23rd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– The other day the honorable member for Werriwa and I mentioned to the Minister for Territories the possibility of having printed the report of the commission of inquiry into incidents at Navuneram in the Trust Territory of New Guinea. I should now like to suggest that the Minister might confer with the Leader of the House with a view to having the document, which is very lengthy, printed before the debate on this matter is resumed. As I said the other day, I repeat after further study, it is a document of tremendous importance, an understanding of which is necessary to enable honorable members to appreciate the problems involved. Will the Minister consider this suggestion in order that all honorable members may have access to the report?
– The Government, of course, has no objection and offers no resistance to the printing of the report. The fact that it was tabled in this House made the report public property and the printing of it would be a necessary consequence of that. I think, for a variety of reasons which I need not canvass, that it would be better for the report to be printed as a result of a motion in this House, and I would suggest consideration by the right honorable member and my colleague, the Leader of the House, of some arrangement of the business paper which would allow the discharge of the motion for the printing of the report on the understanding that if, at a subsequent date, the House wished to debate this report, the discharging of that motion from the noticepaper would not preclude such a debate.
– I am sure that would be acceptable if the Leader of the House would agree.
– Is the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization aware
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that experiments carried out at Harwell, in England, and elsewhere have shown that beef treated by radio isotopes can be stored without refrigeration for many months? In view of the importance that these results could have for Australia’s sales of beef overseas, are officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in touch with these experiments to see whether the process could be applied to our shipments of beef to Europe?
– In recent years, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has kept in close touch with work that has been going on at Harwell and elsewhere in respect of the use of radiation for the preservation of meat and other foodstuffs. A Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization officer has not very long ago returned from two years at Harwell and Cambridge where he was in contact with groups working on radiation. I regret to tell the honorable gentleman that I am advised that, up to the present, no commercially acceptable process of sterilizing meat, in particular, by radiation has been evolved. Apparently, the dosage of radiation necessary to achieve sterilization affects the taste and the colour of the product. However, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is about to collaborate with the Australian Atomic Energy Commission on a new series of experiments with radiation in Australia.
– In addressing a question to the Acting Prime Minister, I refer to the decision announced six months ago to appoint a committee of inquiry into the urgent problem created by the crisis in the dairy industry. Has the Government yet received the report of that committee? Has the committee yet taken evidence? Has the committee, indeed, yet been appointed; or did the urgency of the crisis disappear with the election results?
– I shall fill in a point that the honorable member missed from his statement. The Prime Minister announced at the time of the election that, in consultation with the States, such a committee would be appointed. Those consultations have proceeded. The committee has, in fact, not yet been appointed but discussions have occurred. I believe that the honorable member and the industry may expect, at a very early date, that an announcement will be made about the committee and its terms of reference.
– I wish to ask a question of the Minister for Supply. It has been reported that tests have recently taken place in Scotland of the Australian guided missile, “ Malkara “. Can the Minister state whether any reports regarding the outcome of these tests are to hand and can be made available to the House?
– Tests were held recently of the “ Malkara “ in Scotland. The advice which I have received indicates that these tests were very successful.
– Will the Treasurer consider recommending to the Government the appointment of a special committee of the two Houses of this Parliament to review fully, and to make recommendations regarding, the present plight of war widows, and age and invalid pensioners, and to report to the Government so that the recommendations may be considered when the Budget is being prepared or at an earlier date should urgency be suggested by the committee?
– I shall consider the contents of the honorable gentleman’s question. I do not think he would wish me to attempt to give him an answer out of hand. I assure him and all honorable members that the Government has examined with great care and sympathy the problems of returned service men and women, throughout its period of office. I think we can fairly claim that what has been done matches in recognition and generosity the treatment accorded to ex-servicemen of any other country. As to the present Minister for Repatriation, the ex-service men and women of this country could have no stauncher friend or more competent advocate of their proper claims upon the gratitude of the community. Having said that, Sir, I will give proper consideration to what the honorable member has put forward.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: Will the Government consider negotiating with the French Government in an endeavour to have a radar station established on Chesterfield Reef, which is an uninhabited French possession lying midway between New Caledonia and Queensland? A suggestion might be made that the French Government put a manned station on the reef. The information gained thereby would be a useful addition to the data received from Willis Island, and would effectively increase our weather information, particularly in relation to Queensland.
– The Government is continually trying to improve the cyclone warning system operating in Queensland, and, despite delays in obtaining equipment, fairly good progress has been made. The particular reef that the honorable member has mentioned is located, admittedly, in an area of the Coral Sea from which weather information is at present difficult to obtain. Of more urgent priority, however, than the station suggested by the honorable member is the establishment of additional coastal radar stations. We have such stations already at Townsville, Gladstone and Brisbane and we hope to establish others later at Mackay, Cape Byron and Cairns. Later still, we hope to establish radar warning stations on islands somewhat nearer the Queensland coast - 250 to 300 miles away - than the reef mentioned by the honorable member. These are Willis Island, Marion Island and Cato Island. After these stations have been established, I should think that the establishment of the station suggested by the honorable member would be approaching the top of the priority list. We maintain a close liaison with the French Government in relation to the meteorological services conducted by us and by the French.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. In view of the announcement that the Government intends to build an airport at Tullamarine in Victoria, capable of accommodating Boeing 707 jet planes, and as there is wide divergence of opinion, because of the noise and possible danger, about the wisdom of building a jet airport so close to the great metropolitan area of Melbourne, and bearing in mind that the project will cost an estimated £20,000,000, will the Minister endeavour to have this proposal referred to the Public Works Committee for inquiry and a report to the Parliament?
– I will convey the honorable member’s question to my colleague in another place. To set the honorable member’s mind at rest, however, let me inform him that no such decision as he has mentioned has been taken.
– I ask the Minister for Air whether it is a fact that a large amount of money is being spent on the R.A.A.F. station at Pearce, in Western Australia. If so, what is the approximate amount involved, and what is the main purpose of this expenditure?
– It is true that a considerable sum of money is being spent on the airfield and installations at the R.A.A.F. base at Pearce, which, as the honorable member knows, is the principal R.A.A.F. station in Western Australia. The airfield has been overlaid and resurfaced. New hardstandings, that is to say in layman’s terms, new areas for the handling of aircraft, have been built. A water supply has been provided. As the honorable member, who represents the area, knows, the supply of water is a considerable problem in that district. An electricity generating station, also, has been installed, and other similar works have been carried out. The purpose of all this has been, in the long term, to bring the base up to the standards required for the operation of modern jet aircraft, and, in the short term, to provide for the Advanced Flying Training School, which was moved to Pearce as a temporary measure last year. From recollection, I should say that the total cost of all these works considerably exceeds £600,000. Something over half of that has already been spent, and the rest of the work is still proceeding.
– I wish to ask the Postmaster-General a question. As a result of the representations made by the honorable member for Perth and myself, based upon the objections of foreign language speaking communities to the restrictions placed upon foreign language broadcasts, has the matter been reconsidered and, in particular, does the Minister intend to consult the foreign language speaking communities to ascertain their views on these broadcasts?
– This is a follow-up to a question which the honorable member asked me some time ago. On that occasion, he asked me particularly whether I would consult with the various communities that are especially interested in this matter. I said that I would. I asked the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to attend to that aspect of the matter. I have not yet received a report from the board, but I shall inquire how the matter is proceeding and pass on to the honorable gentleman the information I obtain.
– I desire to ask- the Minister who represents the Minister for Civil Aviation whether it is a fact that the two Lockheed Electra airliners now being operated by Ansett-A.N.A. have to undergo substantial modifications, including the uptilting of their engine nacelles by three degrees. Are the modifications designed to combat problems associated with noise, vibration, propeller stress and engine-shaft bending in these aircraft? If this is so, can the Minister assure the House that there is no risk to the safety of the Australian air-travelling public in continuing to use these airliners pending modifications?
– I shall convey the question to the Minister in another place whom I represent. This is a rather technical matter, but, as I understand it, the engine nacelles of the Lockheed Electras are to be tilted upwards by three degrees. This modification is to be undertaken in the factory, and Electras that are to come here in the future will have this modification made. It is really just a refinement related to vibration and one or two other technical details, and it has no bearing whatever on the safety of the aircraft.
– I address my question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is the Minister aware that the New South Wales Government has announced its intention to introduce legislation for the purpose of protecting employees, in the matter of their entitlement to long-service leave, against firms and companies that go into liquidation? Will the Minister favorably consider the request that the Commonwealth Government take action to afford similar protection to employees who work under federal awards?
– It has not been reported to me that the New South Wales Government intends to give the protection mentioned by the honorable gentleman, but the suggestion is certainly one that is well worth while considering. I shall take it up with the Department of Labour and National Service and let the honorable member know what decision we come to.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Will the Minister consider the issuing of a direction specifying the- shape of medicine bottles, so that they cannot be confused with the kind of bottles in which poisons are usually placed? I ask this question as one of my constituents recently lost her life owing to the similarity between a bottle containing a prescribed nerve tonic and another containing weed killer.
– I think that this is a matter entirely for the State governments. However, I will have a look at it and if anything can be done in the federal sphere, I will let the honorable gentleman know.
– Can the Minister for Territories give the House any information concerning the tribal disturbance which took place at the Papunya native welfare settlement in the Northern Territory during the week-end, and which resulted in the death of two natives and the injury of many others? Will the Minister also say whether this is the settlement to which Albert Namatjira was transferred to serve his recent gaol sentence, and whether it is a fact, as reported, that Albert Namatjira was not on the reserve when the fight took place?
– I welcome the opportunity to give the House and, I hope, people outside the House, some information on this incident which has been so widely publicized in the newspapers over the week-end. The fiction which has been published is that as a result of the presence of Albert Namatjira on this reserve, some sort of a tribal disturbance broke out and two men were speared. Throughout the week-end I made most strenuous efforts to correct that fiction and to present the facts as we knew them, but, although some newspapers responded to the attempt, there were still some newspapers which seemed to apply the principle that you should never spoil a good story by telling the truth.
The truth of the matter is that, as the honorable member indicated in his question, Albert Namatjira is in custody at the reserve, on which there are two settlements, Haast’s Bluff and Papunya. He is in the custody of the superintendent of the settlement. His presence there was not connected in any way with the disturbance. The fact that he was there did not do anything at all to bring about the disturbance, nor was he involved in it in any way. It is a complete fiction to suggest that he was connected with the incident. The incident took place on a part of the reserve where Albert Namatjira is not at present. It took place among a tribal group, which is a sub-group of the Pintubi people, and that is an entirely different tribal group from the one to which Albert Namatjira belongs.
The genesis of the trouble was a dispute between the native people themselves regarding the duty that one native owed to another under some sort of family arrangement. A boomerang was thrown and this led to a disturbance, in the course of which one man was speared. I will not weary the House by giving the names because they are rather hard to pronounce. The first man was speared, and then as a pay-back for his spearing, a relative, who felt himself under some obligation to do so, speared another man. Both of the spearings were through the thigh, which I understand from the information given to me is the place customarily selected for this type of spearing and, although it is often more or less a ritual spearing without fatal consequences, in both of these cases the spears severed arteries and both of the natives died. After that, again following the compulsion of their customs, a large number of natives inflicted wounds upon themselves in order, apparently, to express their sorrow for the tragedy.
I repeat that the incident was not in any way connected with the presence of Albert Namatjira on the reserve, nor was he connected with it in any way. He did not provoke it. An attempt was made to make these facts known, but that attempt was ignored by at least a section of the press.
– By way of supplementary question, I ask the Minister for Territories whether it is possible now to review the place of detention of Albert Namatjira so that he may have some freedom without the chance of being made the subject of stories and inventions of the kind referred to by the Minister.
– The right honorable gentleman could suggest that we ourselves might be the subjects of a similar amnesty and not be exposed to similar fictions that might be invented about us. I am afraid that that sort of thing is one of the consequences of being in the public eye, and Albert Namatjira shares those consequences in the same way as we do. I still feel that the reserve to which he has been sent, which is a large reserve, having two different settlements on it, is, in all the circumstances, the best place in which Albert Namatjira should serve his term in custody. One reason for that view is that the superintendent of the settlement is a man who is known to Albert and who knows him, and who enjoys Albert’s confidence.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for the Interior, relates to the Minister’s agreement to receive, on Monday next, in Sydney, a deputation that will place before him views concerning the development and future of the St. Mary’s industrial estate within the electorate of Mitchell, which I represent. Is the Minister aware of his department’s decision to close to traffic the overhead bridge at Dunheved, within the factory area? Will the Minister include this matter for consideration during the discussion on
Monday? As certain manufacturers claim that this bridge could be kept open for light traffic, will the Minister also consider whether an inspection may be made of the bridge by his department’s technical advisers, in company with a qualified engineer to be nominated by the manufacturers and tenants likely to be affected if the bridge is closed to all traffic?
– I am aware of the decision to close the Dunheved bridge in the St. Mary’s industrial estate. I shall be pleased to consider further the problem presented by this bridge, but I would point out to the honorable member that for some time the bridge has been considered unsafe for heavy vehicles, and notices to that effect have been displayed. Unfortunately, we cannot restrict the use of the bridge to light vehicles, and for that reason it was considered desirable to close it altogether. I understand also that the local council will not agree to the condition that the bridge be used by light vehicles only, because it would be so difficult to police such a provision. Those are some of the problems associated with this bridge, and the construction of a heavy-load bridge would be a very costly project.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Works a question without notice. In view of the very high incidence of accidents, fatal and otherwise, in the building and construction industry, and in view of the fact that the Commonwealth Government, directly or indirectly, has control over many developmental projects, will the Minister give urgent consideration to the introduction of a recognized safety code, and the appointment of safety officers to see that the code is observed on construction works directly under the control of his department? Further, will the Minister consider having inserted in contracts with private builders a clause requiring them to observe a recognized safety code and to employ trained safety officers? Will the Minister also consider incorporating in the contracts penalties for failure to observe the safety code? I am not suggesting that the Government is better than any one else so far as its projects are concerned. I would not admit that it is any worse either, but an example could be set.
– Order! The honorable gentleman should ask his question.
– I will undertake to give some consideration to the points that have been raised by the honorable member. However, I think I am correct in saying that the Department of Works does observe pretty strict safety precautions in projects under its direct control. I think the honorable member will find that it has a fairly good record in that regard. As to contracts which are let by tender, I think they are, in the main, governed by the laws of the States where those contracts are carried out.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister inform the House whether there is any substance or merit in the suggestion, which was published recently in the press, that Australia and New Zealand should enter into a free-trade alliance?
– I have seen this suggestion and, as a matter of fact it was referred to in the House, perhaps by the honorable member himself, some little time ago. It is interesting, and certainly it is worth study; but I would say that its adoption might create problems for certain industries in both countries. I think that is all I can say at present. It is a matter which would have to be studied carefully, both by the governments of the countries concerned and by the industries which might be advantaged or disadvantaged by such a proposal. I will have the matter studied.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Health. Has he noticed a statement by the Director of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories to the effect that unless influenza is tackled as a national and, indeed, an international problem, a serious outbreak could threaten large numbers of people? In view of this warning, which is similar to warnings issued by overseas authorities, will the Minister consider launching a national drive against influenza similar to the successful campaigns against tuberculosis and poliomyelitis? In particular, will he examine ways and means of increasing supplies of influ enza vaccines with a view to initiating a nation-wide influenza immunization plan for all age groups in Australia?
– There are several aspects of this matter that need to be taken into consideration if we are to discuss a national plan for it. One of them is that for a national plan to be effective, it would have to be widespread; and it is by no means certain that adults, at any rate, would be willing to co-operate on a sufficient scale. Our experience with Salk vaccine in the vaccination of adults would not lead us to think that they would, and poliomyelitis is, of course, a much more serious disease than influenza. I think it is widely known also that there is a very considerable supply of anti-influenza vaccine readily available in Australia now. The theoretical scientific desirability of a campaign of the kind suggested does not necessarily mean that it would gain wide acceptance. Factors beyond mere scientific considerations would have to be taken into account before adopting a national plan for immunization.
– In view of the very substantial reserve funds and accumulated assets of the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund, will the Treasurer make an investigation to see whether superannuation payments to retired officers can be increased?
– I shall take up with the officers of the Treasury the question raised by the honorable gentleman from Sturt. I imagine that the benefits to be obtained from the fund have been actuarially calculated but it may be that happy results over a period of years have built up a large surplus, as he suggests. If that is so, the consequences which could flow from it might well be examined along the lines he suggests.
– Has the Minister for Defence noticed a statement by the professor of physics in the University of Bristol, made on a recent visit to Australia, that Australia and countries like it which felt they might be safe from H-bombs in war, were being unreal, and that there was a remarkable lack of concern with this question at the top in Australia? Is the professor correct in saying that Australia does feel safe in such circumstances? if he is not correct, what has been done in recent years that is consistent with the belief that Australia does not feel safe?
– No, I have not seen the statement that the honorable gentleman attributes to the learned professor from Bristol. As far as feeling safe is concerned, while we have powerful friends like the United States and the United Kingdom I feel reasonably safe.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Interior. Recently the Film Division of the News and Information Bureau made a film of certain areas in Queensland, including, of course, the important district of the Darling Downs. This film is for use in connexion with the State’s centenary celebrations. Has this film been released in Queensland, and will it be available in other States? Also, will a copy be sent for use by Queensland’s Agent-General in London?
– A film has been completed for the purposes of Queensland’s centenary celebrations. It does include in it some reference to Toowoomba and the Darling Downs, and I understand that it has already been sent to Queensland’s AgentGeneral in London.
– I direct to the Minister for Labour and National Service a question which is genuinely without notice. Does the honorable gentleman recollect that in November last there was a strike of airline pilots, and that the strike was settled quickly on the understanding that a hearing would take place before the appropriate authorities within fifteen days? Does he recollect that this hearing did take place and that the Arbitration Commission was then expected to hand down its judgment in February of this year? If his answers to these questions are in the affirmative, will he consult with his colleague, the Attorney-General, and ascertain why this judgment has not yet been handed down, although it is now three months late? I ask finally: Will the Minister and his colleague take whatever action is necessary to see that the airline pilots are not asked to wait any longer for a decision, particularly as a longer and more serious strike of airline pilots may take place shortly because of delays which seem to them to be indefensible, unconscionable, and unduly prolonged?
– I think the honorable gentleman may be reassured that the negotiations will not be unconscionable or unduly prolonged. It is true that, due to the illness of Mr. Justice Wright, there has been some delay in handing down the judgment, but I am glad to be able to advise the honorable gentleman that, subsequent to negotiations, the rates of pay of captains and first officers of Boeings, Fokker Friendships and Electras have been agreed. So, also, has the rate of pay of second officers flying Boeing 707’s.
– What about DC3’s?
– It is hard enough to think without the honorable member interrupting. Negotiations are now continuing, Mr. Speaker, to fix the gradings. I shall obtain the full details for the honorable gentleman and let him have them, but I think I can say that the only criticism in regard to delay now relates to the pilots and, as I have said, negotiations are continuing for a settlement of their claim.
– My question is directed to the Acting Prime Minister. In supporting the honorable member for Wannon in his request that certain government buildings at Portland, Victoria, be made available for wool auctions or the storage of wool prior to export from the port of Portland, I ask: Is the right honorable gentleman aware that Portland is the natural port for the shipment and receival of goods for all western Victoria and the south-east of South Australia, and is the Government favorable to the expansion of this port, even though it may compete with the centralized ports of the State of Victoria?
– I am personally aware, and I am sure that other members of the Government are aware, of the importance of the port of Portland and of its capacity, because of its geographical position, to service important areas of Victoria and South Australia as a port of entry and of export. I am not familiar with the issues that may be involved in the matter which the honorable member mentions and which, he assures me, the honorable member for Wannon mentioned earlier, concerning the making available of certain Commonwealth buildings; however, I can assure the honorable members that any such proposal will be examined by the Government with sympathetic understanding, and certainly without prejudice or the raising of any obstruction to the use of Portland as a port vis-a-vis Melbourne, Geelong or the alternative export ports of Victoria. The Government would be very glad to see Portland developed as an important port.
– My question without notice is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation. The question refers to certain answers which the Minister gave to questions which I placed on the notice-paper, and which were answered by him on 29th April. In order to clarify the question which I now wish to ask, I must ask the indulgence of the House, Mr. Speaker, to make some reference to that answer.
-I direct the honorable member’s attention to the fact that the Minister for Repatriation is in another place.
– The Minister for Health answered the questions to which I have referred, and the question that I now wish to put to him refers to the answers then given. The Minister said that the death of an ex-serviceman was always investigated by the Repatriation Department if he had been in receipt of a war pension, or if a claim was made that his death should be recognized as due to war causes. I asked whether the Minister could make available information which would indicate whether there has been an increase in the number of deaths of ex-servicemen of World War II. as a result of cancer, and I was informed that statistics in this regard were not available. I now ask the Minister whether, in view of the fact that investigations have been carried out in cases where claims have been made for the deaths to be recognized as due to war service or “where the ex-servicemen were in receipt of pensions, he will arrange to have the Repatriation Department analyse the statistics and make available the information in its possession as to the number of exservicemen who have died from cancer in each year since the termination of hostilities.
– What I did on the previous occasion was to convey my colleague’s answer to the honorable member for Lilley. Now that he asks a further question, I will submit it to my colleague and ask him to furnish a reply.
– Has the Acting Prime Minister received a report that a new type of synthetic cloth is being produced in Italy which is considerably cheaper to manufacture than other artificial fibres? If the right honorable gentleman has information on this subject, what action does the Government intend to take to meet this threat to the wool industry? Will he consider instituting a more vigorous wool promotion campaign to stress the superiority of wool, and will the Government give a lead by insisting on the exclusive use of wool in the manufacture of uniforms for all service personnel?
– I have no official knowledge of the matter to which the honorable member refers but I have seen, as a news item in the press, a story about it. I am sure that the appropriate Commonwealth departments, that is, the department of my colleague the Minister for Primary Industry, also that of my colleague the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the Department of Trade, will all be found investigating this story to discover what substance there is in it. As a government, we are highly conscious of the essential place that wool plays in the economy of this country and the need to protect the reputation of wool and the market for it. To this end, great sums of money are made available by the Government to an instrumentality created by the wool industry itself and towards which the wool industry contributes great funds annually so that there may be both research and sales promotion in wool as an exclusive Australian activity and as an act of international co-operation.
This reported product will be watched. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is constantly pursuing investigations designed to sustain not merely the competitive capacity of wool vis-a-vis the other substances, but also to give wool an edge on them. I do not seek to discount the importance of any threat which may emerge to wool from synthetic fibres, but as one who is interested in wool I may say that I have been hearing and reading for not less than 25 years of some new fibre that was coming up from Germany, Italy or America or somewhere else that would put wool right out of the ring. But I am confident that the inherent qualities of wool will enable it to survive; and I say unhesitatingly that wool, backed by promotion and by scientific research, will be found to hold its place.
– I lay on the table the following paper -
Public Works Committee Act- Twenty-fifth General Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works.
– I lay on the table the report of the Tariff Board on the following subject: -
Cellulose acetate flake.
At a later hour this day I propose to introduce a bill which will give effect to the Tariff Board’s recommendations in this report.
Ordered to be printed.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In. committee’ (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message);
Motion (by Mr. Osborne) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Cellulose Acetate Flake Bounty Act 1956-1958.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Osborne and Mr. Downer do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Osborne, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Under the Cellulose Acetate Flake Bounty Act 1956-1958, bounty is payable at the rate of tenpence a pound, on cellulose acetate flake produced in Australia and then sold for the manufacture in Australia of cellulose acetate rayon yarn. Bounty payments are limited by the act to £142,000 in any one year. There is no protection under the tariff as the flake may enter free of duty under by-law tariff item 369 (e)(1). The purpose of this bill is to amend the Cellulose Acetate Flake Bounty Act so as to extend the period in which bounty can be paid on sales of the flake from 30th June, 1959, to 30th June, 1961.
