21st Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Minister for Shipping and Transport inform me whether he bas authorized the sale of the gear of the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool, which is now located at Brisbane? If the Minister has approved of the sale of the gear, will he inform me whether it will be sold piecemeal or as one lot?
– Some time ago, the equipment of the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool was offered to harbour authorities and, at ports where harbour authorities did not exist, such as Brisbane, it was offered to stevedoring companies. Half of the equipment at Brisbane would be suitable for waterfront work and the remainder of it would be suitable for other work. Stevedoring companies in Brisbane have approached my department for details of the equipment but, so far, they have not made any offer for it.
– Representations have been made to me from Leichhardt, in New South Wales, 1 about handling equipment and I ask the Minister whether ho intends to dispose of the equipment of that particular pool, and also whether the persons who are at present employed there will be dismissed ?
– This matter is being considered in Brisbane, and also in New South Wales. The people interested have been asked whether they are prepared to make an offer for the waterfront equipment as a going concern. So far, no firm offers in respect of either Queensland or New South Wales have been received, although I know that certain parties are interested in the proposition. If either Brisbane or New South Wales decided to make an offer for that equipment which was acceptable to the Government, so that it could be carried on as a waterfront pool, I would suggest that, provided that the department is not overstaffed, the employees who are there now would be taken on. My observations lead me to believe that we have in the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool a number of very experienced men who have rendered really good service to that organization.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Repatriation been drawn to a statement which appears in to-day’s Melbourne Argus, by Mr. W. Yeo, a delegate to the federal congress of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, now being held in Canberra, to the effect that war widows are being used in repatriation hospitals as “guinea pigs” so that nurses may gain experience in women’s illnesses? Mr. Yeo is also reported to have said that, before these women were admitted, nurses would not join repatriation hospital staffs ‘because they were unable to obtain complete training at those institutions. I ask the Minister whether there is any truth in those allegations?
- Mr. Yeo’s statement is entirely false. I should like to explain to the Senate the facilities that are granted to war widows and their children un to the age of sixteen years, and to certain other people, for treatment in repatriation hospitals. The following information is contained in an official booklet, entitled, Pensions, Medical Treatment and Other Repatriation Benefits : -
The widow and children (under sixteen years of age) of a member whose death has been accepted as attributable to service, and the widowed mother or widowed stepmother of a deceased unmarried member (provided widowhood occurred either prior to or within three years of her son’s death and provided also that the member’s death was attributable to war service) are entitled to medical benefits al departmental expense.
The booklet continues -
The medical benefit scheme is limited in that it does not cover specialist, X-ray, hospital or other special services. However, in some circumstances approval may be given for beneficiaries to be admitted to a repatriation general hospital for operation or other special treatment.
War widows, and the other individuals i have mentioned, are admitted to repatriation hospitals only if beds are available in a women’s ward. In every capital city except Hobart there are women’s wards in our repatriation hospitals. Those wards have been provided for exservicewomen who are entitled to medical treatment for war disabilities. Therefore, if the widows have been treated as “guinea pigs” as has been suggested by Mr. Yeo, it is evident that our exservicewomen who, ‘because of war-caused disabilities are accepted in women’s wards of repatriation hospitals, must also he in that category. This concession has been granted to war widows and their children, widowed mothers, and widowed stepmothers, for many years past. I do not remember the exact date of its introduction, but it has certainly been in operation since quite a number of years before 1930. I cannot understand a man like Mr. Yeo. who holds the responsible position of president of the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, making such irresponsible and untrue statements, which are likely to cause distress among widows.
– In view of the very serious allegations that have been made about the activities of the Aluminium Production Commission at Bell Bay in Tasmania, is it true as has been reported in the press recently, that the Government proposes to institute an inquiry into the matter?
– I have seen several statements which have been corrected by the Minister. I am not aware of the Minister’s intentions at present, but I shall be pleased to refer the matter to him and obtain a considered reply for the honorable senator.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture seen a report in which it is stated that the Premier of Western Australia now explains the action of his Government in refusing to continue the subsidy to Air-Beef Proprietary Limited by claiming that the scheme is of benefit to the air transport companies and not to the cattle industry? Is it not a fact that the subsidy on the air transport of beef from Glenroy to Wyndham always lias been paid exclusively by the Australian Government, and that the subsidy provided by the Western Australian Government has been restricted to the provision of concession rates, as recommended by the Commonwealth-State Kimberley Development Committee, for the processing of beef at Wyndham meatworks? Is it not also a fact that the letting of contracts for the air transport of beef has been on a competitive basis, and that Air-Beef Proprietary Limited has engaged different air transport operators from time to time? Does the Australian Government, which provides the subsidy for the air transport, subscribe to the view that payments to air transport companies have been of such a nature as to constitute a benefit? Does the Minister consider that the action of the Western Australian Government is just another manoeuvre by which that Government hopes to evade its legitimate responsibility in this matter and to dragoon the Australian Government into accepting responsibility for payment of the whole of the subsidy?
– It is obvious that the honorable senator has a good grip of this problem. The interesting thing from my point of view is that the original recommendation concerning the amounts to be contributed and the manner in which they should be contributed, was made by an independent committee consisting of representatives of both the Western Australian Government and the Australian Government. I think that the points made by the honorable senator are correct, but as there are so many of them, I should not like to commit myself without first referring the matter to the depart ment and considering the records. I shall bring the question to the notice of my officers and give the honorable senator a considered reply concerning the points raised by him.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Postmaster-General inform the Senate whether the alterations to the Canberra post office are nearing completion? When is it expected that the work will be completed? Will the Minister arrange with the contractor, before he leaves the site, to provide a ramp on the steps leading into the postal hall for the use of mothers with perambulators?
– I understand that the alterations of the post office are to be completed shortly- I shall bring the other matter referred to by the honorable senator to the notice of the PostmasterGeneral and obtain a reply as early as possible.
– Will the Acting Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the Senate when the next meeting of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee will be held? Will minimum prices to be paid by processors for berry fruits in the coming season be fixed at that meeting? When will the prices he announced to the growers?
– I shall make inquiries, and supply the honorable senator with a reply as soon as possible.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport in connexion with the increased traffic on the Trans-Australian railway between Kalgoorlie and Port Pirie. Recently, I asked the Minister whether it would not be possible to increase the number of trains that are run on that line to overcome the lag in the transport of passengers who have booked seats, but cannot be provided with accommodation on the trains for some time. Will the Minister inform the Senate whether that problem has been solved?
– The Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has informed me that four Commonwealth trains are being operated each week on that line, but to cater for the Christmas traffic, he proposes to run seven trains a week from the 21st December, if sufficient passengers are available. Some time ago, it was reported that the Western Australian railways and the South Australian railways were not able to cater for more than four loads of passengers from Commonwealth trains at each end of the line weekly. I asked the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner for a report on that matter. I am pleased to state that I have now been informed that the Western Australian and South Australian railways, with improved services and the use of diesel locomotives, are now able to cater for all trains that the Commonwealth railways operates on that service. The position in the State railways, therefore, has improved, and the onus is now back on me and the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to keep pace with’ the State services. If I wrongly gave the Senate the impression recently that the fault was all with the States, I hasten to make a correction, because the States have now overcome those difficulties, and I congratulate them.
– My question to the Acting Minister for Commerce and Agriculture is an outcome of the recent annual conference of the Australian Primary Producers Union at which stress was laid on the parlous condition of the wine industry in Australia. Will the Minister ask the Cabinet to consider abolishing excise on wines produced in Australia and, in addition, recommend to the United Kingdom Government that it remit the customs tariff on Australian wines ?
– I shall be pleased to give the suggestion consideration. As I have stated previously, the Government reduced the excise on brandy by 30s. a proof gallon this year. I shall have the matter examined further, because I know that the wine industry will be in trouble unless sales of wine are increased. The rate of customs duty on wines was increased in the United Kingdom some time ago, and so far, the Government has not been able to persuade the United Kingdom Government to reduce the current exorbitant rates. The latest information I have received from the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) is that representations have been made again to the United Kingdom, and attention has been drawn to the serious position of the wine industry in Australia.
– Has the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate read an announcement by Genera! Motors Holdens Limited that 100 Holden cars would be exported to New Zealand each month next year? Will the Minister do everything possible to ensure that those motor cars will be exported through the port of Adelaide direct to New Zealand, and that they will not be transferred to the eastern States by road and then exported ?
– I thank the honorable senator for the suggestion. Possibly it would be cheaper to have the motor cars transported direct from Port Adelaide. I do not believe that ships going to New Zealand would be able to carry cargoes of motor cars only. Some heavier cargo would be required as well. The difficulty could be overcome by loading the ships with other goods for N”ew Zealand in either Melbourne or Sydney. However, I shall be pleased to look into the matter.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior read a statement by Mr. D. Grant Mickle, an American traffic expert, that in the United States of America high school children are given lessons in car driving as a part of that country’s road safety campaign ? In view of the need for road safety measures in Australia, will the Minister for the Interior arrange for similar lessons to be given to Canberra school children of suitable ages, and thereby set an example to the State governments, in the hope that they, too, will adopt this measure, which is said to have been successful in America ?
– I shall be pleased to refer the honorable senator’s suggestion to my colleague. I shall also refer it to the Standing ‘Committee on Road Transport, which consists of representatives of the six States, the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory, because I think it is worthy of serious consideration.
– Does the acting Leader of the Government in the Senate agree with the reported statement of Captain Weuk of the German ship Heidelberg that if all politicians were sailors there would be no wars? If he does agree with it, will he bring the matter to the notice of Cabinet with a view to furthering this undeniably excellent proposition?
– I shall be pleased to examine the proposition.
asked the Minister acting for the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The following answers to the honorable senator’s questions have been supplied : -
asked the Minister acting for the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Defence Production has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– .The Minister for Labour and National Service bas supplied the following answers: -
Reports on Items.
– I lay on the table reports of the Tariff Board on the following subjects: -
Continuous filament acetate rayon yarn.
Ordered to be printed.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) - by have - agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be granted to Senator O’sullivan on account of absence from Australia on public business.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McLeay) read a first time.
Debate resumed from the 21st October (vide page 962), on motion by Senator McLEAY -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The measure before the Senate, the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill, will make some substantial changes in the law that has operated, in this field hitherto. For more than three decades it has been the practice for the Commonwealth to provide money to the States in order to enable them to construct and maintain roads throughout Australia. For nearly the whole of that time it has been the practice to allocate to the States a portion of the moneys raised by the imposition of customs duty and excise duty on petroleum and petroleum products. There has been a nexus between the grant and the collection of the taxes under both those headings. The grant has resulted from the very necessary recognition by the Government of the national importance of roads, not only to the defence of Australia, but also to its development and progress. The making of the grant followed a well-defined pattern up to 1947, when an important change was effected. Up to that time, the amounts paid to the States were expended on roads entirely at the discretion of the State Governments. But it was found that the State governments were concentrating the expenditure of the funds more upon main highways and arterial roads than upon roads in outback areas. Municipalities which were responsible for roads in rural areas were in financial difficulties and road construction and maintenance in those areas was not receiving adequate attention. It was found that States were building, very often to their own financial detriment, roads which were, in effect, racing tracks running alongside, and enabling competition with, their own railways. So, in 1947, the Labour Government decided that at least £1,000,000 of the petrol tax moneys that were allocated to the States must be applied to the development of roads in rural areas. The obvious means of distributing that £1,000,000 was through the municipalities, but the Government of the day did not, very properly, deal with the municipalities. Tha total grant was made to the State governments, but the sum of £1,000,000 was earmarked for the purpose of rural road construction and maintenance. That departure was very greatly welcomed, not only by municipalities, but by all who lived in rural centres. It led to an increase of activity in the maintenance of outback roads and to an improvement in the standard of those roads.
The Government made another great departure from previous procedure in 1947, by ear-marking the sum of £100,000 from the proceeds of the petrol tax for payment to the Australian Road Safety Council, a body which is concerned with the promotion of safety on the roads. In 1950, the present Government completely re-wrote the legislation and earmarked a very much greater proportion of the grant to the States for the construction and maintenance of rural roads. The Government imposed the provision that the States should ear-mark at least 35 per cent, of the total grant paid to them for the construction and maintenance of rural roads. That legislation was intended to operate for a term of five years. Now, pursuant to an election pledge, the Government proposes to make an increased grant on a new basis. I am pleased that the Government, instead of merely amending the legislation of 1950, has had the legislation re-written completely so that one is able to find all matters relating to federal aid roads grants dealt with in the one measure, without suffering the embarrassment and delay of tracing the course of the legislation through the original act and several amending acts.
The bill before the Senate sets out no new principles. Payments are still to be made to the States alone. The formula for the distribution of petrol tax moneys between the States remains unchanged. I understand that it has remained unchanged since 1937. The bill proposes a specific allocation, although of a greater amount, for rural roads which will be paid to muncipalities through the State governments. There is still an allocation for the Commonwealth Road Safety Council. There is still a reservation to the Commonwealth for strategic roads through Australia, for roads of access to Commonwealth property and for work connected with those types of roads. I acknowledge that the bill will make important changes, although it will introduce no new principle. The allocation for roads purposes used to be 6d. a gallon on imported petrol. That amount is to be increased by Id. “Whereas 3£d. of the excise duty collected on petrol refined in Australia was previously paid to the States, that amount has now been doubled. Seven pence a gallon will now be made available under that head. The Minister, in his secondreading speech, gave very full reasons for the change. First there is the promise of an increased grant, and, secondly, there is the likelihood of a change in the incidence of the tax from customs to excise because Australia is on the eve of vast activity in the refining of petrol. I am speaking now of quantity rather than value. There are very good reasons why, although the five-year period contemplated in 1950 has not expired, the legislation should now be reviewed. So, I acknowledge at once that there is a substantial increase of the grant now to be made available to the States. It will rise in this year, according to the Minister’s second-reading speech, by £7,000,000. That is a substantial increase and the Opposition gives the proposal its unqualified approval. In fact, the Opposition offered, if returned to office, to provide the whole of the proceeds of this tax for road purposes so, having approved tie greater, we cannot very well refrain from approving the lesser. I am sure that the States will acknowledge this as very substantial assistance in the carrying of what to them is a big burden and a matter of real importance, as it is to the nation. They are not relieved, of course, of the necessity to provide money to supplement the federal grants in order to build additional roads to serve their people, and to ensure that existing roads are adequately maintained.
The second great change is that the States will, out of the grants now to be made, ear-mark 40 per cent, instead of 35 per cent, to provide better roads and better maintenance of roads in rural areas. That, too, will give general satisfaction and has the support of the Opposition. The third change is to raise the amount reserved for the purpose of strategic roads and roads of access to Commonwealth property from approximately £500,000 a year to approximately £800,000 a year. 1 should like the Minister to give us some more information about the expending of that sum. He did not say very much about that aspect of the measure in his secondreading speech, and I think it would be as well if the Senate were given more information on the subject. We should like to know on what roads this money is to be spent. A Government supporter in the House of Representatives drew attention to the fact, that, under existing conditions, and in the atomic age, it might be necessary very suddenly to evacuate large numbers of our people from the seaboard to the inland areas. It is true that our population is concentrated in a few areas, very largely on the seaboard, and it is also probable that if we were to be afflicted with war, it would be necessary to evacuate rapidly not only large numbers of people, but also substantial quantities of supplies to maintain those people. I should like to know whether the Government has given any consideration to the suggestion that more roads to carry heavy traffic should be built. The idea seems to me to have merit.
I shall say nothing at the moment about the formula for the distribution of this grant amongst the States. It has stood since 1937. Obviously, it has the approval of the Australian Government and of five State governments. It is questioned by only one State government, the Government of Victoria. The Senate has an opportunity under another item of business to consider this matter in more detail, and I do not propose to address myself further to it at the moment. However, I do want to say a word or two about the allocation for road safety. This grant was fixed in 1947 at £100,000. If it had kept pace with the other developments that I have outlined to the Senate, it would now be very much more than that sum. For instance, the general roads grant has risen from £6,000,000 in 1947-48 to £24,000,000 this year. That is an increase of 300 per cent. The amount allocated for strategic roads and roads of access to Commonwealth properties has risen from £500,000 to £800,000, an increase of 60 per cent., in the same period. Motor vehicle registrations throughout Australia have increased from 1,107,000 to 1,883,000, an increase of about 70 per cent., and the population has risen from 7,580,000 to 8,918,000, an increase of 17.6 per cent., in the same period. The final fact I record in support of the argument that I am about to address to the Senate, is that the basic wage has risen from £5 6s. in 1947-48 to £11 16s. in this year, an increase of 123 per cent. The one item that has remained stationary is the allocation to the Australian Road Safety Council of £100,000. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, very properly dealt at length with the activities of the Australian Transport Advisory Council and the three committees that are functioning under that body. He gave due prominence to the need for safety campaigns in Australia ; but it is disappointing to the Opposition to find that more money is not being made available to the Australian Road Safety Council. There is, fortunately, available to the Parliament at the moment a Current Affairs Bulletin dealing with road safety. It was issued, and has come to my hand, only within the last few days. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the following passage in that bulletin : -
Since the inception of the Australian Road Safety Council in 1947, the accident rate has dropped proportionately. It is estimated that over 1,400 Australian men, women and children are alive to-day who might otherwise have fallen victim to road accidents, and over 27,000 have been spared the physical, mental and economic hardship of personal injury. Based oneither estimated distance travelled, or number of vehicles operating, our roads are safer to-day than ever before.
The figures I have cited are proportional figures. They are accompanied by a graph which shows that the percentage of persons killed per 100,000,000 miles of travel has fallen over the period from 19.94 to 15.70, and that the percentage of persons killed per 10,000 registered motor vehicles has fallen over the period from 13.69 to 10.22. Those figures were slightly revised in a brochure which was issued later, and the latest figuresI have, taking them in the same order, show a fall from 23.27 to 14.80, and from 13.70 to 9.92.
I heard an honorable senator express some doubt about the accuracy of that claim. Probably he has in mind the total number of fatalities and the total number of accidents. “When one looks at the statistics relating to persons killed, one finds a very steady rise in numbers killed over the period, but of course, there are now far more motor vehicles. There is also far more travel, and the population is much greater. I think that the claim of the Australian Road Safety Council is completely justified, and I believe that, proportionately, there has been a fall in the number of deaths and the number of casualties.
