21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) toot the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
a0xn0wt.ed0m.BNT BT HEE MAJESTY the Queen.
– I have received from
His Excellency the Governor-General the following communication in connexion with the Address-in-Reply : - Mb. SPEAKER
I desire to acquaint you that the substance of the Address-in-Reply which you presented to me on the 14th September, 1054, hae been communicated to Her Majesty The Queen.
It is The Queen’s wish that I convey to you and to Honorable Members of the House of Representatives Her Majesty’s sincere thanks for the loyal message to which your Address gives expression.
– Can the Minister for the Interior say who is responsible for the upkeep of the grave of the late General Bridges? Can steps be taken to improve tho appearance of tho grave and to maintain it in better condition?
– I shall confer with my colleague the Minister for the Army on the matter that the honorable member has raised because I think that the authorities at the Royal Military College at Duntroon, in whose area General Bridges’s grave is situated, are responsible for its upkeep. Control of the grave was taken over by the Department of the Interior when the Royal Military College was moved from Canberra, but the college authorities again took over control when the college was re-opened at Duntroon. I shall confer with the Minister for the Army on the matter.
– Will the Prime Minister say what action, if any, the Government proposes to take to lighten the burden on the Australian people of the proposed increase of ls. 7d. per lb. in the price of tea? Does he realize that having rega2-d to present-day costs the existing subsidy on tea is wholly inadequate?
– The subsidy that we anticipated paying was £4,500,000 for this year. That is a direct subsidy from the Treasury in order to avoid an unlimited rise in the price of tea. Having regard to the extraordinary increases in prices in the overseas markets, particularly in Ceylon, we have felt compelled to increase the total amount of our subsidy, and, by the last decision, we have increased it to £5,500,000. That increase, of itself, will not prevent an increase in the price of tea to retailers of approximately the order that lias been mentioned. Although we all deplore this fact, I think that it is right to say that tea will still be the cheapest drink available to the people.
– Will the Minister for Territories indicate what are the prospects for the production of tea on a commercial scale in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea ?
– The early production of tea in commercial quantities in New Guinea is not in sight. The authorities have conducted experiments which have revealed that tea can be cultivated and that it grows well, but there are many difficulties in relation to the provision of labour and the processing of tea which have not yet been overcome. Although tea can be grown in the Territory, I am afraid that it will not be grown in considerable quantity in the near future.
– Oan the Minister for Territories say whether any progress is being made in the growing of tea in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea ? If the answer is in the affirmative, can he inform the House of the quality of the product; and can he state what quantities can be expected to be produced with the next few years?
– The work done with tea in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea up to date has mainly been work on the cultivation of tea, and the Administration maintains at Garaina a station the purpose of which is to produce seed and planting material. Several settlers have taken advantage of that work to plant out areas from the planting material supplied by the Administration, but the total acreage under tea is still rather limited. Quite apart from the problem of growing the tea - and it certainly grows very well - there are the problems of the particular sort of skilled or semi-skilled labour that is needed for the plucking of the tea and the problems associated with the fermentation and processing of tea. We have not made very much progress yet on the side of processing, and, because of those limits in relation to processing and the availability of skilled labour, I. could not hold out any prospect that there could be a rapid increase in the production of tea for Australian consumption. The prospective production of tea, say, in the next three or four years, will be in hundredweights rather than tons.
– Can the Minister for the Interior say whether it is correct that the Australian Government offered to lend to the New South Wales Government £1 for every £2 that the latter Government expended on war service land settlement? Is it also true to say that this arrangement will involve loans of £2,000,000 in each of the next three years, at a rate of interest of 3f per cent., and that the loans will be repayable over a period of 53 years? If these are facts, will the Minister inform the House whether a similar offer, or any offer, was made to the governments of .Victoria, Queensland or any other State; and, if so, with what result? Insofar as Queensland is concerned, did any negotiations on this matter break down because the Labour Government of that State, as its record discloses, has little real interest in war service land settlement?
– The Government did make an offer, through the Prime Minister, to the three principal States of Victoria, New .South Wales, and Queensland, of £1 for £2 for three years, commencing on the 1st July, 1955. The reason for selecting that commencing date was that previously, at the meeting of the Australian Loan Council, the States had included in their ordinary loan programmes what they considered to be their requirements for this financial year. I have not received any official notification from any of the three States, but ‘I have read in the- Melbourne press that Victoria has accepted the offer and, in this morning’s Sydney press, that New South “Wales has accepted it. What has happened in Queensland I do not know. Actually, the amounts that were offered to the States were £1 for £2 up to a maximum of £2,000,000 per annum each in the case of Victoria and New South Wales, and £1,000,000 per annum in the case of Queensland. The Prime Minister has not had any reply from Queensland yet,, and I have not seen any notification in the press of the action that Queensland proposes to take.
– In view of the magnificent voluntary work carried out by members of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia - last year on Sydney beaches alone 3,400 rescues were effected - will the Prime Minister arrange for an increase of the Commonwealth subsidy to this great Australian organization, which at present is £5,000 per annum ? I assure the right honorable gentleman that the cost of surf life saving equipment, which is essential to the saving of lives on our beaches,, has doubled since the subsidy was introduced.
– I appreciate the honorable member’s interest in this matter. I shall have it investigated right away.
– Has the Minister for Immigration considered the representations submitted to him by the two sugar organizations of Queensland concerning the unsatisfactory position which has prevailed in relation to both the provision and the employment of immigrant labour in the sugar industry? These submissions covered three major points. If the Minister has considered them, is he in a position to indicate the Government’s intentions in the matter?
– The provision of immigrant labour on the cane-fields of Queensland this year has not been altogether satisfactory for a variety of reasons, in relation to some of which I think the industry must itself carry a share of responsibility. We have been giving careful consideration to the proposals which have come to us from representatives of the sugar interests. These proposals were carefully examined at a recent meeting of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council at Brisbane, and I have accepted certain recommendations which came to me from it. The first is that we re-open the centre in Cairns next year in order to provide accommodation for some of the dependants of immigrant workers. I think that that will assist in keeping immigrants in the area for cane-cutting work. The second recommendation is that one of the immigrant ships shall proceed direct to Cairns, and thereby avoid some of the wastage that has occurred in making movements from the southern States to the north. The third recommendation, to which I have agreed also, is that two representatives of the industry shall proceed overseas and assist in the selection of suitable immigrant labour for this work. I shall be communicating those decisions shortly to the organizations concerned.
– I desire to address a question to the Minister for the Interior. Is it a fact that land at the site of the former Nelson’s Bay naval base, which was leased to many people, some of whom have been in occupation for 30 years, has now been offered to the local shire council for re-sale, and that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction at the prices that are being asked by the council for blocks of this land? Will the Minister make a statement to the House and the country about the position and the price that the Government is asking for the land ? Does he think it right for the local council to exploit the lessees?
– The piece of land in question - and it is a large piece - has been the subject of negotiation between the Australian Government and both the New South Wales Government and the local shire council for some considerable time. When it was declared surplus for Navy purposes, this Government had no wish to retain it. The Australian Government does not wish to continue as a landlord in relation to ordinary pieces of land wherever it is possible to relinquish them. The Commonwealth acquires land for Commonwealth purposes, and when lands are declared surplus for our purposes we try to get rid of them. In this instance, an offer was made first, if I remember rightly - I cannot vouch for all the details - by the New South Wales Government. The offer was not satisfactory, and negotiations were opened with the shire council, which made an offer satisfactory to itself and acceptable to this Government. The price offered by the council was by no means high, but the Government considered that, in the circumstances, it was fair, and I notified the council that its offer was acceptable. Shortly afterwards, I was again approached by the New South Wales Government, which made an oral request about whether the council’s offer had been accepted, because, apparently, the State Government was again interested in the land and wished to make a higher offer than it had previously made. I understand that, in the meantime, the council has accepted the Commonwealth’s terms and is proceeding with negotiations with the Department of the Interior. The chief property officer of the department has been to Nelson’s Bay to discuss the matter with the council. There are certain rights to be considered.
– The lessees should have some rights.
– Does the honorable member wish to answer the question himself?
– The Minister is doing his best.
– I am doing my best, and Opposition members are not helping me by interjecting. The chief property officer of the Department of the Interior has conferred with representatives of the shire council in order to ensure that the chief tenant rights shall be carried through when the council takes over the property. Certain tenants think they have far greater rights than they actually have. All these matters are being discussed by the chief property officer with the council. The tenants have been informed of the action that has been taken. The council has been informed of the Commonwealth’s terms and has agreed to them, and negotiations are proceeding.
– Will the Minister for the Interior state whether the Government took action to ensure that the lessees of land at Soldiers’ Point, Port Stephens, which was recently sold to the Port Stephens Shire Council, would be protected when the council sold that land? Was it a condition of sale that the lessees should be given priority for the purchase of that land when it was sold ?
– Most of my dealings in this respect have been through the honorable member for Paterson, and he has handled a large part of it. I cannot remember all the details in connexion with the contracts. The contract of sale has not yet been signed, but if the honorable gentleman or the honorable member for Hunter wishes to see the actual terms and conditions of it, and what has been done to protect the interests and the real rights of the tenants, I shall be very pleased to get the file from the Department of the Interior, and let the honorable members have a look at it in my office.
– Will the Minister for Health give the House information about the conference on the treatment of cancer which it is understood he proposes to call? Will he inform the House who will take part in the conference and when it will be convened? Ha3 the Minister given consideration to the suggestions made to him that the Commonwealth should co-ordinate the radio therapy treatment of cancer? Does he think that the treatment of cancer can be improved in that way ? I point out, by way of explanation, the striking results that have been achieved in the treatment of tuberculosis under Commonwealth guidance. Finally, will the conference issue a report of its proceedings?
– A conference will be called to co-ordinate the activities and policies of various organizations throughout Australia which are dealing with these matters. Most of the organizations are very closely associated with the State governments, and our objective at present is to have a conference of, say, two representatives from each State, one of whom will represent the State government, and the other the State organizations. Those representatives will consider the policies best able to be applied to secure the co-ordination mentioned by the honorable member. A report of the findings of the conference will be distributed in due course.
– Some time ago the Minister for Supply informed the House that the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission was visiting the Mount IsaCloncurry area to investigate the reported discovery of radio-active ores there. Has the chairman yet returned from that area, and, if so, has he made a report on the discoveries? If such a report has been made, does the Minister intend to make it available for perusal by honorable members ?
– I do not think that I indicated the reason for Mr. Stevens’s visit to the Mount Isa-Cloncurry area, but it is a fact that he was there last week. He has now returned to Sydney, and I do not know wether he has reported specifically. All that he did was to visit that area in the course of his duties as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, being interested in the possibilities of uranium development in that area as well as others. He did have discussions with Mr. Fisher, the chairman of Mount Isa Mines Limited, and perhaps the honorable member may have noticed in the press of to-day or yesterday that the latter gentleman has announced that his company is prepared to erect and operate a uranium treatment plant in the Mount Isa area if sufficient ore reserves are found to be present there. It might be said that Mr. Stevens’s visit was the culmination of this matter, which had been raised some time before with the Atomic Energy Commission by Mr. Fisher. I am sure that honorable members will be interested to know that this very powerful and fine company is prepared to show an active interest in uranium development in Australia when the right time arrives.
– I ask the Minister for Supply whether it is true that Mount [sa Mines Limited has indicated a willingness to build a uranium treatment plant in the Mount Isa-Cloncurry area to treat ores which may come from that district. If that is so, what effect will that decision have on the Government’s ore-buying programme, and will the Government buy the ore oxide from that particular plant?
– As I have already said, the chairman of Mount Isa Mines Limited has indicated that if sufficient ores are proved to be present in the area, his company will erect and operate a treatment plant at its own expense. That is dependent on the working out of a good deal of detail, and on the proof of the requisite reserves of ore. As regards our buying programme, at present the Commonwealth has a standing offer only to buy ores or concentrates at fixed and published prices for a term of years at Rum Jungle. If there is to be a treatment plant erected at Mount Isa, the Rum Jungle conditions will not be applicable, but I imagine that it will not be difficult to re-arrange our conditions and prices to provide for the purchase of the oxide itself at Mount Isa. or other places where treatment plants may be erected.
– Having regard to the replies which the Minister for Supply gave earlier to two questions, I should like to know whether he is aware that the American Government in its uranium purchase programme provides for the establishment of ore-buying stations in all important or prospective uranium fields; and, furthermore, that it gives a subsidy of 6 cents a ton mile for the cartage of untreated ore to such stations so that the carted rates for purchase are virtually pithead prices ? Is it a fact that even, at best, the establishment of treatment works at Mount Isa will take a long time? Is it also a fact that pending the establishment of such treatment works or the establishment of a government-controlled buying station there, the prospectors and mines in the district will have virtually no market for their production and, therefore, development will be delayed? If these are facts, will the Minister consider the immediate establishment of an ore-buying station at Mount Isa to operate pending the completion of treatment works?
– I am aware that the American Government has some such arrangement as the honorable member mentioned, but I point out that their development in this field is much more advanced than ours because they started years before we did. Also their transport problems are riot so acute as ours. The honorable member mentioned on a previous occasion the general question of an ore-buying station at Mount Isa and that proposal has also been pressed on the Government from other quarters. All I can say is that there is a timing in this matter. In the absence of a treatment plant at Mount Isa, it would be completely unprofitable for the Government to buy ore based upon the pithead at Mount Isa because we should then have to transport the ore to our only existing treatment plant at Rum Jungle and that would rule it out of the realm of practical economics. But if there is to be a treatment works at Mount Isa then the question of an orebuying station at Mount Isa comes nearer to reality. If it is announced shortly that a plant is definitely to be erected at Mount Isa, the Government will have a close look at the question of whether it should establish an ore-buying station there.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether the Australian Government has made available farm machinery and equipment to the Government of Ceylon? Was the machinery in the nature of a gift, or was it made available at prices which were lower than world market prices ?
– The Minister for Supply will answer the question.
– Thi3 matter, which is the responsibility of the Contract Board of the Department of Supply, comes under my jurisdiction. It is true that, under the Colombo Plan, certain governments purchased farm machinery and other secondary industry products from Australia. The arrangement is of great advantage to the countries concerned, because they receive the benefit of the efforts of Australian industries. The arrangement is also of great advantage to Australia, because one of the terms of the contract provides that the money shall be spent in this country upon Australian industrial products.
– I ask the Prime Minister, in his capacity as acting Treasurer, whether it is a fact that the Ulan County Council received a substantial loan from the Defence Forces Retirement Benefit Fund. If there is further money available in the fund for investment, will the Prime Minister consider a request by the Central West County Council for a loan of £75,000 at the ruling rate of interest, which, I think, for this kind of loan is £4 17s. 6d. per cent, per annum, to finance the council’s national programme for rural electricity extensions which, are so essential to the development of the central western districts of New South Wales?
– There is a Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board which has under its control the funds that are accumulated for the purpose that is indicated in the title of the fund. Lest anybody is killed in the rush, I hasten to state that there are not unlimited supplies of money in the fund. The board did lend £5,000 to the Ulan County Council. If other persons desire to apply for loans, they should apply, either directly or through a broker, to the Defence Division of the Treasury, at Victoria Barracks, Melbourne. Such applications will be considered on their merits, having strict regard to the availability of money in the fund.
– Can the Minister for Territories inform me how many new leases have been issued, and old leases renewed, under the new conditions of land tenure in the Northern Territory ? Since the new land tenure system was proposed by this Government, and later brought into operation, is it a fact that there has been a marked improvement in the general condition of station properties in the Northern Territory? Is the Department of Territories continuing with the classification of additional pastoral land, and is it likely that any further leases will be available in the near future ?
– I assume that the question refers to pastoral leases, and speaking from memory, I think that no new leases - that is, leases in respect of previously unoccupied land - have been issued under the new land laws, but eight old leases have been converted to leases under the new system of tenure. I am anticipating that further applications for conversion will come forward. The officers of the administration of the Northern Territory are continuously engaged in the classification and survey of land, and as land is classified and surveyed, it will be thrown open for application.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Immigration been directed to the statement of the Italian Consul who recently returned to Australia that there is now no longer an inexhaustible pool of immigrants in Europe available or eager to come to this country because of the recovery that has taken place in employment there? In view of the urgent demand for labour in many key industries in Australia at the present time, what plans has the Government formulated to ensure that our quota of immigrants will be filled and, if possible, increased?
– I believe it is true that the flow of immigrants from Europe is by no means so great as it was earlier and that, because of more prosperous conditions in the countries of Europe, it is not by any means so easy to secure the large numbers of suitable immigrants that were available immediately after the war. Fortunately, Australia has been able to attract immigrants in numbers which have met the targets decided by the Government in recent years, and although the flow of immigrant labour does assist in one direction to meet shortages here, the immigrants themselves and their families create demands which have to be met out of the resources of the community. So, after careful examination by the Commonwealth Immigration Planning Council, and after consideration of its recommendations by the Government, we have fixed targets which we have sought to attain. That has been achieved in the year just closed, and I am confident that we shall secure our target this year. However, we maintain a periodical review of the availability of immigrants and our own requirements.
– Is the Minister for Labour and National Service aware that labour is likely to be scarce for harvesting of cereal crops this season? Does the right honorable gentleman believe that the Commonwealth Employment Service will be able to supply all requirements to rectify the deficiency? As the harvest will start in the southern States at the end of this month, will the matter be treated as urgent?
– There is a general scarcity of labour throughout Australia, and the demand is strong, but we have taken special measures in the past to meet the seasonal harvest needs of various industries in agricultural production, and I have been in touch with the Department of Labour and National Service regarding the needs of the cereal industries to which the honorable gentleman has referred. I am told that it has been our practice in the past to endeavour to secure lorry drivers and other people from the cities to supplement the labour which would be available for this work. That process is proceeding again this year, as in other years. Although a scarcity exists, we are doing our best to meet requirements. I can give no guarantee, but I assure the honorable member that the matter is regarded as being of urgency and importance, and that such action that we can take is being- taken through the department.
– Will the Minister acting for the Postmaster-General issue for publication in Canberra a. complete list of the priorities allotted by the department in respect of applicants, for telephone services, both private and business, in the Australian Capital Territory?
– I shall obtain the information and supply it later to the honorable member.
Mi-. GULLETT.- Can the Minister for Territories say whether it is the intention of the Government to make available to white settlers any further land in the district of Goroka in New Guinea?
– The general position in regard to that part of the Territory is that an opinion was reached that the alienation of land had progressed rather more rapidly than some of the with the alienation of land and so a measures which should go side by side slowing-down was ordered. But that slowing-down does not mean that further land will not be made available to white settlers. It simply means that the making available of land in that part of the Territory must be considered in relation to the many other factors which govern the alienation of land.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether, when the film unit of the department is preparing a documentary film on the Badgery Creek, irrigation farm, he will also have made a film showing the uses of aircraft in agriculture for exhibition to farmers by extension services officers. I ask this question having regard to the fact that in New Zealand, which has a smaller area of hilly country in the high-rainfall belt than exists in Australia, ten times as many aircraft are used in top dressing, sowing and spraying crops.
– I shall certainly have investigations made along the lines that the honorable member has suggested. However, the proposal he has mentioned lias not yet reached the stage at which a film is actually being made. As I informed; the honorable member for Macarthur in reply to a similar question, a photographer is about to visit Badgery Creek to investigate the possibility of carrying the scheme one step further, and I shall ask him,, at the same time, to make investigations along the lines that the honorable member has suggested.
– Will the Minister for Supply make a. detailed statement as soon as practicable regarding the expenditure upon the Bell Bay aluminium project which has not yet been accounted for and which, I understand, has already reached the sum of £1,250,000? As a result of the inquiry that was conducted by the Commonwealth Investigation Service into this matter, was the Government able to apportion responsibility for this scandalous state of affairs? Does it propose to take any further action? Will the Minister table the report of the investigation officers or make it available in the library so that it may be perused by honorable members?
– I shall be glad to make one statement, and it is with reference to the sum of £1,250,000 which,, according to the honorable gentleman, has been unaccounted for at the Bell. Bay project.
The Treasury representative on the Australian Aluminium Production Commission has specifically told me that there is not the slightest evidence that the sum of £1,250,000 was not expended on labour, works and materials at Bell Bay. There is an accounting problem which arises from the fact that during the years 1951 and 1952 the commission did not have a proper costing system so that, eventually, a large sum had to be allotted to specific sections of the work. There is a difference of opinion between accountants as to which sections that expenditure should be allotted. I ask the honorable member to place his other questions on the noticepaper.
– Following upon the question asked by the honorable member for East Sydney, I ask the Minister for Supply, in view of statements made during the debate on the Bell Bay aluminium project in this House last week, whether the Government has yet considered the request then made that the whole matter be referred at once as a matter of urgency to the Public Accounts Committee, which could clear up all disputed questions of accounts and also report on the administration of the enormous sums of money that have been spent at Bell Bay since the present Minister has been in charge of that undertaking.
– Well, in reply to’ the last part of the question, the expenditure of the so-called, enormous sums of money which have been spent since I became Minister has been rendered necessary very largely because the original estimate under the Labour Government was ridiculously low, and because the scheme was launched without adequate consideration or preparation, and, indeed, against the advice of the British Aluminium Company Limited, which was sought by the Chifley Government. Also, as everybody knows, the undertaking was launched as an election stunt for the year 1943.
– You have no right to attar-k Mr. Beasley.
– Well, I am attacking you as well, if you want to know.
– Order! The Minister cannot do that at question time. He is here to answer questions.
– Having made that observation, I pass to the rest of the right honorable gentleman’s question. I assure him that the administration of this project by the Australian Aluminium Production Commission will certainly be investigated by the Public Accounts Commiteee
– Hear, hear !
– Yes, and it will be done as soon as is practicable. I am not in a position to inform the right honorable gentleman when that will be, but I do inform him that, when he stated in this House recently that I had held back the investigation, he was speaking falsely.
– Does the Minister for the Navy still hold to the decision, which I believe was recently announced in this House, that the Royal Australian Naval College is to be transferred from Flinders Naval Base to Jervis Bay? If so, is he yet in a. position to announce when the transfer will take place?
