18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S. Rosevear) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to - That the House, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 10.30 a.m.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government proposes to send any food to parts of Europe other than Britain, / if Britain is in Europe. I should entirely agree, if it intends to do so.
– The Australian Government is under contract to the Government of the United Kingdom to supply Great Britain with foods such as butter and meat. The allocation of other foods sent abroad by Australia, such as wheat, flour, rice and sugar, is made by the International Emergency Food Council, in collaboration with the Government of the United Kingdom. Considerable quantities of Australian foods are received by other countries S3 a result of that allocation.
– According to press reports, the Japanese Government is seeking to establish an army of 100,000 men and also a small air force, and Japanese officers have ‘ approached various allied governments to ascertain their reaction to such a proposal. Is the Prime Minister, in a position to make a statement to the House on this subject?
– What action the Japanese authorities will be allowed to take will be a matter for consideration when the peace terms with Japan are being framed. I have no knowledge that allied governments have been approached in the matter. Certainly no approach has been made to the Commonwealth Government.
– Several days ago a notice appeared in the press that additional ships would be placed on the United Kingdom to Australia run and that by the end of the year the despatch of migrants to . Australia would be accelerated. Is the Minister for Immigration in a position to make any further statement to the House on this subject?
– I regret that I have no further information on the subject beyond what has appeared in the newspapers. It is true that more ships will be engaged in the trade between the United Kingdom and ‘ Australia but, unfortunately, that does not mean that more migrants under the free and assisted passage scheme will be brought to Australia. Subsequent to the announcement that Chitral, Ormonde and Ranchi were being made available to carry migrants there has been a reduction of the number of ships of the Conference Line to come to Australia. The result is that the position is very little ‘better than before the announcement that three more ships would be available to carry migrants. The. strongest possible representations are continually being made by the Prime Minister and myself, through the High Commissioner in London to secure more ships for the Australian run and the allocation of a greater number of berths for migrants on such ships under the free and assisted passage scheme.
– Some months ago inquiries were made on behalf of Mr. Werner Rossback, of Western Australia, against whom a deportation order had. been taken out. As no further information has been received on the subject, I now ask the Minister for External Affairs whether the deportation order still stands and, if so, whether arrangements could be made for Mr. Rossback to be placed on parole as bas been done in other instances, so that he may be reunited’ with his family pending his deportation.
– I am not sure of the facts in relation to this case. I shall ascertain them, and let the honorable member have an answer later to-day,
Dutch Shu’s: Statement uy Mr. C. TI. Campbell - Trade Union Congress
– It is reported in the press that Mr. C. H. Campbell, Indonesian trade commissioner to Australia., said at a recent conference at Malang-
We in Australia are proud of what wo ure able to do for Indonesia . . . Australian unions have decided not to lift the ban on Dutch ships to Australia, or to release any supposed mercy ship.
Recently, I asked the Prime Minister a question as to the state of affairs in Batavia, where death and misery had resulted because of the hold-up of medical supplies.
– Order 1 The honorable member must ask. his question.
-I now ask the Minister what the position at Batavia is to-day and whether supplies have been sent by Manoora ?
– As the House was informed less than a fortnight ago, a special body of departmental officers is visiting
Indonesia. Representatives of the Department of Supply and Shipping, the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, the Department of External Affairs and the Commonwealth Bank formed the delegation. Their purpose was to bring about a resumption of trade relations with Indonesia at the earliest possible moment. They made contact both with the Indonesian and the Dutch authorities, sometimes separately and sometimes together. An agreement had practically been reached last week when, at the last minute, the Dutch authorities felt that t hey could not go on until they knew the outcome of the present trade union congress which is taking place in Indonesia, and about which statements have been published in the press. We not only want goods to go from Australia to Indonesia but we are also desperately in need of goods from there. The honorable member has asked questions on this subject from time to time; and 1 assure him that the Government is striving to bring about a resumption of trade without let or hindrance of any kind.
– Has the attention of the Minister for External Affairs been directed to a report from Indonesia that a Mr. C. H. Campbell, who is called the Indonesian trade representative in Australia, informed a trade union congress that Australian unions were making plans for a world-wide ban on Dutch ships? Is the Minister aware that Campbell is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist party of Australia? “Will the Minister ascertain which Minister was responsible for issuing Campbell a passport and visa to go to Indonesia? Will steps be taken immediately to withdraw that visa and order Campbell to return for investigations of his activities? Will the Indonesian authorities be informed that Campbell is not acceptable to this country as a trade representative?
– Mr. Campbell does not occupy any position with accreditation to the Australian Government. The Indonesian Government was informed some time ago that he would not be accepted as a representative here. I do not know whether he was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist party of Australia ; but I do know that the statement mentioned by the honorable member was attributed to him and that it was immediately repudiated by the recognized trade union authority, the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. With regard to Mr. Campbell’s departure from Australia, there is no legal bar upon persons obtaining passports from this country so long as they meet their taxation liabilities and take other formal steps which are necessary. I do not know whether Mr. Campbell is in Dutch territory. He may be in territory controlled by the Indonesian Government. If he is in Dutch territory, he could only have obtained entry there by visa issued not by Australia but by the Dutch authorities. We have already been informed by the Indonesian authorities that they propose to appoint a representative to Australia at the proper time, doubtless with the consent of the Dutch authorities, because such appointment must be made under the Dutch-Indonesian Agreement; and we have also been informed by the Indonesian authorities that Mr. Campbell will not be the representative.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Information been drawn to the extraordinary statements indicating the presumption of the Australian Communists, Roach and Healy, at the Trade Union Congress in Indonesia, who have spoken of Australian and trade union foreign policy as having been designed by them, and have issued warnings in the interests of the Soviet Union against American interests and activities in Indonesia? As the Government has already stated that the Australian delegation to the congress has not its sponsorship, will the Minister take appropriate action, through his department, to make it clear that Roach and Healy do not speak on behalf of the Australian people or of the workers of Australia as a whole, and that their statement that the workers of Australia desire the establishment of a strong Indonesian Republic does not reflect the spirit or the desire of the Australian people?
– I can add very little to what the Attorney-General has already said on this matter. The people who have gone to the Trade Union Congress in Indonesia represent certain unions and certain unions only; they are not the accredited representatives of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. Their opinions are their own opinions ; they are not the opinions of the organized trade union movement of Australia; they are not tie opinions of the Government of Australia, and they are not the opinions of the people of Australia.
– Can the Prime Minister say whether, it is true, as reported in the press, that the Commonwealth Government intends to take over uranium deposits in South Australia, and work them? If so, has consideration been given to the work already done by the Government of South Australia in connexion with the deposits? Having regard to the scarcity of fuel in .South Australia, will the needs of that State be kept in mind should it be found possible to utilize uranium deposits for commercial purposes ?
– As the honorable member knows, a bill was passed by this Parliament not long ago giving to the Commonwealth power to acquire materials associated with the production or atomic energy and to assume control of all uranium deposits, and to work them. Quite recently, the Minister for Supply and Shipping and the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction and I conferred in Canberra with the Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, when he advanced certain proposals regarding the prospecting and working of uranium deposits at Mount Paynter. He stated that he had arranged foi certain geologists associated with the British Ministry of Supply to visit South Australia. The whole subject of uranium deposits is now being considered by the Government. I cannot give a more complete statement on the subject at the present time, but I will do so as soon .as possible. As for the use of uranium, or of products associated with atomic energy, for commercial purposes, I understand that scientists believe that this can be achieved, but the process will probably involve highly complicated industrial technique. It is expected that a considerable time must elapse before atomic energy can be used for industrial purposes, but the honorable member’s suggestion will be kept in mind.
TRADE Union Discipline.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the British Labour party is undertaking a vigorous educational campaign on the vital need for greater production, the removal of inefficiency and the serious effect of undisciplined action in industry? What steps along similar lines have been taken by this Government or the Labour party in Australia? If no such campaign has been undertaken in this country, will the Government seek the co-operation of all sections of industry in an effort to increase production ?
– I have seen some press statements regarding action taken by the British Government and the British Labour party with a view to improving efficiency and establishing better discipline among the trade unions. I do not know whether those reports, are correct. We have been urging better discipline among the trade unions for years; there is nothing new about that. We have pointed out that it is absolutely essential that the trade unions discipline themselves and avoid unnecessary stoppages. The Government is fully prepared to encourage efficiency in production and has done all it can in that direction in every branch of industry.
– I understand the shortage of raw linseed oil in Australia is so acute that one industry depending on supplies of that product has already been shut down and another contemplates being closed within a week or two. I also understand that large stocks of raw linseed oil are held abroad which might be procured for Australian use. Will the Minister for Works and Housing indicate the present position in relation to the supply of this commodity, and whether anything can possibly he done to expedite it in order that the people engaged in the industries in which it is required may continue in employment?
– Statements regarding the supply of linseed oil have frequently been made by me in the House in answer to questions. Briefly, the International Emergency Food Council allocates the total tonnage of linseed oil which is to come to Australia, the percentage of that tonnage to be received from Argentina and the larger percentage to be obtained from India. Unfortunately, as yet, we have not been able to obtain our full quota from India. The Government is taking every possible step first to obtain our quota from India, and secondly, to survey the possibilities of obtaining supplies from other countries.
Mr.FRASER.- Will the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs ask that Minister to confer with the Prices Commissioner in the matter of recompensing producers of milk in the New South Wales milk zone for the increased costs recently imposed upon them? By way of explanation I point out that in February the Commonwealth Courtof Conciliation and Arbitration increased the wages paid to employees in the industry by 7s. a week, and that there have been two subsequent wage adjustments, each of 1s. a week, these increases adding½d. a gallon to the cost of producing milk. The subject of increased production costs has been brought before the Prices Commissioner repeatedly during the last four months, but the Milk Zone Dairymen’s Council has so far been able to get no more than an acknowledgment of its representations. Will the Minister take steps to ensure that these producers are not penalized by the officials of the Prices Commission because of their patience and loyalty?
– I shall be glad to bring the honorable member’s question to the notice of the Minister for Trade and Customs to ascertain whether information can be made available, or appropriate action taken in regard to the matter.
– Considerable anxiety is felt in Victoria at present regarding future supplies of coal to that State. I understand that the Prime Minister gave an undertaking to the Premier of Victoria that a minimum supply, sufficient to maintain essential transport, power services, and industry, would be available. I ask the right honorable gentleman now if he can indicate what arrangements have been made to ensure that this undertaking will be carried out? Will he also, for the information of the House, give a comparative statement of coal production from the 1st January up to the present, and for the corresponding period of last year?
– As I informed the House recently, the Victorian Premier communicated with me in regard to supplies of coal. I stated also, that the quantity of coal received in Victoria since last December was 116,000 tons less than for the same period last year. I took the matter up with the Minister for Supply and Shipping and have now written to the Premier of Victoria indicating that it is proposed to make available to that State 30,000 tons of coal a week by rail and sea. Every effort will be made to ensure that this undertaking shallbe carried out, but of course there is always the possibility of delayed deliveries owing to lack of shipping or to dislocation of rail traffic.
– Could not reserves be built up to safeguard against such delays?
– An endeavour has been made to do that. There has been a very substantial improvement in the production of coal this year compared with last year. I shall obtain the exact figures for the honorable member.
Artillery Practice Areas
– Can the Minister for the Army say whether Army authorities are still holding the vast area of territory between Broke and Singleton that was acquired during the war for artillery practice? As the land carries a large quantity of timber used in the coal-mining industry and supplies of timber are short, will the Minister for the Army take steps, as I have already suggested both to him and his predecessor, to permit timber contractors to enter this area?
– I visited the area of which the honorable member speaks three weeks ago, and I have since indicated to the Army authorities that portion of it should be made available for the purpose that the honorable member has mentioned. I understood that the honorable member had already received an intimation to this effect, but if he has not, I shall ensure that the information shall be conveyed to him officially within the next few days.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether the Government has any information regarding the quantities of mid-season subterranean clover seed held by producers in Western Australia. Is it true that producers are unable to find a market for this seed? If so, as there is a good market for it in America, will the Government consider lifting the export embargo to permit the producers to take advantage of the overseas market ?
– Subterranean clover seed is produced for commercial purposes in Western Australia, South Australia and, to a lesser extent, in Victoria. Because of the great demand for it within Australia, it has been deemed wise to make its export subject to export permits. I will ascertain if there is sufficient subterranean clover seed in Australia to justify the issue of export permits. The latest information I have received was that the supply of seed here was only adequate for the needs of Australian farmers.
Parlia mentary Proceedings - Australian Broadcasting Commission : Leakage of Information - Land Line to South Australia.
– I have received by lettercomplaints from radio listeners in Tasmania and Victoria that the debates in this Parliament are broadcast over only one national station in each State. In many localities reception is poor. I ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General to give consideration to having broadcasts made from alternate stations in alternate weeks, or to investigate other methods of improving the service in order that people in the outback areas may listen to the debates.
– That matter concerns partly the Postmaster-General’s Department and partly the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee, which was set up by the Parliament to authorize and supervize the broadcasting of Parliamentary debates. The committee, if my memory serves me aright, decided that only one national broadcasting station would be used in States with two national stations and that regional stations would not be used for the purpose of broadcasting the parliamentary debates. The honorable gentleman’s question partly affects regional stations, but his other suggestion that the alternative network be used on occasions is more properly a matter for consideration by Mr. Speaker and the committee. I will advise Mr. Speaker in due course of the honorable gentleman’s desires.
– Is the Minister representing the Postmaster-General aware that serious leakages of confidential information by senior officials and members of the commission during the past year are still occurring? Is he aware that the contents of important documents, of which only the general manager and members of the commission should have been aware, have become public property and published in the press? Does he realize that this has impaired the confidence of officers of the commission in their organization and has deterred them from reporting matters which affect seriously the efficiency of the Australian Broadcasting Commission? Will the Minister ask the Postmaster-General to ascertain from the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission the result of the inquiry into such leakages which was held six months ago ?
– I will bring the matters mentioned by the honorable gentleman to the attention of the PostmasterGeneral and ask him to make the inquiries which the honorable member desires. Leakages do occur from time to time in all government departments and it is most reprehensible for any public servant to betray his trust in such a manner. Only recently we had evidence in this House of serious leakages in the Customs Department.
– Is the Minister representing the Postmaster-General aware of the sudden interruptions which occur in the reception of national broadcasts in South Australia? Will he confer with the Postmaster-General with a view to providing a more efficient landline, so that broadcasts of the proceedings of this Parliament will not be interrupted in transmission to South Australia?
– I take it that the honorable gentleman is referring to interruptions outside this House rather than to interruptions inside it ?
– I am referring to interruptions on the land-line.
– That, of course, is a matter which Mr. Speaker cannot control, but which the Postmaster-General might be able to overcome. I will ask the Postmaster-General to use his best endeavours to ensure that listeners in South Australia are given the opportunity of hearing the wisdom voiced in this Parliament, particularly that portion of it which emanates from Government supporters.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that, according to reports in the Tasmanian press, evidence is accumulating which seems to indicate that pillaging of goods on the waterfront or in transit by sea is increasing rather than diminishing? As the Commonwealth Treasury is involved in the payment of large sums to compensate for such losses in all States, has the Government undertaken or does it propose any special measures to guard against these losses, beyond the normal police protection provided by the various States, which is obviously failing to meet the serious situation that has developed?
– I have not seen the reports in the Tasmanian press referred to by the honorable member. Two or three years ago extensive pillaging on wharfs was reported, and the Commonwealth Government, in conjunction with the State governments and other authorities, made better provision for its prevention. To some degree that, has been, continued, but I do not know that it is operating at the same strength. It was believed that pillaging to a large degree had been overcome. I will confer with the Minister for Supply and Shipping to see if it is necessary to institute a stronger control to prevent the thieving referred to by the honorable member.
– Is it the intention of the Department of the Interior to disregard applications by women for employment as census collectors? If so, will the Acting Minister for the Interior say why he will not employ women on that work?
– No instruction has been given that females shall be totally disregarded. However, I point out that the task of a census collector is at times rather difficult, particularly in country areas where collectors have many miles to travel. Even in the cities, after censuses have been taken, claims have been made against the Commonwealth by collectors for damages arising from attacks by dogs and from other causes. We believe that, in general, men would be better collectors because of the difficulties which sometimes occur.
– Is the Prime Minister aware of the tobacco-growers’ concern regarding his statement that tobacco produced in Australia is unsuitable? If this were the effect that the Prime Minister intended to convey, what justification had he for making such a statement? When consent was given by the Commonwealth Government for the reduction of the compulsory proportion of Australian leaf in manufactured tobacco from 15 per cent, to 6 per cent., was not that due to a shortage of Australian tobacco rather than to poor quality? Is it not a fact that, in reGent years, the quality of Australiangrown tobacco was often eulogized by the tobacco companies and that requests were repeatedly made for greater production in Australia? Will the
Government appoint independent appraisers to ensure-, that correct grades shall be determined for Australian leaf so that the growers may receive fair prices for their product?
– I did not say that the quality of Australian tobacco leaf had deteriorated. I did say, in reply to a question which was asked, I think, by the honorable member for Indi, that there had been complaints about the quality of some Australian tobacco. However, I made no personal comment, although perhaps I would be as well qualified as any one else to discuss the subject. It is true that the reduction of the proportion of Australian leaf required to be mixed with imported leaf in manufactured tobacco was due not to the quality, but to the shortage of Australian tobacco. In other words, there was not sufficient Australian tobacco available at that time to provide a proportion of 15 per cent., and that figure had to be reduced to a proportion of about 5 per cent., The complaints which I mentioned applied, I believe, to tobacco produced in certain districts. I understand that there were strong complaints about the tobacco grown in some areas of New South Wales, where production has now been abandoned altogether. I said that I would arrange with the Minister for Trade and Customs to examine the subject and assist in any way possible to improve both the quantity and quality of Australian-grown leaf.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs seen a paragraph in the Argus of the 15th May, of which the heading reads, “ Australian Pipes Not What They Were “ ? Will the Minister inform the Minister for Trade and Customs that pipes of the very best manufacture are made in Victoria by a manufacturing firm which employs exclusively 25 exservicemen? Will the Minister take no action in respect of import licences from Great Britain and France until he and the Minister for Trade and Customs have sampled the local product?
– I have not seen the press reference mentioned ; but I will confer with the Minister for Trade and Customs regarding the production of suitable smoking pipes in Australia. I know that pipes have been manufactured in this country for the last 25 years and that they are not bad smoking pipes. I bought one for ls. 6d. over a year ago and I occasionally smoke it. I am quite sure that for a more substantial sum an Australian pipe equal an smoking quality to any imported from abroad could be purchased. I will confer with the Minister for Trade and Customs in an endeavour to ascertain whether an embargo upon imported pipes would encourage production in Australia.
– Will the Minister for External Affairs consider having a statement prepared showing the way in which the Australian contribution to Unrra was expended, the countries to which that assistance whs directed, the way in which other Australian contributions to any other international humanitarian funds have been expended and the countries to which those funds have been directed?
– As honorable members know, the Australian contribution to Unrra, in the aggregate, was the fourth largest in the world. I believe that it exceeded £A23,000,000. I shall have a document prepared as the honorable gentleman requests. I think that it will give a good account of what Australia has done for the relief of the suffering nations of the world.
– Has the Treasurer given consideration to the extension of section 22 of the War Gratuity Act, and the relevant regulations, in order to include ex-servicemen who desire to purchase blocks of land for home-building but who, for obvious reasons, cannot proceed with building operations immediately? If not, will the Treasurer give consideration to this proposal? If he has considered and rejected it, will he explain the reasons for his decision?
– Did the honorable member ask whether I have considered allowing the war gratuity to be used for the purchase of home-building blocks?
