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Tuesday, 17 September 1974
Page: 1126

Senator DURACK (Western Australia) - The Opposition will support the motion which has been moved by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh). As he has said, quite correctly, we have had the opportunity of looking at the way in which the House of Representatives has considered the amendments made to the Road Grants Bill by the Senate. I think we moved these amendments on our last day of sitting which was 16 August. The House of Representatives then dealt with the Bill at its special sitting on 23 August. Broadly speaking, the stand which the Opposition in the Senate took- and which obtained the support of Senator Hall- and by which the amendments were passed through. the Senate has been entirely vindicated as is shown by the amendments which have come back to us from the House of Representatives. The Committee will recall that we took the stand in the Senate that it was quite improper that a Bill granting funds to the States for road purposes should include a general power under which the Federal Minister for Transport not only would be able to dictate to the States the way in which that Federal money was to be spent by the States and local authorities but he would be empowered by the Bill, as it came before this chamber, to dictate to the State governments and to the local authorities the way in which they would be able to spend their money on roads as well.

We have heard the old story- it even started again today during question time- about the Senate obstructing this Bill and that Bill and so forth. But the fact of the matter is that in relation to this Bill the Opposition in the Senate has acted entirely in accordance with its role as a House of Review and as a House which is representative of the interests of State governments and local authorities in this nation. That was the basis of the stand we took. As I said, the House of Representatives has accepted broadly our amendments except in respect of one matter only. That is, at still seeks to retain the right for the Federal Minister of Transport to control the expenditure of money by State and local authorities on urban arterial roads. The Minister for Transport in the House of Representatives explained that the only reason he wishes to have that power is that he wishes to be able to control the construction of freeways in the cities of Australia.

We were not particularly satisfied that the definition of urban arterial roads, as it was stated in the Bill, was sufficient to restrict that power of the Minister. That is why there has been an additional amendment to clause 3 of the Bill which is included in the Minister's amendment before the Committee. That amendment confines the definition of an urban arterial road to a road or a proposed road which, if constructed, would be a class 6 road or a class 7 road according to the functional classifications of roads included in the Report on Roads in Australia prepared by the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads. For the information of the Committee, I would like to read the definitions of class 6 and 7 roads because they clearly indicate the limitations placed on the power of the Minister in respect to urban arterial roads. Class 6 includes those roads whose main function is to perform the principal avenue of communication for massive traffic movements. Clearly, this is the freeway concept. Class 7 roads are those roads, not being class 6, whose main function is to supplement the class 6 roads in providing for traffic movements or which distribute traffic to local street systems. Of course, these would be roads which are ancillary to freeways.

It is quite clear therefore that with the limitations that have been placed on the Minister's power, as contained now in the totality of these amendments, the only power which will be exercised by the Minister will be power in respect of freeways or the roads which are ancillary to them. The Bill will impose no restrictions really on the power of local authorities, whether they be rural or urban local authorities, because, as local authorities, they will not be engaged in the construction of these classes of roads, the definitions of which I have just quoted from the report of the Bureau of Roads. Therefore, as I have said, we believe that the stand we took was justified and the flow of further centralist powers to the Commonwealth Government, as these Bills originally provided, has been arrested. Local authorities in particular and State governments, apart from freeway development work, will be perfectly free to spend their own monies in the way they like.

But I cannot let this matter pass without referring again to the way in which the Government sought to treat the Senate in relation to this matter. I will quote again, as I quoted in the previous debate in the Senate, the intimidatory stand which was taken by the Federal Minister for Transport in another place when these Bills were first debated there. He made this threat to the Senate- a threat which, of course, he did not maintain. This is what he said, as recorded on page 1022 of the House of Representatives Hansard of 1 August 1974, when the Opposition in another place put forward these amendments as we have heard them read to us now and as they have been adopted:

I say to the Opposition now: 'If you, in another place, amend this Bill there will not be any money available because we are not prepared under any circumstances to accept an amendment to this Bill which destroys the policy of this Government'. So I warn the Opposition that we will not accept amendments. If it wants to withhold $1,1 26m from the States and local government over the next 3 years it can go ahead and use its numbers in another place. But the Opposition must accept full responsibility for its actions.

That was the attitude taken by the Federal Minister for Transport, Mr Charles Jones, in another place. It was a clear intimidatory threat to the Senate in an endeavour to prevent us from exercising our proper constitutional responsibility and our duty to scrutinise legislation with a view to moving proper amendments. I am pleased to be able to say that the Senate was not intimidated as the Minister intended. We have made the amendments which the Minister himself has now substantially accepted in another place.

I would like to exclude from my comments any reflections on the representative of the Minister for Transport in the Senate, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh). He has had the unenviable task of having to deal with this subject in the Senate with this type of threat being held over the whole Senate chamber by the Minister in another place. As I have said, I would like to except Senator Cavanagh from any strictures I am making here at the moment. I believe that he has had a difficult task made a lot more difficult for him by the Minister in another place who behaved in this way. I believe that this was a clear warning by the Senate and the electorate to the media which refer continually to obstruction in the Senate. This was a classic case of the Senate acting properly in proposing proper amendments and the Government has, I believe, quite properly accepted them. It has accepted them wholly. It has indicated that it wanted to retain a particular power and I believe that we have met its wishes in that regard in that we have been prepared to accede to its further amendments. In other words, we have seen the 2 Houses of Parliament acting in accordance with their proper constitutional functions. I think also that we have seen a case in which a reasonable approach has been successful in the long run. I believe that this has been a good example of the way our constitutional bicameral system works, and that it has been a good example of the proper and important role of the Senate under our Constitution.

I would like to make this one further point in conclusion: This process is not being assisted and will not be assisted in the future if we have a repetition of this sort of threat made to the Senate by Ministers of this Government in another place.

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