– There is no proposal at present to interfere with the location of the Royal Australian Naval College.
Second Reams g.
Debate resumed from, the 14th October (vide page 2000), on motion by Mr. MENZIES -
That the bil] be mow rend a .second time.
– The Opposition supports this measure because it welcomes any action by the Government to increase expenditure upon the construction and maintenance of roads in Australia, but, at the same time, it finds itself strongly in disagreement with the amount of the assistance that the Government proposes to give to the States under the legislation. One would imagine that, if there were one matter to which this Government would make a national approach, having regard to the international situation and the stress that has been laid recently on the necessity for providing for our adequate defence, it would be a unified transport plan that could be fitted into our defence system. But the Government does not propose to prepare such a plan. It boasts that it proposes to provide £7,000,000 more than last year for the construction and maintenance of roads in co-operation with the States. What will be the value of this additional sum ? Everybody is aware that the costs of road construction, like the costs of everything else in Australia under the regime of this Government, have been rapidly increasing Therefore, although more money will be made available, it will probably provide for the construction and maintenance of a smaller mileage of roads than was provided for by the lesser sum made available by this Parliament twelve months ago.
Let me ask the Government one or two questions. How can it deal with the major problem of defence transport merely by providing money for roads? fs it not a fact that we need a co-ordinated national plan under which the various transport services - rail, road, air and sea - may be brought under single management, so that we may obtain the West value from each of those services? This Government, although it constantly harps upon the need for mobility in defence, has actually sacrificed the plan that was initiated by the former Labour Government for the standardizing and modernizing of Australia’s railway systems. Notwithstanding the great progress that has been made by air transport, the railways are still the medium for heavy long haulage work. Therefore, the Government ought to co-ordinate its road transport plans with a plan for the standardizing and modernizing of railway systems and for the development and coordination of our air and sea transport services. Evidently it has abandoned the idea of standardizing and modernizing our railways. It ha? not made any announcement of its decision simply because it knows that any such declaration would be politically unwise. Military authorities who came to Australia during World War II., and who were responsible for planning the defence of this area have directed the attention of the Government only recently to the great weakness in our defence system that arises from our broken railway gauges, but apparently the Government thinks that, by spending £24,000,000 on roads in twelve months, it will accomplish all that ought to be required of it.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said in his second-reading speech that roads were a State responsibility. Why should transport be a State responsibility ? The very security of the country depends upon the existence of an adequate and effective transport system. What would happen if the States failed because of lack of finance, from which they all suffer to-day, to provide an effective transport system? Would this Government, which is charged with the responsibility of providing for Australia’s defence, be completely absolved from blame if our transport systems failed during a period of national crisis? Major-General Willoughby, who was an. assistant to General Macarthur in this theatre of operations during World War TI., has written a book which deals with his ‘experiences in Australia at that time. He directs particular attention to the great, difficulties which the Americans encountered on their arrival in Australia because of our antiquated transport system. It is useless to talk of mobility in defence while the Government neglects to do the things that are essential to establish an effective transport system. I said that the Government has abandoned the plan to standardize and modernize the railway systems.
– Order ! I have listened to the honorable member for five minutes. My mind is firmly decided that T shall not allow a debate on defence, standardization of railway gauges, air services, and the like. The measure before the House is the Federal Aid Roads Bill, and the honorable member must confine his remarks to it.
– With due deference to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I am directing attention to the fact that the Government’s piece-meal approach to this great problem is only wasting the time of the Parliament. Transport is a great national problem and it cannot be discussed without considering its various aspects. Surely no honorable member will argue that an affective roads system is not essential to a defence programme. Yet the Government washes it3 hands of the problem. It states that this is a State responsibility and that it is providing £24,000,000 a year - more than ever before - for roads. What does that prove? Every one who is watching events in Australia knows that the construction and maintenance costs of roads, in common with all other costs, have increased enormously as a result of the inflationary policy of this Government. So that we might ascertain whether the Government is giving additional assistance, it .should place before us details about the exact mileage of roads that could be constructed or kept in repair by the expenditure of this money. It is obvious that the States cannot meet the full cost of all the necessary road construction and repair work. In respect of the financing of roads works, as in respect of all other public, works, the States are at the mercy of the Australian Government. One would expect this Government, -when it talks about what it has done, in assisting the States to construct roads, to tell us also what it has done in its own territories to construct roads. I have had a question on the notice-paper since the 7t.h September last seeking from the Government information about the mileage of roads and railways constructed in northern Australia by the Commonwealth either directly or in co-operation with the States, and I am still awaiting that information.
A previous government, which was led by the present Prime Minister, and which developed the Brisbane lino strategy during the war, adopted the approach to these problems that has been, perpetuated by “this Administration. Government supporters believe that roads should be constructed only in the thickly populated areas and that the vulnerable north should be completely ignored. The Commonwealth should be setting an example by developing the north. Tt ought to be developing and constructing roads that are urgently required in northern Australia. But what does it do? By means of this bill it intends to provide for the expenditure of £800,000 on what it terms roads of access to Commonwealth property and strategic roads. What does the Government mean by the expression “roads of access”? Up to how many miles from the entrance to Commonwealth property does it accept responsibility for the construction and maintenance of roads ? What is its definition of strategic roads? No definition of these expressions is contained in the bill and none was given by the Prime Minister in his second-reading speech. Almost all roads in Australia, particularly main roads and highways, could be regarded as strategic roads. In consequence, the Commonwealth should accept sole responsibility for their construction and maintenance. However, this Government informs the States that those roads are a State responsibility. The Australian Labour party does not accept that view.
Let us consider the history of the expenditure of moneys upon what the Government declares to be rural roads. The Labour Government, in 1947, first made provision for the allocation of certain of these roads moneys, for expenditure upon roads in sparsely populated areas, because Labour recognized that the greater part of this money could not be provided locally, and that, therefore, the great centres of population, by means of taxation, ought to provide the funds for the development of those rural areas. Anti-Labour administrations, up to that time, had been concerned only about thickly populated areas, from which most votes were obtained. It was left to a Labour government to take .a national view of this problem and to introduce the principle of allocating funds specifically for expenditure upon rural roads. This Government states now that it proposes to increase the expenditure upon rural roads from 35 per cent, to 40 per cent, of the total aid roads grant. The Opposition welcomes any increase in the expenditure on roads in rural areas. Let honorable members opposite inform me of the estimate of any responsible authority of the amount of money required to put Australia’s roads system into proper repair and to construct the strategic roads that are so urgently necessary for defence planning. To some people £24,000,000 may seem a huge sum of money, but it is merely a drop in the ocean compared with the needs of Australia in respect to road transport. The Government, instead of talking about spending £24j000,000j should take effective action in relation Ito this urgent and national problem and expend hundreds of millions of pounds which cannot be provided by local authorities and State governments, and which obviously should be provided by the Commonwealth. What is the use of talking about immigration schemes, and the need to populate the north and to develop it? This Government never gets beyond the talking stage and is doing nothing to develop the outback areas of Australia. It is merely providing a little, but altogether inadequate, financial assistance to local governing bodies to undertake this essential work of roads construction.
Let me turn for a moment to safety measures on the roads. Every one ifr mindful of the enormous toll of the road. With the increased development of road transport there has been an enormous increase in the loss of life and injury to human beings. What does the Government propose to do to reduce this toll? The Labour Government was the first administration to provide £100,000 for a safety campaign in an effort to educate school children and adults to observe precautions for the protection of human life on the roads. This Government has not increased that allocation. It must be obvious that the amount of £100,000, which was provided first by the Labour Government, will not advance road safety work to the degree that it would have done so when Labour first made that allocation by introducing a new principle into the aid roads legislation. If that provision had not been introduced by the Labour Government, the allocation of funds certainly would not have been made by this Administration. Why is the Government not doing anything to expand the campaign for safety on the roads ?
Let us consider State audits. The Government declares that the States each year must provide audited statements that will show how the money advanced to them has been expended, and to ensure that it shall be expended as the Commonwealth dictates. But does this requirement go far enough? The Labour Government opened negotiations with the Prates and attempted, in co-operation with the various State transport authorities, to arrive at standards for roads construction, vehicles and traffic laws. But what has happened? The negotiations have made a little progress, but almost no development of consequence has occurred in relation to the adoption of those standards by the various States. I am sure that all honorable members will agree that it is not enough merely todeclare that the Commonwealth will provide the moneys for the construction of roads unless it will have some say in the standards of the roads that will be constructed, the type of vehicles that will be used on them and the types of traffic that will travel over those roads. Unless the Commonwealth has some control over those factors, the expenditure of these funds by the States might be wasteful. Honorable members have seen the manner in which the road between Canberra and Sydney has deteriorated from the use of heavy vehicles that it was not designed to carry. The Commonwealth has no say in the traffic over that road. In suchmatters the States have, in the past,, exercised very little control. It is wasteful and wrong for public moneys to be made available by the Commonwealth for expenditure upon roads that will be destroyed by heavy traffic of vehicles that they were never intended to carry. Why did not the Government adopt a realistic approach to this matter ? After all there is no difficulty among the technical officers of the States and the Commonwealth. They can reach agreement. It is only among the governments of the Commonwealth and the States that no agreement can be arrived at. The Australian Government should decide that, some undertaking should be given by the States to adopt uniform standards in regard tevehicle construction, roads and traffic, laws, so that after the standards have been, determined and agreed upon by technical officers, the Government can ensure that the standards will be adopted, throughout the Commonwealth. However, this Government is doing nothing, or next to nothing, about the important matter of protecting our roads, but is merely adopting the same old negative attitude that it adopts to all national problems.
The ‘Government should now do more in regard to roads than has ever been attempted in this country. It is. of no use for honorable members on the Government side to quote statistics, and say that the Government has doubled or trebled its grants to the State3 over a period of years and that it has provided more money than was provided by Labour governments that preceded it, because that attitude is by no means satisfactory to the general public. The public is fully aware that this Government has to take responponsibility for its failure to provide an adequate road system. The Government controls the Commonwealth revenues, and is in a position to make sure that local government authorities and State governments are provided with all the money that they require for this important national work. Anybody who travels on the roads to-day must appreciate that our road system is inadequate. Not only do we lack roads for ordinary civil purposes, but we also lack strategic roads.
There are large areas in the north of this country which urgently need to be developed’ and peopled, and the Government should take the initiative and see that strategic roads are built; but it has done nothing in that direction at al?. It has been said that the agreement with which honorable members are dealing will last for five years, so that the States may be able to plan ahead. The tax on petrol is now at the flat rate of 7d. a gallon, and perhaps the increased consumption of petrol in the future will allow expenditure on roads to be increased. But surely local government authorities and State governments are not to be entirely dependent for the next five year3 on the increased consumption of petrol for increased grants from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth grants to the States are insufficient, and while the Opposition supports the measure because it will make increased provision for the States, we believe that even so, that provision is insufficient and does not constitute a national approach to a great problem.
The last Labour Government set out to achieve co-ordination of the various transport services. We had started the preliminary work, as honorable members well know if they have made any investigation into the matter at all. We had called a conference of technical officers of the States and had discussed various road standards with the State governments.
If we had remained in office we would have ultimately co-ordinated all transport in this country. Rail, road, sea and air transport would have been brought under the control of one Commonwealth Minister, because we believed that only in that way could we achieve proper transport coordination. But this Government has washed its hands of the matter and has made no effort to attain any real standardization in the transport services, or any real co-ordination of those services. The only agreement in regard to standardization of railways in the Commonwealth was made by the last Labour Government and the State of South Australia, and yet, this Government, during its term of office, has spent the enormous sum of £800,000,000 on defence.
– Order ! The honorable member must address his remarks to the bill before the House.
– I am merely making a comparison, Mr. Speaker, between the paucity of the money provided under this legislation for roads in this country, and the enormous amount that has been spent by the Government allegedly on defence. In my opinion the road systems of Australia are a very important part of our defence system, ami unless the Government greatly improves our roads it will not be improving our defence system. The Opposition supports this measure because it will provide additional money for roads, but we do urge that the Government should not merely put the matter aside for five years and say J “ That is all we propose to do “, because if it does that, neither the people nor the road users and others interested in the defence of the country will be satisfied with the Government’s attitude. I suggest that the Government should immediately call some sort of conference of technical experts, and others who are competent to speak about this matter, in order to discuss the great problem of our inadequate road system. That is the only way that we can ever get a properly planned road construction and maintenance scheme to serve both our civil and defence needs.
– Honorable members have heard the usual tirade that we are accustomed to hear from the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). The honorable member can always be expected to carry out his ordinary practice of attacking all the Government’s activities, not forgetting to bring in “the Brisbane line”. Anybody outside this House who heard his speech might have been confused on where the responsibility for road construction and maintenance in this country lies. We should all understand that under the Constitution, the responsibility for the construction and maintenance of roads in Australia rests fairly on the States and the local government bodies. We should also recognize that over the years the Commonwealth has accepted some financial responsibility for roads. and that that has been of tremendous value to the Commonwealth as a whole. To hear the honorable member for East Sydney, one would assume that the Commonwealth was entirely responsible for the construction of the roads in the States, but that is far from true. It is not so under the Constitution and the rest of our law. The honorable member also gave us the impression that the maintenance of roads was governed by the sum collected through the petrol tax. That, is completely false, because there are various other revenues available to State instrumentalities and local government bodies for road construction and maintenance.
Considering those matters, honorable members will realize that although the honorable member for East Sydney agreed that this legislation should receive the assent of the House, he was trying to divert the attention of honorable members from the facts of the matter. This bill will fulfil an election promise of the Government parties, and in so doing, it will repeal the legislation of 1950, which would normally not have expired until next year. However, because of the extraordinary increase of local refining of petroleum, and because of falling revenues consequent on lower duties on locally-refined petrol, the Government took the responsibility of introducing this legislation to deal with the situation that has now arisen. I think the public of Australia, generally, will recognize the value of this approach.
I remind the House that, before the last general election, the somewhat discredited Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) presented his policy after the policy of the Government had been presented. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) clearly stated in his policy speech that 7d. a gallon would be made available for road purposes from excise and local customs duties. As a result, when the Leader of the Opposition prepared his policy speech, he adopted the attitude, in the words of the celebrated adagio, that “ Anything you can do, I can do better “. The right honorable gentleman promised to return all of the duties and excise that were derived from’ petrol. The public realized that, if that promise, like other specious promises, were implemented, it would not be for the benefit of the country as a whole. Like some of the other propositions that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) stated that Labour would implement when it was in office, the Opposition has not had the opportunity of fulfilling that promise. Last year, £17,057,000 was allotted to the States from the Commonwealth aid roads fund. Under the proposed legislation, the allotment will be approximately £24,000,000, an increase of £7,000,000 in one year. I remind the House that the allotment had been increased from £9,400,000 in 1949-50, which was the last year of Labour’s administration. I repeat that, although the Government is making these grants, the responsibility for the construction and maintenance of roads rests with the State instrumentalities and municipalities. The grants are not intended to release the States from their own obligations.
Two new features of the proposed legislation were touched upon by the honorable member for East Sydney. First, it is proposed to raise the percentage that is allotted for the construction and maintenance of rural roads. As one who represents a large rural electorate, I appreciate the provision at its true worth. Another 5 per cent, of the total amount that is to be allotted to the States will be utilized for the construction and maintenance of rural roads. That is a step in the right direction towards decentralization. There are certain problems associated with the area, that I represent, the overcoming of which is beyond the capacity of the ratepayers. In that area there is very heavy holiday traffic and a very high average rainfall, which necessitates the preparation of a more solid kind of road than would normally be necessary. Consequently, I realize the importance and value of this provision to the rural areas of Australia.’ Provision is made in clause 9(3.) that two-fifths of the sum that is paid to each State shall be expended on the reconstruction, maintenance and repair of rural roads or on the purchase of .roadmaking equipment, or on payments ito local authorities for the .same purpose. Not only does the proposed legislation make provision for that power to be passed on to the States, .but it also allows the States to pass it on to the local authorities to allow them to deal with the problem.
The other new feature of the proposed legislation relates to a check on expenditure by the States. Clause 11 provides for the submission by each State of an audited statement that expenditure ‘has been in accordance with the legislation. It is interesting to note that, over the period in which similar legislation has been in force, a .similar check has not been imposed. I welcome the provision. I believe that it is a wonderful safeguard which will ensure that the taxpayers’ money is being devoted to the purpose for which it is intended. There have been occasions, particularly during the last twelve months, when certain States have not been able to expend the money that was allotted from the Commonwealth aid roads fund because of their inability to obtain the necessary labour or equipment. Instead of there being a mad scramble and uneconomic expenditure at the end of each year by the States to ensure that they do not prejudice their chances of obtaining more money in the succeeding year, the Parliament will have a better check on the manner in which the moneys are being expended. As one who comes from Victoria, I desire to say something about the formula for distribution. Ear be it from me to signify in any way that I have anything but a national outlook.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– I believe that the Parliament should approach the problem in the attitude that it represents the whole of Australia and not any particular section, of it. At the same time, honorable member do represent State electorates, and the States have certain rights and interests.
GOVERNMENT Members. - Hear, hear!
– I come from a State which considers that, in the past, it has been prejudiced by the application of the formula. Since 193Y - and in a similar manner since 1923 - the distribution of moneys from the Commonwealth aid roads fund has been based on a formula under which 5 per cent, of the total money goes to Tasmania and the remaining 9’5 per cent, is divided between the other five States on the basis of threefifths as to population and two-fifths as to area. That might seem to be a very reasonable proposition. It might seem that the heavily populated State would receive the benefit of the portion that is allotted on the basis of population, and that the large unpopulated State would receive the benefit of the portion that is .allotted on the basis of area. It does not work out that way in Victoria. I think there is some ground for examining the position in Victoria.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– I draw attention to the manner in which the case that I am presenting is being supported by honorable members from other States who realize the justice of Victoria’s case. If honorable mem’bers examined the position in relation to the distribution of these moneys, they would realize that further consideration should be given to it before the next period of allotment arrives. New South Wales, which is a heavily populated State with a large area, is not. prejudiced in any way by the operation of the formula. That State collects both on the basis of three-fifths as to population and the basis of two-fifths as to area. Queensland, which is a large State, with a smaller population, receives a tremendous benefit on the basis of area but perhaps not such a great benefit on the basis of population. Western Australia naturally receives a great benefit on .the basis of area. It is probably in relation to
Western Australia, large areas of which are completely unpopulated and will remain unpopulated for a great number of years—
– That is not so.
– With all due respect to the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), one hardly sees even a kangaroo a few hundred miles north of the inland town of Wiluna.
– That position is changing now. Oil has been discovered.
– Oil has been discovered on the coast. However, I return to my argument, and point out that the relevant figures are entirely convincing. Victoria contributes £16 a head of the motorists of the States, and receives in return less than £5 a head. That arrangement is in contrast with the position of Western Australia, which contributes £15 a head and receives back £21 a head. Victoria, which has onethird of the total number of registered vehicles in Australia, receives one-sixth of the total amount on a population basis, and one-eighty-eighth of the total amount on an area basis. Those figures are taken from the Commonwealth Year-Boole 1953. I do not wish to weary the House with the recital of many figures, but I believe that we should examine the lengths of roads in the various States. For instance, the lengths of bituminous roads are as follows : - New South Wales, 8,027 miles ; Victoria, 10,241; Queensland, 4,113; South Australia, 4,283; and Western Australia, 3,642. The lengths of concrete roads are as follows : - New South Wales, 5S1 miles; Victoria, 352; Queensland, 90: South Australia, 395; and Western Australia, 4. The lengths of other hard roads, or all-weather roads, are as follows:- New South Wales, 34,060 miles; Victoria, 28,418; Queensland, 9,288; South Australia, 13,429; and Western Australia, 12,349. The lengths of formed roads, clay or earth roads, which probably constitute most of the outback roads in Australia, are as follows : - New South Wales, 27,454 miles; Victoria, 23,901 ; Queensland, 44,977 ; South Australia, 9,307; and Western Australia, 28,334.
Honorable members will see from those figures that Victoria, despite its size, has almost the same length of roads as has any other State.
– More roads than State.
– That may be so, but the fact remains that the roads are there, and some particular problems are caused by geographical and climatic conditions. The original formula in 1923 made provision for the States to supplement the Commonwealth grant on a £1- for-£l basis. That arrangement emphasizes the strength of Victoria’s case for an increased grant, particularly in the last financial year. Victoria in 1952-53 provided £12,000,000 out of its own resources, and received only £2,000,000 as a Commonwealth aid roads grant. I ask the honorable member for East Sydney to make special note of these figures. Queensland, at the end of the last financial year, had not spent some £2,000,000 of the Commonwealth aid roads funds allotted to it.
– The amount was £1,415,000.
– The State had a scramble, and got rid of some of the money. Honorable members will see the rather lopsided position of Victoria in those arrangements. I have mentioned the heavy tourist traffic on Victorian roads. We also have a tremendous through traffic, because motorists use Victoria as a sort of highway from New South Wales to South Australia. High rainfall in large areas of the State make the maintenance and construction of roads a very costly proposition. The heavy rains do not fall in seasonal periods. They fall throughout the whole year. In large parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory, a motorist puts his vehicle away when the wet season begins, and does not use it again until the rains have passed. Unfortunately, rain falls in parts of Victoria throughout the whole year, and the State has a difficult problem with the maintenance and construction of roads.
– Why does not the honorable member take a national view on this matter?
– I am doing so, but I ask the honorable member for East Sydney to realize that taking a national view does not mean that I should ignore the claims of my own people. One plea that I wish to make in regard to the special position of Victoria is prompted by the enormous areas which have been subdivided recently for the land settlement of ex-servicemen. These areas have thrown a tremendous and insupportable burden on the municipal authorities. I understand that a proposal has been submitted in another place for the appointment of an all-party committee to investigate the formula with a view to determining whether Victoria is, in fact, suffering an injustice.
-Order ! The honorable member will not -be in order in referring to anything that has been done, or is about to be done, in the Senate.
