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Thursday, 21 August 1980
Page: 605

Mr DEAN (Herbert) - I bring before the Parliament this morning the concern of the north Queensland community in particular about the state of roads in that area of the nation. They are roads, of course, for which there is a shared responsibility, a responsibility shared in part by local government, in part by the State Government and in part by the national Government.

The first thing I should bring forward as a matter of concern is the condition of the Bruce Highway in north Queensland. The Bruce Highway forms part of the national highway system and therefore qualifies under the appropriate legislation for 100 per cent Commonwealth funding of approved projects.

The concern of the north is that not only is not enough money being spent on the Bruce Highway but also that what money is being spent is not being spent where it ought to be spent. In other words, there is concern about a tendency to look after the southern part of the State rather than the northern part of the State. In part, the fault for that would lie with the State authorities. After all, it is the State Main Roads Department which plans the projects and proposes those projects to the Commonwealth for funding. Nevertheless, under the legislation the Commonwealth Minister for Transport does have the power to be concerned about where money might be spent, and I hope that he might watch that point a little more closely in the future.

Certainly if one is a north Queenslander nothing makes one angrier than to head south from Cairns or from my city of Townsville, as many people do, and to note from, say, Rockhampton southwards the steady improvement in the state of the roads. Nothing makes us angrier than to wonder why we do not have similar standards of roads in the north. Nothing makes us angrier than to be driving in the wet season and be flooded out by a snap downpour - something we cannot necessarily foresee or plan on - only to find ourselves sitting on the edge of a creek, sometimes for days. A couple of years ago there was a period during the northern wet season when the Bruce Highway was cut by floods for 30 consecutive days or more. As far as movement on the highway is concerned, everything just stopped during that period.

Of course, when it comes to allocating funding and sharing out that funding some regard has to be paid to usage, lt is equally clear that considerable usage is made of the Bruce Highway and the national highways system more towards the southern part of the State than in the north. After all, that is where more of the people live. Nevertheless, it has been a long-established principle that usage is not the only criterion upon which road funding and the allocation of road funding is based. As a starting point, I refer to a statement made in 1972 by the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads, as it then was. That statement reads:

It is concluded that the roads of most concern, which might be called a National Roads system, are the roads which:

(a)   encourage and contribute, to a major extent, to trade and commerce, overseas and among the States;

(b)   assist industry located in major centres of population to be complementary to industry located in neighbouring major centres;

(c)   reduce, significantly, transport costs of the products of rural and/or secondary industry, between points of production and points of export or consumption;

(d)   provide for long distance movement associated with recreation and tourism; and which

(e)   improve movement between defence production centres, defence supply and storage locations, and defence establishments generally.

My electorate can point to a number of those criteria for which it aptly fits the bill when it comes to the allocation of road funds. In my home city of Townsville in north Queensland there is a major Army barracks. Therefore, such defence needs as might be provided by the national highways system - the Bruce Highway in north Queensland - cannot be overlooked.

It is an area of growing domestic and international tourism, as is evidenced by the decision in the Budget a couple of nights ago. I divert slightly and refer to the final report of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Tourism, where the following point is made very clear:

The Committee concludes that the future of motor tourism in Australia requires a co-ordinated approach to the development of Australia's road network with due recognition being given to the requirements of tourists to an area, as well as those of the local residents. Particular highways of concern are the Stuart Highway, the Bruce Highway and the Alpine Way.

North Queensland has a growing domestic tourist market. More private cars, caravans and coaches are coming into the area. When roads are in a poor state, as they are there, they are certainly a great disincentive to that growing market. I am sure that the market will increase as we improve the roads.

One of the criteria I referred to earlier of the then Commonwealth Bureau of Roads made reference to assisting industry located in major centres of population. Along the whole of the Queensland coast, which is a remarkably decentralised strip of Australia, there is a string of quite large cities, many of which have their own developing industries and their own transport requirements by virtue of those industries. One can make reference in Townsville to the copper refineries, the nickel refinery and the meatworks. One can make reference to the city of Rockhampton with its rural industries or a town like Bundaberg or Maryborough where there are long established engineering works of national importance. One could go on. Going further north, Cairns is increasingly important in terms of industry, particularly when one bears in mind that North Queensland Engineers and Agents Pty Ltd has a multi-million dollar contract for the construction there of 14 naval patrol boats.

I have mentioned mainly the national highway system partly because that is the one for which the Commonwealth Government accepts 100 per cent responsibility for the funding of projects and partly because in many ways that seems to be the most important thing to do.

In the concluding moment or two I want to make it clear that I certainly do not neglect the other road needs of the north. I certainly do not neglect the arterial and urban roads. I certainly do not neglect the concept that the State Government, which has a responsibility to make a contribution here, is probably not doing anything more than just giving out the bare minimum in order to attract Commonwealth funds on those sorts of roads. There is a responsibility here for the State Government to look at ways of improving what it does. Arterial roads, urban roads, rural arterial roads and so on all have a need for upgrading. They are the lifeline or, if honourable members would prefer, the blood vessels of a vast number of people who have to travel long distances just for reasons of communication. One cannot afford to see that sort of area neglected for too long.

Local government also has a responsibility to bear. In some ways local government has the easy way out. It can complain that the reason why more money is not being spent on roads is the neglect of the State or Commonwealth government. At the same time the local governments have their own financing arrangements. At the moment they get generous financing grants from the Commonwealth Government under the tax sharing arrangements. They also have the capacity to make a really fair contribution towards the development of roads within their cities and shires.

I return to the main thesis, that is, my grievance about the state of the Bruce Highway, particularly in north Queensland. There is great need for the quick upgrading of the road from Marlborough to Sarena so as to end the current flood delays, and there is great need more generally along the north Queensland strip, to build up the road so that it can handle industrial development, tourism and defence requirements, as I have outlined.

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