22nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. F. Adermann) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. WARD presented a petition from certain electors and apprentices in the States of New South Wales and Victoria praying that the House take steps towards the implementation of particular recommendations of the CommonwealthState Apprenticeship Inquiry Committee and legislate for the prevention of any reduction of wages for apprentices consequent upon their national service training.
Petition received and read.
– I rise to order. Mr. Deputy Speaker, last night o,n the motion to adjourn the House a division on a motion that the question be now put was requested and granted by you, but when, upon the submission of the question, “ That the House do now adjourn “ members of the Opposition again requested a division you ignored the request and left the chair. I ask under what standing order, or by what authority, you ignored the request of the Opposition for a division.
– A vote was taken on the closure and the House determined that the motion for the adjournment should be put. In accordance with past practice, once the House had made that determination I put the question, “ That the House do now adjourn” and I ruled that the House had agreed to the adjournment. I then declared that the House stood adjourned until to-day.
– I rise to order. Does your statement mean, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that as soon as the House decides that the question that the House do now adjourn shall be put, that carries with it the automatic conclusion that you should declare the motion, which has never been put to the House or voted upon, carried? I know that Mr. Speaker on one occasion did it in very unusual circumstances, but I submit that that is contrary to the rules. I ask that, before the occasion arises again, you consider the matter.
– Very well, I will give consideration to it.
– I was present in the House last evening when the matter that has been referred to took place. Seated on this side of the House, I wondered that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, could have heard what had happened because of the unseemly row that developed in the Opposition benches. Therefore, I venture to say that you, as you are duty bound to do with a disturbance of that nature, must necessarily leave the chair.
– I am not quite certain whether this question should be directed to the Minister for Trade or the Minister for Primary Industry, but as the latter gentleman is engaged in another part of the Commonwealth on important national business, I shall address it to the Minister for Trade. Is it a fact that, due to the unfavorable seasonal conditions in Western Europe resulting in damage to wheat crops, the outlook for the sale of Australian soft wheats overseas is now much more hopeful? If this is so, can the Minister inform the House whether shipping space will be available to take advantage ofthis position?
– This is a matter with which my colleague, the Minister for Primary Industry, would be more familiar than I am, but I think I am able to give the honorable member for Corangamite some information. Due to heavy frosts in Europe about last February, there was severe damage to wheat crops. As a result, there will be a much smaller European wheat crop, particularly in France, and to that extent there will be obviously some enhancement of the opportunity for the sale of Australian wheat. Our wheat is the same type as much of that normally grown in France, and we look forward to a better opportunity for sale and, perhaps with some confidence, to a hardening in wheat prices. There is a concurrent problem of heavy freight rates from Australia at the present time. This is the outcome of a very heavy trans- A ti antic traffic in coal which has put a pressure on charter shipping for bulk cargo. At the present time, the effective freight rate on Australian wheat in terms of Australian currency is about 6s. 4d. a bushel from east Australian ports to the United Kingdom and that, of course, is a counter-balancing factor against the better opportunity for sales.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Trade a question in relation to the quotas of imported goods under the restrictions that have been imposed. Is the practice of disposing of a quota still operating? In fact, is it not increasing? Has the Minister inquired into it to see whether that practice can be controlled? A person who has, in respect of certain quantities of goods, a right to import and has no further intention of importing, often advertises his desire to sell his right from the Government, and that means a direct addition to the cost of goods in this country and a direct increase in the cost of living. Will the Minister consider promulgating a regulation which will make this practice illegal, because it is quite contrary to the purpose of the system of import quotas, which should be confined to permits given in accordance with a particular category?
– I am not as familiar with the administrative details of this issue as I should wish to be and as I hope to be in the future. I am aware that out of the complexities and difficulties of administering quite severe import restrictions, which are extremely severe in the categories of less-essential goods, there are arising anomalies, and perhaps grievances, and what are regarded by many as injustices. That is inherent in the situation with which we are confronted. The Government is not content, nor has it been at any time content, merely to devise a set of rules and then allow the situation to develop with those rules unaltered. The problems that the right honorable gentleman has in mind have been under constant scrutiny,, and at present a pretty thorough re-examination of the whole administrative practice is being undertaken at the official level, with a view to trying to determine the most defensible arrangement in the circumstances, and that which represents in the greatest degree a reflection of the public interest and substantial justice to the interested parties. I can assure the right honorable gentleman that that kind of re-examination of the administrative practice is proceeding at the present time.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether, in view of the extraordinary increase in the population of Geelong and the surrounding districts during recent years, and the consistently increasing demand for telephones, any successful progress has been made by the Postal Department in what I know has been an intensive search for alternative sites for the installation of equipment to provide more adequate telephone facilities in the near future.
– Some few days ago the honorable member asked me to look at this question, because he was disturbed at the fact that there appears to be insufficient provision for the extension of the automatic telephone services in the City of Geelong. I can inform the honorable member that at present a considerable amount of the equipment necessary for providing trunk-line services between Geelong and other centres is housed in the automatic exchange building, and that fact is hampering the further extension of automatic telephone services in the city. Realizing this, the department commenced negotiations some time ago for the acquisition of another site, and I understand that my colleague, the Minister for the Interior, has completed negotiations for the purchase of a new site, on which it is intended to erect another building which will be used to house all the trunk-line equipment that at present is taking up space in the automatic exchange building. When that is done, I think that the transfer of the trunk-line equipment to the new building will make available in the automatic exchange building space sufficient to cater for the growing needs of the city for some considerable time.
– As many officers of the Postal Department join the service at an age that allows them to have more than 50 years service before retirement, will the Postmaster-General consider the repeal of that portion of section 9 of the Commonwealth Employees’ Furlough Act which limits the amount of leave or pay in lieu of leave to twelve months? The present provision means, in effect, that service after 40 years is not recognized for purposes of leave. I understand that, in some staffs, leave accrues for the full term of service, and that employees in the Postal Department feel a sense of injustice because of the limit of twelve months imposed by the act.
– At first thought, it seems to me that the matter raised by the honorable member comes within the scope of the Public Service regulations. Before committing myself, I should like to have a look at the regulations to see how they apply. I should think that the matter affects not only my department but also other departments that are in the same category. I assure the honorable member that I shall examine his question and give him a considered reply later.
– Has the attention of the Treasurer been directed to an Australia-wide appeal for funds by a Queensland electricity company? What steps is the Government taking to protect Commonwealth loans against this kind of appeal? Are the States willing to co-operate in order to protect their own interests? If not, will this Government consider reviewing its policy of underwriting loans?
– My attention has been directed to advertisements publicizing the particular issue of variable-interest stock to which the honorable member has referred. I have had the matter examined, and take advantage of this opportunity to give him a considered reply. The Southern Electric Authority of Queensland, which is making the issue, was created in 1952 by an act of the Queensland Parliament. The act authorized the issue of variableinterest stock to previous shareholders of the City Electric Light Company, which was taken over by the Southern Electric Authority.
– I rise to a point of order. I ask you once again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether it is permissible for honorable members, by arrangement, to ask what they claim are questions without notice and for a Minister to give’ a prepared reply? I consider that such questions should be placed on the noticepaper.
– He would be a very poor person who did not anticipate such a question. I hold the advertisement in my hand for everybody to see. I am a little bit alive to my responsibility.
-Order! The right honorable gentleman is quite in order.
– It is just as .natural for me to anticipate such, a question as it is to anticipate the honorable member’s indecency.
– I rise to a further point of order. As I did not follow the first part of the right honorable gentleman’s reply, may he start again from the beginning ?
– I had every intention of doing so. The Southern Electric Authority of Queensland, which is making the issue, was created in 1952-
– I again rise to a point of order. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether it is permissible for an honorable member to base a question on a newspaper report alone.
– -In this case it is a newspaper advertisement.
– I have ruled that the Treasurer is quite in order.
– I do not know what the honorable member is frightened of. I shall make a third attempt to answer the question. The Southern Electric Authority of Queensland, which is making the issue, was created in 1952 by an act of the Queensland Parliament that authorized the issue of variable-interest stock to previous shareholders of the City Electric Light Company, which was taken over by the Southern Electric Authority. Further issues of the stock, up to a limit of 40 per cent, of the financial requirements of the authority, were to be permitted in the future. Under the act, the new authority was authorized to pay interest on the stock at 2 per cent, above the rate of interest of the last Commonwealth loan. That rate was the same as the maximum dividend which the City Electric Light Company had been permitted by the Queensland Government to pay on its original shares. The margin of 2 per cent, was retained, no doubt, partly because interest on the variable-interest stock was, unlike interest on other securities to be issued by the Southern Electric Authority, not to be guaranteed by the Queensland Government. Because of the special nature of this variable-interest stock, and particularly because the specified rate of interest is a maximum rate related to the profits of the authority, issues of the stock have not come within the jurisdiction of the Australian Loan Council. All other public issues by Australian semi-governmental authorities are subject to Loan Council approval as to all terms and conditions and, by general agreement, these public issues are pot placed on the market immediately before or during the flotation of a Commonwealth loan. As chairman of the Loan Council, I am concerned about the appearance of these advertisements throughout Australia, which apparently have been timed to coincide with the opening of the Commonwealth loan and to offer an interest rate on the variable-interest stock which is directly related to the effective rate for the 1963 securities being offered in the Commonwealth loan, i am calling for a full report on all aspects of the matter and will certainly raise the question at the next meeting of the Australian Loan Council.
– Will the Treasurer advance to the Sydney City Council loan money at the same rate of interest as that charged at present under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement? The council will build homes to house age and invalid pensioners at a reasonable rental if such arrangements can be made.
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is, “ No
– Could the Minister for External Affairs give the House any news concerning the result of the recent elections that have taken place in Burma ?
– The results are not yet final or, at any rate, they have not reached us. The results, up to the present, would appear to show that the Government of U Nu, the leader of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom party, has secured a comfortable win. I would think that the outstanding seats, not yet decided, would make no appreciable difference to the result.
– In view of the criticism that has arisen from the investigation by the Public Accounts Committee of the defence departments, will the Minister for Defence consider recommending the appointment of a defence expenditure committee in order to help the department and himself as Minister closely to watch the spending of the various defence departments and to see to it that neither £9,000,000 nor £9 shall become an item of criticism by that committee ?
– I should like to advise the honorable member for Macquarie that I have already a business board which closely scrutinizes the expenditure of the various departments. T am quite prepared to wait until I get a report from the Public Accounts Committee and consider any recommendations that it may contain.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Supply whether it is a fact that Australia will receive a gift of several tons of heavy water from the United States of America, as recently reported. If so, what is this heavy water for? Is it for use in connexion with Australia’s atomic energy programme, which was an.no/unced last year ?
– No. Australia will not receive any gift of heavy water. I think that idea must have arisen because of some suggestion that the member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency should have some such arrangements between themselves. Australia is about to obtain heavy water but it will be received as a result of an ordinary commercial transaction. “We are buying 10 or 11 tons of it from the United States Atomic Energy Commission and it will cost us some hundreds of thousands of pounds. It will be used, as the honorable member suggested, in connexion with the reactor programme which is now under way. Heavy water is used as a moderator to slow down neutrons. The core of the reactor, which was built for it in England, is now on the way to Australia, and will be erected at Menai, near Sutherland. The heavy water will be used as part of the reactor when it is completed.
– Is the Treasurer aware- that employees in the coal-mining industry are compulsorily retired on attaining- the age of 60 years ? Does the right honorable gentleman know that the total income of married superannuated mine-workers is less than £10 a week, and that many of them are unable to pay their way on this low income ? In view of the fact that tax has to be paid out of the week’s pension, thereby again reducing the amount of pension received, will the Treasurer consider the- possibility of exempting from future taxation those workers who are compulsorily retired from industry on reaching the age of 60 years, provided that their total income does not exceed the amount allowed under the present age allowance for income tax purposes?
– Taa t question, by its very nature, is one that demands consideration on a policy basis.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. As increased production in the mining industry could materially assist the drive for overseas funds, both sterling and dollars^ and as the Government has agreed to support the copper industry, will the right honorable gentleman consider convening a conference of all State Ministers for Mines and appropriate Federal Ministers with a view to promoting increased production of all minerals and, further, consider the holding of a conference with representatives of mining organizations, or interested persons, for this purpose?
– 1 had very great difficulty in hearing the honorable member’s question because of the very great noise on the other side of the House ; but I shall have a look at it in Hansard and give him a reply.
– As many members of this House, and many people in Australia, regard the expenditure of approximately 2,000,000 dollars on the purchase of Convair aircraft for the exclusive use of very important persons as an outrageous extravagance^ particularly when dollars are in such short Supply and our overseas funds so depleted, will the Prime Minister refer to the Public Accounts Committee the question of whether the purchase of aircraft for such purposes was justified and, if justified, whether the required aircraft should not have been obtained from the United Kingdom ?
– As this matter does not fall within my administration I shall communicate with the Treasurer and the Minister for Air, who, I presume and hope, will know more about it than I do.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Customs and Excise. Is it correct that the Commonwealth Gazette on the 22nd March contained notice of the creation of 22 new positions in the Department of Customs and Excise? How many new positions have been created in this department this year, and is the Minister satisfied that all these positions are strictly necessary?
– I think the honorable member is correct in suggesting that some 22 new positions were created in the Department of Customs and Excise in March. I think that about eighteen of them related to the new refinery at Kurnell, which, as the honorable member will appreciate, will give very much increased work to the department in the collection of excise. Of those eighteen positions I think only about eight have been filled so far. Of the others, some relate to a new wharf at Port Kembla and others to general customs work. There has been a number of new positions created in the department this year; I think 40 or 45 in all. The honorable member has asked whether I am satisfied that these positions are strictly necessary. The usual Public Service safeguards applied and I can assure the honorable member that I, myself, scrutinize most carefully any submissions to the Executive Council for the creation of new positions. I am, of course, aware of the public concern regarding the growth of the Public Service and the need for care in these matters. The honorable member may be interested to know that, at the present time, the whole of the department is engaged in a widespread searching and examination of its administrative procedures. In an operation, which has been imaginatively described by the Comptroller-General of Customs as “ Operation Works Simplification “, the co-operation of the entire staff of the department is being sought for the suggestion of ways of simplifying the work and ensuring that the utmost economy of labour applies. I do not want to anticipate the results of this operation, but I hope to be able to say more later about its success. I assure the honorable member that these matters are most carefully watched all the time.
Report of Public WORKS Committee.
– I present the report of the Public Works Committee on the following subject: -
Erection of a community hospital at Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.
Ordered to be printed.
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two months be given to the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) owing to his absence from Australia.
Debate resumed from the 3rd May (vide page 1730), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill, which will amend the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1954-1955, will give effect to an instalment of the Government’s economic policy, which is designed, so we are told by the Administration, to rectify Australia’s rather serious financial position. As part of the programme for the rectification of the very serious situation into which the Government has allowed Australia to drift, it proposes to levy an additional tax of 3d. a gallon on petrol. Realizing the unpopularity of another addition to the petrol tax, which is already very high, the Government is, in effect, by means of this measure, throwing a sop to municipal and city councils and other road-building authori- ties throughought Australia. It proposes to give them something to appease them and to damp down the antagonisms and the opposition to a further levy on’ the petrol used in Australia. There is hardly an individual, and there is certainly no public authority, interested in, operating or controlling transport services, that will not be most adversely affected by the increased tax. In particular, the increase will hit most severely those Australians who live outside the metropolitan and urban areas - farmers, primary producers and all kinds of country residents. The increased tax will, naturally and inevitably, increase their costs very substantially. It is now proposed, in order to quieten these people, that Id. per gallon of the increased tax shall he diverted to the States for the purposes of road construction within their boundaries. I suggest that if this Government wanted to do something of a really practical nature to assist the States to solve their road problems - the road problems of Australia to-day are of vast magnitude - the right and proper thing to do would be to give to the States the whole of the revenue from the increased tax on petrol.
– The honorable member has changed his mind.
– The honorable member for Canning suggests that, in the more difficult years from 1946 to 1949, I took a different view of this matter. I submit to you respectfully, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that a perusal of the speeches made and the votes cast by the honorable member for Canning will show that he, too, has substantially changed his mind on the matter. Possibly that is true also of all other honorable members who have been in the Parliament for any considerable length of time. When a Labour government introduced legislation dealing with federal aid for roads purposes, the honorable member for Canning, together with other members of the then Opposition, was most vocal in advocating that a greater percentage or, indeed, all of the petrol tax revenue should be given to the States. Whatever was the attitude of the Labour party in the past and whatever is the attitude of this Government now, the fact remains that our roads problem is more acute than ever before in the history of Australia. The responsibility for that rests more upon this Government than upon any other authority in Australia.
It is incontrovertible that, because inflation in this country increased so rapidly between 1949 and 1956, the present cost- of building a mile of road in Australia - whether it be a main arterial road, a developmental road or a city road - is, in many cases, twice what it was in 1949. Nobody can deny that the Commonwealth must assume full responsibility for any increases of costs of production in Australia. It is probable that Government supporters will say that inflation was inevitable. It was inevitable. But in 1949 the present Government parties went to the electors of this country, full of confidence, and, without equivocation, stated that, irrespective of high shipping freights, high costs of imports and other exterior problems that we cannot always control, they would put value back into the fi. They said, in other words, that, if they were returned to power, there would be no inflation under the new Government.
The people took those promises at their face value. Unfortunately, the people have taken the Government’s promises at their face value ever since then. It is useless for honorable members opposite to make excuses by pointing to the factors that have arisen to accentuate inflation. The result of the Government’s administration is that everywhere in Australia the cost of building a yard or a mile of road has doubled since 1949. Irrespective of the preconceived ideas of any members of this Parliament, the financial difficulties confronting roads authorities throughout Australia demand that this Government shall provide that any revenue derived from an increase of the petrol tax shall be diverted in its entirety to the authorities responsible for providing road transport facilities in Australia. That is incontrovertible. It is quite true that in the more difficult post-war period the Chifley Labour Government did not divert the whole of the proceeds from the petrol tax to road construction purposes. We increased the rate and this Government has on several occasions further increased the rate, but when the Government was in opposition its supporters advocated that all of the proceeds from this tax should be directed towards road construction and maintenance. Our position is quite clear. Our policy is not unchangeable, and with a full sense of responsibility during the last general election campaign we declared as part of our policy that if we became the Government of the Commonwealth we would divert the entire proceeds from the petrol tax to road purposes. Government supporters, and Australian Country party members in particular, know only too well that probably the most articulate and persistent persons in the ‘Commonwealth in regard to roads, and naturally so, are municipal councils, country roads boards, motor associations, automobile clubs, and transport-owning associations of all sorts. They are most persistent in advancing reasons why all this money should be diverted to road purposes. The Opposition agrees that we have reached the stage where that view should bo accepted. When the Treasurer made his second-reading speech on this measure, as an excuse, and a very plausible excuse, for .not diverting the whole of the proceeds from the increased tax of 3d. to this purpose, he said that under our economic policy we seek more revenue, and that if we give the whole of the petrol tax revenue to road-building authorities, or to the States for roadbuilding purposes, we shall be so much short of the amount of money that we desire to give to the States from loan funds for all sorts of other State purposes. He said that we would then be confronted with the need to increase perhaps, sales tax or income tax, or to seek revenue from some other source to take the place of the money which we would lose by handing over the whole of the proceeds from the increased petrol tax. As I say, that is a very plausible excuse, but it was never accepted by supporters of the Government when they were in opposition. That type of excuse never seemed to occur to them then. If we had used a similar excuse, it would not hold water now, because in those days £1 was worth £1 and gave us £1 worth of value. However, according to the Commonwealth Statistician and the Opposition of the day the £1 then was worth 12s. lid. Let us accept that figure. To-day the £1 is worth 7s. Sd.,’ which quite clearly confirms my affirmation that to build a mile of road now costs almost double the cost involved at that time. In fact, in most areas road construction costs have more than doubled, but an analysis of the figures of the relative value of the £1 that I have cited indicates that the cost has almost doubled. A comparison of the amounts diverted from proceeds of the petrol tax for road-building purposes between 1949 and 1956 shows that it is essential that the entire proceeds from the additional tax of 3d. should go to the State authorities. Let me cite the Treasurer’s own figures. He endeavoured to show how much more generous this Government has been in this respect. He said -
By 1049 . . . the percentage of Commonwealth Aid Roads grants from petrol tax collections had risen to only 47. In the current financial year, no less than 73 per cent, of the total customs and excise duties on petrol is being set aside specifically for roads.
Government Supporters. - Hear, hear !
– “ Hear, hear”, say the apologists, but let me re-emphasize the figures. They indicate that since 1949 the grant to the States has increased by a miserable 26 per cent.
– At least it wa.« an addition.
– That is so, but because of the Government’s failure to check inflation the grant will build fewer miles of roads than ever. The depreciation in the value of the £1 from 32s. Hd. in 1949 to 7a. 8d. in 1956 indicates that to-day 73 per cent, of the tax will not “build as many miles of road as did 47 per cent, in 1949.
– Even if we agree that the honorable member’s argument is true, it must be remembered that the pounds which we collect from the taxpayers .and disperse are the same.
– What a fallacious argument! They are the same pounds but the Government, has let them become so worthless that they will build fewer miles of roads than did the pounds oi 194*9. The Government comes forward with a miserable plea that it has increased the number of pounds! It would have to double the number of pounds, instead of merely raising the allocation to 73 per cent., if it wished to make any impression.
– We have more than doubled the amount.
– The £1 is now as cheap as newspaper. The right honorable gentleman’s own figures prove that the Government has not doubled the amount. If lie has forgotten that, he would do well to read them again. They show that though in 1949 47 per cent, of the petrol tax went to the building of roads the proportion now is still only 7.3 per cent The present grant will build fewer miles of roads in any [mrt of the Con].monwealth that Government supporters care to name.
– An additional £16,000,000 was provided between 1949 and the end of the last financial year.
– The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who is very concerned about this matter, will no doubt later be most articulate in telling us about the history of the allocation of petrol tax, but the obligation is upon him to show, in practical terms, what he really believes. Labour is in the clear because in our policy speech we told the electors, without equivocation, that if we were in government we would devote the whole of the petrol tax to road-making. Now, after advocating the spending of more money on roads, the honorable member is confronted with the situation that the Government he supports has not made available - if one takes into consideration the diminished value of the £1 - sufficient money to build as many miles of road as could he built with au allocation of 47 per cent, in 1949. These are incontrovertible facts.
– The honorable member’s figures are wrong.
– I can appreciate the discomfiture of Government supporters. They are in an unenviable position. Even if, when Ave were in government, we did not allocate the whole of the petrol tax for road-making purposes we built more miles of road than will be possible now. We are still in the clear.
– You are still in opposition.
– I realize that the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) is having trouble in justifying what the Government proposes to do. Labour is still in the very happy position that even if, when in office, it did not put into effect a policy such as it is now advocating, it made possible - and I cannot emphasize this too strongly - the building of more miles of roads than will be possible even ‘with the assistance of the extra Id. a gallon which the present Government is now making available to the States. I should like now to pass on to a consideration of further aspects of this problem.
– It is a great thing to have no responsibility.
– I realize that the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) is conscious of having to duck his responsibility. I know that he has been inundated with letters and propaganda from interested parties telling him what he should do. He and his col leagues have tho responsibility; it is not ours. I repeat that the money allocated by Labour when it was in office built more roads than will be .possible with the assistance of the proposed Id. a gallon increase in the grant. We must keep in mind the changed purchasing power of money and the fact that there is throughout Australia a greater volume of motor transport on the roads than ever before. Moreover, we have not yet caught up with the depreciation in the roads that occurred during the war. This Government apparently believes more than we do that war is likely to occur, and good roads are essential to the defence of this country. If we wish to provide against the possibilities of war Ave could not do better than pour more money into our roads system.
It is true that a large share of the money will be used in the country areas. That has been the position for years. I do not deprecate it, but Ave must remember that the position in the metropolitan areas is entirely different from that which obtained when most of the money available for road construction and maintenance first went to the country districts. The main roads and the semi-main roads in the metropolitan area of Melbourne are in a deplorable state. I take it that the same position applies in Sydney. All the city municipalities find themselves in an unenviable position. The vast growth in population on the perimeter of the cities has led to the use of the inner roads by an enormous ‘ volume of motor traffic passing through to the outer areas. Great damage is being done to the road surfaces and the inner municipalities are quite unable to cope with the situation. This may be a side issue, but it is important, and the claims of the inner’ city municipalities should surely receive special consideration. They are in a deplorable plight. At one time the city roads were infinitely superior to those in the country. To-day, the main country roads are infinitely superior to the arterial city roads. Honorable members can imagine the position in which the inner and outer municipalities find themselves when faced with the need to construct entirely new streets. When petrol tax was first allocated to the States for road-making purposes the motor car was, in the main, used by commercial travellers, persons who had business in the country, and persons who lived in the country. To-day, it is a fair guess to say that in all the big cities of Australia at least 50 per cent, of workers, artisans, and salaried, professional and business people go to work in a motor car. They are paying petrol tax, but under this measure a large proportion of it will be devoted to the roads i,n the country areas.
– I thought that the honorable member said that the workers could not afford motor cars.
– They must have them, even though they cannot afford them. I will sympathize with the honorable member for Mallee who, in his ignorance, does not know much about city conditions. If he did he would know that often a worker will buy a car and, with four or five of his neighbours, will drive to his work at some industrial concern in the city area. He will help to pay off the car with the co-operation and contributions of his friends. If to-morrow the tramway and railway transport systems of Sydney and Melbourne were paralysed, motor transport could, as has been demonstrated, carry the people to work. However, if the whole of the motor transport in the metropolitan areas of Melbourne or Sydney were dislocated it would be quite impossible for the tramways or railways to carry the people to their destination. There has been a heavy increase in the ownership of motor cars which are used to take people to work in the cities. The State governments will have to deal with that new feature of the transport situation. However, they will not be able to do so satisfactorily unless they receive a further increase of between Id. and 3d. a gallon from the whole of the tax. This would enable them to devote more money to roads in the country areas and have available, perhaps from other sources, a fund from which a distribution could be made to the city municipalities.
My time is running out and there are on this side of the House a large number of competent people who know the position of the municipalities intimately. They will make a valuable contribution to this debate. I a.m also looking forward to hearing Government supporters speak. No doubt their main argument will be that the Opposition did not do this or that when it had the opportunity. That is not the problem. This is now their opportunity. What do they intend to do about it? We will give them the opportunity to indicate what they will do about it. I foreshadow that at a later stage in this debate, Her Majesty’s Opposition will move an amendment to this measure with the object of diverting the whole of the increase of 3d. a gallon to the respective State instrumentalities. I know that, inevitably, an attempt will be made during the debate to sidetrack the issue. I can visualize the honorable member for Mallee talking about an allocation on the area-population basis.
– I told the honorable member about that. He should be honest about it.
– The honorable member for Mallee says he told me about it. He did tell me, but I did not think he would mind if I mentioned it. If I am committing a breach of confidence, I am sorry. However, some honorable members will endeavour to divert this question to an argument about the areapopulation basis of distribution. That is not the subject of the debate. I know The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) will come at it, and the honorable member for Mallee will come at it, because they are Victorians, but they will not find very much support from Western Australia, Tasmania and the other lesspopulous States. I make no apology for being one of those Victorians who believe in the distribution of the petrol tax on a national basis and in the principle of the area-population basis of distribution, although it may mean that I will not have as good a road as I would if that basis were changed and more of that money were allocated to Victoria. I appreciate, from the national point of view, the interests of the less-populous States like Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. There was a good deal of justification for the adoption of the area-population basis of distribution. The government of which I was a member adhered to that principle. The Government of which the honorable member for Mallee and the honorable member for Deakin are supporters also adheres to that general basis. There may be a case for some slight readjustment, but over all, in the national interest, it is a basis that is amply justified. I warn the people of all States that some honorable members opposite, by discussing the injustice of the area-population basis of distribution, will try to befog the real issue of this debate. The honorable member for Mallee will do so.
– The honorable member for Lalor tries to caulk up all the holes.
– The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) will have a good many holes to caulk up before this is over. The honorable member for Deakin will try to divert attention from the real issue, but honorable members from Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania will not come at that. They will either be absent from the chamber or will not make any contribution to the debate. They may come to light and suggest that the basis of distribution should be readjusted, but they will do so as a -matter of party loyalty. They may suggest that the State of Western Australia should sacrifice a proportion of its allocation, or a South Australian may say that South. Australia is prepared to sacrifice soma portion of its allocation so that Victoria and New South Wales, which pay the major part of the tax, may get a little more in return. But that diversion will not befog the issue. Those supporters of the Government who have taken this attitude in the past will now have an opportunity to give practical support to it by voting for an Opposition amendment designed to increase the additional allocation of petrol from Id. to 3d. a gallon.
.- The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has spoken with some fluency and at some length on the general political position, but that ha3 little to do with the problem of roads that confronts thi.» Parliament. The honorable member for Lalor said, in .the first place, that this problem could be solved by allocating all the petrol tax to roads. In the second place he said, if I understood him correctly, that the allocations made by the Labour Government, of which he was a member, compare more than favorably with the allocations made to the States for road purposes by the present Government. The truth is - and I quote from the second-reading speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) - that in this current financial year, the total amount distributed will probably be in the vicinity of £32,000,000. In the last year of office of the Labour Government, the allocation was in the vicinity of £7,000,000.
Conversation being audible,
– Order ! I ask the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) to maintain silence. I have already called for order.
– Why did you not ask me before?
– On any basis that is taken, even on the extraordinary mathematical approach of the honorable member for Lalor, if the allocation has risen from £7,000,000 to £32,000,000- [Quorum formed.]
– In the limited sense that the honorable member for Lalor referred to, if it is right or wrong for the Commonwealth to make an allocation to the States for road purposes, then the record of this Government, in terms of pounds, shillings and pence and in terms of practical contribution to this problem, is infinitely greater than the effort made 1v the previous Labour Government. There can be no dispute on that if any one cares to study the figures and relate those figures to the realities of the position. The second point made by the honorable member for Lalor is the old, worn-out political argument that has done so much damage to efforts to solve the problem for which we all have some responsibility. He said that if the Commonwealth Government allocated all the money raised by the petrol tax to road purposes, then, by inference, the problem was solved. Nobody knows better than my well-informed friend from Lalor that that is not the solution to the problem.
– I did no.t say it was.
– If the honorable member did not say that, then for a quarter of an hour I listened to him intently and reached the wrong conclusion. Indeed, he said the policy of his party was to give all receipts from the petrol tax to the States for road purposes. If one is not entitled to assume from that statement that it is the solution in which his party believes, then one is not entitled to assume anything. The honorable member for Lalor then endeavoured to anticipate the argument that might be put forward by members on the Government side and, indeed, some members on his own side of the House. Because he has had experience, to a limited extent, and to a limited extent only, there is some truth in what he said. This bill, insofar as it makes some contribution to the problem, i3 good, but, insofar as it perpetuates the existing practice, then it is bad in principle, inefficient in application and unfair in distribution. The position in Victoria is well known, and at this stage I do not want to labour that point. I return to what is, after all, if not the main point, at least the second point that is really at issue in these discussions.
The first premise implied and, I believe, accepted by the honorable member for Lalor, was that, all our road problems would be solved, by the expenditure ou road’s of all the money raised by the petrol tax. The second premise was that there is a responsibility, accepted or implied, on this Australian Government to make all the petrol tax moneys available to the States for road purposes. On that second and narrower aspect, the truth of the matter is, of course, that the Australian Government has no constitutional responsibility for road construction. That is the responsibility of the. States. I therefore say that this bill, which, as I have said, is designed to perpetuate an existing practice, is bad in principle, because it implies that this Government, which is responsible for the collective raising of revenues, should hand out those revenues to governments that have no responsibility for raising them,, but merely have to spend them. I make no criticism of any particular government in this regard. All I say is that it is wrong in principle, and as long as we adopt this kind of outlook we are unlikely to make any real contribution to a problem that becomes more urgent every day. This allocation of revenues by the Australian Government to the States has continued for a number of years. While the practice continues it becomes more and more accepted by the people, and by State and local governments, that the responsibility for raising funds for road construction and maintenance lies only with this Government. For an Australian government to relate expenditure on one particular project to the revenue collected from one particular tax, as governments of all political colours have done in the past, is wrong in principle. That practice has tended to cloud the real issues and to delay the adoption of a realistic approach to the problems involved.
