23rd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. THOMPSON presented a petition from certain electors in the States of the Commonwealth praying that the House will take immediate steps to increase social service benefits for mothers and their children.
Petition received and read.
Mr. CURTIN presented a petition from certain citizens of Australia praying that the House will -
Petition received and read.
– My question is addressed to the Acting Prime Minister and relates to the question I asked yesterday. Can the right honorable gentleman now say when he will make a statement about his recent visit to the United States?
– I am glad to advise the House that I will make a statement tomorrow, immediately after questions.
– I ask the Treasurer whether, in considering sales tax rates for the next Budget, he will examine the position of the plated hollow-ware industry which faces extinction because of unjust dis crimination in permitting identical articles made of glass, china, pottery, plastic, wood, stainless steel, copper, aluminium, tin or indeed anything other than electroplate on copper or nickel silver, including chrome plated ware, to trade on an 8^ per cent, tax, whilst the ancient craft of the silversmith is burdened with a tax of 25 per cent. I mention that employees in this industry, who numbered over 2,000 in 1950, to-day number fewer than 250, and some relief is urgently needed.
– I shall have the request of the honorable member examined and see that the various factors introduced by him in putting his question are fully considered.
– I direct my question to the Postmaster-General. When were the allowances paid to non-official postmasters and postmistresses last reviewed? When does the department intend to review again the allowances paid to these officers?
– The allowances paid to non-official postmasters have been the subject of discussion.
– And postmistresses?
– Very well, and postmistresses. They have been the subject of negotiation between the organization which represents these officials and the Post Office on several occasions in the past. My recollection, on which I shall check, is that some time last year discussions regarding these allowances took place. The position simply is that if the organization presents to the department a case which can be resolved on a basis of negotiation, that will be done. Of course, at the same time, the organization has the same rights of appeal to the various tribunals which determine these matters as have other organizationswithin the department.
– Will the Treasurer consider allowing as taxable deductions donations made for scholarships at the secondary level of education, as donations made for scholarships at the tertiary level are nowallowable deductions?
– I assure the honorable member for Perth that the matter will be looked at. He will have gathered from other questions that are reaching me, that this will be a very exhaustive Budget examination, as all the matters raised are to be examined.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services whether he will take steps to amend the Social Services Act to provide that weekly instalments in repayment of a mortgage be regarded as being the equivalent of weekly payments of rent, when eligibility for the 10s. a week supplementary rent allowance is being determined. I have in mind the case of an old lady who is paying off a mortgage at the rate of £2 15s. 8d. a week, plus £1 a week for rates, leaving her with 13s. lOd. a week on which to live.
– I point out to the honorable member for Banks that all aspects of social services are currently under review. The question of any variation in the qualifications necessary for receipt of the supplementary allowance will be considered, together with all other aspects of the matter.
– I ask the Minister for Trade whether he will re-examine the request of the Grafton Brewing Company Limited for licensing facilities to import whisky. On what date were import quotas for whisky determined? Are there any means whereby companies that have commenced business since the determination of those quotas can receive supplies, which are so essential to the conduct of their business? Are the metropolitan brewers of New South Wales and Queensland informing hotels that if they stock Grafton beer they will not be supplied with whisky or other spirits? Does the Minister regard as intolerable a position in which ordinary retailers of an imported and restricted product are refused supply unless they refuse to sell other than certain monopoly lines? Will the Minister examine the position to see whether it can be corrected?
– Quotas for the importation of Scotch whisky are based on the imports of companies engaged in this trade in 1950-51. I think that is the base year commonly applied. Because of the stringency of our exchange position it has not been possible to issue new quotas for nonessential items to newcomers into the trade, because to do so would involve either a net addition to our exchange commitments, or a reduction, in quotas held by people already in the trade. It has not been possible for quotas to be issued to newcomers except in respect of essential imports.
I say unhesitatingly that if the right honorable member’s charge can be established - I have heard the charge made on more than one occasion - that those who possess Scotch whisky quotas have sought to impose certain restrictions of trade in other commodities, I would regard such restrictions as an intolerable infringement of the purposes for which import licences are granted. If the charge were proved I can assure the right honorable gentleman, and the country, that I would be prepared to review the policies upon which import licences for Scotch whisky are at present made available, in order to put an end to any situation where, at a time when Australia’s available overseas exchange is restricted, the possession of an import licence is used in any pernicious manner to force certain trading restrictions.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral advise me when the proposed telephone exchange in Rabaul-parade, Matraville, will be commenced? Is the Minister aware of the acute congestion that prevails on the FJ exchange in that district, which in turn disrupts the service generally, resulting in an over-abundance of wrong numbers which, of course, are charged to the unfortunate subscriber? Will the Minister consider providing immediate relief?
– In reply to the final part of the honorable member’s question, I assure him that attention will be given to the relief of this area in its proper turn, having regard to the demands of all the other areas that require services. That, of course, is the plan of the department. The department constantly reviews the needs of the various areas for post offices, telephone exchanges and so on, and works out a system of priorities, which are applied in accordance with the amount of capital available to the department to provide the services necessary.
Offhand I cannot tell the honorable member the exact time-table regarding the Matraville project, but I shall certainly make inquiries and let him know the details. I assure him that all these matters are constantly under close attention by the department and that they are handled according to the priority and essentiality of the services required.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. Has the Government received a proposal from Qantas Empire Airways Limited for the construction in Sydney of a large modern hotel? If the Government has received such a proposal, and if the project is approved, will it be referred to this Parliament for debate before it is carried out?
– I have no personal knowledge of this matter. I shall convey the honorable member’s question to my colleague in another place, and see that he gets a reply.
– I preface a question to the Acting Prime Minister by reminding the right honorable gentleman that in a letter to the Prime Minister prior to the last general election, the President of the United States of America promised to review the quota fixed for imports of Australian lead by the United States. I ask the Acting Prime Minister: What representations did the right honorable gentleman make on his recent visit to the United States to adjust the unjust restrictions on Australia’s lead exports and to have the importation of Australian lead into the United States increased? Is the right honorable gentleman aware that there are about 600 men unemployed at Broken Hill and that the employees in the mine have been working only nine weeks in ten over a long period? What action does the Government propose to take in order to assist to stabilize the lead industry and restore employ- ment in Broken Hill? Further, in view of the fact that there is a glut in supplies of oil at present, will the Acting Prime Minister consider the reduction of imports of oil from dollar sources until lead exports are again able to create greater dollar credits?
– I think I can best answer the honorable member’s question by stating the position as it was some months ago when the United States Administration imposed restrictive import quotas on lead and zinc, and what the position is to-day. At that stage, the United States Administration stated that there had not been a world response to a suggestion made by the President a couple of years earlier that lead and zinc exporting countries should exercise a restraint in the volume of their exports to the United States, and that consequent upon this situation, United States lead and zinc mines were in trouble. The Administration had decided, therefore, to impose an arbitrary restriction of 20 per cent, on a certain base year for a five-year base period. I was in the United States at that time and argued very vigorously with the appropriate people that this ought not to have been done and that, it being done, the base year chosen was unfavorable to Australia as I had explained to the Administration before it took action. In the end result, I received assurances which indicated that if the lead and zinc exporters to world markets would so restrain their exports as to equate the volume being exported to world markets to the commercial demand in sight, then the United States would be prepared to review its import quotas. That was an assurance given.
Upon that basis a suggestion that I myself, speaking for the Government, had made earlier was put into effect. A world study group of the lead and zinc producers was convened under the United Nations. That study group met in December and subsequently, and is in session in the United Nations in New York at present. Australian industry representatives from Broken Hill, Mount Isa and Tasmania are there, and the Australian Government is represented. Sir Edwin McCarthy is leader of the Australian delegation. I have some confidence that there will emerge from this world meeting some suggestions for equating world exports of lead and zinc to the market opportunities in sight. This will justify our pressing very strongly indeed for the United States to remove its present objectionable quota system. More news will come out of this matter, I am sure, in the next week or so, as this meeting in New York proceeds, and I shall be glad to inform the honorable member and the House of the developing position.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer. As there is still a time lag between the approval of an application for a war service home and the availability of finance for the applicant, and as approval is frequently given to the borrowing of temporary finance, usually at far higher rates of interest than that charged under the war service homes legislation, will the Minister give consideration to allowing as a deduction for income tax purposes the interest paid by ex-servicemen for temporary finance?
– I shall arrange for consideration to be given to the interesting suggestion of the honorable member.
– I have received from the Minister for Health an intimation that the infectious diseases section of the Royal Adelaide Hospital at Northfield has been accepted as an approved institution for medical benefits. However, it is the intention of the Minister not to apply this acceptance to the general section, because it contains many permanently invalided patients. Is the Minister aware that there are in the general section temporarily incapacitated people who have been transferred from the Royal Adelaide Hospital to make room for cases of a more urgent character? Does not the attitude of the Minister visit an injustice upon these people who have been removed to meet the convenience of the general hospital and who, if they had not been removed, would have been paid medical benefits?
– The section of the hospital which has not been approved for the payment of special accounts benefit is disqualified under the section of the act which excepts hospitals principally for the care of permanent patients. These patients are quite eligible for Commonwealth benefit and may receive it up to £1 a day.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral say how the design on the latest 4d. stamp is linked with the sesquicentenary of the Post Office? How is the group of figures, which appears to consist of pirates or buccaneers, linked with the operations of the Post Office?
– I assure the honorable member that the term “ pirate “ or “ buccaneer “ cannot in any sense be applied to the department which I have the honour to administer. The honorable member asks about the significance of the figures on a stamp which has recently been issued thereon. It is quite an interesting story. The stamp has been issued to mark the sesqui-centenary or 150 years of operation of the Postal Department. The story which the stamp sets out to depict briefly is that for some time in the early history of what was, I think, the colony of New South Wales the mails which came out on the various vessels were collected on board by the persons to whom they were addressed. Of course, there were occasions when someone would come along and collect mail that really belonged to somebody else.
– Ned Kelly!
– Yes, but that was later. As a result, it became necessary for the then Lieutenant-Governor of the colony to take some action, and on a very significant date - significant not only from this point of view but from another point of view in Australia’s history - 25th April, 1809, an instruction or regulation was issued appointing one, Mr. Isaac Nichols, to board ships and take delivery of any mail carried thereon, take it to an office and sort it, and place on his notice board a notice addressed to persons for whom he was holding mail. That was the only way in which mail was distributed, and that system and that establishment were together the origin of the Post Office in Australia. That is why on our sequi-centenary stamp we show this “ pirate “, as the honorable gentleman describes the figure, boarding the ship and being met by the captain, for the purpose of collecting mail brought from the Mother Country for Australian citizens.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Territories. Has the Government yet worked out a scheme whereby a large-scale peanut industry in the Northern Territory can be established? I point out that considerable research work has been carried out by research stations of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and Administration farms which demonstrates beyond doubt the suitability of certain areas, such as the Daly River and Katherine areas, for the growing of this crop.
– As the honorable member indicated in his question, for some time experimental work on peanuts, as well as on a number of other crops, has been carried out in the Northern Territory by both the Administration and the C.S.I.R.O. At present the main form of assistance available for the promotion of agriculture in the Northern Territory is through the Primary Producers’ Board. Although what I am about to say has no direct link with the honorable gentleman’s question, it is an interesting coincidence that at this moment I have on my table for consideration some proposals, which were prepared at my request, regarding the best means of promoting agriculture in the Northern Territory. We have it in mind to conduct some sort of basic inquiry into that question, taking into account not only the agricultural problems of growing crops but also the problems of financing people to undertake primary production and the problems associated with the marketing of the product. These proposals, prepared in the Department of Territories, are now under consideration. I cannot anticipate the decision, but I should expect that the first result would be some investigation by competent persons able to advise us on the best means of promoting agriculture in the Northern Territory.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry: Is it a fact that after a survey of certain Australian pearl shell areas last year a decision was made to undertake a further survey this year? If so, has this survey commenced, and what are the exact areas which will be investigated to ascertain re-growth of shell?
– A decision was taken to continue the survey of pearling beds for another season. It commenced on the 15th of this month in sub-area No. 5, a Queensland area, and the survey vessel is proceeding from there across to the eastern section of the Northern Territory area, whence it will go to the north-western beds, covering the western beds of the Northern Territory, en route. After work in sub-areas 3 and 4 of the Western Australian division, the vessel will complete its survey of the Northern Territory area not hitherto surveyed. It is expected that the survey will be completed about 16th December, when the ship will lie up at Thursday Island. Of course, the survey programme is subject to seasonal weather conditions and may be varied somewhat.
– I ask the Minister for External Affairs a question, and without notice. Has he received a report from our delegates to the sixth session of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation? The session took place in the last week of March and the first week of April. Since his foreign affairs statement contained no reference to the important work which Australia is called on to perform as one of the fifteen nations represented on this committee, will the right honorable gentleman promptly release the full report when he receives it?
– I am not conscious of having seen the report about which the honorable member speaks, but I will certainly look into the matter and do as he suggests.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Interior. I understand that an approach has been made by the Victorian Rural Fire Brigades Association to the Premier of Victoria that he should support its application for the conducting of a wireless co-ordination course for rural fire brigades communications personnel at the Civil Defence School at Mount Macedon. As the rural fire brigades wireless network is a very important alternative method of communication in times of national stress or crisis, will the Minister give his favorable consideration to this application?
– Naturally I will be very pleased to give this application consideration. The importance of emergency communications in civil defence is very well realized. In the Civil Defence School at Mount Macedon where emergency communications courses are occasionally held, the rural fire brigades are normally represented. However, I doubt very much whether it would be practicable to run a special course for the rural fire brigades in Victoria other than in the civil defence aspect where, as I say, they are already represented, in view of the very great demands already made on the Civil Defence School for special courses in other aspects of civil defence.
– ls the Treasurer aware of the fact that most of the big insurance companies have abandoned loans to finance home building and are seeking a higher interest rate elsewhere? Is it a fact that only in rare instances are private loans granted and that no loans from the big companies for building purposes have been made for some time? Is it a fact, also, that as a result there has been a large drop in the amount of money available to building societies, amounting to about £1,000,000? In view of the fact that the early charters of these well-established mutual societies indicated that their funds would be available for the home builders, will the Treasurer examine those charters and remind these companies which are making large profits, of their genuine responsibility to their own investors and subscribers to insurance under the plan?
– I have no information before me which suggests that there has been any decline in lending from these various financial institutions for housing purposes on the scale indicated by the honorable member. Certainly, the statistics of house construction do not permit of that sort of interpretation. The rate of home building is being maintained at a very high level at the present time, as the honorable member well knows.
– Not high enough!
– Not as much up in the air as the honorable member for Melbourne is, perhaps, but the building industry is proceeding on what, I think, can be regarded as an efficient level of operations at the present time. I will have some inquiries made.
– There has been a public report containing information of the nature I have mentioned.
– Both the honorable member and I have reason to be sceptical of most public reports. However, I shall see what facts are available. I recognize, with him, the importance of there being available, particularly from soundly operated institutions of this character, finance on reasonable terms for those Australians who wish to raise funds for home-building purposes.
– I direct the PostmasterGeneral’s attention to the anomalous position regarding charges for information service telephone calls. If a telephone subscriber makes the call from his own telephone, for which he pays rent, he is charged, in addition, a call fee. If the call is made from a public telephone, however, it is free. This applies to inquiries for weather forecasts, the time of the day, and, in season, for test match scores. The result was that, during the cricket season, the score service lines were choked with free calls and it was impossible for most subscribers to get anything but an engaged signal. Accordingly, I ask the Minister whether he will consider putting public telephones and subscriber telephones on the same footing as to payment.
– The honorable member for Mitchell has referred to a phase of the new services which the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is offering in various spheres. He has mentioned test matches, time services, and the weather service which is being instituted. The point which he raised has engaged the attention of the department since the inception of these services. I point out that the services, which have been extremely successful, have been in operation only for a little while and are still in what I might term the experimental stage. It is well known that people who use a public telephone can get these services without the payment of the fee which normally attaches to a call from a private telephone. This is only because it would be necessary to install special equipment on all public telephones to enable these calls to be charged for. This would be a bit difficult.
Although it was realized that this anomaly would develop, it was felt that the services should be proceeded with experimentally, and that if there were a considerable demand for them we could then undertake the task of seeing that every one who made such a call paid for it. We are engaged at the moment, and have been for some time, in trying to determine a method by which that could be done. The honorable member suggested that, during the test matches, particularly, the demand was so great on the public telephones that people calling from their own homes could not get service. With respect, I say to the honorable member that that was not the information that I received on this matter and I followed it pretty closely. We found that about 10 per cent, of the total calls received over the series of five test matches originated from public telephone boxes. We felt that we had achieved a pretty good result, seeing that 90 per cent, of the subscribers were able to obtain the information they were seeking at a moment’s call and at a very slight cost. However, the honorable member has dealt with a matter which I realize must be determined and I assure him that we are taking action to develop these valuable services - and they are very valuable - and, at the same time, to ensure that every one has the opportunity to obtain them.
– Is the Minister for Air aware of the unsightly tin shanty accommodation available for Air Force personnel at Williamtown which, in the summer time, is extremely hot and, in the winter, extremely cold? Furthermore, in view of the large sums of money that are being spent on extending runways and other facilities, when does the Government intend to provide permanent and more attractive accommodation at Williamtown?
– In addition to the criticism implied in the honorable member’s question, I have read some criticism in the press recently of the standards of accommodation at the Royal Australian Air Force fighter base at Williamtown. Although I think that criticism a bit exaggerated and a bit one-sided, I agree that there is some substance in it. The post-war Air Force has preferred to put its limited resources into aircraft, runways and training. I think this is all to its credit. It is also true that the young men who man the Air Force, if they are given good aircraft and the opportunity to train in and fly them, are not critical of their accommodation. This also, I think, is to their credit, as I am sure the House will agree. But I realized some time ago, as did my predecessor, that there must be some limit to this tendency, and for several years past a vigorous works programme has been in operation, designed to improve the standard of accommodation at Royal Australian Air Force bases, with particular reference to married quarters. I realize, as the honorable member for Newcastle does, that homes for married personnel are of firstrate importance to the members of the Air Force and their families. At Williamtown permanent brick buildings of a very high standard have been built in the last few years. These will accommodate, I think, 539 airmen and sergeants. About 40 houses for airmen and their families have also been built at Williamtown recently. This kind of progress is continuing, not only at Williamtown but also at other Air Force bases throughout the country.
– I address to the Minister for External Affairs a question dealing with the Colombo Plan. I preface my question by stating that I am concerned that the National Film Library does not appear to have any up-to-date films showing the operation of the Colombo Plan within Australia, or the practical working of the scheme in the recipient countries. Will the right honorable gentleman advise the House whether any film of this nature, which would be helpful in educating our own people to the value of the substantial financial allocation for Colombo Plan purposes, is in production? If such a film is not in production, will he give consideration to the suggestion that a film on this subject be produced?
– I cannot say offhand what films exist of the kind that the honorable member asks about. I can, however, tell him that during recent months we have had a senior Australian journalist, accompanied by a very capable photographer with cinema equipment, touring most of the countries of South and South-East Asia for the purpose of reporting on the operation of the Colombo Plan. They are still engaged upon this work, which will result, amongst other things, in a considerable footage of film. This will be edited and made into at least one film, if not a number of them, of the kind that the honorable member has in mind. I shall certainly see what is currently available, but within a relatively few months, if not weeks, a film or films of the sort mentioned by the honorable member will be available in Australia.
– My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. A good dealof resentment is felt at the delays that occur in the hearing of applications for awards by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Can the Minister have a report prepared outlining the procedures which take such inordinate lengths of time, so that people like ourselves may be able to suggest ways in which matters could be speeded up?
– The administration of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act is divided between myself and my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service. I think the honorable member’s question should have been directed to my colleague. In any case, I will make inquiries of him and between us we will furnish the honorable member with a reply.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer. Has the right honorable gentleman received from the Graziers Federal Council a communication requesting that a bounty be paid on superphosphate? If so, will he take into account, in his consideration of this request, the evidence given by Professor Lewis in the current basic wage hearing, which makes it quite clear that under the influence of declining farm income there has been a sharp drop in farm investment, the continuance of which at increasing levels is so vital to our future export income?
– Yes, I have had a communication from the council referred to on the subject of a bounty for superphosphate. I think the honorable gentleman will be aware that this is a rather complex problem because of the policy of encouraging the production of sulphuric acid in Australia from indigenous materials, and because there has recently been a greater availability of brimstone at a lower price from overseas. This matter is being considered by the Cabinet at the present time, and the views put by the Graziers Federal Council will not be overlooked in the course of the Cabinet’s consideration. As to the latter part of the question, the honorable gentleman may be assured that all the relevant circumstances will be taken into account.
– On 28th April, the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) directed to me a question concerning the remuneration and conditions of employment of the staff of four guides who are employed to conduct visitors on tours of inspection of Parliament House. No variation has been made in the basic salaries of these officers. Until recently, these officers were rostered for duty on five days a week - Monday to Saturday. As Parliament House was open for public inspection on Sunday afternoons only, the officers required for duty on those afternoons were paid at the appropriate overtime rate.
On 11th March last the Joint House Committee resolved that Parliament House should be open for inspection on Sundays from 9.30 a.m. In accordance with normal Public Service practice, it became necessary to roster one officer for a full day’s duty each Sunday, but the appropriate penalty rate has been paid. The action taken was in accordance with the Public Service (Parliamentary Officers) Regulations and with the Public Service practice where regular performance of duty for a full day on Sunday is necessary.
– by leave - I should like to make a short statement by way of answer to a question that the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Davies) addressed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), through me, on 23rd April. The honorable member asked whether, in view of the great importance of the tourist industry to Tasmania in general and to the north-west coast in particular, and in view of the fact that the vehicle-carrying ferry “ Princess of Tasmania “ was booked out until next April, the Minister would use every endeavour to have “ Taroona “ kept on the run next season and to have it include Burnie as a port of call.
The Minister has informed me that “ Princess of Tasmania “ is not booked out until next April. Bookings have been heavy for the period from mid-December to mid-January, but bookings at other times are still available. Heavy Christmas bookings have been commonplace for years past in the Tasmanian service, and “ Taroona “ sometimes could not cater for the full demand. This vessel is due for a classification survey in December next. If the owners decide to operate it during the Christmas season, the Commonwealth will have no objection, but it is clearly the responsibility of the owners to make such arrangements as will be necessary for this purpose.
Debate resumed from 28th April (vide page 1627). on motion by Mr. Harold Holt-
That the bil] be now read a second time.
.- Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Opposition, I move the following amendment to this bill:-
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “the bill be withdrawn and redrafted with a view to providing that, without reduction of the amounts provided under this bill, an amount of money not less than the full proceeds of the petrol and diesel fuel taxes shall be granted to the States for expenditure by the States, municipalities and shires on or in connexion with roads “.
– Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
– This bill is a classic illustration of the old adage about the mountain that laboured and brought forth a mouse. The universal conception in the minds of the people and of all interested bodies such as motorists’ organizations and municipal associations - in fact, of all people interested in the case for a very great increase in expenditure on our roads - was that the principles of the 1954 act, which expires at the end of June next, would have to be greatly improved in response to the challenge presented by the deplorable condition of the Australian road system. Most Australians confidently expected the Government to take a very courageous step forward with the implementation of a new agreement that would make a real and necessary effort to effect road reform, but all that we see in this measure is a very miserable short shuffle forward. When this bill is compared with the present act, it is seen that it makes very little improvement. Indeed, the improvement is so meagre that I wonder why the Government wasted any time or effort on bringing in the bill.
Prior to the last general election, the Government sensed the popular demand by all sections of the people for a statesmanlike approach to the road problem. The Government realized that it had to make some gesture to the public before the election. As a consequence, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated in his policy speech that it was the Government’s intention to convene, early in the life of the new government, if it were returned to office, a meeting of all interested people to discuss road reform. Consequent upon the Prime Minister’s statement that the Government was seised of the seriousness of the position, the Government convened a National Roads Conference, which met on 12th and 13th February of this year at the Albert Hall, in Canberra, to hear the views of all who were interested. A very large and representative gathering assembled. The State governments sent along their Ministers in charge of road and transport matters. Local government was represented at the highest level, and civic authorities were represented by the Lord Mayors of the capital cities. Industry, commerce and the road hauliers also sent representatives. Motorists were represented by officers of the Australian Automobile Association, and other interested people attended. As a matter of fact, since the road problem assumed its present enormous dimensions, there has never been such a representative gathering of people vitally interested in the improvement of our road system.
Many thoughtful views were expressed by the delegates at the conference. It is true that, owing to the diversity of the interests that were represented, there was some divergence of opinion about what should be the ultimate aim of any legislation. Different points of view were expressed by the representatives of different sections of the community but, in the main, the conference made it perfectly clear that a vastly improved road network was considered to be absolutely essential. There was common agreement on that, and on the principle that this aim could be achieved only by greatly increased expenditure. It was realized, of course, that there are different ways of going about it and different approaches to the problem. But it is of no use for anybody to present blue-prints for an effective solution of the problem unless greatly increased funds are allocated directly to solving it.
