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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 773

Senator HAINES (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(3.50) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The question of the distribution of Federal road grants has been one of considerable concern to a lot of people in this country for a long time and, of course, that is what was behind the reference of the matter to this Committee of Inquiry into the Distribution of Federal Road Grants. I would say that, given the number of categories and the blurring of those categories that relate to the allocation of grants for urban arterial, rural arterial and local roads, the Committee has done a remarkably good job. However, one area in which it felt that it did not have the capacity to make extensive recommendations was the division of grants among local authorities. On page 42 of the report it made the point:

The main contentions in submissions received from local government associations, from the Australian Council of Local Government Associations, some regional local authority bodies and from some individual local authorities were that local authorities should receive greater Commonwealth road grants, that competition for funds from their own resources is acute, and that the roads for which they are responsible are deteriorating.

I do not think anybody who has travelled, for example, around the mid-north of South Australia, as both you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and I do frequently, would disagree that those roads which local authorities are required to maintain are indeed deteriorating.

The question was raised with the Committee as to whether there should be changes in the current formulae used in the allocation of Commonwealth grants for local roads, and organisations regularly submitted to the Committee that the division of responsibilities between local and State authorities was not appropriate any longer and that the characteristics of particular regions were not adequately reflected in the intrastate formulae. Indeed, from my discussions with some local authorities there is very real concern that State governments are in fact bleeding off money that ought to be going to the local authorities and are simply absorbing it in their highways department funds, or whatever the local State spending authority is. The report goes on to comment:

As is evident throughout this report, the greater the detail attempted in assessments of road needs or cost disabilities, the more difficult the assessments become.

Nobody is going to argue about that, but I think it is important, particularly with regard to a State such as South Australia, that the Commonwealth Government take into account when it allocates road funds, and in particular allocates road funds to local authorities, other actions by the Commonwealth that may have contributed to the increasing deterioration of local roads. In South Australia we have decisions regarding Australian National and the diminution of freight possibilities there, particularly for grain farmers on the west coast. With the limitation of access to Australian National for transporting wheat and other grains farmers have had to turn to road hauliers and, as a consequence, given the distances they have to travel from the west coast areas in South Australia to anywhere else, the local government authorities have a massive problem in keeping up with the road maintenance and development that is necessary. Those road hauliers, of course, use extremely large vehicles and they are chewing up the sides of the road to a quite considerable extent. They are placing a huge burden on those local government authorities through whose jurisdictions they pass. It seems very unfair indeed that the burden of making up that cost should fall on the property owners who have holdings in those areas, when in fact the major users of the roads are those coming from outside. South Australia has never had its fair share of road funding on any criteria, whether as a percentage of population, as a percentage of kilometres of road or as a percentage of road use. Taking into account the question of road safety and usage, I think it is time that the Federal Government made some sort of specific inquiry into the sorts of needs that local government has.