The existing formula results in very unfair distribution of the proceeds of the tax. [Quorum formed.] If we have a situation, accepted in this Parliament, in which Victoria receives only 17 per cent, of the moneys distributed, when in fact more than 32 per cent, of the tax is raised in that State, then I suggest that we should again consider the principle of this bill. The honorable member for Lalor referred to his acceptance of the existence of an overall Australian problem. Those are fine words. They have been used, as I recall, by all governments, and in all instances the sentiments expressed have been false, inasmuch as the facts of the situation have been ignored.
– lt is as well that the Treasurer cannot hear the honorable member.
– The Treasurer, by comparison with Treasurers of the past, has undoubtedly done a magnificent job. My point is that if this road grant from the Australian Government is designed to develop the outlying parts of Australia, by providing for the construction and maintenance of good roads in those districts, then it has failed in its purpose, at least to the extent that I shall mention. In Queensland to-day there is, I understand, an unspent balance in the roads fund of well over £1,000,000. In Western Australia, which received from the fund approximately the same amount as Queensland received, there is also an unspent balance of well over £1,000,000. I make no criticism of the governments of those States; I merely say that those are the facts. Therefore, I contend that if this legislation is designed to develop the outlying parts of Australia it has not succeeded in its purpose because the allocations to the States are simply not being spent. If the purpose of the legislation is to assist in the overall development of Australia, it is not succeeding in its purpose, for the very reason that the honorable member for Lalor mentioned that in the highly developed industrialized sections of Australia very great costs are being piled up because our road system is no longer adequate for our transport requirements.
Those are the criticisms that I make of the principle of this bill. Those are the factors that no one can afford to ignore. Any one who has travelled on our main roads will have been impressed by the number of heavily laden, lumbering freight vehicles that travel over them. Large transport vehicles can be seen taking motor car bodies or chassis from Melbourne or Adelaide to Sydney, and similar large vehicles can be seen taking the same sort of goods from Sydney to Melbourne and Adelaide. Research conducted into this problem, both here and overseas, reveals that from 65 per cent, to 75 per cent, of the wear and damage caused to roads is attributable to these heavy transport vehicles. Recent investigations in Victoria and New South Wales have shown that increasing numbers of diesel trucks .are being registered in New South Wales, so as to -avoid the higher taxes that the Victorian Government has placed, or may place, upon this form of transport. If the Commonwealth accepts responsibility for roads, as indeed it does by the payment of this grant, it should put these facts before the State governments, in an endeavour to devise a satisfactory solution of the problem. I and every other honorable member knows that the States have encountered great difficulty in the interpretation of the limitations imposed upon them by section 92 of the Constitution, but common action by the States and the Commonwealth could overcome the problem.
I am not sure about the position in every State, but in the two major States, New South Wales and Victoria, the annual deficit on railways is huge and is becoming larger. The roads, towards the construction and maintenance of which we all contribute as taxpayers, are being destroyed by a form of transport that they were never meant to carry. If we are to build roads to carry heavy vehicles, we will have to allocate, not £32,000,000, but something like £200,000,000 or .£300,000,000 for this work. I do not know of any reason why the States cannot be brought together, at say a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers or a meeting of the Australian Loan Council, and asked to accept their responsibility, and why the Commonwealth cannot give to them effective power to prevent the abuse of roads by heavy transport.
– The Commonwealth needs the constitutional power.
– I agree with the honorable member. It could be done. If such power were given, the drain on the economy caused by the abuse of roads and recurring deficits on the operation of State railways would, to a degree, be counteracted. If the railways are not efficient - about which I am not competent to speak - their standard of efficiency should be raised, by agreement between the Ministers concerned, to that of the heavy transport operators. It seems to me that that is the way in which we should approach the problem and that, until we, as a Parliament, approach it in that way, all we shall do will be to retain the existing state of affairs, the cost of which to the economy cannot be calculated.
I come back to where I started: lt seems incredible that men with the capacity and experience of the honorable member for Lalor should continue to pour out the arguments that he has advanced, which, he must know, do a grave disservice to the country. I support the bill for the reasons that I have given. I earnestly urge the Government and the Parliament to approach the problem from both a long range and a short range point of view. It has been estimated that to bring the roads of Victoria - which I once heard described as being the garden State - to the required standard would cost, over a period of ten years, £340,000,000. I think the present allocation is £5,000,000. So it is not likely that the problem will be solved during the lifetime of any member of this House.
– Very depressing!
– I am depressed when I think of the unhappy fate that awaits my friend from Wills, and the life to which he will return. He will probably meet many of his colleagues there. These problems cannot be solved by continuing to make the present approach. But, if we are to maintain the present narrow approach, I cannot emphasize too strongly the point that this House, in all justice and fairness, must give some consideration to the unfortunate position in which Victoria is placed. At a time when every shire council and every municipality is frustrated and hampered by a lack of funds, Victoria, because of industrial development and the amount of traffic using its roads, should be spending many millions of pounds to maintain a relatively efficient - and it is not efficient at present - road communication system. This House must consider the problem, not in terms of what is right and what is wrong, but in terms of elementary economies, because the drain on Victoria is a drain on the economy of the whole country. I do not make that suggestion from the narrow point of view of State rights, but, as my friends from Western Australia will agree, from the point of view of the increased cost of manufactured goods which other States are fortunate enough to import from Victoria. Because of the inefficiency of the Victorian road transport system, such goods are becoming increasingly dear. The problem affects Western Australia, Queensland and every other State. What is true of Victoria is true, to a lesser but still great degree, of the other great industrial State - New South Wales. ! hope that, although little can be attempted at this stage, the vitally important principles to which I have referred will bc considered by the Government and the House at the earliest opportunity.
.- 1 believe that local government authorities, such as shire councils and municipalities, have been treated very harshly. They request an increased allocation of the petrol tax for road-making purposes. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in his second-reading speech, used the words, “ However, the roads problem - which, incidentally, is primarily a State responsi bility . . .” That has always been used as an excuse by federal governments when they have been opposed to helping the States in any way.
– It is not an excuse; it. is the truth.
– It is the responsibility of the Federal Government as much as of the States.
– Will the honorable member say that to the States?
– Now. listen: The Commonwealth cuts up the roads with its heavy army vehicles, particularly around the Greta camp, around Maitland, and towards Cessnock. Arterial roads that were made to transport certain products to Maitland are now absolutely untraffickable. Because of frequent floods in the the Hunter River valley, the roads - with the exception of some main high and dry roads - and the railways have often been put out of action. As I have stated, the roads in this area have been, cut up by heavy army trucks used for the purpose of transporting troops, but worse still they have been cut up by army tanks. They were never made to carry such vehicles. Although those vehicles damage the roads, the Commonwealth pays nothing towards renewing them. I support the contention of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) that the local government authorities should be allocated sufficient money to mend roads that have been cut up mainly by Commonwealth vehicles. It is true that commercial vehicles also contribute to this damage.
When I was in Western Australia once - in fact I got married over there - I did admire the system that the local government authorities had. It would assist this Government if something similar were done in all States. In Western Australia the local government authorities had a wheel tax on heavy motor vehicles, and, indeed, on bullock wagons. Such vehicles were more heavily taxed than lighter vehicles. I am a great believer in federation and I think that roads, particularly the main roads, should be maintained by the Federal Government. Under section 92 of the Constitution, the Commonwealth is responsible for interstate trade and commerce, but it never considers that it is obliged to pay anything towards the maintenance of roads which its own army vehicles help to cut up a lot.
– It is not only army vehicles. Other vehicles do it, too.
– I did mention other vehicles, too. But I say that the army vehicles, as well as the commercial vehicles, help to cut up the roads. That is why local authorities in Western Australia had a higher wheel tax on heavier vehicles. If the Government imposed such a tax throughout Australia, it would be paid by all. It should be paid in respect of army vehicles, too, because they cut up the roads more than do any other vehicles. The Commonwealth has already said that heavy vehicles smash up the roads a lot.
I am particularly concerned about roads that connect Cessnock, Maitland and the Greta military camp, which was a big camp, carrying 12,000 troops, during the war. Those roads have been used for years by the Army, which has contributed nothing to their upkeep. On one occasion, the Army smashed down a bridge with its heavy tanks. I admit that, after representations that I made, the Federal Government repaired the bridge ; but it did not happen’ to be this Government. It was the Chifley Government.
– We would do the same.
– I would not have got anything out of you people. You might give me a kind smile in sympathy now and again. The Treasurer, in his secondreading speech, said -
It is sometimes argued that the petrol tax was introduced for roads purposes and that, as it is ostensibly a tax on motorists, it is only right and proper that it should be used specifically for roads. Such an argument completely ignores the facts. Petrol tax was first imposed in 1902.
He went on to say that it was used finally as an income producer. I will admit that. I do not mind the Government using it now to obtain revenue. But as heavy Commonwealth vehicles cut up the roads, the Government should at least use this additional tax of 3d. a gallon for the purpose of repairing them.
I have been inundated with correspondence from municipalities asking if this additional tax could be allocated to the local government authorities. The Kearsley Shire suffered a great deal by having its roads cut up. It has requested me to ascertain whether this increase in petrol tax could be allocated to local government authorities. The municipality of Cessnock has also written to me. Maitland has not, because Maitland is not in my electorate, lt is the responsibility of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), being in his electorate. But I know that Maitland has suffered as well.
Roads are essential for interstate transport, but they are particularly essential in a flood area such as my locality. The Hunter River frequently has two floods in a year, and the condition of the roads is terrific, even for the carrying of coal. Coal ! There is that subject again. When the late John Rosevear was in this House, he and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) used to say, when I rose to speak, “ Ten to one - fifteen to one - he will talk about coal “. They would say to me, “ We bet you don’t sit down without saying coal ‘ So I am on coal again. The transport of coal can be carried out only by road in flood time because the railways are brought to a standstill. I have advocated the building of an allweather dry railway to take over the J. and A. Brown railway and the connexion of this line with the Bluegum to West Wallsend railway. There is an all weather, dry railway on to Cockle Creek and from Cockle Creek to Newcastle and Sydney. The roadway from Cessnock over the mountains and on to Lake Macquarie has been cut up terrifically by heavy traffic. Trucks of ten and fifteen tons weight have been going over that road, which was never meant to carry such heavy traffic. I recommend that, if the Government will not take over the maintenance of roads, the local government authorities should heavily tax those vehicles which carry such terrific tonnages over the roads and smash them up, and pay nothing in respect of the damage that they do.
.- The whole of the Labour case in this debate appears to have the purpose of getting- the whole of this additional tax of 3d. a gallon devoted to roads under this agreement. All I have to say about that is that I am quite sure that the Opposition knows hat this is a thoroughly irresponsible request, as I shall attempt to prove a little later. Members of the Opposition know full well that the reason for the imposition of additional tax of 3d. a gallon was given in the recent economic statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). They know that it has no relation at all to the subject of roads. As a matter of fact, one could say at (his stage that the Id. a gallon that is being given for road maintenance is an indication to the people of Australia of the importance that the Federal Government attaches to the need for road development. In the whole of the economic statement in which the additional taxation in various categories was announced, there was no mention that the additional money to be raised applied to any particular expenditure, with the sole exception of this item for roads. That, as I say, indicates quite clearly that the Federal Government does, in fact, put the importance of the development of roads on the very highest possible plane. *[Quorum formed.] I was pointing out that the Opposition has stressed that the whole of this addition of 3d. a gallon in the tax should be applied to road purposes, and that in my opinion that was an irresponsible statement in the light of the fact that the increase of tax by 3d. actually has nothing to do with the financing of road construction and maintenance, but that there was a great degree of generosity in the Government’s offer of an extra Id. a gallon for road purposes, which is to be provided under this measure. I charge the Opposition with being not genuine in its appeal in this matter. Honorable members opposite are only attempting to seek some political advantage because they know that the subject of roads and increased revenue for roads is a matter that is troubling local governing bodies throughout Australia. The speciousness of the Opposition’s arguments on the subject of the devotion of petrol tax proceeds to road purposes is clearly shown by the facts on the Labour party’s administration of the tax when it was. in office. What did the Labour Government do in 1948-49 about the use of petrol tax proceeds for road purposes? The Labour party in office did not then adopt the same attitude as it is adopting now, when it is in opposition. As a matter of fact, I remind the House and the people that when the present Government came into office, petrol rationing still existed in Australia, although the war had been over for more than four years. This Government abolished petrol rationing. A little later I shall cite some figures to indicate the effect that petrol rationing had on the community. The Labour Government curtailed the use of petrol by the community, for very necessary transport, because of its restrictive controls. lb is interesting to note that in 1948-49, the last year of office of the Labour Government, only 47 per cent, of the proceeds of petrol tax was allocated by Labour for road purposes. Compare that figure of 47 per cent, with the figure of 73 per cent, of the total amount raised by petrol tax which this Government is allocating for road purposes this year. I think that those figures are most significant, because they prove beyond doubt chat the Government is taking very seriously the need for new and improved roads throughout Australia, and that the Labour party is not sincere in its claims to-day that it desires to assist road construction. One has only to refer to the utilization of petrol tax proceeds under Labour’s administration to show the insincerity of honorable gentlemen opposite on this matter. In 1942-43, the Labour Government allocated only £1,603,000 for road purposes; in 1943-44, the amount was £1,487,000. It was only in 1947-48 that the Labour Government increased its total allocation to the figure, relatively high compared with its previous performances, of £6,000.000. In 1 948-49, its last year of office, it allocated a total of £7,701,000.
Immediately this Government came into office, it set about increasing the allocation for road purposes,, and in the coming financial year the magnificent sum of £32,000,000 will be devoted to road purposes by the Government. I ask anybody who argues on this matter to compare the figures - £7,701,000 under Labour and £32,000,000 under this Government. How can honorable members opposite justify any argument such as they have advanced to-day? They are just being absurd. I think those figures dispose of the Opposition’s arguments. The Government has a magnificent record in relation to the allocation of part of the proceeds of petrol tax for road purposes. On no fewer than three occasions since assuming office the Government has introduced legislation to increase the allocation. This year the total is £27,500,000 and under this measure the total will amount to £32,000,000’ in the next financial year. It was, of course, this Government that related’ the consumption of petrol to the allocation of sums for road purposes. In 1954, the Government allocated 7d. a gallon of petrol consumed in Australia for road purposes; under this bill that allocation is to be. increased to 8d. a gallon. Local governing bodies have for a long time been suggesting that petrol tax was originally levied to provide finance for roads; but, in fact, the revenue from petrol tax, as such, was never intended to be used solely for roads. As the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) rightly pointed out, income tax was introduced in the Commonwealth sphere in 1902.
– There was no petrol then.
– That may be so, but it was not until 1923 that petrol tax was introduced, which was long after petrol had come to be used in large quantities in this country. As the honorable member for Lalor knows fullwell, as does everybody else who thinks about this subject, petrol tax was never in specific terms related to road purposes. There is no doubt about that. In 1940 petrol tax was’ increased by 3d. a gallon, but there was no increase that year in the allocation for roads. In 1946, under the Labour Government, the tax was reduced by Id. a gallon, but the allocation for roads did not alter. So the argument used all over the country, particularly by local governing bodies, that the proceeds from petrol tax are related to the allocation of revenue for road purposes, is the result of a misconception.. I appreciate the attitude of local government bodies, because I have been a local government man myself for the last 25 years, and I know the problem of local government. I know that local government bodies have been sending telegrams all over the place seeking support for the view that petrol tax is collected for road purposes.
Mr. Pollard interjecting,
– I know that the honorable member who is interrupting is well aware that this is something that local government people are trying to have recognized, so that they can obtain more money. I do not blame them for that. As I have said, I know local government, and I know the dilemma in which local governing bodies are placed because of their paucity of funds; but the responsibility does not lie with this Government. Local government is an instrumentality of the States, and the responsibility lies fairly and squarely on the States.
– The Minister did not say at one time that it was not a Commonwealth responsibility.
– I have never said it was a Commonwealth responsibility. [Quorum formed.] When I was so unceremoniously interrupted, I was pointing out that I know the problems of local governing authorities. I know their dilemma hi i relation to finance, and I know the additional burdens that have been placed upon them. Those burdens have caused very difficult problems for them. I do not blame them for their advocacy in seeking additional funds, but the fact is that the State Labour governments have virtually dumped local government in Australia. They have forced local authorities into a position in which they must rely exclusively upon their rate revenues and, in addition, they have imposed upon them additional responsibilities for child welfare and all sorts of other activities, which local governing bodies in the past did not normally have to finance. Therefore, I say that the responsibility is squarely upon the State governments. As every one knows, roads throughout Australia are the direct responsibility of the States. This aid roads grant must be thought of in terms of assistance for roads on a national basis. It is intended for developmental purposes, as this Government has shown by its proposal to increase to 40 per cent, the proportion of Commonwealth aid roads funds to be spent on rural roads. Labour neglected those roads when it was in office. The allocation of 40 per cent, of the aid roads funds to rural roads means that something like £13,000,000 a year of these funds will be spent on them. For those reasons, this grant must be looked upon as a special means of assisting our national development but not of taking over a responsibility that properly belongs to the State governments.
I should now like to deal briefly with the reasons for the imposition of the additional tax of 3d. a gallon on petrol.
It was not imposed merely with the idea of spending more money. 1 pointed out earlier that the Id. a gallon of the additional petrol tax that is to be devoted to roads is a very special indication of this Government’s realization of the importance of roads in a community such as this. But the additional tax was not imposed for that purpose. As we all know, it will raise, in a full year, approximately £12,000,000, of which £4,000,000 will be spent on roads. We all heard the considerable amount of discussion on the economic statement made by the Prime Minister in March. It was then shown that the purpose of the additional tax was, in the first place, to damp down the flow of imports. Petrol and allied products comprise a very great part of our imports, and they absorb about £100,000.000 of the money available to pay for imports. The large volume of imports was one of the basic reasons for the economic adjustments that were recently made. The sales tax on motor vehicles also was increased in order to reduce the flow of imports and to damp down the extraordinary rate at which the Australian consumption of petrol was increasing. The statistics showing the increase of the number of motor vehicles registered are very illuminating. At the 31st December, 1949 - Labour went out of office in December. 1949 - there were registered in Australia 702,380 motor cars and 476,623 commercial vehicles, making a total of 1,179,003 motor vehicles registered. At the 31st December last, there were registered 1,419,732 motor cars and 665,608 commercial vehicles, making a total of 2,085,340 motor vehicles registered. I mention these figures to indicate to the House the extraordinary growth of motor transport in Australia and the great prosperity that has accrued to this country under the management of the present Government. There is one motor vehicle for every 4.3 persons in Australia. To put it in another descriptive way, there are, in Australia, almost as many motor vehicles as there are houses.
That magnificent growth of motor transport is indicative of the economic prosperity that has been achieved by the efforts of this Government. But this prosperity has brought its own problems.
It has brought the problem of the excess of imports over exports. Something had to be done, in the interests of the people themselves, to damp down the flow of imports, and that was one of the reasons why the additional petrol tax of 3d. a gallon was imposed. The second reason, also, is obvious. It was essential for the Government, as we have been told before, to raise further cash in order to allow essential public works throughout Australia, to be continued. We all know that loans have not raised sufficient money to meet the needs of the States for essential developmental works, and that it was necessary to find cash to prevent the cessation of those works. Part of the revenue from this increased tax must be applied to that purpose. In this matter, I charge Labour with complete insincerity, because Labour supporters know full well that the additional tax of 3d. a gallon was imposed, in the first place, to damp down the flow of imports, and, in the second place, to raise funds for State works. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot apply the entire proceeds of the additional tax to road works. The Government proposes to devote Id. of the 3d. a gallon to such works. The remaining 2d. a gallon will be absorbed by the States for State works. This fact must be kept in mind.
The Opposition knows full well that my arguments on this matter are genuine, and that the increased tax is necessary. The various States have all sorts of commitments for State public works, and, if they were denied the funds necessary to undertake those works, Australia’s basic development would suffer a serious blow. Opposition members know full well, also, that the Opposition amendment designed to devote the whole of the additional 3d. a gallon to road works would strike a serious blow at other very important works for which commitments have been entered into by the States. The Opposition’s proposal is completely lacking in genuineness. We all agree on the importance of roads. They are essential to decentralization. Australia will never become a great nation unless we decentralize activities and allow the country to develop in a proper way. Roads are essential to rural development, and to transport efficiency, which, of course, affects the cost of transporting goods, and, consequently, greatly affects the cost of living. Therefore, it is a factor of great importance.
I should like to place on record, also, some interesting statistics concerning the mileages of roads throughout Australia. We have a total of 525,742 miles of roads, comprising 40,651 miles of concrete and higher-standard roads and roads that are paved or sealed, 115,719 miles of unsealed roads, and 369,372 miles of roads tha* are merely formed or cleared, or are in a natural state. Those figures give some indication of the growth of the roads system throughout Australia. I know that what has been done so far is not nearly enough. There must be a greater development of our roads system and we must give a lot of attention to that task. Bui we cannot do everything at once-. I know that some people become veryirritated when this road or that road cannot be constructed. Let us be practical. Australia is a young nation, with only 9,000,000 people. We have a huge continent to develop, and everything cannot be done at once. Even if £50,000,000 were allocated to-morrow morning for the purposes of road construction in Australia, it would not be physically possible to do all the work required to be done. The limitation is imposed, not so much by a shortage of money as by a shortage of man-power and materials. The rate of development is governed by the facilities available. A magnificentjob has been done already, but much more must be. done. I agree that we should develop our roads to the full extent of our economic capacity. This Government has been conscious of tha< need ever since it came into power, as the figures show. It has clone a magnificent job in giving financial assistance to the States for the construction of road? throughout Australia. As I have said already, roads are essentially a State responsibility, and I am sure that th.States do not want to give away that responsibility.
I know that a little later on we shall have an argument about the formula. Under the present formula, Tasmania receives 5 per cent, of the money available for distribution, and the allocation? 10 the other States are made, as to three- fifths on. a population basis and as to two-fifths on an area basis. I know that the operation of the formula is causing some difficulty, but I appeal to chose honorable gentlemen who propose to speak on this matter, particularly the Victorians, not to be parochial about it. This is a national problem of the widest significance. I do not think that we can be arbitrary about these things.
The formula has worked reasonably well, although I do not say that it is perfect. This Government has made an appeal to the States to organize a system of priorities for public works. It has urged the States to undertake first those public works that are most necessary for the development of Australia. I believe that roads should be put into that category, and that we should not discuss the problem of roads from a parochial viewpoint. It would be very difficult to devise a formula that would be accepted by all the States. It is a great pity that this State argument, so to speak, should occur. If there is to be any alteration of the present formula, which was obviously designed, because Victoria is a small but densely populated and highly developed State-
– And a very prolific State.
– That is quite true. Comparatively speaking, Victoria has more motor vehicles than any other State and pays more money by way of petrol taxation than any other State. But do not let us be parochial about this matter. Let us consider it from, the wide national point of view.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Do not all attack me at once. Let us look at this matter from the national point of view. Let each State be prepared to confer with the other States. Surely all honorable members know that there is a great need to develop Western Australia - which I visited only recently - the northern parts of South Australia and the magnificent State of Queensland. Those are some of the great areas in this country that must be developed. I appeal to the Victorians not to “be too parochial about this matter.
– Appeal dismissed!
– But our capacity is limited. We can devote only a certain amount of money to roads. Let us use that money in such a way that it will be of the greatest benefit to the development of Australia as a nation. I ask honorable members not to interfere with the formula at this stage, unless we can devise another and more satisfactory method of distribution.
– Does the Minister regard as fair a formula under which more money is distributed to States other than Victoria than those States can possibly spend on their roads, and which deprives Victoria of money which it is eager to spend and could spend on roads ‘<
– I agree with the honorable member for Gippsland that that is the position. But I believe sincerely that it has arisen because of the preoccupation of State Labour governments with matters other than roads. They have other ideas in their minds, and they have not applied money granted under this legislation to the purposes for which it was provided. I do not think it is true to say that they could not have spent all of that money on roads. I believe that they could have done so, with great benefit to the States for which they are responsible.
Let me counter the charge that this Government has not devoted to roads a sufficiently .great proportion of the revenue from the petrol tax. The Government has done a magnificent job. I suggest to the House that, in view of the present economic position of the nation, we should be acting quite irresponsibly if we allocated for roads purposes more than one-third of the additional revenue from the tax. That is the only part of the additional revenue that will be raised by the recently increased taxes that has been allocated for a specific purpose - that is, roads. Surely that indicates to the Australian people the high importance that the Government attaches to the development of out roads.
Mr. LUCHETTI (Macquarie) [12.32J. - I am astonished and dismayed that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) has opposed the construction of roads. One would have thought that the Minister, being preoccupied with the problems of the defence of Australia and being concerned with strategic roads, would be the first to advocate a vigorous roads policy for the development, decentralization and defence of this nation. But the Minister, despite his record in local government, has not advocated that more money ‘should be made available for roads. He has expressed his contentment and satisfaction with the Government’s proposal that only one-third of the additional revenue from the petrol tax shall be allocated for roads purposes. He believes that that allocation will be adequate to meet the needs of the nation.
I repeat that 1 am astonished and dismayed that the honorable gentleman ha3 made those statements. To the defence departments, £9,000,000 is only small change. Therefore, it is amazing that the Minister responsible for one of those departments should oppose a proposal that the whole of the additional revenue from the petrol tax should be applied to the making of roads in this country. Prom the very beginning of federation in Australia, people have advocated the need for good roads. Every true patriot in this country to-day will say that, without roads and without development, there can be no real defence of Australia. Vet the Minister came into this chamber to-day and spoke in the way that he did.
He made it quite clear that this is not a bill for the purpose of providing money for roads. It is, to use his words, a bill to damp down inflation. If that is the view of the Minister and other members of the Government, I suggest to him that, in honesty, the Government should alter the title of the bill. This is not a bill to aid roads. It is a bill for a petrol tax grab to provide the Commonwealth with money to help it out of its present difficulties. If the Government were to alter the title of the bill so as to express that purpose, undoubtedly it would do the right thing. I ask the House to disregard the views expressed by the Minister for the Army and to consider this problem, as it ought to be considered, on Hip national plane. Let us ignore the disputation between States about the formula, for that does not come within the ambit of this proposal at all. W-e are considering at present whether Id. out of the additional tax of 3d., or £4,000,000 out of £12,000,000, should be used for road-making purposes or whether the total proceeds of the increase, £12,000,000, should be used for that purpose. I have an intimate knowledge of the need for good roads. Persons in my electorate, who are similarly placed to persons in other electorates, perhaps at this very moment are unable to take their goods to market or their children to school because of flooded streams and the absence of bridges and good roads. I have a recollection from the recent past of the need in my electorate to carry ballotboxes by pack horse to the returning officer because it was impossible to get a motor vehicle to the centres of population. Conditions of that type exist in the country at the present time.
I am astonished that members of the Australian Country party should lend their force and strength to the Liberal party in relation to a matter of this kind. One would think that, in these days of great difficulty with regard to production and the need to increase it, the members of the Australian Country party would say, “We need good roads for the development of our districts, for the convenience of the people, for the taking of our produce to market, and because of this essential need we shall insist that the total proceeds from this additional tax, £12,000,000, shall be devoted to the purpose which the title of the bill suggests “. Of the additional tax collections, only about £4,000,000 will be used for roadmaking while £8,000,000 will go into Consolidated Revenue. The Australian Government receives £46,000,000 in a full year from the petrol tax and will pay to the States £30,500,000. The percentage of money from the petrol tax devoted to road-making is decreasing. Two years ago, the Government retained £4,500,000. Last year it retained £7,500,000. This year, subsequent to the passage of this legislation, it will retain £15,500,000. Surely that is an indictment of a government which professes to be concerned with the development of this country. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in his 1949 policy speech, promised to raise, from the petrol tax, £250,000,000 for the development of our country districts. Having this promise in mind, one can only deplore the fact that the Government is escaping its responsibility and is retreating from the pledge made to the people.
I was very much concerned with the wild and extravagant statements made by the Minister for the Army. His allegations followed the copy-book style of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). He said that this tax was never intended as a road-making tax. He said, in effect, “We had no intention at any stage of applying the proceeds of the petrol tax for road-making purposes. That was neither more nor less than an alibi. This was to be a vehicle by which the people would be taxed, and the money received could be paid into the maw of Consolidated Revenue while the people would be denied the roads that they need and to which they are entitled.” The honorable gentleman suggested that provision of roads is a responsibility of the States. The States are paying for road construction and maintenance approximately twice as much as this Government is providing at the present time. They are accepting their responsibilities. If the honorable gentleman had made an investigation which apparently he did not make, he would have found that the principal act upon which this legislation is built, act No. 46 of 1926, is described as -
An Act to authorize thu Execution by the Commonwealth of Agreements between the Commonwealth and the States in relation to the Construction and Reconstruction of Federal Aid Roads, and to make provision for the carrying out thereof.
The preamble to the act is absolutely specific. It states -
Whereas it is expedient to provide for financial assistance to the several States for the purpose of the construction and reconstruction of roads:
Every word expressed in that act makes abundantly clear that the intention was to honour the promise made by the Prime Minister of Australia at that time, Mr. Bruce, now Lord Bruce, that £20,000,000 would be raised over ten years at the rate of £2,000,000 a year and be paid to the States for the purpose of building roads, and that the Commonwealth would pay the proceeds of the petrol tax into a trust fund to make that possible. This proves beyond any shadow of doubt that the total proceeds of the petrol tax would be paid into a trust account for the specific purpose. So careful was the then Prime Minister with regard to the matter that he went considerably further, and in commenting on the bill, on the 3rd August, 1926, he is reported at page 4800 of Parliamentary Debates, volume 114, to have said -
But the Government, having received further information on this subject, is now prepared to insert an amendment in the bill that will enable a rebate to be given to those users of petrol who are not road users. I think that disposes of the first legitimate objection to the Governments proposals.
So concerned was the government of the day in regard to this matter that it decided to excuse from the incidence of this tax those persons who were not then using the roads, so that it could be said that persons who were using petrol other than on the roads would not be taxed, in order that the crystallized amount obtained from those persons who used the roads would be applied for road-making purposes. That was the exact statement made by Mr. Bruce, who was Prime Minister of Australia at that time. Not one member of the House then made any suggestion whatever that Id. of this money would go into Consolidated Revenue. Mr. Perkins, the then honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who spoke in support of the measure, said, as reported on page 4672 of the same volume of Parliamentary Debates -
Motor traffic is now the principal means of transport, and it is essential that good roads be provided for it. Every owner of a motor vehicle must come to a realization of the fact that, although he may be called upon to pay a little extra in taxation, the good road that he will have provided for him will be ample compensation.
Sitting suspended from 12.4-5 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I had traced the history of petrol tax legislation and proved conclusively that this form of taxation had been introduced by the Prime Minister of the day for the purpose described in the title of this bill. I supported my observations’ with excerpts from the Hansard of the period and gave the date and the page numbers of these remarks. I was dealing specifically with the speech of the then member for EdenMonaro, Mr. Perkins. His remarks of the 2Sth July. 1926, are to be found at page 4672 of the Hansard of that year. He said further -
I am referring really to the Commonwealth obligations. T know that we propose to raise funds for this purpose by means of a petrol tax.
There is no ambiguity in those remarks, which were supported by a number of other honorable members. As I have pointed out, every speaker who supported the imposition of the petrol tax argued most strongly that the Commonwealth itself had an obligation, and agreement was reached with two States, Western Australia and South Australia, that they should withdraw from the field of petrol taxation. At page 4’681 of the Mansard report of the same debate one reads the comments of Mr. Cook, the honorable member for Indi. He said -
Those who would quibble about CommonwealthState relationships should consider this unequivocal statement by the honorable member, who would have increased petrol taxation to the point where registration fees might be waived altogether. All honorable members will agree that a person who buys a car must shoulder an almost intolerable burden. “First, he must, because of the high profits of the manufacturing companies, pay a price that goes beyond proper bounds ; he must pay the taxation imposed by the Commonwealth ; and he must meet registration and insurance charges. These burdens weigh as heavily upon the private motorist as they do upon the producer who requires motor vehicles in the pursuit of his calling. The then honorable member for Indi, Mr. Cook, said further -
I submit that the Commonwealth is definitely responsible for the maintenance of our defence highways.