The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), who presided at the National Roads Conference, paid the delegates a great compliment when he said that it would take some time to study in detail the subject-matter of the submissions that had been made. He thought that they were entitled to very serious consideration by the Government. However, despite the fine and honeyed words of the Minister, it is evident that the views of the delegates received very short shrift from the Government, because there is very little relationship between the views of the conference and the provisions of the bill. Indeed, the Government made its views known to the previous conference early in March. It would appear that the views of the delegates received a very cursory examination.
The Opposition contends - and has contended for very many years - that the only hope for an effective roads system lies in legislation enacted in this Parliament. State governments may have the constitutional control of roads, but unfortunately their methods of raising money are so limited and their exchequers so low that, if it were not for the monetary assistance given by this Parliament, we would not have a roads system at all. We contend also that, despite the views of various people that roads should be controlled by one authority or another, adequate finance is the crux of the matter. If sufficient money were made available, the necessary work could be done by the road authorities in the States now. They are well versed in up-to-date techniques and methods; they have modern equipment and can plan their road construction according to designs adopted generally in other civilized countries. The only factor that is absent is money. The problem can be solved only by the provision of sufficient funds; manpower, equipment and materials present no difficulties.
– How much do you suggest?
– Content yourself in patience, and you will hear it all. At present, the States have no constitutional authority to raise all the money required for road purposes. It is true that they could raise it by increasing registration fees by 300 per cent, or 400 per cent. But that is not practical politics; no government, after doing that, would be returned to office at the following election, no matter whether it was a Liberal or a Labour government. An examination reveals that all civilized countries use one common method as a basis for financing road systems, and that is the petrol tax. I cannot speak for countries behind the iron curtain, but this principle certainly applies in countries on this side of the iron curtain. I have conducted very extensive research and I have found that the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and all European countries not only use the petrol tax as a basis for financing roads, but they use the entire proceeds of the petrol tax. I stress that the entire proceeds of the petrol tax is used for road purposes. Other sources are also used; this is merely the basis. However, we do not suggest here that the use of all the proceeds of the petrol tax for road purposes is the alpha and omega of the problem. Other methods of raising money for this purpose will also be used when a progressive Australian government ultimately faces up to the question of providing the means to establish a modern road system. However, the point is that the petrol tax is universally recognized as a very good and equitable method of paying for roads.
The bill introduces three new principles. The first is that fuel taxes, which include petrol and diesel taxes - 1 shall use the expression “ fuel taxes “ to include both - will not be linked with any Commonwealth obligation to provide finance for roads in the future. The Government has stated that the fuel taxes will be incorporated with normal Budget revenue and that it will make an allowance for roads without having regard to the amount collected in fuel taxes. As I will show later, that is merely dodging the issue.
The second principle is that of matching contributions. The agreement will provide that £1 will be contributed by the Commonwealth for every £1 contributed by the State Governments from their own resources for expenditure on roads over and above the amounts allocated by them for expenditure on roads in the financial year 1958-59. I will have more to say about that later.
The third principle relates to the formula. The old formula caused much discussion, not on a party basis, but more on a State basis. Our opinions depended upon the State from which we came. The old system was introduced in 1926. and the formula then was borrowed from an American state. It was not until this year that the Government decided to alter it. Speaking for myself, as a Victorian, I am very happy with the new formula, but I realize that, for instance, Western Australian members will not be so happy. The Labour Party will not oppose the introduction of the new principle of distribution. In future the basis on which allocations will be made will be one-third according to population, one-third according to area, and one-third according to the number of motor vehicles registered in the respective States.
A detailed examination shows that the bill offers very little improvement on the existing agreement. Last night, when introducing the measure, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) cited the increase in the amount of money that had been given for road purposes over the past five years and in the amount that was expected to be given over the next five years. He .apparently attributed this to the good grace of the Government. Actually, it is not because of any government action at all; it is caused by the rapid increase in the number of motor vehicles on the roads. The Treasurer said that over the past ten years the number of cars in Australia had doubled. Naturally, a man does not buy a car to leave it in a garage; he buys it to use it and when he uses it he buys petrol. That means that the amount collected through the petrol tax also increases. The Treasurer last night tried to convey the impression that the Government is being generous in its allocations. But we find that over the next five years, under the present agreement as much money would have been obtained from the petrol tax as will be available under the new agreement with a fixed contribution from the exchequer. I shall cite figures to prove my contention in a moment. We cannot stress too highly that this community is becoming motor-minded.
I know that some people deplore the advent of motor cars and point to the vast inroads made in the receipts of authorities concerned with public transport, such as railways and tramways. But we must face up to the inevitable and realize that road transport is here to stay and that the number of vehicles using the roads will continue to increase. Come what may in the future, people will buy motor cars, and that means that they must buy petrol. To-day we are in a very happy position. Only the United States of America and Canada have a higher per capita motor vehicle ownership than Australia and New Zealand, which are the same.
Huge sums will be collected in the next five years from the imposition by the Government of the petrol tax. It is at present ls. Id. a gallon on imported petrol, the volume of which is decreasing almost daily because of the expansion of local refineries. The tax on locally refined petrol is Hid. a gallon. Of those respective amounts the
Government has been in the habit of contributing 8d. to the various States. Despite the statement by the Treasurer last evening, the Government has not been at all generous in its allocations under this legislation. As a matter af fact, it has been extremely niggardly.
In support of my contention 1 propose to quote from the report of the Committee of Transport Economic Research, a body set up by the Australian Transport Advisory Council, which is presided over by the Minister for Shipping and Transport and comprises the Ministers for Transport in the respective States and six Commonwealth Ministers. This accepted authority has made some very valuable research into the transport industry generally, and 1 want to tell honorable members what it estimates petrol tax receipts would have been over the next five years under the present petrol tax agreement. I might mention that this report was made in 1956 to cover a tenyear period, and that over the three years, from 1956 to the present time, the committee’s estimates have been very accurate. In fact, they were slightly conservative, so there is no reason to believe that the committee’s estimates for the next five years will be other than reasonable.
In Table 18 of the report, which was made on 3rd September, 1956, the committee sets out its estimate of the allocation from petrol tax to the States as follows: -
However, since that report was compiled the Government has imposed a tax on diesel fuel, which has returned a further £3,000,000 to the States each year. So it will be seen that the committee estimated that over the next five years the States would have received £220,000,000 under the existing legislation, which is the amount they are to receive under this bill.
Under this bill the Government intends to allocate to the States £220,000,000. It did not pluck that figure out of the air. It is quite apparent that in its endeavours to explain the dissociation of the petrol tax from the lump sum taken from Consolidated Revenue, the Government has had to fall back on some argument that it did not want to connect the two, but when we look at the figures we find that they are the same. How, therefore, can the Government claim that it is being generous when it is apparent that if the existing legislation had continued for the next five years, the States would have got as much as they will get under the proposed legislation, despite all the ballyhoo that has been indulged in in recent months? There is only one exception to that statement, and I shall enlarge upon that in a moment.
The report of the committee shows that over the next five years the Government expects to receive £319,000,000 by way of fuel taxes. If the Government pays to the States £220,000,000 under this legislation, plus an additional £30,000,000 by way of matching grants, it will still be taking to itself for general revenue purposes £69,000,000 over the next five years, or almost £14,000,000 a year. The annual amount of £14,000,000, which could well be used for road purposes, will be used for general revenue purposes. Such a state of affairs will not be accepted by the community at large. The Treasurer, in an endeavour to justify the Government’s action in fixing the amounts that it would grant, said that because of fluctuations in revenue from fuel taxes it is better to know what the basic grant will be over the next five years. He stated that in one year there may be little increase in revenue from fuel taxes, but in another year there may be a large increase. Despite the dire predictions of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) of the possibility of a depression, with receipts not reaching the full amount, it is safe to say that the motor industry will continue to boom. The Melbourne “ Herald “ quotes the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) as saying that fixed investment in Australia’s motor vehicle industry has risen from just over £10,000,000 in 1938-39 to about £100,000,000 in 1958. The Minister is reported to have said -
The demand for motor vehicles during 1958 was about 240,000. It could rise to at least 330,000 within the next ten years.
In other words, the Acting Prime Minister of this country has no fears whatever for the future of the motor industry. He realizes that with the change over from rail and tram transport to transport by motor vehicles, irrespective of what may happen in the future, the motor industry has become and will continue to be an integral part of this country’s economy. It will be so valuable that if we do have a depression, other industries will suffer before the motor industry does, because if the motor industry stops, everybody would stop and we would have chaos. I am not so pessimistic as to think, as does the honorable member for Mallee, that the upward trend of the motor industry may come to an abrupt halt. The figures submitted by the Committee of Transport Economic Research show that this year 2,729,000 motor vehicles will be on the roads, but by 1963-64 the number will be 3,197,000. That is an increase of almost 470,000 vehicles in five years - a very conservative estimate. Experience has shown that liquid fuel is so indispensable that receipts from the tax on fuel are never likely to fall. As a matter of fact, such a situation would be impossible under our present mode of living and receipts in any one year will never be less than the previous year.
Although the £220,000,000 that the States are to get under this legislation is no more than they got under the existing legislation, there is one slight improvement. Under the existing legislation, of the amount collected from petrol tax, £1,000,000 a year was devoted to defence and strategic roads and road safety purposes. From now on that amount will be found from general revenue, and will not be taken from the petrol tax receipts. So, in effect, the States will receive an additional £5,000,000 under this legislation.
Now let me say a little about the supplementary or matching grants. I cannot condemn this proposal too strongly. The supplementary grants will commence this year at £2,000,000, rising by £2,000,000 a year until at the end of five years they stand at £10,000,000. The supplementary grant can be given to a State only if it can match the Commonwealth’s grant £1 for £1, and the States will receive the supplementary grants in the same way as they receive money under the formula. If one State cannot take up its full supplementary grant and another State can more than match the Commonwealth allocation, the latter State will not be entitled to receive more than the maximum grant. Any amount that a State cannot match will revert to Commonwealth revenue. This £l-for-£l proposition is a return to the state of affairs that existed under the 1926 legislation, in which the States were expected to find 15s. for every £1 found by the Commonwealth. In 1931 the Scullin Government repealed that provision in the legislation and it has not been utilized since. This new proposal relating to supplementary grants is a retrograde step. It asks the States, with their very limited taxing powers, to find additional money for roads at a time when they cannot find enough money for schools, hospitals, power and water projects, and the hundred and one other things which State governments are expected to provide. Because of this, the State governments, if they find this money, will have to neglect other avenues where money could be spent to advantage. It would not be so bad if the State governments had the power the states have in the United States of America. There, the state governments as well as the federal government have power to levy fuel taxes. The entire proceeds of the fuel tax, both federal and state, go back into the respective road systems of that great continent, but in Australia the same constitutional powers do not operate so far as State governments are concerned.
When we look at the history of the fuel tax in Australia, we find that before 1926 the Commonwealth Government made a small grant to the States out of revenue raised by a petrol tax of Id. a gallon, but it was so meagre in total that the Governments of Western Australia and South Australia brought in legislation imposing a petrol tax of 3d. in the £1. They proposed to collect the money. There was such confusion over the issue that the Commonwealth and State governments conferred because litigation was threatened by the Federal Government and Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. They threatened to take the South Australian and Western Australian Governments to the High Court of Australia to have the State legislation declared invalid. As a result of a compromise between the parties, the first real fuel tax bill was introduced by the Bruce-Page Government in 1926.
I should like to quote some extracts from speeches made by honorable members of that time during the debate on that bill because I want to refute once again the statement that is consistently made that the petrol tax legislation was never intended to raise money for road purposes alone. Last night, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) quite rightly paid tribute to the work of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) under the federal aid roads legislation. The Treasurer should have examined what the right honorable member for Cowper said in 1926 because when he was speaking about the State governments and the projected legislation, he said, as reported in “ Hansard “ -
It is impossible to know what the State governments will do in the future, for they have already changed their ground so often. In these circumstances, the Government has decided to proceed with its policy, and will impose only sufficient taxation to meet the obligation it has incurred.
That was the obligation of giving to the State governments £2,000,000 a year over a ten-years’ period. In other words, it was the intention of the Commonwealth Government in 1926 only to impose a tax on petrol to pay £2,000,000 a year to the States. The right honorable member for Cowper, who has been praised for implementing this legislation, said on 8th July, 1926, as reported at page 3950, volume 114 of “ Hansard”-
The State governments, lacking the power to impose Customs duties, are unable to effectively reach all road users. The Commonwealth, therefore, is co-operating with the States in a national roads policy, and will impose special Customs duties which will be hypothecated for road construction. The imposition of these duties at the source will ultimately result in the road users paying the special tax proportionately to their use et the roads.
That is a very significant statement because it justifies the fairness of the incidence of the petrol tax - the more you use the roads, the more you pay. That is the fairest method of taxing road users. Other members of the Parliament of that day had comments to make. Mr. Perkins, who was the member for Eden-Monaro and became a Commonwealth Minister said -
I take it that the users of roads will not object to paying a small tax on the petrol that they purchase, considering that the amount collected is to be expended on the construction and maintenance of roads. 1 could also quote the words of Sir John Latham but I have not time. His view was quite clearly that the petrol tax was to raise money solely for road purposes.
Mr. Stanley Bruce, now Viscount Bruce, who was Prime Minister at the time said -
The Government proposes to make available to the States a sum of £20,000,000, spread over a period of ten years, such amount to be provided out of the revenue derived by the Commonwealth from taxation to be collected from motor users through the Customs Department.
In other words, he gave that as a reason why the bill should receive support. I challenge any honorable member who is prepared to argue with me on this matter to read the relevant “ Hansard “ reports and the speeches of the members of that day. If I do not convince him, he will be convinced when he reads the speeches of those days. The Labour Party contends that fuel taxation is the best means available of apportioning charges for road use to the actual benefits received by each road user. It is not a precise method, but by and large it is sufficiently exact. It provides the only means of measuring road use on a reasonably equitable basis. We meter the use made of electricity, water, gas, and telephones. The users of those services are required to pay in proportion to the use they make of them. It is a commercial transaction.
There is no difference between the use of those services and the use of the roads. Large sums have to be spent to provide telephones, water, electricity, gas and similar services, and large sums have to be spent by those who make the roads. What is wrong with the proposition that the more you use the roads and wear them out, the more you pay? It is an equitable proposition and countries throughout the world have adopted it but we, splendid in our isolation, say we should not assess the road tax on those lines. To a great degree, we can measure the use made of roads by means of fuel taxation and charge accordingly. Such a system is fair and equitable and corresponds with the freight charge or the passenger charge on a railway. When a person uses a railway and travels so many miles, he is charged accordingly. When he sends a parcel, he is charged so much according to distance and weight. The same principle could be applied to tha fuel tax. If you travel a small distance, you do not pay as much as you would for a long trip. There is no difference between taxation of fuel for motor cars and charging persons so much for using the trains and trams.
To tax road users as a class for purposes other than roads means that opportunity to tax tor road needs is correspondingly reduced. If you make the fuel tax high and use part of it for other purposes, then it is difficult to impose another tax on road users for road purposes. If you make the fuel tax a high tax imposed by the Commonwealth Government, it becomes extraordinarily difficult for a State government to say to motor users, “ We are not getting enough from the Commonwealth Government and will have to impose heavier registration fees “. Any State government which did that would not last long. Taxation for road purposes, on the other hand, means improved roads if the money is spent on the roads. Road users benefit by lower transport costs and the country’s economy benefits as a whole. This, in turn, is reflected in better yields from other taxation fields. If taxation is reduced, costs are lowered. Higher costs mean higher income tax and company tax and so it is essential to keep transport costs down. The more money there is spent on roads, the easier it is to lower transport costs.
If we are to compete in trade with other countries, it is vital that we keep down costs, but a tax on road users for general taxation purposes has just the reverse effect. Supporters of the Australian Country Party want to keep down the prices of products that they sell overseas and they should support any move to keep down the cost of road transport. We know that country road transport is often retarded by the deplorable condition of the roads. The Opposition proposes, through this amendment, to devote another £70,000,000 over the next five years for roads. That would mean that a greater amount would be spent on country roads and transport costs would be reduced. I hope that honorable members opposite from country areas will be consistent and support our amendment.
A fuel tax used for ordinary revenue purposes is a brake on enterprise and, being a flat rate tax, it hits the small man relatively more severely than it hits the established firm. It is largely a tax on production, but it must be paid before goods are produced. It is an extraordinary tax for that very reason. I think it is axiomatic to all parties that taxation should not be in a form that restricts production. Rather, it should be imposed after production has occurred; but if a fuel tax “is used for ordinary revenue purposes, its effect is just the reverse. This procedure cuts across all recognized taxation and commercial principles.
An argument used ad nauseam by Government supporters - the Treasurer mentioned it last night - is: If excise duties on beer and whisky are paid into general revenue, why should the proceeds of the petrol tax be not so paid? I should like to point out to the House that the difference between these two classes of tax is fundamental. For the most part petrol is used, as the Treasurer said, for business purposes. As a tax for general revenue purposes, a fuel tax adversely affects the cost of production of goods of all kinds. Let us compare that with a tax on beer. I read in a journal recently that good roads are a national asset but that beer drinking is a national pastime. The only thing common to the two is the word “ national “. A tax on beer and a tax on fuel have nothing else in common.
As the Government taxes for general revenue purposes the fuel used on roads, to be consistent, it should tax for general revenue purposes the coal and diesel oil used in locomotives. Why does it not tax the diesel fuel used in the steamships that ply around the Australian coast, and devote the proceeds to general revenue? Why does the Government single out the motorists and say, “ You have to find additional money for the Commonwealth because you are using petrol or diesel fuel “, when it does not say the same thing to the users of coal and diesel oil in locomotives and diesel oil in steamships? The Government is not consistent.
Nobody disputes the right of the Government to tax the motor industry, and tax that industry it certainly does! The industry contributes £70,000,000 a year through sales tax, customs duty and primage alone, quite apart from pay-roll tax and the income tax derived from workers in the industry. To tax petrol for general revenue purposes appears to be highly expedient and wrong in principle. It interferes with the establishment of a logical method of financing and developing an adequate roads system for Australia. In addition to allocating the full proceeds of the petrol ta for roads, to be fair and reasonable the Government should contribute to roads for a number of reasons.
The first reason is that roads are used extensively for Commonwealth Government purposes. They are used for the distribution of mail, the maintenance of telephone services, defence purposes, interstate travel, trade, and all aspects of Commonwealth administration. The New Zealand Government, in addition to devoting all the proceeds of its petrol tax to roads, pays annually £1,000,000 for that purpose out of general revenue. It recognizes that the Government, using the roads to a great extent for the purposes of administration, owes a debt to the roads system. This Government does the opposite; it retains from fuel taxes £14,000,000 a year which should be used on our roads. For the information of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who is interjecting, the New Zealand practice has applied there for a long time and has been supported by both Liberal and Labour administrations for the last twenty years at least.
Secondly, roads are essential to production, which at some stage supports all Commonwealth taxation. With a better roads system, the Commonwealth would receive more in taxation. I do not think that anybody can deny that assertion. Thirdly, Commonwealth vehicles do not pay motor vehicle registration fees to the States in which they operate. The Commonwealth completely ignores this liability to the States. It buys cars and trucks by the hundreds. As the Commonwealth is the collector of the petrol tax the cost of this tax to itself is nothing. We see huge Commonwealth trucks hurtling around Melbourne streets and Victorian country roads. The Commonwealth Government therefore has an obligation to the States to pay the full proceeds of fuel taxes for road purposes. Fourthly, road transport is a large contributor to Commonwealth revenue. The growth of road transport, unfortunately, is one of the main reasons why roads are breaking up so rapidly, and this is an added reason why all the money contributed by road transport operators in fuel taxes should be used for the repair of roads that big transports damage almost irretrievably.
The defence value of roads should not be overlooked. It would not be of much use for us to have a mobile defence force if, in the event of an outbreak of hostilities, we were unable to rush our mobile equipment to the north of Australia, where it might be needed. In certain seasons army vehicles would never get there. They would bog down on roads radiating to sections of the coast which would be vital for defence purposes. The miserable £850,000 to be provided for defence roads is. in effect, only nibbling at the problem. 1 should like to refer to the allocation by States of their share of the proceeds of fuel taxes. At present, this money is handed to the State governments, which distribute it as they think fit, subject to a proviso that 40 per cent, must be used for rural roads, other than trunk roads. In very many respects some State governments do not do the right thing by the municipalities. In Victoria, although 62 per cent, of fuel and registration taxes are collected in the metropolitan area, only 2 per cent, of the proceeds is spent in Melbourne. It is not fair that the motorists of Melbourne, who pay such a large sum of money in this way, should have such a very small amount returned to them in the form of expenditure on roads. The Bolte Government made indignant protests about the previous formula, saying that the proceeds of these taxes should be spent where the traffic density is the greatest. It said that the money should be spent where it was collected. With Mr. Bolte’s statement, I agree. When he receives more money as a result of the revision of the formula, he should spent a greater proportion of it in and around Melbourne. Many of the roads radiating from Melbourne, including arterial roads, are in a disgraceful condition. As soon as we reach the outskirts of the city, where the Victorian Country Roads Board begins to have authority, we find perfect roads. Municipal councils, because of lack of finance, are unable to face up to their responsibilities. The Treasurer optimistically suggested last night that as the Government will provide £150,000,000 in the next five years, State governments and municipalities should provide another £1 50,000,000 for roads purposes.
– Hear, hear!
– Where on earth would they find the money? If the honorable member for Deakin were to suggest to his municipality that it should find a large sum of money to match the Commonwealth’s contribution, he would not be very popular, because the municipality in which he resides is suffering extreme financial difficulty, as indeed is every other metropolitan council, because of inadequate money for roads. Summed up, this bill fails lamentably to express a statesmanlike approach to a serious national problem. It will effect only temporary, patch-work repairs to our decaying and outmoded roads system.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I listened to my friend from Batman (Mr. Bird) with the attention that we of course give him on this particular subject. So far as I can gather from the honorable gentleman’s remarks, to which I paid close attention, and from the amendment that he has moved on behalf of the Opposition, these boil down to this proposition: That we should retain in the new legislation the principle on which the old legislation was based, and that road construction and maintenance in this country for the next five years should be governed by the amount of petrol tax receipts available.
The second point made by my friend from Batman was that, if the evidence he had was correct, over the period of the legislation an extra amount of £70,000,000 would be available for road work. I admit that the honorable member for Batman is an enthusiast on the subject of roads, and I also admit that his knowledge of the subject is deep; but, may I say in passing, I think he occasionally draws the wrong conclusion. On the matter of finance the honorable gentleman is not quite so highly regarded as he is on the general aspects of the subject. It seems to me that it is very easy to talk about spending more money on certain things, without having any consideration at all as to where the money is to come from. Over the years we have heard many optimists suggest increased expenditure in many directions which are under the control of the Commonwealth. So the honorable member for Batman is following a precedent that is already well established here. His proposition boils down to this: That we as a parliament should allocate that extra £70,000,000 in the next five years to road work. But he does not fill in the other side of the ledger. That is the catch.
The honorable gentleman spent threequarters of an hour on demonstrating (a) the desirability and (b) the practicability of this proposition of spending an extra £70,000,000. So far as I remember, however, he made not one reference to the source from which that £70,000,000 was to come. Those of us who have followed the debates in this House over the years know well that of all the problems confronting Australia the basic problem is finance. It is so terribly easy - as has been shown so often - to say that more money should be made available by the Commonwealth for various purposes. That argument has been used so much that it has become a catch-cry. In fact, the virtue of the argument has been defeated by its own frequent repetition.
As sensible and, I think, responsible people we have to raise the question of where that extra £70,000,000 is to come from. Quite obviously, in the context of the honorable member’s argument, it can come from only one of two sources. It can come from the yield from extra taxation, or it can come from treasury-bills - inflationary financing, deficit budgeting, if you like to put it that way. After listening to the honorable member for Batman, those are the only alternatives which present themselves to my mind. If that is what the honorable member means I will be happy and the House will be happy, to contest his argument. If, on the other hand, he does not mean that at all, but means that expenditure on other forms of governmental activity and support should be reduced by £70,000,000 in order to make that amount available for roads, then I think he had some responsibility to make that point plain. The yard-stick by which such a proposition must be measured - the keystone of any discussion on Government policy - is: If the money is to be made available, where is it to come from? How is it to be raised and what action or re-action is necessary? By dodging giving an answer to that question, the problem becomes apparently easy of solution. So I am inclined to regard the rest of the honorable gentleman’s remarks without the respect that I might normally have paid to comments from him on the subject of roads.
It has been said to me, and no doubt to other people engaged in this profession or pastime of politics, that politics is the art of the attainable. That is one of the less cynical definitions frequently applied to politics. I think that in this, as in other forms of legislation, that is the clue to the basis of the present legislation. The legislation is not, to my mind, perfect; indeed, I believe it falls a long way short of perfection. But its aims are practicable and attainable in the terms of present conditions in this country.
