are subdivided for war service land settlement the State can make available moneys under this measure to local government authorities for the construction and maintenance of roads.
I cannot read into this measure or into any previous legislation anything to indicate that the contention of the main roads authority in Western Australia is correct. That authority claims that money cannot be made available for bitumenizing roads. Nothing has been written into these measures to stop the bitumenizing of roads being paid for out of these moneys.
– The shortage of bitumen prevents bitumenizing work.
– -Yes. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and other Commonwealth organizations, and even private engineers should endeavour to find some good sealing substitute for bitumen. Such a substitute would be extremely valuable. I do not know why some roadmaking authorities object to building ten chains -of good road instead of twenty chains of road that requires continual maintenance. It would he more advantageous for them to construct short sections of road that require very little maintenance than longer sections of road that require constant and costly maintenance. The honorable member for Wilmot has suggested that gravel should be used on the roads. I point out that, in the absence of a binding medium, ordinary gravel blows away. Whenever engineers employed by local governing authorities intend to gravel a section of road they endeavour to obtain a type of gravel that will bind and form a good road surface. Of course gravel is very susceptible to corrugation. For that reason continual maintenance is necessary. Clay has been suggested also. I point out that unless clay has sand or some other gripping abrasive mixed with it, the surface is slippery. Such a surface is more dangerous than a corrugated surface. I hope that when the States apportion their grants to local governing authorities they will not adopt the narrow-minded policy of refraining from permitting local governing authorities to expend money on sealing their roads with bitumen, or, if that is not available, some other sealing medium. Although I do not believe in using the old parish pump I wish to bring to the notice of honorable members conditions in the Harvey and Waroona areas in Western Australia. It was necessary to construct miles of drains in order to carry water from the hills away from the irrigation areas in the flat country. These drains on the sides of the roads naturally decrease the width available for road construction. Therefore a good road is very necessary. The people in those areas are finding it most difficult to obtain gravel for roads, and their present sources of supply are dwindling. Year after year they have been refused a grant to seal their roads. I point out that if a grant were made available to them they could carry out that work and thereafter it would not be necessary to expend additional money on those roads. The money thus saved could be made, available to other areas.
I .am glad that this measure makes provision for road safety purposes, because each week the accident rate is growing alarmingly. Many more fatal accidents are now occurring than formerly, particularly early in each week. It appears that there will be a steady increase in fatal accidents until a uniform system of road control is instituted throughout Australia. A considerable amount of money is also to be made available for strategic roads and roads .giving access to Commonwealth properties. I shall refer now to an area called the Lakes area in Western Australia, which was settled during the period that the Development and Migration Commission functioned, between 1928 and 1930. In its report for the period January, 1929, to the 30th June, 1930, that commission stated -
Since this arrangement was made there has been ‘a change of government in Western Australia, and the present Government has expressed a desire that consideration be given to a scheme for the construction of railways to serve 500 settlers who are located so far east of the railway line from Merredin southward as to bo greatly handicapped by lack of transport facilities for their produce . . . It was decided that the Government of Western Australia should furnish the Commonwealth Government with full details of the cost of railway construction, reports of soil investigations having regard to the question of alkali impregnation, the area, of land suitable for wheat-growing, and all other matters affecting the economic development of the land. When this information is available the project can he further considered.
By the time the Western Australian government of the day obtained that information, the Development and Migration Commission had gone out of existence. These settlers have not yet been provided with a railway. They have had to manage with only one main road and several feeder roads. All of their products must be carried by road. They even constructed wheat bins where it was considered that railway sidings would be established ultimately, but it now appears .that there will never be a railway in this area. Because of the heavy cost of maintenance of those roadways, I consider that if the State government were to apply to the Commonwealth for a special grant to improve’ them, it should be approved. I do not know whether a grant could be made for the purpose under the provisions of this legislation. The settlers that I have mentioned have been without adequate facilities for over twenty years. In order to obtain a telephone service they co-operated with the officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in the erection of 40 miles of telephone lines.
– What is the State Government doing about the roads there?
– The State Government has assisted the local governing authority in that connexion. It is pleasing to note that this measure will provide a greater measure of assistance to local governing authorities, particularly in Western Australia, than has been provided previously. It will also be possible to provide roads in areas where exservicemen have been settled on the land. It is very heartening that the Government has seen fit to make provision for the allocation of 6d. a gallon from the proceeds of the petrol tax for the purpose of road construction and maintenance. This will be the largest amount to be so allocated for this purpose since the depression, when the petrol tax was increased and the allocations to the States therefrom decreased.
.- On the 30th June, the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Agreement expired. The measure before the House is designed to introduce a new system of Commonwealth aid to the States for road purposes. It is proposed to provide £12,000,000 during the current financial year, compared with £9,400,000 during the last financial year. These payments are related to the proceeds of 6d. a. gallon customs duty on imported petrol, and 3 1/2d. a gallon excise duty on locally produced petrol. This means that each year after this legislation is passed there will be an increased allocation of about £1,000,000. The new system was devised after a very careful study of the views of State and Commonwealth organizations, and the requirements of local governing authorities. I think that all honorable members will agree that the establishment of an efficient road system is vital to Australia. As I have said previously, the development of our road system should have priority over many other developmental projects that are being considered. Roads in the Australian roads system may be classified under the following three headings: - Those for defence purposes, those for developmental purposes, and those for production purposes. If the tragedy of another world war should occur, we should require to establish a modern roads system for the speedy movement of troops and war materials between strategic points, and, in addition, to provide roads to facilitate the construction of urgent defence works. During
World War II. thousands of miles of up-to-date roads were constructed and these now form an integral part of our roads system. The construction of roads for developmental purposes is a national problem of the first magnitude. Such roads are required to enable us to open up new areas and to give an impetus to developmental projects. Equally important is the third class of roads, which we require in order to expand production. A system of all-weather roads in conjunction with a system of feeder roads is urgently required to serve major centres of primary production and also important industrial areas such as the coal-fields, whilst we also require first-class roads to link production centres with the main ports.
Provision is made under this measure in respect of all the classes of roads that I have mentioned. First, the total grant that was made last year is to be increased considerably, and provision is being made to ensure that the aggregate grant shall increase in relation to the revenue that is derived from the petrol tax. Secondly, grants are to be made specifically in respect of roads in rural areas. Thirdly, funds are to be made available to the States for the purpose of assisting local government authorities in the upkeep of roads. Fourthly, continuity of road construction will be ensured under a programme that is to be carried out over a period of five years. Fifthly, it is proposed to set aside annually certain sums for expenditure by the Australian Government for the constructon of strategic roads and access roads to Commonwealth property and to make financial provision in respect of road safety. At present, road constructon and maintenance is the responsibility of three principal instrumentalities, which are the State governments, local government bodies and the Australian Government. In respect of road works that are to be undertaken by the States it is proposed to allocate a sum of £7,200,000 for the current financial year, compared with the grant of £5,800,000 that was made under this heading during the last financial year. Most of the States have not expended all of their road funds, mainly because of the interruption of works during the recent war. For instance, as at the 31st May last, Queensland had an unexpended balance of £1,009,000 in its roads fund. The failure of the State Government to expend that money has been due to many reasons, principally the shortage of materials, plant and labour. However, despite those difficulties, that government could have made available more assistance to local government authorities which for many years had been starved of finance for road purposes. We are now paying the penalty for that failure, particularly in rural areas.
Authorities which are State instrumentalities are responsible for the construction and maintenance of the main roads. In Queensland undue preference has been given to the construction and maintenance of main roads in and around the metropolitan area and the principal ports whilst the State Government has neglected to a corresponding degree to develop the main roads system in country areas. I refer particularly to the main roads on the Darling Downs and in the western, central and northern areas of Queensland. For the most part those roads have deteriorated to a serious degree and many missing links remain to be supplied, whereas main roads in the metropolitan area and in the south coast district are in good condition. That state of affairs may have been due to political expediency. However, I shall not pass judgment in that respect. One of the most important functions of local government authorities is the construction and maintenance of secondary or feeder roads which are essential to enable producers to get their produce to railheads and to the coast. Roads which come within that category have also been seriously damaged as the result of floods. For that reason local government authorities will welcome the additional assistance that is to be given to them under this measure through the States. An additional grant of £1,200,000 is to he made in respect of rural roads which will make a total allocation for that purpose of £4,200,000 whilst, at the same time, the conditions that will govern such allocations will be liberalized to the advantage of local government authorities.
The sum of £500,000 is to. be provided for the construction and maintenance of strategic roads and access roads to Commonwealth property. All honorable members will agree that- it is necessary to. maintain defence roads in perfect condition. In addition, the sum of £100,000 is to. be provided in. respect of road safety. I shall cite certain figuresin order to indicate the tremendous task that confronts the authorites concerned in the construction and maintenance of roads. Australia now has 1,388 miles of first-class concrete roads, 118,811 miles of bitumen or gravel-surfaced roads, and 369,401 miles of unsurfaced roads. On the average, the running cost on unsurfaced roads is 1 1/2d. a mile greater than the average running cost on good roads. As transport vehicles are a national capital’ asset we should realize the great loss that is being incurred on unsurfaced roads. A good road system would encourage decentralization,, and promote tourist, traffic. We must’ give high priority to the construction and maintenance of roads: For the most part, the 370,000 miles of unsurfaced roads serve primary producers who must use them in order- to convey their produce-to’ centres of population. Our primary task rs to increase the mileage of surfaced roads; I suggest that an- investigation be made into the heat treatment method of surfacing roads, particularly in black-soil areas. The method has been tried in some districts with considerable success. Also, the treatment of earth surfaces with bitumen emulsion has proved’ successful on roads that do not have to- carry heavy traffic. The cost is low compared with the cost of surfacing such roads with gravel and hot bitumen.
Attention should be given to’ improving’ bridges, and particularly to substituting high level bridges for low level ones in order to prevent damage to bridge, approaches, and to avoid traffic delays during- flood time.. Every effort should be made to expedite the delivery of roadmaking material that, will be bought out of the proceeds of. the dollar loan, and to arrange for its distribution, to roadmaking authorities. Main highways should be straightened in order- to make for greater safety, and to improve the. relative speed of traffic. We should think in. terms of the future rather than of the immediate present,, and road’s should be constructed in- such a- way as to allow for future improvements. I regard this bill as a progressive measure that will prove of benefit to a® sections of t’hccommunity.
Sitting; suspended from 11.35 p.m. to- 12.5 a.m.
Thursday, 23: November 1950.
.: - I am gratified to learn that an agreement has been made to provide for- the continuance of the system under which money has been’ provided for some years by the Commonwealth to- assist the States to- construct’ new roads and to- maintain existing ones. Thesuccess of the: new agreement, and’ of the increased allocation, will be measured by the amount of assistance that is given to focal authorities to enable them tocarry their- onerous financial burdens. [Quorum formed.”] The honorable member for East- Sydney (Mr. Ward), theformer Minister for Transport, was the only member of the Labour party in the chamber- at the time when he directed: attention to the state of the House.
– Why is the. honorable gentleman stone-walling. the_ bill?
– I am- not stone-walling. I have hardly commenced my speech. The honorable member for East Sydney had a great opportunity; when he spoke for approximately 40 minutes on this bill, to make someconstructive suggestions, but he wasted the time of the House by repeating his frequently expressed opinions about hisnebulous proposal for the’ standardization of railway gauges. Many valuable hours were wasted in previous years in discussions on that subject.
– The honorable member, advocated that existing railway lines should be pulled, up.
– I did not at any time- play into the honorablegentleman’s hands. The lines might, as well be pulled up if the honorable gentleman’s friends continue- to paralyse- the operations of the railways. I cannot see the wisdom of standardizing railway gauges at the revised estimated cost of £440,000,000 at the present time, when many hard-working primary producers have to travel along rough bush tracks from their properties to the nearest road. Commerce begins in the dairy, the wool shed, and the cattle yards, and on the wheat farm. Many -primary producers are seriously handicapped because they cannot transport their products with reasonable ease from their properties to the nearest railway siding, from which they are taken to the ports. I mention, in passing, that ships are held up again in Sydney and Melbourne as a result of Communist-inspired strikes. However, the primary producer continues to do his job courageously, and he looks to this bill to provide the money that is needed to finance the construction of roads in country districts.
The local authorities are shouldering an almost impossible financial burden in maintaining existing roads and building new ones. Their principal revenues are derived from the rates that are imposed upon the land holders within their boundaries. I believe that too much is extracted under this out-of-date system. The so-called ratepayers contribute a total of £10,000,000 annually to finance the construction and maintenance of roads. Ratepayers are already making a contribution to Consolidated Revenue by way of the income tax and the petrol tax, and they should not be subjected to the imposition of rates, particularly to provide roads for the use of all, including the mail vans of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
– Then who should finance the construction of roads in country districts ?
– Obviously, the honorable member for East Sydney does not make a contribution for that purpose. He will never be a ratepayer in a country district.
– Because he has not the necessary stuff in him. The new roads agreement is to operate for a period of five years, and the larger States, such as Queensland and Western
Australia, will benefit from the provision under which two-fifths of the allocation to each State will be assessed upon the basis of area. As a result of this bill it will be possible to provide an amount of £30,000,000 for roads during the current financial year.
– That is not correct. This bill provides for an allocation of £12,000,000.
– The amount of £30,000,000 was mentioned in the speech of the Treasurer.
– That is the total allocation by the Commonwealth and the States for road purposes this year.
– As a result of the Commonwealth grant, the States will have a total amount of £30,000,000 this year for road purposes.
– Yes, that figure includes collections from State sources.
– The Commonwealth will provide £12,000,000, and the balance of £18,000,000 will be provided in the proportion of £10,000,000 from the States’ motor tax and £8,000,000 from ratepayers. The honorable member for East Sydney is at a disadvantage, because his knowledge of this subject is derived from the rates that are paid to municipalities within a city’s walls. The value of the new agreement will be measured by results in respect of the construction of new roads and the repair of existing ones. Unfortunately, the increased grant may not yield the same results as were obtained from a smaller grant under the previous agreement.
– Now the honorable member is correct.
