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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr KEARNEY (Cunningham) .- The subject before the House now is probably our most pressing national domestic problem. It relates to the need for good and adequate highways. We have not yet reached the stage in Australia when we can say that we have good and adequate highways. I venture the opinion that no honorable member in this House will suggest that our existing highways are either adequate or good. This applies especially to many of our outback areas in which there has been sudden and tremendous development of our mineral resources over the last few years. Of such impulsive development the natural corollary must be the need for new highways. Until we face up to this, until we provide adequate amounts of money to the States, local governing bodies and other road-building authorities for the construction of these highways, we can say that our policy remains stagnant.

The honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) twitted the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) about his figures. He suggested that the figures submitted by the honorable member bore no relation to ascertainable facts. That is not true. The £20,000,000 quoted by the honorable member for Port Adelaide was based on a solid foundation of analysis, including the £16,000,000 which this Government is retaining from the petrol tax collected and which it is not distributing for the purposes for which it should be used, namely, the construction of highways by State administrations, and the additional £4,000,000 which the Labour party suggests could be obtained by the imposition of a tax upon those users of the highway who operate vehicles burning diesel oil. I submit that the figure mentioned by the honorable member for Port Adelaide is concrete and conclusive. I submit also that the debate to date has shown conclusively that the Government's policy bears no relation to ascertainable facts. That is the crux of the situation.

The honorable member for Bruce laid great stress upon the need for altering the formula. I suggest that the alteration of the formula is not the answer to the problem. The real answer is the provision of more money, and that is the whole purpose of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) in raising this matter for discussion to-day. He described this question as being of urgent public importance. It is obviously a matter of urgent public importance. No honorable member of this House who drives a car will deny that. There is not a primary producer in the country who does not realize that it is a matter of urgent public importance. There is not a member of the travelling public who does not realize it. The residents of all those towns and cities which are dependent upon road transport for delivery of their goods and the requirements of daily life also realize it, because all its charges are reflected in the increased costs the people are required to pay for those goods and requirements. If we had good and adequate highways, these commodities would flow quickly and more cheaply to such centres. The high cost of road haulage, due to the lack of adequate and good highways, is reflected in the cost of all commodities on the shelves in the stores of country centres.

The fact that our highways are neither good nor adequate is easily demonstrated within a few miles of our great cities. Only recently, an American authority on roads twitted the New South Wales road constructing authority about the road from Sydney to Newcastle. He said, " Even the Romans would not have built a road like this ". He was referring to the tortuous twists and turns in that highway through the Hawkesbury area. It is true that that is a deplorable highway considering that it is a vital link between two great cities on the eastern seaboard.

The highway from Sydney to Wollongong is no more than a narrow strip of bitumen, and has nothing to commend it, especially when we realize that there has been a vast increase in the volume of vehicular traffic on it. A great proportion of the production from the industrial area of Port Kembla is> transported by road hauliers using heavy vehicles along that highway from Port Kembla to Sydney for shipment. Not all the production of the Kembla area is shipped direct from that port. Again, vast units of factory equipment to be used in thehuge developmental programme of Australian Iron and Steel Limited are manufactured in Sydney and transported by heavy vehicles to Port Kembla. That highway cannot by any means be accepted asbeing either adequate or good for the purpose. I merely mention those threeexamples to prove the truth of our suggestions.

Looking further afield, lifting our sightsa little, we note the vast development of the mineral resources of the Northern Territory, more particularly in the Tennant Creek area. In that part, there has been a tremendous increase in the production of copper. Already approaches have been made to me, as I know they have been to> the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) requesting our support of a proposal for the more direct transport of copper ore to the smelting worksat Port Kembla. At the moment, concentrates and other products from the area are required to go by the long, tortuous and costly route via Port Augusta. The construction of a highway from Tennant Creek, through our back country to Port Kembla, probably would provide a solution to theproblem of providing for the huge mineral' deposits of the Northern Territory quick and ready access to the eastern seaboard for their treatment and subsequent shipment. I realize that such a road would cost a tremendous amount of money. I think that the rough estimate of the cost of constructing such a highway is £50,000 a mile. If that is so, then we can easily appreciate just: what a huge sum it would cost to construct a highway from Tennant Creek to Port Kembla.

Then there are the mineral resources of: Queensland - the bauxite deposits of CapeYork Peninsula and the uranium fields, of the Mary Kathleen area. Vast new ore deposits have been discovered by Mount lsa Mines Limited, and that company is prepared to undertake the immediate development of an area that it has mapped out. All these things bring into focus, underline and accentuate the importance of road transport. They also emphasize the fact that inadequate finance is being made available by this Government for the construction of roads. I put a fair question to the House; Why does not the Government pay to the States the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax, as was suggested by members of the Australian Labour party when the relevant legislation was first being considered? Government supporters may answer that Labour did nothing about the matter when it was in office. That is true, but Labour was in office during the war and in the immediate post-war years. Let us at least be fair, and acknowledge that Labour recognizes the facts of to-day, and has a progressive policy which is designed to meet the ever-changing needs of the community and of all facets of administration.

Great changes have recently been taking place with respect to our highways. The density of traffic on the roads has increased tremendously. My claim that Labour has changed its views because a change of views was needed is supported by an authoritative body, and 1 suggest that the Government would do well to follow Labour's example. In a publication entitled " 1957 Action Programme ", the Australian Automobile Association states -

In 1940 (the last motor vehicle production year for civil purposes, before the world output was converted to war production), the number of motor vehicles in Australia stood at 820,000. By 1950, it had increased to 1,434,000, and to-day it stands at 2,321,524 or almost one vehicle for every dwelling in the Commonwealth.

These figures prove beyond all doubt that the Toad problem is not merely a parochial obligation to be left to the various local authorities.

It is Australia's most pressing national domestic problem, and as such, should be dealt with expertly at the highest national level.

That is what the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) asserts in his proposal for discussion. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) referred to the expenditure made from the revenues of the Commonwealth, the State governments, and local government authorities in terms of the amount spent for every vehicle on the roads. Those figures prove very little. What the Minister did not mention, and in fact avoided, was that, as we know, the State governments are being reduced to the status of paupers, and local authorities are facing bankruptcy.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!The honorable member's time has expired.

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