In the Tariff Board report on the industry, which I tabled earlier to-day, the board has recommended the continuation of assistance by way of bounty under the same conditions as are operating at present. The Government has accepted this recommendation.
CS.R. Chemicals Proprietary Limited is the only applicant for bounty. This company produces the flake at Rhodes, in New South Wales. The flake is sold to Courtaulds (Australia) Limited for manufacture into continuous filament acetate rayon yarn at Tomago, in New South Wales. The yarn is used in the textile trade.
Bounty payments have been made to CS.R. Chemicals Proprietary Limited in respect of flake sold during the year ended 30th June, 1956, of £99,489, to 30th June, 1957, of £113,258, to 30th June, 1958, of £100,981, and in respect of the three quarters ended 31st March, 1959, of £86,062.
The bounty will continue to operate on sales of flake to 30th June, 1961. The Government contemplates that the Tariff Board will again examine the question of assistance to the industry before the period of bounty expires. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message):
Motion (by Mr. Osborne) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Rayon Yarn Bounty Act 1954- 1956.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Osborne and Mr. Harold Holt do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Osborne, and read a first time.
.- I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to amend the Rayon Yarn Bounty Act 1954-1956 to enable the operation of the bounty to be extended by proclamation to a date not later than 31st December, 1959, and to allow the bounty to be terminated before that date, should it be so desired.
The question of further assistance on the production of continuous filament acetate rayon yarn has been referred to the Tariff Board. Public inquiries have been held but the board has not yet presented its report. The Government considers it reasonable to extend the benefits of the bounty until such time as it knows the recommendations of the Tariff Board. [Quorum formed.] Hence the proposal in this bill that bounty may be extended by proclamation until 3 1st December, 1959.
The Rayon Yarn Bounty Act provides for a bounty of sixpence per lb. of continuous filament acetate rayon yarn produced in Australia and sold for delivery in Australia during the period from 1st November, 1954, to 30th June, 1959. Bounty payments have been made to Courtaulds (Australia) Proprietary Limited in respect of yarn sold during the year ended 31st October, 1955, of £39,159; during the year ended 1st October, 1956, of £56,364; during the year ended 31st October, 1957, of £73,929; during the year ended 31st October, 1958, of £63,895; and during the quarter ended 31st January, 1959, of £13,900.
The principle of assistance to the company by way of bounty was adopted when the matter was previously considered by the House. The proposed amendment will enable the same measure of assistance to be continued until the Tariff Board’s report has been received and considered by the Government. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 30th April (vide page 1782), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt-
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Bird had moved by way of amendment -
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 “.
.- The Parliament returns now to its consideration of the proposals presented in the form of a bill known as the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill. This provides for certain government assistance to the States and to local government bodies for the development and maintenance of roads throughout this Commonwealth. To the motion for the second reading of the measure, the Opposition, through the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), has proposed an amendment which indicates a belief that the complete amount secured from petrol and diesel fuel taxes by the Commonwealth should be made available for road purposes.
I wish to compliment the honorable member for Batman upon his splendid presentation of the Opposition’s case last week. His ability and wide knowledge of the subject entitled him to speak with great authority on this question.
I also find myself in agreement with the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), who indicated the need for co-ordination of the transport systems of this country. At present there is much conflict of interest between air, rail and road services, and some degree of coordination is essential. It must be admitted that those who, at the beginning of the century, were responsible for framing our Constitution could not have visualized the tremendous development that would take place in motor traction and in aviation. This development has now made it necessary for a review of the situation to be undertaken by a Commonwealth body, so that the various areas of responsibility may be clearly defined. I suggest that the Constitution Review Committee of this Parliament should consider the situation, with a view to denning the present extent of responsibility of States and the Commonwealth, and the width of Commonwealth power conferred by the Constitution.
This is a matter of vital concern. No other matter, with the possible exception of housing and hospitals, is of greater importance to us than that of our road system. We now have 525,000 miles of roadway. This requires, of course, considerable maintenance. In addition, however, a good deal more roadway is essential for developmental purposes, and we should reconsider our attitude towards road construction. Having seen something of road-making activities in other countries, I am led to the conclusion that our own roads, and particularly our highways, are too narrow. Heavy transport vehicles become a source of danger on these narrow roadways, and we should consider widening them to provide extra traffic lanes. This would do much to reduce the number of road accidents that now occur.
I also believe that the foundations of our roadways are not strong enough to carry the heavy traffic using the roads to-day. In addition, the road edges seem to be poorly finished, and any fast-moving vehicle that is forced towards the edge of a road faces a definite danger. Let me mention also the subject of bridges. Many of our bridges are old and out of date. They are too narrow in many cases, and for this reason are often unsafe.
Such a general revision of our roads policy as is attempted in the measure before us involves, of course, the provision of considerable amounts of money. Increasing costs have made it difficult for State and local government authorities to find the money needed for road maintenance and construction. If these authorities are to provide adequately for roads, other community services must suffer, even such important services as hospitals and education.
The roads of Australia are our lifelines, because they extend into places that are not serviced by rail or air transport. We must, therefore, endeavour to improve our road system. At the present time many roads that are constructed are left in a semi-finished condition, and much of their value is lost because they quickly fall into disrepair. Roads of this kind should be given some degree of permanence by being sealed. This, of course, would reduce maintenance costs.
The Government proposes a five-year plan, during which period an amount of £220,000,000 will be provided from Commonwealth revenues. In addition, the Commonwealth will be prepared to match extra State expenditure, £1 for £1, to a maximum of £30,000,000. If the States are to be required to call on their already depleted finances to provide amounts for the Commonwealth to match, they will have to neglect other things. For this reason, they will not be able to avail themselves of matching grants under this system, and to that extent the States and local government bodies will receive less than would at first seem likely under the terms of this measure for the maintenance of Australia’s road system.
All this surely proves that the methods adopted by the Government in seeking to finance road works, as embodied in this bill, are totally wrong and will prove inadequate to provide for the essential financial needs of the States and local government organizations which are faced with the increasing cost of maintaining and constructing roads throughout the country. The Commonwealth is one of the biggest users of the roads. For official and defence purposes, it uses the roads day and night. Yet it pays no tax upon the fuel that is used by Commonwealth vehicles, and it pays no registration on those vehicles! Out of the revenue collected from motorists by the petrol tax and the diesel fuel tax, the Government now proposes to make available £220,000,000 over the next five years. In the first year of this period, it will provide £40,000,000, plus £2,000,000 in the form of matching grants, making £42,000,000, with an additional £850,000 to be made available for the maintenance and repair of certain strategic or defence roads. That is the total contribution to be made by this Government to the States for road purposes in the next financial year. That is supposed to be the result of an uptodate appreciation of what is required by the States for these purposes. But, according to Mr. Renshaw, the responsible New South Wales Minister, the additional amount available to that State will be so small as to provide for the construction of only one mile of new roadway a year. If that is the position with respect to New South Wales, the major State, the additional milage of roads that may be provided in the other States will be so much less in proportion.
I tell members of this Parliament and the country at large that something very much better will have to be done by this Government if our road system is to be anything like satisfactory. The Commonwealth is to provide £220,000,000 over five years, which it will recoup in full from the petrol *ax and the diesel fuel tax, but it is expected o retain over that period a further £69,000,000 out of those taxes paid by motorists and transport operators. There is no reason why this Government cannot make more adequate provision for the upkeep of our roads if that is the case. In the current financial year, it has budgeted for a deficit of £110,000,000, but we are led to believe by the latest reports that the Budget will probably be balanced. If that is so, the resulting buoyancy in Commonwealth revenues will establish that there is no reasonable argument that the Government can advance to justify denying to the people of this country better financial provision for roads than the Government proposes to make under the terms of this measure. In the light of these circumstances, I suggest that it should review the matter and come to a better appreciation of the problem than it evidently has reached so far.
It was suggested to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) that the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax should be made available for road works, but the right honorable gentleman retorted with the curious idea that if the petrol tax were to be earmarked for the special purposes of motorists, perhaps the taxes paid by beer drinkers should be earmarked for their purposes. No man in a responsible position could justify his case with an argument like that. We must remember that motorists pay not only petrol tax and diesel fuel tax, but also sales tax on vehicles, and, in addition, primage or customs duty, if the vehicle happens to be an imported one. This means that motorists make a considerable contribution to Commonwealth revenue before they even begin to buy petrol or diesel fuel and pay the relevant taxes. On top of all this, motorists contribute to State revenues by paying registration and by taking out compulsory third-party insurance. It is clear, therefore, that they make very full and generous contributions to the revenue of this country, and they deserve to receive much better treatment. The facilities provided for them, and for the community generally, should be much better than can be provided with the funds that this Government proposes to make available out of the proceeds of the taxes levied on motorists.
I suggest to the Government that a case has been made out, particularly by the honorable member for Batman and other speakers from this side of the House, for very much better financial provision for the construction and maintenance of Australia’s roads than will result from this measure. The Government should do its utmost to ensure that our roads are brought to a standard comparable with that of the roads in almost every other modern country. When I saw the magnificent highways that have been constructed in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Europe, I realized just how far short of those standards are Australia’s roads.
The Government should give particular attention to the defence aspect of the road problem. I recall that, during World War II., we found it necessary to establish a special organization to ensure that the road system was capable of transporting troops and essential supplies. Under Mr. E. G. Theodore, this organization used all manner of American earth-moving equipment and thousands of men to build roads. Conditions now are no less urgent than they were then, if we intend to do our best for our country, particularly in the more remote areas. But we do not seem to have a proper appreciation of this extremely vital question which to-day should engage the attention of every serious public man who wants to provide for the future of Australia.
.- I want to say at the outset that I oppose the amendment moved by the Opposition. I do so not because I feel that the Government has in this bill provided sufficient money for roads but because I believe that it is wrong in principle to tie a tax to any particular expenditure. In addition. I believe that State governments and local authorities should have some notice of the money that they will receive so that they can properly plan their road programme. Petrol tax collections fluctuate, even though the rate of tax remains constant. Although at present these collections are rising, it is possible at some future time that petrol may be rationed, as has happened in the past, because we are engaged in a war or because our supplies are interrupted through a disturbance in another country. If that were to happen, petrol tax collections would fall. However, the roads would still be subjected to heavy wear and tear, perhaps by transports using gas-producer units or by army vehicles which pay no tax.
I believe that both the Government and the Opposition have the wrong approach to the question of providing finance for roads. This bill and the Opposition’s amendment both provide for the financing of road construction from revenue, but I do not subscribe to this theory. Surely when we build roads we build assets, and posterity should pay something towards its inheritance. I have here a copy of the April, 1959, issue of “ Road News “. The leading article contains this comment -
It is as true to-day as ever it was that roads are a national investment for the entire community, both contemporary and future, and as such they have a legitimate claim on the nation’s resources for their development.
I agree that the cost of road maintenance should be met from revenue, but the cost of constructing new roads or re-designing old roads should be met from loan funds. A few days ago, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) left Australia to visit other countries. One purpose of his trip is to try to arrange with the International Bank a loan for the re-building of the TownsvilleMount Isa railway line. This railway, after all, is only another road; it is a railroad. If the Government’s policy of financing roads from revenue is correct, then why should not the cost of re-building this line also be financed from revenue?
In my opinion, far too much revenue money is at present expended on capital works. The great Snowy Mountains Scheme, which will benefit generations to come, is being paid for by the taxpayers of to-day. This year the Government has budgeted for a deficit, but this would not have been necessary if the cost of capital works had been met from loan funds. The Sydney Harbour bridge would probably not have been a reality to-day if the authorities had sought to finance its construction from revenue. The Australian children of to-day inherit a wonderful country with roads, bridges, electrical power, schools, hospitals, a good water supply and recreational areas. Admittedly we have not enough of these things, but if we rely on revenue to pay for our national development, we will retard progress. At present, when farm incomes have fallen and import licensing is still imposed in an effort to preserve our overseas reserves, the economy needs a shot in the arm and taxes should be reduced. But under this scheme the taxpayer is called upon to meet expenditure which should be provided largely from loan funds.
Apart from providing increased amounts for roads, this legislation alters the formula which has been in existence for more than 30 years. The formula was introduced at a time when the total number of motor vehicle registrations in Australia was a little over 400,000; to-day, it is approaching 2,500,000. For the first time, account is now being taken of traffic density and this corrects to some extent the great injustice from which my own State of Victoria has suffered in the reimbursement of petrol tax. Naturally, Victoria’s gain is at the expense of those States which were previously receiving more than an equitable amount. However, the generous provisions of the bill ensure that no State will receive in the future less than it has in the current financial year. Despite this, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver), in speaking to the bill on Thursday last, said -
The introduction of vehicle density is a subterfuge adopted in order to water down the formula. Grants rising from £7,400,000 to £10.000,000 a year will give Western Australia a lot of money under the new formula. That is agreed. But we shall not get as much as we should have received if the £250,000,000, inadequate though it may be, had been distributed under the existing formula.
That line of reasoning does not impress me. Surely the test should be whether Western Australia receives sufficient for its requirements and, if sufficient money is not available to meet the requirements of all the States, whether Western Australia gets more than its fair share. For the benefit of my friends from Western Australia, I say that I fully appreciate the difficulties under which Western Australia is labouring in order to develop fully its north-western area and its outback. As a member of the Royal Australian Air Force, I served for approximately fifteen months in the northwest of Western Australia. I travelled to my unit, which was approximately 1,000 miles north of Perth, by road convoy over roads on which at times vehicles sank to their axles in dust. So, in some respects, I am probably more aware of the need for roads than are some honorable members from Western Australia.
– Oh, come!
– I said, “ some members “. I am not unsympathetic towards Western Australia, nor do I think that anyone in Victoria would want to see Victoria receive 20s. from every £1 it contributes in petrol tax, if by foregoing some of its just share it can assist in the development of less fortunate States, of which Western Australia is one. However, I remind the House that Western Australia has already received a special grant for the development of its north-western area. It is my opinion that some Western Australian members do not fully appreciate the problem of Victoria. To the best of my knowledge, in Western Australia roads are built before areas are subdivided for housing. In South Australia, I believe that the most that householders are asked to contribute towards the cost of roads is 10s. a foot. In Victoria persons who purchase blocks of land in areas that are now being sub-divided will not be asked to contribute towards the cost of roads, but in Victoria to-day there are hundreds of thousands of people whose homes are in unmade streets, some of which are real quagmires in the wet season. When those roads are eventually built, the residents in the area will have to contribute to their cost. A few years ago a young couple living in my electorate came to see me. They had received an account from their municipal council for £700 or £800 as their share of the cost of providing roads for a corner block. Admittedly, they have been given 20 or 25 years to pay the account by quarterly instalments, but they will have to meet interest charges. That sort of thing does not happen to people in Western Australia.
There are roads in the metropolitan areas of Victoria - indeed, some of them are within the electorate of Henty - that are worse than anything I saw in Perth. Yet when honorable members from Victoria speak of these things they are accused of being parochial. The honorable member for Swan, when referring to the £30,000,000 that is to be distributed to the States over the next five years on a £l-for-£l basis said -
So it is quite apparent that any State - I am thinking particularly of my own State and of Queensland - that may have been pressed to the limit in providing local funds in the past will qualify only for matching grants over and above what has been spent in the current financial year. At the recent Premiers’ Conference, the Western Australian Premier referred to this matter, and said - “ I know that we in Western Australia would certainly have considerable difficulty in finding additional finance - additional over and above what we now provide from our own funds for roads - no matter how anxious we may be to find and provide additional moneys in order that we might get the benefit of the offer now being made by the Commonwealth.” 1 want to refer now to a publication entitled “Roads in Australia “, which was issued in 1957 by the New South Wales Department of Main Roads. The last figures in this document relate to the year 1954-55. In that year Victoria spent more than £21 ,000,000 on road works. Of that amount almost £8,000,000, or 36.67 per cent., was provided not by the State Government, but by local government authorities from rates and loans. In the same year Western Australia spent more than £5,000,000 on roads, and of that amount less than £1,000,000, or 18.5 per cent., was provided by local government authorities. On a population basis Victoria provided from local government sources more than 61s. a head for roads. Western Australia, from the same sources, provided 29s. a head, or less than half the amount provided in Victoria. No wonder that Victorian local government authorities say that they have reached the limit of their resources.
There is an interesting table in this publication which shows the receipts of State road authorities from motor vehicle tax and petrol tax. The motor vehicle tax includes motor registrations, the ton-mile tax, and other locally imposed taxes. The table shows that Victoria received almost £5,000,000, or 55.95 per cent., of its total receipts from motor vehicle tax, and received 44.05 per cent, from petrol tax. Western Australia received £517,533 from motor vehicle tax, representing 10.55 per cent, of its total receipts, and 89.45 per cent, from petrol tax. The Victorian Government charged vehicle owners £7 Ils. 6d. in motor vehicle tax, and the Western Australian Government charged them only £3 ls. 8d.
– Is that the licence fee?
– The motor vehicle tax includes registration fees, ton-mile taxes, and one or two other additional taxes, including licences. But Western Australia received £26 2s. lid. per vehicle from the petrol tax, compared with £5 19s. 3d. received by Victoria. Surely the amount charged by State governments per vehicle should be equitable, and the same argument applies to charges made by local government authorities to householders. So when the honorable member for Swan and the Premier of Western Australia say that Western Australia is disadvantaged with respect to the matching grant, they are as wide of the mark as it is possible to be.
Honorable members may be interested to know that I have obtained from the Public Works Department of Victoria schedules showing the sources of money spent on all road-works in Victoria over the past three financial years. In the year 1956-57, Victoria spent a little more than £21,000,000 on roads. Of that amount it provided more than £16,500,000 from its own resources, and received less than £4,500,000 from the Commonwealth. In the following year, 1956-57, Victoria spent more than £23,500,000, of which it received less than £5,500,000 from the Commonwealth. The remainder was provided by State and local government authorities. In the last financial year, 1957-58, Victoria spent more than £30.000,000 on roads, and received less than £6,500,000 from the Commonwealth, thus providing almost £24,000,000 from its own funds.
I said earlier that, in my opinion, the Government is still not providing sufficient money for roads, even though the Treasurer has stated that during the next five years the Commonwealth will make available £100,000,000 more than during the last five years. It is fashionable for governments to claim that they spend more than their predecessors. In 1947, the Labour Government of the time claimed that it was spending more than its predecessor, and at that time the expenditure was only in the vicinity of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000. No doubt such claims are true, but what really matters is whether the amount being spent is sufficient.
In his second-reading speech the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said -
As our economy has grown in recent years the need for more roads and better roads has also grown - perhaps more than proportionately - and we can expect this need to go on increasing.
Later he said -
The Government recognizes that much more must r-e spent on roads - our proposals certainly demonstrate that . . .
Yet when I examined the figures I found that in 1953-54 the Commonwealth provided £17,100,000 for roads, and in the financial year ending 30th June next it is providing £37,300,000, which is a percentage increase over the last five years of more than. 118 per cent. But what is the proposed increase in the next five years? In the year ended June, 1960, expenditure will be £40,000,000, plus £2,000,000 on a £l-for-£l basis. In five years’ time, in- 1963-64; the Commonwealth will provide £48,000,000, plus £10,000,000 on a £l-for- £-1 basis, representing a percentage increase over’ five years of 55.5 per cent. Measured in terms of the Treasurer’s speech as to the rate of increase in motor vehicle registrations and in tax collections, it appears to me that this is nothing to enthuse over. The answer lies in providing loan, funds for road construction, as I believe that the motor user is already paying more than a fair share.
I should like now to deal with another aspect of the road problem and one in which I believe the Commonwealth is vitally interested. I refer to road safety. The Australian Road Safety Council has stated that it wants the highest standard of roads that budgeting considerations will permit. In his submission to the National Roads Conference held in Canberra in February of this year, the chairman, Mr. T. G. Paterson, stated that the road factor in road accidents was only 5 per cent, and added -
We would be straining at the gnat and swallowing the camel if we indicated road conditions as the major cause of road accidents.
Yet the Road Safety Council in its publication, “Road Safety”, volume 12, No. 13, stated clearly -
Our roads and highways have for long been unable to cope with the demands of 2,000,000 motor vehicles, and the growth of traffic volume still races ahead of our ability to deal with it safely and effectively.
The editorial of the publication “ Industry Today “ for August, 1958, stated-
Who hasn’t driven along a narrow and supposedly main highway for many frustrating miles behind slower-moving vehicles - eventually lost patience - and passed at all costs? How many of us have frequently avoided a head-on collision only by swerving to the left and hitting a maze cf potholes? Just how many cars have got out of control because of poor roads? How many normally sane, careful drivers have been temporarily blinded by oncoming lights? These effects are all indefinable - one cannot measure a man’s mental make-up in relation to road accidents.
The point I am making is that all this adds up to people - people killed or maimed on Australia’s roads. The total casualties on Australian roads since federation - killed and injured - exceed 1,000,000, according to. “ Road Safety “, the current affairs bulletin of the Australian Road Safety- Council. Australian’s total casualties in four wars - the Boer War, World War I., World War II. and the Korean War - were little more than half that number - actually 555,000. In 1956 alone, the last year for which I have statistics, 2; 119 people were killed and 48,773 were injured on Australian roads. The bulletin estimates the. economic loss at £37,000,000 and has stated, that the sum of human suffering was incalculable. Even if bad roads are responsible for only 5 per cent, of this suffering and loss, surely it is worth our while to make every possible endeavour to improve our roads? It is staggering to realize that there is a road fatality in Australia every 46 hours, a road casualty every 12i minutes and a- reportable accident every 5 minutes. While this- Government is spending millions of pounds bringing migrants to Australia to increase our population, road casualties are costing us £37,000,000 a year and this figure is rising. This sum is sufficient to employ over 60j000 workers at basic wage rates for twelve months. If better roads will cut this loss by 5 per cent., surely, on the score of economics alone, it is worth our while to spend until it hurts on our road programme.
I think it is appropriate during the debate on a bill dealing with roads to refer to traffic codes. Last week I asked a question of the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Downer) relating to migrants and driving licences. In Europe, because the road signs are universal, it is possible for a motorist, without any difficulties, to drive through countries whose languages differ greatly. In Australia, the code differs in almost every State. If this makes driving difficult for Australians, how much more difficult is it for immigrants? Since the end of the Second World War, we have received over 1,000,000 immigrants. In South Australia, no actual driving test is required before a licence is issued. In Victoria, after a motorist is first issued with a licence, he is never tested again as to his skill or ability, or to determine whether his faculties have been impaired, unless or until he becomes, involved in an accident. In many cases, it is then too late. In my opinion, it should be compulsory for drivers to submit themselves to a test at least, once every five years, in the interests of road safety.
The “ 1957 Action Programme “ of the Australian Automobile Association stated in an article on road safety -
The multiplicity of traffic regulations and rules applicable in each State is confusing, and the way in which the various regulations differ is even dangerous.
We should be moving more quickly than we are to achieve uniformity in road markings, signs and traffic regulations throughout Australia so that motorists in all States might be more readily conversant with their obligations as drivers. These, things, unfortunately, cannot be. included in the bill we are discussing, as roads and traffic control come within, the jurisdiction of State governments; but surely if we can. have a. uniform divorce law, we can have a uniform traffic code, and if the Commonwealth can legislate for uniformity in air traffic regulations and shipping regulations and if we as a nation can have an Australian defence policy, we should have an Australian traffic code. I hope that this Government will legislate in the near future to bring this about. I commend the Government on the sentiments expressed in the Treasurer’s speech that this legislation should provide a starting point and a basis for a new era of progress, in Australian road development.
