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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr J R FRASER . - I propose to address myself to the Estimates of expenditure for the Australian Capital Territory. I shall not deal with the broad, national aspects of other territories of the Commonwealth, as the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) has done, but shall confine my remarks to problems that affect the day-to-day lives of the citizens of Canberra. This national Parliament must, within the limits of the Constitution, govern the whole of Australia and, in the Australian Capital Territory, it must also play the role of a State government and a municipal or shire council. What is, I think, too often forgotten by the absentee critics of Canberra and was, perhaps, forgotten by the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), who addressed himself to this subject this afternoon, is that certain items of expenditure which are listed for the Australian Capital Territory would be, in any other community in Australia, the expenditures of the Commonwealth Government, the State government, and the local authority - either a municipal council or a shire council. Therefore, the expenditures here, which so frequently come in for criticism, can be justified, I think, in all respects. I hope to be able to avail myself of a second period during this discussion in order to deal in detail with some of the criticism that was offered by the honorable member for Moore. At present, I want to direct my attention to two or three local matters which are of considerable moment to the people of Canberra.

This city, as most honorable members should know, is divided by the Molonglo River, which is crossed by a number of bridges. Within the residential area and what can be called the business area of the city, there is one high-level bridge - not a particularly imposing structure and not, I believe, particularly safe - and three low-level bridges for every-day use. Those low-level bridges are, of course, subject to flooding. When they are flooded, all traffic between the northern and southern portions of the city must proceed via the two-lane, high-level bridge. Only this morning, there was a classical example of what happens when the Moloinglo River rises. The Commonwealth-avenue bridge was closed for repairs, and two of the three low-level bridges were covered by the waters of the Molonglo. The river rose to within a few inches of the level of Lennox Crossing. There are also two other low-level bridges, one on the road from Molonglo to Fyshwick, and the other on the stock route leading to the Oaks Estate. 1 have lived in Canberra for ten years. During the whole of that time, and 1 believe, for many years before, there has been an agitation for the building of high-level bridges on the main access roads from the northern to the southern parts of the city and, indeed, there have been promises over the years that additional bridges would be built. There have been discussions as to the style and type of bridges that should be constructed, whether they should provide four or six traffic lanes, and whether they should be of concrete and steel or of other forms of construction. But we cannot cross rivers on promises. The ridiculous position exists in this city, which now has a population of 30,000 people, that there is only one high-level bridge, which is completely inadequate, linking the northern and southern parts of the city.

In answer to a question on this subject the other day, the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) said that if the Estimates were passed, it was hoped that work on the construction of a new bridge to replace the Commonwealth-avenue bridge would be begun quite shortly. It is now, I think, well over twelve months since the Public Works Committee recommended the commencement of work on the construction of a high-level bridge on the King's-avenue alinement, which is the road that most honorable members use when travelling to and from the airport. But if the waters of the Molonglo are above the crossing, they have to undertake a longer journey. The Minister indicated that certain foundation work had been commenced in connexion with the construction of a bridge to replace the present Commonwealth-avenue bridge. The point I make is that, had this community been under the control of a shire council or a municipal council, these bridges would have been already built, with the assistance of State government administration.

Mr Davis - The honorable member is too optimistic.

Mr J R FRASER - The only really handsome bridge that we have in the Territory is one across the Murrumbidgee River at Tharwa, which was built many years ago by a State government, through a local government instrumentality. We have the ridiculous situation that, in this city, the national capital, controlled by the Commonwealth Parliament, we cannot even build a decent bridge across the Molonglo River, and when we do get to the stage of contemplating the construction of a bridge, we cannot dream of building two bridges at the one time; we might consider building one and following that with the construction of another later, but we cannot possibly build the two at the one time. 1 hope that the work will be put in hand shortly and that this farcical situation will be brought to an end.

Another matter which is giving rise to great public concern at the moment is the recent decision announced by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) to increase the bus fares for school children travelling not only to and from school, but also to and from church and Sunday school. The proposed increase is to be from a uniform charge of Id. to a uniform charge of 3d. I readily admit that this might seem a small matter to be bringing before the national Parliament, but I point out that, in respect of the Australian Capital Territory, this national Parliament must sit as not only the Parliament, but also a body of aldermen and councillors. It is responsible for the decisions made on matters that should really be handled by local authorities. In the absence of any attempt to give the people of the Australian Capital Territory the right to govern themselves, a right which is enjoyed by the people of every other community in Australia, this Government must accept responsibility for these smaller matters. It may be argued that the 3d. that is to be charged is, in fact, worth no more than the Id. that has been charged hitherto, and that may well be true. The change in money values could well mean that the Id. of ten years ago was equal in value to the 3d. of to-day; but, if that line of argument is to be used, it should be applied in the other direction as well. To date, the Government has never accepted that line of argument when it has been adduced from this side as a reason for increasing the family allowances made under the Social Services Consolidation Act. When child endowment was introduced, it was intended to help the family man to meet the expense of educating his children and fitting them to occupy decent positions in the world, but I remind the committee that the rate of child endowment has remained stationary over the years. It is still at the same level in this year, 1956, as it was in 1948, and 1 mention that fact in support of my assertion that it is fallacious for the Government to argue that the change in money values justifies the proposed increase in the bus fares to be charged to school children.

