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Thursday, 20 May 1965

Senator MCCLELLAND (New South Wales) . - I take advantage of the debate on this Bill to raise a number of important questions affecting the lives and wellbeing of Australians generally. Before dealing with these aspects might I say that last night we had the privilege of listening to two maiden speeches from senators very recently arrived in this chamber. One is Senator Webster, from Victoria, the other is Senator Sim from Western Australia. Their speeches were indeed interesting and stimulating, and although I and my colleagues on this side of the House might disagree with their political persuasions we congratulate them on their very fine speeches and on the obvious sincerity of their words. There is no doubt that both Senator Webster and Senator Sim will contribute much to the deliberations which take place in this chamber. They have taken the places of two men who were nationally prominent in the political life of this nation, the late Senator Harrie Wade and the late Senator Vincent. I am sure that each of these gentlemen who spoke last night for the first time in this chamber will worthily emulate his predecessor in the political life of Australia.

Senator Wrighthas posed some interesting matters for the attention of the Executive and the attention of this Parliament. 1 think it would be well for the Parliament to give the utmost consideration to the establishment of a select committee to inquire into and report upon the taxation laws. If other honorable senators have the same experience as I have in the months of June, July and August they will know that one is constantly approached in that period about this, that or the other problem relating to the taxation laws and taxation problems and anomalies. As Senator Wright said, the act to which he referred was passed in the closing hours of last session and could well have received greater attention from all members of this Parliament than it did. Senator Wright spoke principally of the taxation laws as they affect companies, but they should also be looked at so far as they affect the ordinary people of the Australian community.

I ask, for instance, whether the deductions for wives and children are sufficiently high, having regard to the cost of living today. Bearing in mind the increased medical fees and heavy dental expenditure incurred by Australian workers who care for themselves, their wives and their families are deductions for medical and dental expenses sufficiently high? Having regard to the great demand in Australia todav for increased education, is the allowance for education expenses sufficiently high? Another query is: Why should the business man be allowed to have a large expense allowance while the worker is not allowed to claim deductions for fares paid in travelling to and from work? These are only some of the things which could well be the subject of an investigation by this Parliament. Indeed, while I am speaking on this aspect of taxation I might mention that just recently I gleaned the information that income tax forms in New Zealand have been cut down from 3,000 to 500 words and that the Commissioner of Inland Revenue in New Zealand - the equivalent of our Commissioner of Taxation - claims that these forms are the simplest tax forms in the world. I understand that there are small red forms for wage and salary earners or superannuitants with no outside income above £30; green forms for the same class of people who wish to claim exemption; black forms for those with outside income over £30; and a special simplified brown form for elderly or disabled people.

This is something which the Parliament could well examine. The Commissioner of Inland Revenue lays down an important principle. He says: "If we can give a taxpayer a rebate, we give it ". He says, further, that his staff is encouraged to make liberal interpretations of taxation laws and that, so far as New Zealand is concerned, the old idea that the taxpayer is always wrong is out. Senator Wright has, to his credit, raised a very important matter. I think it would be well for the Government to consider the establishment of a Senate select committee to inquire into taxation generally.

I should like to bring to the attention of the Senate a large number of very important bills that are being pushed through the Parliament in the last week of the present sessional period. From the point of view of parliamentary procedure and a healthy democratic society, this method of considering legislation is just not good enough. Criticism of the Government in this regard does not lie only with the members of the Opposition in this place and in another place. A reading of the " Hansard " report of proceedings of the House of Representatives shows that the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock) are only two who have voiced criticism in another place in relation to this very important matter. In this chamber, Senator Wright himself voted with the Opposition against a Government proposal that it be allowed to introduce new business after 10.30 p.m. I have heard it said that some 30 bills are to be considered and debated in the course of the next few days. Many of them are important legislative proposals.

One need instance only the proposed amendments to the Broadcasting and Television Act and the Commonwealth Electoral Act, as well as the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Bill and the States Grants (Science Laboratories) Bill. These are only some of the important matters that are to be debated; there are many others. One cannot do justice to legislation by a mere cursory examination of these matters. 1 plead with the Executive, in the interests of this Parliament and this nation, to prepare the legislative programmes with greater particularity in future sessions of the Parliament and not to push bills through as if we were merely feeding material into a sausage machine. Let us treat every piece of legisla tion as an important and integral part of the development of Australia and a healthy democratic society. Let the Government see that we are given time to discuss and consider fully every piece of legislation that is presented.