– This bill is interesting, and honorable members who have spoken have made some valuable comments on roads and transport generally. Before I turn to the provisions of the bill itself, I should- like to refer to the concluding remarks of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox), who has just spoken. He said that he would like to see uniform control of traffic throughout Australia and that he could not understand why that could not be achieved. He said that one set of laws should cover traffic control. The honorable member referred to air traffic and shipping, and contended that a similar set of rules should be applied to the roads. When I hear honorable members on the Government side make statements like that, I note how much they are progressing towards the policy of the Australian Labour Party. When we speak of action to- unify anything, supporters of the Government say they do- not believe in unification. They claim that they believe in the States and the federation of States in which the States can make their own laws to suit themselves. Clearly, the honorable member for Henty does not believe that the principle of different laws for the States is satisfactory.
Before I came to this place, for many years I contended that if we had a referendum on unification and for such controls on an Australia-wide basis, the vote would be in the negative because honorable members would still stand for the States’ rights. Whether they like it or not, however, in the process of time unification must come about in many ways in the interests of the nation. The matter is all. wrapped up with the question of taxation. We are almost to the stage of saying that we must have a unified or Australia-wide method of providing for roads. We have uniform taxation as a step towards, that end, yet honorable members opposite and the States clamour for the return to the States of their taxing rights. It appears to me that no matter how much some people may be opposed to a unified system of government, they approve a certain degree of unification when it suits them.
As the present Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement will terminate on 30th June, something had to be done. The Government, which has introduced this measure, has a majority of elected members, and it therefore has the right to govern and to give effect to its policy. While we oppose its proposals and say that our policy is better, we appreciate that we have not the numbers. We propose amendments more as a guide for the future than in the hope of succeeding in an alteration of the Government’s present intentions.
The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), in his second-reading speech, said -
Many thoroughfares which served well enough in pre-war days are now obsolete. They are too narrow, too lightly built and in other respects not properly designed for modern traffic requirements. In and around capital cities and industrial centres there are serious problems of traffic congestion; in rural areas there is a perennial need for new roads and for improvement of existing roads.
I agree with every word of that statement. We all know that it is correct. We see evidence of it as we travel from Sydney to Melbourne and from Melbourne to Adelaide. There is a difference in those portions of roads, which are not of modern construction and are now obsolete. As we travel along, my wife says to me, “ My word, this is a bumpy bit of road “, and I tell her that it was made under the old road-making system. Loads of gravel used to be dumped and spread manually. Where small screenings were added the road surface would pack down solidly but between these stretches the road was very bumpy. That was the old style of road construction. Today, with modern heavy equipment, long stretches of road are laid at a time and when driving along the effect is as of a train running on a long length of rail. More money has to be expended on this type of road construction. We cannot obtain good roads by patching and repatching roads built by the old method. Apart from the necessity for widening, the roads have to be ripped up from one end to another, perhaps miles at a time, and replaced by a continuous stretch that will take modern traffic.
Seldom have members of Parliament experienced more in the way of pressure politics than they have had from organizations connected with roads. The various automobile associations seem to have quite a lot of money to expend on sending members of Parliament great sheaves of literature telling them what they already know. We all have pressure put on us in that way. It is continuous. We are told that roads are getting worse but my experience, over the last ten years at any rate, has been that roads have improved tremendously. Some of the shorter roads between country towns are in a rather bad state, although they too have improved. I would say that this improvement has resulted only from recognition by the Commonwealth of the need to make available to the States money from Commonwealth revenue for the construction of decent roads. If we had not had a system of Commonwealth aid for roads we would not have the roads we have to-day. State parliaments would not have been able to do the job which has been made possible by Commonwealth grants.
I support the amendment proposed by the Opposition. Although the amount to be provided under the bill is slightly more than was provided last year, we say it is not sufficient. Although the Commonwealth recognizes its responsibility to make adequate sums available for roads, we say that it is not providing enough. We want the Government to provide at least the amount that is collected in petrol and diesel fuel taxes. Government supporters are able to say that when the last increase of 3d. a gallon in petrol tax was imposed, the Government announced that it was for the purpose of raising more revenue, and that one-third of the proceeds would be devoted to roads and the other two-thirds would go to general revenue. I understand that.
– The late Mr. Chifley explained that principle.
– I am not arguing about what Mr. Chifley or any one else said. I am arguing about the needs of to-day. Honorable members should direct their minds away from what either Mr. Chifley or the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said twenty years ago. I realize that what one regards as suitable to-day may not be suitable in ten years. Something more is needed and we must meet the needs of the times. We say that the proceeds of petrol and diesel fuel taxes should be devoted to roads.
There are two sections of the community to-day that have had the boot put into them in the matter of taxation. One is composed of men who own motor cars and the other of men who drink beer. We have said to these people, “You are fair game “. Our attitude has been that the chap who likes beer will not stop drinking it if we impose additional excise to the extent of 2d. a glass, but the amount he pays to-day in taxation is really extraordinary. Tt may be said that alcoholics are a great charge on the community. One may say. “ Look at what we have to do for people who are destitute as a result of excessive drinking. Look at the asylums, which contain many people suffering from addiction to alcohol. Look at the police force we have to maintain to deal with drunkenness and other offences resulting from drink.” All that is admitted, but we take a lot more in excise from drinkers than we need for these purposes. However, I am not here to-day to speak for them. The brewers have never got a penny from me. so the duty on beer does not matter very much to me personally.
We are not satisfied with the way in which motorists are taxed. In the little “ horror “ Budget that was brought down here a few years ago sales tax on a Holden motor car was increased from £100 to more than £200. The Government gets that amount every time a new Holden motor car is sold, and when we know the vast number of motor cars made and sold in this country every year it is easy to realize that the Government receives a great sum in sales tax receipts in respect of motor cars alone. I do not think we ever get a proper dissection, of what is collected in sales tax. If the people of this country were told every year how much had been collected in the previous year in sales tax on motor cars, they would be astounded.
– But these receipts help in financing tax reimbursements to the States.
– The honorable member mentions tax reimbursements. I quite recognize that a certain amount of sales tax receipts are devoted to tax reimbursements to the States; but tax reimbursements are not based on the amount of sales tax that the Commonwealth collects. They are based on the revenue that the States were receiving at a certain time, and Commonwealth rates of taxation are fixed accordingly. Tax reimbursements are made to the States not just for road works, but for the carrying on of all the business of the States that is not financed out of their own taxes.
Let me quote to the House another statement from the Treasurer’s speech. I have already quoted his statement about our obsolete and narrow roads, and his opinion that improvements should be effected. He also said -
Probably no country in the world is satisfied with its roads system, any more than we are. In Australia we have the problem of great distances between centres, so that relatively great lengths of road are required to serve a limited population, and while this may mean that to have an efficient roads system we must devote a larger share of road resources to roads than would a country smaller in area, it also emphasizes that a high standard of roads is more difficult for us to achieve and maintain.
Just listen to this -
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.
Now, much more is wanted. In the financial year 1957-58, according to the figures that I have been able to collect, the States received from the Commonwealth £37,000,000 for roads. In that year, the Commonwealth collected in fuel tax - mostly on petrol, because diesel fuel did not enter into the picture much at the time - a total of £52,000,000, or £15,000,000 more than it distributed to the States. Of course, some honorable members may say that the tax on fuel was intended not specifically for expenditure on roads, but as a revenue tax. I do not know what the amount collected in fuel tax this year will prove to be, but the whole tone of the Treasurer’s speech is that the Commonwealth is going to give the States a jolly sight much more in the coming financial year than they will receive this year. But what is the fact? The States will receive £40,000,000 for road purposes in the coming year compared with the £37,000,000 that they received in 1957-58. Does the Government call that much more? It is only another £3,000,000.
– The States have to match that from their own resources.
– I am not referring to the part that has to be matched. Now let us look at other provisions. In 1959-60, if the States can raise £2,000,000 more for roads than they raised in the past year, the Government will match that amount. That is the amount that it will match in regard to all the States, on a proportional basis, and that is the amount that they have to raise among them. It is quite likely that the amount distributed to the States in the current year will prove to be more than the £37,000,000 distributed in 1957-58, but that does not alter the fact that the £40,000,000 that the States are to get next year is only £3,000,000 more than they received in 1957-58. But just think how many new motor cars are going on the road in this country every year. Think how many lots of £200 the Government is collecting on sales tax on new Holdens, and how many lots of £400 it is collecting on the sale of more expensive cars.
– But how many cars are there in the dealers’ yards in Sydney and Melbourne?
– It pays the Government to have them there. If I am foolish enough to sell a good car and get a new one, my action pays the Government, because it will collect sales tax on the new car. So the Government may well profit out of the fact that there is a large number of used cars in dealers’ yards.
As I said earlier in my speech I am glad that the Minister referred to the fact that he did not think that petrol tax receipts should be spent on roads alone, although when he said that perhaps his mind was running along a different line from mine. But he said later on that the States would be able to raise more money. His remarks on that matter are rather interesting. He said -
But the main responsibility for construction and maintenance of roads, and for the administratis of roads matters, lies with the State Governments and the local and municipal authorities. Not only does the responsibility for roads rest with them, as it properly should, but-
And this what I want to emphasize - they have very considerable resources of their own available for roads purposes; these resources, moreover, are capable of substantial increase.
What does the Treasurer mean by that? He does not say where that substantial increase in resources is to come from. He does not tell the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), who moved the amendment on behalf of the Opposition, and who is mayor of a town in Victoria, and so particularly concerned with getting sufficient money for roads, where these resources are. He does not tell the States where they can get the extra money from. What are the States to do in order to get that extra money? Are they to do as the Commonwealth did four or five years ago, and increase taxes on motor cars? Does he mean that the States should increase registration fees from £12 to £20? How else does the right honorable gentleman surest that the States are to find these extra resources?
T say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that while I am pleased with the recognition, stated in the Treasurer’s speech, of the Commonwealth’s liability to support State finances for road works out of general revenue instead of merely collecting money on behalf of the States, I am not satisfied that the Government’s proposals go far enough. I remember that, before we had uniform taxation and grants to the smaller States, mv own State, South Australia, could not finance its roads works. In order to get out of its difficulty, the South Australian Government imposed a petrol tax which was, I think, at the rate of 3d. a gallon. Then the Commonwealth took out an injunction and the High Court ruled that the State could not impose the tax. It is all very well to say that the States have resources and the opportunity to do these things, but I should be happier if the Minister could state how these funds will be applied. We could then go to the States and inform them what they would be able to do under the new proposal. But again the Government falls back on the old cry that the States have their glorious right to do their own work.
Considerable difficulty is created by the varying charges for motor registration. For example, it may be £20 in one State but £10 or £12 in another. Is there anything uniform or fair in that? The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) said there should be a more general rate of cost throughout the States, and I agree with him. Although the registration fee for my car in South Australia differs from the amount which the Victorian driver pays, we both use the roads when we travel interstate. If the Victorian motorist pays the same tax on his petrol as I do, why should there be any differentiation in the rate of motor registration? Yet, there is to be a differentiation in the amount of petrol tax revenue received by the various States. Instead of one State being able to charge a higher rate to build up its revenue, the income from the petrol tax should be disbursed on a wider and more equitable basis.
The Government should go further than it proposes to go in this bill. In the Australian Labour Party policy speech before the recent elections, we told the people that if we were returned to office we would apply the whole of the revenue from petrol tax and diesel tax to roads. If that had happened, instead of £37.000.000 being devoted to roads as hardened in 1957-58, this year £52,000.000 would have been available. The Minister seemed to take pride in the fact that under this legislation the amount would be increased from £37.000,000 to £40.000.000 but a Labour Government would have made it £52,000,000, because that is what we promised the people. Honorable members on the Government side may say that although we promised that, the people did not return us; but I direct attention to the fact that the Treasurer is trying to write down the question of petrol tax. He pointed out that petrol consumption was increasing and said -
Taking the past seven years the average rate of increase was 7.2 per cent. Over the past five years it was nearly 8.5 per cent.; but over the past three years it has been only 6.1 per cent.
I do not think that the Government is really giving the people the benefit suggested in those figures quoted by the Minister. Honorable members must ask themselves whether they are satisfied that the upkeep of roads should be a greater charge on the Commonwealth than it is now. The greatest expenditure on roads to-day is round about metropolitan areas where the traffic is heavy and congested. It is heavy also on main interstate roads. According to this bill 40 per cent, of the revenue will be spent on rural roads other than main roads.
– Is the honorable member opposed to that?
– I am not saying that I am opposed to it, but I want to look at the significance of the expression “ rural roads other than main roads “. We must realize that the main roads running through rural areas take the bulk of the traffic. Main roads between Albury and Canberra, Albury and Wagga, and Albury and one or two other places, which are not rural roads carry the main volume of country traffic. I am not objecting to what is proposed for rural roads, but the purpose of providing good roads is to improve the lot of people living in remote areas and to give them a chance to enjoy some of the amenities which are available in more densely populated areas. We complain about heavy vehicles breaking up our main roads, but if 40 per cent, of the amount is to be allocated to rural roads other than main roads only 60 per cent, will be left for these main country roads which carry this heavy traffic.
– Plus the amount spent by the States.
– My friend says plus the amount spent by the States. We know that the States spend a certain amount, but they cannot get enough to spend. Would the honorable member suggest that the Victorian Treasurer should put a big plaster of tax on the people of Victoria to provide more money for roads? Would any honor able member expect the New South Wales Minister for Transport or the South Australian Minister to do that sort of thing? We know that departments of main roads and country roads boards in the various States are doing wonderful work, but they are limited by their resources. For many years I have had experience of the problems of local government bodies in connexion with roads in South Australia. We were obliged to raise loans for the building of roads which posterity would have to meet. The outlook was very dim until the Commonwealth came to our assistance.
Honorable members know, however, that whatever is done here will be another charge on the States. That is what it boils down to. Although the Commonwealth is going to make this money available, the States will really have to impose a second tax to raise sufficient for their needs. But the States are limited in taxation already. They cannot impose a further general tax. The amendment proposed by the Opposition is very sound. It asks the Government to withdraw the bill and redraft it to provide that the amount to be made available by the Commonwealth shall not be less than the total revenue received from the tax on petrol and diesel fuel. Although this would not provide all that was required, it would give greater justice to the people.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I was pleased to hear, in the second-reading speech of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), references to the part played by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) in providing Commonwealth revenue for roads by bringing down the Federal Aid Roads Bill 36 years ago. I believe that when he introduced that measure, as the then Commonwealth Treasurer, the right honorable member had in mind the purpose of developing those States with vast areas sparsely populated. It was intended also to help country shires which, because of their large areas and small populations, had a very limited taxing capacity. The foi.mula in that legislation was based on threefifths population and two-fifths area and this has worked pretty well until the present time. Although it placed on the Government a responsibility to allocate the revenue to various local government bodies, the amount received by the large shires particularly in Western Australia and the outback parts of Queensland was a mere drop in the ocean. Although this provided some assistance it was by no means adequate to carry out the purpose for which the legislation was originally introduced.
It is true that under this measure more money will be provided in the next five years, but I agree with the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) that it will still be not enough. But if sufficient money cannot be provided to build all the roads we would like, let us at least make enough available to finish some of the jobs thai have been started. Special grants could be made for this purpose. Unless this is done, jobs which have been started will never be finished. There is a precedent. In 1949, special grants were made to Queensland and Western Australia for the purpose of assisting beef production, and altogether an amount of £2,250,000 was allocated. Of that money, £900,000 was spent in the Channel country in Queensland on building roads to get our stock to the market in good condition.
I could name quite a number of roads, particularly in my own electorate, thai were started and have never been completed. I venture to say that, had they been completed, over £500,000 worth of cattle would have been saved in the recent drought. I ask the Government, if it cannot increase the amount provided in this bill, to look at some of the proposals that have been put forward in recent years, and see if it can make arrangements to finish the job. I mention a few in passing. One is from Yaraka to Windorah and then to Currawilla, out in the Channel country. About £300,000 was spent on that road.
– Of how many miles?
– About 250. A formed road was built there, but the authorities omitted to build decent bridges, so that to-day the money is practically wasted. It would only take a few hundred thousand pounds to put the road in good order. Had it been in good order, £500,000 worth of cattle would have been saved in the last drought.
The honorable member for Herbert (Mr, Murray) and the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Fulton) mentioned that north Queensland is cut off from the south because it has no roads. But also the farwestern areas of Queensland are cut off from the seaboard by the lack of good roads. When the next Budget is brought down, I venture to say that we shall hear, from both sides of the House, a lot about Queensland, north of the tropic of Capricorn, particularly with respect to defence. But we hear little about north Queensland to-day. The building of roads cannot be divorced from defence. The two are linked; when we look at the problem of defence we must look at the road problem.
We have all become a bit parochial in this debate and have mentioned the needs of our own States. In the course of a recent tour of north Queensland, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) conceded that Queensland had the greatest potential of any State in the Commonwealth. It is crying out for development. We have not sufficient population there to develop it. We have a terrific area, but we have not sufficient revenue resources to develop the State.
T suggest to southern people that, even if only to save their own hides, they should be a little more considerate of the north of Australia in their thinking with regard to defence. We hear a lot about our near neighbours to the north of Australia and what is happening in Asian countries. Time is running out. All our resources should be stretched to the limit, even if those who live in the southern part of Australia have to be denied something. I put this to the House because it is a vital matter. We have to do something, and we have to do it quickly. The construction of roads is one of the means by which we can develop Australia. Once a road is built, development will follow. We must give consideration to that aspect.
It is all very well to say that the bulk of the tax revenue is collected in the southern States and the coastal section of Australia. How do the people of the southern areas acquire this high taxing capacity? I have heard nearly every honorable member admit, at one time or another, that most of our overseas earnings are derived from primary industries - in which
I include the mineral industry. Our overseas earnings have to be used to buy the things to keep industry going in the southern and coastal areas. Nearly all the goods that are imported into Australia are paid for out of the earnings of primary industry. Duties are placed on most imports. It would be interesting to know the total amount of duty collected, for instance, on motor cars and how much of that money is spent in farflung places such as northern Queensland and Western Australia. Do the people of Queensland and Western Australia receive more than their fair share of that money in proportion to their contribution to overseas funds? I say that we do not.
To-day, transport costs are among our highest costs, particularly in primary industry. We must see that these costs are reduced because we are selling on world markets which are very competitive. One way in which I suggest that these costs can be reduced is by keeping road-building machinery working. All over Australia, road-building machines owned by local authorities can be seen lying idle. I would say that most of the machines, such as bull-dozers and road-graders, hardly work six hours a day. It is a recognized fact that when machinery lies idle money is lost and costs mount. In other countries, road-building machinery is worked around the clock. Costs are reduced in this way because time is money.
Our own Air Force Construction Unit which operates in Australia and overseas has amply demonstrated what can be done with construction machinery. That unit has some of the most up-to-date roadbuilding equipment in the world with which it is building roads and air strips. It works around the clock - 24 hours a day. Contractors on big projects such as the Snowy Mountains scheme keep their machinery in operation continuously. Do they do it because it will cost more money eventually or because it will cost less? Consideration should be given to that point by local authorities. I served for a period on a local authority and I found that valuable machinery was lying idle too often and, by lying idle, costing money.
I agree that what is adequate to-day may not be adequate to-morrow. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) said that we should profit by our experience of the past. Let us get back to the original intention when this federal aid roads legislation was first introduced in 1926 by the right honorable member for Cowper. Let us look at this matter from the point of view of determining how best we can increase the earning capacity of our country, and of how best we can reduce our costs. I think the House will agree, after considering the few instances I have cited, that it would be far better to grant concessions to some of our industries in order to earn more overall at a lesser cost.
Let me suggest that if the Government cannot see its way clear to increasing the amounts available to the States for capital works, either this year or next year, we should call the representatives of the States in conference and say to them - particularly those representing the bigger States - “ What works, other than those you are able to do under this proposed scheme, do you think should be done and carried to conclusion quickly? “ We should then give priority to those schemes and make special grants for them. We can do so out of hand. We recently made a special grant to Western Australia. Some years ago we made special grants for the development of the Channel country in Queensland and the Barkly Tableland. We must develop areas such as these if we are to hold them, because time is running out for us.
I support the bill, because it means that we will get something extra. I cannot support the Opposition’s amendment, because I think it involves an obsolete way of distributing money. It is all very well for the Opposition to say that the States will get more money as a result of the amendment. Opposition supporters do not, however, say how they would split the money up. I am of opinion that taxes should not be earmarked for a specific purpose. The money to be spent on a certain project should come out of revenue, or, in other words, from general taxation receipts.
I conclude with the plea that those works that are vital, not only to the development of our primary industries but also to our defence, particularly in areas north of the Tropic of Capricorn, should be given favorable consideration by this Government. If the Government feels that it cannot assist financially in this direction by bringing in legislation in the current sessional period, at least it should consider doing so when framing the Budget.
.- I desire to refer to some aspects of this matter which have as yet received little or no attention, although, one of. the points was effectively covered a few minutes ago by the, honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe), who made reference to machinery used in road construction. I believe that: the. arguments I wish to advance willi be received with approval by the Government if it. is sincere in its expressed desire to assist the Australian people with more and better roads.
The amendment moved by Her Majesty’s Opposition in this House seeks to allocate not less than the total proceeds of revenues from taxes on petrol and diesel fuel for the purpose for which they were originally intended. We do not deviate from our belief in the principle that the whole of the taxes collected from a particular source for a specific purpose should be applied for that purpose. No amount of protestation, including the suggestion of one Government supporter that the petrol and diesel fuel taxes are comparable with the excise on beer, will convince us otherwise. It will be remembered that one Government spokesman attempted to defend the absurd, attitude of the Government with a peculiar form of logic. He asked, sophistically, why should not all the revenue from excise on beer or spirits be spent on those who drink this form of liquid poison? At the risk of making myself unpopular with the temperance alliance, may I suggest that this might be a very good idea, if, as a consequence, all the revenues from petrol and diesel fuel taxes could then be spent upon roads, to the enormous advantage of all the citizens of Australia, whether they be alcoholics or teetotallers.
At this point I think it would be opportune for me to quote some remarks of Mr. Richards, the general secretary of the National Roads and Motorists’ Association, who must be regarded as a knowledgeable and responsible critic of the Government’s proposals and as a person who would speak with a complete absence of political bias. I quote his remarks, as reproduced in the Rockdale “ Times “, a newspaper circulating in my district: -
A careful look at the new proposals for federal hand-outs to the States for road works leads, to only one conclusion - that this is one of the greatest pieces of political financial humbug of all time. This new deal for roads is little, if any, better than the old arrangement against’ which motorists have protested so bitterly.
The Federal Government says it is not going to tie road development to the petrol tax, but will finance’ road works from- general revenue-. This means; of course, that, the Government’ will keepthe petrol and diesel fuel tax revenues, and after five years, it will undoubtedly be the best part of ?100,000,000 in front on the deal.
– That is wishful thinking.
– Of course, we will seewhether it is wishful thinking in five years time, but I think Mr. Richards is pretty right; and I shall proceed later to show why. He went on- to say: -
If the Government did the right thing and releasedthe whole of the petrol and diesel fuel taxes for road works,, the extra ?100,000,000 that could, be spent on roads over- the next five years would go far towards solving what the Prime Minister himself has referred’ to as one of the major- tasks confronting the people- of Australia.
Mr. Richards adds ;
We simply must improve our present road system.. It is costing too much in terms of death, injury and national inefficiency.
So there is a heavy moral obligation on theGovernment not to filch for other purposes any of the money that motorists provide for road building by way of petrol and diesel’ fuel taxes. Mr. Richards concludes upon this note: -
Although the States have accepted the. scheme because they had no option, it is not too late for the federal Government to amend its proposals and provide more generously for- our road needs.
In support of Mr. Richards’s claim that the Federal Government will, at the end of five years, be ?100,000,000 in- front on its raw deal for roads and motorists, I shall now refer to a statement, again reported in the. Rockdale “ Times “, by the Petroleum Information Bureau of Australia, to the effect that the average quantity of petrol sold” per vehicle in Australia is now 410 gallons per annum, whereas in 1948 the average consumption was 370 gallons. The Petroleum Information Bureau attributes this increase to the fact that people are using their cars to a greater extent, and road haulage contractors are covering a greater annual1 mileage. The bureau adds that although the average horse-power ratings are higher to-day than they were ten years ago, engines are more efficient and make better use of the higher quality petrols available. It will thus be readily perceived that Mr. Richards’s estimate, that the Federal Government will be £100,000,000 in front on the deal at the end of five years, is most conservative.