– My reason for making that statement is that overseers and gangers, who previously worked on road construction jobs in New South Wales and in Queensland, have obtained employment with the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority and on other large national works. The local governing bodies have been deprived of the services of officers who had knowledge and experience of road work. However, the hopes that we place upon the success of the new agreement can be realized if every facility is given to local authorities to obtain as much road-making equipment as they require. “We base our expectations of better roads, not upon man-power considerations, but upon the work that can be accomplished by road-making machinery. I do not attach great importance to the cementing of roads, because many of the main roads to-day are in a fairly satisfactory condition, and some primary producers have no roads from their properties to railway sidings.
For some years, amounts were provided for the construction of roads in isolated areas. I advocated that scheme, because I hoped that money would be available for building a road bridge to connect the little farm across the creek, which the kiddies had to wade on their way to school, with another road. However, all that money was diverted to the western districts. That experience should not be repeated under the new agreement. I notice that approval has been given to the Commissioner of Main Roads in Queensland to construct roads at a cost of £840,000 so that fat cattle may be driven from the remote areas to the rail heads in the “Windorah and Cunnamulla districts. That work is essential, but those roads will not carry heavy vehicles, and, therefore, should not be financed from moneys provided under this agreement. I am informed by the Treasurer that under this legislation the States may, if they so wish, provide funds for -the building of boat-havens and roads to aerodromes, and also for assistance to the fishing industry, but that they are not compelled to do so. I believe that our focus should be on secondary roads. Developmental roads of all kinds should be taken over by the main roads boards of the States. I hope that, with this increased allocation of money to the States, the local governing authorities will be relieved of a part of the colossal burden of road construction and maintenance that they now carry and in many cases are unable to bear.
Mr. CALWELL (Melbourne) [12.16 a.m. J. - We have seen to-night one of the most remarkable spectacles that I have ever witnessed in this Parliament - three
Government supporters rising in succession to stone-wall their own bill. Apparently the House is expected to sit all night while member after member on the Government side proceeds to tell the same story, and to play the same cracked record about the means that should be adopted to finance the building of roads in this country. It will be of no use for honorable members opposite to protest to the people from now on that the Labour Opposition in this chamber or in the Senate has obstructed the Government’s legislative programme. Government supporters are obstructing their own legislation and I know they are doing so because they want to get their names into Hansard for the last time. Most of them want the people of this country to remember that, at least for a brief period, they were members of this great Parliament.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) told his story this morning about road construction. All that this Government proposes to do is to extend the work that the Chifley Government started in 1947, when, for the first time in our history, consideration was given to the fact that State governments were neglecting large areas of the Commonwealth, and that something had to be done under agreement with the States, to expend money on feeder roads. The Chifley Government expended £1,000,000 on road construction and maintenance in 1946-47, and £2,000,000 in the following year. In 1948-49 expenditure amounted to £3,000,000, and even more than that would have been made available for the current financial year had we remained in office. All that this Government proposes to do is to hand £12,000,000 over to the State governments whereas last year, they received £9,400,000. This £12,000,000 will not buy as much labour and equipment in the current financial year as the Chifley Government’s £9,400,000 bought last year.
The Labour Administration was so mindful of the needs of municipalities that they were given more money than they could expend. The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), in one of his brighter moments, explained that lack of equipment had prevented many municipalities from carrying out certain work for which financial provision had been made. That is quite true, and the position will be just as bad in the current year. I read recently in the press that the municipality of Mackay in Queensland wanted fourteen New Australians to help with road construction work, but could not get them, with the result that certain work would have to be abandoned. The official answer to the representations made by the municipality of Mackay was that already there were 40 new Australians .building roads between Rockhampton and Mackay, and that no more could be made available.
The lag in road construction in this country is serious and grows worse as more and more people crowd into the two already swollen centres of population, Sydney and Melbourne. The whole of Australia has to provide the roads, the houses, the sewerage, the water supply, and all the amenities of civilization required by those people who are fortunate enough to live in those two great agglomerations of population. Together, Sydney and Melbourne cover less than 1,000 square miles of Australia. The rest of the 3,000,000 square miles is sparsely populated, or completely unoccupied, and the roads in it are few.
The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) takes some pride in the fact that he proposes to expend £500,000 on strategic roads in the current year. What a mighty sum ! I suppose that the construction of a strategic road would cost about £20,000 a mile. At £20,000 a mile, this £500,000 will provide for the building of 25 miles of strategic roads throughout the Commonwealth this year. In other words, if we were to embark upon the construction of a strategic road round Australia’s 12,000 miles of coastline, at the present rate of expenditure it would be completed in 480 years; yet that is the big selling point of this legislation with which the Government hopes to popularize itself!
Ever since local government was established in Australia, the authorities of our third parliament have had power to levy rates on property only. In other countries, municipalities are authorized to levy taxes and rates on many things.
Three years ago in an American city I made a purchase at a department store. When I received my docket, I found that I had paid not only the price of the article, but also federal sales tax, state sales tax, and municipal sales tax. In some parts of America, municipal authorities have power even to levy entertainment tax. In this country we have too few local governing authorities, such as county councils, to administer areas with common economic interests, and the State parliaments will have to consider clothing these authorities with power to raise their own finances in ways that have never before been attempted in this country. As long as Australia continues to develop in the lopsided way in which it is developing now, the areas outside Sydney and Melbourne will become increasingly dependent on the funds that the Commonwealth Parliament makes available from time to time, and ultimately it may be that only the people of these cities and, to a lesser degree, those of the other capital cities, will be provided with the things that they require. It is futile to talk about a new deal for municipalities. They are not getting a new deal under this legislation. There was the beginning of a new deal in the 1947 legislation which this measure merely proposes to extend, but the problem must be tackled in a wider manner than has been attempted by this Parliament or by the State parliaments up to date. I give that thought to honorable members so that they will not continue to believe that something worth-while is being attempted by the Government in this bill.
I refer to the two policy-speeches of the leaders of the Government parties, from which the honorable member for East Sydney has already quoted. The words of the present Prime Minister bear repetition, if only for the purpose of indicating just how little he intended to do when he made the promise and just how little will be done by this Government if it remains in power for the full life of the Parliament. He said -
Over a period of five years we shall raise loans totalling £250,000,000, the interest and sinking fund on which will be provided out of the petrol tax.
Where is the bill to authorize that borrowing programme? Is it, like the excess profits tax bill and the capital issues control bill, to be introduced when physically possible, to use the classic phraseology of the Treasurer? I do not believe that the bill will ever be introduced. The policy statement continued -
The work will include feeder roads; soil conservation; the development of rural housing, embracing the construction of groups of workers’ homes in seasonal labour areas; flood prevention; the provision of water, light and power; vermin and noxious weeds destruction.
I hope that the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) was listening to that last item! That is a good programme. I hope that some government will carry out a programme like it, because, until something of the sort is attempted, the local government authorities in Australia will have to carry on as best they can. The main roads of Australia to-day, because of the devastation wrought by nature recently, are in an even worse condition in many instances than are some of the feeder roads about which we are talking and some attempt will have to be made to repair them.
– Why did not the honorable member have a go at it when he was in office?
– I shall do so upon my return to office, an event that will not be long deferred. I have no doubt about winning secret votes in a caucus room when the Labour party regains power. 1 do not wish to detain the House, but I certainly like to rub it into honorable members when they stone-wall their own legislation.
Now I come to the policy declaration of the other twin in the leadership of this Government. The present Treasurer said that he had never promised to provide any money for the construction of roads.
– I did not say anything of the sort. I said that I had never promised that the whole of the petrol tax receipts would be used for road construction and maintenance. Tell the truth, even if only by accident.
– The right honorable gentleman has never told the truth even in that way. I quote from his policyspeech -
Years of Socialist misrule, and continued raids for revenue purposes on the proceeds of the petrol tax, have led to a grave deterioration in our road system.
The implication of that statement was that the right honorable gentleman would expend all the revenue from petrol tax, if necessary, in order to prevent that grave deterioration of our road system to which he referred. If honorable members’ auricular functions can sustain the effort of listening, I shall quote further from the statement -
Under our National Development plan, we will inaugurate a supplementary Federal Aid Roads Scheme by which local governing bodies will receive adequate funds - without obligation of repayment - to construct and maintain developmental roads, under their authority and vigilance.
Implied in that still was the promise to expend all the petrol tax money-
– And to make direct grants to local government authorities.
– Yes. The right honorable gentleman will have plenty of opportunities to make his apologies to the electors.
The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) came to the aid of the Treasurer on this subject. .1 refer to a speech which the honorable gentleman made on the 15th May, 1947, and from which the honorable member for East Sydney has already quoted. I perused the report of that speech in the small hours, and I found these sentiments, which I thought should have been expressive of the opinion of an antiLabour government when it took office -
The petrol tax is a money-spinner for the Government . . . Scant justice has been done to the State governments, and less than justice to local governing bodies, which have been shut out altogether from any share of this huge revenue which is collected each year from petrol users.
Was not the implication of that statement that the money taken from petrol users would be expended on roads? Passing over the irrelevancies with which the honorable gentleman adorned his speech, I come to the following sentiment: -
I say that local governing bodies do their work more expeditiously and economically, and with less red tape, than do either State or Commonwealth parliaments.
– And I still say that.
– Then why does not the honorable gentleman get more done for local government bodies than will be done under this bill? Continuing his speech, the honorable member stumbled on a truth which still obtains when he said -
With the increased cost of labour and materials, it is practically impossible for them to meet their commitments and to maintain the roads.
That is the position, and unfortunately it will continue to be the position for a long time to come. Too few people are living in the country districts, and too many are going to the cities. During the inter-censal period between 1933 and 1947, the population of Victoria increased by 250,000, all but four of whom went to the city of Melbourne. That happened during the reign of anti-Labour governments between 1933 and 1941. Nothing could be done to arrest the drift during the war period from 1941 to 1945. The tragedy in Australia is that nothing effective is being done to stop that drift. Only the establishment of new States, the delegation of more and more powers to local government authorities and the establishment of county councils or regional committees with statutory powers, will enable us to give effect to a real programme of decentralization by which the country can be properly developed. I hope that every honorable member on the Government side of the House who wants to speak in this debate will decide that all that can be said upon the issue has been said already, and let the rest of us go home to bed.
– After listening for about 30 minutes to the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who began by protesting against stone-walling and then proceeded to deliver the greatest stone-walling speech of the debate, with the possible exception of that which was made by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), it is almost impossible for me to refrain from commenting upon one or two of his observations. Only one or two of them deserve any comment. Whenever the honorable gentleman speaks in this chamber, he laments the fact that he is no longer in the Government and expresses the hope that he will be back on this side of the chamber within six months. I recall that, when the Labour party was in power, he consistently asserted that it would never go ‘out of office. If the honorable member will only continue to - make such speeches as he has made during the last few weeks, we shall rest assured that the Opposition party will not regain power for years to come. He is very ably assisted, of course, by the honorable member for East Sydney, who wins about 10,000 votes for the Government whenever his speeches go on the air. He is more successful in winning votes1 for us than he was in getting roads for New South Wales or the rest of Australia when he was Minister for Transport. He is certainly more successful in winning votes for us than he was in constructing standardized railways during the period in which he was in office.
– At least I got the Minister a couple of summonses then.
– The honorable member is very adept at digging into the private affairs of others and acting as an informer, as he did when I inadvertently committed a breach of the law.
– A Labour sweater !
– I rise to order. The Minister is departing very widely from the bill. I ask that he be directed to discuss the measure.
– Order! The Chair will decide that matter.
– At least my remarks are as relevant to the bill as were those of many honorable members opposite, particularly the honorable member for Melbourne.
– That is a reflection on the Chair.
– The honorable member for East Sydney was Minister for Transport during the whole of the period of his association with the Ministry except a short period when he was Minister for Labour and National Service-
– That was when record road construction was achieved.
– It was then that the honorable gentleman was emptied out of the Ministry by Mr. Curtin. When I was in Opposition and the honorable member was Minister for Transport, I repeatedly asked him on behalf of people in the country areas throughout Australia for an increased allocation of the receipts from the petrol tax for road purposes. Time and time again the honorable member, supported by his Prime Minister, refused to grant even an additional penny for that purpose, though he camouflaged his refusal a little by saying to the States, “ We shall make an additional grant of £1,000,000 for the construction of developmental roads throughout Australia “. Having made the money available, he did not go to the trouble of ascertaining how it was expended. I did so. I asked his colleague in New South Wales, th, Minister for Local Government, Mr. Cahill, how the grant for developmental roads had been expended. I was informed that not one penny of the money had been expended for the purpose for which it had been granted and that the State Government had merely increased the grants to local authorities on a pro rata basis. Thus, that grandiose proposal of the honorable gentleman achieved no purpose other than that of affording him an opportunity to boast that, as a consequence of his statesmanlike act, the way had been paved for the construction of great developmental roads throughout Australia. He would have been more honest had he increased the allocation from the petrol tax for road purposes to enable the local governing authorities to do their job a little better.
I was vastly entertained by the moving speech of the honorable member for Melbourne.
– The Minister is easily entertained. I sometimes play down to his level.
– He made a moving appeal for better conditions in country areas so that country dwellers would be induced to remain in the country instead of being attracted to the gigantic cities, yet only about a fortnight ago he took me to task for not arranging for the provision of television stations in every capital city of the Commonwealth. There is not the slightest hope that television stations will he established in other than the most thickly populated country areas’ for at least twenty years.
-Order! The Minister is getting very wide of the bill.
– Although my remarks may have little relation to the bill they constitute a very effective answer to the honorable member for Melbourne. However, I bow to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
– The Minister has no option but to do so.
– For the first time since 1937 a measure has been introduced into this Parliament to increase the proportion of the petrol tax to be allocated for road construction purposes. The increase is to be from 3d. to 6d. a gallon. This Government does not propose to place practically the whole of the receipts from the petrol tax in the Consolidated Revenue fund as its predecessors did. The bill also provides for a substantial increase of the amount to be allocated from excise on locally produced petrol.
– Notwithstanding the figures cited by the Minister, the additional amount to be allocated represents only 3 per cent, of the amount previously granted.
