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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 773

Senator SHORT(3.55) —I want to say just a few brief words on the subject of road funding and on the report of the Inquiry into the Distribution of Federal Road Grants. As did Senator Haines, I congratulate the members of that inquiry on the work that they did as it is an excellent report. The report shows quite clearly-this is something that has been known by many people in the wider community, particularly those in non-metropolitan Australia, for some considerable time-that there has been a progressive and very serious decline in the allocation of funds for roads, particularly in the non-metropolitan areas of Australia, over the last two or three years. Despite the fact that the Hawke Government has from year to year provided major increases in the total level of spending on all items, it appears to have very considerably downgraded the priority given to road funding. As a result of that, in real terms the amount allocated for roads has declined considerably. For example, in 1983-84 road funding in 1980-81 dollars totalled $885m. By 1985-86 that amount had fallen to $813.6m. That is a considerable real fall, and it is probably an understatement because the price deflator used to extract that real figure understates the very significant increase in costs of the items that have gone into road construction and maintenance. There has not only been a decrease in the absolute level of real road funding, but there has also been a very considerable decrease in per capita road funding in Australia in recent years as a result of the shift in the expenditure priorities of this Government. For example, in 1983-84 per capita road funding in 1980-81 terms was $58.13, but by 1985-86 that had fallen by well over 10 per cent, to $52.25, and that fall has continued-as has the fall in absolute figures-in 1986-87.

One has only to move around the country areas and provincial centres to realise what significant problems this is causing. It is causing problems in a variety of ways. It is causing problems for local governments, which are having great difficulty in maintaining their service and the standard of their roads. That is having a severe economic effect because in many of those areas roads are the economic life-blood of the communities there. For example, last week I was in Gippsland, which has a major requirement for very good roads because of the nature of industry down there, particularly the dairy industry with its big milk tenders. One could say the same of most other areas, certainly of my State of Victoria and I have no doubt that the same would apply in other States as well.

The plea I want to make to the Government, in its consideration of this inquiry and in looking at its general expenditure proposals, is for heaven's sake to look at its priorities and stop spending millions of dollars on worthless projects, many examples of which we have seen in recent times-particularly the very recent example that has been brought to light by the Waste Watch Committee, of which I am very proud to be a member. That has highlighted the enormous extravagance and ridiculous spending that is going on in many areas of government activity, while at the same time the real priorities of Australia, such as roads, which are not just of economic importance but which also have a very real safety factor involved, have taken second place. It is about time that this Government had a major relook at its priorities and started to get them straight. If it does not start doing that very quickly we will have a continuing misallocation of the resources of this nation.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.