As my friend from Batman pointed out, there are three important factors to be met. Looking at the matter through the enlightened eyes of a Victorian, the first factor is that the formula has been proved’. Looking at it from the perhaps larger viewpoint of the Commonwealth, the second factor is that for the first time since the Commonwealth intervened in this form of financing there will be, over the five-year period of the legislation, a definite amount of finance available each year, every year, for the purposes of the legislation. If I may, Sir, I shall say something more on that aspect later.
The third factor, in relation to which I differ again from the honorable member for Batman, is that this legislation is taking a considerable step forward in that it is designed to free the Commonwealth’s contribution to the cost of road construction and maintenance from its previous association with petrol tax receipts. The honorable member for Batman said that many countries followed the practice of linking road-works expenditure with petrol tax yield. Perhaps that is true in part. I know it is true that in Australia we have conditions which differ from those of any comparable country - differences of geography, differences of distance between centres and differences of climate, in that Australia embraces tropical, near-tropical and temperate areas. All these things affect, as they must and should, our approach to the roads question.
I believe that since 1926, when this form of legislation was first introduced. however admirable it may have been, the net result has been that it has delayed constructive thinking in this country for a great many years. It has particularly delayed constructive thinking over the last few years. I shall illustrate that contention by the approach made by the honorable member for Batman on behalf of the Opposition. His proposition, put in another way, is that road finance has been allied to the petrol tax since 1926, and that therefore that system should be continued and, consequently, our approach to road transport problems should be the basic approach of 1926, 1936 and 1946.
Problems that have arisen in the process of development have been mentioned by many speakers in this House lately. But problems in industry, problems of increasing population and problems in respect of demand generally, cannot be met by talking in terms of a road transport policy only. That is merely one section. The attention of this House and of all State parliaments should be turning more to a national policy covering road, rail, sea and air transport. The concentration on road problems, as was demonstrated by thehonorable member for Batman in the narrow and parochial sentiment with which; he finished his speech, serves only to direct attention from the more important issues. It is easy to talk about the cost of transport and the percentage of national income; which it represents. The honorable member for Batman quoted from a report which said that the overwhelming percentage of transport costs and difficulties wa& experienced within a ten-mile radius of capital cities. To any one who has looked at this problem other than in a narrowand parochial way, it is obvious that one of the basic cost factors is governed by the condition of roads. The road facilities, are of the last generation - of the horseandbuggy days. These are at present available to road transport - the most modernform apart from aviation - from rail-heads, or from wharf and harbour. If road facilities were improved, one at least of the basiccosts to industry would be reduced. Finance comes into this matter and it should’ be a subject of the attention of all State governments as well as the Commonwealths Government.
I regret that in the recent conference on road transport called by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) this aspect did not receive sufficient attention. One reason was that many of the organizations interested presented only a case on their own behalf. I read with interest but also with some dismay the submissions which individual organizations presented, emphasizing their own particular needs. No doubt it is the responsibility as well as the right of this Parliament to gather up those various points of view and make an ultimate decision. The Government has done that to some extent in the measure we are now discussing, but I believe that it has not gone nearly far enough. However, I am prepared to concede that no federal government in this day and age can get too far away from all the other governments of Australia, both State and municipal.
The honorable member for Batman complained that the improvement in the financial aspect was meagre. I suppose that is true enough, but I should like to remind honorable members of a statement made by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) which we cannot afford to overlook. He said -
There is a great need for better roads but there are many other needs. Roads must be seen as part of the transport problem generally.
He then went on to refer to various matters associated with the problems of transport and added -
We have to think, for example, of the needs for housing, for schools and colleges and hospitals, water and sewerage services, power supplies - and of course of the still larger need for expansion of industry in many of its sectors.
In other words we have all these problems of development before us and we cannot isolate, however much my friend from Batman and perhaps myself, to some extent, might like to do so, the question of roads from all the others. As a responsible Parliament we cannot do that and really discharge our duties. Yet we are seeking to do something like that.
The Treasurer went on to say that we might well expect to meet these problems increasingly over the next few years as general development proceeds. I do not see a marked divergence between that point of view and the opinion expressed by the honorable member for Batman. The honorable member quoted some figures from interesting sources on possible and. probable motor registrations over the next five years. They indicated one thing at least. If we accept the proposition that Australia will continue to develop at even the present rate, more motor vehicles will, be used for commercial transport and for private use. If we accept that view, we shall have to accept also that development and prosperity will be a responsibility not only of the Commonwealth Parliament but also of the State parliaments. In spite of the somewhat pessimistic view of my friend from Batman, it will be the responsibility of municipal government also, to some extent.
In view of these possibilities it is obvious that some sort of overall national transport plan is needed. I do not think there is any substantial disagreement between the honorable member for Batman and myself on that point. How best such a plan can be approached depends upon the desire of this and every other form of government to accept such a new and revolutionary idea. As far as I know such a plan has been in existence for ten or fifteen years, but it takes a long while for new ideas to be accepted by all strata of government. But those who think in these terms can go only so far as circumstances permit. The Commonwealth has gone quite a distance, but I think it could go further. Here I differ again from the honorable member for Batman. I think he said that full legislative powers over matters of transport should be confined to Canberra. That, of course, is the view of an honest unificationist but I do not think that full legislative powers should reside here. I do think, however, that transport problems on a national level should be discussed in the conferences held from time to time by the Commonwealth Minister for Shipping and Transport and the State Ministers for Transport. As far as I know, if they have been discussed, they have not been discussed at any great length. One of these is to have an approach to a general level of work, related to local conditions or State conditions. Then I think we might well expect to move towards a general level of State revenue collections from this sort of industry.
I remember, only a few years ago, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) pointing out to some of his fellow
Victorians that collections from motor registration fees in Victoria were considerably lower than in other States. That was in the past, but differences did exist and, to an extent, considerable differences still exist between the States. I think that the national approach should be to try to bring all these factors to a common level. I use the word “ national “, not in the narrow sense of a national parliament, but in the general sense of a nation.
I think that, in the present legislation, we have gone some little way towards achieving that sort of understanding. I repeat what I said earlier: Particularly in this form of legislation, politics is the art of attainable. The Government has gone almost as far as it can to attain agreement and to attain a form of legislation that will be acceptable, in the main, to most of the interested parties.
I have no doubt that, from various parts of the Commonwealth, will come very keen criticism. It will be said, no doubt, by some States that they are not getting enough while others are getting too much. But this is a levelling off of the old system. This brings some reality to a formula that is 30 years old. For the first time, motor transport is introduced into the formula related to road construction and maintenance. Quite bluntly, it seems to me ludicrous that, over the years while motor transport has increased, that factor, has not been considered in any legislation in this place. It is a criticism of my own Government and a criticism of the government that preceded it. It may well be true that good intentions have been delayed by the objections to which I have referred.
Finally, I want to make this contribution to the debate: The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) spoke a great deal on the need for additional money to be spent in road construction and maintenance in the cities. I think that if we aproach this question from the viewpoint that this is a condition attendant on our policy of national development, we must accept the principle that a considerable proportion of the funds made available in this legislation must go to the areas where the greatest development is taking place - development in terms of those commodities which are manufactured or otherwise produced in this country and by which this country continues to live.
It seems to me that there are two important areas. The first is the general rural area in which our primary exports are grown; the second is the area around ports, harbours and railheads where a large cost element is being transferred to our cost system at the present time which is unnecessary and which could and should be eliminated by legislation such as this. It is my hope that the States will take advantage of that provision of the legislation under which an extra £30,000,000 is to be made available on a £l-for-£l basis, by themselves making funds available for the purpose of road construction in connexion with railheads and ports. I believe that this legislation, although, as I have said, in my opinion, imperfect, opens the door to an improvement to which we can all look forward.
.- The bill before the House is for the purpose of repealing the existing Commonwealth Aid Roads Act and replacing it by new legislation to make provision for the next five years. To the motion for the second reading of the bill the Labour Party has moved an amendment which I shall deal with and which I support. It is intended to make available £220,000,000 to the States during the next five years, commencing on 1st July, 1959, with a payment of £40,000,000, and increasing that amount by £2,000,000 each year until the year commencing July, 1963, when £48,000,000 will be paid. Distribution of this money to the States will be based on a formula under which onethird of the amount is payable on an area basis, one-third on a population basis, and one-third on the basis of motor vehicle registrations. There is further provision to subsidize an amount which the States may be prepared to expend out of their own funds. There is also provision for the Commonwealth to make certain funds available to the States for roads on or to Commonwealth instrumentalities. I think that those are the major provisions of the measure now before the Parliament.
I feel that the bill is inadequate. The amendment which has been moved by the Labour Party provides that the whole of the petrol tax revenue over the next five years should be payable to the States in order to improve roads. In that way, about an additional £60,000,000 - it can only be estimated - would be paid to the States over that period. I believe that this would be a substantial benefit to the States because there has been no very substantial improvement in our road system over the last five years. Indeed, there has been no general national campaign for road improvement.
Greater consideration should be given to the setting down of a more extensive and grand plan to solve the problem of road construction in Australia because of the very important part that roads play in a continent of this size. Roads for speedy, safe, trans-continental travel should be provided. We should have inter-city communications in the form of good roads, capable of handling the present transport problems. Access highways should be provided from the farm to the market. By that I mean that adequate roads should be provided in country areas in order to meet the needs of country people.
I represent a vast western electorate which comprises about two-fifths of New South Wales. It is an area that suffers very much from bad roads and a lack of road maintenance. Over the period of years that I have been in Parliament, and particularly in recent years. I have had many complaints from local governing bodies, from individuals, and from various other sources about the inadequacy of the roads in country areas, and urging that the Commonwealth should take a greater interest in providing better facilities.
Some time ago I presented a petition to the Government which was signed by some thousands of residents of Broken Hill. The people of that district pay a very substantial amount by way of road tax and registration fees for motor vehicles, and they claim that nothing like the amount that they pay by way of petrol tax, registration fees and so on is expended on the roads. I believe that Broken Hill occupies a very strategic position, and that a road should run through it connecting New South Wales, South Australia, and the west. There has been a good deal of talk about the standardization of railway gauges. The most efficient method of connecting the western and eastern parts of the continent is, of course, by means of a railway through Broken Hill. However, I do not propose to proceed further with that argument, because I know it is not relevant to a discussion on the legislation before us. The point I make is that the roads systems is in a similar category. I believe that an adequate highway should be provided from Sydney and the eastern areas through Broken Hill to South Australia and on to the west. Such a highway is necessary for industry, for commerce generally and for defence.
During the last war, the government of the day had to call up man-power from all sections of industry and divert it into a civil construction corps. This was something that had never been done previously in our history. This organization was used to carry out road construction which had been neglected in preceding years. We had been through a period in which unemployment was widespread. Hundreds of thousands of persons had been out of work. They could have been put to work in those days on the construction of essential roads needed for the defence of Australia. Unfortunately, however, when our country was greatly distressed and finding it difficult to provide men for the armed services, munitions establishments and other essential undertakings, we had to find a sufficient number of men to carry out road construction which should have been done much earlier. I suggest, therefore, that although this is a time of peace, we should remember that there is considerable unemployment throughout Australia. In Broken Hill, 600 persons are unemployed at the present time. There is a substantial pool of labour available for the construction of adequate highways, and what is needed is a government prepared to act in the direction I suggest, because I believe that the necessary funds are available. Anything that is physically possible in this country is financially possible. Road construction is physically possible. We have the man-power and the materials, and it requires only a stroke of the pen on the part of the Government to make the money available.
I would suggest that it is not necessary for the Government to wait until it has all the receipts from the petrol tax. Funds should be made available now from our credit resources, and any loans raised in this way could be repaid, at least to a very substantial extent, from moneys received later by way of the petrol tax. In this way we could have a good deal more road construction done, and much more quickly. I believe that if a thing is worth having, the sooner we have it and reap the benefit of it the better. It is far better for us to get on with the job and construct the roads in our lifetime than just to drift along and wait for another generation or two before adequate roads services are provided for our people.
I have referred to the poor road facilities available in country areas. While on that aspect of the matter, let me say that I have had a request made by a constituent of mine who lives at Wanaaring, back of Bourke in New South Wales. He put a rather broad proposal to me. It is a request that the Taxation Branch accept as allowable taxation deductions money expended by graziers in the district on repairs to public roads giving access to their properties, which roads are in a deplorable condition. He said that the governmental authorities seem unable to cope with the job, and that the graziers would make the necessary repairs to render the roads reasonably traffickable if they were entitled to claim taxation deductions in respect of the money expended. He also said that without the necessary repairs to the roads it is impossible for the graziers to enjoy proper transport facilities. With the roads in their present state of disrepair, the costs of production of wool and other primary products are increased, and the primary producers have to pay more for the goods that they need in order to carry on. The Commonwealth also has to pay more, particularly in respect of mail services, which have to be provided over these poor country roads. The cost of maintenance and repair of mail vehicles is consequently increased.
Let me suggest again that the Government should provide capital for the provision of adequate roads throughout Australia, and that the money received later by way of the petrol tax could be used for the repayment of any loans that the Government finds it necessary to raise. In this way much more work could be done, and it could be done a good deal sooner. The proposal put forward by my constituent is not an unreasonable one. At present graziers and other primary producers are allowed to deduct, for income tax purposes, money spent as aids to production, for instance for water conservation and anti-erosion work. The provision of access roads, which are essential in the country areas, should come within the same category. I ask the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann), who is now at the table, to bring this suggestion before the Government, and I hope that it will be favorably considered.
I believe that this is a practicable suggestion. It might be asked, “ How would we know what amount was actually expended on a particular access road? “ Of course, the local government authorities could check the work carried out and assess its value. The grazier could claim and give evidence to show what he had expended, and the local government authority would have in its possession an estimate previously made of the value of the work. This is a suggestion that I believe is worthy of adoption.
Some time ago I was a member of the rail gauge standardization committee of the Australian Labour Party, which presented a report to this Parliament in October, 1956. At that time I was very surprised to learn that one of the major costs in industry is the cost of transport. It appears that 30 per cent, of production costs in this country is attributable to costs of transport. It can be seen that with adequate roads and other transport systems we can save a considerable amount of money. A policy which involves simply a conference with the States, arriving at agreement upon a certain amount to be distributed and on a formula for that distribution, does not, I believe, go far enough. As the Commonwealth provides the money it should, I think, call the tune to a certain extent, or it should have a greater say as to how the money should be expended. Although the States have certain rights in the matter and we do not wish to usurp them, the fact remains that the Commonwealth has the power to make grants to the States and to attach certain terms and conditions to those grants, and I suggest that there should be a greater measure of co-ordination between the States and the Commonwealth as to how the money is to be expended. The problem should be attacked from the standpoint of a broad national programme. It should be attacked on a national basis and not on a parochial basis.
Some States may do a proper job on roads from the national point of view and may provide adequate roads for rural industries, but other States may not do so well in those respects. I believe that if the Commonwealth had some say in this regard there would be greater progress in relation to the roads programme. It may be asked how this could be achieved. In 1956, the Australian Labour Party’s Rail Standardization Committee - a committee of members of this Parliament - made a report to the Parliament. The committee recommended -
That for the purpose of co-ordinating Transport in Australia, a Federal Body be set up to be known as the Australian Interstate Commerce Commission, with power to -
Control all types of Interstate Transport in Australia (rail, road and water).
To fix rates and charges for all such forms of transport and control conditions of carriage.
I do not propose to read extensively from the report. I shall merely quote certain passages from it in order to illustrate what I am saying. The report states -
The co-ordination and regulation of all forms of transport which conclude their journeys within the boundaries of any one State are completely within the legislative and administrative competence of that State. If any form of transport crosses the border between that State and another State, each State is precluded, by section 92 of the Constitution, from co-ordinating or regulating that form of transport. Section 101 of the Constitution, however, declares “ there shall be an Interstate Commission, with such powers of adjudication and administration as the Parliament deems necessary for the execution and maintenance within the Commonwealth, of the provisions of this Constitution relating to trade and commerce and of all laws made thereunder “. Section51 (i) gives the Commonwealth power to make laws with respect to trade and commerce with other countries, and among the States.
Section 92 of the Australian Constitution provides as I have already indicated. The report points out that section 98 extends the Commonwealth’s power to navigation and shipping, and to railways the property of any State. The point that I wish to make is that this Inter-State Commission, which was formerly in existence, had very wide powers, not only in relation to Commonwealth matters, but also over State instrumentalities.
– It was not abandoned because it was unconstitutional, was it?
– It was not abandoned because itwas unconstitutional. As a matter of fact, the report of the Labour Party’s Rail Standardization Committee states -
There is thus a considerable field in which the Interstate Commission could exercise powers of adjudication and administration. Sections 102 and 104 define its powers as to railways. The Commission, however, has been in abeyance for nearly 40 years. In view of the decisions of the Privy Council and High Court invalidating the legislation of the States, which had for 25 years coordinated the road and rail transport, certain it is that the Commonwealth Parliament should reestablish the Interstate Commission . . .
As a basis of study, I refer honorable members to annexure A of this report, which gives details of the operation of the interstate commission, its powers in relation to the Commonwealth, and what has been done by a similar commission in the United States of America - a commission which I think has done a mighty job in that country. We read and hear constantly of the great work that has been done, and is being done, in relation to the road system of the United States, and I believe that if the same measure of interest and enthusiasm were displayed by this Parliament - it should not content itself with merely agreeing to a simple bill or adopting a simple agreement - a great deal could be done to improve our road system. These matters that I have discussed here were probably not even brought up before the conference of State Ministers.
We need to give the problem a little more thought and to exercise a little more statesmanship if we are to get a proper road system in a large country like Australia, because we need a transport system to deal with great distances and vast areas. We have a continent the size of the United States, which has a population of 160,000,000 or more. We in Australia have only 10,000,000 people. Consequently, we cannot spend as much as the United States can spend on a great road transport system. Owing to the distribution of the population in this country, we probably do not need such a vast system as is needed in the United States, but the fact is that any expenditure in Australia must be made on a very sound basis in order to achieve the most effective results, to get full value for every penny that is spent, and to ensure that the needs of the Australian people are met as fully as possible within the limitations of the expenditure that this country can afford.
I maintain, as I have already said, that the Government’s unwillingness to give the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax to the States for the construction and improvement of roads prevents the States from doing an adequate job. I estimated at the outset of my remarks that £60,000,000 more would be available to the States if the Commonwealth returned to them the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax over the next five years, but I have since been told that an official estimate indicates that the Commonwealth Government will probably retain about £70,000,000 from the petrol tax over the next five years. I believe that this money should be made available to the States for road works.
I do not wish at this stage to retrace all the ground that I have covered, but I do emphasize that, although this bill will be of some benefit, it is most inadequate. It should go much further than it does in providing additional funds for road works and in providing for greater co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States in the carrying out of a broad national road programme of major benefit to Australia. If we could achieve such coordination under some scheme, we should have done something of which we could be very proud indeed.
Although this measure provides that certain funds shall be devoted to country road works, there are constant complaints from local authorities about the limitation of the funds available for expenditure on country roads, and, as the representative of a country electorate, I have never neglected an opportunity to emphasize that in this place. The statistics that I have examined in the Commonwealth “ Year-Book “ indicate that the greater proportion of Australia’s roads is the responsibility of local authorities and not of governments, either State or Federal. This is detrimental, because local government bodies have only very limited means of raising funds. They depend entirely on their rating system for the raising of funds, and, particularly in country towns and districts, the rating system returns a very small revenue, and all the necessary road work cannot be undertaken. In many instances, the wear and tear on the roads in such places is caused, not by local traffic, but by traffic passing through from another district - traffic that contributes nothing to the upkeep and maintenance of the local roads.
This applies particularly to interstate transport, and .other heavy transport.
Interstate transport in particular presents a serious problem. We all know of the law suits in which the New South Wales Government has found itself involved in the process of trying to impose adequate taxes upon interstate hauliers using the roads in that State. I think that this is a matter on which some agreement should have been reached at the National Roads Conference, and in respect of which provision should have been made in this measure. The coordination of which I have spoken would enable this problem to be dealt with. J believe that if it were achieved the various instrumentalities concerned with our roads would have more money to spend on road works.
It is important that the proceeds of the tax on diesel fuel, as well as the proceeds of the petrol tax, should be devoted to the maintenance of roads. As a matter of fact, there is perhaps a strong argument for a substantial increase in the diesel fuel tax, because the very heavy road transports mainly use this fuel and they do far more damage to the roads than is done by the lighter petrol-driven vehicles. The heavy diesel-powered transports pulverize the roads and governments are forced to spend many millions of pounds on repairs and the constant renewing of road surfaces as a consequence. Despite this, the operators of these heavy diesel-powered vehicles pay very little in taxes compared with the contribution made by the operators of petroldriven vehicles.
I hope that the Government will consider our amendment. If it is adopted, it will improve the provisions of the bill. Our scope for advancing proposals is limited. We can merely state our objections during the debate, but in this instance we have also moved an amendment. I hope that the Government will make the additional £70,000,000 available to the States over the next five years for road development and construction.
.- I am always pleased when legislation such as this is introduced. It affords honorable members an opportunity to debate problems which confront us in the progress and development of our country. A similar opportunity was given to us recently when legislation concerning a Commonwealth grant to the States for education purposes was before us. However, I am always disturbed by one feature of suggestions that are made by Opposition members. This feature is present in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). The honorable member for Batman, the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) and the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) have told us of the problem that confronts Australia in regard to transport in general and roads in particular. However, I am rather alarmed at the lack of realization of the position which is shown by the Opposition’s amendment.
One of the dangers that we face is the growing feeling amongst all sections of the community that, if ever a need arises for financial assistance, the one goose that will continue to lay the golden egg is the Commonwealth Government. If this belief is followed to a logical conclusion it could destroy the financial structure of the country. Many people have said that, if we could find huge sums of money in time of war, then we should be able to find money in time of peace. To a degree, that is completely fallacious thinking because, as everybody realizes, in time of war the opportunities for expenditure on other than war purposes are limited. There is not the expansion in private enterprise or in other spheres, because everything is concentrated upon winning the war and all our financial resources are channelled in the one direction. To say merely that what is physically possible is also financially posible is taking the point to a stage where it is no longer logical.
A colleague of mine has told me of a conference which he attended. The first resolution passed by the conference contained the request that the Commonwealth Government reduce taxation. During the rest of the meeting, various resolutions were agreed to asking the Commonwealth Government to spend money on this or to develop that. He totalled the expenditure which would be involved in these resolutions and arrived at the approximate figure of £700,000,000. He pointed out to the conference that this kind of muddled thinking could be found on many occasions and reminded delegates that, although the first resolution had asked the Commonwealth Government to reduce taxation, other reso lutions had asked the Commonwealth Government to increase expenditure by some £700,000,000. Unfortunately, that process is followed by many people, who should be constantly reminded of the saying that you cannot have your cake and eat it too. The Commonwealth faces many problems of various kinds. Honorable members in their electorates are faced with problems which are of vital importance to our development and progress. But they cannot be solved merely by asking the Commonwealth Government to make money available. If the Commonwealth were to do that, the States would display a greater lack of responsibility than they do at present. In matters such as this, the Commonwealth should do as much as it can, but the States should also accept their responsibilities.
The honorable member for Darling referred to the report of the Labour Party’s transport committee. Honorable members will recall that the Government parties also set up a transport committee which, if I remember correctly, was under the chairmanship of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). The reports of both these committees presented to the House some very strong thinking on the transport problems that confront us and suggested solutions to some of them. However, solutions to these problems cannot be implemented overnight and, unfortunately, they all involve the expenditure of money, if they are to be successful. I am confident that our difficulties will eventually be overcome in the steady progress that this country is making under a LiberalCountry Party Government. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), in his secondreading speech, highlighted the point that I am making when he said -
Of course, in a matter of this kind we have to keep in view the needs of development as a whole. There is a great need for better roads but there are also many other needs. Roads must be seen as part of the transport problem generally. There is also much scope for improvement in railways and in port and harbour facilities, and civil aviation has large requirements ahead.
The progress made by civil aviation has been remarkable. It has been greatly helped by this Government, through the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Paltridge). The Government has made a valuable contribution to this form of transport and is to be commended for the action it has taken. The Treasurer went on to say -
In turn, the transport problem, vital though it is, still forms only a part of the total pattern of requirements for larger capital facilities, and the demands it makes upon resources have to be measured against the demands for other forms of construction and equipment. . . . The Government recognizes that much more must be spent on roads - our proposals certainly demonstrate that - but it is necessary to stress the limitations on what we can do in this one field, having regard to all the other pressing demands upon us.
We should take note of those words and realize the truth that is contained in them, because an easy way out of a difficulty, for most people, is to pass the buck to the Commonwealth. Opposition members have said that all the money raised through the petrol tax should be used for road purposes. If that idea is followed to its logical conclusion, we should say that all the money collected by the States from the registration of motor vehicles should be used for road purposes. I do not say that two wrongs make a right, but if the States hold the view that all the money collected from the registration of motor vehicles should not be used for road purposes, that surely supports the view that a particular tax should not be used solely in one particular field.