I wish to direct the attention of the Senate also to the delays involved in the answering by Ministers of questions that are placed on the notice paper. There are some 25 members of the Ministry at present, and only five of them are in this chamber. Naturally, one cannot expect the five Ministers in this chamber to be fully aware of the ramifications of government associated with portfolios the holders of which they represent in this chamber. While at question time one might wish to direct a question on housing or national development, for instance, one appreciates that the answer is not readily available from the Minister in this chamber who represents the appropriate Minister. Therefore, for the sake of expedition, one places such questions on the notice paper, but the mere placing of a question on the notice paper should not be made an excuse for any Minister to ignore the right to an answer.

On the notice paper for today, I see that there is a question dated 23rd March, another dated 24th March, and a number dated 25th March and 31st March. Some two months ago those questions were placed on the notice paper. I suggest that the answers to some of them could be given with comparative ease, but now in the closing days of this sessional period questions placed on the notice paper early in the period remain ignored. Today I received from the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) an answer to a question I placed on the notice paper on 25th March, with reference to the number of persons who had applied to join the Services in the last calendar year, 1964. The answer shows that 11,267 applied to join the Army, 7,854 applied to join the Royal Australian Navy and 8,016 applied to join the Air Force. Of those applicants, 2,950 were accepted by the Army, 2,222 were accepted by the Navy and 2,207 were accepted by the Air Force. On educational grounds, 1,301 were rejected by the Army, 2,266 were rejected by the Navy, and 570 were rejected by the Air Force. On medical grounds, 1,511 were rejected by the Army, 795 were rejected by the Navy, and 997 were rejected by the

Air Force. These figures make one wonder what really goes on in relation to recruitment for the armed forces.

I.   do not wish to labour this aspect at this stage. What I wish to point out is that the request for this information was placed on the notice paper on 25th March, and the answer was not supplied till 19th May. 1 imagine that this information would be obtainable fairly easily from the records of the Department of Defence and it could well have been in possession of the Parliament when consideration was being given a week or two ago to amendments of the Defence Act. Question time and questions on notice are a most important part of parliamentary procedure. Back bench members of the Parliament are entitled to greater consideration in the receipt of early answers to questions on important matters.

I wish to make some reference to the failure of the Government to establish the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads. Honorable senators will remember that on 15th September last year the Government introduced into this chamber a bill styled Commonwealth Bureau of Roads Bill 1964. That was some eight months ago. We were told at that time that the nation would benefit from a thoroughgoing survey and appraisal of the existing road system and of foreseeable road requirements.

The Minister also said when the Bill was introduced that transport costs make up a substantial part of total production costs and that road transport now represents the largest element in the land carriage of goods and people in this nation. Expenditure on roads comprises approximately one quarter of all public works expenditure in Australia and, naturally, its impact on economic conditions is very significant.

With these things in view, and because of the great and growing responsibilities of the Commonwealth in providing finance for the construction and maintenance of roads, the Government decided that a Commonwealth Bureau of Roads should be established. As I have said, legislation was introduced into this Parliament on 15th September 1 964. On 1 2th May, a few days ago, I was amazed to receive a reply from the Minister for Shipping and Transport to a question relating to this matter which 1 had placed on the notice paper at the beginning of this sessional period. The reply was to the effect that while the Government is eager to have the proposed Bureau operating, at the present time it is engaged in searching for a suitable person to appoint as chairman and that as soon as this appointment is made it will proceed without delay to establish the Bureau.

The legislation was introduced eight months ago; the legislation was enacted eight months ago and now, eight months after the legislation was brought down, considered and debated we have the amazing admission by the Minister for Shipping and Transport that the Government is still searching for a suitable person to occupy the position of chairman of the proposed Bureau. Surely there are sufficient people in this country with the necessary qualifications to administer this important responsibility. For instance, there are prominent citizens, reputable citizens and capable citizens associated with automobile organisations throughout Australia. There are expert officers available in the transport departments of the States and no doubt there are suitable people available within the Commonwealth Public Service. I am sure that if this matter were viewed as one of national importance - perhaps of national emergency - a suitable appointee would soon be found. In his reply to me the Minister said that as soon as the appointment was made the Government would proceed without delay to establish the Bureau, but when one appreciates that the organisation contemplated under the legislation consists of a chairman and two part time members one can see that not much is really entailed in its establishment.

The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) also had something to say about this matter. At the Premiers' Conference on 12th March 1964 the Treasurer is reported as having said -

We intend to push on with its early establishment -

He was referring to the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads - because we feel (hat it has a big and urgent job to do and the sooner it gets launched on this task the better it will be.

One would gain the impression from that statement that the Government appreciated that the problem of roads was of the highest priority, not only from the developmental point of view, not only from the point of view of Australia's gross national product, to which we often hear economists refer, but also from the very important and significant aspect of defence.