– Who said that?
- Mr. Cook, who was then member for Indi. It is unfortunate that the Minister for Defence did not heed those words and act upon them. 1 am not putting forward a case in support of the contention that all the petrol tax has always been devoted to the making of roads. I know that that is not so. But that is no reason why to-day, when this additional impost is to be placed upon the motorist, we should quibble about devoting it all to the construction and maintenance of roads. The proposed tax is a burden on the producer, upon whom we must depend for greater production if we are to build up our trade. The constant cry of the Government parties is that they wish to reduce the cost of production, yet they do not hesitate to support a proposal such as this which will increase the petrol tax by 3d. a gallon and bring the customs and excise imposition to ls. Id. and ll£d. respectively. This will be an intolerable burden, and if the revenue is not to be spent to make the way easier for the man on the land, who must have petrol if he is to develop his property, the burden should not be imposed. At least, in all honesty, the Government should alter the title of this bill. It has no right to refer to the measure as a roads bill when it is concerned purely with raising revenue and plundering those who use motor vehicles for any purpose. I do not intend to refer to the other speakers who dealt at length with the original legislation, which was introduced by the then Minister for Works and Railways, Mr. W. C. Hill. The Prime Minister of the day was Mr. Bruce, now Lord Bruce, and the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), then Mr. Page, was the Treasurer. Both advocated the imposition of this tax as a means of raising money with which to develop our roads. Even those speakers who opposed it did so on the ground that they considered it unjust. They also argued - one might almost say with some right in those days - that the maintenance of roads was a State responsibility. Since those days, uniform taxation has been introduced and the petrol tax has grown to such proportions that the Commonwealth Government has clearly been the proper authority to ensure that funds are provided to meet the roads problem, which is one of the most serious facing this country.
We have heard honorable members arguing about how much money has been provided in the past. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) spoke of the “ insincerity “ of members of the Labour party. If there is any insincerity it is on the part of the Government, which has so often spoken of applying all of the proceeds of the petrol tax. to the needsof local government but has failed to carry out its election pledges and promises in this regard. My criticism applies with particular force to the Minis tar for the Army, for he has evaded his responsibility to ensure that strategic roads are built in this country. Report after report has drawn attention to the fact that our roads are incapable of coping with a crisis. Honorable members, who care to turn, back the pages of war-time history will recall that when the Japanese were a menace to this country and virtually knocking at our front and back doors an investigation was made, of the east coast especially, to ascertain how we could move our population, stock and merchandise from the seaboard to the hinterland. Meetings were called to consider this important matter and. it was found that our roads were quite inadequate. Surely, for that reason, if for no other, the Government should, in view of the fact that vast sums nf money are being voted for defence, give consideration to handing over for road-making purposes not £4,000.000 of the newly won revenue, but the whole KI 2,000,000.. I repeat that the £8,000,000 to be retained by the Commonwealth will not bolster the tottering, economy forwhich the- present Government is responsible. It seems to have more money than it knows what to do with and. in the coffers of the Minister for Defence- is kept £9,000,000 as small change for any eventuality, for anything that might crop ap at any time, and he can. transfer it from one defence department to another.
– Order!’ The honorable member’s- remarks have nothing to do with the bill.
– I am mentioning that’ to emphasize the need for the allocation of the entire proceeds of the petrol tax: for road-making purposes for the defence and development of this country. The figures of road development in Australia present a pitiable record, so little has been accomplished in recent times, particularly when the vast development in other countries is borne in mind. Surely there is some spirit alive on the Government side. Surely the Government wants to develop this country and see it expand and made secure-. Surely it wants roads to go to the points of production, and the fortunes- of rural communities to be improved and enhanced, so that those who are producing in our country shall have an opportunity to bring their produce to the markets. Municipal and shire councils should not be stopped from building necessary bridges by the lack of funds. This is a topical matter and one that should actuate the mind of every honorable member in this chamber.
I have a report issued from Bonn by the Press and Information Office of the German Federal Government. Dealing with the question of the provision of money for roads in West Germany, it says -
Providing for a total expenditure of 35,000,000,000 deutschmarks over a period of ten years, the new road programme announced by the Federal Minister- for Transport and Communications, Dr. Seebohm, is one of the biggest projects to be undertaken by the Federal Republic in the course of its short history.
The report then deals with other activities and says that no fewer than 7,500 miles of roads will be built. The West German Government is also considering not only the question of petrol tax for the building of roads in West Germany but also the provision of money from consolidated revenue for the purpose of building good roads. If we were to give all the money from the petrol tax for the provision of roads and, in addition, were to give some money from Consolidated Revenue to provide better transport facilities in this country, there would be very little wrong. But the record in Australia is shamefully bad. The number of miles of roads constructed in this country is so poor that T am disgusted that we have donn so little. In the whole of Australia there are only something like 520,000 miles of roads. That takes into consideration roads composed of wood and stone, concrete, bitumen’, macadam and’ otherwise, formed only and cleared or natural surface only.
When one looks at these figures, one can only say that it is a sorry day indeed when the honorable member for Hume (Mr.. Anderson), who represents a country electorate, opposes the people whom he is supposed to represent in this chamber. People in his electorate who require roads fmd him opposing in this chamber the provision of money for roads to help the development of those areas. I know tire- area only too- well, and, indeed, not only the roads in the Hume electorate, but also those in the electorate of Enden-Monaro and in this district, which cry out for the expenditure of vast sums of money. Yet honorable members opposite are more concerned about speaking in accordance with the [joint of view of those in authority in their parties than about speaking forthe people they should be representing in this chamber. Our record is- not good1 enough. When it is contrasted with the record of the United .States of America, West Germany and certain) other European countries, there is every reason for us to try to obtain a road programme worthy of the development of this country. There should be a transport policy in this country in which rail, road and’ all other forms of transport form a composite whole. I am not completely SOl (i on the idea of main highways alone.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has1 expired.
The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) rambled all over the place in au endeavour to hide his discomfiture, caused by the fact that he does not know very much about this legislation. He went back to 1926 and quoted from Hansard of those days. He rambled on about roads- all over the place, even those in the electorates of other members, and only occasionally made mention of this legislation. One glaring instance that shows he knows very little of it occurred when he said that this bill is wrongly named and should be withdrawn. He said it was a revenue proposition and did not deal with roads-. But, the bill expresses the definite purpose that out of the collection to which lie 13 referring, covered by another measure altogether, Id. a gallon will go to Commonwealth aid roads. All it means is the addition of an- extra paragraph to the schedule im the 1554-55 act.
The honorable member spoke about baw this” petrol tax was- imposed in I926> leading the House to believe that it was introduced in that year. Bless my heart and soul! The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in his second-reading speech, said quite clearly that the- petrol tax was first introduced into this country 111 1902-.
The honorable member for Macquarie went on to. say that this Government, om of the additional 3d. a gallon, wilT allocate Id. a gallon for roads-, and pur £8,000,000’ into the coffers of Consolidated Revenue. I often wonder whether the members of the Labour party really take any responsibility in running this country. They should know that the £8,000,000- that will be left after the Id. a gallon is- allocated to the States for roads will go to no other place than the coffers of the State governments to help them carry out their works and housing programmes. That was- mentioned clearly by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) this morning. My colleague, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), mentioned, also, that the money would be used by the States for their hospitals, schools, electricity undertakings and so on. Opposition members will not pay attention to these: matters and that is one reason why my friend, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), this morning drew a red herring’ across the track by suggesting that the whole of the petrol tax should be made available for the construction of road’s.
– That is no red herring. “Mr. HAMILTON”. - I may be able tn d’eal with- that shortly a little later on.
– What did the Labourparty do when it was in government?
– I am not worried about what it did in government; T know it did very little. The Labour
Governments’ maximum contribution to the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of roads in this country was somewhere about £7,000,000 or £8,000,000.
– What was money worth then?
– The honorable member asks about the value of money. Let me use the figures given in 1949 by the great leader of the Labour party in those days, the late Ben Chifley. He said the £1 was worth, in terms of purchasing power, somewhere about lis. or 12s. The Institute of Public Affairs, in Melbourne, in its bulletin for the December quarter, 1955, said that it may now be back to 7s. 6d. The difference between lis. or 12s., which represented the value of the £1 in the days of the Chifley Government, and 7s. 6d., which is the comparable value now, does not account for the difference between the £7,01)0,000 that the Labour Government provided for construction and maintenance of roads, and the £32,000,000 that is being provided by this Government. Opposition members may use any argument they like, such as the difference in the cost of machinery, but they cannot explain to their own satisfaction the difference in the amounts provided by the different governments for this purpose. As my colleague, the honorable member for Hume, has said, the record of the Labour party in this matter is one of hot air. We had quite a lot a few moments ago from the honorable member for Macquarie. It is very obvious that that honorable member has never taken the trouble to read some of the comments of his predecessor in the Macquarie electorate, the late Mr. J. B. Chifley, a man with whom I disagreed violently politically, but who displayed some statesmanship and showed some consideration, not only for the people of his own State, but also for the people in the rest of Australia.
The honorable member for Macquarie stated that in 1926 Mr. Perkins, the former honorable member for EdenMonaro, said there was a need for a petrol tax. I inform him that the petrol tax had been in operation for 24 years when Mr. Perkins made that statement.
The honorable member for Macquarie had considerable experience in local government, as had I, and presumably he would know very well, as I do, what was behind the move that was made in 1926 to introduce this legislation. The Prime Minister of the day, Mr. S. M. Bruce, as he then was, said that over a period of five years his Government would make a contribution of £10,000,000 to the States. That meant that the Australian Government would contribute to the States at the rate of £2,000,000 a year. The honorable member for Macquarie said that the money would have come from the petrol tax. If he takes the trouble to look into the figures, he will find that in 1926 the amount collected by way of petrol tax was less than £500,000 a year. In those circumstances, how would it have been possible to provide £2,000,000 out of the petrol tax ? The arrangement made at that time was made, I am happy to say, by a government of which the Treasurer was the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), a member of the Australian Country party, and a man who has always shown statesmanlike qualities.
The increased tax on petrol amounts to 3d. a gallon, of which this Government proposes to contribute Id. to the States for road purposes. The Labour party, however, is suggesting that the whole of the petrol tax collected by the imposition of this extra 3d. a gallon should be banded to the States. Let us assume that that is a valid argument. How, then, would Opposition members suggest that money should be raised to finance the developmental programmes of the States? If we give the whole of this increase in petrol tax to the States for the purposes of road construction and maintenance, then we must find some other source from which to finance the States to carry on their work programmes to provide housing, hospitals, and other necessary works.
– The Government might help in that direction by restoring confidence in the loan market.
– The honorable member for Bass suggests that we could restore confidence in the loan market.
I suggest to him that confidence in the loan market would in some measure be restored if the State Labour governments introduced legislation to control the mad race of hire purchase. If honorable members go into any large business premises in the capital cities, particularly banks, which are registered under State company laws, at one end of the counter they will see advertisements urging people to invest in Commonwealth loans, while at the other end of the counter they will see other advertisements exhorting the public to take advantage of the facilities offered by such firms as Industrial Acceptance Corporation and Custom Credit Corporation Limited. If Opposition members suggest that all the extra money from the petrol tax should be given to the States for road purposes, they should make some suggestion, when moving their proposed amendment, as to how we should raise funds to meet the requirements of the State developmental programmes.
The petrol tax has never been used solely for road purposes, but I am happy to say that this Government has increased the contribution towards roads from the petrol tax, so that now 73 per cent, of the collections from that tax are allocated for road purposes. The Minister for the Army cited the significant figures this morning. He said that in 1938-39, only 43 per cent, of the collections from petrol tax was made available for roads. In 1949, the percentage had risen to 47, and that was the best effort the Labour party made in this direction. In the current financial year no less than 73 per cent, of the collections from petrol tax will be given to the States for the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of roads. The tax collected is comprised of customs duty and excise. The Labour party, down through the years, has asserted that ‘p must press on with development, and that we must undertake developmental works in order to provide employment. This Government has done exactly that. Since it came to power it has been responsible for the erection of oil refineries from one end of Australia to the other. It is confidently expected that by next year about 90 per cent, of the petrol used in Australia will be refined in this country. .By encouraging the expenditure of overseas capital in Australia in the establishment of these refineries, the Government has provided work for Australian workmen. But what will be the outcome of this development? In the future we shall collect less from customs duty on refined petrol, and weshall have to rely almost completely on excise for the provision of money for road purposes. Next year we shall have to find about £32,000,000 for roads, and instead of allocating 73 per cent, of the collections from petrol tax for this purpose, it will probably amount to about 80 per cent. Any one who says that this Government is not doing the fair thing by the States in regard to the petrol tax should consider the position again.
The excise on petrol, if my memory serves me aright, amounts to 8 1/2d. a gallon. This measure will provide for Sd. of that, amount to go back to the States in respect of every gallon of petrol used in this country. The greater the quantity of petrol used, the greater the amount of money the States will receive. I well recall, as, no doubt, do other honorable members, that when this Government camo to office in 1949, Australia was plagued with petrol rationing. We were told by the previous Labour Government that it was impossible to obtain petrol from anywhere in the world, but within six months of this Government coining to office petrol was flowing into the country in unlimited quantities. No one was short of a gallon of petrol, and that has been the position ever since this Government came to power. As the Minister for the Army has said, the great increase in the number of new motor vehicles in Australia and thu abolition of petrol rationing, which was one of the main causes of Hie vast increase in the numbers of motor vehicles, have caused a corresponding increase in the consumption of petrol, and resulted in the States being granted much larger sums of money for road construction and maintenance than were formerly provided.
When Opposition members argue that all the money collected from petrol tax should be given to the States for road purposes, I feel impelled to remind them of remarks made by the Treasure!’ when he introduced this measure. He said at that time -
It is sometimes argued that the -petrol tax was introduced for roads purposes and that, as it is ostensibly a tax on motorists, it is only right and proper that it should be used specifically for ‘roads. Such an argument completely ignores the facts.
Then he gave a history of the petrol tax, and he continued -
Tn ;1940, .for example, Hie rule of petrol tax was increased by 3d. a gallon, and in 1946 the tax was reduced by Id. a gallon - in each case without any change being made in the proportion of the tax set aside for roads ‘purposes.
Finally,, it is a .fallacy to say that .anything like the whole amount of the petrol tax is paid by motorists. Only a week or two ago, the president of the Long Distance Road Transport Association of Australia declared that “ whatever tax is paid by the commercial carrier, it must be passed on to the public in the cost of goods and services “.
Therefore we return to the point that a contribution is being made all along the line by the whole community for this purpose. If the whole of the community is making -a contribution, it is the duty of this Government, as a central government, to see that the community benefits, by some means, as a consequence. The Treasurer went on to say, finally - lt is, therefore, only fair that some part of the tax should go to ‘Consolidated Revenue and bc used for the general services and obligations if the community.
Opposition members need not accept that statement if they do not wish to, but £ remind them that almost the same words were uttered by that gentleman whom they have compared with Abraham Lincoln - our old friend, the late Mr. J. B. Chifley. At page 22 of the Digest of Decisions and Announcements and Important Speeches by the- Prime Minister, No. 137, under the heading “ Aid Roads and Works Acts - Petrol Tax, Grants for Roads “, the late Mr. Chifley is quoted as having said on the 6th August, 1948 -
Representations have been received from many sources that the whole of the proceeds of taxation on petrol or the greater portion should he made available for roads purposes. [ remind Opposition members that the allocation to the States in 1948 was approximately £6,000,000. I direct their attention also to the following statement of their late leader, which is as true to-day as it was then : -
The petrol tax is not imposed solely for this purpose and although for many years substantial roads grants have been made to the States, the major portion of this tax lias been required to meet the expenditure of the Commonwealth for general purposes . . ..
He further said -
Since the greater portion of the tax is not finally borne by the users of petrol but by the general community, it is inappropriate tocontend that the whole of .the proceeds should be used for roads purposes.
– Mr. Chifley was th<» then member for Macquarie.
– Yes, he was the member for Macquarie, and the Prime Minister of Australia. He was the gentleman whom the Australian Labour party, probably with some justification, compare with Abraham Lincoln. Although a similar set of circumstances exists to-day, honorable members opposite are running away from the position. Once again they have given us a clear example of their muddled thinking. On this occasion, as on other occasions, they do not know which way to turn for a valid argument, and they drag out a suggestion .about using the whole of the petrol tax collections for roads purposes. But they did not apply all the collections for that purpose when they were in office ; they knew it is almost impossible to do so.
Mr. If. V. Johnson interjecting .
– The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. H. V. Johnson), who is a very great friend of mine, says, by way of interjection, “ The Australian Country party does not want it”. I remind him that the Australian Country party initiated this legislation, and has done more to achieve a greater allocation of funds than the Australian Labour party is ever likely to do. Because of certain remarks that were made this morning by an honorable member from Victoria, and because I know - I have advance information - that at a later stage another .honorable member will make further statements that members of the Australian Country party will not accept, I now wish to direct attention to the position in Western Australia and Queensland.
– The honorable member should open his heart to the appeal from Victoria.
– The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis), who has just interjected, referred this morning to the unexpended portion of petrol tax funds in Western Australia and Queensland. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know the position in Queensland better than does any other member. You know only too well that the Minister who is responsible for the allocation of that money in Queensland has deliberately been playing about with the Queensland fund. You know that, instead of this money having been made available freely to local authorities for road works, it has been lent to them for that purpose. You know moreover, that it was you who raised the matter on the floor of the House as a result of which- amending legislation was passed in 1955 to ensure that the local authorities in country areas received at least 40 per cent, of the allocations for a particular State. It was also stated this morning that £1,360,000 remains unexpended in the Western Australian trust fund. I tried, by way of interjection, to tell my colleague, the honorable member for Deakin, that admittedly the records show the money as being unexpended, but I assure him and the House generally that the money at least is allocated. It must be remembered that, by the time the necessary legislation is passed, the money collected, and the records submitted, we are working some months behind in Western Australia.
– Western Australia is two hours behind for a start.
– As the honorable member for Hume says, we are two hours behind. The returns that we receive here do not reveal the real position. I remind honorable members who represent electorates in the eastern part of Australia that Western Australia sometimes experiences great difficulty in obtaining the necessary plant for road works. Every time a strike occurs on the waterfront or in the manufacturing industries of the eastern States, the repercussion is felt in Western Australia some months later. I recall having raised this question in the House when I sat in opposition. At that time, local authorities in Western Australia had placed orders for road-making machinery valued at, for the purposes of argument, £2,500. A friend of some of the gentlemen who are now sitting in opposition - I think, in particular, a friend of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) - the noted Jim Healy, held up 72 ships in Sydney Harbour. Even eighteen months later, Western Australia still had not received that machinery. Instead, it had been driven up to Queensland and as far afield as Adelaide by road. By the time the local authorities in Western Australia obtained the necessary machinery it cost, not, say, £2,500, but £4,500 or £5,000. I say to those honorable members who live on this side of the continent that every time there is a little hold-up in the transportation system, the repercussions are invariably felt in Western. Australia 9, 12 or 18 months later, because, although the area of that State is large, its population and manufacturing centres are small. I suggest, particularly to honorable members from Victoria - that delectable, pocket handkerchief garden State - that, before they attack Western Australia in relation to the formula, they should acquaint themselves with all the facts applicable to that State.
– All we know is that we are being robbed.
– The honorable member from Victoria says that Victoria is being robbed. I suggest to him that he should read the history of Western Australia, and learn how the gold mines of that State were robbed and how the money drifted over, strangely enough, to Victoria. For some time past, the road hauliers’ and road transport associations of Australia have been publishing great advertisements. On one occasion, when I was representing the Minister for the Interior in Brisbane, I received a complimentary copy of the Sydney Morning Herald, which contained a supplement on roads. I also received one from a Melbourne newspaper.
– The honorable member was caught.
– When I am caught again, I shall go to see the honorable member for Yarra. I said that I received a complimentary copy. Splashed over it were appeals for the construction of roads in Australia. I am reminded of the incident by the remarks of the honorable member for Macquarie, who continually referred to the need for defence highways. I raise no objection to the construction of defence highways, but let the powers that be start at Cooktown in Queensland and work down towards Brisbane, and start on the other side of Australia at Wyndham and work down to Perth, before building this suggested great highway from Brisbane to Adelaide. I raise this matter because just the other day, like other honorable members, I received from the Australian Road Federation this booklet that I am holding in my hand. Red lights and such things are portrayed right through it. I say to those persons who are interested in Australian roads that they are insulting their own intelligence when they send such publications to people who they think will swallow their suggestions. This is an American publication. It has pictures of cars lined up and if one looks closely at them one can see what kind of cars they are. They are all Ford V8’s probably taken outside the Ford works at Detroit and represented in this publication as having been on the road.
– They may be in Geelong.
– They would not he at Geelong, because they were driven on the right-hand side of the road. Surely people do not do that in Victoria in order to be different from the rest of the Commonwealth. As one goes through this Americanized high pressure propaganda, one is urged to form organizations to get this and to get that. Here, they show a picture of a worker, and I am delighted to look at it because the worker is sitting in a very comfortable lounge room and there is a most exclusive television set in the corner. Well, we have not got television yet. By all means, advocate finance for roads ! But let us look at this subject properly. Twelve months ago, these organizations were talking about building great auto- bahns from Sydney to Adelaide. They cited how much a mile it would cost and said what length of road they could build in a year. This propaganda was being fed to people in the hope that they would believe it. Actually, the road would cost thousands of millions of pounds to build, and would take 50 or 60 years to complete. Then they put up the plea that this was necessary as a defence road. If they want to gull the people into swallowing that story, let them realize that the most vulnerable places in our Commonwealth are in the north of Queensland, the Northern Territory, and the north-west of Western Australia, where there are over 100,000,000 tons of iron ore SO per cent, pure above high-water mark in Yampi Sound. I suggest that they get some other medium of propaganda instead of feeding this American stuff to us. Let them be original and get their own propaganda if they want to do that sort of thing.
What does the Australian Labour party hope to achieve with the demand that it has made, and by its proposed amendment? The amendment states that the Government’s proposal should be withdrawn. Does the Opposition really want to hold up the payment of money to the States to prevent them going on with their works programmes?
– Sob stuff.
– It is not sob stuff. The Opposition has completely confused this issue. This bill authorizes the transfer of an additional Id. a gallon from the fund that has been raised so that it can be spent on roads. It may be a very good idea for the Opposition to give further thought to this matter before it moves an amendment along the lines that it has mentioned.
.- The purpose of this bill is to amend the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act in order to deal with the distribution of the additional tax that has been placed on petrol by the Government. Out of the amount to be raised, it is proposed that 2d. a gallon shall be confiscated and held by the Government in its private coffers, and that only Id. a gallon shall be made available for road improvement throughout Australia. Two issues are involved, and I shall deal with them later. One is the economic effect of the legislation; and the other is the distribution and use of money raised in this fashion for the purpose of road construction in Australia.
Before dealing with those matters, I shall dispose of a couple of points that have been raised by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton). He was the first speaker for the Australian Country party in this debate. Evidently, he has been put up as the chief spokesman for that party. Honorable members who represent country areas which are crying out for roads and road improvement know the parlous condition of roads in those areas. Very little substantial improvement has been carried out to those roads in recent years because the necessary funds have not been available. As a matter of fact, it is said that it is almost impossible, with the heavy transport using the roads, to undertake the ordinary and reasonable maintenance of the roads.
If we are to develop this country, we should substantially improve the roads. As a matter of fact, early history indicates that one of the greatest developmental measures of a nation was the building of improved roads. In the history of Rome, one thing stands out above all others, and that is the way in which the Romans improved the roads in. the areas in which they went. With the good roads they brought civilization and an improved way of life to the people. It is only by improving roads in the back country of Australia that we can hope to bring greater amenities to the people who live in those areas. It is only by improving the roads that we can hope to reduce the cost of marketing their products.
The Australian Country party is absolutely neglecting its responsibility to the country people by advocating that more money should not be made available out of the additional taxation of £12,000,000 to improve country roads throughout Australia. As a matter of fact, the cry to-day is for additional exports. The point is made continuously that costs are fast rising in Australia. Everybody knows that the greatest contributing factor in the cost of primary industry in this country is the cost of transport. It is only by the establishment of modern roads that we can possibly hope to improve that position.
A point was also made that this legislation is not for the purpose of road improvement but is primarily for the purpose of producing revenue; and that only a small proportion of the tax collected is being and should be made available for road improvement. I hope that I have successfully contested that point and shown that the whole of the amount collected should be made available for road maintenance. As a matter of fact, when the Labour party was in office in 1948, it was pointed out that we did not spend the whole of the money that we received from petrol tax on road improvement. I want to point out that One of the troubles of Australian Country party members and of members of the Government is that they live in the past. The Opposition is offering, a policy for to-day and for the future. Government supporters are confused on future policy for the development of this country. They should not live in the past as the. honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) usually does. They should be a little more modern in their approach to the problems of the day.
At the recent general election, the Labour party put forward a policy to the people which provided that we would give the whole of the petrol tax for the development and construction of roads in Australia. We have not departed from that policy. We say that the present Government is remiss in its duty in not providing all the funds that the States can expend in carrying out road construction. But what the Labour Government did in 1948 matters little indeed because it was done under a different set of circumstances from the present. It was done in a period of reconstruction which came after a great war when the whole of our national resources had been devoted to war purposes. After long years of anti-Labour governments in this country, the Labour Government during the war had to divert men into the Allied “Works Council in order to carry out road construction - above all things - in Australia. Roads were constructed through various States including New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia for the defence of this country. The adequate defence of Australia could not have been undertaken if the work of road construction had not been carried out by Labour during that war period. I say that it was a reflection, at least, on the previous anti-Labour administrations that they had neglected road construction and the defence of Australia to such an extent that labour had to be diverted from war activities to road construction.
Had those roads been constructed in the period of the depression when there was a surplus of man-power, ot between those years and the outbreak of war, we would have been able to use that labour on more urgent works for the furtherance of the war effort. Man-power was wasted in those times on works that had been neglected. Similar works are being neglected to-day. Why, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), before the suspension of the sitting for lunch, took the floor and told us that adequate money was being provided for roads, in present circumstances. This came from the man who is in ministerial charge of the Army, and who should know that the Army must move over the land and cannot, like the Air Force, fly over the land, and does not, like the Navy, sail on the sea. Unless roads are constructed the Army cannot move. As a matter of fact, the bill provides for the .setting aside of a certain amount of money for expenditure by the Commonwealth on the construction of roads for defence purposes. I made inquiries about where and how such money was being expended, and I discovered that all of it was being expended on the maintenance of roads in the Northern Territory. Nothing further is being done to develop new defence roads. I say that the Government is neglecting its duty in that regard also.
I do not wish to chide the Australian Country party again for its neglect to carry out the promises it made during general election campaigns; but I think it is within the memory of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) and other members of the same party, that promises were made by their leader in 1949 to make £250,000,000 available to carry out country works, chiefly road construction. Money raised from loans launched by the Commonwealth was to be lent, free of interest, to State governments. That money has not been made available, and the work for which it was to be used has not been done.
When the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) introduced his supplementary budget some time ago he attempted to mislead us regarding the objectives of that measure. He was not prepared to bring down that supplementary budget at the proper budgetary time last year, or to tell the people at the last general election in December that he intended to bring it down. He wanted to keep hidden from the people his intention to raise additional taxes, including additional petrol taxes. He told us that the supplementary budget was brought down to reduce the community’s spending power, and to overcome inflation, but, in fact, the revenue derived from the increase of taxes will merely add to the cost of living. The increased sales tax on motor vehicles will add considerably to transport costs, and therefore to the prices of commodities carried by motor transport. The supplementary budget, instead of alleviating the present worsening economic position, will aggravate it. The fact is that, as a result of the deteriorating economic position, the revenue is falling in other directions. This has led the Government to increase tax revenue in an attempt to balance its budget and finance public works, which should be financed out of loan moneys. But the Government is unable to finance public works out of loan moneys because, as has been amply demonstrated, the people have lost confidence in the Government, and will- not subscribe to its loans the money necessary for the financing of large public works. So, the Government has to slug the people to obtain the money for such works as the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric power scheme.
– Order! The honorable member knows that these matters are not under discussion on this bill, which is concerned with the allocation of moneys.
– I believe that the increase of petrol tax is for the purpose of balancing the budget. I was trying to emphasize the deteriorating economic position. I leave it at that. My point is that the Government has destroyed the credit of this country, and the only means by which it can obtain extra revenue is to levy increased taxes.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman knows quite well that this is not the taxing bill. This bill is concerned with iiic distribution of the money raised by the tax.
– I think my remarks arc to the point. I wish to point out further, that the additional amount that will he raised by the increase of the petrol tax is £12,000,000, of which only £4,000,000 will be made available for road improvements. The balance will go into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. I believe that the whole of the additional proceeds, the entire £12,000,000, should be made available for road purposes. As a matter of fact, the Opposition intends to move an amendment to achieve that objective. I hope that when that amendment is before us honorable members who represent country areas, in particular, will realize the absolute necessity for road improvements in the outback, and will support the amendment. I am quite sure that if local governing bodies to-day were each to get an additional few thousands of pounds of revenue they would soon show that they have the man-power and the material to enable them to expend that money usefully on road works. “When the Labour Government left office in 1949 we were facing an entirely different set of circumstances. As I pointed out earlier, at that time we were engaged in rehabilitating this country after the war, and many of the local government bodies did not have the equipment to enable them to engage in road works and expend all the money for road purposes then allocated to them by the Labour Government. ‘ If I remember aright, in the last year the Labour Government was in office, we had £3,500,000 or more of unexpended money in the roads fund, and when the then Treasurer, Mr. Chifley, was asked to make further funds available to the States for road purposes he said that the States and their local government instrumentalities were not able to expend all the money that they were already getting. He told them, however, that when it was demonstrated that the States and the local government authorities could use the money they were getting, and spend further money, the Government was prepared to make it available. I am quite sure that if the Labour Government had remained in office longer than it did, extra money would have been provided.
It is well known to honorable members, particularly to those with long terms of service in the Parliament, that the Labour party had a post-war scheme for extensive bituminization of roads throughout Australia. Expression was given to that great need, not only in the Parliament but also in the press. But in recent years very little work of this kind has been carried out. The latest information that I can obtain shows that between 1948-49 and 1953-54 only 4,000 miles of roads were bituminized. In that period only 4,000 miles of virgin roads - that is, roads formed, cleared, and provided with a natural surface - were constructed. The Government has failed lamentably to honour its undertaking to provide funds for the improvement of road surfaces and the extension of road mileage. In 1948, there were 511,000 miles of roads in Australia; in 1953 there were 520,000 miles of roads - an increase in that period of only 9,000 miles. The smallness of that increase is due to the shortage of money for carrying out this essential work. Speakers on this side of the House have emphasized that this is work of a national character. In other great countries road improvement and development has been carried out on a national basis. The only authority that is able to raise the necessary funds to do the work property is the Commonwealth.
A little earlier this afternoon, we heard a discussion across the chamber between a Western Australian member and a number of Victorian members, in which the representatives of the respective States complained that one State was not getting sufficient money because the other State was getting too much, or that not enough road work was being undertaken in the other State. That sort of thing is detrimental to the proper carrying out of an Australia-wide road programme. There is too much bickering between States, with one State claiming that it does not get sufficient funds and that other States are not doing enough with the money they receive. The Snowy Mountains hydro-electric project had to be undertaken by the Commonwealth. New South Wales and Victoria had bickered about it for approximately 60 years, and nothing but bickering would have happened yet but for the enterprise of the Commonwealth. If the Commonwealth were responsible for the main task of road construction, there would be less buck-passing between the Commonwealth and the States, and the job would be done much more satisfactory.
In the years during which I have been in this Parliament, I have heard various members from time to time make the excuse that road works are the function of the States. Only this morning, the Minister for the Army preached the text that the Commonwealth has no responsibility in this matter. He said that the responsibility rests with local governing authorities and with the State governments. I say the responsibility rightly belongs to the Commonwealth, which should shoulder its responsibility and should not try to back out of it, as the Minister endeavoured to do this morning, by trying to put the responsibility on the State governments and on local governing bodies. The local authorities have very small revenues indeed, and they are not in a position to undertake extensive and costly road construction programmes. The States have to obtain from the Commonwealth funds for almost every activity they undertake, and the Commonwealth should see that money is made available for necessary road construction works throughout Australia. It should make available sufficient funds for a proper job to be done. I emphasize that point, and I hope the Government will take cognisance of the fact that country people are crying out for the improvement of their roads and that their cries are not heard. If the Government wishes more people to settle in the country areas, more development to take place, and the cost of marketing primary products to be reduced, it should lower road construction costs by entering into road works on a bigger scale and constructing up-to-date thoroughfares.