I sincerely hope that Government spokesmen, who are very much on the defensive in this debate, will waste no time or energy in resurrecting their puerile arguments about taxes on beer being spent on those who drink beer, or probate taxes being spent upon the provision of larger cemeteries and crematoriums. I express this hope in the interest of the Government itself. It is undoubtedly true that unless the Government listens to the voice of the Australian Labour Party in this matter there will be a great and growing need for larger hospitals and bigger crematoriums.
A great deal of attention has been given in this debate to the need for better interstate highways and strategic roads, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I agree that great emphasis on these was necessary. But, so far, not one word has been said about the ghastly traffic snarls which occur daily in the major cities of Australia. From the door of my office in King-street, Rockdate - a suburb of Sydney - I can see a portion of the Princes Highway, which is the major arterial road of Australia. For nearly four hours each day, it is jammed with motor traffic proceeding, bumper-bar to bumper-bar, through the main Rockdale shopping centre. Nearly all of that traffic strives to proceed through Rockdale in a northerly direction towards the city in the mornings, and southward in the evenings. At the same time, thousands of pedestrians endeavour to cross that road for the purpose of shopping or returning to their homes from their daily work. The fact that scores of people are not killed or maimed daily on that highway is a high tribute to the skill and vigilance of the motorists and to the acrobatic agility of the pedestrians.
On one occasion, I took the trouble to observe the number of vehicles that bore the signs of collision. In fifteen minutes of observation - that is about all the time that a member of the Federal Parliament can afford to spend on such a task - I saw that one vehicle in every four had either a bad dent or a bad scratch.
– Bad drivers!
– I do not think that bad drivers would be responsible in New South
Wales. The scene on the Princes Highway, in Rockdale, is being repeated daily, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in at least 50 other centres in the Sydney metropolitan area, and in the other capital cities of Australia, and it is futile to say that there is no remedy for this chaotic situation. If the New South Wales Government had received from the Federal Government its fair share of the revenues from the petrol tax alone, urgently needed expressways would by now have been completed. These would have enabled scores of thousands of motorists to proceed safely and swiftly to their destinations with a minimum of danger to life and limb, a minimum of strain on their frayed nerves, and a minimum of cost to their pockets.
The problems confronting rural citizens as a result of bad roads are well known and deeply appreciated, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and 40 per cent, of the State grants must be spent on these roads. However, I continue to make a plea for suburban residents, wage and salary earners, pensioners and others on low and moderate incomes. They are called upon to pay heavy municipal rates and other charges. I have already pointed out that there is a special problem in the St. George electorate, which sadly needs an expressway, plans for which were prepared long ago. The provision of expressways is beyond the powers of local government bodies and the purses of the ratepayers. Much has been said about a national road plan, and obviously there can be no such plan unless road traffic through Sydney and other big cities is made to flow more freely.
– Why do the cities grow bigger? Why cannot the people be sent out to the country? Why concentrate everything in Sydney?
– My friend continually interrupts in an effort to waste my time. In a press statement made the other day, Alderman R. S. Luke, President of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations, commented on this bill, and underlined my observations. Part of his remarks is report in these words - “Local Government asked that the Commonwealth allocation for Roads be increased by 50%. This if adopted would have meant that over the next five years, the States would receive £345 million, of which Local Government would get £133 million as compared with £84 million now proposed. “This, although far short of the financial need, would have given the States an additional £95 million well within the estimated return over the same period from Petrol and Diesel Tax of £350 million. “ Local Government will retain for local roads, 40% of the allocations to the States (Queensland 30%), and for that we are most grateful; but, clearly, the Bill as now before the Federal Parliament will mean little relief to the property owner who - at least in New South Wales - is now called upon to bear something like 54% of all road expenditure. The proportion in other States would, no doubt, be much the same “, concluded Alderman Luke.
I am utterly at a loss to explain the Government’s attitude, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Like some modern Scrooge, it cries poverty and cackles about the need for caution, the while, paradoxically, it further enriches a former Prime Minister who has long since departed from this country to a viscounty in an old county. Now that I have successfully ingratiated myself with the Government and won it over to agreement with me, I shall express no opinions on the permanency of the visit by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to the land of no return. I shall content myself with inviting the Government’s attention to a few facts about Australia in which it seems to be less interested than it ought to be.
Australia is the largest manufacturer in the world - apart only from the United States of America - of road-making, earthmoving and excavating equipment, but we are taking scant advantage of this fact. Road construction projects all over the world, from Egypt to South America, and including the United Kingdom, are being undertaken with machines manufactured in Australia by Australians working in perfect harmony with new Australians. The great Adaminaby Dam, which is part of the Snowy Mountains scheme, was completed in almost exactly half the scheduled time. Nearly all the marvellous machinery used on that project was made in Australia by Australians. Four years was the scheduled time for completion, but Australians and new Australians working together did the job in two years, with Australian machinery. The increased efficiency of Australian-made equipment is responsible for the fact that earth-moving costs have remained stable over the past 30 years despite the doubling and even trebling of the costs of almost all commodities and services.
This great Australian Industry which manufactures heavy earth-moving and road-making equipment is operating far below its capacity, and well below the volume of output of past years, because of reduced demand and competition from imported machinery. The existing establishments could provide employment for thousands more Australians. In addition, money spent by Australia on importing equipment is lost to us for ever. I ask the House to bear this in mind at all times, along with the fact that the plants manufacturing earth-moving and road-making machinery, of which Australia is the second largest manufacturer in the world, are not being used to capacity, as they should be.
Two further aspects merit mention. The first of these emanates from an address by Mr. John Hall, director of the Esso Safety Foundation, to an audience of Rotarians in Baltimore, in the United States of America. He said that the new American highway network would reduce the shameful toll of human lives, resulting from chaotic traffic conditions and created by to-day’s inadequate roads. In the opinion of experts, thousands of traffic fatalities could be prevented each year by better highways. I am well aware of the great disparity between the sizes of the American and the Australian populations, but it is fair and reasonable to deduce that some hundreds of our Australian people would escape death or serious injury each year if we had better roads upon which to travel. I shall give the figures; they came through only this afternoon, I understand. Last year, 2,146 people were killed on our roads, including 800 in New South Wales and 500 in Victoria. Mr. Hall made another interesting observation. He said -
There is evidence that downtown city business districts have nothing to fear from being by-passed by planned access roads. Studies have shown that business actually is increased. The reason is that when through traffic is eliminated in business districts, many problems associated with traffic congestion are also removed. It was traffic congestion which previously discouraged local shoppers.
The second aspect to which I desire to make reference emanates from an address by Mr. Norman Bell, chairman of the Canadian Good Roads Association, to the annual meeting of the Canadian Tourist Association in Quebec. He said that the steadily improving quality of roads was being reflected in the better comments that tourists made about conveniences and comforts in Canada. Thus, in 1955, a survey by the official Dominion Bureau of Statistics showed that 50 per cent, of objections received from tourists pertained to roads and traffic. In 1956, the proportion dropped to 42 per cent, and by 1957 it had shrunk further to 20 per cent, lt becomes apparent that the condition of our country’s roads has an important bearing upon the number t of tourists we are getting. It would be interesting to hear the comments of tourists on the subject of our roads, and to have those comments printed on asbestos paper.
In this House, it is very easy to become obsessed by a horrible sense of futility. The Government has the necessary numbers to do as it wills, but I cannot bring myself to believe in the divine right of majorities in everything. I believe that in the ranks of the Government there are some who agree with the Opposition in the matter of Commonwealth aid for roads, but something, I know not what, stifles their voices. The result, despite all this talk, was determined before the bill reached this chamber. The Government claims that the Labour Party is irresponsible in its attitude. If that means that we place too great a stress on our faith in Australia and its people and on our belief in the efficiency of the Australian earthmoving and roadmaking industry and the sanctity of human life on our roads, I gladly yield the point.
– I do not find myself in agreement with the bill. I therefore propose to foreshadow an amendment, which I hope I shall have a chance to discuss in a moment. My dissatisfaction with the bill arises from two things - first, what the bill contains but what I feel it should not contain; and, secondly, what it does not contain but what I feel should be incorporated in it. I propose to traverse the argument under these headings.
Let me first go to the points which are incorporated in the bill and which I feel should not be incorporated or should be incorporated in a different form. The bill gives at most only a very little extra for roads. In his second-reading speech, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said -
Under it the Commonwealth will make available to the States greatly increased amounts of money for expenditure on roads.
I do not believe that that statement is factual. I want to examine it in the light of figures. If honorable members will look at clause 4, they will see that over a five-year period it is proposed to pay to the States £220,000,000 for roads. In clause 6, they will see that the Commonwealth proposes to pay over the same period an additional £30,000,000, provided the States pay a matching grant.
Let us look now at what would be paid to the States under the present formula. At the moment, we are paying something of the order of £37,300,000 a year. If honorable members examine the clauses of the bill to which I have referred they will see that we posit an average increase of something like 4.8 per cent, per year in the consumption of petrol. As honorable members know, our present grant is related to the annual consumption of motor fuels; it is tied to so much a gallon. Under the existing formula, any increase in the amount that will be paid depends on how much the fuel sales increase. The formula now set out in clause 4 is apparently based on an increase of 4.8 per cent. That is a pure matter of arithmetic and calculation. However, if we look at what has happened in the past five years, we will see that the average rate of increase was not 4.8 per cent.; it was 8.5 per cent. It is true that over the last three years that rate of increase has been a little less; it has been 6.1 per cent. But looking at it statistically and trying to weigh up all the figures, the five-year term seems the fairer and more rational basis.
At all events, the oil industry is making its plans on an annual increase of li per cent. If one were to adopt this figure, the £220,000,000 in clause 4 would be £235,000,000, or approximately that figure. That is the amount that would be given under the existing formula. So the amounts set out in clause 4 are something like £15,000,000 less than the amount calculated on the existing formula. It is true that if the States can put up the ante - and this is by no means unconnected with the Government’s other financial decisions in the Loan Council - the Commonwealth will provide a further £30,000,000. But the Commonwealth will only be finding £15,000,000 over and above the amount of £235,000,000 that I have mentioned, whereas the States will find an extra £30,000,000. I believe that that arithmetical basis is worthy of further examination. I do not think that the bill does provide for the greatly increased expenditures that the Treasurer claims for it. That is my first point - that the bill gives only a little extra, not the large amount extra claimed by the Treasurer.
My second point is that the bill makes provision for an inadequate amount. Roads are a real need. Transport inefficiencies are a real economic loss. There has been a very rapid growth of motor transport in Australia, and that means that at least over the short term - the five years contemplated by this bill - a greater and not a smaller proportion of the national income should be devoted to roads. If you look at the amount spent on motor transport as a whole, at the amount of money that we pour out on new vehicles, it is obvious that we are giving a disproportionate amount to vehicle sales and too little to the roads on which those vehicles must run. It is a great economic loss to the country that our transport system is not better than it is.
Let me make this point: Since the beginning of the war - since 1939 - the number of vehicles on the roads, as set out in a recent Department of Trade publication - has multiplied by three. In terms of real purchasing power the amount that we are now giving for roads has multiplied by only two in the same period. And if you look at the amount that is available for main roads, for highways that are the main arteries, you will find that it has only gone up one and one-half times in terms of real purchasing power. It is probable that the use of vehicles has gone up even more than the total number of vehicles would suggest. So that is my second objection to the bill - it gives an inadequate amount for roads.
My third objection is that the bill makes no provision for any future price changes. A sum is set down. If the price level rises - and we know, looking over each successive period of five years, whether it be under a government from this side of the House, or from the Opposition, that the price level has consistently gone up - then the States under this bill will get no compensation. They will be back as mendicants at the throne of the Commonwealth Government. This is something that is, per se, undesirable. That is my third objection - that the provisions in the bill do not allow for possible price changes over the next period of five years.
My fourth objection to the bill is that it binds the States as to their loan programmes. A little earlier, I said that I thought a higher proportion of our national income should be devoted to roads. But I also think that the Commonwealth Treasury should not always be trying to leg-rope the States, to take away from the States all real financial independence, and to reduce them, by manipulation through the Loan Council and elsewhere, to the position of mendicants before the federal financial throne. This is not right.
My fifth objection to the bill is that it binds the States as to the way in which they shall spend the money - 40 per cent, on one kind of road. I do not know whether 40 per cent, is too low or too high. It may well be that this kind of road should get 50 per cent, or 60 per cent, of the money allocated, but that is a matter for the States concerned. It is not the business of this Parliament to theorize. Such decisions come properly within the province of a State government if we do not think that a State government is nothing more than a sham. I know that it can be said that some State Premiers asked to be bound in this way. Well, if some of them want to evade their own responsibilities, that is no reason why the Commonwealth should take them over.
Those are the five things in the bill to which I feel some repugnance. Now let me look at two matters that are not in the bill, and which I think should be in the bill. My first point - and it is one that I find diametrically opposed to the principles set out in the bill - is that there is no tie between the fuel tax collections and the amount spent on roads. It has been said that this is a merit in the bill. I find it a positive demerit. Let us look at some of the reasons why there should be a nexus between these two amounts, why one should be dependent to some extent on the other. Quite apart from the question of whether the whole of the proceeds of the tax should be spent on roads, we should surely defend the principle that there should be some relationship between the amount of tax collected and the amount spent on roads. First, we have an historical justification for this. In the series of acts which this bill proposes to amend the tax has been fixed at so much a gallon. We are changing an historical principle.
Secondly, the only justification for this particular tax is that it should be used to provide a more efficient transport system. The fuel tax is different from other revenue taxes because transport is of the very lifeblood of the Australian economy. It is not just like excise on beer or duty on spirits. There is no justification for singling out transport as a means of producing revenue except the one justification that the revenue is needed to provide the roads on which the transport may run. There is no justification for these fuel taxes except the justification that they are needed for roads> This follows from the fact that they are taxes levied on the economic life of the country, and are something that enters into the cost of all goods sold in the country and all services performed in the country.
My third point is that surely the amount spent on roads should to some extent be proportional to the use of roads. If we find that the use of roads is increasing less rapidly than we have expected, then there is justification for pulling in our horns and spending less on roads. If, on the contrary, we find that the use of roads is growing more rapidly than our estimates, there is justification for spending more on roads than we would have done. Surely it is only elementary business practice to link expenditure on a commodity or service with the use that is made of it.
But there is another matter, and one which I commend to honorable members. Roads are a State function. They are the business of the States. But the provisions of section 92 of the Constitution, as interpreted by the High Court of Australia and the Privy Council, have effectively inhibited the States from levying their own charges on the vehicles which use the State roads. Because of the operations of section 92 - operations which perhaps were not foreseen at the drafting of the Constitution but which depend now on the judgment of the High Court and the Privy Council and cannot lightly be changed - the Commonwealth has to become the agent for the States, because it is only the Commonwealth that is constitutionally empowered to collect from the road users the money that is necessary to maintain the roads they use. This quirk of section 92 must be recognized. I, for one, would not want the Commonwealth to entrench inordinately into the affairs of the States, but when the States, by reason of constitutional difficulty, are unable themselves to collect reasonable taxes, then the Commonwealth must step in. Because of the operations of section 92 and the way this has worked out, it is necessary for us to tie the moneys made available by the Commonwealth for road purposes to the States to amounts collected on road operations by the Commonwealth which has in its hands the sole constitutional taxing power.
I must say that I found myself unable to follow the arguments of the Treasurer as against this view. The right honorable gentleman said it would result in uneven and unpredictable payments to the States. But, indeed, is it not well that the payments should be in some way related to the longterm, the smoothed out trend, in the use of motor transport? If there be any small annual variation, the Commonwealth has ample financial power by loans or otherwise - and we see in the Budget what otherwise means - to make this good to the States. I am not suggesting that the States’ revenue should move up and down like a yo-yo, but I do suggest it should follow the longterm trend, and should make its allocations to the States in conformity with that trend, smoothing out any unevenness. As an exTreasury official, I cannot find anything that really moves me in these academic arguments about Consolidated Revenue funds. It is a form of words, and I do not think it amounts to a row of beans, I agree with the proposition put forward by the Opposition that it is not reasonable to link this to excise on beer, for example, and say “ If you put petrol tax on the roads, you should put beer excise into the hotels “. That is, to me, a silly argument because the kind of service which is taxed and provided is quite different in the case of roads. It is an essential service. So I feel there is a defect in this bill if it does not tie the grants to the States to the amounts collected by way of fuel tax.
The second defect in this bill - and it is something I want to mention only in passing - is that it does not take the opportunity of getting a part of a real forward transport plan for the Commonwealth. I am not, as the House knows, a protagonist of one form of transport against another. I am a protagonist of this proposition: Each form of transport should be as free as possible to be applied to those circumstances where it is most efficient. It may be rail, it may be road, it may be sea; but let us have some efficiency, let us stop this kind of idiotic distortion that is going on when we are trying to penalize the roads against the railways, penalize rail against road, or penalize sea as against both of them. There is surely time now for the Commonwealth to take the initiative and to go forward with some overall transport plan. It could not be done wholly in one bill. What I regret is that this bill makes no move towards it and makes no attempt to do so.
I am not so happy about the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition. I do not think it is specific enough or conclusive enough. Under the procedures of this House, I must vote with the Opposition on the question that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question. I shall do that; but if that question be resolved in the affirmative, on the further question that the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted, I shall vote against the Opposition. I propose to move the following amendment to the Opposition’s amendment -
That all words after “ withdrawn “ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ to enable fresh negotiations to take place with the States directed towards the following eventual objectives -
the payment to the States for road pur poses of an amount not less than the proportion of the fuel taxes paid by road users;
the abolition of the ton-mile taxes imposed by the States; and
the payment of uniform and equitable registration fees by vehicles trading both intrastate and interstate, the proceeds being wholly allocated for road purposes “.
Now let me just go quickly, if I may, through these three propositions. The first is the payment to the States of all the proceeds raised from road users. I have spoken in the past of the necessity of a relationship between these. 1 now bring in the second point that the relationship for the present should be all of the taxes paid by road users. T say this because I believe it is in the national interest and in the interests of the national economy to make provision for a more effective and efficient road system. I do not think we have been making as much advance recently as we should in some of these ways. I look at the publication of the Department of Trade issued only a few weeks ago in which it is shown that over the past four years the real income per head of Australians has not only failed to rise, as it should have risen, but has, indeed, fallen. Even allowing for the impact of the fall of prices for primary products, this is not quite good enough. I feel that we must be rethinking some of our basic concepts and must make certain that we go forward with a greater economic momentum. Under the Government’s proposal, the gap between collections and payments to the States of fuel tax, so far from narrowing will progressively widen over the next five years. It is not good enough.
The second point I wish to make is the repeal of the ton-mile taxes. These are vexatious taxes, which distort the proper pattern of internal transport in Australia. I shall not go into their various disabilities and the economic loss involved. I think honorable members will know what I mean.
– They relate to road damage.
– They relate to road damage, but they are very hard to collect, they are very unfair in their incidence, and they are very clumsy. However, they are the only expedients available to the States because of the capricious operation of section 92 of the Constitution. Looking at the problem as a whole - and this Commonwealth should look at the economic problem and the constitutional problem as a whole - we should be making it unnecessary for the States to impose these taxes. Honorable members will recall the judgment in Armstrong’s case in 1957 on the invalidity of registration charges on vehicles travelling interstate. I have had the benefit of advice on this, and I have looked at the judgment. I believe that if the ton-mile tax were repealed and if a new registration charge were imposed, which was fair and used wholly for road purposes, the court would find that it was validly applicable, even to vehicles trading interstate. I say that with some reservation. Nobody can be quite certain what a future judgment of the court will be. I say that that is the probable construction to be put on the judgment of the court as delivered.
Finally, Sir, I look to the word “ eventual “. I know that these changes cannot be brought about overnight or in one sweep. I know that we have to refashion our railway system and refashion our system of transport by sea. We have to move in on all fronts simultaneously, if we are to make an efficient transport system for the whole of Australia. The word “ eventual “ is therefore important, but I do say that there is a responsibility on this Commonwealth Government to fashion such a national transport plan as part of the drive to stop the stagnation in Australian living standards and push them once more rapidly upwards.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
.- We have listened to some very good speeches in this debate, but some of the speeches that we have heard from the Government side have merely been attempts to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Australia. All I can say is that if the speech made prior to the suspension of the sitting by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), a Government supporter, does not convince the Government that it is on the wrong track with this legislation, then the Government will never be convinced, because that speech, and the speeches made by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) and the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) really tore the legislation to shreds. Those honorable members pointed out the Government’s past failings and the lack of foresight in the present legislation, in that the Government has produced no plan for proper development of this country’s roads - if they can be called roads. As a matter of fact, many of the so-called roads in Australia, including some that are supposed to be main highways, are similar to the tracks along which bullock wagons used to go in the old days. Indeed, many of the grades were laid down in conformity with the requirements of the horseandbuggy days; yet these roads are expected to carry huge trailers and semitrailers many tons in weight.
The honorable members I have mentioned have made out a case in support of the Opposition’s amendment, which is designed to get this do-nothing Govern ment to do something about roads. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that the House, after an examination of the facts and figures concerning roads, must agree that there is only one thing to do if we are to have a road system which will ensure progress by enabling the rapid transport of goods to and from market, and that is to produce a comprehensive and integrated national plan for roads. The implementation of such a plan, and the improvement of our road system which would follow, would assist in the battle against inflation by keeping down transport costs which, as you know, Mr. Speaker, represent a high percentage of the final cost of goods. But the Government has produced no such plan in this legislation. It has merely attempted to fool the people into believing that it is doing something.
As one interested in local government for almost twelve years now, I was pleased when I read the first press report concerning this legislation, which indicated that the Government intended to make available, over a period of five years, the sum of £250,000,000 to the States for road work. I thought that at last somebody had broken through, that somebody had been able to hammer home to the Government the necessity to do something tangible about roads. However, when I analysed the legislation I found to my horror and dismay that all the Government intended to do was to maintain the status quo.
– It is a hoax.
– Yes, it is a hoax, as the honorable member says. The Government should have used this occasion for the presentation of a comprehensive plan for roads that would assist in the rapid and economic transport of goods throughout the country. We have a large continent with a small population compared with the populations of America, Canada, Europe and the Asian countries. So we really must get down to doing something definite about providing ourselves with the roads we still need and improving those that we already have. We cannot just continue to let things roll along in their own happy way. We have to decide where we are going to put roads, where we are going to have railway lines and rail heads, and also what we are going to do about sea transport. After all, we are a country that is to a great degree dependent on our sea transport.
When the Government was preparing this legislation it should have looked at the matter of transport over-all. At present, certain kinds of goods are being transported by road which could quite easily be transported by rail. Time after time we read of road smashes involving huge lorries carrying heavy loads of steel or timber which could quite easily have gone by rail. Has the Government done anything about that? Of course it has not! All it does is to place before us a bill which is really an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the Australian people and make them believe that it is really going to do something about our roads. Further, I believe that the Government, before introducing the legislation, should have attempted to get some co-ordination regarding the laying down of roads throughout the Commonwealth. At present, all main roads run direct to the capital cities of the States. Everything centres on the city. The Australian Country Party talks about decentralization; but what do the members of that party actually do about decentralization? They talk about it at election time and forget about it between elections. The Liberal Party also talks about decentralization at election time every three years, but forgets about it between elections.