I propose to recite the shocking list of persons killed and injured in road accidents in Australia between 1946-47 and 1953-54. The list is as follows: -
Those figures indicate a rise in the total number of persons killed from 1,346 in 1946-47, to 1,898 in the last year for which records are available, but I think that the true position is that the proportion is falling. In my opinion, that has been due partially, if not largely, to the assistance given by the Commonwealth to the AustralianRoad Safety Council which, in turn, co-operates with Commonwealth instrumentalities. The council also receives State help and assistance from many bodies in private enterprise. I wish to read to the Senate a few comments on the broad position of road safety that are made at the back of the Current Affairs Bulletin. They are very interesting statistics and tell a most wretched story. The bulletin states -
In 71 per cent of all fatal accidents resulting from human failings, the roaduser killed was primarily responsible for his own death. The estimated annual economic cost of road accidents amounts to £25,000,000, a sum sufficient to employ over 40,000 workers at the basic wage rate for twelve months. Nine out of ten fatal accidents are attributable to human failure as distinct from defects of vehicles and deficiencies in roads, lighting, &c. Approximately half of the fatal accidents occur on straight roads and in rural districts. . . Most victims of fatal road accidents are in the prime of life (55 per cent are under 40 years of age). There is a road fatality in Australia every 41/2 hours, a road casualty every 13 minutes, and a reportable accident every 7 minutes. . . The most vulnerable position in a private car is the kerb side of the front seat. Safest is the middle of the back seat. The most dangerous time for fatal accidents is between6 p.m. and 8 p.m. . . Intoxication is the prime cause of one in every 16 road fatalities, and one in every 20 personal injuries.
That is a most informative statement. It is very important that such statistics should be kept. I have merely to point to the vast increase of costs in all spheres advertising, wages and everything else to indicate that, if £100,000 was an adequate grant to the council in 1947, it should be double that sum now at least.
A great deal of work is done by the council for our 1,500,000 school children. It is probable that the school children are better informed on road safety matters than are their parents. Perhaps they can exercise an educational influence on their parents. I think that it is wise to concentrate upon the young people.
– The police do all that work for nothing.
– The police cooperate magnificently. The bulletin to which I have referred describes a great number of tests that are carried out. If I remember correctly, a question was asked in the Senate to-day about the desirability of giving citizens, particularly school children, an opportunity to observe road traffic from the driving position in a motor car. That is one of the regular activities of the council and is referred to in this bulletin.
Although the grant is four times as much as it was in 1947, costs have risen to a very high level since then. This body is doing most useful work, if only from an economic viewpoint. From a coldly economic angle, it will pay to further this work. I intimate to the Senate that, at the appropriate time, when the bill is being considered in committee, I shall move that the allocation to the council be increased. I understand that the council sought an increase to £150,000. I propose to suggest that an additional £100,000 be granted. That money could be used very usefully for research work and in connexion with the study of road surfaces and road construction from the angle of safety, and to assist the council to deal with the multifarious problems that confront it in seeking to promote road safety in Australia. I hope that the Government will consider this matter favorably, because it does not involve the expenditure of very much money. The allocation of £100,000, spread over the population of Australia, represents a contribution of considerably less than 3d. a person a year. If that sum were doubled, it would represent a little more than 5d. a person a year. I suggest that is an insignificant amount to contribute to the cause of safety, considered from any aspect. I appeal to the Senate, and also to the Minister, to look at this matter very carefully. That is why I have taken the course of giving notice of the intention of the Opposition, rather than leave the matter entirely until the committee stage is reached. The fact that I have addressed myself to the matter at such length now will at least save time when we rea-ch the committee stage. “With those comments, which indi cate our pleasure that the total grant is to be increased, and with the reservation concerning the need to increase the grant to the Australian Road Safety Council, the Opposition supports the measure.
– One most gratifying aspect of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill is that it averts the possibility, even if only for a short time, of a reduction of the amount of money that is to be available for road purposes. That reduction might have come about, as the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has suggested, because of the development of the oil refinery industry in Australia, the greater use of Australian refined petrol in respect of which 3 1/2d. a gallon of the excise is allocated to roads, and the lesser use of imported spirit in respect of which 6d. a gallon of the customs duty is also, allocated to roads. Under this bill, an allocation is to be made available for roads of 7d. a gallon on all petrol consumed in Australia, with the exception of aviation spirit, on which customs or excise is payable and which is entered for home consumption. The net result of the new arrangement will be that the amount for distribution to the States for roads will be increased by about £7,000,000, from £17,000,000 to £24,000,000. That is a formidable increase of nearly 30 per cent, in one year. Primarily, roads are a State responsibility, although the allocation of £24,000,000 from the Australian Government tends to obscure that basic fact. However, roads and road construction have been accepted by Australian governments of all political colours for many years as a responsibility in which they might quite properly interest themselves, more particularly considering the physical characteristics of Australia. It is a land of great distances, and communications are necessary in places that otherwise would be isolated.
There is no contentious point in this bill, except the formula for the distribution of the money to the States. The contention on that point arises from only one quarter. Five per cent, of the total moneys collected, after a deduction of about £900,000 this year for Commonwealth purposes, will go to Tasmania.
The other 95 per cent, will be distributed to the States on the basis of two-fifths according to area, and three-fifths on the basis of population. That formula finds fairly general favour in most quarters except Victoria. Victoria claims that the basis is unfair inasmuch as that State will not receive back from the fund a just allocation of money that it has contributed. When the formula was adopted some years ago, precise mathematical accuracy was not taken into account. The guiding considerations that led to the adoption of the formula were those of justice and equity in a sphere rather broader than that encompassed by any mathematical formula. The ideal was to provide communications to parts of Australia that could not provide communications for themselves because of isolation and sparsity of population. What was obviously in the minds of the men who drew up this formula - although it was not specifically expressed - was the necessity for development, and the important part that roads play in the development of a country. They had in mind the necessity to build roads for defence and to prepare for that broad aspect of defence that demands road communication because of the absence of other forms of communication, such as railways. Airways did not exist then, but were to be developed in later years.
So far as my own State is concerned, I believe that the far-sighted wisdom on which this formula was based has always been apparent, but in recent years it has become much more obvious. The development that is now taking place in Western Australia is imposing progressively increasing demands for roads and road communication. If the present formula were to be altered in any way that might detrimentally affect the allocation to Western Australia, the development that is now taking place there, would be seriously retarded. That development is important to the whole of Australia and not to Western Australia exclusively. Throughout the years, both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament have agreed to the formula. Successive conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers have accepted it as one best suited to the purposes of Australia.
I repeat that there has been an occasional discordant note from Victoria.
– Nothing to what there will be.
– I have in my hand a pamphlet that was issued by the direction of Mr. S. Merrifield, M.L.A., Minister for Public Works in Victoria, “ to acquaint members of local government councils throughout Victoria with the present position regarding petrol taxation and its availability to Victoria “. It was issued in September, 1953. It outlines the case that Victoria presented to a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in which Victoria sought a greater allocation of petrol money. One claim that was made by the Victorian representatives was as follows : -
Thirdly, we ask that the amount of petrol tax allocated by the Commonwealth for road purposes should be distributed to the States in proportion to the number of motor vehicles in each State.
I suggest that the adoption, at this stage, of that claim, after it has been virtually rejected for twenty years, would represent a complete negation of the spirit that motivated the origination of this formula. In my opinion, Victoria has no sound basis for claiming that it has suffered as a result of the use of this formula. It has been my pleasure to travel through Victoria occasionally over a period of some years. I am always impressed by the progress that that State has made and is still making. In all corners of the State, road communications are available. In addition, railway communications are available to people who live beside the roads. In Victoria, air services and all other modern methods of transport are available but, as any honorable senator will discover if he looks at a map, in Western Australia there are no railways north of Geraldton. That illustrates the difference between the stages of development reached by the transport systems of Victoria and Western Australia.
Victoria, in support of its claims for a larger proportion of the petrol tax, has stated frequently that although money from the tax is made available to all the States, it is not possible for some of them to spend the whole of their allocations.
That charge is completely baseless if applied to Western Australia. I acknowledge at once that, in the immediate post-war years, Western Australia and, I believe, most of the other States experienced difficulty in spending all of the money allocated to them, because of war-caused shortages of plant and labour and the diversion of plant and labour to other urgent works. For a while, there was some difficulty of that kind. In 1950-51, the grant was substantially increased, but because the act that authorized the increase did not come into force until half-way through that year, the position was somewhat aggravated. However, in recent years, circumstances have changed. In 1952-53, the carryover from the fund in Western Australia at the end of the financial year was £120,520, but £168,430 was due to be paid to local governing bodies for work done. So at the end of that year the fund was actually in debt. For 1953-54, the amount carried over was £154,203, but £146,566 was due to be paid to local governing bodies. So at the end of last June there was £7,600 in the fund and available for distribution. That was the effective carry-over. Therefore, I say that the story, which has some currency in Victoria, that some States cannot spend their allocations is completely untrue and should be denied on every occasion.
I point out that Western Australia, in addition to spending the money allocated to it from the petrol tax, has, through its road-building authorities, undertaken and completed road works for the State Housing Commission and for the AngloIranian Oil Company Limited at Kwinana. The Western Australian Main Roads Board has undertaken to build a road to Exmouth Gulf and another road from Derby to Mount Anderson. In addition, some road work is being done in the Kimberleys with funds provided under the State Grants (Encouragement of Meat Production) Act. Those activities indicate that Western Australia is capable, not only of spending the money made available to it now for roads, but also of spending additional money if it should be provided, as I sincerely hope it will. I want to say a word about–
– Victoria ?
– I have finished with Victoria for the time being, and I regret that I have nothing to say about South Australia. I want to say something about strategic roads, a subject which was mentioned by Senator McKenna. This year, the allocation for strategic roads has been increased to £800,000. I note with some interest that the Minister is vested with power to decide what is a strategic road and what is not. I found out the other day that his authority goes somewhat beyond that. He can decide the extent to which a road is a strategic road. I asked him whether a condition of the grant made by the Commonwealth from the strategic roads fund for the maintenance of the Eyre Highway was that the Western Australian Government should spend an amount equal to the grant on the maintenance of the road. He said in reply that the Commonwealth grant of £10,000 for 1953-54 was made available subject to the expenditure concurrently by the Western Australian Government of £5,000. So I assume the Minister has power, not only to decide what is a strategic road, but also the extent to which a road is a strategic road. When the Minister replies to the debate, I hope he will give the Senate some indication of how the grant from the strategic roads fund was spent in Western Australia last year and how it is proposed to spend it this year.
If I may refer to Western Australia again without offending Senator Critchley, I want to say that in the far north of the State there are many roads that can be described only as strategic roads. When I spoke in the Senate recently T mentioned a road that had been pushed through country that was virtually unexplored. I refer to the road from Wyndham, through Gibb River out to the Drysdale Mission. That road is situated in a part of the continent that would be of vital importance in a time of war or threat of war, yet the construction of the road was entirely the responsibility of the State Government. I should be grateful if the Minister would give us some information about what constitutes a strategic road. I believe that a road such as that must qualify for a grant from the strategic roads fund rather than from the ordinary fund.
I express my satisfaction at the fact that in future it will be necessary for expenditure on rural roads to be increased to 40 per cent. of the total allocation, compared with 35 per cent, at present. With regard to road safety, I say merely that, like Senator McKenna, I admire the work of the Road Safety Council tremendously. I was interested to read that the Traffic Advisory Council had in mind the formulation of a uniform code of traffic laws for Australia. That is very necessary, but what is more necessary and urgent is the introduction of a uniform system of traffic signs. We are assimilating many New Australians. If a uniform system of traffic signs were introduced, new settlers would know that a traffic sign in New South Wales meant the same as a similar sign at a place in Victoria a few miles over the border. I notice -with pleasure that, in the future, the States will have to submit certificates furnished by their Auditor-General to the effect that the legislative provisions in connexion with the expenditure of the money have been complied with. I am sure that this requirement will have the approval of Senator Gorton, who represents Victoria in this chamber.
As Western Australia is larger in area, but not so thickly populated as Victoria, and as some Victorian senators consider that Western Australia receives larger amounts than are justified, they are prone to regard the grants as gifts. I believe that the reasons for the adoption of the formula originally hold good to-day. Allocations of loan moneys to the lesser-developed States are not gifts; they are contributions io the development of the Australian economy.
– It is legalized robbery.
– I regret that Senator George Rankin, who represents Victoria, does not appreciate my point of view. I emphasize, that those allocations are really contributions to the development of a solid national economy. The allocations are designed to benefit not only the States which receive the largest amounts, but Australia as a whole.
– I was very interested in Senator Paltridge’s remarks about the magnificent road construction work that has been carried out in Western Australia and Victoria. The representatives of those States are now quarrelling about the method of allocating the money, and I believe that a Victorian senator intends to submit a motion in the matter. I am concerned, not so much about the formula, or the amount of money allocated for roads purposes - although it will be approximately £7,000,000 more in this financial year than it was in the last financial year - as with the manner in which the money is expended. In recent years, I have travelled extensively over all kinds of roads in at least three States, and I am greatly perturbed about certain expenditure for road purposes which has not yet resulted in an actual improvement of the roads. I was interested to learn from Senator Paltridge’s remarks that the Australian Government had imposed conditions in connexion with an allocation of money for the construction of a strategic road in Western Australia, because I was under the impression that the Government could not impose such conditions. But evidently it has power to do so. I therefore suggest that the Commonwealth should stipulate that all money allocated to the States for road purposes shall be expended efficiently, and in a manner which will ensure that the roads will be improved by the expenditure. I emphasize the necessity to achieve efficiency in this connexion. I do not think that the allegations that have been made that some States hang on to the money that they receive from the Commonwealth in roads grants and other grants could be sustained. I think that they expend all of the money supplied to them, although not necessarily efficiently. At a number of places in the three States through which I travel regularly, there are huge heaps of road metal and other road maintenance materials alongside the roads. Of what use is that ? The material should be used for the construction of new roads and the maintenance of existing roads. In some places, thousands of tons of roadmaking materials have been accumulated on cleared areas, and the adjacent roads are in a shocking condition. Why should money allocated to the States from the proceeds of the petrol tax be expended to accumulate huge quantities of road making materials which are not immediately used to improve the roads system, but are left in dumps for months and, in many instances, years? Many road engineers draw a distinction between highways and main roads ; I regard those terms as synonymous. They plan deviations at various parts of the highways, in order to eliminate or reduce curves, and after the course of the highway has been changed, they fence off perfectly good sections of the original roadway to prevent vehicles from travelling over them. Up to a point, that procedure is all right. But my complaint is that, in many instances, the surface of the deviations is not properly sealed for anything up to two years after they are taken into use, and during that period motorists are compelled to travel over a badly pot-holed and corrugated section of roadway. Why should not the original road be used until the new sections of roadway have been completed satisfactorily? When all is said and done, the only purpose of such deviations is to enable some persons to drive their motor vehicles at faster speeds.
A deviation such as I have referred to has been constructed on the road from Canberra to Queanbeyan. The existing road is a perfect bituminous road. Speed limits apply to it in certain places, but it would be possible to drive at 70 miles an hour on it. Yet a deviation has been constructed for about 3 miles of the length of this road. That work was commenced two or three years ago, and for eight or nine months of this year, the approach to each end of the deviation on the good road has been mucked up. Why was it necessary to make that deviation in a perfectly good bitumen road? Nobody can use the deviation. The bitumen of the good road has been dug up. It is necessary to slow down when travelling oyer it and one’s vehicle usually becomes covered with dust at that part of the road. That sort of work is going on all over the country. It is a wilful waste of money.
– That deviation will take bends and corners out of the road.
– There are no dangerous comers on that road. Few pedestrians use that section of it. If it is necessary to straighten the road they could widen it or simply cut off the corners.
In making its grant to the States, the Commonwealth should impose a condition that existing roads shall be utilized to the best advantage instead of constructing deviations. I do not object to removing dangerous corners. I object to deviations that have been made, not to avoid a corner, but to replace 2 or 3 miles of road. That involves a wilful waste of money. It is remarkable that all road engineers in Australia have the same idea on this subject. Whether they all obtained their ideas from the conferences that were mentioned by Senator Paltridge I do not know. But, wherever these deviations are made, for two or three years the road is considerably more dangerous than it was before the work was commenced. So the danger element does not enter into the matter. Some inquiry should be made into work of this kind.
An inquiry should also be made into the use of roadmaking equipment. Some councils, particularly in country areas, have been induced to get roadbuilding machinery because the Government has provided funds for its purchase from overseas. Throughout the three States that I have mentioned, councils own roadbuilding machinery that they are not using and they are saddled with repayments in respect of that equipment. There should be an inquiry into the necessity for councils to purchase road building machinery when nearby councils have similar equipment which they are not using. Councils should co-operate in order to make the best use of their machinery. Some small councils may use their roadbuilding machinery for only 25 per cent of the working period of each year. I think that the Government has the power to lay down conditions upon which it will make road grants. It should refuse to make payments under those grants unless the councils produce a certificate to the effect that a certain amount of work has been done. Notwithstanding what people might say about centralized control, I think it is essential that the money granted from collections of petrol tax should be used in the construction of useful roads. It should not be used to build superfluous roads alongside existing highways. There is a tremendous amount of inefficiency in road construction and a tremendous amount of money is wasted, ostensibly for the purpose of building roads.
.- I am in complete agreement with Senator O’Flaherty’s contention that the machinery in the possession of many councils is not fully used. A great deal can be said for co-operation between municipalities. But I disagree with Senato O’Flaherty’s statement that such plant has been imported into this country by the use of borrowed dollars.
– I did not say that.
– The honorable senator said that the Government had bought this machinery. Most of the machinery used by councils is made in Australia because it is small. Dollars are used for the purchase of heavy equipment which can be seen operating to the best advantage at the Upper Yarra Dam where heavy lifting trucks are doing an immense job in reducing costs and getting the work carried out. At Eildon Weir and Mount Lyall these trucks, which are made only in the United States of America, have made a tremendous difference to costs.
I wish to express the appreciation of Tasmanian senators for the acceptance by other senators of the formula under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill for the making of a grant to Tasmania. When I tell the Senate how much Tasmania will receive under this formula, Senator Gorton will realize why I would vote against his motion. If the States shared in the Commonwealth grant on a uniform basis, Tasmania would receive about £570,000.’ But because Tasmania will receive 5 per cent, of the grant,, that State will receive £1,115,000, which is almost double the amount that it would receive otherwise. This grant will help the States which, because of their small populations and vast areas, are in a less advantageous position than the larger States. The adoption of this formula will result in a contribution being made by the larger States to the smaller States. Tasmania would have no hope of coping with its problems of road development if it did not receive this grant. It is a very mountainous country and road construction in Tasmania is a very costly proposition. Tasmania is greatly dependent on the tourist trade which flows through our island, and tourists will not come to Tasmania if we do not have reasonably good roads. I like to think when tourists come from other States to Tasmania in order to recuperate, year after year, that they appreciate the generosity of their representatives in this chamber who have made available to Tasmania the money with which to build and maintain roads so as to give access to all the beauty that is Tasmania.