– I shall comply with your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I suggest that before an allocation of Commonwealth aid road funds is made in the budget of 1955-56, an impartial examination should be made of the operation of the formula, and the matter should be discussed in an impartial manner in an endeavour to determine whether Victoria is, in actual fact, suffering an injustice. If Victoria is found to be suffering an injustice, the formula should be redrafted so as to include a factor such as the number of motor vehicle registrations within the States in addition to the area and population bases. Alternatively, if it is not considered that the formula should be altered, then recognition of the claims of Victoria should be made in a special grant such as is made to the three less populous States.
There is one subject on which I agree with the honorable member for East Sydney, and that is his reference to the abuse of our roads. I frequently travel on country roads, and I have seen vehicles that have obviously been overloaded. Of course, it is impossible to determine that matter exactly unless one has the actual means to make a check, but I feel that a section of the transport industry is farming our roads, which are a national asset. That section is abusing its privilege to travel on the roads by driving vehicles at excessive speeds and by carrying excessive wheel loads. The effect is to cause national assets, in the form of roads, to depreciate rapidly. I mentioned once before in this House some experiments carried out in the United States of America on damage to roads. The roads of one of the central States were carrying a large coast-to-coast traffic, and the State authorities went into this problem thoroughly. It was determined reasonably satisfactorily that one overloaded vehicle which travelled at an excessive speed could do damage up to an amount of £100 a mile on one trip. I was returning from Canberra to my home after the visit of Her Majesty the Queen, and I got on the tail of an enormous semi-trailer between Yass and Gundagai. That vehicle was travelling at a speed in excess of 50 miles an hour, and I imagine that it was overloaded. The rear wheels of the semi-trailer were lifting and pounding the road at spasmodic periods, and it was possible for any person who knew anything about the matter to realize the enormous damage that just that one vehicle was doing to the road. There is a responsibility to take drastic action to determine that Commonwealth funds shall not be thrown away. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth does not possess responsibility in this matter at the moment, but roads should not be abused so that they deteriorate badly while money is granted to assist the States to construct and maintain roads. The States have a direct responsibility to ensure that the loads shall not be abused to that extent. The roads are the assets of the people, and the States should do their utmost to preserve them. The honorable member for East Sydney made that point, and it was the only worth-while contribution that he made to the debate.
Mr. BIRD (Batman) (“4.0].- I am particularly pleased that, at last, the Parliament has been given an opportunity to consider the problems associated with our roads system. In my view, this problem is primarily the responsibility of the National Government. Years ago, of course, the view was accepted that it was the job of the local authorities to look after roads. However, the provision and maintenance of arterial roads soon got beyond their financial capacity and central- road authorities were established to look after that class of road. Now, the combined financial resources of the State governments and local government authorities are inadequate to enable them to do this job. This problem has now become a national responsibility which demands the earnest consideration of the Parliament. All of us have the experience of travelling over bad roads. Many roads which were once smooth are now an endless series of potholes, and their edges have become jagged. lt is unnecessary to mention the beneficial effect of good roads in the development of the country. ‘he b best form of community life flourishes in localities where good roads exist. However, from Australia’s point of view good roads are essential for other than economic reasons. During World War IT. we learnt from, experience the vital importance of good roads for the rapid movement of troops. All parties pay at least lip-service to the policy of decentralization; but effective decentralization depends upon the provision of a good road system. Unforintimately, our system throughout the Commonwealth deteriorated during World War II. During that conflict, the plant and resources of road authorities were devoted entirely tn defence purposes and, consequently, all maintenance work ceased. Another problem that confronts road authorities is the degree to which bridges have deteriorated. Most of our bridges were constructed in the pioneering days, 60 or 70 years ago. They are built of wood, and, in the interests of safety, they should be replaced as soon as possible. However, the provision of modern bridges involves expenditure beyond the financial resources of local authorities. The older bridges have not only fallen into disrepair but by modern standards they are also unsuitable for present-day vehicles which have increased in number and are considerably larger and heavier than the vehicles of the past. In order to eater for this class of traffic, it is necessary as far as possible to eliminate bends and culverts and to seal road surfaces.
It is idle for any honorable member to say that the provision and maintenance of highways is the responsibility of the States, because, under the Constitu tion, the States cannot impose a petrol tax as a means of financing road works. In the earlier days of federation, several States imposed a petrol tax for this purpose but the High Court declared the relevant State statutes to be invalid. Therefore, this matter is directly the responsibility of the National Parliament. Even if the States desire to impose a petrol tax for the purpose of financing road works, they are unable to do so. The Australian Government collects the petrol tax, and it should devote all such revenue to the purpose for which primarily the tax is levied. As the Australian Government has the sole right to impose a petrol tax, it must accept responsibility for the provision and maintenance of highways throughout the country. I trust that when the Constitution is under review, consideration will be given to the proposal that the States should agree to give to the Australian Government complete power to deal with this problem in order that the road system can be developed to serve to the greatest possible degree the needs of industry, commerce and agriculture.
A survey of the roads throughout Australia does not give the slightest reason for enthusiasm. Our total road mileage is over 500,000 miles, but approximately 75 per cent, of that mileage consists of dirt roads. At present, on the average, about 10,000 miles of new roads and new sealings are provided annually, but, at this rate, it will take 37 years to hardsurface our present limited road system. Central road authorities in the various States are responsible for 87,000 miles of roads, of which 6S,000 miles are classified as highways or main roads. Total road funds receipts of all States to-day is sufficient to maintain only 45,000 miles of highway, that is, about half of the road mileage for which the States are now responsible. Thus, they have not finance for the construction of new roads or for the maintenance of roads which are not main roads. The cost of building one mile of main highway averages £50,000 and the annual cost of maintenance of such roads averages £500 a mile. The cost of building one mile of light-sealed road is £3,000 and the annual cost of maintenance of such roads amounts to £40 a mile, whilst the cost of sealing unsealed roads averages £1,500 a mile.
These costs are high, but they must be met if we desire to progress. All money expended on good highways pays rich dividends in the form of lower costs, greater population and increasing business. Having regard to that fact, I differ from the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) when, in his second-reading speech, which was a reasonable survey of the position, he opposed the argument that the utilization of collections of petrol tax for road purposes does not benefit only those who actually use the roads. It must be remembered that good roads tend to keep down running costs and vehicular maintenance and consequently, tend to keep down the cost of goods that are transported by road. I submit that the Prime Minister was wrong when he said that good roads benefit only the users of them. The provision and maintenance of good roads benefit the purchasers of commodities that are transported on such roads.
Compared with other aspects of our economy the rate of improvement in our road system since “World “War I. is discouraging. Since 1938-39, our population has increased by 25 per cent., the number of factories has increased by 70 per cent., and the total number of persons employed has increased by 38 per cent.-, whilst the value of output of primary and secondary industries has increased by 403 per cent., and the national income has increased by 360 per cent. Unfortunately, measured against those substantial increases, road mileage has increased by only 5 per cent, and the total mileage of sealed surfaces has increased by only 35 per cent. The improvement in our road system has not kept pace with other1 developments in our economy. In 1938-39, public authorities expended on roads a total of £25,000,000 and in 1952-53 their expenditure amounted to £58,000,000, but in terms of value of the post-war £1 that sum of £58,000,000 is equivalent to only £16,000,000 prewar. Surely, we cannot be proud of that position. The Government must do something about this problem. The alleviation of the present unjustifiable and unpardonable state of affairs will demand concentrated planning and effort, but the problem is largely one of finance. As I have said, State finances are in such a parlous condition that they cannot be expected to do more than the States are doing in respect of this problem. They are now at the limit of their financial resources. Therefore, the Australian Government must assume a greater shareof responsibility in this matter.
– Most local government authorities are in the throes of bankruptcy.
– That is so. Since 1926, the Australian Government has collected £288,000,000 in customs and excise duties on motor spirit, but of that amount this Government has retained £167,000,000, or 58 per cent, of that sum. Under this measure the Government proposes to correct that position to some degree, and in that respect I support the bill. I again urge the Government to devote all collections of petrol tax to road purposes. The present formula of distribution of road grants to the States is based on twofifths area and three-fifths population. When that formula was evolved in 1926, the Government, in effect simply looked around for some ideas on the subject and borrowed the present formula from one of the American States. For a time, the formula proved as good as any other formula would have proved because it was largely experimental. However, events in the meantime have proved that the existing formula is obsolete having regard to the present trend in road development. I regret that the Government does not intend to alter the existing formula. In 1926, there was much to be said for it because at that time the provision of new roads was more important than the maintenance of existing roads. In those circumstances, the gross area of States was given considerable weight whilst less consideration was given to the density of development that was likely to ensue. To-day, the position has changed entirely, and maintenance has become a dominating problem. The number of motor vehicles registered in the various States provides a direct index of the severity of the density problem. Having regard to this factor, the provision and maintenance of roads in Victoria and New South Wales is at present completely inadequate. This is emphasized in the report of the Commonwealth-State Consultative Committee on Road Transport, which was presented to this Parliament in October, 1951. That report showed that maintenance requirements for the whole of Australia accounted for 65 per cent, of the total roads programme. The figure for Victoria, however, was 82 per cent. The formula, therefore, is definitely unfair to Victoria. It is entirely obsolete. If the basis of the formula were vehicle numbers only, Victoria would receive an allocation of 30 per cent., instead of 17 per cent., which would be more in line with its needs.
Continued use of the present formula will merely result in the construction of new high standard roads in remote arid regions far beyond the needs of current development or even of economic potential development. We must face the fact, whether we like it or not, that 58 per cent, of the area of Western Australia has an average annual rainfall of less than 10 inches. In some parts of that State it would be impracticable to spend large additional sums on roads, whereas, in Victoria, the population is dispersed over the whole area of the State, and an improved road effort could be readily generated largely with the use of local labour and materials. Moreover, the intensive settlement in Victoria calls for intensive motor traffic on an intensive road network. Therefore, I submit that the formula must be altered, and I hope that the Government will recognize that, under present conditions, Victoria is very unfairly treated.
The Prime Minister said, in his second-reading speech, that he disagreed with the view entertained by certain people that, because the petrol tax is collected from the users of motor vehicles, it should be used for roads only. The right honorable gentleman said that one argument often advanced was that the petrol tax was imposed in the first place in order to raise money for roads, but he commented that the argument would not stand examination. I have a simple and effective reply to his point of view. In 1926, the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), who was then the Treasurer, introduced the first bill to authorize the imposition of petrol tax. This is what he said in support of the measure -
The State governments, lacking power to impose Customs duties, are unable effectively to reach all road users. The Commonwealth is, therefore, co-operating with the States in a national roads policy and will impose special Customs duties which will be hypothecated for road construction.
How on earth can the Prime Minister hope to substantiate his contention in the light of that statement by his colleague? The statement, which is recorded in Hansard, made it quite clear that the Government, in 1926, proposed to collect the petrol tax for the States, which were prevented by constitutional difficulties from doing so, and it did so to enable the States to use the proceeds for road works. The Prime Minister obviously was off the rails when he said that all petrol tax revenue should not be used for roads.
I should like this Parliament to base its policy upon the principle laid down by the present Minister for Health in the speech that he made as Treasurer in 1926. Then, the whole of the £28,000,000 a year revenue from the petrol tax, instead of only £24,000,000, would be used for roads. Undoubtedly, in the past, there have been various reasons for departing from that original principle. However, our road systems to-day have reached such a deplorable condition that a radical change of policy is imperative. I suggest to the Parliament, with due deference to the Prime Minister, that there is not much wrong with the idea that money raised by a tax on petrol used in motor vehicles should be devoted to making good the wear and tear on roads caused by the operations of such vehicles. The proposition is. fundamentally sound. The petrol tax is a logical pay-as-you-use tax. It means, in effect, that the owners of vehicles which use the roads most must pay the most. The average motor car driver, who uses the roads mainly only at week-ends on family jaunts, does not pay nearly so much tax as do the owners of commercial vehicles. I cannot conceive of any more scientific form of taxation to provide funds for road construction and maintenance. It has been proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the deterioration of roads to-day is due, not to climatic conditions, but to traffic. The greater the volume of the traffic that uses the roads, the quicker the roads break up. Therefore, it is only logical that those who use the roads most should contribute most to their maintenance.
– Hear, hear!
– I am glad that the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) agrees with me, and apparently disagrees with his leader, on this matter.
Although the payment of a larger share of petrol tax revenue to the States is the first essential of a good road plan, other steps will have to be taken later to ensure the establishment of an adequate and efficient road system. The first step should be to alter the formula. I submit that the proportions should be fourfifteenths for area, five-fifteenths for vehicles and six-fifteenths for population. Such a re-arrangement of the formula would provide Victoria with a better share. If the Government is not prepared to agree to this modification of the present system, it should pay a special grant to Victoria. I agree with the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon) on this point. Victoria is entitled to a special grant because of the large sum contributed by road users in that State to petrol tax revenue, and the niggardly amount that is repaid by the Commonwealth. Action of this sort is urgently needed in view of the condition of roads in Victoria. These considerations, however, lead only to the main problem. Neither the municipalities nor the State road authorities can maintain the road system adequately and efficiently. The assistance given to them this year is to be increased by £7,000,000, but that will not bridge the gap. It is only a cheese-paring measure.
We need a co-ordinated national road plan, and, to this end, I suggest that the Parliament should give early consideration to three important suggestions. First, constitutional steps should be taken to give to this Government the power to assume responsibility for all inter- and intra-arterial roads and for the adequate provision of arterial road defence communications. Secondly, finance for road planning and construction should be provided from three sources. One source should be the revenue derived from the taxation of motor vehicles and associated products. The second source should be
Consolidated Revenue. The third source should be specific loan funds. The third step I propose is for this Parliament to appoint a special Minister for Roads who, in turn, could arrange for the appointment of a body representing all governments, primary and secondary industry, commerce, and road organizations and associated bodies, all with the technical capacity to study the problem in detail and submit a constructive programme covering the planning, construction and maintenance of interstate and intrastate arterial roads and related financial issues. The planning and provision of adequate, efficient and low-cost transport is basic to the nation’s development schemes, to our rural economy, and to the decentralization of industrial and commercial enterprise.
Such a policy will be forced upon us, whether we like it or not. It is only a question of time, and the sooner the Parliament recognizes the inevitable and faces up to it, the sooner will we achieve a state of stability and sanity. There is nothing sane about the present situation. It has merely developed spasmodically and haphazardly. There has been no coordinated plan. The time has arrived for the National Parliament to take action, for the benefit of the whole community, to provide more and better roads. The community benefits very little directly from, roads to-day. Instead, it pays heavily because transportation is inefficient, and transportation is inefficient largely because of the deplorable state of our roads. Our highways are the arteries along which the lifeblood of the nation moves, and, as the nation grows, the stream will increase. We must develop arteries that will keep pace with our development and our defence needs and, by constantly reaching out into new areas, lead us to new avenues of production. I support the bill, and I am grateful that the Government proposes to provide £7,000,000 more than last year for roads, but I hope that it does not think that the bill will finally solve the problems of our road system. It must not sit back merely because it has improved the situation slightly in its first year of office since the last general election. If it does so, the condition of our roads five years hence will be far worse than it is to-day. However, if it adopts the policy that I have proposed from a non-party stand-point, Australia will have a road system at the end of that period of which every Australian will be proud.
.- From the tone of the debate so far, there is ample evidence that few honorable members disagreed with the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) when he said, in his second-reading speech, that the Government accepted some responsibility for roads that are necessary for the development and defence of Australia. However, it has become increasingly evident as the debate has proceeded that equally few members agreed with a number of other points that the right honorable gentleman made during his speech. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has reminded me of some of the points in relation to which I am in disagreement with my leader - a situation that is not uncommon amongst members of the Opposition. I agree with the honorable member for Batman that we should discuss the bill largely on a nonparty basis. I think he will find, if the discussion proceeds any farther, that he is in marked disagreement with the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), particularly on the subject of finance, in speaking on which the honorable member for East Sydney was vehement, if somewhat unorthodox.
The honorable gentleman, in opening the debate on behalf of the Opposition, said that hundreds of millions of pounds should be spent on Australia’s roads, and that this Government should provide the money. The honorable member for Batman said that finance for road works should be raised by means of a tax on petrol, a tax on vehicles, and a regular appropriation from Consolidated Revenue. If the honorable member for East Sydney thinks in terms of hundreds of millions of pounds, ‘ the honorable member for Batman will undoubtedly find himself at loggerheads with him on the questions of the rates of tax on petrol and the level of registration fees for motor vehicles. There is one fundamental issue in this discussion that we cannot afford to disregard. It is easy to say that hundreds of millions of pounds should he spent on roads. That is a fine, vague statement. But the truth is that probably nobody in this Parliament, and perhaps very few people outside it, could give a realistic estimate of the amount that would be needed, in fact, to translate into action the very high ideals that have been expressed during this debate. It is certainly true that if, by some miracle, we could acquire hundreds of millions of pounds, that alone would not enable us to build even one mile of road.
We cannot build roads with £1 notes. We need men and materials, as well as money, for road works. I venture to say that, in the present state of our economy, no matter how excellent the Government’s intentions might be, or how extravagant its provision of funds for road works, it would have great difficulty in making a considerable addition to Australia’s road network. The simple truth is that we have not enough surplus man-power available to do a large volume of road work. It is of no use to shut our eyes to the truth. This fact lends some support, I think, to the argument put forward by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon), the honorable member for East Sydney and the honorable member for Batman, that we need a national plan of road works. The honorable member for Corangamite no doubt would differ on this point from the honorable member for East Sydney, who obviously envisages a socialized plan controlled, dominated and directed by the Commonwealth and embodying the socialization of all means of transport in Australia. That is not the sort of scheme that we, on this side of the House, think should be adopted, and there we definitely part company. The honorable member for Batman committed the error, into which many Victorians have fallen in the last three or four years, of suggesting that the solution to roads problems in Victoria, as well as elsewhere, may be found by expending all the petrol tax on the roads. As has been pointed out, that would not make a marked contribution to the solution of Victoria’s roads problem. Victoria receives approximately £174,000 out of every £1,000,000 of the petrol tax that is allocated to the States, or about one-sixth of the total. Victoria will receive less than £1,200,000 of the additional £7,000,000 to be paid to the States by the Commonwealth in the current financial year. The further point arises that it is wrong in law and in principle to attempt to solve a problem by allocating to a particular purpose moneys raised by taxes on a particular commodity, because, inevitably, one tends to assess what can be done to solve the problem by the amount of money that can be obtained from the particular source of revenue. That is quite apart from the constitutional aspect of the matter. I believe this method of financing roads works is entirely wrong, and it is one of the principal causes of the present poor condition of Australia’s roads system. The sooner this financial situation is remedied, the sooner we shall arrive at a practicable solution of the problem of developing and maintaining a highly efficient roads system. The honorable member for Corangamite referred to the special disabilities of Victoria. I admired his moderation. We who come from Victoria know that high feeling exists in relation to this matter.
– Where do the roads lead to in Victoria?
– They lead to the centre of industry in Australia. The honorable member for Batman exhibited an analytical approach to this problem. The formula under which the aid roads grants are made dates from 1923. The honorable member for Batman was happy, as I am, to point out that something applicable to the conditions that existed in 1923 would not be applicable to present conditions. The honorable member was equally happy to quote the words of the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), who was at that time Treasurer, and who first made the allocations to the States for roads purposes out cf the petrol tax. It is basically true, and I accept the word of the honorable member for Batman, that 31 years ago a method of distributing the petrol tax in Commonwealth grants on the basis of three-fifths in proportion to population and two-fifths in proportion to area, was evolved by some means. Perhaps the suggestion came from the United States of America. So far as I am aware, this formula has no scientific basis. It had no relation to the needs of 1923, and it has infinitely less applicability to the requirements of 1954. Whether the grants are made from the proceeds of the petrol tax or .from Consolidated Revenue, or wherever the funds are obtained, and however admirably we ensure that the grants are expended on roads that are essential to industry and defence, that is not enough. We must ask ourselves whether the present system materially promotes development. Is the basis of distribution in fact just, and equitable?
I want to refer to several matters that were mentioned by the honorable member for Corangamite, who quoted the road mileages throughout Australia. I- shall not discuss them again in detail. It is sufficient for me to say that roads of various types in Victoria represent approximately 24 per cent, of the total road mileage of Australia. The honorable member for East Sydney anticipated what I am about to say now. It is interesting to note that under the present system of payments from the Commonwealth to the States for roads purposes, approximately £165,000,000 has been paid to the States. The honorable member for East Sydney must be aware that in the five years that this Government has been in office almost exactly half that amount, or about £82,000,000, has been allocated to the States. These grants have been made with good intentions, but they have not achieved their purpose.
– Let the honorable member now answer the honorable member for Batman.
– The honorable member for East Sydney no doubt delights in talking to himself, as he is doing now. The honorable member, as Minister for Transport in the Labour Government, did nothing in relation to these problems except to call a series of conferences. I do not decry that, but they did not result in a solution of the problems.
To return to the consideration of the development of Australia’s transport system, we must consider two things. The present scheme has been in operation in one form or another for 31 years. I do not suggest that it is responsible either for the degree of development that has occurred or for the neglect of much work that should have been undertaken. It should bear some relation to the degree of development in those parts of Australia that it was specifically intended to assist. The Northern Territory represents 17.6 per cent, of the total area of Australia. I regret that the honorable member for the Northern Territory (“Mr. Nelson) is not present. I am sure that he would agree with the remarks that I am about to make. In the Northern Territory, which is vulnerable and rich, provision has not been made for the payment of a Commonwealth grant for roads construction.
– The sum of £800,000 has been allocated for the construction of strategic roads.
– But no allocation has been made for the construction of roads in the Northern Territory generally. That is a matter to which the Government should ( direct its attention. I regret that earlier administrations neglected it. Sound criticism may be directed at this bill and earlier aid roads measures for their failure to make provision for the allocation of funds for the construction of roads in the Northern Territory generally. The vital and vulnerable north of Australia has been neglected.
