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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1363

Senator REYNOLDS —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and follows my question last week regarding discrimination in local government funding allocations against the western shires of Queensland by the Queensland Grants Commission. Can the Minister also say whether Federal road funds are being equitably distributed by the Queensland Government and whether any pressure can be brought to bear on that Government to pay more attention to the appalling conditions of roads in those isolated communities?

Senator GIETZELT —I recall the question asked by Senator Reynolds of me last week about the manner in which funds were being allocated to local government in Queensland. Today she has asked a question about road construction specifically, which is the responsibility of the States. I am aware of the criticisms of the condition of roads in the remote areas of Queensland and acknowledge the poor condition of many such roads. For example, if we look at the Mulligan Highway to Cooktown, which is that town's sole connection with the south of the State, we find that towns along it literally live off the back of trucks and yet the highway remains nothing more than a goat track, the only work to be done on it in recent times being federally funded construction work by the Commonwealth under the Australian bicentennial road program. The criticism made by Queenslanders generally of the Queensland Government is that road funds are concentrated in the more favoured and settled areas in the south-east corner of Queensland. For example, there is evidence that funds allocated for beef roads and other special allocations, including funds allocated by the Fraser Government, are syphoned off by the present Government in Queensland to favour certain regions in that State.

However, as Senator Reynolds asked me a question about what the Commonwealth could do, all I can say at this stage unfortunately is that, with the legislation inherited from the previous Government by this Government, the Federal Government is not able to determine priorities for the allocation of its road funding. Apart from the allocation to categories of roads and works done on the national highway system, all we can do is review the current difficulties being expressed in many parts of Queensland with a view ultimately to bringing in some amending legislation.

I think I indicated that the Commonwealth has very dramatically increased road funding by some 46 per cent since the Labor Party came into office. This means that in Queensland the figure of $180m which was allocated in 1982-83 has grown to $259m this year. The State Government has, under current arrangements between the Commonwealth and the State, the prime responsibility for local roads in Queensland. The Queensland Government's dismal record in this respect should be sheeted home to it. The effect of the bicentennial road program was to assist both local government and the State road construction authorities to bring about a more even development of their road programs. That is not taking place in Queensland principally because of the attitude taken by the Queensland Government.