What the Government should have done was to bring together all the responsible authorities - State governments and local governments, as well as Commonwealth - connected with transport, and get down to the real basis of what is needed. Had it done that, our road system of the future could have been planned properly, and the Commonwealth could have decided what contribution it would make to a national road developmental scheme. That procedure would be much preferable to just leaving it to the States to put down roads where they like, whether or not these roads are located to meet the best interests of the nation. I contend that one of the conditions attaching to the making of road grants to the States should be that the road plans of the States should be co-ordinated. That is the only way to achieve real progress with our roads system. An over-all decision could be made at such a conference as I have suggested on what goods should be transported by road, what should be transported by rail and what should go by sea. The conference could decide where roads were to be laid. It could decide whether it would be in the best interests of a State for a road to run in a certain direction, or whether it would be more in the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole to have it run in another direction. We shall not gain the full benefit of our road system until it is planned with the interests and the needs of the Commonwealth as a whole in mind.
The legislation, as I have said, is lacking in foresight. There has been no real attempt by the Government to tackle a problem that has existed since federation, and until such time as we are prepared to tackle that problem on a co-ordinated basis we shall continue to have a huge death roll on the roads. If, through the fault of some person or persons, 800 people were killed in a tragedy in New South Wales, action would be immediately taken to see that there was no recurrence. Whatever failure had produced the tragedy would be corrected. If some form of sickness killed only half that number in Australia we would be enlisting the services of eminent doctors both here and abroad in order to combat the disease and save the lives of people. But as far as roads are concerned, we do not get down to the basic requirement of laying down decent roads which modern transport can use.
Many of the main highways of the States are entirely inadequate and call for improvement. As an example I mention the road .from Sydney to Newcastle. It is a beauty, if ever there was one. The only reason that it is not developed into a firstclass highway is that no one will make an attempt to provide the money to do the job. It needs to have all the twists and turns taken out between Gosford and Sydney. Many honorable members may not have travelled on this road, but representatives from New South Wales will know what I mean. This is one of the most heavily traversed roads in the Commonwealth because it is the main link between Newcastle and Sydney, two large centres of population. The New South Wales Government has shown how it could be improved; the Department of Main Roads has made a divided carriage way over one portion of four miles. There the traffic can flow smoothly and swiftly. But that treatment needs to be applied to the whole length of the road from Sydney to Newcastle. The same can be said about highways from Sydney to Wollongong and between other important centres throughout the Commonwealth. But the only effective way of tackling the problem is to provide the necessary finance.
This Government is spending about £200,000,000 a year on defence. If that were spent wisely and portion of it applied to roads as a defence measure it might prove to be one of our greatest assets in time of crisis. I believe that a great deal of that £200,000,000 is wasted. If the Government would develop first and foremost a road system throughout the Commonwealth it would be providing a most effective means of defence. When Hitler came into power in Nazi Germany one of the first things he did was to lay down decent highways so that his armies could move about quickly and easily. He knew they would have long distances to travel and he was prepared to spend money on good highways. In Australia we hope and pray that there will never be another war and that the necessity to move troops and arms and defence equipment about the Commonwealth will not arise. But at least one way of deterring outsiders from attacking us is to be prepared and one sensible and logical item of defence expenditure would be the building of a good road system throughout the Commonwealth. In the meantime, this would have an enormous effect on developin? the economic life and prosperity of the country in peace-time. A great deal is said to-day about road safety, and the announcement made this afternoon that more than 800 people were killed in New South Wales last year emphasizes again the need for better and safer roads. If only one or two of those lives could have been saved, it would have been worth all the expenditure to provide good roads. I say again that the only way that decent roads can be built is for the Commonwealth Government to provide the finance from petrol tax or some other tax.
I suggested earlier that this legislation is a hoax and that the Government is pulling the wool over the eyes of the people. It is endeavouring to mislead them and make them believe that at last they are getting something out of this Government. I propose to cite some figures to show the real position. The Government is only maintaining the status quo and is doing nothing whatever about giving the people additional sums from the petrol tax it has already collected. To those who are not aware of how much the tax is, I point out that on every gallon of petrol consumed ls. Hd. is paid in tax if it is imported petrol and Hid. if it is locally refined petrol. Out of that tax the States receive the sum of 8d. a gallon. This Government asks: “Why should not the Commonwealth Government get something out of this tax which it collects? “ The Commonwealth Government receives, in addition, excise on beer and sales tax on many items. There is only one logical way of financing the construction of roads, and that is by using the tax which is paid by the people who use the roads. Every State government which has imposed a road tax would be only too happy to lift it if it could be assured of receiving its full share of the petrol tax to carry on the job of building roads.
I should like to quote figures to show the amount of tax collected, the amount allocated to the States, and the amount retained by the Commonwealth Government during the period 1955 to 1959. In 1955-56, the amount received in petrol tax was £38,500,000. Of that sum, £26,066,000 was paid to the States. In the following year, 1956-57, £47,400,000 was collected and £30,714,000 given to the States. In 1957-58, £55,800,000 was collected, and the contribution to the States was £34,868,000. This year, the Government expects to collect £60,500.000. out of which the magnificent sum of £37,250,000 will be distributed to the States. Those figures show that in that four-year period the Federal Government collected £202,200.000 in petrol tax, and paid to the States £128,898,000, leaving a surplus to the Commonwealth of £73.302.000. That is not a bad sort of a collection over four years.
But there is another angle. What does the Commonwealth Government receive by way of income tax, sales tax. customs duty and other forms of taxation from the motor industry as a whole? The figure has been calculated as about £60,000,000 a year. I have reason to believe that that is a reliable and factual figure. This means that during the four-year period to which I have referred the Federal Government has received £240,000,000 in tax on the various items I have just mentioned, plus £73,000,000 in petrol tax. This is from the motor industry, paid by owners of motor cars, commercial vehicles and motor cycles. It is a very handsome contribution towards the nation’s finances. I believe it should devote this £73,000,000 which it has kept back from the petrol tax to the building of roads.
A great deal of book work and red tape is associated with the present form of taxation in attempts by the State governments to get money out of road hauliers. Personally, I consider that these road users should pay tax, but not necessarily in its present form. They should pay some form of compensation for the damage their heavy vehicles do to the road. If the roads were used only by owners of motor cars - men who drive to work or to business or take their families out for picnics at the weekends - the local municipal or shire council could meet their road needs. They could be served by a road with a foundation of about 6 inches of gravel covered with a few inches of pre-mixed tar. That would be sufficient to carry all the motor cars that went over it. You know that. Mr. Speaker, being an ex-lord mayor and a person who has been interested in local government.
In constructing a road to meet the requirements of heavy hauliers, it is not sufficient to put down six inches of gravel and an inch of pre-mix. Excavations have to be made down to about two feet six inches in order to construct a road which will last. This is an expensive type of road to build. Why should not the people who are responsible for necessitating the construction of such roads make a contribution to their construction? [ shall give the House certain figures in relation to the ratepayers of this Commonwealth in order to indicate the position of the fellow who has not his own motor car - the fellow in my category who has to travel in a bus or some such vehicle. The contribution that the ratepayers make to road construction is exorbitant. I feel that the Government has withheld far too much of the petrol tax in the past. Prior to the last general elections, the Labour Party made a straight-out offer to the electors. It undertook, if elected, to allocate to the Sta:es the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax. In doing this, it was not just trying to be funny or to embarrass the Government. The Opposition believes that the petrol tax belongs to the people who contributed it and so should be used for the construction of roads.
The Commonwealth, under this bill, wilt contribute £40,000,000 towards road construction in 1959, £42,000,000 in 1960, and £44,000,000, £46,000,000 and £48,000,000 in subsequent years, a total of £220,000,000. However, if we examine the estimated revenue from petrol and diesel fuel taxes we find that the Federal Government will still be about £69,000,000 in front after making those grants to the States. I make that statement having taken into consideration the amount of £30,000,000 which is to be contributed to the States on a £l-for-£l basis. That is a rort, too. It is another anomaly of this legislation.
We should closely examine the effects of this bill. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) put forward a case with which I am sure Government supporters would have agreed had they been present to hear him. The Opposition is asking the Government to refer this legislation back to Cabinet. In Australia there are over 500,000 miles of road which have to be built by someone and we must examine where the contributions are to come from.
Let us consider two countries of comparable size - the United States of America and Australia. I will admit that there is a big difference between the population of the United States and of Australia. But whilst the United States has a much bigger population and whilst it has more roads, it takes a lot more money to built those roads than it does in Australia. So it is possible to compare road conditions and sources of road finance in the two countries. In the United States the road user contributes 78 per cent, of the cost of roads. In New South Wales, which can be taken as a typical example for the Commonwealth, the road user contributes 44 per cent, of the cost of roads. The ratepayer in the United States contributes 18.4 per cent, of the cost and 3.4 per cent, comes from loan funds. In New South Wales, the contribution of the poor old ratepayer, together with loan moneys, amounts to some 53i per cent, of the cost. So honorable members can see the big difference in conditions in the two countries. In Australia, the ratepayer makes the major contribution to road construction. That position should be freshly examined with a view to giving relief to the ratepayer - particularly to those people who are building their homes in newly developed areas.
Those people who are interested in local government know the problem that faces local governments in financing the construction of roads. They are feeling the pinch. Many councils have hit the sky so far as the amount that they can levy is concerned. Yet they still have gravel roads which may be described as dust heaps, and can provide none of the amenities to which ratepayers are entitled.
As I have said, this bill is really designed to pull the wool over the eyes of the people. In the time remaining to me, I want to examine the amendment proposed by the Opposition and also the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mackellar. I feel that all the State governments would be only too happy to abolish the ton-mile tax provided that the Commonwealth Government was prepared to give them the whole of the petrol tax - to which I honestly and sincerely believe that they are entitled. Clause (c) of the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mackellar reads as follows: - the payment of uniform and equitable registration fees by vehicles trading both intrastate and interstate, the proceeds being wholly allocated for road purposes.
I feel that nobody will disagree with that proposed amendment, provided that the whole of the petrol tax goes to the States. There would be no opposition to that proposal from the States. As I have pointed out, the Federal Government is in a happy position which will continue to improve because, year by year, the number of vehicles being registered in the Commonwealth is increasing at an astounding rate. It is quite clear that there will be sufficient motor cars and commercial vehicles using the roads in five or ten years’ time to pay enough in petrol tax and registration fees for the construction of Australian roads, provided that money-hungry governments such as the present Federal Government which is anxious to accumulate large Bud gets, are prepared to let that money flow to the States so that roads can be constructed for the use and convenience of the people.
This legislation is a hoax from “ go to whoa “. The Government will make its fl-for-£l contribution to the States, over and above its basic grants, only if the States increase their own allocation of money for roads over the figures for the current year. The Government is not sincere in its attempt to build roads in this Commonwealth. It is only endeavouring to paint a pretty picture which is not factual. It is not prepared to increase the allocation. It wants to accumulate balances to display to the public.
I ask honorable members to accept the amendment moved by the Opposition. I have no objection to the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Mackellar, but I feel that the Labour Party’s motion covers the position adequately. It will give the States what they need - money to build roads so that road deaths can be minimized and so that road travel can be undertaken in reasonable comfort, and not be the headache and worry that it is to-day.
.- The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) commenced with a plea for a national outlook, but he then proceeded to tell us of the necessity to repair the Newcastle to Sydney highway. I sincerely hope I will not waste the time of this House by giving details of the roads that need attention in Western Australia.
Undoubtedly the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill is of vital concern to Western Australia. Our State being so far removed from the rest of the Commonwealth, its problems of vast area and small population are often overlooked by those in the eastern States. As communications and transport are among the State’s greatest difficulties, any alteration in the existing legislation must be closely and critically examined. The main point at issue, so far as Western Australia is concerned, is the alteration of the distribution formula, which previously was on a basis of three-fifths as to population and two-fifths as to area, but will now be on the basis of one-third as to population, one-third as to area and one-third as to motor vehicle registrations.
We Western Australian members must try to look at this objectively and fairly, so that we can then expect that the more thickly populated States will also look at our problems objectively and fairly. There is no point in making excessive demands and trying to hold to a formula that is operating unfairly in the case of one or two States, such as Victoria, which does appear to have some rightful claim for adjustment. But we can reasonably expect, and even demand, that the States with large manufacturing industries will recognize the tremendous advantages they have gained over the years, through tariff-protected markets, which have enabled them to build up huge and prosperous industries at the expense of the agricultural industries of Western Australia.
– And Queensland!
– Yes, and Queensland - and without any compensating factors in either of those two States. Looking to the immediate future, the loss that may be incurred by the change in the distribution formula will be reasonably compensated for by the additional £100,000,000 to be made available. That is to say, the shape of our share will be different, without any appreciable alteration in its size.
It is very easy to adopt the practice of the Labour Party of seeking popularity by demanding that more money be made available for every project that comes up for consideration by the House. It is particularly easy to make these demands when you are not responsible for finding the money. In this respect, I am very much in favour of the Government’s decision to take the money from general revenue for roads purposes, rather than to use for these purposes only the amounts received by way of petrol and diesel fuel taxes. I strongly support the view that all taxes should be paid into general revenue, and that expenditure should be allocated according to need and economic circumstances. There are some very compelling arguments in favour of this practice. Perhaps the most important of these arguments is that the planning of a programme is much more practical and economical if a fixed amount of money is allocated in advance. The receipts from fuel taxes could fluctuate widely year bv vear, and if these were the only sources of funds for roads it would be difficult for State governments to plan thenworks programmes. But a more important consideration is that a reduction in receipts, from fuel taxes might occur for economic reasons - perhaps some recessive elements in our economy - at a time when it might be most desirable to extend road works in order to take up unemployment caused by these same factors. I believe this to be one of the most important considerations of all.
To those undoubtedly highly-taxed motorists who may be inclined to demand that everything they pay by way of fuel tax should be spent on roads, let me say that I can visualize situations in which a good deal more money may be spent on roadsthan is received from the fuel taxes. On the other hand, any fair-minded motorist who is also a loyal citizen, a family man and a general taxpayer would resent the spending of money on roads at a time when it was more important to spend it on schools, on hospitals or on housing - about which Opposition supporters so frequently tell us - and even, in time of crisis, on defence. To require a government by law to spend money on roads when our children did not have a school to attend or a class-room to fit into would be ridiculous in the extreme.
As suggested by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes), sound government policy involves a consideration of balanced spending, which would not be possible if certain items of revenue were tied to fixed avenues of expenditure. The Government must at all times consider these matters in the interests of the people of Australia as a whole.
Western Australian members would like to see their State get the maximum possible amount for development. Indeed, they will insist on it. Let me remind honorable members that the area of Western Australia is one-third that of the whole of our country, being nearly 1,000,000 square miles. It has been necessary to open up nearly 10,000 miles of roads in Western Australia in the last four years. Only a small part of the State has rail services, and 800 miles of our railways have ceased to function. When these things are considered, and also the fact that roads must be developed in huge areas of the north and north-west, comprising more than six times the area of Victoria, in which one road alone, the Great Northern Highway from the railhead at Meekathara to Wyndham, is 1,400 miles long, honorable members should realize the need for extending special treatment to Western Australia.
Crown lands available for agricultural development in- the coastal section of the southern part of Western Australia, and between the Moore River and Dongara, some 200 miles north of Perth, include large areas with light soils but with temperatures and rainfall that give a reliable growing season of between five and eight months. Owing to. advances in soil science, and particularly the use of trace elements, the rate of development of this type of country has been greatly accelerated. This has made it necessary to construct road systems in previously unsettled areas. In the Albany district access roads are being constructed in co-operation with the War Service Land Settlement Board to serve new areas totalling about 2,000,000 acres to the north, north-east and north-west of Albany. Road-works are in progress in these new areas, particularly in the proposed sheep and wheat-farming districts at Gairdner River and Denbarker. These new areas are served wholly by the road to the port of Albany.
Rapid development is now also taking place of a large area of flat, sandy, scrubcovered plain extending for 80 miles to the west and 50 miles to the east of Esperance in the southern part of the State, and inland for about 30 miles. The provision of access roads is an urgent necessity in this region. It is estimated that 1,200 miles of road must be constructed to serve this area of more than 2,000,000 acres. It must also be remembered that extensive improvement works are called for on the principal roads leading from other parts of the State to these new areas. It is of vital importance that the minimum proportion of 40 per cent, laid down in the act for expenditure on country roads should be considerably increased. The country people of Western Australia, whom I know so well, are very tolerant and long-suffering, but they must have all-weather access roads, as camels and horses are not available, and they would be inadequate, anyway.
When honorable members consider all these factors, they must realize that Western .Australia has a special claim for assistance. It has a special claim for development grants, and it has special rights as a claimant State. I am concerned at the fact that it will be very difficult for the new Liberal Government in that State to find the money to enable it to take advantage of the matching grants, particularly as it has just taken over the administration from a financially irresponsible Labour Government which has left the State in a near bankrupt position.
I commend this bill, Mr. Speaker, as the best solution of the problem that is possible. I shall watch its operation with great interest, and I shall follow it up with many requests to secure the rights of Western Australia in many other directions.
– Mr. Speaker, the purpose of this bill is to provide financial aid for the States for the construction and maintenance of the roads for which they are responsible. The Opposition has proposed an amendment, which has been explained for the benefit of the House by my colleague, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). I feel that every honorable member who has heard his explanation of the Opposition’s proposal must have been impressed by it, and I suggest that the amendment should be carried as a means of improving the provisions in the bill as it has been presented to the House. I therefore sunport the amendment and should very much like to see it agreed to.
I should like to direct attention particularly, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that this measure, which purports to provide for a national road policy, neglects entirely the needs of my electorate with respect to the provision of funds for the construction of roads. The Northern Territory seems to have been omitted entirely from the consideration of the Ministry and of the Treasury when the provisions of this measure were originally drafted. Earlier in the session, in reply to a question that I had addressed to him, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) informed me that the construction and financing of roads in the Northern Territory were the responsibility of the Northern Territory Administration. I should have thought, Mr. Speaker, that it would be folly to ignore any part of the nation when it came to the provision of funds for the implementation of a national road plan. Yet we find that we are debating to-day a bill that provides for the financing of roads in some parts of Australia, but not in all parts. I contend that in that respect the bill’s provisions are inadequate and that, even at this stage, they should be extended to include the Northern Territory.
The bill deals with Australia’s road problems in a piecemeal manner. It would be appropriate - indeed, it is necessary - to establish some co-ordinating authority to administer a plan, not only for the States, but also for the Territories. In the preparation of a plan to meet the respective requirements of the individual Territories and States, such an authority could heed the requirements not only of the States but also of the Territories, and also the interstate implications of such a plan. In the Northern Territory, for example, a difficult situation is developing in relation to the adjacent States. Queensland will develop a road policy in conformity with its own requirements. Western Australia will do likewise, as has been indicated by the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Halbert), who preceded me. South Australia, also, will implement a road policy which takes account only of the needs of that State. I feel that the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), who has ministerial responsibility for the administration of the Northern Territory, should have insisted upon a policy that would cater not only for the needs of the outback areas in those States but also for those of the Northern Territory, to which they are adjacent. A policy in respect to those States which would have interlocked with the proper policy for road development in the Northern Territory should have been adopted. Because of the cost of constructing and maintaining roads, the greatest possible economy should have been sought and the greatest possible efforts should have been made to formulate such a road policy.
We have two very fine roads in the Northern Territory, Mr. Speaker. We have the north-south highway from Alice Springs to Darwin, and we have a very fine road from Tennant Creek eastwards to Mount Isa, in Queensland. But these roads, important and valuable to the Northern Territory and its development as they are, were laid down as defence roads, and that is what they are. They were not constructed with the basic idea of providing for the development of the north. They were put down to meet the particular defence needs of the area in time of war. Apart from the construction of these two highways, very little effort has been put into developing the kind of all-weather road system that is required in the Northern Territory if it is to have the road inlets and outlets necessary for its development.
The Government, of course, seems to have overlooked entirely the advisability of a policy of railway construction in the north. We know that the key to any policy and plan for development is communications, and, at present, no part of Australia is more vitally interested in, and more concerned about, communications than is the Northern Territory. The Commonwealth Government having failed to implement a policy for the construction of railway links with the neighbouring States and with ports in order to meet shipping requirements, both coastal and overseas, we are thrown back on the only alternative - a policy of road construction. But, in this measure, we see a complete neglect by the policymakers of the requirements of the Northern Territory in that respect.
I should like to point out, Mr. Speaker, that we have in the Northern Territory certain basic industries, with considerable potential, that are capable of development. The basic industries that I should like to mention offhand are the mining, pastoral and agricultural industries, all of which have considerable requirements in the way of communications, if they are to prosper and, indeed, if they are to develop at all. In agriculture, there is at present a great deal of thought and planning being directed towards the cultivation of rice, peanuts, cotton and tobacco. These agricultural activities will require proper road communications in the future. Yet, with one or two possible exceptions, no such provision is being made. In the mining industry in the Northern Territory lack of adequate communications is creating a deplorable situation. Areas with known mineral deposits cannot be developed until communication problems are solved. I instance the case of mining at Tennant Creek. One mine contributes about £500,000 a year to the Commonwealth railways, although the nearest railway line is 300 miles to the south. To get to the railway, the mine has to transport its product by road. Certainly it is a very good bitumen road, but the cost of transporting goods over the 300 miles of road is the equivalent of transporting them over the 800 or 900 miles of railway line. The development of mining in the Northern Territory is greatly hampered by the lack of good roads and rail communications.
We must also keep in mind the development of the pastoral industry. Because the authorities have neglected to provide rail communications in that part of the Territory, motor transport has had to be used to carry many hundreds of thousands of. head of cattle to the railheads in South Australia and Queensland. The road transport of cattle is increasing year by year, but it can develop only if sound roads are provided. The normal movement of cattle to and from the market is important, but in recent years we have realized the vital significance of the road transport of stock during droughts. Recently, some thousands of head of cattle have been moved from drought-stricken areas to other areas in the south and east, and had it not been for the roads, crude though they are, hundreds of thousands of pounds would have been lost in the Northern Territory. This, of course, would have had an effect throughout the nation.
I mention these points, Mr. Speaker, in making a plea to the Government to keep in mind the requirements of the Northern Territory when it is considering the need for roads throughout Australia. I feel that the national interest would be best served by considering the development of road systems not only in the States but also in the Northern Territory. In addition to the reasons that I have given, we must always bear in mind our defence needs. In the north, we have a coastline of some 3,000 or 4.000 miles that is totally undefended. In the event of attack, the only means we have of providing some defence along that coastline is the movement of forces from the south. We have not many troops, to be sure, but the only way we could move them would be by using the few aeroplanes in our Air Force, and they could move only a handful. If troops and equipment are to be moved in substantial force, the aeroplanes available would be totally inadequate.
Rail facilities are not available to do the job and the only means we have is road transport. It is true that the road construction programme in the Northern Territory embraces some thousands of miles of roads, but it is also true that the roads that are constructed are of dirt surface, are not substantial, are totally impassable in the wet season and will not stand up to the heavy traffic involved in peace-time movements in the north. They would be hopelessly inadequate for defence purposes in an emergency!
I ask the Government to set up a committee at this stage to consider all the ramifications of a road-development policy. It should consider not only the requirements of States adjoining the Northern Territory, but also the defence potential and development needs of this area. An adequate roadconstruction plan would serve the interests not only of the Northern Territory, but of the whole of Australia. The Government should consider these aspects of road development as a national policy so that the best use will be made of the money that is available from time to time for road construction. In this way, we will serve also the interests of the taxpayers who, in the long run, must find the money.
.- We have been subjected to some very heavy propaganda in this debate, and I should like to mention one or two features of it before I deal with other aspects of the bill. We have been given the impression that Victoria is a wonderful State. I feel it only fair to Queensland and to Western Australia to point out to the Victorians that, with a little squeezing, we could fit Victoria into one of our cattle stations. I concede one thing about Victoria, and that is that it has some very persuasive people. They have been able to persuade the Government to change the formula. In the past, the formula was regarded as a good one. It was considered appropriate that, apart from the 5 per cent, to Tasmania, distribution should be on the basis of three-fifths according to population and two-fifths according to area. Now somebody has decided that the formula should be changed and that it should be one-third according to area, onethird according to population and one-third according to the number of motor vehicles registered.