I should like to direct the attention of the House also to the provision made for rural roads in this measure. Honorable members who support the bill believe that it will develop the sparsely populated areas of Australia. Has the aid roads plan in fact developed those areas? In New South “Wales, 47.37 per cent, of the population lives in the capital city. In Victoria, 59.1 per cent, of the people live in the capital. Perhaps one might expect that distribution of population in the relatively highly populated States. In Western Australia, 56.31 per cent, of the people live in the capital city. It is particularly interesting to note that although 37.58 per cent, of the population of Queensland lives in Brisbane, approximately 60 per cent, of the people live in the twelve principal towns. For 31 years much wealth has been poured out to the States for roads works. Queensland and Western Australia have each received more than £31,000,000 in Commonwealth grants since the scheme was instituted. Whatever the results of this outpouring of wealth have been, they certainly have not involved any marked increase in the number of .people who reside in the rural areas and devote their lives to primary production. It is interesting to note, also, that in spite of the outpouring of wealth upon Queensland and Western Australia, the road mileage in Victoria is greater than that of any State except New South Wales, which exceeds the Victorian total by approximately 8,000 miles.
We must do two things. First, we must review the entire principle of the aid roads scheme, as previous speakers have suggested. Secondly, we must consider, particularly, the special disabilities of Victoria, to which other honorable members have referred. We have been told that approximately one vehicle in every three in Australia is registered in Victoria, and that Victoria pays onethird of the total amount of petrol tax. Victoria is small in area, but it contains . approximately 60,000 miles of roads. Victoria is highly industrialized, but States with much smaller populations and much less industry receive far greater aid roads grants than it does. The tax reimbursement formula, under the uniform income tax scheme, is heavily loaded against Victoria, but it is more favorable to that State than is the allocation of funds made under the aid roads legisla-“ tion. This position should be thrown into high relief so that every one will understand it.
– That is only a parochial argument.
– The honorable member should be careful. He almost prevented me from agreeing with him on one point. It is worth while to note the comments made in the report of the Victorian Country Roads Board for the year ended the 30th June, 1953, as follows: -
By way of contrast, costs of road construction and incidental expenditure and the volume and density of traffic using the State’s road system further increased, with the result that the board was able to do less work than in the preceding year. It thus follows that the deterioration of road pavements and structures is still continuing, and the condition of the main road ami State highway system is causing the board grave concern.
Ti,e board stated also -
Many miles of road constructed before World War II. to a standard which was adequate for ihe traffic needs of that time will not measure up to present day standard);, and the amazing growth of traffic in the last decade has revealed weaknesses in some of the most important roads in the system which through lack of funds have not yet been remedied. . . The bridge position has also become serious, and the arrears of work are not being overtaken.
The matter is not entirely parochial and does not concern only a few parliamentary representatives from Victoria. An alarming situation exists in a part of Australia that is admittedly highly industrialized and well developed. If the board’s statements are accepted, it must be accepted also that the costs incidental to the transport of goods and materials on Victorian roads are imposing additional costs in industry, and that these will be reflected throughout Australia’s economy.
I agree with honorable members who spoke earlier that the aid roads scheme should be reviewed. The review should not be made in an attempt to amend the formula, because I do not think that could be done. It is obvious that successive Victorian governments have failed in their duty, and that protests about allocations to Victoria have been made mainly for party political purposes only in an attempt to gain advantage and not as a result of a real concern at the situation in relation to the roads. Even if, at conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers and meetings of the Australian Loan Council, the representatives of Victoria fought to the bitter end, they would still be outnumbered by five to one. It is obvious, also, that the suggestion now being made in some quarters in Victoria that the Australian Government should ignore the decisions of the regular conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers and itself adopt a new formula, denies the realities of the situation in this House, which numbers only 33 Victorian representatives among its 123 members. Even if we all agree, which is quite improbable, we should still be a very small minority. After all, this House represents all the States and there is no real prospect of getting the formula altered by a government which must depend on a majority vote of this House. Therefore, I believe that Victoria should be given a special grant of money along the lines of the grants made for reimbursement of income tax, or perhaps similar to the grants made upon the recommendation of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. In any event, it is undoubtedly true that under our existing system Victoria is suffering a great disability, which should be rectified.
The honorable member for Batman and the honorable member for East Sydney both suggested that some sort of national grant should be made to the States. I entirely dismiss the proposition put forward by the honorable member for East Sydney, because I believe that it is a socialist idea and has been put forward as a solution of our traffic problems only as one more step towards achieving the socialized state which the honorable member advocates. The honorable member for Batman put forward a more sensible suggestion. We shall ultimately be forced to accept some sort of national roads scheme in this country, and I believe that any national body can be effective only if it is composed of representatives of the Commonwealth, the States and the local authorities, all of whom share responsibility for the state of our roads. Every one is aware that our roads have deteriorated over the years, and the major responsibility for that deterioration must be laid at the doors of the various State governments, who have not carried out their constitutional responsibilities. It is idle for the honorable member for East Sydney to say that the States have not sufficient money to administer a proper roads system, because the States have had ample money during the past few years. They could have carried out a proper roads scheme if they had cared to allot the necessary money, and give road works the priority that they should have had. We can solve the problems of our roads only if we place responsibility, and some share in the framing of a national roads scheme, on the shoulders of all governmental authorities - Commonwealth, State and local. I commend these proposals to the Government, and I support other honorable members who have spoken in support of the measure. In the past few years this Government has done a magnificent job under the present system of Commonwealth finance for roads. Indeed, during the last five years it has contributed more than half the money that has been given to the States for expenditure on road works during the last 30 years. Of course, the present method of dealing with the matter is archaic, and within the five years’ currency of this measure honorable members should give careful consideration to an entirely new approach to the matter, which will embody the proposals which 1 have submitted to the House.
.- I agree that the matter at present before honorable members is of a truly national character. The Government proposes to increase: the grant to the States for road construction and maintenance, but the new grant will still not be large enough to meet the needs of the States. However, I desire to draw honorable members’ attention to the fact that the States are not giving sufficient consideration to country centres in their allocations of money for roads. 1 represent a very important country centre, because in my electorate most of the coal that this nation requires is produced. Under section 92 of the Constitution, the Parliament is responsible for maintaining free commerce between the States. My electorate, particularly the Hunter Valley, is subject, to frequent floods, and when large areas there are flooded the transport of goods between the States becomes impossible. Coal cannot be carried to the industries in Newcastle, nor to gas-making plants in Sydney. Of course. I believe that gas should be made on the coal-fields, but that is beside the point that we are discussing now. It i3 most important that we should be able to carry goods between the States at all times, and if the transport of coal is prevented by floods, then I submit that the Australian Government should accept responsibility for the provision of allweather roads and railways to enable the flow of coal to the States to be maintained. In the early part of World War II., and shortly after a flood had occurred, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) visited my electorate. An engineer employed by the New South
Wales Government was present at the time, and he said that something should be done about floods. The Prime Minister asked what could be done, and the engineer said, “There is a railway line connecting the South Maitland railway line with John Brown’s private line “. Honorable members will understand that John Brown was a great coal baron, and his private line was known as the Richmond Main-Hexham railway. That line is never flooded. The engineer was suggesting that the railway to Hexham should be connected through West Wallsend by a one and a half-mile long tunnel through a mountain to Blue Gum and on to the West Wallseud-Cockle Creek railway, which joins the main northern railway at Cockle Creek.
– Order ! The honorable member cannot discuss the New South Wales railways system in this debate, nor can he discuss the floods on the Hunter River. The matter before the House is the voting of money to th.fi States for expenditure on roads.
– Very well, I have got it in anyway.
– Order! -If the honorable, member intends to take that attitude he had better resume his seat.
– I do not want to Sp offensive, because when you are not in the chair I am very friendly with you, Mr. Speaker, and you are very friendly with me. An alternative proposal, put, forward by the engineer to whom I have already referred, was that a road between Kurri Kurri and West Wallsend should be brought under the control of the State Government. The Prime Minister was impressed by those remarks of this competent engineer, but we are still having floods in the Hunter valley, and will continue to have them, and nothing has been done. This measure will make provision for road transport and other governmental projects, which are probably defence projects involving roads. The petrol tax was imposed because the Australian Government is responsible for stimulating production, and for facilitating the transport of goods between the States. The idea behind the tax was that good roads should be built and maintained to fulfil our constitutional responsibilities. Of course, the advice given by the engineer to whom I have already referred was not taken by the them Prime Minister; nor was it taken by a following Labour government; However; honorable members should remember that that Labour Government had to spend every penny that, it could get on the great war that raged during its term of office. It is well known that most of the money spent on roads is spent in thickly populated areas, and that very little is- done for the unfortunate men in rural areas who- are struggling to get their primary produce to market. Therefore, countryroads, particularly main highways, should be properly maintained, and I again point out that the road between West Wallsend and Maitland is a main highway.
Another important matter that I wish to bring to the attention of honorable members, is the proposal to build an allweather roadway from Windsor through Wiseman’s Ferry to Singleton, so that coal may be transported to Sydney at all times. That is not a matter that the New South Wales Government alone, should, have to consider, because I submit that local government bodies know far more of local requirements than do State governments. During the last war, bridges were broken down in my electorate by heavy vehicular traffic, particularly army tanks from the Greta military camp. I appealed to the Government to repair them, and they were repaired. But I suggest that even tanks should be able to travel over our roads without rendering them unserviceable, and that the roads should be properly constructed and maintained for use by even the heaviest vehicles. A road through Wiseman’s Ferry, Wollombi, Cessnock and Singleton has been advocated for years by local government authorities, but nothing has been done because those authorities have no say in the spending of money voted to the States by this Government. The States spend most of it in the metropolitan area instead of doing something for the country generally. This applies particularly in those all too frequently flooded areas such as the Hunter River valley. I am pleased to support the bill, but I am not so pleased when I note that it is proposed to allo- cate insufficient money and that specific provision is not made for the manner in which it shall be spent orwhere it shall be spent. The Prime Minister stated, during his secondreading speech, that the States submit a statement of account as to the manner in which the money is spent, but has the Government ever checked where they spend the money and whether they spend it to the advantage of the people? More than half the members of the Parliament of New South Wales come from the city of Sydney. Therefore, they have a big voice in the allocation of the money; and. in ensuring that roads in the metropolitan areas shall be fully maintained.
I do not wish to be critical of the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis), but I look at things from a national point of view. Perhaps that is due to the fact that I have been a member of the Parliament for a longtime. I may have been parochial in my outlook at one time, but I now take a broader view of matters for the welfare of the nation generally. I feel sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will agree that, under section 92 of the Constitution, the maintenance of inter-State trade and commerce is the responsibility of this Parliament. Every time there is a flood,, a breach of that section is committed. What transport arrangements will be made when the Hunter River is again in flood and no coal is available? Does the Government intend to demand that some of this money shall be allocated for the provision of an all-weather roadway and an all-weather railway? Such a railway would be a godsend, not only to the people on the minefields who cannot get wagons because of floods, but also to the people of Australia, and a greater godsend to the defence of this country.
.- I agree with the statement of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) that the States should furnish to the Commonwealth more information in relation to moneys that are expended under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1950 and under the proposed legislation. The bill provides for an increase from £600,000 to £800,000 of the amount to be set aside each year for expenditure by the Commonwealth on strategic roads that the road safety allocation shall remain at £100,000, and that the amount which may be expended on other works connected with transport by road or water, which was previously fixed at onesixth of the aggregate amount, shall be limited to £1,000,000. The form of distribution is to remain the same. In the proposed legislation, emphasis is placed on the furnishing to the Commonwealth of particulars of the use to which the moneys are applied. The most important feature of the proposed legislation is the very large increase of the sum that is to be made available. That fact illustrates that the Government recognizes the need of financing transport requirements. I wish to refer to this subject more particularly as it affects Queensland, because I have a knowledge of conditions there. I am not concerned so much about arguing politically as I am about trying to correct what I consider are anomalies in the administration of the existing legislation. Section 9 of the 1950 act provides that, in a form that is to be approved by the Treasurer, who is the Minister responsible for the administration of the legislation, and certified by the AuditorGeneral for the State, each State shall supply information as to the manner in which the money is used. My complaint is that that requirement has not been observed in Queensland, and I believe that that is the situation universally. My inquiries of the Treasurer elicited the verbal reply that, although the AuditorGeneral of Queensland certified that the 35 per cent, that was allotted for rural road purposes was spent in accordance with the act, no particulars were supplied. I submit, first, that the Treasurer has failed to prescribe the form in which those particulars should .be supplied and, secondly, that the State of Queensland has utterly failed to give the necessary information. I am glad to note that it is proposed to tighten the legislation and that there will be an insistence upon the forwarding of those particulars.
I have not before me the original act of 1923, but I note that the 1926 agreement was over-cautious, and that it provided, amongst other things, that the
States should do everything according to the demands of the Federal Minister. I think that that provision hamstrung the States too much, but I do not think that, when the Commonwealth rnakes available money for a specific purpose, the States should honour the undertaking. The Queensland ‘Treasurer excused himself by saying that the Federal Treasurer, when he delivered his second-reading speech on the 1950 act, used the words “ the States may “ do this and that. The act specifies that 35 per cent, of the allotment shall be used for roads in rural areas, including developmental roads, secondary roads and other kinds of farmers’ roads, as they are called in Queensland. I am glad to note that, as the result of the advocacy of some Government supporters, an alteration has been made in the proposed legislation. The Queensland Treasurer will no longer be able to hide behind the words “ the State may “, because, according to the second-reading speech of the Prime Minister, it is proposed that at least 40 per cent, of the total allotment must be used by the States for the particular purpose and that it shall be spent in rural areas on developmental roads, and secondary roads, and for the purchase of road-making machinery.
I draw the attention of the Queensland Government to the fact that it may also use part of the general funds for those purposes. There is provision to that effect in the existing legislation, but, according to the report of the Queensland Main Roads Commission, although the Queensland Government had the right, it never exercised the right to make available to the local authorities moneys out of general funds or out of the 35 per cent, that was specified for rural road purposes for the purchase of machinery. Hot one council in my electorate has received any money under either section 6 or section 7 of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1950 as a grant for the purchase of road-making machinery. The Premier of Queensland, when he was State Treasurer, stated, in a letter that he wrote to a State member, that it was within the province of the Main Roads Commission to make available to local authorities roadmaking machinery that was purchased by it out of funds that were made available under the 1950 act at a much cheaper rate than usual, and that it should do so. Although the Main Roads Commis-
*vi<m purchased machinery, no doubt out of general funds that were provided under section 6 of the 1950 act, not one of the councils received road-making machinery at less than the full cost. In fact, the position was quite the reverse. When local authorities purchased roadmaking machinery under the usual Treasury terms of paying in full the loan and redemption charges, they had to agree to lend their own machinery to the Main Roads Commission at a charge that was lower than the normal charge. It was’ all the Government’s way. I submit that the 3950 act has not been applied by the Queensland Government in accordance with the desire of this Government.
I have a table from the Treasurer which sets out the allocations under the 1950 act. In 1950-51, the total payment was £2,460,000 ; in 1951-52, it was £2,842,000 ; in 1952-53, it was £2,S65,000; and in 1.953-54, it was £3,191,000. The total amount of the percentage that was allotted under rural road conditions for the four years was £4,097,000. I stated in the House quite recently that the Queensland Government had not made available to local authorities the allotment of 35 per cent, in accordance with the terms of the act, that the actual direct grant to local authorities last year did not exceed 18.7 per cent., and that in the previous three years it did not at any time exceed 20 per cent. The Queensland Treasurer replied by stating that I was making mis-statements. In reply to a Dorothy Dix question in the Queensland Parliament, he stated that bo per cent, of the 35 per cent, was allotted as a direct grant to local authorities. In effect, he confirmed my statement that the Queensland Government did not pay any more than 55 per cent, of the 35 per cent, direct to local authorities. My statement stands correct, and it is confirmed by the Queensland Treasurer. What about the remaining 45 per cent, of that 35 per cent., which, according to my calculations, represents 16 per cent, of the total allotment? He said in reply to that question that he was informed by the Main Roads Commission that all those funds had been used in accordance with the provisions of the act.
I have the report of the Main RoadsCommission for 1952-53, which is the latest report available, and I have calculated all the amounts that were paid out by the State Government through the commission to all the local authorities, covering developmental, secondary and farmers’ roads. The section of the act to which I refer debars the allocation of any money for highways and main roads. I find that the total amount paid to all local authorities is, in round figures, only £215,000. If we add that amount to £560,100, which was paid direct to the local authorities, the result is still short of the 35 per cent.
I further point out that the £215,000 was, in the main, contracted by the local authorities with the Main Roads Commission in past years under an acceptance term that in no case were local authorities to repay more than 50 per cent, in respect of any of the road construction cost. I shall endeavour to make my point clear. The relief which the local authorities have received from the £215,000 would not exceed 50 per cent.; so all that the Queensland Treasurer is giving, through the Main Roads Commission, to the local authorities under section 7 of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1950 is £560,100, as a direct grant, plus not more than one-half of the £215,000. If he calculates that as a percentage, he will find that it will not exceed 26 per cent.
I should like the Queensland Treasurer, Mr. Walsh, to prove, from his own report, how he allocated the 35 per cent, to local authorities. Bridges and the like cannot be included, because all the bridges constructed in Queensland, according to the report of the Main Roads Commission, come under the heading of “ loans “ on the subsidy basis but are notprovided for under this fund. Therefore. I say that the Queensland Treasurer, in respect of 1952-53, has not complied with the act. I have stated that the report of the Main Roads Commission for 1953-54 has not yet been presented to the Queensland Parliament. I do not blame the commission for any delay, because there is always some time-lag in the presentation of reports to Parliament. I merely mention that the report is not available now.
However, I do question the Queensland Treasurer on this basis. The total amount allocated to Queensland under this act for 1953-54 was £3,100,000 in round figures and the amount underspent is £1,468,000. I ask any one who has a little common sense to calculate how the Treasurer has given the whole amount to the local authorities under that section of the act, and then given assistance in a general way when he has not spent very much more than half the amount, of money allocated to Queensland. Let him prove that point by supplying the information to the Government in accordance with section 9 of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1950.
That brings me to the real purpose of my analysis. We find that the Queensland Government has an unexpended balance of £1,46S,000. Mr. Walsh says that he is advised that all those moneys have been expended, but the Queensland Minister for Transport, Mr. Duggan, has admitted that the balance exists. Mi-. Duggan has even attempted to make excuses for the fact that the money has not been spent. He has said that difficulty is being experienced in securing man-power. He has also stated that the issuing of contracts is not the way out. He has stated, in support of that contention, that since the 1st July of this year tenders have been called for 96 jobs, that no replies have been received for thirteen of them, and that the prices are too high in respect of twenty of them. What conclusion must we draw from that excuse? Does it mean that Queensland, with £1,500,000 unspent, does not want the extra contribution that the Commonwealth is to make? Or does it mean that Queensland is to put some of its own funds into Consolidated Revenue? The Prime Minister, in his second-reading speech, said that the purpose of this bill is not to excuse the States from making their contribution to the construction of roads in the Commonwealth. Queensland has already placed into Consolidated Revenue £i,250,000 collected by way of the heavy vehicles tax. Up to date, the Queensland Government has paid into the Main Roads Commission’s funds more than £3,000,000 collected in motor vehicle registration fees. So, in fact, there is available for the construction of roads, or there should be available for the construction of roads in Queensland, the Commonwealth grant, motor car registration fees, and the amount collected under the heavy vehicles tax.
Ali those moneys should be paid to the transport fund for the construction of roads. Those moneys are taxes that have already been paid by taxpayers, and all of them should be paid to local authorities for road construction purposes, and ratepayers or local authorities should not have to make a contribution to the repayment. Those moneys are the proceeds of taxes, and have already been paid, and they should not have to be repaid. Mr. Walsh has given figures of loan moneys made available to local authorities which, he says, have been expended in full. I do not wish to be unfair, and I do not charge him with having misused any of those moneys for a particular purpose, but the question does arise in my mind whether that has been the case. 1” submit that it is entirely wrong that the petrol tax and motor registration fees which are used to finance road construction have to be paid back to the State by the local, authorities. I hope that my query will elucidate the point, and bring a. reply from the Queensland Government, or, indeed, from any other government that may be concerned, to prove that such is not the case, because those moneys should be used for road construction purposes. That is the intention of this Parliament. Mr. Duggan makes excuses, and we now find that additional funds are to be made available, by the generosity of this Parliament and this Government, to Queensland. The Opposition agrees that the money should be provided by this Parliament. Despite the protests of the representatives of Victorian electorates about the formula, I believe that the bill will become law.
What is the way out? This bill seeks to amend the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act by making provision for a greater percentage of moneys to be paid to local authorities. I believe that the local authorities, if given a greater direct allocation of funds, would be able to find the necessary labour, and would be able to expend the money on roads. But Mr. Duggan has not tried that line of action. He has retained the funds in the unexpended balances. The Queensland Government has been able to build up reserves and credit balances in all departments. The Leader of the Opposition in the Queensland Parliament said within the past few days that the State Government has, in its various departments, credit balances amounting to £25,000,000, of which £10,000,000 are held in Commonwealth bonds. That just shows that it is a part of the policy of. the Queensland Government, while receiving money, to squeal for more, even though it has a huge credit balance. I ask the Government to insist that States spend on roads the money made available by the Commonwealth to them.
I am glad that the Prime Minister, in his second-reading speech, said that the States ‘’ shall expend “ these moneys for this particular purpose. We should also ensure that the local authorities will receive some extra assistance. The total allocation to local authorities in Queensland was £560,100, although the allocations were increased from £12,816,000 in 1950-51 when the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act was passed, to £16,618,000 in 1953-54, -but the direct grants to local authorities were not increased by one penny in those four years.