I congratulate the Government also upon the sound and far-sighted new provisions that have been included in this legislation. The first is that we shall now collect and distribute 7d. a gallon on all petrol used in Australia, other than aviation spirit. As this is to be done for a five-year period, it will enable State governments and municipal authorities to plan their programmes well ahead. They will know what their minimum revenue will be. They will know at the beginning of each year that they will receive at least the amount that they received in the previous year, and that, as petrol sales increase, their grants will increase. I agree with Senator Paltridge that the decision to increase the allocation for expenditure in rural and sparsely populated areas from 35 per cent, to 40 per cent, will be a great help to the development of outback districts. It is certainly a step in the right direction. The legislation also includes a clause which I think has been overlooked by many municipal councils. I refer to clause 9, which provides that the States shall be empowered to continue to use any part of their road grant to assist local authorities in the construction and maintenance of roads. Clause 11 is another good provision. It requires each State to furnish to the Commonwealth each year audited statements showing that the Commonwealth aid roads grant is being expended in accordance with the provisions of this legislation. 1 am glad to see that provision because I believe that it will stop certain practices that have been going on. For instance, for very many years one road in Tasmania was a standing joke. I refer to the road from Boat Harbour to Smithton. Every time a State election was approaching, road materials, including bitumen, were piled up on the side of that road, but after the election was over, the materials were taken away again and very little was done to the road. That went on for quite a long time. I am pleased to say that the reconstruction work was eventually done, and. that the road is now a ‘very fine highway. However, as I have said, the road was a standing joke for many years.
I also support Senator Paltridge’s plea for uniform road signs. A friend of mine who returned from overseas told me that the best road sign he saw in his travels through Europe - I think it was in Germany - was a grinning skeleton’s head. That sign was placed at every dangerous bend and my friend told me that it was most effective because whenever a traveller saw the skeleton’s head, it reminded him that “ death is so permanent “ and he thought it was time to put on the brakes. It is interesting to note how Tasmania’s grant under this legislation has increased over the last few years. For the year ended the 30th June, 1950, Tasmania received £442,000. In the following year, the grant rose” to £642,000, an increase of £200,000. For 1951-52 the figure was £739,000, and for 1952-53 it was £746,000. Last year, it reached £831,000’ and the estimate for this year is £1.155,000 or an increase of £324,000 over last year. The increase since 1950 has totalled 163 per cent. These are significant figures, particularly in view of complaints by municipal councils in Tasmania that they are short of funds. I believe those complaints to he very well founded. I am sure that if municipal authorities were to examine the grants that have been made to them by the State Government in recent years, they would find that the increases have been by no means commensurate with the increases of the Commonwealth’s grants to the State That aspect of the matter would provide a useful field of research for municipal bodies. This is an important matter, because I am firmly convinced that municipal authorities are best able to get the maximum value for money that is spent on roads.
. -The circumstances of this debate are unusual in that it follows closely the consideration by. the Senate of a motion by Senator Gorton for an investigation of the formula under which road grants are made to the States. As I had an opportunity to participate in that debate, and to bring certain facts to the notice of honorable senators, I shall not cover that ground again now. I support the bill in principle, but I shall vote for the amendment that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has foreshadowed for an increase of £50,000 in the grant to the Australian Road Safety Council. My main reason for speaking to this bill is to reply to statements that have appeared in the press and elsewhere about the carry-over of funds received from the Commonwealth by the Queensland Government in the financial year just ended. The inference to be drawn from those statements is that if money made available by the Commonwealth to the States for a specific purpose is carried over, that .State is receiving more funds than it can expend with reasonable effort, and that, therefore, there is a case for a re-examination of its allocation. It has been claimed that there has been a carry-over of £2,000,000 of last year’s Commonwealth aid roads grant to Queensland, and because the implications of this claim are serious, I think it is proper to put the facts on record in the Senate. If, in the course of presenting the facts, I have to refer rather closely to figures, I trust that honorable senators will bear with me. For the year 1953-54 the total amount received by Queensland from the Commonwealth aid roads fund was £3,190,739. Of that sum, £2,033,661 was received under the provisions of section 6 of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act. Of that £2,033,661, £2,008,661 was allocated to the Main Roads Department, and £25,000 to the Harbours and Marine Department. The balance of the £3,190,740, namely, £1,157,079 was received under the provisions of section 7 of the act. That is the section which provides for money to be spent in rural areas, either by the State Government itself, or by local authorities. Of that amount of £1,157,079. £560,100 was ear-marked for the Local Authorities Trust Fund, and £596,979 was placed into the Mav Roads Fund for specific expenditure in rural areas. That is precisely how our total grant of £3,190,739 was allocated. In other words, the allocation was completely in accordance with our responsibilities and liabilities under the agreement between the States and the Commonwealth. At the 30th June of this year, the balance in the Main Roads Fund was £1,468,000. The suggestion made in the press that the figure was £2,000,000 is not correct. At the end of the previous year, the amount of the carry-over was £939,800, which included £200,000 in loan funds paid in by the Treasury at the end of the year. So, the amount by which the real revenue exceeded expenditure in 1953-54 was £529,000, which was considerably less than the figure, for 1952-53, when the real balance unexpended was £739,000. Nevertheless, I suppose it is a considerable balance to have unexpended, and perhaps it does require some explanation. But the circumstances that made it possible are reasonable and clear. The balance in the main roads fund at the 30th June, 1954, was due to four main factors, the most important of which was the difficulty in obtaining adequate man-power, including engineering, drafting, clerical, field supervisory, field clerical, skilled ‘ and unskilled workers. The second factor was curtailment of commitments, with which I shall deal in some detail as I go along. The third factor was the unusual weather conditions which prevailed in the early part of this year. Finally, there was difficulty in obtaining materials, particularly bridge timber, steel and cement. The Senate may be interested to know just how these factors, which determined the amount of the financial carry-over at the end of the year, arose.
– Is this an apologia ?
– No, it is not. I should expect the honorable senator to join me in this matter. Queensland is a State which requires the expenditure of tremendous sums of money for developmental purposes, but unfortunately, it is not receiving all the money that it needs. The allegation has been made that the State not only is receiving more than it needs but also more than it reasonably can expend. That allegation was made recently in the House of Representatives, and I should expect honorable senators who represent Queensland in this Parliament to assist me to state the facts objectively, regardless of party considerations. The implications of such a statement, if true, would be serious for Queensland. This is not an apology but an explanation, in order to answer distortion of the truth which has taken place.
The average number of men employed on road construction work in Queensland during 1952-53 was 3,715, and in 1953-54, it was 3,608. The number a.t the end of June last was 4,967, but during the most favourable working part of the year, the number was much less than that. Men were disinclined to leave the amenities of city life to undertake the rather exacting work of road construction in rural areas. Last week-end, I had the opportunity to visit the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, where I saw a large number, of workers. When one considers the amenities that are provided at the major construction sites in the Snowy Mountains, one can well appreciate the reluctance of workers to seek employment on main roads and railway construction jobs, where few amenities are provided.
I have already said that curtailment of commitments was a factor in the financial carry-over. In 1952, and at the beginning of 1953, there was a widespread curtailment of construction work in most of the States owing to restriction of finance. That is a matter about which honorable senators on this side of the Parliament have complained from time to time. The recession which occurred at that time resulted from the economic policy of this Government. When the economy is upset in that way, the status quo cannot be restored immediately. The Queensland Main Roads Department prevented drastic shutdowns, such as occurred elsewhere, but in common with other construction authorities, it took steps to curtail its future commitments. The department had no idea that that recession would be so serious, or that it would continue for such n long time. As soon as the situation began to clarify early in the financial year, commitments were entered into at an increased rate in an endeavour to overcome the lag. However, once a large machine is allowed to slow down, it takes time to get it going again. A certain number of skilled workers, including several principal foremen, had obtained other employment and could not be enticed back again.
Those economic conditions were beyond the control of the Queensland Government, but completely within the control of the Australian Government.
– There were plenty of men available for work on suburban railways, and there was no shortage of materials, either.
– That was not so. As the honorable senator should know, that recession was allowed to develop in Australia, and the conditions to which I have referred resulted from it. The Queensland Government is now being charged with something for which the present Australian Government was primarily responsible.
The third factor to which I have referred relates to weather conditions. In the early part of this year, the weather was unprecedented. Honorable senators who represent Queensland will agree that it is no exaggeration to say that the first half of this year was an extraordinary one as far as Queensland weather was concerned. Three cyclones struck the coast in fairly rapid succession. When such a thing happens, roads are damaged considerably, and dislocation of roadconstruction programmes occurs. Gravel pits are flooded, with a consequent hold-up of construction work. Practical men, such as Senator George Rankin, will appreciate that it is not possible to work on the land, after heavy rain, until the weather has cleared up. As a result of those cyclones, road-construction work, which normally would have gone ahead according to a fixed schedule, was delayed. There was also a shortage of materials. In Queensland, the supply of bridge timber represents one of the major problems in road-construction work. The construction and repair of many bridges, particularly on the road to Cairns, were delayed for a considerable time while awaiting the arrival of timber. In addition, there were difficulties in connexion with the supply of steel joints. Although large orders were placed with the Forestry Department and timber suppliers, early delivery of the requisite quantities of timber were not made. The lack of continuity of supply held up work all along the line. Steel is generally in short supply in Queensland. We depend on sea transport to bring steel from the southern States, and ships are not always available. This is a constant source of worry to the State authorities.
It will be seen, therefore, that any surplus funds for road purposes resulted from conditions which were beyond the control of the Queensland Government. I think that Senator Paltridge will agree that, in financing a proposal over a period of years, it is not usual to budget so that every £1 will be expended by the last minute of the financial year. A. carry-over of a reasonable credit balance to the succeeding year is considered to be reasonably prudent accounting. Two hundred thousand pounds of the carryover in Queensland was accounted for by a late payment by the Queensland Treasury into the trust fund, and I think that an additional amount of £290,000 was paid into the local authorities’ trust fund. Those figures indicate that the position has been grossly misrepresented. I can only conclude that that misrepresentation has been made for party political purposes, although the approach of honorable senators to the matter has been of a nonparty political nature. When Senator Gorton presented a motion in the Senate recently, concerning the allocation of petrol tax, he certainly did not do so on party lines. Instead, he argued the matter from the point of- view of Victoria, which he represents. I think that the facts of this matter indicate that the financial needs of Queensland, in relation to roads, are very great. As a matter of fact, in my opinion, no State of the Commonwealth should have a greater allocation from petrol tax and excise for strategic road-construction than Queensland.
– Except, perhaps, Western Australia.
– I am delighted to include Western Australia. I shall say that those two States deserve the highest allocation.
– What about the Northern Territory?
– The Northern Territory is possibly even more vulnerable than are the States of the Commonwealth, because of its sparsity of population and geographical position. Recently, Senator Kendall spoke in the Senate concerning the necessity for mobile naval defence forces, while other honorable senators who are experienced in military strategy and tactics, haveadvocated the need for mobile military forces, should the first line of our defences fail to halt an aggressor in time of war. I suggest that it is not possible to use mobile forces effectively unless there are roads on which to transport stores and supplies, and even the vehicles of war. For that reason it is important that Queensland and Western Australia should receive a major allocation of funds for the construction of strategic roads. In addition, those States should be generously treated in relation to the ordinary dispersal of funds under section 67 of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act. Every road has a certain strategic importance. Roads open up the country. I should expect that all honorable senators, particularly those from Queensland and Western Australia, would be absolutely ad idem on this matter.
I wish to conclude with a short reference to the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). It is a tragedy that so many young lives should be lost on the roads every day. I understand that, in hospitals throughout Australia, there are casualty wards which are more or less reserved exclusively for motor cycle accident cases of young men whose bodies have been battered, their limbs severed and their heads crushed. It is a shocking commentary on our way of life that such things should happen. We must try to educate our young people, who to-day aru able to earn high wages and purchase these lethal machines, to protect themselves, in the interests of the nation. I think that our slogan should be, “Don’t make every milestone a tombstone “. Unfortunately, that is what many Australians are doing to-day. For what it is worth, I offer that slogan to the Australian Road Safety Council.
I think that I have put the case of Queensland, in respect of finance for road construction, fairly and objectively. I hope that the Senate will conclude that Queensland needs the money which is allocated to it, that it is making every reasonable effort to expend such money, and that it was unable to expend all of its allocation last year only because of reasons which were completely beyond the control of the State.
– I have very much satisfaction in supporting this bill to repeal the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1950, and to replace it by greatly improved provisions which will operate for a period of five years. The repeal of that legislation has become necessary because of changes which are now taking place. In the future we shall draw our petrol, in the main, from supplies from refineries in this country, instead of from supplies imported in tankers. Petrol which is imported in tankers attracts customs duty. When it begins to flow from the refineries, it will attract excise duty. In order to meet that changed position, the Government thought it desirable to repeal the previous legislation on the subject and to introduce new proposals which were explained by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) when he introduced this measure. Those proposals will bear repetition in order to emphasize the main features of the change.
First, the bill provides for an increase of the allocation of money for road purposes by the imposition of a tax of 7d. a gallon on all petrol used for home consumption, except aviation spirit, secondly, the States will continue to have the right to use any part of their road grants to assist local authorities in the construction and maintenance of roads. I direct the attention of Senator Byrne, who has just resumed his seat, to that provision. Thirdly, the hill will enable the States to spend from Commonwealth road grants up to £1,000,000 a year on works connected with transport by road or water. Fourthly, there will be a continuance of the apportionment of road grants among the States on the existing formula. That provides for the allocation of 5 per cent, of the total annual grant to Tasmania.. The remainder will be divided among the other States on the basis of three-fifths according to population and two-fifths according to area. Fifthly, the measure will require each State to furnish to the Australian Government each year audited statements showing that Commonwealth road grants are being expended in accordance with the provisions of this measure. That is important, and I shall make further reference to that provision later. Sixthly, the measure provides for the continued allocation of £100,000 a year for expenditure by the Australian Government on the promotion of road safety. Finally, there is to be an increase from £500,000 to £800,000 of the amount reserved each year for expenditure by thu Australian Government on strategic roads, roads of access to ‘Commonwealth property and other roads that are needed for Commonwealth requirements.
When introducing the bill, the Minister presented figures showing the remarkable growth in the size of road grants since 1923. I can amplify his statement in some details. During this Government’s term of office, road grants paid to the States have amounted to about £60,000,000. In the last financial year, £17,000,000 was allocated to the States. The amount to be set aside for that purpose in the current financial year, under the terms of this measure, will be about £24,000,000. Those calculations are made upon the basis of the current consumption of petrol. It may be assumed that the present strong demand for new motor vehicles for com mercial and private purposes will continue. In that event, we can expect the demand for petrol to expand in proportion to increased purchases of motor vehicles. Therefore, honorable senators are justified in believing that, in the next few years, the Government will be in a position to make further increases in road fund allocations to the States. Australia has in operation more than 1,750,000 motor vehicles. In terms of numbers of motor vehicles in proportion to population, Australia is the third most highly motorized nation in the world. The United States of America is in top position followed by New Zealand. Those are the only two countries in the world that have a greater number of motor vehicles in relation to population than Australia has. Until twenty years ago, the great majority of Australian roads were conditioned to the requirements of Cobb and Company’s coaches. It was the horse and buggy age. Even now, with far better road techniques and the gradual extension of concrete and bitumen-sealed roads, there is room for concentrated study of road problems and road construction methods. Many kinds of experiments are being conducted by country road boards, main road boards and similar organizations. In Queensland, experiments were conducted in the construction of rubber roads. I have ridden over sections of rubber roads and found they were very good. The ride was smooth, there were no corrugations and the wear on motor tyres was light, but economic considerations are against the construction of rubber roads despite the advantages.
Studies in road construction are current, however, and they should be continued with a view to achieving durable roads that will stand up to modern traffic. In the early days of Australian history, roads were built for buggies, sulkies, horses, men on horseback, coaches, drays and caravans. A revolutionary change in road needs has taken place in a comparatively short period. Now we have splendid limousines for private use and heavy motor vehicles designed for commercial purposes. Big trucks carry many tons of goods, and big trailers are drawn behind them in many instances. Heavy weights and fast speeds are imposing severe wear and tear upon our roads. It is all the more important that we should devise ways and means of building roads as durable, comparatively, as those that were built by the ancient Romans. Sections of such roads are still to be seen in parts of Germany, France and Great Britain. Durable roads in the future will be more costly than those that we are prepared to build now, but we must plan for them if we are to have roads that will stand up to modern transport. I believe that we shall need more and more money from State sources, and bigger allocations from the Australian Government, to build the roads that will be required in the future. This bill provides for the allocation of about £24,000,000 in this financial year. It will be most acceptable and represents a big advance on any previous grant, but I believe the time is not far distant when we shall have to provide, between the Commonwealth and the States, for an annual expenditure of at least £100.000,000 if we are to keep pace with the development of motor transport in Australia.
Most regrettably, some of the State governments have manipulated their road funds for somewhat sordid purposes. I regret that I am impelled to make that statement, because I have a high regard for the needs of the States, but I regret that some States use their main roads funds for purposes other than those for which they are provided. I shall give honorable senators some examples.
– To which States does the honorable senator refer?
– I shall tell the Senate as I proceed. Just before the Senate election in 1953, the Queensland Government notified all local authorities in Queensland that no funds were available for the maintenance of existing highways, main roads and secondary roads. As a result, the local authorities were forced to engage in the wholesale sacking of road workers all over the State. I was in northern Queensland during the Senate election campaign as a candidate. I found that the chairmen of all the shire councils and the mayors of municipalities in northern Queensland became alarmed at the notification from the State Government, and they assembled at a township named Herberton on the Atherton Tableland to consider the problem that arose from, the withholding of funds for road maintenance by the Queensland Labour Government. After discussion, they came to the conclusion that the State Government’s action was a ruthless method adopted to give point to the State Government’s false claim that the Australian Government was starving Queensland of funds. By that means, the Queensland Labour Government hoped to influence the dismissed road workers and those in contact with them to vote against the Liberal and Australian Country party Senate candidates. That was the Machievellian intention of the Queensland Government. It ruthlessly caused the dismissal of road workers on the eve of the Senate election in 1953, and said that it lacked funds to keep them employed. It said that the Australian Government was the big bad wolf.
I made it clear, on every platform from which I spoke in northern Queensland, that the State Labour Government had £10,000,000 tucked away in the old oak chest in a reserve fund. That money was lying idle> and the State Government would not draw on it to keep the men in employment. Since then I have discovered that, in addition to the £10,000,000 it held in reserve, the Queensland Government had a credit balance of £939,854 in the main roads fund at 30th June, 1953. That has been confirmed by Senator Byrne. The Senate election was held on 9th May, 1953. Just a few weeks later, the Queensland Government finished the financial year with a credit balance of £939,854 in the main roads fund, yet it notified the local government authorities in Queensland that it had no funds available. It cruelly and wilfully caused the road maintenance workers to .be dismissed for its own political ends. The New South Wales Labour Government appears to be adopting the same technique. Recently it was charged with having sacked New South Wales railway employees on a pretext similar to that adopted .by the Queensland Government at a time when the New South Wales
Treasury coffers were bulging with surplus funds. I have in my hand an extract from the Sydney Morning Herald of the 21st October.