– The only matters that I, as Treasurer, and the Government have considered in this respect are of a minor character and are associated with the payment of the war gratuity in cases of hardship as the result of illness, and the like. The “War Gratuity Act, as drafted, follows almost entirely the report of the special parliamentary committee which examined this matter. I do not think that the committee considered a proposal that the war gratuity should be paid for the purpose of enabling ex-servicemen to purchase blocks for homes, because that is a particular field in which the racketeer plays a prominent part. The committee gave its attention to permitting the use of the war gratuity for the purpose of the construction of homes, and that can be exercised over a wide field and through many organizations. The Government does not propose to make any departures from the existing practice, except of a most minor character which are permitted by the prescribed authority, without asking the special parliamentary committee to re-examine the matter.
Position in Sydney.
– Has the Minister acting for the Minister for the Interior seen in the press a statement that a considerable area of floor space in Dymock’s Building, in Sydney, now controlled by the Commonwealth, is not being put to the best use? Has he also seen a statement by Mr. Paul, managing director of the company controlling the A.P.A. building, that two floors of that structure are not being used by the Commonwealth at the moment ? Will the Minister have an immediate survey made so that this space may be made available to the public if the Commonwealth does not need it ?
– I did not see the reports to which the honorable member referred. However, I assure him that the statement that the Commonwealth controls an empty floor in Dymock’s Building is not true. The facts are that the Commonwealth endeavoured to obtain an extension of its lease of this area for its offices, but the owner re fused to grant our request. The result is that the Commonwealth vacated an area on the second top floor of Dymock’s Building, which is now in the hands of the owner. I shall examine the statement relating to the A.P.A. building.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform me by what authority his department is withholding the moneys due to wheat-growers for the 1946-47 harvest, since the States have not approved and do not intend to approve the Commonwealth’s wheat stabilization scheme? By what authority is the Australian Wheat Board considering ways and means of controlling next season’s wheat, as stated in the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s news session on the 12th May last at 7.45 a.m. ?
– The Commonwealth Government is collecting the levy on wheat exported under the authority of the Wheat Charges Act passed by this Parliament before the end of 1946. I have not heard of the statement alleged to have been made in the course of a broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I will inquire into the matter and furnish the information desired to the honorable gentleman.
– Last week the honorable member for Cook asked the Prime Minister to state the Government’s policy in relation to the imposition of restrictions on the importation of certain motor vehicles, and the right honorable gentleman promised to supply a statement setting out what had been done. Is the right honorable gentleman yet in a position to provide the information desired ?
– I believe- that I informed the honorable member for Cook that expensive and luxurious cars would not be included in the quota of motor vehicles available to Australia, particula.ry from America, and offered to give him examples of the types of cars which could be imported. According to my recollection, the largest car being imported was a Buick 8/40. I do not know whether or not the information that I promised to supply has yet been furnished. If it has not, I shall see that it is supplied. If the honorable member for Richmond desires the same information, he may have it.
Australians in Japan : Purchases: - Report of Chaplains-General
– Will the Minister for the Army disclose to the Parliament in due course- the nature of the orders that have been issued to the Australian occupation force in Japan, in reference to the commercial commodities that they may bring into Australia when they return to this country for discharge? Will he also state whether facilities have been provided for the members of that force to make purchases in Japan, only to find upon their return to Australia that the Department of Trade and Customs will not permit them to bring their purchases into this country?
– I shall have a statement prepared, giving the information which the honorable member seeks
– I ask the Minister for the Army to say whether it will be possible for members of the Parliament to peruse what I understand to be a very comprehensive report on the conditions that exist in relation to the Australian occupation force in Japan, by the ChaplainsGeneral who recently returned from that country?
– Yesterday, I met the Chaplains-General in conference in Melbourne. Having perused the report mentioned, and discussed it with them, I can see no reason why members of the Parliament should not have the benefit of perusing it. Consequently I shall lay it on the table of the House.
– I have received numerous complaints from firms in Sydney, in regard to the failure of Austral Bronze Company Proprietary Limited, which I understand has a monopoly of the trade to supply copper bus-bar for generators, and copper sheets. The firms concerned have endeavoured unsuccessfully to obtain supplies from other companies, and the completion of orders has been delayed for more than twelve months. Austral Bronze Company Proprietary Limited has stated in a letter to one of the firms -
The fact is (h.-it we are now in our third month of strike during which time production has entirely ceased and stocks have become exhausted.
In view of the extraordinary position which confronts the electrical trade and allied industries, will the Minister for Labour and National Service state whether the Government can make any endeavour to settle the strike or make these supplies available?
– Strangely enough, I received only this morning reports from Sydney and Melbourne stating that all metal trades employees in Australia are now back at work. If the dispute at Austral Bronze Company Proprietary Limited has no relation to that which has been in existence in the metal trades generally-
– It. is of an entirely different character.
Mi-. HOLLOWAY. - I shall ascertain exactly what the position is. The last intimation that I had months ago, was that all the men who had formerly worked at Austral Bronze Company Proprietary Limited were then in employment elsewhere, and that the company had been unable to replace them.
– A cable message from New York, published last week, stated that Australia’s representative, Colonel Hodgson, had signed unconditionally the constitution of the International Refugee Organization, and that at Lausanne, Switzerland, the preparatory commission of that organization had converted itself into an executive agency to care for more than 1,000,000 displaced persons from the 1st July next. Will the AttorneyGeneral make an early report as to Australia’s commitments in relation to this organization, and enable honorable members to have all the available information before being asked to resume the debate on Order of the Day No. 22 - Immigration - Admission of Refugees and Displaced Persons?
– Last week, in answer to ihe honorable member for Fremantle, I indicated -what was the estimated cost of Australia’s contribution to the organization mentioned. The only obligation on Australia at present is to join the preparatory commission, and Australia’s acceptance of membership merely enabled the organization to begin to function. I shall confer with the Minister for Immigration, with a view to determining whether the information sought can be furnished.
– I have received urgent representations from fruit-growers in my electorate, with reference to the shortage of washing soda for the spraying of trees. These representations indicate that apparently there is no shortage of this commodity in Melbourne, but that it is acute in Sydney and has existed for six months, with the result that fruit-growers are in danger of suffering losses. Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture look into the matter, with” a view to determining what may be done to overtake the shortage?
– I regret that there is a shortage of washing soda in the electorate of the honorable member. I shall take up the matter with the responsible authorities, with a view to seeing whether the shortage can be overtaken.
– Has the Minister for Repatriation read the statement of Mr. Ken Bolton, president of the Returned Sailors, ‘Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia in New South Wales, that the delay in the hearing of the cases that have been listed for decision by the War Pensions Assessment Appeals tribunal has reached such a stage as to be disgraceful to the Repatriation Commission? If so, will the honorable gentleman state whether more than 2,300 appeals are waiting to be dealt with, and will he consider the suggestion of the
Federal Executive of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia that two additional tribunals should be appointed for at least three years, in order to overtake the lag?
– I have read Mr. Bolton’s statement concerning the number of appeals that are awaiting attention. I have also given some consideration to the matter. Action will be taken in the near future, designed to reduce considerably or eliminate entirely the number of cases awaiting hearing.
Debate resumed from the 16th May (vide page 2545), on motion by Mr. Ward -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I support this bill for two .reasons: first, because transport facilities are closely allied with and must, in fact, progress hand in ha,nd with our national and economic development, and secondly, because it recognizes the necessity to assist outback shire councils in road construction and maintenance. The plan envisaged by the bill will confer lasting benefits on the people in outback districts, and is evidence that the Government recognizes the valuable contribution which settlers in such areas make to the nation’s economy.
The pattern of our roads system and the standards of road construction must have a considerable bearing on the effectiveness of future defence plans, and therefore I strongly support the formation of an Australian Transport Advisory Council, a statutory body which it is proposed shall be set up to develop a comprehensive roads policy, instead of each shire council carrying out a policy within its boundaries without much regard to the needs of other districts and of the Commonwealth as a whole. Under wise administration the proposed advisory council will be able to confer great benefits on the people and assist in the future development of Australia. It will be entrusted with the important task of devising plans for the effective co-ordination of all forms of transport - road, rail, sea and air. In carrying out its charter, the council will need to take into consideration the construction of roads to meet modern educational and social requirements and therefore it must provide easier access to the bigger centres of population for people in outback areas. The modern trend towards the concentration of higher educational facilities in various centres makes necessary a properly organized roads system in outback areas.
Under the bill an extra £1,000,000 per annum will be made available to shire councils and roads boards in outback districts. That sum will be in addition to grants already received by them under the Federal Aid Roads Agreement. As the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) pointed out in his second-reading speech, this additional money will be expended on roads through sparsely populated districts, and in timber country and rural areas where other transport facilities are not available. In my opinion the construction of roads which would have a tourist value should also be taken into consideration. On many occasions this aspect of road construction has been emphasized by various associations of motorists. Having in mind the scenic value of the Australian bush and the possible development of tourist traffic in the near future, I am of the opinion that this phase of roads policy should be given serious consideration by the proposed _ Australian Transport, Advisory Council. I know of no better area to be opened up than that which would become available by the construction of a direct road from Canberra to Tumut. The country which it would serve is unsurpassed for scenic beauty, fertile flats, and timber resources. On a number of occasions I have advocated the construction of this road, which is a matter of national importance because it would assist in the development of 250,000 acres of splendid grazing land as well as 15,000 acres of agricultural land suitable for dairying or for growing fruit and vegetables. I have referred also to the unlimited timber resources of this area, and have emphasized that access to that timber would assist in providing homes for the people. I have also mentioned the value of the eucalyptus and honey industries which the construction of this road would assist. The construction of this direct link between Melbourne and Canberra would reduce the distance between those two cities by many miles.
M Scullin. - What is the estimated cost of constructing the. road ?
– About £300,000. I strongly support the provisions of the bill in relation to special grants for road making plant and equipment. Hitherto, many outback local authorities have had to carry on with limited financial resources, mainly because they have had to maintain roads serving large areas of unalienated land from which they receive no rates. It is true that under the old agreement they received financial grants from time to time, but because of their limited financial resources they were unable to purchase modern road-making and maintenance equipment. They were forced to adopt obsolete methods of road construction and maintenance, with the result that value was not always given for the money expended. Under this bill that situation will be remedied, and money for the purchase of modern roadmaking plant will be made available to local governing bodies. This will have both an immediate and a lasting benefit.
It is also proposed to set aside £500,000 a year for the construction and maintenance of strategic roads and roads of access to Commonwealth property. That is a desirable provision, because it will not only ensure sound construction and adequate maintenance of those roads, but it will also relieve the States of their obligation to maintain them. As that obligation existed under the old agreement, this bill will augment the funds upon which the States may draw for road purposes.
I support the proposal that of the revenue derived from the tax on petrol £100,000 per annum shall be expended in ways which will add to the safety of road users. The body to which this duty will be entrusted should work in close liaison with the Australian Automobile Association, which has already done much valuable work in that direction, so that they may develop a plan of education and an appreciation of the principles of road safety.
I believe that the bill can bring nothing but benefit to the people of Australia, particularly those in outback areas. It should also promote an appreciation of the broad principles of transport, co-ordination, something which has been long needed.
– My experience of country roads has been the same as that of the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse). I have travelled over them in a car of ancient vintage - a 1928 Buick, to be exact - and like him I have felt all the bumps. I should like to give a brief outline of the recent history of this fund. The average annual expenditure from the Federal Aid Roads Fund on main roads maintenance during the three years preceding the outbreak of war was £3,800,000. For the year 1945-46, £12,000,000 was collected by means of the petrol tax, but of this only 27 per cent, was allocated to the States for road maintenance, the other 73 per cent, going to Consolidated Revenue. It is expected that this year the tax will yield £16,000,000, or perhaps a little more. Six million pounds is to be devoted to the purpose for which the tax was imposed, so that the States will receive about 40 per cent, of the tax, while Consolidated Revenue will receive 60 per cent - which is an improvement. Of the £6,000,000 to be expended, £4,500,000 will be devoted to the construction and maintenance of roads; £1,000,000 will be expended on the construction of roads of sparsely populated areas; £500,000 on strategic and access roads to Commonwealth property; and £100,000 on road safety practices. Only £500,000 is to be allocated to Tasmania, which is worse off in the matter of roads than some of the mainland States. The present petrol tax is 10£d. a gallon. When it was first imposed in 1926, the tax was 3d. a gallon, and the revenue was to be used for the maintenance of roads. Then, in 1930, an additional tax of 4d. a gallon was imposed in order to supplement Consolidated Revenue during the economic depression. Finally in 1940, the tax was raised by approximately 5d. a gallon in order to help finance defence commitments, bringing it to its present level of 10£d.
I wish to emphasize the difficulties and problems facing local governing bodies to-day. These may be summarized as greater wear and tear on roads, higher costs, increased responsibilities, static revenue, ceiling land values, and the acquisition of properties. One factor making for increased wear and tear on roads is the great increase of heavy transport, particularly on country roads. Trucks now carry as much as ten or even twenty tons over roads which were never intended to carry such heavy loads. Thus the surfaces are being seriously damaged, and, in some cases, altogether destroyed. This applies particularly to roads over which timber lorries travel. The lorries go from the shire roads through bush tracks to load, and then return to the roads carrying with them wet mud which tends to destroy the surface. Another factor making for the deterioration of road surfaces is the increased speed of traffic.
Shire councils are faced with everincreasing costs. As the honorable member for Calare pointed out, since 1939, maintenance costs have increased hy 31 per cent., new construction costs by 36 per cent., bridge building costs by 50 per cent, and labour costs by 40 per cent. - and these are still rising. The price of bitumen has increased from £7 to £20 a ton.
The responsibilities of shire councils have increased. They have to care for roads, footpaths, recreation grounds, aerodromes, and water catchments.
In most instances the revenue of shire councils has become static. Rates cannot be increased, so that additional revenue cannot be obtained in this way. Moreover, land values have been pegged, so that councils cannot increase their revenue by revaluing property, and the Government has indicated that land values will remain pegged for some considerable time. Perhaps a minor point, but, nevertheless, of importance in this matter, is the increasing acquisition of lands by governments which reduces the sources from which local government bodies derive rates. I have in mind the acquisition of aerodromes. That process is taking place in a minor way throughout the Commonwealth, and is decreasing the revenue of local government bodies.
Tasmania should be given a greater share of the moneys allocated under the Federal Aids Road Agreement, particularly having regard to the fact that the railway system in that State is comparatively limited. At the same time, Tasmania will contribute towards the total cost of the standardization of railway gauges on the mainland. This work is estimated to cost over £200,000,000, but Tasmania will derive little benefit from that scheme. In view of that fact alone, Tasmania has a strong claim for an in- crease of its grant under this proposal. In the electorate of Franklin there is no railway, although that electorate covers a large portion of southern Tasmania. With the exception of a minor volume of transport by water, the roads are the only means of transport in that area. Tasmania is also vitally interested in the problem of the construction and maintenance of first-class roads, because, undoubtedly, it is the most popular State for tourists. We cannot hope to increase the influx of tourists unless we provide good roads and thus make more accessible to visitors the scenic beauty with which the State is so richly blessed.
I am pleased to note that an amount of £100,000 has been allotted for the provision of safety measures on roads. In the past, too little attention has been given to this problem in spite of the fact that the numbers of fatal accidents, and accidents in which victims have been maimed for life, have been startling. It is time that we took a more realistic attitude towards this problem. For that reason, I wish that this amount could he increased.
In conclusion, I submit that the whole of the collections by way of petrol tax should be used for the purpose for which that tax was primarily imposed, namely, the construction and maintenance of firstclass roads. Under the measure, 40 per cent, of the collections of petrol tax is to be made available to the States under the Federal Aid Roads Agreement ; but that is not sufficient. The total collections of the petrol tax should be made available to the States for the construction and maintenance of first-class roads.
.- From an educational and economic point of view roads are of vital importance to people living in country areas. Feeder roads are almost as important as main roads. In the past, there has been a tendency to neglect feeder roads, with the result that they are often impassable even within the vicinity of fairly large towns. At night, or during the wet winter months, it is impossible to negotiate roads in many country districts. Generally, they are in a serious state of disrepair. I realize that this problem has been aggravated during the war years when the road machinery of most local government bodies was impressed. It will take many years to make up the leeway in that respect. The condition of the roads in the Shire of Coreen in the Corowa district is, perhaps typical of the position in most shires. Recently, the engineer in that shire was instructed to submit an estimate of the cost of bringing the roads in the area to a condition that would enable them to withstand present day traffic, and the annual cost of maintaining them at that standard. The figures he supplied are somewhat staggering. He reported that within the shire there are 752 miles of roads, exclusive of main roads, and that the cost of bringing those roads up to a standard required by present day traffic would be £374,585, and the annual maintenance cost £26,734. The unimproved capital value of the land in the shire fixed by the Valuer-General is £1,800,555. From this must be deducted £19,529 in respect of non-rateable lands, £53,924 in respect of lands held under lease from the Crown and £62,005 in respect of lands over which stay orders are operating under the Drought Relief Act; that is a total of £135,458, thus reducing the unimproved capital value of the shire to £1,665,097. To this must be added £17,176 in respect of values assigned under the provisions of section 141 of the Lands Act, in respect of lands leased from the Crown, leaving the total valuation liable for rating at £1,682,273. A loan for a. period of ten years at 3$ per cent., sufficient to provide the necessary capital to bring the roads up to present day traffic standards, would necessitate a repayment of principal and interest of £41,497 6s. 6d. annually. To this must be added the cost of maintenance estimated by the shire engineer at £26,734, or a total of £6S,231. This amount represents, in ‘effect, a rate of lOd. in the £1 on the unimproved capital values, assuming that 100 per cent, of rates be collected. From these facts it is clear that it is practically impossible for that shire council to maintain feeder roads at a proper standard from its income from rates; because a rating of lOd. in the £1 for road maintenance alone would be out of the question.
In respect of road construction and maintenance local government bodies should be financed through the Commonwealth Bank and a greater share of the collections of petrol tax should be made available to local government bodies for that purpose. The main roads are maintained by the State instrumentality, but, as I said earlier, the feeder roads are just as vital to the economy of the country. We cannot all live adjacent to main roads, or roads which are metalled or asphalted. We must provide serviceable roads in the backblocks whence our production comes. I speak of this problem from personal experience. I was once bogged on a road for a day ; and it was the only time in my life when 1 was really knocked up. I was carting a load of chaff on a bacl road. The great majority of feeder roads in country districts are in urgent need of repair. A large sum of money should be made available at the lowest possible rate of interest to local government bodies for the construction and maintenance of feeder roads. I know doctors who, on being summoned urgently, have been obliged to abandon their cars and make their journey by horse and sulky because of the bad state of the roads. When the call for medical aid is a matter of life or death such a position is tragic. I sincerely hope that more money will be made “available to local government bodies for the construction and maintenance of good roads. I realize that we cannot do everything at once. As I said earlier, the problem was aggravated during the war years when the road machinery of local government bodies was impressed for war purposes. Consequently, we are now confronted with a huge expenditure if we are to tackle this problem effectively. I trust thai; the Government will make more money available in future years for the restoration and maintenance of out-back and feeder roads. In my view the amount of money that could be devoted to this purpose is almost unlimited.
– The bill before the House provides for the continuation of an effective help given to the States since 1926. The measure has its foundation in the foresight of the Australian Country party which just after it came into being, realized the imperative need for providing money for the construction of main roads and for the development of roads in sparsely populated areas. Money for this purpose lias since been provided throughout the years. Honorable members supporting the Government have eulogized the principle of the bill as though it were something for which Labour Administration was responsible. The fact is that in this bill the Government is merely continuing in operation an act which was placed on the statutebook in 1926 as the result of the foresight of the Australian Country party. It is a pity that the Government has not moved with the times and provided for present day needs. When this ‘legislation was first enacted the government of the day provided that the collections of petrol tax were to be made available solely for the purpose of road construction. The principle of applying the petrol tax solely for that purpose was departed from some years ago and successive govern- ‘ ments have not seen fit to revert to it. When World War II. broke out the petrol tax -was increased ‘ until it eventually reached 11-J-d. a gallon on all petrol consumed in Australia. The impost has since been reduced by Id. to 10 1/2 d a gallon. I know, from practical experience, as do some other honorable members who have taken part in the debate, the heavy expenditures to which local-governing authorities are committed. First, they have to pay the costs of administration of the areas under their control ; secondly, they have to meet the cost of repayment of past loans, including those raised to finance the construction and maintenance of developmental roads; and thirdly, they have to meet the expense of urgent works such as those arising from floods. Such balance of funds as may be left over is used to meet the cost of the general works which they are called upon to undertake.
