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Friday, 16 August 1974
Page: 1075

Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) -I think we must take some cognizance of the hurried program before us today. We should remember that we are not now dealing with the second reading. We are in Committee and debating the clauses in the Bill. The fact that the second reading was approved would indicate that there is general support for the Bill. One may then say: Yes, we agree with the proposals. We think the Bill is better with some alteration here, some deletion there or some improvement somewhere else. ' So in Committee we deal with the clauses one at a time. An amendment has been moved to delete the words in clause 4(1). We are restricted to speaking on that clause. There was not much criticism on this clause. Last evening Senator Durack said very little. He said that the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) had made a statement- which was repeated by Senator Marriott today- which constituted a threat. The Minister has a habit of making very blunt statements. He was perhaps not as diplomatic as I was last evening when I made the same statement. He says: 'If you do not pass the Bill the States will get nothing', and according to the machinery of the BUI that is a fact Even if the Government were prepared to capitulate and say 'We will have to make another agreement' there would have to be an immediate stoppage of road works.

Senator Marriotthas said that grants to the States have been paid up to October. That is simply not true. The crux of this matter is that the States are relying on the passage of this legislation. This Government has approved interim grants of $2.5m to South Australia, $1.7m to Queensland, $4,083,000 to Western Australia and $500,000 to Tasmania. A request for funds from New South Wales is being processed. At this stage Victoria has not made a request. These grants to the States are interim grants to allow them to carry on. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has pointed out in correspondence to the Premiers, that the interim grants were made in anticipation of the legislation being passed. If the legislation is not passed the Commonwealth Government cannot proceed with the interim grants. New South Wales councils, which are complaining about how many men they will have to put off, will have to put those men off if it does not get the finance proposed under this legislation. In a letter to the Premiers the Prime Minister stated:

As you will appreciate, this would leave us without any adequate basis on which to continue to provide this interim financing. In such a situation, and particularly in view of the size of the amounts involved, there would be no alternative for us but to move to terminate the interim financing arrangements in this area, however regrettable the results of doing so might be.

That is the consequence. If any amendment is made to this legislation the passing of the Bill will be delayed until such time as the other House has considered the Bill again. If this Bill is not passed there will be no interim finance granted to the States until such time as the Bill is reconsidered by the House of Representatives which will be some time after the consideration of the Budget.

Senator Marriott - Bring them back next week.

Senator CAVANAGH -Yes. I could understand that the honourable senator would like us to come back next week because that would get the Opposition off the hook for the despicable thing that it did in opposing the granting of finance to the States. I do not think it is likely that the Government would agree to do that. When I replied to the second reading debate I indicated that we sought expert advice in relation to roads. Whilst the Minister for Transport may be an expert on the location of roads for urban development, export trade and beef, he needs to obtain the opinion of the Minister concerned with each of those areas of responsibility. It is not true to say that we do not consult the States. Subclause (2) of clause 4 of the Bill states:

For the purposes of this Act, the Minister, after consultation with the appropriate Minister of a State-

(a)   may approve programs of projects by way of-

(   i ) the construction of rural arterial roads:

It will be noticed that the words 'after consultation' are used. It therefore means that the Minister for Transport has to consult with the Ministers of the States. The Opposition is seeking to delete sub-section ( 1 ) of Clause 4 which in part states:

A Minister may notify a State the date before which a program of projects in respect of a period to which this section applies, being projects of a specified kind, is to be submitted to him . . .

The Minister can ask the States to submit a program of projects to be carried out. If the States do not submit a program the projects will not be financed by the Australian Government. The Opposition has stated that every municipal road had to be approved by the Minister- by the bureaucracy in Canberra. That is not so. The Minister made a statement in which he used the term to which Senator Devitt has referred in citing clause 4 which states 'The Minister may'. Senator Marriott questioned whether 'may' in fact means 'shall'.

Senator STEELE HALL - It can mean 'will'.

Senator CAVANAGH -No. The Commonwealth Acts Interpretation Act does not contain any clear definition of the word 'may'. When I was on the Standing Committees on Regulations and Ordinances we found a judgment which had been given by the Privy Council in England that when a public servant has an option to give a benefit he should interpret the word 'may' to mean 'will'. In order to clarify the position the Minister has pointed out that we have this option. He has said in the statement referred to by Senator Devitt and Senator Marriott that on occasions the option is exercised. I do not want to go into the political issues that have been raised. It is all right to say that in Queensland they have good roads now because they have got a Country Party Government and that they had bad roads when they had a Labor Government. If it is true that there were bad governments at that time, it would seem to support the argument that we should have a central control.

Last evening Senator Steele Hall made a very damning accusation against the Labor Government in South Australia for the shambles of the roads. He said it was caused by no other reason than that there was in power a Labor Government which has a policy of gaining political advantage. If that were so, surely that would be a reason to take the power away from petty governments that would misuse it. Let me say that I do not accept that argument. I know the history of the Metropolitan Adelaide Transportation Study plan and of the desire of the Labor Government to use forms of transport other than cars. All this argument proves that there must be a co-ordinated plan. Therefore the legislation states that in an urban area the Minister for Urban and Regional Development is the expert to consult with the States concerned and in beef roads areas the Minister for Northern Development is the expert. The repercussions of the defeat of this clause would be so great that the Senate should not entertain the proposal.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Durack's amendment) be left out.

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