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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr BIRD (Batman) . - I am glad that the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) is at the table because I intend to discuss a subject that is very dear to his heart and mind. I desire to criticize the continued smug approach of the Government towards the problems of the road system. This Government is quite content to sit back and remain perfectly oblivious to the ever-increasing worries of the State road authorities. The Government could not care less about roads. Unfortunately for the States, the views of the Commonwealth Government run counter to those of centralized governments in other countries where an entirely different outlook exists from that in Australia.

The governments of other countries know, from bitter experience, that the neglect of roads proves very costly to the country's economy in the long run. In Victoria, the Country Roads Board has never had sufficient funds to do even a reasonable job. Recently the board prepared a very modest ten-year programme with a contemplated total expenditure of about £400,000,000 or £40,000,000 a year. At present, the board has not that amount of money to spend. Because of its present financial position, it will never be able to overtake the many lost years of construction.

It is time that the Parliament and the Government recognized that road finance should no longer be regarded as a charge against the motorist. It should rank in importance with outlay on such projects as water conservation and electricity supplies which are looked upon as an obligation of the whole community because they are national projects. I suggest that water conservation and electricity supplies are of no more importance to the well-being of the community than is an adequate road system. The Government subsidizes rail transport; it subsidizes air transport by providing costly civil aviation facilities, and it subsidizes water transport by paying subsidies to steamship companies. Yet the Government expects road transport to subsidize Commonwealth revenue! If it is good enough for the Government to subsidize rail, air and water transport, why does it expect road transport to subsidize Commonwealth revenue? The whole thing is completely cock-eyed and it is time that the Government re-examined its attitude.

Everybody who has made the slightest investigation into this problem knows that transport charges form a major ingredient in production and marketing costs. Therefore, road transport facilities should expand equally with the economic development that they serve. That does not happen. Industries which have been established in certain parts of Victoria, for example, are served by a very mediocre and out-moded road system. We should ask ourselves this very important question concerning road transport throughout the Commonwealth: Should road construction be financed by motor vehicle taxation as though it were a problem for motorists only and not for the nation?

The Government says that the road problem has to be solved by increasing taxation on motorists. But, if necessary, it increases the taxation on the nation as a whole in order to overcome other problems. Although the Government singles out the motorist for heavy taxation, instead of using all the money so obtained for road construction, it puts a third into Commonwealth revenue. Nobody, not even the Minister for Shipping and Transport, thinks that the present aid roads legislation is an improvement on the previous act. Every one knows that, because of the increase in the number of motor vehicles over the last few years, there would have been substantial increases in funds allocated to the State governments under the old act, just as there have been under this act. More vehicles on the roads means higher petrol consumption and therefore more revenue to the Government.

Contrary to the policy of this Government, in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Canada, road transport in all forms is recognized as an essential community service. The provision of good roads is regarded in that light. I suggest that if the Government is interested in good roads it should immediately examine the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act which has all sorts of anomalies, faults and imperfections. This has slowed down the provision of an adequate road system in Australia.

One of the things that the Government should do is to examine the provision that 40 per cent, of the money given to a State must be spent on rural roads other than main roads and highways. I suggest that this provision should not be mandatory upon the various States because, obviously, some States have not the same problem of rural roads as other States. The greater problem of some States concerns their highways and main roads. Therefore, a State government should not be compelled to spend 40 per cent, of the amount received from the Commonwealth Government under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act on rural roads if it can spend it better on other roads.

This practice which the State governments are compelled to follow is not observed overseas. In some cases overseas, the expenditure of money given by a government to road authorities is related to traffic and communications problems as a whole. For example, it was found in the United Kingdom that just as much time was lost in traffic hazards in the cities as on bad roads outside the cities. There must be a balance.

It is quite obvious that the Government regards the motor industry as the Cinderella industry of the Commonwealth, despite the fact that it involves an increasingly large number of people and affects increasingly wide interests. In 1950 there were 1,400,000 vehicles in Australia, while in June, 1960, there were 2,834,000. These figures show a rise of 102 per cent, in ten years, while in the same period the population increased by only 26 per cent.

I object to the fact that this Government gives scant consideration to the interests of the private motorist. The average person who buys a car is taxed very heavily. He has to pay heavy sales tax, which, of course, will be even heavier as the Treasurer's new proposals are implemented. He also has to pay substantial amounts of money in petrol tax. When he takes his car out for a drive he has to travel in many cases on municipal highways, which the councils find it beyond their financial capacity to maintain satisfactorily. I suggest, therefore, that the Government should amend the relevant legislation to provide that State governments should allocate reasonable amounts of money - not small amounts like £5,000 or £10,000, but substantial amounts of £100,000 or even £200,000 - for municipal councils to maintain roads that radiate from the centres of cities and carry heavy traffic.

This Government must abandon the idea that our roads are useful mainly as a source of federal revenue. The Government looks on motor vehicles as a means of augmenting its revenues. Despite what the Minister and other Government spokesmen have said, Commonwealth aid for roads is neither generous nor adequate, nor is it based on actual needs. Three-quarters of the money spent on Victorian roads is devoted mainly to keeping the existing roads as serviceable as possible. The various councils have not sufficient money to expand the roads system in Victoria. Therefore plans must be devised in this Parliament and in the State Parliaments to meet present and future traffic requirements. Recently, the Senate Select Committee on Road Safety presented a very interesting report.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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