I am happy that the States will get increased money for roads. I am particularly pleased that under the new formula Victoria will get an increase of more than 2 per cent, over the existing formula, and New South Wales will receive a small increase.
I feel that the authorities that are making the roads - the shires - have certain responsibilities. Sometimes we see money expended on bituminized roads, and within a very short space of time, because of faulty methods of construction, the roads begin to crumble and the money spent on them is largely wasted. The shires and main roads authorities will have to ensure that when they spend money on roads they build the very best roads possible. They must see that the engineering work associated with the construction of roads is first-class so that the roads will last longer than many of them do at present.
In my electorate the shires have been facing difficulties. Some happenings are beyond normal control, such as floods, and although the Commonwealth has provided a certain amount of assistance for flood’ prevention measures, unfortunately it has not been sufficient to overcome seasonal hazards of this kind: One shire recently experienced a flood which completely destroyed certain roads that had not long before been bituminized. The Commonwealth provided some financial assistance, but not enough to remedy the damage done.. Less than twelve months later the same thing hapened again, and approximately two years after that a third flooding occurred. I realize that such occurrences are unusual, but they place a tremendous strain on the financial resources of the shires. For this reason the Commonwealth should take such matters into consideration when it is fixing the allocations.
Coming from a country electorate, I am pleased to see that the States will still be required to spend not less than 40 per cent, of the amounts they receive from the Commonwealth on roads in rural areas. In his second-reading speech the Treasurer said -
After discussion and correspondence with the State Premiers, the Government has decided to retain in the new legislation the provision whereby at least 40 per cent, of the total road payments to the States shall be spent on roads in rural areas, other than highways, trunk roads and main roads. This means that, of the £250,000,000 being made available, not less than £100,000,000 will be specifically reserved for rural roads, other than highways, trunk roads and main roads, compared with something less than £61,000,000 under the present legislation.
The additional £39,000,000 will be appreciated by local government authorities in country areas which will spend it in the areas where road works are most needed. The roads over which the farmers carry their produce and stock will be improved and their transport costs will be reduced because of the reduced wear and tear on the farmers’ cars and trucks.
On examining this legislation, we cannot fail to find much in it for which to commend the Government. It may be said that not enough money is to be provided for the States. I think that that could be said of almost any legislation affecting the finances of the States. However, we must always bear in mind the Government’s responsibilities to Australia as a whole. I think this is an excellent measure. It shows that this Government, as it has always done, is facing the problems and difficulties that confront this country. It is concerned about the welfare and development of Australia as a whole. In the legislation that has >been enacted during the ten years that this Government has been in office one can see that it has invariably had the welfare of this country at heart. It has done a lot to assist the development and progress of Australia. It has not indulged in any airyfairy practice of spending millions of pounds only to find that it has over-strained our economic resources. Instead it has provided what it can afford to assist in this ^country’s development.
Under this legislation the Government nas endeavoured to provide a secure and adequate financial foundation for an increased nation-wide programme of road improvement. It has stepped into the field to assist the States as far as it is possible for the Commonwealth to assist them. It has encouraged the States to provide £30,000,000 from their own resources, -which it will match on a £l-for-£l basis. If the States can find this £30,000,000, it will mean that over the next five years they will be abe to spend £280,000,000 on roads. The States will have a sense of responsibility in connexion with this problem. The money that is made available for roads will make local government authorities feel that the Commonwealth has not forgotten them and is trying to assist them in the development and progress of the country. I am sure that the Commonwealth will receive the co-operation of the State governments and the local government authorities in giving effect to a great roads programme. This legislation will mark a starting point for a new era in the progress and development of Australia. This legislation is a concrete addition to all the other things this Government has done to assist the progress and development of this land. I congratulate the Government on this measure and I support it most whole-heartedly.
.- I do not agree wholeheartedly with the remarks of the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock). I propose to support the hill for a particular reason, but before giving my reasons I wish to say that the bill has not gone nearly far enough. With all the money at its disposal, the Government could have shown a better appreciation of the problems confronting this country with regard to roads. The proposals outlined in this legislation are no different to those embodied in the existing legislation. I want to make it clear that I am talking now, not politically but from personal experience in local government over the last thirteen years. In that time this matter has been debated by local government authorities and many arguments have been put before them. It is a big problem indeed.
Possibly this legislation will provide more money to the States for roads, but I treat with caution the proposal relating to the £l-for-£l grant of £30,000,000. After all, the local government authorities and the States are at the mercy of the Australian Loan Council as to how much money they can obtain and spend. Therefore the Commonwealth can quite safely offer £30,000,000 to the States on a £l-for- £1 basis because it can control the ability of the States to find that money. I do not think that the Government is facing up to its responsibilities to the States and local government authorities. The Commonwealth should at least have some interest in the system of roads provided throughout Australia. The, Constitution gives the States certain responsibilities, but after all, it is the National Parliament that supplies a great deal of the money to finance them. Therefore it should have some say with regard to roads. I think that a properly constituted committee should be established to assist in road co-ordination. If this committee were formed and worked with State and local government authorities for the co-ordination of a highway system throughout Australia, much could be achieved. At present, however, when this Parliament hands money to the States, they allocate some of it to the local government authorities. This Government directs the States to use 40 per cent, of the money on roads in rural areas other than highways, main roads and trunk roads. In turn, the State governments tell the local government authorities, “ This is your share. You must spend 40 per cent, of it on rural roads.” What is left for the main roads? Under this system, they will be no better than they are to-day.
The highway system is not receiving proper attention. If a co-ordinating committee were set up, it could take a lump sum from the total amount allotted for the road systems and could declare that a certain amount must be devoted to the highways. The chief traffic inspector in each State should be a member of the committee because he has to ensure that the traffic laws are carried out, and his advice would be helpful. A co-ordination committee would at least make our national highways adequate. The co-operation of the chief traffic inspector in each State would also ensure adequate traffic control. Such a system would be more practical and sensible than the present arrangement.
As I have said, I will not oppose the bill because if I spoke at length and had the support of the House, and if the bill were withdrawn for redafting, I would be doing a disservice to the State and local government authorities which are waiting anxiously to get this money so that they can keep their road plant and men at work. I admit that there is a certain amount of good in the bill, but it does not go far enough to enable us to build highways capable of taking traffic for 10, 20 or 50 years. The allocation of 40 per cent, of the money to roads in rural areas will not improve the national highways to any extent. There is no co-ordination between the States and the local government authorities in various areas. Somebody must take steps to co-ordinate those authorities so that the road system will be linked up nationally to the advantage of Australia generally and not only for the betterment of the local areas concerned.
Anybody who has had anything to do with local government authorities knows that there is always a gap between the end of one authority’s work and the beginning of another. Local authorities know the areas where they get their revenue and that is where they must spend it first. A coordinating committee taking up these problems with State and local government authorities would be of great advantage to Australia generally.
I do not approve the proposal to allocate the money on the basis of one-third according to population, one-third according to area and one-third according to vehicles registered. One class of vehicles has little effect on the roads. I refer to light vehicles such as small cars, scooters and motor cycles which are becoming numerous. Those light vehicles should not be included in the estimate of vehicles registered. The registration figures should start with oneton trucks. It is the heavy vehicles which are causing damage to the roads, particularly during the wet season. They are breaking away the edges of the roads when they are forced onto the sides. No States would suffer to any degree by the exclusion of light vehicles from the figures of registered vehicles for this purpose except the heavily populated areas where light vehicles are becoming more numerous.
I support the amendment. The tax on petrol and oil was introduced in the first place so that the roads could be improved and the revenue collected from the tax should be used for that purpose.
– That is not correct.
– An honorable member who spoke before me said that if that was the case, why should not the money from registration of vehicles be allocated for roads also. Why not? However, I withdraw my statement if it is not accurate, but I believe that the entire revenue derived from the petrol and fuel oil taxes which are imposed on the owners of vehicles should go back to the roads. We would then have better roads and improved maintenance, and we could keep rural roads in better order as well. My main concern, however, is the establishment of good national highways throughout Australia, and I cannot see that being achieved under the present system no matter what financial inducement is offered. The present allocation of money will not assist in the development of national highways because the States are forced to allocate 40 per cent, to rural roads. By the time the money filters through the local government authorities, it will be found that much more than 40 per cent, is going to rural areas.
Throughout Australia, road transport is being developed. Heavier vehicles are being placed on the roads by industries and by government departments. I refer particularly to the Department of the Army and the naval and air forces. They are getting better vehicles. I do not say that is wrong, but I claim that the vehicles are doing much damage to the roads. An example was the recent bogging down of vehicles at Mackay. I realize that, particularly on the east coast, the heavy rainfall is detrimental to the roads. Light vehicles can negotiate muddy patches but the big vehicles of log hauliers, milk and meat wagons and others are churning the roads into bog holes. Unless this Government moves to establish a committee to deal with national highways we will never have a system of highways throughout Australia good enough to take traffic in all weathers.
I am not speaking in derogatory terms of the Government. I simply think that it has not gone far enough in this measure. It has not given enough consideration to the clamour of persons who use the roads and particularly the automobile associations and the local government authorities which have protested about the state of the roads. Insufficient consideration has been given to the allocation of funds for national highways. I support the amendment but I will not vote against the bill. That would be doing an injustice to the State and local government authorities which are waiting anxiously for this money. I hope the Government will give serious consideration to the appointment of a national committee on highways to co-ordinate all activities for the benefit of our transport system.
.- Although I realize that there have been many extremely competent contributions to this debate - and there will be more - from both sides of the House, I do not want to miss the opportunity of addressing a few remarks on one or two points which I believe are critical. I agree with the statement of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) that, in effect, we are failing to face up to the problem of roads in a statesmanlike manner. The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) conceded that the Federal Parliament can get too far away from the States on this roads problem, and that we do need some sort of national plan. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) asked for better roads for country areas and also suggested an interstate system for development and defence. He put forward, too, some serious suggestions for grazier participation in the maintenance of roads in outback areas. These are very good suggestions indeed. I realize now why, when I lived in his electorate some years ago, I voted for him. I realize that I was not wasting my vote.
Let me say, first, that I have a firm belief that there should be a far greater national responsibility towards roads than exists at the moment. No matter what the formula may have been in the past, the quite inescapable fact is that we do not have the barest minimum of roads vital to defence and development in areas which we could easily need most to defend and in areas which have the greatest potential for development. In this year, 1959, we do not possess one all-weather road connecting the northern parts of Australia with the south. Nor is there one all-weather railway line. So, there is virtually no land connexion, at certain periods of the year, between the northern parts of Australia and the south. That is an inescapable fact.
From a defence point of view, Sir, I believe that this is utterly disgraceful, and from a development point of view, I do not think it is anything but discouraging. We have a current example of the difficulties from a defence point of view in the movement of our First Brigade north to the Mackay area for the Colston Gap exercises. There was a great deal of publicity about the movement in convoy from New South Wales into Queensland, but we have not heard much of some of the troubles that were encountered because of bad roads. In the first place, the camp areas and administration areas were selected last year in the dry season, and it was decided to hold the exercises in April and May of this year, at the end of the wet season. We have not heard at all about the difficulties that the troops encountered in getting into their camp areas. In some places, I understand, these were quite serious, and the troops could not reach the areas initially. We have not heard much about one unit of 300-odd men which was separated from its vehicles and heavy equipment for several weeks, purely because of the state of the roads. The men were in the Mackay and Sarina areas and their vehicles and equipmen were at Rockhampton, some 250 miles away.
– And this is the first that the Minister for the Army knows of it.
– I do not think so. I think he would agree readily that we have a tremendous basic problem in the matter of roads. The road on which these troops were held up is not a side or subsidiary road. It is the main road, the Bruce Highway, the only highway to speak of connecting the north of Queensland with the southern part of Australia. This- is an extraordinary state of affairs only thirteeen or fourteen years after a time when a number of us thought we knew quite a lot of the answers concerning the movement of troops and equipment in a tropical environment. Where we did not know the answers, I think we at least appreciated the problems, but we seem to be forgetting them. In this year, 1959, as I said before, we have not one all-weather road on which we could move defence equipment and troops to the north during the wet season. Even for dry season movement - the dry season takes in the greater part of the year in the north - our roads are inadequate. We seem already to have forgotten the vital significance of Mussolini’s victory highway, running from Tunisia through Libya towards the Nile. That ribbon of sealed road was vital to Rommel and the various commanders of the British Eighth Army. Even in the desert, where movement off the road was relatively simple, that highway was vital for supply and reinforcement. If we cannot use our best roads in north Queensland for exercises at any time we choose, we can only imagine what our plight would be if we were endeavouring to move troops and equipment north to counter enemy dispositions.
– What sort of attack do you envisage?
– What sort of attack does the honorable member envisage? There are many theories about push-button warfare and all sorts of clever things, including the movement of troops by Hercules aircraft. But these are inclined to be only theories. The plain, inescapable fact is that we are training our troops in very much the same manner as that in which we fought the last war, and in limited warfare we could very easily be faced with exactly the same problems as we faced last time. In recent weeks a good deal has been said about various aspects of the Northern Territory Administration and we have heard many well-considered arguments. But I feel that many honorable members tend to think of the north of Australia as being solely within the boundary of the Northern Territory. To some extent, that is understandable. We have a member for the Northern Territory, and we have a Minister for Territories. The very mention . of the name of the member’s elec torate or the Minister’s designation tends to produce that impression. But attention is often focussed away from the other great parts of northern Australia. I refer to the north of Western Australia and the north of Queensland, which make up such a tremendous area. In relation to some aspects of production and national income these are regions which - I speak particularly for north Queensland - are far more important to Australia, actually and potentially, than is the Northern Territory.
It is not generally realized that the electorates of Leichhardt, Herbert and Kennedy take up such a tremendous area of Queensland. Together they are greater in size than New South Wales and Victoria together, and they have great potential wealth awaiting development. It is quite true to say that for several months of each year, with consistent regularity, movement by conventional vehicles comes virtually to a standstill, because of the wet season. Any one wishing to travel during the first few months of the year either knows or is advised to wait until after the wet. Southern States are spending vast sums of money on widening first-class roads and bridges and on other construction and development merely to alleviate problems which, in the main, are caused by increases in population, while we have not yet, in 1959, one all-weather road linking the north of Australia with the south. We in this Parliament hide behind the fact that money is given in accordance with certain formulas to the States and then we blame the States for what might appear to be bad management, lack of foresight, or inactivity. Is it that members of Parliament, in the main, are conversant only with the standards of roads in the southern and heavily populated areas, and believe that the northern areas of Australia have roads of the same standards? Or is it that there are only five or six out of a membership of 124 in this House who actually live in the northern half of Australia - only five or six who live with this problem and have a realization of what it is all about? Or is it that we are playing too much politics with our road problems at the expense of urgent national requirements?
– The Government has been doing that for ten years.
– Yes, very likely, but it went on long before that. Obviously, any State will accept as much money as it can get from the Commonwealth, if only for political reasons, and I do not think that there is any doubt that such money is often spent by the States for political reasons. There is not much evidence over the years that the States have ever got together with a decent, constructive national plan in mind, or have subscribed to any proposal for such a plan. It is very often a case of overcapitalization around the homestead at the expense of some obvious requirement for improvement in a back paddock. That kind of procedure is never considered very sound management. We have in Queensland the extraordinary situation that in a few of the richer rural areas roads which are under the administration of the local authority are far superior to the trunk roads running through those areas. Each week the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland issues from its Townsville branch an up-to-date description of the condition of the main roads in northern Queensland, for the benefit of motorists who have a constant query in their minds as to the state of these roads. I have here copies of these information bulletins for the last few months. They tell much the same story, and it is really a pretty disgraceful story. I shall read some extracts from these bulletins. First is the bulletin issued on 28th February concerning our one and only trunk road leading to the north. That road looks very good on the map. It is marked with a wide red band, but the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland referred to it as follows -
Mackay-Rockhampton (via Bruce Highway): Untrafficable at the moment, due to floodings of Alligator and Plentiful Creeks, just north of Rockhampton. Not expected to clear before Monday.
The bulletin had this to say about other roads in the area -
Clermont-Rockhampton: Impassable, due to flooded creeks and rivers and general boggy conditions. Dawson River is 18 feet over the bridge at Boolburra.
Cardwell-Tully: Impassable, due to flooding in the Tully-Euramo area.
A few weeks later, on 14th March, the bulletin had this to say about the following roads -
Ingham-Cardwell: Impassable at Herbert River which is in flood; not expected to clear today.
Cardwell-Tully. Impassable at Euramo where Tully River is 4 feet over bridge and rising.
Now we are getting into the electorate of the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Fulton) who knows the story very well. The bulletin went on -
Tully-Cairns. Impassable due to flooded creeks and rivers north of Innisfail. This road is not expected to clear today.
– How often in the year does that kind of thing occur?
– That situation can occur from December through to May. There are literally dozens of places along that main trunk road which can be affected in that manner, and that is precisely what does happen. It is very seldom, certainly during January, February, March and April, that you can drive straight through from the south to Cairns without being held up somewhere because of local flooding, low bridges and rotten roads. Aerodromes in country towns also go out of action sometimes for long periods. Ingham, for instance, my own home town, has just re-opened its aerodrome after a closure for seven weeks. That is what happens in many places that have aerodromes. These fields close in the wet season, and the areas are virtually cut off.
I believe that it is quite unrealistic to base a formula - and therefore a monetary grant - on population, density of traffic and area only. A mile of unsealed road in northern Queensland - and it is not hard to find one - cannot possibly be compared with a mile of unsealed road in New South Wales or Victoria. The Victorian mile of road would have ten times the density of traffic of the Queensland mile, but the Queensland mile of road could easily cost ten times as much to maintain as the Victorian mile. The cost of maintenance of unsealed roads in northern Queensland is absolutely crippling - and their condition is certainly crippling on anybody’s car.
I shall tell honorable members something about rainfall up there during the wet season. The fall ranges from 10 to 15 feet in places. In fact, that density of fall is quite common. The rain almost washes the roads away, and some shires are hard put to maintain their existing roads, let alone construct any more. To talk about the millions of pounds more spent in 1958 on roads compared with 1948 does not give the true picture. We all know it costs more each year to build a road. The figures we should have are those showing how many more miles of first-grade, secondgrade or third-grade roads we will have each year, or have been built each year.
It is a fairly simple matter for us to sit back here and say that roads are a State responsibility. Certainly each State has its own peculiar problems regarding roads. But what about the national problem - and this is a national problem? It is surely a national responsibility to make certain that roads are constructed to tie in properly with national development. At the present rate of progress - and I do not think the proposed formula will alter it - some one will be standing here in ten years’ time saying just what I have said. What I have been saying was certainly said ten years ago. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) quoted, from “ Hansard “ of ten years ago, remarks in very much the same vein as mine. So it is quite possible that in ten years’ time some one will be saying the same thing again.
– Certainly we will have a change of government by then.
– I do not think so. The point is that there are certain times of the year when, for periods of a week or so, the northern half of Australia is completely cut off from the southern half by road and rail. I think that we must face up to this situation. Let us, as the Commonwealth Parliament, make it a matter of urgency to get on with the job of ensuring that, as soon as possible, we shall have some allweather land communications throughout the Commonwealth to tie in with the basic needs of defence and development.
.- May I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this would be a convenient time to suspend the sitting for dinner.
– I do not think so.
– The Minister in charge of the House at the moment does not think the time would be suitable.
– May I point out, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we have gained a considerable amount of time.
– Order! The honorable member should proceed with his speech.
– I will remember this when the Government asks for leave of the House to do something later on.
– Order! Does the honorable gentleman wish to speak or not?
– I merely ask whether this is a suitable time at which to suspend the sitting.
– The honorable gentleman has already had an answer to that question. He should now proceed to make his speech.
– Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I desire to support the amendment, and I congratulate the mover, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), on his well-reasoned speech and on the proposal that he has submitted. Likewise, I desire to congratulate the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray) for his thoughtful and courageous words. I think that this Parliament would be a much better place if the spirit of the honorable member were to permeate some of the members of the Ministry, who seem more concerned about gaining a political advantage than they are with the ordinary workings of the Parliament. I hope to deal with that matter on some other occasion.
The bill before us provides for the expenditure of additional sums of money for the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of roads as well as for the extension of road transport services throughout Australia. To that extent I welcome the measure. But I want to say quite fairly and dispassionately that although this proposal has merit and deals with the broad general question of building roads in Australia, I deplore, as previous speakers have done, the failure of this Government to face up to its responsibility to build roads necessary for the development of this nation.
It is fitting that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) should be sitting at the table because he above anybody else should insist that the road system should be brought up to a standard so as to enable all types of defence vehicles that we will one day possess to move quickly and with certainty to any given point in this country for the purpose of defending it. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr.
Murray) referred to the fact that there is not an all-weather road from north Queensland to the south. That is to be deplored and I join with him in condemning this Administration for its failure to make such a provision.
I wish to deal with this subject in the broadest possible terms. Not only is it necessary to have adequate roads between capital cities but it is important also that all roads through the country should be constructed to link major centres of population and provide feeder roads into the areas of production so that the producers of crops and essential commodities will be able to get their goods to market. The vital need of Australia is a national transport system integrated in such a way that land, sea and air services will make a complete whole and give service and satisfaction to those engaged in production. This is necessary also for people in their social activities and for parents who wish to send their children to school. In the broad sense, such a system is necessary to meet all the transport requirements of this nation.
I note that a sum of money is to be provided for the purpose of building strategic roads. It is amazing to me that this Government, which has pretended to be concerned with the defence of Australia, has not given more attention during its years of office to the building of strategic roads. Any one who travels through the country will realize how vitally important roads, essential to the security of Australia, have been disregarded if not forgotten entirely. Meanwhile, large sums of money have been allowed to accumulate in government places. What strategic roads are available are those that have been deemed necessary by the Department of Defence, but these are very limited because they provide only for present army requirements. The broad idea of alternative strategic roads to certain places within the Commonwealth has never seemed to receive consideration from this Government. On numerous occasions I have pointed out to the Government the need to build roads to by-pass highways already saturated with dense traffic. If such roads were constructed, then in the event of an emergency normal business activities could continue while troops and materials were moved to the hinterland without delay.
A proposal was submitted by the Blaxland Shire Council within my electorate that a road should be built from Glen Davis in the Mudgee area, which is in the electorate of the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan), through the Capertee and Colo valleys linking up with Putty near Singleton. This would provide an alternative route for strategic purposes, and it could also be used for developmental work and provide access to many tourist attractions. That seemed to me to be an excellent proposition but it appears that it has been unnoticed by this Government despite the fact that there is an urgent need for work of this kind.
The failure of the Government to make the total proceeds of the petrol tax available for roads has been dealt with in some detail by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). He directed attention to the historic development of this legislation from the time it was first enacted in 1926. He referred to the views expressed by Mr. S. M. Bruce, now Viscount Bruce, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), Mr. Perkins and others at that time. They pointed out the need for levying a petrol tax on all road-users and the entire proceeds were to be used to augment funds to be applied to the development of roads in Australia. An assurance was given at that time that this tax would be levied only on those using petrol-driven vehicles on the roads.
I suggest to the Government and to the Minister for the Army that this basic principle which was adopted at that time and accepted by the States ought to be applied’ at this time. I do not put that forward as a final expression of opinion nor am I suggesting that it would answer all thefinancial problems connected with roads. Much more needs to be done. But if thetotal proceeds of the petrol tax were applied’ to road construction and maintenance, then the position could be reviewed in order todetermine how much more money was: needed for the building of roads to developthis nation.
May I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is a suitable time to suspend the sitting.
Sitting suspended from 5.53 to 8 p.m.
- Mr. Speaker, the future of Australia is indissolubly linked with an efficient and speedy transport system and good transport cannot be achieved without good roads. The inadequacy of our road system in Australia needs no word from me or from any other honorable member in this chamber. It is well-known that less than 10 per cent, of Australia’s 500,000 miles of road has been paved and sealed. When one has regard to the narrow and dangerous roads and to the difficult roads over which people in country areas are obliged to bring their produce to the markets, when one knows how they are hampered and how great numbers of man-hours have been lost because of transport difficulties, one realizes that the measure before us this evening is worthy of the closest scrutiny by honorable members.
The measure, in itself, of course, is welcomed. Anything that will contribute even an additional £1 towards the improvement of the road system of Australia deserves the commendation of all honorable members. But the Opposition says that this measure does not go far enough. We believe that the basic formula ought to be sustained - that there is no reason at this point of time to depart from the system of using petrol tax levies as a means of providing funds for roads. I suspect that the Government was well aware of the whole of the circumstances when it desired to change the basis of the formula at this time.
