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Thursday, 18 November 1976

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles (ANGAS, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -I would not think that this is a case for a withdrawal but I advise the honourable member for Calare to desist from references of that sort.

Mr MacKENZIE - One of the greatest problems that resulted was the inflationary increase in road building and road maintenance costs. It was considerably higher than the overall level of inflation we experienced during the previous Government's regime and during this Govern-., ment's regime. Some indices of road costs have been increasing by 1 5 per cent, 20 per cent, and in some cases 25 per cent a year. Other consequences of the disastrous cutback in funding under the new legislation introduced by the previous Government are well illustrated now by the problems of unemployment that local shires and municipalities are now experiencing. We know of examples where they have had to stand down staff. I understand that as a result of those decisions some shire councils are in even more serious circumstances, such that they may not have the capacity to maintain roads.

The cutbacks that we experienced in the 1974 legislation have resulted in increased transport costs following the deterioration of road surfaces. We have seen increased safety risks, particularly with school children in buses. Of course, this has been totally contrary to the whole thrust and development of decentralisation in country areas. It also has affected some of the industries which supply the materials used in road making and the materials and goods used for road hardware and road furniture. The Commonwealth Bureau of Roads did point out that there is a considerable cost benefit return for investment in roads.

I now turn to the provisions of this Bill. This is the second time that this Government has firmly committed itself to restoring the level of road funding, to getting over the disastrous level that we experienced under the previous Government. The first measure that it introduced in this respect on coming to power was to provide an additional $64m for the 1975-76 program. This legislation provides an additional $3 5. 8m for the current year's program. The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) has dwelt at length on the problems which are being experienced by our Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) in this House and by his counterpart in New South Wales. I believe it is high time that the States took on their responsibility for rural local road funding and stopped trying to hide behind the supposed excuse that their legislation does not provide for them to do so.

I have had people say to me that the Minister for Transport in this House is not fully aware of how serious the conditions are of our rural local and arterial roads. I remind honourable members that from my experience some of the roads I have been over in the electorate of Gippsland are undoubtedly the worst in Australia. I recommend the Suggan Buggan road, the Omeo Highway or the road down over McKillop's Bridge. I think it is not at all relevant that people say that the Minister is not aware of the plight of local councils and municipalities in relation to road financing. He is aware of how serious the economic situation of this country was when we took government. We cannot turn around and rectify those examples of neglect overnight. The situation will be restored. I encourage the Minister and support him, in conjunction with the honourable member for Macarthur, in ensuring that the Commonwealth plays its rightful role in association and agreement with the States and that the States also play their rightful role in the whole area of road finance.

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