Senator Aylett interjecting,
– This is a mansized proposition. The newspaper cutting contains a condensed version of a speech that was delivered by Mr. Haworth, the honorable member for Isaacs in the House of Representatives. I presume that the speech was delivered on the 20th October. The report stated -
Mr. Haworth said that the Victorian Government, which received only £2,863,000 from the Commonwealth for road construction and maintenance, i” one stroke of the pen, and against the will of the people, had spent £1,500,000 in providing a tram service in Bourke-street, Melbourne.
I do not say that Mr. Haworth meant that the Victorian Government had taken £1;500,000 from an amount allocated specifically by the Commonwealth for expenditure on main roads, but his statement highlights a point I want to make. Each State Government has a main roads fund, into which it pays loan funds, revenue from motor registration and licence-fees, and money received from the Commonwealth under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act. All those receipts go into the melting pot, the main roads fund. Apparently Mr. Haworth’s complaint is that the Victorian Government took £1,500,000 from the main roads fund, the money in which should be used for the construction and maintenance of roads, in order to provide a tram service in Bourke-street, Melbourne.
– Has the honorable senator any proof that that was done, or is he relying only on a press statement ?
– In accordance with parliamentary practice, I accept as truthful anything that Senator Cooke says when he speaks in the Senate. Therefore, I must accept-
– Does the honorable senator know that what he has said about the Victorian Government is true, or is he relying on a scandal sheet?
Government senators interjecting,
– The report appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.
– I rise to order. I heard an unparliamentary expression come from the other side of the chamber. The expression was, “ Shut up “. You, Mr. President, are responsible for maintaining order in the Senate. I do not think such expressions should be used, especially when we are on the air. They do not do us much credit, even though they are not clearly enunciated and it is difficult to detect the culprit.
– If I had heard a remark of that kind, I should have called the honorable senator concerned to order, but I did not hear it.
– I assure Senator Critchley that I did not use it. The speech to which I have referred was delivered in another place by an honorable member who represents a Victorian electorate. The report I have quoted gives a condensed version of the speech, but it is what the Sydney Morning Herald’s reporter claims was said. I submit the report for what it is worth, but I believe it to be correct.
On the 21st of this month, Mr. Duggan, the Queensland Minister for Transport, stated in the Queensland Parliament that in 1953-54 receipts under the Commonwealth Aid Road’s Act paid into the Queensland main roads fund amounted to £2,605,640 - the figure cited by Senator Byrne this afternoon - and that those receipts were fully spent during that year. Mr. Duggan said that refuted statements which had been made to the effect that the Commonwealth aid roads fund moneys had not been fully expended by the Queensland Government. I say that Mr. Duggan was merely playing with figures. The Queensland Treasury maintains a fund called the main roads fund. The sum of £2,605,640 received in 1953-54 from the Commonwealth as a roads grant would be paid into that fund. But Mr. Duggan has concealed the fact that loan funds allocated for road maintenance and construction are also paid into the fund, together with revenue collected from motor registration and licencefees and certain appropriations from consolidated revenue. All those moneys are paid into the main roads fund and, in the aggregate, they represent a fairly substantial sum.
Neither Mr. Duggan nor Senator Byrne has attempted to explain how at the 30th June, 1953, the main roads fund of Queensland came to be in credit to the extent of £939,854, and further, how at the 30th June, 1954, it came to be in credit by an amount of £1,468,382 - a figure which Senator Byrne, when he spoke a little while ago, admitted was correct. Nobody could say whether money paid out of a fund of that kind was a part of an allocation made under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act, a part of revenue from motor registration and licence-fees, or a part of loan funds provided for road construction and maintenance. All the money goes into the pool. When money is drawn from the fund, it is impossible to say from which source the money came originally. However, one thing is certain. The Queensland Government had those large credit balances in its main roads fund. That refutes the argument of the Queensland Premier and his supporters that Queensland has been starved of road funds. In the last two financial years, the Queensland Government has had very substantial credit balances in its main roads fund. I could go on to say that it has had substantial credit balances in other funds, but that would be out of order, because we are dealing only with roads. As the Queensland Government has had those substantial credit balances it is wide open to a charge that it is not using, for the purposes implicit in the gift, the whole of the petrol tax funds given to it by the Commonwealth.
The Queensland Minister for Transport advances a spurious argument when he says that the Queensland Government has spent all the Commonwealth aid roads money, and that the only money remaining in the main roads fund is money obtained from motor registration and licence-fees and loan funds. He says that every penny given to the Queensland Government .by the Commonwealth under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act has .been spent. He is a magician if he is able to dissect payments made from the fund and tell us that only loan funds and money collected from motorists remain in the main roads fund, and that all the money received from the Commonwealth has been spent. I cannot swallow that story.
Senator Byrne, in making out a case to support the Queensland Minister for Transport, has told us that one of the reasons why this money has not been spent is that there is a shortage of labour. I cannot accept that as correct. The Minister has said that he finds it difficult to attract men from the cities to work on roads because, to use his own expression, they have to live under canvas. I should say that he could spend these funds if he went about the job in the right way. I shall return to that matter in a moment. Senator Byrne has stated that bad weather conditions made it difficult to carry out road work along the eastern littoral of Queensland. In reply to that statement. I can say only that we have had normal weather conditions in Queensland during the last twelve months. Indeed, some parts of the State have had very dry weather. A cyclone blew in over a 100-mile belt of the seaboard between Maryborough and Caloundra and went inland to a depth of probably 300 miles, a,nd, earlier in the year, we had another cyclone further up the coast, hut cyclones occur in Queensland every year. Cyclones are not new to us. We have had to contend with them since the earliest day of settlement.
Senator Byrne has told us that, for various reasons, the Queensland Government had to curtail its commitments. A part of the blame for that has been thrown on to the Commonwealth, because it restricted credit. It is alleged that, because of that curtailment of operations, when the Queensland Government tried to get back into its stride again, it did not know where to start, so to speak. Everything was in disorder. Let me say that my- experience of the Queensland Main Roads Commission is that it is a very efficient body. It has done very good work under the guidance of Sir John Kemp, the late Mr. Crawford and the present head. It has plans and specifications for roads and bridges all over Queensland, often prepared ten years in advance, and is waiting for the money it needs to put the jobs in hand. I do not think Senator Byrne has given us a very acceptable explanation of that aspect of the matter.
There may be a grain of truth in the suggestion that there is a shortage of labour in Queensland for work on main roads, but there is no reason why the Queensland Government should not utilize local authorities to spend the money that it cannot, itself, spend. There is no justification for it holding credit balances in its main roads fund while it is empowered to distribute some of the Commonwealth grant among local authorities. The local authorities have gangs of men at their command. Quite often, they are able to get men to do work on secondary roads and local authority roads when it is difficult to find labour for main roads jobs. Many of the men employed by local authorities live in the areas concerned, and have mates whom they can bring in at short notice. In those circumstances, it does not take a . local authority long to get a road job under way. The Queensland Government has failed to take advantage of its right to transfer to local authorities that are ready and willing to do road work some of the money in the main roads fund. One of the principal features of the bill is the proposal that the States shall continue to have power to distribute to local authorities funds allocated to them by the Commonwealth. The portion of the total allocation to a State which the Commonwealth desires shall be spent in rural areas will be increased from 35 per cent., the figure specified in the 1950 act, to 40 per cent. That is a very important provision.
Sitting suspended from 5.J/5 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I stated that the Queensland Transport Minister should distribute the 1953-54 credit balance of the Main Roads Fund to those local governing authorities which could profitably expend the money. Despite the plausible case that was made out by Senator Byrne, who also represents Queensland in this chamber, those of us who have been through the mill in that State have more than a suspicion that, these big credit balances are being piled up in order to enable the Queensland Go vernment to make a spectacular splash just before the State election in 1956, when the Queensland Government will devote more attention to trying to win the election than to the prudent use of the money in the fund. An important feature of the bill provides for greatly increased facilities in primary-producing districts. I refer to the participation of local governing authorities in the Commonwealth aid roads grants. The Government has recognized the fact that many local governing authorities bear the responsibility of maintaining and extending secondary roads, as distinct from the main roads system. The bill therefore provides that the States must expend on roads in rural areas at least 40 per cent, of the total annual roads allocations. The various State governments will themselves determine the degree to which local governing authorities will share in the grants. The bill provides that the State governments may make available to the local governing authorities any portion of the Commonwealth aid roads grants. That is one of the reasons why I have advocated that the undistributed surplus of the Queensland Main Roads Fund should be allocated to local governing authorities in that State who are ready and willing to use the money. It should be made clear to everybody concerned that, primarily, the construction and maintenance of roads is a State responsibility. If they fail to discharge, adequately, their responsibilities in this connexion, by using their motor vehicle revenue and loan funds ear-marked for road construction for other purposes, future Australian governments might be loath to increase Commonwealth aid road grants. This bill, therefore, provides, quite rightly, that each State shall furnish to the Commonwealth each year an audited statement showing that the allocations under this legislation have been correctly expended.
I shall conclude by paying a tribute to the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), who is affectionately known to us as “ the old Doc “. He was the pioneer in the field of Commonwealth assistance to the States for roads purposes. The right honorable gentleman introduced the present formula in 1926, when the Federal Aid Roads Act was enacted. As honorable senators know, that formula provides for the apportionment of road grants among the States in such a way as to ensure that Tasmania receives 5 per cent, of the annual grants, and the remainder is divided among the other five States, three-fifths as to population and two-fifths as to area. The formula has stood the test of time. It has been examined from time to time by the State Premiers, but there has never been any serious request for an alteration. It has been of enormous value to Queensland and Western Australia, which have vast areas, but limited populations. This bill is a great advance upon the existing legislation and will, I am sure, be welcomed by every State.
.- I shall base my speech on facts rather than newspaper clippings, as did Senator Maher, and I shall not indulge in a tirade of abuse against State Ministers. I think it is generally agreed that the financial burden borne by the State governments in relation to roads is increasing yearly, because many roads which were laid down years ago are not able to carry the heavy motor transport vehicles of to-day, and are crumbling. Another reason for the increasing cost is that the number of all kinds of motor vehicles using the roads is increasing steadily. Many of our arterial roads are not wide enough to carry safely the large vehicles that now use them. The cost of widening those roads is borne by the States, which look to the Commonwealth for financial assistance for the purpose.
It is very pleasing to note that, for the first time since it has been in office, this Government appreciates the necessity to make increased grants to the States for roads purposes. Some honorable senators have already referred to the difficulties that are experienced by local governing bodies in country districts in maintaining, in a reasonable state of repair, the arterial roads which act as feeders to the highways. Both municipal and city councils have available only two means of deriving sufficient revenue to extend and maintain the roads within their areas. The first is to increase . rates, which, in most instances, are already very high; the second is to obtain additional money from the Commonwealth through increased grants to the States. Despite the fact that the Government intends to increase its allocations to the States for road purposes in this financial year to £24,000,000, I. .believe that even that amount will be inadequate for the purpose. A larger allocation will be needed next year, if the roads are to be kept in a reasonable state of repair. I urge the Government to give consideration to providing for the maintenance of the main arterial roads under the defence vote, because should Australia again become involved in a war, our present roads would be unable to carry heavy military traffic satisfactorily. This was proved by the damage that was caused to roads and bridges during the period of World War II. Earlier in the debate, a supporter of the Government referred to the possibility of the quick evacuation of large centres of population by the use of motor transport. I point out that many of our roads are too narrow to cope satisfactorily with the present flow of traffic. It must be realized, also, that an improvement should be effected in this direction for the further reason that considerable delay would be occasioned in moving large quantities of heavy defence materials by rail, owing to the different railway gauges in the various States. Mobile defence equipment is becoming heavier and heavier as each year passes. If it became necessary to move this heavy equipment from one part of Australia to another quickly, I do not think the present roads and bridges would stand up to the strain.
The picture that has been painted by supporters of the Government in relation to Commonwealth financial assistance to the States for road purposes is not so bright as they would have us believe. In 1949, the last year of office of the previous Labour Government, Commonwealth aid roads grants to the States totalled £9,000,000, At that time, the basic wage and cost of road-making equipment were much lower than they are to-day. In order to try to keep pace with increased costs of labour and material due to inflation, the present Government allocated £14,800,000 to the States for road purposes in 1950. It is true that that allocation was about’ double the 1947 allocation. The amount of the grant remained constant from 1950 until last year, when it was increased to £17,000,000. However, in the meantime, due to inflation and the imposition of heavy sales tax, the costs of maintaining and extending roads increased considerably. If the States had set out last year to do the amount of road construction and maintenance work that they did in 1949 with £9,000,000, they would have required £13,000,000.
Senator Maher failed to cite facts in support of many of his statements in relation to Queensland roads. Each year, for some time past, the Tasmanian Minister for Lands and Works has had to curtail his public works programme through lack of money. In each year since 1950, he has been unable, because of increased wages and charges, to do as much work as the previous year with the money available. I do not think that the allocation that the Government intends to make to the States for road purposes in this financial year will enable as much road work to be undertaken as was carried out by the expenditure of £9,000,000 in 1949. Therefore, I do not consider that the Government is entitled to commendation in this connexion. It proposes to increase the Commonwealth aid roads grants to £24,000,000 in this financial year. Admittedly, that will be a big lift, compared to previous grants, and the States should be able to carry out a little more road work in this financial year than they did last year. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the population of the various States has increased, and various kinds of production have increased. Consequently, the amount of traffic on the roads has increased in each State. The States have been clamouring for more money with which to do the same amount of work as they did in 1,949. Although the Government will now increase the grant to the States it will- only enable them to carry out as much work as they did in 1949.
I support the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) that an amount greater than £100,000 should be granted to the Road Safety Council.
The increase in the number of deaths on the roads has been due partly to the increased number of vehicles and the increasing population of Australia; but if we could get the death rate on the roads to remain static, that would be a worth-while achievement. But the death rate is increasing in spite of the good work of the Road Safety Council. I think that the council could learn something from some countries which are regarded in Australia as backward. Recently, I was given the privilege of making a trip to Africa where I took notice of anything that might be of interest to Australia. In that country the native Africans are far ahead of Australians in the matter of road courtesy. I travelled many hundreds of miles in big buses and in cars which were driven by African drivers. When a vehicle approached them from the rear they put their hand out if they were approaching a rise in a hill which they considered to be dangerous and signalled the other vehicle to remain behind. When the road was clear they would beckon the other vehicle through. They did not put their foot on the accelerator when another vehicle tried to pass them, as some Australian drivers do. That practice is most discourteous. In Africa, if a driver wants to pass another vehicle, that driver blows his horn and does not attempt to pass until given the clear signal. It is impressed on drivers in Africa that they must have respect for the man in the rear.. When a car is approaching them they generally ease down and give the other vehicle its fair share of the road. That cannot be said of all Australian drivers. African drivers also display the utmost courtesy when driving at night. A driver never approaches another vehicle at night with his headlights blazing.
If people in Australia could be educated to observe such rules of courtesy as these, many lives would be saved. There is nothing more dangerous than discourtesy on the road. I have been driving a car for many years. I am never afraid of my own driving but I am always cautious of the man who is approaching me. That is where the danger is liable to come from. If the
Road Safety Council could teach Australian motorists, the rules that are observed by African drivers there would be far fewer deaths on the roads of Australia than there are. There is nothing more dangerous than for a car to speed up as another car is about to pass it. There is nothing more dangerous than glaring headlights approaching a driver at night. There is nothing more dangerous than failure to give the full courtesy of the road at a corner. Statistics show that bad accidents often occur at road junctions. In some parts of Australia changes are being made where a number of roads come together. In the African States very rarely do several roads meet without an island having been provided in the centre of the intersection, with the result that a vehicle that is making a turn enters another lane of traffic gradually without any danger. Drivers do not swing out their hands and trust to luck as they do in Australia when they turn corners.
The State governments and the Australian Government could well examine that aspect of road safety if they wish to save lives. The cost of constructing an island at an intersection is a small matter compared with the death of a man or woman. How much is being spent on the establishment of immigrants in this country? Let the Government compare that expenditure with the cost of putting our roads in order so that traffic can travel over them in safety. If the Government were to increase the road grant considerably and obtain the co-operation of the States, it might be possible to continue road safety education past the school leaving age. Perhaps a special scheme of education for new drivers could also be undertaken. I know that the States are over-burdened with the cost of the huge staff that is trying to bring safety to the roads. But the employment of more police patrols in order to check on dangerous drivers would be money well spent. Not many offenders would have to be brought before the courts before every driver would take notice of what was happening and extend the courtesy of the road to other drivers. I do not condemn all drivers in Australia. Some display the utmost courtesy, but some display the utmost discourtesy. In nine cases out of ten casualties result from drivers failing to abide by rules and regulations and failing to show courtesy to fellow drivers.
– I rise to support the bill which provides continued and increasing assistance to the States for the construction and maintenance of roads. This bill is intended to replace the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1950, which was intended to operate for five years. In a country such as this, with its sparse population and great distances, it is most important to have good roads. Road-making, of course, is the prerogative of the States. But the Australian Government has been most helpful since 1923 in making great grants in order to assist the States in road-making. Approximately £60,000,000 has been given to the States during the last four years for the purpose of road construction, and the Government has been pleased to make those grants. It proposes, now, to make bigger grants than in the past. The Government is fully conscious of the great importance to the Commonwealth of State roads and interstate roads. It is quite wrong for people to blame the States and describe the making of roads as State projects. The development of the road system of Australia must be regarded as a Commonwealth responsibility. The money that has been used in the construction of roads has assisted in the settlement of this great Commonwealth.
I am afraid that I shall vote against Senator Gorton’s motion, because I do not think that Western Australia would be at all pleased to have the present basis of allocating the road grant changed at present. Western Australia considers that it has been generously treated by the Commonwealth in the matter of roads grants and it does not consider that there is any necessity for a change in the basis of allocation at present. Arterial roads are a “ must “. But feeder roads are also necessary. Senator 0’Flaherty criticized rather severely what he called the waste of money in connexion with road-making in Australia. I think that that criticism should be taken with a good deal of salt. Generally speaking, the States have done a wonderful job with the grants that have been given to them by the Commonwealth. I think that Senator O’Flaherty’s main complaint concerned heaps of road metal that he had found at the side of roads. In Western Australia the Main Roads Department, which performs a very big task in the making of roads, has these dumps at various parts of the district in which it is working so that the maintenance of roads which have to carry heavy traffic is mainly a matter of transporting the metal to the part of the road at which it is needed. I do not suppose there ever has been a government that , did not waste some money. Indeed, I am sure that some money is wasted even in the Senate. However, I do think that Senator O’Flaherty’s criticism of the practice of keeping dumps of road making materials alongside the roads is unreasonable. I understand that the Australian Road Federation has carried out a very extensive survey of Australian roads and road transport, and I congratulate that organization upon its interest in this matter. Recently, the federation sent to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) a series of suggestions on the subject of road construction and maintenance. I shall quote two of them. The first was -
Constitutional steps should be taken to give sufficient power to the Com mon wealth Government to assume responsibility for all inter and intra arterial roads and for the adequate provision of arterial road defence communications.