Queensland has eight classes of main roads, three of them not involving the local governing authorities in construction costs. These three consist of highways and tourist roads of two classes. The highways are of great benefit to the whole of the country but, as far as I can ascertain, the tourist roads are constructed only around the metropolis and consequently are of benefit mainly to citydwellers. The remaining classes of roads all involve varying expenditures by thelocalgoverning authorities.
The petrol tax has now become a very heavy impost on essential transport. It constitutes a heavy tax upon those on low incomes, who are just asmuch entitled to own and operate a motor car as arc more fortunate people with plenty of money. It constitutes, in effect, a tax upon country citizenship because the country citizen must not only meet it but ako the heavy costs of rail and transport charges on petrol delivered to his district. At Tambo, in my electorate, prior to the recent reduction of the petrol tax, residents were paying over 4s. a gallon for petrol, as compared with approximated 2s. 3-Jd. a gallon in Brisbane. Thus the heavy tax on petrol is, in effect, an additional tax on country citizenship, upon the man who has the backbone to settle in outback country areas. To-day the petrol tax is not only a revenue tax but also is a sectional tax. When I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) by way of a question, whether he would agree to the utilization for road construction purposes of the full amount of tax collected in respect of petrol, the right honorable gentleman very bluntly replied indicating in no uncertain terms that he would not do so. The tax collected from fuel used hy road transport should be made available to the various main roads boards and, through them, to the local-governing authorities and devoted entirely for road construction and maintenance purposes.
Similarly, the tax collected on fuel used for air services, should be utilized for the construction and maintenance of aerodromes. I understand, however, that it is to be retained by the Commonwealth for such a. purpose but no portion of such collections is to be made available to the States or to the local authorities. The present Government has not brought forward a real and effective plan for the construction of country aerodromes. When we asked that local-governing authorities be given grants to encourage the establishment of country air services, the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) said that was a matter for the local-governing authorities. If that policy be adopted we shall never see the development of country air services that we have the right to expect in these days. As I have already said, localgoverning authorities have such heavy commitments to meet that they are unable to undertake the construction and maintenance of aerodromes. This attitude on the part of the Government is unfair and un-Australian. Local-governing authorities should be subsidized to the degree that they should be enabled at least to establish and maintain suitable landing grounds in country centres. “Whilst I commend the bill in a general way, I do not agree that the amounts to be allotted to the States are adequate.. Under the original legislation passed in 1926, an amount equivalent to 2-Jd. a gallon on all petrol consumed in Australia, was devoted to road construction work. .Under the bill now before us an amount equal to 3d. a gallon on all petrol consumed in Australia is to be made available for that purpose. In effect, the contribution to the States for road works is to be increased by the equivalent of id. a gallon on all petrol consumed in Australia. This will increase the amount to be provided to the States as also will the increased use of petrol since the original act passed. In addition the Government is to provide £1,500,000 for the construction of roads in sparsely populated areas and on strategic roads and roads of access to Commonwealth properties. That is the extent to which the existing legislation is to be liberalized. I had hoped for much more than that. The amount to be provided for road construction and maintenance is insufficent to overtake the leeway of work necessary on roads right throughout the length and breadth of the land. The deterioration of our roads has been brought about by many factors, principally the effect of the war resulting in insufficient labour to carry out the necessary maintenance works and, to a lesser degree, because, in many instances, the road-making machinery of many local-governing authorities wa.s requisitioned for war purposes. The second factor is the increased cost of construction. Experts have estimated this to be approximately 30 per cent., but probably it is more than that. The additional id. a gallon, and the £1,500,000 provided for under this measure will be necessary to meet that increased charge alone. Thirdly, we must have regard for the greater need for good roads and modern transport. I shall refer later to certain Government policies that have been a deterrent to the building of goods roads, and to the development of modern transport in the country districts at least. This measure does not reflect a true appreciation of road mileages in our inland areas. I am referring to the back country which takes not ten sheep to an acre, but ten acres to one sheep. The value of this land is low, and it yields only a small revenue to local governing authorities. The result is that shire councils have insufficient funds to build and maintain the roads that are required. The most that they can do in the way of maintenance is to grade the roads, and even in that work they are hampered through lack of equipment. On several occasions I have made representations on behalf of out-back local governing authorities for the purchase of war-time road-making machinery offered for sale by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. Almost invariably, however, the machines are sold to local governing bodies near the metropolitan areas where the sales are held. As soon as a few machines become available, those bodies are able to send representatives to inspect them, and to purchase them on the spot if they are satisfactory. When I urged that some machines be held pending inspection by far-inland authorities the request was not granted. Ever since the war, the out-back people have been at a big disadvantage. No concession has been given in the cost of transporting road-making machinery to inland districts. I am speaking mainly of the south-west of Queensland. For instance, there was a considerable quantity of road-making equipment at Darwin, but it was all transported to Sydney and railed back. Some of this, I maintain, could have been taken straight across to Queensland. Therefore, whilst we all welcome the financial provision made by this measure so far as it goes, I am afraid that it will not do much to provide for the construction of permanent roadways in the .hinterland. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Puller) and the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) spoke of tourist roads; I maintain these Toads should be’ secondary to developmental roads in view of the deterioration that has occurred during the war years. The only tourist roads in Queensland are around the metropolis. They provide glorified Sunday afternoon drives, and whilst I would not deny the city people their recreation, it is time more consideration were given to the outback areas. It is stated that one purpose of this measure is to provide money to be expended on roads in sparsely settled areas. I trust that this intention will be carried into reality. However, I believe that a road-building programme adequate for this country’s needs can be undertaken only if the full amount of the revenue derived from the petrol tax is made available for this purpose. Failing that, I support the request of the Australian Automobile Association that the maximum tax on petrol be 6d. a gallon and that all the revenue so derived be expended on road construction.’ The association’s ca*e is soundly based and has been prepared after a thorough investigation.
I said earlier that I would make some reference to government policies in the past. When the Commonwealth allocation to States for road-building and maintenance was 2 1/2 d. a gallon, the Queensland Government diverted part of the revenue that it obtained from motor car registration and from driver’s licences to Consolidated Revenue, instead of expending it on roads as it had’ done previously. For a period of years, £250,000 a year was diverted to the Treasury in this way. So far as I can ascertain - I am open to correction on this point - the revenue now collected by the Queensland Government from registration and licence fees exceeds £900,000 a year. About half of that is expended on road construction and maintenance and £100,000 is diverted to the Treasury, the balance being used for the repayment of loans. I am concerned about that £100,000, and I hope that this Government will take steps to ensure that Com- monwealth grants for specific .purposes shall not be used to bolster State revenues in this way. Recently, the Transport Facilities Act was placed on the statutebook of Queensland. That measure imposes a tax on country citizenship. It provides for a tax of 3d. a ton-mile on goods, and Id. a passenger mile. Further, this impost is levied not on the actual weight of goods or number of passengers carried but on the carrying capacity of the vehicle. If, for instance, an aircraft with a passenger capacity of 24 flies to a country airport with five passengers, the tax is levied on the basis of 24 passengers. This places a heavy burden on inland production, and will do much to frustrate any encouragement that may be given to country citizenship by this measure. Although the Queensland Government announced that it would not necessarily apply the maximum tax of 3d. a ton-mile on goods, the first record that I have seen - I have a copy of the permit in ray hand - shows that the Government not only applied the maximum impost but even contravened its own legislation by going beyond the maximum when the Commissioner for Railways informed the Commissioner for Transport that the railways could not transport some petrol from Bribsane to Dalby he granted to the Dalby Carrying Company a permit to carry on a truck and trailer 8£ tons of petrol in 50 drums on each of two days over the 136 miles from Brisbane to Dalby. The permit sets the fee at £33 2s., which works out at 3.3d. a ton mile. While the Commonwealth Government brings down bills supposedly to assist country citizenship, the Queensland Government is determined to tax it. I ask the Minister, for Transport to ensure that when an agreement like this is made between the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government the State government shall not be able to undo the good that the Commonwealth does. I agree with some Commonwealth officials, with whom I have discussed the State Transport Facilities Act, that it will be a deterrent to the establishment of country air transport services in Queensland. I hope that the Commonwealth Government will be able to exert sufficient pressure on the Queensland Government to cause it to throw the State Transport
Facilities- Act overboard so that, the introduction of country aic transport ‘Services shall be encouraged instead of discouraged,, or even prevented.
Tha Secretary of the: Commonwealth Department of Transport, Mr. Murphy, made: a; remark like this : “Yes, these roads a*e going to be built alongside the railways “. It is time we threw over our shoulder in the. old horse-shoe way that roads should not be constructed parallel with railways. Practically all key-roads in. western Queensland, are parallel with the. railways’. The road! from Dalby to Roma, and that from Roma to Injune and Miles, to Taroom parallel, with, the railway. Other roads running north are also constructed in. that way. Consequently the people there have never had good roads and have n railway service only about twice a week. The Queensland railway authorities are so inefficient that they still use roll tug-stock of the type in use in 1914 when the Labour Government first took office in that State. Absolutely no improvement of trans-port services of any consequence has been made in that vast State whose potentialities ave greater than, those of any other State in the Commonwealth.. I am not concerned about the need to build, roads for tourist traffic; but I am. gravely concerned at. the lack of developmental roads. The Common wealth Government has an additional responsibility to care for the huge mileage of defence roads built during the war. This bill sets aside £500,000 for thai purpose, but that is not nearly enough. I should like the Minister foi Transport to state, when he closes the debate on the second reading of the bill, the mileage of defence roads, because I do not know the exact figures; but I do know that it must be terrific and I should think that £500,000 would not allow the expenditure of more than £10 or £20 a mile on them. One road from Charleville through Blackall to Darwin, as a defence work, was well constructed, but insufficient metal was placed on it to ensure its permanence. It was built in a hurry to meet pressing needs. Now the wheels of vehicles sink through the surface and bog in the “ spewy “ ground beneath. The allocation of £500,000 for the maintenance of defence roads does not provide enough money for more than grading, but there is not. sufficient, gravel or metal on the Charleville.Darwin road to allow grading to be done. To be made permanent it and other similar roads must he re-gravelled or remetalled, and when possible, bitumenized The Commonwealth Government has the responsibility, not only to maintain them, but also to> restore them to firstclass condition. I say that because the military traffic reduced them to their depreciated condition, but chiefly because the Government collects such heavy taxes from road transport that it is under an obligation to spend the money for the benefit of road users and the development of the country.
The period of the agreement covered by this legislation is three year3. Three years is insufficient to enable long-term planning; but I have no grave fears that three years hence we shall not have placed before us for enactment a further agreement. I think a three-year period, is too long for this agreement to operate because of the small amount of the annual expenditure provided for, and” that it would be better to limit it to one year in the hope that in the second year a larger sum would be made available. My commendation of the bill, which is good in parts, is caused by the fact that it continues the policy devised and placed on the statutebook by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), whom I compliment for having been so far-sighted. The Federal Aid Roads Agreement was adopted soon after the Australian Country party came into being. I hope that the Minister for Transport will have regard to the points that I have made and ensure that a larger sum of money shall be made available for the construction of permanent roads, and the maintenance of defence roads, and that preference shall be given to developmental roads over tonurist roads so that the interests of the people who live in sparsely populated areas shall be protected.
.- One has only to sit in this chamber sufficiently long to get an extraordinary insight into the habits of some honorable members. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) invited the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) to interfere with State rights. The only power of the
Commonwealth Government to interfere with State rights is that fri ve, 1 to it by its control of the purse. Tho honorable member who advocated Commonwealth interference with State rights was one of the most vigorous denunciators of the Government’s efforts to induce the people at the last two referendums to give this Parliament wider powers. I do not condemn the honorable member for his stand to-day. but it strangely contrasts with all that was said- against the Government’s referendum proposals.
– The Commonwealth Government cannot expect to take the money and not do the work.
– The Commonwealth has no power to do the work. It is time that the honorable member learned about the division of power between the States and the Commonwealth. Honorable members opposite howl about what the Commonwealth Government should do, but they pay no heed to the fact that the Commonwealth lacks the power to do as they suggest. This experiment of the Commonwealth Government using its financial power to interfere with the States has been tried before. The State governments are not happy about the idea of the power of the purse in Canberra being used to direct their road construction policies. I do not denounce the policy, but, after all, 1 represent State interests, and I must express their views. I understand that the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) will be going overseas soon, and I hope that in his travels he will learn some new tricks which will cause him to open the Commonwealth’s transport purse a little wider. It is well to drag out in this chamber some of the anomalies that have occurred in the development of road communications within the last few years. Consider what has happened in Queensland, a State which is strongly represented by that vigorous orator, the honorable member for Maranoa. Large sums of money were expended on road development in Queensland as part of the national defence programme during the war, and I have no doubt that such development will be continued in the future. Tha’ capital expenditure was a charge against the Commonwealth. Consider now the situation of Tasmania, in which there was no comparable development and in which we can expect no such development in the future. The cost of building developmental roads in Tasmania must be a charge against the State. This fact has thrown the relations between Tasmania and the Commonwealth very much out of gear. The people of Tasmania object tothe expenditure by the Commonwealth of millions of pounds on Queensland roads, whilst any expenditure on roads in their State must be a charge upon the State. The financial relationship betweenthe Commonwealth and Tasmania must be reviewed in the light of that extraordinary situation. I do not object to what has been done in Queensland, because I know that such development was necessary in the interests of the nation during the war. However, if such an anomaly should occur in the future, a serious injustice will be done to Tasmania. I ask honorable members to take cognizanceof the situation. I am not expressing a narrow State point of view. I am stating facts. The distribution of Commonwealth expenditure on roads should be carefully investigated.
An interesting difference between Australia’s developmental road policy and that of the United States of America is the enormous amount of development in Australian city areas as distinct from rural areas. As the honorable member for Maranoa pointed out, Americans showed a broad and intelligent outlook when they built roads and railways in sparsely-populated areas which they knew would, in future, become closely populated. That uolicy is preferable to the Australian method of concentrating on developmental roads in the cities almost to the exclusion of country districts.
– American railways were built by private enterprise.
– That is so, and I understand that some of Australia’s railways also were built by private enterprise. That happened in Tasmania, for instance. The point of ray argument is that if we are to embark upon a large migration policy - which is essential to our national welfare - we should plan and build roads now for the express purpose of encouraging people to settle away from the cities in this atomic age.
The Minister for Transport is an intelligent man who is capable of appreciating the significance of my comments. I remind him that the Northern Territory requires a. great deal of development.” ft lies at the front door of Asia, and the Commonwealth Government should pay serious attention to the establishment of road, rail, and air communications throughout that large part of the continent.
Again I remind honorable members opposite that, in the field of road communications, the Commonwealth Government is trespassing on State rights, and that the only power which the Minister for Transport can wield is the power of the purse. I hope that the Minister will, as part of his broad national policy, encourage the development of areas remote from our big cities. I was amazed to read recently that about 3,500,000 of the 7,500,000 people in Australia live in the six State capital cities. By reason of this fact we are probably included in the most vulnerable people on earth in this atomic age. We must consider this fact if we are to deal with our road problems realistically. For the Commonwealth Government to implement its policy only by exercising its financial power is a peculiar way for it to deal with a national problem. Commonwealth and State relations should be examined very closely. The Government of Tasmania has emphasized to me its resentment at having to submit its roads programme to the Commonwealth Minister for Transport. I know that the Minister is intelligent and is not. likely to indulge in unnecessary interference with the .States programmes, although I notice, in connexion with Tasmania’s programme, a matter that merits an explanation by the honorable gentleman. I know that the Minister is a moderate and honorable man, and I am sure that he will have a reasonable explanation to make. I have been informed that an amount of £50 is to be expended on a road to Ruby’s Flat. Why does Ruby want a road to her flat? I understand that expenditure -under this bill was to be for the construction and maintenance of roads, but apparently it can be used for other purposes ! I hope that the Minister has an appro priate explanation of this item. 1 should say that Ruby would be better protected if she had. no road to her flat. I believe that the apprehension in Tasmania regarding Commonwealth interference in relation to roads will be allayed by the way in which the Minister and hia departmental officers will control the expenditure.
One reason why the Commonwealth is retaining some ‘measure of control over the road programmes of the States is that, in the past, some funds provided by the Commonwealth for specific works have not been used for those purposes. 1 understand that the Commonwealth will supervise the expenditure of its funds merely in order to- ensure that money will be used only for the purposes for which it is allocated. It is distasteful for a sovereign State to be obliged to submit, its road programme to the Commonwealth Government for approval. I sympathize with the States to some degree in that respect. However, in defence of the Commonwealth Government, I am obliged to point out that such anomalies as I have mentioned have occurred. I hope that the Minister will assure the State governments that, he has no intention of interfering with their legitimate programmes.
I again urge him to consider my propositions. First, there should be no needless interference with the States unless the Commonwealth Government is prepared to seek wider powers in relation to roads. Secondly, the moneys provided by the Commonwealth should be devoted to developmental roads in unpopulated areas as part of our migration policy in order to encourage people to live away from the densely populated cities of this great continent. Thirdly, Commonwealth expenditure on the construction of roads for defence purposes has given some States a considerable advantage compared, with others. Millions of pounds of Commonwealth money must have been expended on developmental roads in Queensland as a part of the defence programme, but virtually no expenditure on strategic roads was undertaken in Tasmania. Therefore, I hope that in future computations, the Minister will take into consideration some of these matters. Through these means, we have a great opportunity t.o develop Australia. I hope that the Minister after having ‘ listened to my speech so sympathetically, will open his purse and give to Tasmania a comparable quid pro quo with Queensland.
.- Like the curate’s egg, this hill is good in parts. It is good when it follows the Federal Aid Roads Agreement which the Bruce-Page Government initiated in 1926, and the Lyons Government renewed in 1 937 ; but it is bad when it departs from the principles that we laid down at that lime. One of the good principles is that which takes into account (he area of a State in the apportionment of the total amount. I am gratified to see that this bill maintains the principle of two-fifths area and three-fifths population which was adopted in 1926. At that time, that arrangement caused considerable controversy, but events have justified the formula. The second principle which I commend is that which allocates to the State of Tasmania 5 per cent, of the total amount that is raised. On a population basis, Tasmania would receive about 3 per cent, and on an area basis, an even smaller amount. An amount equal to 5 per cent, will be allotted to Tasmania because of the special circumstances which the honorable member for Denison (Dr. Gaha) stated. In the original agreement, Tasmania received recognition for its excellent work in constructing metal roads to serve the back country and small farms, and consequently, was permitted to expend this money not merely on construction but also on the maintenance of roads. Other States were obliged to expend their grants on road construction.
Those are the good features of the bill. I. am astonished that the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) has agreed to the incorporation, in it of some bad points. They are contrary to the policy which he adopted in connexion with the standardization of railway gauges, of a long-range plan as drafted after discussion and agreement with the States. The bill is not founded upon a similar policy. The original Federal Aid Roads Agreement was drafted after the Commonwealth had reached an agreement with the six States. For the agreement to become operative, the Parliaments of the Commonwealth and the six States had to pass ratifying legislation. The act stood, as it were, on seven legs. As honorable members will agree, it was a very steady table. But this bill is like a table with only one leg, which the Commonwealth Parliament provides by passing this legislation. The States will not do anything other than receive the money and expend it under certain conditions. T believe that this is not the Minister’s own idea, and that Cabinet has forced it upon him.
