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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr COUTTS (Griffith) . - The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) is to be commended for bringing before the House this matter of urgency, whereby we are being asked to consider the sad state of affairs that exists in regard to our roads throughout the Commonwealth. He has been accused, quite unjustly, of conjuring out of the air a figure of £20,000,000 as the amount of money to be made available to the various States over a period of years for road construction. All honorable members know that Commonwealth governments - this one, as well as all others since 1926 - have not been applying the total contributions received from the petrol tax to the purpose for which the tax is levied, which is to make provision for the construction of roads to be used by the people who pay the petrol tax. We know that only two-thirds of the money raised by way of the tax is returned to the States for the construction of roads, and that £16,000,000, representing one-third, is being retained by the Commonwealth Government for purposes other than road construction. Some little time ago a deputation approached the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), I understand, and suggested that a tax be placed on diesel fuel. The

Prime Minister replied that as only £4,000,000 would be raised by levying a tax of ls. 6d. a gallon on diesel fuel, it was. not worth considering. If the Government is to brush aside £4,000,000 which should justly be paid by those road-users operating heavy transport vehicles with diesel fuel - who, as the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) has pointed out, pay nocontribution other than the 30s. registration fee in New South Wales - it is a pretty poor state of affairs. If the £16,000,000 that the Commonwealth Government is withholding from petrol tax revenue, and the- £4,000,000 which would be a just charge on people who use diesel fuel and make nocontribution, were made available to the various States for road construction, a material improvement could be effected in. the standard of roads in Australia to-day. Of all the goods carried in Australia, 74 per cent, are moved by road transport. Surely that should bring before honorablemembers the need to have a high standard, of highways throughout the Commonwealth.

I do not associate myself with this matter of urgency merely as a means of suggesting that more money should be made available to construct roads in areas in, so to speak, the outskirts of the various States. I feel that there is a really urgent and grave need' to improve the standard of highways in the settled and populated parts of the States. Because of the increased use of a heavier type of road transport vehicle, both within the cities and for interstate haulage, roadswhich were built to a standard laid down pre-war are no longer capable of standing up to the demands of these modern vehiclesand are deteriorating at an amazingly fast rate.

The various construction and maintenance authorities are experiencing great difficulties in maintaining those highways in a reasonable state. In Victoria, 80 per cent, of the total revenue of the Victorian Roads Board is being used for maintenance, leaving 20 per cent, for the construction of new highways. I know that a large sum of money is paid to the various States by the Commonwealth Government under what I consider to be an excellent formula, andI hope that that formula will be maintained for many years to come. A large amount is paid to the various States from money raised by the petrol tax. Some £32,000,000- a year is available for this purpose. In addition, the States, which have the constitutional responsibility for the construction of roads, are supplementing the moneys received from the Commonwealth Government by taxes on vehicles and by drawing on their own loan revenue for the construction of highways.

But there is another authority that enters largely into highway construction. It has been ignored in this discussion by many honorable members. It is the local authority, which, although it has the responsibility for the construction of highways in its own area, particularly in urban districts, depends almost entirely for its revenue on the rate levied on the unimproved capital value of land. This is placing a terrific burden on the home-owner in the cities and many of the large towns. The cost of a modern highway has been estimated at £50,000 a mile. A base of about 9 inches of concrete and then 3 inches of topping, covered by 2 inches of asphaltic concrete, is necessary for the modern highway. Local authorities, particularly in Brisbane, are faced with the responsibility of meeting that charge of £50,000 a mile for a highway from the rates received from the general public. I admit that the Queensland Government does pay a subsidy, but that state of affairs does not -exist in other States of the Commonwealth.

I could continue for a long time on this important matter, but I know that I have only a minute to go. The honorable member for Batman is to be commended. I hope that the time spent on this debate will not be wasted and that the Government will see fit to increase the amount of money that is made available for highway construction.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The time allowed for the discussion has expired.

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