The Prime Minister made a promise in his policy speech on this matter, and an arrangement was made with the States at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers when he intimated to them that this extra money would be forthcoming, so the local authorities are now to be given an increased allocation. But the increased allocation does not increase the percentage that will be forthcoming to them. Mr. Walsh has stated that the remainder is being expended in other ways on rural roads, developmental roads and the like. I point out that an examination of the reports of the Main Roads Commission in previous years shows that some local authorities have received nothing, or almost nothing whilst other local authorities seem to have derived a considerable advantage. I refer now to the balance of the 35 per cent, which was not granted to the local authorities. Some local authorities are receiving favorable treatment, but others are getting practically nothing. Mr. Gair, when he was Treasurer, informed the Queensland member of Parliament whom I have mentioned that in the determination of the moneys given to local authorities, the remaining portion of the 35 per cent, was based principally on what they owed to the Treasury. I emphasize that point. The Queensland Government allocates this money not on the merits of the case that may be advanced by a local authority, or having regard to the urgent needs of roads in a particular shire, but on the basis of the indebtedness of local authorities to the State Treasury. The money is not being made available to local authorities for the purpose of building new roads. It is time that the Australian Government ensured that money that it makes available specifically for road purposes shall be used for such purposes. As the honorable member for Hunter voiced a similar complaint in respect of New South Wales, this complaint cannot be regarded as having a party political basis. I doubt whether any honorable member is really satisfied with the way in which the State governments actually use moneys that are made available to them under measures of this kind. We must face up to this position. Otherwise, the additional funds to be made available under this bill will not be used to build more roads. As I have said, Mr. Duggan, the Queensland Minister for Transport, has stated that local government authorities cannot expend additional funds for road purposes because they are unable to obtain the requisite man-power for such work. I venture to say that every local authority in Queensland could expend additional funds profitably in this direction if the State Government would make such funds available to them. I am always prepared to face up to the question of whether funds of this kind should be made available solely to main roads authorities in the various States, or whether it is better that a percentage of them, as is proposed under this measure, should be made available to local government authorities for road purposes. The
Main Roads Commission in Queensland is doing an excellent job. However, after analysing many of its reports, I am convinced that it is too biassed in its apportionment of road works. Whereas not one penny has been expended on many roads that run through several shires and which should have been modernized years ago, on the other hand certain local government authorities are benefiting to a disproportionate degree in the allocation of such works.
-Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann) indulged in a long diatribe. He told a story that might have led one to believe that he was speaking about Brewster’s millions. He invited Mr. Walsh, the Queensland Treasurer, to reply to sums that he has just worked out in multiplication, subtraction and addition on the basis of figures that he gleaned from certain reports. I have no doubt that if the honorable member’s remarks warrant a reply, Mr. Walsh will certainly reply to thom. The honorable member was speaking more as a shire councillor than as a member of the National Parliament. Obviously, he gained the information that he trotted out in his capacity as a shire councillor. I do not intend to deal with the affairs of local government authorities to the degree that the honorable member has dealt with them. Nor do I intend to refer to the heavy vehicle tax and motor registrations as he has done. After all, a proportion of petrol tax collections is being retained by this Government for certain purposes, and the States are not too happy about the amount of the funds that they receive for all purposes from the Australian Government. Consequently, Queensland, like every other State, has been obliged to have recourse to special methods of raising revenue.
This bill seeks to repeal the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1950 which repealed the Chifley act of 1947. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in his second-reading speech, said that the refining of petrol in this country was increasing to such a degree that the road grants provided for under the 1950 act would automatically be substantially reduced having regard to the operation of the excise duty on petrol. It is now proposed to replace the road grants made to the States in the past by the payment of a sum based on a flat rate of 7d. a gallon of the customs or excise duties paid on motor spirit, exclusive of aviation spirit. In consequence, the total sum to be made available to the States for road purposes will be increased to £24,000,000 annually which is an increase of £7,000,000 on the average amount that was distributed under the 1950 act. The Prime Minister said that the amount granted to the States under the 1950 act was twice the amount made available to them under the Chifley Government’s act of 1947. However, the right honorable gentleman forgot to tell the House that since this Government assumed office in 1949 the country has been experiencing vicious inflation and that, consequently, costs generally have doubled and, in some instances, trebled. In those circumstances, it is no cause for wonder that the Prime Minister should be able to say that this Government has doubled the amount that was made available annually under the 1947 act.
When honorable members opposite were in Opposition they howled about the paucity of the amount that was made available to the States for road purposes by the Chifley and Curtin Labour Governments. During the general election campaign in 1949, the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), with the object of catching a few votes among petrol users, alleged that those Governments had raided for revenue purposes the proceeds of the petrol tax and had thus caused a grave deterioration in our roads system. The Prime Minister, when introducing this measure, said that a section of the public believed that the whole of the petrol tax collections should be used for road purposes. He rejected that argument, and pointed out that the petrol tax was first imposed in 1902, that road grants were not made to the States until 1923 and that it was not until 1926 that such grants were associated with petrol tax collections. It was right for honorable members opposite when they were in Opposition to howl and squeal to the effect that the Chifley and Curtin Labour
Government should make the whole of the petrol tax collections available for road purposes. However, immediately they assumed office they forgot the promises they made to the public on this matter. Now they have the opportunity to implement the policy about which they screamed so loudly during the general election campaign in 1949, but they have completely forgotten about it. The Prime Minister also said -
Another argument sometimes put forward is that since the petrol tax is paid by road users it should be used exclusively for their benefit.
The Prime Minister referred to “another argument”. He conveniently forgets that it was the very argument which he and his colleagues, when they were in Opposition, used against the Chifley and Curtin Labour Governments. What was possible in the minds of honorable members opposite when Labour was in office, apparently is impossible now that they themselves are in office. At the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, held in September, 1950, Mr. Gair, the Premier of Queensland, referred to the question of making all petrol tax collections available for road purposes. During the general election campaign in 1949, that was exactly what the present Treasurer urged should be done,, hut, apparently, Mr. Gair received a reply similar to that which the Prime Minister has given on this point on this occasion. Our road system deteriorated to a dreadful degree during World War II. when man-power and materials were not available That conflict ended nine years ago. In the meantime, attempts have been made to overtake the lag in road works. As a result of widespread complaints in every State, the Chifley Government, in 1947, provided special grants to the States for road purposes. It was decided to allocate such funds on a formula that was agreed to at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. The Prime Minister, in his secondreading speech, said that the Premier of Victoria was a little disappointed about the basis of that formula which, in effect, provided for the distribution of grants of this kind on the basis of 5 per cent, to Tasmania and the distribution of the remainder to the other States on the basis of three-fifths population and two-fifths area. That basis was devised in order to give fair treatment to States like Queensland and Western Australia which are vast in area but sparsely populated. The area of Queensland is 620,000 square miles and that of Western Australia is approximately 1,000,000 square miles, but the population of those States, comparatively, is but a handful. One honorable member from Victoria said that over onethird of the population of Queensland is concentrated in Brisbane. That is true, but, nevertheless, Queensland is a vast State with a sparse population. There is no doubt that under the existing formula Victoria, on an area basis, does not do so well. Indeed, the electorate of Kennedy is nearly four times as large as Victoria. I repeat that the formula was agreed to by the State Premiers and was accepted by the Australian Government. It has been embodied in this measure, as in previous measures, but due regard should be paid to the need for both development and defence.
Road transport is vital to Australia’s defence and development. and it is closely linked to our drive for increased production. I have travelled over a large part of northern Australia this year, and although £S00,000 is to be allocated under the bill for strategic roads and roads used for Commonwealth purposes, I have not found evidence that any roads in western Queensland have been declared to be strategic roads. People who live in the north of Australia, many of whom are exservicemen and have some knowledge of the defence requirements of that part of the Commonwealth, have urged upon the Government, and upon members of Parliament who pass their way, the importance of assisting State governments and local authorities to improve road communications. They maintain that many roads should be declared to be strategic roads so that the Commonwealth would be responsible for improving and maintaining them for defence purposes. Recent events in South-East Asia, the existence of the Anzus pact and the Seato pact, recently signed at Manila, and warnings of what may happen in the Pacific in 1956, suggest that we may be passing through an era similar to that which preceded the 3rd September, 1939. Shortly before that date, a road from Alice Springs to Darwin was hurriedly completed, and, during World War II., an inland defence road was laid in Queensland. That road was built by men over military age and by military rejects. In other words, it was built by labour less efficient than was available in the period before the war.
I urge the Government to take cognizance of its own warnings to the people on the subject of Australia’s defence requirements. The sum of £800,000 for strategic roads, access roads to Commonwealth properties and other roads used by the Commonwealth, for which the bil] provides, is totally inadequate. The Government should also take cognizance of the .situation in northern Australia that was disclosed in the recent Redex motor trial, when vehicles fell to pieces on the rough roads. Action ought to be taken by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) to have the road from Townsville to Mount Isa declared a strategic road for defence purposes. There ought to be a strategic road four lanes wide from Cairns right round to Adelaide, and others from Rockhampton to Longreach and from Bourke through Cunnamulla, Charleville and Longreach to Mount Isa. I know that such projects would cost millions of pounds, but the cost would not matter if we were at war. Now is the time to provide strategic roads, while we are at peace. Such roads would also have a developmental value.
It is idle for the Government to ask, “Where can we get the man-power?” It inherited from, the Labour administration an immigration plan that was one of the finest devised in any country. What happened to that plan? It broke down because of the Government’s inability to administer it. Prospective immigrants were available, and, had they been brought to Australia in sufficient numbers, all these major national works could have been put in hand. To-day immigrants are arriving only in dribs and drabs although we have been told that we must quickly increase Australia’s population to 25,000,000. No government, of course, could bring immigrants to the country if it could not provide work for them. But here is an opportunity for the Government to employ them on great works of the utmost value to the nation. They are works of a defence value and a developmental value, works upon which all the immigrants that the Government can bring to Australia could be engaged. Thousands of people were eager to come to this country when the Government took office, and many of them are still willing to come. It is about time that the Government, if it really means what it says about defence, gave more serious consideration to the building of strategic roads than apparently it has given up to date. We all know that the cost of building even a mile of roadway is very high to-day. In the circumstances, the proposal to provide £800,000 for strategic roads, roads of access and other Commonwealth roads is too ridiculous for words. The Government should press on with the task of having strategic roads built in areas where they would be of the most use to us should we be attacked. Hitler showed the value of strategic roads with his programme for the construction of autobahns before World War II.
The bill provides that the allocation of funds for roadworks in sparsely settled areas shall be increased from 35 per cent. to 40 per cent, of the total grant. Under the Chifley Government’s act of 1947, provision was made for a specific allotment of funds for the construction of roads of access to timber areas and other rural areas. Under that legislation, £1,000,000 was spent in the first year on roads in sparsely settled areas. Thi: amount was increased in the second year to £2,000,000, and in the third year to £3,000,000. The expenditure in the third year was 41 per cent, of the total sum made available for roads. The Prime Minister said in his second-reading speech that, under this Government’s act of 1950, 35 per cent, of the total was earmarked for sparsely settled areas, which was such au outstanding success that the Government now proposed to increase the provision to 40 per cent. In other words, the allocation will be 1 per cent, less than the allocation under the Chifley Government’s legislation in 1947. That is just another indication of the way in which this Government still lags behind the achievements of the Chifley Government.
Adequate and efficient transport is vitally necessary to the people of sparsely settled areas, and it is also the lifeblood of commerce. I refer to transport in its widest possible sense, including air, sea, rail and road services. Our railway and shipping services, apparently, are not adequate for commerce between our capital cities, and we must have recourse to lorries which carry great loads along our highways. This situation indicates the need for the co-ordination of transport services. I have had occasion to complain to the Minister for Shipping and Transport of the lack of ships to carry goods to northern Queensland. The residents of the remote parts of that State complain of the lack of action by the Government to provide roads as good as those provided in the more densely settled areas so that commerce can take advantage of road transport to a greater degree than is possible at present.
We have heard a great deal lately about the air beef scheme. The honorable member for Dawson (Mr. Davidson) 13 to be the chairman of a committee, which will inquire into this system of transporting beef. We have heard a lot of talk, also, about the need to build new railways in order to foster the expansion of the cattle industry, and about the need for roads to achieve the same purpose. During the recent drought in the Northern Territory, a company which owns vast herds, of cattle was forced to shift thousands of cattle in order to save their lives. It tried transportation by diesel road trains. An official of the company announced that these road trains were successful, and cattlemen to whom I have spoken have told me that the trains are efficient on reasonably good roads. If we had roads that were not broken up by gulleys and wash-outs, they would be highly successful, but they must have something better than bush tracks. Many cattle were injured because, when a train came to a wash out on a road, it had to reduce speed, thus forcing the load to shift. The load shifted again in the opposite direction, of course, as the train climbed out of the depression.
Diesel road trains, on good roads, should be highly successful for the movement of cattle, particularly fat cattle. Therefore, if good roads were built in northern Australia, the cattle industry could be considerably expanded. At present, Queensland is producing 51.2 per cent, of our beef cattle, or 37.6 per cent, of the total of beef and veal. The productivity of the State’s cattle industry would be greatly increased if the cattle districts were served by roads on which diesel road trains could operate at the greatest level of efficiency. As the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) said at the outset of this debate, the Labour party supports the bill. I support it, too, but, at the same time, I urge the Government to provide good roads in strategic areas, not only for the purpose of rendering our defence preparations effective, but also for the purpose of encouraging the development and increased production that are vital to Australia.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
.- I regard it as a very great privilege to speak in support of this bill, the provisions of which have been so brilliantly and concisely expounded by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). We have been told that this measure will repeal the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1950 and authorize payments to the States for the construction and maintenance of roads from a fund that is to be raised by the collection of a tax at the rate of 7d. a gallon on all petrol consumed in Australia. This proposal will have variouscomplicated effects. I trust that the bill will become law, because already funds are being expended in accordance with the arrangement proposed to be authorized by it. This measure constitutes one of the best proposals made by the Government to further its record of wise and prudent -administration of the economy.
In a country so vast as Australia, with far-flung areas over which products must be transported for long distances, the transport system constitutes the main arteries, through which the lifeblood of commerce must flow. Without efficient transport Australia cannot and will not prosper. A sound transport system is one of its basic needs. Statisticians tell us that road transport carries, I think from memory, 70 per cent. or80 per cent. of the freight traffic. Consequently, any measure such as this which will have beneficial effects upon the roads is indeed important. I represent a rural electorate. I believe that certain sections of the Australian Labour party, which has a rural policy - I do not refer to the Communist or left-wing section of the party and those members of it who have similar leanings - realize that transport is necessary for the carriage of the goods that provide Australia’s national income. If roads are so bad that large sums must, be expended on maintaining them and the vehicles that travel over them, the cost of all goods transported will be increased and we shall be in a very difficult situation. A farmer told me the other day that in 36 hours transport costs had added more to the cost of a crop than it had cost throughout the whole year of its growth. That seems reasonable, especially in relation to beef from the Northern Territory or wheat from the south-west of New SouthWales. This fact clearly illustrates the great importance of the transport system. At present we are meeting heavy competition in overseas markets for our goods, because the high cost of transport in Australia has loaded costs onto our products. We have been denied the benefit of sea transport along our coasts by the activities of the Communist party through the agency of the Waterside Workers’ Federation, under the co-operative eye of successive Labour governments.
– What about the overseas shipping companies?
– Many of our coastal shipping companies have been run out of business by the activities of the Communists.
-Order ! The honorable member should keep to the subjectmatter of the bill.
– I shall do so. Good road transport, which this measure is designed to make possible, is important in a country in which sea transport has been crippled by the infiltration of Communists in the Waterside Workers’ Federa tion and the Seamen’s Union. Members of the Australian Labour party say that they will support the bill. Had they actedyears ago to prevent the deterioration of the transport system, the measures envisaged in this bill would not now be so vital. The bill constitutes a wise attempt by the Government to promote the efficiency of road transport. This is the most satisfactory occasion that I have experienced since I became a member of this House, because. I now have the opportunity of speaking in support of a measure such as this. The bill will make available to the State governments funds totalling £24,000,000. This amount is £7,000,000 more than the grants made last financial year, and represents an increase of 40 per cent. The proposal will be made retrospective to the 30th July last. Already local councils and road building authorities in the rural areas are receiving the benefit of the increased flow of money for roads works.
There is no need for me to remind you, Mr. Speaker, and Australians generally, of the great difficulties that afflict the transport system, particularly our roads system. One of the horrible costs of war is the deterioration of capital assets such as roads. During the war, roads of all kinds - highways and trunk, main and development roads - were all neglected because the available money, labour and equipment had to be devoted to the war effort, and, in relation to roads, particularly to the construction and maintenance of strategic roads in the Northern Territory and western Queensland. It has not been possible to make good the damage since the war. It is common to hear all kinds of roads, and even highways, termed bad. The cause of their condition is the treatment they received during the war and since. In war-time the weight and speed of road traffic increased tremendously. In Western Australia I saw tank transporters, which weighed 28 tons, transporting tanks, which weighed 28 tons - a total weight of transporter and load of 56 tons - on narrow bitumen roads that were laid on infirm foundations. After this treatment, the roads, instead of presenting the normal slightly curved macadamized surface, looked more like question marks. They were virtually destroyed. In the last five years phenomenally wet weather has been experienced, particularly in the eastern States. This has undermined the foundations of many roads. The passage of heavy vehicles at high speed has almost destroyed many of those thoroughfares. In spite of the most earnest efforts, with the available labour and equipment it has been impossible to overtake the lag in roads works. The effects of war, wet weather and the passage of fast and heavy vehicles have caused deterioration that almost defies the ingenuity of man to make good.
I am delighted to support this measure, which will make available to the roads authorities of the States - we heard mentioned this afternoon the New South Wales Department of Main Roads, the Victorian Country Roads Board, and the Queensland Main Roads Commission - and shire and municipal councils, £7,000,000 more than was granted for. this purpose last financial year. Even people who do not travel much on the roads are intimately affected by their condition, because so many of the goods on which they depend are transported by road. Those people, and those who travel extensively on the roads in the course of their business or in pursuit of recreation, will be delighted to know that this measure has been introduced and that at last increased funds are to be made available so that the best possible use may be made of the increasing availability of labour, of wonderful technical equipment and of the brains and skill of the engineers of local council and other roads authorities. After five years - and the effect of this measure will be felt much longer than that - the people will begin to enjoy the benefit of improved roads and a better economy.
I call to mind some city concrete highways, wide enough for seven or eight lanes of traffic. As only two or three streams of cars use them, the edges are available for parking or .other purposes. Expenditure on roads in sparsely settled rural areas is the most importantexpenditure. Funds available for that purpose may now be augmented in several ways. First, the States are in future to be required to spend on rural roads 40
Ifr. Jeff Bate. per cent, of the grants made under the terms of this bill. The proportion was formerly 35 per cent. That proportion of last financial year’s grant of £17,000,000 would amount to a little less than £6,000,000. Forty per cent, of the grant of £24,000,000 for the current financial year will amount to almost £10,000,000. Secondly, the proportion of one-sixth of the grant allocated for expenditure on works, other than roads works, allied to road and water transport, has been reduced. Formerly this represented an amount of £3,000,000, but the amount will be reduced to £1,000,000, and this will serve to augment the funds available for rural roads and for highways. These increased funds will be of great benefit in helping to promote the development of country roads.
Another important part of the measure is the provision under which State governments will be required to make available to the Commonwealth properly audited returns that will indicate how their grants have been expended. Honorable members on this side of the House who espouse high principles do not consider that too many restrictions should be placed upon the States, and the States themselves do not want a great number of restrictions. State governments are sovereign governments, and they want to spend as they wish the funds allocated to them for roads purposes. However, owing to the intrusion of the Australian Government into State affairs through economic measures, the States, in order to get additional finance, apparently have agreed to the principle embodied in this measure and have undertaken to expend 40 per cent, of their grants on rural roads. It would be satisfactory enough if the States were honouring the agreements by which they are at present bound, but some of them evidently are not doing so. The honorable member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann) expressed grave doubts whether the Queensland Government was honouring its obligations, and I very much doubt whether the New South Wales Government has honoured its obligations. The safeguards that were embodied in the earlier legislation were not enforced, and that weakness has been exploited by some of the State administrations. The honorable member for
Fisher, this afternoon, told the House that the Queensland Government allocated some of its grant to local governing bodies that owed the Queensland Treasury a great deal of money, so that those councils would pay back into Consolidated Revenue some of the debts that they owed to the Government. By that means the Queensland Administration evaded the spirit of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement. By refusing to expend money on roads in rural areas the Queensland Government has broken the spirit of the formula under which the grants were made. This formula was designed to ensure that adequate money should be expended on the areas where development was most necessary. This measure seeks to make allocations )f money to the sparsely settled States of Australia proportionately larger than to States such as Victoria, which already have well-developed road systems. Honorable members should remember that Aus: tralia is largely a primitive country, and it is a wise policy to give a proportionately larger grant of money to those States which need to be developed, rather than to spread the money more evenly so that well-populated States receive proportionately more than they should get.
Some honorable members of the Parliament who represent Victorian electorates, have complained that Victoria is not receiving a correct proportion of the available money under the formula, but I believe that their attitude is somewhat sectional. Australia cannot be administered from Victoria, and Australia cannot he defended on an Albury line or something of that sort. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) seemed to consider that Victoria should get more money for roads, but nobody knows better than he does that our northern areas must be developed in order that we may be able to defend the whole of Australia including the southern, areas. Unless we can carry out that development of the north his own electors may be in serious danger during another war. I believe that honorable members from Victoria would be wise to adhere to the spirit of the formula, which was devised with the welfare of the whole of Australia in mind. If a State government, such as the Queens land Labour Government, i3 entrusted with funds by the Commonwealth, we should ensure that that State spends the money for the purposes for which it was given to it. If it does not so spend the money, then it should be taken back from that State and, perhaps, given to Victoria. I have been asked by the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) how much money New South Wales will get under the formula. I do not know exactly, but as New South Wales gets about two-fifths of anything that is going, I should say that New South Wales would get about two-fifths of the money allocated out of the petrol tax for roads. I do not think that New South Wales will grumble about its allocation, because I believe that the people of New South Wales will be delighted with the amount that has been made available to their State, provided the Labour Government in that State expends the money on the roads of the State and does not waste it in other ways.