Honorable members will know that, with the increasing number of registered motor vehicles on the roads of Australia, an increasing consumption of petrol and other motor fuel must necessarily follow. With this increasing use of petrol, and of diesel oil for heavy vehicles, in the course of time a substantially increased sum would have had to be paid to the States for use by local authorities and road-making bodies generally on the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of roads.
I think that the words of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ are adequate to denounce this measure. That newspaper has described the plan as an important interim step towards better roads, although obviously falling a long way short of meeting Australian road needs. The “ Age “ of Melbourne was even more outspoken when it said -
The new agreement is at best only a good substitute for the old one. We have not reached the point of a national roads plan capable of meeting present and future traffic demands. Some staggering estimates have been made by traffic engineers of the sums needed to provide an adequate system of highways and byways, and expenditure in this one field in other countries indicates they are not exaggerated. A much bigger investment based on a national plan which will improve our security and ensure continued expansion is still essential, and the new agreement should not preclude further attempts to obtain this. With the prospect of the population reaching 20,000,000 in our lifetime, something more than the temporary accommodation of the present five-year plan is needed.
That supports what I was saying. As additional motor vehicles are used, so, too, additional quantities of motor fuel will be required. If the proceeds of the tax were to be applied as originally intended, the States would derive substantially improved sums of money for road construction and reconstruction.
Of course, it has been argued by the Government that this is a revenue tax. We who have been in local government or any other form of government are well aware that practically any tax, levied by any government, soon becomes a revenue tax. The purpose for which it was imposed originally disappears with the passing of time. I am well aware that when the federal aid roads legislation was passed originally in 1926 the Commonwealth Government made it clear that the proceeds of the petrol tax were to be devoted exclusively to road construction. This money was to supplement the funds which the various States at that time had available for road-making purposes. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) dealt with the issues which had arisen at the time when certain States had proposed to levy customs duty on imported motor fuel. The Commonwealth Government cajoled the States and suggested that if they would abandon their plan and join in a national approach to the problem, a much better deal could be obtained for road users throughout Australia. It will be remembered that, at that time, the proceeds of the petrol tax augmented and supplemented the amounts of money which were available.
Most Australians, will agree that revenue collected by means of a tax on motor fuel should be applied to road construction and maintenance. The Americans, too, believe this and they have adopted the slogan “ no diversion “. They believe that the total proceeds of their petrol taxes should be used for the purpose of road making and bridge building. I see no reason why taxes paid by road users in the various States of Australia should not be hypothecated for the purpose of building and maintaining better roads, especially when it is known to us all how inadequate even this sum of money would be.
An authority on this subject is Mr. P. J. Scales, National Director of the Australian Road Federation. He is on record in the March, 1959, issue of “ Road News “ as saying, referring to this proposal -
In fact, it barely scratches the surface. State road-building authorities, metropolitan city councils, provincial municipalities and country shire councils will still be woefully short of adequate road finance.
This is the opinion of a person well fitted and competent to express an opinion. I put it to the Parliament that the problems of local government are grave. I believe that, in most local-governing areas, rates have already reached the limit. It is unfair that people should be called upon to pay not only their normal income tax, the many indirect taxes, including petrol tax, and also substantial rates to local authorities, whilst at the same time being denied the good roads that are essential if they are to carry on their businesses.
I was referring earlier to the history of the petrol tax. I have before me a statement made by another reputable authority, the Australian Council of Local Government Associations, which made a submission to the Commonwealth at the roads conference held in Canberra in February of this year. The statement reads, in part -
Payments made to the State from the proceeds of these excise taxes are in a different category from other Commonwealth payments to the State. These petrol taxes are levied by the Federal Government because the States lack the constitutional power to impose such a tax. In such circumstances, the Federal Government virtually acts as agents for the States and/or the Local Government Authorities that are vitally affected by the expanding automotive traffic in their areas. But beyond imposing certain licenses on cars and drivers. &c, the States have no power to tax the main source of revenue.
Commonwealth policy which currently sanctions retention of so substantial a proportion of excise taxes, is certainly not in consonance with the policy enunciatedby a former Commonwealth Treasurer in his 1926 Budget speech: thus - “ The State Government, lacking the power to impose Customs duties, is unable to effectively reach all road users. The Common wealth, therefore, is co-operating with the States in a national roads policy and will impose special Customs duties which will be hypothecat ed for road construction. The impositionof these duties at the source will ultimately result in the road users paying their special tax proportionately to their use of the roads.”
Mr. Speaker, that is precisely the case submitted to this House by the honorable member for Batman in asking that the amendment moved on behalf of the Australian Labour Party be accepted by the Parliament. I can see no reason why it should not be accepted, nor can any one reasonably suggest that it should not be accepted. The case has been made out beyond any doubt whatsoever. I can, however, foresee the time when we will have to look further than the petrol tax. We will need to formulate a national programme and to adopt a national approach to thisquestion. We will have to look at it in a broader way. First and foremost, the money paid by road users ought to bespent on roads. That is a basic requirement.
Let me now refer to the very questionable proposal by the Government to make available to the States £30,000,000 on a £l-for-£l basis over a period of five years. I wonder to what extent the States will be able to avail themselves of this offer. At the moment the States are divided into two classes, the claimant States and the nonclaimant States. At the present time it seems that New South Wales is the only solvent State, the only one capable of balancing its accounts. Where will the other States find the money to match the Commonwealth’s contribution £l-for-£l? Perhaps the Labour Government of New South Wales will be able to accept the offer, but in the case of the other States the Commonwealth may well have to make an additional grant, particularly to the claimant States, to enable them to match the Commonwealth’s contribution £l-for- £1. It will be interesting, as an exercise in the study of the functions of government to see what Sir Thomas Playford will do about this matter.
I believe that this legislation does not deal effectively with the problem of building up our roads, which is an important matter from every angle. It is important for the development of Australia and for its defence. I have already referred to the failure of the Government to use its funds for the building of strategic roads. I now suggest that £50,000,000 be diverted from the defence vote for the purpose of improving our roads. Good roads and mobility of transport are essential to our security and our defence. We should have roads that will help to open up the Northern Territory, assist in the expansion of our population and help to develop north Queensland and Western Australia. The achievement of these objectives will assist dramatically in strengthening our defences, and I seriously urge the Government to consider diverting £50,000,000 from the defence vote for roads purposes. After all, although the Government has been in office since 1949, there is no evidence that we have any worth-while defence system today, and I suggest that my proposal is well worthy of adoption.
I now come to the matter of heavy motor transport vehicles and the tax on diesel fuel. I suggest that this tax should be substantially increased and that the total receipts therefrom should be made available for roads purposes. In the present circumstances, of course, in which the Commonwealth diverts the proceeds of these taxes to the bottomless pit of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, it is hard to convince the people who pay such taxes that it is right and proper for them to do so. I leave the matter at that, in the belief that the Government will have another look at certain aspects of the situation, that the amendment so carefully proposed by the honorable member for Batman will be fairly considered by the House and that we will be able to improve on the Government’s proposals.
The remarks of the Minister were quite interesting. He covered a wide variety of matters. While we on this side of the House welcome the legislation that has been brought forward, we believe that the amendment more fittingly meets the requirements of the situation. Let us first be honest in our dealings with the taxpayers and allow the money that they pay in petrol tax, which was originally intended to be used for road-making purposes, to be set aside for those purposes. When we have done this, let us then move another step forward with a national plan for integrating our road system, so that every hamlet and village will be served by a road adequate to provide the services needed by those communities. Let us provide a road system on a broad, overall, national pattern, so that all kinds of transportation, land, sea and air, may be co-ordinated to provide the maximum benefit for our people. Until we adopt such a policy, I believe we will continue to lag behind. It is idle for us, as parliamentary representatives, to complain about man-hours lost in industry and elsewhere when we know that there are many people on the land or engaged in secondary and primary industries who are unable to get their products to market because of flooded streams and untrafficable roads. I believe that we will be doing the right thing if we go forward along the lines indicated in the amendment submitted on behalf of the Opposition and then, as the next step, formulate a broad, comprehensive pattern covering the whole of the nation.
.- Mr. Speaker. I do not want needlessly to distress my friend, the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), by pointing out to him that I do not intend to support the amendment proposed by my friend, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). I hope, Sir. that it will be clearly understood that I shall vote for the bill. Having stated my attitude towards the amendment and towards the measure before the House with what I hope will be held as customary clarity, I suppose that I should sit down. But, Sir, I shall not disappoint some of my more ardent admirers on the score of brevity; and so I am emboldened to press on and present what 1 hope will be regarded as some fairly acceptable reasons why I propose to vote against the amendment and for the bill in its present form.
The first thing that I turn to is the question of responsibility. Since I have been in this House I have listened to some engaging and, if I may say so without giving rise to offence, some enrapturing, arguments on the question of legislative responsibility. With respect to roads, the responsibility is quite clear; it devolves entirely upon the Commonwealth Government. That, at any rate, is what one would be told by the enlightened elector, and that is what we are told by the unenlightened members of Her Majesty’s Opposition. I have never been able completely to understand this acceptance of responsibility, this discharge of responsibility, and this denial of responsibility. Surely it would be reasonable to assert that the basic responsibility for road construction and road maintenance falls upon the States. If that argument is a fallacious one, I shall please my admirers by sitting down, because that is the basic premise from which I proceed.
The argument that, on the other hand, the Commonwealth should shoulder the full responsibility for road construction is an argument of an entirely different character. But can the Commonwealth, fittingly and constitutionally, accept the entire responsibility for road construction? What would be the position if a request were made to the people of Australia by this Parliament for legislative authority to oversee all road construction throughout Australia? The confirmed unification is ta - those dedicated to the cause of a completely socialist Australia - would say that that was a magnificent idea. But such a proposition has no attraction at all for those simple-minded souls like myself who have something in the nature of affection for the federal system and who believe in the division of legislative power. You move from that to the further question: Would the people of Australia be prepared to grant to the Commonwealth Parliament at a referendum complete legislative power in the matter of roads?
– What is the point that the honorable member is trying to make?
– If the honorable member will wait for a few moments, even his dull mind will be able to gather up the fragments of the point as it passes by or through him.
To return to our muttons, Sir, what would be the position of the people of Australia? Would they be prepared to vote for complete legislative power for this Parliament in the matter of roads? I doubt it very much. There may be some optimistic souls who believe that the people of Australia would support overwhelmingly the complete centralization of legislative power in the hands of this Parliament. But I think that that is an unlikely possibility, and the Parliament should fairly face up to the real problem by getting away from the con siderable amount of waffling that there is on the question of responsibility.
The honorable member for Macquarie, in his somewhat tortuous fashion, has claimed, like his colleagues, that the present Commonwealth Government has been starving the States of funds for roads.
– Well, money-lending. The honorable member for Reid also may pick up a point or two on this matter before I sit down.
The truth, Sir, is simply this: In the last ten years, there has been a greater increase in the amount of Commonwealth moneys made available for road construction and maintenance than there has been in the field of housing, for example, in tax reimbursements and in State works. I think that even the most uncharitable critic of this Government must concede the fact that it has recognized that the construction of new roads and the maintenance of existing roads are a very real problem. But, Sir. what is the attitude of the Opposition? My friend, the honorable member for Batman, has proposed an amendment which seeks to ensure that all of the money collected from the petrol tax should be devoted to road construction. I do not know whether it was Disraeli or Gladstone - I think it was probably Disraeli - who said that taxation proposed for a particular purpose is not taxation but plunder. That may be an inaccurate rendition of the sentiment that Disraeli expressed, but I think that there is a fair amount of sense in it.
If you apply the logic that is contained in that proposition in a few other fields, you arrive at an interesting situation. Take beer. Am I to understand that, by the application of the logic of the honorable member for Batman to the matter of the excise on beer, bigger, better and brighter pubs are to be constructed? Am I to understand that, embracing the logic of the honorable member for Batman, one can expect that those people who find themselves unable to face up to the responsibility of behaving in a civilized fashion in regard to beer drinking will receive assistance from the Government? Am I to understand, Sir, that, by the application of that logic to the sales tax, all those people who buy anything from a television set to a pair of silk .stockings are to find channelled into the production of those articles the tax that was imposed on them? Am I to understand from the honorable member for Batman that the probate and succession duties levied, by the Government are to be devoted to the construction of bigger, better and brighter crematoriums? Am I to understand, Sir, that, by that logic, the honorable member, as he looked at the miserable cadaver of Killen, would say, “ Here was a fellow who would have paid a certain amount of probate and succession duty. We must see that there is arranged over him some gadget that will play forever and a day, ‘ Peace, perfect peace ‘ “ ? That form of logic does not become the honorable gentleman. It is unworthy of him, but it is in keeping with the attitude that has been presented by the Opposition on the matter of roads over the last ten years.
Who will forget that moment of cherished possession when the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) delivered his policy speech for the last general election? The right honorable gentleman was going to construct four-lane arterial roads linking the capitals of Australia. No one would say that that was not an eminently desirable proposal, but the right honorable gentleman did not give us any indication at all of how he intended to pay for the construction of those roads.
– They were to be paid for by the use of national credit.
– That may well be. I did not expect the Leader of the Opposition to pay for them by running a series of coin evenings, even if he intended to include in those coin evenings his now enlarged circle of friends - and, as the House knows, that includes me.
We see the complete irresponsibility of the Opposition in this matter, Sir. So, I say to the honorable member for Batman, and to all honorable gentlemen opposite who are prepared to think seriously over this problem, that, if they propose that all the petrol tax should be devoted to road construction, they must be prepared to face up to the counter argument that all probate and succession duties should be channelled into a specific purpose - and similarly with every other tax. I hoped that by now we would have reached the point of agreeing that roads and the associated problems could be approached, first, on a non-party basis. I do not suppose that it makes much difference whether you are an ardent Labour supporter or a lasting Liberal supporter; driving a Holden car over the road, you are met with the same bumps and faced with the same obstacles. That is a point which, I hope, will be clearly understood. Road construction should be approached on essentially a non-party basis.
The second point, which will probably meet with a somewhat colder reception than the first, is that road construction should be approached with State interests completely submerged. Nothing has wearied me more during the course of this debate, and on the occasion of every previous dehate on road construction, than to have paraded this parochialism par excellence. Victoria has been continually mentioned. I say to all my Victorian colleagues, and indeed, to my New South Wales colleagues, who have exactly the same approach, that just because they have a density of population and an aggregation of industry in their States, they should not believe that the bulk of money allocated for road purposes should be divided between those two States.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Deakin is of a different opinion. I hope that to-morrow he will take a few minutes off to read the excellent speeches made by the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Fulton) and by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray), one gentleman sitting on the Opposition side and one sitting on this side of the House. They were two very fine speeches which should commend themselves to every thinking Australian.
– That is parochialism.
– The honorable member says it is parochialism. I have listened to some powerful speeches on the subject of defence made by honorable members from both sides of the House. I have heard statements about the defence of our coastline and how our lines of defence were in north Queensland. Can any one square that argument with the essential facts put forward by the honorable member for Herbert earlier to-day, when he pointed out that from Brisbane to the north of Queensland there is not one trafficable road. We should face up to that problem. If we approach it on the basis of defence, what sort of attack do we envisage? The major part of our defence to-day is based upon conventional lines and, if it is based upon conventional lines, then we must face the fact that from the viewpoint of roads we are completely undefended. Some people with whom I was associated in my more respectable days when I worked as a jackaroo in Queensland have described a road to me, and I became well acquainted with it-
– Was no one else there?
– If I saw you out there, I would not know whether to identify you as a human being or as a crazed emu.
The main western highway running from Dalby to Charleville has been described to me as a defence road. The only defence purpose it would serve would be to bog down an enemy moving along it in the wet. The section between Roma and Mitchell will be sealed in the next few months. This is not some little tourist road or some rural road; it is a main road that is repeatedly described as a defence road, but the section from Roma to Mitchell is not sealed. I have seen that road after an inch of rain has fallen. It has been impossible to move on it until two or three days after the rain. So I say to my colleagues on both sides of the House that if roads are to be balanced against defence purposes, they must be prepared to shed a little of the parochialism, particularly the parochialism that is so evident among those from New South Wales and Victoria.
If the argument of defence is denied and the argument of development is pursued, the same conclusion is reached. Look at the development of Australia! What part offers the same potential for development as do north Queensland and the Northern Territory? There is no other part with as great a potential! This is again linked with defence, and development and defence are essentially hinged on road construction. If roads are not constructed in north Queensland and in the Northern Territory, those areas will never be opened, they will never be developed and we will never be able to defend them effectively, if, of course, we think in terms of conventional warfare.
The next point that I want to discuss concerns the matter of a road-building authority. Some excellent suggestions have been made from time to time concerning a national approach to road building. Honorable members on both sides of the House have suggested that a national roads plan should be developed or a national roads authority established. That proposal, related to the constitutional realities of the situation, is not entirely practical but that does not mean that it is not entirely desirable. Quite obviously, the possibility of securing the statutory powers for a national roads authority or a national roads plan is a little remote, but that does not suggest for one moment that an attempt should not be made to establish a national roads authority on a co-operative basis.
Some pretty solid reasons can be given for establishing a national road-building authority. The first is on the score of uniformity. I am not one of those who subscribe to uniformity for the sake of uniformity alone, but now, some 80 years or more after the introduction of railways into Australia, we are presented with the problem of rail standardization. Any one driving from Brisbane to Canberra or from Canberra to Melbourne will notice the difference in road construction and the different techniques used. Even in the matter of road identification, the method used in Queensland is distinctly different from that used in Victoria. Also, white lines are used in one State and yellow lines in the other. There is no similarity in the method of bridge construction. If we persist in not striving to secure uniformity in road construction, we, or a later generation, will be faced with the problem of road standardization.
The second ground upon which the idea of a national road-building authority commends itself to me is that it would enable the pooling of engineering technique and engineering know-how in the matter of road construction. The road engineers in Victoria may have some excellent views on one phase of road construction, and the road engineers in Queensland may have excellent views on. another phase. Sir, I think there is good ground for believing that there should be a pooling of techniques and experience.
– The engineers have an annual conference.
– They may have an annual conference, but there is no projection into reality of what may be gained or discussed at the conference. Then there is the future point of inefficiency. If honorable gentlemen read the report of the Commissioner for Main Roads in Queensland, they will find that 114.37 miles of new bitumen roads were constructed in Queensland last year. People may say that that is a fair achievement, but I do not share that view at all. Admittedly, it is an increase on the rate of construction of previous governments. During the last year of Labour’s rule in Queensland the rate of construction of bitumen roads was such that it would have taken 383 years to seal the mileage of road already declared as being the responsibility of the Main Roads Department in that State. At the present rate of sealing it will take about 150 years. This is an absurd situation that we are not at liberty to tolerate if we are really serious about road construction. If you read the 37th annual report of the Queensland Main Roads Department you will find statements such as this -
At Yandina about .5 mile of concrete road was constructed.
A length of 1.5 miles in Gladstone Town is being widened to give a pavement width of 30 feet.
Alignment was improved at Hut Creek near Ambrose.
I submit to the House that the insertion of that sort of pathetic nonsense in a report of an important authority such as the Main Roads Department is frankly intolerable. Where shall we end unless we are prepared to approach this problem on a more rational and, I would hope, more realistic basis?
Let us look at the methods and equipment used in road construction. Some States have been able to buy and to maintain some types of equipment for road construction, but others cannot afford to buy such equipment, or, perhaps, having bought it, cannot afford to maintain it. If we had a national road construction authority, such equipment would be pooled and the cost of road construction would decrease. Sir, I do not want to be critical of the present Queensland Government, but I wish to illustrate the sort of problems that we are facing. Last year 48 tenders for road construction were accepted by the Queensland Government. In all they amounted to fi, 168,910. The total revenue of the Queensland Main Roads Department last year was something in excess of £12,000,000- nearly £13,000,000. So, with a total revenue of almost £13,000,000, the department spent more than £1,000,000 on tenders. The rest of the money was spent by the department itself, using its own plant, or by the various local authorities. I do not think that the country can afford to continue to pay the present cost of road construction. I understand that the average cost is within cooeeing distance of £10,000 a mile. If there were a national road construction authority, with know-how pooled, with the various techniques of road construction at its fingertips, with uniformity, and with a greater emphasis on constructing roads, not on a basis of doing .5 of a mile here and two miles somewhere else but of giving contractors the opportunity to construct 50 or 100 miles of roads, our road construction costs would fall.
In my own State I have known a person to secure a contract for the construction of a section of roadway - in some cases a mils of road. The contractor has to move his equipment from point A to point B in order to do his job. He has to secure labour and provide accommodation for his workers if the job is very far removed from their homes. All these problems are exacerbated by the letting of short-term contracts. There is a compelling argument for the letting of contracts for road construction on a far broader basis than has been the case in the past.
Finally, I should like to make two suggestions. I have indicated that I do not support the argument that the whole of the proceeds from the petrol tax should be devoted to road purposes. Even though I say that, I hope that this House, and the Parliament, will consider my first proposal which is that a national road construction loan be launched for the purpose of financing road-building. It is quite obviously beyond the capacity of this Parliament, and of the taxpayers of Australia, to meet the demands for money for road construction that are now placed upon them. In Queensland 20,000 miles of road are declared to be the responsibility of the Main Roads Department. To seal that mileage of roads would involve an expenditure’ of approximately £200,000,000. New South Wales, Victoria, and the other
States would be faced with a comparable expenditure. So from the viewpoint of taxation and from the viewpoint of daytoday revenue, the problem of financing such a huge project is quite beyond us. In those circumstances I suggest that a national loan, to be devoted to road construction, may well find support.
I come now to my second suggestion. I think there is a great deal for us to learn in the American system, not only of road construction but also of establishing toll roads. In America one finds turnpikes - hundreds of miles of magnificent highway. People can travel on those highways upon payment of a nominal toll. This system enables highways not only to be constructed but also to be adequately maintained. It is essential that we get away from our parochial approach to road construction. I say with charity, but nevertheless with some feeling, to all honorable members from Victoria and New South Wales: Do not believe for one moment that the entire problem of road construction is resident within your States. This is a nation that must develop if it is to survive, and because we must develop in order to survive, a heavy obligation is placed upon us to defend this country. We cannot defend this nation and continue to defend it with our present crazy, completely mixedup system of road construction.
.- Mr. Speaker, unlike the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) I support the amendment before the House. The honorable member for Moreton gave the impression that he is living in one of Australia’s Territories and not on the mainland at all. He seemed completely oblivious of the problems that beset the State and local government authorities with regard to roads. He quoted Disraeli. He might just as well have quoted Robinson Crusoe. He rambled; he floated on a guided missile to the breweries and discoursed on the virtues of beer. What relation beer has to the problem of road construction only the honorable member for Moreton would know. In the closing stages of his speech he did come back on to the track again and talked a little about the roads problem. At times I felt that he was supporting the amendment moved by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). At other times he wandered off the beaten track.
The bill before the House replaces existing arrangements for aid to the States for the purpose of road construction. It is not a bill about which we can become excited, because as the honorable member for Batman said, there is nothing very new in it. It is purely a re-arrangement to provide what was provided previously. It is clear from the second-reading speech of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) that the Government is not very interested in a national roads plan. Rather is it prepared toadopt the expedient of a new formula which will not cost the Government any more than the previous arrangement between the Commonwealth and the States.
The Treasurer made a very misleading statement when he said that this legislation would provide a new era in road progress. The misleading nature of that statement was proved by the figures presented to the House this afternoon by the honorable member for Batman. The fact is that the new formula simply provides an amount of money similar to that which would have been provided had the old agreement been re-enacted. I agree with the statement of the honorable member for Batman that the States might even get less under the new agreement than they would have obtained under the old one. Figures compiled by people who are expert in the matter of compiling a roads programme for Australia have shown that there will be little change in the amount available, but if we assume that Australia is going to progress in the next five years as quickly as it has in the past five years, it is quite possible that the grand total ultimately will be less than the amount that would have been provided had the old arrangement simply been re-enacted. Let us examine the figures that have been applicable to this situation. Over the past five years, grants to the States have varied -I give round figures - as follows: -
During the same period, the revenues from petrol and diesel taxes amounted to -
Under the new agreement, the States will receive £40,000,000 plus a possible £2,000,000 if they can raise finance among themselves to match the £2,000,000 from the Commonwealth. This grant is conditional. lt is an uncertain factor, as was pointed out to-day. The States are in dire financial straits in many ways and in all probability, much of this conditional grant will never be collected by the States from the Commonwealth. Therefore, we can discount to some extent this £2,000,000 conditional grant that is to be added to the basic grant of £40,000,000. So this talk of a new era in road progress is simply airy-fairy vapouring and not worth the consideration of this Parliament or the listening public.
– They are not listening.
– Perhaps the honorable member is not listening. I hope the listening public have a little more intelligence than he has. It would be a poor outlook for Australia if they did not.
Let us consider the requirements of the various States. The National Council of the Local Governments Association went into this matter very thoroughly and concluded that nothing less than a 50 per cent, increase in this year’s allocation would meet the needs of the various States and local government authorities. What does that mean? The allocation this year is to be £37,250,000. Add 50 per cent, to that figure and the total is about £55,750,000. That is what the local governments have decided is necessary to enable the States to function as they should in this matter. What will they get? They will receive a mere £40,000,000, plus possibly £2,000.000 - the conditional grant.
