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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3493

Senator VIGOR(12.20) —The purpose of the Australian Land Transport (Financial Assistance) Amendment Bill 1986 is to reduce the proportion of excise imposed on petrol, fuel and diesel fuel which is paid into the Australian land transport program. This is in direct contravention of a government promise to keep this up. The Commonwealth collects a total rate of duty or excise of Customs of 20.185c per litre, of which 3.845c per litre is paid to the Australian land transport program, 2c per litre to the Australian bicentennial roads development program, and 14.34c per litre into Consolidated Revenue. Clause 3 of the Bill provides for the rate of duty payable to the Australian land transport program to be reduced from the current rate of 3.845c per litre to 3.610c per litre. This change is to be operative from 1 July this year. Apparently it is a Budget measure so, although the Opposition deplores it, it is not in a position to vote against it. It has, hence, moved an amendment deploring the whole thing and is going to pass the Bill through this Parliament.

The Australian Democrats, who are committed to `keeping the bastards honest', find it very difficult to do this under these circumstances. We will support the Opposition's amendment, the sentiments of which we agree with, but we will also vote in accordance with those sentiments to make certain that Australian road users are not ripped off in this way.

The effect of this Bill is to reduce the amount of Federal road fund finance for 1986-87 by $50m, which is a quite substantial amount. This, of course, is in addition to the Budget reductions in funding of $24m and it takes Federal road funding down to $1,245m for the 1986-87 period. Although we agree that roads are vital, the Government is currently significantly cutting back on the road funding program, which is having an enormous effect on country areas, particularly in large States such as the one I represent. It is certainly true that this Government is facing significant economic problems and that it has a strong incentive to reduce the domestic deficit. However, running down the vital infrastructure is not the road to economic prosperity; it is the road to disaster. Our industries need an efficient and well maintained road system. The Government is attempting what is a very artificial deficit reduction. The long term costs will be higher and in the short term road users will pay not only in money terms through problems with their cars, trucks and other vehicles which will be damaged by roads but also in terms of potential accidents, in which they will pay with their lives.

The ALTP is the only Federal land transport funding program which provides funds for maintenance. The ALTP in this regard is distinct from the bicentennial road development program under which funds are available only for construction. Clearly we badly need substantial maintenance programs on our roads. Anybody who has travelled on the arterial roads in the States will realise this.

Similarly the Government repays excise to the railways in Australia through the ALTP and this will not be fully returned to the railways. So again in this Bill we are not returning to the railways their due part of the moneys which are levied through this excise. This will be a problem in terms of running down the infrastructure of another of our transport systems.

The Bill, in fact, robs the trust fund. The rate paid into the ALTP was originally 3.66c per litre which was indexed to the consumer price index so that available funds would be increased along with costs. The proposed amendment in this Bill reduces the rate to 3.61c per litre, which is below the original figure, including the CPI adjustments. In the face of this, the Government has still not come clean on another $25.6m which I will ask the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) to comment on, as this amount will apparently remain unspent because of reduced payments from the ALTP. I do not exactly know what it means to leave this money lying on the ALTP. This $25.6m would be sufficient, I point out to the Minister, for a bridge over the River Murray somewhere in my State, where there are only five bridges along the whole length of the River Murray. There is no decent bridge on the Adelaide to Sydney road near Berri. This money also could be put to vital use in many areas around the country for bypasses and other places where there are tremendous dangers from crossings.

Rural arterial roads moneys from the Australian Bicentennial Road Development Fund are being used to build bridges on the Sturt Highway over the River Murray at Mildura and over the Lachlan River at Balranald. In South Australia, particularly in the South Australian Riverland, we need similar investments. Of particular importance to South Australia is the Government's continued neglect of the Sturt Highway between Adelaide and Sydney. I point out to the Minister that nearly 500 trucks and semi-trailers travel on this major link each day. Social and economic considerations demand that the Sturt Highway be reclassified from a rural arterial road to a national highway so that it can actually get some of these funds and be maintained properly. My children have just driven across from Adelaide and report the road to be in quite poor condition in a number of places. Despite these areas of pressing need, the Government is cutting roads money.

The Australian Democrats will oppose this Bill. However, as I understand that the Opposition will be supporting the Government, if the Bill passes the second reading stage and goes into Committee, so that the people of Australia can get proper reporting on how these funds are being spent on a State by State, road by road, project by project basis, we will move that there be a requirement that an annual report be published concerning the ALTP. I believe that it is simply not good enough, in the interests of public accountability, for this system to proceed without any proper reporting. I point out that we will support the Opposition's addition to the motion for the second reading of the Bill.