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Tuesday, 10 August 1926

Senator J B HAYES - I like the word " reconditioning " better than " reconstruction," and I hope that I am right in assuming that the Government will interpret the act sympathetically as far as Tasmania is concerned, because we have spent a big proportion of our revenue on road construction, and the reconditioning of existing highways is more important than the construction of new roads.I thought, when the bill was introduced, accompanied by a tax. that the money might reasonably have been obtained from duties on some other commodities, so that the motor users in common with the rest of the community could pay their share of the cost. The general taxpayer in Tasmania - I do not know what the position is in the other. States - pays over £250,000 in interest on loan money that has been spent on roads.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - What about the owners of other vehicles that use the roads?

Senator J B HAYES - Farmers in Tasmania pay what is known as a road rate which easily covers all the damage they do.

Senator Thompson - Is that a wheel tax?

Senator J B HAYES - No; a straight-out road rate, ranging from 1s. 3d. to1s. 6d. in the £1. This would equal in many cases1s. to 2s. per ton on the produce that they cart over the roads. The farmers, in this way, contribute a big share of the cost of road maintenance. I do not like the petrol tax, but since I am anxious to see £100,000 come to Tasmania every year, I intend to support the bill, and let the tax take care of itself, though I would like to see the money raised in some other way. The provision in the bill that 75 per cent. of the money allocated to Tasmania may be expended on reconditioning of roads removes a substantial grievance which we had, because, as I have said, it is essential for Tasmania to spend a substantial sum on existing roads. I reiterate that it would be better if, instead of imposing conditions as to the manner in which the money shall be spent, the Government would hand it over to the State authorities and throw upon them the responsibility for spending it in the right places. Under this scheme we shall have dual responsibility, and experience has taught us that where responsibility is divided it is impossible to sheet home blame if the money is not expended to the best advantage. It will be possible for the State authorities to say that it was a Federal responsibility, and the Federal authorities will have a good answer. They will be able to say that the State Governments must have approved 'of certain schemes, or else the money would never have been spent upon them.

Senator Crawford - The State Governments have to find part of the money, I remind the honorable senator.

Senator J B HAYES - I am aware of that, but we all know that mistakes occur under any system of dual responsibility. I have seen money spent in the wrong places, but I have been unable to interfere. I know there is a tendency in the Federal Parliament to say that, as the Commonwealth is providing the money, the Government should have some control over its expenditure, but I submit that as it will be impossible to have a common roads scheme for the whole of the Commonwealth it would be better to hand the money over to the State authorities, and make them entirely responsible for its economical expenditure on road schemes within their respective spheres. Another provision which I do not care for in the agreement is the clause which states that municipalities will not be compelled to find more than 50 per cent. of the money to be raised by a State Government. I am afraid that the clause will be interpreted in some localities as meaning that the municipalities should find half the money; but in my opinion they have plenty of work to do in looking after the by-roads, and should not be expected to provide any portion of the funds to be made available under the scheme. I hope that that clause will be eliminated. Controversy has arisen over the fact that city roads will not be improved under this bill. While I should not vote for. a reduction of the amount to be allocated for country roads in order to assist the cities, I should support a special grant, if the Government could see its way clear to make it, to those cities that feel aggrieved. The scheme is capable of improvement, but I welcome it most heartily. Evidently a great deal of thought has been given to it, and I consider that the proposed expenditure will prove one of the greatest boons that Australia has ever enjoyed. Road engineers differ on the methods of construction, but all are agreed that the more money available for road construction the better the roads will be. The proposed tax should not fall heavily on the people. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has declared that the tax will not be passed on to them ; but, even if that were done, the measure would still be beneficial.

Senator Payne - Does the honorable senator know one case in which an additional Customs duty has not been passed on?

Senator J B HAYES - The extra duty on tires was operative on the 9th July, but I purchased tires after that date at the old price. In that case, the extra duty had not been passed on to the public. I believe that the Australian tire companies promised that the tax on tires would not be passed on, and that owing to the increased demand for their products that would result from the proposal of the Government they even hoped to reduce prices. The benefits that the bill will confer will more than outweigh any disadvantage due to the tax on petrol.

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