The Australian Labour Party has also applied itself to this problem. It has decided that nothing less than the return of all the revenues received from petrol and diesel oil taxes will meet the situation that is presenting a challenge to the State governments and local authorities in connexion with roads. With that proposition in view, the Labour Party included it in the leader’s policy speech at the last general election. It is rather interesting to note, also, that the approximate figure arrived at by the National Council of Local Governments Association was closely related to the reimbursement proposed by the Australian
Labour Party from Commonwealth revenues to the States. The Labour plan would have meant the return to the States of £55,000,000 in 1957-58. The reimbursement to the States, according to the National Council of Local Governments Association, should have amounted to a similar amount of £55,750,000 in this current year. Of course, if the States and local government authorities had that amount they would be able to meet the challenge that confronts them. On their own, they will simply have to worry along on a smaller programme. They are working now against tremendous odds in the face of increasing demands for road construction. I believe, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we should pay more attention to the organizations I have mentioned, because they are closest to the actual construction and maintenance of roads and should command the respect of this Parliament and the Government.
Let us examine the problem of the States in relation to roads. It is well known that State governments and local authorities are at their wits’ end to meet the heavy demand for roads in various areas. That is the position not only in city and suburban areas, but also in country areas where the demand is equally pressing. Time after time these bodies, which are striving valiantly to do the job, have to suffer the frustrations imposed upon them by lack of the necessary finance, and that is where the Government is falling down on its responsibilities. There is no doubt that road expansion and development is one of the most vital needs of our Australian nation and as such should receive a very high priority from the Commonwealth Government.
Despite the widespread publicity given to the Government’s action in calling a conference of representatives of various organizations interested in roads to discuss this subject in January last, the conference resulted in very little additional finance being provided. There is to be a small increase from £37,500,000 to £40,000,000 during the next financial year. As has been pointed out by previous speakers, this is a natural increase that would have been obtained in any case, irrespective of the action now being taken by the Government. As a matter of fact, I have some misgivings about these allocations, because 1 believe that at the end of five years local government and State authorities will find themselves worse off than if the old formula had been adhered to. But we have no say in that matter. All that we can do is voice our protests.
– Have you had any experience of local government matters?
– Yes, as a matter of fact I have. I can give the House an illustration or how our city of West Torrens in the suburban area of Adelaide has been affected. Some months ago we set out to raise of loan of £65,000 for road purposes. Our council, in common with many other councils, believed that it had reached saturation point, or nearly saturation point, in rate revenue. We felt that the only way in which we could try to improve the position was by floating loans from time to time so that we could, in some measure, keep up with the tremendous demands that faced us. We arranged with our bankers to obtain £65,000, but the Highways Department, which is the State authority controlling roads expenditure in South Australia said, “ You cannot raise a loan of £65,000. You must restrict it to £40,000.”
– Was that under the control of a Labour or a Liberal government?
– That was to conform with the policy of the Liberal Government under Sir Thomas Playford. We found, therefore, that despite our altruistic objective of overcoming the roads problem in our little suburban city, we were frustrated, on the one hand by the policy of the Playford Government and on the other hand by the inadequacy of funds made available by the Commonwealth to the State Government, and through it to the local authority.
– Which bank helped you out?
– Quite understandably, the Commonwealth Bank, the bank which is not so popular with this Government. But that is only by the way. I mention that matter merely as an illustration of the frustration that State and local governments suffer under the present system of road construction. It is unfortunate, of course, that this Government does not apply itself to a national roads plan. That would not necessarily mean that the Commonwealth would have to take over the control of the development, construction and maintenance of all roads. The situation could be met, I believe, on a basis of co-ordination with the State governments. All the authorities and organizations which are interested in the development and maintenance of roads advocate a national roads plan, but despite their advocacy this Government consistently refuses to consider such a plan. A very good illustration of the Government’s attitude is found in the legislation, we are now debating.
This is only a first step in granting the necessary assistance to State and local governments. I appeal to the Government to reconsider the requirements of the States, because after all the States are acting only as components of our one nation. Whether control be vested in the States or the Commonwealth is not so very important, so long as we obtain the desired result, which is a national roads plan that will do justice to the development that is now taking place in this nation and to the development that is so much needed in the north. There is a challenge to the Government to consider returning a greater share of the revenues from petrol and diesel fuel taxes to the States which are the bodies charged with the construction and administration of roads. Unless the Government is prepared to do this, we shall go on from year to year, muddling through as we have done in many other respects and on many other occasions. This is not what the Labour movement desires, or what it visualizes. We have shown vision, and if our suggestions were adopted the Government could develop the roads programme that is demanded if we are truly concerned with our nation’s welfare.
From a defence aspect, the Government has also fallen down on the job of developing roads. Millions of pounds of defence expenditure are applied to far less worthy causes than the development of roads. The Government still muddles on with its defence policy, spending from £180,000,000 to £200,000,000 annually. Only an infinitesimal proportion of this is applied to defence roads. Many, many more millions of pounds could be applied for this purpose if the Government had the courage and will to do so. It is our duty to point out these errors of omission that are prejudicing the welfare of our country. We say that the money proposed to be made available is far too inadequate for our needs. We seek by amendment to impress upon the Government the need to do something more and something bigger. Whether the Government will heed our desires is for it to decide. I sincerely hope that they will, not because we want to secure some political advantage out of the matter, but because we are vitally concerned with the development and the national well-being of Australia. I leave my remarks there, Mr. Deputy Speaker. 1 have mentioned some features of the bill that I believe are weaknesses. I hope that they will receive due consideration, and that when the bill finally emerges from this Parliament as an enactment it will be more impressive and more acceptable than it is in its present form.
.- Some 33 years ago I brought down in this House the first Federal Aid Roads Bill, and I proposed that there be given to the States for some ten years certain definite moneys. The bill was drawn up in such a way as to ensure two things. First, it was designed to ensure the road development of Australia, and, secondly, it was intended that the ten-year term provided in the measure would ensure permanent work on the roads for road workers throughout Australia. What was the attitude of the Labour Party at that time?
– Leave politics out of it.
– My friend says, “ Leave politics out of it “, after the diatribe we have just heard. The Labour Party split completely down the middle on the vote on that bill, because its leader and deputy leader voted against the Government, whilst Labour men from country electorates voted with us because they knew the bill would provide constant and continuous work for many of their electors. South Australia and Victoria, whose Parliaments had passed legislation ratifying the agreement with us, took the Commonwealth to the Privy Council in an effort to break the agreement. However, at the end of ten years they all came along and asked for another ten-vear agreement, and we gave it to them. So long as governments of our political complexion were in office, such arrangements were made for ten years; but when the Labour Party came to office, the period was reduced, on one occasion to three years, and on another occasion to five years. I was very much against that because I wanted to see-
– If you had read the newspapers, you would have seen that there was a war on at that time.
– It was before the war, and it happened after the war as well. Labour altered the period. The Labour Government cut down the time. Our governments never cut the time down.
– They never did anything.
– Your government never did anything, I know. There is no question as to the position of the Labour Party in this matter, and I cannot understand why now, after so many years, they are coming to the penitent stool and saying, “ Give us more “. With this particular measure, the Government has undoubtedly very generously increased the total amount being paid to the States under the agreement. I myself do not look at this arrangement as a permanent feature. The arrangement was originally brought into being for the purpose of ensuring, as best we could, improved marketing conditions for the Australian people both in the cities and in the country areas, by reducing the cost of distribution of goods - the cost of getting goods to and from markets. That is still as necessary as ever. But it is also very necessary that we should have a much more perfect system of road transport than we have.
I believe that without a very great increase of cost to the people, if any increase at all, we could develop a transport system that would avoid a great deal of the wastage that at present takes place in sea, air, road and rail transport. We should allocate a certain sum of money each year to do this particular job - enough money to enable us to capitalize the whole of this thing on a long-term basis, so that during the next five or ten years we will be able to produce a system of roads that will serve us both in peace and war.
– Sounds like socialism to me.
– It is not socialism, because the most satisfactory way would be by franchise or charter such as the charter issued to the Hornibrook people in Queensland, which is giving people up there a road which, on payment of a1s. fee, saves 3s. 6d. in petrol on the trip from Brisbane to Sandgate. That is not socialism; it is just commonsense. That is what they are doing in America at present, and what we will have to do too, because our system of transport, whether by road, rail, sea or air, gives rise to all sorts of difficulties. For instance, in the railway map of Queensland there is a gap of 80 miles in the north between two important points - Croydon and Forsayth - and whenever there is a decent rain up there cattle cannot be sent through to the south for sale and to supply the southern States. But nothing is done about that, though I suppose the cost to the nation, during times of drought and flood, of having that gap in the railway system must be millions of pounds. In flood time it is impossible to get cattle through to the markets, and in times of drought it is impossible to walk them through. The same kind of position exists in every State. In New South Wales we have the railway gap between Murwillumbah and Tweed Heads. This 20-mile gap is the most disgraceful thing in the world. It exists as aresult of a promise that New South Wales made to Queensland and did not keep that if Queensland built its railway down, the two systems would be joined at Tweed Heads.
In every State we have some of the best natural harbours in the world which, as Sir George Buchanan pointed out in his report, are not being used. Port Stephens, Twofold Bay and the Clarence mouth itself - all these are ports reported on by the best engineers in the world and nothing is being done about them. Goods being sent south from Inverell in New South Wales have to go inland to Moree, in the heart of Australia, before they start to come down to Sydney. All these things have to be altered but they will not be altered if we deal with only one aspect of the transport problem at a time - if we deal with roads alone. We must deal with the transport system as a whole. I believe that what we need in this country is a national transport council that will go into the whole question of transport. As we have no constitutional power to deal with transport inside a State, we shall have to do what we did in regard to agriculture.
– The tragic Treasurer!
– This silly fool makes that remark! I brought the Australian Agricultural Council into being to unify agriculture in this Commonwealth. I brought the Australian Loan Council into being. I brought the Financial Agreement into existence, which saves £15,000,000 in interest each year on £3,000,000,000 of debt. I did all these things and he says, “ The tragic Treasurer “. That Treasurer saved Australia.
– A point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask for a withdrawal of the right honorable gentleman’s remark.
– Does the honorable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– No. I ask for a withdrawal of the remark “ this silly fool “ made by the right honorable member for Cowper.
– In deference to the House, I withdraw it. After the honorable member has been here a bit longer, he will know something about what takes place. The record of history which he may read in the pages of “ Hansard “ will help him.
The money to be provided under the measure will be a very substantial help to the States. I believe that it will be sufficient to enable us during the five-year period of the legislation to draw up the sort of plan I envisage. I trust that one of the first things that the Government will do will be to get the Constitution Review Committee back to work. In that committee we were getting unanimity about what should be done in regard to this transport problem. If we can solve that constitutional problem, we will be able to save a tremendous amount of money immediately, because we will be able to make full use of the equipment that we have at present, and we will also be able to deal with the question of roads. Everybody who has to travel a great deal through country districts, as I have to do, knows that bridges which were built to carry vehicles weighing 12 or 20 tons are now being passed over many times a day by machines that weigh 30, 35 or 40 tons. The result is that the bridges are being broken down, as is the bitumen of the roads, especially at the edges and in wet places. From a defence point of view, it is absolutely indispensable, if we are to shift our trucks and lorries and the heavy machines which are now the means by which war is waged to a large extent, to have these things right. 1 suggest that this money should be used fo’ /Make certain, first of all, that the maximum amount of good is obtained from the existing road structure. In many parts of the country it is very good, but something should be done by every State along similar lines fo that in southern Queensland. In that area, wherever there is a bend in the road, the road is straightened and the former bend used as a place where travellers can park. This provides short stretches of one-way traffic. I am sure that that increases the safety of the road and also enables people to travel much more quickly than formerly.
But we have to get on to the other business of making certain that we are using the shortest way to market. The federal aid roads scheme was brought into being to assist marketing in every way. I am sure that the distances we travel at the present time and the fact that there are differential rates on the railways between the States which prevent the most handy railways being used cost us many millions of pounds. I should not be surprised if the value of that wastage is equivalent to the £50;000,000 now being found by the Government in connexion with this scheme. That is one saving alone which could be made, to say nothing of the employment that’ could be given to people throughout Australia..
Ohe great feature about this road system is that it is general throughout Australia. Sir John Kemp told me that he thought it was the biggest public work that had ever Been undertaken in Australia by reason of its extraordinary extent. In fact, it was Because we had the engineers that we were able to build the road through central Australia in war-time. We were able to build also the aerodromes from which bombers could take off to get back to their carriers at the time the Coral Sea battle was in progress. All these things have been made possible and I am now pointing out the savings which still could be made. But much more extensive savings could be effected if we made certain that the whole of the equipment that we have is used to the maximum degree in the way I have suggested.
I believe that if a national transport council could be formed consisting of representatives of all parties associated with transport we would be able to get money from overseas, if necessary, to enable us to pay for this road system as we go. I am sure that the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) would bear me out in that. Sufficient revenue would be raised from ordinary tolls to pay interest and sinking fund on capital and there would be no great immediate drain on the general economy which might result in stopping other works. We would be able to get the road work done and if a government wanted it to be nationalized it could pay off the cost; if it did not want to have the work nationalized it need not pay off the cost. That would be a matter of government policy. But the fact is that it could be done and it must be done, if we are to carry the enormous quantities of goods we produce in Australia to-day and the increased production we hope for.
Approximately 30,000,000 tons of goods are carried to and from Australia and overseas countries each year. Approximately 18,000,000 tons are exported and 12,000,000 tons imported. These goods do not stay on the wharfs but are taken to all parts of the country by road and rail. We must make certain that the cost of transporting these goods is the lowest possible. If that can be achieved, we will make tremendous savings in transport costs in this country.
During the period of this five-year agreement which the Commonwealth has made with the States, representatives of the States and of all transport organizations should meet together for the purpose of bringing into being a council which will unify transport policy. I remind honorable members of the precedent of financial policy which I was instrumental in unifying and also the agricultural policy of this country. The Australian Loan Council was working for five years before it was part and parcel of the Constitution, simply because the parties were in agreement. The Australian Agricultural Council works without constitutional power at present, simply by agreement. All parties to that council recognize each other’s point of view. I am sure that even if we could not get an alteration of the Constitution we could achieve similar co-operation among the States with regard to transport because this would be to everybody’s benefit.
Once this co-operation was established, the States would be able to bring into being a roads system which would be a pride and pleasure to travel on and something that we would be able to show to tourists- from overseas: It would also reduce the cost of living because the cost of production would be- reduced. This would mean that the real value of wages would be higher than it is at present. We would be able to do things in this country with regard to development which are impossible at present because the cost outweighs any profit that could possibly be made.
I urge honorable members on both sides of the House to support this measure wholeheartedly. I am glad that the Government has adopted, in the main, the formula which was originally laid down of one-third population, one-third area and one-third motor vehicles. That last condition is a valuable addition to the real method of distribution. I should be surprised if there was anything like the opposition to this new formula that there was in the beginning, especially from Victoria, which was the biggest contributor of petrol tax.
– Victoria is still opposed to it.
– Victoria should be more satisfied with this scheme than with the old agreement because it gives that State a better run. It seems to me that the fact that the Government has increased &e amounts- to be spent on roads- will still make it possible for States- such as Queensland and Western Australia, which still need money, to develop arid get on with the job of road construction.
I think that the House will pass this bill. It is not a matter for parties. Everybody wants good roads, cheap goods and safe travel and this is one way to get them.
.- -I have listened with a good deal of interest to the remarks of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) and I certainly agree with him when he says that there is a great necessity for the establishment in Australia of some type of co-ordinating council which will enable States to act in unity in respect of the problem of roads. When all is said and done, when the various States are mapping out their policies for road construction and improvement, if they are to get the best results, road activities must be co-ordinated in the best interests of Australia as a whole. I think all honorable members will agree that good roads affect the economy and life of Australia as well as the safety of our people.
This measure deals with a problem which affects us- economically and from the standpoint of safety. It illustrates to us how greatly the way of- life has changed in recent years. In fact, we are now getting a full turn of the wheel from road to railroad and back from- railroad to road. It was the railroad which rode people off the road a little over a century ago but with the advent of the internal combustion engine traffic is going off- the railroad and coming back to the road. The result is that we have a new type of problem that we have to face as a community, a problem that means the adaptation of our roads to a new type of vehicle which, in itself, is constantly changing, and, because it is constantly changing, needs constant improvements in our road construction.
I can remember very well that in about 1914, when I was exceedingly young, the Victorian Government put forward a proposal for a country roads board. That proposal came as a consequence of the difficulties arising in connexion with motor transport on roads that were designed for horse-drawn vehicles. The state of the roads at that time in Victoria, particularly in country districts, was exceedingly bad. From the proposal to establish a country roads board, the whole principle of making roads suitable for modern conditions v/as gradually evolved until all the States, at the present time, have some type of road authority that deals with the construction of roads which are better and sounder.
One of the great difficulties that we are facing and one reason why the question of makin” money available for roads is so important is that roads which were constructed, in the main, after World War I. were built for the type of vehicle then using the roads, a vehicle which, in the main, was of small weight, of limited horse-power, and not very speedy. Even the trucks and utilities of the time were comparatively light. The result was that roads were constructed at that stage to carry that type of vehicle. The foundations were not very deep. Some roads were sealed, but many were not.
As time has passed, the class of transport using the roads has changed considerably. The roads made in the 1920’s are now breaking up and are entirely unsuitable for the traffic which they have to carry to-day. The foundations of these roads are light. Their culverts are not constructed to carry heavy weights. They are narrow. They are sealed in narrow strips, with the edges frequently constituting a constant source of danger to the driver.
So the question arises as to what we are to do as a community in order to right these things and build throughout Australia a type of road which will give the maximum convenience from the stand-point of transport and give the maximum safety to users. As I pointed out previously, since World War II. the type of vehicle has changed considerably. We now see the long, heavy vehicles, the wide vehicles, and the heavy vehicles that are transporting liquids in bulk. All those vehicles are going over roads of light construction and those roads are rapidly breaking up, causing danger to everybody who uses them.
We need to have a national plan in order to make roads more soundly based, wider, and better graded, so eliminating all the danger spots. What the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) said in regard to danger spots in the roads is quite correct. Even on the few well-built roads that are regarded as our main highways, there many spots which are a constant danger to the travelling public.
One of the difficulties that we are experiencing to-day and which is the cause of many accidents on the roads is the tendency on the part of road constructing authorities to cover roads with loose gravel. This is then solidly pounded down by motor vehicles. The result is that the inexperienced driver who does not appreciate the danger, or the motorist who does not notice the gravel at night, reaches the danger spot at high speed, finds it necessary to put on the brakes, and skids all over the place. Even if he does not come to grief himself, his car throws up gravel with the result that the windscreens of passing motor cars may be shattered and their drivers temporarily blinded. Twice in the last two years, while travelling to Bendigo, I have had my windscreen destroyed by gravel thrown up by fast-moving trucks. As one passes the trucks, the gravel strikes the windscreen, which immediately goes opaque and the driver cannot see where he is going. lt is necessary for those who construct the roads to avoid dangerous practices such as that of covering roads with loose gravel. It is also necessary for motorists to be warned when they are approaching gravel spots at high speeds. They should know that even if they escape danger themselves, they may cause extreme risk to others who are passing.
There has been a tremendous growth in the motor industry in Australia. That means, of course, that the density of road traffic has become increasingly greater. We must have the right type of road so that traffic may move quickly and so prevent constant blockages. Therefore, the question that we have to consider, as a House, is whether this measure which has been presented to us by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and of which, undoubtedly, the Treasurer feels very proud, will give satisfaction in regard to road construction and repair and bring about an improvement in the existing state of affairs. Because T do not believe that the measure will give us satisfactory roads, I support the amendment that has been moved by my friend, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). I agree with the five-year plan mentioned in this legislation because the States are entitled to know in advance the amount of money that they will receive. It will enable them to plan their work and so will prevent frustration or slowing down at a time when work should be continuous and there should be no slackening.
However, whilst I agree with the five-year plan, I do not agree that we will accomplish in five years, with the amount of money to be made available under this legislation, all the things that the Government desires shall be accomplished as a result of this measure. Let us look at it for a moment or two. It is proposed that, in the next five years, the sum of £220,000,000 shall be made available to the States, ranging from £40,000,000 in the first year to £48,000,000 in the fifth year. That money will be distributed in accordance with a tabulated statement that has been presented to us. In addition, the Government will make available to the States over that period a maximum of £30,000,000 on a £l-for-£l basis. The maximum for the first year is to be £2,000,000, rising in five years to £10,000,000. These additional grants will depend upon each of the States, from their own resources, providing matching grants.
There are one or two things that need to be pointed out in connexion with this scheme. Although £220,000,000 is a very large sum of money, people are inclined to forget that it is spread over five years. Where it is divided into its component parts, we find that the maximum sum available ranges from £42,000,000 in the first year to £58,000,000 in the fifth year. The first question one asks is this: To what extent does this mean that additional money is to be made available to the States in, say, the first year? I point out that the grant for 1959-60 will be only £2,750,000 more than the amount granted under the old legislation for 1958-59. When looking at the amounts made available in past years, one finds that a greater increase took place in 1957-58 over the amount granted in 1956- 57 than will take place in 1959-60 in comparison with the preceding year, even though the problem has become more serious in every way.
It should also be pointed out that the capacity of the States to raise money is extremely limited. The two principal avenues of taxation are under the control of the Commonwealth Government. These are customs and excise duty on the one hand, and income tax on the other. Both are controlled by the Commonwealth Government, and only odds and ends of taxation are left to the States if they wish to raise money to finance a particular project. Whether the States can raise large sums of money from their own resources for road construction is certainly problematical.
But even if we assume that they will be able to raise enough money to enable them to participate in this bonus, if one can call it that, let me point out that only £2,000,000 will be available in the first twelve months, and that it must be spread over the six States. If you divide it equally between the States - and I am not suggesting that this legislation provides for that to be done - each of the States could not receive more than £330,000, if they all qualified for the full £2,000,000 bonus. Even in the later years of the scheme, when the amount increases to £10,000,000, each State can receive only five times what it may receive in the first year. It can be seen, therefore, that although the amount of £30,000,000 may seem quite large, when it is spread over five years and between six States it does not provide very much additional money for the individual States.
There is a further criticism that must be made of the scheme to provide this bonus addition under certain conditions. The provision applies to States only, and does not apply to moneys spent by shires and boroughs, by towns and cities. When one considers the amounts spent on road construction by the various authorities that have taxing powers, one finds that the great bulk of the money is spent by the municipalities. In order to demonstrate that point I shall refer to a very interesting booklet that has been issued by the Australian Council of Local Government Associations. The figures in this publication have been taken from the records of municipalities in New South Wales. I find that in that State the contributions made by property owners by way of local government property tax, and by council loan funds, represented 53.5 per cent, of the total amount that was spent on roads in New South Wales.
What can be said of New South Wales can also, I think, be said of the other States. The authorities that are hard-pressed at present for road construction money are the shires and the boroughs which are responsible for the outlying areas of the States, where the road problems are tremendous. Except for assistance they get through the State Government, these authorities are compelled in present circumstances to raise the money in their own localities to finance road construction. I cannot speak of what happens in the other States, but I do know that the Local Government Act in Victoria limits the power of a municipality to increase taxes. It provides that a municipality cannot charge more than a certain rate, which is laid down as so much in the £1, and when it has gone that far the only way it can raise additional funds is by revaluing the properties in the municipality. This immediately causes trouble, because the tendency is to increase the valuations, which makes the rate-payers extremely angry, and the public life of certain municipal councillors is brought to an abrupt end. I suggest, therefore, that although the legislation makes provision for extra assistance for State governments, it does not in any way reduce the financial burdens that shires and boroughs, and towns and cities have to bear for road construction in their particular localities.
The legislation also provides for a new distribution formula, with which I agree. I think the old formula, according to which three-fifths of the available money was allocated on the basis of population and two-fifths according to area, was unjust in the case of States in which motor traffic was heaviest. The new formula, involving one-third according to area, one-third to population and one-third to density of traffic, gives a fairer deal to the States in which the roads carry the heaviest burden of motor traffic. These are undoubtedly New South Wales and Victoria, in which, because of vast industrial expansion, particularly on the outskirts of the metropolitan areas, new and wider roads are needed for transport of goods between the industrial centres and the seaports.
Having analysed the measure, one finds that the money that will be made available is inadequate to meet the very serious road problems that we have in Australia. In all we have in this country 525,000 miles of roads. Of this total, some 70,000 miles are highways, main roads or trunk roads. With regard to another 58,000 miles some financial assistance is received for maintenance and construction. But it is the local roads, totalling 395,000 miles throughout Australia, that need the greatest assistance. These roads are in the back areas. They connect the small hamlets and villages, and are used by farmers and others. It is in these districts that the need for decent roads is becoming more and more apparent. I do not believe that the limited amount being made available under this legislation will enable us to meet anything like the full requirements of our transport system during the next five years.