I wish to direct the attention of the House also to the increased burden on the roads to-day. In 194S, there were approximately 1,224,000 motor vehicles registered in Australia. The latest registration figures I have been able to obtain are for the 31st December, 1955, when there were 2,21.4,634 motor vehicles registered in Australia - an increase of about 1,000,000 vehicles. Any one capable of simple arithmetic should realize that the greatly increased number of vehicles on the roads must have a very considerable effect on the rate of deterioration and destruction of our roads. In 1945, there were only about 800,000 motor vehicles registered in Australia. Not only has the number of vehicles using the roads increased tremendously, but also a very substantial proportion of the vehicles now registered are heavy transport vehicles equipped to carry loads of 10 and 20 tons, whereas, in the pa:!, the maximum load was, perhaps, about 5 tons. The destruction caused by transport vehicles to-day is not strictly in proportion to the use they make of the roads. It is far greater, because the weight of the vehicles themselves, and the loads carried, are much greater than was the case in earlier years. In the light of these facts, the Opposition’s proposal that the whole of the proceeds of the additional petrol tax should be made available to the States for the improvement and construction of roads is very reasonable. The only argument that tho Government can advance against the proposal is that it does not consider the roads should be improved. Apparently, it considers they are sufficiently up to date. Indeed, that was, more or less, the tenor of the speech of the honorable member for Canning, who is a member of the Australian Country party.
– Rubbish !
– The experience of myself and other Opposition member* who know the country areas well, is that country people are extremely dissatisfied with their roads at present. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) knows that. I wonder whether he will address the House during this debate. Does he support the measure, although it does not make available for road works the whole of the proceeds of the additional petrol tax? Will he say that sufficient funds are being made available for the construction of country roads, or will he say that too much money is being spent on country roads at the present time? I should like him to tell the local authorities in his electorate, and his constituents, that he thinks the roads are too good for them, that they are in satisfactory condition, and that, therefore, there is no need to spend more money on them. Would the Minister agree, off the record, that the whole of the proceeds of the additional tax should be made available to the States for road works? I realize that, in this matter, he is tied hand and foot by the Government, and that he could hardly be expected to say openly that he disagrees with the measure.
– He has just been elevated to the Ministry.
– Yes, and I suppose he must keep quiet for some time if he does not wish to be dropped from it. The point I wish to make in relation to the increased traffic on the roads is that the vast increase of the number and the weight of vehicles greatly accentuates their destructive effect on the good roads that already exist. Those roads must be substantially improved, and a considerable number of other roads must be constructed in areas where the present roads are inadequate. In my electorate, which is in the back country of New South Wales, there are very few bitumen roads. The people there depend on ordinary dirt roads that have been merely graded and formed. In dry times, they are generally beds of dust, and, in wet times, they are quagmires and bogs. They are reasonably trafficable for only a very short period of the year. The people have long been crying out ibr the improvement of those roads. The Government should change its attitude and should make more money available to the States for road works. I hope it will make the whole of the proceeds of the additional petrol tax available for the improvement and the construction of roads.
– What is needed is less politics and more roads. I do not propose to follow clown some of the alleyways of political abuse into which the House has been led in this debate. I wish to get down to the roads problem. I was rather disappointed in the Government’s proposals in this bill. When the debate on the general economic proposals was in progress in this House some time ago, I mentioned that 1 considered that the whole of the additional money to be raised by this increased tax on petrol should be devoted to road works. I still hold that view. As honorable members know, I have circulated an amendment designed to achieve that object, which I hope to move at the committee stage. There is a lot to be said for the view that we should not waste money by frittering it away on roads without a plan. I do not think it is enough merely to add the proceeds of this additional petrol tax to roads funds. I should like to see it all spent on roads, but I should like to see it spent more constructively than roads funds have been spent by all the States in the past. In fact, we need a roads plan, and a roads fund. I consider that the money to be raised by this additional tax, which the Government has said will be only temporary, should be used to form the nucleus of that special fund, which should be the foundation of a national roads plan. I am not going to canvass the details of the amendment which I hope to move in committee in that regard. In fact, I do not want to detain the House at this stage for very long.
We are not just contemplating the history of the petrol tax. That history, I fancy, is of academic interest only. We are not really concerned with why the tax was imposed originally. What we are concerned with is how the proceeds can best be applied in the light of present circumstances. A new transport situation is emerging. Our roads are inadequate for the increased number of vehicles which has come upon them. During the course of the life of this Government, that number has nearly doubled. I believe it is a number which will increase. I do not look on it as a static number. I believe that we have got to plan for more vehicles on the roads. I fear that, in some respects, we have got to plan for heavier vehicles on the roads, because freight seems to be carried by road to a greater extent. We are, in fact,, in a road transport mess, which i3 going to get worse. Whatever we do in other directions, that has got to be met, because transport is basic to the Australian economy. Something like one-third of our national outlay is upon transport. Unless we have an efficient transport system, we shall never effectively combat the inflationary forces, we shall never keep costs down and we shall never reach the full standard of living to which our people aspire and to which I believe they are entitled by their efforts.
We have got to cure the transport tangle. A part of the cure, not all of it, requires greater expenditure on roads and - what is even more important - a better planned expenditure on roads. We want to balance the various forms of transport. As the House knows, I have been a great advocate of curing some of the railway tangles. I believe that that - I make only a passing reference to it - is basic also. We have got to reach the position where each form of transport - be it sea, road, rail or air transport - is doing the job for which it is best fitted economically, and which it can do cheapest in terms of real effort. Then, by a combination of the best forms of transport, each in its appropriate place, we will get the greatest efficiency from the economy. I believe that a great deal of the stuff which now goes between capital cities by road would go better by rail. I think it would be more economical for it to do so. I believe also that there are goods at present going by rail which could be transported more economically by road, especially if they involve short hauls and non-specialized hauls. In view /of the extra cost of double loading and double unloading, damage in transit and other factors of that character, some goods could be hauled better and more effectively by road than by rail.
So, whatever we do, we- have got r,o plan for increased road traffic. That means that we must have a better roads system, particularly a better system of main arterial roads. We have got to keep some sense of proportion here. We have, got to cure first those road bottlenecks where the greatest volume of traffic occurs. We have got to look, first, to our main arterial highways. I am not saying that those are the only roads that we should look at, but I am saying that they ara the first roads that we should look at. We need a national roads scheme. “For that, we need both a plan and plant. I believe that one of the purposes for which this money could best be used would be so set up in each State a pool of heavy road machinery, which would make the construction of future main highways more economic. I believe that, instead of giving the States this money, as an addition, to fritter away - that is what happens usually in the case of ad hoc additions* - we should see that the money - which maybe a non-recurring item, because the Government has said that this increased tax is only a temporary measure - will be put into a pool so that it can be used to the best advantage. If this is a temporary tax, then this is a temporary opportunity which should not be wasted.
There are many things which can be done to our main highways. We have got to realize that they are now carrying a great deal of freighter traffic, which, is heavy and slow. Its heavinesss means that there has got to be a reconstruction of the pavement of the roads. Its slowness means that, in some cases, the design of the highways must be changed so that these heavy vehicles will not block tho roads, as they very often do, and line up behind them long rows of cars which get into each other’s way and impede the flow of traffic along the whole of the highway. There is a fairly simple thing that can be done- in regard to that.
Perhaps I can digress’ for a moment. It will be only for a moment, because this is a small matter. These heavy freighter vehicles move fairly fast down hills and along flats - so fast that private cars find difficulty in passing them. But they go very slowly up hills. Because of curves or crests, passing on hills is unsafe, particularly if there is a long line of cars behind a freighter. It very often happens that cars driven by nervous drivers accumulate behind a trailer, lt would be easy to widen roads, on the left hand side going up hills, so that freighters, which go uphill very slowly by reason of their low horse-power-weight ratio, could keep well to the left and allow faster traffic to pass them on the hills. Then we should find that dangerous accumulations of traffic would not occur on the flats, because the roads up the hills - most of our main highways have a fair number of hills on them - would have passing space. It would require perhaps, only a few hundreds of thousands of pounds to do that on a main highway, but it would make the highway a very much more functional instrument. It would get rid of, if not all, then a great and significant part of the congestion, lt is that kind of planned expenditure, which I mention only in passing, that we should have in mind.
I realize that the imposition of this increased duty is a Treasury problem. 1 am aware of the factors which induced the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to impose this extra tax. I realize that, in view of the inflationary tendencies at present loose in the community, the Treasurer would not want, this month or next month, to inflate the roads expenditure of the States, and thus cause greater employment difficulties throughout the Commonwealth. But that is a transitory and very temporary affair. What may be true in May, June or July will not necessarily be true in August, September or October. I realize also that the Treasurer does not want to put into the hands of the States road moneys which they might find it difficult to expend. We have already heard of some of the difficulties that are occurring in Western Australia. I understand that the same is true of Queensland. It is much better, if this money is to be made available, to make it available in accordance with an ordered plan, because that can be done in a way which conforms entirely to the technical requirements of the _ Treasury. If the Treasurer does not expend the money this year, but holds it in a trust account, it is just as good to him technically as if it were paid into Consolidated Revenue. At the present moment, as we know, and as the Treasurer and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) have told us, there is a cash deficit and the situation is being met by transfers between trust and revenue funds. So it does not matter tuppence from the real point of view whether this money is held in a trust fund or in Consolidated Revenue, provided that it is held. Knowing exactly the financial troubles which the Treasurer is facing, I sympathize with his position and I would not propose anything which would in any way aggravate those financial troubles.
Instead, my proposal is that we should take this money and put the whole 3d. a gallon into a trust fund, and that the trust fund should be payable to the States within the next twelve months - that is to say, that would be the upper limit, but perhaps it would be paid before that time and used for the purpose of obtaining approved heavy road plant and for approved schemes for the reconstruction of our main arterial highways. In other words, I believe that we should put it aside. It is a non-recurring nucleus for a real foundation for a national roads plan. Of course, it is not enough to carry the thing through. One does not think of that, because in all these affairs one has to start in a fairly modest way because the organization takes some time to get going. I believe that the right place to start is probably a machinery pool in every one of the States, which would help them to carry out their future schemes more efficiently. I believe that this can be achieved in a manner which does not in any way interfere with the technical requirements of the Treasurer in relation to the economic situation. If this is a revenue tax - and there is something to be said for that point of view - the proposal I make will not get in the Treasurer’s way in this vital inflationary period which he is trying to ride down, and some phases of which the Prime
Minister has assured us will be under control by the end of this financial year. There is a” proposal from the Opposition that we should just take this money and pay it away to the States. I cannot altogether support that, although I can sympathize with the view, which I do support, that the whole of the extra petrol money should go to the States. I think it is far better to deal with it in this ordered way, both because it will help the Treasurer in his present difficulties and because it will enable a more efficient use to be made of the money for road purposes when it gets into the hands of the States.
For those reasons I feel a little regret that the Government has not seen fit to ear-mark the whole of these extra proceeds. We are in a position to-day where we have to balance the various forms of transport one against the other. We have to see that the right things go by rail and that the right things go by road. I do not believe that we need a great system of compulsion. I should like to see perhaps all of these artificial restrictions upon transport removed. We must find a fair basis of competition. That fair basis must mean, surely, that each system must pay the proper proportion for its own permanent way. In the present situation, whatever happens, looking at the matter on a national scale, we must do more to help Australian roads. We must spend more on roads in the national interest, in ‘ the present state of technical transport development. It seems to me to be a little short-sighted not to use the money which is specifically raised from transport to pay for the facilities for transport. It is perfectly true, as honorable members have said earlier in this debate, that all share in these costs. Yes, but that is not the point. The point is that all share also in those transport outlays, and if we are to have the most efficient system of transport all will benefit, and we get the most efficient system of transport when we can lay down conditions of natural competition between different forms of transport. We want the scales to be held fairly, and I am afraid that the present proposal does not quite exemplify all those principles. For those reasons I am hoping to move, in the committee stage of this bill, the amendment which I handed to the Clerk of the House last night and which was circulated early this morning to honorable members.
Mr. CAIRNS (Yarra) 1 3.43]. - I have some satisfaction in foi owing the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) in this debate, because I find that there is much in what he said with which I agree and with which other members of the Opposition will agree. At the same time I feel some disquiet. I am not sure whether the honorable member for Mackellar is moving to the left or I am moving to the right. But in respect of the heavy traffic on the roads, which, according to the honorable member, seems to move not dissimilarly from water in that it rushes downhill and, at best, moves slowly under pressure uphill, the honorable member for Mackellar has noticed what an improvement there would be if it could move to the left. Perhaps like the heavy traffic, the honorable member is moving to the left. If that is the case, it gives my agreement with him a feeling of comfort, in that I would not be moving as far to the right as he is in most things.
The measure before us will have the effect of distributing the £12,000,000 that the Government expects to receive as a result of increasing the petrol tax by 3d. a gallon. It also has a second effect, which seems to be no obvious part, at any rate, of the Government’s intention, and it is this second effect that I desire to stress. The second effect changes the proportion of the total proceeds of the petrol tax which is obtained by the States from the Commonwealth, and this is a most important matter. The Opposition, and the honorable member for Mackellar, think that the greater part, or all, of the proceeds’ of the 3d. increase in the petrol tax should go to the States, but in point of fact the second main effect of this bill is to reduce the proportion of the total revenue from the petrol tax which will be going to the States. Not only does the Government disagree with the attitude of the Opposition and that of the honorable member for Mackellar, but it is going to the other extreme and, by this measure, paying to the States a still smaller proportion of the total revenue in one year from petrol tax. I wish to lay considerable stress upon that aspect, but before dealing with it and one or two other matters that are closely associated with it, I wish to point out that building roads is not just a matter of granting more money, or of deciding that all, . or a larger proportion, of the revenue from petrol taxation shall be paid to the States for the purpose of building more roads. It is also, and fundamentally, a question of whether more men and materials will be available for this purpose.
The honorable, member for Mackellar has spoken of planned road development. I am completely in agreement with that, but it might be more acceptable to Government supporters to hear the word “ planned “ coming from the honorable member for Mackellar than from myself. The honorable member’ has pointed out that it. is not only a matter of getting money and distributing it, but of deciding how it should be used so as to give us the kind of road development that we most need. Nor’ is it merely a matter for decision on technical grounds, but rather of deciding whether the men and materials will be available in this sector of the economy. At present they are not available in sufficient quantity. If they are to become available - and I suggest that this question is closely related to the bill - a change will be needed not only in the way in which revenue of this sort will be used but in national economic policy as a whole. What is needed is a change in the relative attractions in the economy, and particularly of lending and investment. As we have pointed out in considering other economic measures which have been discussed recently, it is a matter of relative economic attractions - the relative returns that are to come from lending and investment in particular directions. If we are to permit a continuation of excessive returns to private investment we shall not be able to obtain the resources that we need for road building. An associated matter which also has a distinct bearing upon whether the objectives of this bill will, be achieved is capital issues control.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. lawrence). - Order! Unless the honorable member can indicate how he proposes to link his remarks with a consideration of this measure, I cannot allow him to continue on those lines.
– In presenting this proposal to the House the Minister said -
If, therefore, we were to adopt the suggestion that the whole of the increase of 3d. in the petrol tax be devoted to roads, we would have to raise this money from some other source.
Methods of raising money from other sources have been made relevant to the raising of money in this way because of the Minister’s method of presenting the bill to the Parliament, and the debate has proceeded on those lines. I would remind you, also, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) raised the question of the need to draw revenue from other sources if the additional requirements of the States were to be satisfied. I am, therefore, merely following the line of argument initiated by the Minister and continued by the honorable member for Canning. The use of the money to be made available to the States involves the question whether men and materials are available for road building. I suggest that that, in turn, involves a consideration of capital issues control. The Prime Minister had something to say on this subject in his economic statement on the 14th May last. He said -
There may be a good deal to be said for introducing selectivity into the demand for capital by some system of capital issues control like the one which existed during the war and was thereafter for a time continued under the defence power . . . but for present purposes any discussion of that problem would be premature.
I suggest that a discussion of this problem is not premature. We are discussing the question of raising revenue and spending it upon the construction of roads. We shall achieve the ends that we set out to achieve only if we can ensure that this kind of legislation is accompanied by a suitable national economic policy. Therefore, as I suggested at the beginning of my consideration of this point, it is not merely a matter of getting money, or more money, but of whether men and materials will be available. That being the case, this bill can be considered in. relation to whether the whole or portion of the revenue to be derived should be distributed between the States and the Commonwealth with a view to its being eventually used for road construction. It is only logical that the Commonwealth should accept responsibility for main roads. Moreover, it should, and must, accept the responsibility for national development.
– Will the honorable member use his influence with the Labour party to ensure that the power to do so is given to the Commonwealth?
– Yes. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) made out quite a strong case on this point, and
I merely want to set against it the argument used by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who appears to have taken a rather parochial Commonwealth point of view and suggested that the responsibility should fall upon the States. Of all the members of the Government, I would have least expected the Minister primarily responsible for defence to put forward thi3 argument. Surely main roads are, from the point of view of defence, mainly a matter for the Commonwealth. When one considers the defence aspect in association with the arguments raised by the honorable member for Darling one sees that the responsibility is clearly that of the Commonwealth.
My second point is that it seems logical that the proceeds from a petrol tax should bo expended on roads. It is a tax upon vehicles which travel upon the roads and is levied somewhat in proportion to the extent to which the roads are used. Surely there could be no more logical connexion between a tax and the way in which it is to be spent. I can hardly think of a tax in which the connexion is more logical. The tax is also related, quite closely, to the extent to which the roads are used by each particular vehicle.
I I is related to the weight of the vehicle and. therefore, to the amount of damage that it does to the roads. For instance, the driver of a light car which uses only a small amount of petrol can travel many mort) miles to the gallon and, therefore, pay less in tax than does the driver of a heavy vehicle which does much more damage and travels fewer miles to the gallon. The connexion between the way in which the tax is derived and spent is very logical. That being so, it is even more difficult to follow the reasoning of the Government in this matter. Perhaps it was not completely aware of the consequences. The bill reduces the proportion of total revenue from the petrol tax which will be distributed to the States and, therefore, spent upon the roads. Before this additional tax was imposed, £7 out of every £10 raised by the tax went to the States and £3 to the Commonwealth, or 70 per cent, of the tax went to the States. This bill concerns the distribution of £12,000,000 at the ratio of £1 to the States and £2 to the Commonwealth or 33$ per cent, to the States and 66$ per cent, to the Commonwealth. Before this measure, £34,000,000 was raised and seven-tenths, or £23,800,000, went to the States’, and £10,200,000 to the Commonwealth. Under this bill, onethird of £12,000,000, or £4,000,000, goes to the States and two-thirds, or £8,000,000, goes to the Commonwealth.
– Where does the other £8,000,000 go to?
– There is only £12,000,000 concerned. When one looks at the situation, one sees that £27,800,000 goes to the State and £18,200,000 to the Commonwealth. That means that of the total of £46,000,000 that will be raised if the Government succeeds in obtaining the £12,000,000 in this way- that is to say, the total proceeds of the petrol tax - 60.434 per cent, will go to the States as against 70 per cent, before this bill.
– What is the honorable member’s argument ?
– If the Minister for- the Army had been listening, he would have followed my reasoning. The argument is that the Government will, in fact, pay a smaller proportion of the petrol tax to the States after this bill than was paid before, the very opposite of the argument advanced by the Opposition. Of course, if the Government wants to do this, that is its own business ; but it is only able to do so because it has a majority in this House.
It is true, as has been pointed out, that expenditure on roads has increased in recent years. The aggregate expenditure by the States in 1949-50 was £4,364,000 and by 1953-54 it had risen to £9,893,000. Local government expenditure on roads from loan sources in 1953-54 was £29,700,000 and from revenue £10,800,000, or a total expenditure on roads by local government authorities and by State governments of about £50,000,000. The total national expenditure in that year was about £5,000,000,000. So we. have the rather comforting thought on the one band that there has been an increase in expenditure on roads, so that the Government can say that it has more than doubled the amount of money provided for the States, even allowing for increased prices. But when this has been taken into account, that comforting thought should not be given very much time in our minds because, of the total national expenditure in that year of about £5,000,000,000, only £50,000,000, or about 1 per cent., was spent upon the building and maintenance of roads in the Commonwealth.
– Of the national income?
– Of the national expenture of about £5,000,000,000. I am talking about expenditure, not income. It is a fantastically low percentage, when we realize that, for reasons of development, roads are of such great importance to the Commonwealth. Railways cannot be built and airlines subsidized as economically as, at least, subsidiary road services of great importance can be developed, and much of that applies also to main roads. It seems to me that an expenditure of about 1 per cent, of the total national expenditure in this way is fantastically low.
The second point I want to make in relation to road expenditure with which the Government seems to comfort itself, is the position of the local government authorities and the State governments. When we find that an organization or a government is carrying on its affairs only by getting more deeply into debt, then we become disturbed about the situation. I want to direct the attention of the House to this point, because local go vernment authorities and State governments have been getting into debt in recent years at a disturbingly high rate. The total amount raised by loans by local government authorities in 1948-49 was about £12,000.000. The last figure I have is £21,000,000 in 1951-52. That seems to me to be a considerable increase; but the total local government debt in 1953 was £125,000,000, and it is much more at present. The position with the States is even more disturbing. In 1949, the debts of State governments were £1,008,000,000, or £128 ls. Id. a head Certainly the States have been able to carry on some of their activities and roads have been maintained at some kind of a rate. Increased figures of expenditure in these directions can be quoted. But other associated matters should be considered.
What has been happening with State debts at the same time? In 1950, the total was £1,078,000,000, or £132 7s. 7d. a head. In 1951 it was £1,208,000,000, or £144 OS. 5d. a head In 1952 it was £1,395,000,000, or £162 3s. 9d. a head. In 1953 it was £1,543,000,000, or £175 15s. 2d. a head. In 1954 it was £1,6S’S,000,000, or £188 18s. 4d. a head. It seems to me that State and municipal authorities that are being forced, because of the lack of revenue from ordinary sources, to go into debt to that extent can bc said to be very far from a prosperous or satisfactory condition. It is all right for the Commonwealth Government to tell the State governments that it is their responsibility to undertake greater activities in these directions. But at what cost? At what kind of cost? It seems to me that the Commonwealth Government has to face its responsibilities to raise revenue directly from the public, and here wc come to a key point in the platform of the party to which I belong. We believe in raising revenue by direct taxation in proportion to ability to pay, as far as possible, for purposes of this sort.
I turn now to another question. It is true that expenditure on roads has increased, and it is true that the Commonwealth has provided more money from the petrol tax for these purposes. It is also true, as I quoted in relation to another point some little time ago, that the Treasurer himself in introducing this measure said, in effect, “ “Well, if we are not to receive 2d. out of every 3d. of the increased tax on petrol, where will we get the money we need? What will we do for money ? “ This question has been raised a hundred times and it was one of the main points in the speech of the honorable member for Canning a little while ago. The Treasurer also said, in effect, “ If, therefore, we were to adopt the suggestion that the whole of the increase of 3d. in the petrol tax be devoted to roads, we would have to raise money from some other source “. What a terrible predicament the Government would be in! It might have to carry out some of its responsibilities as a government, if it could not take 2d. out of the 3d. increase that it has imposed upon petrol. Let us have a look at some of the places to which the Government could turn for revenue without turning the country upside down and without putting people on the streets to beg. Let us have a look at some of the other possibilities to get the Government out of the predicament it uses to justify taking 2d. out of the extra 3d. levied on petrol.
I should like to preface my submission with these remarks: I know that the States in some cases can very well raise more revenue in certain directions. I know that can be done, but it is quite useless. It is not a proper exercise of national responsibility for the Prime Minister to go to a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers and to say to the State Premiers, in effect, “ You must increase your taxes on certain items before we will give you any more money “.
Let us consider some of the ways in which the Australian Government could raise more revenue if it were prepared to run the risk of doing its job as a government. Land tax was abolished by this Government on the 1st July, 1952. In 1951-52 an amount of £6,19S,76S was raised in land tax. Land tax could have been increased above the rates that were operating in 1952 without doing any injustice to the people whom members of the Australian Country party are supposed to represent. The rates of land tax could have been increased without greatly increasing the levy on primary producers. The tax could have been raised mainly at the expense of highly populated areas in the city. When the Australian Country party, in order to meet its short-term interests, which it seems to be doing most of the time, supports a government that removes land tax, it is assisting the people who own land valued at £3,000 to £5,000 a foot in the cities. It is not benefiting the farmers at all.
– Would that tax be passed on to the consumer?
– It is very well known and recognized that land tax is one of the most difficult of all taxes to pass on.
– The honorable member for Hume is talking claptrap again. That is not unusual; he is continually talking in that way. What I am suggesting is that considerably more than £6,198,768 could be raised in land tax without harming primary producers. If the Government is in such a desperate position for revenue that it has to take 2d. out of every 3d. that it raises in additional petrol tax, then it could turn to land tax, among other things, to fill its coffers.
Let us consider another form of tax to which the Government could turn. I refer to estate duty. That is a kind of tax that we in this country have hardly ever used. Quorum formed.]
The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), who drew attention to the state of the House, is not normally so badhumoured. I can probably ascribe his interruption to my speech to a proper appreciation of the extent to which my arguments have been undermining the Government’s position. I was referring to estate duty, which was used, in 1953-54, to raise £10,000,000 on estates which were estimated to be of a. dutiable value of £134,000,000. That is to say, by means of estate duty only 7.5 per cent, of the total value of estates subject to that duty was gathered in tax. That tax could be doubled or trebled, and it would have desirable social effects in producing greater equality in a country that needs greater equality. It would also have the effect of raising substantial revenue.
I now consider gift duty. In 1953-54, only £1,3S5,000 was raised in gift duty on gifts estimated at a value of nearly £31,000,000. Only 4.7 per cent, of the value of those gifts was paid in gift duty. A considerably greater amount could be raised by means of this tax.
When one turns to company tax, the position is found to be very similar. From companies that made profits in. excess of £50,000 in the year 1953-54. £71,000,000 was raised in company tax on income that amounted, after deduction of income tax, to £230,000,000. Therefore, 31 per cent, of those incomes was paid in company tax in this way. The comparable proportion in the United Kingdom and United States of America is 41 per cent., so that here also there is an opportunity to raise considerably more revenue, if the Government wants to get out of this desperate situation that caused it to take 2d. out of every 3d. that is levied in additional excise on a gallon of petrol. 1 suggest that this bill should be opposed, because, in the first place, it changes the proportion of revenue paid to the States from the total proceeds from petrol tax. Secondly, it does not provide adequate revenue for the States for the purposes of road building, which are so important to the Commonwealth in all aspects of national development.
– I have listened to a number of speakers who have taken part in this debate, and one of the most gratifying aspects of their remarks is that they are all agreed that more money should, be provided for roads. All honorable members seem to be agreed on that point, and the only important difference appears to be in regard to the method of obtaining this extra, money. Honorable members have wandered over a very wide field during this debate, and, I trust, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will be as lenient with me as you have been with the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns), who digressed very frequently.
The purpose of this bill is to increase the amount of money to be granted to the States from petrol tax, so that they will now receive 8d. for every gallon of petrol that is sold in Australia. This provision can be taken as an indication that the Government feels that something should be done about our roads, but, on present levels of consumption of petrol, it provides for increased contributions to the States of only £4,000,000 a year. All I can say on this matter is that it is high time we took a careful look at what should be done in the way of providing finance for road purposes. In February of this year, a meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council was held in Hobart. At that meeting, certain informed people, much better informed than many of the honorable members in this House, pointed out that proper road construction and maintenance in Australia requires an expenditure of about £1,000,000,000 in the next ten years. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) has indicated that it is expected that about £700,000,000 will be provided in that period. The people concerned in presenting a case for increased facilities for transport, and particularly for roads, believe that the amount provided will be closer to £500,000,000. No matter how we approach the problem, there will be a shortage of either £30,000,000 or £50,000,000 a year. I shall take the lower figure of £30,000,000 a year as being the sum required.
Several honorable members have adopted the attitude - it is a very understandable one, because this tax has grown up over very many years - that the whole of the petrol tax should be made available for roads purposes. It is very easy to advance that argument, because, as has been pointed out, the motorists use the roads and pay the tax. Indeed, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has pointed out that 65 per cent, or 70 per cent, of the total amount of petrol consumed is used in commercial vehicles, which indicates that a large part of the tax is passed on and becomes a community cost. But farmers and fishermen also come into the picture. They are vitally concerned because they must use the roads to get their products to the markets. In addition, a farmer who uses, say, a 40-gallon drum of petrol a week for his mechanized /equipment, will be paying a couple of pounds a week in tax, which is quite a lot of money. If such a suggestion were put to the farmers and fishermen, they probably would be quite willing to agree to the money being spent on roads, but the trouble is that, even if we applied to this purpose all the money that is available from the petrol tax, it would not be nearly sufficient to cope with the problem. Of the total estimated receipts of approximately £48,000,000 from petrol tax this year, £31,000,000 or £32,000,000 is to be distributed to the States. It will be seen that that allocation will not overcome the difficulty.
In my opinion, any tax that is imposed for a specific purpose is a bad tax. We realize that revenue must be raised from some source, and I am not quibbling about the fact that a tax has been imposed on petrol. Because of its universal use, petrol seems to me to be in the same category as beer and tobacco; it is an excellent source of revenue. But I aline the petrol tax with the pay-roll tax, which was introduced for the purpose of paying child endowment. Any tax that is earmarked for a specific purpose must fail to achieve its primary object. Either too much money is raised for the particular purpose, which means that the rate of tax i3 too heavy, or the position, is just the opposite. If we cannot find other sources of revenue, by all means let us retain these taxes, but if we must find money for such purposes as roads or child endowment, I submit that the correct way to do it is to decide how much is needed for the particular purpose and to allocate that 3um from revenue just as is done for such things as defence works.
I suggest that a more effective, way of overcoming the roads problem would be to approach it on a national basis. That suggestion has been made by several honorable members, but they have not indicatedhow they think it should be done. I sug- prest that we should convene a meeting of the Federal and the State transport Ministers, the Commonwealth Treasurer, who is vitally concerned, the Minister for Defence, because defence enters into the matter very much, and the Minister for National Development, who I think is more vitally concerned than anybody else, because transport costs, which represent 30 per cent, of our manufacturing costs, have a distinct bearing on every aspect of national development. The State transport Ministers would then be able to furnish reasoned and considered statements about their essentia] State requirements. By way of illustration, I remind the House that in Victoria this year approximately £22,000,000 is available for roads purposes, of which about £5,000,000 will come from the petrol tax. The Country Roads Board is contributing approximately £12,000,000, government departments, £2,000,000, and municipalities, out of rate payments, £8,000,000. That sum of £22,000,000 will be inadequate, lt is estimated that approximately £3J-,000,000 is required. Victoria could place its needs before such a meeting as I have suggested, and the other States would have no difficulty in doing likewise.
The meeting could be conducted along the same lines as the Australian Loan Council but, I hope, without being bogged down as the Australian Loan Council so often is. Such a body, which could be called, perhaps, the National Transport Council, could decide on a list of priorities. Then, the difficulties that Western Australia seems to have experienced in obtaining certain machinery would need to be offset, and such sums as the £1,000,000 that it has tucked away would be available for use by another State. It would have to be borne in mind that the States alone have the sovereign power to carry out the actual work. Itwould be necessary for the States to be willing to co-operate. Unfortunately, in some States Labour governments are in office, and they might not be prepared to co-operate although, if what honorable members opposite have said is true, they should do so.