I believe that if Queensland or Western Australia receives more than its share under the formula, and does not spend that money in the proper way - that is, on the construction and maintenance of roads - then by all means Victoria’s share should be increased. However, I do not believe that Victoria has done too badly out of the formula, because the House has been told to-day that Victoria has more miles of roads than any other State in Australia, and longer bitumen roads even than New South Wales. Victoria, therefore, has developed its road system very well, and apparently that State has not done too badly out of the petrol tax as well as out of registration fees and other taxes connected with motor vehicles.
This bill, will provide £100,000 a year for expenditure by the Commonwealth on the promotion of road safety. I believe that honorable members will perhaps be disappointed because only £100,000 a year is to continue to be spent on road safety, because some of us hold the opinion that more money should be made available for that purpose. Some years ago our highways were called twenty-mile-an-hour roads; then they were improved until they became 30-mile-an-hour roads, and now they are 40-mile-an-hour highways. However, many motorists travel at 70 miles or 80 miles an hour on those roads, which is a very dangerous practice. One does not wish to he parochial, hut I remind honorable members that there is a Federal Highway between Canberra and Goulburn, and a Hume Highway between Goulburn and Sydney. Some honorable members frequently use those highways, and some Ministers of the previous’ Labour Government often travelled on them at high speeds. Unfortunately one of them came to grief on the Hume Highway. I have figures before me relating to accidents on about 50 miles of the Hume Highway from the Wollondilly shire boundary towards Canberra. In one year there were 437 accidents on that 50-mile strip of highway, involving nineteen deaths and 235 badly injured people. Statistics like that make us realize that perhaps we should spend a little more than £100,000 a year on the promotion of road safety.
Any honorable member who represents a country electorate has felt the strain of driving along our highways late at night after leaving political meetings. We have to pass hundreds of vehicles, perhaps one every 30 yards. Most of them are driven fast, their headlights are blinding, and one has to have his attention closely concentrated during every second of his driving. The coroner in one of the districts in my electorate told me that seven out of 21 inquests that he has recently held were conducted on young men aged between eighteen and twenty years who had been killed in motor cycle accidents. He said that he was sick at heart with the carnage on the roads to-day, particularly that caused by speed. Some accidents are caused through drunkenness, but some curves on fast roads are treacherous.
– Does the honorable member say that the roads are too fast?
– I say that many drivers of vehicles drive too fast for the state of the roads, drive dangerously or are not physically fit to drive because of bad eyesight or some other disability. When we meet such drivers on the highway we have to make a quick judgment about what to do, and have to relate our actions to our own vehicles, the state of the road and the behaviour of the vehicle that we are meeting. All that makes driving a very great strain, and it is sickening for many of us who know how many Australians are killed and badly injured each year on our roads.
The Prime Minister has always held the view that we cannot allocate the proceeds of any one tax for any one purpose, because if we do that we lose control of the money. The right honorable gentleman has pointed out that a lot of the money paid under the petrol tax is not paid so much by road users as by people who buy goods that are carried on the roads. There are plenty of road transport vehicles travelling between our capital cities, and besides paying large road taxes they use vast quantities of petrol and consequently pay heavy petrol taxes. But the petrol taxes are added to the selling prices of the goods that they carry, and consequently the consumers of those goods pay the petrol taxes. To argue that the petrol tax is paid by road users alone, and therefore should be spent on roads, is similar to arguing that customs duty ought to be paid back to somebody who pays customs duties. Indeed, there is no logical reason why the petrol tax should be solely expended on the roads. I believe that when the Prime Minister dealt with this matter he finally answered that argument.
It is the prerogative of this Parliament to decide how the proceeds of the petrol tax shall be spent, and we are all pleased that increasing amounts of this money are being paid to road authorities. To-day an honorable member opposite said that all we need in order to have good roads is more money. He said, in effect, that we could abolish local government authorities, pay out more money and get good roads. I believe that he should apologize to local government authorities for such a statement, because those bodies, including unpaid shire councillors and aldermen, helped Australia progress tremendously by establishing and maintaining our road system in the early stages of our history. They have had to build roads in the outback and roads to our port3 and other important trade points. The convicts built the first roads in this country, but since 1860 when Sir
Henry Parkes introduced his local government legislation, shire councils have made a great contribution to the progress of Australia by building and maintaining great lengths of road.
To say that all we need for good roads is more money is a typical socialist argument, probably from the London School of Economics. Indeed, that is a plainly stupid argument because it disregards the spirit of the men who build the roads and the brains and energy of the men who plan them. One gang of men on the road over the Clyde Mountain have taken a pride in maintaining their strip of road and have kept it in magnificent condition for many years. We need much more than money in order to build roads, we need hard work and sweat and brains. The men in the gang that I have mentioned, bulldozer drivers, lorry drivers, truck drivers, grader drivers, labourers and others, work steadily in burning heat or torrential rain in order to keep the road open so that goods and passengers can pass through in safety. Our roads are tremendously important, and all honorable members recognize them as of vital concern- to Australia. This measure is one of the best contributions that has ever been made in this country towards improving our road system.
.- This bill is designed to repeal the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1950 and replace it with new legislation which shall operate for the next five years. The Government is making an attempt to assist the States with the construction, maintenance and repair of roads, which is an attempt approved of by all honorable members of this House. It is important that the States should be given adequate and early information about the amount of money that is to be granted by the Common wealth to the States, so that the States may plan their road programmes well ahead and obtain the greatest value from the money available to them. I am glad that the Government has placed the sale of overseas petrol on the same basis as that of Australian petrol. If it had not done so our revenue from customs would have been diminishing while -our revenue from excise would not have been increasing very greatly.
In 1947 a Labour government introduced legislation to the effect that part of the road grants was to be earmarked for expenditure on rural roads, and I am pleased to see that that provision is continued in this bill. However, I propose to deal with this matter at a later stage, to show that the construction of rural roads will not be adequately dealt with even by the expenditure of the money to be made available under this measure. I believe that there are about four times as many miles of rural roads in Australia as there are of minor and major roads under the control of main roads authorities. The allocation to the States for road construction- has been increased from 6d. to 7d. a gallon, making an increase of Id. a gallon, which will mean a substantial increase of the total money available to the States. It is proposed that the States shall expend at least 40 per cent, of the total allocation on roads in rural areas, and that the States may continue to have permission to use any part of their road grants to assist local authorities in the construction and maintenance of roads. The local authorities have a large function to perform, and they are the best channels through which the money should be expended. The local governing authorities in the towns are entitled to a greater allocation, but I propose to deal with that matter at a later stage.
The allocation of £800,000 for expenditure on strategic roads and roads for access to Commonwealth property represents a slight increase, but I think it is totally inadequate when compared with other defence expenditure. The proposed legislation limits to £1,000,000 per annum the payment to the States for work3 connected with transport by road and water, other than actual road construction work. I think the bill provides for a move in the right direction when it places a limit upon the amount of money that may be expended by the States for works other than those which are associated with actual road construction, because there is a great need for the improvement of existing roads and the construction of new roads, particularly in country areas. It is proposed that any part of the Commonwealth grant may be made available to the local governing authorities, which means that there is no limit upon the amount of money that may be made available to those bodies. I think the States should endeavour to expend as much money as possible through the local governing authorities. It is proposed also that each State shall furnish to the Commonwealth annual audited statements showing that the Commonwealth road grants are being expended in accordance with the provisions of the legislation. I think that that also is a move in the right direction. Although the Commonwealth is not responsible for the actual construction, it finds the money and it has the responsibility of ensuring that the money that it collects from the people for this specific purpose shall be expended to the greatest possible advantage. The States will do justice to the people who are paying the tax if they spend the money in accordance with the provisions and within the limits of the proposed legislation.
The scheme has not been formulated by this Government alone, but in conjunction with the six State governments, five of which are Labour governments, which have exercised some influence on the policy that has been expressed in the bill and upon the methods that it is proposed to adopt. I think it is because of the advocacy of the State governments that some of the beter provisions have been incorporated in the bill. The Opposition supports the measure, although I believe it should go much further. 1 think that the proposed allocations are quite inadequate for a large country like Australia. “We have a continent the size of which is similar to that of the United States of America. Although we have not the same population, there is imposed upon us the responsibility of development. A tremendous job awaits our attention, particularly in relation to roads in outback areas. I should like to see the whole of the petrol tax made available for the construction of roads. From the point of view of national development, of national production and of defence, the construction and maintenance of roads call for the expenditure of a far greater sum of money than the Government proposes to make available. The Australian Labour party made a similar proposal during the recent general election campaign. I ask Government supporters why, in view of their expressed desire that there should be a greater volume of road construction in Australia, they are opposed to such a proposal.
Before Labour left office in 1949, it had been making available the limited funds that the States, because of the shortage of modern plant and equipment and of labour, were able to expend. During World War II., the Government had a tremendous task in relation to defence, and many roads were built during that period. The Labour Government discovered that the States were unable to expend all of the money that was allotted. As a result of questions that were asked and information that was supplied in the House, I understood that millions of pounds were lying idle in State accounts because they could not use the money that was allocated. Inquiries that I made revealed that that was because of the shortage of labour and of plant and equipment. The position has changed gradually, and in recent years a larger quantity of good plant and equipment has been imported, and some hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of whom have been given employment in road and bridge construction, have entered the country. The labour problem has been largely overcome, and the need for machinery has been largely met.
In New South Wales there are 10,900 miles of bitumen and concrete surface roads, or 8 per cent, of the total road mileage in that State. There are 31,000 miles of gravel roads and 27,000 miles of formed roads. Those two kinds of roads represent 47 per cent, of the total road mileage of New South Wales. Roads which are only cleared tracks, and on which almost no work has been done, total 56,000 miles or 45 per cent, of the State’s total road mileage. Those figures, which are the latest figures available, were taken from the Commonwealth Year-Booh of 1953. There are 126,000 miles of roads of different kinds in that State. The length of main and secondary roads that were maintained by the Main Roads Department as at June, 1950, excluding those in the western division, was 2,500 miles, or only 14 per cent, of the total distance of main and secondary roads. Local governing authorities maintained 15,000 miles, or 86 per cent, of the total distance. In the western division, there are 7,700 miles of roads, most of which are inadequately maintained. In that division there are very few bitumen roads and not very many miles of formed roads. Under this bill it is proposed that the Main Roads Department shall receive 60 per cent, of the allocation and that only 40 per cent, shall be used for rural roads. The local governing authorities in the rural areas are entitled to a much greater grant than the 40 per cent, that is envisaged in tho bill. I am pleased to note that th, figures in the latest main roads journal of “New South Wales disclose that £3,250,000 was expended on roads within the County of Cumberland, and that £10,250,000 was expended on roads in country areas. I hope that the New South Wales Government will be prepared to expend an even greater sum in the country areas.
I represent an area in the far-west of New South Wales, many parts of which are very badly serviced by roads. Road construction and maintenance is not carried out to the degree that I think it should be. People in that area have displayed hostility because they have not received sufficient consideration. Although some honorable members say that the money should be raised by the Commonwealth by means of taxation and that it should be given to the States without any ties, I think the Commonwealth should have more control over the manner in which the money is expended, that it should ensure that the local governing authorities receive a far greater proportion of the money, and that they are able to render greater service to the country with the money that is available. The effect of roads upon production, upon the cost of production and upon development is apparent to the House, and I do not wish to emphasize it. If good roads are provided in country areas, travel and inter-communication between the farming properties and the towns are facilitated, and the cost of obtaining goods and of transporting goods that are produced is considerably reduced. As honorable members move around their electorates, I am sure that they, like myself, receive complaints from local governing authorities that they are not provided with adequate funds for road construction and main tenance. Recently, my attention was directed to the bad state of the roads in one area in my electorate and to the fact that, because of the bad road surfaces, the. people in that area were not receiving regular mails or supplies. This state of affairs affected many things, including the education of the children who were taking correspondence courses. The notes and lessons were not received in good time. Those people experienced delay in the transport of the commodities that they produced and of the goods that they received. Embarrassment and added expense were caused to the people concerned. It was also pointed out that the Government, through the Postmaster-General’s Department, had to expend a considerably greater slim of money on the provision of mail services in the various States because of the poor condition of the roads. Bad road surfaces reduce the life of motor vehicles, and travellers are delayed in bad weather. One result of those conditions is that mail contractors have to charge the PostmasterGeneral’s Department substantially more for the service in order to make the business pay. Many contractors give up mail services because the bad condition of the roads make it impossible for them to continue. If the roads were improved, the Government would make substantial savings in various ways, but particularly on mail contracts.
I have received a letter from a constituent who makes an interesting approach to the problem of bad roads. It is not a selfish approach. He points out to me the bad condition of the road serving his property, and asks me to ascertain whether the Taxation Branch will agree to regard as an allowable tax deduction money expended by graziers in the district on repairs to public roads of access to their properties, because those roads are in a deplorable condition. My correspondent writes as follows: -
Governmental authorities seem unable to cope with tho job and the graziers would make the necessary repairs to make the roads reasonably traffickable, if they were entitled to receive taxation deduction for the amount expended.
Without the necessary repairs to the roads, it is impossible for them to maintain proper transport facilities with their properties.
That is a novel request, but it is reasonable and just. Land-holders are permitted to claim as deductions for income tax purposes expenditure incurred on water conservation, measures to prevent soil erosion and many other matters which are, in effect, of national importance. A grazier carries out work of that kind on his own property, and his own evidence of the expenditure incurred thereon is accepted by the Taxation Branch when he claims the amount as an allowable deduction for taxation purposes. I consider that the graziers should be allowed to claim as a tax deduction the money which they would be prepared to expend on roads giving access to their properties. In repairing those roads, they would be performing a national service, and the Government should compensate them for it. The claim for the deduction could be accompanied by a certificate given by an officer of the local government authority in the district showing that he had inspected the work, and had placed a value upon it on the basis of the figures disclosed to him. Such a method would give adequate protection to the revenue. I ask that consideration be given to that proposal, because it is reasonable and just.
I have also received petitions signed by thousands of ratepayers in my electorate asking for specific and increased allocations for roads in the western areas of New South Wales. I presented those petitions to the Treasurer, and he has pointed out, in reply, that the Commonwealth has no power to make special allocations to a particular area. All that the Commonwealth can do is to make allocations to a State, which then distributes the money to the various local governing bodies.
The position of local authorities to-day is most important. The old method of levying rates and taxes on land values by a municipality or shire is entirely inadequate under present conditions. In a small country town, the local householders are called upon to pay substantial, rates for the upkeep of the streets. Many householders do not own motor cars, and use the roads very little, and do not benefit substantially from them. The big lorries which travel through the town do more than any other vehicles to destroy the streets, but the owners pay nothing towards the maintenance of them. A new method of taxation must be made available to both local authorities, and the solution appears to me to be through a bill of this kind, under which greater amounts would be provided to local authorities, particularly in towns, for the repair and maintenance of their streets, out of the revenue derived from licencefees payable in respect of the vehicles which help to destroy those streets. We are living in a new age. The horse and buggy did little damage to road surfaces compared with the damage that is now done to them by heavy motor vehicles, and, therefore, greater provision, must be made for the maintenance and repair of roads. We have to look for other avenues of revenue than the ordinary and simple system of levying rates on town properties.
The Government has not given adequate consideration in this bill to financial ‘provision for strategic roads. The Government proposes to expend about £SOO,000 on the construction of defence roads and other governmental roads during the current financial year. Provision is made in the budget for 1954-55 of £200,000,000 for defence purposes, yet only the small amount of £800,000 is to be expended on strategic roads. The Government cannot make the excuse that the job cannot be done now. I believe that man-power and materials are available for the work. As I pointed out earlier, during World War II. when man-power was short, and every available man had to be directed to the war effort, whether in industry or the armed services, the government of the day had to call on many men from other occupations to construct roads. Hundreds of miles of roads, many of them with bitumen surfaces, were built for defence purposes. If a job can be done in wartime, it can be done in peace-time. When I became a member of this Parliament in 1934, we were told by the government of the day that there was not sufficient money in the community to finance a public works programme. We had a vast army of unemployed. If the Government of the day had sufficient foresight to undertake public works such as road construction for defence purposes, hundreds of thousands of unemployed persons could have been given adequate employment, and the addition of their spending power in the community would have helped to ease the effects of the depression, and improve conditions immediately. However, the government of the day said that it could not undertake a public works programme, because it did not have the necessary money. The previous speaker has said that money does not matter, and that as long as we have the money, we can do anything. We could have done a national job in the depression years, if we had had the money. The government of the day should have built strategic roads throughout the length and breadth of Australia. The east of New South Wales, for instance, should be connected with South Australia and Western Australia, and there should be a series of essential crossroads. Some foresight should now be shown by the Government in this matter. We are told by some honorable members that one of the chief measures of defence against atomic attack is to- disperse the population. If we have not an adequate road system in good condition to enable a dispersal of population we shall not have one of the recommended measures against atomic attack. I appeal to the Government to make large amounts of money available for strategic roads, and to look further afield than it is looking to-day because roads are essential to the defence and development of Australia.
This problem has not been overlooked in the United States of America. I read in the issue of the New York Times on the 12th July last the report of a speech made by the Vice-President, Mr. Nixon, on behalf of President Eisenhower, on a road construction programme. Mr. Nixon stated that a multi-billion dollar modernization of the nations highway system was to be carried out. The money would be made available by the federal authority to state instrumentalities for the work. The report of the speech filled two or three columns of the New York Times and I have taken only a few points from it. But Mr. Nixon pointed out, among other things, that the chief object of such a programme was to keep America’s defences strong and at maximum production strength. He said that road works were to be carried out as a measure of defence against atomic attack, and to cover the population rise up to 1970 of 200,000,000 persons. Mr. Nixon described the project as a grand plan to solve the problems of speeding safe transcontinental travel, inter-city communication, access highways and farm-to-market movements.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being made available in the United States of America at the present time for this specific purpose to modernize roads. Although we cannot expend the same amount of money that the United States of America can spend on such a work, I find that our provision is most inadequate, and, indeed, it may be described as only a flea bite per head of the population compared with the expenditure in America. If the American Government considers that it is absolutely necessary to undertake work of this character in order to defend the country adequately, I believe that we in Australia, who, we are told, are threatened so seriously from the north, must carry out an adequate road programme for the defence of our country. I appeal to the Government, on this score, to provide more money in the next year or two than in the past for the construction of defence highways throughout the length and breadth of Australia.
.- There is only one point mentioned by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) to which I desire to make any reference. The honorable member said that, in his opinion, this bill did not go far enough and that, in point of fact, the whole of the proceeds from the petrol tax should be made available by the Commonwealth to the States for road purposes. I consider that some explanation of that matter should be given to the House at this stage, lest people be under a wrong impression about the Government’s proposals in this bill. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in his second-reading speech, indicated that the basis of the allocation of the proceeds of the petrol tax was to be altered, and that the allocation for roads would be increased from 6d. to 7d. a gallon on all petrol except aviation spirit which is entered for home consumption and is subject to customs or excise duties. I consider that I should go slightly further and indicate that excise duties are paid in relation to oil which is refined locally, and that the excise on locally refined oil is only 3d. a gallon. Customs duty on petrol is 6d. a gallon. Therefore, the States will benefit considerably as the result of this altered basis of calculation of the amount payable to them.
The Prime Minister further pointed out in his second-reading speech, that if payments were to continue on the basis which existed last year, it was possible that, because of the increase of local refining, the States would not receive in the current financial year as much money perhaps as they received last year. The States were allocated £17,000,000 last, year, and under the provisions of this bill, they will receive approximately £24,000,000 this year. I hope that my explanation will help to clarify the misunderstanding which .may have been created by the honorable member for Darling.
If we are to regard a tax such as the petrol tax as something which is to be paid to the States for a special purpose, it must be regarded as being in the category of special purpose taxation. I wish to express my own view in complete opposition to the idea of special purpose taxation. I believe that all taxation which is levied by the Commonwealth should be paid into Consolidated Revenue, and that all obligations which the Commonwealth accepts, whether in relation to its own activities, operations within States, or whatever they may be, should be appropriated from Consolidated Revenue. Only last week we considered a situation in which a tax which produced approximately £40,000,000 was outlaid to meet an obligation of the order of £50,000,000. That is one effect that inevitably results from the idea of a special purpose tax. So, I place on record my strenuous objection to a special purpose tax. All tax collections should go to Consolidated Revenue and- be appropriated therefrom.
Apart from those few comments, there is only one other aspect of the bill to which I wish to direct attention. I believe that practically every honorable member approves of the bill in principle. Some honorable members from Victoria feel that they are being dealt with a little harshly, .but, under this measure, no principle of this legislation is being altered. This bill embodies the principles set out in the principal act. Therefore, there can be no complaint by honorable members from Victoria that the position Iw that State has deteriorated. Five of the six State Premiers agree with the basis on which these grants are allocated.
– That would be difficult to admit.
– It would be difficult for honorable members from Victoria to agree to the present formula, but I know that not only those honorable members but also their constituents will adopt a national outlook on this matter and will feel that in the opinion of the Australian Government and the governments of five of the six States this is in th, best interests of Australia and, therefore, in the best interests of Victoria. Ali honorable members approve of the principles of the bill, but one point which calls for some alteration relates to the inadequacy of clause 11 which introduces a. new principle into this legislation. Briefly, that clause provides for two things. The first of them is the presentation of a statement of the expenditure incurred by a State out of the amount in a particular year; and the second is that the Auditor-General of the State must certify that the amount shown in the statement as having been expended has actually been expended by the State and that the expenditure has been incurred in accordance with the provisions of this measure. I submit that that particular provision does not go far enough although it is an excellent provision. Before I indicate the basis of the alteration which, I believe, would be justified, I wish to cover certain points that relate to this aspect. In the first place, the amounts which are being paid are being paid from taxation which is collected by this Government acting on the authority of the Parliament. The amount which is being paid this year to the States results from an election promise that was made by the Prime Minister, and nobody in the community would doubt in any way the good judgment of the right honorable gentleman in making that promise. Everybody in the community believes that it is now necessary to increase expenditure on road works. As a matter of fact, the Government has quickly come to the point of introducing this measure, hut it has acted even more quickly in making payments on this new basis as from the beginning of the current financial year. These payments are made from taxation, and I believe that it is necessary for the Government to ensure that they shall be expended in accordance with the community’s requirements. It should be the responsibility of the States to spend the money as is directed under the bill. The purposes of the measure are sufficiently clear and do not require to be emphasized. I emphasize the term “ spend “ and, later, I shall give my reason for my doing so.