The amendment that has been moved by my friend and colleague, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), proposes that the whole of the revenue derived from the petrol tax shall be made available for the construction of roads. It is of interest to note the total amount that has been received in recent years from the petrol tax - more recently from the petrol tax and the diesel fuel tax combined. I remind the House that in 1955-56 the total amount received was £38,500,000. The amount received in 1956-57 was £47,400,000. In 1957-58, when the diesel fuel tax was introduced, the receipts totalled £55,800,000. It is estimated that the yield from these taxes in 1958-59 will be £60,500,000. But the Federal Government will make .available for roads in 1958-59 only £40,000,000.
The Treasurer suggested, in his secondreading speech last evening, that it would be improper to use the whole of the petrol tax for road purposes. In spite of the argument that he has recently put forward, I completely disagree with his contention. First - and I have no doubt that my colleague, the honorable member for Batman, has pointed this out - in no country in which the petrol tax is levied are the proceeds used for anything other than road construction, because it is realized that the tax is derived from a commodity that is used to drive the vehicles over the roads. Because the consumption of petrol is a fair indication of the weight and density of traffic, it is said that the money raised by the tax upon this commodity, whatever it may yield, shall be used for the express purpose of making the roads sound and safe. If we are to deal effectively with this great national problem, we must find the money. It is available if we are prepared to use the proceeds of the petrol tax for the purpose.
I know that, originally, the petrol tax was intended partly to raise general revenue and partly to provide funds for road works, but I remind honorable members that this is not the only tax paid by the operators of motor vehicles. They pay customs duty upon imported cars, either fully .assembled or wholly or partly unassembled. They pay customs duty on parts that they purchase. In addition, they pay sales tax and they pay registration fees on the vehicles, to say nothing of driving licence-fees. So quite a lot of taxation is paid by motorists. And most of it goes into Consolidated Revenue. But there is a sound and strong case, based on practice and procedure in other countries, and on the need to finance road works, which justifies the use of the whole of the proceeds of this tax for road construction.
– What would the Opposition do if the petrol tax were reduced?
– When it is reduced, we shall have to consider that question. The whole history of this tax shows that it has never been reduced.
– Is it a good thing to pin a case on that?
– Is the Minister stating that it is the Government’s policy to reduce the tax?
– No, I am not.
– Then he should not raise such a suggestion.
– I am asking what the Opposition would do if the tax were reduced.
– If it were reduced, we should reconsider the matter. The whole point is that the petrol tax has been increased from time to time, but has never been reduced, and there is no indication that that policy will be altered. This tax is like many others, including the sales tax, which have been introduced in an emergency and, with the passage of time, have become part and parcel of our tax structure, being increased now and again according to the circumstances of the government of the moment.
I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the amendment will do much to solve the road problem that faces Australia to-day. We must not forget that we have a responsibility to make our roads safe for our people. We must not forget that we have a responsibility to make the roads as efficient as possible for the commercial transport upon which the economy depends and for the use of those people who desire to move from one place to another for their own purposes. We have a responsibility to see that the necessary financial provision is made to discharge this responsibility. No matter how much we may desire to escape our obligations and responsibilities in this matter, we cannot do so. We could do a great deal to solve the problem by making the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax available for road works.
I want to mention just one other matter - the Government’s policy in respect of roads leading to Government properties. I am glad that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) is at the table to hear what I have to say on this subject. I know that he is sympathetically disposed in this matter. I should like to remind him once again of the use by the Army of the roads about Puckapunyal, in Victoria. Puckapunyal, as the Minister knows, is in my electorate, and many of the roads in the area are used extensively by the units of the Army based at the large military camp there. I suggest to the Minister that the Department of the Army or the Department of Shipping and Transport should undertake the sealing of those roads in order to reduce maintenance costs. I hope that the Minister will personally inspect the road that leads from Tooborac to Puckapunyal, and perhaps even travel over it in his own car. If, having done so, he does not agree with me that it is time a new, safe road was constructed, I shall be very much surprised.
I conclude, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by saying that the number of motor vehicles has doubled in the last ten years and that we can expect similar proportional increases in the number in the next five years.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has, I think, unduly simplified the financial problem involved in the improvement of our road system. He has suggested that, if the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax were allocated to roads, we could quite easily and simply solve the entire problem. If it be a fact, Sir, that at the present time a substantial part of the money raised by the petrol tax is used by the Commonwealth Government for purposes other than road works, and if that revenue is now to be allocated to road works, you must find additional revenue from some other source. If you are to provide, for example, for age pensions and the hundred and one other things for which a government must provide, you must look to other sources of revenue. But the matter is not quite so simple as the honorable member for Bendigo would have the House believe.
Again, Sir, it has been suggested by other Opposition speakers that we should be able to do in peace what we were able to do in war. I do not want to enter into a debate on that question, because I think the considerations should be well known to the House. However, I would say that those who profess to bring forward the economic theories of the late Lord Keynes in this respect misconceive what his doctrines really were. It is true that, if you have considerable unemployed resources capable of being applied to road works, it is not inflationary to use the credit of the Commonwealth - that is the phrase which has been used by honorable members opposite - in that way. But, Sir, we have not those resources at this time, despite the attempts by some honorable members to suggest that we have enormous unemployed resources. So, as I have said, the matter is not quite so simple as some Opposition members would have us believe.
The problem of transport is a tremendously important one, especially for a country like Australia. We know that something like 30 per cent. - I think that is the proportion that has been generally accepted - of the cost of commodities, on the average, is represented by transport costs. We have vast distances, and for that reason our transport costs inevitably are high. To the extent that, by efficient transportation, we can reduce that very high proportion of the cost of commodities made up by transport costs, our economy will be more efficient. It should, therefore, be our study in Australia, particularly with our peculiar geographic situation, to see how transport can be made as efficient as possible.
But we must look at the problem in proportion. Road transport is not the only kind of transportation with which we are concerned. We have also railways, ocean transport around our extensive coastline, and air transport which has developed enormously. So, if we allocate an undue proportion of our resources to road transportation, to the neglect of railways, shipping and aviation, then we shall be falling into error. So, I suggest first, that the matter is not simple, as I said at the outset, and, secondly, that we must see road transportation in relationship to other forms of transportation. It may well be that the standardization of railway gauges between Sydney and Melbourne, for example, is more important than spending a great deal of money on the road between Sydney and Melbourne. That may or may not be so; I am merely taking an illustration, plucked from many that could be given, to indicate that we must pay regard to other forms of transportation as well as road transportation. However, finally, we must also face the question whether the amount that is being allocated under the scheme now before the House is adequate for road purposes, even when we look at road transport in its proper setting among other forms of transport and among the many other claims upon the Treasury and upon the taxpayer.
The allocation that is proposed in the scheme now before the House is £220,000,000 over the next five years as a basic allocation to the States and, in addition, a total of a further £30,000,000 to be matched, £1 for £1, by another £30,000,000 out of the resources of the States. This is the total sum to be provided over the next five years for roads, and I have asked the question, “ How far is that amount adequate for the purpose? “ At first sight these seem large figures. It would appear that the Government is proposing a quite extensive scheme that should cover the needs of the situation. But when the proposals are examined more carefully they may be found not to be quite as impressive as appeared at first sight.
Sir, what the proposals amount to is that there will be made available only an additional £6,000,000 a year over the next five years, to be divided among all the States. That is a very small sum of money. The only addition to the amount made available under the previous scheme, which also extended over a period of years, is the matching grants, which will total £30,000,000 provided that another £30,000,000 can be found by the States. That is really the only addition in the next five years beyond the allocation that was made in the last scheme.
On the face of it, £6,000,000 a year or £30,000,000 over the next five years is not very impressive.
Have we before us any indication from any other source as to what is required? Naturally enough, all those who are concerned with this problem, like those who are concerned with other problems, whether they be education or anything else, are greatly impressed with the needs in their own particular field. Therefore, one cannot take at face value what some particular body of people, wedded to the needs of a particular field, believes is right. Nevertheless, it is worth looking at what these people believe to be necessary.
The Committee of Transport Economic Research, which consists of representatives of the relevant Commonwealth departments and of all the State road authorities, with I think a railway representative and a shipping representative, came to the conclusion that what was needed for an adequate road plan over the next five years was an additional £30,000,000 a year. This is a very much greater sum than the £6,000,000 a year that is proposed to be expended under this scheme. I cannot myself do otherwise than come to the conclusion that these proposals are most inadequate and I say that although I fully appreciate the needs of other forms of transport and the many claims of different kinds that are necessarily made upon the Treasury.
The Opposition has proposed that the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax be allocated to roads. On the face of it, that is not an unreasonable proposition. For instance, in the year 1958-59, the estimated proceeds of the petrol tax will be of the order of £54,000,000 and the allocation to the States is of the order of £42,000,000. In other words, the petrol tax brings in something like £12,000,000 more than the allocation for road purposes. Let us be fair about it. If one looks at the history of this tax, one finds that over the years the Commonwealth has allocated a higher and higher proportion of the petrol tax for the purpose of roads, until now only something like £12,000,000-1 speak in very round figures - remains to the Commonwealth for its own purposes from this tax. I well understand the Treasury principle involved. Our Treasury, like the British Treasury, takes the view that taxes, whether they be taxes on income, on beer, on petrol, on the sale of goods, or any other forms of taxes, should be paid into Consolidated Revenue and that sums should then be paid out of Consolidated Revenue, according to priorities, to meet the various needs that the Treasury must satisfy.
That is an excellent principle in itself. If the proceeds of a particular tax are allocated to a particular purpose, it may be found at some time that the proceeds of the tax are more than the amount necessary for the purpose, although other purposes are not being properly fulfilled. One would not advocate any departure from this excellent principle except for very special reasons. However, I believe, Sir, that much can be said for the amendment moved by the Opposition; much can be said for a departure from the principle in the case of petrol tax. To begin with, I think the public at large regards the petrol tax as something that ought to be expended on roads. If there are more motor vehicles on the roads and more petrol is used in motor vehicles, then almost in proportion the cost of providing roads increases. There is, therefore, a special relationship between the petrol used and the petrol tax, on the one hand, and the wear and tear on roads on the other hand. I know that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), for example, has said in his splendid debating style that if you accept this principle, then all taxes collected from the sale of beer would have to go towards improving hotels. That is a proposition that can be laughed to scorn and can create great merriment. But when all the merriment has subsided you come back to some very real considerations.
The difference, as I see it, between the total proceeds from petrol tax and what you may expend on roads is not enormous. Furthermore - this is a field that is perhaps not entirely germane to this debate, but I enter into it because it is a matter about which I have felt strongly for some time - the States in a general way have been starved for funds. I know that you, Sir, will not permit me to go into detail on this matter, but there is evidence that the Commonwealth finds money to spend on this and that at a time when the States are short of funds for that and this. Indeed, the States require more than they are receiving. If the whole of the petrol tax was allocated to the States and they were not limited to spending it on roads necessarily, but could, if they chose, spend some of it on roads and some on other purposes, I would have no objection. Indeed, I should like the petrol tax to be transferred completely to the States for road purposes and such other purposes as they think fit in order to restore the balance between the Commonwealth and the States to some extent, as laid down in the Constitution. This is not a very novel proposal. Unfortunately, I am not one of those who are able as a rule to put forward novel proposals; but when I look at what has happened in the United States, I find that there the petrol tax is used by the states for general revenue purposes, lt is one of those taxes that belong to the states. It is true that in the United States there is a small federal tax on petrol, but by and large it is one Of those taxes thai belong to the states rather than the federal government. Personally, I should like to see the Commonwealth acting merely as agent for the States in this matter, saying to them-. “ You strike the rate of petrol tax, and you take the proceeds and the whole responsibility for the petrol tax and what is done with the money “. But 1 know that I am trespassing into a field that is rather beyond the limits of this debate. I am now talking about the financial relationship between the Commonwealth and the States, yet in a way it is not entirely alien to the matter before us at this moment.
So, I am not without sympathy for the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Batman. The Government should look at this matter much more broadly than it has. It should begin to break new ground. What is proposed to be done will scarcely keep pace with our growing need for roads. I have spoken with some diffidence in this debate, because my knowledge of roads- in this country is not great. I cannot speak with the authority and special knowledge of the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray), who spoke earlier in the debate, except that I know from my own experience something about Queensland roads and something about what the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) has spoken. I have travelled on those roads, and on a main road between Cunnamulla and Clon curry I have had the experience of coming to a ford where the water was so deep that you simply went off into the countryside for a mile up-stream, found another ford to cross, and came down-stream another mile on the other side back to the main road. I will not go deeply into that aspect. The honorable members for Moreton and Herbert spoke with more authority than I can on the matter. But I do know a little about the shocking state of the roads in this country and the needs that those honorable gentlemen have spoken about.
There are certain novel features in this legislation. One of those features is the matching grant provision. If the scheme that has been put forward is to be adopted, as it will be, let us have a look at this novel feature. It has certain merits. It means that the Commonwealth will put up £30,000,000 if the States can find £30,000,000 from their own resources. Some honorable gentlemen opposite have said that this is an entirely illusory proposition and that what the States can put up depends on what the Australian Loan Council allocates to them. Those honorable members seem to imply that the Loan Council is dominated by the Commonwealth Government. In large measure, that may be true; nevertheless, if loan funds, being in a very high proportion provided by the taxpayers of this country, are allocated to the States for their various purposes, it is possible under a scheme of this kind for a State to decide whether it uses a greater or lesser proportion of those loan funds for road’s. So this novel feature has the advantage, as it were, by providing certain moneys from the Commonwealth, of evoking some part of those general loan funds- available to the States for road purposes. So I commend this novel feature of the legislation.
Now I come to another feature that is not new but is worthy of some comment. I refer to the fact that under this legislation, as under earlier legislation, it- is mandatory upon the States- to spend 40 per cent, of the money made available on rural roads. I think- that this- is a very bad feature. It was introduced, I think, in 1947. I do not know how Parliament can decide whether 40 per cent, is the right proportion to be spent on rural roads throughout the Commonwealth. Forty per cent, may be the correct amount for New South Wales. It may be right for Western Australia.. It may even be right for Queensland. I. do not know.. But I feel tolerably certain that it cannot be right for every State. It would be a surprising coincidence if 40 per cent, was the right proportion for every State. So I regret that this feature was ever introduced in 1947. Now, in large measure we are stuck with it. It was a mistake,, and, like so many mistakes that are made, it is hard to get rid of. It is hard to get out of the bog. All the rural authorities in. the various States are accustomed to receiving their special grants under this type of provision, and once the dog has the bone- you cannot take it away without the dog- growling.
I think the States should determine what proportion should be spent on main- roads on the one hand and on rural roads on the other: I would not expect that if it were left to the States there would be any very great alteration in the present proportion, because the State governments themselves would not be very willing to take away some advantage that over the years had been given to local government authorities in country areas. Nevertheless, if a change is to be brought about over a period of time, it should be left in the hands of the State governments to bring about that change in accordance with special requirements in each State. The Commonwealth should never have imposed such a condition. I understand that not only in New South Wales, of which I have some knowledge, but in Queensland also, if I may judge from the remarks of the honorable member for Herbert, who, I imagine, knew what he was talking about, the position is that some main roads are still bad and unsurfacedbut rural roads debouching into them are surfaced and in good order and condition. No situation could be more fantastic. As I have said, T do not think that if you eliminate such a provision as this you would have a very great change overnight, but I do think that it would make it possible for a main roads authority to approach a local government authority where this kind of situation existed, and say, “ If you will forgo some part of the grant- due to you under the- Commonwealth- legislation, we will- sur.face the- main- road that goes through your shire “. The shire might be perfectly willsing to make some such agreement with the main roads authority.
But how does the situation stand now? The State Auditor-General has to certify that at least 40 per cent, of the Commonwealth grant has been allocated to rural roads. It is impossible to get out of that situation, however much a local government authority may wish to do so’ and however much it may wish to make some special arrangement with the main road authority.
So just as I commend the matching grants proposed in this legislation, equally 1 condemn this perpetuation of the 40 per cent, rural roads provision. I understand- that when this matter was discussed with the States, none of the Premiers was particularly anxious to undertake the responsibility of making the allocation. The reason is perfectly clear. They do not want to b; the people to tackle the problem in relation to local government authorities which have become accustomed to receiving some proportion of the grant. But the fact that they were unwilling to accept that responsibility does not mean that it is not a proper responsibility for them and not a foolish responsibility for this Parliament without sufficient knowledge to undertake.
I think those are all the useful remarks I can make on this subject. I do not suppose for one moment that what I have said will after the determination of the Government. These matters apparently are cut and dried before they come into this House. What I have said” may be taken into account - or, more likely, it may be utterly forgotten - when this matter comes up for review, but I fee! that such an inadequate provision for roads in the next five years will inevitably result in this matter- coming up- for review long before the five-year period comes to an end. I hope that when it does come up for review the words I have said will bear some fruit; or it may bc that they ought to be said again at the right time and in the right place. These are the things I’ believe and things, therefore,, that are worth saying publicly in this place.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Duthie) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr.. McMahon) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I wish to direct my remarks, first, to certain newspaper articles that have dealt with the question of the Customs House building at the corner of Flinders and Market streets, Melbourne. As a member of the Public Works Committee who sat on this inquiry, 1 think some of the articles that have appeared, particularly in the Melbourne press recently, are completely at variance with fact. I think this sort of publicity not only brings the reporting profession into disrepute but does very little for the newspapers which are responsible for publishing these irresponsible articles.
There are two phases of this question. The first is the attitude of the newspapers, and the second is the attitude of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth). I regret very much that the Minister is not present, but nevertheless I propose to press on with what I have to say. On 13th March, the Melbourne “ Herald “ published on its front page an article headed “ M.P.’s Want Customs Building “. Alongside the article was the reproduction of a photograph of the interior of the building. I wish to inform the House that the Public Works Committee sat on four occasions to consider this matter. We took evidence in both Canberra and Melbourne and no fewer than nineteen witnesses appeared before the committee. The committee recommended the demolition of the Customs House building. Nevertheless, the article which appeared in the Melbourne “ Herald “ made out a case for the retention of the building. The article stated, in part -
The Premier, Mr. Bolte, protested. So did the National Trust, architects and professors.
Professor Brian Lewis, Dean of Architecture at Melbourne University, described the building as “ a thing of choice beauty neglected, and in neglected surroundings “.
I shall deal, first, with the Premier of Victoria. It is true that Mr. Bolte did make some protest but there the matter finished so far as he is concerned. It was quite obvious that his part in this matter was purely political. As to Professor Brian Lewis, he was the only witness who expressed any enthusiasm for the retention of the building. He appeared before the committee representing the National Trust and as a consequence, the entire statement to which I have referred is completely misleading.
The Melbourne “ Age “ of 14th March, 1959, published an article headed “ Customs House Will be Spared “. The article bore a Canberra dateline and began with this paragraph -
The fate of Melbourne’s historic Customs House will be decided soon, but it will not be pulled down.
I have no criticism to make of the article or the opinions expressed in the editorial the following day except to say that those opinions were completely at variance with the evidence taken by the Public Works Committee. I also point out that of the nineteen witnesses who came before the committee, not one was a member of Parliament, nor was it suggested that the building might be used as a billiards room or something of that sort. Suggestions were made during the course of the hearing that possibly the building itself could be used as an embassy, a museum or as accommodation for members of the Commonwealth Parliament. All those points of view received the consideration of the committee, but it recommended the demolition of the building. On this point, the committee reported -
The Committee gave a great deal of consideration to all the factors bearing upon the use of the old building, because the whole question of the satisfactory provision of Customs accommodation revolved around the use which could be ‘made of this impressive old structure. All of the Members desired to retain it for its historic value, but as the inquiry proceeded, they became more and more impressed with the overwhelming weight of evidence in favour of retaining the Customs Department on the site and using the area more effectively, lt was realized, moreover, that once a brick was placed in the construction of the Annexe building, it was inevitable that the old Customs House would have to give way in due course. Even to the last, one Member of the Committee maintained his opinion that the old building should be retained, but he did hot press for a division of the Committee on the matter, in face of the weight of evidence against it. The Committee, therefore, agreed to recommend that, as ultimate demolition of the old Customs House is regarded as inevitable, it is desirable to demolish it in the first instance and allow the designers adequate scope to develop a plan most appropriate and worthy for the site.
That brings me to the statement of the Minister for the Interior on this matter. The Minister said that the building would not be pulled down. For the benefit of honorable members, I point out that according to the act under which the committee functions, once a work has been referred to to the committee, the committee makes its investigations and reports to this House, and the House is entitled to do only one of three things. First, it may accept the report of the committee. Secondly, it may reject the report. Thirdly, it may refer the matter back to the committee. Under no circumstances may a report be departed from or interfered with, and I submit that the Minister, in making the statement that the building would not be pulled down, was not acting in accordance with authority. His action was at complete variance with the terms of the act.
For the benefit of honorable members, let me read section 15 (6.) of the Public Works Committee Act -
After the receipt of the report of the Committee the House of Representatives shall by resolution declare, either that it is expedient to carry out the proposed work, or that it is not expedient to carry it out:
Provided that the House of Representatives may, instead of declaring affirmatively or negatively as aforesaid, resolve that the report of the Committee shall, for reasons or purposes stated in the resolution, be remitted for their further consideration and report to the Committee; in which case the Committee shall consider the matter of the new reference, and report thereon accordingly.
My point is that the Minister was in error in making a public statement upon this issue. Under the terms of the act, he was not entitled to do so. The committee conducted an exhaustive inquiry into this matter and made a specific recommendation, taking into consideration all the evidence that had been presented. In our report, we recommended that the Customs House be demolished. That is the position as it now stands, unless the Minister wishes us to make a further inquiry. That can only be done by our having a further reference on the matter.
.- I desire to refer to a matter that I raised in this House some weeks ago, namely, hospitals recognized under the National Health Act for the hospitalization of the chronically ill and persons suffering from pre-existing ailments. This matter has been raised several times by the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) and the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr Sexton). The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) seems to be dodging the real issue. He has not informed us of just what hospitals are included in the list and whether he intends to amend the list. The secretary of the Private Hospitals Association of South Australia has informed me that an executive of one of Adelaide’s leading registered medical and hospital benefits organizations told him that it would have been better if the Government had done nothing rather than introduce the special accounts benefits in the manner adopted. This executive admitted that he had been advised of the principles of the scheme even before the legislation was laid before Parliament. However, he said’ that he had not been aware that the Government intended to restrict in such a drastic manner the number of hospitals recognised for the payment of the benefits.
An executive of another registered organization told the secretary of the Private Hospitals Association that his organization had been “ led up a tree “ by the Department of Health in that it had been led into making the election to establish a special account without being fully informed of all the ramifications of the scheme. Now that it was in possession of all of the information, members wished that they had never established a special account. When the secretary of the association informed this official that under section 82n of the National Health Act permission could be granted to an organization to retract its election, the reply was that the organization had altered all its rules in order to get the approval of the Director-General of Health to establish the special account and that it was too late then to put the clock back. Several of these organizations have expressed a wish to continue to pay benefits to some of these old people and chronic sufferers, but the Department of Health has informed them that they are not allowed to make the payment.
There are 49 hospitals in the Adelaide metropolitan area which have been recognized for the purposes of section 82e of the act. Only ten of these are able to accommodate permanent chronically ill patients. The total capacity of these ten hospitals is 191 beds. As they must restrict their permanent patients to fewer than half of their total patients, or forfeit recognition under the act, only 86 beds at the most are available to permanent chronically ill patients who desire to collect the maximum hospital benefit. There are at least 1,000 chronic invalids in the Adelaide metropolitan area. The pressure on these ten hospitals is extreme and they are totally inadequate to cope with the situation. Most have a long waiting list for admission.
People over 65 years of age who wish to go to hospital cannot enter any Commonwealthapproved hospital, as they did in the past, and still collect hospital fund benefits. They have to go to one of the hospitals recognized under the new scheme; that is, if they can gain admittance. Persons under 65 years of age have the choice of 106 hospitals in which they can collect hospital fund benefits, but persons over 65, chronic invalids, and those suffering from pre-existing ailments, all of whom probably need hospital treatment more than others do, find that they can pick a hospital only from the hospitals which are recognized under the scheme by the Minister for Health. These comprise one children’s hospital, one babies’ home, one sick nurses’ hospital, nine maternity hospitals, three convalescent hospitals - for a short term only - three nervous disorder hospitals, 21 surgical hospitals, which treat only surgical patients, and ten general hospitals.
Those are the recognized hospitals, and I believe that some amendment has been made concerning the government hospitals at Magill and Northfield. I should like the Minister to explain how people suffering from chronic ailments, and old people, can obtain treatment at a children’s hospital, a maternity hospital, a sick nurses’ hospital, or a babies’ home. How will they gain admittance, and what treatment will be given to them? Why are these institutions included on this list if it is not possible for these people to get some treatment there.