– The basis of allocation laid down in the bill tells its own story. When our friends opposite were in office they refused to increase the allocation from the petrol tax even by one farthing, but they said to the States, “ We shall be far more generous than you expected us to be ; we propose to give you an additional £1,000,000 for the construction of developmental roads in areas where road construction was not previously possible “. When I asked the former Minister for Transport for information about how the money was being expended, he refused to furnish it. I ascertained from his ministerial colleague in the New South Wales Government that the additional money had simply been allocated to the local governing authorities on a pro rata basis.
– That is not true. I am sure that Mr. Cahill would not talk to the honorable gentleman.
– The honorable member should discuss the matter with Mr. Cahill. He will find that what I have said is true. There is little need for me to say much more about this bill.
– The Minister’s speech has already cost him 20,000 votes.
– Members of the Government and its supporters, particularly those who represent rural areas, whether they are members of the Liberal party or of the Australian Country party, have a manifest duty to state their views in this Parliament when legislation of this kind is under consideration, even if they have to do so in the early hours of the morning when the proceedings of this Parliament are not being broadcast. For a long time country residents and local governing authorities in rural areas have looked in vain to’ the Australian Government to relieve their roadfinancing problems. This measure implements a policy promise made by the leaders of the anti-Labour parties during the general election campaign. At least it will give to local authorities a little more than they were able to obtain from the previous Government for the financing of their road construction and maintenance programmes.
I offer no apology for speaking on this bill for fourteen minutes compared with the 30 minutes taken by the honorable member for Melbourne, nor do I offer any apology for honorable members on this side of the House, who represent rural areas and who have been compelled to state their views on this bill at this late hour.
– The House is indebted to a former Minister, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) for enlivening this debate at such a critical hour of the morning as this. They have struck a note which has awakened the House to the reality that there is actually a bill before it.
I do not propose to canvass all the arguments that have been submitted during the debate, nor do I propose to refer to all the speeches that have been made on this bill. I agree with the PostmasterGeneral that it is the duty of honorable members to state their views on this subject so that they may be recorded in Hansard and thus be made known to the people. Before dealing briefly with the aspects of the bill that interest me most, I should, perhaps, pay a tribute to the great initial work that was done by the Bruce-Page Government in making the people of Australia, and more particularly those who live in areas under local government control, road conscious. At the time that the Bruce-Page Government came to power there was hardly a first-class road in Australia. I passed through most of the States at that time and in every State one was forced to realize that there were no reasonably good roads compared with those in America or Great Britain. The Bruce-Page Government, confronted with a huge task, placed on record as a monument to its achievements the main road arteries which are still in existence. Very little has been done in this regard since that time except during the war when certain strategic roads were laid down by the last Government.
No debate takes place in this House without the same stale policy-speeches being pulled out and honorable members being asked to listen to excerpts that suit the occasion. I do not wish to do that. I only wish to refer to the . strategic and developmental roads a certain amount of provision for which has been made in the bill before the House. One of the great responsibilities of the present Government is the area of Jervis Bay which, in thifullness of time, will be developed as ;i very important part of the defence scheme of this country. At present nobody seems to realize that that is so. No one ha? accepted the responsibility of seeing that a strategic road shall be laid down between the Australian Capital Territory and Jervis Bay. I understand that a preliminary survey has been carried out on a road which will start very near Lake George and go towards Jervis Bay but up to now its construction has not been commenced. It is the duty of the Government to accept the responsibility of constructing that road.
– The Chifley Government approved of the construction of such a road.
– I understand that th, construction of the road has been approved and that a preliminary survey has been made in a sketchy fashion but, up to the present, no road of any consequence has materialized. The result is that for the purpose of moving troops from the Australian Capital Territory the Government must depend on indifferent roads which cannot be called A -class. There is a road from the Australian Capital Territory which meets the coast near Moruya; there is another which goes over the Clyde Mountain; and there is another which goes through Moss Vale and continues up the coast towards Wollongong. That is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs. Strategic needs have not been met and the development of this territory is being seriously handicapped. The £500,000 which has been provided for the construction and maintenance of 1 strategic roads is not commensurate with the cost of building a strategic road of any nature.
There is an immediate need for developmental roads leading to the capital territory. Roads do exist which are the responsibility of the State Government but the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) has a peculiar responsibility in connexion with them. We who live in the Australian Capital Territory are penalized by the fact that we are not entirely self-sustaining in primary production. I ask the Minister acting or the Minister or the Interior to bring pressure to bear upon the Government of New South Wales to see that a developmental road shall be constructed from the Australian Capital Territory into the Tumut area in order to make it possible for that area to supply the essential commodities that are in such short supply in this territory and for which such an excessive price is charged. An interdepartmental committee on which I sat ha? made a complete survey of the opportunities for developing primary production to- meet the needs of the Australian
Capital Territory. The committee has selected the Tumut area as that which offers the maximum opportunity for development. The people in that area are looking forward to finding a market for their products in the Australian capital. I say, therefore, that the Minister for the Interior has a peculiar duty to negotiate with the State authorities in that regard.
For the last 35 years there has been a very insistent demand in the Australian Capital Territory for the construction of a direct road to the coast for health and recreational reasons. Pressure should also be brought to bear on the Government of the State of New South Wales to construct that road so that the people of the Australian Capita! Territory and the Riverina may have a better means of access to the coast Such a road would also enable an important section of the coast to supply a considerable proportion of those commodities that are essential to the people of this community and so reduce the cost of living in this territory.
Clause 11 of the bill reads as follows : -
There shall be payable out of the Trust Account, in respect of each year during the period of five years which commenced on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and fifty, the sum of one hundred thousand pounds, which may be expended by the Commonwealth on the promotion of road safety practices throughout Australia in accordance with proposals approved by the Minister.
I hope that that clause has not been placed in the bill as an empty gesture and that the Government will keep tab of the money that is being expended. It should ensure that the money shall be put to the best possible use in order to bring about a reduction of the shocking toll of death and mutilation that is caused by road accidents in this country. I have some statistics issued by the Australian Road Safety Council for 1949-50. The annual report of that council states that 1,643 people were killed and 31,447 injured on Australian roads during that year, which was a higher total of accidents than in any previous year. Those figures are most dramatic. One could hardly credit that that casualty rate is 82 per cent, as great as the active service casualty rate during the 1939-45 war. Prom 1939 to 1945 there were 88,397
Australian war casualties, compared with 134,1017 road casualties during the same period. Those graphic figures should illustrate to this House and to the people of Australia the manner in which death stalks every highway throughout Australia. There are two major factors concerned in road accidents. One is the speed danger, and the other is the drunken driver. Not all accidents or fatalities are caused by drunken drivers. In many cases they are due to high-powered machines overturning while being driven at excessive speeds on roads insufficiently banked and guarded. Such accidents lead to the death or mutilation of many individuals.
I trust that the States that are to benefit under the provisions of this bill will allow their police to exercise greater powers in order to control this pulsating death that one meets on the road every week-end, if not every day of the week. If the police are permitted to instruct citizens as to how they should cross streets so as to avoid traffic dangers, and if, at the same time, wider powers are given to the flying patrols, and sterner punishments are imposed by magistrates, I believe that this shocking toll of death, which to-day is alarming the people of this country, will be most effectively reduced.
I do not wish to be accused of stonewalling on this measure, but I take the opportunity to express my appreciation of what the Government has done to honour pre-election promises. I support this measure in practice and in principle, although I consider that perhaps greater attention could have been paid to the importance of feeder roads, and developmental and strategic roads. Despite its shortcomings, I earnestly commend the measure to the House and trust that it will have a speedy passage..
– I, too, do not intend to stone-wall on this bill, but it is a measure of great importance and deserves some discussion. I congratulate the Government on its forward thinking in the preparation and presentation of this legislation.
– That is enough. “Wind off, and we shall go home.
Mi-. CRAMER. - The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) could go home and nobody would miss him. This bill will show that the Government parties are fully conscious of the major problems that are confronting this country. A vital change has been effected in relation to road transport; it is one that could have been made by the Australian Labour party had it possessed the ability to foresee what was required for the development of Australia. This bill proposes to provide the States with an amount of £12,000,000 for the purpose of developing roads and transport systems generally. It involves a very important, change from previous legislation inasmuch as that amount is not static. It will be approximately £12,000,000 this year, but because it is related to the quantity of petrol that is imported into the country and subsequently sold, the amount is nol static and will probably increase as the country develops.
– That is how it has always been.
– It has not always been so. Now that this change has been made, the people of Australia who pay tax by way of customs duty in respect of petrol will be able to see something for their money. In that way very much greater satisfaction will ensue.
One point which I wish to emphasize and which has not been mentioned during the course of the debate is that although money is paid to the States for road purposes, the Australian Government in no way takes over powers to undertake road construction and maintenance. Those powers continue to reside in the States. This measure preserves the responsibilities and the liabilities of the States in respect of those matters. At the same time, it provides them with sufficient money to enable them to carry out their programmes to the fullest capacity of the labour and materials available. It places emphasis upon the fact that in this modern world machinery is an important factor in the progress of a nation. I refer to thi machinery that is so necessary in order that the local governing bodies may carry out the works they wish to undertake. The bill also demonstrates that the Government is conscious of the important factors in the development of the country, and recognizes that first things must be done first. Obviously, the development of a country’s transport systems is essential to its development. The introduction of this measure proves that the Government has a proper concern for the three important factors of development, defence and decentralization. It also disposes of a little difference of opinion that has grown up over the years between the rural and the urban interests in this country. The rural areas will no doubt obtain great benefit from the passage of the measure.
I propose to say something now concerning an important matter which has not so far been touched upon in the debate, and I think that the remarks that I shall make on this subject will provepopular not only with honorable members but also with the people of Australia generally. I preface those remarks by saying that it should not be necessary to pay a toll in order to cross any highway or bridge in Australia. Although the payment of tolls for crossing bridges is antiquated, charges are still imposed on two or three bridges in Queensland and on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in New South Wales. The imposition of tolls on the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a glaring example of an unjust exaction. After all, that bridge, which is one of the greatest in the world, is essentially a part of a national highway.
Honorable members interjecting,
– I am afraid that there is some loose thinking amongst honorable members about this national project.
– Order ! There is far too much audible conversation and interruption of the honorable gentleman who is speaking. I ask honorable members to remain silent.
– But for the existence of the Sydney Harbour Bridge the nation could not have prosecuted the recent war so efficiently as it did. The Sydney Harbour Bridge constitutes a link between southern and northern Australia, and is the approach to the main northern highway. Although, as I have already said, it should be re garded as a part of a national highway, a discriminatory and sectional tax is imposed on many of those who use that bridge. We have heard a great deal recently about sectional taxes, but I point out that those people who live on the northern side of Sydney Harbour have been called upon to pay millions of pounds in fees. Persons who own property on the northern side of the harbour have been called upon for many years to pay additional rates as a contribution towards the cost of the bridge, and every train, tram, and vehicle that crosses the bridge pays a special tax. Even food carried over the bridge for consumption by residents on the northern side of the harbour is subject to payment of toll which results in increasing the cost of living in those suburbs. However, after all these exactions there is still an amount of £7,191,046 owing on the bridge. The surplus of revenue over expenditure in respect of the bridge last year was £141,627. The payment of £413,000 per annum to cover maintenance of the bridge and payment of sinking fund and interest charges would enable the Government of New South Wales to discontinue the toll without loss of revenue.
When the Chifley Government was in office, requests were made to the then Prime Minister and to the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McGirr, to remove the toll, but nothing was done about the matter. However, after the Chifley Administration was turned out of office Mr. McGirr changed his attitude. In reply to deputations that have approached him with a request that the toll should be removed from the bridge, he has said, in effect : “ Yes, I am in favour of removing the toll from the bridge. However, my Government has no money, and it will be necessary for us to obtain full compensation for the loss of toll revenue by obtaining a grant from the Commonwealth.” The passage of this measure will present Mr. McGirr with an opportunity to remove the tax, because when the bill is passed New South Wales will obtain sufficient funds to enable it to remove the toll from the bridge.
Honorable members interjecting and
– Order ! Those honorable members who are persistently interjecting and creating disorder must desist immediately. If honorable members, by sleeping, or pretending to sleep, in this chamber cause a disturbance, I will give them their marching orders so that they can sleep outside it.
Mr. Curtin interjecting,
– Order ! The honorable member for “Watson (Mr. Curtin) will apologize to the Chair for disobeying my order to remain silent.
– I apologize.
– I realize that my remarks are apparently not to the liking of some honorable gentlemen. However, I am sincere in advocating that the toll should be lifted from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I repeat that the Government of New South Wales, which is primarily responsible for continuing the toll, should seek ways and means to remove the toll now that the Commonwealth proposes to treat it so generously in all matters relating to finance for roads. It may not bc necessary for the New South Wales Government to use the whole of the grant that will be made to it under this bill in order to compensate itself for the loss of revenue from the bridge toll charges, but it will certainly receive more than sufficient to cover any loss of revenue caused by a discontinuance of the toll. In the national interest, the toll should be discontinued, and I sincerely hope that that will be done.
Apart altogether from consideration of this measure, the Commonwealth has a financial responsibility towards the maintenance of the bridge. Every day many Commonwealth vehicles, including Defence Department vehicles, cross the bridge without paying toll. During the
Avar, tens of thousands of such vehicles passed over the bridge without paying a single penny in tax. I remind the Government that the cost of paying for and maintaining the bridge has devolved almost entirely upon the residents on the northern side of Sydney Harbour. I suggest that the Commonwealth might make an ex gratia payment for the services rendered by New South Wales in maintaining the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Treasurer on presenting such a progressive measure, which will be accepted most gracefully by local authorities throughout the State, because they will derive great benefit from it. Furthermore, the measure should have a beneficial effect on the development of rural areas.
– An important feature of this measure is its recognition of the fact that it is impossible to implement a sane roads policy unless plans can be made covering a number of years ahead. I believe that the reason why many local governing bodies in New South Wales have not expended all the money that has been made available to them for expenditure upon roads is that they have been unable to plan sufficiently far ahead or to learn what funds were to be made available to them for the purchase of plant and for road construction and maintenance.
