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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 785

Senator KNOWLES (12.31 p.m.) —Today we are debating the States Grants (General Purposes) Bill 1994. This bill is designed to provide the states and territories with general purpose funding from the Commonwealth. Over many years this bill has been pretty ho-hum but since there has been a change in the complexion and make-up of state governments—there are now more Liberal governments around the country than we have seen for a long time—it has caused a bit of a bunfight with the federal government.

  I want to raise the important issue of road funding in Western Australia. It is certainly no secret that Australia's roads are crying out for a greater amount of federal funding and that the Western Australian government is behind the wheel of a very vigorous campaign to rectify this problem. It is a major problem throughout Australia but, for the purposes of this debate, I want to focus on the issues relating to my state of Western Australia. I find it a very bitter pill to swallow that money which could be better spent upgrading our roads is being used to prop up student unionism where state governments have legislated for voluntary student unionism. In the case of Western Australia, that could well mean between $5 million and $10 million.

  I find it quite objectionable that this money is being diverted when the Liberal state government in Western Australia was elected on a policy of voluntary student unionism. Yet this government is seeking to use federal taxes that could go to roads to prop up its ideological bent. The most basic translation of that is that here again the federal government is sabotaging the policies of the states and territories and imposing its will upon them. I have spoken a few times in the parliament in this last week. Unfortunately, on each occasion I have had to point out that the government is hell bent on overriding the will, not only of the state governments, but also of the people who have voted those particular state governments into office.

  If the state or territory parliaments legislate for freedom of choice and freedom of association for students, the federal government steps right in to protect its Labor mates in the guilds and the National Union of Students—its little helpers, its diligent campaigners, its budding party hacks and future members of parliament. This is all about protecting that nursery of Labor Party members, both within the party organisation and, ultimately, within the parliamentary organisation. This money should not be used in any way, shape or form for political purposes, such as propping up politically partisan organisations such as student guilds. It is meant for schools, hospitals and roads. It is not meant to prop up the Labor Party.

  Western Australia has 170,000 kilometres of public roads. Of that, 24,000 kilometres are classified as highways. Main roads and secondary roads have an estimated replacement cost of $6.5 billion. The total state road network is valued at more than $14.6 billion. The federal government collects about $10.7 billion from excise and other fuel taxes. Heaven only knows how much fuel tax has gone up in the 11 years of this government but road users are seeing less and less of that money being put back into their roads. People who are travelling extensively throughout this huge land of ours are the ones who are suffering. And it is not just those who are travelling on holidays; it is the truck drivers who are constantly on the road and the people using it for commercial purposes. But the federal government allocates $1.5 billion, or seven cents per litre, to road funding. That is just not enough.

  In 1983-84, Western Australia received an actual allocation of $146.08 million and only $153.78 in 1994-95. In real terms, that represents a reduction of $86 million or 36 per cent. The national highway allocation is now only 7.1 per cent of the Australian total, despite the fact that Western Australia has 25 per cent of the length of the national highway. More galling than anything else is that there are all these signs, put up at the taxpayers' expense, announcing that the highways are nationally funded.

  Western Australia needs an extra $145 million each year over the next 10 years to meet new demands for its road network. The national highway system alone requires $139 million over the next 10 years. Given that Perth is the second fastest growing state capital after Brisbane, this is not an unreasonable request. With a population growth rate of almost three per cent per annum, there are important implications for road funding.

  But what will happen over the next two decades, a period when Western Australian roads need replacement? Roads typically require replacement or rehabilitation after 40 years of use. Over the next 10 years about 30 per cent of Western Australia's roads will have a pavement age of more than 40 years. Currently, about five per cent are of this age. It would require an annual road budget of $200 million per year over 10 years to avoid this problem but that is not within the means of the present road budget. It is likely to be even further out of reach if the federal government starts syphoning money away from state and territory governments and into student unions.

  Arterial roads need to be constructed to provide necessary links to services and to complement public transport. Increases of 10 per cent in road freight have put pressure on the total infrastructure and the trend looks set to continue on an upward spiral. Deregulation of land freight transport threatens to place pressure on the existing infrastructure and increase the demand for new roads.

  So, what is the government doing about this situation? It is doing absolutely nothing. Road accidents cost Western Australia $900 million per annum. That is despite the fact that there has been a marked improvement in Western Australia's road safety performance in recent years. Despite increased allocations in the last two state budgets, Western Australia cannot meet the shortfall in funding on its own.

  In 1993-94 the Western Australian government allocated an additional $35 million to the roads budget. In 1994-95 it was increased again by $26 million. Previously tied national arterial funds which are now untied are still being allocated to Western Australian roads. But road funds in Western Australia have continued to decline in real terms and this government must be held responsible. Until it wakes up to the fact that by cutting road funding it is increasing the risk of serious accident and creating a harder and harder life for people who use country roads, nothing will improve. Good roads lead to economic development, employment, environmental protection and reduction in road trauma. When will the government realise that all these things hinge on those factors?

  The Fix Australia Fix the Roads campaign, run by the Western Australian state government, has the strong support of the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia, the Western Australian Police Department, the Livestock Transporters Association, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association, the Western Australian Farmers Federation, the Main Roads Department of Western Australian, the Western Australian Department of Transport and the Western Australian Municipal Association. With that type of support, why cannot this government see that it needs to start putting in its contribution and stop decreasing Western Australia's real term allocation to road funding?

  The campaign has also been joined by the Australian Roads Federation of Western Australian, the Transport Workers Union and the Australian Tourism Industry Association of Western Australia. Many of these people represent powerful lobby groups, and I would expect that they would be none too thrilled by the fact that less money will be spent on our roads.

  I raise these issues out of the grave concerns I have from what I see on our roads. When I travel outside Western Australia, I see the deterioration in the roads. For example, in New South Wales, the shoulders of the roads are literally crumbling away. They are in an appalling condition for road safety. We see that in some areas of Western Australia. How can the Western Australian government be expected to continue to up its contribution, while the taxes that are being fleeced from the Western Australian motorists—and other Australian motorists—keep increasing, yet the motorists are not seeing their return put back into roads?

Senator Panizza —The levy is now 34c a litre.

Senator KNOWLES —Exactly. It is 34c a litre, and we are getting 7c back. Where is the rest of the money going? It is going into general revenue to be squandered on things like student unionism. I object wholeheartedly to the fact that that money is not coming back to Western Australia when the Western Australian government has clearly stated its policy position on voluntary student unionism. There has to be a serious rethink of this whole issue. I am afraid that the federal government will continue to penalise people who live in Liberal states. It is about time this federal government was changed as well.

  Debate (on motion by Senator McMullan) adjourned.