My second criticism is that the Federal Aid Roads Agreement in 1926 was for a period of ten years. Iri 1937, it was renewed for a similar period. The arrangement which will operate under this bill will be for a period of only three years. I propose to show that extraordinarily beneficial results have accrued to Australia because the original agreement, was for the longer period. The States were able to train .men to carry out road construction most efficiently, and provide careers for engineers. Casual labourers employed on construction and repair of roads were converted into efficient workmen. On the outbreak of World War II., these engineers and their assistants were able to assist the forces of the United States of America to prepare for their operational work, because they had the requisite knowledge as well as road making machinery and earth moving equipment. During the early stages of the war, the resources of the main roads authorities of the four eastern States built, the great north-south road from Birdum to Alice Springs, and the road from Mount Isa to Tennant Creek. The route through central and western Queensland enabled military stores and equipment to be transported from the south to Cairns without incurring the risk of enemy action that coastal transport incurred. They were also able to provide the Allied Works Council with efficient executives and engineers. The Commissioner of Roads in Victoria, Mr. Loder, was the chief executive, and the Commissioner of Main Roads in Queensland, Mr. Kemp handled all the work of the Allied Works Council not only in Queensland but also in the Northern Territory, when Australia was threatened with invasion. Because of the experience that they had gained over twenty yearsas the result of the operation of the Federal Aid Roads Agreement for ten year periods, they were able to build in the shortest possible time airfields at Mareeba and Charters Towers which were used by Allied aircraft which operated so successfully in the Battle of the Coral Sea. The men who were in charge of those works informed me that, had the Federal Aid Roads Agreement been on a three yearly basis, they would not have been able to establish in peace-time the organization that proved so effective in war-time. The shorter period does not provide the necessary guarantee of finance and security. I fail to understand why the Government which established the Department of Post-war Reconstruction with the specific object of planning on a long-range basis, should agree to the introduction of a bill which will defeat the real purpose of the original Federal Aid Roads Agreement. During the last decade, road transport has been revolutionized. Everything which occurred during World War II. has accentuated it. To-day, I received a copy of the Bellingen Courier, of the 1 7th May, containing a report of a discussion by the local shire council on the subject. It stated -
Heavy Traffic Big Problem in Road Maintenance.
That present-day heavy road traffic was increasing to such an extent as to provide insurmountable problems to shire councils - and to the Main Roads Board - under present methods of financing, was the unanimous view of Bellingen Shire Councillors at Wednesday’s meeting.
The problem was referred to by several councillors, when the acting engineer, Mr. P. J. Smith, drew council’s attention to the very heavy loadings being placed on the State highway by petrol trucks which are causing damage to the scaled pavements beyond the council’s capacity to repair. He added that when the engineer, Mr. Arthur., left he indicated four days patching to place all roads in good condition. Since then three weeks’ work had not completed half the required patching. He suggested that representations could possibly be made to the Department of MainRoads for the prohibiting of such heavy loads and also for an increased maintenance item on next year’s programme.
The Shire Clerk, Mr. F. A. Phillips, said that it opened his eyes to see the terrific loadings on trucks which were using the main highways, particularly between Sydney and Melbourne, when he was recently on holidays. Big lorries, often manned by three men. travelled day and night, at fast pace, and often with no respect to other roads users or to the roads. The damage done by them could be seen all along the route. He had personally referred the matter to Main Roads officials in Sydney, who also expressed great concern. The same problems obtained in the country centres, he said, where the modern trend was to use roads for haulage of goods instead of the rail. Our roads were being smashed up. There was only one solution, and that was to bring roads up to the necessary standard to stand up to modern-day heavy traffic - and this could only be doneby means of a tax on the road users - or in other words to continue to press for the allocation of all petrol tax for roadmaintenance.
That is a statement made by a responsible officer of the Bellingen council. I shall tell the story of the road difficulties experienced in Stewart’s River district on the North Coast where I was asked to inspect the road facilities. I was told of the transformation which had taken place in the area adjacent to the banks of Stewart’s River, which is a branch of the Camden Haven River. It is a small river, with 60 or 70 farms along its banks. Before World War II. the dairy-farmers were converting raw milk into cream and butter, and the cream was then carted to the railway station , at John’s River and sent by rail. Owing to the expansion of the metropolis of Sydney and the development of the milk trade, these farmers to-day have to send all their milk to Sydney. Any dairyman will tell you that the additional load involved increased the weight to be transported tenfold. Whereas they formerly had to transport only three tons bi-weekly, they are now transporting 30 tons daily. All this traffic has to pass over earth roads. Vehicles have to travel along them whether the weather be wet or fine, and the roads have become impassable quagmires. Concurrently with this revolutionary change, there has been a tremendous demand for timber and this has led to the advent of heavy-duty motor trucks. In former days much of the timber was carried by bullock teams, which made slow journeys and did not damage the roads appreciably. Today, huge trucks laden with 20 to 25 tons of timber rush over these roads at speeds of 40 to 50 miles an hour. The owners of these vehicles pay nothing as road users except their State registration fee. I do not see any provision in this bill requiring these people to contribute anything to the greatly increased cost of road maintenance. State governments do not pay anything, because these haulers are carting timber from State forests with the permission of the State authorities. These forest areas are not even taxed by the local councils. Therefore, if the 60 small farmers in this district are to have their roads restored to their proper condition some solution of this difficulty must be found. The farmers concerned receive no more for their milk, but, on the contrary, they are faced with insuperable difficulties in marketing their product.
Another aspect of the problem which requires attention, and which affects vitally the production of food, is the need for some method by which road transport can be linked with -water conservation. In Queensland, in the last few years, Mr. Kemp, the Commissioner for Main Roads lias, by co-ordination of road-building with the water conservation authority, carried out a progressive policy with the small amount of money at his disposal. Wherever he puts a culvert over a creek he makes a weir, similar to the type erected on the Molonglo River in Canberra. By that means he is able to dam considerable quantities of water, and the local farmers have been able to use that water for irrigation, which has greatly stimulated production. They are able to conserve and regulate their supply of water for the whole year. If similar provision were made on main roads generally, farmers would be able to produce a great deal more. That, in turn, would lead to the breaking up of some of the large farms and making them available for closer settlement, which would result in production being increased ten or twenty times greater than it is to-day.
Another problem confronting us, which the bill disregards, is the provision of some method by which a. part of the revenue paid for registration of motor vehicles might be devoted to the upkeep of roads. Admittedly, it may cost more to erect a weir than a. bridge superstructure over many streams, but, on the other hand, the weirs and dams would be permanent. Under present conditions, the structures erected over many of these creeks are unable to withstand the strain of heavy transport at high speed, and culverts and bridges have been smashed. Because of this, the Main Roads Board and shire councils are continually spending money in repairs.
I have mentioned these points to show ‘ the Minister that there has been a revolutionary change in road transport during the last eight or nine years. In the sawmilling industry, with which I am very familiar, I know something of the havoc which has been wreaked on the roads. The growth of road traffic has been rapid. In 1939 there was a substantial increase over pre-war traffic; in 1941 the strain was much greater; and in 1942 the mechanization of transport in the sawmilling industry was almost completed. There should be some provision in the bill to cope with the situation which has developed, and I should like to hear any constructive suggestions which the Minister has to make. This matter is one of vital importance to Australia.
In reviewing, even briefly, the history of the Federal Aid Roads Agreement, one must have regard to the initial approach to the problem, and to what has been accomplished. From such a review, one is led to suggest the way in which the present difficulty may be overcome. During the 1920’s several measures were introduced by the Bruce-Page Government, which were of extraordinary value to Australia’s transport system in World War II. The first was the standardization at 4 ft. 8-1 in. of the SydneyBrisbane railway, which made possible the mobilization in war-time of southern engineering and mechanical resources. Another was the creation of the Federal Aid Roads Agreement. It is remarkable that the Labour party opposed both measures. At the same time the Government mentioned initiated the control and fostered the development of civil aviation which has done a great deal to raise the standard of air safety in Australia, and has made this country one of the world’s foremost in aviation. The two measures which I have mentioned provided an invaluable system of transportation by road and rail in war-time and enabled our military authorities to overcome many difficulties.
The effect was even more noticeable after the entry of Japan into the war. Before the war, almost 90 per cent, of the interstate traffic was carried .by sea, and therefore our land transport system had great difficulty in coping with this huge increase. I have already referred to the great work done in linking the rail terminals of Alice Springs and Birdum by road. This subsequently proved of extraordinary value in the transport of troops, goods and munitions. This road not only provided speedy transport to the Northern Territory, hut also enabled a link to be made with the Queensland railway system by the construction of another road from Mount Isa to Tennant Creek. The airstrips constructed at Mareeba and Charters Towers in a few weeks by men from these main roads organizations were used by aeroplanes engaged in the battle of the Coral Sea. Furthermore, the various main-roads authorities and local governing-bodies supplied most of the skilled personnel for the Allied Works Council, and provided the means for transporting a tremendous amount of equipment to the forward areas occupied by the operational forces. After World War I., it was obvious that the ratepayers in shires could no longer finance the upkeep of country roads, which had been made practically impassable by speedy motor transport, and that the existing system under which the la.nd-owner bore the whole of the cost should be superseded by one which provided that the road user engaged in through traffic, who did not pay rates, should bear an appropriate portion. In consequence, the Federal Aid Roads Agreement was made. Although the improvement of the roads was imperative, the provision of roads which would enable motor traffic to travel at a speed of 50 or 60 miles an hour was not in itself sufficient. The delay caused to traffic by the necessity to use ferries for the crossing of streams had to be obviated by the construction of bridges. During the last twenty years, the construction has embraced, not only 30,000 to 40,000 miles of main roads with a bitumen or concrete surface, but also 3,000 miles of bridges. Some honorable members may recall that twenty odd years ago there were no bridges over the many principal streams between Sydney and Brisbane.
To-day, every such stream is crossed by that means. By the terms of the agreement which had a currency of ten years, the State governments agreed to contribute 15s. for every fi contributed by the Commonwealth Government. If they expended money out of loan funds, they had to provide the substantial sinking fund of £2 10s. per cent. The revenue that they derived from the motoring industry, by means of licence-fees and in other ways, has enabled them to expend approximately £100,000,000 on new main roads in the last twenty years. They have purchased and used fully much modern road equipment, and a permanent career has been enjoyed by the thousands of men who ha ve been engaged in this avenue of employment. Road-making experiments of different kinds have been undertaken in the various States, and the results have been made known to all. Motor traffic has been utilized for the transport of primary products which could not be consigned by rail and, in addition, railway services have been stimulated by this competition. When Australia became involved in war, it was in a position to construct quickly many roads which otherwise could not have been built. The construction of good roads by the use of revenue derived from the petrol tax has paid handsome dividends, both directly and indirectly. The existence of good roads has lessened the wear and tear on every part of motor vehicles. The life of tyres has been considerably lengthened. Twenty years ago, a motorear owner was lucky if a tyre continued to give him service after he had used it to travel 5,000 miles, whereas to-day he would be unlucky if it did not give him service for 20,000. The cost of repairs has been diminished to a remarkable degree, and the efficient life of a motor vehicle has been substantially increased. In addition, the time occupied in travelling by both driver and passenger has been very greatly lessened. In 1925, travelling by car from Tweed Heads to Brisbane, I was on the road for between two and three days. The time needed to do that journey over a bitumen road to-day is about two hours. The improvement that has been effected is almost incredible. It has been possible to extend primary production further and further into- hitherto remote areas. Thirty years ago, it was not possible to carry on dairying at a distance of more than 15 or 20 miles from the nearest butter factory. The advent of motor transport, and the provision of good roads, have enabled cream to be carried for 30 or 40 miles in a couple of hours, whereas previously a journey of 15 or 20 miles occupied a whole day. The /.one of small settlements has thus been extended and the expansion of the dairying industry is shown by the increase of butter production from 100,000 tons in 1920 to over 200,000 in 1939. The production of vegetables, fruit and other primary products has been similarly expanded. Dairymen on the Macleay River are now able to send their milk daily by road instead of by boat to Nestle’s factory. Supplies are also being sent from the Manning River and Nambucca. River districts, up to SO miles distant. Years ago, production was confined to one commodity which could be transported two or three times a week. The same progress has been made in the timber industry. The haulage limit of the old bullock team was 14 miles a day. At the present time, timber trucks are sent 50, 60 or 70 miles for timber each day. With the use of tractors and lorries, thousands of square miles of timber country have been opened up, and this has practically doubled the total quantity of timber available in Australia. The improvement effected was particularly noticeable during the war, when the timber industry made the most wonderful contribution to Australian production of which any industry was capable. However, the progress that has been made has increased the burden on the roads. This is emphasized by the fact that rates are not paid, in respect of forestry lands. War conditions increased the demand for timber and other country products, with the result that many roads were so worn as to be almost beyond repair, and others could not be repaired because roadmaking equipment had been impressed for war purposes. On some roads, not even a culvert is left. Therefore, two thingsare needed at the present time in addition to a long-term programme in regard to main roads: First, the damage done to the roads in shires must be repaired. I am gratified at the proposal of the Minister to expend £1,000,000 in that connexion. But I can say definitely from my experience that that sum will prove quite inadequate. At least £5,000,000 is required to repair this damage. I suggest that, should the Minister experience difficulty in obtaining funds from the Treasury, the amount standing to the credit of the War Damage Fund, which I believe is approximately £3,000,000, should be drawn on.
-Order! The right honorable gentleman is getting wide of the subject.
– During the next ten or fifteen years, and possibly in perpetuity, the shires should have much more money to expend. The cost- of administration of the shires probably absorbs one-half of their total revenues. Their revenues are obtained from rates, which bear fairly heavily on those who provide them. If the shires could be assured of as much again as they are now raising by means of rates, probably country people could be provided with roads with a good surface which would carry very heavy traffic, as all the new money would be spent on roads and not administration. In the past it was the custom for a fanner to build his house close to a road so that his wife would at least see people as they passed by and would not feel quite so lonely. To-day that proximity to a road is a disadvantage, because fast moving motor tra flic covers everything in the house with dust. The surfacing of roads in country districts with bitumen would not only add materially to the comforts of country life but would, also increase production. I suggest that of the 10d. a gallon tax on petrol, 3d. a gallon in addition to what is proposed in this bill should be set aside and paid to the local governing authorities to improve district roads.
– Does the right honorablegentleman suggest that that money bc allocated direct to the shire councils?
– Yes, subject to some supervision by the Commonwealth Government. That would merely be a restoration of the conditions which existed under the original Federal Aid Roads Agreement, one object of which was to enable the shire councils to purchase up-to-date road-making machinery.
In some instances, a number of adjoining councils, instead of buying separate equipment, could join together to purchase plant which could be used by all of them. Should the Government not see its way clear to pay to local governing bodies a sum of £5,000,000 to enable them to repair damage caused to roads during the war, I suggest that road-making machinery used by service departments during the war be made available to shire councils free of cost and the shires be recouped if they have already paid for it.
Early in the war the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride), who was then Minister for Supply in the Menzies Government, arranged for the provision of huge petrol tanks capable of holding 100,000 gallons or more, at a number of strategic points scattered throughout the Commonwealth. I suggest that the Government should retain those installations instead of allowing them to get into the hands of the private oil companies. These huge tanks offer great opportunity to equalize petrol prices ‘ throughout Australia. Special trains could convey petrol to the district where such tanks are situated at times when there would be little other traffic on the line. This cheap carriage will help to assure that petrol be sold at the same price throughout Australia. Just as one of the conditions associated with the subsidies to the sugar industry and the iron and steel industry was that the price of sugar and of wire and wire netting should be the same in all capital cities so, in my opinion, .there should be one price for petrol in every town in Australia. The price of barbed wire and wire netting is the same in Perth as it is at Newcastle, and I urge that the same principle should be adopted in relation to petrol.
Motorists living in country districts pay double tax on the petrol used by them. They pay the 10 1/2 d. a gallon tax which is imposed on all petrol and, in addition, as much as 6d.” or 7d. a gallon above city prices. Outback people have no trams and trains to take them where they want to go, and so they must rely on motor transport. If petrol were available to them at a lower cost, and if better roads were provided in country districts, rural life would be much more attractive. Moreover, the provision of better roads would reduce production costs, which would be for the good of all. There is a splendid opportunity to do something worth while for the people of the outback. I suggest that a similar principle he adopted with electricity supplies ; there should be a flat rate throughout Australia.
I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the constructive suggestions that I have put forward. They are, first, that this legislation should operate for a minimum of ten years; secondly, that a grant of £5,000,000 be made to shire councils to repair wardamage to roads; and thirdly, that an additional 3d. a gallon of the petrol tax be paid to shire councils for the maintenance of secondary roads in their districts.
This legislation has been introduced in its present form because of a High Court decision and the desire of the ‘Government to act constitutionally in this manner. In order to avoid friction, I suggest that there should be an agreement with the States along the lines of the old agreement. The proposal to compensate the shire councils for damage to their roads during the war is reasonable when we reflect that when the war started much of their road-making machinery was impressed and they have had to buy new machinery at higher prices. The allocation of a portion of the revenue derived from the petrol tax to country shires for the maintenance of secondary roads would have a boomerang effect, because the increased production which would result would bring increased revenues to the Treasury. I am convinced that handsome dividends would result from putting my suggestions into operation. Anything which will lessen the costs of production must benefit the community as a whole. A long-range plan is essential to such a huge undertaking as a roads policy for the whole of the Commonwealth. Only by sound planning, increased efficiency and esprit de corps can success be assured. I urge the Minister to let his name be associated with something that will stand comparison with what has been done before. I beg of him to go in for this work in a big way, as he has done in the case of railway standardization. Only in that way can he achieve results.
Sitting suspended from 5.51 to 8 p.m.
.- I listened with considerable interest to the speech of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), and with appreciation to several of the practical suggestions that he made. Each of those suggestions, however, would, if put into effect, involve the expenditure of far more money than is contemplated in this bill; and while the suggestions appear to me to be valuable, I cannot help but recall that the right honorable gentleman, who is now proposing the expenditure of those additional millions, was himself Treasurer of the Commonwealth when the Federal Aid Roads Agreement was incepted, and he never then found it possible to obtain the money which he now so easily urges his successor to provide. The Government which I have the honour to support is providing in this bill in one year as much money for assisting in road building throughout the Commonwealth as the Government in which the right honorable member for Cowper was a Minister provided in three years; and, of course, the financial position of the present Government, following the recent war, is far more difficult than was that of the Government in which the right honorable member for Cowper was Treasurer. In fact, had that Government made reasonable financial provision for Commonwealth assistance in the work of road building, the secondary roads of Australia would not be in their present deplorable condition.
The purpose of this bill is to provide approximately £6,000,000 of Commonwealth money a year for road works in each of the next three years. This provision replaces the Federal Aid Roads Agreement which expires on the 30th June next, and under which an average of £3,500,000 of Commonwealth money was provided yearly for road construction. Thus, this bill provides for an increase of 60 per cent, in the amount of Commonwealth money allocated for road construction and maintenance and, except for £500,000, the whole of the amount will bc paid by the Commonwealth to the State governments. Under the new agreement they will receive 3d. a gallon from the customs duty on petrol, and 2d. a gallon from the excise duty, just as they did under the old agreement. On the present petrol consumption figures, this will give them about £4,500,000 out of Commonwealth receipts from the petrol tax. Under the new agreement, the Commonwealth will also pay another £1,000,000 a year to the. States for the special purpose of building and maintaining secondary roads. This id a new venture, and it provides for the construction of roads through sparselysettled areas, through timbered country, and through areas which must rely solely on roads for transport, no railways or waterways being available. At present, such roads are entirely the responsibility of local-governing bodies, and I assume that the State governments will expend this £1.000,000 through the agency of the local-governing bodies. At any rate, they ought to do so. The responsibility rests upon them to ensure that local-governing bodies receive the benefit of the additional £1,000,000 to be provided by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Government can require the States to do this, because the bill provides that each State government, must submit to the Commonwealth Minister for Transport an annual statement of the way in which it proposes to use and expend the money it receives out of ihe special fund of £1,000,000 allocated for the development of secondary roads.