I remind the House that the idea of a roads plan extending a number of years ahead was conceived by the BrucePage Government. I do not think the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) stated the position correctly when he said that the Labour party was responsible for the idea of developmental roads being included in a roads programme. That idea was conceived by a government of which I was a. member. For twelve years, the present Leader of the Australian Country party in New South Wales controlled the roads programme of that State and demonstrated how State and Federal authorities could co-operate effectively in the carrying out of a big programme. In these days when various suggestions about how the States and the Commonwealth could co-operate are being advanced, it is important to emphasize that the scheme to which this bill relates is recognized as being one of the finest instances of a sane policy of CommonwealthState co-operation, with the Commonwealth providing the finance and the States undertaking the administrative work. If that policy were adopted in other directions, there would be far less grumbling about inflated Commonwealth revenues.
Before the last war, the roads system of New South Wales had been developed to such a high degree that it was able to make a great contribution to the war effort during the war, but now the roads in that State are in a deplorable condition. The deterioration bas been caused by a number of factors. When war broke out, the Commonwealth, with the full concurrence and cordial assistance of the State authorities, commandeered an enormous quantity of road plant and transported it to other parts of the Commonwealth, thus making it difficult for the State authorities to do the maintenance work that was required. In addition, the roads in New South Wales carried an enormous amount of traffic during the war. Approximately three years ago, the New South Wales Main Roads Board announced that £15,000,000 worth of work was required to be done on roads in the State, partly because of neglect of the roads during the war, partly because of the increase of road traffic, and partly because of damage caused to the roads after the war that could not be repaired owing to lack of materials. The position has gone from bad to worse. The roads in New South Wales are deteriorating so rapidly that in a very short time there will be no roads in the State worth mentioning.
This bill is a step in the right direction, but I do not believe that the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) regards it as other than a means of starting a move in the right direction. Even if the sum to be made available this year were made available also next year, the States would not have sufficient funds to enable them to solve the problem that confronts them in connexion with roads. I believe that when it is possible to release man-power, machinery and materials for road, construction and maintenance it will be necessary for the States to supplement Commonwealth grants by a very extensive loan programme. It is probable that this measure represents all that can be done at the present time, having regard to the other calls that are being made upon our man-power and resources, but it will not enable us to undertake the road development and maintenance work that urgently requires to be done. One factor that is adversely affecting roads in large areas of eastern Australia is the raising of the water table as a result of the abnormally wet years that we 1 have had. That has caused a bursting of roads to almost incredible degree, and in addition, much damage has been caused by floods and the precipitation of water from above.
The petrol tax was introduced by the Bruce-Page Government. Originally, the tax was imposed at the rate of 3d. a gallon, and every penny of the revenue derived from it was expended upon roads. At the present time, the rate of tax is 10^-d. a gallon, of which 6d. a gallon is to be allocated for road construction, maintenance and development. I congratulate the Treasurer upon having made an allocation of money that will ensure that country roads will be developed and maintained better than hitherto. I congratulate him also upon having set aside money for expenditure by country shires and municipalities, and particularly for expenditure upon developmental roads, because the developmental road fund has become largely a thing of the past.
There is a form of motor transport that is rendering a very important service to Australia at the present time, because our railways, at any rate in New South Wales, have practically broken down under the strain that has been imposed upon them. The great road transport vehicles that I have in mind are driven by diesel engines and usually use what is known as diesoline as a fuel. As far as I know, dieseline is not subject to the petrol tax. I do not desire that an unnecessary impost should be placed upon these motor vehicles, but I point out that they carry loads of 30 or 40 tons and cause great damage to tha roads. The vehicles travel fast, and apparently they travel from one end of Australia to the other. It seems to me to be wrong that motor vehicles which use petrol as a fuel should make a contribution to the national revenue by the payment of a tax upon the fuel that they consume, and that vehicles which use dieseline as fuel and which cause great damage to roads, should pay no tax at all except the tax based upon weight which is imposed by the various State governments. I hope that when it becomes apparent, as I am sure it will, that this measure is the first step in the right direction, the second step will be taken, subject to the availability of man-power and machinery, to enable our roads to be brought back into something like a proper trafficable condition capable of meeting any emergency of peace or war that may confront us.
– I protest against the stonewalling tactics of Government supporters in insisting upon speaking in support of a bill that has the approval of both sides of the House.
– Order ! That is not the subject of the bill. Honorable members are entitled to speak to the bill if they wish to do so.
– I believe that if the Government wishes to tackle properly the problem of our roads, it should decide which main roads are essential to the country’s defence and, having decided that, it should give those roads priority in respect of labour and material. Whatever expenses might have to be met in connexion with roads that the Government may decide are essential to defence should be met and the balance of the money available for expenditure on roads should be distributed to the States for work on other roads. One of South Australia’s most important roads, which runs between Adelaide and Renmark, crosses the River Murray at two points, Blanchetown and Kingston. The only means of crossing the river at those points are antiquated punts. I believe that in the interests of defence the Australian Government should put in hand immediately plans for the building of a suitable bridge at Blanchetown and another al Kingston, so that in the event of it being necessary to use that important road for defence needs, there will be no delay in the passage of military and other traffic. Sometimes there is a line of trucks two miles long waiting to pass over the river by punt at those points. I believe that the same situation exists in parts of New South Wales. I travelled once by road from Tweed Heads to Newcastle, and in the course of the trip we had t< cross various rivers by at least three punt? at points at which bridges should han been built long ago to allow for vehicles to pass without delay.
Some honorable members have referred to the fact that the New South Wales Government charges toll on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) has suggested that the Australian Government should expend some of the taxpayers’ money in saving the people of the North Shore suburbs of Sydney from the necessity to pay the toll that they should, by right, have to pay in order to meet the interest on the cost of building the bridge.
Both sides of the House support this measure, and I am astonished that Government supporters should have decided to insist on speaking to it, thereby stonewalling the measure and keeping the House in session unnecessarily. In the process of doing so they have completely missed the main points at issue. Important points to which they have not referred include the defence of the nation, the importance of arterial roads throughout the Commonwealth that need proper attention, the bridges that should have been attended to and the position in respect of crossings on important rivers and waterways. I am astonished by the lack of interest in our defence that Government supporters have displayed and I have risen in my place to direct the attention of the House to it.
– I have a great deal of sympathy for those honorable members who have just groaned at the sight, of me rising in my place at this hour of the morning to speak to the measure. I know that it ill becomes me to detain the House any longer, but I have risen to join issue with the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), who stated that the time appeared to be opportune for the people of Sydney, particularly the residents of the northern suburbs of that city, to pass their financial responsibilities in respect of the Sydney Harbour Bridge over to the people of the Commonwealth as a whole. I should not like the honorable member to go to his bed this morning with the mistaken impression that he had convinced the House of the merits of the case that he advanced. That case is, after all, a side-issue. I have very vivid recollections of the time when the original proposal to build a bridge across Sydney Harbour was made, and of the fact that the residents on the north side of the harbour agreed to the levying on them of a rate for the purpose of defraying the cost of the brdge. I also recall vividly that when the proposal to build the bridge took form, the people agreed to pay a toll in order to discharge the financial cost of maintaining it and to repay the capital cost of building it.
– Would the honorable member mind telling me when the people on the North Shore were consulted in the matter? He has said that they agreed to pay a toll. They were never consulted.
– My information and my recollections are that the local government authorities on the North Shore agreed to strike a rate for the purpose of raising a fund to pay for the construction of the bridge. The people agreed to that rating, and paid it, and as they have never sought to return candidates at triennial municipal elections, pledged to alter the rating, it must be presumed that they approve its imposition. The people of Sydney gave a solemn undertaking to the people of the rest of New South Wales that they would agree to the institution of a toll which has been collected ever since the bridge was opened. I say, with very great respect to the honorable member for Bennelong that it is a breach of faith to suggest that at this late stage those people should escape their responsibilities and should ask not only the rest of the people of New South Wales, but also people like the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), whose constituency is in the far west of Western Australia, to take the burden from them. I remind the honorable member for Bennelong that there are other ways out of this difficulty if the Sydney Harbour Bridge can no longer be paid for by the people for whose benefit it was constructed. One of them is that they should sell it if there is no further use for it. Although the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a magnificent piece of engineering, it has done much to spoil the fairyland that was the
Sydney Harbour, particularly the Circular Quay area of the harbour. I assure the honorable member for Bennelong that there are other areas where bridges are urgently required, such as the Riverina. The Lachlan River, which is at present in flood, could bc bridged in a number of places for strategic purposes if for no other purpose. Those remarks about the Lachlan River could equally be applied to the Murrumbidgee River, the Murray River, the Edwards River and the Darling River. If the Sydney Harbour Bridge has become too burdensome for the Sydney people I suggest that it should be removed in sections and re-erected where it will serve a useful purpose for the development of the country.
I shall address myself now to the bill itself. This bill is for an act which is designed to succeed the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act which expired on the 30th June of this year. To-day I am in the privileged position of having in my hand a copy of a speech delivered in this House by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) when he was Prime Minister in the previous Government. In introducing the bill for the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act he said -
A REVIEW of this Standards of Road Construction.
The Commonwealth Minister for Road Transport to give consideration through the Transport Advisory Council to the question of road construction in relation to road alignment and general standards of road construction and maintenance, having regard to the general position in the Commonwealth and the finance available and the necessity of ensuring that secondary and developmental roads are not deprived of moneys essential for reasonable requirements and that all construction is integrated with a Commonwealth transportation plan.
I suppose that those words were uttered in good faith by the right honorable gentleman and that they referred particularly to the Minister for Transport at that time. That is the honorable- member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). This is a classic example of the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In this case the road to political oblivion is paved with good intentions. The Labour party has been despatched to political oblivion by the people of this country who had good cause for so doing. Any one who has reason to use our roads from day to day, week to week, and even from year to year, knows that during the whole of the time since 1947 when the then Prime Minister made these observations and gave these instructions to the then Minister for Transport, the roads have steadily deteriorated until they are now worse than they have ever been at any time in our history. They are even worse than they were when they were in their natural state. I have vivid recollections of the time when most of our roads were in their natural state. A few weeks ago I mentioned that I once earned my living on the road with a team of horses and I remember vividly that all the roads I traversed at that time were in their natural state. That is the kind of roads that the honorable member for Bennelong wants to re-introduce to-day. In those far off days it was the custom for the people living in the metropolitan areas to shift the full responsibility for the construction and maintenance of roads on to people who were resident in the locality of the roads. That was among the penalties that the suburban population inflicted on the people who wanted to constitute the rural communities of our country.
Metropolitan people said, in effect, “ If you live in Riverina, Hume, Farrer or any other rural part of the State, you must bear the social, economic and political responsibility of the land, the roads, the railways and the utilities in that area “. That was said year after year and decade after decade and road construction was restricted to a few groups of people. That was the beginning of the system which culminated in the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The bill provides for an allocation of funds for road development aggregatng £12,000,000. That sum can only be described as a lower limit because there is a definite prospect that the sum of £12,000,000 will be increased by approximately £1,000,000 per annum during the currency of the legislation now under consideration. Therefore, at the end of five years, all things being consistent with the circumstances of to-day, approximately £17,000,000 will have been allocated for road development. When that sum is mentioned against what the previous Government provided under the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Bill, that is £9,400,000. it will be seen that this Government has some reason for satisfaction because it has measured up to the needs of the community at this time. I noted that honorable members on both, sides of the House have referred to the progressive increase in the money made available from time to time.
I was very pleased that the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Dr. Nott) made due and timely reference to the fact that the Bruce-Page Government acknowledged the principle of the Commonwealth sharing responsibility for road construction and maintenance not only with the States but also with the local governing authorities. In 1923 the Commonwealth made its first grant to assist the State governments in the construction of main roads, and in 1926 the plan that was conceived by the present Minister for Health (.Sir Earle Page) was implemented by the institution of a progressive ten-years programme of road construction. Two million pounds a year was allocated for that purpose. I believe that the greatest advance in road construction in this country was then made. As has been stated by the honorable member for Bennelong, prior to that period the States undertook their own road construction. I entered into possession of an area of land and had to undertake the responsibility of bringing it to production by my own undivided efforts. I also had to undertake my share of the construction and maintenance of nearly 1,000 miles of roads in the Coolamon Shire. The measure that was introduced by the BrucePage Government demonstrated the justice of the Commonwealth making regular contributions to the States for the construction and maintenance of main roads. The time is opportune to pay a tribute to our local governing authorities for the road work that they have done over many years. Latterly, also, county councils have done good work in this connexion.
Local government provided the genesis of politics as we know it to-day. The
Mother of Parliaments had its birth in local government. It was as a result of the local governing authorities in Great Britain that the House of Commons came into existence. Many men and women in this country who are members of local governing authorities, make their services available to their fellows for the purpose of interpreting the local government laws. This House would be lacking in courtesy if it did not avail itself of the opportunity that this debate provides of expressing appreciation for the valiant work that nas been done by local governing authorities during the last 50 years. No one knows better than you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if the effective development of our country is to proceed there must be good and satisfactory main roads, developmental roads, trunk roads and rural roads. This bill makes substantial and practical contributions towards that end. A number of honorable members have referred to the fact that there are at present physical limitations on the amounts that can be expended for road construction and maintenance. Of course, there is an explanation for that state of affairs. I do not suppose that it would have been possible for our predecessors to build the roads that we now enjoy if they had indulged in the extraordinary extravagance of a 40-hour week. I believe that that has been a major contributing factor to the physical limitation of the expenditure of moneys that have been allocated for road purposes. The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has already mentioned that in February last £6,500,000 was still standing to the credit of the States in this connexion. I was astonished to learn that at the 30th June this year that sum had decreased by only £1,000,000. If that demonstrates nothing else, it demonstrates faulty allocations so far as the States are concerned. The Shire of Carrathool is in my electorate. [Quorum formed.] There are occasions - rand this is one - when I am not concerned about the state of the House, although it gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction to know that I have the requisite audience. I assure honorable members that I could talk in my sleep on this matter. The Carrathool Shire was awarded the Bluett award last year. That is an award that is made yearly to the shire that has made the greatest progress during the year. I should point out, however, that the progress that was made by that shire last year was typical of the progress that was made by other shires in the Riverina, as well as by a great many other shires. The Carrathool Shire expended all of the funds that were made available to it for road construction and maintenance, and it expended all of its allocation for developmental purposes. Before the end of the year its road-making machinery was lying idle. Yet there still remained an unexpended balance of £6,500,000 to the credit of the States for road purposes. Surely it should have been possible for the States to rise to the occasion and transfer to Carrathool Shire allocations that could not be expended by other shires, or, conversely, to divert men and machinery from that shire to advance the road construction and maintenance programmes of other shires. That is the greatest fault even in the present system. The Government proposes to make available this year for road construction and maintenance the vast sum of £12,000,000 which will be distributed by the State governments. Those governments will have one eye on the honorable member for Bennelong and gentlemen of his kind and will naturally be prone to make the greatest allocations from these moneys to the more densely populated municipalities. Provision should be made under the bill to enable funds that may be made available to any local authority in excess of its actual requirements to be transferred to other local government bodies that may not have received sufficient to meet their needs. By a coincidence, I received this afternoon a copy of the triennial report of the Council of the Wade Shire which is situated in my electorate. That report contains information that should be of immense value to honorable members generally, but I propose to refer only to its conclusions that apply to the problem of the construction and maintenance of main roads. Last year that council derived from rates an income of £41,831 ; it had a total income of approximately £125,000 during the last three years. The ratepayers of that shire have voluntarily levied themselves to that degree. During the last three years that council incurred total indebtedness by way of loans amounting to £137,600. Thus, the ratepayers of that shire, which is far removed from the seaboard, are shouldering their democratic responsibilities in the sphere of local government.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Calwell) negatived -
That the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) be granted an extension of time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was on my feet before you put the question.