The second point was -
Consideration should be given to the appointment by the Commonwealth Minister of Transport, of a body of men representing Governments, Industry (primary and secondary), Commerce, and this Federation, all with technical capacity to study the problem in detail, and to submit a constructive programme covering the planning, construction and maintenance of inter and intra State arterial roads and the finance aspects as mentioned in paragraph 4 (iii) which relates to specific loan funds.
I consider those two suggestions to be very good. I believe that an intensive study should be made of the whole problem of Australian roads so that there may be complete co-ordination of road, sea, and air transport. Earlier to-day, Senator Henty spoke on behalf of Tasmania. I, too, should like to offer my thanks on behalf of Western Australia for the generous treatment accorded by the Commonwealth. I do not think anybody can deny that that treatment has been generous, or that successive Western Australian governments have not used the Commonwealth grants wisely and well. The following are the amounts that have been made available to Western Australia by the Commonwealth in the last five years : -
Those figures indicate a very steady increase of expenditure on road making, but they have not completely covered the work that has been carried out. The Main Roads Board of Western Australia has also expended considerable sums. One has only to look at the map of Western Australia to appreciate the magnitude of the problem of road construction in that State. As I have pointed out in this chamber before, Western Australia’s area is one-third of that of the Commonwealth. In 1949-50, the Main Roads Board spent, out of’ its own funds, £1,496,000 on road work. In the following .year the board’s expenditure exceeded £2,000,000 and in 1951-52, it exceeded £3,000,000. In 1952-53 more than £4,000,000 was expended, and last year the sum was over £3,000,000. These figures illustrate the problem that confronts the Government of Western Australia in providing adequate road facilities, particularly for people who live in the remote parts of the State. It is true that there has been some carryover of funds during the last three years, bur that has not been because of any unwillingness on the part of the Government of Western Australia to spend the money. It has been due primarily to a shortage of labour and machinery. The carryover in one year was about £1,000,000, and the figures for the other two years were £120,000 and £154,000. Those cannot be regarded as big amounts, particularly in relation to total expenditure. Our development has been on an unprecedented scale and there is a continuing and expanding need for road construction. I understand that the Government of
Western Australia wishes to push on with all haste with road construction in the Kimberleys and in the north-west of the State generally. The increased allocation by the Commonwealth, therefore, will be very welcome.
Senator 0’Flaherty complained that there were no safeguards in the bill but I draw the attention of the Senate to paragraphs (b) and (li) of that portion of the Minister’s second-reading speech in which he summarized the purposes of the legislation. Both those paragraphs provide safeguards. Paragraph (i) states one purpose of the bill to be - to provide that the States must spend on roads in rural areas at least 40 per cent, of the total roads allocations instead of 35 per cent, as provided under the 1950 legislation.
Paragraph (h) reads - to require each State to furnish the Commonwealth each year with audited statements showing that the Commonwealth roads grants are being expended in accordance with the provision of this legislation.
I do not propose to cite road mileages in Western Australia. I pay a tribute to the Government for the assistance it has given to Western Australia in the last four years, and for the increased grant that is to be made available this year. The total special grant for Western Australia in 1954-55 will be £7,450,000. The special grants recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission have been adopted year after year .by successive Commonwealth governments, and once again this year the commission’s recommendation has .been accepted. I have much pleasure in supporting the bill.
– I find myself in the position to-night of having to say “ Thank you “ to the Government for the consideration it has shown to the States in its grant for road work in the forthcoming, year. The purpose of this bill is to repeal the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act of 1950, and to replace it with new legislation which will operate for the next five years. The old act had nome little time to run, .but, as certain alterations of the existing provisions were decided upon, the Government has taken the wise course of repealing the act and bringing in an entirely new measure. By so doing, it has obviated the necessity to wade through two measures in order to ascertain exactly what is proposed. A great deal has been said in the course of this debate about the advantages that have accrued to the various States over the years since the federal aid roads grants were inaugurated. It is interesting to recall that this system of imposing both excise and customs duty on petrol, excluding aviation spirit, has been in operation since the early days of federation although, of course, the yield in those days was very small. In 1903, for instance, revenue totalled only £956, but by 1952-53 the total had reached £27,302,679. That is the official figure supplied by the Treasury. I do not know what the rates of duty were in the early days of federation, but in subsequent years a number of variations, both up and down, have taken place.
To-night, we . are discussing the amounts that are to be allocated to the various States. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, drew attention to the fact that, constitutionally, the construction and maintenance of roads is the responsibility of the State governments. That is true.- When the Australian Constitution was drafted, road construction and maintenance was a prerogative that remained with the sovereign States. But a lot of water has passed under the bridge since those days, and there is good ground for “the argument that the Commonwealth should come to the aid of the States in their road work. In the early years, of course, the motor car was in its infancy and roads of all kinds were used principally by horsedrawn traffic. Construction was not so expensive then as it is now, and the very high standard which is now required, because of the volume of fast-moving vehicular traffic, was not necessary in those days. The State governments are still working under legislation which was in operation then.
Last week, I had occasion to speak in the Senate on another matter, and at that time I pointed out the difficulties which are experienced by municipal bodies in maintaining roads in such a condition that they are able to meet present-day requirements. I also pointed out, at that time, that the taxing powers of such bodies are very limited. In Victoria, they are governed by the Local Government Act, which prescribes the rate which they may levy on propertyowners. Our States are in a somewhat similar position. As a matter of fact, the States are worse off to-day than they were previously, because they have lost their taxing powers in respect of income tax and certain other taxes. Uniform taxation is now in operation. The Commonwealth decides the rate of tax which is to be levied on the incomes of the people. There is, of course, a formula under which the amount of money which should be returned to the States from the total amount collected from them is determined. The State governments, therefore, find that their ability to raise sufficient funds to enable their local governing authorities to carry on effectively is rather limited by their lack of taxing authority. In those circumstances, it is natural for municipalities to look to State governments for assistance, and for State governments, in their turn, to look to the Commonwealth for assistance in rendering essential services to the community.
In these days of rapid industrial progress, transport plays a very important part in the economy of Australia. It is essential that our means of communication should be as efficient as possible. One of the means adopted by the Commonwealth to help the States is to hand to the States a certain percentage of the tax collected, whether by way of customs duty or excise levied on petrol. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), in his second-reading speech, claimed a good deal of credit for the fact that assistance to the value of almost £60,000,000 had been given to the States over the past four years for roads purposes. Admittedly, that is a large sum of money, but the fact remains that, in the same period, the Commonwealth collected no less than £80,000,000 from petrol tax, so that it still had £20,000,000 which could have been used to finance road projects.
I am pleased that, this year, the Government has decided to increase the amount of money which will be paid back to the States by increasing the roads allocation from 6d. a gallon to 7d. a gallon on imported petrol and increasing the amount received from excise by raising the allocation from 3 1/2d. a gallon to 7d. a gallon. That is necessary because of the growth of petrol refining in Australia which will mean a f ailing-ott in the quantity of petrol that will pass through the customs. Unless that were done, the amount of money available to the States would depreciate very rapidly. I consider that that is a wise provision in the bill. “Reference has been made during this debate to the allocation of petrol tax. As honorable senators are aware, recently Senator Gorton presented a motion on that subject, and the matter will be discussed at a later stage. The honorable senator proposed that a select committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon the formula under which this distribution is made. I listened with a good deal of interest to the remarks of Senator Robertson concerning the position of “Western Australia. No one will cavil at the use of this money for the purpose of constructing developmental roads. That is one of the purposes for which Commonwealth aid roads grants are made. The point at issue is whether the method of allocation is fair and reasonable. This afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) foreshadowed an amendment to the effect that the grant to the Australian Road3 Safety Council should be increased. The Opposition agrees wholeheartedly with that proposal.
Let us consider the reasons why accidents take place, and let us, at the same time, ascertain whether the money that is raised and distributed might not be more wisely expended. First, it is necessary to consider the areas in which motor transport is densest. Then, it is necessary to consider the type of roads over which our motor transport Travels. An honorable senator stated recently that Victoria is the only State which is not satisfied with the present method of allocation. I support Victoria’s claim to a greater share of this money. This is a deliberative chamber, and it should be possible for the representatives of Victoria, on both sides of the Senate, to attain unanimity in this matter. In States such as Victoria and New South
Wales, the traffic is so dense that the roads cannot carry it efficiently. The horse and ‘ buggy days have gone. The country roads boards of Victoria have done a magnificent job with the funds available to them. They have constructed roads in country districts and have made it possible for our farming communities! to have, at least, decent roads to railway stations. Most of those roads, however, were built for use by light motor vehicles, and a great change has come over the transport scene since they were built. Instead of such roads being used mainly by vehicles travelling backwards and forwards between farms and railway stations, very heavy wagons now travel over them. Consequently, the roads that were constructed in the early days of motor transport are now unable to meet present-day requirements. The bitumen tracks are too narrow to enable vehicles, particularly heavy transports, to pass on*> another with safety. Heavy transport vehicles hug the centre of the road because, if they get on to the soft edges, they are liable to bog. They therefore force lighter vehicles off the road.
Is it not apparent that the major part of the money collected by way of petrol tax should be expended where the traffic is densest? That is one of the reasons why we in Victoria are asking the Government to appoint a committee of inquiry to investigate the whole question and to see whether it is not possible to expend this money on a better basis. Victoria has a very strong claim, because I understand that at least one-third of the total motor vehicles of Australia are to be found in that State. Yet, Victoria receives back only a small percentage of the total amount which it pays in petrol tax. I understand that it provides approximately £17,000,000 a year and receives back only £5,000,000. The State, therefore, has a genuine grievance, not merely a parochial one. If the tragic toll of the road is to be reduced, our roads must be maintained in good condition. The main arterial roads must be widened, and that will be very expensive. In addition, other roads must be built to meet the needs of heavy motor traffic. Our municipalities are entitled to a greater share of the money collected than they are receiving at the present time. Heavy motor vehicles pass through the towns. It is true that, in Victoria, the main arterial roads running through the towns are maintained by the Country Roads Board, but those vehicles do not always remain on the main arterial roads.
– They go to Queensland and ruin our roads.
– Only now and again. They are running continuously on the Victorian roads. They go off the main arterial roads to the side streets to deliver goods, and the municipalities are called upon to bear a greater share of road maintenance than they would have to bear if those vehicles were not running. Therefore, a strong case for the proper distribution of this money should be presented. The authorities that use the roads have made a good case for better roads. I am not quarrelling with the case that they have presented, but that is beside the point in a consideration of the distribution of the money. From the point of view of safety and efficiency, a fair proportion of the money should bc spent where it is most needed.
Reference ha3 been made to Western Australia and the outposts of Queensland and South Australia. It is true that the areas of those States are vast, but what is the density of motor traffic in those areas? How frequently do heavy trailers go into those districts ? They go there very rarely. The heaviest traffic is to be found in the more thickly populated States, and that is where most of the money should be spent. In the past fewyears there has been a remarkable increase of the petrol tax revenue. That is a true indication of the increase of the number of motor vehicles. The. total collections in recent years were -
Obviously, there should be some redistribution of the money. In the early days of the distribution of these funds, the disproportion was immaterial, but the number of vehicles going on to the roads is increasing daily. The longer a redistribution is delayed, the greater will be the degree of disproportion. I am thankful to the Government for increasing the amount of money that will be available in the current financial year. That will afford some little relief, but honorable senators will recall the statement of the Minister that, constitutionally, the maintenance of roads is the prerogative of the States, and that the States, through their local government legislation, pass it on to the municipalities. I remind honorable senators that the municipalities’ powers to levyrates for the maintenance of roads is limited, and that State governments are limited in their power to levy taxes because of the application of uniform taxation. Taking all those factors into consideration, it is the bounden duty of the Australian Government to assist in the maintenance of roads. Honorable senators have said that we must have strategic roads because they are needed for the defence of Australia, the development of trade and commerce, and the convenience of ordinary citizens. If that is so, it is essential that the Government should not allow another year to pass without a proper investigation to determine whether the huge amounts of money that are collected and distributed for road maintenance are being fairly allotted between the various States.
.- I congratulate the Government on the fine piece of legislation that is before the Senate. It fulfils the promise that was made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) during the recent campaign that preceded the election for the House of Representatives. Those honorable senators who have been in local government, and have a knowledge of the fight that was made, for many years, for a greater share of the petrol tax, realize fully the importance of the promise that was made by the Prime Minister. It caught the imagination of all who could think clearly on the subject. It was a statement of vision. I believe it was the first time that any government had really recognized the great need for making available a large sum of money for road-building in Australia. We are indebted to the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) for the introduction of the original scheme, but in the course of years, with the increase of motor traffic, the road requirements of Australia have grown out of proportion to early plans. Australia is a vast country with a small population. The development of the motor vehicle in our day has created a problem in connexion with the provision of roads. Huge sums of money are required. Costs have risen because of World War II. and world-wide inflation. Prices of essential materials, such as bitumen, have been affected, and financial provision for road-making that was sufficient years ago has become inadequate.
When this Government was first elected to office in 1949, the allocation from the Australian Government to the States for roads was about £7,000,000. The allocation has risen to an estimated expenditure of about £24,000,000 in the current financial year. That increase reveals proper recognition by the Government of the needs of Australia in the provision of roads. The Prime Minister and the Government are deserving of congratulations for their approach to this matter. Motor vehicles are used by others besides those who own them. Many other persons use motor vehicles, which convey essential goods and materials to all parts of the country. The more the Government can provide for roads, the better the situation will be. As a Queensland senator, I am conscious of the need for roads, because Queensland is a large State. Honorable senators from Victoria on both sides of the chamber have pleaded the cause of Victoria for a greater share of the money allocated for road work.
– Victoria receives only 17 per cent, of the allocation.
– The allocation is made in the proportion of three-fifths on a population basis, and two-fifths on an area basis. If other States receive more than Victoria, they must have to provide roads for a greater area of country in comparison with a pocket handkerchief State such as Victoria is. I live in northern Queensland in the populous area along the coast, but when I visit the western areas’ of Queensland, I realize the pressing need for roads there. Senator Sheehan said that the outback areas must be sparsely populated. Of course they are, but they are of great value to Australia. Wool and meat are produced in those areas. They provide food and materials for use in Australia, and help to maintain the economy of the nation because they supply products for export. If the wool industry were to collapse, we would realize more fully its true value to Australia. A tour of north-western, central, western and south-western Queensland reveals how much remains to be done. If the people of the more populous areas knew the difficulties and hardships of those who live in the outback, they would not complain that States like Queensland and Western Australia are getting more than their due. We have to study this matter as Australians. We must not take the narrow view. I wonder what would happen if the State governments and the Senate were abolished. What would be the attitude of those in authority to the allocation of petrol tax revenue for road work? I believe that the great metropolitan areas would get most of the money. We must recognize the requirements of the sparsely populated areas and appreciate their actual and potential value to this country. I believe that, if good roads and better amenities were provided in those areas, more people would be willing to work and live in them. In local government affairs, I always worked on the basis that if towns and villages in the countryside are made more attractive by the provision of more amenities, people will be willing to go to country areas, but, without roads and amenities, they will not go.
As one who lives on the northern coast of Queensland, I have never growled about the proportion of road funds which, at times, have been allocated to the western areas of the State. I was a member of the Australian Council of Local Government and president of the State organization, I represented my State on the federal body. The council recognized that a greater proportion of the revenue from the petrol tax should be allocated to sparsely populated areas. I believe that, in instituting a grant for roads in such areas, the National Parliament acted wisely. A few years ago, after the New South Wales Local Government Association had fought for a greater allocation of the petrol tax revenue to sparsely populated areas, the Chifley Government provided £1,000,000 for that purpose. In the next year, the grant was £2,000,000, and ultimately it rose to £3,000,000. Under the Federal Aid’ Roads Act of 1950, this present Government provided £4,200,000 for roads in sparsely populated areas, the grant being made on the basis of a proportion of the tax paid on each gallon of petrol in Australia. That put the grant on a firm basis. Until that time, a sum for expenditure on rural roads was determined by the Government and paid on condition that it was expended on such roads. This .bill deals with both main roads and rural roads, formerly referred to as roads in sparsely populated areas. The grant for both purposes this year will be £24,000,000. For the first time, the grant for roads will give local authorities confidence that they will be able to build roads at an adequate rate. I am convinced that this Government will continue to recognize the requirements of State governments and local authorities in connexion with road building. I remember that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) delivered a speech to a federal convention of local government officers held in South Melbourne two or three years ago. In the speech, the right honorable gentleman expressed his views on local government. The general view of the delegates to the convention was that we had a Prime Minister who appreciated the requirements of local governing bodies. I believe that this bill exemplifies in a very practical manner the Prime Minister’s vision and his statesmanlike attitude to this subject.
As I come from a large State, I am a great believer in the establishment of good road systems, which are essential for the development of the less populous States such as Queensland and Western Australia. I am glad that in this bill it is proposed that State governments should allocate to sparsely populated areas 40 per cent., instead of 35 per cent, as at present, of the road funds provided by the Commonwealth. I think that is a very wise provision. I am glad, too, that 7d. of the tax paid on each gallon of petrol consumed, in this country will be allocated for road purposes in future. With a growing population and an increasing consumption of petrol, the amount of money made available to the people of this country for road purposes will continue to increase.
– I am in complete accord with the Government on the bill. The Government is to be commended for continuing to give financial assistance to the States for road-building and maintenance. That policy was established by other Governments, and this Government is following in the footsteps of its predecessors. I hope the Commonwealth will work in the closest co-operation with the States and municipal authorities in regard to roads. I believe that if the Government had not done something on the lines proposed by this measure, it would eventually have been forced to vacate some fields of taxation in order to permit other authorities to raise the revenue necessary for roads. Municipal authorities are hard put to it to meet their obligations and do the work necessary for the development of the districts for which they are responsible.
Senator O’Flaherty referred to the large amount of money that is being spent on unnecessary road deviations. I agree that some such work is necessary in view of the increasing traffic: near the cities, but it is in some ways rather disturbing to set a lot of money being spent to straighten a very fine road when we know that in many parts of Australia local authorities are crying out for roads to be built, so that the districts for which they arc responsible can be developed. I believe very strongly in decentralization. In Melbourne and Sydney, and, to a lessor extent, in Brisbane, traffic difficulties are increasing as the cities continue to grow. I think the answer to the problem is decentralization and greater encouragement to industry to move to country districts. I am in complete accord with Senator Wood when he says that sparsely populated States and districts should bo assisted by the Government to build roads and, in that way, to attract population and industries.