– lt was Winton Turnbull who did that.
– I am proud of it if I did.
– I have no doubt that the honorable member for Mallee, as a member of the Australian Country Party, had quite a deal to do with it. The only argument advanced by the Victorians in support of the new formula is that it gives them more money and therefore, from their point of view, it is a good formula. But the new formula is not as good for Queensland and Western Australia as the old formula was. All the arguments that have been used by honorable members in this chamber have failed’ to persuade me that the new formula is an improvement on the old one. I believe that we would have been wise to retain the old formula, even if it would have cost Victoria £1,000,000 or £2,000,000. The fact is that Victoria will now gain. £1,000,000 or £2,000,000. I would not mind, so much if it were spent in the Mallee, but I have no doubt that it will be spent throughout Victoria.
Another item of propaganda indulged in by the Opposition was the drawing of comparisons between Australia and the United States. It is admitted, I think, that Australia’s stage of development- is about equal to that of the United States of America 150 years ago. The United States is a tremendously wealthy country. To-day, it is paying about 1,000,000 dollars a day to store its surplus food over and above the requirements of its 170,000,000 people and over and above, what it gives away to countries overseas. It is futile to attempt to compare the United States with this country, as we have a population of a mere 10:000,000. Our wealth lies to a great extent, in the future.
The Opposition said that if its amendment were carried, it would allocate to the States the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax. I seem to remember that some years ago the best that Labour could do was to allocate to the States between onethird and two-fifths of the petrol tax. Now, apparently, Labour has had a change of heart. At least it is good to know that the Opposition has changed its ideas, because the payment of between one-third and twofifths of the receipts from the petrol tax was not good enough. Last year this Go vernment allocated to. the States for road purposes approximately two-thirds of all taxes received. A little exercise in simple arithmetic shows that the amount that is proposed to be. paid to the States in the next five years represents approximately three-quarters of what will be received from the petrol tax. That proportion of threequarters may be changed in the future, because no one can foretell how many vehicles will be registered from year to year.
It would seem that the Opposition is of the opinion that everything in Australia to-day is booming, because it made a point of the number of vehicles that are on the road’s, and how that number is increasing. It is nice to know that the Opposition has changed’ its opinion of the state of affairs in Australia, because prior to the last election it said that Australia was going to the dogs. Apparently, we are now coming home from the dogs after having had a successful night. If we get to basic principles, it would appear that Labour believes in heavy deficit budgeting. I am wondering whether members of the Opposition have looked across the Pacific to the United States to see how well that country has budgeted for deficits. Possibly the Opposition is taking a leaf out of the book of the United States, whose Government believes in heavy deficit budgeting. If honorable members opposite believe in that kind of thing, I should like to direct their attention to a recent report that the United States now has to send gold overseas for the first time in years. I believe that this marks a turning point, and that we will find from now on, as Great Britain regains her place in the sun, that the United States will have to continue to send more and more- gold overseas because of her expansionist policies. So, if the Opposition believes in heavy deficit budgeting, why not add a bonus to what is received from the petrol tax and make the allocations to the States really worthwhile? Why not add another 20 per cent, to what is received from the petrol tax? Why not increase all the payments to the States? Itis a. very s,mole matter and would make the Commonwealth very popular. We would be like the spendthrift who is very popular until somebody catches up with him. I merely make those comments in order to establish the point that we must be very careful about heavy deficit budgeting. We are fortunate that conditions have enabled us this year to catch up somewhat on the position that we thought we would be in. We are very fortunate people.
To listen to honorable members opposite in this debate one might be excused for thinking that nothing has been done about roads in Australia in the past 20 or 30 years. I have done a lot of driving in this country in the last 20 or 30 years, and in my opinion roads have improved considerably. You can now drive in two hours a distance that some years ago would have taken you five or six hours. Although our roads have improved, I do .not say that we have reached perfection by any means. I remember that some years ago a friend of mine was ‘travelling from Rockhampton to Longreach and he struck a very wet patch of road at a very wet time. He bogged, and he discovered that he could not get out of his car through a door because the car had sunk so deep that he could not open any of the doors. He had to climb out through a window. Our roads have improved, because some time later when my friend got bogged again on the same road he was able to open the door of his car and get out. I know that if we attempted to build all the roads that we require and to put them in a perfect state, in Queensland alone that work would cost all the money that is being collected in the whole of Australia. We must look at this problem reasonably. Rome was not built in a day. We should pay tribute to the authorities which have constructed our roads, but that does not mean to say that we should stop construction of better roads.
Members of the Australian Country Party have been accused by honorable members opposite of not being interested in decentralization. I think that everything we do tends towards decentralization. We have been told, for example, that we have not done anything about country roads. On the contrary, the Australian Country Party has always insisted that rural roads in particular need attention, because without rural roads this country would be in a fix. The fact is that prior to 1949, the Labour Government allocated fixed sums to be spent on rural roads, and those sums represented only a small percentage of the total allocation for roads. But in 1950, the present Government stipulated that 35 per cent, of the amount allocated for road purposes was to be spent on rural roads. In 1951, the figure was increased to 40 per trent., and this bill retains the 40 per cent, provisions. We have been told that too much money is spent on defence and not enough on roads in proportion. I would like to see any .honorable member opposite take up a road and fire it at the enemy. Obviously, we must have good roads if we are to move our troops in the event of enemy action; but equally obviously we must have well-equipped and properly trained defence forces. That is why a lot of money is needed for defence. I do not think any honorable member should begrudge expenditure on defence. Certainly, we must spend money on roads and that is why the Government proposes to allot £250,000,000 for that purpose. As I have said, I believe the formula which is to cv» -superseded is superior to the proposed formula. but w<» must bear this in mind: It is impossible to meet all road construction in Australia from revenue. The time must come when we shall have to find a large proportion of the money for roads out of capital loans. The amount involved is too large to be found from income,
I believe this is a good bill. Whilst it has some bad spots, it is a little better than the curate’s egg. I believe the bill is not so good where it changes the existing formula, but it is good where it provides an estimated amount of £250,000,000 for expenditure on Commonwealth aid roads in the next five years. If we want to develop Australia properly, I believe we must contemplate spending much more money on roads. In fact, it is possible that if expansion continues at the present rate, we will have to amend this legislation within five years because the amount provided will be found to be insufficient. Fortunately, there will be nothing to prevent us from amending the legislation, and I am sure honorable members from Victoria at least will be with me if I suggest at any time that we should ask for more money in the next five years for this purpose. I am sorry Queensland is to be put into second place to Victoria, but I commend the bill. I hope it will enable the Government to look a little further in future so that our roads can quickly be brought up to date.
– There are several fundamental points associated with this measure which we should have in mind when examining the clauses of the bill. First, Australia is passing through a great period of development. We must associate with the thought of development in Australia the fact that we have a small population and great distances between the major centres of population. This, of course, increases our transport problem. Secondly, we must bear in mind the fact that in Australia we live under a federal system. As a result, there are divided responsibilities between the Commonwealth and State governments. So far as transport and roads are concerned, except in the case of Commonwealth Territories and certain provisions associated with defence, the responsibility for roads is purely within the province of the State governments. Of course, the financial resources of the States associated with the development of roads in Australia are such that it has become traditional for many years for them to be subsidized and supported by Commonwealth grants. When thinking of these fundamental points, we must appreciate that any future pattern of development must be one of cooperation and, indeed, co-ordination between the Commonwealth and State governments.
This legislation, therefore, represents a new approach to this situation. Not only does it provide increased funds during this year, but it also increases funds to be made available to the States over the next five years. That immediately indicates to the States that they can work on a progressive programme allowing for forward planning over the term of this agreement. I think it is quite obvious also, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we can assume that at the end of this five years term there will be a similar measure for the future, providing for progressive forward payments of Commonwealth subsidy to the States for road development.
Tremendous progress has been made in road development in Australia over recent years although, as previous speakers have said, it is not enough. But it is not enough simply because we have these large scattered areas of centralized population with small centres of population in isolated areas so that the roads system of Australia has to be based on purely uneconomic premises. When we think of the development that has taken place within the motor industry in Australia and in other countries, we can get some idea of the effect it has had on our general proportionate living standards in Australia which are directly connected with the programme of road development. In Australia to-day, there is one motor car for every four people. Australia is now the fourth most motorized country in the world, and the number of motor cars alone, excluding heavy vehicles, has increased from 1,000,000 in 1948 to 2,500,000 this year.
We must examine this position in relation to the overall economic situation because when we look at this development in the motor industry and the allied petroleum industry, we must appreciate the tremendous burden it places on our import expenditure. Over the past five years, import expenditure on motor vehicles and petroleum on the average has been Far greater than expenditure on any other individual industry or items in our import expenditure. However, when we consider this great expenditure associated with the motor industry and the import of petroleum products into Australia, it is just as well to remember that we are emerging into a situation where Australia is becoming also an important exporter of refined and residua] petroleum products. Last financial year, we exported to a number of countries in the Far East and the Middle East and also to the United Kingdom, refined and residual petroleum products valued at more than £16,000,000 in Australian currency. That is a good indication of the development that has taken place in that important industry.
When we examine the road problem we should appreciate that it is not unique to Australia. This problem is found in most countries, but it is more particularly emphasized in Australia because of the factors I have mentioned, including distances between areas of population, the tremendous development that is taking place in the motor industry in Australia and our relatively high and improving living standards. Associated with those factors there has been naturally a tremendous upward movement in expenditure in relation to the road system. Indeed, the average annual expenditure has increased from approximately £28,000,000 in 1948-49 to £110,000,000 in the last financial year. That is a tremendous increase in a relatively short time. In addition to expenditure on roads, there are other increasing and huge payments associated with rail transport, harbours and civil aviation. All this expenditure must be considered by the Commonwealth and State governments in relation to the overall development of industries and services and in conjunction with our available financial resources.
There are very definite grounds for coordination in a national road plan. Indeed, this bill should give some lead in this direction to the States. When I refer to a national transport plan, I mean one which is not associated solely with the development of our roads system, although that, of course, is of vital importance in the consideration of transport problems by the Commonwealth and the States. There should be some definite forward planning, perhaps through the Australian Transport Advisory Council which is now established, for a co-ordinated transport system. We should possibly aim at having available in future some fast ferry-type vessels which could traverse the coast between various States, carrying trailer vehicles which have been detached from their prime movers. When these ferries arrived at the main ports, other prime movers could move onto the vessels, remove the trailers and take them either to a railhead for despatch by means of pick-a-back rail transport or directly over the roads to their destinations. We must consider the tremendous development expected in air transport, with an everincreasing load capacity and a more satisfactory economic basis. Larger, faster, and more efficient types of transport aircraft will provide the pattern for the future.
These ideas are, perhaps, a little futuristic, but I think that some national planning of that nature is necessary at this point in our history. Our immediate problem relates to the roads system. This measure is designed to deal with the immediate problem and the problems that we will face in the near future. It is a fact that for 36 years the Commonwealth has been assisting the States by providing additional finance for road construction. This supplement has been greatly increased over recent years. In 1946-47, the Commonwealth provided to the States an amount of £4,800,000, whereas in 1958-59 an amount of £37,300,000 will be provided, with an additional amount of approximately £1,000,000 being spent by the Commonwealth on strategic roads and roads within the Territories.
During the last five years, Commonwealth expenditure on roads has amounted to £157,800,000, of which £153,000,000 has been contributed directly to the States. This legislation, as has already been stated, provides for the proposed grants to be made on a progressive basis for a period of five years, and under it the Commonwealth will make available to the States a total amount of £250,000,000, the basic grant being £220,000,000, with £30,000,000 in the form of a special grant, on a £l-for-£l basis, to match the amounts allocated by the States for road expenditure in excess of the amounts allocated by them during 1958-59. The basis grant and the matching grants will be allocated, as specified in the legislation, in varying and increasing amounts over the five-year period.
The limitations set by the new formula have caused a certain amount of controversial debate, but nevertheless, although I come from one of the distant States, I feel that they are perhaps the most satisfactory that could be arranged. The existing formula provides for Tasmania to obtain 5 per cent, of the total allocation. That proportion is retained in this bill. The distribution of the remainder among the other States will be: As to one-third, according to area, as to one-third according to population, and as to one-third according to the number of registered vehicles within the State. This formula will result in some slight increase over the allocations to Victoria and New South Wales under the old formula. The position of South Australia will remain the same, as will that of Tasmania. Queensland and Western Australia will suffer a slight decrease in the percentages allocated to them. Being a Queenslander, I naturally regret any action which does detract from an advantage which that State has enjoyed in the past. I feel that more consideration could have been given to the percentage allocation for Queensland and Western Australia, which have such vast areas to develop and where, particularly in the case of Queensland, there is such a great potential for development. However, having said that, I agree that we must also appreciate the huge problems associated with the highly industrialized States of New
South Wales and Victoria, and the tremendous pressure of increased motor vehicle traffic on the roads around the large centres of. population which house Australia’s main secondary industries.
Queensland and Western Australia, despite the slight variation in the formula, will, nevertheless receive a much higher allocation per head of population than will New South Wales and Victoria. For example, Queensland will receive £5 8s. per head; Western Australia) £10 6s. per head; and New. South Wales and Victoria, £3 per head. With the increase in the total grant, Queensland and Western Australia will receive more than they would have received had the old formula been retained and the grant kept to this year’s figure. In the last year of the ensuing five-year period, namely 1963-64, Western Australia could receive £10,200,000, whereas under the old formula it would have received only £7,200.000. Queensland could, under this legislation, receive £10.600,000 in 1963-64, whereas under the existing arrangement its allocation would have been £7,100.000. It is interesting to note that expenditure on Commonwealth roads and on road safety has been removed from, the scope of the legislation and will be dealt with as separate items of Commonwealth expenditure in the Budget. This will benefit the States to the extent of £1,000,000 or £1,500,000 a year during this period.
Maintenance of the provision for the allocation of 40 per cent, for roads in rural areas should receive the full support of all honorable members. I disagree in this regard with some of my colleagues who, perhaps with the development of city areas in view, have said that this provision could quite safely be removed. I remind them of the problems faced by local authorities and ?hire councils prior to the introduction of a provision for a fixed percentage allocation -‘or rural roads. It was this provision in he last two measures that saved a number >f shire councils and road boards from almost becoming bankrupt. I know the situation quite well in some small shires, which at that time found it almost impossible to carry on. All that saved them vas the Commonwealth’s introduction into he agreement with the States of the pro.vision making it obligatory on the State governments to pay from grants a fixed proportion to rural shires and local authori ties. I fully approve of that, and so I am sure, do- all thinking people in this House.
It is also interesting that under this legislation the States are free to allocate any part of the money which will be paid to them during the five-year period to local authorities for any specific purposes laid down by the States. That gives the States a freedom of action which was not apparent in some cases in the past, and’ it certainly represents a slight amendment of the preceding agreement, which tied down every specific amount for special purposes. The new provision has a. greater degree of flexibility so far as the States are concerned, and I am sure- that it has the approval of the States as well as of honorable members.
Under the agreement, the States are also, to be permitted to spend up to £1,000,000 a year on special works associated with road development and transport development or, in special cases, on research work. I am sure that that provision will be appreciated by the States, particularly by Queensland, because in that State we have problems associated with the development of some of the habours and smaller ports. Facilities lacking, in those ports can perhaps be provided under allocations which, may be made now for the provision of jetties and so on - a feature which does not exist in the present agreement.
Total Commonwealth expenditure on roads over recent years, Mr. Deputy Speaker, has increased tremendously, and it is interesting that this legislation will provide for an expenditure over the fiveyear period of £100,000,000 above the amount that would have been expended in a similar period under the old legislation.
– That is not correct.
-It is correct. The increase will be £100,000,000 over the fiveyear period.
– The old legislation would have provided that, had it been carried on.
– If the old legislation had been continued, with the existing formula, it would have provided approximately £150,000,000 over five years. The provision now is to be £250,000,000 over five years, which is an increase of £100,000,000. In addition, it is estimated that over the five-year period approximately £720,000,000 will be expended by the Commonwealth, States and local government authorities on road development - a total increase of about £250,000,000 compared with the amount that would be spent over that period under the existing formula. And, as I have said, the Commonwealth’s expenditure on strategic roads and road safety is to be excluded from this scheme, and will be covered by the Commonwealth’s own Budget.
I want to refer briefly to the Opposition’s amendment, which is based on the claim that the funds provided to the States by the Commonwealth for road works should be related in some way to the yield from taxes on fuel. Let me point out that no Commonwealth Government during the 36 years in which these supplementary grants have been made to the States has thought it possible to subscribe to such a proposal as that now submitted by the Opposition. Indeed, the Labour regime which preceded this Government took no action in that regard. There are a number of reasons why the amendment should be rejected by the House. The first is that this measure as it stands provides, over a period of five years, a stable and reliable basis - and an improving basis - for forward planning. I am certain that the States appreciate that, and the significance of State approval can be fully appreciated by the members of the Opposition.
The second point is that there is a great variation in petrol consumption each year in Australia. There have been variations, I think, of well over 10 per cent between one year and another in the last five years. That could cause a very substantial fluctuation if the road grants had a direct relationship to petrol tax collections, because there could be a reduction in petrol consumption, although present indications are that consumption will continue to increase. Nevertheless, the introduction of a link between the grants and the petrol tax yield would remove the degree of stability for forward planning that the Government’s proposal contains.
Another point to be considered is that more than one-half of the petrol consumed in Australia is consumed by commercial and industrial vehicles. It is obvious that com merce and industry do not themselves absorb the tax cost; they passit on in higher charges to the consuming public. So the public is already paying indirectly the petrol tax charged on one-half of the petrol consumed in Australia. Finally, it is quite an unsound principle to allocate the proceeds from any one tax to a particular class of expenditure.
I think that the points that I have made bear out quite conclusively my contention that the amendment should be rejected. The Government’s present scheme, Mr. Deputy Speaker, was approved by the Premiers of all the States, at the last Premiers’ Conference, and I am sure that it still has the support of all the Premiers. So I say that we can look forward to increased co-operation and co-ordination in dealing with our road problems, assisted by the work of the Australian Transport Advisory Council. All this can help to maintain the tempo of Australia’s development.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Bird’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. T. F. Timson.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Amendment negatived. Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time. In committee:
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to. Clause 3 (Definitions).
.- I am very happy to draw attention to this clause because 40 per cent, of the revenue is to be applied to rural roads, and according to the definition - “ rural roads “ means roads in rural areas (including developmental roads, feeder roads, roads in sparsely populated areas and in soldier settlement areas and roads in country municipalities and shires), other than highways, trunk roads and main roads.
Throughout Victoria and other parts of Australia, rural roads need most attention. It is on these rural roads that the 40 per cent, will be spent and this is important because over them the primary produce which is the life blood of the whole country is carried. If one travels around Australia it is apparent that the highways, generally speaking, are in good order, but the rural roads stretching out to the primary producing areas are often found in a state of disrepair or in a natural state. Recently the proportion of the total allocation being spent on these roads was increased from 35 per cent, to 40 per cent. That provision is being retained in this legislation, and country people all over Australia should be pleased and give it full support. As a representative of a vast primary producing area which brings to Australia much of the income from overseas in return for the export of dried fruits, wheat, wool, dairy produce and many other primary products I support this clause very heartily. I believe that the 40 per cent, of the total amount allocated will be spent to the very best advantage in the country areas of this great land.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 (Basic grant).
.- I must express my very deep regret that the amount of £220,000,000 appears on the schedule because, in the circumstances, I consider that it should have been more. It is claimed, from time to time, that this legislation, providing a total of £220,000,000, will provide £100,000,000 more for the next five years than has been granted over the last five years. In this way an attempt has been made to convey the impression throughout the Commonwealth that this Government is being particularly munificent in this legislation. Anybody who has made the slightest examination of the bill knows perfectly well that such a statement is a complete fabrication. If the existing legislation had remained in force for the next five years and this bill had not been considered by the Parliament, so that the present rate of contribution of 8d. a gallon had continued, the sum of £220,000,000 would have been granted to the States. That has been reliably computed by an authoritative committee.
We have been told by one honorable member that the oil companies have estimated an annual increase in petrol consumption of H per cent. On that basis, if the contribution of 8d. a gallon had continued, the sum of £235,000,000 would have been collected in the next five years. The oil companies, in the past, have been particularly discerning so far as their interests and future are concerned and I am inclined to think that their estimate of petrol sales will prove correct. If it is correct it will mean that this bill will not provide to the States as much as they would have received under the old legislation. They will lose £15,000,000. So, it is quite idle to say that this legislation will give £100,000,000 more than the old act would have given.
Everybody - even a child in kindergarten - knows that the number of motor cars is increasing daily. I read this afternoon that it is increasing at the rate of 374 vehicles a day. If this is so, it can be seen that, under any circumstances, a much larger amount would have been given to the States in the next five years under the old act than will be given under this bill. Therefore, the claim enunciated by Government spokesmen that the Government has been extraordinarily generous in this legislation falls by the wayside under a thorough examination.
When the Government’s proposals were first announced at the Premiers’ Conference in March last and publicized throughout the length and breadth of Australia, a number of people were taken in by the statement that £100,000,000 more would be spent on roads. The Australian Automobile Association, which represents about 1,000,000 motorists through the community, and other bodies-
– Were the State Premiers taken in?
– No. The State Premiers were given Hobson’s choice. They were told they would have to take this or nothing. Being mendicants and having to accept whatever pittance is handed out to them by the wealthy Federal Government, they had to agree to the new plan.
People outside the Parliament who have given this matter a lot of thought for a number of years, and who had been advocating a new approach to the road problem, received the Government’s proposal with a good deal of enthusiasm. They saw the newspaper headlines to the effect that £100,000,000 more would be allocated for roads over the next five years. But when they put the searchlight of truth on to the proposal, their overnight enthusiasm disappeared like the mists in summer. They realized, as the Opposition did, that the Government had taken them for a ride. No extra money is being allocated in clause 4 of the bill than would have been provided under the old act.
To-day, I received a telegram from one of the most authoritative and important motoring organizations in the Commonwealth, commending the Labour Party on its attitude to the bill, and saying that we were speaking on behalf of the majority of the people in this regard. The statement that we are only putting this amendment forward for political purposes is sheer stupidity. This has been our policy since the 1954 election. The Labour Party is not bound by what happened in 1947. This is the year of grace, 1959. Just because something emanated from a Labour Government, in 1947, we do not have to accept that as being immutable as the laws of the Medes and the Persians. Circumstances have changed. There has been a terrific increase in the number of cars on the roads since 1947. The construction of far more roads has been demanded by the population.
The Labour Party, always a progressive party, realized that its policy had to be changed in accordance with changing conditions. The Labour Party changes whatever feature of its policy, such as social services, needs to be changed from time to time. We do not say that the Labour Party’s policy of 1901 should be its policy in 2001. If it can be shown that a part of our policy is outmoded, we examine it and if necessary alter it in accordance with changing conditions. It has been truthfully said that events move much faster than men’s minds. That is certainly true of Government supporters. Events have been moving too quickly for them to comprehend the fact that the outlook of a few years ago on the roads problem is outdated and that a new approach is wanted.
The Labour Party, ever progressive, ever alert to changing circumstances, has always been in the vanguard of all sorts of legislation. We realize that we have to give a lead in this matter. I prophesy that before many years have elapsed, members on the Government side will endorse what they have refused to support to-night. They will endorse it because the wrath of the Australian people will demand that they endorse it. Wherever one goes and in whatever political circles one moves, one finds a continual overall demand that the proceeds of the Federal tax be entirely devoted to the construction and repair of roads. Therefore I say that the sum of £220,000,000 as mentioned in clause 4 is totally and woefully inadequate. Tt will not meet the requirements of the times.
