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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr RIORDAN (Kennedy) .- The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has raised the matter of the failure of the Commonwealth Government to provide sufficient funds to the States for road construction. It is obvious to anybody who has listened as this debate has proceeded that all honorable members agree that more money should be made available for that purpose. Reference has been made to the sources from which revenue for road construction is obtained. First, there is the revenue from local government rating. That money is used to provide shire or council roads, but as the revenue from that source is very limited, the road construction that can be carried out with it also is limited. The second source is the registration of motor vehicles by the main roads authorities. In Queensland, the State from which I come, the cost of motor registration is very high. Indeed, I think it may be the highest in the Commonwealth. In other words, the Government of Queensland has recognized that the people who use the roads should pay for them. But there is a limit to the extent to which State governments may increase registration fees. In the final result, there is only one source from which the State governments can obtain sufficient revenue for road construction, and that is this Parliament.

Reference has been made to the Commonwealth aid roads legislation. That legislation is designed to provide moneys to enable the State governments, amongst other things, to build access roads in areas of limited population, with the object of stimulating production.

During the course of this discussion, frequent reference has been made to the funds made available by the Commonwealth to the States from the petrol tax collections. Before the " little budget " was introduced, last year, there was a levy of lOd. a gallon on petrol imported into this country, whilst the tax levied on locally refined petrol was at the rate of 8£d. a gallon. The share of the States of that lOd. a gallon and 8£d. a gallon was 7d. a gallon in each case. In other words, the States received 70 per cent, of the lOd. a gallon tax on imported petrol, and 82.3 per cent, of the 8id. a gallon on locally refined petrol.

The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) stated that this Government had given a greater proportion of the petrol tax revenue to the States than had any previous government. However, we find that when the rates were increased by 3d. a gallon last year, so that the tax on imported petrol became ls. Id. a gallon and that on locally refined petrol, Hid. a gallon, to bring in an additional £12,000,000 in revenue, the States secured only £4,000,000 and the Commonwealth kept £8,000,000. At that time of great budget surpluses, the share of the States of the ls. Id. tax became 8d., or 61.5 per cent., in place of the 70 per cent, that they had been receiving when they got 7d. out of the tax of lOd. a gallon, and their share of the 1 Hd. a gallon became 8d., or 70 per cent., in place of the 82.3 per cent, that they had been receiving previously.

The State governments, through the Australian Transport Advisory Council, Premiers conferences, and all the other gatherings that have been held, have pointed out to this Government that our roads are in a shocking condition. Transport bodies have advised the Government that a tenyear programme should be drawn up for the purpose of road construction on a national scale. I strongly support the point that was made here this afternoon by the honorable member for Batman, and also by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), that we ought to embark at least on a five-year programme, with an additional £20,000,000 to be spent annually on road construction. After all, the great bulk of the revenues collected by the States through the registration of motor vehicles and from the petrol tax is spent on maintenance work. New roads are urgently needed in a developing country. We frequently hear references to the fact that the rate of development must be accelerated, that we must increase production, and so on, but I suggest that if these things are to be done, we must give primary producers the best possible means of getting their products to the markets, whether they be in this country or on the other side of the world. We must enable them to get their products to the railhead or the nearest port in the quickest and the cheapest way. Consequently, there is a definite responsibility on this Government to assist to a greater degree the construction of roads. It is of no use to say that this is a matter for the States. It is a matter of national importance and is vital from the point of view of the nation as a whole. It is a national problem, and this Government must accept the responsibility to deal with it.

If I remember correctly, the Australian Transport Advisory Council, at the Hobert conference last year, informed the Government that the roads were in a shocking condition and that the growth of road traffic was such that it was urgently necessary for the Government to take action, on a national basis, to widen and extend' the roads. Mention has been made to-day of a reply given to the council by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes), when he was a Minister, to the effect that the Commonwealth's defence advisers were more concerned about rail and sea transport than they were about road transport. We hear much of the importance of appropriate defence measures. We are told that since the Dutch have left the East Indies, a defence vacuum has developed to the north of Australia. We hear, too, that the withdrawal of Great Britain from India has meant that the protective cover of the Royal Navy has been removed. In other words, it is said, in effect, that the defence of northern Australia is more vital now than it has ever been in our history. Only in the last few days, there have been references to the appearance, off our coastline, of large ocean-going submarines with a range of 20.000 miles. Stress is laid also on the need for an investigation into the advisability of completing the railway which terminates at Mount Isa, leaving a gap between there and the terminus of the small railway from Darwin. But no roads which could be used for defence have been advocated by this Government. It is not interested in roads for defence, although the need for them must be obvious to blind Freddie.

We need roads leading from the production centres in the south to the north of Australia. During World War II., we had a defence railway bottle-neck in Queensland at Clapham Junction. The difficulty was overcome only because the Japanese were pushed back as quickly as they were. Civil Constructional Corps workers were rushed to Queensland during the war to build a defence road west of Rockhampton and leading to Townsville. Just after Munich, at the outbreak of World War II., we had the spectacle of a rush to build a defence road from Alice Springs to Darwin. Surely we must have learnt something from our experiences.


Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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