We are the trustees of the moneys which we collect and I do not believe that in any circumstances our responsibility in relation to the expenditure of this money ceases at the point at which it is paid to the State governments. We must realize that since the early ‘40’s, when uniform income tax came into operation, the States have been but mendicants or dependants upon the Australian Government of the day, regardless of the party complexion of that Government. The present relationship between the Australian Government and the States is that of principal and agents, and the Australian Government, as a principal, is entitled to stipulate conditions in relation to the expenditure of sums which it makes available to the States. It is the responsibility of this Government to impose a condition as to how this money must be used and also to provide that it must be used for rightful purposes. In point of fact, the bill does not specifically provide that this money must be used by the States. So, I wish to indicate what has happened in the past, and, in this respect. I shall cite figures in relation to the situation in Queensland. As at the 1st July, 1953, that is, at the beginning of the last financial year, there was a balance in the State roads fund of £1,400,000 which consisted of bonds - I emphasize bonds - to an amount of £500,000 and cash to an amount of £900,000. Receipts from the State Government itself amounted to £4,700,000 and receipts from the Australian Government amounted to £3,400,000, giving a total amount available for the year of £9,500,000. Payments from the fund amounted to £7,500,000, leaving a balance of £2,000,000 at the end of the year compared with a balance of £1,400,000 at the beginning of the year. That additional sum of £600,000 which was accumulated in the fund during the year was invested in bonds to the amount of no less than £500,000 and the remainder was retained in cash. So, the balance of £2,000,000 in the roads fund of the Queensland State Government was represented by £1,000,000 in Commonwealth bonds and £1,000,000 in cash. With an increase of almost 50 per cent, in the amount that will be paid to the Queensland Government for the current financial year, what will be the situation ? Will that Government continue to build up reserves and to invest them in bonds? Or, will it expend the money for road purposes as is provided under the bill?
Ifr. Andrews - The States have reached the limit of their construction resources.
– I shall deal with that aspect later. Apparently, the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews) agrees with the suggestion that I am about to make. The Queensland Government has another fund in which it had a balance, as at the 1st July, 1953, of £207,000. Receipts amounted to £560,000, which gave an income of £767,000, and payments from the fund amounted to £527,000, leaving a balance of £240,000, which was an increase of £33,000 in the balance over the whole of that particular year, and the balance at the end of the year represented more than 40 per cent, of the funds which had been made available during the year. That fund happened to be in relation to road works of local government authorities. The honorable member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann) dealt adequately with the position of those bodies. He pointed out that the Queensland Government could not be considered to be giving a “fair go” to local, authorities in relation to their road problems. I shall cite still another fund of the Queensland Government. As at the 1st July, 1953, the balance in it was £100,000. Receipts during the year amounted to £5,600,000, and expenditure amounted to £3,700,000, leaving a balance at the end of the year of £2,000,000 which was an increase of £1,900,000 out of total receipts of £5,600,000 at the end of the year. That means that 33 per cent, of the income of that fund was not expended by the Queensland State Government in that year. That fund is the Commonwealth and States Housing Agreement fund and I cite it as being relevant to this problem of principle. As at the 30th June last, the Queensland Government held no less a sum than £10,000,000 in Commonwealth bonds and £15,000,000 in cash. The Leader of the Opposition in the New South Wales Parliament has pointed out that the Labour Government in that State, at the end of June last, held balances totalling £43,000,000 and that that sum represented an increase in the State’s balances for the year of £23,000,000. I further emphasize Queensland’s situation by pointing out that the Queensland Government transfers money from loan fund to trust funds and special funds and that during last year no less a sum than £5,500,000 was invested from these trust and special funds in Commonwealth bonds. I have said sufficient to indicate clearly to honorable members the point that I raised earlier that clause 11 of the bill does not go far enough, and that provision should be made under this measure in respect of money remaining unexpended by the States. I believe that we should make provision for a carry forward of a balance of 5 or 10 per cent., and that any unexpended balance in excess of that amount should be considered to be the property of the Australian Government.
– Why not take all the States’ powers?
– I am suggesting not that we should take the States’ powers from them but that this Government accepts full responsibility for levying the taxes from which such funds are derived and that the State governments, which have no responsibility in respect of taxation, should at least utilize the funds made available under measures of this kind for the special purposes for which the Australian Government makes them available. Therefore, 1 suggest that at the committee stage the Government should consider introducing an amendment to provide that an unexpended balance in excess of a carry forward balance of 5, or 10, per cent, should be refunded by a State to the Australian Government, or that the amount which is payable to that particular State in respect of the following year should be reduced accordingly. I appreciate the fact, as is so in the case of main roads funds, that there can be a problem of mixture of State and Federal moneys. However, it would be easy to make an apportionment of the Australian Government’s interest in a particular fund in proportion to the total sum contributed by it or by a State. I reiterate that we are trustees of tax collections and that, if the money is not spent as we believe it should be spent, an obligation rests upon us to take one of two courses of action. First of all, we can reduce taxation and collect les3 from the community, or, secondly, if States are not prepared to spend the money which 5s made available to them, the excess amounts can be made available to States which are prepared to carry on with the job which the Government expects them to do. I suggest that a provision to this effect be introduced as an amendment during the committee stage. The State governments should not be allowed to accumulate reserves beyond reasonable limits at the expense of the Commonwealth Government. If the States want to follow such methods, let them take back their taxing rights. Let us get rid of uniform income taxation and let them be completely responsible for the moneys which they spend. They are not entitled to accumulate reserves at the expense of the Commonwealth.
The Queensland Government cannot reasonably object to the principle which I have enunciated, because legislation in force in that State provides that certain local government undertakings shall not make a profit, or, if a profit is made, that charges shall be reduced. As an example, I refer to the Aramac tramways, legislation which, strangely enough, deals with a railway. That act provides that if the railway, which is operated by a local council, shows a profit, freight rates and fares must be reduced immediately so that the undertaking will cease- to earn a profit. I propose that we apply to the Queensland Government exactly the same principle as it applies in its legislation in relation to local authorities. I realize, of course, that this matter perhaps has a political aspect. Most of us are aware of the type of politics which we have ia Queensland and are not beyond suspecting that the Queensland Government would adopt an attitude of “ spend as little as you can” in the first two years after an election in order to accumulate a tremendous fund which it could spend in f. large way in the year immediately prior to the next election in order to impress upon people what a good sort of government it i3. That sort of conduct militates against economic stability, and one of the goals which this Government has concentrated on over the period of five years since it was first elected is that of economic stability within the Australian community. I firmly believe that the sort of control which I have suggested should be put into operation.
Sometimes I think that this Government has been over-generous in its treatment of the States and that the State governments, in many instances, have been totally irresponsible. If one considers the situation in that light, one comes to the conclusion that there is a serious challenge by the States to the federal system., which we on this side of the House believe in for Australia. Perhaps in suggesting that the Government amend the bill in the way that I have indicated I am asking it to grasp the nettle, but I believe that, in the long run, such a provision would prove to be in the best interests of the relationships between the Commonwealth and the States and of the effective carrying out of the economic proposals which this Government is not able to carry out itself but which can be carried out if it makes money available to the States. I conclude by repeating the suggestion that I have made for the amendment of the bill. The proposal is that any surplus .of road grants for carry-forward purposes beyond 5 per cent, or 10 per cent, should be refunded to the Commonwealth by the State concerned, or that there should be a reduction of the amount payable to that State in the following year. I com mend the suggestion to honorable members for consideration and decision at the committee stage.
.- 1 have been very interested in the comments of the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), and I find myself in agreement with his view that a tax collected as the petrol tax is collected should not be paid into general revenue. I believe that, if his proposal were adopted, something would be done to overcome a system that is in danger of being perpetuated. Under the present system, a formula for the distribution of revenue from the petrol tax is agreed to by a majority of State Premiers. I believe that that is where the greatest degree of mischief arises from the legislation that we are now discussing. I do not know why Premiers should have the right to decide upon a formula by a majority vote and direct the way in which funds shall be dispersed to the States. If the suggestion made by the honorable member for Petrie were adopted, the Commonwealth would accept full responsibility for allotting funds for road works according to needs, and we should not then be confronted with the position that has arisen, not only in Queensland, but also in Western Australia, where moneys paid to those States for expenditure on roads have not been expended in full. We should then have some solid factual basis upon which the money could be allocated. The formula seems to me to have caused most of the mischief that has given rise to complaints and criticism of our Commonwealth aid roads legislation.
It must be taken for granted at the outset that the fact that one criticizes or offers some degree of opposition to the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill 1954 is not to be interpreted as an expression of opposition to State rights. Nothing could be further from the truth, because it is not expected that a small but wellpopulated State should receive back for road works the full amount collected in petrol tax from that State. The need of the larger but sparsely populated States for a substantial subsidy is completely recognized. However, when analysis and experience prove that certain States are unable to use the funds made available to them, while another State with a welldeveloped road system has insufficient funds for maintenance purposes, it is proper, in my judgment, to effect a revision of the faulty formula responsible for that state of affairs.
– Faulty in whose opinion ?
– I intend to present some facts to prove my statements. However, before I do so, I wish to underline one or two relevant points.
There is to be a substantial increase of the money made available this year. The amount is expected to rise from £17,000,000 to approximately £25,000,000, and, as far as I can gauge, the Commonwealth will retain about £4,000,000 of that sum. An important fact that I wish to emphasize at this stage is that this proposal would never have been brought before the Parliament had the Labour party not made its intentions in relation to the petrol tax very well known prior to the last general election.
– Oh, no !
– Oh, yes. The Labour party had made its intentions well known before the election, and, undoubtedly, it can take credit for the fact that the Government has decided to raise the amount to be made available to the States to the level for which this bill provides. I think that fact will be accepted almost generally. . Prior to 1950, the major portion of the revenue from the petrol tax was retained for general revenue purposes. It can now be contended logically that the Government recognizes the tax as one principally designed to assist the development and maintenance of Australia’s road system. That, of course, is a revolutionary change since 1950. As the honorable member for Petrie has remarked, the petrol tax is properly a federal tax, and, by Government policy now, it is to be used almost entirely for road construction, road extension and road maintenance. It seems to me that it follows logically that the Commonwealth has the obligation to ensure that grants to the States shall be consistent with the needs of the States. That seems to be the underlying principle of the whole Commonwealth aid roads system.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) underlined this principle in his second- reading- speech, but the principle is not being applied by the Government. The right honorable gentleman said -
In practice, the extent to which the Australian Government should assist the States by way of road grants must be determined from time to time having regard not only to the level of petrol tax collections but also to such factors as the nature of the road problems existing at the time, the resources available to State governments to deal with those problems and the nature and extent of other commitments with which the Australian Government may be confronted.
The need, of course, is the most important factor in this discussion, a fact which has almost been sufficiently emphasized by the honorable member for Petrie. How needs can be determined by a majority vote of State Premiers is almost beyond my comprehension. Obviously, the Australian Government, having reached a certain decision, should accept the responsibility of determining the .needs of the States and dispersing the funds according to those needs.
I wish, at this stage to com ment on the distribution of Commonwealth aid road grants to the States, because I think this background information is necessary in order to stress a point that I intend to make later in my speech. In 1949-50, New South Wales was allotted £2,470,000, Victoria £1,530,000, Queensland and Western Australia £1,680,000 each, and the other two States smaller amounts. In 1950-5.1, the New South Wales grant rose to £3,820,000. Victoria received £2,360,000. The two larger States in terms of area, Queensland and Western Australia, received £2,600,000 each. In 1951:52, the New South Wales grant was raised further to £4,130,000. Victoria received £2,550,000. Queensland and Western Australia received £2,810,000 each. The same trend continued in 1952-53 when, although Victoria received £2,630,000, Queensland and Western Australia received £2,900,000 each. In 1953-54, Victoria received £2,860,000, but the grants to Queensland and Western Australia were raised further to £3,160,000 each. It is estimated that this year Victoria’s share will be £3,890,000, and that Queensland and Western Australia will receive £4,090,000 each.
These figures emphasize the fact that area, rather than actual need, is the important factor under the present system. It must be realized that the density of development in Victoria has caused tremendous maintenance problems. It has already been sufficiently indicated that in the two States with the greatest area, Queensland and Western Australia, the amount of money allocated has not been expended. This seems entirely wrong when Victoria has not been able to do anything like the amount of maintenance that is needed even to keep pace with its needs. It seems to be the result of an unsuitable formula. It is undesirable that this formula should continue in existence at the behest of the majority of the State Premiers who meet in Canberra under the chairmanship of a Commonwealth Minister.
Victoria is unique because it has been roads conscious since 1913, when it established the Country Roads Board. A progressive roads policy was implemented well in advance of any such move by the other States. Sixty-five per cent, of the total sum spent on Victorian roads has been obtained from State revenue and local government sources. Victoria has helped itself to establish ‘the basis of a good roads system by taxation and the use of loan funds which, after all, become part and parcel of the taxation burden of the State. The fact that Victoria has been roads conscious for so long and has developed such a. sound roads system should not be used to penalize that State when the distribution of federal aid roads funds is being made. The distribution of the petrol tax among the States is unequal. The Prime Minister in his second-reading speech, made a statement that is somewhat doubtful when it is measured against fact. He stated that local authorities in rural areas and, indeed, throughout the Commonwealth, are responsible for a high proportion of roads other than main roads. I want to point out the differences in taxation in relation to that statement. Victorian municipalities charge abutting owners for the entire cost of constructing urban streets on private land. This i« not the position in Queensland, Western Australia or New South Wales, and i1 applies in South Australia only to a very limited degree. Motor registration fees collected in Victoria are paid to the
Country Roads Board, which spends the proceeds on the major roads of the State, on development roads, and on the construction and maintenance of roads tha: serve rural areas. Only a small amount of the collections of motor registration fees in Victoria is expended in the metropolitan area. Only 16 per cent, of the moneys expended on roads in Victoria is obtained from the federal aid roads grant. Western Australia receives more than 50 per cent, of the sum that it expends on roads from the federal aid roads grant. Lu Victoria, each motor vehicle contributes an average of £16 in petrol tax, but the State receives back an average of only £5 for each vehicle. In Western Australia, each motor vehicle contribute? about £15 in petrol tax, but the State receives back an average of about £2.1 for each vehicle.
The two problems of the States in relation to roads are the maintenance of the roads that have been constructed, and the construction of any further extensions that are needed to open up the State, either for economic or defence reasons. In Victoria, the Country Road3 Board, which is the principal construction authority for roads, experiences the greatest financial difficulty. Road pavements and structures are deteriorating because the board has insufficient funds to meet basic maintenance requirements. The roads that have been constructed by the board since 3913 were not designed to carry the type of vehicles that now use them and the volume of traffic to which they are now subject. The board last year listed a works programme totalling £13,000,000 for works that were considered essential, but it was able to allocate only about £7,500,000 for the purpose. The lack of funds restricts bridge maintenance and construction with equal severity. Western Australia, on the other hand, as I have already indicated, found difficulty in expending all of its federal aid roads grant. As a Queensland member of this House has already pointed out, the Queensland Government ended last financial year with a surplus of approximately £2,000,000 in its roads fund. Apparently that surplus is to be retained because, as the Queensland member pointed out, some of it has been invested in security loans.
The entire cost of the roads programmes of Western Australia and Queensland will not equal the increased funds that they will receive under the terms of this bill. It is extraordinary that that point has been overlooked, when Victoria needs the money and could profitably expend it, and, indeed, must by some means obtain additional moneys if a number’ of rural highways of the greatest importance are not to deteriorate completely. . Surely these facts speak for themselves and indicate what is obvious both in reason and in justice. From where is Victoria to get the additional funds that it must have to maintain the assets that it has so assiduously built up over a considerable period? Victorian municipal authorities raise in rates approximately £10,000,000 per annum. About £6,000,000 of this amount is spent on road works. A further £1,500,000 is raised by loans for the purchase of modern plant and equipment. The average rate now imposed in Victoria is 3s. 6d. in the £1, which is only 6d. less than the statutory maximum. Is it fair to bleed the Victorian taxpayers further while funds that have been allocated to other States are not expended ?
The existing formula on which the allocations are made to the States undoubtedly gives too much weight to the areas of the States. Western Australia comprises about 900,000 square miles and is about eleven to twelve times the size of Victoria. It must be remembered that about 60 per cent, of the area of Western Australia has a rainfall of less than 10 inches a year. Little development is likely to occur, and it may well be that no great development will ever occur, in the 10-in. rainfall area. It is only reasonable to assume that both Queensland and Western Australia have satisfied their desire for roads extensions and that this accounts for their surplus funds, which aTe so urgently required and could be used with such good effect in Victoria. I am sure that no one will quibble at that statement. If Queensland is not making enough roads extensions to absorb the funds allocated to it, is it not something of a scandal that £2,000,000 should be lying idle in that State when it could -be profitably used for the maintenance of roads that must be kept in repair at all costs in Victoria ?
It is not presumed that any State will receive less under the terms of this bill than it received under the 1950 legislation. In the light of experience there is a case for investigation of the basis of future distributions. This Government should examine roads finances in the various States to ascertain whether the States that are being subsidize’d under the Commonwealth aid roads legislation are assisting themselves by levying adequate taxation and are raising enough loan funds to justify the subsidies that they receive. There is plenty of room for examination of those matters. This Government also should inquire whether there is justification for a formula loaded in favour of a particular State that already retains an unexpended surplus in its roads fund, and has done so for years. This is not a new occurrence. Some States have demonstrated that they are unable to expend the funds that have been allocated to them, and consequently there is a very good reason for the Government to consider whether the present subsidies should continue in accordance with the existing formula, which does not seem to serve the purpose for which it was designed. I repeat that it is now obvious that the entire matter is a Commonwealth responsibility and should not be determined by a majority vote of the State Premiers, who cling to an established formula simply because it seem.3 to favour the States with large areas. I am given to understand that the formula was merely borrowed from the United States of America and was not developed in Australia. The States that were greatest in area saw marked advantages in it.
The observations that I have made about Queensland and Western Australia relate to matters so obvious that almost any one can see the anomalies that exist in respect of those two States. New South Wales, of course, does not suffer so badly as Victoria does, because it probably has the most balanced combination of population and area that could be wished for. Consequently, I presume that it is relatively well satisfied with the existing arrangement. The density of development in Victoria has cause* problems in the light of which Victoria must receive special consideration apart from that which is given at the regular conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers. The Prime Minister indicated that, at one of those conferences, the Victorian Premier, Mr. Cain, objected to the formula that was proposed, but ultimately was forced to agree with the majority of the Premiers and accept the formula that has been used in the past. Victoria is small in area, and has a highly developed road system, which requires a great deal of maintenance. This Government must give particular attention to the needs of Victoria, especially in the light of the unexpended funds that are held in other States.
I want to emphasize particularly the fact that the increase in the grants to Western Australia and Queensland in the current financial year is equal to the amount that those States have been able to expend comfortably up to the present. Therefore there should be no opposition to the appointment by the Government of a fact-finding committee to determine the needs of the States, the practicability of setting a term of years for the grants, such as the five years proposed under this measure, and to make allocations according to the practical advice of road authorities who could be brought together for that purpose. If that could be done, at least something would be achieved, because for a long time there has been a desire for a revision of the formula by a majority of the States which have large areas and which have an advantage under the present plan. I do urge the Minister to give honorable members some indication as to whether the Government is prepared to appoint such a fact-finding committee to look at the matter from a national viewpoint. If such a committee were appointed, there is no doubt that a greater degree of justice would be done to Victoria than will be done under this measure.
.- I support the bill, and I believe that it is the best example of this type of legislation that has ever come before the Parliament. The salient points in the bill that I strongly support, relate to the increased allocation for road purposes of 7d. a gallon on all petrol, except avia tion spirit, which is entered for home consumption, and which is subject to customs duty or excise. I also favour the provision that ‘the States must spend on roads in rural areas at least 40 per cent, of the total allocation for roads, instead of the 35 per cent, laid down in the 1950 legislation. I believe that the extra 5 per cent, to be allocated for rural roads will do much to improve those roads for the benefit of primary producers and others, “ who live at a distance from metropolitan areas.
I listened carefully to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) who was the Minister who, when Labour was in office, in 1947, handled a measure dealing with the same subject as the bill under discussion. The honorable member said, to-day, that it appeared from this legislation that it was the Government’s view that all roads should be in populated areas. That, of course, is not so. In fact, the reverse is the case and the Government is increasing the amount of money that must be used by the States on roads in less-populated areas. The measure requires that each State shall furnish the Commonwealth with audited statements that show that the Commonwealth road grants have been expended in accordance with the provisions of this legislation. That covers many of the points put forward by honorable members from Queensland, who have said that the Queensland Government has not been expending in rural areas a proper proportion of the money granted by the Commonwealth. The provision relating to that matter in this measure should set their minds at rest on that score.
The bill will operate for a period of five years, as against a period of three years in similar legislation brought in by the Labour party. The honorable member for East Sydney has stated that five years will not give the States much opportunity to plan ahead for their road works. Surely he realizes that the Labour Government’s legislation, designed to operate for three years, gave the States far less opportunity to look forward than this legislation will give them. Of course, the bill is full of good provisions as far as road users are concerned, but let us consider the flat rate of 7d. a gallon which is to be allocated for the construction and maintenance of roads. The amount of petrol being refined in Australia is continually increasing, and honorable members should find it most welcome that at this stage the Government should establish an allocation of a flat rate of 7d. a gallon to be expended on roads. Under the old legislation, which will be repealed by this measure, the allocation was 3$d a gallon on petrol refined in this country, and 6d. a gallon on petrol refined overseas. Therefore, the flat rate of 7d. a gallon is. not an increase of Id. a gallon, but is an increase of much more than that and will continue to increase with the volume of petrol being refined in this . country. When the big refineries in Western Australia and Victoria are in operation, it is likely that before the end of the five-year period contemplated in the legislation more money will be paid out for the. construction and maintenance of roads than is now collected through the petrol tax.