Too many people see this problem as affecting just their own small area. If we could get, not only the State governments, but also the various motoring bodies -to forget their own selfish interests and to examine a sound overall plan, it should be possible to overcome the backlog of road construction in ten years,- as waa originally suggested. As the position is. the available moneys are really only sufficient to provide for ordinary maintenance. A lot of planning is needed for the improvement of roads in order to reduce costs and to reduce the very heavy wear and tear charges to which vehicles are subject. I instance the fact that it ie planned to spend the sum of £77,000,000 on the Princes Highway over a period of years in straightening bends and providing width. It is not proposed merely to widen the left-hand side of the road going uphill, as the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) suggested, but to provide a really efficient four-lane road. Any honorable members who leave the city on Friday night and drive for any distance against the oncoming traffic, realize the wonderful asset that it would lie to have a four-lane road to enable those drivers who are going out to avoid driving against the headlights of those w” l.i o are coming in. [Quorum formed.]
In passing, I should like to touch on the subject of the formula that is used. When we examine the amounts of money that are available to the States for expenditure on roads, we find that there are some remarkable differences. To take the total amount available in the financial year 1954-55, for instance, we find that in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia the moneys obtained from road tax and registration fees for road improvement were about the same as the amount obtained from petrol tax. That is to say, 55 per cent, of expenditure on roads came from road tax and registrations and 45 per cent, from petrol tax. In the case of Queensland, the corresponding figures were 47 per cent, and 52 per cent.; in Western Australia 10 per cent, and 90 per cent.; and in Tasmania, 31 per cent, and 68 per cent. I also have figures representing the amount of petrol tax received in respect of each motor vehicle in the various States. In New South Wales, £8 is collected from petrol tax in respect of each motor vehicle; in Victoria, £5; in South Australia, £9; in Queensland, £13; in Western Australia, £26; and in Tasmania. £14; all of which indicates that the States with the most cars which would be expected to have the most wear and tear on their roads and require the greatest amount of funds for road maintenance, get the least money in respect
*of each vehicle. If we are to maintain the present system of allocating petrol tax receipts for use in the repair of roads - and I presume that we must carry on with it - some factor relating to the number of cars in each State should be included in the formula in accordance with which petrol tax moneys are distributed. I also have several formulae, one of which relates to a basis as to one-fifth area and four-fifths motor vehicles, and another which runs into fifteenths and looks too complicated. I do not doubt that it is quite possible for the powers-that-be to work, out a very suitable formula in which the number of cars in use in each State would be taken into consideration.
One of the points that is in debate in this measure is the fairness of placing some of the petrol tax in Consolidated Revenue. The general services and obligations of the community have to be met, and it has been made abundantly clear by the Treasurer and other speakers that a lot of the tax is paid by commercial users. They have shown that motor cai- owners do not, in fact, pay all revenue derived from the petrol tax. I know that car owners think that they do pay all that revenue; I am quite certain that one could not convince many car owners that they are not carrying the whole burden. But I agree that quite a lot of the impost is passed on to other people.
I suggest that there is another side to this question. It is an argument that we might well take into consideration. There are thousands of people in the cities who do not have cars and, consequently, they do not pay any petrol tax directly. They do not pay motor registration fees. The only contribution that they make to the upkeep of the road** is some infinitesimal amount which comes from whatever loan moneys are actually used for road purposes. Although that amount is not very much, the Government, in addition to providing petrol taxmoney for road maintenance, does make other contributions out of general funds. The people in the cities would starve to death without the produce that we in the country send them by road. Surely it is fitting, if they are to have the benefit of the health-giving milk that we send them from McMillan, the juicy steaks and the tender lamb that we are at pains to raise on our lush pastures, that they should make some contribution to the general revenue for road maintenance and if the petrol tax is not sufficient to cover the whole amount-
– They make the contribution in the prices that they pay for those commodities.
– They do make a contribution in the prices that they pay for those commodities, but they still have a very real interest in providing tho roads on which the food is brought to them. The maintenance of country roads is no more a problem that should be put on the shoulders of the country people than the maintenance of cityroads should be put on the shoulders of the city people. I am suggesting that we get away from the out-moded system which operates at the moment. I suggest that we should go into the whole matter on a national basis, take over collections from where we are getting them now and put them into general revenue. We should examine the whole position and make priorities for the various needs of the various States. We should give them as much of the necessary money as we are able to give them, though I do not see that they would be able to have all the money that they say they need. By establishing the council of Ministers for transport and other Ministers concerned that I suggest, we should be able to get a working basis and then we could make the necessary money available from general revenue.
I commend the bill to honorable members. My only regret is that it affect* only a very small facet of the whole problem.
.- The honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan) has followed the usual pattern of Government speakers. We have had a series of repetitious utterances from them about the need for a national plan on roads, and about the fact that insufficient finance is made available for road construction. However, no supporter of the Government has yet dealt properly with the basic facts of the situation. One of those basic facts, about which there is no dispute in this Parliament, is the need for a national plan. But why is it that we have not had a national plan? First, simply because the Government is incapable of providing one; secondly, because this Parliament is not clothed with sufficient constitutional powers to implement such a plan. Honorable members on the Government side who now speak of the need for a national plan and of the constitutional difficulties that stand in the way of having such a plan, as recently as 1946 - a mere ten years ago - when the Labour government of the day wanted to extend the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth Parliament so that we could deal with the problem of getting a proper system of co-ordinated transport, were the people who advised the electors to vote against the Labour Government’s proposals. So what is the use of Government supporters talking about the lack of constitutional authority to-day, when they do nothing about correcting the situation and, in fact, opposed the Labour Government’s attempt to have that situation corrected ?
Let us examine the position. It is quite true that a great national loss results from our present inability to achieve a co-ordinated transport system because of constitutional limitations. I would say that to-day, because local government bodies and State government authorities determine their road works plans according to the amount of finance available to them, the width and standards of th, roads that they construct are conditioned by that amount of finance. So, there i.= a sheer national loss as a result of the failure to have a national plan for coordinated road transport. It is admitted that there is a great disadvantage in the division of authority between the existing responsible bodies. The Labour Government, of which I was honoured to be a member, attempted, despite the constitutional difficulties, to do something about this need for a. national roads plan. It set up various bodies, which, under the circumstances, could be only advisory in character and exploratory in their activities, to examine this problem, so that recommendations could be made to both the Commonwealth and the States in an attempt to get some order out of the chaotic situation that existed, and still exists. This Parliament, although it is a great national authority, has no power to deal with vehicular standards and standards of road construction. It can only try to encourage the States, by agreement with the Commonwealth and between themselves, to determine a common basis of standards. Years have gone by since the Labour Government established the bodies to which I have referred, and not a great deal of progress has been made in those years. I know the difficulties of dealing with State governments in achieving a national plan. The Labour Government attempted to get a national plan in respect of rail standardization, and I say that one would have a much better chance of getting agreement between the Balkan States than between the States of Australia in respect of a co-ordinated plan. [Quorum formed.] I wish to thank the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) for bringing his colleagues back from the parliamentary bar so that they can listen to such an important discussion. I know, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that it has been quite evident during the day’s proceedings^
– I rise to order, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. Is it right and proper, in view of the ruling by Mr. Speaker Cameron, for an honorable member to refer, in the House, to other honorable members as having visited the parliamentary bar, and so on?
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Freeth). - All imputations of improper conduct are highly disorderly.
– If you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, regard it as being improper to be in the bar, I shall withdraw the imputation; but I was advised that a number of Government supporters were seen proceeding from the parliamentary bar when the bells began to ring. I want to debunk some of the arguments advanced by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer).
– What about when the honorable member was Minister for Transport in the Labour Government?
– I was Minister for Transport in a very difficult period during the war years and the post-war years and, let me tell the Minister for the Army that over -the whole of the period that I was Minister for Transport - he may check the accuracy of any statement with the various State authorities - every State government had more money for road purposes than it could use, because at that time we were engaged in an allout war effort and in marshalling the national resources for that effort, and it became a matter, not of finance, but of man-power and equipment. In addition, as the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) has just reminded me, Mr. Playford, the Premier of South Australia, who is an anti-Labour Premier, told the honorable member for Hindmarsh on one occasion that I was the best Minister for Transport that this country has ever had.
– He told me so on several occasions.
Government supporters interjecting,
– Order! The House is getting altogether too noisy. I ask honorable members to listen to the honorable member for East Sydney in silence.
– I do not mind the interjections, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, but I appreciate your assistance, although 1 do not require your protection. The Minister for the Army quoted some figures. Members of the Government are always quoting figures in attempts to prove that the Government is doing much more than Labour governments ever tried to do. But let us take one of the Government’s own records to refute its claims. ‘ It is a very good thing to be able to debunk a government by using its own records against it. I have hero a document that 1 secured only to-day from the Department of Shipping and Transport. It is a report submitted by the department to the Australian Transport Advisory Council, and deals with the costs of transport operations in Australia.
When the Minister for the Army was addressing us earlier to-day he quoted figures relating to money provided without reference to the actual value of the money at the times concerned; but this important report deals, at page 55, with the value of money in the respective years in which grants for road purposes were made. I suggest that the Minister for the Army examine these figures, which are contained in one of the Government’s own reports. In the financial yea.r 193S-39, actual expenditure on roads amounted to £22,286,064. The expenditure is given for each financial year up to .1.953-54, which is the last for which the figures are available. In 1953-54, the expenditure had risen to £76,852,946.
These figures are cited in a report by government experts, who have also gone to the trouble, in this report, of, as it terms it, deflating the figures, using 1 938-3 9 as the base year, to express them in terms of 1938-39 values. On 193S-39 values, the £76,852,946 spent on roads in 1953-54 becomes £22,941,178. This very important and valuable report shows that, in terms of 1938-39 values, all. this and other governments did in regard to this great national problem was to increase expenditure by a miserable £655,114 up to 1953-54. I remind honorable members that there has been great need in the meantime for the extension of the roads system as a consequence of the increase of population and of development since 1938-39. Therefore, the indications are that, having regard to- money values and to the magnitude of die problem, governments have not increased, the funds for road works by one penny piece. When the Minister for the Army talks about what the Government has done-
– The honorable member is two years behind the times. He cited figures that are two years old.
– If the Minister would only come up to two years behind the times instead of remaining 50 years behind the times, we in this country might be better off. He has so little appreciation of the national problem of roads that he opposes an Opposition proposal that would make a few more million pounds available for road works.
Why does he not ask the Government to make these additional funds available under its defence- powers, so that we can develop a satisfactory roads system in Australia ? Is he aware that, as the honorable member for McMillan said, the Department of Shipping and’ Transport recently investigated the financial requirements for road construction in Australia, and estimated that £301,000,000 more will be needed in the next decade than the expenditure at present provided for this purpose? On the Government’s own figures, this means that £30,000,000 a year will be required over the next ten years in addition to the funds already provided from various sources. 1 well recollect, and I remind members of the Australian Country party in particular, that it was a Labour government that introduced the principle of earmarking portion of the Commonwealth aid roads grants for the construction of roads in sparsely populated areas. If Labour had remained in control of Australia’s affairs, our transport system would not have bee ti in” the chaotic mess that it is in al present.
What is the present situation? I do not suggest that the solution to the problem will be found merely by increasing the taxes levied on the motor transport industry. I do not think that is the solution, because a great deal of our motor transport is engaged in commerce, and additional taxation upon it will merely be passed on to the consumers of the goods transported by road. We need an efficient roads system in Australia, and I think the responsibility for financing it rests with the Commonwealth. The States are incapable of doing the job. As a matter of fact, they are in very grave financial difficulties at the present time, because they are unable, in consequence of a judicial decision with respect to their powers over road transport, to regulate motor transport by taxation, even if they wanted to do so, and even if it competes with the governmentowned railways systems. The problem that has arisen as a result is acknowledged by the Commonwealth and by the various States. I hope one of the first tasks of the all-party committee of the Parliament that is to be appointed to inquire into constitutional problems will be to conaider the lack of constitutional authority for the Commonwealth to co-ordinate the transport system.
– The States can do that by agreement.
– That is perfectly true, but we have difficult Premiers in certain States to-day. This makes it difficult to solve the problem.
– All these Labour nien are difficult.
– I. readily admit that the difficulty is not restricted to Premiers of a particular political colour. Any one that approaches this problem sensibly and reasonably must recognize that it is almost impossible to get complete agreement between the five mainland States upon a co-ordinated system of transport by road, rail and air. Therefore, if we want a plan for a national system, the only way to get it is to give the NationaParliament constitutional authority to formulate and administer the plan. I hope, as I have already said, that the committee of the Parliament to be appointed to inquire into constitutional changes that may be necessary will immediately give attention to the lack of authority for the Commonwealth to develop a national plan for our transport system.
Let me now turn to another aspect of this matter. I mentioned earlier the fact that we have roads of various standards. Tt is obvious, as other speakers have stated, that many roads have been constructed to standards inferior to those necessary for the types of vehicles that operate upon our roads to-day. There appears to be no limit to the size and the weight of vehicles that use the roads nowadays. In addition, when one leaves the main highways and travels over important country roads, one finds = that the standards vary considerably, even on the same road in adjacent shires. Uniform standards of road construction should be adopted.
Let me say, once again, to the Minister for the Army that it is wrong for a Minister who administers so important a department to decry any effort on the part of the Opposition to have additional moneys made available for the construction and the maintenance of roads. I am not particularly concerned whether they are provided by allocating to road works a greater proportion of the petrol tax, or whether they are provided out of Consolidated Revenue. I am not greatly concerned where the money comes from. I agree with the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) that the capacity of Australia to develop a proper roads system depends not so much on the availability of money as upon the availability of man-power, materials and equipment. Provided the man-power, materials and equipment were available, a national government that wished to develop a national roads plan would see to it that it provided all the funds required by the States and by local-governing authorities for the execution of their share of the plan. What is wrong with that?
I warn Government supporters that they will find it very difficult to justify their opposition to the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). The Opposition does not think that amendment is as good as the one foreshadowed by the Opposition, which it is proposed to move at the committee stage, but, at least, it would be a vast improvement on what is now intended. What would be the effect of the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mackellar? The Government’s own experts have reported that, during the next ten years, £30,000,000 will be needed each year in addition to the funds now being provided from all existing sources. The honorable member’s amendment would result in the provision of an additional £S,000,000 a year. That is little enough. Therefore, I say to honorable members opposite, who talk in one way but vote in another, that, when they return to their electorates and face their electors, they will find great difficulty in, justifying their opposition to the amendments that will be moved later by the honorable member for Mackellar and by the Opposition.
– You mean members of the. Australian Country party in particular?
– 1 am referring particularly to the members of the Australian Country party. It is strange that the Australian Country party, which always talks about the necessity for decentralization, should oppose a proposal to expend greater sums to provide a proper and adequate road system. To show that we really want this money to be spent in country areas, I tell the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) that, if he cares to move a further amendment proposing that the whole of the £12,000,000 be expended upon the construction of roads in rural areas and sparsely populated areas, the Opposition will support it. That would be the real test. If the honorable member for Canning thinks that £12,000,000 is not enough and he wants to make the sum larger, let him move accordingly and tho Opposition will support him. We are members of a national party. We adopt a national outlook to these problems. We do not adopt the parochial attitude of members of the Government parties, who talk about how this legislation will affect the electorate of Hume, the electorate of McMillan and other electorates. All we are concerned about is the effect that it will have upon Australia as a nation. We belong to the Australian Labour party. We are not fighting to get additional money so that is can be spent in the capital cities. We want the additional money so that country areas can be provided with the roads amenities that are available in the more populous parts of Australia. I challenge the members of the Australian Country party to move an amendment designed to obtain additional money for the construction of roads in country areas. If they do so, the Opposition will show that it has a national outlook on these problems, not only by its words, but also by supporting the amendment with its votes.
We want national planning. I hope that all those honorable members who have spoken in this debate about the necessity for a national transport plan will be consistent and that,’ when next we approach the people of Australia to ask for greater constitutional authority for the Commonwealth Parliament, they will not then talk about the need to pro tect the rights of the States, but will act as members of the National Parliament. Let us first get the constitutional authority. Then we shall be able to proceed with national planning. On that note, I conclude. [Quorum formed.’]
.- We have just heard the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) issue a challenge to the Australian Country party. What a gallant gentleman he is in opposition, when he has no responsibility for the government of the country! When Labour was in power, he was a different man. When a move was made to get from a Labour government more of the petrol tax revenue for use on roads, what did the honorable member for East Sydney do 1 He walked out of the House or would not support the urgency motion that I had proposed.
For a long time I have been very interested in allocations from the petrol tax revenue. I want to read to the House something from Hansard. I know that. I shall be excused for going back to 1949. The honorable member for Macquarie! (Mr. Luchetti) went back to 1926, although his colleague, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark), who sits beside him, said it was ridiculous that, in discussing this measure, any one should go back into the past. The honorable member for Darling said that he always looked into the bright future. He referred to the wide open spaces of his electorate. I know that he gets his votes mostly from the city of Broken Hill and that he does not worry very much about the sparsely populated countryside in the rest of his electorate.
Where were the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for East Sydney, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) - the present Deputy Leader of the Opposition - and the present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) when, in Canberra, on the 7th July, 1949, at 11.11 a.m., I moved the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance ? It was as follows : -
The necessity for a substantial increase in the allocation by the Commonwealth to the States of moneys from petrol tax for the son- struction and maintenance of roads, in vie.v of (a) the increased importance of motor road transport because of decreased coal supplies, and (6) the necessity because of dollar restrictions to make the best use of the available motor vehicles and motor spirit.
Where were those gallant gentlemen at that time? I amplified that statement in order to try to get some support from them. I said that the serious deteriora tion of roads in Australia at that time was inimical to our progress and economic security: that motor transport depended on good roads for efficiency and economy, and with dollar restrictions, it was vital to make the best use of motor vehicles and motor spirit; that motor transport as a means of locomotion had become at that time increasingly important, owing to the uncertainty of rail transport due to the decreased output of coal in relation to demand ; and that a substantial increase - the House will note that I did not ask for the lot - of the allocation from the petrol tax was urgent, necessary and desirable. The next speaker in that debate was the former honorable member for Macquarie, the right honorable J. B. Chifley, the Prime Minister of .the day.
– What did he say ?
– I have read through his speech. He said practically nothing of importance until almost the end of his speech, when he said what had been said previously for some time on the subject. Let me quote his words. They were as follows: -
I point out to honorable members that we now obtain much more information from the States than we used formerly to obtain, and that all that information will be placed before the conference.
That was a conference with the State Premiers. Then he said -
In the meantime, I feel it is quite useless to discuss the matter any further.
– Go on.
– Order ! The honorable member for East Sydney must keep quiet. He has made his speech.
– I want to know where the gallant gentlemen who have issued challenges this afternoon were on that occasion. I am not talking about the members who have only recently come into the Parliament and who do not know what happened here in the past. I listened to their speeches with a certain amount of interest, and also with a certain amount of amusement. I am referring to those honorable members opposite who were in the Parliament in 1949. They have performed a political somersault. Now that they are in opposition, they want the Government to assume responsibilities which, as members or supporters of a Labour government, they rejected. Why have they done that? The reason is that now, when they are in opposition, they have no responsibility for raising money, implementing this legislation or doing anything else in relation to the government of the country. The debate on my motion was a very fine one. You will notice, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that I spoke first. The next sneaker was the right honorable J. B. Chifley. and after him came the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who °aid, among other things -
I desire to make it quite clear that the Liberal party, which I have the honour to lead, associates itself with the general theme put forward by the honorable member.
– What is he doing to-day?
– I shall show what, he is doing to-day. lie then agreed with the general theme of my motion, which was that a substantial increase be made in the allocation from petrol tax revenue for roads. T now find that this Government, led by the Prime Minister, and with that great statesman, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), administering th, petrol tax, has already put into effect the main portions of the proposals I made that day. In .1945-46. Labour collected £12,192,000 from the petrol tax. In that year, from that amount, it paid to th, States £3,32S.000, retaining in Consolidated Revenue fS.864’.000. Labour paid out just over one-quarter of the proceeds, and retained just under three-quarters. In 1954-55, the last completed financial year - we can take notice only of complete;l years, and let ns have none of these estimates or assumptions - this Government collected £33,038,000, and paid to the States £24,242,000, retaining £8,796,000. This Government reversed
Labour’s procedure. Labour paid to the States one-quarter of the proceeds, but this Government paid three-quarters. Labour retained three-quarters, but in the last financial year this Government retained only one-quarter. These matters must be inquired into. In 1945-46, the Labour Government; retained £8,864,000. Last financial year r.his Government retained £8,796,000, or £6S,000 less than did the Labour Government, despite the fact that in the meantime collections had increased by £20,846,000.
I shall bring those statistics up to date. I am sure that honorable members want me to do that. I know that the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) does not like things to be kept in the background, in spite of what the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) may say. In the last full financial year before Labour went out of office in 1949, it collected from the petrol tax £17,516,000. Of that amount, Labour paid to the States £7,701,000 and held in the Consolidated Revenue Fund £9,815,000. Last financial year the present Government, under the agreement, collected £33,038,000, and paid to the States £24,242,000, retaining £8,796,000. Those figures show that although this Government collected approximately £16,000,000 more than the Labour Government collected, it retained over £1,000,000 less than the amount retained by the Labour Government. It paid to the States over £1,000,000 more than the total increase in the amount it collected. These are figures that no one can doubt. I have obtained them from the right authority and they must be examined as on them we must build our entire case. Honorable members should know that the petrol tax is lOd. a gallon and excise duty is 8£d. a gallon. In 1945-46, collections from excise duty on petrol amounted to £319,000. In the last full financial year for which Labour was in office, namely, 1948-49, collections from this source totalled £2,249,000. Six years later, under the regime of the present Government, excise collections were -£12,908,000, or £10,659,000 more than was collected by the Labour Government. When this increase is related to the excise duty rate of 8-Jd. a gallon, it illustrates the remarkable expansion in refining in Australia, and the great benefit which the community has enjoyed from this expansion. Constantly we hear Labour members complaining that we sold Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, but since that organization was sold we have collected from refineries more than £10,000,000 in excess of the amount Labour collected, less petrol is being imported, and Australia is so much the richer. Labour members, however, continue to say, “ What a calamity ! “ That sale was one of the best things done in recent times in this country. It enabled refineries to be expanded, and made us more prosperous and independent.
I desire to refer to one or two of the speeches that have been made. It is very interesting to note what Labour members are saying. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) is the great champion of the city roads. He forgot to speak about country areas, because his electorate includes the City of Sunshine, and knowing that he obtains his majority there and not in the country, he appealed for improvement of city roads, saying, “ How can the workers drive their cars to work if the roads are not in good condition?” Labour members have been saying that the workers are in a deplorable financial position, yet the honorable member for Lalor asked how they could drive their cars to work if the roads were not good. The thinking of Labour supporters seems to be in a tremendous mess. It is in. a frightfully muddled state. One member cannot even keep to one line of logical thought for one day. First, he says that the worker can scarcely live because his wages are pegged, and that he is up against it. Next we are told that the worker is driving his car to work, and needs good roads. Some time ago, I said that when I was coming to Melbourne by train I passed through Sunshine and saw vast numbers of cars parked outside the factories. I could show them to any honorable member. I shall take the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and show him these things. Just as Dame Enid Lyons very courteously invited him to Tasmania to have a full meal from a shinbone, which invitation lie did not, of course, accept. J invite him to come with me and 1 will show him these cars. Honorable members opposite cannot have it both ways. If the workers want to go to work in cars, good luck to them. “We think that they can, and I know that they do. When I interjected, the honorable member for Lalor sought to escape the implication. Tie said that one man buys a car and the others travel with him. So long as they travel in cars, it is all right, but my statement is correct. The cars are there, and. the workers do travel to work in thora. If they have good roads, it is all the better for them, but let 113 not starve the country for roads.
This Government has changed the allocations from the proceeds of the petrol tax. Only 35 per cent, was allocated to the country when Labour was in power. We know that that amount was not being expended on country roads. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) said that the Labour Government was the first to ear-mark a certain amount of money for rural districts.
-. - Hear, hear!
– People who do not know about the matter say “ Hear, hear ! “ However, if the State Government desired to allocate a certain amount of money to, say, the district of Hopetoun, the matter had to be referred to Canberra to bc approved by the Minister.
– And did T not. approve of it?
– The Minister hold the reins all the time. Whether or not he approved is beside the point. He may have approved, but he was the great dictator. Only 35 per cent, of the distributed proceeds of the petrol tax was then allotted to roads into rural areas, and there was no accounting for its expenditure.. What did this Government do? It decided that 40 per cent, would be allocated, and that the States would have to give a proper account of themselves and show definitely that the 40 per cent, had been expended on country roads. What a difference from th? procedure under Labour! What a difference from the state of affairs which, prevailed when a great dic tator like the honorable member for East Sydney sat in isolation in an office in Canberra, receiving correspondence from the Shire of Karkarooc, the Shire of Walpeup, or some other place! Whether he approved or not is beside the point. The shires had to come cap in hand to Canberra, this place of isolation, to obtain money to expend on country roads. Surely the newer members will realize the folly of that. If blushing were not a lost art I believe that we should see the honorable member for East Sydney blushing now. In fact, I believe that he is. What he did is apparently enough to make even a tough man like him blush.
I do not want to concentrate all my attention on the Opposition, which is already weak enough and I turn now to the Government side. Because I treat matters as I find them, I want to have a few words to say about the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who is at the table. He said that limitations upon the spending of the money were imposed by the availability of man-power anil materials. Of course that is so, but as I said to the Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley, in 1949, if one State cannot spend the money available, why not let another State do so? T put it to the Victorian Government and the Victorian Country Roads Board, too, that if one municipality cannot spend the money why not let another do so? Why hold up Victoria’s progress when some other State cannot spend its allocation? That is, surely, a fair proposition. The Minister for the Army made a characteristic appeal to the Australian Country party. Hrlooked straight over at us because, at th,appropriate time, I intend to move a certain amendment, and appealed to us not to attempt to interfere with the present formula. All I can say to the Minister is that the appeal is dismissed. 1 shall move my amendment as soon as I get the opportunity and then we shall se-.1 where the Victor: an members of the Labour party, the Liberal party and the Australian Country party stand.
The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) spoke of the Australian Country party, and of the wide open snares in his electorate. One could see from, his face that he was bewildered. Hp could not understand, he said, why there should be opposition to the spending of all petrol tax revenue upon roads. If the Labour party will move that total petrol tax revenue shall be expended on roads I will vote with it. I challenge the Opposition to do that. I expect that very soon a quorum will be called for because I am getting right down to bedrock on these things and telling honorable members exactly what is going to happen. This special tax, as the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has said, should be considered quite apart from the ordinary petrol tax because it will be of short duration only and anything done in the meantime will not matter a great deal. In moving the second reading of the bill the Treasurer said -
If, therefore, we were to adopt the suggestion that the whole of the increase of 3d. in the Petrol Tax be devoted to roads, we would have to raise this money from some other source. In other words, we would have to impose some further taxation either on incomes or on commodities other than petrol. I feel sure that any such move would find little support.
But it did find support. It found support from the honorable member for Yarra - my pen was moving while he spoke - who went on to refer to land tax. He said that the previous revenue of £6,000,000 before the Government abolished the tax could be increased enormously, and that this would affect not the man on the land but the big city interests. Here, surely, is confused thinking. The honorable member had just said that if an extra ls. in the £1 company tax were imposed it would be passed on to the people generally,- and that the primary producers in particular would suffer. Is it logical to suggest that the primary producer will not suffer if land tax amounting to another £6.000,000 or £10,000,000 is imposed? Will not the bie city interests pass it on? Of course, they will.
– I did not say that in the first place.
– I am prepared to believe the honorable member, but that has been Labour’s theme throughout this debate. The approach of Labour supporters has been so illogical as to make it difficult to discuss. The honorable member for Macquarie tried to make some startling points, but he is hardly a star and failed in his ambition. He said, “ The Government, it is estimated, will pay out £30,000,000 this year and will retain £15,500,000 “. Then, affecting the grand manner, he waved his arms and said, “ What an indictment of the Government ! “.
– What was wrong with that?
– What an indictment of Labour in 1944-45, when in government, to have collected £12,000,000 and paid out £3,000,000; and in 1954-55 to have collected £17,000,000 and paid out only £7,000,000-
– The war was still on.
– Was the war on in 1949? Labour supporters should learn a little more about debating. A speaker should make his strongest points ; lie should not make points that his opponents can chop to pieces, as I am doing with the arguments of Labour supporters now.
– The honorable member’ is kidding himself.
– I am not kidding myself, as did the honorable member for East Sydney when he said, “I was told that I was the greatest transport Minister that Australia had ever had “.
– I did not say that at all. The honorable member for Hindmarsh was told that.
– So much has been said about area, and the distribution of the petrol tax generally, that I shall not spend much more of my fleeting time on those aspects. What I have said so far has merely been a preamble to my main theme. The present customs duty on petrol is lOd. a gallon. In 1945-46 it was lOd. a gallon and excise was 8-Jd. Of the revenue so collected the Labour Government paid out on roads a fraction more than 3d. a gallon. In 1948-49. when customs duty was still lOd. and excise 8 1/2d., Labour paid out 3 1/2d. In 1953-54, with customs and excise still the same, this Government paid out more than 6d. a gallon. It has now fixed a flat rate of 7d. One can only consider the figures of past years, for future figures are uncertain. More and more petrol is being refined in Australia. One finds that petrol to the value of £12,000,000 is being refined here annually. Previously the figure was £319,000. Before long 90 per cent, of our petrol will be refined in this country. The excise on this will be 8£d. a gallon, but the Government has fixed a flat rate payment on roads of 7d. a gallon. Very few honorable members have argued against that. What we do oppose is the formula. As honorable members know, under it Victoria suffers greatly. For instance, this Government collects there £15,020,000 in petrol tax, but returns to the State only £5,460,000 of that sum. In Western Australia, the Commonwealth collects £3,750,000 and pays back to that State £6,000,000. It actually pays to Western Australia about £1,000,000 more than it pays to Victoria although the amount collected is £10,000,000 less !
– How can more be paid than is collected?
– These things are very vital and should be looked at. More is paid than is collected, for the simplereason that it is taken from the State of Victoria to pay to the State of Western Australia. The sooner that honorable members know about these things, the better.
What about the State of Victoria? Let us hear about it. The honorable member for Macquarie said that we must cart our goods and produce by road. What does Victoria produce more than the other States? Each year Victoria’s 56,000,000 acres produce 70s. worth of primary products per acre. In comparison. Tasmania produces 22s., New South Wales 18s., Queensland 6s., and Western Australia 2s. 3d. worth of primary products per acre. This 70s. worth of produce in Victoria has to be carted, as stated by the honorable member for Macquarie. The value is 70s. per acre in Victoria as against 18s. per acre in New South Wales. Therefore, I say very definitely that the amount of money allocated to Victoria under the formula may cripple not only Victoria hut the whole of Australia. Shortly, Victoria will not be able to provide the revenues from the petrol tax that are at the present time benefiting Western Australia. Western Australia cannot spend the money that it receives from this source. In 1953, it had an accumulated amount of money. The Treasurer, in reply to a question on the 29th February, 1956, on the allocation of Commonwealth aid road funds, said that on the 30th June, 1953, Western Australia had an unexpended balance of £373,000, in the next year £487,000, and by the end of the last financial year £1,163,000. Why? Because the allocation is worked out on a basis of three-fifths population and two-fifths area. But some of the country taken into the calculation of area in Western Australia would not feed one snake to 10 square miles, and it never will. When an aeroplane was lost up north some time ago - a disastrous thing - it was difficult to find. Roads will never be built in that area, or on the far side of the Nullarbor Plain. The area that could become productive in Western Australia-
– You could put Victoria in it.
– I do not doubt that at all. If only that area and its population were considered for the purposes of the formula, Western Australia would not get an amount of money that is approximately £1,000,000 more than the allocation to Victoria. Western Australia would not be getting 19 per cent, of the collections when it only pays in 7 per cent. Victoria pays 31 per cent, and receives only 17 per cent. These things are all wrong, and must be righted. Therefore, I foreshadow an amendment when this bill is in the committee, and I seek the support of all fair-minded men. I appeal to the honorable member for East Sydney, to all Victorians, to the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) - after all, it will not affect him much - and to New South Wales members generally because my amendment will serve their State by increasing its allocation by 6 per cent. The only State it will affect much is Western Australia and, as the Western Australian Government cannot spend the money it is receiving now from this source, the reallocation will not do that State any harm. I overheard a “Western Australian man say, “ This is the thin edge of the wedge “. Of course it is ! I do not try to go behind doors when I want to get something; I come out into the open. It is the thin edge of the wedge.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to ask you a question. Does the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), to the effect that the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax be paid to the States for road purposes, require a seconder at this stage? If so, I propose to second it.