– The honorable member is too late. The question has been resolved in the affirmative.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although you put my motion you did not declare in what way it had been resolved.
– I did. Then I put the original question, and as nobody rose except the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), to whom I did not give the call because he had already spoken, I then declared that the question had been resolved in the affirmative.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the moment that you put the motion that the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) made I rose in my place, but you told me the question had been put and carried. I consider that the Chair has treated me unfairly in refusing to give me the call.
– The honorable member did not rise before I put the question. I have given my ruling.
– I move -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) from making his second-reading speech.
– Order ! The question has been resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title).
.I protest against the method that the Government is employing in order to put this legislation through.
– Order! The honorable member will not be in order in making a second-reading speech at this stage. I ask him to confine his remarks to the clause before the Chair.
– The clause reads -
This Act may bo cited as the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1950.
I wish to refer to the method to which the Government is resorting in order to put this measure through.
– Order ! If the honorable member will not confine his remarks to the clause before the Chair, I shall ask him to resume his seat.
– In view of the fact that Mr. Deputy Speaker prevented me from participating in the second-reading debate, I should like to know, Mr. Temporary Chairman, at what stage I shall be in order in discussing the method that the Government is using in order to secure the passage of this measure.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member will not be in order in referring to that matter in committee. He lost his opportunity earlier to do so.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 2 to 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 (Payments into trust account).
– I direct attention to the failure of the Government to honour its promise to devote the entire proceeds of the petrol tax to road construction and maintenance. When the parties that support the present Government were in opposition, their members constantly advocated that the entire proceeds of the petrol tax should be devoted to that purpose. That was not the view of the Labour Government, nor was it my view as Minister for Transport. Why has the opinion of Government supporters changed so radically on this important matter ? The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton), in taking to task the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) for asking that the toll on the Sydney Harbour Bridge should be removed, said that its removal would adversely affect country interests. I do not think that in a progressive community there ought to be a toll on any bridge. In any case, country interests would not be adversely affected by the removal of the toll, because we have been assured that the delay in improving country roads is due, not to lack of money, but to lack of labour and equipment. Thus, if the Commonwealth were to make money available to New South Wales to enable it to remove the harbour bridge toll, its action need not affect the amount of work on country roads. A bridge toll is a sectional tax. The Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McGirr, has said that he is prepared to remove the toll on the Sydney Harbour Bridge if money is made available by the Commonwealth to compensate the Government of New South Wales. If the Commonwealth were to make available for road purposes the entire proceeds of the petrol tax, there would be no difficulty in finding money with which to make it possible to remove the toll on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and on other bridges, and still leave plenty over for the development of the country roads. If the Commonwealth is prepared to allocate only 6d. a gallon of the petrol tax for road maintenance and construction, it could materially assist road-users by reducing the customs duty upon imported petrol.
*2.S a.m.]. - I wish to remove the misunderstanding of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). The Australian Country party has never at any time advocated that the entire proceeds of the petrol tax should be devoted to road construction and maintenance, but it has maintained that a substantial portion should be devoted to that purpose. Under this bill, a substantial portion is being earmarked for the construction and maintenance of roads, and the bill is consistent with the policy of the two parties which support the Government.
– The statement of the Treasurer on Government policy regarding the allocation of the proceeds of the petrol taxdoes not conform to the pre-election promises of the parties that support the Government.
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has put his own construction on our policy.
– Admittedly, it was capable of several interpretations. There was. a notable ambiguity about it. It is certain that the local government convention which sat recently believed that the entire proceeds of the petrol tax were to be devoted to road construction and maintenance. Delegates said that the Government had given a promise to that effect.
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) suffers from the same disability as the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer). It is easy, by casting the responsibility on the Commonwealth, to relieve the people concerned of their financial obligations regarding the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is easy for the Premier of New South Wales to say that he is prepared to remove the toll on the bridge if the Commonwealth will make up the revenue. It may be quite easy to induce the Commonwealth to do so, but, in the final analysis, some one must take off his coat and produce from the land sufficient to discharge the indebtedness on the bridge.
– I rise to refute certain statements made by the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton). I suggest that I have a better understanding of rural interests than he has. I was born on the land, and lived on it for the greater part of my life. He is obviously under a serious misunderstanding regarding the justice of the claim for the removal of the toll on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He has made extensive reference to it in this debate, but he is labouring under a complete delusion regarding the facts. He said in his second -read ing speech-
– Order ! The honorable member may not refer, in committee, to the second-reading debate on this bill.
– Very well. Obviously, the honorable member for Riverina is of the opinion that the people who reside on the north side of the Sydney Harbour have an obligation to pay for the bridge. I point out for his information that, at the time when the bridge was built, an agreement was entered into between the State government of the day and the municipal councils on the north side of the harbour, under which those local authorities consented to pay a certain amount of tax for a specified number of years. They honoured that obligation, and then, because of lack of money in the State Treasury, they agreed, when the bridge was built, to pay a toll for a certain period; They observed that agreement, but the State Government did not keep its word, and continued the toll, despite the protests of the people on the north side of the Sydney Harbour. Now that I have shown the honorable member for Riverina how inaccurate his statements were I hope that he will apologize to me.
– I again ask the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) to explain a statement that he made in his policy speech on behalf of the Australian Country party during the last general election campaign.
– Order! The committee is not discussing the policy speech of the Leader of the Australian Country party.
– I point out that the Treasurer has stated that neither he nor any other member of the Government has advocated at any time that the entire receipts from the petrol tax should be used for road purposes. In order to show that the right honorable gentleman’s statement is inaccurate, I shall read the following passage from his policy speech : -
Years of socialist misrule, and continued raids for revenue purposes on the proceeds of the petrol tax, have led to a grave deterioration in our road system.
Those words have only one meaning. The idea is expressed that it is wrong to place any of the proceeds from the petrol tax into general revenue. What did the right honorable gentleman mean when he referred to “raids for revenue purposes on the proceeds of the petrol tax”? The only inference that can be drawn from those words is that he believes that some of the receipts from the petrol tax should be allocated for road purposes. If the right honorable gentleman does not mean that, why does he not say so, and explain exactly what he means? I have already made it clear that members of the Labour party do not believe that the petrol tax has been imposed solely for road purposes, or that the whole of the proceeds from that tax should be used, for them. Rut we were criticized by members of the Liberal party and of the Australian Country party when they were in opposition, because we allowed some of the receipts from the petrol tax to be used for general revenue purposes. The Treasurer will not be .able to satisfy the great majority of the Australian people that he was not promising, during the last general election campaign, that the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, if returned to office, would ensure that ample money would be provided for road construction and maintenance, because the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax would be used for such purposes.
I now desire to correct another matter. Some honorable members have said in this debate that the Government proposes to double the amount that the Labour Government deducted from the petrol tax for the purposes of road construction and maintenance. That is not so. Honorable members who examine the bill will see that the Government proposes to increase the allocation from customs duty on imported petrol from 3d. to 6d. a gallon and from excise on locally produced petrol from l£d. to 3-Jd. a gallon and to make this money available for expenditure on roads, whereas the Labour Government, in addition to the amount of 3d. a gallon deducted from customs duty for general road purposes provided special allocations of money. An examination of the relevant figures will show that the duty on imported petrol in 1949 was 104d. a gallon, and the Labour Government took approximately 50 per cent, of receipts from the petrol tax for road purposes. Sixpence is slightly more than 50 per cent, of 10-Jd., so that, in effect, the Government is only slightly increasing the amount compared with that which the Labour Government made available- from the petrol tax for road purposes.
In conclusion, I invite the Treasurer to tell the committee precisely the reason why the Government has changed its attitude on this matter, and why he made the statement in his policy speech to which I have referred, and which was evidently intended to delude the country people in particular.
– The statement by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. “Ward) is a complete exaggeration and misinterpretation of simple English. Neither the Australian Country party nor I have advocated at any time that the whole of the receipts from the petrol tax should be used for road purposes. We believe that a substantial and sensible proportion of that tax should be used for road purposes. That intention is clearly stated in my policy speech, and in that made by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and it is being implemented in this HU.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 6 agreed to.
Clause 7 (Grant of financial assistance to States for rural roads).
– I ask the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) to say whether the Government proposes to continue the practice that was followed by the preceding Labour Government of asking the States to submit, relative to the expenditure of this special amount of money on roads in rural areas, a schedule of their proposed works for the examination by the Commonwealth Minister for Transport ?
– How would the Commonwealth Minister know the value of such proposals ?
– He should know. If he has not capable and experienced officers to whom he can refer such matters, the Commonwealth is obviously not carrying out its proper duties in co-ordinating transport in Australia. When I was the Minister for Transport, I did not have reason, acting on the advice of my officers, to reject any proposals put forward by the States, but that system was at least a guarantee to this Parliament and to thi
Government that Commonwealth moneys were being expended for the purposes for which they were advanced to the States. I assume from my interpretation of this clause, that all the Government will now ask is that State Auditors-General shall supply a certificate to the Commonwealth to indicate that the moneys have been expended in a certain direction. That method will not give the Commonwealth the same voice in transport policy throughout Australia as it had under the preceding Labour Government. If Commonwealth moneys are to be used for the purposes of improving and developing road transport, the Commonwealth should have a voice in determining whether new roads should be constructed, and the roads that should be given priority in maintenance work, for defence purposes. I ask the Treasurer whether the policy initiated by the Labour Government has been changed. In my opinion, the Commonwealth should not recede from the position that it has occupied in recent years in transport matters in this country. It is not a question of superseding State authorities. Under the administration of the previous Government the States were consulted, through the Australian Transport Advisory Council and having regard to the existing constitutional position no alternative method could be devised for coordinating transport policy other than by the Commonwealth establishing an organization to co-ordinate programmes and plans. The Commonwealth Minister for Transport received the schedules, but they, in turn, were presented for examination to the Transport Advisory Council which included the Ministers of the six States who dealt with transport matters.. If that practice is to be completely abandoned, it is a retrograde step, and I ask the Treasurer whether any change isbeing made in the system.
– Speaking on the motion for the second reading of this measure, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) claimed that for the Commonwealth no longer to require the States to submit their road programmes to theCommonwealth for prior approval would be a retrograde step. In reply to his remarks I have to say that this-
Government takes the view that, as the States are primarily responsible for roads, it is primarily a State responsibility to ensure that roads shall be up to the required standards, and that properly co-ordinate and balanced programmes of road works shall be adopted by the States. Quite apart from the broader considerations involved, an impossible administrative problem would be presented to the Commonwealth if it had to exercise detailed control over the road programmes of the States. For such control to be in any way effective, increased man-power would be -required, which would, in any case, merely duplicate work already being done by the States. This Government does not believe in centralization. It believes in decentralization, and in the maintenance of the sovereign rights of the States. Consistent with that policy, we maintain that the States, having the prime responsibility in this matter, have the right to allocate the funds to the various instrumentalities. In this bill, the general policy that the Commonwealth wishes the States to adopt in relation to certain aspects of road development is made quite clear. Within that general framework, the States are at liberty to work out detailed programmes to suit their own individual requirements. The only condition imposed by the Commonwealth is that the States shall furnish to the Commonwealth at the end of each year audited statements showing how Commonwealth grants have been expended in that year. That will enable the Commonwealth to be kept informed of the policies being adopted by the States, and it should ensure that the grants will be expended in accordance with the broad categories laid down in the Commonwealth legislation. In other words, the States are to be permitted to guide their own destinies. There is to be no minute supervision of the expenditure of this money.
Mr. CALWELL (Melbourne) [2.29
A.m.’]. - The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has made much of the fact that this Government respects the sovereign rights of the States, ‘and therefore proposes to depart from the system that was followed by the Chifley Government. During the second-reading debate on this measure earlier to-day, one new member said that the technique that we had adopted was socialistic, but the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) was able to show that it was the Bruce-Page Government that had first introduced the system that the Chifley Government eventually readopted.
– Much water has flowed under the bridge since then.
– That is true, but at this late stage, the right honorable gentleman cannot talk about respecting the sovereign rights of the States. It was a Minister in the Scullin Government, Senator Barnes, who recommended the alteration of the system that the BrucePage Government had introduced. Subsequently another government made further alterations. In the final analysis, it gets back to the question of what is the best system to adopt to ensure that the money voted by this Parliament shall be expended as this Parliament intends it to be expended. In spite of the manner in which this money is being voted, and the conditions under which it is being voted, a State Premier could decide not to build any feeder roads or rural roads at all, but to devote money to, say, paying off the debt on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or for some other similar purpose. Under this system, if a State Premier was not prepared to play the game, it would be possible for him to expend the money in a way that would benefit his political party.
– There was nothing to prevent that from being done under the previous scheme.
– We at least tried to exercise some supervision over the expenditure of the money. It is an empty boast for the Treasurer now to pay, “ We have altered the system because we respect the sovereign rights of the States “. The real reason is that the Government is afraid there would not he sufficient manpower available to provide suitable supervision. That may be a legitimate reason ; the other is only a phony one.
