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Thursday, 18 November 1976

Mr BAUME (Macarthur) - I have been an enthusiastic viewer of a fascinating battle that is being fought by the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) with his opposite number in the State of New South Wales. It is a battle that I hope the Federal Minister is going to win. It is a battle on which he so clearly is in the right and about which the proposals he has put are so clearly the proper proposals that I believe it would be most unfortunate if he were to fail in his endeavours. His endeavours are on behalf of the local councils of New South Wales. The Federal Minister has been endeavouring to do the right thing by the councils that have been, in effect, starved by the New South Wales Government. The New South Wales Government has rejected a very reasonable proposal put forward by the Federal Minister that State financial assistance be given to local government for its rural roads programs.

Many questions have been put to the Minister in this House and the Minister has quite clearly indicated that he believes that it is only right and proper and, under the federalism proposals, which already have been discussed here today, evidently in keeping with the co-operative federalism supported by the Government that the State governments contribute something to local government for local government's road programs. Mr Cox, the New South Wales Minister for Transport, has rejected the Federal Minister's suggestions and in fact has been very difficult to get on with about how the extra $ 11.3m in Federal money being allocated to New South Wales for roads should be distributed in the country areas. In fact, the State Government wanted to grab most of it for its own main roads operations. Of course, the residual amount that would then go to local government simply would not be enough to sustain the essential work that is required in the country areas.

This seems to be a typical example of the Australian Labor Party's attitude that the rural areas do not matter a damn. That policy- those attitudesare clearly reflected in both the previous Government's attitude to the rural areas and, of course, the attitude of the present Labor Government in New South Wales. There is a massive concentration on the more dramatic expenditures, such as the expenditure on the Hume Highway. I must say that I am very grateful to see a large amount of money being spent in my electorate on the Hume Highway. I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the Minister for allocating half, I think, of the total amount of money to be spent on the Hume Highway this year to the electorate of Macarthur. But the facts are very serious when one takes into consideration the obstructionism in terms of assisting the rural sector, where there are many centres that are far flung from each other, where the road is in fact a vital means of communication, where other systems of transport are not available and where the road is the link between people in the country.

It is interesting that the 1975 report of the Bureau of Roads recommended in recommendation 101 that the Australian Government should request the New South Wales Government to make appropriate contributions for rural local roads under the control of local government authorities. That report was presented in 1975, when a different government was in power here. I believe that the report is a very sensible one. I wonder how a Labor Minister for Transport in this place would be now responding to the obstructionism of the Labor Minister for Transport in New South Wales. There is a clear need for this money to be directed to local government.

Of the $1 1.3m provided by the Federal Government to New South Wales, $6.63m is to go towards the State's expenditure in rural areas, leaving only $4.67m. That alone is probably not enough. That is what we have recommended. Mr Cox, of course, is reluctant even to allow that level of funds to be spent among the local councils.

The fact is, of course, that we do not have the power to direct, nor should we have the power to direct, the State Government how to distribute this money. I agree with the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) that federalism should in fact mean a withdrawal of even some of our existing powers of direction and that we should leave it to the good sense- in this case the absence of good sense- of New South Wales to direct where the money should go. But the fact is, of course, that, left to themselves, governments like the present New South Wales Government have not done their bit- it may well be that previous governments in New South Wales have not done as much as I believe should have been done- for the rural people of New South Wales. For example, the Bureau of Roads has advised that the States themselves overall, throughout Australia, increased their outlays on roads at an average rate of only 8.7 per cent per annum from 1970 to 1975. This means, in fact, that they did not keep pace with inflation over this period. That means that the amount spent on roads in real terms has been declining on these kinds of roads compared with a 16.4 per cent growth in total State budget outlays.

Apparently the States no longer consider that maintenance of roads at this level is an important function. I suggest that one of the reasons this has taken place is because of the intrusive role that the Federal Labor Government played in giving the States the false impression that the States could abrogate their responsibilities because of the paternalistic, oppressive, centralist role which was being played in Canberra. I hope the recognition that this Federal Government is trying to do the right thing is widespread. I hope there is widespread recognition of the failure of the New South Wales Government to contribute at all to local councils in the State. In fact it is something which should be changed. It is true that the State legislation does not allow the New South Wales Government to make these contributions to local government but there is nothing to stop that Government from changing the legislation. I believe it is only right and proper that that legislation should be changed. Let us face it, that Government does have a responsibility for local government. Local government in fact comes under the legislative control of the State of New South Wales and I think it is quite disgraceful that it should continue to duck for cover in this area.

In conclusion may I commend the Minister for Transport in this place for what he has achieved. There is no doubt that this Government has increased the total amount of funds provided over that provided by the Labor Government, which regrettably was here for 3 disastrous years, by $7. 15m to $5 1.52m or 26 per cent. That is $820,000 above the level recommended in the report by the Bureau of Roads. No one can say that this Federal Government is ducking its responsibilities, that it is not meeting the objectives set, and quite properly set, in the report commissioned by this Government's predecessor. It is important to recognise, when we hear the Opposition spokesman on transport complaining about lack of money and saying that not enough is going in this direction, that this Government is exceeding the target set and in fact is endeavouring to do the right thing by the local councils in New South Wales, which concern me in particular, whereas a Government of his political persuasion in New South Wales is still refusing to meet its responsibilities to improve and maintain the roads in that State through the proper authorities, the local government authorities. I commend the Minister in this chamber for what he is doing and I wish him well in his continuing battle with the State Labor Minister in New South Wales. I trust that Mr Nixon will triumph over that kind of adversity.

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