– Order ! The amendment has not been presented to the House. It will be presented in committee.
.- f. am a little confused. I am supposed to follow the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) but I do not know whether I am following him or Danny Kaye. Members of the Opposition have no apologies to make when they suggest, that the £12,000,000 which will be received as a result of the increase in the petrol tax should be handed over to the States for the development of roads. That is the policy which the Labour party enunciated at the election on the LOth December. I do not want to go back into the past as some honorable members have done, but it would be interesting to note that when Mr. Chifley wa3 in office he told the municipalities and the States that, if they could use for road purposes the money that they had then, he would allocate more. The memories of honorable members should be brought back to the fact that in those days there was a great transition going on from war into peace.
I want to say, without reservation, that not one honorable member can deny that the deterioriation of the Australian road system is one of the greatest tragedies facing this country to-day. It has proneeded far beyond the realm of State parochialism, of formula and quota, to become in stark reality a. national problem and responsibility as great, as demanding, as imperative and as urgent as any atomic, guided missile, airways, television or hydro-electric scheme that this Government or any other government has attempted to carry out. To accuse previous governments of inaction is sheer humbug. I mean that in every sense of the word. To make such accusations is only adopting a negative attitude to a problem that has become very apparent and acute all over Australia.
It is truly said that there are three things that make a country great and prosperous - fertile fields, busy workshops and ready means of transportation from one place to another. No one could contradict these words; no one could have any other desire than to see Australia great and prosperous. But that can be achieved only by the development, of our far-flung spaces and the decentralization of commerce and industry, which are so dependent in these modern times on adequate road transport and road systems.
Since the cessation of hostilities, the transition this country has experienced in industry, immigration and national development is almost without parallel in the world to-day. These circumstances compel us to realize that if our nation is to be developed in an orderly and efficient manner, there must be one authority to plan, construct and maintain highways. In this I agree entirely with the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). I would go further and say that if there is one question on which the people of this country would be unanimous it would be that a national road- planning and constructing authority be set ut» in order that all the resources and road-making equipment could be used to the fullest, gainful capacity on road construction. I do not attempt to adopt a parochial State attitude. To meet present-day demands and future demands, there must be modern ideas and modern equipment. Up-to-date roads must be built, with full regard being paid to proper widths, proper traffic capacity, standard road marks and signs and standard traffic rules. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) stated in his secondreading speech -
T do not think any one can fairly say that this Government has not given full recognition to the importance of the roads problem in Aus- tralia, or that it has not been liberal in the provision of finance for roads. By a series of legislative measures - of which tins is the third since it took office - it has made progressively more generous the basis on which grants are available for roads purposes. This year the Commonwealth aid roads payments will be £27,500,000. Next year, the payments will be more like £32,000,000. If these figures are compared with what was done previously - with the grants being made, for example, in the year before we took office, which amounted to no more than £7,700,000, how we have substantiated our interest in the basic developmental problem which roads represent will he seen. Indeed, the annual provision which we are now making for roads is three or four times as great as the amount being provided when we first took OfFice
I remind the Treasurer that’ construction costs have increased by five or six times since 194S, and that if comparisons are made on that basis it will be seen, even from the Treasurer’s own statement, that this Government has fallen down badly. But I give a direct denial to the Treasurer’s statement. This Government has not fully recognized the importance of the roads problem in Australia, and has not been liberal in the provision of money for roads. I further remind the Treasurer that the kind of vehicle using the roads to-day is much heavier, and the load capacity is much greater, than any honorable member visualized in 1948. It is interesting to note that, according to present-day requirements, 75 per cent, of our main roads are sub-standard, and that the condition of our roads can be held responsible for 75 per cent, of the accidents that occur on them. From the human stand-point, therefore, there is a strong reason why more money should be provided for road purposes.
Although it may be argued that more money has been allocated to the States for road works, rising costs have swallowed the increase, with the result that less work has been completed than was formerly the case. To substantiate this statement I shall give the House certain figures regarding costs of road-building materials. Tn 1947, the basic wage was about £5 a week, and in 1956 it is £12 16s. In 1347, sand cost 9s. 6d. a cubic yard,- compared with £1 4s. in 1956. Cement in 1947 was priced at £4 13s. 6d. a ton, whereas it now costs £11 5s. a ton. Bitumen is the only item the price of which has remained reasonably stable. In 1947, it cost 2s. Id. a gallon, compared with 2s. 8d. to-day.
Metal and screenings, which in 1947 cost 12s. lOd. a cubic yard, now cost £1 ls. 4d. In 1947, it cost 12s. an hour to hire a truck, whereas now the price is £1 10s. Bulldozer hire cost £4 10s. an hour in 1947, compared with £12 10s. an. hour at present. Salamander cost 4s. 9d. a cubic yard in 1947, compared with 16s. to-day.
I shall now give the House some figures which are even more illuminating, and which can be substantiated because they are taken from tenders for road construction in the City of Footscray. In 1947, the price tendered was £1 6s. a lineal foot, and in 1956 the tendered price was £13 a lineal foot. This Government claims that it is granting more money to the States for road purposes than was granted in previous years, but the figures that I have cited demonstrate that the actual assistance granted to the States for this purpose has not been increased at all. When one hears statements in this House to the effect that £9,000,000 can be obtained more or less from thin air, one becomes resentful of the fact that the Government will not provide more funds for such nationally important works as road construction and maintenance.
Lack of money prevents work of a permanent nature being done, and patching is resorted to as a temporary measure. This is, of course, a waste of time, money and material, and it is estimated that, not allowing for reconstruction, and taking into consideration only the present road system, it would take at least 30 years to seal all our roadways. Needless to say, permanently constructed roads are a great investment for shire and municipal councils, and for State and Commonwealth governments. Victoria will receive an extra £650,000 from this grant, and that, on present-day costs, would build about 10 miles of roadway. I may say, in passing, that I could use that amount in my own electorate.
I shall now give the House some information about the petrol tax. On the 12th April, 1902, customs duty on petrol was imposed at the rate of $d. a gallon. It was subsequently increased by one farthing a gallon, and it became Id. a gallon on the 3rd December, 1914. It remained at this rate until 1926. when the tax was raised to 3d. a gallon, the additional amount collected being devoted to road works under the Federal Aid Roads Agreement of 1926. Since that date, the tax has progressively increased, reaching lid. a gallon during World War II. It was afterwards reduced to 10d. a gallon. The recent increase of 3d. a gallon now brings the customs duty to ls. Id. a gallon, and excise to 11 1/2d. a gallon. As a large amount of petrol is now refined locally, the average collection by the Commonwealth is about ls. a gallon. From the collections which, during the next financial year, are estimated to reach £48,000,000, the Commonwealth will use £800,000 for strategic roads, and £150,000 for road safety measures. It will distribute to the States £31,050,000, and retain in Commonwealth revenue £16,000,000, representing 33 per cent, of the amount collected.
The Commonwealth collects an average of ls. on each gallon of petrol that is sold. Of that, the Commonwealth retains 4d. : it uses, for strategic roads and road safety practices, .2375d., and it distributes to the States 7.7625d. Tinder the announced variation to be made in the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1954, the Commonwealth will pay, from the 1st April, 1956, 8d. a gallon instead of 7d. into the trust fund set up under that act. After deducting £800,000 for strategic roads, and £150,000 for road safety measures, the remainder in the trust fund is distributed. Five per cent, is given to Tasmania, and the balance goes to the mainland States according to an areapopulation formula, the basis being twofifths according to area and three-fifths according to population. A plan that has been prepared for the State of Victoria indicates that, during the next ten years, no less than £340,000,000 should be spent on roads in that State. At present, the Victorian Country Road Board is expending £12,000,000 ;a year. Taking an overall picture, municipalities are devoting £8,000,000 a year to roads, and the annual expenditure by government departments is £2,000,000, making the total expenditure on roads in Victoria £22,000,000 a year. When this is contrasted with the amount of £34,000,000 a year that is needed to implement Vic toria’s ten-year plan, the need for further adequate financial assistance is obvious. It is worthy of note that, due to the large concentration of the populace in the capital cities, the State road authorities are expending huge sums of money on the reconstruction of the sub-standard highways entering the cities to provide four-lane and six-lane roadways capable of coping with the traffic flow, especially at peak periods. Of course, the carrying out of this work leaves less money available to be spent on roads in rural districts.
In order to assess the need for one co-ordinated authority, let us consider the present day cost of earth-moving equipment, that is, the kind of equipment that is needed for quick and efficient road construction. For instance, the kind of bulldozer that is needed for this class of work costs about £20,000. What council or shire can afford to buy this kind of equipment, unless it can be gainfully employed for twelve months of the year? How many contractors who are prepared to do this work have the necessary plant? I shall cite a classical example in my own municipality. Two private street construction schemes were started about the same time. The contractor who had the necessary plant and experience to carry out this kind of work has done about ten times as much work as has the other contractor who lacked both equipment and experience. This brings me to a contention with which I think all honorable members will agree. It is, that in Australia to-day the greatest bugbear and money-waster is the lack of continuity of construction. A little bit of work is done here and there, but nothing is actually completed. To-day, the job of permanent highway construction is one for specialists using the resources and equipment available in a manner consistent with the economic demands of the country.
The Treasurer has said that the question of roads was a State matter and, therefore, outside the Commonwealth Constitution. When the Constitution was drawn up, its framers did not visualize the advent of the motor car and the problems that would be caused by its introduction. Time and progress have outmoded some sections of the Constitution, which could well be revised in order to provide for both present day and future requirements. This would result in advantage to the economic and national, development of Australia, lt is on these lines that we should be thinking instead of going back and delving into the past. This question has become more than a State matter, a.nd it has become move than merely a political issue. It is as important to Australia as any defence project on which we are engaged. Actually, modern main roads are essentially as much a part of defence as are guided missiles and atomic bombs. Our roads difficulties can be overcome only by the adoption of a long-range plan under which all roads authorities arc co-ordinated, so that waste can be eliminated and full value obtained for every £1 that is spent on the roads. I believe that now is the time to discuss thi3 matter and formulate a national plan in relation to our main roads. Support for my advocacy of a national or a coordinated road authority is contained in the following extract from an article which appeared in the April issue of Road News -
It is surely realistic and equitable to claim that if the Commonwealth is to be asked to devise and provide additional road finance, in sufficient suras to provide the nation with a modern road system, it must be given a voice in the planning of the expenditure, in partnership with the States, and in pursuance of a plan which envisages contemporary and future national requirements.
A national approach to the problem is inevitable and should be undertaken now, not only to give Australia the roads she so desperately needs, but to arrest the wasteful continuous expenditure of millions of pounds in patching and maintaining a road system which, though sufficient for the age in which it was laid down, is now thoroughly outmoded and uneconomic.
Good roads arc a national investment: they pay national dividends and have a legitimate call on the initio- ‘s resources for their development. If we were involved in a wai, Australia would probably be the base of operations, and our roads were not built to carry war-time traffic. It would he too late to find this cut when war broke out - it must be done now.
I agree entirely with the view expressed in that article. Having in mind the fact that, during the past ten years there has been a 100 per cent, increase of motor vehicles, as well as a terrific increase in the tare and the load capacity of hauliers’ vehicles, particularly those of the diesel-powered type, I feel impelled to suggest to the Government that it consider bringing down a tax on diesel fuel, in order that additional revenue can be obtained, especially from the operators of the heavy vehicles which cause so much damage, for expenditure on the roads. In the main, the loudest cry for modern highways comes from the operators of these vehicles. It is only reasonable, therefore, that since those vehicles damage our roads much more than do petroldriven vehicles, a federal tax should be imposed on distillate in order that more money might be made available to pro vide modern road facilities.
A statement on Australian roads, which was prepared for the meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council that was held in Hobart in February, contains the latest available information on the source of funds expended on roads in each State. The following table of figures in that statement is illuminating : -
In addition, in 1954-55, the Commonwealth expended £811,000 on roads in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, and £448,066 on strategic roads and roads of access to Commonwealth properties. From these figures, it will be seen that the percentage of road expenditure in the various States derived from the proceeds of the petrol tax, was as follows: - New South Wales, 23.1 per cent.; Victoria, 17.9 per cent; Queensland, 24.3 per cent. ; South Australia, 29.6 per cent.; Western Australia. 65.5 per cent.; and Tasmania, 30.6 per cent.
It is unquestioned that road maintenance is a vital problem which affect? all States. The population, the number of motor vehicles, and the amount of automotive fuel that is used in a State all indicate the use that is being made of its roads system. I am of the firm opinion that a national roads system is a necessity, and that it demands the immediate formation of a national road planning and construction authority with powers to co-ordinate the activities of all roadmaking authorities within the Commonwealth, and to produce a master plan for Australia. With that thought in mind, I advocate a conference of all State road-making authorities.In the face of all the facts, I feel that it is imperative that more money should be provided and that, therefore, the extra £12,000,000 that will be derived from the petrol tax should be devoted entirely to road construction.
I do not agree with the reference by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) to the sale of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited to private enterprise, because it has no bearing on the matter now before us. However, I digress for a moment to say that when the Australian Government controlled Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, it had a measuring stick that it could apply to the oil industry. The oil refineries that are being established in Australia to-day are separate from any activity that has resulted from the sale by this Government of its shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Shipping costs and the probability of the search in Australia leading to an oil strike made it imperative for the oil companies to build refineries in this country, and to bring crude oil from overseas to meet Australia’s needs. In conclusion, I say that it would be far better if all of us were to realize the magnitude of this national problem and to tackle it accordingly. Good roads do not cost; they pay.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to8 p.m.
.- Although I disagree with one or two points brought forward by the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. McIvor), there were a number of points in his speech with which I am in complete agreement. One of them is that nothing isto be gained by going back over the past. I have listened attentively to this debate all day and I have heard all about what happened in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, but I am sure that that is not the question we should be asking ourselves. Nor should we be asking ourselves which side in politics has been responsible for making the largest grants available to the States. We should approach the matter from a different angle and ask ourselves the question: Is our programme adequate to-day? I put that question to honorable members, just as I put it to myself.
I represent a large country electorate - not as large as some electorates but larger than others - and I use the roads in it to a considerable extent. I have found that on the whole, during the last five years, there has been a considerable improvement in the standard of the less important rural roads. For example, in the shire of Holbrook we now have 59 miles of tarred road. Admittedly, Holbrook is one of the most progressive shires inNew South Wales. That is not only my own judgment; the shire was recently awarded the Bluett memorial prize. Even so, there is no doubt in my mind that there has been a considerable improvement in the roads in country shires during the last few years. However, when we come to the main highways, I have no hesitation in saying that they are no better to-day than they were five or even ten years ago ; if anything, they are worse.
– Too many potholes.
– If the honorable member desires, I will give the honorable member a jolt by jolt description of the Hume Highway. In many places, it is in a most shocking condition and is exceedingly dangerous. The surface is very poor, and it is difficult to travel a mile without coming upon large holes in the middle of the road. I have seen some which measured 12 feet across and a foot deep at their deepest spot. Only three miles from where I live on this highway is a place where accidents constantly occur. On one occasion three people were killed ; and many cars have turned over because of the poor state of the highway. Cars and trucks using the highway swerve to avoid holes, do not see cars coming behind them, and the result is trouble. The standard of this highway, which should be the No. .1 highway in Australia is very poor indeed. I say that it should be our No. 1 highway because it connects the two greatest cities in Australia, Melbourne and Sydney. It carries a considerable volume of traffic every day. Something like 300 trucks pass any given point in one day on the Hume Highway, and each would carry loads of from 10 to 25 ton3.
– And paying very little tax.
– I agree with that, and I shall deal with that matter later. This great highway - or this highway which should be great - should compare with some of the high standard roads overseas ; but it does not. Any body who has been overseas, even 25 years ago, will be familiar with the magnificent roads in Europe - the autobahn in Germany, the auto-strada in Italy and the route nationale in France. Great Britain, too, has roads of a standard far higher than that of any in this country. Obviously, with our small population and long distances, we cannot expect to have six-lane highways such as exist in the United States of America; but for heaven’s sake let us put down one good main highway between our two main capitals that will bc capable of carrying any load .that is likely to be carried over it in the foreseeable future.
As I have said, this highway should be our No. 1 highway. In fact, it is designated No. 31. This number is indicative of the general attitude of the two organizations responsible for caring for it - the Country Roads Board in Victoria and the Main Roads Board in New South Wales. At certain places in Victoria, one can see signposts pointing, not to Sydney or Albury, but to Wodonga. That is indicative of the general attitude of the authorities towards this great main highway. It should be, as I have said, a road in which we could take great pride; but it is not. I have told the House of the abominable state of its surface. Some five years ago a yellow line was painted, on the New South Wales side, down the middle of the road. That has been a great help and has, I am sure, been responsible for reducing the rate of accidents. To-day, however, the yellow line is, like my colleague the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner), rather invisible. I see the honorable member is present; I am sorry - he is only invisible to the Speaker at question time. In addition, ibis highway has a large number of narrowbridges on which two cars cannot pass, and it also has a large number of open railway crossings. From Melbourne to Wodonga, I think there are thirteen open railway crossings. Surely, the time has come when we-could do something to improve this great road and make it fully capable of carrying the traffic that uses it.
About a fortnight ago, I was returning from Melbourne to Albury and telephoned the police at Wangaratta to ascertain whether it was possible to get through because there had been a small downpour in the Alps. The police said they were sorry, but the road was closed. As I particularly wanted to got home, I continued on my way and met a man with a Ferguson tractor hauling cars across the flooded road for a charge of £1. I paid my £1, but by the time I got through I realized I would have been able to drive through anyway. Surely, the time has come when we should be able to build a main highway so that traffic could get through irrespective of a small downpour of rain in the highlands. It is a shocking state of affairs. One sees notices along the road which are” masterpieces of understatement. Examples read, “ Uneven surface “, “ Slippery when wet “. Such phrases are mild compared with those in which car drivers describe the road. It presents a sorry spectacle.
What can we do about it? Obviously, the time has come when we must improve the surface considerably. As I have said, it is carrying enormous loads, some trucks weighing up to 25 tons. I recall seeing travelling on it. an army truck carrying a tank, the combined weight of the carrier and tank being 50 tons. We should have a road capable of carrying that load. Newer ears are being produced which can travel at very high speeds. A friend of mine purchased a ear and looked up the instruction book to see the speed at which he could travel when he was running it in. The instruction book said, “ Please do not exceed 90 miles an hour for the first 100 miles “. “We have to construct highways like the autobahn on which fast motoring will be safe.
I agree with the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor), who said that we must have some sort of national, overall plan for highways. I think that far more is being spent on the repair and maintenance of roads in New South Wales than is being spent on the construction of new roads, and that is just plain silly. On the Hume Highway we see a truck going along with a little gravel on the back. The truck comes to a’ hole in the road, the driver pulls up, and the occupants jump out and shovel a little gravel in it. Some one spreads a little tar from a watering can over it and they get back into the truck and drive off. In two or three days, the hole is there a’gain. The sum of £2,700,000 is being spent annually in New South Wales on the repair and maintenance of roads, whilst only £2,000,000 is being spent on new roads. Surely, in planning for the future construction of roads, we should decide to put down roads that will be there in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time.
I know the New South Wales roads. Between Goulburn and Marulan a 1 0-mile strip of concrete was put down in 1930 and it is still there to-day. As far as I know, it has had practically no maintenance and it is in the same condition as when it was put down in 1930. It still has a far better surface than other sections of the road. The honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman), who has probably had closer association with the Hume Highway than any one else told me that in 1930, when he hit this stretch of concrete he was told that his speed increased by 2 miles an hour. A road of that sort is far better from the standpoint of the car owner. It does not result in as much maintenance trouble as a rough road and, from every point of view, we should have roads of that kind in this country. As the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has said, it is necessary, where a reasonably steep gradient occurs on the Hume Highway, to widen the road by a third lane. Heavy trucks that cannot do more than 5 mile3 an hour uphill block the traffic behind them, and drivers become impatient and try to pass and, very often, that causes an accident. It has been suggested that the States could do the job if they are given the necessary finance. It is because I feel that a good job has been done on the smaller inland rural roads in this country, and that a good job has not been done on the main arterial highways that 1 support the amendment that has been foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mackellar.
One trouble is that when legislation relating to this matter was first introduced, it was called the Main Roads Development Act; then it was altered to the Federal Aid Roads Agreement, and later to the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act; and during the last few years we have increased the allocation for rural roads. In 1950, the Government stipulated that 35 per cent, of the money granted under this legislation must be spent on rural roads, and in 1955 it increased that proportion to 40 per cent. The result is that in New South Wales - I do not know whether it is so in other States - there are small roads which caj-ry little traffic. There is money to seal such a road and make it a first-class road, but when it gets to the main highway it meets an inferior road because there is no money for the sealing of the highway. This is a farcical position. That is the reason why I support the amendment of the honorable member for Mackellar and it is why I do not support the amendment foreshadowed by the Opposition.
Unfortunately, some weeks ago at a time when we were not sitting on a Friday, I made an engagement which I have to keep in my electorate, and, consequently, I will not be able to be present in the House to-morrow. If I were here, I should certainly vote for the amendment which has been foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mackellar. But honorable members will realize that, owing to my absence, I shall not be able to do that.
There is no doubt that, because of lack of finance, we are not producing first-class main arterial highways in this country.
We could get the necessary finance in a number of ways. The first is by allocating a greater percentage of the receipts from petrol tax to road maintenance or by making a greater allocation of Consolidated Revenue. Secondly, there is the possibility of collecting a tax on dieselene. More and more, the main transport companies that are running heavy trucks from one capital to another are using dieselene, distillate or whatever it may be called by different companies. At present, there is no tax on distillate. This is a most difficult problem because only a small percentage of the distillate used in this country is used in road transport. The bulk of it is used by farmers and a certain amount is used in industry. A suggestion has been put forward which I know is being considered by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) that it might be possible to colour distillate so that only the coloured distillate could be used for long-distance road transport and an extra tax could be put on it. When I was in England during the war, service petrol was coloured so that it could not be used by civilians. Although distillate does not lend itself to this treatment quite as readily as petrol because it has a natural colour itself, I am sure that something of this nature could be done in order to ensure that the people who use the roads shall pay for them.
I think that there is a very good case for some alteration to be made in registration fees. I understand that the registration fees are considerably lower in one State than the other States. I had better not say to which State I am referring because all the transport drivers might go there. I believe that a number of them go to that State and register their trucks although they reside in another State. I think that the people who use the roads should pay for them. That brings me to a point which I think is well worthy of consideration. That is the system which is used to a great extent and to a growing extent in the United States of America. I refer to the use of the so-called toll road. T am sure that the ordinary person, particularly the person who runs a transport business, would sooner pay a toll and have decent roads than, not pay a toll and use the type of road which we call, by a misnomer, the Hume Highway. I understand that there are about 5,500 miles of toll roads in the United States, and I believe that it is a system that we could very well consider implementing in Australia.
Before I conclude, I want to speak very shortly on the amendment wh’ich was foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mallee. At the outset, I say that I come here primarily as an Australian and not as a State’s man at all. I do not even know what I should call myself. Although I live in New South Wales, I am very much closer to Melbourne than I am to Sydney; in fact, I am far closer to Melbourne than is the honorable member for Mallee.
– It is only half the distance.
– If the honorable member lives at Mildura–
– I do not live at Mildura.
– Then perhaps the honorable member is closer to Melbourne. My attitude is that we are here as Australians and that our primary duty as Australians is to develop Australia, lt is no good telling us we are to build roads in the Northern’Territory with the receipts from the tax paid on petrol user in the Northern Territory. To use the argument of the honorable member for Mallee, ad absurdum, I ask him whether he feels that all the money raised by way of tax in Melbourne should be spent only in Melbourne.
– They cannot spend the money in Western Australia. That is the argument.
– It is all committed, but we do not spend everything by the 30th June. It is budgeted for; and the present system was started at the end of 1923 and has stood the test of time. I suggest that a great number of honorable members are in favour of retaining it.
.- I join with all honorable members on this side of the House, and with a silent and unknown number of honorable members on the Government side, in regretting the absence from to-morrow’s debate and crucial divisions of the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn). He is one of the back-bench supporters of the Government who from time to time- can no longer contain themselves at their Government’s dilatoriness and ineptitude. Even if he could not find it in himself to support the amendment foreshadowed by the Opposition, and we will not be surprised if that amendment were defeated, he should have joined us in supporting the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). And we hope that to-morrow there will not be too many supporters of the Government whose prior engagements will prevent them from carrying out their duty to the nation. If they feel as strongly as the honorable member for Farrer, who has so eloquently described, and the honorable member for Mackellar, who has so lucidly explained, this national problem, their constituents would forgive them if they were on this occasion to forgo the smoko or the fete to which they have already committed themselves. We take the national view which those two honorable members have themselves propounded, and we on this important occasion will be present to support the viewpoint which one of them is not prepared to put to the ultimate test”.
This bill is to implement part of the supplementary budget introduced by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), which has since had to be carried by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). The measure provides that one-third of the increased impost on the road-users in petrol tax - which was the smallest of imposts put on motorists in the supplementary budget - will be allocated to roads. Naturally, road-users are up in arms because of the fact that thereby the proportion of the petrol tax which will be spent on roads will be decreased. Hitherto, 7d. out of the lOd. a gallon petrol tax has gone to the States for roads. From now on 8d. out of a ls. Id. a gallon tax will be spent on roads. Therefore, the contribution from the petrol tax which will be spent on roads will automatically be decreased from the 1st April last from 70 per cent, to 60 per cent.
Mr. Cramer interjecting,
– I see the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) shaking his head. I am surprised that the only sound I heard when he did so was his voice. This morning, with all the archaism that one would expect from the owner of a blunderbuss rather than even a Lee-Enfield, he was heard to decry any suggestion that roads had any national or defence significance.
– I did not say that.
– That seemed to be what the Minister was saying.
– The honorable member should keep to the truth.
– If the Minister for the Army did not mention that matter was it not rather an extraordinary omission? But, after all, there are quite a number of honorable members who vouch for the fact that he did mention it. The principal act deals with strategic roads, and I assume that they must have some defence significance. I think that the Minister for the Army said that if the whole of the petrol tax was devoted to roads, some additional taxes would have to be levied in other directions, and the people would not stand for that. The amendment which we are supporting, and which the honorable member for Mackellar is proposing and which the honorable member for Farrer is at least acknowledging, would provide for an extra £8,000,000 in a full year in additionto the £2,000,000 in the current financial year being spent on roads.
It ill beseems the Minister for the Army to suggest that £8,000,000 may not be useful in our defence spending. Yesterday, we heard his boss, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), the over-riding man in these matters of national importance, suggesting . that £9,000,000 could easily be tucked away in a budget for defence purposes. Even if the defence departments were not asking for £9,000,000 and could not budget for it, he justified the amount being thrust upon them. We are asking that for the residue of this financial year for which £9,000,000 was tucked away for defence purposes, another £2,000,000 should be tucked away for the purpose of building strategic roads and other roads mentioned in the act. I hope that the Minister for the Army will behave himself, because there are many other points to which one has to devote some time in this national matter, and I do not want to be diverted by the trivia which he interjects and which, in fact, he can expand into a whole half-hour effusion.
Much of this debate has turned on the fact that on previous occasions the members of the Opposition, as it now is, and of the Government, as it now is, have said that the petrol tax should not be wholly devoted to the roads. The classic exposition of the argument in the past has been that it is no more logical to spend the whole, proceeds of the excise duty on petrol on improving roads, than it would be to expend all the customs duties on whisky and the excise on beer on improving hotels. T believe that that crystalizes the casuistry which has flowed in the past from honorable members on both sides of the House. However, they can be excused, because a new problem has arisen in the financing of Australian roads.
Since the principal act was amended or rather the old acts were consolidated in 1954, there have been two court decisions from the highest authority which have transformed Australia’s thinking on the financing of roads. The petrol tax was first introduced in connexion with financing roads in 1926, and as the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) so amply proved by quoting Viscount Bruce, as he now is, the object at that time was that the whole of the tax should be spent on roads. I pay tribute to the honorable member’s consistent advocacy of national development and of Commonwealth cooperation with local councils on this vital element of national development.
– Why did not the Opposition do what the honorable member advocates when it held office in this country?
– In November, 1954, the Privy Council decided that all these road taxes, upon which the States had for 25 years so greatly depended to build roads and to make road users - particularly interstate road users - pay their fair share towards maintaining the inter-capital city roads, about which the honorable member for Farrer was talking, could no longer be levied by the State governments. Although we had recently codified the law in the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1954, the Government has done nothing since that decision was given.
The four States concerned all passed laws to impose a charge per ton and per mile on all people using their roads for interstate or intra-state purposes. I say “ the four States . concerned “, because Western Australia is not really concerned with section 92 of the Constitution, because it is isolated by the desert from the eastern States and Tasmania is not concerned because it is insulated by Bass Strait. The other four States, whatever political colour their governments might have been, unanimously passed laws of the same character imposing these charges. New South Wales and Queensland, with Labour governments, and Victoria and South Australia with Liberal governments, passed these acts on the advice of their legal advisers and without any opposition from their Opposition parties. Yet on the 9th June last year the High Court ruled that these laws also were invalid. The position, therefore, has been that for eighteen months the people who use our roads most, in the sense of the distance that they travel and the weight of the loads that they carry on interstate trips, have made absolutely no contribution to the cost of construction, maintenance and improvement of those roads. They are completely exempt from making such a contribution because of the interpretation which has been placed by the Privy Council and the High Court on section 92 of the Constitution, which ensures absolute freedom of interstate trade, commerce and intercourse. The State boundaries have become what I might describe as a “ Barwick-Dixon “ line,, beyond which no government writ may run, and over which every exploiter can leap with impunity.
We have, however, to accept the position as it stands. But Australia is not impotent, governmentally, to deal with this problem. After all, we still have control of excise. The Commonwealth has a monopoly in respect of excise duty under section 90 of the Constitution, which is the section under which we impose the petrol tax; and the petrol tax has advantages over every other form of taxation for road purposes. I shall deal with some of those advantages. First, it is predictable in amount; secondly, it is easy to collect; and thirdly, it is fair in its incidence. I am aware that the States do, in fact, levy a considerable amount- totalling about £30,000,000 a year - in taxes in the form of registration fees and licence fees charged to persons who use motor vehicles. The levying of those fees is, apparently, quite constitutional so long as it is not related to any direct charges for using the roads. That is, if a government licences a driver, or registers his vehicle, and levies fees for doing so, its action is constitutional; but if it charges him directly for using the roads, which are open to everybody, then its action is ultra vires the Constitution as regards anybody who is engaged exclusively on an interstate trip by road.
As I say, the petrol tax is predictable in amount,* and it therefore has the advantage that the States can budget from year to year as to how much they will spend on their roads. We know that one of the greatest difficulties in governmental finance in the last few years has been that no governmental authority can state, more than twelve months ahead, and, in the case of Commonwealth departments, more than nine months ahead, how much they will have to spend in any financial year on any activity. Let me recapitulate the position in which the States have found themselves as a result, not so much of the decisions of the Australian Loan Council, but of the extent to which the Commonwealth Treasurer, who is the agent of the Loan Council has implemented the council’s decisions. I shall not go over the sore spot of how the money should be raised, or what interest should be charged, or what conditions should be imposed. The plain fact is that, in 1951-52, the six State governments received for all their activities, including the road works, an amount of £225,000,000. In the succeeding year they received £196,000,000 and in the year after that £200,000,000. Last year the total was £180,000,000 and this year it will be £190,000,000. You will appreciate, therefore, sir, that it is impossible for the State governments, which are responsible for the main roads, the primary roads, to budget ahead. It is not until June that they learn how much the Loan Council will authorize the Commonwealth Treasurer to raise for them during the financial year which runs from July to the following J une. Usually at that time the Treasurer says how much he proposes to make available to the States. He often provides a safeguard by saying that in December or January next he will see how things are going in relation to the revenue position; and, on occasions, he does as he did in the last financial year, when he reviewed the position and reduced the amount to be made available by £20,000,000, in the middle of the financial year. One can see, therefore, from experience, how impossible it has been for the State governments to budget ahead for any of their activities. Local government, which has responsibility for the secondary roads, which are very largely the roads on which primary producers depend, is in a still worse position, because although the Loan Council decides in June every year how much local government authorities will be permitted to raise, there is no obligation imposed by the Financial Agreement on the Federal Treasurer to raise any of that money. Those authorities are allowed to fend for themselves and they never know until the last day of the financial year how much will be available to them. There are many local governing bodies which have been able to raise no more than half of the amount that they were permitted to raise. The consequence, of course, in regard to roads, is that the authorities in charge of them never know how much plant or how many men they will be able to employ for the whole of a current financial year, still less for the following financial year.