.The change that this Government is making in the system is very important.
Under the old system none of the local governing authorities knew just where they stood. There was considerable misunderstanding about the manner in which the scheme operated. I and other honorable members that I know have received requests from local governing authorities to approach the Australian Government for assistance in the construction of feeder and minor roads. The local governing authorities believed that the decision rested here. They may have been told by the State authorities that the ultimate decision rested with the Commonwealth, without the State authorities making it perfectly clear just what the procedure was. This measure makes the position quite clear. First, it removes unnecessary duplication of Commonwealth and State activities, and, secondly, it lets the local governing authorities know quite clearly just where the remedy lies if their requests are not granted. The previous system was quite in conformity with Labour’s policy of unification. Labour’s alleged, concern with defence roads was merely a pretext. Labour’s whole idea is to centralize control as much as possible in order to bring about unification by the evolutionary system which, we are told, is quite different from the communistic revolutionary system. Labour wants the Commonwealth to have a complete strangle-hold over the States. At present, the States have discretionary power, and, in my opinion, the Government is acting wisely in changing the system that the Labour Government adopted.
– Both the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) and the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) have either wilfully misrepresented the position that previously existed, or they just do not understand what the procedure was. The Treasurer apparently has no ideas of his own. He read a prepared statement which presumably was handed to him by his advisers. Never did the Chifley Government ask that it be given the right to have detailed inspections of road works made on its behalf. The Treasurer spoke about the employment of additional manpower as though we proposed, to appoint foremen and engineers to supervise planning and construction work. That has never been suggested. The Commonwealth, under Labour’s administration, exercised some influence upon the expenditure of road funds for excellent reasons which I shall explain to the Treasurer and the honorable member for Moore. As the States had no responsibility for defence, obviously the Commonwealth had to decide where defence roads should be constructed. Furthermore, it was entitled to ensure that the moneys that it provided for road works would not be wasted. The subjects of vehicular standards, the quality of roads, the types of vehicles that should be permitted to use the roads constructed with Commonwealth funds for special purposes, and other considerations had to be taken into account. Had the States been allowed to deal with road works independently, the result might easily have been that arterial roads, which are vital to defence, would have been constructed according to different standards in the various States. In such circumstances, the capacity of such roads to carry defence equipment would have been determined by the lowest standard of construction. The Chifley Government asked for the right to exercise some influence in the determination of policy and the supervision of the expenditure of the funds that it provided because it wanted to achieve uniformity. At no time did it ask the States to allow Commonwealth officers to, supervise and control the details of road construction programmes. The States merely submitted their works schedules to the Commonwealth so that, if the Commonwealth, on examination of the schedules, believed that its funds were not being used to the best advantage, it would have the opportunity to raise the matter with State governments.
I point out again that the State governments accepted the procedure and co-operated with the Commonwealth. No suggestions of interference by the Commonwealth were ever raised at meetings of the Australian Transport Advisory Council. Its discussions were conducted on a thoroughly amicable basis. Initially, the representatives of the States were inclined to be suspicious. They feared that the Australian Government might intrude into their fields and meddle with their works programmes.
However, after they learned exactly what the Chifley Government intended to do, they co-operated in full, regardless of the political affiliations of the various State Ministers who had charge of transport matters. The system worked very smoothly. If the Treasurer would take the trouble to communicate with the State transport authorities he would hear them speak in the highest terms of the organization that was established by the Chifley Government. They realize the need for a properly co-ordinated Australia-wide transport system. Any departure from that procedure will he a retrograde step.
The Australian Transport Advisory Council was merely an advisory body and its decisions had to be unanimous in order to be effective. Even majority decisions could not be imposed upon States that were not in agreement with them. This Government merely proposes to hand over inadequate sums of money to the States and make them solely responsible for the expenditure of the funds. The honorable member for Moore complained that members of the Opposition were unificationists. That statement was true, but not in the sense that the honorable gentleman intended. When we talk of unification, we think in terms of the concentration of all legislative authority in the National Parliament and the. delegation of limited authority to various provincial councils, State governments or similar bodies which could carry out local administrative work. The honorable member for Moore also said that, under the Chifley Government’s scheme, local councils did not know where they stood in relation to the financing of road works. This bill will not alter the existing procedure in any way. The Treasurer stated clearly in his secondreading speech that the distribution of moneys to local governing authorities would be left in the hands of the various State governments. Any local governing body that wants to obtain additional financial aid from funds granted by the Commonwealth must approach the appropriate State government and convince it that an additional allocation should be made.
– That has always been so.
– I agree with the right honorable gentleman. Evidently the honorable member for Moore understands neither this bill nor the procedure that was followed under the administration of the Chifley Government. I directed attention during my second-reading speech to the fact that the Australian Transport Advisory Council had not met since this Government took office. It has become a dead letter. The Government has abandoned all plans for the standardization and modernization of railway services although, for political reasons, it is not prepared to announce the fact. Therefore, Sir Harold Clapp, who is regarded as one of the most eminent authorities on rail transport, is now not even provided with a typist. He sits alone in his office without any work to do. That is how this Government is dealing with the great transport problems of the country. I urge the Treasurer to discuss with his colleagues the revival of the Australian Transport Advisory Council as an active instrumentality. Surely he agrees that the establishment of uniform vehicular standards, traffic laws, and traffic signals and signs are matters of first-class importance. The great disadvantages that arise- from the disparity between State laws on such matters must be obvious to any body who is interested in the transport industry. I ask the Treasurer, therefore, to make the council once more a live and active co-ordinating authority.
– I made inquiries about the activities of the Australian Transport Advisory Council as the result of the representations that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made during his second-reading speech. I have ascertained that the various working committees that were appointed by the council have been continuing their activities. These bodies include the Uniform Motor Vehicles Standards Committee, the Uniform Traffic Code Committee and the Australian Road Safety Council. It is expected that the Australian Transport Advisory Council itself will meet in the near future.
– The honorable member for East
Sydney (Mr. Ward) has tried to persuade the committee that arrangements that were made by the Chifley Government worked smoothly and were acceptable to the States. Nothing could be further from the truth. Under the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act 1947 an amount representing 3d. a gallon of the customs duty on imported petrol and l£ a gallon of the excise on locally produced petrol was made available for road works. The road authorities knew what moneys they would receive under that act. Under extreme pressure by the local governing bodies the Government introduced an amending bill to provide an additional £1,000,000 for road purposes. In the following year it introduced a further amending bill to provide an additional £1,000,000, and finally in addition to the 3d. a gallon from the petrol tax and l£d. a gallon from the excise on locally produced petrol a further amount of £3,000,000 was made available. What was the effect of this so-called smoothworking system about which the honorable member for East Sydney has had so much to say? The shires and the municipalities did not know from one day to another what moneys they were to receive. They were unable to conclude long term contracts for the supply of metal and as a result, instead of paying 7s. or 8s. a yard for metal they had to pay no less than 35s. a yard. They were unable to keep their road gangs intact. Their employees drifted away and their activities were constantly in a state of chaos. When this measure is placed on the statute-book the shires and municipalities will know for five years in advance exactly what they will receive, and they will be able to make their arrangements accordingly. They will be able to purchase plant under hire-purchase agreements, make long-term contracts for the supply of road metal and timber and keep their gangs in full employment. This clause provides that each year for a period of five years commencing on the 1st July, 1950, 35 per cent, of the annual amount paid into the trust fund shall be made available to the States for the construction of roads in rural areas arid for the purchase of roadmaking plants for use in connexion with such roads. Local authorities will be assured of a continuous flow of money. The grants provided in this measure are twice as great as those that were provided by the 1947 legislation, which was amended to provide additional funds in dribs and drabs until the local governing authorities did not know where they stood. Of £1,000,000 which was added to the original grant in the 1947 legislation, £284,000 was allocated to New South Wales and so on. That money had to be divided among 121 shires and the Department of Main Roads, which meant that each shire received only from £1,000 to £1,500.
The proposal of the Government to provide each year 35 per cent, of the amount paid into the trust fund for the construction, maintenance and repair of rural roads will be welcomed by local authorities whose roads were washed out during the recent floods. The cost of repairing flood damage in one of the shires in the Lyne electorate has been estimated at £120,000. When the grants made available under this legislation are distributed among the local governing bodies many of them will need to borrow beyond their statutory limit in order to take full advantage of their position and to contribute to their road funds on a £1 for £1 basis. The honorable member for East Sydney has endeavoured to persuade the committee that the system which he instituted worked , smoothly. It did not do so. While that system was in operation the shires were in complete ignorance of where they stood from month to month, and their accounts were in a state of chaos. Under this legislation they will know for five years in advance what they will receive and they will be able to plan their road construction and maintenance programmes accordingly.
– Let us get this matter straight. The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) has said that this Government proposes to double the grants that were made available by the Chifley Government. The truth of the matter is that it proposes to provide £3,900,000 compared with £3,000,000 provided by the Chifley Government. I do not need to emphasize the fact that the amount which was provided by the Chifley Government’ was capable of buying very much more than will the amount which is to be provided by this Government because of the reduced purchasing value of the £1. The honorable member for Macarthur is entirely wrong when he says that this Government proposes to double the grants that were made available by the Chifley Government. Furthermore, the additional £1,000,000 which he said was provided by the Chifley Government in 1947 was not made available as the result of pressure by local governing authorities. I remember very well the circumstances in which the then Minister for Works and Housing, Mr. Lemmon, submitted the proposal to the Cabinet. The proposal to provide money for the construction of feeder roads originated not with the local governing authorities but with that Minister. The Chifley Government’s record in this matter was a good one and this Government has built on it. If the discontent to which the honorable member for Macarthur has referred really existed, it was not expressed by any responsible Minister of any State government, Liberal or Labour. Not one State Minister said anything even approximating what the honorable member, in his customary delightful but irresponsible manner, has said to-night. If the honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) were present in the chamber he would agree with the statement made by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). Although those two honorable gentlemen are poles apart politically, they managed to get on very well together as members of the Australian Transport Advisory Council. I am glad that this debate has forced the Government to call that body together again to get on with its work.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 8 agreed to.
Clause 9 (Certified statement of expenditure to be furnished).
– In granting substantial sums of money to the State and local governing authorities it is essential that we should provide for adequate supervision of the expenditure of the grants in order to ensure that the public is protected against waste and fraudulent practices. During the war, when it was difficult to super vise the expenditure of the vast sums of money which were provided for works carried out by the Allied Works Council, opportunities were rife for profiteers and racketeers to take advantage of the situation in which the country found itself. During peace-time the expenditure of moneys made available by the Commonwealth should and must be properly supervised. As an illustration of the sort of abuses that may creep in unless rigid supervision is exercised, I quote the case of a contractor in New South Wales who was adjudged by the unanimous decision of the all-party War Expenditure Committee in 1944 as having been guilty of defrauding the Commonwealth of large sums of money provided for vital defence construction projects which were undertaken by the Allied Works Council. At a time when the Japanese were virtually knocking at our gates that unscrupulous contractor defrauded the Commonwealth of approximately £100,000. The War Expenditure Committee brought the matter to the notice of the then Attorney-General and proceedings were instituted against this person for the recovery of the amount involved. I understand that the case has only recently been concluded in favour of the Commonwealth and that the Commissioner of Taxation imposed a penalty on the man concerned for evasion of tax on undisclosed income amounting to £65,000. I have been informed that the penalty has since been substantially reduced and that the amount involved has been paid to the Commonwealth. The Government got its money back but the engagement of the type of individual to whom I have referred in contracting for the construction of roads creates possibilities of abuse unless there is an appropriate scrutiny of expenditure. The Treasurer will probably ask his officials for particulars of the case that I have referred to so that such a thing may not occur again. The clause provides that a certified statement of expenditure shall be furnished to the Treasurer each year. The Treasurer might consult departmental officials who will examine that certificate when it is furnished, with a view to formulating a watertight system of preventing the abuses to which I have referred.
A number of contractors deliver short supplies of materials to jobs and get an official or other person to certify that the right amounts have been delivered. The contractor to whom I have referred has already been convicted on three occasions for stealing government property and has also been fined under the National Security Regulations for breaches of the law in the constructing of a building without permission. Part of the equipment alleged to have been stolen was missing from an aerodrome. Every precaution should be taken to protect the public interests, particularly if millions of pounds are to be paid out in respect of contracts in which individuals of this nature are concerned. This particular man had influence with local councils, and such people also sometimes intrude their influence into State and Federal political circles. I am sure now that the Treasurer’s attention has been drawn to the matter he will take appropriate action.
– The remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) cast a slur on State governments. The committee is not considering dealing with the kind of man to whom the honorable member has referred. This money is to be placed in the hands of the State governments which have been elected by the people. Are honorable members to be allowed to cast a slur on the honesty, intelligence or administrative ability of the State governments? I should say not ! The speech which the honorable member has just made does not become a member of His Majesty’s Opposition. Why the honorable member should compare a fraudulent contractor with a State government is beyond comprehension. The bill provides very plainly that the State governments shall furnish a certified statement of expenditure to the Australian Government and set out how the money has been spent. It is as watertight as it can be made, and the honorable member’s suggestions do not serve any good purpose.
– This clause provides that a statement shall be furnished to the Minister by the State governments in accordance with the form approved by the Minister. I think that honorable members should be informed of the exact type of form to be used and the information which will be sought from the States under this clause. I should like to know whether the form will indicate to the Government the particular road work carried out or the shire council to which the money has been advanced. I should like to know whether the certificate will contain useful information or whether it will be merely a certificate from the Auditor-General in general terms to the effect that the money has been expended on road works within the State, without indicating the particular works on which it has been expended. It would appear from the observations of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) that he considers that once this money has been voted by Parliament the committee need have no further concern about how it is expended, or whether it goes into the hands of fraudulent contractors. I do not think that the people of Australia would accept that view. When the Australian Government makes moneys available to a State or any other authority for expenditure on a particular project there is an obligation on the Government and on Parliament to see that the money is expended for the purpose for which it has been advanced. I do not know the name of the contractor to whom the honorable member for Melbourne has referred, but I believe I know of the case. The Commonwealth should be guided by experiences of that nature. I do not suggest that the Commonwealth authorities were directly responsible for what occurred, but once it is found that there has been some misuse of Commonwealth moneys the Government should take steps to tighten up its organization in order to see that there can be no possible repetition of such an incident. Therefore, I should like the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) to indicate the type of form that he proposes to use. Perhaps it has not yet been prepared, but I should like him to give the committee some idea of its nature.