It is quite probable that the senior public servants who make the recommendation that is adopted by the Minister will not be affected by this increase. The comparatively highly salaried public servants in any sphere, perhaps, will not feel this impost, but it certainly will be felt most severely by the man on the small income who has a large family. I know of families who have six children attending school, and in those cases the proposed increase from Id. to 3d. for each journey on the bus involves an extra expenditure of 10s. by the bread winner each week, and that is a very substantial impost in these days of very hard family budgeting. I do not think the Government would have the temerity to legislate for a reduction of 10s. a week in wages, but in actual fact the proposed increase in bus fares for school children has exactly that effect. With a basic wage in Canberra lower than that in the adjoining State of New South Wales, and with prices here far above those obtaining in the cities and towns of New South Wales, this impost will hit the family man very hard indeed.

It has been argued that the bus services must be made to show a profit or at least to pay their way. I remind the committee that this is a planned city and the planning has been such that long journeys by bus are inescapable. Had this city merely grown outwards from one main street as other cities and towns throughout Australia have developed, it is probable that this problem would not be confronting us to-day; but because this is a planned city, because the Government brings employees here, telling them to live here, to work there and to send their children to this or that school, these long journeys must be taken and these expenses incurred, and for those reasons the Government has properly resting upon it the responsibility of subsidizing its employees for this expenses. The decision to increase bus fares to school children attending schools, churches and Sunday schools is a bad one. lt must result in the imposition of substantially increased expense to the man who has a large family and who is on a low income, lt will hurt the very man whom we should be helping. Time and again we have heard it said in this place that the Australian child is the best immigrant, that we should do everything possible to encourage family life, but in this instance the Government is discouraging it. The man who will be hurt is the very person who should not be harmed in this way. The matter must come before this Parliament by way of amendment, to a regulation. When that happens, the Parliament, in effect, becomes a local authority and decides whether the regulation should be accepted or rejected, and 1 hope that the Parliament will be given the opportunity to decide that it should be rejected.

By way of questions recently, I pointed out to the Minister that in this city there were some areas which might, perhaps, be described as depressed or neglected areas, and the Minister undertook to make a tour of inspection of them with me. I propose to refer briefly to them now because the impression is too loosely held that everybody in Canberra lives in an ideal garden setting and is spoon-fed in every way.

Mr Leslie - Hear, hear!

Mr J R FRASER - The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) says, " Hear, hear! ". This afternoon, he described this city as a Utopia for which the highly-taxed and highly-rated people of the rest of Australia are paying. They may be highly rated; in fact, some of them are overrated, but I shall deal with that matter later. At the moment I mention first the suburb of Causeway, which was established in 1925. lt has been in existence for 31 years. Many of the people still living there have been there for the full 31 years; and that area, which was the pioneer settlement of the city, is still without kerbing, guttering, footpaths or any of the other facilities that are provided almost automatically in the newer suburbs! I hope that is one of the areas the Minister will visit with me, just as 1 hope that he will see that these facilities shall be provided there, lt is appreciated, of course, that he is not entirely responsible for the lack of these amenities in that area; it is the result of neglect extending over many years.

Then, we have the Narrabundah prefabricated area, established in 1947. It has been in existence for nine years and is still without kerbing, guttering or any of the other proper facilities that are provided in every other suburb of the city. To illustrate the line of thinking adopted in the department towards these suburbs, I point out that when the Narrabundah prefabricated area was established in 1947, the prefabricated houses were equipped with tin baths. Nine years have elapsed since the establishment of the area, and the tin baths are wearing out. Even those which have been painted with silvafros are rusting through, but, when asked to provide replacements for them, the department says, " We cannot provide porcelain baths; we will replace your tin bath wilh another tin bath "; and it has a plumber engaged in making these tin replacements. When one asks the officers of the department why they make first and second class citizens, why they give some people porcelain baths and others tin baths, they merely reply, " Frankly, we have not the money to provide porcelain baths ". In answer to that. I remind the committee that the average life of a porcelain bath is at least 30 years whilst the obvious maximum life of a tin bath is nine years. So, in actual fact, within the lifetime of one porcelain bath, the department will provide three tin baths and incur the cost of installing all three, and it does so because the work is a charge upon maintenance and is not debited to new work.

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