The first advantage, therefore, of further reliance on the petrol tax to finance those works would be that we can predict very closely how much petrol, or dieselene or distillate will be u?ed in any financial year or, for that matter, in any particular season, and accordingly we could impose a tax at such a level as to raise the amount required. There is no field in which planning is more necessary over a period of years than in transport. Transport is something we should, and could, plan for over a period of five years - or, if any one does not like the sound of “ five-year plan “, then every ten years. It could he done by relying more on petrol tax.
The second advantage is that the petrol tax is easy to collect. All sorts of dodges have been suggested for making persons who use the roads pay their fair share. It is pointed out that the High Court or the Privy Council can prevent any government from raising taxation in contravention of the Constitution; but there is no power in the High Court or the Privy Council to compel a government to spend money in any particular way. Therefore, State governments or local government bodies, the latter of which are not even contemplated by the Constitution, are perfectly free to spend, in any way they choose, the money that they have for roads. They need not spend it on roads unless the money is .provided under the legislation we are now discussing. It has been suggested, somewhat cynically, that in order to make interstate road hauliers face up to their obligations, the State governments should leave patches of roads in poor condition, leave bridges and culverts in an inadequate condition to bear heavy loads, and then prohibit the use of those roads a.nd bridges. That would be an effective but, I should think, a too cynical method of bringing home to those people their obligations towards other road users in general - that is, to the community in general, which depends to an increasing degree on transport of goods and individuals by road.
The advantage of the petrol tax is that there is no need to resort to any of those dodges. There is no need to establish toll houses which, in the case of the Sydney Harbour Bridge or other bridges established under special acts, the High Court holds are constitutionally valid. After all, the toll is a wasteful form of collecting taxes, because it is necessary to employ people to collect the toll, and they are on duty, and paid whether traffic is heavy or light, carrying out the futile task of collecting money and issuing tickets. Petrol tax is easy to collect because it is collected at the source. There is no evasion of it. Everybody pays it promptly and initially.
The third advantage is that petrol tax is fair in its incidence. The man who uses his car only for pleasure at the week-end, pays only a small amount. The man who uses his car in his business constantly, and who uses the roads much more than others, will pay correspondingly. The heavy transport operator who uses the highways and who, if engaged in interstate transport, makes no contribution to them, will pay the biggest contribution of all. He will pay according to the tare of his vehicle, and the wear and tear on the roads. It is thus perfectly fair in its incidence.
One cannot overlook the importance to the national economy of this transport problem, because transport accounts for a third of Australia’s national income ; that is, 6s. Sd. of every fi we make in Australia goes on transport. Therefore, the improvement of transport conditions is the most fruitful field for reducing our costs - to use one slogan - and for improving our standard of living - to use another.
It is not that the Government is without guidance in this matter because the Australian Transport Advisory Council, which comprises, I believe, the Minister for Transport from each of the States and an equal number of Commonwealth Ministers, has considered this question and called for reports on it again and again. Last July, the meeting of the council in Brisbane had before it a voluminous report on the cost of transport operations in Australia. I propose to refer again briefly to the passage in the report from which the honorable member, for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) - the last effective Minister for Transport in this country - quoted this afternoon. It is of little use, surely, to refer to the increase in the number of pounds that will be spent on the roads from all sources. The proper test is the value of money we are spending on our roads. On page 55 of this voluminous report, which runs to 108 pages of single-spaced typing and contains many tables, we find the relevant information. It is very difficult to find a copy of this report in Canberra, and I am informed that not one ministerial staff, save that of the Minister for Shipping and Transport, has a copy. At page 55, however, we find that, by applying a deflation factor, which allows for the decrease in the value of money since the beginning of “World “War II., from 1938-39 - the last complete pre-war year and, therefore, the year that can be taken as 100 per cent. - there was not an equal value of money spent on roads until 1953-54. In that year, expenditure topped the 100 per cent., and reached 103 per cent. Until 1953-54, we were spending no more money’s worth on roads than we were in the last year before the war, although we were laying out more of our resources.
This index relates simply to the value of money. It makes no allowance for the increase of population of more than 2,000,000, the increase in the number of vehicles, which has doubled since 194G, and the increase in the weight and. horsepower of vehicles, which has trebled since 1946. If we examine the contribution from all sources on roads since before “World War II we find an actual decrease.
That position was known to the Government and to the Australian Transport Advisory Council before the last amendment was passed in the budget session of last year. Nothing was done. I suppose one becomes blase about these matters. I spoke on that subject, quoting passages from the report, on the 20th October last. Now we have before us a further amendment to the act. In the meantime, a further report was made at the request of the conference in Brisbane in August, and it was presented to the conference of the Australian Transport Advisory Council in Hobart in February. The further report sets out the estimates by the roads authorities in Australia - Commonwealth, State and municipal - for primary roads and secondary roads for the next ten years. I point out first that, in regard to primary roads, the figures I am about to give refer to the cost of capital works and not to maintenance. They refer, further, to the amount of expenditure on capital works which will be required to provide properly for the anticipated traffic in accordance with accepted road standards; that is, so far as we can tell from what the Toads and traffic should be. The report points out that the authorities in Australia have made adequate plans and that the coordination of road plans in Australia is complete. The resources of men and materials are lacking, and they can be permanently engaged only when resources of money are available.
The report sets out the estimated volume of the traffic, and the amount that the bodies concerned need to spend in ten years. So far as primary roads are concerned, it is pointed out that the amount expected to be spent on capital works in the next ten years under foreseeable conditions totals £557,598,000. It also points out that the funds which, it is ‘ expected, will be available for capital works from State taxation, from Commonwealth aid road grants and from loan funds will.be £256,586,000, leaving a deficiency of £301,002,000; that is, a deficiency of £30,000,000 a year for the next ten years, if we are to get our roads up to scratch as regards conditions and traffic. What contribution have we made to that programme in this bill? The bill provides for the additional annual expenditure of £4,000,000. Therefore, the annual deficiency now will be under £30,000,000 ; we shall have a deficiency of only £26,000,000.
If the other amendment that has been foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), the honor-, able member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) and, somewhat tentatively, by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) on behalf of the Australian Country party, which seems to be withering on the vine, is agreed to, most of the deficiency will be found from the petrol tax alone, because if the entire proceeds of the petrol tax were allocated for expenditure on the roads, an additional annual amount of £24,000,000 - almost twice the present amount - would be available. If the foreshadowed amendment is agreed to, we shall get 80 per cent, of the amount which the Australian Transport Advisory Council said would be required for primary roads. I do not want to frighten anybody but, for secondary roads, the best estimate for 10 years for maintenance and capital works was a. mere £442,027,000. Faced with that position.
I ask : What is the Government proposing to do?
– So far as I can see, that is true. After receiving the report that I have mentioned, the Australian Transport Advisory Council carried this resolution -
That the Commonwealth consider an additional tax upon petrol and diesel fuel used by road transport, such tax to be wholly divided between the States, solely for the new construction of new roads, the division of the collections to be subject to the approval of the States. .
I point out that the council comprised six Commonwealth Ministers and the Minister for Transport from each State. It carried the resolution last February yet, in the next amendment to the relevant act, the Government has done nothing about it whatever. I have referred frequently to the dilatoriness of this Government. When we speak of fiddling, Nero was a novice compared with the first violins in the Menzies Philharmonic.
.- The debate on this measure has at least lost some of the fiery inter state jealousy that coloured it before the suspension of the sitting for dinner. It was not very refreshing to hear honorable members making extravagant claims on behalf of their respective States and implying, for instance, that the pulse of Australia beats along the Hume Highway or somewhere out in the Mallee. When we talk about the allocation of aid roads funds, and expenditure made out of those funds in the various States, we must recognize that the States that are handicapped in many ways need incentives in other ways to make up for their original handicaps. When I found the circulated lists of the foreshadowed amendments on my desk this morning, I was very much afraid of the outcome, until I heard the remarks of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). He advanced against his own case the strongest arguments that any man could possibly have produced. We have heard bandied about between these four walls allegations that the Western Australian Government has been guilty of some dilatoriness in the expenditure of money allocated to Western Australia from the Commonwealth aid roads grant.
I know that, on the 29th February last, a question was asked in this House about the amounts remaining unspent out of the grants made to Western Australia in the last three financial years. The honorable member for Mallee cited the question and the answer to it. In the consideration of that matter, we must realize one thing: Although the amount stated in the answer as remaining unspent is far too high, it is not a true indication of the amount actually not spent.
– It was the figure mentioned by the Treasurer in his answer.
– I do not contradict the statement made by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), but, since I am a Western Australian, I claim to know a little more about what happens in Western Australia than does the honorable member for Mallee, and, if he will bear with me for a few minutes, I shall explain it.
– I know more about what happens in Victoria than the honorable member does. He need not try to tell me what happens in Victoria.
– I am not trying to do so. I am merely trying to tell the honorable member how we must regard the amount of £1,163,000 which is alleged to remain unspent. The system of making payments out of aid roads funds in Western Australia may be totally different from the system in every other State. In Western Australia, the localgoverning authority that seeks aid roads funds for road works must first satisfy the central authority - the Department of Public Works - that the work will be done, satisfactorily. Then, when the work is’ completed, it must be inspected and passed for payment. As a consequence, a lot of completed work is not immediately paid for, and the local authority does not immediately receive payment out of the grant. This means that, at the end of the financial year, the figure shown for the unexpended portion of the aid roads grant is, in reality, slightly false. If the figure were adjusted to allow for payment for all the commitments for the year, the amount unexpended would not be as high as it now appears to be.
Another factor, also, must be taken into consideration. I understand that a certain sum has been set aside out of the amount mentioned by the Treasurer for the construction of a bridge over the Narrows, in Perth. I think the setting aside of that amount is justified under the terms of the principal act, although I personally feel, having lived in the country districts of Western Australia, that I would much rather see city people inconvenienced by traffic delays in order to give country people better surfaces on their roads so that they may enjoy some of the amenities at present enjoyed by city residents. Australia, as a whole, parasitically depends upon primary producers and the producers of goods for export. Australians, irrespective of whether they live in the cities, the towns, or the villages, depend for their livelihood and their future welfare upon those who produce from the soil or who produce goods or commodities that can be exported in order to build up Australia’s trade balance. For this reason, emphasis should be placed on the development of country roads. Such a policy has been faithfully followed in Western Australia. As honorable members are aware, the population distribution in that State is no different from that in the other States. Approximately 53 per cent, of the population is concentrated in the Perth metropolitan area. If the argument of the honorable member for Mallee were correct, the petrol tax, which is paid mainly by the majority of the people who live in the metropolitan areas, should be used only for the construction and maintenance of roads in the metropolitan areas. That is what his argument means if it is taken to its logical conclusion. A-0 cannot pick on any part of Australia anG say that, because the people who live there pay more petrol tax than the residents of another area pay, it should receive preferential treatment in the distribution of the grants made out of the proceeds of the tax. If that were done, the district that the honorable member for Mallee represents would receive nothing from the proceeds of the petrol tax. One must look at the picture not for one State but for the whole of Australia. I think the honorable member is totally unaware of the true position.
The statement on Australian roads which was recently issued by the Australian Transport Advisory Council gives some interesting information about the roads that have to be cared for. The total mileage figures are amazing. I shall not itemize the various mileages of paved, sealed, unsealed and other roads, but in Victoria, there is a total of 104,000 miles of roads and in Western Australia, the total of 83,000 miles.
– The honorable member need not be parochial. He should talk about Australia as a whole.
– Strangely enough, I thought I was talking to a fairly intelligent audience that would understand that I am talking from the national standpoint and not parochially. However, I am not responsible for the interpretation placed on my remarks by any individual. Western Australia, with its very large area, is served by only 83,000 miles of road, whereas the compact State of Victoria is served by 104,000 miles of road. Who would say that the person living on the fringes of civilization, as it were, is not entitled to treatment equal to that given to the person who lives in the centre of a city? I know it is impossible to provide sealed highways to every village and hamlet, but many of the people living in country areas are benefiting Australia and its future more than are the people who live in the closely settled areas, and, in addition, they are putting up with far greater hardships than are experienced by those persons who happen to travel only along the Hume Highway in motor cars that may be run in at a speed of 90 miles an hour.
To return to my parochial remarks about Western Australia, during the last four years, expenditure from the aid roads grant in the Perth metropolitan area has amounted to 10 per cent., 0 per cent., 8 per cent, and 15 per cent, of the grant in the respective years. The sudden increase to 15 per cent, is accounted for by the setting aside of portion of the money for the construction of the causeway that links the south side of Perth with the north side. It is not generally known in this House that the volume of traffic across that causeway at peak periods is almost equal in density to the volume of traffic over the Sydney Harbour bridge, and that the road over the causeway is, I think, a few feet wider than that over the Sydney Harbour bridge. There is dire need for a further outlet from the city and, accordingly, plans have been made for the construction of a bridge over the Narrows, at a cost of several million pounds. I think the idea of the planning authority is to set aside a certain amount each year to meet this commitment - of course, at the expense of roads in other parts of Western Australia. If we disregard the amount spent on the construction of these bridges, the percentage of the aid roads grant spent in the Perth metropolitan area in each of the last four financial years is 6 per cent., 7 per cent., 6 per cent, and 6 per cent., respectively, although 53 per cent, of the population of Western Australia lives in the metropolitan area. Western Australia is religiously observing the condition that no more than 40 per cent, of the aid roads grant shall be spent in the metropolitan area. Most of the Perth metropolitan area is under the control of the Perth City Council, which does not receive from the aid roads grant one penny for the maintenance and construction of roads within the area under its control. It meets such expenditure out of its revenue from rates paid by the local residents or from other sources. It is clear that Western Australia, which has been most severely maligned in this House to-day for its alleged failure to spend its share of the aid roads grant is, in fact, setting a very good example to the other States by the manner in which it spends the grant made to it. I feel that the majority of representatives from Victoria will not in any way accept the proposed amendment for a change in the distribution of this money to a percentage basis calculated upon area and population. It has to be remembered that the formula was drawn up originally by people who had vast experience in these matters. Each year since 1926, the year when it was drawn up originally, there has been a protest from Victoria about the treatment it was receiving. I venture the opinion that if Victorian members looked at the matter logically they would admit that they could apply their protests in respect of expenditure in
Melbourne when considering the total expenditure that has been incurred on roads in Victoria.
That being so, members of this House must not limit consideration of this problem to the boundaries of their electorates or States; we must consider it upon a national basis. After all, 1 do not think that any of the city users of motor spirit, concentrated as they are, would expect the whole of the money to be expended solely upon the roads which they themselves use. We took the wise course in Western Australia. Probably, the same thing has been done in other States ; but there we obtained the services of Professor Stephenson, one of the leading town-planners in England. He came out and gave us an overall plan for the whole of the metropolitan area. Some of the suggestions he made were so far-reaching that people with little vision immediately dismissed them because the implementation of the plan would have affected them in some small way. They could not see that the overall effect would have been the provision of something not for to-day but for the future. We must adopt a similar type of plan in respect of roads throughout Australia. As a pioneering nation, we have been content up till now to follow the bullock tracks of the early days. We have been content to accept as roads what were merely tracks, the direction of which was controlled by the size of the trees ahead, or by trees that did not meet with the axe that happened to be carried in the dray. We have just followed the steps taken in the past. Our future planning must be such that, irrespective of what is undertaken or the way in which the money is spent, we shall spend not for the needs of to-day or of to- morrow but in order to meet the needs of the future that lies before us.
The principal intention of the bill, of course, is to allocate Id. of the 3d. increase in the petrol tax. A short-sighted attitude seems to have been adopted by some who argue that this means that of the total increase of £12,000,000 the States will receive only £4,000,000. It should be borne in mind that the balance of £8,000,000, obviously, will not be just frittered away. It will find its way back to the States, perhaps through the Commonwealth Grants Commission,, or in some other manner, and will be expended on vital public works, thus ensuring employment to the many thousands of people in those and ancillary industries. I admit that it is possible to spend £100.000,000 on roads, but 1 cannot see the sense in having excellent highways throughout Australia if there is to be no one with a motor Cairo use them, or if there is to be no need to carry goods and commerce along them simply because a. depression has started and we have not the money to finance vital works in various States. In those circumstances, I hold the view that to. criticize the fact that the whole of the £12,000,000 is not to be expended on roads is foolish and short-sighted. Any one who considers the- matter logically must admit that what is proposed is in the best interests of everybody in the community.
I have discussed this question with certain transport authorities in Western Australia. Their initial reaction was one of extreme anger at the fact that they had to pay an extra 3d. a gallon for motor spirit; but, upon realizing that in Western Australia they were enjoying some advantage from the “ payback “ for road grants, they accepted it in the spirit in which it was imposed. The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) made the point that special arrangements should be made for the commercial users of distillate. I suggest that some allowance should be made for people whose livelihood depends upon the transport of goods; and in my own State, where transport is the very life of the community, this is of vital importance. It is of far more importance than it would be in closer settled areas or places that have been completely built up. I cannot remember the exact figures cited by the honorable member for Mallee relating to the productive capacity of the various States, but I thought they were particularly applicable to our own case because a .State with a potential like that of Western Australia needs encouragement from the National Government and Parliament. For the honorable member’s infor mation, I point out that nearly every farm that is now being sold on the private market in Western Australia, is being bought by Victorian farmers, who realize that there are far greater possibilities in Western Australia than there are in Victoria.
In conclusion, I make another comparison between Victoria and Western Australia. According to the journal of the Australian Transport Advisory Council, the amount required in Victoria for expenditure on primary roads capital works over the next decade is £55,000,000. Among the things it provides for are the duplication of pavements between Melbourne, Geelong and Oakleigh to beyond Dandenong, and the widening of arterial roads, such as the Hume Highway and the Princes Highway east. I ask honorable members to draw their own conclusions from that. According to the same journal, the estimated amount required for Western Australia over the same period is £86,000,000, which is to be expended on capital works on main roads and important secondary roads, which is the responsibility of the State roads authority, as well as on developmental roads in the State. Honorable members will see that on the one hand there is terrific need for assistance in an expanding and undeveloped State, whilst on the other hand there is need for consolidation in a well-developed State. So, the argument resolves itself. In the west we have a place that is crying out for development, a place that has a latent capacity for development, but which can be developed only with the help of the National Government. Another point is that in the vast northern area of Western Australia we have undertaken a responsibility which rightly belongs to the Commonwealth. No State is in a position to develop that area in the way in which it is capable of being developed. There, we have an added responsibility which can be borne only by the help of the preferential treatment which has been given by this Government in the past and which, I feel certain, this Parliament will see is continued in the future.
.- It is refreshing and stimulating to find areas of true Australianism in this National
Parliament to-night contrasting vividly with the pockets of parochialism also entrenched in this Parliament. It is appalling that in this National Parliament we should find so many State righters. They have come to the forefront during the discussion of this question of roads to-day and to-night. I should like to condemn that attitude in a parliament of this nature.
– Where does the honorable member come from?
– I come from. Tasmania, but I am an Australian to-night. On a truly national matter such as this, we should have a national outlook, and I deplore the attitude of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). I congratulate the honorable member for Farrer, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) on their spendid contributions to the debate, which were in keeping with the splendid contributions from this side of the House. Those three honorable members did much to lift the debate to a national level, and we are grateful to them for that.
The amendments that have been suggested will have to be studied. The amendments that will be moved by the honorable member for Mackellar appeal to me considerably. I think there is merit in them, and honorable members on this side will give them serious consideration. The Opposition will move an amendment asking that the whole of the additional £12,000,000 obtained as a result of the increase of the petrol tax shall be devoted to roads. The amendments suggested by the honorable member for Mackellar are, in principle, similar to our suggested amendment, but he would like the whole of the £12,000,000 to be held for twelve months, as an antiinflationary measure, before being spent on roads. There is merit in that suggestion. The amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mallee is steeped in States rightism. It is an example of the. pockets of parochialism still entrenched in this Parliament. I am sure that that amendment will be rejected out of hand, even by many members of the Australian Country party, but the amendments suggested by the honorable member for Mackellar may get through.
Let us have a look at the situation that existed prior to the introduction of this measure. In the last financial year, £36,000,000 was raised by the petrol tax, of which £28,000,000 went back to roads. That was 77 per cent. of the total. As a result of the increase of the petrol tax £12,000,000 more will be collected annually. Of that £12,000,000. £8,000,000 will go to the Treasury and only £4,000,000 to roads. So, in future, £48,000,000 will be collected annually, of which only £32,000,000 will go to roads. The portion of the total collections devoted to roads purposes will drop from 77 per cent. to 66 per cent. of the total. Therefore, the effect of this measure will be actually to reduce by 11 per cent. of the total the money going back to roads each year. That cannot be denied. Why should we support such a measure?
– Roads will get £4,000,000 more.
– The Minister should work it out.
– What has the percentage got to do with it ? An additional £4,000,000 will be available for roads.
– There has been a new system of arithmetic since the Minister went to school. There is not much that I can add to what has already been said about the condition of our highways. Most of us have motor cars. Those who have not probably travel in other people’s cars, so they know the condition of the roads. The honorable member for Farrer spoke about the road from Melbourne to Sydney. On my trip overseas, I saw roads in America, Europe, England and Japan. We call the road from Sydney to Melbourne a highway, but in America it would be classed as a backtrack. It would not be classed there as a highway, or even as a secondary road. That shows how far one of our so-called main highways lags behind the world standard. It is a dreadful road, and most of us know how the traffic on it is held up by slow-moving, big transports.
This afternoon, the honorable member for Mackellar made an excellent suggestion. It was that we should widenout main roads, where they go uphill, adding one traffic lane on the left-hand side. That would permit the big transports to move right over to the left on hills, leaving the other two lanes free for normal traffic. That would do much to speed up traffic on the main highways, because we know that at the present time twenty or 30 cars can be lined up behind one of the slow-moving, big transports which are on the roads both day and night. Those delays make journeys very tiring affairs, but they need not be tiring.
– They are also a source of danger.
– I agree with the honorable member for Reid on that. Our main highways are narrow, primitive and out of date by world standards. So we can imagine how our rural roads would be judged by world standards. There is no doubt that before our roads problem can be solved, we shall have to adopt a national outlook to it. We cannot afford to retreat into States rightism. There must be a national programme for a national problem. The Tasmanian Minister for Lands and Works, . the Honorable Eric Reece, who is in charge of road building and public works in that State, recently made an amazing statement. He said -
I fear that unless some avenue of additional finance can be tapped, our objectives cannot be fulfilled.
He was referring to roads. The Tasmanian Government has exhausted every available avenue for obtaining -finance f ?r its roads. This Parliament will have to tackle the problem and try to ensure that, in future, State Ministers in charge of public works will not be forced to make statements of that kind. It is tragic that the Minister in charge of road building in Tasmania should be compelled, due to a lack of adequate finance, to make such a statement.
Roads are a national asset. Therefore, the roads problem should be tackled on a national level - not on a State by State, piecemeal, parochial States righter’s level. The provision of finance for the construction and maintenance of roads is a national responsibility. This Parliament must accept that responsibility before our roads can be brought up to world standards. Legislation introduced by a Labour Government in 1947 did much to assist the federal aid roads scheme, which has been in existence, I think, since 1902. Under that legislation, a certain percentage of the petrol tax revenue is allocated for expenditure on rural roads, other than main roads, by municipalities, shire councils and other local government authorities. The money is intended to be used in connexion with badly neglected roads, or roads which the municipalities could not otherwise maintain adequately. That was an excellent piece of legislation. I give this Government credit for having kept it in existence. The present legislation provides that 40 per cent, of the petrol tax allocations to the States shall be devoted to rural roads. That is a great boon to the users of back country roads, which play such a great part in maintaining primary production. The municipalities are very pleased with the grants that are made for that purpose. Our rural roads were built for buggies, gigs, jinkers and carts, 40 or 50 years ago. They were not built to carry great log haulers, big passenger buses and heavy modern trucks, but that is the way they are being used to-day. The roads are carrying a terrific weight which they were never intended to bear. There is a larger population now in our rural districts and more motor transport. Tasmania provides an illustration of the great pressure on outback rural roads, particularly down from the mountains and along the edge of the forest areas. Log hauliers bring in whole trees - sometimes three or four in one load - to the mills which are now located near the towns in order to be within reach of the electricity supply. Many of these roads are closed during the winter season for three months, and any cartage during that period is prevented. The local councils are responsible for this action and it is disastrous, as it would be in any part of the world. It holds up the production of timber, and consequently retards the great timber industry for that period of three months.
Road3 should be built that are capable of carrying heavy lorries all the year round, so that they need not be closed, and so that the supply of timber to the? mills would be regularly maintained. Roads are the economic arteries of the primary producer.
Before the federal election campaign in December last year, a five-year national roads plan was devised by the transport committee of the Labour party, submitted to and approved by the federal executive, and included in the policy speech of our leader. It was a constructive approach to this great problem, and dealt with it on a national level. Several ways of financing it were suggested. The first was to allocate to expenditure on roads the entire £46,000,000 which would be the proceeds of the petrol tax in the next financial year. The total cost of the plan was to be £50,000,000, which is the total of five equal annual allocations of £10,000,000. The £46,000,000 derived from the petrol tax would be given to the States for them to spend as they thought best. They could not be directed as to how they would spend it, but two ways of doing so immediately suggested themselves : one would be on road construction, and the other in the purchase of roadmaking equipment, which is in very short supply. My colleague, the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor), who made an excellent speech earlier this evening, pointed out that one piece of heavy road-making equipment, the Euclid bulldozer, costs £20,000. One tyro alone of that vehicle costs £1,000. That indicates that . modern, heavy earthmoving and road-making equipment is expensive, but nonetheless essential.
Three more ways are suggested for spending the £46,000,000 derived from petrol tax. The t honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) is most interested in this problem, and because he does not intend to speak on this bill, I am bringing his ideas before the House. They are excellent. He suggests that some of this money should be spent by the States to maintain the traffic police force which patrols the highways. A further portion should be used to cover court costs involved in dealing with offences against traffic laws. The third suggestion is that some of the money should be spent to meet the cost of hospital treatment of persons who are injured in road accidents, and who occupy hospital wards every, day. Honorable members may be staggered to know that in Australia, a young country with a population of /only 9,000,000, each year 2,000 die and 40,000 are injured as a result of road accidents. If that rate is multiplied by the ten years which have elapsed since 1945, the totals are 20,000 dead and 400,000 injured. A couple of years ago, in a speech in this House, I pointed out that between the years 1939 and 1951 more Australians were killed and injured on our roads than died in World War II. Hospital staff’s have to devote far too much of their time, night and day, attending to cases brought in as a result of road accidents.
A second proposal to finance this £50,000,000 five-year road plan is to allocate an amount from the defence vote. Road maintenance is a national undertaking. In peace time. Australia spends £190,000,000 annually on defence. That is nearly twice as much as the total amount of the budget in 1940. The Government is spending £23,000,000 on an ammunition factory at St. Mary’s, another £1,000,000 to enlarge the military camp at Puckapunyal, in Victoria, and £2,500.000 a year to keep 1,400 troops in Malaya.
– Order ! Defence does not come into this discussion.
– 1 am making only an oblique reference to it. I am trying to show the House that the Labour party has a practical plan, and also that roads play a vital part in both primary production and defence. The primary producer needs good roads to transport his products, and in every country governments realize the importance of good roads for defence purposes. Consequently, it is proper to advocate that portion of the defence vote should be applied to this five-year road programme.
I wish to acquaint honorable members of the attitude of the Australian Transport Advisory Council to road construction and maintenance. It is not doing the job that is expected of it. Towards the end of last year, the Australian Automobile Association, which represents eight or nine national motoring organizations met the council in conference, and although it has Australia-wide representation it refused to regard roads as a national responsibility. One of the suggestions put forward by the Australian
Automobile Association was that the Commonwealth should assume financial responsibility for interstate highways, and that funds should be provided from the defence vote. 1 invite honorable members to listen to a significant passage from the official report of the proceedings fit that conference on this point. It reads as follows: -
That brought forth the rather surprising rejoinder from the Minister for the Interior, the Honorable V. S. Kent Hughes, that the Defence Department did not regard roads as important from the defence aspect, particularly in comparison with railways and sca transport.
Road transport carries 76 per cent, of the total volume of goods transported in Australia, and only 18 per cent, is carried by rail, yet the Australian Transport Advisory Council will not regard roads as a national responsibility. I stress the urgency of linking the road system to defence. Defence is on a national level; so also should roads be on a national level. For instance, we could not imagine in Australia six navies, six air forces, or six armies, with one for each State. That would be absolutely ridiculous. It is just as ridiculous to have six sets of divorce laws, six sets of marriage laws, six sets of railway systems, six sets of health laws, and six sets of road control and construction policies, but that is the system we have to-day. We are completely divided on this great national issue. We claim that the provision of roads should be raised to a national level as roads are strategically necessary for defence and absolutely essential for primary production. Such a course is being adopted overseas. The United States of America is realizing the importance of the matter more and more. In its recent budget it provided a colossal sum for road construction, and an entirely new approach is being made to the subject. It is interesting to note that the Americans have adopted a national outlook in regard to roads. The federal government at Washington has allocated millions of dollars for roads linking all the States.
– It has allocated 10,000,000,000 dollars to be expended over ten years.
– That is so. Until we adopt a similar national outlook we shall continue with the horse and buggy roads and highways, on which more and more people will be killed day by day.
The third manner in which we suggest a £50,000,000 five-year plan could be financed is by the imposition of a diesel fuel tax, such as was mentioned by my colleague, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam). I shall not mention much about this subject beyond stressing its importance. America has tackled this problem and it finds a new, legitimate field of taxation in this modern fuel. The Federal Newsletter issued on the 1st May, 1956, by the Australian Automobile Association states -
A principal feature of the American Automobile Association proposal is an increase in the share of federal aid highway costs being borne by large trucks so that the contribution of these trucks will be closer to their fiscal responsibility. Vehicles using diesel fuel all fall within the large truck category. A dieselburning large truck gets about 40 per cent, more miles per gallon than a gasoline-burning truck of the same weight. Also, including taxes, the cost of diesel fuel is about twothirds of the cost of gasoline. Therefore a substantial increase in tha federal tax on diesel fuel would lie one of the means of having large trucks come nearer to paying for the added cost of the highway facilities they require.
We must face, the fact that these big diesel trucks which move from Adelaide to Sydney, for instance, wear out the Hume Highway, about, which the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) spoke, in so much detail to-night. We all agree with his contentions. What do the proprietors of these large trucks contribute to the upkeep of that highway? They contribute virtually nothing. They have recently escaped the imposition ‘of a tax by a legalism. The High Court of Australia has ruled that the State governments cannot tax them and the State governments have appealed to the Privy Council against the decision of the High Court. To-day these operators are on a bonanza; no one can touch them. A diesel fuel tax could be imposed upon them.
– Would not a tax on diesel fuel increase the cost of goods?
– That is a reasonable question,, and that is one of the risks we must take. If the consumers realized that the imposition of a tax would mak, these fellows pay for the roads they destroy and so enable the roads to be rebuilt, the consumers would not mind. After all, many other costs are being ironed back to the community. We may not agree with them, but we realize that in tha long run they are helpful to the country. The imposition of a diesel fuel tax would enable us to reduce the petrol rax. I have pointed out that such a tax is being imposed in America. I contend that interstate operators should pay for the roads that they are helping te destroy.
A fourth way in which we can finance a £50,000.000 five-year plan is by imposing an excise duty on tyres. This is a. matter which should be examined. This would be one of the fairest ways of obtaining finance for road construction purposes. Perhaps we could adopt a tyre tax as an alternative to a diesel fuel tax. Persons who use cars and trucks most would pay the most. The more miles they travelled, the greater the tax they would pay. The only problem that might arise would be in regard tr> tyres that blow out. A tyre might blowout even after only a few miles on the road, but that, too. is a risk which we would have to take. I contend that a tyro tax would be fair, because the more a vehicle was used the greater would be the owner’s contribution.