– In speaking to this clause, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) mentioned a contractor who had defrauded the Government of £100,000. I presume that the Government to which he referred was the one of which he was a member. It would be much easier to defraud the Government of which he was a member than it would be to defraud any State government. The public services of the States have a very long and honorable tradition similar to that of the Public Service of the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member must connect his remarks with the clause.
– The clause provides that the State governments shall furnish the Minister with a certificate signed by their Auditors-General and the Auditors-General of every State are men of the highest integrity who would ensure that this simple statement would be all that the Government would need. The argument of the honorable member for Melbourne that a contractor defrauded the Australian Government, of which he was a member, of £100,000 is irrelevant. I agree with the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) that the remarks of the honorable member cast a slur on the State governments, their public services and their Auditors-General. The defrauding mentioned was to have been expected under the loose administration of the Government of which the honorable member for Melbourne was a member. I do not know the name of the contractor to whom the honorable member referred. It might have been the firm known as Hancock and Gore, but to argue that a simple statement should not be furnished by the States is absurd, particularly in view of the hour at which this matter is being considered.
– I wish to explain that I did not attack any State government, nor did I cast any reflection on a State government or an Auditor-General. I merely asked that the forms to be furnished and the certificates to be provided should be such as would afford protection to the Commonwealth. To find myself opposed by the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) and the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) is a compliment. Their contributions to the debate prompt me to vary Oliver Goldsmith’s lines and say to them that “ as they spoke the more the wonder grew that two small heads could carry all they knew “. The implied insults of the honorable member for Macarthur against a Commonwealth government concerned with the prosecution of a war, at a time when millions of pounds was being expended, suggest that he considers that that government did not attempt to protect the public interest. That is the sort of statement I should expect from him. The fact that that Government pursued the matter when it was raised and the further fact that a committee of this Parliament, representing all parties, unanimously took action and eventually secured justice for the Commonwealth, testify to the efficiency and the honesty of that Government.
Auditors merely furnish reports after money has been expended. They state in what manner the money has been expended, and that is all that the certificate requires. I desire to see some protection afforded against dishonest practices that will always occur, human nature being what it is, whenever a loophole is found in legislation. I am not reflecting on anybody, but I am glad to have the opposition of the honorable member for Mallee and the honorable member for Macarthur because it is obvious from their actions and their observations .to-night, that they must know the name of the contractor to whom I referred and wish to defend him..
– The point raised by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) is a very important one, but in order to consider his suggestion it is necessary to go back to the beginning of the Federal Aid Roads Grants. The first Minister for Transport belonged to the Australian Country party. No doubt, acting on advice, he suggested that every culvert, bridge and patch of road that needed repair should be referred to the Commonwealth department for supervision. That matter was very strenuously contested by the State governments and it was eventually referred to Mr. Bruce, who ironed out difficulties by providing that it would be sufficient if lie broad principles laid down, by the act were observed, and if. the responsibilities of the States were acknowledged. At that time there was none of the duplication which,, unfortunately, too often disfigured the administration of the honorable member’ for East Sydney and his colleagues during the term of office of the previous Government. No doubt with the best intentions in the world, they thought that by bringing everything under their immediate supervision they would keep the administration pure and efficient. In. fact, they were loading the Commonwealth, with functions which properly belonged to the States. The proposal embodied in. this clause is perfectly wise and sound. It states that the Auditor-General shall certify that the money that has been handed over to the States has been expended on the purposes for which it was provided. The honorable member for East Sydney will recall that his administration attempted to have every detail brought under Commonwealth control and to have Commonwealth officers chasing perfectly competent State officers about, wasting time and money in duplication. If that is not what he desires or intends to advocate now, he has apparently changed since the days when he was a member of the Government. I do not question his motives, but I do question his judgment and the wisdom of that policy. I am glad that the Minister in charge of this measure and the Government are apparently determined to place responsibility for the proper carrying out of the purposes of this agreement upon the shoulders of those who are closest to the work to be done.
– I rise merely to correct statements made by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond). I do not know from what source he obtained his information to the effect that Commonwealth officers chased State officers round and duplicated services. In fact, the Commonwealth had insufficient officers available to do that, even had it desired that they should do so. All that the Commonwealth, did was to employ a few expert officers in transport matters, and their services were available to the States when requested. Some of the States made full use of the services of those officers. In one instance a Commonwealth officer was sent to Queensland, at the request of the Queensland Government, to confer with that government in relation to working out a detailed transport scheme for western Queensland.
There was never any suggestion that the Commonwealth would interfere in the detailed work of the States, nor was there & suggestion that the Commonwealth should build up an expensive transport department which would duplicate the activities of the State departments. The intention of the Labour Government was merely to give the Commonwealth some voice in the direction of transport policy throughout the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was not concerned with the expenditure of a sum of money on the construction of a road for purely local purposes,, but if there was a proposal to construct a road which it regarded as having some importance in connexion with national development or national def ence, the Commonwealth believed that it, in conjunction with State transport authorities, through the Transport Advisory Council, should be consulted. The Labour Government was not the only authority that believed in such’ a policy. The honorable member for New England, if he so desires, may consult the various transport authorities throughout the Commonwealth, such as the Federated Chamber of Automotive Industries. That body submitted to the Transport Advisory Council a very elaborately prepared document on transport problems, and it cooperated with the Commonwealth in many of the conferences that were held. On occasions, the council has made it clear that it believed that there should be a greater measure of national control in working out transport policy.
When the transport system of the nation is being dealt with, considerations much more important than those of party politics are involved. An efficient transport system is important from the standpoint of national development and national defence. I consider that honorable members opposite are . adopting a very parochial attitude in concerning themselves exclusively with, say, the construction of a small road, perhaps in the vicinity of a country town. The Commonwealth never wished to interfere with an activity of that type. The Labour Government considered that that was essentially a matter for the local authorities. In order to prove the truth of that statement, I remind honorable members that, although the schedule of works was always presented to me as Minister for Transport, there was never an occasion on which I rejected any proposal made by the States, nor was the schedule ever varied in any way. I suggest that that proves conclusively that there was no overlapping and no meddlesome interference.
I consider that the statement made by the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) a few moments ago is an indication that this Government proposes, at least to some degree, to follow the Labour Government’s policy, because apparently the Australian Transport Advisory Council is to be called together at an early date.
I do not impute any false motives to the honorable member for New England. He no doubt honestly believes that there was duplication.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 10 (Expenditure on strategic roads).
The clause deals with the provision of money for expenditure on the construction, maintenance and repair of strategic roads and roads of access to Commonwealth property. I do not know what is the definition of a strategic road, but I assume that such a road would have some relation to security and defence. Under this clause the Government proposes to expend £500,000, which is the exact amount that was provided for this purpose in the measure introduced by the previous Labour Administration last year. Bearing in mind that the value of money has depreciated by 25 per cent., so that the actual value of the work that can be carried out with this money will be much less than that carried out by the previous Government, I am astonished that such an inadequate provision should have been made. After all, this Government has continually harped on the need for an all-out effort to prepare the defences of this country, and is constantly warning u9 of the imminent danger of war. As a part of its defence scheme it proposes to call up thousands of young men for compulsory military service, regardless of the effect that such a withdrawal of labour will have upon industry and production.
I believe that the amount to be provided for the construction of strategic roads should be greatly increased. I have listened patiently throughout the stonewalling speeches that have been made by supporters of the Government to-night, in order to raise this matter, which I believe to be of considerable importance, and I should now like the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) to explain the reason for the inadequacy of the amount proposed to be provided for the construction of strategic roads. I should also like the right honorable gentleman to explain how he reconciles this provision with the Government’s exhortations to the community to prepare for war.
– The clause proposes to allocate £500,000 for the construction and maintenance of strategic roads and roads of access to Commonwealth property. In view of the fact that it now costs approximately £20,000 a mile to construct a first-class road, it is evident that the sum proposed will provide for the construction of only 25 miles of strategic roads during the next twelve months. Surely at the present time, when we are threatened with an invasion, in the event of war occurring, the Government cannot possibly justify the allocation of such an inadequate sum for expenditure upon strategic roads. The defence requirements of this country would, I imagine, necessitate the construction of at least 2,000 miles of strategic roads, and for that reason I think that the proposal to provide only £250,000 is preposterous. I remind the Government that its members have talked continually of the need to establish a huge stockpile of war materiel. At every opportunity they have threatened us with the dangers of war. They propose now to implement a compulsory military training scheme which will involve the withdrawal from industry of 30,000 young men every year. The Government also professes to he convinced that we must guard against a possible invasion of this country. In the light of those professions of concern it is preposterous that the Government should propose to provide such an inadequate sum for the construction of strategic roads.
Even at this late stage I ask the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) to withdraw the bill and discuss the defence requirements of Australia, particularly those that relate -to strategic roads, with the military authorities, and to present fresh proposals. If the defence authorities really believe that the country is threatened with imminent invasion, I am sure that they will not be satisfied with the construction of only 25 miles of strategic roads. However, if the defence authorities, in the light of their knowledge of the circumstances, consider that only a few miles of such roads need be constructed at present, honorable members will at least have the assurance that they are not neglecting the proper defence of this country. In the meantime members of the Government should examine their conscience so as to determine whether the provision of £500,000 for the construction of strategic . roads is sufficient.
– I rise to reply to the remarks that have been made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), because they may be read by future generations of Australians. The honorable gentleman’s statement that only 25 miles of strategic roads could be constructed with the money that it is proposed to make available for expenditure upon those roads was ridiculous in the extreme. His estimate of the cost of construction of a strategic road was £20,000 a mile, but it would not cost £20,000 a mile to build a concrete road, much less an ordinary macadamized or bitumen road. The sum that it is proposed shall be made available for expenditure upon strategic roads ja exactly the same sum as was made available for that purpose by the Chifley Government. The money will be expended, not upon indispensable defence roads, but upon roads giving access to aerodromes and defence establishments. The construction of the indispensable defence roads that would have to be provided if, unfortunately, this country were forced into war or threatened with invasion would be financed from the defence vote.
– The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has claimed that a statement made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) was ridiculous, but if a ridiculous statement has been made in the discussion of this clause it is the one that has just been made by the right honorable gentleman. He said that the estimate of the cost of construction of a road given by the honorable member for Hindmarsh was inaccurate. I do not know what the present cost of road construction is, but I am certain that it is much nearer to £20,000 a mile for a road of the type referred to than the Treasurer believes.
– Is the honorable gentleman referring to ordinary roads?
– I suggest that the Treasurer should ascertain the present coat of constructing a concrete road.
– I am informed that the cost of construction of a bitumen road is £1,200 a mile.
– That is ridiculous. The Treasurer does not know what he is talking about, but, even assuming that that estimate is correct, not many miles of strategic roads could be constructed for £500,000.
The Treasurer said that it was ridiculous to suggest that the whole of the roads required for our defence system were covered by this proposed allocation. He explained that the allocation is to be expended only upon roads giving access to aerodromes and defence establishments, and that if Australia were involved in a war, the construction of other defence roads would bc financed from the defence vote. Does the right honorable gentleman seriously suggest that we should wait until we become involved in a war before we begin to think about planning and constructing defence roads?
– That was what happened during the last war.
– The lack of an adequate roads system was a legacy that a succession of anti-Labour governments left to a Labour government. The policies pursued by the anti-Labour parties before the outbreak of the last war endangered the safety of this country.
The Treasurer stated the position correctly when he said that the sum proposed to be allocated under this measure for expenditure upon strategic roads is the same sum as was made available for that purpose by the Chifley Government, but the situation that exists at the present time is entirely different from the situation that existed in 1947. In that year, nobody believed that there would be even a threat of war within a few years, because we had just emerged from a war. My own opinion, for what it is worth - I do not speak dogmatically, because I do not know the whole of the facts - is that we are not as near to war now as the Government would have the people of this country believe that we are. In 1947, nobody suggested that in the immediate future this country was likely to be involved in warfare, but to-day, the Government parties are talking about the necessity to make defence preparations in a manner which suggests that we have no time to lose and that a. real threat to this country will arise in the near future. If that be the case, the Government should make available much larger sums for expenditure upon strategic and defence roads.
I understand that the road to the north of Queensland ends twelve miles north of Mossman and that it does not extend as far as Cooktown. There is a break of railway gauge at Albury, and doubtless if this Government prevents the implementation of the railway gauge standardization scheme that break of gauge would still be at Albury if this country became involved in another war. In that event, large quantities of materials that could not be carried by the railways would again have to be transported by road. Therefore, it is important to construct an up-to-date and modern highway from
Melbourne to Cape York, because, in the event of a war, it might be necessary to transport trained forces and military equipment from the south to areas in the north that were threatened with invasion. The Government ought not to be worrying about finance, because in this connexion man-power and materials are more important than money. I believe, and my belief is shared by many people, that the capacity of the nation to do anything is limited, not by the availability of finance, but by the availability of manpower and materials. A four-lane roadway, similar to some of those that I saw in the United States of America, should be constructed between Melbourne and Cape York. It should be of such a standard that it could carry the traffic that it would be required to carry in the event of this country being threatened with invasion. That is the approach that the Government should make to the problem of internal roads. If it fails to take action to provide an efficient road system in this country for defence purposes, the people of Australia will be able to come to only one conclusion - that is, that the Government does not believe that in the event of another war this country would be threatened by invasion, and that our defence preparations are proceed ing upon the basis that Australian forces will be required to fight outside Australia and not within Australia. If our defence preparations were designed for the defence of Australia itself, the Government would be taking action to ensure that we had an efficient defence road system. Because the Government is neglecting to do that, it is evident that all its talk about home defence is merely eye-wash designed to delude the Australian people. What the Government proposes to do under its proposed compulsory military training scheme is to enlist young Australians into the armed forces and train them, not for use in the defence of this country but for use in any theatre of operation outside Australia in which we may become involved. If my statement is wrong then the Treasurer ought to be in a position to tell us if, as we are now said to be, in a state of cold war, which is likely to develop into a hot war at any time according’ to Government supporters-
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member must keep to the clause.