While the petrol industry is changing so rapidly, it is very heartening to know that the Government has the foresight to protect road users and local government bodies by means of legislation such as this. Motor transport depends on good roads for efficiency and economy, and the operating cost of a motor vehicle on bad roads is at least 2d. a mile greater than its cost of operation on good roads. Working on the average mileage of the average car in Australia, and the number of cars in the Commonwealth, we find that if we had good roads throughout Australia instead of bad ones, about £20,000,000 a year would be saved in our national economy. That is not a small amount, but as well as saving that large sum of money the transport of perishable goods would be greatly speeded up. The figures that I have worked out apply only to the wear and tear on motor vehicles caused by bad roads, but no doubt the savings through the preservation of sheep and other stock now lost through travelling on rough roads and through being pushed into corners of the transport vehicles and killed, and the new uses to which road transport could be put, would double the sum that I have mem.tioned. Therefore, it is plainly evident that we should do everything possible to build and maintain all the good roads that we possibly can in this country. This bill is a move in that direction, and therefore must be welcomed by everybody in Australia.
The honorable member for East Sydney said, in an enthusiastic way, that the Commonwealth was responsible for providing the money to build roads in this country. He said that although some people might say that it is a State responsibility, he maintained that it really was a Commonwealth responsibility. His argument may have impressed some new members of this House, but I have been here a number of years and I was not at all impresed by it. I looked through the honorable member’s speeches in Hansard, and found that he is reported at page 1788 of Volume 205 of Hansard as having said -
Honorable members must not lose sight of the fact that the construction and maintenance of roads is primarily a responsibility of the States, not of the Commonwealth.
– I was wrong then.
– I appreciate the honorable member saying that he was wrong then, but if he was wrong then, is he right now? It seems strange to me that he can change his opinion according to the side of the House on which he sits. I suggest that such changes of opinion are not in the best interests of anybody. I have pointed out the salient points of the measure, and it appears to me that all honorable members are generally in favour of the bill. I suppose that many people will wonder why, in those circumstances, we are still debating the measure. However, the debate to-day has fallen into two sections. One has been concerned with the bill, and the other with the formula. It appears that strange things have been happening in this House. Since I have been a member of the
Parliament I have discovered that most honorable members speak for or against a measure according to the side of the House that they sit on. But in this debate the Liberal member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon), a Victorian did not agree with the Liberal member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), a Queenslander. The Labour member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) from Queensland did not agree with the Labour member for Batman (Mr. Bird) who comes from Victoria. I have also discovered from my conversations with the Australian Country party member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) from Western Australia, the Australian Country party member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) from Western Australia, the Australian Country party member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) from Queensland, and from the speech of the Australian Country party member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann) from Queensland, that those honorable members do not agree with the Country party member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) from Victoria ; and they do not agree with me. The moment I speak about Victoria getting more money, the honorable member for Moore and the honorable member for Maranoa become fighting mad because they believe that if Victoria gets a little more money their States will get less. Now, if a committee were to be set up of honorable members of this House to reconsider the formula that has been mentioned so often, and the honorable member for Petrie and the honorable member for Kennedy, both Queenslanders, the honorable member for Moore, a Western Australian, the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) from New South Wales and the honorable member for Gippsland, a Victorian, were members of it, the honorable member for Gippsland would have no chance of having his viewpoint adopted. Everybody knows that he would have no chance, because Victoria pays 31.17 per cent, of the money collected under the petrol tax and gets back only 17.4 per cent., but Queensland pays 15.84 per cent, and gets back 19.2 per cent, and Western Australia pays 7.41 per cent, and gets back 19.2 per cent.
– Not enough !
– The honorable member’s interjection illustrates my point. The honorable member for Fisher said that Queensland cannot spend all the money that, it gets from the petrol tax, and yet it is squealing for more. I believe that the honorable member for Moore is doing the same thing. All that shows that this is not a party matter, but that honorable members are divided into State groups. Victoria would get a very poor deal if honorable members from Western
Australia and Queensland who have spoken on this measure to-night, had to decide on a new formula, but it does not get a better deal now when the Premiers of the States decide it. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has spoken about this matter, and during the course of his speech he said -
Under the 1950 legislation 5 per cent, of the annual road grant was allocated to Tasmania, and the remaining 9.5 per cent, was shared among the five other States, under the wellknown formula.
That was three-fifths according to population and two-fifths according to area. He also said that this form of distribution has been in use since 1937, and was incorporated in the 1950 legislation after a majority of Premiers indicated at the Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers held in September, 1950, that they desired no change. Of course they desired no change. The Prime Minister also said that when this matter was raised once again at a Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in June this year, the majority of the Premiers again indicated that they were perfectly satisfied with the method of distribution. Of course they were perfectly satisfied with the method of distribution. If I came from some other State I also would be quite satisfied. If I came from Western Australia, and my State was paying only 7.41 per cent, into the fund and getting 19.2 per cent, of the allocation, while Victoria paid in 31.17 per cent, and got back 17.4 per cent., I would certainly be quite satisfied. The right honorable gentleman further stated that the only Premier who voiced opposition was the Premier of Victoria, although he agreed that this method took account of the special needs of the large sparsely populated States such as Western Australia and Queensland. At the present time, there is a Labour Premier in Victoria, but whenever there was a Country party Premier or a Liberal Premier in Victoria, they also expressed opposition. The Government intends to use the same method of distribution under the proposed legislation. The Prime Minister said with a smile just after that, that, if the Premiers changed their views, there may be some adjustment. As the Premiers who are in agreement are in the majority, and as the States that they represent receive these special benefits, It is. highly unlikely that they will change their views.
I have been attacking this method long enough. On the 7th July, 1949, I moved for the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, and the main point that I raised was the necessity for a substantial increase in the allocation by the Commonwealth to the States of petrol tax moneys for the construction and maintenance of roads. The late Mr. J. B. Chifley spoke after me, and then the present Prime Minister participated in the debate. He stated that he had the honour to lead the Liberal party and that he associated himself with the general theme that was put forward by me. So the right honorable gentleman was in agreement with me on that matter. The total amount of petrol tax money that was paid to the States in 1948-49 was £8,852,000. I moved the adjournment of the’ House to try to get more money for the States.
– But the Government would not give more money.
– At that time the Labour party was in office but, as the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) stated, it would not grant the increase. As soon as this Government assumed office, it increased the grant to £12,816,000. It was increased to £14,800,000 in 1951-52, to £14,920.000 in 1952-53, and to £16,600,000 in 1953-54. The amount that it is proposed to pay to the States this year, excluding the allocation for strategic roads and road safety grants, is £23,100,000. I cite those figures at this stage, because I think that now is the time to change the. formula. As has been pointed out, if it is changed now, Western Australia and Queensland will not receive less money than they have been receiving. They will receive even more money. I cannot see any sense in paying some millions of pounds more to Western Australia, which is said to have a surplus of £1,000,000, and to Queensland, which it is stated has a surplus of some millions of pounds in roads funds. I realize that we must look at the national aspect of the situation and I believe, as all right-thinking Australians will believe, that we must increase the construction of roads in the isolated areas of States like Queensland and Western Australia. When those States cannot expend the money that has been allocated to them-
– They would be able to expend it if they had good State governments.
– But while they have not good governments, what is the use of giving them the money? As the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews) pointed out, if Western Australia has a surplus of £1,000,000 and Queensland has a surplus of £2,000,000, why should the money not be used by the States that can use it? The Victorian Country Roads Board is telling local government bodies in my electorate that, because of its poor financial position, it cannot give them any more money for roads. On every occasion on which I have spoken in this House and have .tried to have the formula altered or suspended for three years so that the States may overcome the lag in road construction, some honorable member has asked, “ Are you a Victorian and not an Australian ? “ I make my suggestion as a Victorian and an Australian, because I think that roads are essential to primary production. Although I favour the construction of roads in Queensland and Western Australia, I think that we should give to the primary producers in a State like Victoria, which for its size is the most prolific primary producing State in Australia, the very best means of transport. I .have in mind the very fertile Murray Valley. I believe that the running of good roads into the Murray Valley would expedite settlement. We can do more to foster greater production by bringing into production places that already have water and local amenities than Ave can by constructing roads into isolated areas in which it will be necessary to provide amenities before people can be expected to open up the country. I believe in opening up country and in spending money for this purpose, but, when we are allocating another £7,000,000 to this fund, why should we allocate it under the old system which is reacting against Victoria, where the primary producers are doing so much for themselves and for Australia? 1 wish to make one or two suggestions. It is of no use to leave the acceptance of a formula to the State Premiers, because we have observed the manner in which honorable members from the different States have spoken and the direction in which their thoughts lie. Every honorable member who represents a State that is benefiting under the formula has spoken in favour of it, but those honorable members, whether they belong to the Liberal party, the Australian Country party or the Australian Labour party, who represent States that are not getting a good deal have spoken against it. That is exactly the attitude that the Premiers adopt. If a man is to be tried for an offence, he is not allowed to enter the jury box. I think there should be an independent investigation. If an independent investigation into the requirements of the States for road construction and maintenance revealed that Victoria did not require more money but that Western Australia and Queensland did require more, I should accept the result of that investigation. But I am not satisfied with an acceptance of the vote of people the majority of whom are receiving great benefits under the present system.
If it is not possible to conduct an independent investigation, why is it not possible to have the additional grant of the money allocated at a flat rate? Why could the Government not allot additional money to the States at a .flat rate which was related to the area in which it was collected? One honorable member stated that, if the money were paid into Consolidated Revenue and made a grant, things would be quite different. I realize that at the present time the money is paid into Consolidated Revenue and that it is paid out as a grant to the States. Under the system I have suggested, the grant could be made for the areas in which the States need it most. There would not be any need for the States to have a surplus. It is very dangerous of States to have such a surplus. They know that, if they have a surplus, there is a change of losing the extra grant that they expect to receive, and therefore they must get rid of it. Why should two States find it necessary to get rid of the surplus when local governing bodies in Victoria are required to ask the Country Roards Board for money that it is unable to give to them? I quite agree with many statements that have been made to-night, but surely this matter is open to investigation. We cannot go from year to year and from one piece of legislation to another and say: “Let the Premiers decide this matter”. I suggest that the circumstances should be investigated. When I state that the circumstances should be investigated, 3 know that a change in the method of allocation must follow. I have discovered that, whenever I have made a plea to the Government for a change of the formula, I have been pressing against a brick wall. I am not exaggerating when I say that, during the time that I have been a member of the Parliament, I have brought this matter to the notice of the House on twenty occasions. I have raised it, not only while the Labour party has been in office, but also while this Government has been in office, and I raise it again to-night in the same manner. Surely some honorable member can see that an investigation is necessary. I ask the Prime Minister and the members of the Cabinet to take notice of my plea, and not to put Western Australia and Queensland in a position where they must get rid of the surplus if they wish to retain their allocation.
– That is not the position.
– The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) stated, “ That is not the position “. The position is that those States have a surplus. What do they intend to do with it? The honorable member is a bit niggardly about the matter because he thinks that, when I draw attention to Queensland, the system that I advocate would surely react upon Western Australia. I support the bill. It is the best, measure of its kind that has been introduced since I became a member of the Parliament, and I think it is the most liberal measure that has been introduced since the system came into operation. It is apparent that the subject that has been debated to-night has divided honorable members according to the States they represent rather than according to the parties of which they are members. If we were to go to the State Premiers, we should discover that they would continue to vote in favour of the present system, because a majority of the States are receiving the greatest benefit from it. My plea for an investigation should not fall upon deaf ears. I think that the Government should amend the bill immediately so that the proposed allocation will be made, not under the old formula, but under one which will give Victoria a fairer deal.
.- There seems to be a rather heated little family squabble on the other side of the House. What is more unusual is the fact that I find myself taking the- side of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). Similar legislation is introduced each year. Such legislation will assume greater importance to Australia each year. Whichever government is in office, it will have to realize the importance of roads to the economy and the defence of Australia. Provision for the construction and maintenance of roads must be placed on a better basis, because we cannot afford to have these little squabbles between the States. Men of vision will . be needed to examine the matter.
Long and bitter arguments have raged in this chamber about the inadequacy of allocations to certain States for roads. The honorable member for Mallee ha3 had his little say about the generosity of the present Government compared with that of the preceding Labour Government in making allocations from the petrol tax to the States. I mention, in passing, that had the Labour party been in office, probably the whole proceeds of the petrol tax would be allocated to the States. The honorable member for Mallee did not refer to that possibility. He attempted to make a little party political capital out of the fact that the preceding Labour Government allocated £9,000,000 from the petrol tax in 1949 for the construction and maintenance of roads and that the Menzies Government, in its first year of office, increased that amount to approximately £12,000,000. However, the honorable member carefully did not mention that the actual value of the £12,000,000 to the States and local authorities, because of inflation, was no greater than that of the £9,000,000 provided by the Labour Government. Eighteen months after the Menzies Government assumed office, I had files a foot high of letters from local authorities about the inadequacy of grants to enable them to construct and repair roads.
When the Labour party was in office, local governing bodies had purchased modern road-making machinery, but in 1951-52 the machines and equipment were lying in sheds because shires and municipalities did hot have sufficient money to operate them. That is evidence of the effects of the inflation. We may conclude that the actual value of the money that the States and local authorities are to receive in this financial year will not be any greater than the value of the £9,000,000 provided by the Labour Government in 1949.
This bill provides that the States must spend on roads in rural areas at least 40 per cent, of the total roads allocations instead of 35 per cent, which was provided in the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1950. That increase is most satisfactory. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), when he was the Minister for .Transport, establish©’ the principle in a different way. A grant of £2,000,000 over and above the allocations from the petrol tax was made for rural roads and that money had to be spent oh them. A statement had to be submitted to the Commonwealth by the States to show that the money had been expended in that manner. I represent a country electorate in Victoria, and I believe that the country is equally as important as the cities. Why should not the allocation for rural roads be increased to 50 per cent.? That increase would be quite reasonable. I see no valid reason against it. All the wealth of the country goes to the large cities, and it is only by the provision of better transport and roads, and the opening up of new country in all States, that we shall have higher national production.
The bill also proposes to increase from £500,000 to £800,000 the amount to be set aside each year for expenditure by the Commonwealth on strategic roads, roads of access to Commonwealth property, and other roads serving Commonwealth purposes. That amount seems to me to be totally inadequate for strategic roads. The total length of strategic roads must be considerable, and the whole of the provision of £SOO,000 could easily be absorbed in this financial year on strategic roads alone. What provision would then be made for roads of access to Commonwealth property and other roads which serve Commonwealth purposes ? Roads must be built and maintained near training camps. I agree with the statement of the honorable member for East Sydney that we should take a broad national view of the matter of roads. We can learn a lesson from the experience of other countries. Germany, when Hitler was in power, constructed magnificent arterial roads, the autobahns for the special purpose of carrying his great military machine. Statements have been made in other debates about the need for Australia to prepare its defences. J consider that the total grant of £24,000,000 to the States in this financial year will not be adequate for the construction of roads along which armies could be moved rapidly, should the necessity arise, in this country of vast distances.
I suggest that roads must be regarded as a national responsibility. We are no1.’.’ assuming responsibility for the provision of finance for the construction of roads, but the total amount to be made available this year will not be sufficient to meet the cost of construction of strategic roads from centres of supplies to the northern areas. Such roads could be used for developing the country and the transport of produce to markets. I feel sure that the entire collections of the petrol tax would not be sufficient to meet the cost of repairing roads that have been deteriorating for years. The provision of an additional £7,000,000 in this financial year will not be sufficient to meet the cost of repairing surfaces that have deteriorated within the last two or three years, when municipalities have not had sufficient funds to enable them properly to maintain their roads. Engineers have stated that the foundations are cracking. A national asset is deteriorating.
– In Victoria.
– Yes, and I assume that roads are also deteriorating in other
States. Huge trucks are pounding thi; surfaces of the roads from Melbourne to Sydney and Melbourne to Adelaide, lt would require considerably more than £7,000,000 to finance the cost, of repairing damage that has accumulated during the last two or three years. We should not consider that everything will be right, merely because the States have been granted £24,000,000 this year. The nation will be obliged to assume responsibility for the cost of roadworks and must ensure that the work is carried out.
We have been having a little family squabble about the proposed allocation to the States for roads. The present system is obviously wrong, but it will not be altered while the decision rests with the State Premiers. I do not blame th” honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) when Western Australia is on a good wicket, because he does not want an alteration of the formula. Honorable members who represent electorates in Queensland are in a similar position. Some States have not been able to expend all the money that has been made available to them for road purposes. Victoria hahad the thin end of the stick, and is suffering from it. Victoria has road-making machinery and other equipment, and a ll that is needed to stop a further deterioration of the roads in that State is additional finance.
Victoria also has an obligation to extend the roads within its borders. It is a small State in comparison with the other States but it is blessed with an adequate rainfall and a fertile soil, and is more thickly populated than are other States. Naturally, Victoria needs more miles of roads per head of population than other States need. Victoria may require four or five times the length of roads that some States require. How are we to alter’ the present basis of allocation ? We shall never alter it with the approval of the Premiers. I suppose that we may look upon the States as the children in the family, and the Commonwealth as the head of the family. The Commonwealth holds the purse strings. Could not a decision to change the formula be made by the Commonwealth? Could not a committee be appointed to investigate the disabilities of the States and their comparative needs, and report its findings to the
Prime Minister or the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) ? The Commonwealth could then allocate a sum of money each year to each State. That will have to be done. The Commonwealth would be competent to make such a decision.
Agreement on the matter will never be made at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. It would be a waste of time for such a conference even to discuss a proposal for a change. The present formula operates to the detriment of Victoria, which is one of the wealthiest States in terms of production. The Government should heed the views which have been expressed by the representatives of Victorian electorates in this debate, and should not wait until five years have expired before it proceeds to change the formula. Far too much damage would be done to roads in that time. The suggestion has been made in one quarter that a formula be devised on the basis of four-fifteenths area, five-fifteenths vehicle registrations and six-fifteenths population. The claim is made that such a formula would enable a more equitable distribution of money than is made under the existing formula. I realize that we can talk here until we are black in the face about the need to alter the formula if we leave the decision to the Premiers. Victoria would be outvoted by the representatives of the other States. Responsibility in the matter rests with the Commonwealth.
If the formula were changed in the manner that I have mentioned, some Slates might consider that they would not receive sufficient money for roads. The Commonwealth could then say to them, in effect, “We should like strategic roads to be built within your boundaries, and we shall undertake the responsibility for that work, but the State will not receive so much from the petrol tax?.I do not think that a State could offer a reasonable objection to such a proposal. The Commonwealth could declare a particular area in a State to be a strategic area and assume responsibility for the construction of, say, a main road within it.
I support the remarks of other honorable members in this debate about the treatment of Victoria in the allocation of proceeds of the petrol tax. I feel that the representatives of Western Australian electorates, as good Australians, can see some justification for our claims. If other States need all the money that is to be allocated to them, the responsibility rests with the Commonwealth to make more money available to Victoria, perhaps by way of a special grant. However, this matter has been debated sufficiently. I support the bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Ha worth) adjourned.
The following papers were presented : -
Dairy Produce Export Control Act - Australian Dairy Produce Board - Twentyninth Annual Report, for year 1953-54.
Defence Transition (Residual Provisions) Act - National Security (Industrial Property ) Regulations - Orders - Inventions and designs (11).
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for - Defence purposes - Essendon, Victoria.
Department of Civil Aviation purposes - Eagle Farm (Brisbane Airport), Queensland.
Return of land disposed of under Section 63.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Repatriation - C. A. Grant.
Supply - H. L. Cohen.
Works- G. R. J. Shaw.
House adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
e asked the Prime Minister acting for the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Can any purpose be found by the Government for the utilization of the surplus plant of the Joint Coal Board, which is stated to have cost over £3,000,000, in lieu of sacrificing it to overseas interests as the chairman of the board indicates may happen ?
– The answers to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
There is no question of sacrificing any of the plant in the ownership of the Joint Coal Board, either in Australia or abroad. In fact, up to the 30th September, 1954, sales of Joint Coal Board surplus plant within the Commonwealth have amounted to £2,850,000. In the disposal of this plant, the board has the assistance of - (1) the Commonwealth Government, which has directed that all Common- wealth departments must first secure their requirements from the board’s stocks; (2) a large number of agents who are seeking to dispose of the plant to other than Commonwealth departments. The Joint Coal Board is making every effort to dispose of this plant within Australia. Every Commonwealth and State government authority in this country has been given full details of the equipment together with revised prices, which make it an attractive purchase for public works. No decision has been taken to export the plant. The chairman of the board said what must be obvious - that if it cannot be sold within a reasonable period in Australia, then consideration must be given to its disposal elsewhere. What is a “ reasonable period “ is, of course, a matter of policy, but I can assure honorable members that neither the Government nor the board will take any action which would, in any way, be prejudicial to the best interests of this country.
e asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
In Western Australia, the public hospitals are divided into two categories - Departmental, 44 ; and Committee, 61.
Mr.Freeth asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
What are the factors which determine the qualification of a road as a strategic road for which financial assistance is provided under the provisions of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act?
How much money has been spent by the Government under the strategic roads provisions of this act during each of the years 1951-52, 1952-53 and 1953-54 in Western Australia?
What roads in Western Australia have been constructed under these provisions?
Is the construction undertaken by the Commonwealth directly or through the agency of the State Government?
Are decisions on strategic roads made in the first instance by the Commonwealth or are they made pursuant to requests by State governments ?
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has furnished the following replies: -
z asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
z asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 October 1954, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1954/19541019_reps_21_hor5/>.