I have advanced these thoughts to the House in a spirit of co-operation and with a constructive outlook. I again congratulate all those honorable members who have tried to raise this matter to a national level. I do not think that we shall ever improve our roads until they become a national responsibility.
.- It was not my intention to speak to this bill, but I have a few comments to offer. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) sat down on the note of a blow nut. I think that that would happen to most of the theories that he was expounding. Honorable members noticed the way he was airily throwing away with complete irresponsibility millions of pounds.
He spoke about an amount of £48,000,000 which will be obtained next year from the petrol tax. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) spoke airily about an American scheme for the expenditure over ten years of 10,000,000,000 dollars. We must come down to realities.! We cannot afford all these things. At present the Opposition is not in a position to put its hands into the people’s pockets to get money. However nice aR these things would be, they have to tpaid for. I have been in the House the whole day and I have noticed the marvellous time that the Opposition has been having in their contributions to the debate on this bill. Honorable members opposite have had a delightful time. They are completely irresponsible. We have seen them beat their breasts and say what they would do if they were in office. Throughout the debate they have been chiding the Government. This country cannot afford the annual expenditure of £.10,000,000 on roads. As a member of the Australian Country party I should very -much like to see better roads provided, but unfortunately it is necessary for us to raise the money. . Taking our minds away from the millions of pounds vo which honorable members opposite have airily referred, this bill provides for the allocation for road construction of Id. out of every 3d. additional petrol tax collected. That is all that it does. [Quorum formed.] Before I was interrupted, I was bringing the Opposition back to a consideration of the amount of money that we can afford for roads, and I was dealing with the Id. allocation. Why was this additional tax put on? That is the point. It was put on for two reasons, one being to raise finance and the second, and a very important one, being to deal with our balance of payments position. It is easy to say, “We will get more petrol from overseas “. But petrol has to be bought. We were spending £152,000,000 a year on motor cars and petrol, and we could not afford to continue to do that. This is one way to reduce the use of petrol; make it a little more expensive and people will Conserve it more carefully. There is an alternative way, and that is to ration petrol. Those people who criticize the action of this Government in imposing an additional tax of 3d. a gallon on petrol might spend & little time in examining those two alternatives. Our overseas balances are not inexhaustible. I .think that the general consensus of opinion in Australia is that the people would rather pay 3d. a gallon more for petrol than have petrol rationed.
The other purpose of this increased taxation is to raise funds. Not one penny of those funds will come to this Government. Not one penny will be expended on work which this Government wishes to undertake. The whole of the money is being raised for the purpose of supporting the works programmes of the States. It is well to remember that fact. As the Opposition gaily spends our pounds on building marvellous roads, it forgets that we are still responsible to raise funds for hospitals, schools, and everything else for which the six States rely on this Government. Honorable members opposite say that we are mean in regard to the amount of money that we allow to the States for the making of roads, but I ask them to remember that the Menzies Government has supplied more than £500,000,000 ‘to the State governments for State works. That sum has been found by this Government, which they are so pleased to criticize, from Commonwealth resources. No criticism on the ground of meanness can be levelled at this Government by the five Labour-governed States.
It is easy to have a discussion about building wonderful roads and to overlook the fact that there is a budget to meet. It is very nice to have good roads. We have been told that in Europe there are magnificent roads, including the autobahns of Germany. But how were those auto.bahns built? I have travelled on them, and I admit that they are magnificently constructed. They would cost many fortunes to construct nowadays. But they were built under a dictatorship. All the resources of the state were called on in order to build them. Do honorable members opposite want that to happen here? Exactly the same comments may be made about the Italian highways. They, too, were built under a dictatorship. Are we going to plan our road building on th 0*e lines.? Reference has been made to the roads in the United Kingdom, which is a highly settled small country. Of course, the British roads are good. The price of road construction per head of population in Great Britain is a minor matter compared with the cost in a great, sparsely populated continent such as Australia. We want to get down to hard facts in this matter. It is time to call a halt to the picnic that the Labour party has been having on this question of roads. According to a book that the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) has introduced to the House, even the United States of America has numerous road problems.
I wish now to read a passage from the second-reading speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). He said -
However, the roads problem, which, incidentally, is primarily a State responsibility, is but one of the many important developmental problems which face us to-day.
I ask honorable members opposite to believe that that is so. The Treasurer went on -
If every branch of activity were to receive all the finance it claims to require, we would have a total works programme in Australia nearer £1,000,000,000 a year than the £-100.000,000 a year now provided.
Honorable members opposite should remember that there are hundreds of other projects being undertaken which are of equal developmental importance to roads. I do not decry the need for good roads, but I appreciate that there are many other things that also are necessary.
Honorable members opposite speak about making roads a national responsibility, but do not many people want education, hospitals and other things also to be made a national responsibility? When the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) was telling us bis fairy tales this evening, he spoke of the need for building hospitals, out of road funds, for the wounded from the roads. Is everything to depend on roads? The honorable member also suggested that we should take money from the defence vote for roads purposes.
– And why not?
– For the reason that if we did so we should have road problems no longer, because roads would be built by slave labour under the direction of our conquerors. No money should be diverted from the defence vote for the purpose of making roads.
Has this Government been mean in its contribution to the cause of road development? In the last years of the previous Labour government, the government that is supposed to have been so wonderful and to have done so much, the allocation for roads was £7,000,000. Let us consider the record from that time until the Menzies Government took over. The allocations since then have been £9,000,000, £12,000,000, £14,000,000, £15,000,000, £16,000,000, and £22,500,000. Those figures indicate the planning that has been going on under this Government. Yet, honorable members opposite contend that the Government does not plan. With the £32,000,000 that will represent the Commonwealth aid roads payments next year, the States, if they plan properly, will have sufficient money to start putting the roads in good order. There is no question that this Government has planned sufficiently well to meet any criticism on the subject of roads. In the space of six years, it has increased the allocation from £7,000,000 to £32,000,000.
Honorable members opposite speak airily about giving so much money to the States for roads purposes, but they forget that there are other problems. Only one honorable member opposite offered an alternative method of raising money for State works or other public works, and that was the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns). As honorable members are aware, I have often questioned his figures, because they are always subject to doubt. For that reason, I wait for the Hansard report of the previous day’s debates to examine his figures. As the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) stated, one method of assisting road construction, suggested by the honorable member for Yarra, would be to impose land tax because, according to him, that is a tax which could easily be borne by the big land-owners. [Quorum formed.] Who called for a quorum?
– The honorable member is not entitled to ask that question.
– If it was the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) he has been here long enough to show proper respect for the Chair and stand when calling for a quorum. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), when speaking of the economic proposals of the Prime Minister, said that the ls. increase in company tax would be passed on to the consumer. Now the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) proposes an increase in land tax, which would automatically be added to the overhead costs of commercial firms and would naturally be passed on, to the consumer. Honorable members opposite would like to have it both ways, but they cannot. This potential Labour Treasurer said that it would be quite easy to find the money that is needed. He suggested a higher probate tax because, apparently, in his view, the Federal Government does not raise nearly enough revenue in this way - only about £10,000,000 out of a total of about £200,000,000. One can be easily deceived in these matters. The honorable member for Yarra apparently does not know that the States levy enormous amounts in probate tax. Perhaps if he did know he would conceal the fact. Any one who lives in New South Wales would tell him that the probate taxes there are prohibitive. His proposal follows the principles of Karl Marx, whose plan was bv heavier and heavier taxation to destroy ownership of property. This potential Treasurer, the honorable member for Yarra, told us of two ways in which we might raise money for road maintenance. Unfortunately, his party is merely trying to gain political capital from this issue* First, he suggested imposing a heavier land tax and, secondly, he urged that the Government should re-establish confidence in the loan market. That is the sort of thing one might expect from an Opposition which favours low interest rates. Can honorable members imagine how we could restore confidence in the loan market during a time of prosperity by offering an interest rate of 3 J per cent.? The Opposition does not tell us how to do it; indeed, it is not possible. Labour says that the Commonwealth Government should accept responsibility for country roads. The Australian Country party, in consort with its coalition friends, has already accepted that responsibility. This Government decided that 40 per cent, of the petrol tax allocation should be spent on rural roads. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) said, in moving the second reading of this bill -
As a result, the proportion of the total grant which must be spent on rural roads in the current financial year will amount to about £11,000,000 and this amount, with the increased petrol tax allocation proposed in this present bill, will increase to nearly £13,000,000 next year, in the year before we took office, 1048-49, tho amount set aside for such roads was only £2,000,000. This provision is, of course, designed to promote development in rural areas and is. of . particular benefit to primary producers and to the local authorities who are largely responsible for roads in these areas.
That gives the lie direct to Labour’s, suggestion that the Australian Country party and the Liberal ‘party are not concerned about rural roads. It is very nice to have roads like the German auto.bahns but they must be paid for. Ours is not a small continent. Its population is scattered and the cost of road-making on the European scale is prohibitive. This Government, as can be proved from the figures, is each year allocating more and more money for road building. Eventually, if the States handle their finances efficiently, we shall have roads of which we may be proud, but I do not think that we can possibly have roads like the German autobahns of which the Opposition speaks. There is scope for a national conference on roads, but that does not alter the fact that this Government has recognized its national responsibility and has provided, to the best of its ability, for the construction and maintenance of roads. This is the beginning of a scheme which, if we improve our finances and this Government remains in office and protects the Australian economy, will give us roads of which in years to come we may well be proud.
.- I should like to refer to some of the points which were raised by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson). He claimed that this Government had handed to the States countless millions for road building. The Opposition believes that there is no real division between Federal and State responsibilities in the matter of roads. We from Victoria are prepared to accept the fact that even some of the people from southern New South Wales aTe also Australians, and should be treated as such. We acknowledge that in spite of their addiction to odd ball games. We hope that in the end they will be able to see that this is a national responsibility. It is idle to talk of the great sums that have been paid to the States. They have, after all, come from uniform taxation, which was introduced by a Labour government.
Reference has been made to Australian overhead costs, and the necessity for us to build more roads per head of population. It merely follows that road building is more expensive per head in this country than elsewhere, and that we simply need more money for roads. Oddly enough, Government supporters oppose any attempt to find ways in which more money could be provided. The honorable member for Hume criticized the idea of a land tax advanced by the honorable member for Yarra. I suppose that opposition is to be expected from the representatives of the people, who have cornered most of the land. Road development, of course, adds to the value of land. However, although the honorable member opposed the imposition of a federal land tax he did point out that because of State estate duty, it is now almost, too expensive to die in New South Wales. That is something in his favour. He also mentioned a fellow called Marx, whom he manages to bring into most of his speeches. If Karl Marx were sitting in the public gallery to-day he would say that at last, after .100 years, he had found somebody to fit into his most expansive theories. The theories advanced by the honorable member warrant a place among the classics in anyMarxist museum. Fortunately, in most parts of the world, and especially in Australia, we have not reached the stage at which the Marxist theories apply.
I should like to suggest in passing that the rather dreadful title of the bill, “ Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill “, should be amended by inserting either the word “for”, or a hyphen between the. words “Aid” and “Roads”. I do not know if they were left out in the dim-distant past for reasons of economy, but their insertion would, certainly, produce better English and make the title more rea’d able. I have been intrigued most of all by the remarkable discord on the Government side of the House - I assume that the Australian Country party may still be regarded as being on that side of the House. Like the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) I congratulate all those on the Government side who happen to agree with my point of view. The Australian Country party has, for some reason or other, in the last few days - and particularly on this bill - carried all the weight of the Government. Liberal party speakers have been notably absent, and I am not surprised. Perhaps they read a little deeper and think a bit further, and they find themselves in such a position of contradiction that they are not prepared to take up the cudgels on this case.
It is hard to find the ostensible alliance between the Liberal party and the Country party. We have the sideplay between the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) and the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) ; we have the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) versus the rest, supported by proxy to-morrow, perhaps, by the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn), who has 90-miles-an-hour friends and supports a zero-miles-an-hour government.
I congratulate the Australian Country party members on the fighting attitude i hey have taken on this bill. After all, we appreciate fighters, particularly in the political sphere. It adds a little zest to the rather dull business of watching the country going backwards from day to day. The honorable member for Perth put up a remarkably good case for the State Labour Government of Western Australia. I congratulate him on that. There are a couple of vacancies on this aide, and he can get in, if he moves to Victoria, for 4s. a year.
Why has this measure been intro duced? If we look into the dim and distant shades of this session, we see that on the 14th March, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made a statement on economic measures. He said his purpose was to do three things. He would defeat inflation by soaking up our surplus spending power. Fancy - the Bryant surplus spending power! He has a passion for myths. He would make up the deficiencies in the Government’s accounts.
I will refer to that one a little later. The deficiencies in the Government’s accounts, of course, were little matters that came in at the tail end of his speech Inflation was the enemy. Ten or twelve years ago, you could get away with anything by saying it was required for the war effort. Apparently to-day you can get. away with anything by saying it is to fight inflation.
This bill, in effect, is another part of the smoke screen which this Government is spreading in. order to defend itself against the hostile criticism from this side of the House and from a.bout 9,000,000 other Australians. The Government says it will also reduce imports, but it is very careful in its calculations to see that it allows the importation of the same quantity of petrol. There is the balance of payments position, and the inflationary spiral ; and from some pronouncement of a rather defeatist nature by the Treasurer - and after all it is his bill - we gather that he expects to have a bigger deficit than he thought of in the first place, and he will not achieve that, either !
Then I come to bases of the petrol tax. If honorable members agree with thu petrol tax as a matter of logic, I suppose they can claim that the people who use the roads should pay for them. Of course, we all pay for them, and we all use them. No matter what sort of an Australian one is, at some stage of the game he will have to use the roads and rely on the roads. In this case, an extra £12,000,000 will be raised by the petrol tax but only £4,000,000 of it _ will be applied to the logical expenditure on roads. This means that £S,000,000 of it is plain, straight, indirect taxation. Some of my colleagues pointed out to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) that there was a change in the incidence or the ratio of this tax. Previously 70 per cent, of the actual collections was applied to roads, but, by processes of arithmetic that do not seem to be common even to both sides of the House, it will be down to about 60 per cent, after the bill becomes law.
That is an interesting development of this Government’s attitude. After all, indirect taxation is like the hearth tax, the chimney tax, and the window tax - which finally ended with Charles Stuart outside Whitehall on a cold January morning. That will eventually occur here. It is a way of dodging the main issue. If £1,000,000,000 is required, I presume the statesmen-like position as distinct from the statesman-like position adopted by the Australian Country party is tell the people of Australia “ We need £1,000,000,000. You can hand in your ration. Here is your bill. It is your tax “. It has been stated by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) that with indirect taxation, a taxpayer chooses to tax himself. He works out what the position is and says, “ I think my ration ought to be £10. I will buy another 5U0 gallons of petrol, and there it is “. This is a sort of do-it-yourself government. The Government did the same sort of thing when it drew up the last lot of electoral boundaries. We oppose indirect taxation in principle. It is a way of soaking the people so that, if possible, the Government avoids facing them and saying, “ Here is your bill “. It is not really a sound procedure. This is part of that system, even though it is a fairly small amount in £1,000,000,000. It is part of the general retrogression in taxation principles which this Government has produced, and we oppose it. We support direct taxation such as income tax and land tax. We support probate duty - that is, if any of us have anything left on which probate duty is payable.
– No one would have anything left with the Labour party’s policies.
– For two months the honorable member has been telling us we have not a policy. However, we are gaining ground. This is something we can be congratulated upon, and his recognition of it, of course, is a great advance politically. When the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) quoted the case of dieseline, the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence) said, “ Will not that increase prices, be reflected in production costs, and increase inflation ? “ That was the implication, anyhow. I answered him at the time by saying that, after all, he was denying his own Prime Minister and the very basis on which £8,000,000 of this £12,000, (ID0 was being soaked out of us.
What are some of the things to be paid out of this extra £8,000,000? A great case has been made out for roads, but £8,000,000 extracted from the poor suffering motorists is to be paid into Consolidated Revenue. I am a motorist because, for 100 years the general transport system in this country has been managed by people who did not want it run properly because it is socialist, so one has to own a car. You do not have to live in the rural areas of Mallee; you can live in the suburban areas of our capitals and still need a car, and, incidentally, you have a good case for starting up in the spring-making business. I simply point out that £8,000,000 of the £12,000,000 to be collected from the petrol tax increase will be absorbed in a series of odd activities of this Government.
Let me show what they are. There is a little matter like a couple of handy Convairs, which cost £900,000. Some deficiencies in Army blankets have to be made good. That is a few thousand pounds. There are all sorts of odd things. A couple of gentlemen who happened tn incur the wrath of this House because they tangled with my friend the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), cost us £10,000 - in legal expenses, mark you! Yet we have a government with ten Queen’s Counsel, seven legal men, a whole phalanx of lawyers, and batteries of them, I think, in the legal department.
The collection of literature handed out to us yesterday about Additional Estimates, Supplementary Estimates and po on shows that architects will be paid £56,000 extra, and there are hundreds of architects in the Public Service. From my own point of view, as a person and as an Australian, I object to the fact that I am asked to pay extra tax as a motorist to provide for these things. If the Government is to meet that expense, I am prepared to pay additional income tax - little though the income is. I stress again that the tendency of this Government to resort to indirect taxation is a retrogressive move and we will fight it all the way. At every opportunity we have to point it out to the public, we will tell them. Perhaps we ought to go round all tho petrol pumps and hang out notices saying “ This is soaking up some of your surplus spending power “. The Minister for the Army, who seemed to be a little terse on the subject, and to think it illogical, asked “What does it matter if the ratio is reduced from 70 per cent, to 60 per cent. ? “ It is a matter of principle, and I should not expect it to be seen too clearly by honorable members on the other side of the House. This measure effects a change in the whole basis of our tax structure, lt is changing gradually, but if honorable members care to look up the taxation schedule they will see how the proportion of sales tax rose gradually. When that tax was introduced it represented the small amount of 6 per cent, out of the total tax collections. In 1941 it rose to about 13 per cent, or 14 per cent. Under the impetus of a Labour government with proper taxation principles, it was reduced, even in the face of war, to about 7 per cent. Now .it is back to 12 per cent. The object of increasing this tax is, of course, to avoid responsibility and to impose the tax on the people who can least afford to pay it. The attitude of the Opposition is a logical one. We do not mind if everybody owns a motor car. We dp not consider that a terrible crime, and the standard of the roads in Australia forms part of our calculation of the general standard of living of the community.
I should now like to direct some remarks to the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who, at least, added a bit of life to the debate, he being a fighting member of the Australian Country party. I shall tell honorable members the implications of his foreshadowed amendment, which was to the effect that all the money raised from petrol tax in Victoria should be spent in Victoria. Victoria, of course, is the salt of the earth.
– Not all the money; only the extra 2d.
– I am sorry. The wording of the honorable member’s amendment implied that the money would be spent proportionately in that State. I think it was the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) who suggested that we take that argument to its logical extreme. What. then, does it mean ? I have calculated that during the last twelve months I have spent about £20 in petrol tax. It would be very nice, from my point of view, if that £20 were spent on the street in which I live, which is a very difficult and dangerous one at certain times of the year. We oppose this contention regarding States’ rights. It is an attitude, of course, which has nothing to do with Labour policy. We shall support the outlook of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney). We believe that Western Australia, with its great potential, has the right to claim from us in Victoria this extra amount from the petrol tax, so that it may expand and eventually be able to produce from its land something worth more than the 2s. 3d. an acre, which, I understand, from the figures given by the honorable member for Mallee, is the present average value of Western Australian production.
– Western Australia cannot spend what it is getting now.
– Probably not, but things will improve, when we throw this Government out and are able to have the man-power and materials in the right places. However, it is the principle that we wish to espouse at the moment. We have had a statistical picnic in this House during this debate. More figures and charts have been produced to-night than we have seen in the last two months. The Year-Boole has taken a. severe thrashing. We need to analyse these matters to arrive at the contradiction of principle, to which the honorable member for Mallee is so addicted. I have heard him contend that his electorate is too big, that because of its area, he should have fewer constituents. He advocates an area principle, for electoral purposes, but he advocates a non-area principle in the matter of the spending of taxation revenue. But. of course, that argument was bowled over in Victoria in 1952. when we managed to corner Government supporters on this proposition, and they were soundly whipped
What is the position :it present in regard to roads? The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie”) pointed out that we should consider it ridiculous if we had six navies, six armies, and six air forces, although such a multiplicity of armed forces might help to keep up with the number of Ministers that this Government has managed to produce to run the defence services.
– Six honorable members for Mallee!
– Yes, perhaps six honorable members for Mallee. But the situation is a good deal worse in this field than it would be if such a situation existed in relation to defence. We have 915 local-governing bodies in Australia. That is a fantastic number. Victoria has 198 ; New South Wales, 245 ; South Australia, 143; Queensland, 134; Tasmania, 49 ; Western Australia, 146 ; and a quick addition gives us the figure of 915. Not only have we those 915 local bodies to spend the money, but we also have the six State governments each with certain responsibilities. It is a fantastic position.
The honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) made a valuable contribution to this debate. He is a man with a great deal of experience in local government. The figures he quoted were accurate, and have been drawn from experience and research. He pointed out how costs of road construction had increased. For instance, in Footscray, in his own electorate, in 1947, road-making cost £1 6s. a lineal foot; in 1956 it costs £13. In fact, road-making is quite beyond the financial capacity of local governments at present, at least in the Melbourne district.
There has been some criticism, of the constructive and creative work that previous labour governments- have done, but if we examine the position we shall find that for an equivalent amount of money Labour governments constructed about S miles of road, compared with 1 mile constructed by this Government. That is logical enough, when we have regard to the depreciation of the £1 that has occurred during recent years. Honorable members opposite must . accept responsibility for that position. They cannot ignore it. If they are governing the country it is of no use for them to throw up their hands and say, “It is not our fault; it is the fault of this mischief, inflation “. Therefore, one docs not have to delve very far back in history to realize that local governing bodies, and other instrumentalities that have to do with the construction and maintenance of our roads, are in an invidious position, with which they cannot cope. There must be a real change in our attitude, and this Parliament cannot hide any longer behind the constitutional position. After all, if this Government chose to do so, section 96 of the Constitution would allow it to make whatever grants it wished for road purposes. The time has come when we should accept the construction and maintenance of roads as a national responsibility.
I invite honorable members to consider, as an example, the road from Canberra to Bungendore. They can regard it as symbolic of the state of roads in all parts of the country. As we drive from the station at Bungendore we proceed along a normal Australian road. It is rough and pot-holey. There are, perhaps, 200 yards of made road, and then the road collapses. Then, after a time, we come on to a section of bitumensurfaced road, and we realize that we are in Commonwealth territory. That reasonably good bitumen road continues until we get out of the Commonwealth territory. Where the road runs through an area which is- the responsibility of the local authority, it is a bad road. When it runs through Commonwealth territory it is a good road, because the resources of the country are being increasingly placed at the disposal of this Government. The Government should apply itself to the problem in a proper, national way. The national needs are tremendous. No less than £300,000,000 is needed to put the roads of Australia in a decent condition. Victoria needs about £34,000,000 a year for this purpose, and it is spending only £12,000,000. The defence position has been mentioned, and the national position has been mentioned, but the logical Australian position is the one that really matters. After all, the position in which the Government finds itself is the result of its attitude towards private investment. In the past we ha.ve relied a great deal on loan funds. We have seen loans filled in order to conduct a. war. We have seen loans filled for the purpose of building the constructive works of peace-time, in the period between 1946 and 1949. Then we have seen the loan position collapse.
An honorable member has just handed me a glass of water, and I am reminded that it is one commodity on which there is no tax. Let me digress for a moment to examine the benefits that the average Australian has received from government enterprise. When he takes water from his tap, that water has been provided from public investment. When ho switches on a light, the power has been provided by public investment. The roads, about which we have been talking, are constructed by public investment. The school, to which, in Victoria at least, he cannot send his child because it is already over-crowded - mostly because of the neglect of Liberal and Australian Country party governments - is a public investment and a public responsibility. The addiction of this Government to private investment will lead eventually to the permanent economic paralysis of the nation. As far as the average citizen is concerned, it is much more important for the nation to be building roads than to be turning out Holden motor cava. That, I think, indicates the financial differences between the two sides of this House. The Liberal and Australian Country parties have failed to acknowledge the real role that public investment should play in this country. Therefore, we have reached this pretty impasse in which public investment has collapsed, and private investment is going ahead in leaps and bounds. Creeping paralysis has afflicted our economy and you wonder why it has happened.
Before I conclude, I should like to point out again the position of the Labour party in this matter. We believe that the indirect portion of this tax is bad in principle. We believe that it is a national responsibility to build the roads of this country. We believe that constitutional reform is necessary and that we must base our taxation principles upon equity. If that can be done in connexion with land tax and probate, it can be done in this instance. I am very interested in the private conferences that have been taking place in the corner between members of the Liberal party and members of the Australian Country party. T hope that their consciences will guide them, and that they will vote to accept the amendments that have been foreshadowed from this side of the House.
– In rising to speak on this measure, I find that I am the twenty-first member to do so. While I was occupying your chair this afternoon, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bowden), I was approached by an honorable member and asked whether there would be many more speakers on this bill. When I replied that there was a long list of members who desired to speak, he made the observation that if we all went out and began physically to build the roads, we might be quicker in getting what Australia required. This is in keeping with the belief held by many people that in the past there has been too much talk and too little action in developing our national roads system. The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) who has just resumed his seat, talked far too much, and indulged in clowning. For the reasons I have stated, I shall speak only briefly on this measure to-night.
On referring to Hansard of the 20th October, 1954, I find that on that date I made a long speech on a measure similar to the one now before the House. I find, further, that I am in absolute agreement with what I said on that occasion. I support this measure, because it provides the means whereby still more money will be made available to the States for the construction and maintenance of roads. [Quorum formed.] T believe that no expenditure of public moneys contributes so much to the national welfare as does expenditure on building good roads. This applies, not only to Australia, but also to all other countries of the world. We see that, when funds are made available under the Marshall plan, the Colombo plan, or through the several agencies of the United Nations organization to countries less fortunate than our own, a major portion of it is used for road construction. The national needs of Australia are, I believe, such that road improvements must be made if we are to continue to progress. While it was realized by the Australian Government as far back as 1923 that road construction generally was the responsibility of the State governments . it has now come to be recognized that with the rapid development of motor transport, the provision of suitable roads has now become a problem of national importance, and one of too great magnitude for the various State governments to handle without the aid of the National Government.
Under the provisions of the measure that is now before the House, in a full year another £4,000,000 will be made available to the States for road construction. This is expected to result in approximately £32,000,000 being made available in the coming twelve months. The present formula that is .used to determine the share of this grant for each State has been in operation since 1926. [ find, on looking at the reports of conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers at that time, that this subject was debated fully for over three days. The formula, as honorable members know, is based on three-fifths as to population and two-fifths as to area. Victoria has never been happy with the way the formula bas operated against that State. I shall quote two short extracts from Hansard of former days to illustrate my point. In 1926, the then honorable member for Henty, the late Sir Henry Gullett, stated the attitude of Victoria in these words -
Had the suggested allocution of the money been fair, I should have no trouble in deciding my attitude.
And in 1937, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), when tracing the history of road grants over the previous ten years, said -
He meant Victoria - refused to give recognition to the principle that money should be expended on a threefifths population and two-fifths area basis.
I, together with all other members of this House, like to feel that we are here as Australians rather than as State residents and representatives of States, and therefore I approve of a system under which the wealthier and more populated States help the weaker and less fortunate ones. I agree with this principle in general, but I believe that the formula as it now exists has become unbalanced. The honorable member for “Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) said, by interjection, a. moment ago that, I was an expert at extraction. I hope, in this particular case, that I can extract more money from the Government, and I” hope, also, that it will be a painless extraction. I make this observation regarding the formula, because of the large number of motor vehicles, particularly large transports from other States that use the Victorian roads.
On the 20th October, 1954, I cited figures which showed that the ratio of Victorian transports to other States’ transports using the Victorian highways was as 39 is to 51. To-day, I believe that the position is even worse, as far as Victoria is concerned. Our Victorian interstate main roads, particularly the Western Highway, the Midlands Highway and the Hume Highway are taking a fearful pounding from heavy, highspeeding vehicles. The roads that are used by these heavy high-speed interstate vehicles which travel between Adelaide and. Sydney pass mainly through the electorates of Wimmera, Bendigo and Indi, and I am sure that the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) and the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) will agree that very serious damage is being done. I know, too, that my friends, the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) and the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin), who travel on these roads regularly, will agree that they are taking a fearful pounding. It is dreadful to think that these once wonderful highways are being pounded away in this manner.
Because of the facts I have outlined, I believe that very special extra consideration should be given to Victoria, and’ that a greater contribution should be made to it. I suggest that it should be done in one of the following three ways: - First, by amending the existing formula so that four-fifteenths of the funds are distributed in proportion to area, fivefifteenths in proportion to the number of vehicles, and six-fifteenths in proportion to population; secondly, by allocating the round sum of £1,000,000 to Victoria before distributing the balance according to the existing formula; or thirdly, by allocating, say, 2£ per cent, of the funds to Victoria before distribution according to the existing formula.
I am prepared to agree that the extra money that would be given to Victoria in that way should be used entirely on interstate highways. I do not intend to repeat the arguments that have been so effectively advanced to-day by my colleagues, particularly the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis). Therefore, I conclude by saying that I believe that for far too long Victoria has carried too much of the road construction burden; that it is high time that the other States realized this; and that at the next conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers their representatives should decide to give Victoria a fair go.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) pro posed - That the House do now adjourn.
– I shall make another effort to deal with the case of an ex-serviceman-
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) proposed -
That the question be now put.
Government supporters calling “ Aye “ and Opposition members calling “ No “ ,
– I think the “ Ayes “ have it. The House stands adjourned until 10.30 a.m. to-morrow.
House adjourned at 10.33 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice- 1.In thecase of (a) General MotorsHolden’s Limited and(b) otherpublic companies, has American investment of capital in
Australia obtained more dollars for Australia than the payment of dividends has taken out; if so, to what extent has this occurred?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n. - On the 3rd May, the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) asked the following question: -
Has the Department of Health in Canberra made any survey of the incidence, or prevalence, of hydatids in the grazing area surrounding the city? As this disease, I understand, is one to which children are particularly susceptible, will the Minister consider initiating here a programme for eradication of the disease, similar to that being adopted in adjoining shire areas in New South Wales? 1 now provide the following answer to the honorable member’s question: -
My department has been aware for many years of the high incidence of hydatid disease in sheep in the Australian Capital Territory and surrounding districts as evidenced by the high rate nf condemnation of sheep livers at the Canberra Abattoir which is controlled by my department. To obtain more specific information a survey was made in January and February, 1 955, to determine the incidence of hydatid in sheep killed at the abattoir and it was found that 30 per cent, of sheep killed were shown to be affected. Hydatid disease in Australia is conveyed to humans by dogs where the sheep-dog-man association is intimate and common. The disease has not been established in the urban dogs in the Australian Capital Territory and this is no doubt largely duc to the strictness of the supervision of thu Canberra abattoir in preventing hydatid infected offal meats reaching the urban dog as food. During the tuberculosis mass X-ray survey in 1952, 16,702 chest X-rays were taken’ by my department. An investigation of the non-tubercular abnormalities among these X-rays indicated that only two had suffered from hydatid of the lung which is the second most common site of hydatid disease in man. These figures, which are supported by the experience of senior medical practitioners in Canberra, indicate the relative insignificance of the disc-use in humans in the Australian Capital Territory. However, my department is aware of the existence of a problem in the rural areas of the Australian Capital Territory. Field veterinary officers have continually brought this to the notice of stock-owners and informed them of measures which should be taken to ‘ reduce the infestation in sheep and dogs. My department will continue this campaign, the success of which depends upon the co-operation of stock-owners.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
n. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
r asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
h asked the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice -
– I now furnish the following answers to the honorable member’s questions : -
z asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has furnished the following replies : -
s asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows : -
Some companies in Australia are understood to operate under arrangements -with overseas companies which affect in varying degree the freedom of the Australian company to export. This is not an uncommon practice in international trade. No official list of such companies or of such arrangements in Australia is available.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 May 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1956/19560517_reps_22_hor10/>.