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Thursday, 15 August 1974
Page: 1030

Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - in reply- Senator Lawrie has indicated that the Country Party will support the motion for the second reading of this Bill. I take it from the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) that the Liberal Party also will support the motion but will seek in the Committee stage to make some amendments, mostly on the question of the necessity to get the approval of the relevant Australian Government Ministers for expenditures on certain classifications of roads. I think that Senator Devitt and Senator Walsh have replied effectively to many of the points which were raised by Opposition senators.

Senator Devitt - Quite so. Hear, hear!

Senator CAVANAGH -Senator Devitt agrees with me. The alleged cut-down in expenditure, under the 3-year agreement, on country roads and other roads is, on the figures, simply not true.

Senator Jessop - What about the position in South Australia?

Senator CAVANAGH - I think that we will give the honourable senator the figures and prove that to him. This Government was returned to the Australian Parliament on 2 occasions- and on the second occasion we did not seek the election. We were returned on promises to provide a decent quality of life for Australians, to expand urban development and create cities, and to update public transport and methods of transport. If we accept the entire responsibility for development of cities and of supplying them with up-to-date public transport we must logically have the say on the construction of roads to service the urban areas which we are developing. Does the Opposition want the position to arise where the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) develops an area and a State government then makes a decision as to whether a road will go to it? How can we develop a national plan to improve the quality of life in Australia and carry out the mandate we have received from the people if the authority is given to someone else? The whole purpose of this legislation is to enable us to carry out our proposals.

As has been said, this proposal originates from a report by the Bureau of Roads. It has been said that expenditure has been reduced from what was originally proposed. However, the amount to be spent in the current 3-year period, from 1974-75 to 1976-77, represents an increase of 29.7 percent over that spent in the whole of Australia in the previous 3 years. The report of the Bureau of Roads was not fully adopted but among its recommendations was the nonenforcement of a 10 per cent contribution by the

States. This will permit the States to spend more on their own road construction programs.

Senator Jessop - If you allow for inflation you are still$ 14m short.

Senator CAVANAGH -Senator Jessop continually cries about South Australia and what it will get under this proposal. South Australia will get $ 100m over the 3-year period, an increase of 1 5.2 per cent on the previous 3 years. We have agreed to finance highways but that is not considered by the Opposition. This legislation emphasises the development of the national roads system and $54m will be devoted to this purpose in South Australia in this 3-year period. This money will be used in particular for finalising the sealing of the Eyre Highway, to progress the sealing of the Stuart Highway and to develop the principal road between Adelaide and Melbourne. These roads are greatly in need of development after 21 years of administration by the previous Liberal-Country Party Government.

Senator Young - What about the Prime Minister's promise of a 2-lane highway from Alice Springs to Port Augusta?

Senator CAVANAGH - We are finalising the program for the sealing of the Stuart Highway at the present time. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) promised to upgrade roads and this is the first legislation aimed at implementing that proposal. Senator Lawrie asked a question about the payment of section 96 grants to the States. There is no question of a new and separate department being created in Canberra and housed in big buildings involved in the implementation of these Bills. Other than for the highways, and possibly also for the highways, the States will be the agents. In many places they could well be the construction agency. Any research on transport which will be conducted in Canberra will not be financed from these Bills, so that destroys completely that argument.

The Brisbane to Cairns road needs to be improved and developed. This road is covered by the National Highways Bill and that reflects the importance the Australian Government attaches to it. The Australian Government is now prepared to accept 100 per cent of the cost of developing such national highways. The national highways included in the National Roads Bill are essentially in the country areas. That brings up the question of the rural-urban subdivision of money. The highways are essentially in the country areas. Contrary to what has been said on this question of government benefits for roads in rural areas, in the 3-year period commencing from 1969 rural areas received 47 per cent of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement expenditure and urban areas received 53 per cent. Under this road legislation rural areas will get 61 per cent of expenditure and the urban areas 39 per cent. So the biggest expenditure- greater than in the previous 3 years- will be on the rural roads.

Senator Withersraised the specific point of whether the expenditure of local authorities on road construction which is paid from their own resources is to be subject to the approval of the Minister. Approval is required for only the program of work on urban arterial and rural arterial roads. These are essentially State roads, not local government roads. Australian Government expenditure of 100 per cent of the cost of national highways will give the States greater ability to provide local government with necessary resources to sustain road programs.

On the question of the reduction of State expenditure on roads as recommended by the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads, this reduction of some 10 per cent therefore will possibly save the States from having to increase charges such as car registration fees and so on to raise the amount of their contribution to this proposal. It is unfair to compare the arterial road provisions of the measure with the provisions of the 1969 Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement. National highways received a substantial part of the expenditure of $400m provided in the rural category of the CAR provisions. When national highways expenditure in this measure is added to the expenditure on rural arterial roads it considerably exceeds the 1969 CAR provisions.

The other point Senator Withers raised was that he wanted the Government to give some promise that the revenue from fuel tax would be spent on roads. It is not the Australian Government's policy to use all excise proceeds for roads development; neither was it the previous Government's policy; that is, the present Opposition when it was in government. Finance for roads needs to be decided on the basis of assessment of roads needs and overall transport needs. Several programs have a high priority, such as education, welfare, health and above all, the general state of the economy. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development is concerned and has a say in the area of urban and regional roads. The Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson) has a say in relation to beef roads. I am informed that at present he has before the Cabinet a separate Budget submission in relation to the Stuart and Barkly highways.

I think I have answered the questions which were raised. In anticipation of this Bill being passed, the Prime Minister has made provision for payments to the States on an interim basis which will permit them to carry on. There will not be, as the Deputy Premier of New South Wales said, 1,600 Department of Main Roads employees out of work if the funds dry up. The Federal Government has been paying since the beginning of July this year, in anticipation of the authority to pay in this Bill. The Treasury rightly warned that if the Bill is not passed it is questionable whether there is any legal capability of continuing those payments. The Prime Minister has written to the State Premiers informing them of this fact. The letter to the Premier of New South Wales was attached to the statement which I tabled in the Senate. It shows the concern of the Prime Minister, when it was known that the amendments would be moved, that the Bill might not pass this chamber.

As the Bill is part of the Government's development plan as stated in its election promises, we cannot see the possibility of the Government accepting an amendment which allows the States to decide where the Australian Government will carry out its development policy. Such amendments would possibly not be accepted by the Government. One of the things about which I complained when I was in Opposition was that at times the House of Representatives was not sitting when the Senate was sitting, and we were influenced to pass many Bills on those occasions because of the inability to get an amendment accepted in the other place. Even if it were a minor amendment, the Bill would not have been passed until the other place had considered it. This could have meant that funds could well have dried up for a short period. The delay in granting moneys to the States might have caused unemployment. The position could be overcome only if the legislation were passed.

Senator Wright - Is that your way of attempting to coerce me?

Senator CAVANAGH - I have been blackmailed by the honourable senator for many years. Now that he is in Opposition he should know the realities. While it may suit Treasury officials to wait, the State Premiers certainly expect the flow of money to continue. Concern has been expressed publicly and in correspondence to the Prime Minister about the fate of this Bill. Therefore, I appreciate the Opposition indicating that it will agree to the second reading of the Bui. In the interests of the States, I look with anxious moments to the Committee stage.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

Clauses 1 and 2- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.

Clause 3 (interpretation).

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