On two grounds the bill now before the Parliament represents a considerable step forward, and the Government can claim due credit for that substantial improvement. The first ground is the increase of the total amount of Commonwealth money from £3,500,000 to £6,000,000 for road construction and maintenance. The second ground upon which the Government can claim credit is the establishment of the new principle of allocating a special amount for expenditure on roads other than main roads. But while these represent two distinct steps forward, they are not nearly enough to solve the desperate problems of road maintenance in rural areas. The Government has done very well, but it will need to do very much better in order to cope with the serious problems confronting rural dwellers so far as roads are concerned.
Lt is proposed to provide £4,500,000 out of the proceeds of the petrol tax for distribution among the State governments, but of this amount the great State of New South Wales is to receive only £1,260,000 for expenditure on 20,000 miles of main roads. Of the amount of £1,000,000 allocated for developmental roads, the share of New South Wales is only £276,000, for expenditure on approximately 100,000 miles of secondary roads in that State. It is true that the total grant is 60 per cent. higher than the average pre-war figure, but it, is an increase in money value only. If we take into account the increased costs of road-making plant, material and labour, it is very doubtful, indeed, whether the £6,000,000 being provided under this bill by the Commonwealth will build or maintain many more miles of road than £3,500,000 would have lone before the war. As I have said, New South Wales is to receive £1,260,000 for expenditure on 20,000 miles of main road, representing about £60 per mile The allocation of £275,000 for expenditure on 100,000 miles of secondary road represents approximately £2 15s. per miles
The State governments, for the maintenance of highways, receive not only their share of the proceeds of the petrol tax, but also the proceeds of the substantial taxes which they themselves collect from motorists. But local government bodies which have the responsibility of maintaining particularly secondary roads have no source of revenue other than that which they can raise on rating on thinly populated land of low rateable value. In the war years, the maintenance of secondary and developmental roads had, inevitably, to be seriously neglected ; aud it is now beyond the physical and financial power of municipalities and shire councils to place them in the required condition without considerable aid. Whilst I commend the aid which the Government is providing, and the new method which it Isas chosen to ensure that money shall be provided for secondary and developmental roads, I sincerely trust that this will he but a first instalment, and that the Commonwealth will provide from year to year increasingly large sums of money to local-government bodies for this purpose.
– Let the Government start this year.
– The Government has already made a start, whereas governments supported by honorable members opposite made no effort at all in that direction. All honorable members on this side are, indeed, proud of the step taken bv the Government in this matter. To meet the needs of local government bodies with regard to the maintenance and construction of secondary and developmental roads, a request has been made that the Commonwealth should hand portion of the proceeds from the petrol tax direct to those bodies for their own use. With the principle of that request I strongly agree. Experience shows that State government departments are not always to be trusted in their dealings with municipalities and shire councils. Those departments do not always treat local government bodies fairly in their allocation of funds or the conditions under which those funds shall be expended. The revenues available to councillors who are to-day struggling with the task of maintaining and restoring roads in their areas are entirely insufficient to place those roads in a reasonably trafficable condition; and I believe that a very strong case exists for the Commonwealth to allocate direct to councils a proportion of the gallonage tax for road construction and maintenance. The answer to this proposition, of course, will be that since local government affairs are the responsibility of State governments, it should noi be the policy of the Commonwealth to give direct financial aid to local government bodies. However, it would be a good thing if the Commonwealth were able to establish a direct link with municipalities and shire councils.
– The Government is doing that in respect of banking arrangements.
– And I approve of that action. This would pave the way towards the logical extension of the field of local government, for, however murky may be the future of State Parliaments in this country, the national Parliament and local government bodies will always have an essential role to fulfil in the government of this nation. Payment by the.
Commonwealth of a portion of the proceeds of the petrol tax direct to local government bodies could be a step towards the establishment of this Parliament as a truly national parliament with complete sovereign powers, and the promotion of existing local government bodies into provincial councils with full delegated powers for local administration. Such councils would receive both their authority- and the major part of their revenues direct from the Commonwealth ; and in that picture there would be no place for State parliaments as we know them to-day. Until that step can be taken, however, I commend the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) for establishing the principle of Commonwealth aid for secondary roads, and urge upon him the need to double, or even quadruple, the sum of £1,000,000 now to be granted, for that purpose.
The history of the petrol tax is of considerable interest. I understand that the tax was not established as the result of a proposal by any Commonwealth Government, but was established some twenty years ago as the result of the initiative of one, or more, of the State governments which wished to use this source of revenue for the financing of their road projects, and, since they did not possess power to levy customs and excise duty, an approach was made to the Commonwealth Government, at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, to levy the tax and to pass over the proceeds of it to the State governments solely for road construction and maintenance. I believe also that when the tax was originally levied the whole of the proceeds from it were, in fact, used for road construction and maintenance. Since then the tax appears to have followed the usual course of history of new taxes in that, as the years have passed, an increasing proportion of the collections of the tax has been taken for the direct revenues of the government imposing it and a lesser proportion of those collections has been allocated for the purpose for which the tax was originally imposed and justified. What the future of the tax may be, I do not know ; but I believe that in principle a petrol tax should be imposed for the purpose of constructing and maintaining roads, and that it is not desirable that that form of taxation should bc used indefinitely as a means of re-inforcing the general revenue of the Commonwealth. Whilst I know the particular needs of the Commonwealth Treasury at present, having regard to post-war costs, I trust, nevertheless, that the position will be reverted to as soon as possible, that the tax will be reduced to an amount sufficient to meet the needs of road construction and maintenance throughout Australia, and that the whole of the proceeds of the tax will then be used for that purpose. I am very pleased to note that the Minister proposes to expend the sum of £500,000 through the Commonwealth itself on roads of a strategic nature and roads of access to Commonwealth property. I have not the least doubt that on the merits of the case the Government will ensure that a considerable proportion of that money shall be used to make an immediate start with the provision of a proper road to connect this portion of the Australian Capital Territory with that portion which exists around Jervis Bay. Such a road linking Canberra with the coast, a first class road, a federal highway in truth, is an urgent need. Its construction can certainly be justified and I trust that the Minister will take steps as early as possible to have it built in the form in which it should exist. I know the sympathy of the Minister with the problems of dwellers in country areas. I know that his own early upbringing will give him both a strong sympathy and practical interest in the problems of country residents. In my electorate which adjoins the Australian Capital Territory, and which the Minister knows so well from the days of his childhood, many hundreds of miles of secondary roads are in an appalling condition. The tasks of food producers in that area as well as in other parts of the Commonwealth are intensified by these conditions. The difficulties of farmers are being multiplied, the cost of getting produce to markets is being doubled, and the cause of decentralization is being impeded by these bad roads which greatly increase the costs of transport. An excellent statement of the case which has been prepared by the Australian Automobile Association includes a comment regarding the scarcity of good roads in Australia which I think is worthy of serious notice. It reads -
It is the belief of this Association that the experiences of the total war in which the nation was for six years engaged has destroyed the Commonwealth’s peace-time programme of roadways. We are now confronted with the necessity to re-organize our roadway economy and to re-appraise it on a nationwide basis.
Paradoxical as they may seem, the following statements of Mr. Thomas H. MacDonald, Commissioner of the Public Administration, United States of America, are, nevertheless, in the experience of this Association, economic truisms: - “ Bad roads cost more than good roads.” “ We pay less for good roads if we have them than if we have them not.”
It has been conservatively estimated by the Australian Automobile Association that the cost of operating a motor vehicle on a bad road is approximately l½d. permile higher than it is on a good road. There are approximately 500,000 miles of roads in Australia, of which over one-third are “ bad “. Assuming that every passenger motor vehicle in the Commonwealth travels on an average 7.000 miles a year, the aggregate addition to running costs is nearly £11,000,000.
I compliment the Minister upon the bill which he has presented to the House. I trust that it will be the forerunner of future bills which will provide for even larger contributions by the Commonwealth to the construction and maintenance of roads in Australia, particularly those secondary and developmental roads which local governing bodies are now striving so valiantly to maintain with totally inadequate revenues which they have no way of augmenting. I should like to take the Minister back to the lovely and peaceful valley of Araluen. On our travels through and out of it we should see, not only some of the most beautiful country in Australia, but also some of the most difficult and appalling roads with which the people in that area have to contend. If the Minister proceeds as he has begun, and year by year increases the direct Commonwealth contribution to the making of these roads, he will add to the fame which he possesses in this country, and the village of Araluen itself will also become even more famous than it is at present when a memorial is established there honoring the Minister for Transport in his birthplace.
.- From the beginning of his observations the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) set out to damn this bill with faint praise. His sole deviation from that course was his severe criticism of the speech of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). I remind him that this legislation was framed twenty years ago by the right honorable member for Cowper as a member of the Bruce-Page Government, and when it was introduced it caused the greatest hostility that had ever been levelled against any bill brought before the National Parliament. In those days, scarcely a member of the Parliament failed to receive at least 1,000 telegrams from constituents, inspired by the petrol interests of this country demanding his opposition to the petrol tax. The original legislation imposed a tax of 3d. a gallon to provide money for main roads and the whole of the proceeds of the tax was utilized for the provision of main roads. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro criticized the right honorable member for Cowper for insisting that greater assistance should be granted to local authorities to aid them in constructing and maintaining secondary and feeder roads giving access to primary-producing areas from the main roads. The very number of secondary roads required to-day is due to the progressive policy adopted by the Bruce-Page Government, in years gone by, in building main roads to open up the hinterland and unlock large areas of land suitable for closer settlement. And it is because of the policy adopted by the Bruce-Page Government that it has become necessary to-day to review this legislation. The honorable member for EdenMonaro regarded the proposed allocation of funds to New South Wales, under this bill, as hopelessly inadequate. It is hopelessly inadequate because of the increased costs of road works. It is obvious that the honorable member is dissatisfied with the bill for he went on to say that it is physically and financially impossible for secondary and developmental roads to be constructed under the proposals made by the Government. I endorse his criticism. Scarcely an honorable member who has risen during this debate has condemned the bill with greater emphasis than has the honorable member. There are many aspects, from which I, too criticize the bill. However, I agree with the right honorable member for Cowper nhat the bill, like the curate’s egg, is good in parts.
The purpose of the measure is to enter into a further agreement with the States for the utilization of a portion of the revenue derived from the petrol tax in the construction and reconstruction of roads. The first agreement was made in 1926 and operated for ten years, being renewed in 1937. Under the first agreement, the whole of the proceeds of the tax was made available to the States for the provision of roads and, at a later date under an amending measure, for aerodromes. I object to the bill on the ground that the new agreement is to operate only for three years. Former agreements which operated for ten years made it possible for the States to pursue a bold vigorous policy and to make longrange plans of road construction without fear of interruption. The bill now before us provides for the setting aside of an amount of approximately £4,500,000 from the petrol tax for the purpose of constructing and maintaining main roads, £1,000,000 for the construction of roads in sparsely populated areas, £500,000 for strategic roads and roads of access to Commonwealth properties, and £100,000 for the promotion of road safety practices. In addition - and for this I commend the Minister - the bill provides for the expenditure by the States of one-sixth of the total amount made available to them on works in connexion with transport, other than main-road transport. This provision will release money for the con.struction and maintenance of country aerodromes, and particularly for jetties, harbours, shelters, havens, anchorages and beacon lights for motor boats. This is a reasonable provision as owners of motorboats have to pay tax on their petrol requirements, notwithstanding the fact that the petrol is consumed by non-road using engines. The Minister (Mr. Ward) is to be commended for having continued that principle in the bill now before us.
When the first agreement was made between the Commonwealth and the States in 1926, the Bruce-Page Government provided that the whole of the tax then collected should be expended on road -construction works. To-day, the rate of tax is lO&d. a gallon on all petrol con.sumed in Australia. It was recently reduced from lld. a gallon. Of the total tax of 10 1/2 d. a gallon only the equivalent, of 3d. a gallon is to be devoted to road construction and the other purposes to which I have referred. In other words, out of a total collection of approximately £15,000,000, only £6,000,000 is to be made available for road construction, Aic. Out of a total tax of 10-^d. a gallon 7-Jd. a gallon is to go to general revenue. With the improvement of our roads by the expenditure of this money, the consumption of petrol will increase and more and more motorists will be on the roads. The result may well be that the estimated revenue of £15,000,000 will, in the next three years, increase to £20,000,000; but still only £6,000,000 will be expended on road construction and maintenance, and for the other purposes mentioned in the bill, the remaining £14,000,000 going to Consolidated Revenue.
– Of course, that is not true.
– I am stating facts. Let the Minister show me any provision in the bill for expenditure, exceeding £6,000,000.
– It is a gallonage tax. If the gallonage used increases, so will the amount of tax derived from it.
– That is what I said. Motorists will be using more petrol, with the result that the revenue from the petrol tax will increase; but the allocation is only £6,000,000. Transport must, play a vital part in a large. sparsely populated country such as this. Modern transport facilities are particularly necessary to primary producers. This heavy impost affects transport costs considerably, and any undue increase of these costs must hamper the primary producer. He is caught both ways. First he has to pay increased freight charges on the goods that he requires to carry on his activities, and secondly, he ha3 to pay higher transport charges to get his products to the market. The petro! tax imposes a severe burden upon the transport of this country without providing for a corresponding improvement of roads, and the result can only be higher production. and living costs.
Either the tax should be reduced substantially, and only the amount actually required for road construction and maintenance imposed, or a bigger allocation of t.he tax should be made for this purpose. In justice to those who framed the original legislation, one cannot help hut notice the improvement that has taken place in our main roads during the last twenty years. In the period just following the last war, when motor cars came into general use in this country, our roads in wet weather were bogs and in dry weather were sandheaps. We have much to be grateful for. In the last twenty years the road-construction allocation from the petrol tax has been well spent and I have to express the appreciation of Queenslanders of the excellent work that has been done by the Main Roads Commission of that State, and particularly by the Chief Commissioner, Mr. Kemp
– Have Queensland governments spent all the money allocated to them by the Commonwealth on roads?
– Yes, and they have used State moneys as well for this purpose. Having regard to the increased cost of road construction to-day - it has been estimated at from 30 per cent, to 50 per cent. - the increased provision of £4,500,000 under this measure is approximately equivalent to the amounts appropriated under the previous agreement. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) agreed with that. During the war years some roads, particularly in Queensland, were reduced almost to rubble by the Army and Air Force vehicles. It is true that a minor contribution was made by the Commonwealth for the maintenance of these roads, but if was far too inadequate to compensate for the destruction wrought. The problem was made all the more difficult because the Government had commandeered all available road-making machinery for war purposes. That of course was a necessary step, but it meant that road repairs could not be effected. Therefore, considering increased cost of road construction, the lack of adequate maintenance during the war, and the war-time destruction of roads, the moneys to be allocated under this measure for road work arc totally inadequate.
The bill provides for the expenditure of £1,000,000 on the provision of roads in sparsely populated areas. The .principle of this is excellent. In the last twenty years new roads into the hinterland of this country have made the closer settlement of remote areas possible. However, £1,000,000 divided among the many local governing authorities in this country can be of little use, and whilst I welcome the provision of this money, and endorse the principle, I say advisedly that when we are collecting 10 1/2 d. a gallon by way of the petrol tax, the allocation of £1,000,000 for country roads is totally inadequate. I agree with what the honorable member for Eden-Monaro said in regard to this matter. Almost every local governing authority in Queensland is suffering from an acute lack of finance for road construction. Successive droughts and floods have accelerated the deterioration of the roads, and in many areas only the main highways are passable. Even they cannot be fully utilized, because primary producers find the byroads leading to them absolutely impassable. I repeat that the allocation of only 3d. a gallon to the States for road construction and maintenance is a hopelessly inadequate disbursement of the substantial revenue that is being derived from the 10£d. a gallon tax, and I ask the Minister for Transport to review the entire matter to see whether it is not possible to make a more generous allocation.
I said earlier that it was only fair that users of motor boats should enjoy some advantages from the petrol tax. These craft are used extensively by fishermen, and also to transport fruit, vegetables, and other products to and from the islands adjacent to the Queensland coast, particularly those in Moreton Bay. Operators of motor boats have been paying the petrol tax for the last twenty years, but it was not until recently that a fund was created for the provision of harbours, havens, jetties, anchorages and beacon lights as some recompense for this imposition. The fund was inaugurated as the result of representations which I made in 1935 and 1936, and which were adopted by the then Treasurer, the Right Honorable R. G. Casey. When the Federal Aid Roads
Agreement was being renewed in 1936 I said -
For the last ten years, the motor-boat owners who use petrol, have paid many hundreds of thousands of pounds to the revenues of the Commonwealth by means of this special tax, but have not received any assistance from it, either directly or indirectly . . . The owners of motor boats who ply for hire, and fishermen who use motor boats to earn a livelihood, although they have not been granted improved facilities of any kind, are obliged to pay the tax of 7d. a gallon, about one-third of the proceeds of which is devoted to main roads purposes. These men do not use their motor boats on the highways. Many of them are severely handicapped because they have no jetty at which they may land either passengers or catches. Harbour facilities could be considerably improved, havens and shelters could be provided, and anchorages could be protected from bad weather. In Victoria particularly, many vessels were wrecked recently by storms. This experience is not confined to that State, but has been shared by other parts of Australia, certainly by ^Queensland. Many owners of motor boats have had an extraordinary difficult task in finding a passage into port because of shifting sands, changing currents and tides. The provision of proper beacon lights is vital to them . . .
– “Was that the speech that the honorable member made or the one that Hansard wrote?
– It is a part of the speech that I made. During the war the pile-sinking plant for the building of jetties and the dredges for the cutting of channels were rightly commandeered hy the Government for use in the construction of jetties and the cutting of channels off the Pacific islands, and much of that equipment has not come back to this country. As the result of the lack of the necessary equipment, jetties have fallen into disrepair, harbours and havens have silted up, and much greater expenditure than that contemplated will be needed to repair the damage caused by the war. I am pleased that the Minister has decided to preserve the principle of allocating some of the petrol tax for the provision of jetties and havens for motor boats, but. the allocation is hopelessly inadequate, and I hope that it will be reconsidered.
– Why did the Government supported by the honorable member not do something about it?
– Our Government under the first agreement allocated every penny collected from the tax levied on petrol used in motor boats for the provision of those services. Our Government introduced the principle of providing havens and jetties. The honorable member’3 lack of knowledge is lamentable.
– The facts are to the contrary. The honorable member is a humbug.
– Personalities of that character do not help the debate. All I can say is that I am amazed that the honorable member’s observations are not worse. Every one knows who he is and what he is.
The price of petrol in Australia is too high. One reason is that the Government levies a duty of 10 1/2 d. a gallon on it. I appeal for a uniform price for petrol throughout Australia. In the capital cities it is 2s. 4£d. a gallon and in Canberra 2s. 8-Jd. because it is remote, and in my own town it has been as high as 3s., but is less to-day. A former government legislated to ensure a uniform price for sugar throughout Australia, and the prices of barbed wire, plain wire and wire netting must also be uniform. That is sufficient precedent for the fixing of a uniform price for petrol throughout the country. I see no reason against a uniform price, and I cannot see why country dwellers should be mulcted because they have had the courage to open up the hinterland. Sixty per cent, of Australia’s population is huddled in the capital cities. We must have decentralization if the country is to be properly developed, and to encourage decentralization we must ensure that costs of production, of which the cost of transport is an important factor, shall not be excessive in country areas.
