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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- I support the case ably put forward by my friends, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) and the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor). They made constructive speeches, and I hope to make my speech on similar lines. Australian development, in many of its important aspects, is plagued and bedevilled by State jealousies, State prejudices, State rights and State boundaries. Constitutionally, Australia is still in the cradle. The Constitution has become a brake on progress, an anchor on development. Certain aspects of our economy are, figuratively, screaming to be released from the enslavement of our Constitution and from the limitations of State boundaries. Constitutional reform, therefore, should be given top priority, and we are glad that a committee composed of honorable members from both sides of the House is at present considering the matter.

Two important factors in this category are railways and roads. They are the very arteries of our nation. We are years behind overseas countries as far as our railways and roads are concerned, because where the Constitution does not shackle development, blind prejudice and State right-ism do. Our railways are nearly 100 years old. Although Australia has been a Commonwealth for 56 years, we still have the crippling, delaying, costly, wasteful and stupid break of gauge. No practical steps have yet been taken towards gauge standardization after all these years.

Our roads and highways are still Statehandled. They are still State liabilities. It is time that the Commonwealth offered to take over all interstate highways and strategic roads - at least the financial responsibility for them - in order to release to the States millions of pounds of their own revenues for other development. The suggestion that a Commonwealth bureau for roads should be established to coordinate the entire roads network of Australia is excellent. One of our great weaknesses in handling this problem is that so many authorities are dealing with roads in Australia. No other country is so shackled and tied in this respect as we are. America has now got its great federal roads plan in operation, under which the highways linking all States will by-pass the great cities. In the United Kingdom, there is no worry due to State rivalries. In that country, a national roads plan can be implemented without fear of the crippling State issues that exist here.

I believe that the Commonwealth should encourage the manufacture of road-making equipment for use by the States. I believe, also, that the Commonwealth, in taking over the interstate highways, should leave to the States the administration of roads within the States. It should assume 'financial responsibility for the entire interstate and strategic roads network, so that our highways can be reconstructed to modern standards. This is a Commonwealth responsibility, and I believe that we should accept it. The remorseless deterioration of the country roads is a challenge to the Federal Government to release more money to State instrumentalities for road maintenance and road construction. I agree with the honorable member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann) that primary production is our main industry. Primary industry and defence are both dependent on roads and railways. In my opinion, an efficient, fast modern roads system and an efficient railways system are Australia's economic lifelines. By overseas standards, 75 per cent, of our roads, including the highways, are narrow, primitive and dangerous. In fact, my visits to America and other countries lead me to say that I am understating the position when I use these words. The Hume Highway, linking Melbourne and Sydney, would be regarded in America as a by-way across a back country area. It is frightening to realize that, by overseas standards, even our main roads are only byroads. Roads are a national asset, and they should be a national responsibility - at least the interstate and strategic highways. I have found from investigation that in Victoria, where perhaps the roads system is better than in most of the other States-

Mr Davis - Oh, no!

Mr DUTHIE - About 80 per cent, of the income received by the Victorian Country Roads Board is spent on maintenance; only 20 per cent, of the revenue received by the board is spend on building new roads and widening old ones. We claim that all of the petrol tax should be devoted to roads purposes. If we want to save our roads from complete deterioration, apart altogether from building new, modern roads, we should insist that all the revenue from the petrol tax should go back to the roads. The Australian Transport Advisory Council met in Sydney recently. A newspaper report of the conference reads -

All petrol tax money should be used for road construction and maintenance in the various Australian States, the Australian Transport Advisory Council recommended in Sydney yesterday.

That council, appointed by this and the previous Government, is composed of the State Ministers in. charge of transport. That was their verdict, yet this Government is bypassing the council's constructive recommendations. The council gets no encouragement whatever from this Government. We claim that all of this money should go to the States.

Secondly, we say that a national roads plan should be instituted and that at least £100,000,000 should be allocated over a five-year period - that is, at the rate of £20,000,000 a year - over and above all present sources of revenue. Only a national scheme and a national approach to this question will save our roads from complete collapse. This will continue to be our problem until we become a government, when we hope to be able to put it into operation.

One of the suggestions advanced recently by the Automobile Association of Australia, which has done great work in supplying facts and figures on this subject, to the advisory council I have already mentioned, was that the Commonwealth assume financial responsibility for interstate highways and strategic roads vital to our defence. That is all that the association asked for. But the then Minister for the Interior, the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes), said in answer to that suggestion that the Department of Defence did not regard roads as important from the defence point of view, particularly in comparison with the importance of rail transport and sea transport. The Automobile Association of Australia tried to impress on the council the need to link roads with defence, as I have done consistently. I claim that an allocation of £20,000,000 should be made from the defence vote, in each of five years, making a total of £100,000,000 for expenditure on roads in that period. Of all goods transported in Australia, 76 per cent, is carried by road and only 18 per cent, by rail. Yet, this Government refuses to recognize and deal with the road problem as a national problem. Instead of so recognizing it and dealing with it on that basis it dribbles out a certain proportion of petrol tax revenue each year to authorities concerned with roads and, shrugging its shoulders, declares that roads are a responsibility of the States. How can we expect ever to come up to overseas transport standards when we have a government which continues to refuse to recognize our road problem as a national problem which should be attacked on a national scale? A five-year road plan providing for the expenditure of £100,000,000 would be the answer that the States are seeking.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

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