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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr CLEAVER (Swan) .- In commencing my contribution to this debate, I want to challenge the sincerity of purpose which lies behind the submission of this matter for discussion. Is our outlook regarding roads a sound national outlook, or are we motivated, in raising this matter, purely by the problems and requirements of the States which we represent? I, for one, would agree with those honorable members who have supported the proposal if they were emphasizing that the roads problem must be looked at from a national viewpoint, because that is the very basis of the Commonwealth aid roads acts which have been passed in recent years. In those acts recognition is given to the areas of Australia which need to be developed, which are not populated, in which there is a potential for production, but in which time and ability so far have not permitted us to do the maximum that is expected of us.

The provision of big mileages of roads logically constitutes a problem for the States, but more particularly for the States which have greater geographical boundaries and scattered population than for those which have a greater density of population. Because of our federal Constitution, the State viewpoint must obtrude itself. We, as members of this House, come from the various States, and we naturally have a local responsibility as well as a federal outlook. But let me emphasize that the helpful and logical allocation of petrol tax collections to my own State of Western Australia is under constant attack by honorable members who come from Victoria and New South Wales in particular. We acknowledge that those States have a greater population than the other States; but this Parliament has wisely endorsed the current formula for the reimbursement of the petrol tax receipts to the States. Western Australia, which I am proud to represent, desires new roads and the improvement of sub-standard roads. So does every other State. Without the generous assistance that Western Australia has received under the formula, we in that State would not have the good roads that we have in at least some sections of it, nor would we have the existing mileage of roads upon which our people may run their vehicles.

I feel that I have a responsibility at this stage to direct attention to the needs of the north-western section of Western Australia. I say with deep conviction that this Parliament has a responsibility towards the northwest of Western Australia just as it has a responsibility, which it has accepted, in relation to the Northern Territory. To be fair, I must say that, because of the assistance which has been granted by the Commonwealth Parliament in recent years, the northwest of Western Australia has roads which are substantially better than roads in some other remote parts of Australia.

What has the Commonwealth achieved in the provision of finance for roads in recent years? It is interesting to note, first, that it is estimated that in the current year approximately £31,550,000 will be distributed to the States from petrol tax receipts. Of that sum, approximately £8,600,000*will be paid to New South Wales, £5,500,000 to Victoria, £6,000,000 to Queensland, £6,000,000 to Western Australia, £3,500,000 to South Australia, and £1,500,000 to Tasmania. The percentage of tax moneys returned to the States has leapt astonishingly from 1945-46, when it was only 27.1 per cent, of the receipts, to 1955-56, when the statistics revealed that it was no less than 70.5 per cent. I present those figures to justify my claim that the Commonwealth has been increasing its contribution for roads purposes and has been faithfully endeavouring to carry out any assurance that practical assistance would be forthcoming. lt is also interesting to note that in 1945-46 Commonwealth tax receipts which were invested in road works were equivalent to £3.95 a vehicle. At that time, State taxes invested in road works amounted to £6.25 a vehicle, and local government taxes so invested amounted to £9.4. The figures for 1955-56, ten years later, reveal that the position has vastly changed. Commonwealth tax collections now being spent on roads amount to £11.85 a vehicle, while State taxes so invested amount to £9.94, and local government taxes so invested have risen only slightly to £11.7 a vehicle. It can be seen that the Commonwealth's investment in Australia's roads has risen at a far greater rate than has the investment of State moneys and local government funds. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), when submitting this matter to the House, claimed that at no stage was the petrol tax intended to be for the purpose of raising general revenue. I cannot agree with him. I remind the House that the petrol tax was first introduced in 1902, but that it was not until 1926 that it was used for roads purposes.

I now come to this question: Are the States doing all that they should do? That leads me to say that, in my humble opinion, road mileages in the respective States should be the yardstick with which to measure the responsibility of the States for the roads within their borders. It is interesting to note that, according to the " Commonwealth Year-Book ", as at 30th June, 1953, proclaimed and declared road mileages in the States were as follows: - New South Wales, 26,314; Victoria, 14,448; Queensland, 20,954; South Australia, 8.140; Western Australia, 18,454; and Tasmania, 2,185. Taking actual road mileages as the yardstick, it will be seen that in New South Wales, each member of the population has a responsibility for one-third of a chain of roads in that State; in Victoria, each person is responsible for half a chain, whereas in my own State of Western Australia, for the reasons that I have endeavoured to present this afternoon, each member of the population is responsible for 2 chains. These figures, I suggest, justify the formula to which I have referred and the policy of the Commonwealth Government in relation to the disbursement of the petrol tax. I think that this is a very appropriate yardstick to apply-

There are, of course, other types of roads besides those that are proclaimed and declared. I refer the House to the Melbourne " Age " of 8th March last, wherein road mileages were shown, including mileages of formed, cleared and natural State roads.

Mr.ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lawrence). - Order! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

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