Bills similar to this measure have been discussed in the Senate in previous years. Invariably, they have received the general approval of honorable senators. There is no opposition to this bill. Consequently, there is no need for me to deal with it at length. I repeat that roads are necessary for the development of this country, and I am glad that the Commonwealth is taking an even greater interest in road construction. I hope that, in co-operation with State governments and municipal authorities, it will do everything possible to increase the number of roads in Australia. When I hear honorable senators from Victoria talk about the miles of roads in that State, I sometimes wonder where the Victorians have their pastures. There seems to be so much bitumen in Victoria that there is hardly any room for grazing lands, but in States such as Queensland and Western Australia more roads are urgently needed. Before this country can be developed properly, we must attract more population to the thinly populated areas, but roads must be built in those areas before people will go to live in them.
I regard the bill as a step in the right direction, and I commend the Government for it. I should not have intervened in the debate but for the speech that was made by Senator Maher. I am, sorry that he is absent from the chamber now, because I do not derive any pleasure from ciriticizing an honorable senator’s speech in his absence. I was very disappointed that a Queensland senator delivered such a speech. Senator Maher comes to the National Parliament as a representative of his State, and he should do his best for that State, irrespective of the party in power there. But to-night he libelled the Queensland Government, because he has a deep-seated prejudice against the Queensland Labour party. I am certain that some of his criticisms were wide of the mark. He suggested that, for political purposes, on the eve of an election, the Queensland Government sacked some of its employees. I find it hard to believe that an intelligent government, especially on the eve of an election, would disrupt the lives of people who could he expected to vote for it. For a long period Senator Maher led the Opposition party in the Queensland Parliament. He has an unenviable record. I am sure he will admit there is not one reform made by the Queensland Government during the last 40 years that he has not opposed. That is the reason why the party that he led for so long has been in opposition for 40 years. I ask honorable senators to discount to some extent his criticisms of the Queensland Government. I am often in conflict with State governments. I believe in federation, and I am sorry to hear so much stress laid on State boundaries. I look forward to the day when State boundaries will disappear completely and we shall become truly Australians. I was disappointed that Senator Maher engaged in criticism of a State government, I think for personal reasons. I know that the Queensland Government and the municipalities of Queensland are faced with the tremendous task in road building and maintenance, but I believe they are doing a pretty good job. However, I do not want to labour that point in the absence of Senator Maher.
I hope the Government will work in close co-operation with the State governments in dealing with roads. We must recognize that the Commonwealth has no power to do anything in the States in connexion with roads. The physical work on roads must be done by the States, and the task of the Commonwealth, as the central taxing authority, is to provide the finance. I am pleased that, at any rate in regard to roads and transport there is no. conflict of interest between the Commonwealth and the States, although there has been a constant conflict between them on other matters, particularly finance, for many years. I am satisfied that the Government recognizes that its responsibility is to provide the money for the road works that are required. I commend the measure, and express the hope that it will have a speedy passage.
– I support the bill, because I think it will be of benefit to local government bodies throughout Australia. Since this Government came into office in 1949, it has done a great deal to help local authorities and State governments. Its record in that field is a wonderful one. This year, the grant to the States from the petrol tax revenue for road purposes will be £24,000,000, compared with £17,000,000 last year. That increase is the largest ever made by any government. In 1947, when a Labour government was in power, the roads grant to the States was only £7,000,000. Shortly after this Government came to office in 1949, it increased the allocations to the States for roads purposes to £9,000,000. It was increased to £17,000,000 in the last financial year, and in this financial year it will be further increased to £24,000,000. The amount of the proposed increase is equal to the whole of the grant by the Labour Government in 1947. As Senator Aylett pointed out, both the basic wage and other costs in relation to road construction have risen by 100 per cent, since 1947. In the same period, however, the Commonwealth Aid Roads Grant has increased by 400 per cent. I am glad that this Government has been able to increase the allocation to the States for roads purposes in this financial year, so that the States can go ahead with their roads programmes. Victorian senators have stated that the basis of the distribution of the proceeds of the petrol tax operates unfairly in relation to that State. I point out that Victoria is a compact State compared with Western Australia. The greatest distance from one part of Victoria to another is only a little more than 500 miles. However, if one were to undertake a tour from Albany up the coast of Western Australia, he would travel the following distances: - from Albany to Perth, 250 miles; from Perth to Geraldton, 300 miles; from Geraldton to Carnarvon, 300 miles ; from Carnarvon to Onslow, 400 miles; from Onslow to Roebourne, 220 miles; from Roebourne to Hedland, 120 miles, from Hedland to Broome, 400 miles; from Broome to Derby, 130 miles ; from Derby to Hall’s Creek, 260 miles; and from Hall’s Creek to Wyndham, 300 milesa total of 2,430 miles. Even the alternative inland route from Perth to Hedland is 1,075 miles long.
– Many of the Western Australian roads have a natural surface. Victoria, also, has about 40,000 miles of such -roads.
– That is so. Many of the roads through desert areas in Western Australia are not tarred. In order to connect the rich Kimberley area to the south-west of Western Australia, the State Government will have to construct two major roads. Some of the roads in the outback areas of Western Australia are not trafficable at certain periods of the year. It is all very well for Vic*torian senators to claim that that State is being unfairly treated in the distribution of money from the petrol tax. The Victorian Government derives a large revenue from motor vehicle taxation, but has to maintain and extend roads in only a relatively small State. On the other hand, the Western Australian Government has to build roads through huge areas of country, and there are only relatively few motor vehicles registered in that State. Since 1926, the formula for the allocation of money for roads purposes has successfully withstood the test of time. It provides for the distribution of 5 per cent, of the annual grants to Tasmania, and for the remainder to be divided amongst the other five States, three-fifths as to population, and two-fifths as to area. I do not think that a more equitable basis of distribution could be evolved. I should be very sorry to see that basis altered.
Some Victorian senators have stated that Western Australia lias been unable to expend on roads a big proportion of the money that has been supplied to it for that purpose. I point out that only £120,000 of the 1952-53 grant to Western Australia was not expended, and only £154,000 of the grant for 1953-54 remains unexpended. Therefore, those honorable senators were a long way out. It is true that, from the end of World War II. until a couple of years ago, the local governing authorities in Western Australia were not able to expend all of the roads grants, because of their inability to purchase plant. In 1950, the revenue from which to make grants to the States for roads purposes was derived from an allocation of 6d. a gallon from the duty on imported petrol. Since that time road-making plant has become available readily, and both the State governments and local governing authorities have experienced no difficulty in expending their roads grants profitably.
I do not think that any State - certainly . not Western Australia - will be unable to expend its allocations for roads purposes in this financial year, despite the fact that there will be a total distribution of £24,000,000. The increased grant will enable road maintenance and extensions to be carried out on an unprecedentedly large scale. Successive Western Australian governments, of various political colours, have appreciated the necessity to purchase modern road-making equipment. Western Australia expends on roads much more money than it receives from the Commonwealth under the formula. The Western Australian Government is expending a lot of money in connexion with the development of Learmonth and Nerrima. and it is also undertaking the construction of roads in order to increase beef production. Under the existing legislation, the Australian Government allocates to the States 3£d. a gallon on locally refined petrol, and 6d. a gallon on imported petrol. In view of the fact that several large oil refineries are being established in Australia, the necessity to effect an alteration of taxation in relation to petrol became apparent. The Government has decided that, in respect of all petrol, except aviation spirit, used in Australia - whether imported or locally refined - 7d. a gallon shall be payable to the States for road developmental purposes.
I come now to the work of the Australian Road Safety Council. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) stated that increased financial provision should be made for the council, in view of the excellent work that has been carried out by that body. Mainly due to its efforts, the number of road accidents in the last financial year was 10 per cent, less than the number in the previous year. As has been pointed out on previous occasions, the number of people killed in road accidents during the last six years was approximately equal to the number who were killed by bombs, shells, bullets, torpedoes, training misadventures and illness in the fighting services during World War II. As I have said, due in the main to the activities of the Australian Road Safety Council in directing the attention of the people of Australia to the serious position that had developed, the number of people killed on the roads fell by 10 per cent, during the last financial year compared with the previous year. There were 1,850 people killed on the roads in 1953-54, compared with 2,054 in 1952-53. I consider that this body has done a marvellous job, and I hope that adequate financial provision will be made to enable it to continue its activities. I hope that the Victorian senator who advocates the appointment of a select committee to consider the basis of the allocation to the States of the proceeds of the petrol tax will withdraw his motion. I point out that all the Premiers - including the Victorian Premier - agreed to the basis of distribution set out in the formula.
– That is not right.
– It is true that the Victorian Premier raised a small protest, but eventually he agreed to the formula. In those circumstances, and in view of the satisfactory manner in which it has operated, I consider that the formula should stand.
– In view of the necessity to construct lengthy roads for both defence and developmental purposes, I do not consider that even a Commonwealth aid roads grant of £24,000,000 in this financial year will be adequate.
Honorable senators opposite stated that the Government had been generous to the States. Probably the Government has done no’ more than maintain the level of grants made in previous years, taking into consideration the degree of inflation that has occurred But it is the man who drives a vehicle for pleasure or .business who has provided the Government with the money from which it pays this grant and more. It is encumbent on the Government to give the States at least a proportion of what it has taken from motorists in petrol tax in order to make it possible for people to drive over the roads with the least possible risk of accident. One of the greatest factors in road safety is the condition of the roads. Roads should be wide and well constructed. Although there are many sealed allweather roads in Australia they are certainly not as well made as they should be in order to carry modern motor transport. The Government also takes salestax from the motorist at a high rate when he purchases a vehicle. The full amount of tax collected in that manner goes intoConsolidated Revenue. In making road grants to the States, the Government, in effect, only, returns to the motorist a. portion of what it has taken from him. The grant that the Government makes to the- States is not sufficient to enable theconstruction of roads throughout Australia that will carry the traffic that will have to use them in war as well as in peace.
The Western Australian metropolitan highways are equal to any roads in Australia, hut only 7 per cent, of Commonwealth aid money is spent on metropolitan highways, because the roads in that area are well constructed and maintenance is the only item of expenditure. If maintenance costs in Victoria are no higher than they are in Western Australia, the Victorian Government will be able to do three time3 as much work with its grant as maintenance is the main requirement in that State. Western Australia, on the other hand, is faced with the construction of heavy duty developmental roads. The Western Australian Government has applied 93 per cent, of the money provided by the Commonwealth to the construction and improvement of country and developmental roads, which are as important to the eastern States as they are to Western Australia. The road that leads from Perth to Norseman, and which joins the Eyre Highway carries many tons of goods from eastern States. That road carries such heavy traffic that it is sometimes necessary to split the excessively heavy loads before they come on to State roads on which the weight of truck loads are restricted. There are 700 miles of good surfaced road that are maintained only to link the west of Australia with the east bound Eyre Highway which would be the only means of transporting goods across Australia if the trans-Australia line were bombed out or otherwise put out of commission in war. The Eyre Highway should be maintained as a Commonwealth defence project and kept in good repair without charge to Western Australia or any other State. That road is in very poor condition. It was built as a strategic road and was said to be of high military value. It was- also intended to be of great commercial value; yet it has gradually deteriorated. The surfacing has come off and heavy metal is1 flung up underneath causing damage to the vehicles that use it. The Government has not been generous in making road grants.
Now I come to the formula for the distribution of the road grant. Western Australia has a tremendous area of 975,920 square miles. That fact must be taken into account in the distribution of funds for road maintenance. The population of Western Australia is small, but it is increasing. I am pleased that clause 10 of the bill sets out that both area and population shall be taken into account when distributing the road grant. In other words, the money shall be distributed on the basis of the formula that has been used in the past. Any inquiry from a national point of view would establish the justice of the manner in which this money has been distributed. Western Australia spends all the money on roads that it has available for that purpose, including the Commonwealth grant. Of that expenditure, 85 per cent, is spent in rural areas. The Government should give more consideration to those States which are forced to spend large sums of money on developmental roads. They should receive additional assistance in order to enable them to carry out their big national task. In addition, the Commonwealth should not consider that its responsibility ceases once it has provided a grant for road-building purposes. In certain instances, some State3 may be unable to expend the money allocated to them because of a shortage of materials. There should be the closest co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States in connexion with this vital aspect of our national development.
I congratulate Senator Scott on his remarks on the Road Safety Council. That body has saved many lives. It has made travel in Australia as safe as it is in any other civilized community. But the Road Safety Council cannot overcome the dangers resulting from bad roads. Some roads have been washed away after heavy transport has torn them to pieces. I estimate that bad roads are the cause of 50 per cent, of accidents. They cost people a tremendous amount of money in vehicle repairs. I do not think that the Government is doing anything marvellous in relation to roads. Although the grant to the States has increased in recent years from £9,000,000 to £24,000,000,’ the original grant of £100,000 to the Road Safety Council has not been increased. I hope that honorable senators opposite have been sincere in lauding the work of the Road Safety Council. The work of the council has been affected by inflation to the same extent as the work of the States. Do honorable senators opposite not consider that it is right and proper that the Government should increase by at least one-third the grant to this council which honorable senators opposite say is so necessary for the preservation of life and limb? When the Opposition moves its amendment to the bill in committee to increase the grant to the council I ask honorable senators opposite to be true to their words and support it.
The bill also mentions waterways as one of the purposes upon which the State governments may spend their grants. In Western Australia, harbour and river facilities such as jetties are gradually falling into disrepair. Many are breaking up. Because the amount of money granted to the States for the maintenance of roads has been the bare minimum required, jetties, wharfs, lighting and survey services have been neglected. The amount spent on waterways has not kept pace with requirements and that section of transport is worse off than it was 50 years ago. Provision for assistance to water transport should be removed from, this bill and incorporated in a separate measure, in order that specific payments may be provided for that work. Water services should not have to beg for money from the road grant.
– I do not intend to take up much time in speaking on this bill because I recently spoke on a motion -which covered the subject matter of this bill. I congratulate the Government on having renewed the road grant to the States. Not only has the Government renewed the grant for a further period of five years, but it has increased the amount of the grant to £24,000,000. My amazement at the remarks that have been passed in this chamber far exceeds the amazement of Senator Cooke because, during the years in which the Labour Government was in office, the highest amount that was ever paid to the States in the form of a road grant was £7,000,000. Yet Opposition senators have expressed dissatisfaction that the Government has made only £24,000,000 available for the current financial year. They have said that that amount is not nearly enough. It is not enough they say. Senator Cooke said that we had excellent roads, fit to carry the traffic, but in the next breath he said they were not good roads. I do not know what he means. I vividly recall the meetings of the Australian Transport Advisory Council which I attended for some years. At those meetings we carried unanimous resolutions asking for additional money from the Commonwealth. A Labour government was then in office, and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was Minister for Transport. He took not the slightest notice of the resolutions. Several times we asked that the grant of £100,000 to the Australian Road Safety Council be increased to £150,000. In fact, on the last occasion the request was, I think, for £200,000, but the Commonwealth would not agree. Yet honorable senators opposite express amazement because this Government has added only £17,000,000 to its grant for the States! The criticism is ridiculous and unworthy of a reply. Whilst I was attending meetings of the Australian Transport Advisory Council, we tried to get the Labour Government to make an agreement with the States in relation to road grants for a longer period than three years, but we were unsuccessful. We pointed out that the limitation’ of three years acted to the detriment of the States, because they were unable to embark upon road construction programmes that might require five or six years to complete. For instance, if the Western Australian Government wished to make a new road from Kalgoorlie to Perth, it could not be done in three years, and the work would not be undertaken because the State would not be sure of getting the money that was required in the subsequent years. This Government extended the period of the agreement to five years, and it is now being renewed for a period of five years. However, that is a matter on which I have already spoken in this chamber, and I shall not deal with it at length to-night.
One matter that I wish to refer to particularly is the grant of £100,000 to the Australian Transport Advisory Council. That is an utterly useless body, and I did not hesitate to say so in 1951. The grant of £100,000 is split up between the State organizations and the national organization, the former receiving £60,000, and the latter £40,000. I should not like to be misunderstood. I have the greatest regard for the work of State transport councils. The Western Australian body consists of volunteers who, for the last seven or eight years, have been working very hard, and I believe that if a greater proportion of the grant of £100,000 were made available to the State organizations, it would be spent to far greater advantage than it is being spent at present by the national body. We hear broadcasts of slogans such as “ Death is so permanent “, but they only make people laugh. I was rather interested to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) read out a list of causes of accidents and deaths. But there was one that he did not read, and I cannot understand the omission. It states -
Excessive speed is the worst killer. In the calendar year 1953, excessive speed caused 531 deaths, or 23.1 per cent, of the 1,803 people killed on Australian roads.
I mention that matter because I think that the Australian Transport Advisory Council has utterly failed to attain its objective. Eight years ago, it set itself the task of introducing a uniform road code, but there is no uniform road code to-day. Practices in the various States continue to vary. For example, some years ago the placing of a tail light switch on the dash-board of a motor car was made illegal. That was to prevent a person who had been involved in an accident or perhaps had injured a pedestrian switching off the tail light to make identification more difficult. However, the practice has now been made legal in certain States. That is a matter that should be examined very carefully with a view to prohibiting the practice entirely. When I was in Melbourne on Monday last, I saw a motor lorry with a couple of yards of steel, two feet wide, projecting from the rear of the vehicle. There was no red flag to indicate a load of excessive length. That is another cause of accidents. The Victorian Government is to be congratulated upon its practice of compelling an inspection of motor vehicles prior to registration. Sometimes when I am in a garage to get petrol, I see cars that should not be on the road at all. One old car I saw had its battery tied on with wire. Generally speaking, it was a dilapidated old vehicle which had no right to be on our roads. That is another matter to which the Australian Transport Advisory Council could give some attention.
In some .States, penalties for breaches of traffic laws are far too light. Speed, we are told, is the greatest killer, yet I read in the Canberra Times the other day of a motorist who was fined only 30s. for his second speeding offence. A 30s. fine for a potential killer! In Western Australia the fine would be not less than £30, and the man’s licence would be suspended for three months. I venture to suggest that in the event of a second conviction for speeding, the vehicle should be impounded for three months. Obviously, police officers cannot be expected to remember the names of all those people whose licences have been suspended, but an employer who found that, because his employee had been convicted of speeding, his vehicle had been impounded for three months, would very soon take action to see that it did not happen again. The penalties imposed for speeding and other offences in some States are ridiculous. It is a wonder the police bother to prosecute offenders at all because they are not backed up in their work by magistrates. Another matter to which some attention should be given is the excessive insurance premiums now charged because of the high accident rate. In some cases damages awarded to injured persons run into many thousands of pounds. Premiums for third party and comprehensive insurance policies to-day are double or treble what they were a few years ago and unless something is done to halt the atrocious road accident rate, I can visualize the day when insurance companies will refuse to accept the risk. Because of ‘the failure of the Road Transport Advisory Council to deal with any of those matters, I say that it has failed in its work. If it cannot introduce a uniform road code in seven or eight years it can never do it. Meetings of the council are attended by State Ministers accompanied by responsible officers. If I remember rightly, at a couple of meetings, the New South Wales Minister had six highly paid men with him. There were perhaps four officials from Victoria and two or three from the other States. They were all away from their offices for at .least four days. That involves a big expense, and unless some practical results are being achieved by the meetings, it is high time the council was abolished.
