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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) .- The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) should be thanked for the public tribute that he has paid to the Country Roads Board and the Liberal Administration in Victoria and to the extraordinary manner in which they have attempted to put their house in order in spite of the difficulties under which they operate under the present formula for distribution of petrol tax moneys. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has submitted for discussion, as a matter of urgent public importance, a proposal that the Government sould expend more money on the reconstruction and the construction of roads. He suggested that an additional amount of £20,000,000 a year be made available. I feel that the honorable member has merely stretched into the air and reached down a figure which happened to be £20,000,000 but which could have been £40,000,000 or £200,000,000. The figure he mentioned bears no relation to ascertainable facts. Indeed, the formula under which the moneys are distributed was decided upon by the very same process of reaching into the air and coming down with some figures which allotted 5 per cent, of a certain sum to Tasmania and in respect of the other States twofifths according to area and three-fifths according to population. The formula bore no relation to ascertainable facts.

The honorable member for Batman must fail to attain his objective. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) proved certain matters to my satisfaction and, I am sure, to the satisfaction of most honorable members, though there may be some members on the other side of the House who would not accept the proof. Indeed, they would not accept any proof offered to them. The present Government has contributed more than any previous government for road purposes, it is, of course, necessary that it should have contributed more because the population of the country is growing and the motoring population is growing. Unfortunately, the latest figures available to me are for March, 1955, but, at that time. there were in Victoria 412,000 private cars and, in addition, 147,000 business vehicles ranging from ordinary business cars to semi-trailers and trucks of a dead weight of six tons or more. The Minister has proved that the Government is contributing an adequate amount for roads in the present concept.

I agree with the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) that the real answer to this problem is an overall national plan for the development of roads. The honorable member for Batman could not have been really serious when he suggested a piecemeal sum of money to overcome the problem. Apparently, he has never heard of the formula under which these moneys are distributed, because he did not mention it. The formula is an obvious inequity and, if it is to continue, it should be altered; but I should prefer to see it scrapped. It was welded together by the agreement of State Premiers back in the 1920's when it was impossible for those gentlemen, no matter how statesmanlike they may have been, to look forward to the year 1957 and see the rate and areas of development, and so on. In consequence, just as governments in succession - and this Government has contributed more than any other - have altered the rate of distribution under the formula, so the formula itself should have been subject to revision during that period. Unfortunately, it has not been revised.

The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) said that the Premiers have constantly pointed out to the Commonwealth the need for greater expenditure on roads. The Premiers have constantly pointed out the need, but have never offered to the Commonwealth to meet as a group and consider whether they could devise a new formula for a more equitable distribution. The population of Victoria at the last census in 1954 was 2,452,341, grouped together in an area of 87,000 square miles. It is inevitable, with the extraordinary growth of industry and heavy transport in that State, that that area, which is the very hub of Australia, must spend a greater amount on roads. Honorable members on the other side giggle and laugh.

Mr Duthie Mr. Duthieinterjecting,


Order! I suggest that the honorable member for Wilmot read Standing Order 54.

Mr SNEDDEN - The gigglers have no conception whatever of the cost of constructing a mile of road, nor have they any conception of the amount of money that must necessarily be expended on the continual upkeep of the roads.

The formula as it exists to-day wreaks a very grave inequity on the State of Victoria. I suggest that the formula is at fault, not only in its inequity to Victoria, but also in its application to the whole of Australia. Only two States manifestly benefit from it. Those who support the formula - amongst whom, apparently, is the honorable member for Batman - have suggested that it cannot be considered in isolation, but that other factors must be kept in mind. For instance, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme will bring benefit principally to the people of Victoria and New South Wales and defence expenditure is being incurred principally in Victoria and New South Wales. They suggest that those States, therefore, require additional consideration to that given the less populous States which have a greater area. I suggest, however, that the formula must be considered in isolation. It is contained in a single piece of legislation and, when looking at a single piece of legislation, the whole of our vast national development cannot be considered.

The formula must be considered in its isolation, and it constitutes an obvious inequity. If that be the case, it is quite reasonable to ask: What is the inequity? The figures of the amount of petrol tax collected in Victoria and the amount returned for expenditure on roads in that State have been given many times, and I do not wish to repeat them. The simple fact remains that in Victoria a householder who builds a house and has, perhaps, a formed road in front of his home is required to contribute to road construction. When he purchases a piece of land, he con.tributes a certain amount towards the cost of forming a road, but when the local governing body decides to embark upon a road construction scheme, it is likely to cost that householder as much as £500 extra to have the road built in front of his house. In no other State in the Commonwealth is the land-owner required to contribute anything like that; in fact, the only other :State where any contribution at all is required is South Australia, and there the amount to be contributed is restricted by statute to 10s. a foot of road constructed. It is suggested to me, by way of interjection, that New South Wales is another case in point, but I do not think it is. The only contribution required to be made by the land-owner in New South Wales is to the cost of forming the road. He contributes nothing towards the laying down of a street plan.

If this formula is so iniquitous and inequitable, can it be said that a revised "formula is the answer to the problem? I feel that it is impossible to get agreement amongst the various State Premiers before 1959, when the current legislation will expire. I do hope, however, that the next piece of legislation will not continue the present formula. I prefer a change. 1 prefer the formula to be scrapped and the petrol tax recognized as a revenue tax, not a tax raised for any specific purpose. I should like to see it accepted also that the amount of petrol tax collected bears no relation to the amount of money spent on roads. In place of the present formula, 1 should like a national roads plan under which the amount required for expenditure on roads can be ascertained and the revenue collected accordingly. After all, it is not only the road user who benefits from road construction.


Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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