Tn the circumstances, I wonder why the Government has brought in this legislation at all. The States would have received this amount under the old legislation. In other words, this Parliament has wasted three days in discussing a bill to provide something that was already provided under the old legislation. This bill is a sham, a delusion, and a disgrace to the Federal Parliament. Long before five years have elapsed, this Government will be forced by public clamour to amend this bill in accordance with conceptions all over the world. It has been argued that the proceeds of a tax should not be tied to its source. It has been said that this is a remarkable thing to advocate. When the Labour Party advocates it, it is in very good company. The principle is recognized all over the world. Because of the huge amount of money required for roads, it is natural to expect the people who wear out the roads to pay the lion’s share of their cost.
In the United States of America, 74 per cent, of the cost of the wonderful road system is paid for by road users. In this country about 44 per cent, is paid by road users because of the method of financing contained in this legislation. The Labour Party, in advocating that all the proceeds of the petrol tax be devoted to the roads is merely advocating a policy carried out in every other country of the world. In the United States of America, Great Britain, South America, Canada, New Zealand, and a host of European countries, the basis of road finance, irrespective of whatever other taxes are collected, is the revenue contributed by road users, notably through the fuel tax.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The speech we have just heard from the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) illustrates the different viewpoints adopted by Labour when in government and when in Opposition. On very many occasions when Labour was in power we endeavoured to persuade the government to provide just a little more money from the petrol tax for roads purposes than it was then providing. In 1946-47 the Government provided only £4,800,000 in this way, and at the time the Labour Government went out of office it was providing for roads less than one-third of the amount collected by way of petro] tax. The balance was being paid into the Consolidated Revenue Funds. The provision we are now dealing with will make available yearly amounts ranging from £40,000,000 in the first year to £48,000,000 in the last year of the five-year period. In all, £220,000,000 will be provided. When this is compared with Labour’s efforts in the past, it is amazing that honorable members like the honorable member for Batman can make a speech such as the one we have heard to-night. When you are in opposition you can advocate schemes such as the one now being put forward by honorable members opposite, knowing full well that you will not be responsible for finding the necessary money, but it is quite a different proposition when you have to provide the money.
I suggest that the amount to be provided is a most substantial amount. It has been suggested by the honorable member for Batman that the receipts from the petrol tax and excise in the next five years will be far greater than the amount of money the Government proposes to make available under this legislation. In this regard the Labour Party expresses a degree of optimism, notwithstanding the fact that its supporters continually warn of approaching depression and tell us that this Government is making economic conditions so bad that the people will not use motor vehicles to anything like the extent necessary to contribute £220,000,000 in petrol tax. It is quite wrong for Opposition members to make statements such as that. There is no foundation for it. I believe this country will go on progressing under the present Government. However, it is very helpful for the authorities concerned to know just what amounts of money will be available for spending on roads. This clause provides that in the year commencing 1st July, 1959, an amount of £40,000,000 will be available. The amount will be increased by £2,000,000 in each of the succeeding years, until in the fifth year it will have reached £48,000,000. The total amount provided will be £220,000,000, and if the States are willing to spend more than the amounts they now allocate for roads purposes, the Commonwealth will match this extra expenditure, £1 for £1, up to a maximum of £30,000,000.
It seems to me that we can heartily approve of this measure. We can be confident that it will help in building our roads up to the standard that we require. I was a member of this Parliament from 1946 to 1949 when Labour was in office, and the government cut down the amount of money available for roads to such an extent that the roads system fell into disrepair and cost more to rebuild. If the Labour government at that time had advocated the policy of spending all the petrol tax receipts- on roads, we would have had a foundation laid, and we would not now be listening to honorable members deploring the state of our roads.
The Labour Party must look at the history of this matter. Their great leader, the late Mr. Chifley, always said that there was no stronger argument for petrol tax receipts being used for roads than there was for the receipts from excise on beer being used to build hotels. However, Labour has now been in opposition for some years, and it is striving to gain a little kudos and get a few more votes by bringing forward a scheme of this kind. But the hearts of Opposition supporters are not in it. This is obvious if one looks at the Opposition members now in the chamber. They know that the proposals contained in this bill represent a better deal than the country has ever had before, and when it is put to the vote they will support it. They realize that it is the best roads scheme this country has ever had, and that at the end of five years our roads will have improved tremendously, and great credit will be due to the present Government.
.- The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) supports the Government’s intention to devote limited amounts, taken from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, to grants to the States for the construction of roads. He opposes the Labour Party’s amendment that the whole of the petrol tax receipts should be devoted to grants for roads. In support of his attitude, he relies on the fact that the Labour Party, when in power in 1947, provided that only portion of the petrol tax receipts should be devoted to roads. He charged us with inconsistency. He says that our views and our practice have changed. In fact, his own views and practice have changed, because, in 1947, he was among those then in Opposition who proposed that the whole of the petrol tax receipts should be devoted to roads. He was correct on that occasion; we are correct on this occasion.
But there has been a very great change in circumstances in the last five years. In 1947, when the Labour Government last amended the Commonwealth Aids Roads Act, and in 1954, when the Menzies Government last substantially amended it, it was thought that the State acts levying taxes on motor vehicles would survive the challenges which they had survived for a quarter of a century. Until five years ago every Australian State which had imposed a ton-mile tax on transport vehicles, whether they were travelling entirely within the borders of the State or crossing over the borders of States, had those acts held valid by the High Court. It was only after the last amendment of the act that a majority of the High Court came to doubt the validity of those State acts. The High Court then gave permission for such validity to be tested before the Privy Council. The Privy Council adopted the views which the present Chief Justice of the High Court had expressed right from the beginning. We are now faced with an entirely different position from that which existed five years ago.
We realize that under the Constitution only the States can build roads within the borders of the States. Only the States have power to resume land against the will of an individual for the purpose of building a road. We know also that if the Commonwealth presumed to resume land for a road for any purpose other than access to a Commonwealth instrumentality or for defence, the resumption would be declared invalid. I do not think anybody would dispute that proposition. Therefore, in nearly every case only the States can build roads within the States.
But it is now more than ever the case that only the Commonwealth can finance the construction of roads. This proceeds from the very simple fact that the most remunerative taxes that the States used to impose can no longer be imposed by them on any interstate vehicles. Although it is true that the States can continue to impose these ton-mile taxes on vehicles which choose to commence, continue and complete their journeys entirely within the borders of one State, we know quite well that the States cannot impose such taxes in respect of any journey that involves the crossing of a State border, except insofar as the court finds they are necessary to maintain a particular road in its existing condition. That position is so well known to everybody who owns a truck that you find a great number of people in the country districts of Victoria making trips to Melbourne via Albury in order to escape the ton-mile road taxes, and you find most of the people on the Darling Downs who have occasion to make trips to Brisbane travelling via New South Wales in order to avoid those taxes.
I have never been enthusiastic in support of ton-mile taxes, because, as the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has said - and most of us on this side of the chamber also have said it - they are cumbersome, they involve a great amount of paper work, they are very easily evaded, they are expensive to police, and, of course, since the High Court doubts and the Privy Council decisions, it has been impossible to impose those taxes equitably on everybody who uses the roads.
If one looks at the annual reports of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, one will see that, despite the very great increase in the number of road users, there has been nowhere near a proportionate increase in State motor revenues.
– Order! The honorable member’s remarks so far have been somewhat irrelevant. I ask him to get back to the clause.
– The comparison with the Commonwealth’s provisions under this clause is that the Commonwealth proposes to raise money in the future, as it has raised it for 30 years or so in the past, by the petrol tax or the diesel fuel tax. These ate excise taxes and accordingly, under section 90 of the Australian Constitution, are taxes which only the Commonwealth can impose. We found, back in the 1920’s, that the States could not impose petrol taxes. We have found within the last five years that the States cannot impose ton-mile taxes on vehicles crossing a State border. We realize, also, that there is considerable doubt as to whether the States can impose registration fees and - in this respect, I beg to differ from the honorable member for Wentworth - it is certain that they cannot increase the registration fees of interstate vehicles.
– Order! The honorable member is still off the beam. I ask him to confine his remarks to the clause now before the committee.
– I regret that I cannot diverge from the beam as widely as the previous speaker diverged from it. It is very difficult to deal with his arguments unless one is permitted a similar irrelevancy.
– As always, Sir, I bow to your rulings with a good grace. The whole principle is this: Only the Commonwealth has the constitutional power to impose the remunerative road taxes. Only the Commonwealth can increase fairly the taxes on road users. Only the Commonwealth, therefore, can be expected in future to provide the additional finance which Australia’s roads require. The Commonwealth can, under section 96 of the Constitution, make grants to the States on any terms and conditions that it sees fit. We now realize, Sir - and the honorable member for Mallee also should realize it - that, in the last five years, a new situation has arisen, and if we are to get the decent roads which all parts of Australia - particularly the country areas and the tropical parts - require, we shall get them only by co-operation with the States in the construction of roads with money provided more and more by the Commonwealth - and, I should hope, on terms and conditions specified by the Commonwealth.
.- Mr. Chairman, I should just like to answer the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) briefly, and to say that, in 1947-48, I did advocate that all the money collected by means of the petrol tax should be made available for road maintenance and road construction. But the point is that at that time the Labour Government was allocating less than one-third of the proceeds of the tax for this purpose. The present proposal is that, over the next five years, £220,000,000 be allocated for roadworks, with the chance of an additional £30,000,000 £1 for £1 with expenditure made by the States. What the honorable member for Werriwa did not realize is that the proposed allocation is not linked in any way with the petrol tax or excise. The honorable member, of course, does not understand these things, not having been in the Parliament very long.
I shall make continual efforts now to get the excise and the tax - mostly excise - on petrol reduced. It will not be linked with roads. I tell the Parliament now that I shall be a very lively advocate for a reduction of the additional tax that was imposed on the so-called little Budget of 1956, and for further reductions. Members of the Parliament who look at this kind of legislation superficially, as did the honorable member for Werriwa, do not realize that the funds to be made available are not linked with excise. What is to stop any honorable member - I certainly will do it - from advocating continually that the petrol tax and the excise on petrol be substantially reduced? There is every chance of success in such advocacy, and if one achieved success, one would be doing something to help the people generally.
– Where are you to get the money for roads?
– We have vast resources. But the real point is that the Opposition proposed that all the money collected by means of the petrol tax be used for road works. If the tax were reduced, the expenditure on roads would be reduced. But, under the Government’s proposals, even if the petrol tax and the excise on petrol are reduced to a level at which the revenue from them is no greater than the funds being provided for roads, we are sure of getting these funds. Labour is always saying that there will be a great depression. I do not believe that there will be, and Opposition members have proved this evening by what they have said that they do not believe it either, because they have claimed that the petrol tax will bring in millions and millions of pounds more. That indicates that they believe prosperity lies ahead for Australia. By this sort of reasoning, the Opposition has confounded its arguments in advance. However, if it did so happen that, through some cause that no one could prevent, conditions in this country were not quite as good as they are now, under this bill, we should still be able to continue constructing roads. With the money that has been promised for the next five years, we could look ahead and provide roads. But, under the Opposition’s proposals, we could not look ahead at all, and in a time of depression, money would not be available. Therefore, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) foreshadowed an amendment to the Opposition’s amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill, to provide that we should accept this bill and the allocations envisaged in it.
– Order! The Opposition’s amendment has been dealt with.
– Surely I may refer to it, Sir. Its purpose was to provide that the allocations envisaged in the bill should stand and that those amounts or the total collections of petrol tax and excise on petrol - whichever was the greater - should be devoted to roadworks. The Opposition wants it both ways. That is not a very statesman-like attitude.
As I have said, we country members will continue to advocate in this place a reduction in the excise on petrol and the petrol tax which, after 30th June next, will not be linked with the allocation of funds for roadworks. I believe that we have a great chance, perhaps not of eliminating the petrol tax and the excise but of reducing them substantially. We shall be able to look ahead with confidence knowing that the allocations by the Commonwealth provided for in this measure will be available. Surely honorable members know, Mr. Chairman, that 40 per cent, of these funds is to be devoted to rural roads. If satisfactory highways and roads are to be constructed, we have to look ahead not one year but five years. This clause provides that the Commonwealth’s allocation in the financial year commencing on 1st July, 1 959, shall be £40,000,000. As road-making plans and techniques develop, and as needs become more urgent, with more vehicles using the roads, the annual allocations are to be progressively increased. In the financial year 1960-61, the amount will be £42,000,000; in 1961-62, it will bc £44,000, 000; in 1962-63, it will be £46,000,000; and in 1963-64- the last year of the five-year period - it will be £48,000,000. That, I believe is the approach of real statesmanship. I give it my full support, and the Australian Country Party is right behind me in acclaiming it.
.- Mr. Chairman, the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) is very naive.
– That is the last thing I am.
– Order! That will be the honorable member’s last word if he does not remain silent.
– I cannot believe that the honorable member for Mallee really thinks that he has any hope in the near or even distant future, of persuading this or any succeeding government to reduce the taxes on petrol and diesel fuel. He must know, as an intelligent gentleman like himself should know, that the immediate answer by any Treasurer to a request for such reduction would be that if these taxes were reduced the revenue for road construction and maintenance would be diminished, and, as inevitably as night follows day, it would be necessary to increase taxes - either on companies or on personal incomes. The moment a Treasurer increases taxes on companies or on personal incomes, there is a terrible hullabaloo, and the honorable gentleman knows that that is so.
– Order! I inform the honorable member, if he does not know it already, that his remarks have nothing to do with the bill we are discussing.
– I am endeavouring to connect my remarks with the bill. I point out to the honorable member for Mallee that his references to 1946-47 and to the methods used by this Government to raise money for road construction are utterly irrelevant. In 1946-47, the government of the day had the rehabilitation of 1,000,000 men and women on its hands. Since then, 2,000,000 more people have come to this country from overseas. Since then, due to an inflationary trend, it requires four times as much money as it did in 1946-47 to construct or to maintain 1 mile of road. A comparison of the two periods is quite irrelevant.
If it comes to a question of who is really responsible for the drift to the present deplorable situation, the honorable gentleman, other members of his party and members of the Liberal Party should search their consciences. They should remember that, despite the unanimous decision of a
Premiers’ Conference that increased powers’ should be vested in the Commonwealth for a period of five years to enable a Commonwealth government, of whatever political complexion, to deal constitutionally with roads and road transport, their parties were responsible for the people refusing to give increased constitutional powers to the Commonwealth to deal with that very urgent post-war problem. They are the facts.
– Order! I remind the honorable member that the clause with which we are dealing provides for the distribution of money that has already been made available.
– I agree, Mr. Chairman, that your ruling is correct, and I shall endeavour to link my remarks with the bill. I know you are a very impartial chairman. Several speakers have drifted slightly from the question.
I remind the honorable member for Mallee that a substantial section of the Parliament, representing 50 per cent, of the electors, favours the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax being used to construct and maintain roads. The Government does not want to use the whole of these funds for road purposes, because if it did so it would have the unpleasant task of telling its wealthy supporters that income tax would have to be increased to fill the void thus created. They are the facts, and all the apologies of the honorable member for Mallee are beside the point. This is not a party question. What the Labour Party did in 1946-47 is entirely irrelevant. I speak as a member of a party which is supported by 50 per cent, of the voters of this country, and I am sure that the people will look upon the apologia of the honorable member for Mallee as sheer political humbug.
.- I shall not detain the committee for long. A lot of hot air has been used in discussing this bill. When dealing with clause 4, Opposition members forget that the money is allocated to improve our roads. After all, we start with some roads. Over the past five years, increasingly large sums of money have been made available for roads by this Government, and our roads system has benefited accordingly. The amount provided under clause 4 - I ask honorable members to notice how I keep to the clause all the time- will be £100,000,000 more than the amount made available over the past, five years. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) claimed that a substantial section of the Parliament, which represents 50 per cent, of the voters, disagreed with that allocation. However, we must remember that the Labour Party always claims to represent the poor, the aged, the indigent, the improvident and similar classes of people. None of those people are interested in roads and none of them own cars, if the view espoused by Labour is correct, because they are the down-trodden people. Therefore, their views do not really affect the bill.
This legislation will ensure that sufficient money is available to improve our roads. I have no doubt that they have been improved and will be improved further. The task of the Opposition is to see that the Government is provident, but honorable members will note when the Budget is introduced that Opposition members will demand more money for pensions, for grants to the States and for everything else under the sun. This bill is an attempt by the Government to deal with roads, and I believe that at the end of five years the Government will be able to show that the money provided has been sufficient for road purposes.
– I was surprised to hear the suggestion of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) that the amount provided under clause 4 will be sufficient to meet road requirements at present. He said that we have roads to improve. I remind him that we have not one all-weather road running from one end of the country to the other. I remind him also that our roads now are far inferior to the roads that we had in 1947. Then the main highways at least were able to carry military traffic, but they could not do so now.
We should look at this matter in terms of the submission made by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). The Government is making £40,000,000 available - £38,000,000 for the mainland and £2,000,000 for Tasmania. We should think in terms of the amount that has been spent on roads in the past three years, and of the condition of our roads to-day after the expenditure of £300,000,000 on them.
We should then ask ourselves whether our road system is adequate to provide for the development of Australia. In 1947, and even as recently as 1955, no honorable member could visualize the type of transport that would use our roads. It was impossible to realize then that so many heavy vehicles would be travelling over our roads in a constant stream. The Government is now providing £40,000,000 for the States to meet the requirements of interstate transports. But the States have no control over these transports. The responsibility for controlling interstate road traffic must surely come back to the National Parliament.
As I said during the second-reading debate on this bill, in the last twelve months an additional 1,000 trucks of a carrying capacity of 9 tons or more started to use the roads. Who will build the roads needed to stand up to that traffic? Already 15,500 trucks of a carrying capacity of 9 tons or more are using the highways, and that figure is increasing at the rate of 1,000 a year. The States can do nothing about it. The responsibility for controlling this traffic and for providing adequate roads must come back to the National Parliament. What yardstick are we to use to determine the future road development of this country if we do not use the yardstick proposed by the honorable member for Batman. His proposition was logical. In calmer moments in the times that lie ahead Government supporters may sit and ponder this question, or they may wish to travel the highways, particularly between Sydney and Melbourne, or, as I did on the occasion of the last election, they may go into country areas where the former Treasurer-
– Order! The honorable member is getting a little wide of the mark now. He should confine himself to the clause under discussion.
– I propose to link my remarks with the bill by saying this: The people who are driving trucks weighing 9 tons and more know that their days of operating are limited unless more money is spent on roads. They are prepared to meet some of that extra cost if they can be assured that their contribution will go towards the making of roads fit to carry their vehicles. I know that the former Treasurer, Sir Arthur Fadden, met with great opposition when he addressed a meeting of road hauliers in his own State. They told him, in the same friendly fashion as I am telling honorable members here, that’ insufficient money was being spent on roads. They told him that they were prepared to meet their share of the cost of roads, provided roads were built fit to take their vehicles. It is impossible to calculate the cost to this country of damage to roads by vehicles that are too heavy for the roads to. carry. The Government says that it believes in free enterprise - that a man should be able to operate 15-ton trucks if he wants to. But the States should not be asked to bear the responsibility of building roads capable of carrying such vehicles. The allocation of £37,000,000 last year was totally inadequate. If the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) had looked at the position over the last five years he would have found that there had been an increase of £4,000,000 in the allocation each year. Why has the increase been reduced to £2.000,000 under this bill? Why has the ratio been distorted? Surely common sense must prevail. Each year something like 1,000 additional heavy trucks come onto the roads. It is obvious that the roads that carried last year’s traffic will not be able to carry the types of vehicles that will be coming onto them next year.
There is only one measuring rod with which to determine future road requirements in Australia. They cannot be determined by rule of thumb. Anybody who thinks that they can is not a realist. You must have a flexible approach to the problem. The bigger and more powerful road vehicles become, the more fuel they will consume and consequently the greater are the amounts of money that should be allocated from the fuel tax to roads. The honorable member for Batman said that the proposed allocations would prove to be inadequate in four or five years’ time; but with the present rate of purchase of heavy vehicles, I think that the allocation will be inadequate within two years. The stage has been reached already where big business will engage only hauliers with reliable new heavy trucks. The older trucks are passing out of business and as each new heavy truck comes onto the roads, wear and tear of the roads increases. Members of the Australian Country Party who have supported a rule of thumb method to finance our roads will regret their actions within five years, because such a method is totally out of keeping with a growing need for expenditure. Any Federal government that thinks that it can put our road transport problem to one side for five years merely by bringing in a measure that provides a rule of thumb assessment of the amount that needs to be spent on roads, irrespective of the income to the Treasury as the result of fuel taxes, is living in a fool’s paradise.
It is no good for honorable members opposite to say that we on this side of the House have changed the views that we held in 1947, because in 1947 the picture was different. It was not the roads but the railways that carried the great burden of the war effort. So now, with the position reversed, and with the States having no control, this amount will prove totally inadequate.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- To my mind the chief argument of the Opposition at this stage has been that more money should be spent on the roads of Australia at the present time and that therefore the entire proceeds of the fuel tax should be used for this purpose. If the Government had adopted the Opposition’s formula, it would mean that a vastly increased amount of money would be spent on roads in a very short time. That, in turn, would mean, as has been pointed out by honorable members opposite, that a great many of this nation’s resources would have to be diverted from other essential features to roads. It would also mean that there would be a sudden increase of expenditure on roads at a time when the nation has not the resources for this purpose. As is well pointed out in a document that I have before me, in addition to the financial problems concerning roads, there still remains a shortage of many other resources, particularly engineers and foremen, and this shortage necessarily places limits on the tempo at which the national road works programme can be increased.
The point of that is that if we went all out suddenly, as the Opposition has advocated, in a vast increase of expenditure on roads, we would very quickly find that it would he impossible to spend that large amount of money in the short time that would be available. Surely it is much wiser to set about this programme of improving the roads of Australia by an orderly, planned method, as is envisaged in the clause now under discussion, rather than suddenly to go for a vast expenditure in one year and then possibly spend a varying amount in succeeding years depending on the amount actually raised in revenue, lt is much better to take account of the resources available in the nation for meeting this problem and to expand at an orderly rate. That seems to me to be a very much more able method of attacking this difficult problem than the rather haphazard method advocated by the Opposition.
– The Opposition, Mr. Chairman, can do nothing to increase the amount that it is proposed to allocate under the bill. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) said that, for all our talk, we would support the bill. We certainly are not going to vote against the provision of this money fo; roads purposes, but at the same time, we say that it is not sufficient. How is this £40,000,000, that is to be made available, to be spent? I contend, Sir, that there are certain obvious dangers that one encounters on our roads to-day. If the roads are to be improved as they should be, the amount that we are considering is certainly not enough. I agree with the argument of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) that at least the total amount collected by way of the petrol tax and the diesel fuel tax should be devoted to roads.
We have heard a great deal about the need to make our roads safer. In my opinion, there is a glaring example of the failure to obtain safety for the money that has been spent, and I think that it should be brought to the notice of the people. Last week-end, I had occasion to go to Newcastle by motor car. I had not previously driven a car between Canberra and Sydney, or between Sydney and Newcastle. I was amazed to find that, despite all the money that has been made available for roads in New South Wales, the authorities in that State are not doing one of the obvious things to improve road safety, something that was done in South Australia some years ago. I refer to the removal of danger spots, particularly on slopes and at bends in hilly country. In South Australia, special amounts of money have been made available to improve the roads, especially at danger spots. If there was a dangerous bend, the outer side of the road was raised two or three feet in order to give the right camber. Of course, the States are not the only ones to be blamed for dangerous roads. We find glaring instances of the same kind of thing in Canberra. References are made to the high standard of the engineers in this city-
– Order! There is no reference to that subject in clause 4.
– Under clause 4, we are asked to vote £40,000,000 for roads purposes. As a member of this Parliament
– That subject is covered by clause 7.
