Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 1 July 1937

Senator E B JOHNSTON (Western Australia) . - I support this bill, and also the ratification of the agreement with the more pleasure, since this is about the only federal law which gives any real recognition to the difficulties of governing a huge State like Western Australia, which has an area of one-third of the whole continent, with only one-sixth of the population of the Commonwealth. It is interesting to recall the history of the recognition of the principle of taking the area of States as well as their population into consideration in the distribution of this grant. This recognition we, in Western Australia, owe entirely to the broad vision of Mr. S. M. Bruce, one of our greatest statesmen. If I remember correctly, I was on the platform at the meeting at which Mr. Bruce put this proposal before the people of Western Australia for the first time. The position has altered a little to-day, because although the Commonwealth Government is still collecting the tax of 7¼d. a. gallon on petrol it is now giving 3d. a gallon to the States for roads and transport instead of 2½d. as in the past. I am glad, too, that the Commonwealth Government has decided that the extra id., yielding this year about £600,000, and in succeeding years probably more, can be devoted by the States to all work in connexion with transport. That means aeroplanes, aerodromes and approaches to fisheries, and probably other users of stationary engines, lighting plants and other petrol consuming units, will also benefit, as the State government will have power to assist those persons who contribute so heavily to the petrol tax. I would have had no objection to the provision in the understanding reached at the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in August last that forestry also could have been assisted from this fund. I believe that the less limitations we place on the State governments as to the expending of any moneys allotted to them, the better. I say that, irrespective of the political outlook of the State government for the time being in office. Complaints have been made in some States, but taking the long view they can more easily be remedied by the electors than can federal errors. When the Federal Aid Roads Agreement was first entered into, the Federal Government prescribed the conditions under which the money paid to the States could be expended ; and because those conditions were not always applicable to the. needs of the States much of the money was wasted. In his policy speech before the last election the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) advocated that the amount to be paid to the States from the petrol tax should be doubled. He suggested that the States, instead of being paid 2½d. for every gallon of petrol used, should be given 5d. I am sorry that that policy was not acceptable to the Government, but I am glad that an additional £600,000 is to be paid to the States.

Although the petrol tax was levied ostensibly for the improvement of roads a large proportion of the money derived from it is still used to augment the general revenue of the Commonwealth. Even with the increased benefits provided by this agreement, the States will receive only 3d. a gallon, whilst the Commonwealth will receive 4£d. a gallon from petrol tax and primage. I should like to see the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax paid over to the State governments; failing that, the burden which now falls on motorists and transport services generally should be reduced. In view of the huge revenues of the Commonwealth and its succession of surpluses the amount that goes into Commonwealth general revenue is altogether too great. I do not desire that the tax be reduced at the expense of the States, but I hope that after this agreement has been ratified the tax on petrol will be reduced substantially. Today it is an unjust burden on transport. It is my experience that money handed to the State governments for the improvement of roads has produced far better results than the much larger amounts retained for federal purposes. One has only to travel along .the roads in any part of Australia to realize the great improvements that have taken place as the result of the expenditure of money made available to the States under the Federal Aid Roads Agreement.

Suggest corrections