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Thursday, 15 August 1974
Page: 1030

Senator JESSOP (South Australia) - I want to support largely what Senator Devitt said about his concern for local government. As far as I am concerned, this Bill blatantly discriminates against the States of Australia and also against local government. I would have thought that the Government would have paid some regard to the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads report which made some assessment of the road needs in Australia. But of course the Government has ignored this report almost entirely. The Bureau of Roads is an expert body that recommended that the warranted and feasible expenditure on roads in Australia to bring them up to any reasonable standard was approximately $4,200m over the next 3 years. In spite of this warranted and feasible suggestion the Bureau recognised other areas of expenditure for the Government and reduced this recommendation to $3, 422m, of which it suggested that the Commonwealth should pay $ 1,345 m and the States should pay $2,077m. So the Commonwealth Government is not the Father Christmas that we have been led to believe it is.

In order to meet the recommendations of the Bureau of Roads report the States are now required to find, in addition to the money provided by the Government in the road grants Bills before the House, an additional $2 19m. In the legislation there is a massive reduction in the grants to rural areas. For example, in my State of South Australia for rural arterial roads the Bureau recommended that a total of $ 16.7m be expended but the Bill provides for only $4.7m- $12m less than the recommendation. Senator Wright put his finger on it earlier in the debate when he said that the Government had paid no regard to inflation. That is perfectly correct. The Bureau of Roads did pay some regard to this subject. At page 283 of its report in clause 13.46 it says:

After consideration of the factors underlying the current inflation, recent and prospective Government antiinflationary action, and scope for productivity improvements noted above, we have made an allowance of 6 per cent per annum for future cost rises -

But the poor Bureau of Roads forgot that there was a different government at that stage. When the Liberal-Country Party Government was in power it managed to keep the inflationary trend down to about 4 per cent. In spite of that the Bureau of Roads chose to believe the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) when he said that he would take anti-inflationary measures. Therefore the Bureau went along with this and allowed an inflationary factor of 6 per cent in its assessment of the road needs for Australia. I criticise the Bureau of Roads in this instance because, over the last four or five years, road construction costs in Australia have risen by not less than 10 per cent per annum. This is a measure of the irresponsibility of the Commonwealth Government in introducing Bills that will reduce the funds available to the States and to local government for expenditure on roads.

In support of what Senator Devitt said earlier, concerning the disadvantage to local government, I notice that the Acting Premier of New South Wales at the time, Sir Charles Cutler, indicated in a Press statement on 29 June that New South Wales shire councils were confused and concerned about the plans to cut funds for rural roads. He said that 2,000 shire council workers would lose their jobs. He described the whole scheme relating to grants measures as a lunatic one. The President of the Monaro Shire, Mr V. L. Lyons, said:

We are worried at this stage. We will just have to play it along and see what happens. There will certainly be a reduction in staff if our funds for rural roads are cut by 25 to 30 per cent.

This, I suggest to the Government is where it has gone wrong.

In suggesting the allocation of this reduced amount of money for roads the Commonwealth Government will force the States to increase their road taxes. Already Mr Hamer, the Premier of Victoria, has said that he will increase registration fees by 50 per cent. As a result of the lack of funds, in rural areas in particular, unemployment will occur. Sir Robert Askin said only this week that he envisages in the Department of Main Roads in New South Wales there could be a retrenchment of 1,600 people. These are the matters which concern me particularly, apart from the fact that the Bill provides for not one Minister, but three, to intrude into roads programs in Australia. This is the essence of the Opposition 's concern with respect to these measures. That is why I intend to support the amendments proposed by the Opposition with respect to the intrusion of the Federal Government into the provinces of the States and local government with respect to road programs.

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