I wish, however, to pay a particular tribute to the work of the State Transport Councils, particularly the Western Australian organization, because I know more about it than any other. Its members have been giving their services voluntarily for many years, and, working in conjunction with the police force, they have made considerable headway. Nevertheless, our road accident rate is still far too high. If some of the £40,000 now given to the national body were paid instead to the State councils they could, perhaps, take on the task of maintaining road patrols. This work at present is being done by policemen, few of whom are trained for it. They are trained for ordinary police duties, and if they are employed on road patrols, police force costs are inflated unduly. If more money were made available to the State transport councils, they could undertake this work, and that would be the best way to curb reckless driving. Senator O’flaherty mentioned another matter to which more attention should be given - the banking of dangerous corners. Until a few years ago, the approach to a railway crossing’ was usually a right-angled corner, and motorists had to drive slowly to get round it safely. Otherwise they would go through the fence. But driving slowly is far preferable to crashing into a railway train, and that is what is happening everywhere to-day. Senator Cooke claimed that road accidents were caused by bad roads. That is nonsense. Accidents usually occur on bitumen roads. They are speedways. The banking of corners only invites people to do excessive speeds. There is a continuous appeal for the installation of traffic lights, but in my opinion traffic lights will not stop reckless drivers. I know of one town in “Western Australia where agitation for the installation for traffic lights at a corner in the centre of the town continued for many years. Eventually, the lights were installed but, on the very next day, a car ran into them and knocked them down. That shows how much notice drivers take of traffic lights. I appeal for more money to be paid to the State transport councils. A small sum could still be given to the national office to carry out co-ordinating work, but J believe that much better results could be obtained by increasing the allocation to the States. Again I congratulate the Government upon its decision to grant a considerably increased sum of money to the States for road purposes. I assure the Senate that Western Australia’s allocation will all be spent and that full value will be obtained for it. I remind honorable senators that Western Australia’s expenditure on roads cannot he accurately ascertained from the Commonwealth Year-Booh because motor registrations in that State are made byvarious local authorities. The money so obtained is all spent on roads, and the Main Roads Board does not come into that matter at all. The figures in the Commonwealth Year-Booh do not take any cognizance of that, and therefore do not give a time picture. I have no doubt that, by this time next year, the result of the increased grant provided for in this measure will be a considerable increase in the mileage of sealed roads in Western Australia.
– There is little I wish to add to what has already been said about this bill, but I should not like to see it go through without adding my voice to the congratulations which I believe the Government ought to get for the ideas and principles which are now embodied in the legislation. The great differences between this measure and the ones which preceded it are these: First, the amount to bc divided among the States from that proportion of tax that is collected from the refining of petrol in Australia, has been raised from 3£d. a gallon to 7d. a gallon. When we consider the establishment of refineries in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, and when we also consider that most of the petrol used here in the future will be refined here, it is obvious that, if the States are to retain greater amounts from the tax levied on petrol, it will be necessary to increase payments from excise. This bill proposes to do that. That is the first head under which I wish to congratulate the Government. It should be pointed out that certain consequences will flow from that action. As the population of Australia increases, and as the number of motor vehicles on our roads also increases, the amount of money available to the States for communications and roads will grow in proportion. This bill will promote such growth, because it will enable money to he made available to the States.
The second point on which I wist to congratulate the Government concerns the amount of petrol tax returned to the States, which has grown immeasurably over the last few years. I have here a table which shows the amount returned to the States since the inception of this scheme in 1923. It is astonishing to note how quickly, in the last few years, the total made available to the States has grown. In 1922-23, only £500,000 was made available, and it remained at that figure for some years. Until 1935-36, it scarcely rose above £2,000,000. In 1938-39, just before the last war, it was a little more than £4,000,000. After that, it dropped to £3,000,000 in 1940-41, approximately £2,000,000 in 1941-42, and to £1,600,000 in 1942-43. It gradually fell during the time that a Labour government was in office, but, of course, not solely because of that fact. The decrease was also due to the exigencies of the war situation. Nevertheless, from the inception of this scheme until the time when this Government came into office, the total amount of money available to the States for road-building purposes only once rose above £7,000,000, and that was in 1948-49, the year before this Government came to office, when the amount rose to £7,100,000. That was the greatest amount that was ever made available before this Government assumed office. Since that time, there has been an immense and dramatic” increase in the sums made available to the States for communications. In 1950-51, the sum rose to £13,500,000, in 1951-52 to more than £14,500,000, in 1952-53 to £15,000,000, and in 1953-54 to £16,500,000’. This year, it is to rise to £24,000,000. In short, since this Government has been in office, the money available to the States for road construction has increased from £7,000,000 to £24,000,000. That, I think, is another reason why congratulations should be tendered to this Administration. It ha3 enabled the States and the municipal councils, of which we have heard so much, to construct roads to carry the commerce and the people of the country.
There is a third head under which the Government deserves congratulation, and that concerns the proportion of the amount collected which is made available for road purposes. Again, this Government has outstripped all previous Administrations in the history of the Commonwealth. Speaking from memory, I think that the total amount which will be collected from petrol tax and excise duty this year will be either £28,000,000 or £29,000,000. Of that, £24,000,000 will be made available to the States. It is right and proper that a certain amount of the sum total should be retained for the purpose of road construction in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, which are both Commonwealth responsibilities. It is clear that, if the States have a right to expend a certain portion of this money on their roads, the Commonwealth also should have the right to expend a portion of it on Commonwealth roads. But the proportion which is now available to the States is greater than ever before. That is the third reason why I believe that con gratulations are in order. I am glad to see that this bill proposes to increase the amount of money to be expended on rural roads from 35 per cent, to 40 per cent. I believe that every country dweller in Australia should be glad that this bill is before the Senate, because he will receive benefits from its provisions before another six months have passed. In all of those respects, a real step forward has been taken by this Government to improve the communications and road transport of the continent.
There is one matter on which I am not prepared to extend entirely cordial congratulations to the Government, and that, of course, is the matter of the formula Tinder which the amount is distributed. That is the subject of another motion before the Senate, and I shall not deal with it in any detail now, except to say that the decision regarding that formula was not made by the present Australian Government, but by the States and the Commonwealth in conjunction. The devising of the formula, therefore, cannot be laid at the door of the present Administration. I support the bill.
– in reply - There has been a very interesting debate on this bill. I wish to take the opportunity to place on record my appreciation of the wisdom and vision of the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) who was largely responsible for the Commonwealth and the six States combining to adopt a road policy which has done so much to improve the roads of Australia. “When we consider the large area of our continent and the fact that it is peopled by only 9,000,000 persons, we can appreciate that a tremendous amount of work has been accomplished. I understand that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) proposes to move an amendment of the bill at the committee stage. The Government is not prepared to accept that amendment. It is obvious that the six State Premiers and the Commonwealth, at a conference, agreed on this proposal, and for that reason, the Government is loath to alter the agreement. It is true that Victoria has made a minor protest regarding the allocation of the funds, but this is not the first time that such a protest has been entered. It is interesting to think that the formula which was laid down by Sir Earle Page and the departmental officers so many years ago, has withstood all the attempts that have been made to alter it.
During the debate, reference was made to the grants for strategic roads, and I havebeen able to obtain information on that matter. I point out that two factors have combined to determine what is a strategic road. The first factor relates to its importance as a defence requirement; the second is whether, in the postwar period, the standard of the road and the consequent cost of its upkeep, have exceeded normal civilian requirements, thus justifying Commonwealth expenditure to protect the asset. Only a limited number of State roads were considered to be strategic roads duringWorldWar II., and as these roads have been absorbed into the general road systems of the States, Commonwealth payments in respect of strategic roads are being reduced unless the Commonwealth requirements justify greater payments.
In Queensland, during 1953-54, an amount of £20,875 was requisitioned for strategic roads. These roads included the Barkly Highway from Mount Isa to the Northern Territory border, the Inland Highway from Blackall to Charleville, and portion of the highway from Rannes to Charters Towers. In South Australia, . an amount of £10,000 was requisitioned in 1953-54 for the Eyre Highway from Penong to theWestern Australian border. A similar amount was requisitioned in the same year for that portion of the Eyre Highway between the South Australian border and Norseman. An amount of £320,715 was requisitioned during 1953-54 for the Stuart Highway and that part of the Barkly Highway between the Stuart Highway and the Queensland border. These federal highways are wholly maintained under the strategic road provisions of the act.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– As I indicated previously, I propose to move that clauses 9 and 13 be amended. Since I foreshadowed the amendment earlier, I do not intend to develop my argument at any great length at the moment, but merely to summarize the case which I presented for an increased grant for the purposes of a road safety campaign in Australia. As I pointed out earlier, there has been an increase in every other allocation under this measure. For instance, the grant itself has increased fourfold. The amount made available for strategic roads has increased from £500,000 to £800,000 and, generally speaking, there have been greater allocations under all heads. In those circumstances, it is odd that the grant for road safety purposes has been allowed to remain stationary since 1947. I take it that the Government is completely satisfied with the road safety work that is being undertaken in the community. Throughout the whole of the debate on this bill I have not heard one adverse comment about the work of the Australian Road Safety Council. In fact, from both sides of the chamber I have heard comments in praise of the efforts that are being made. Under clause 13 of the bill, the allocation of money and the approval of expenditure of funds on the road safety campaign are not placed in the hands of the Australian Road Safety Council but in the hands of the Minister. Sub-clause (1.) of clause 13 is as follows : -
There is payable out of the Trust Account, in respect of each year during the period of five years that commenced on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and fifty four, the sum of One hundred thousand pounds, which may be expended by the Commonwealth, as approved by the Minister, on the promotion of road safety practices throughout Australia.
That sub-clause indicates clearly that the sum of £100,000 and the programme that results from its expenditure, are to be under the control of the Minister. Sub-clause (2.) of clause 13 is as follows : -
The Minister may, in considering proposals for expenditure of the moneys referred to in the last preceding sub-section, have regard to any recommendations made to him by the Australian Road Safety Council.
That body is enshrined in the bill and, up to the present, it has been a major factor in the promotion of road safety in Australia. Persons are being maimed and injured on the Australian roads at the rate of 44,000 a year. Road fatalities total about 2,000 a year. On a coldly material basis of loss of production and the cluttering up of hospitals, the cost of road accidents to Australia is about £25,000,000 a year. Rehabilitation centres conducted by the Department of Social Services are filled with motor accident cases. It is a major problem. It goes beyond the material loss of £25,000,000 a year, because it leads to irreparable tragedy and human distress. I do not accept the statement that was made by the Minister earlier that the various States would be concerned about the subtraction of an additional sum of £100,000 from their grant for the humane purpose to which I have referred. After all is said and done, £100,000 represents only l-240th of the total allocation, and it would make an insignificant difference to the allocation of the total of £24,000,000 among the six States. If the Government were well disposed towards this proposal, I am certain that an immediate approach could be made to the States, if necessary, and that their acquiescence would be forthcoming immediately.
– Even Victoria would agree.
– I am sure that Victoria, as well as every other State, would accede to any request along the lines that I have suggested. The Minister has not indicated any readiness to make an approach to the States. Rising costs must militate against the effectiveness of the Australian Roads Safety Council. Advertising costs, the wages bill and other expenses must necessarily be high, and the activities of the council must be curtailed because the funds available to it during the past seven years have remained stationary at £100,000 a year. That figure represents a charge of less than 3d. a head -of the population of Australia. The idea, in suggesting an additional grant of £100,000, is that £50,000 might go directly to stepping up the present campaign for road safety, and another £50,000 might be applied to necessary research into road traffic problems and the psychological factors that lead to accidents and deaths on the roads. There are two aspects. The first is the material aspect of road surfaces, corners, lights, the flow of traffic and problems of that nature. The second is an investigation of the psychological causes of motor accidents. That is a vital field in the promotion of road safety.
After all is said and done, the work of the Commonwealth and the States in this matter is performed under the aegis of the Australian Road Safety Council. The main work is done in the schools, where 1,500,000 children are reached. The fact that they are being educated in road safety is the greatest factor in instructing the community, because the children will carry their knowledge into the homes, and probably do more than the Australian Road Safety Council can do to educate the adults. The adults are probably the greatest offenders against road safety, as well as the greatest sufferers from casualties and fatalities on the roads. The work of the council has received universal praise and recognition. An honorable senator has referred to an expert in road safety, Mr. D. Grant Mickle, who stated that road safety practices in Australia were more advanced than those in the United States of America. It is generally conceded that they are far in advance of the practices adopted in the United Kingdom. The Opposition believes that a good bill has been spoiled by one tarnish. The Opposition invites the Government to reconsider the matter, and I hope that honorable senators on the Government side will support the amendment that I shall move.
I labour under a certain difficulty in that, in order to effect an increase of the grant for road safety from £100,000 to £200,000, it is necessary to amend two clauses of the bill. In the first place, it would be necessary to subtract from the total sum that is to be made available to the States from the petrol tax an additional amount of £100,000. That would necessitate an alteration of the amount named in clause 9 to £1,000,000 instead of £900,000. Under clause 12 as it stands, £800,000 is to be subtracted from the Trust Account for the use of the Commonwealth in attending to strategic roads and roads of access to Commonwealth properties. The other £100,000 mentioned in clause 13 is to provide funds for the road safety campaign. If the latter amount is to be doubled, the total subtraction from the amount that will be available under clause 9 must be increased to £1,000,000. That amendment would be consequential upon the amendment to clause 13 being agreed to. I propose to move an amendment to clause 13 first. If that is agreed to, I shall move an amendment to clause 9. I know that it is not the usual procedure to amend a later clause before amending an earlier one. The committee is considering the bill as a whole, and I appreciate the difficulty that would be caused by the procedure that I have suggested, but if there is no technical objection to it, I suggest that the committee consider clause 9 after it has considered clause 13.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order! There is no objection to that procedure.
– In that case I refer again to the following words in clause 13 (1.)-
There is payable out of the Trust Account . . the sum of One hundred thousand pounds . . . , and move -
That, the words “ One hundred thousand pound’s “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ Two hundred thousand pounds “.
– As I indicated earlier, the Government will not accept the amendment. With regard to the amount of £100,000, the practice has been to allocate £60,000 directly to the States to spend as they see fit and without any tags. The sum of £40,000 is expended by the Australian Government, in conjunction with the States. The representatives of the seven Parliaments, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory decide how that amount of £40,000 shall be expended. Principally, it is spent on national campaigns, largely in the schools. The administrative part of the work is done by the Department of .Shipping and
Transport, and a charge is levied against the Australian Government. I take the opportunity of placing on record my appreciation of the exceptionally good work that has been done by that department. It has always encouraged private enterprise to co-operate. Organizations such as the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited have conducted safety campaigns and paid all expenses out of their own advertising funds. Many thousands of pounds have been expended by those private companies, at no cost to the taxpayers, in the interests of road safety. Obviously, we are not satisfied with the results that have been achieved so far, in spite of the fact that we are probably ahead. of other countries in road safety matters. The appalling losses that result from road’ accidents are too dreadful to be described adequately. I remind honorable senators that practically all control over road safety matters is vested in the State parliaments and the relevant authorities of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. The Government looks to the States and. to those authorities to do their share of the work. They have co-operated very well, and I am not prepared to agree to upset something that has been, decided, upon by the representatives of the seven parliaments. I believe that federation works most successfully through such organizations as the Australian Agricultural Council and the Australian Loan Council, and I would be loath to criticize the judgment of the organizations that are interested in this matter. Supporters of the Government will vote against the amendment.
.. - I am disappointed with the reply and the case that has been put forward by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay). I should like the Minister to inform me whether the allocation of funds for the road safety campaign was considered at any of. the meetings of the Australian Transport Advisory Council.
– Yes. It recommended an increase. I forwarded the recommendation to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in a formal way, and it was rejected.
– Now we are getting some light on the matter. Apparently, representatives of the States metrepresentatives of the Australian Go- vernment, and were agreeable to an increase ofthegrant for the road safety campaign.
– They are always agreeable if we pay.
– The Minister puts the matter quite incorrectly. If additional money were provided for the road safety campaign, it would come off the amount thatis allocated to the States. In fact, the States are ready to sacrifice their own interests for the morehuman purpose of road safety. It turns out that the nigger in the woodpile is the Commonwealth. This Government must accept complete responsibility, and the Minister can no longer shelter behind the suggestion he made earlier that the States had to be consulted. In fact, the States are ready to do it. The States are doing much of the work. They realize the problem involved. The Commonwealth must accept complete responsibility for the limitation it put on this very worthwhile work.
I want to quote further from the Current Affairs Bulletin dealing with road safetyto which I made reference earlier. The bulletin states -
The New Zealand position is the best in the world. They have fatalities of only 5.6 per 10,000 registered vehicles, whereas we have fatalities of 11.2, almost exactly twice that amount.
The bulletin translates those figures into terms of living human beings, and makes the following comment: -
Werewe able to reduce Australia’s road accidents to the same ratio as that of New Zealand, it would result in the following savings: lives, 988 annually: personal injuries, 1 1 , 552 annually.
If we could get down to the level of road fatalities in New Zealand, we should save 988 lives annually. Surely everybody in this chamber agreesthat from every viewpoint that is a worthy objective. I repeat again my great disappointment that there is to be, apparently, no support by the Government for this measure. It is clear from the reply given by the Minister that the responsibility for the refusal rests on this Government, which has rejected the requests of the States in this matter.
Question put -
That the wordsproposed tobeleft out (SenatorMcKenna’samendment) he left out.
Thecommittee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Ayes . . . . . . 24
Noes . . . . .. 28
Majority . .. . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 26th October (vide page 979), on motion by Senator Spicer -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The bill introduces a new principle. Its main purpose, perhaps its sole purpose, is to facilitate the provision of finance by banks to two classes of lessees in the Northern Territory: first, the holders of pastoral homestead leases, and, secondly, the holders of agricultural leases. The bill provides that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) may guarantee portion of a bank loan and the payment of interest on that portion of a bank loan which does not exceed £30,000 in each individual case and is to be used for the making of permanent improvement to land, or partly for that purpose and partly to redeem an existing mortgage to enable effect to be given to the new mortgage. The concession will not apply to companies, but will be confined to individuals, whether operating singly or in partnership, and the guarantee will extend only to that portion of the loan above the amount that the bank would ordinarily lend upon the security of improvements.
