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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr TURNBULL (Mallee) .- The intimation given by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) that he desired to submit for discussion a matter of urgent public importance refers to " the failure of the Government to provide more funds for the construction and reconstruction of roads ". That reads very nicely, because all our roads are in a very bad state. I wish to make some general remarks before proceeding with my theme. I do not regard this as a party matter. I do not agree with one or two statements that have been made by my colleagues on this side of the House any more than I agree with some statements that have been made by members of the Opposition.

The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley), who spoke in reply to the honorable member for Batman, said that the Government would consider any proposition that the Premiers put up at a conference. That raised a laugh as far as I was concerned. It made even the honorable member for Batman laugh, and I notice that he is laughing now. Naturally, the Government will consider any proposition that is put forward by the Premiers, but what will the Premiers suggest at such a conference? Only one Premier - Labour, Liberal or Australian Country party - has asked for the federal aid roads formula to be changed, and always he has been a Victorian Premier. The other Premiers, knowing they are on a good thing, will stick to it and come to the same decision every time it is discussed.

The honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor), who is now sitting adjacent to the honorable member for Batman, supported the setting up of a federal road authority. Other supporters of the Australian Labour party also supported that proposal. They should have had a talk with the honorable member for Batman first, because he said that £20,000,000 a year would be required for a certain number of years and implied that this amount should be distributed under the formula. This is how 1 arrive at that conclusion: The honorable member said that the Victorian Country Roads Board required an additional £10,000,000, but that if an additional amount of £20,000,000 were made available - and these are his exact words - Victoria would get only about £4,000,000. Therefore, he must have been contemplating distribution under the formula.

Obviously, therefore, the honorable member for Batman and his colleagues were at cross purposes. One spoke of a federal authority. The matter of urgency submitted by the honorable member for Batman contemplates the continuance of the State authorities under the present formula. The honorable member had no support for his proposal either from the honorable members for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), Kennedy (Mr. Riordan), Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) or Gellibrand. No support whatever! They spoke of something entirely different from what he had in mind. If the honorable member for Batman wants to make any progress he should muster his forces as one would do when fighting an enemy, because, after all, the Opposition regards the Government as its enemy in this debate.

The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) said ."hat we should approach this matter as a great national problem. He said we should have a national outlook, but immediately afterwards he joined his friend, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) and spoke of parochial matters. He referred to this matter in relation to Western Australia and tried to justify what Western Australia requires. I believe I have demonstrated to honorable members, now, that I am quite impartial on this matter.

What is the object of the honorable member for Batman in submitting this matter of urgency? He can contradict me, by way of interjection, if I am wrong, but I believe that he is opposed to the present formula. He finds himself in a dilemma, however, because the Australian Labour party, which he supports, is in favour of it. Where does the honorable member stand? He should not get into the dilemma that is facing some persons in the northern State.

When I proposed a motion, in the last session of the Parliament, designed to obtain additional assistance for Victoria of only Id. out of the 3d. a gallon extra petrol tax imposed in the " little budget ", for distribution as it was collected without touching the present formula, I could not get one honorable member on the Opposition side to vote for it. I refer to those who were present at the time. There were one or two absentees, including the honorable member for Batman, and I ask him now: How would he have voted had he been present?

Mr Bird - I will tell the honorable member outside.

Mr TURNBULL - Reverting to the general situation, I remind honorable members that I moved the adjournment of this House a long time ago on this matter. I have spoken on this subject more often in the last ten years than has any other member of this Parliament, as will be shown by the "Hansard" reports. On 7th July, 1949, I proposed a formal motion for the adjournment of the House to discuss -

The necessity for a substantial increase in the allocation by the Commonwealth to the States of moneys from petrol tax for the construction and maintenance of roads . . .

I did not propose that the total collections should be paid out. Why? In 1945-46 the Labour Government collected £12,192,000 from petrol tax. In that year, from that amount, it paid to the States £3,328,000 and retained for other purposes £8,864,000. Therefore, the Labour Government paid to the States for road building and maintenance just over one-quarter of the petrol tax proceeds. It retained just under three-quarters of the petrol tax collections. In 1954-55, this Government collected £33,038,000 and paid to the States for road building and maintenance £24,242,000. It retained £8,796,000. This Government reversed the Labour Government's procedure. The Labour Government paid to the States .one-quarter of the proceeds of the petrol tax, but this Government gave them three-quarters of the petrol tax collections and retained only one-quarter.

In the financial year 1955-56, this Government retained £8,796,000 from petrol tax collection. That was £68,000 less than the Labour Government retained in, 1945-46, although, in the meantime, collections had increased by £20,846,000 to £33,038,000.

The real crux of the argument is this: Should the Government supply more money for the roads? I regard this as a non-party matter, but I am not prepared to support any move for the payment of more money from the petrol tax until we adjust the formula. The honorable member for Batman has said that if an additional £20,000,000 were paid out, Victoria would get only £4,000,000 more. That means that under the formula Western Australia would get approximately £4,500,000. Does that mean that that State would have to build four or five bridges over The Narrows in metropolitan Perth to spend the money? On 17th May, 1956, when the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) was speaking on the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill, he suggested that I did not seem to understand the system in Western Australia. He said -

I am merely trying to tell the honorable member how we must regard the amount of £1,163,000 which is alleged to remain unspent. The system of making payments out of aid roads funds in Western Australia may be totally different from the system in every other State. In Western Australia the local governing authority that seeks aid roads funds for road works must first satisfy the central authority . . . that the work will be done satisfactorily.

Consequently there is some delay in spending it. It is significant to note that a few weeks after the honorable member for Perth made that explanation, it was revealed that delay was caused in Western Australia by deciding to spend money on a bridge over The Narrows, which would cost approximately as much as that State had had from petrol tax payments from the Commonwealth. The honorable member tried to tell this House that in Western Australia a system operated quite different from that in other States. It certainly does. The local authorities had to decide to spend the money satisfactorily and in accordance with some accounting system of which I had no knowledge. As a matter of fact, they were waiting for approval to spend the money. The honorable member said that he was not altogether satisfied with their proposal. He said also that metropolitan people in Western Australia should not be given an advantage over country people by the building of bridges of this nature. He was right there. Nevertheless, being a Western Australian, he had to be parochial, just as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has to serve his party.

Let us have some reason in this matter. Let us have a fair deal. Let us adjust the formula. When that is done, I will be the first to support any motion that aims at giving the allocation of a larger sum of money by the Commonwealth to the States for road construction and maintenance.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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