Bearing in mind that 75 per cent, of all freight and passenger traffic in the nation is carried by road transport and that the estimated loss to the nation caused by the lack of roads and by hold ups as a result of traffic congestion is about £1 million a day, I decided to place my question on the notice paper as I wondered what the Government was doing about this matter. I have already read the Minister's reply to my question. That certainly indicates that the Government is acting either with a great deal of lethargy or without any feeling of responsibility. I remind Ministers and Government supporters that this type of inertia, this type of lethargy, this type of inactivity are eventually responsible for the downfall of governments. The problems of roads and of transport generally have to be tackled, and tackled effectively, on a national basis. It certainly convinces no-one, least of all those involved in the industry, for the Minister to say that the Government is searching for a suitable person to appoint as chairman.

On the aspect of transport generally, I was rather amused last Monday night to see a photograph in one of the Sydney metropolitian dailies of the new Minister for Transport in New South Wales boarding a Government bus at Central railway station in Sydney to travel to his office in Martin Place. This is good public relations and for the time being may go over well with the ordinary member of the Australian community; but the mere catching of a bus and travelling with ordinary citizens certainly will not overcome the enormous transport problems that exist not only in New South Wales but also throughout Australia.

Senator Branson - But it is the best way to learn first hand, is it not?

Senator MCCLELLAND - It may be the best way to learn first hand, but he has been travelling in this way for very many years and the fact that he travels in this way for one day, now that he is a Minister, would not change the view that he has formed during the time he was an ordinary member of tha community.

The one thing needed to overcome this problem is finance. I am sure that before transport hold ups are removed, before there are enough buses and trains for all travellers to be accommodated comfortably and before there are enough vehicles available for the transportation, at a reasonable price, of all of our freight, the Commonwealth Government will have to give assistance to the States. In the first place, there is the petrol tax collected by the Commonwealth. According to figures issued by the Australian Automobile Association last year, some £20 million of the total annual petrol tax collection under the provisions of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act is retained in Federal Consolidated Revenue. This amount should be made available to the States as early as possible for use in road construction and maintenance.

Then there is the large number of Commonwealth vehicles operating on roads within the States, and which have been constructed by the States, in respect of which the Commonwealth does not pay the States any motor registration fees. In an answer provided on 28th April, the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony) stated that the number of Commonwealth owned vehicles operating within New South Wales for which the Commonwealth does not pay registration fees to the States is 9,952; in Victoria it is 6,947; in Queensland 3,714; in South Australia 5,300; in Western Australia 2,015; and in Tasmania 1,034. In New South Wales, the State I have the honour to represent in this Parliament, almost 10,000 Commonwealth owned vehicles are operating on roads constructed by the State authorities and for those vehicles the Commonwealth pays no registration fees. If the registration fee for each vehicle were about £20, the additional registration fees which could be made available to the State for road construction would be about £200,000.

I turn now to consider pay-roll tax levied on State instrumentalities. In this respect the Commonwealth has collected from the Railways Departments in each of the States pay-roll tax-

Senator Wright - Was not that item the subject of specific bargaining when the last reimbursement agreement was made with the States?

Senator MCCLELLAND - I am not aware whether that is so. The Minister has said only that the Commonwealth does not pay any registration fees for its motor vehicles to the States. If what the honorable senator is suggesting is correct, surely the Minister would have said so in his reply to my question.

Senator Henty - He would expect the honorable senator to know that.

Senator MCCLELLAND - The Government expects the Opposition to know a lot of things, but when we seek information, the Government does not want to give it. The argument cuts both ways. Naturally, pay-roll tax is not paid by the Commonwealth Railways. In the last four financial years, over £5 million in pay-roll tax was paid by the New South Wales Department of Railways. This large sum could well be made available to the New South Wales Railways Department to acquire rolling stock and for the greater development of the railways throughout the State. The same is true of the Railways Departments in all States.

Military vehicles also operate within the boundaries of the States. Although these vehicles use the State highways, nothing is paid on their behalf for the maintenance of those highways. In the decade from now to 1975 enormous growth is expected but in respect of roads and transport generally the Commonwealth Government is only scratching the surface of the problems confronting the nation. That is particularly true in the general field of communications. In an excellent publication of the National Association of Australian State Road Authorities in 1963 it was estimated that within the next decade the population will increase by about 2i million, the number of vehicles using the roads will increase by about 2,100,000, fuel consumption will increase correspondingly and the number of vehicle miles travelled will rise from 26i million to about 50 million. I urge the Government to devote close attention to this problem when preparing the next Budget. If the problems which will arise as the result of the increases I have stated are not faced up to now and tackled adequately on a national basis, rather than on the basis of a bit here and a bit there, they will become insurmountable.

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