The relief or help that the bill may give to people in the Northern Territory is far from great, and, in fact, is exceedingly small. As the Attorney General (Senator Spicer) pointed out yesterday in his secondreading speech, there are only 407 pastoral leases in the Northern Territory, and they cover a total area of 215,355 square miles. Therefore, the average size of holdings is approximately 529 square miles. The Minister pointed out, also, that 89 of the leases were held by companies; so that only 318 persons or partnerships will be eligible for relief under the terms of this bill. That is a relatively small number. The Minister gave no details of the number of agricultural leases, but we know that only a few people are engaged in growing vegetables and producing eggs for local consumption in the Northern Territory and operations under that head would be upon a very small scale. Limited quantities of bananas and peanuts are grown for export to the southern areas of Australia. It is obvious that the agricultural activities of the Northern Territory are indeed very small. My own observation, when I was in the Territory,was that most of the vegetables required at Darwin were transported from Western Australia around the coast. When one realizes that agricultural development in the Northern Territory is so slight, one can understand why the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), in his second- reading speech on this bill in another place, made a comment that indicated that he did not regard it as of great significance or as making a great contribution to the relief of lessees in the Territory. When the AttorneyGeneral was making his secondreading speech to the Senate yesterday, I happened to be reading the secondreading speech that had been made in another place by the Minister for Territories, who said -
The end of government policy, as exemplified by this bill and by other measures, is to help the individual Australian in the Northern Territory to do his job for the nation in the Northern Territory.
He developed that theme and said further -
It is the purpose of a relatively small measure such as the present bill.
I noticed that the AttorneyGeneral omitted that sentence when he recapitulated in this chamber the speech of the Minister for Territories. One may take it from the Minister for Territories himself that he does not regard this bill as being of great consequence and, in short, regards it as only a minor move.
The buttressing of a loan for £30,000 to an individual lessee in the Northern Territory is not a vast contribution to development in the Territory, as one can understand in the light of the figures given by the AttorneyGeneral in his secondreading speech.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the negative.
– The Minister stated -
A cattle station in the Northern Territory requires a large capital expenditure spread over a number of years in order to bring it into a full state of economic development. There may be differences of opinion as to the amount of capitalization which it is economic for a pastoral property to bear, and the figure varies considerably from property to property according to such factors as the type of country, access to markets, the type of cattle which can be turned off, and the price likely to be received.
I come now to the important passage -
As a broad indication to the House of the sort of expenditure that is involved, I may mention that some cattle stations of moderate size-
I emphasize those words - . . in the Northern Territory carry a capital expenditure, spread over a number of years, up to £120,000. Expenditure is required on the provision of waters at a cost of possibly £4,000 each, some miles of fencing at a cost up to £400 a mile, homestead, staff quarters and other station buildings at a bare minimum cost of £15,000, and the building of yards and dips, quite apart from expenditure on the herd.
The Government is willing to guarantee to the banks only the tail-end of the loan of £30,000, and we have it from the Minister that the amount of £30,000 is relatively small and insignificant, because an average pastoral lease of moderate size will demand capital expenditure possibly of £120,000. Certainly, the relief afforded by this measure will not be great. It will benefit the holder of a welldeveloped property, but will give very little .benefit to a lessee who has all the work of development ahead of him. The comment made by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) in another place that the bill will not put one new settler on the land in the entire Territory was completely justified. It is clear that this bill will not make a vast contribution to the settlement of the Territory, which is one of Australia’s major national problems.
The proposal is merely to guarantee portion of a loan and interest on that portion. The bill so defines the term “ loan “ as to include a bank overdraft. It is certain that, since the loan is to be made by a bank, it will be made upon the overdraft basis and will be repayable on call. That is the normal procedure of the banks, and I am certain that nothing in this bill will induce them to depart from that practice. In an area such as the Northern Territory, where lessees run all the risks of losses caused by fires, floods, droughts and pests, the ravages of all of which they experience in turn, the pioneer who must undertake the development of pastoral and agricultural leases will be left in a state of great uncertainty, because he may at any time be faced with the immediate calling in of the amount of his indebtedness to the bank. It is true that the Commonwealth’s guaranteeing of the tail end of the loan may perhaps relieve the banks of some of their responsibility and they may not press so hard for the calling in of loans. The guarantee by the Commonwealth is useful in that respect. But after all is said and done, the people who run these leases have great heart to undertake the work at all. I think the important contribution is to give them a feeling that they are safeguarded for a considerable ‘ period. The important thing to do with them, when loans are made on the security of their properties, is to say, “ Here is money for developmental purposes. It will be repayable over a long, term and bear only a low rate of interest “. It is quite true that, if a number of banks make these loans, at a time of financial or economic crisis, they might apply different policies in relation to the calling-up of the loans. One bank might be over-eager and press for a reduction of a loan, whilst another might be prepared to concede some time. Who is prepared to say that that would be a satisfactory arrangement? There could be three, four, five of six different loan policies operating in the Northern Territory in relation to the 318 pastoral lessees. Unquestionably, what is required is a broad scheme for the development of new areas and the settlement of people on those areas. The Government should open up new land and grant long-term loans at a low rate of interest. That would really speed up the development of the Territory, and put new settlers on. the land. The Opposition would move an amendment to bring about that end, but for the fact that if it did so it would destroy the whole structure of this bill, and it would be necessary to draft a new measure. As this bill will help a few people, we do not oppose it. However, it makes no bold approach to the major problems of the .Northern Territory. Loans under the bill will provide only for short-term, instead of long-term development. While settlers have overdrafts that are liable to be called up at a moment’s notice, they will have to keep their assets in a readily realizable form. They will have to preserve a high degree of liquidity, in order to guard against a sudden callingup of the loan.
The Opposition believes that the guarantee ought to be widened to include loans granted for the purchase of stock, plant and equipment. By being confined to loans made solely on the security of the leases, the scheme is too narrow, because improvements will have to be effected with the proceeds of the loan. In fact, the Government itself, in the matter of re-stocking the runs after severe losses have been incurred through drought, has applied a longterm policy, by making longterm loans at a. low rate of interest. That is a good principle, which should have been applied by this bill. It is not of much use for a lessee to have a developed property, unless he has the money needed to stock it. It may well be that the stocking of a property will be one of the greatest problems of the lessee. I know that the Minister will say that there are firms operating in Australia which lend money readily on a bill of sale. But the point is that they are generally prepared to lend only so much as will enable the lessee to meet his commitments for the current year until his cattle are sold. That is a very narrow compass, and affords very little elbow room for the lessee. The scope of this bill might, with advantage, have been widened to provide not only for the provision of money for capital works, but also for the provision of money to enable the lessee to acquire stock. What is required in the Territory is closer settlement in place of large leases. We will never get closer settlement in the Territory until a lot more roads, and a network of railways have been established. The lessee runs all the risks of the market, as well as the hazards of weather, fire and flood. He also faces great transport difficulties. The first approach to the development of the Territory should be the building of roads and railways. That is the bold and imaginative approach that ought to have been made to this problem. If the Government had made that approach, as I have indicated, there could have been holdings of far less area than an average of 529 square miles with all the vast problems associated with fencing and water. The application of such a policy would have enabled the settlement of more people on the land in the Northern Territory. It surely should be the primary objective of Commonwealth policy to put more people into those areas, and get a greater yield from the land.
I comment on the fact that there is not a land settlement scheme for exservicemen in the Northern Territory. I understand that to be the case. As the Northern Territory is entirely under the control of the Commonwealth, surely such a scheme should be introduced. I realize that most of the land in the Northern Territory is held under long term leases, most of which have from eight to ten years to run, and that it would, therefore, be some time before the Government could take them over for closer settlement. It has also been suggested that a measure of this nature should make provision to ease the problems of the Kimberleys and north Queensland. They could be treated as a homogeneous area, for the purpose of development. We feel that the bill might well have been widened to cover those areas. However, we do not oppose the measure, because we realize that, sooner or later, there will be big development in connexion with ricegrowing, peanutgrowing, and perhaps tobaccogrowing in the Northern Territory. We consider that the measure is not of very great significance, but it will help a few people. We express our disappointment that it does not go further.
Debate (on motion by Senator Maher) adjourned.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is designed to amend the Public Service Act 1922-1953 by clarifying certain sections without altering existing methods, in respect of examination procedures and subsequent appointment action, and’ by repealing a number of provisions in the act which have ceased, for many years, to be operative or which, for one reason or another, have, never been used.
The most important amendments deal with appointments to the Public Service as a result of .passing the normal entrance examinations. The amendments arp designed to permit two methods of normal entry into the Public Service, namely, by passing a competitive examination conducted by the Public Service Board or by passing a particular examination conducted by a university or other public examining body in Australia. The practice is to appoint to the Third - clerical, administrative and professional - Division of the Public Service persons who have passed the school leaving or senior certificate examination in the various States in accordance with the order of merit in. which they pass that examination, provided they pass the examination in subjects specified by the board. It is not intended to vary this procedure, but it has been discovered that, with the many recent changes that have taken place in the educational and examination practices adopted by the various States, more adequate powers, and more discretion, must be allowed to the board under the act to have regard to the changes, and to equate the State examinations, with the requirements of the Public Service. In future, the board will be able to notify, in the Gazette, the particular examinations and particular subjects that the board will require for entrance to the Public Service-. The method of fixing an order of appointment, or of determining an order of merit and other details required to assure the appointment of the best qualified applicants up to the limit of recruits needed at any time, must also be contained in the notification in the Gazette.
The present recruitment situation and foreseeable recruitment trends for the Third Division make it imperative that applicants shall not be required to sit for a separate examination conducted by the board. However, the board still retains power to hold its own Third Division examinations if that course becomes desirable. Experience over the past few years in both Australia and other countries has shown that youths who have just passed the final secondary school examination will not sit for another examination specially conducted for entrance to the Public Service.. If they are not accepted for appointment on the basis of their school education qualifications, they will seek employment in the many fields available outside the Public Service. It is not proposed that any change shall be made in. the present method of recruiting and appointment of returned soldiers. No change is proposed in relation to examinations for recruitment to- the Fourth Division, which the board itself conducts. The provision that the educational examination for the Fourth Division shall be of an elementary character has been retained. Provision has also been inserted to restrict recruitment to the particular localities where recruits are needed, and adequate provision is made for the board to fix age limits where necessary.
It is not proposed to alter the quota of university graduates who may be appointed each year, although provision is made in the bill to give the board authority to appoint persons who have passed their final university examinations but who have not yet formally graduated. That provision is necessary, because in most Australian universities the period between completion of the final examinations and formal graduation is often four or five months, and during that period prospective recruits would be lost to other employers. It is proposed to amend the section of the act in relation to the powers of the Presiding Officers of the Parliament over the officers of the parliamentary departments to give them the same powers over temporary employees in the parliamentary departments as the board has over temporary employees in other departments. An amendment is included to permit persons who have retired on the grounds of ill health, and who receive a pension from the Public Service Superannuation Fund, to be re-appointed if their health should improve at any age up to the maximum retiring age. Previously, they could not be re-appointed if they were over the age of fifty-one.
It is proposed to add to the act a new section to give the board power to determine, by a notification in the Gazette, that transfer to certain specified offices shall be in accordance with the position of persons in the order of merit gained from passing an examination conducted by the board, and that such transfers, which are technically promotions, are not subject to appeal. This section is necessary to put beyond doubt the board’s power to transfer to the Third Division, without appeal, officers of the Fourth Division who pass the annual clerical examination. At the same time, this procedure is used for promotion to certain offices of a semi-technical nature, such as that of typist. Provision has been made for the automatic advancement of cadets and other officers undergoing training courses to the base grade professional or technical positions on the successful completion of their courses of training, without having to go through the normal procedure of promotion, and of juniors whose positions have no adult salary rate to base grade offices on the minimum adult salary immediately they attain the age of twenty-one years.
It is proposed to amend section 55 of the act, which relates to offences by officers of the Public Service, to provide that an officer stationed overseas shall be deemed to be stationed in the Australian Capital Territory for the purposes of dealing with any offences against the Public Service Act that he may commit, and to make adequate provision for appeal boards to operate in respect of other Commonwealth territories. The opportunity has been taken to delete from the Public Service Act certain provisions which no longer operate. The remaining sub-sections of section 27, which were inserted in the Public Service Act in 1922 to protect the salaries of officers employed under the Public Service Act of 1902, has been repealed, as salary increases since 1922 have placed everybody above any salary he or she may have received at that time. Part IV. of the act, which provides for the establishment in time of need of a temporary service with temporary departments called the Provisional Service, is to be repealed. In the 32 years it has been in the act, a provisional service has never been established, because either at the time a temporary structure was needed the Government created statutory authorities to deal with a particular matter or, as in the case of the last war, it passed special legislation, such as the National Security Act, to provide for the setting up of temporary organizations. The board now has adequate powers to handle any temporary or casual increases which may be necessary as the work load shifts in the Public Service.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McLeay) read a first time.
Senator McLEAY (South Australia -
Minister for Shipping and Transport) [11.23].- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to suspend those provisions of the Hide and Leather Industries Act 1948-1953 which have empowered the Australian Hide and Leather Industries Board to operate the Commonwealth-State hide and leather marketing scheme. The basis of the scheme has been the compulsory appraisement, acquisition and disposal of Australiangrown hides under Commonwealth and State complementary legislation.
The board ceased to appraise and acquire hides as from the 14th August, 1954, following a decision by the Australian Government that it was no longer prepared to co-operate with the States in continuing a compulsory control scheme for which it considered justification no longer existed. However, the winding up of the board’s affairs will take some time to complete, and in the meantime the Government considers it desirable to suspend the operative provisions of the act until it is appropriate to repeal the act in its entirety. The hides and leather control arrangement originated as a wartime measure. Shortly after the outbreak of war, national security regulations were promulgated, which set up the Australian Hide and Leather Industries Board to control the hide and leather industries during war-time. The board continued to function during the post-war transitional period, and it was still in operation when the responsibility for price control was transferred from the Commonwealth to the States in 1948. It was then agreed between the Commonwealth and the State governments that the hide and leather marketing scheme should be carried on as a support to price control administration under complementary Commonwealth/State legislation along practically the same lines as the war-time scheme, namely, compulsory acquisition, appraisement and allocation of hides by a hide and leather industries board. The present board has functioned since the 1st January, 1949.
In practice, the board acquired hides at fixed domestic prices and allocated thom to tanners at that price with the exception of a relatively small proportion which was reserved for export. The higher prices received, by the board for (hose export hides, together with levy collections on leather exported, was used to finance the operations of the board and to pay premiums to hide producers in excess of the appraised prices. In March, 1951, the excess premium rate was as high as 75 per cent, of the appraised price.
Since the inception of the CommonwealthState arrangements on the 1st January, 1949, the differentials between the home consumption prices of hides fixed by the States, and export parity levels, have fluctuated considerably. In 1951, when hide export prices reached their peak, the export price of heavy hides reached 61d. per lb., whilst the equivalent local price at that time was 7d. per lb. Since then, however, overseas prices have steadily decreased, whilst the Australian domestic price was increased 50 per cent, in 1952. The position had been reached early in August last at which the difference between domestic and overseas prices of cattle hides was only a few pence per lb. although the disparity on yearling and calf skin prices was still quite substantial. At this stage the board, after financing its own operations, was barely able to pay hide-producers the local fixed prices, and if overseas prices had continued to fail the board would have required financial assistance to enable it to continue operating the control scheme. It was unthinkable that the Commonwealth should be called upon to finance a scheme of thU nature.
During recent years the Commonwealth Government has been under constant pressure from most sections of the industry, including cattle-producers, meatworks, brokers, merchants and tanners, to terminate the control scheme. The primary producers have claimed that they have long been subsidizing the public by providing them with cheap footwear and that, as a. result, the production and the quality of hides were being adversely affected. Tanners have claimed they have had no freedom in buying the quality and quantity of hides they required and that, consequently, they have been unable to operate efficiently.
On several occasions in the past tha State Prices Ministers’ conference was informed that the Commonwealth considered the continued existence of the control scheme was unwarranted because of the relatively close relationship of overseas and local hide prices, but the Prices Ministers steadfastly refused to co-operate in terminating the control. The validity of legislation from which the board’s powers were derived was challenged in the High Court early in 1951 by certain hides and leather trade interests and, although the action was unsuccessful, except, on one point, further action was initiated in the High Court earlier this year on wider legal grounds. Tasmania withdrew from the scheme at the end of June, 1952, and Western Australia abolished price control at the end of 1953 while still maintaining its hide control legislation.
Because of the legal challenge and the pending High Court action, large-scale trafficking in hides outside board control had arisen and for some time the board -had not been able to function satisfactorily. This was in no way a reflection on the board itself, which has been generally recognized by governments and all sections of the hide and leather industries as a most efficient organization which functioned well over a long period of years, but which finally came up against a set of circumstances quite beyond its control.
After serious consideration the Government decided that the justification for a continuance of hides and leather control no longer existed and that, in all the circumstances, it would be futile to pursue the administration of an arrangement which no longer had the co-operation of any section of the industry and which the board was finding it increasingly difficult to operate. The bill now before the Senate suspends the operation of those sections of the Hide and Leather Industries Act 1948-1953 which have empowered the board to operate the control scheme. When the board has wound up its affairs, action will be taken to repeal the principal act. I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The correct dimensions of the Australian national- flag, as approved by the Sovereign, were promulgated in Gazette No. IS, of 1954. When the Government submitted for consideration by the Parliament a bill to declare the flag which had already been approved by the Sovereign as the Australian national flag, a typographical error occurred in Table “ A “ of the bill. The outer diameter of the Commonwealth star, that ia the star immediately under the Union Jack, was described as being three-eighths of the width of the flag, whereas the correct dimension is three-tenths of the width of the flag. If the error were not corrected, it would cause concern to flag manufacturers and would require replacement of those flags already in existence. Clause 3 of the bill, therefore, corrects the error.
The act is designed to operate from the 14th April, 1954. That is the day on which the act became effective following proclamation of the Queen’s assent to the bill. This is designed to ensure continuity of the approved dimensions.
– Obviously, the euphemistic reference by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) to a typographical error does not conceal the fact that there was some carelessness on the part of somebody in connexion with the presentation of the previous bill to the Senate. I, at least, derive some consolation from the fact that the Government has at last rectified one of its errors. I nope that this action is the precursor of a whole series of activities on the part of the Government in order to correct one after another all the innumerable errors for which it has been responsible. It is consoling to find the Government at last catching up with its errors. The great tragedy is that it did not embark upon this course much earlier in its career. I recognize that it is important that the flag should be correctly described, and if the width of the star underneath the Union Jack should be three-tenths of the width of the flag instead of three-eighths of the width of the flag let it be so stated. 1 support the bill.
. -In reply- I think that th Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) referred to this mistake as a minor error. That is a consolation to the taxpayers when they consider the major errors that were committed by the Leader of the Opposition when his Government was in office.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1954, No. 104.
Public Service Act -
Appointments - Department -
Postmaster-General’s - 6. C. Dorr.
Social Services- G. Unsworth.
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1954, No. 103.
Senate adjourned at 11.35 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 27 October 1954, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1954/19541027_senate_21_s4/>.