I ask the Minister for Transport to consider extending the period of the agreement from three years to ten. The agreements of 1926 and 1936 were each for ten years. That enabled the State governments and the road-constructing authorities to make long-range plans and create the organizations that could go right ahead with carrying out those plans with security. When constructing authorities know they have an assured income for ten years they are able to recruit the skilled staff of executive officers, engineers, draftsmen, foremen and labourers, and buy the bulldozers and other heavy road-making equipment necessary for a bold construction programme. I cannot understand why the Minister has found it necessary on this occasion to limit the period of the agreement to three years. If the agreement were for ten years, therewould be no difficulties in retaining in the industry of road construction the skilled staff necessary to carry it out. But I forsee difficulty in retaining staff resulting from the curtailment of the period of the agreement. I do not confine my remarks on that point to men actually engaged on road-construction work, because there are many things allied with road construction, such as the manufacture of picks and shovels, which involves the iron and steel industry, and timber cutting. Without a satisfactory explanation from the Minister of the departure from the normal ten-year-period, or an assurance that the agreement will be renewed without any break in its continuity, I do not think the House would be justified in accepting the proposal in its present shape, because if men in the industry see the prospect of their being forced out of a job three years hence, because of the termination of this assistance to the States for road construction, they will jump out of it now into jobs that are more secure. The fact that before the war continuity of policy had enabled the establishment of a complete roadconstruction organization in Australia was responsible for the success of the Allied Works Council, which built roads, aerodromes and landing strips in record time, because it took over all the highly-skilled staff and the splendid equipment of the main roads boards. I also ask for a greater proportion of the revenue from the petrol tax to be devoted to roads. The present allocation of 3d. from the duty of led. a gallon is insufficient. The Government should have regard to the vast damage that has been done to our roads, particularly by-roads, by the heavy equipment that was used by the armed forces during the war. The water lanes in our harbours and rivers are in a sorry state because of the commandeering of dredges during the war. Therefore, the Government should devote more money to the clearing of these harbour facilities than is proposed. Australia to-day needs nothing more urgently than increased production of all sorts of commodities at lower costs. If road transport services must bear the heavy impost of 10 1/2 d. a gallon on petrol, which was reduced only recently from 11-Jd. a gallon, and if only a small fraction of this revenue is expended on roads, the heavy burden will have to be passed on in the form of increased transport costs, which will cause increased costs of all classes of goods. The price of petrol should be reduced and made uniform in all parts of the Commonwealth. If the Minister will agree to my proposals and amend the bill accordingly, he will help the nation by providing for better roads of all types and for a reduction of transport costs, which at present are excessive.
– First of all, I refer to the remarks that were made by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis). I do not know whether the honorable gentleman understood’ the significance of the words that he used, but he stated that, even if the consumption of petrol increased and a greater amount of revenue were collected as a consequence, there would still be only £6,000,000 allotted for road construction and maintenance, as provided in the bill. We should not let that statement pass unchallenged. The honorable member said that the Minister did not understand the bill. T point out to him that the bill provides -
There shall he payable, for the purpose of financial assistance to the States, out of the Trust Account any sum paid into the Trust Account to which paragraph (a) of section four of this Act applies.
Paragraph a of section 4 provides for the payment into the trust account of a sum equivalent to the aggregate of the amounts specified in the schedule. The honorable member did an injustice not only to the Minister, but also to himself in making such an obviously incorrect statement. He supported the remarks of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who said that the Hil was like the curate’s egg - good in parts. If that be so, I am amazed that both honorable gentlemen should complain that the term of operation of the bill will be too brief and should ask for it to be extended from three years to ten years. The honorable member for Moreton said that another honorable member had damned the bill with faint praise. When he complained about the bill, and then asked the Minister to extend its term of operation to ten years, it seemed to rae that he damned his own criticism of the measure
In examining this bill, we must consider the problem of who should pay taxes for the upkeep of the nation’s roads. This is an occasion upon which the Com.mon wealth Government, which is under odium as being a government of high taxation, is being asked by the Opposition to allot more revenue than is proposed in the bill for the upkeep of roads. Obviously, if that request were granted, the Government would have less chance than ever of reducing taxes. The Federal Aid Roads Agreement was brought into force years ago because it was considered that people who used motor vehicles, and thereby obtained most benefit from the roads, should be obliged to pay more than other citizens towards the upkeep and construction of roads. The agreement, which has been referred to frequently during this debate, provided that an amount of 3d. a gallon of the tax on petrol should be used for road construction and maintenance in the different’ States. However, the people who use the roads complain that not enough money is being expended upon them. This brings me again to the question of who should pay for the upkeep of the roads. Should this money be provided by the taxpayers as a whole or should it be provided by the various local-governing bodies? In examining the situation, I have come to the conclusion that the Commonwealth has a dual right in this matter. We have heard to-day that the localgoverning bodies are incapable of keeping the secondary roads in order. Whilst we have complaints about high taxes by the Commonwealth on account of increased Commonwealth expenses, at the same time we find that most of the local-governing bodies require most of their revenue for overhead expenses and are unable to propped with developmental work on roads. Who, then, should bear responsibility for the work of road-making .and maintenance? I consider that we have reached the stage at which we all must, recognize that Australia is a nation, not just a collection of States and localgoverning bodies. Therefore, the Commonwealth Government must be prepared to accept its national responsibilities. .1 agree with those honorable members who have said that, in order to make Australia prosperous, we should encourage people to’ settle in the out-back areas and do all the work that is necessary for the advancement of the nation. Such a policy is of national importance. From my study of this bill, I believe that the Government also is recognizing that national responsibility.
I shall not deal at length with the decision to allocate 3d. a gallon from the petrol tax for the construction, maintenance and repair of roads. That is an old subject. Ever since the introduction of the Federal Aid Roads Agreement, differences of opinion have existed as to what proportion of the petrol tax should be expended upon the construction and maintenance of roads which motorists use. The bill makes it definite that 3d. a gallon from the tax on all sales of petrol, with the exception of that used for aviation purposes, shall be paid into a trust fund, and the money distributed among the States in accordance with the provisions of this legislation. Of the amount received, 5 per cent, will be paid to the State of Tasmania. Of the remaining 95 per cent, three-fifths will be allocated among the other States partly on a population basis, but in order to avoid any possible unfairness, we follow an old procedure of providing that the remaining two-fifths shall be allocated on the basis of the area of each State. As a former member of the Parliament of South Australia, I know that this decision will be of great assistance to the States which have large, sparsely populated areas.
When we speak of the standard of our roads, I do not like to hear repeated references to the wonderful roads in the United States of America, as if Australian roads were poor indeed. When I was in America early this year, I travelled in motor cars along many roads. Whilst some of those roads were wider than Australian roads, they were no different in other respects from Australian roads.
I compliment the engineers of State departments of main roads and local authorities for the excellent manner in which they have constructed our roads. Generally speaking, our main roads, carrying a similar volume of traffic, compare very favorably with the main roads which I saw in the United .States of America.
Secondary roads are a difficult proposition for the local-governing bodies. For many years they have been concerned with the problem. It arises because broad acres “ are not a!ble to pay heavy rates to the local authorities. Yet the cost of their plant and materials, and the salaries of their staffs, have increased considerably, and, in the circumstances, I am not astonished that they are experiencing great difficulty in constructing new roads or repairing existing ones. Therefore, I am gratified to find that under this bill an amount of £1,000,000 will be provided for expenditure on roads in the sparsely populated parts of the States. The distribution will be on the area cum population basis. I emphasize that the amount of £1,000.000 will be provided, not from the petrol tax, but from general revenue. So, in addition to the amount of od. a gallon from the petrol tax, £1,000,000 will :be paid from general revenue to main roads boards or local authorities for the maintenance or construction of roads in the less-populated districts. The Commonwealth will also provide £500,000 per annum from general revenue for strategic roads - . . where in the opinion of the Minister the road forms part of the general road system of a. State, the standard of maintenance required by the Commonwealth is higher than that justified by the normal volume of traffic.
Our experience during World War II. warrants that action. I agree with the honorable member for Moreton that lighter roads, which bore heavy military traffic, could not be maintained in proper repair. Under this provision, the Common wealth will improve the condition of roads giving access to its property. This bill will meet the demands which the States have been making for years. From my experience as a member of the Parliament of South Australia, I know the difficulties associated with providing money for a road programme in out-.back areas. I compliment such organizations as the
Australian Automobile Association on the keen interest that they have evinced on road requirements. I think that they would appreciate something being done to give them representation on the bodies which spend this money. However, under the provisions of this measure, I do not think that they would be able to handle the money. It may be possible to provide some representation for them by co-opting representatives in the administration of the fund and the spending of the money. A previous speaker referred to the appropriation proposed of £100,000 for road safety purposes. Clause S states that the sum “ may be expended by the Commonwealth in the promotion of road safety practices throughout Australia in accordance with proposals approved by the Minister “. No doubt the Commonwealth or a State may be able to get assistance from the automobile associations, which have taken a keen interest in the improvement of roads. Nothing is to be gained by a repetition of the clauses of this bill, and I do not de sire to traverse what has already been i-aid. I appreciate greatly the Government’s decision to pay £1,000,000 annually for three years into the trust fund for the construction of roads in sparsely populated areas. An additional £500,000 is to be paid into the trust fund for the construction of strategic roads and road* of access to Commonwealth property, while £100,000 is to be spent on the promotion of road-safety practices. 1 do not accuse the Government of not doing sufficient in this matter. Along with other honorable members I should like to see the be3t possible roads everywhere, but I realize that we cannot take over the whole responsibility from the States. With regard to damage done to roads during the war, provision is made for compensation to the States. Throughout the war years quite a large sum of money was made available by the Commonwealth Government for expenditure by the States for the construction of strategic roads. No one objected to that, but on the contrary, every one believed that it was right and proper. . However, the fact is often overlooked that the roads which were constructed by the Commonwealth for war-time purposes will be of great benefit to the States during peacetime, more particularly in the direction of furthering settlement in sparsely populated areas. I congratulate the Minister upon the introduction of this bill, and I believe that it will go a long way towards providing the States with assistance which they sorely need.
.- It was somewhat painful to hear a speaker of the calibre of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) begin his speech by making disparaging comparisons between conditions to-day and when this project was first introduced, more so because his speech had considerable merit. He has made no allowance whatever for progress, and he might with equal fairness have condemned the Ford Motor Company for having failed in 1914 to produce a motor car equal to the modern Rolls-Royce. However, he conveniently omitted certain obvious factors which would tend to minimize the effect of his criticism, and I propose to mention some of them. We frequently hear Government supporters seeking to justify their Government’s term of office by referring to the quantity of legislation which it has introduced. That is not a practice peculiar to any political party, but is common to all. It is a form of defence which has never commended itself to me. It is the quality and not the quantity of legislation which should be the criterion by which governments are judged. Bearing in mind the provisions of clause 9 of the bill, which is designed to re-enact the Federal Aid Roads Agreement, I say that this bill is of more value in furthering real progress than any measure which has been passed during the Eighteenth Parliament. During the last two sessional periods, the time of the House has been devoted to measures which had for their purpose a wider distribution of wealth, rather than to laying the foundation for the creation of new wealth. It is a truism that the horizon of men is usually limited by the environment in which they live and work. This may account for the wide diversion of opinion which exists amongst Government supporters. Those who are farmers, or who have braved the hazards of settlement outback, are secretly appalled at the lack of vision revealed by this measure. They know - and I know - that in the first year it will not be practicable to organize the spending of the whole of the amount in the fund. They derive little satisfaction from the knowledge that this factor was not even considered by the Government. The arrangement can continue on its present basis for only three years, whereas it should apply for ten years, according to the absorptive capacity of the municipal bodies to spend this money. Such a provision would be most commendable. On the other hand, those Government supporters whose lives have been- devoted to organizing industry to ensure distribution, rather than the creation, of wealth, have chosen to applaud what they call the generosity of the Government and they have heaped eulogies on the Minister (Mr. Ward). The perspective of those honorable gentlemen is so limited that they are unable to grasp the enormous opportunities for progressive advancement which this young country offers to the more virile of its citizens. The assistance to be provided under this measure should be progressively increased to meet the evergrowing demands of pioneers. These people possess the grit and determination to face the hardships of a new country, and they should be given every encouragement. Because of its limitations the bill gives but scant recognition to the fact that such people are no longer to be classed as members of a forgotten legion, but are to receive the recognition due for their wonderful, and often unpaid, service to their country. However, this measure, with all its shortcomings, is in sharp contrast to the measures to which we have been devoting our time recently. Those measures, instead of encouraging initiative and ambition, will have the effect of stultifying, and even demoralizing, many of the people of our generation. In this enlightened age we are encouraging people to believe that in any crisis or difficulty there is no longer any need for them to fight or plan, but that all they have to do is to go to the nearest corner and hold out their hat and some’ benevolent government will fill it for them. In contrast, the Federal Aid Roads
Agreement which, no matter how much Government supporters may preen themselves, is a heritage from a period, which, in respect of inland development, particularly communications, has no parallel in our brief history, is being hailed to-day with relief and pleasure by municipalities, which have to cope with everincreasing demands by settlers old and new for greater road facilities which will enable them to get their produce to markets. No legislation ever introduced has been considered perfect by all the people. In my opinion, this bill falls far short of perfection. I can see nothing meritorious in the proposal that there shall be expended for road construction purposes such a miserable amount as that which will represent 3d. a gallon of the total petrol tax of 10id. a gallon. That is a sectional tax, because it is imposed only on the users of petrol, and it amounts in toto to almost £15,750,000. Yet we have heard honorable members opposite boast of the generosity of a government which proposes to allocate £4,500,000 to purposes for which the tax is collected, namely, the building of roads, from people who have also paid the other taxes that are levied on the community. In the first couple of years, practically the whole of that amount will be needed to maintain a normal programme of road construction, and to make a generous contribution to the repair of the ravages that were caused by what I would describe as “ wartime erosion “. That war-time erosion was due, not to neglect on the part of the municipalities concerned, but to the fact that war demands denuded them of practically all their man-power, including engineers and other skilled officers, and their machinery. The deterioration of their roads was so great that no body of ratepayers could be expected to restore them to a sound condition. As this deterioration was due to national defence requirements, the nation must contribute lavishly to the cost of repairing it, instead of the ratepayers being expected to bear the whole of the cost, particularly as the Government is retaining £9,500,000 of the total collections from the petrol tax. If that ‘can be justified on moral grounds, my education is sadly deficient and I shall have to improve it. To boast about it, is to add insult to injury. I agree with the honorable mem ber for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) that, failing generous assistance by the Government in meeting the cost of the repair of war-time erosion, one of two things must happen immediately: either a considerable increase of the proposed allocation for road-building and roadrepair purposes, or a substantial reduction of the tax that is collected from only one body of people. The roads scheme, at its inauguration, demanded the imposition of a petrol tax of 3d. a gallon, and practically the total amount collected was expended on road construction. I believe that 4d. a gallon was added during the depression years, for purely revenue purposes. At the time, that additional impost may have had some merit; but there is no virtue whatever in maintaining it in the boom period through which we are passing, and its continuance is not fair to the people. I should like to have heard the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) tell us whether it is fair that people should have to pay in a boom period a tax that was imposed merely to help the country out of a depression. Another Sid. a gallon was added subsequently, for purely war purposes. We could stand that. But the war has been over for nearly two years, and I should like to know what is the answer to the question why this amount is still charged and collected, as well as the answer to the further question why one section of the people, who pay the other taxes that are levied, should still be expected to pay this additional tax of 3£d. a gallon which was imposed for war purposes only.
I listened with keen interest, and someamazement, to the speech of the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams), because of his remarkable propensity for saying the wrong thing, or - in colloquial language - “‘letting the cat out of the bag”. The honorable gentleman represents what I believe is largely a country electorate and, according to him, an area that is considerably undeveloped, particularly from a communications stand-point, yet he solemnly assured this House, and those of his electors who may have been listening to him, that the paucity of the proposed grant could be excused, on the- score that road construction is a responsibility of the States, completely overlooking, for the moment, and hoping that his constituents also would do so, that the responsibility of the States is measured strictly by the amount that is made available to them by the sole taxing authority, namely, the Commonwealth Government. He would make the States scapegoats for the failure of the Commonwealth Government to do the fair thing. The Commonwealth collects the tax, and considers that the money belongs to it, whereas it belongs to the people of the States. Having collected it, the Commonwealth retains a very liberal proportion of it.
The honorable member for “Wannon (Atr. McLeod), who is a farmer and on that account has a much more general and practical knowledge of the value of this sort of legislation than have many of his colleagues, touched certain high spots. He described an area from which, he said, sheep could never be sent to market because of the condition that they would lose in the five or six days that would be occupied in droving them. He pointed out that, because of modern transport facilities and good roads, that journey now occupies four or five hours, with considerable benefit to the producer and the nation alike. That experience can bc multiplied a thousand fold. Every member who represents a country electorate knows of fertile, virgin country, on which people could settle and prosper if they could only get their produce to market. An undoubted obligation rests on all governments to ensure that provision shall be made for that purpose. I regret that the honorable member for “Wannon will be unable to gratify the yearning in his soul to support the Australian Country party in its attempt to obtain a greater allocation than is proposed. I assure him that (lie great admiration which he has for that distinguished body of men, and his oft-expressed confidence in their ability to protect the interests of the country people, will not be misplaced. We shall try to have (passed legislation which will do greater justice to the people, to the utter confounding of the less discerning members of his party and the greater enrichment of the people whom he represents. f shall now turn briefly to the Minister’s statement that £4,500,000 is to be made available for the construction of national highways - which is completely a government responsibility - for the repair and maintenance of what are described as main roads - which is to be on a contributory basis - and for developmental roads through the more thickly populated areas - which is also to be on a contributory basis. The proposal to allocate £1,000,000 a year to be expended on roads through sparsely-settled areas has been hailed by supporters of the Government as a marvellous innovation. Even the honorable member for Eden-Monaro said it was a completely new feature. It is not. Foi1 years the Victorian Parliament has made grants to isolated settlers for the construction of roads. In my opinion this legislation has been copied from the Victorian statutes. The principle underlying it is good, but the amount proposed to be expended is hopelessly inadequate; £1,000,000 spread over the whole of Australia represents only about 6s. a square, mile - the price of one load of gravel! I agree that that statement may not give a true picture of the benefits which will accrue from the spending of £1,000,000, but it is a quick method of assessing the value of an expenditure of £1,000,000 over the whole of Australia. Fancy the national Parliament boasting of its generosity when the amount to be expended is so small! As I have said, the principle underlying the bill is good. Indeed, the measure is framed on lines similar to those advocated by me last week when I urged that settlers in isolated areas should be provided with means of communication of another kind, namely, telephones. I hope that as the result of the adoption of the principle of assisting isolated settlers in the matter of providing roads, the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) may think it worth while to answer my questions relating to telephones.
I turn now to the second-reading speech of the Minister. He must have been in a generous mood when this scheme was evolved. He is so magnanimous that this measure provides that the States may spend one-sixth of the amounts to be allocated to them on the con- struction of aerodromes and jetties for fishermen. .First, he makes available only a miserable £6,000,000 out of £16,000,000 collected from the tax on petrol and then he tells the States, which really own the money, that if they wish r,o do so they may spend a portion of the amount in constructing highly expensive works. It would have been better if the Minister had said that those works would he financed out of the more than £9,000,000 derived from the tax on petrol which is to remain in Consolidated Revenue. But so long as “ cheer-raisers “ heap eulogies on his embarrassed head the Minister will get away with it. However, when the limitations of this proposal are realized by the people they will know that they are not getting anything.
The Minister says that it is proposed that «the States shall be required to submit to the Commonwealth Minister for Transport a statement of their proposed expenditure on road construction and maintenance, and that such proposals ha!! be considered by the Transport Advisory Council. I am not enamoured of flic provision which makes it obligatory for State authorities to, submit statements it> the Minister and for him in turn to submit them to an advisory body, which will have the right to reject them.
– Does the honorable member know that that council includes representatives of the States?
– Probably Victoria will have only one representative. The argument that the Commonwealth Government finds the money and allocates a proportion of it to the States is an entirely false conception of the position because the money which will be paid to the States will be their own money. The true position is that the Commonwealth has prevented the States from collecting taxes for their own purposes. The Commonwealth collects the money and pays an infinitesimal portion of it t:o the States. Most of the money collected will remain in the coffers of the Commonwealth. In my opinion, the spending of the money should be left to the State experts, who must know more about roads and transport problems within their boundaries than any Commonwealth authority can know. In that way the Minister’s objective could still be reached without sacrificing the principle of co-ordination between the various State systems. I shall not join the chorus of clappers and say that this bill is all that is desired. It is not. It falls far short of what the Government could do if it really wanted to do something worthwhile. I admit that Australia’s capacity for expending money on roads is limited to-day, but I should like to have seen a proposal that immediately the State authorities are in a position to proceed with a programme of road construction and maintenance, more money for the purpose will be made available to them.