– I am dealing with the subject of strategic roads.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! Is the honorable member disputing the Chair’s ruling?
– No. I am merely saying that strategic roads have a relationship to defence. You cannot deny that fact, Mr. Temporary Chairman.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I do not intend to argue the point with the honorable member. I ask him to confine his remarks to matters connected with the clause under discussion.
– I do not wish to argue, Mr. Temporary Chairman. My intention is to stress the value of strategic roads in connexion with any development of this country’s defence. Such roads will be particularly valuable in the event of a war that might involve this country in the threat of invasion. Will the Treasurer inform me whether the sum of £500,000 is the limit to which the Government is prepared to go in expenditure on the construction of strategic roads? Such a sum expended annually would pay for the construction of only a few miles of roads.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– As no other honorable member has risen to speak I shall take my second period now. Will the Treasurer make it clear whether the Government has any plans in respect of road construction other than the plans that are contained in the bill; whether it proposes to bring down special legislation for such a purpose; and whether the cost of the construction of strategic roads throughout the Commonwealth will be met from the remaining portion of the proceeds of the petrol tax or whether the Government proposes to raise loans especially for that purpose ? If not, then from what source does the Government propose to obtain the funds ? Has it any comprehensive plans at all in relation to strategic roads and the development of an efficient transport system? It is possible that the
Treasurer and Government supporters generally may regard the programme that I am suggesting as being too expansive and expensive, but I consider that they will agree with me that the provision of good roads has an important bearing on the length of the useful life of motor vehicles, a consideration that is important in a country that is dependent on imports for most of its motor transport for defence and other purposes. If the Treasurer is not able to give me the information that I require this morning he should be prepared to supply it at an early date.
– Obviously, I do not intend to give the honorable member any information with regard to the defence preparations of this country, especially during a debate on a bill such as the present measure, which specifically deals with roads in the States. There is no ambiguity in the measure. It is definite and conclusive and is the result of a conference between the State Premiers and this Government. The terms and conditions set out in the measure have received the approval of the State governments concerned.
– The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) can easily satisfy the committee on the point that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has raised and I consider that he should do so.
– I do not intend to do so.
– That is a very ingenuous statement for the Treasurer to make.
– We are debating not a defence measure, but a measure connected with main roads.
– What the committee requires to know is whether the Commonwealth has made a survey of what strategic roads are required and whether, if it has made such a survey and has determined what strategic roads are required, it has had an estimate made of the cost a mile of constructing such roads. Is the Government satisfied that the sum of £500,000 to be expended on roads this year is sufficient to meet our needs in regard to strategic roads. Those are simple questions that the Treasurer should answer; It is of no use for him to say that he does not propose to discuss defence or strategic roads. All that we require to know is whether the money to be provided in relation to roads is sufficient.
– The Premiers consider that it is, in conjunction with the Commonwealth.
– That is something that we have not been told before.
– I have given that information before.
– We have asked questions in relation to that matter but have not been given any information. This Government likes to surround everything with an air of mystery. All we want to know, and all we have asked in the last twenty minutes, is whether, in view of the increase of the cost of construction of roads, the same amount of money that was recommended by the Chifley Government for expenditure on roads will meet the cost of the necessary road construction to-day. It is of no use for the Treasurer to say that he will not tell us, because if he continues to adopt that attitude we shall naturally assume that he does not know, and the people will take it for granted that he has merely taken a figure that was decided upon by the Government and has accepted it as sufficient to meet the needs of the case. That is something that the people will resent.
– I shall not dispute the statement made by the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) about the cost of the construction of roads, but he sought to ridicule my statement that it would cost approximately £20,000 a mile to construct a proper strategic roadway, and he went to the ridiculous extreme of saying that a strategic roadway could be built for £3,000 a mile.
– I did not! I made no mention of any figure.
– I could not hear the Treasurer clearly because of interjections that were occurring at the time, but I understood him to say £3,000 a mile. The kind of road that I had in mind is a four-lane road of sufficient strength to take the heaviest military vehicles that may have to be employed in connexion with defence.
– How heavy?
– Such a vehicle might weigh 90 tons. I am sure that if the Treasurer will reflect upon his statement, and also upon my statement about the desirability of a four-lane roadway as a strategic defence roadway, and keep in mind also the fact that if this country is to be defended properly we must have roads capable of carrying the heaviest possible military equipment that the military authorities decide is necessary, he will see that it will not be of much use for the military authorities to order a 90-ton tank if it is possible that he will have to tell them later that they cannot have a 90-ton tank because we have no roads capable of carrying it. In such circumstances, we should find that, after 90-ton tanks had been delivered they would be bogged down in some of the hopeless £3,000-a-mile -roads that the Treasurer has decided to build for the defence of the country.
– The honorable member surely does not believe that tanks are transported over roads?
– I think that possibly with the exception of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), the honorable member for East Sydney is one of the greatest authorities on transport in this country, because he has just completed six years of outstanding service to the Commonwealth as Minister for Transport, and was easily the most capable Minister for Transport that this country has ever had.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member should return to the clause.
– The honorable member for East Sydney made it quite clear that in his expert opinion it would be impossible to build a strategic roadway, capable of carrying the military vehicles and equipment necessary in time of war, at a cost of less than £20,000 a mile.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member should speak to the clause or resume his seat-
– I would rather take notice of the words of an ex-Minister for Transport about the cost of strategic roads than the information given by the Treasurer.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 11 (Road Safety Practices).
– Whilst I recognize that a great deal of good work has been done by the Australian Road Safety Council in cooperation with the various State organizations, I question whether the sum proposed to be appropriated will prove large enough to allow them to develop sufficiently their work throughout the Commonwealth. The Australian Road Safety Council on a previous occasion requested an increase of the vote for this purpose, and I think that honorable members on both sides of the committee have referred to the tragic waste of human life that is caused through road accidents. I agree with some honorable members that the drunken driver appears to be the greatest menace on the roads, although, of course, he is not responsible for all road accidents. I suggest that the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) might confer with the honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) who, when Minister for Transport in a Victorian government and a member of the Australian Transport Advisory Council, suggested that this problem should be dealt with by assisting the States to employ a greater number of police road patrols. The States have refused to employ more road patrols because they say they lack the money to enlist and train the police required for this work.
I suggest that the Treasurer might take up with the State authorities and with the Australian Transport Advisory Council at an early date the matter of increasing the allocation for road safety so a3 to enable the States to employ a greater number of road patrols. I also suggest that he discuss with the various State Ministers through the Australian Transport Advisory Council the advisability of trying to get some uniformity of the penalties imposed for road offences. I am not aware of the position in States other than New South Wales, but in
New South Wales a person convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol automatically loses his licence for a period. I do not suggest that that is a sufficient punishment because when a man drinks to excess and endangers the lives of people while driving a motor vehicle, the most serious action should be taken against him by the authorities throughout the Commonwealth. There is need for uniformity in dealing with these offences. The penalty for drunken driving should not vary as between the different States. I think that the most severe penalty should be imposed on those found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol. I realize that in some cases the withdrawal of a driver’s licence would be serious because it might mean the loss of his livelihood. I know that all those factors have to be taken into consideration but unless the public is made to realize the seriousness of this offence there will be no reduction of the number of deaths from road accidents. The loss of life on Australian roads to-day is greater than the losses sustained by our forces in any hostilities in which the country has been engaged.
– That is life and injury.
– Yes, the number of those injured and killed in road accidents. Moreover, such loss of life is an economic loss to the community. Whilst on the one hand the Government is attempting to increase the population by means of immigration, on the other hand it is allowing to continue a state of affairs which causes the population to be decreased daily by the loss of lives in road accidents.
I do not suggest that the Government is unmindful of this problem; it is a problem that has confronted all governments, and all governments have exercised their ingenuity to reduce the toll of the roads. Uniform standards of vehicle construction, of signals and of traffic laws may help to alleviate the position, but I believe that the greatest dangers on the roads are drunken drivers and the drivers who drive at excessive speeds. When the honorable member for Chisholm raised the matter at the Australian Transport Advisory Council I was of the opinion that a campaign of education through the schools and per medium of the radio might have a good effect. But since that time I have come round to the line of thought of the honorable member for Chisholm and I now suggest that the Treasurer should confer with that honorable member, and that at the next meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council there should be a discussion of the availability of funds and the necessity for appointing extra police road patrols. If the Treasurer’s view coincides with mine the Australian Government should increase the road grant to the States.
– It is amazing to find a man who has been Minister for Transport in an Australian government for five years not knowing that there is a committee called the Road Transport Uniform Code Committee. The members of that committee are drawn from all the States of the Commonwealth. They meet at different places. For the information of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), I inform him that the next meeting will be held in Melbourne in January. The honorable member should place his suggestions before that committee, which is endeavouring to bring about uniformity of the traffic laws. It is beyond my comprehension that the honorable member for East Sydney, who was Minister for Transport for so long in the former Government, should have revealed such a lack of knowledge about a vital transport matter. I do not make this criticism of him in any spirit of unkindliness
– I think that the honorable member for Mallee is being most ungenerous.
– I think that the honorable member for East Sydney should find out more about these matters before he delivers speeches such as the one that we have just heard. I agree with the honorable member that the various traffic codes should be unified, but I suggest that he should take notice of what is happening in this country. It appears that his mind is moving in the direction of the appointment of a committee that already exists. He is a little late. Perhaps something that he has read in a newspaper prompted his suggestion. If the honorable member, whose ideas are good, is sincere in his statements - and I have no reason to believe otherwise - he should submit them to the next meeting of the committee. This will provide him with a great opportunity to do something in the interests of road safety in this country. Alternatively, he should ask the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) to do so for him.
To a degree this debate has reached a farcical stage. The honorable member for East Sydney, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) are apparently treating the matter as a big joke. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) is not quite so bad.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.the honorable member for Mallee should get back to the clause.
– The present position could be likened to the hearing of a case in a court-house, inasmuch as the honorable member for Hindmarsh is being instructed by the honorable member for East Sydney. I assume that the honorable member for East Sydney will address the committee again on this matter. When he does, I hope that he will not adopt a fiery attitude, and that he will treat the suggestions that I have made for his benefit in accordance with my intention in making - them.
– Even at this late stage, I shall endeavour to put the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) right about this matter. If he cares to obtain the Hansard record of my speech, he will find that at no stage did I say that I did not know of the existence of the committee that was appointed to compile a uniform traffic code for this country. As a matter of fact it was as a result of a decision of the Australian Transport Advisory Council, of which I was chairman, that that committee was formed. I am fully aware of the work of the committee, and I also know that its deliberations have not reached finality. Of course it takes considerable time to arrange consultations between the traffic experts of the various States. If time permitted I could tell the honorable member for Mallee a great deal more about the detailed work of the committee. The suggestions that I made to the Government had nothing to do with the matter that he raised. I know the work that the various committees perform, and the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has already agreed that they are to continue with their work until finality is reached. What I said was that although at the time I did not agree with certain suggestions that were made to the Australian Transport Advisory Council by the honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes), I have now come round to his way of thinking. In order to reduce the number of deaths from road accidents a greater number of police patrols should be provided. The Treasurer should consider providing funds for this purpose. Although it is difficult for the honorable member for Mallee to think clearly at any time, it is more difficult for him to do so at 4 o’clock in the morning. However, I hope that I have clarified the position in his mind.
Mr. CLYDE CAMERON (Hindmarsh) 1 4.0 a.m.]. - I wish to record my opposition to the clause. This Government’s proposal to provide only £100,000 to carry out a road safety programme is one of the most absurd that I have ever heard.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh must live in an atmosphere of absurdity, because he is continually making such statements.
– That is because ever since I have been a member of the Parliament I have had to address myself to proposals advanced by a Liberal-Australian Country party coalition Government. One hundred thousand pounds is sufficient only to enable the Australian Road Safety Council to insert in the metropolitan dailies and the provincial newspapers such slogans as “Death is so permanent” and “Life is so precious “. In common with the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton), I realize that possibly this debate has produced a similar outlook by most of the supporters of the Government. However, even at this stage I should be glad if the honorable member for Oxley (‘Dr. Donald Cameron) would examine the honorable member for Riverina-
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member for Hindmarsh should address the Chair and speak to the clause, or resume his seat.
– The Australian Road Safety Council should be provided with sufficient money to educate people who intend to apply for drivers’ licences. I do not consider that anybody should be granted a licence to drive a motor vehicle until he has passed a proper test on road courtesy and the rules governing the movement of traffic in the various States, and until he has answered properly a questionnaire about the traffic rules in all of the States. Unless a person has a reasonable knowledge of the different traffic laws in force in the various States he should not be permitted to drive a motor vehicle from one State to another. As matters stand, once a person has obtained a licence to drive a motor vehicle he is permitted to drive in all States. He is regarded as a “ full-blown “ driver with a thorough knowledge of the traffic laws. I consider that the Government should give consideration to this very important aspect of road safety. It should lay down that no person should be granted a licence to ‘drive a motor vehicle interstate until he is able to prove that he has a knowledge not only of the traffic laws of the State in which he obtained his driver’s licence, but also of the State into which he intends to drive. That objective can be attained only by the expenditure of a sum greatly in excess of £100,000, which is to be provided pursuant to this bill.
– Does the honorable member consider that a medal should be issued to a person who passes the test satisfactorily ?
– He should be issued with a certificate to the effect that he has demonstrated that he possesses a knowledge of the relevant traffic laws. One hundred thousand pounds is a mere pittance compared with the magnitude of the task. As the honorable member for East Sydney has very ably pointed out, we are losing far more lives each vear through road accidents than through the worst forms of disease. It is a tragedy that so many of out citizens are killed each year in road accidents, many of which are attributable to ignorance on the part of drivers of the principles of road courtesy and the traffic codes of the various States. I again urge the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) to reconsider the clause with a view to providing a much greater amount than £100,000 for the promotion of road safety practices. I trust that, if necessary, the Government will sponsor an amendment to that effect when the hill is before the Senate.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 12 agreed to.
Schedule and Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
The following paper wis pre-‘ sen ted : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointment - Department of Health - B. E. Christophers.
House adjourned at 4.7 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 November 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1950/19501122_reps_19_210/>.