Many old people have become so fed-up with the position that they have withdrawn from their hospital benefits organization. They were the lucky ones, because the other people who up to date have not discovered the true position will not find out until they have to seek hospitalization. Then it will be too late, because they will be told, “ You can go to a maternity hospital, which may treat you “. I should like the Minister to explain just where these people are to go.
The term “ recognized hospital “ is a misnomer, which is leading to considerable misunderstanding on the part of members of the public who think that there is something wrong with a hospital which is not recognized for this purpose by the Government. Some of the best hospitals have been left off the list, while some of the worst have been recognized. It may be that the worst have been picked out so that patients will not remain long and therefore benefit payments will not be great. This matter has been raised on several occasions. If the Minister ever gets to the stage of amending the list, will he make it available to members? I have been waiting patiently to be told what will happen. People who have joined the scheme are waiting to learn whether it is worth while continuing their contributions or whether they should cut their losses early and withdraw from the organizations. I suggest that it is about time the Minister drew up a new list. At the present time only ten hospitals on the list can cater for the aged, chronically ill, and persons with pre-existing ailments. Will the Minister draw up a new list to give them a better deal, and will he supply us with particulars of the amendments made?
.- Whilst I wish to make reference to the appointment of the next Governor-General of Australia, I should like to point out at once that it is not my intention to reflect on Their Excellencies Sir William Slim and Lady Slim, who, I believe, have carried out the duties of their office with sincerity, dignity, and diligence. Nevertheless, Mr. Speaker, I contend that the Australian Labour Party’s policy of appointing Australians to this post is correct and is in keeping with the view of the overwhelming majority of the Australian people. This is shown by the result of a gallup poll, taken by a certain journal in Australia in April of last year and published in the MayJune issue of the journal. The question put to the people in that poll was whether they would prefer our next GovernorGeneral to be a leading Australian, a member of the Royal Family, or some other leading Englishman. Sixty per cent, of the people to whom the question was submitted voted in favour of appointing an Australian, 16 per cent, were in favour of a member of the Royal Family, 12 per cent, were in favour of some other leading Englishman, and 12 per cent, expressed no opinion. That means that of the 88 people who gave an opinion, 60 - or 68 per cent. - were in favour of appointing an Australian to the post.
The present policy of the Government in appointing members of the British nobility appears to me to be in keeping with the old, outmoded and unpopular tradition of colonialism. This policy could give to the people of other nations the impression that Australians are an inferior race, none of whom possesses the intellect or the attributes to carry out the duties of this office. The Australian Labour Party and its members, like the rest of the community, are 100 per cent, loyal to Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Family. It does not follow, however, that we support the view that No. 10 Downing-street, or Her Majesty, should select the next GovernorGeneral of Australia. There are many Australians able and fitted to carry out the duties of this office in accordance with standards equal to those of the British nobility. I am sure that honorable members will agree that the ever-popular Sir John Northcott filled the position of Governor of New South Wales with ability and distinction. It cannot be denied that Sir Eric and Lady Woodward are carrying out their duties in New South Wales in a like manner. I sincerely believe that if we gave Australians the opportunity to do this job, they would do it just as well as people from any other nation.
– I was not in the House at the beginning of the speech made by the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin), so if I do not make a full reply to all he had to say, one reason is that I may have missed some of his remarks. The second reason is that some of the matters to which he referred are still under active consideration, and I do not think that it would be either proper or advisable for me to anticipate what decisions will be arrived at.
However, the honorable gentleman indulged in a good deal of rhetoric about certain hospitals. I think that he will probably acknowledge that some of his remarks were more rhetorical than rational. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that the honorable gentleman realizes that the vast majority of the patients who were previously - and by that I mean before the introduction of the amendments to the National Health Act - accommodated in those hospitals were not in any case in receipt of fund benefit. Only a minority of them ever received fund benefit. But the patients did, and still do, receive Commonwealth benefit up to the value of £1 a day, if insured.
– The minority are cut out now, are they not?
– A very small minority. As I said, the position of these people is still receiving consideration. The honorable gentleman seems to imagine that every chronic case must be accommodated in one of those hospitals to which he refers. Quite a number - in fact, by now, a good many thousands of cases - are accommodated in hospitals which are recognized, not only in South Australia, but in other States also, and are in receipt of special account benefit, which is the equivalent of fund benefit. Previously they were unable to receive fund benefit and did not receive it. So the honorable gentleman must take the good with the bad, and realize that if there are anomalies we are considering what we can do to remove them.
.- I think that this would be the appropriate time at which to make reference to one or two cases respecting applications for repatriation benefits which have been rejected. If we can take a line from the case submitted by the Government in regard to the acceptance of the recommendations contained in the Richardson report on parliamentary salaries and allowances, it would appear that the Commonwealth’s finances are now in such a buoyant state that there is no justification whatever for the parsimonious attitude of the Government towards many deserving people in the community.
I brought before this House some time ago the case of an ex-serviceman who had applied unsuccessfully for payment of the supplementary rent allowance. His application was rejected because it was deemed that he was receiving threepence a week above the income which would make him eligible for the allowance. He had a war pension of 10s. 3d. a week. Because that pension exceeded 10s. a week, he was denied the supplementary rent allowance of 10s. Acting on my recommendation, he applied for a reduction of 3d. a week in his war pension, which, if granted, would have made him eligible for the supplementary rent allowance, and he would have been 9s. 9d. a week better off.
The first request was made to the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation, Sydney, on 20th November, 1958. I think that honorable members will agree with me that most of our difficulty in the past has been to get repatriation pensions upgraded. But here is a chap who wants his repatriation pension reduced and finds that it is just as difficult to get a pension reduced as it is to get a pension increased. As I have said, the first request was made on 20th November, 1958. I received an acknowledgment of the request on 24th November, and on 1st December I was informed that a question of policy was involved and that the matter had, therefore, been referred to the Repatriation Commission in Melbourne. I sent a reminder on 9th January of this year and received an acknowledgment on 14th January, stating that the matter was still under consideration. On 3rd February I received advice from the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation in Sydney to the effect that the question was still under consideration. I sent a further reminder, and on 10th March T received advice that the matter was still under consideration by the Repatriation Commission in Melbourne. I wrote again on 20th March, asking that the name of the person handling the matter in Melbourne be given to me so that I might contact him direct. I received a reply dated 26th March in which the following statement appears: -
Your letter has this day been forwarded to the Repatriation Commission, Melbourne, from whom you may expect a reply direct.
I am still awaiting the reply.
– If you will give me the name of the person concerned-
– I shall give it to you privately. I do not like to mention names in such cases in the House. I have mentioned this name in the House, previously, however, with the person’s consent, but that is not a practice in which I indulge. 1 think that this man is entitled to get a decision in regard to his application, and I am entitled to get a reply from the Repatriation Commission regarding this matter, which the commission has had under consideration now for several months. I think that it is time that a decision was given.
Now let me turn to some of the other repatriation cases that I have before me. I was amazed at the relatively small number of persons in this country who at present receive what is known as the “ T.P.I, pension “. I have taken up a number of cases concerning such pensioners with the repatriation authorities. I do not know the meaning of all the medical terms applying to the ailments from which many of these people suffer, but if they are half as bad as they sound I do not think any of the applications should have been rejected.
I have before me the list of disabilities suffered by one man. They are hookworm infestation, pterygium, each eye - recurrent arthritis, external otitis, recurrent diarrhoea, functional dyspepsia, allergic rhinitis, infective hepatitis hiatal herniation of the upper portion of the stomach, superior cerebellar artery thrombosis, leuco.plakai floor of the mouth, and under tongue. He will never be able to work again, but for all these ailments he is assessed at 30 per cent, incapacity and he receives a 30 per cent, pension. If those ailments are half as bad as they sound the full rate of pension should be granted to this man.
I have here also the case of a man who suffers from chronic bronchitis, allergic rhinitis, chronic sinusitis, left and right nasal bronchiestasis and right eustachian catarrh-obstruction. He is much better ofl because he gets a 70 per cent, pension which, I would remind honorable members, is £7 3s. 6d. a fortnight. The Repatriation Commission has accepted these disabilities as being war-caused, but it has rejected his disabilities of nephritis and hypertension. This chap has done practically no work for three years. He has had a job for a day or two occasionally, but his condition is such that, in my opinion, he will never work again. He gets a 70 per cent, pension.
– Have you written to these people or have you interviewed them personally?
– Both! I always do my job properly. Another man was discharged from the Royal Australian Navy in June last year as being physically unfit. For thelast fifteen months of his service he was put on restricted duties. The naval authorities recognized that they had some obligation to see whether this chap’s health could be restored and whether he could continue to perform his duties. He had served for six years in the Royal Australian Navy and prior to that he was thirteen years with the Royal Navy. He has three children, one of whom is a cripple. When he was discharged from the Royal Australian Navy as medically unfit he was told by the Repatriation Department that he was ineligible for a repatriation pension because he was not a member of the forces in accordance with the terms of the act. Actually he had served for nineteen years!
He was then advised that he could apply for payment under the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act. He applied but was declared to be ineligible because, it was said, his disability was not the result of injury by accident arising out of his employment or a disease due to the nature of his employment, This man, as I have already said, had served nineteen years in the Navy. He had been active in the athletic world and had played football with Navy teams. But fifteen months prior to his discharge he fell ill but was treated and retained in the service on restricted duties. I have already stated the reasons why he could not receive a service pension or compensation payments. What is he to do? He is a married man with three children to support and after nineteen years’ service he is thrown onto the scrapheap without a penny.
Another case I wish to mention is that of a pensioner who receives £3 17s. a fortnight by way of invalid pension and £10 5s. a fortnight by way of war pension. I understand that that is the 100 per cent. rate pension. His total income is £14 2s. a fortnight or £71s. a week. He applied for the special rate pension but the application was rejected although he was unable to work. At the moment he is bed-ridden and most likely he will never be able to work again.
The next case is a rather strange one. The man concerned was a member of the services but was injured in a motor accident. He spent two years in Yaralla Repatriation Hospital and was then discharged from the Army. That happened in April 1957. Being without any means, as soon as he was discharged he applied for the Commonwealth sickness benefit but his application was rejected. He was told by the Department of Social Services, that he could not get the sickness benefit because he was entitled to an Army pension of £5 5s. a week. He did not receive any Army pension until 27th June, some months after he had been discharged from the Army. He now does a little work but it is not a highly paid position. The authorities stepped in and he was re-examined, and they decided that his rate of incapacity is now less than 60 per cent. and his pension has now been reduced to £5 5s. a fortnight.
Finally, I mention the case of an exwar nurse who had extensive military service. She is suffering from catarrhal sinusitis, bronchitis, right inguinal hernia, oesophageal hiatal hernia, duodenal diverticulum, bilateral hallux, valgus, bilateral flatfoot with callosities. Those were the accepted ailments, but other ailments which were not accepted were hyperacid dyspepsia–
- (Hon. John McLeay). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The matter I shall mention is somewhat similar to those raised by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). For the best part of twelve months I have been endeavouring to obtain satisfaction for an ex-serviceman who,I believe, has been victimized not only by the Commonwealth Public Service Board, but also by the Repatriation Commission.
I do not intend to give, in detail, all the facts of this case because I put them on record on 23rd April, 1958, during the course of the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House. I shall summarize them briefly to-night by saying that this serviceman applied for permanent appointment to the Commonwealth. Public Service. He passed the necessary examinations and was accepted, but before confirming his appointment, the Public Service Board called for his repatriation papers. Arising out of the report on his repatriation papers, the board refused him appointment because it said he did not satisfy the minimum standards necessary for permanent appointment to the Public Service.
This was the decision of the board, despite the fact that the man has a big physique, and is doing arduous work at the present as he was at that time also. He was receiving 50 per cent, disability pension, and he applied for a clerical position, the duties of which he was equal to carrying out completely. Until the Repatriation Commission’s report was received, he was accepted by the Public Service Board as such. After having read that report the board refused him the appointment because of his health.
On 23rd April last year I placed on record the fact that the Public Service Board doctors had given a report which said his condition had deteriorated considerably and they could not recommend his appointment on that account. He then applied to the Repatriation Commission for an increase in his rate of pension. It was thought, because of his rejection by the Public Service Board and the fact that his health had deteriorated, according to its medical advisers, that he would receive an increase of pension. Imagine his surprise when, after appearing before the Medical Board of Review at the Repatriation Commission, he received advice that no increase in his pension would be granted!
On the one hand the Public Service Board refused him appointment because of the great deterioration in his state of health and on the other hand the Repatriation Commission doctors refused to recommend an increase in pension for him because they said his condition of health was quite satisfactory and there had been no change. The Repatriation Commission and the Public Service Board cannot have it both ways. The man is entitled to appointment to the Commonwealth Public Service as a permanent officer or to a substantial increase of pension. When he enlisted he was in Al condition. He gave great service during the last world conflict and suffered to such an extent that he was granted a pension at the rate of about 50 per cent.
But here is an amazing situation. I have taken this case to the Public Service Board, to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and to the Minister for Repatriation (Sir Walter Cooper) and pointed out how this man is being discriminated against both in the matter of employment and of increased pension in a way which I think has no parallel. This is something which the Government should fully investigate because one or other of these government organizations is wrong. I do not intend to go over the correspondence. There is a lengthy file of it. But it is amazing to me that I should get a letter from the Minister for Repatriation dated 28th October. 1958, saying, despite the fact that this man has been rejected by the Public Service Board, an increase in his pension was not warranted.
That shows that a case-hardened review board was attending to the matter, and it did not intend to give this serviceman justice. I received a letter from him which clearly set out, in his own language, his feelings on this important matter, which concerns his general welfare. In the course of a letter to me, following his rejection both for a pension and for appointment in a clerical capacity, he wrote -
It is with extreme regret that I read your letter . . notifying me of the adverse decision as to my appointment to the Permanent Public Service. Let me state. Sir, that prior to my enlistment in the R.A. Navy, I was a member of the N.S.W. Police Force for several years and enjoyed first class health. This was an absolute necessity. I also contributed to the Government Superannuation Scheme whilst a member of the Government service during that period.
These circumstances which gave me a permanent and secure career for the future temporarily ended as I thought at the time, by my voluntary enlistment in the R.A.N, for service overseas. My health was excellent and my medical fitness was A/1.
Now I find through circumstances over which I had no control whatsoever and suffered whilst on overseas service for the benefit of my country, I am debarred from holding this position, for which I had applied.
My war disabilities apparently have been ruled by the powers that be to debar me forever from holding the secure and trusted position which I held before my enlistment.
This is not my concept of a fair go and I also consider I have been the victim of an unjust and unprincipled authority. May the light of day pierce the darkness of your ruling and so open the door to security and contentment.
Thanking you for your sterling efforts on my behalf.
That letter clearly places on record the great misgivings and sorrow of a man who gave a lot for this country and who is now denied the right of employment, or an increase in pension. I consider it to be a scandalous case. This is a man who served his country, and who to-day is doing arduous labour. As a serviceman he had a long and distinguished record. Yet he is debarred employment in a clerical capacity by the Public Service Board only on the ground of the physical disability suffered by him while he was serving his country.
The policy of Labour when in office was to see that servicemen were not debarred from rehabilitation because of their service. Here we have a Government consisting, we are told, of 75 per cent, of ex-service men and women, allowing the Public Service Board to discriminate against a serviceman while case-hardened doctors in the Repatriation Department refuse him an increase in the repatriation pension. The Government cannot have it both ways. Either there should be an inquiry into the Public Service Board’s attitude to this man’s condition and the doctor’s report or else his pension claim should be granted by the Repatriation Commission. It is up to both Ministers concerned, the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) and the Minister for Repatriation, to make up their minds who will take the responsibility for action in this case. This serviceman does not seek a pension to which he is not entitled. He prefers to have employment in the Commonwealth Public Service. I think, on the statement made by the Repatriation Commission, he is entitled to it until the Government proves otherwise.
– The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O’Connor) raised a very interesting point in connexion with the Public Works Committee. I regret that I did not hear the whole of his argument but, as I understand it, he took some exception to the fact that an announcement had been made to the effect that the Customs House in Melbourne would not be demolished in accordance with a recommendation made by the Public Works Committee.
I want to assure the Public Works Committee and this House that no reflection on the committee was intended in that announcement. If any difference of opinion exists as to the correctness or otherwise of the announcement, it exists in an interpretation of the correct function of the Public Works Committee. The need for a new customs house and the adequacy or otherwise of the Government’s proposals in connexion with it was referred to the committee. That, in general, is the common understanding of the function of the Public Works Committee of this Parliament.
I might add that, over the years, a practice has grown up by which the Public Works Committee, in its reports to this House, comments on all kinds of ancilliary matters, and that is a practice with which I do not quarrel. The Public Works Committee has made some very valuable and informative reports to this House. But a decision was taken by the Government after other angles of this question had been submitted to it, not to proceed with the demolition of the Customs House. I think it will be quite clear to this House that that does not involve the Government in any positive action, so far as construction or expenditure of public funds on public works is concerned, in connexion with the matter which was referred to the Public Works Committee.
I do not propose - and I do not think the honorable member for Dalley would want me - at this stage, to argue the merits of the demolition or preservation of the Customs House. I understand that it is the principle of the matter to which he has objected. It will be very clear to the honorable member that a refusal to demolish the Customs House at this stage goes to the root of the Public Works Committee’s recommendation that a new customs house should be built on that site. Indeed, it involves the Government in a proposition that some alternative site or some new proposals for the building of a customs house must be considered.
So far as I know, there is no reason for not believing - indeed all the evidence points to the contrary - that the Public Works Committee will be asked to carry out its proper function and advise this Parliament on the adequacy or otherwise of fresh proposals which will in due course be submitted by the Government to that committee. I hope that the honorable member will be satisfied with that assurance and the assurance that no intention to supersede the functions of the committee or to slight it in any way was indicated in the announcement that I have made.
– I also want to raise a matter concerning repatriation. It deals with the Repatriation Department in a general way, rather than in relation to isolated or individual cases. For a long time now, members of this Parliament from both sides have been urging the Government to treat lung cancer in the same way as the Government, some few years ago, decided to treat tuberculosis. That is to say that once an ex-serviceman showed that he was suffering from lung cancer he would be automatically entitled to the full benefits of the Repatriation Act without having to prove that the complaint had been caused by war service. An exserviceman suffering from tuberculosis is entitled to all the benefits of the Repatriation Act without being questioned about the origin of the complaint. The Repatriation Commission, very correctly immediately gives him the benefit of the doubt, as it were.
The Returned Servicemen’s League, at its meeting in Brisbane held some four or five years ago, carried a resolution calling upon the Government to treat lung cancer in exactly the same way.
– Not only lung cancer, but any cancer.
– No, it was specifically lung cancer, not any cancer. They did not go so far as that, and I am not going that far for the moment, although there is a good argument for extending this treatment to all forms of cancer, for the reason that I will give in a moment. But I am contenting myself at present with the proposition put forward by the Returned Servicemen’s League at its conference in Brisbane four or five years ago. I shall give a couple of examples. I do not ask that they be dealt with specifically, because they have already been dealt with by the Minister and rejected. I cite them merely to illustrate the kind of thing that is now happening in the Repatriation Department, and the kind of case that is being rejected.
The first example concerns an exserviceman from World War I. who died from lung cancer about four years ago, and whose widow was refused any entitlement in respect of her husband’s death. The man in question was discharged from the services in World War I. suffering from a severe case of gas poisoning. He had been continually coughing and had lived a life of misery from the time of his discharge, and he eventually died from lung cancer. How on earth can the Repatriation Department claim that it is satisfying its obligations under section 47 of the act when no one knows the cause of lung cancer? No one can say that lung cancer is caused by this or by that. Yet the Repatriation Commission, as though it knew exactly what was the cause of lung cancer, rejected outright the application. The commission seemed to think it had a right to say that war service could not possibly have caused lung cancer. If the medical fraternity throughout the world does not know the cause of the disease, how can the Repatriation Commission say what does not cause it? Long after this man and others have had their claims rejected it may be discovered that the gassing in World War I, 40 years ago, was responsible for the condition which eventually gave rise to lung cancer.
I have another case that comes nearer to the present time.It concerns an exserviceman of World War II. who at this moment is carrying shrapnel in his lung. The Repatriation Hospital has taken X-ray photographs which show that he is carrying shrapnel in his right lung. It was discovered three years ago that there was an outbreak of cancer in this same lung. The Repatriation Commission, in its wisdom, says that this was not caused by war service, and his claim, therefore, has been rejected. The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) admitted, in reply to a question in the House a few weeks ago, that the medical fraternity does not know the cause of lung cancer.
– Somebody says “ cigarettes “, but nobody knows the cause of lung cancer, and if the Repatriation authorities do not know what causes it how can they say, as they are required to say under section 47, that the war service did not cause it? In particular, how can they say that this man’s shrapnel wound did not cause the lung cancer? It may not have done so. I do not know. I am not saying that it did. All I am saying is that under Section 47 of the act the obligation is upon the commission to prove that the complaint was not caused by war service. Instead, the commission adopts the opposite attitude. It takes the stand that unless the returned servicemen can prove that the complaint was caused by war service his claim can be, and is in most cases, rejected. Of course it never admits that this is the stand it takes, but the commission’s attitude proves it is so.
One of the things I cannot understand in matters such as these is why so few honorable members on the Government side, practically all of whom are exservicemen, are prepared to take up these matters, which the Returned Servicemen’s League has been pressing so forcibly.
– They were the top brass; that is why.
– Is the honorable member suggesting that the top brass have no sympathy with the exservicemen?
– Those on the other side of the House - yes.
– Well, I am sorry to hear that, because I feel that an ex-serviceman, whether he was among the top brass or not, would be sympathetic towards the plight of another ex-serviceman, that he would have some kindred feeling and would wish to support his claim.
Let me say once again to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), who is now sitting at the table, and who is, fortunately, an intelligent Minister and one who has a great deal of influence in the Cabinet, that I hope he will be moved by what I have said to-night to do something in this matter. I suggest that he ask the Cabinet, when it is considering the Budget for the coming year, to treat lung cancer suffered by exservicemen in the same way as the Government treats tuberculosis, and to give to those who are suffering from this dread complaint the benefit of the doubt, as, in fact, it is required to do under the law.
.- I desire to bring an important matter to the notice of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson). In concerns the Revesby exchange in New South Wales, which caters for over 3,000 subscribers. It appears that no maintenance staff is retained at this exchange over the week-ends and on holidays. Complaints have come to me from many people who need a telephone service in case of sickness, and from old people who live alone, and for whom the telephone is the only means of contact with the outside world. If a telephone service happens to go out of order on a Saturday, it is not repaired until Monday morning, and if Monday happens to be a holiday it is not attended to until the Tuesday morning. 1 think that, having in mind the financial buoyancy of the telephone branch, there should be a maintenance staff to do this important repair work on Sundays and holidays. As an example, let me say that the Sydney County Council has a radio cruising service, and if an electricity service is interrupted at any time one has only to make a telephone call and have the repair men on the spot within an hour. Having in mind the buoyancy of the revenues of the telephone branch, I believe that a Commonwealth department should at least be able to equal the service rendered by a State instrumentality. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to consider the situation, because it has been causing a good deal of inconvenience.
There is another matter regarding this exchange that I would like to mention to the Minister. This is a fast-growing area. Bankstown is the largest municipality in Australia, and its population is increasing by about 19 per cent. per annum. Naturally, the need for telephone services is also increasing rapidly. It appears that the number of junction lines from the Revesby exchange to the other parts of the metropolitan area is inadequate. I understand that only about 115 junction lines run from this telephone exchange, which, as I have said, caters for more than 3,000 subscribers. It can be realized that in the busy periods, at about 9 o’clock in the morning and around mid-day when business is in full swing, if more than 115 business people are trying to ring out from this exchange, many of them get the engaged signal and cannot obtain a connection. I should like the Postmaster-General to give particular attention to the development of adequate telephone services in the Bankstown district, because telephone services in that district seem to lag behind those in other districts.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.20 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1. (a) (i) One drawing of U.S. 20,000,000 dollars or £9,000,000 from the International Monetary Fund in October, 1949, since repaid. (ii) One drawing of U.S. 30,000,000 dollars or £13,000,000 from the International Monetary Fund in August, 1952, since repaid.
t asked the Minister for Air, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
s asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has furnished the following reply: -
Native Members of the Forces Benefits Act
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
On what date will the Native Members of the Forces Benefits Act 1957 come into operation?
– The Minister for Repatriation has advised as follows: -
The proclamation of the Native Members of the Forces Benefits Act is awaiting completion of the regulations to be made under the act regarding details of benefits to be provided. In regard to the natives of Papua and New Guinea in particular this has involved a considerable amount of investigation which has delayed the issue of the regulations.
Deaths of Ex-servicemen.
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Repatriation has furnished the following replies: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 April 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1959/19590429_reps_23_hor23/>.