The honorable member for Robertson said that the Government’s obligations in respect of social services prevented it from being more generous. How refreshing it will be for motorists to be told that, in addition to paying their social service contributions as taxpayers they have to pay again as motorists! The honorable member for Eden-Monaro marred a fine speech by disparagingly comparing this scheme with the original Federal Aid Roads scheme at the time of its inauguration in .1927. He conveniently forgot every factor which might have induced him not to make such a silly ass of himself. ^ Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER.- Order ! The honorable member must withdraw that unparliamentary remark.
– If the honorable member for Eden-Monaro requests a withdrawal
– The Chair requests a withdrawal.
– Very well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I withdraw it. In referring to the immense accumulation of moneys during the war years the Minister forgot to mention that considerably more petrol is used now than at the time when the agreement was first made. Therefore, less money was available for distribution to the States than there is now. The honorable member also forgot to point out that, although less money was available then for road maintenance, it was possible to do more work with it than can be done with the same amount of money now. For one thing, the price of bitumen is six times more that it waa then.
I have here a letter from one of the municipalities in my electorate, which illustrates the general attitude of such bodies to the Government’s proposal. Some of the municipalities in my electorate, and also in that of the adjoining electorate of Eden-Monaro, are in mountainous, timbered country, which is practically unsettled, so that hardly any revenue is derived from it in the way of rates. The letter is as follows : -
This council is of the opinion that the Federal Government’s proposed allotment of the petrol tax is totally inadequate. The problem of municipal finance is growing more acute every year. The system of financing municipalities by rates on property was devised in the horse and buggy days, but, in order to cope with present-day problems, an additional source of revenue is urgently necessary.
This council, after meeting fixed commitments of administrative costa, health services, Ac. for the current year, has only £2,000 for maintenance of roads, with a rate of 2s. Od. in the £1. The area of the Shire is 1,340 square miles. The result of inadequate maintenance will eventually necessitate heavy capital expenditure.
The exemption of aviation gasoline from the gallonage payments to States is evidently because aircraft do not use the roads. The same principle should apply to motor boats used by fishermen in earning their living. It is realized that it would be impossible to exempt the petrol used in boats from tax, and it would lie fair to recognize the principle by making grants for the purpose of providing harbour facilities for fishing boats at places such as Lakes Entrance, Port Albert, &c. My council asks yon to press for grants to be made available for this purpose.
The Commonwealth, after making the proposed grants to the States for road maintenance, will have approximately £.9,500,000 left this year out of the proceeds of the petrol tax, and it might very well make available £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 for the construction of aerodromes in country districts, and boat harbours at fishing centres around the coast. It is wrong that petrol users other than motorists should have to go on paying the petrol tax without deriving any benefit from it. Part of the money raised might very properly be used for the purposes I have suggested.
.- The speeches of honorable members of the Opposition have been running true to form. They contain no suggestions of a practical nature, but are full of carping criticism. For many years the parties opposite were in power, and during their term of office the Federal Aid Roads Agreement was drawn up. Under that agreement the greatest amount of money ever allocated to the States in one year was £3,800,000, whereas in this bill it is proposed to provide £6,000,000 for road construction and maintenance. Honorable members opposite have often criticized the Government for not giving more money to the dairy-farmers, for instance, but when they were in power they gave nothing to the dairy-farmers. The Labour Government has done something for them, and it is now proposing to do something to provide roads for those living in sparsely-populated areas who, for the most part, are farmers. The Government is not content to give them sympathy only. It intends to provide them with roads so that they can get their produce to market. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), repeating what others had said before him, asked why it was intended to keep the petrol tax at its present level. He should realize that Australia owes a very large war debt, and that revenue must be obtained from somewhere. Motoring is considered to be a luxury. I admit that motorists contribute 95 per cent, of the money raised by the petrol tax. I resent the fact that the honorable member for Gippsland saw fit to take to task the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams), who, in my opinion, made a valuable contribution to this debate last week. He represents a very large rural district, and he is seeking to ensure that his constituents shall be provided with roads to enable them to market their produce. I commend his efforts rather than criticize him for making them. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) was also critical of the Government’s proposal, but he was not consistent. He said that not enough money was being provided under the scheme, and he then went on to say that the proposed arrangement should continue for ten years instead of three. If he thinks that not enough money is being provided, why does he wish the arrangement to continue for ten years? The Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) and the Government are to be commended for their foresight. They recognize that a period of great development lies before us, particularly under a Labour government It -would not be right to enter into a fixed arrangement now for a period of ten years. It is desirable that the arrangement should be reviewed after three years and, if possible, improved. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) was another who merely echoed what others had said before him.
The bill provides for the construction and maintenance of secondary roads for which the shire councils mainly are responsible. I agree with the right honorable member for Cowper that the shire councils should be given a greater say in that sphere, and that financial aid for that purpose should be made by the Commonwealth direct to those local government bodies. However, the Commonwealth i3 precluded under the Constitution from making grants direct to local government bodies, and honorable members opposite must accept a share of the responsibility for that position, because when this Government asked the people at two referendums to give to the Commonwealth complete power in respect of transport they opposed those proposals and contributed to the rejection of those proposals by the people. Honorable members opposite object to the power that is to lie given to the Minister under clause 7. They fear that justice will not be done to local government bodies as - a whole. I point out local government bodies are given the right of appeal to the Minister, and, therefore, their position is sufficiently safeguarded.
Without exception, honorable members who have spoken in this debate have dealt with the problem of the construction and maintenance of first-class roads in the areas which they represent. When I was recently in Germany one of the things that impressed me most was the autobahn from Berlin to Essen, or, I should say, what was once Essen, because that place is now a heap of rubble. That road was 100 feet wide, and all obstacles were removed in order to enable it to be built in a direct line. All crossings were made either by overhead bridges or subways under the roadway. The road was built for strategic purposes, but, unfortunately for Hitler, it proved to be a guide to allied bombing squadrons. However, the point I emphasize is that due to the principles observed in its construction there was no possibility of crossing accidents. In contrast, crossings are responsible for many serious accidents in this country. Another major contributing factor to accidents is the fact that many of our main roads are too narrow. I emphasize that fact. I have done much motoring, and very often I have found main roads to be not of sufficient width to enable motorists to pass even a cyclist, particularly in negotiating curves or approaching intersections. I urge the Minister to consider the wisdom of laying down as a principle that all existing main roads shall be widened by at least four feet. That will help substantially to reduce accidents and at the same time, make motoring more comfortable.
Provision is made in the bill for the construction of strategic roads. I recall that during the war I spoke in this chamber on that aspect in respect of certain roads in my electorate. On that occasion I spoke for half an hour but my remarks were completely censored and were not recorded in Ilansard. Now that the war is over, I take this opportunity to repeat what I then said. I drew attention to the danger from a strategic point of view of the bottleneck at Hexham. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) was then Acting Prime Minister, and I brought the matter particularly to his attention. However, nothing was done to eliminate that bottleneck. The Hunter River, the main road and the railway to the north converge to a width of 75 yards at Hexham. In the vicinity of this bottleneck is the main water supply serving Newcastle. These arteries converge at that spot because of the existence of swamps in the vicinity. The Government’s military advisers agreed that one bomb dropped at that spot, or the explosion of a land mine which could have been placed there by an enemy agent, would have totally disorganized all road and rail traffic to Queensland as well as to the north coast of New South Wales, and would have cut off supplies of coal to our heavy industries at Newcastle. In order to eliminate that bottleneck, I proposed that a railway be built from Cockle Creek to West Wallsend to join up with J. and A. Brown’s railway, which connects the south Maitland railway with the main northern line to Queensland. That link would be only one and a quarter miles in length, and its construction is no less urgent today in peace time, because frequent Hooding of the Hunter River completely disorganizes traffic at Hexham and forces the diversion of passenger rail traffic by boat from High-street railway station to Farley railway station, whilst road traffic is completely cut off. In addition, coal transport is completely cut off in floodtime. Continuous transport would be ensured however by connecting J. and A. Brown’s railway to Cockle Creek via West Maitland. A roadway from West Wallsend and Kurri Kurri also connects v.with Maitland. That road traverses the ^mountains, but it is only 11 miles long, –and if put in first-class condition would -serve as an alternative to the ordinary route of 30 miles around via West Maitland to Newcastle, and at the same r time reduce the distance via Maitland to ^Newcastle by 7 miles. That road is badly iia need of repair. It is a secondary road, but it could be termed a strategic road and as such come within the provisions pf this measure.
As we are. all aware, many strategic roads were construed in Queensland during the war period, most of them by the Civil Constructional Corps, established by the Labour Government. They are of immense value in peace-time. Another excellent road constructed during the war period is what is called the Putty Road, which runs through Singleton to Windsor, traversing the electorate of the honorable member for Robertson. The State Government and the local-governing bodies concerned had been pressing for its construction for very many years, but it was not until the country was faced with a national emergency that construction was undertaken by the military authorities. The road was then completed in about eighteen months. A connecting road from the Putty Road to Wollombi is urgently necessary to provide an outlet for the large number of people who are now cut off from Sydney when the Hunter River is in flood. The construction of another outlet is also necessary from the Pacific Highway, eight miles north of the Hawkesbury River bridge over the Wattagan Mountain and joining up with the old Wollombi-Wiseman’s Ferry Road, and from Wollombi to Cess- nock, Kurri Kurri, Maitland and Singleton. It is hoped that much of this essential road work will be undertaken as the result of this bill, and that farmers living in the isolated districts adjacent to Wollombi and the Wattagan Mountain, who, in the past, have had to rely on bush tracks over which to transport their products to the markets, will be catered for. The construction of these roads has also been strongly advocated by the honorable member for Robertson.
Modern heavy motor vehicles are having a disastrous effect on many of the highways throughout Australia. Vehicles carrying loads of from 8 to 10 tons are chopping up the roads to-day as military vehicles did in the north and far north of Australia during the war. We are all aware of the extensive damage caused to roads giving access to military camps by the heavy military lorries in use during the war period. This damage was particularly noticeable in roads giving access to the camps at Greta, Rutherford and Black Hill, many bridges and culverts along those roads being broken or irreparably damaged. The shire councils concerned did not have the requisite finance to undertake their repair. Localgoverning authorities were placed in an even more difficult position because of the requisitioning by the military authorities of the greater part of their road-making equipment. Most of them are still without equipment, and such as has been obtainable has been so worn as to be practically valueless. I fully appreciate the difficulties under which they are functioning to-day, and, accordingly, if it were not for the constitutional difficulties involved, I should urge that grants for the construction and maintenance of roads be made direct to the local-governing authorities and not handed out to them piecemeal by the State governments. At one time a wheel-base tax was imposed on all motor vehicles operating in Western Australia. This was done to offset the intense competition offered by road vehicles to the State-owned railways. As the result of the war there is a shortage of rolling-stock on the railways of all States, which makes the greater use of road vehicles for the cartage of commodities which otherwise would be transported by the railways. Privately owned motor lorries carrying extraordinarily heavy loads are causing heavy wear and tear to our roadways, yet their owners pay the same rate of registration as ordinary private users. When he was Premier of New South Wales the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) imposed a tax upon all merchanise transported over the highways of the State. I believe that such a tax should again be imposed to-day because of the heavy wear and tear caused by lorries and trailers transporting merchandise of all kinds over our highways. Many of the drivers of these heavy vehicles cover great distances, driving for such long hours that they frequently fall asleep at the wheel, thus causing grave danger, not only to their own lives, but also to the lives of others. This is apparent from the great number of accidents that take place on our highways to-day. The great increase of the number of heavy vehicles using our roads to-day is due to the fact that road transport is quicker and to some degree more economical than rail transport. For that reason the whole of our railways system must be reviewed.
A strategic road may be regarded as coming within the category of a Commonwealth property for the maintenance of which Commonwealth moneys should be expended. Among such roads I include roads giving access to coal mines in areas not served by rail. Such roads should be maintained at the expense of the Commonwealth or by the Joint Coal Board, which is a Commonwealth instrumentality. Many roads in my electorate, particularly in and around Thornton, Blomfield, and Stockington collieries in the South Maitland district, are not trafficable in wet weather. Most of them could be made trafficable in all weathers for the expenditure of ‘but a small amount of money. I have discussed the desirability of undertaking their reconstruction, not only with the Joint Coal Board, hut also with- the Minister for Transport. Many of them could be declared strategic roads because supplies of coal are needed just as much in peace-time as in time of war. These roads are equally as important to our peace-time economy as are roads giving access to a defence project in time of war. In peace and in war coal is our basic fuel. Roads leading from coalmines to railway loading sidings should be treated as strategic roads. We are losing thousands of tons of coal production each day because miners cannot travel in the vehicles provided to take them towork. Incidently, no taxation concessionis allowed for the money that they pay in fares although this definitely is expenditure incurred in the course of earning their income. However, I shall not canvass that matter now. In the course of my duties as liaison officer with the Commonwealth Government on coal production, I have travelled as far as Gunnedah. There I found the roads in such a condition that in wet weather production of coal had to be suspended. Just as the farmers cannot continue production because of inadequate road transport facilities, so the miners too are prevented from carrying on their industry to its fullest capacity.
In conclusion, I suggest that the Government should devise some method of making at least portion of the money to be expended under this measure available direct to local-governing authorities. I believe, too, that the motorists, who pay the piper, should have the right to call the tune. They have to bear this heavy impost, and they have a right to representation on the advisory council. Motorists’ organizations have done most valuable work in regard to road safety propaganda, and I believe that the presence of their representatives on the advisory council would be of great benefit.
It is unfair that any section of the community that is taxed to the extent to which motorists are taxed to-day should not have a say in the disbursement of the revenue that they contribute.
I commend the Minister upon the introduction of this measure. I am sure that he is right in providing for an agreement for a period of three years only. Whilst not wishing to anticipate anything that the Minister may say in his reply to this debate, I firmly believe that this country will make such great progress that in three years’ time the Government will be able to announce a more liberal distribution of funds for the purposes specified in this measure.
– Government speakers in this debate, particularly the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) have admitted that roads in this country are in a bad state, and must be improved. Apparently honorable members opposite believe that the Government has been most generous in making the allocations provided for in this measure. When the petrol tax is collected, it is paid into Consolidated Revenue, and therefore becomes Commonwealth money. It is then allocated to the States. To that extent, therefore, honorable members opposite are correct when they describe revenue from the petrol tax as Commonwealth money; but after all it is money that has been taken from people who use the roads and will continue to use them. Surely, this important section of the community should have some voice in deciding how the money should be spent. The shire councils of this country have done an excellent job since the pioneering days, particularly during the war years. They have played their part without receiving very much in return. One shire councillor said to me recently: “The only difference between your job and mine is that, whereas you are paid for taking abuse, we have to take it without payment “. Fortunately I do not have to take abuse. I have the highest regard for the work of shire councils, and I should be prepared to allow road-building money to be allocated to them to be expended as they think fit. But having got its hands on the cash, the Government is loath to part with it. In answer to a question upon notice asked in this chamber recently, the following interesting figures were obtained showing the amount of revenue derived from the petrol tax and the allocations to the State: -
The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Fraser) said that this Government, in one year, was providing more than had been provided by antiLabour governments in three years for expenditure on roads. One may as well say that a modern airliner is able to make a trip to the United Kingdom faster than was an aeroplane of twenty years ago. The fact is that there are more and more motor cars on the road each year. Members of the public are travelling greater distances. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro also said, and I give him credit for it, that whereas when the petrol tax was first levied, the whole proceeds were devoted to road maintenance and construction, as the years have gone by, the more money the governments have collected by way of the tax, the less they have allocated proportionately for the original purpose. Listening to this debate, I wondered what was the seat of the trouble. Why has the Government, not treated the petrol taxpayers more generously? Only one honorable member in the chamber touched upon the real issue. That was the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who said that he thought the Commonwealth Parliament should be a great national parliament, with sovereign rights to do what it liked regardless of the States. Finally, he said that he would like to see the State parliaments abolished.
– What is wrong with that?
– What is wrong with that! Once I thought we could abolish the State parliaments for the betterment of Australia, but that was not in the days of this Government and its controls. I now know that we must retain the State parliaments to ensure a measure of freedom for the people.
– Order! I ask the honorable member to get back to the bill.
– The parish pump has been overworked here to-night. The honorable member for Hunter talked about a bottleneck at Hexham and the road at Gunnedah, and the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) wants a road built from Tumut to Canberra. This is no time for parochialism. A principle of national importance is at stake. Every one knows that councils need money and that the petrol tax was levied specifically to provide finance for the construction, reconstruction . and maintenance of roads. Both points are admitted, but we cannot discover why the Government refuses to make all the proceeds of the petrol tax available for the purpose for which it is levied. I have received some important letters on this subject. One came to me from the
North Western Shires and Boroughs Association, with which the following municipalities are affiliated: Arapiles, Birchip, Charlton, Dimboola, Donald, Dummunkle, Kaniva, Karkarooc, Kowree, Lowan, Stawell, Swan Hill, Walpeup, Warracknabeal, Wimmera, Wycheproof. Some of those areas are wholly or partly in my constituency and some in the constituency of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod). The letter reads as follows: -
At the annual conference of this association held at Warracknabeal on March 19th last the following resolution wax unanimously adopted : -
That the conference take up the matter of securing an increased allotment to municipalities from the petrol tax.
Honorable members opposite make so much noise that it is obvious that they do not want to listen themselves or allow any one else to listen. People listening to the broadcast must wonder at the ruffians they have elected to the Parliament.
– Will the honorable member deal with the bill?
– I was dealing with the bill by reading the letter. I do not wish to be disrespectful, but if you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, will deal with the noise, I shall deal with the bill.
– Order ! I will not allow any reflection on the Chair.
– The last thing in my mind would be to reflect on the Chair. The letter proceeds -
Prior to debate on this question all delegates were aware of the points of the speech by the Prime Minister on February 25th, 1947, in connexion with the F.A.R. and Works Agree- ment. Delegateswho were present from each of the municipalities mentioned in the mar- ginal data were deeply appreciative of the increased allocations from the petrol tax which the C.R.B. will receive this year-
I agree with that. We are appreciative of anything we get from this Government. The letter continues - but representatives were unanimous that a greater portion of this petrol tax money should be expended on roads.
This association stands with the Municipal Association of Victoria, and indeed the majority of Victorian municipalities, in a joint request that a greater proportion of the petrol tax be allocated to this State.
The president of that conference was none other than Councillor J. Lockwood,
O.B.E., J.P., who has been in council life for, I think, 52 years. Only this morning I received from the Shire of Dummunkle, a part of which is in the Wimmera electorate, the following letter : -
I have the honour, by direction, to request your assistance in an endeavour to have a greater allocation from the petrol tax refunded to the States for distribution to municipalities for construction and maintenance of roads.
The roads of this shire had deteriorated during the war owing to lack of maintenance.
For most maintenance works this shire pays one-third of the total cost, and will find it impossible to meet the burden of this increased expenditure and pay the increased cost of works apart from Country Roads Board works without more generous allocation is afforded in regard to Country Roads Board payments by municipalities.
There is not the slightest doubt that the shire councils are “ up against it “ for money. If they could get the proceeds of the petrol tax paid on petrol used by motor vehicles they would be able to build roads that we should be proud of.
– The concentration of motor vehicles is in the cities.
