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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr McIVOR (Gellibrand) .- The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) said that his Government had given the States considerably more money for road construction than had any previous government. That was unavoidable, because thousands more vehicles now use the roads. It has also been suggested that in recent years the States have received more of the petrol tax than was the case when the Chifley Government and other governments were in office. It must be remembered, however, that each year, at the Premiers conference, State Premiers are obliged to demand more and more money for developmental work, but do not receive it. Consequently, they cannot give their departments or municipalities the money that is so vitally needed for roads. The Minister's argument breaks down when one realizes that the amount that the Federal Government is giving to the States is totally inadequate for the purpose.

I support the remarks of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) and agree that the whole of the petrol tax should be used in the construction of roads. Further, 1 believe that a diesel tax should also be imposed. The honorable member said that there were difficulties in the way of imposing a tax on diesel fuel and distillate - especially where these fuels are used by primary producers - but these difficulties should be met and overcome, as they have been in other countries. Of course, government departments use a great deal of diesel fuel and distillate. In fact, I have in mind that government departments, especially the railways, use more distillate and diesel fuel than does private enterprise. In view of the extreme emergency that is facing this country, owing to the inevitable collapse of our road system, we must use every means possible to obtain the finance needed.

Every one will agree that if the whole of the petrol tax, and the revenue that would be obtained from a tax on diesel fuel and distillate, were spent on roads alone we would be taking a big step forward in providing the additional, and improved, roads that this nation so vitally needs. I feel compelled to say, however, that the need for modern roads is so closely interwoven with the economic life of this country that we need not only more finance but also the establishment of a federal bureau to construct and control roads throughout Australia. We believe that this has become more than a State problem. It has become a national problem.

The salient point that arises from all the debates, and from all the conflicts on estimates, objectives and taxes, is the fact that our roads have reached the stage of total inadequacy, and almost complete deterioration. This is accepted all over Australia. When we realize that, though the roads throughout the continent measure just over half a million miles, 74 per cent, are merely formed and cleared and in their natural state, we must admit that Australia, so far as road transport is concerned, has not even emerged from the mud. One can say without fear of contradiction that, as more and more motor traffic takes to the road each year, we are faced with a muddle of congested highways. It can also be said that the progress of this nation is linked with modern roads and modern transport. This compels me to remind every one that we must accept the fact that motor transport is here to stay, and has outgrown the capacity of the road system. I venture to say, moreover, that in the years to come, history will reveal the tremendous part that motor transport has played in the development of this nation.

I ask, therefore, whether it is reasonable to assume that the railways will pay only if road transport is pushed aside, and air transport discouraged, as was suggested recently when rail standardization was discussed in this House. New and modern roads will change the face of Australia, and will always be the motivating force behind the decentralization of population and industry. A well-planned road system will mean that new towns will rise in the open, idle spaces that now lie between the big urban centres. Therefore, during the stage of great national development, which this nation is undergoing, it is most necessary to provide a definite basis for plans to construct the new and better roads that the nation so vitally needs.

The lack of finance and the outmoded, stupid theory of shires, boroughs, towns and even cities having separate control over interstate, feeder and national highways is, more than any other obstacle, responsible for the present road congestion and strangulation. In fact, we are applying horseandbuggy reasoning to atom-age transport.

It is not my intention to put forward a host of figures on the number of motor vehicles in this country, or the percentage increases in population and factories, or the like. That has already been done by the honorable member for Batman, but I support my case for a national road scheme by reminding the House that the motor industry is, in all probability, the largest in Australia. It employs some 225,000 people and the fact that the hide, painting, glass, rubber and scores or other industries, also supply parts and other incidentals, highlights the inevitability of any major breakdown in the motor industry striking a drastic blow at the economy of the country. It also emphasizes just how greatly Australia has relied on motor transport, and just how much development it has brought to Australia during the last 50 years, while State and Federal governments have been quarrelling and trying to make up their minds on the standardization of rail gauges.

To develop this matter further I ask honorable members to let their minds dwell on the thousands of garages spread throughout this country, with hosts of workers dependent for a living on road transport, and consider the economic effect on Australia if, by any chance, something happened to close down those establishments.

There is room in this country for all forms of transport. What is most basically needed, of course, is constitutional revision, and the appointment at once of a national and defence highways commission, with power to control and co-ordinate all the labour forces associated with road-building in order that the skill, techniques and machinery can be used to full capacity, and in places where they are most needed. Machinery would not then lie in depots for long periods, used perhaps for three months of the year and standing idle and rusting for the other nine months. 1 say that road and rail systems must be coordinated and that sidings must be abolished between capital cities and replaced with central depots every 50 miles to act as feeder points for motor transport. If this were put into operation, the time saved on shunting, and the saving of wear-and-tear on rolling-stock would be of tremendous value to the railways and to the country. Co-operation and co-ordination are needed, and, if achieved, will return huge economic dividends. Truck terminals could be erected along the interstate system close to large cities, where big hauliers could transfer their cargoes to small city and urban-bound carriers. In order to do this, our antiquated highway system must be brought up to the current performance of motor transport - -

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