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Thursday, 18 November 1976
Page: 2884

Mr NIXON (Gippsland) (Minister for Transport) -in reply-I thank the honourable members who have taken part in the debate today. After hearing the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) speak I am reminded of how easy life must be m Opposition. He has moved an amendment which states:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: 'whilst not opposing the second reading of the Bill the House is of the opinion that the Bill fails to provide adequate financial assistance to the States for cost escalation in the current year '.

That is an extraordinary amendment. Let us have a look at the history of this legislation. The Act was brought into this House by the Australian Labor Party Government and it provided for a 3-year program. I shall cite some figures on urban arterial roads. The Bureau of Roads recommended that $460m be made available. The Labor Government gave $355m. In relation to rural arterial roads, the Bureau of Roads recommended $257m but the Labor Government gave $105m. On rural local roads, the Bureau of Roads recommended $200m and the Labor Government gave $156m. I think that puts in proper perspective the sincerity of this amendment and just how much the Opposition means when it moves amendments of this nature. When the Labor Party was in government it simply failed to do what honourable members get up and talk about today. Another point of interest which ought to be made is that only one member of the Labor Party spoke on this roads Bill which again demonstrates the Labor Party's real lack of interest in roads matters. I think that that explains the paucity of the Opposition's interest when it can provide only one speaker.

I come to some detail. Today I attended a meeting of some 200 local government councillors. It was an interesting meeting. I wish the shadow Minister for Transport, as he is portrayed, could have been there to listen to some of the comments. I shall cite some figures which affect his own State and which were introduced by the Labor Government. In 1974-75 the Bureau of Roads recommended that $2 1.3m be made available for rural arterial roads. The Labor Government made available not $2 1.3m but $ 1 1 .2m. In 1 975-76 the Bureau of Roads recommended $26.4m and the Labor Government gave $9.7m. In 1976-77 the Bureau of Roads recommended $29.2m and the Labor Government gave $8. 8m. Is it any wonder that I had to attend a meeting of 200 local government councillors today and explain to them why it was that they were unable properly to finance their roads? We add to this situation the fact that in New South Wales the State Labor Government does not give one cent to local roads. We can see from this the poor position in which the local government authorities find themselves in New South Wales. That brings me to another point. The honourable member for Shortland accused me of using coercive federalism.

Mr Morris - You admitted it.

Mr NIXON -I did not admit that at all. What I said was that I had been successful with the State Ministers. Let me come to that story. All States but Victoria and New South Wales agreed with the proposals we put to them in relation to this legislation. The Victorian Government had been saying for a long time that there were not enough funds for local councils in rural areas. State members of Parliament were going around the countryside blaming the Commonwealth for that fact. When we announced that we were giving an extra $35.8m for roads, of which $7.5m was for Victoria, I said that the $7.5m would be in addition to the roads funds and the roads programs already announced in Victoria. But apparently it was in the minds of those who run the roads authority in Victoria to swallow the $7.5m by extracting $7.5m of State funds and leaving the total figure the same. But I was not prepared to accept that. If that is called coercive federalism, then I am guilty of coercion in that way because the Victorian Government had been saying that there were not enough funds in total terms available for local rural roads. I wanted to see that the $7.5m was in addition to that amount. The Victorian Government saw reason after some difficulty; nevertheless, it saw reason. That is my explanation of the Victorian situation.

Let me come to the New South Wales position. The New South Wales Government does not give one cent to local government authorities for local roads. The Government has legislation which prevents it from doing that. Mr Cox, the New South Wales Minister for Transport and Minister for Highways, has written to me saying that he will not change the legislation to allow New South Wales to give money to local governments for local roads as they ought to be able to do that out of their own pockets. In Mr Cox's proposals to me he wanted 30 per cent of those funds for urban arterial roads. I find that in Sydney he is busy selling off land which was previously acquired for urban arterial roads to finance his subsidy of the rail transport fares. That is what he says he is doing with the money.

On the one hand he is selling off land which was acquired for urban arterial freeways and on the other hand he is asking me to make more funds available for urban arterial freeways. The man is totally illogical. There is no sense to him.

Mr Baume - Who provides the money in the first place?

Mr NIXON -That is right. It was Commonwealth funds in the first place. So I say to Mr Cox that this does not seem to me to be fair. It seems to me that as the previous Government reduced the level of funds to rural arterial roads and rural local roads and as the Commonwealth Government is seen to be totally responsible for funding local government authorities, the extra $ 11.3m ought to go to local government authorities. That seems to me to be a normal, rational proposition.

Mr Morris - Standover!

Mr NIXON -The trouble with the honourable member for Shortland is that he is a conspiracy man. Everything he sees is a conspiracy. He suggests that the Government is hiding information or it is not doing that; that it is appointing secret committees. I know the honourable member comes out of the Newcastle area where conspiracies are the order of the day. But he happens to be in the national Parliament. If he cannot grow physically, it is time that he grew in stature, at least a little, so that he can leave the conspiracy bit behind. Mr Cox, the Minister for Transport, has not yet responded to my last request. I say now to Mr Cox that the $ 1 1 .3m will not be paid to New South Wales until I know what is to happen to it. This Parliament has a right to know what is happening to the funds. Mr Cox has not yet responded and we will wait until he does respond.

Mr Morris - That is what I said.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles -Order! I think the honourable member for Shortland has said quite enough. I suggest that he restrain himself.

Mr NIXON - The honourable member for Shortland raised one other matter, that is, the amalgamation of the Bureau of Transport Economics and the Bureau of Roads. I am able to inform the House that yesterday the Government agreed to the proposition that those bodies be amalgamated, and I have here a Press statement which I can read to the House if necessary. A lot of emotion has been engendered about this proposed amalgamation by some vested interests who do not wish the amalgamation to take place, without proper care and thought being given to what they were doing. The fact is that the amalgamation will lead to a better body, much more able to judge the whole of the transport scene in Australia and at the same time still provide for the national Parliament and for those who were interested reports on roads needs which they have provided in the past. Nothing will be lost by the 2 bodies being amalgamated. Indeed, a lot will be gained because members of the Bureau of Roads will be able to expose their thinking to other members of the new amalgamated organisation and hopefully they will come to even better judgments than they have in the past, I say quite frankly that I look forward to working with the new amalgamated body. I am sure it will give better service to local government authorities throughout Australia in respect of roads and in respect of the many other areas on which governments have been assisted over the past few years.

The honourable member for Shortland, in his conspiracy fashion, put out a Press statement on 14 November. He called for an Australia-wide study to be undertaken into the transport industry. Obviously he has not been doing his homework properly, and he ought to confer with the honourable member who was retired from the House this morning for some reason or another.

Mr Morris - He didn't appoint his relatives to jobs, did he? You cannot say that about him.

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