– The Minister says that it is covered by clause 7, but before I vote in favour of spending £40,000,000 on roads, I think it is my duty to ask how that sum is to be spent. That is what I am doing now, Sir. I do not want to go into the details of the matter. If you rule that I cannot deal with this subject until we come to clause 7, of course I must bow to your ruling. I know that clause 7 deals partly with the matter, but it does not cover it completely.
There is nothing in the bill to indicate whether we shall have any control over the way in which this amount of £40,000,000 is spent, once it goes to the States. Of course, I am not suggesting that we should have such control. I am merely pointing out that the bill contains no provision to the effect that the States must comply with the wishes of a federal authority in the spending of the money. I should like to continue the discussion on that point, but in view of your ruling, Sir, I shall reserve further comment until we come to clause 7. I have had sufficiently long experience as a member of Parliament to know that it is useless for a private member to try to increase a vote of money. Only a Minister, it appears, can do that. As I have said, I do not think this sum of £40,000,000 is sufficient. I believe that it should be more, and that the Government should endeavour to provide additional finance for roads along the lines that we have suggested.
I wish to refer now, Sir, to something that you permitted the honorable member for Mallee to discuss. I think I shall be in order in replying to what he had to say. The honorable gentleman said that, as this money for roads was to come out of general revenue instead of from the petrol tax, he, as a member of the Country Party, was going to press to have the petrol tax reduced.
– Of course, I am.
– The honorable member said that he had scored a victory in having Victoria’s proportion of road funds increased.
– I worked long enough for it.
– The honorable member said that he had wanted a bigger proportion for Victoria. He is pleased that the proportion has been increased from 35 per cent, to 40 per cent.
– Does not the honorable member agree with that?
– I am not going to say what I agree with.
– Order! The honorable member will address the Chair.
– The honorable member for Mallee is pleased that Victoria’s proportion has been increased from 35 per cent, to 40 per cent. He has admitted that, in 1946 and 1947, he wanted all the petrol tax to be devoted to roads. Now that it is proposed that the money for roads is to come out of general revenue, he wants to have the petrol tax reduced. I think that he is very one-eyed in the stand that he has taken in this matter. As the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has said, if the honorable member for Mallee thinks that the Government will support a reduction of the petrol tax and other taxes because this money for roads is to come out of general revenue, he has another think coming, if we know anything about the Government.
We of the Opposition are of the opinion that this amount of £40,000,000 is not sufficient, having regard to the work that is needed on the roads. T shall defer com ment on methods of construction, and so on, until we reach clause 7.
– The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) sought to justify the provisions of clause 4 by quoting a passage from a report, which he did not name, stating that therewas a shortage of engineers and foremen, as well as a shortage of money for the construction of roads in Australia. He was referring to a publication entitled “ Transport Costs in Australia “, prepared by the Department of Shipping and Transport for the Australian Transport Advisory Council, and published on 31st March last. I thought it regrettable, Sir, that he did not quote either the preceding paragraph or the following paragraph, because those paragraphs deal very convincingly and succinctly with thedeficiencies of the method of finance we have had hitherto and are continuing.
The paragraph of the report previous tothat quoted by the honorable member, stated - lt is interesting to note that the level of expenditure on roads in 1956-57 was inadequate to cover the works programme deemed necessary by road authorities to provide the national roads system necessary for the increasing traffic density and traffic trends. Considerable additional expenditure on Australian roads, both primary and secondary, is needed beyond the finance now available to the responsible authorities.
– This bill is providing additional money.
– I will come to that. The paragraph that the honorable member quoted in part, continued -
The sharp rise in the expenditure since 1946-47 was in some measure attributable to the inflationary forces at work in the economy. The actual increase in the annual physical volume of work done was much smaller than the much greater expenditure would suggest.
The following paragraph stated -
It was assessed, in consultation with State road authorities in September 1956, that the finance required for the decade ended 1965-66, for a reasonable and practicable roads programme, would be £1,643,000,000.
The publication points out that, at 30th June last, it was estimated that the deficiency of funds to meet such a roads programme still amounted to £260,000,000.
In whatever way one looks at this bill, however the States match the subsequent grants we hold out here, and even if the payments are continued until the end of that decade, we will still have, on the. assessment made by the Department of Shipping and Transport, and on the basis of the best -engineering and financial advice provided by all the State governments, as well as the Commonwealth Government, a deficiency of £200,000,000 in that decade for the construction of roads in Australia.
F pass, Sir, to the claim that, under clause 4, there will be £100,000,000 more available, in the five years for which the bill’ makes provision, than there was in the last five years. That is very true, but it is true only because the number of vehicles on the road in that time, and the consumption of petrol, will have increased proportionately. In fact, no extra money will be available for Australian roads in the next five financial years under this bill than there would have been in those five financial years under the legislation which was passed in 1954 and which is being superseded by this bill. That is shown very clearly by publications which the Department of Shipping and Transport has had prepared for the Australian Transport Advisory Council.
Books were prepared by the Committee of Transport Economic Research for the Australian Transport Advisory Council in 1955 and again in 1956. From table 18 in the latter one of these publications we can see what the total allocation from petrol tax to the States in each year from 1956 to 1966 was expected to be under present conditions - that is under the 1954 act. This table contains estimates of the allocation by the State and Commonwealth authorities on the basis of the information that was available. I would add to the amounts in the table the £3,000,000 a year which was promised by the Commonwealth to the States in each financial year under the provisions of the Commonwealth Aid Roads (Special Assistance) Act 1957.
Table 18 shows that in 1959-60, it was estimated that the petrol tax would provide £37.100,000. With the diesel tax in addition, there would have been £40.100,000; this clause provides £40,000,000. It was estimated in the table that there would be £39,100,000 available in 1960-61 from petrol tax and £3,000.000 from diesel tax or a total of £42,100,000 compared with £42,000,000 under clause 4 of the bill. In 1961-62, it was estimated that there would be £41,000,000 available from petrol tax and £3,000,000 from diesel tax, making a total of £44,000,000, the exact amount that is provided by clause 4 of the bill.
– On what assumptions are these figures based?
– These are estimates made by the Committee of Transport Economic Research appointed by the Department of Shipping and Transport at the request of the Australian Transport Advisory Council upon which each State, as well as the Commonwealth, is represented. I am quoting from table 18 in the report. The committee reported on 30th September, 1956, to the Australian Transport Advisory Council. The report was adopted by the council at its next meeting which, from memory, was in February, 1957. The estimates were confirmed on 31st March last in the report entitled “ Transport Costs in Australia “, made by the department for the Australian Transport Advisory Council.
I come now to the last two financial years covered by this clause. It was estimated that in 1962-63, the petrol tax would provide £43,100,000 for State road grants. With £3,000,000 from the diesel tax, that is still £100,000 more than the amount provided by this clause. In the last financial year covered by the bill, 1963-64, it was estimated that there would be £45,100,000 from petrol tax and with £3,000,000 from diesel tax the total would again be £100,000 more than the amount to be provided in that financial year under the clause.
– There is a big difference between a certainty and a supposition.
– All the Australian governments concurred in this supposition, as it has been described by the Treasurer. The right honorable gentleman did not refer to the supposition in his secondreading speech, nor did he refer to the road needs in Australia. He did not refer to the Treasury or State Government estimates of road revenues in Australia. He merely referred to the provisions for the next five years compared with those in the past five years. He thus connived at a completely false presentation of road revenues in Australia. If the act of 1954 had remained in force, the State governments would have received slightly more money in the next five years than they will receive under this clause.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 (Distribution of basic grant amongst the States).
– This clause deals with the new formula. I am glad that the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) is present because I wish to congratulate him on successfully piloting through an alteration to the formula which has existed for many years. I think the new formula is a very good one. It not only dispenses justice all round but also takes into account the extra provisions which would be required for both Queensland and Western Australia to ensure that they do not suffer as a result of the change. I suggest to the Treasurer that the details of the formula set out in this clause might be improved. The relevant part, sub-clause (1 .) (b) (i), states- one-third shall be divided amongst the other States according to their respective populations as published by the Commonwealth Statistician from the returns of the census last taken before the commencement of that year;
That reference is to the remainder of the amount after one-twentieth has been paid to Tasmania. I am not sure whether the census is taken every seven or ten years, but even if we take the lesser period of seven years, the annual rate of increase of the population in Australia and relatively in the States is, I think, between 2 per cent, and 3 per cent. If you take the seventh year, it will be 14 per cent, to 21 per cent. out. If you take it on ten years, it would be more. I suggest to the Minister that he examine this part of the clause with a view possibly to adding in another place after the words “ that year “ the following: - plus or minus respectively the increase or decrease each year in their respective populations as estimated by the Commonwealth Statistician from the vital and immigration statistics available to him.
– We gave careful thought to this provision and this is the most practical and, in the long run, the fairest we could provide.
– I know it is the easiest way and it is the method that has been used in the past, but when this method of using the last census figures was devised, the rate of immigration was very slow. That was before 1947. Now that the rate of immigration is very high, I think we should have a look at this provision with a view to putting it on a better and fairer basis, even though it might take a little more time to work out the percentages. There is no reason why we should continue this method in the future just because we have had it in the past when conditions were different. I ask the Minister to have another look at it with a view to putting the population basis ‘on fairer foundations and in preference to using a census which might have been taken years before.
The other matter I wish to mention is. this: I do not know why it is provided in sub-clause (1.) (b) (iii) that one-third of the amount payable to the States shall be divided amongst the States - other than Tasmania - according to the number of motor vehicles shown by statistics published by the Commonwealth Statistician to have been respectively registered in those States as at the thirty-first day of December last preceding the commencement of that year. In his second-reading speech, the Minister said -
With motor vehicles, the numbers registered at 31st December preceding each financial year covered by the legislation will be used; these figures will be available at the start of each financial year and the use of them will avoid the need for the adjustments that would be necessary during the year if later figures were to be used for purposes of distribution.
As far as I know, every State keeps its figures of registrations of motor vehicles from month to month, and I cannot see why we could not adopt the date 30tb June, instead of the previous 31st December. At the beginning of the financial year, certain advances are made to the States for certain purposes, and it would be very shortly after 30th June that the vehicle statistics would be available. Therefore, T cannot see any real reason why the date 31st December has been specified. I do not propose to move amendments along the lines of either of the suggestions that I have made, but I commend my remarks to the Minister.
I come now to sub-clause (2.). which provides -
In the last preceding sub-section, “ motor vehicles “ means motor cars and commercial motor vehicles (including utilities, panel vans, lorries. omnibuses and station wagons) and motor cycles, but does not include trailers, road tractors and similar vehicles or vehicles used by any part of the Defence Force.
Personally, I think that is rather sloppy drafting. I do not want to spend any time on it, other than to say that I think the definition of “ motor vehicles “ should have been included in clause 3, the definition clause. The term “ road tractors “ is not defined anywhere in the bill. No doubt there is in the various State motor registration acts a definition of “ road tractors “, but I do suggest to the Minister that we should perhaps include the definition of “ road tractor” in the definition clause of this bill, because a trailer incorporates a prime mover and a trailer. For that reason, I think it will be advantageous to the bill and make for better drafting if we define “ road tractor “.
.- I wish to make a short reference to the distribution of the basic grant amongst the States, for which the clause makes provision. As we all know - I just want to mention it in passing - it is provided that one-twentieth of the amount shall be payable to the State of Tasmania and the remainder shall be distributed to the other States, one-third according to population, one-third according to the area, and one-third according to the number of motor vehicles registered. The point I wish to make is that I believe that Western Australia and Queensland - States that have to be developed - require larger amounts to be spent on them, and the bill still provides for that expenditure. I have advocated on many occasions during the thirteen years I have been in this Parliament that States like Victoria should get a better deal. New South Wales will get practically the same distribution as before - only .4 per cent, higher. Victoria will receive 19.9 per cent, of the distribution as against 17.6 per cent, formerly; Queensland will receive 18.4 per cent, as against 19.2 per cent.; South Australia will receive 11.2 per cent., the same as at present; and Western Australia will receive 17.6 per cent, as against 19.5 per cent. Tasmania will receive 5 per cent, as at present.
The point I really wish to make is that Western Australia provides approximately 7 per cent, of the petrol tax collections, but is to get 17.6 per cent, of the amount distributed - a reduction from 19.5 per cent.
It appears to me that this is reasonable. On many occasions - I cannot remember the number - I have advocated in this chamber that Victoria should get a fairer deal owing to the amount of produce it puts on the world’s markets and provides for Australian consumption. There are many other points also that can be made in favour of the increased allocation to that State.
This bill provides better treatment for Victoria along the lines I have advocated, and I am tremendously pleased to-night to support it. At the same time, I remind honorable members that every time I have raised the matter in this chamber some one has asked me, by way of interjection, whether I am a big Australian or a little Victorian. That was immensely unfair, because with the passage of this legislation, from the money to be provided in the next five-year period Victoria will get a better deal, but Western Australia and Queensland will get a much better deal proportionately compared with the more populous States. Therefore, we can claim that Victoria is to be given a fairer deal and still be big Australians because of our recognition of the need to develop Western Australia and Queensland, which is so necessary for the protection and for the future productivity of this nation.
– I should just like to say to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) that I do not think my suggestions were frivolous in any way. Also, I have since been acquainted of the fact that under the States Grants (Tax Reimbursement) Act. population is adjusted each year by the Statistician’s figures. Therefore, I cannot see why we cannot apply those figures under this bill in the same way that they are applied under the States Grants (Tax Reimbursement) Act.
– I did not treat the suggestions of the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) as frivolous. I tried to indicate, by way of interjection, in order to avoid detaining the committee for too long at this late hour, that both his suggestions had been very carefully considered. We did have in contemplation the possibility of some method other than the census method, but it is not merely the easiest method, as the honorable member has suggested; it is also from the point of view of the States the surest method so far as the calculation of their accounting in any particular year is concerned. On balance, the reasonable thing is done. In the increase of population there will not be variation between the States of from 14 per cent, to 21 per cent, as the honorable member for Chisholm indicated. That is the total movement of population inside any one State. The variation between the States will be of a very much smaller order than that.
As to the allegation of sloppy drafting and the suggestion that the definition of “ motor vehicles “ should appear in the definition clause, I think that is an argument that the honorable member might have with the Parliamentary Draftsman. I am a lawyer, not a draftsman. It is a matter of opinion. I do not know that you would gain very much by embodying in tha definition clause a definition of “ motor vehicles “ and reciting in the definition clause .all the things put in clause 5. But I will not cross swords with the honorable member on a problem of drafting, because although I did at one stage of my life pursue a degree in law at the university, I have never either in this Parliament or out of it found legislation easy to read or to interpret. Some people seem to have the knack of doing so, but I do not claim to possess that knack.
The honorable member made some comment in relation to road tractors. I shall have that matter examined. I do not know whether in practice some difficulty is likely to arise from the expression in the form in which it now stands. Nobody in the course of the departmental discussion suggested that there might be a problem there, but I shall take up with the officers the point that the honorable gentleman has put forward and perhaps if there is found to be substance in it we can have the house of review examine it when the legislation comes before that chamber.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 6 (Additional grant based on State allocations for road purposes’).
.- This clause embodies a new principle in respect of Commonwealth aid roads legislation. That is the principle of matching contributions incorporated in the agreement on the basis of £1 provided by the Commonwealth for every £1 allocated by the State governments from their own resources for expenditure on roads over and above the amounts allocated by them for road expenditure in the current financial year 1958-59. While this is a departure from the existing legislation, actually provision of a similar type was incorporated in the 1926 legislation, under which the State governments had to find 15s. for every £1 found by the Commonwealth. That provision remained for only five years, being repealed in 1931. I consider the re-enactment of such a provision to be a very retrograde step because it requires the State governments to incur a liability that I do not think they are at present capable of incurring. I understand that the allocations under this provision will be in accordance with the formula. The various States will receive the percentage prescribed under the formula, provided they can match the amount with a similar amount from their own resources. If in any year a State cannot match the amount to which it would be entitled under the formula another State which is possibly a little flusher will not be able to take advantage of the availability of additional money. If a State fails to match the amount which could be made available to it, that amount saved by the Commonwealth Government will revert to general revenue.
I consider that in the present circumstances the Government is not being generous at all. If it finds, as it apparently has found, that it will have £30,000,000 to spare over the next five years, it is unreasonable to require that before the States can get their prescribed proportions they must match them £1 for £1. We know the difficulties that the States are encountering in finding money for education, hospitals, power projects, and one hundred aid one other services required as a result of insistent public demand. As the States have only limited taxing powers, any money that they use to match the Commonwealth grant will be provided at the expense of other essential works. I think the Government is being very niggardly. It is raising this money by a method which the States cannot use. In the United States, individual States, as well as the Federal Government, can impose fuel taxes, but here only the Commonwealth Government can do so.
– The States can impost motor registration fees.
– I realize that, but everyone knows that motor registration fees have been raised very considerably in recent years. I suggest that that is not as fair a method as a petrol tax or collecting money for roads. It would be unfair to expect the owner of a registered motor vehicle who used it only at weekends to contribute as much towards road maintenance and construction, through registration fees, as is paid by another person who uses his vehicle seven days a wek. Every country but Australia recognizes that a fuel tax is1 the fairest method of meeting of the cost of road repairs. It is a pay-as-you-go tax. The person who uses the roads most pays the most. That is not so with motor registration fees. The owner of a car pays a fixed amount imposed by the State. A comparison of a motor registration fee with a fuel tax shows that the latter is much fairer than the former for meeting wear and tear on the roads. The State governments lack the Commonwealth Government’s power to impose a metering tax. The States can meter the use of electricity, gas and water, and only the quantity used is paid for. I suggest that a fuel tax is on all fours with the metering charges imposed for those public services. In imposing motor registration fees, State governments have not the power to meter the use of roads. That power is taken from the States and vested in the Commonwealth. Every honorable member knows that all State governments are having a terrific struggle in a thousand other directions. The Commonwealth Government could have been a little more generous. It has £30,000,000 available. It will receive much more tr>an that from the petrol tax. It should have shown a much more generous spirit, in the circumstances. If the States can match the Commonwealth grant - I am certain that they cannot - it will be at the expense of other projects for which there is great public demand. I express my regret at the proposed insertion of this provision which harks back to the 1920’s. In re-enacting a provision of 30 years ago, I consider that we are taking a backward step instead of going forward. Clause agreed to.
Clause 7 (Purposes for which grants are to be expended).
– I think there has been a very serious omission from Clause 7. I apologise to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) for mentioning it at this late stage, but I myself noticed it only this afternoon. Clause 7 (1.) reads -
Subject to the next two succeeding sub-sections, moneys paid to a State under this Act shall be expended -
on the construction, reconstruction, main tenance and repair of roads or on the purchase of road-making plant;
in making payments to municipal or other local authorities for the construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of roads or for the purchase of roadmaking plant;
in making payments for or in connexion with research relating to the construction, maintenance or repair of roads.
There is nothing there to allow the States to expend any of this money on the resumption’ of land which is necessary for the construction of a new road or for the widening of an existing road. When one reaches the stage that has been reached in America, of having to build free-ways, or speed-ways - by whatever name we like to call them - a large portion of the expenditure on roads is incurred in the resumption of land. Perhaps in the past that has been covered by the broad term “ construction “, but it does not seem to me to be within the definition of “ construction “. Resumption of land seems to me to be an entirely separate matter, and I think the bill would be considerably improved if to clause 7 (1.) the following new paragraph were added -
For the same reason, I suggest that there be added to sub-clause (2.) a new paragraph reading -
I should like to move an amendment to that end, but if the Minister would like the matter to be left and considered with a view to inserting the amendment in another place, I am quite willing. In the absence of some other legal construction or interpretation of clause 7, I fear that none of this money can be used for the resumption of land for the purposes of road making.
I do not think that that is intended, nor do I think it is fair to ask the States, municipalities, or shires, to find the money that will be necessary in some cases for the resumption of land for roads.
– I shall have an examination made of the matter raised by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes). I may say that to my knowledge this matter has not been raised by the representatives of any of the State Governments which have had ample opportunity of studying the details. I cannot imagine that they consider the problem is one that might arise, but the matter is worthy of mention.
– For instance, considerable resumption must have been involved in the widening of Kew Highstreet, in my own town. That was done by the Metropolitan Board of Works, but there is nothing in this bill to cover it. It seems to me that we ought to allow the States to have that power.
– I do not know that the problem has arisen. Certainly, it has not been brought under my notice. I imagine that the States, which do provide considerable funds in addition to those provided by the Commonwealth would, if there was any restriction, arrange to make resumptions out of their own revenues. However, the matter is worthy of examination and I undertake to have it examined.
– 1 shall not occupy many minutes. I had begun to rasie this matter previously when I was stopped. I should like to direct attention to the failure in many instances to make provision for the elimination of bends in main roads, particularly in hilly country. A wonderful job has been done in many cases, but in quite a number of others the money has not been used to advantage in making the roads safer, particularly on sharp turns where difficulty is experienced by the larger vehicles. In Canberra, corners are not banked to assist the motorist to maintain an even balance, and if one approaches a particular corner near Civic Centre at 30 miles an hour and is not extremely careful, one is likely to capsize because the outer side of the road drops away. With that example given by the National Capital, the local bodies cannot be blamed if they have not done as much as can be expected to improve the roads under their control. The main road between Canberra and Goulburn has been the scene of many acidents. Many motorists have run off the road because on the curves the outer side of the road drops away. The money that is made available by the Commonwealth for roadmaking purposes should be devoted to the making of safe roads.
I hope that this legislation will result in more attention being given to making safe those curves on which most accidents occur.
.- 1 refer to clause 7 (2.) which is in these terms - (2.) Each State shall, out of the moneys paid to it under this Act in a year, expend in that year an amount, not being less than two-fifths of the sum of those moneys -
I compliment the Government on its plan to provide money for the purchase of giant bulldozers and other road-making equipment from overseas to be used for the purposes outlined in the clause. The Government has often been criticized for obtaining overseas loans, but in this case the money that the Government will provide will be used to excellent advantage. Our system of rural roads is of the utmost importance to our country areas.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment: -
International Monetary Agreements Bill 1959. Aliens Bill 1959.
House adjourned at 11.25 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
y asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. The answers to both questions are contained in the following table: -
n asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
Has the Government reached a decision regarding the assistance it is prepared to grant the pearling industry in the Northern Territory; if so, what form will it take?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Commonwealth Government has contributed £18,000 to a publicity and sales promotion campaign to help the sale of pearl shell products. I understand that two of the three Darwin pearlers granted licences for 1959 have already commenced pearling. Any Darwin pearler who needs financial assistance to enable him to carry on can apply for assistance to the Primary Producers’ Board which would consider each application on its merits. The Primary Producers’ Board is empowered under the provisions of the Encouragement of Primary Production Ordinance to grant assistance up to £3,000 to any one primary producer.
t asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Housing in Western Australia.
r asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
Housing Agreement during the years 1956-57 and 1957-58 and during the current financial year to date?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The distribution of housing agreement moneys in the three financial years ending 30th lune, 1959, was:-
The moneys distributed were derived from the following sources: -
t asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. Incapacitated ex-service pensioners are eligible to receive passes which entitle them to travel free of charge on the Canberra City Omnibus Service operated by the Government. It is understood that the basis of eligibility is similar to that observed elsewhere.
d asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice -
Can the Minister furnish the following information concerning the koala bears which were recently exported to the United States of America: -
Is any control over the bears to be exer cised by any Australian authorities and must they be returned to Australia if this is demanded?
Can they be transferred from their present location to other zoos?
Have the American authorities undertaken any obligations in regard to any offspring of the bears; if not, are they free to dispose of them as they wish?
What purpose does the Government feel will be fulfilled if the koala bear is found to breed successfully in America?
– The Minister for Customs and Excise has furnished the following answer to the honorable member’s question: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 5 May 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1959/19590505_reps_23_hor23/>.