– I know; but any additional revenue received by shires is helpful. I now refer to the chart mentioned by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. It is drawn with care and illustrates an important point. It is that in the United States of America the petrol tax averages 4d. a gallon compared with 10½d. a gallon in Australia. In that country 2½d. is used for roads and 1½d. is diverted to general revenue. In this country 3d. is used for roads and 7½d. is diverted to Consolidated Revenue. How can our roads compare with American roads in those circumstances ? I realize that there are more motor vehicles in America, but that is not the point. The point is that America diverts only l½d. ofits petrol tax while Australia diverts 7½d., and that is the root of our trouble. We must endeavour to have another 3d. of the petrol tax expended on roads. That would leave a balance in the Consolidated Revenue more in keeping with the amount diverted in America. We need roads for the development of primary production and secondary industries, but, above all, we need good roads in this country in order to foster true decentralization. I favour the establishment of secondary industries, large and small, in country towns, but true decentralization consists in more than that. Only by providing good roads can we induce people to go into the outback. Roads would help to take the amenities that the outback lacks to the settlers. Millions of pounds are to be expended under the sponsorship’ of the Minister for Transport upon the standardization of railway gauges. Although I am not greatly opposed to the standardization of gauges, in this age of progress good roads are of much more importance than railways. This is an age when quick transport is needed. We need rail roads for the carriage of heavy loads, such as coal and wheat. Livestock sometimes can be carried over railway systems without inconvenience, but road transport vehicles can bring stock to market more quickly than trains. Stock can be loaded in a paddock perhaps 200 miles from a city ‘and be in the markets within a few hours. Transport by road under modern conditions, to which good roads are an essential, does not knock them about, whereas animals are often injured in fail trucks, and shunted backwards and forwards for hundreds of miles. It is essential to have good roads for the transport of primary products, such as fresh fruit, meat in carcass form or on the hoof, and other commodities that are subject to deterioration unless they are marketed quickly. In order to build and maintain good roads a greater proportion of petrol tax than is now allocated should be diverted for that purpose. The Minister has stated that revenue from petrol tax under the present gallonage system will amount to about £4,500,000 a year. A question upon notice was aksed on this subject some time ago, and the answer supplied to me stated that the estimated revenue was less than £4,000,000. This proves to me that, within the last few months, revenue from the petrol tax has increased considerably. For the purposes of this debate, I shall accept the Minister’s estimate of an income of £4,500,000.
An amount of £1,000,000 a year is to be set aside for the building of roads to isolated places. How far will that go in Australia ? This provision is a step in the right direction, but it is totally inadequate. I do not believe that the Minister can have in mind the construction of such roads as the proposed link between Can- berra and Tumut, because he referred to “ isolated places “. H owever, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) referred to that project, and, in answer to an interjection, he said that the road would cost about £300,000, if I ‘heard him correctly.
– That was the estimate in 1927.
– It would cost much more to-day.
– We have modern machinery to-day.
– Well, I shall accept the estimate of £300,000 for the present. From the proposed amount of £1,000,000 a year, the allocation to New South Wales would be considerably less than £300,000. I do not wish to be parochial in my outlook, but I point out to the Minister that in the Wimmera and Wannon electorates, a road between Murrayville and Nhill is badly needed. It would link south-western Victoria with north-western Victoria. However, its construction would probably cost more than will be provided for Victoria from the amount to be set aside in one year.
– Part of that would be a State responsibility.
– The States are having so much money taken away from them under the uniform tax system that they have no money to use for schemes of this kind. Wherever the money comes from, it must be provided in the first instance by the taxpayers. As the Commonwealth Government is taking all of the petrol tax, it must bear the full cost of the construction of such roads. The main point which has been made clear in this debate is that not enough money will he paid back from the fund proposed in the bill to enable the States to build badly needed roads. Considering the great need for roads to many isolated places, an amount of £1,000,000 will be a mere bagatelle. The bill also provides for the allocation of £100,000 a year for roadsafety devices. This is an essential item. I pay tribute to the Country Roads Board of Victoria for the work that it has done to promote road safety. It has eliminated many risks by removing dangerous bends from roads. In every State that I visit I find that similar work has been done, with the result that countless acci- dents have been prevented. The amount of £100,000 to be provided for road safety purposes should be granted to country roads boards in addition to their present small allotments in order to help them to continue the good work that I have mentioned. They should be empowered to use this money on the building of new roads. By this means they could eliminate at the outset imperfections that are due to lack of funds. Safe roads and lower speeds are badly needed to-day. The old saying that “It is not the miles you travel, it is the pace that kills “, still holds good.
I could make many comparisons between roads in Australia and those in the United States of America. For instance, American roads have much better surfaces than Australian roads. Such comparisons would not te fair, because America has many more cars than Australia. However, if we are to have more motor cars in Australia we must prepare for them now. The Minister is looking ahead only three years. Some honorable members on both sides of the House have found fault with him on that account; some consider that the terra of the hill should be extended to ten years, and others consider that a period of three years is too long. I consider that the whole scheme should be revised immediately, and that the Minister should withdraw the bill and present another measure providing: for the allocation of greater sums of money for road construction. The amounts provided in the bill are too low. At any rate, I hope that the scheme will be revised during the three years in which this bill will operate. We want more motor cars in this country and, although we cannot get enough of them now, the time will come when we shall have as many as we need. We must have ‘roads prepared for them. [Quorum formed.’] When such an important debate is in progress, the fact that a quorum has to be formed indicates how little interest the Government and its supporters have in this subject. Although much ground has been covered, the parochial attitude of honorable members generally on this subject has been made apparent, one or two definite points have emerged from the debate. The quorum was formed at the request of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein), who recently was absent from this House for some months.
– Order ! The bill does not deal with the honorable member for Watson.
– I shall not delay the House unduly at this hour. Now I shall sum up briefly what has been said this evening. After all, any person with a pencil and a small piece of paper could write down the salient facts that have been adduced in this debate. The first is that the amount of money which is being taken from the States by the. petrol tax and held by the Commonwealth is far too much. The amount which the Commonwealth returns to the States to enable them to construct the roads on which motor vehicles run is inadequate, and there is a relationship between the motor vehicles on the roads, the petrol tax, and the cost of constructing and maintaining road. In 1945-46 the Commonwealth took from Victoria, by way of petrol tax, an amount of £3,602,000 and the so-called generous Labour Government returned to the State only £582,000. I secured these figures this afternoon from the Treasury in Canberra and their accuracy is unquestionable. The position is that in 1945-46, under the administration of this so-called generous Government, more than £3,000,000 was held back in Consolidated Revenue out of the receipts from petrol tax in Victoria, little more than £500,000 being returned to the source which provided it. Surely, that is conclusive evidence of what is happening under the system of uniform taxation.
The second salient fact is that every honorable member has agreed that the roads in their constituencies are in a bad state of repair, are continuing to deteriorate and require maintenance urgently. Every honorable member has agreed also that new roads must be constructed. We can associate these two things. New roads are required, but the amount being returned to the States is insufficient to meet the cost of constructing new roads and repairing existing ones. Increasing sums are being collected from the users of motor vehicles. The whole position is so ridiculous that if we were not sitting in this Parliament we should consider it to bo farcical.
The third salient fact is that there is common appreciation of the proposal to allocate an amount of £1,000,000 for the construction of roads in isolated, sparsely populated areas. Although I do not agree that the amount is adequate for the purpose, I compliment the Minister for the originality of his idea. The amount of £100,000 for road safety practices should be provided to the local governing authorities for use in the best way they think fit when building roads. I am opposed to the provision requiring the local authorities to advise the Minister as to how they propose to expend their share of this amount. That is quite unnecessary. Although the honorable gentleman is Minister for Transport, what does he know about the conditions in the Shire of Karkarooc? When I mention the name he smiles. He must realize that the people who have a local knowledge of the conditions in the constituencies know how this can be expended to best advantage. They know the roads that should be built. How can the honorable gentleman, sitting in his office in Canberra in splendid isolation, have any idea of local requirements, although 1 believe that he travels a good deal and does his best to make himself familiar with them? The members of the local authorities are specialists on conditions in their own areas. How can we expect a man, or a board, in the Australian Capital Territory to have a specialized knowledge of conditions in each shire? The whole idea is ridiculous, and I am strongly opposed to it.
– The honorable member does not mean that.
– I do. I suppose that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) is not always impressed with the smoothness of the roads over which he travels. Of course, Ministers ride in luxurious Chryslers and their experience may be an exception.
My fourth salient fact is that improved roads are required for education purposes. Tasmania has introduced a system of area schools. Victoria has instituted consolidated schools. In many parts of Australia the idea is rapidly gaining ground that if a number of schools can be consolidated the students have a better opportunity of obtaining specialized education. For the purposes of consolidated schools, or area schools, we must have good roads which the children can use in summer and winter alike. Our primary producers require good roads so that their wares may be taken to market without loss of time. Tourists whom we attract to Australia will be suitably impressed if they are able to travel along good roads to see our abundant scenic beauties. Summing up the situation, 3 consider that the Government has one course open to it. It cannot declare, with justification, that it lacks funds for constructing new roads or repairing existing ones. Recent events have proved conclusively that the Government’s coffers are overflowing. Its surplus at the end of this financial year will amount to millions of pounds. I urge that some of the surplus be expended upon these pioneering projects. We should not be satisfied with the present condition of our roads. The construction of new roads will open up more country, and encourage the decentralization of our population and industries. We must build roads in order to ensure the future prosperity of all true Australians.
– In applying myself to a consideration of this bill, I believe that it is necessary first to survey the position which confronts those authorities responsible for the provision of transport facilities in the country. Even a brief survey indicatesthat the task which faces the country is a dual one. First, there is .the task of restoring to a normal condition the existing roads through the country. Secondly, there is the task of providing new roads to implement the development of the country. The first of the tasks I mentioned is of great magnitude because there has been, in recent years, a considerable deterioration of country roads. That has been brought about by the lack of manpower, materials and equipment during the war. In addition, there has been a considerable increase of building costs, estimated to be between 30 and 40 per cent. It has to bo remembered that the speed at which the repair of existing road surfaces proceeds must be such as to overtake their present rate of deterioration. Even if the total road mileages had not increased during recent years, State governments and other authorities responsible for maintenance of roads would have bren confronted with an enormous task in restoring pre-war conditions and overtaking the lag in .maintenance. To- do so -they would require considerably more -funds than those allocated .to .them under previous agreements. It is .well known that road mileages .have been -increased, particularly .by the provision of strategic roads during the ,war years. If these roads ar-e not repaired immediately, the country will be faced with enormous expenditure .in future years in -restoring them. There should .be a steady improv.fr- ment in She provision pf transport ia.cili.ties, not only for road services, but for aerial .development. The proper development of -ci.v0 ,aviation involves .the construction of .aerodromes and facilities in .country .areas. Obviously,’ the .various municipalities require much greater .sums than were provided for them in previous agreements, and the extra amounts of money required should be provided by this bill.
Some criticism h as been levelled .against the Kill because it makes provision for a period of only three years instead qf the period of ten years provided by previous agreements. Had .the ‘bill provided for w’hat I consider to be -the special conditions at -present prevailing I should not have criticized it because of its short tenure, ‘because there are .special conditions operating with regard to the cost factor at present and .considerably increased sums should be made available to the States. If the problem is properly tackled those conditions will operate for only a ‘limited period. Therefore, if the bill w.ere ‘intended to -provide a considerable sum during ..even a short period I should not have opposed ‘it. Unfortunately, the bill does not provide the increased amount which is necessary, and therefore ‘the criticism must stand.
The bill provides, nr,st of all, that there .’is to be no increase of the .amount made available .fro.m .the proceeds of the petrol .tax. That tax still remains a.t .3d. per gallon, .and although there may be a slight increase in the .total .amount yielded by the tax for distribution to the States, the extra .amount to .he allocated to each State will not be appreciable. T.he bill provides for .the expenditure of £l,’500,000j of which £1,000,000 .is .to be paid to ..the States, .and _£50Q,000 is to be available to the Commonwealth .Government. .The latter sum is to (provide for the .main. tenance of strategic roads. This amount of ,£1,500,00,0 , is the only special provision in th.e bill -to meet the .extraordinary situation which I have outlined. The question, therefore, arises as to whether this pro.vision is sufficient. It has been estimated that £j.5,0.00,.000 would be required to .overtake the lag in maintenance, .and i.t mus,t be obvious that the provision of .the extra amount of £J,,pO0.,0.00 is .not .sufficient .for the purpose. By the time the work involved in overtaking .the lag ,is accomplished it will be necessary t.o commence further repairs on .these roads, because .pf their continued .deterioration during that period. T.o overcome .that difficulty the States will be .forced to use most .of the money available to them from the petrol tax for the purpose pf overtaking the ^arrears of maintenance, .so that nothing will be left for the provision of .further developmental’ roads
– The States ar.e doing a great deal now -in reconstruction work,apart altogether f j;om maintenance work.
-It is necessary to decide -now whether (sufficient provision is being made by -the hill to cover the work which has to be completed- For this purpose I have ,attempted -to determine in round figures .the amounts .available to State governments from al] .sources. Taking a generous (estimate of the amount yielded by -the pe.trol tax, I estimate it a.t ££1,000,000. I -understand that the Treasurer (M-r.. Chifley!) recently estimated that .”the sum of j£4;500.,-0.00 :would be yielded, so that my .estimate cannot be /4.TI’ wide pf ;the mark. Then <there is the special amount of £1,500,000 provided in the -bill and, in ,addition, there is the amount available to the States from motor-vehicle registration fees. It is estimated -that ;th,e aggregate of motor-vehicle -registration fees is, .approximately, £8,000,000. Even if one regards that amount .as being allocated entirely for road purposes-and -we know ‘.hat it will not be-the total .sum available amounts to only .£14,-000,000. The aggregate road mileage is 500,-000, so that there is available -“from >all .-sources an amount of only, -approximately, j£2,9 per road-mile. It is obvious, ‘therefore, that the funds provided ,bm -the bill are not sufficient to enable the .-States -to carry out -the tasks (confronting -them. It seems inevitable that State Governments will reserve the total sum available to them for expenditure by such instrumentalities as the main roads boards, with the result that localgovernment authorities will be starved of the money which they so urgently need. Before the war road-construction bodies and local-government authorities had embarked on a comprehensive plan for the development and construction of roads in their districts, and they made considerable progress. Because of war-time conditions, they were not able to maintain that rate of progress, and at present they are faced with the formidable task of restoring neglected roads and, in addition, of constructing new ones. Therefore, I believe that the limited financial assistance provided to them by this measure will result in State governments withholding the money from local authorities. “ Strategic roads “ are mentioned in the bill, but no information is given as to what that term connotes. I assume that it “refers to roads constructed during the war, known as “ defence roads “. No reliable information. has been forthcoming as to the mileage involved in the construction and maintenance of these “ strategic roads “, but I estimate the mileage at not le-s than 30,000 and nor more than 50,000. These roads are of very great importance to Australia generally, and particularly from the defence viewpoint, but unfortunately they have already beenallowed to deteriorate considerably. This has been due largely to the fact that, although considerable sums were expended in their construction during the war years, that cons’ ruction was very poor; as the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) has stated, the topdressing of many roads had not sufficient body, and in consequence the roads have been worn down to their foundations, and considerable expenditure will be needed to restore them to anything like decent order. Recently, I drove over many hundreds of miles of such roads in my electorate, and I can say that they are in very bad condition with many miles of corrugations. In ridgy country, they were badly washed out during recent rains, due to poor drainage. If only £500,000 is allot’. ed for the maintenance of such roads, extending over a total mileage of 50,000 miles, obviously the average provision of £10 a mile will be entirely inadequate for the extensive repairs that are needed. Many roads will have to be almost rebuilt. T submit that the conclusion must- be drawn from my brief survey that the provision should be considerably increased. It has been of interest to me to hear many Government supporters expressing that opinion during this debate. Several of them have stated, albeit in rather quiet terms, that in their opinion the amounts provided are no’ sufficient. I claim definitely that if we are properly to tackle the task that lies ahead of us - and it must be tackled immediately and completed quickly - then the bill should provide for a larger expenditure. Extra amounts could be provided without placing an added burden on the already overloaded shoulders of the community.
I believe that the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) objected somewhat to the suggestion that the provision for roads should be increased, and stated ‘.hat honorable members on this side of the House who had strongly recommended from time to time that taxes should he reduced are now advocating additional expenditure. My rejoinder is that it would not be necessary to increase taxes in order to make the additional provision which I consider is necessary. For a considerable time, it has been constantly represented to honorable members that a greater percentage of the petrol tax should he made available for the development of roads. To that belief I strongly subscribe. The opportunity presented by the introduction of this bill should have been taken to give effect to the general belief that a greater percentage of the petrol tax should be devoted to the purpose for which it was originally imposed, namely, the development of roads generally. That demand is based on the inequity of the system which has developed, of requiring one section of the community to contribute to Consolidated Revenue by means of a special tax whilst other sections are not similarly required. The extent of this development can be gauged by these figures : For the 20-year period that has just elapsed, only approximately one-third of the total amount collected, or £50,000,000, has been utilized for ;he purpose of developing roads. The balance of £90,000,000 has been transferred to Consolidated Revenue. I can see no justification for the transfer to ConsolidatedRevenue of such a large percentage. If the Government would recognize the principle that a special tax of this nature should be applied largely for the special purpose for which it is levied, it would achieve what I should regard as two very desirable objectives: First, the amount available for the building of roads would be increased ; and secondly, the result would he a reduction of the present heavy tax on road users, which would assist in the development of transport facilities generally. Therefore, I hold strongly the view that the bill should be withdrawn and redrafted to provide, first, for an increase of the amount proposed to be made available to the States, to 6d. a gallon - that is to say, double the proposed amount - and secondly, a doubling of the amount of £1,000,000 that is proposed to be allotted to the States for roads in sparsely settled areas, as well as of the amount which is to be ear-marked for expenditure on strategic roads. I believe that, concurrently, action should be taken to reduce the rate of tax on petrol. Admittedly, that matter is not dealt with in the bill. Nevertheless, I make the suggestion as a contribution to an improvement of the general position in regard to the collection of the petrol tax and the disposition of the funds derived from it. This combined action would result in a rapid improvement of our present road system, which, as I have pointed out, is one of the main problems that confront us to-day. It would also result in the development of improved transport facilities, largely through the operations of private enterprise, because of the incentive that would be offered. Until that state of affairs has been reached, we shall not be able to place our transport services on a. basis which will make them comparable with those that exist in other countries. Therefore, I submit seriously that the Minister should consider redrafting the bill to provide for a doubling of the amounts that are proposed to be made available. If that were done, and the bill were given a tenure of three years, with the assurance that the principle of Federal Aid Roads was to be continued, the honorable gentleman would have made a very great improvement.
Debate (on motion by Mrs. Blackburn) adjourned.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Air Force Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, No. 53.
Arbitration (Public Service) Act- Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1947 -
No. 33 - Professional Officers’ Associa- tion, Commonwealth Public Service.
No. 34 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
No. 35 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments- Department -
Commerce and Agriculture - J. H. Kelly, J. N. Lewis.
External Affairs - C. Eaton.
Treasury - J. P. Lloyd.
Customs Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, No. 54.
House adjourned at 11.8 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
What was (a) the quantity and (b) the value of wheat exported to (i) New Zealand, (ii) India, (iii) Southern Rhodesia, (iv) South Africa, (v) Burma and (vi) other British and foreign countries during the nine months ended March, 1945, 1946 and 1947?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
-TheMinisterfor Trade and Customs has supplied the following information : - 1.Taking into account those goods discharged in Australia and actually requisitioned,the deficiency on realization as at the end of February last has been estimated at £127,000. The estimated deficiency over the whole of the goods included in the diverted ships’ manifests is considered to be approximately £765,000. This figure includes (a) goods landed at ports in the East prior to the actual diversion of the ships to Australia; (b) goodsmanifested for shipment butnot actually shipped; (c) goods delivered direct to Allied and Australian services without proper recording; (d) goods pillaged from, wharfs and stores. The value of goods covered by (c) and(d) would represent only a very small proportion of the total deficiency.
Australian Prisoners of War : Report by Major Jackson.
nasked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
-. - The answers to the honorable member’s’ questions are as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 May 1947, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1947/19470520_reps_18_192/>.