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Tuesday, 8 November 1977
Page: 3051

Mr MORRIS (Shortland) -The Transport Planning and Research (Financial Assistance) Bill 1977 is to cover the payment of financial assistance to the States for transport planning and research. The appropriation of 8m for disbursement to the States is provided by Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1977-78. The Bill continues financial assistance to the States on a $2 for $ 1 basis for the current financial year only. The Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) stated m his second reading speech that funding would be on a dollar for dollar basis in 1978-79 and 1979-80. No mention is made of this change in the Bill. Once again this represents a reduction in Federal assistance to the States, particularly in respect of planning and research.

The $8m provided in the 1976-77 Budget for transport planning and research represented a fall in cash terms of $700,000 on the amount provided in 1975-76- a fall in real terms of 16 per cent. The Fraser Government's 1977-78 allocation of $8m is in effect a 12 per cent fall in real terms on the 1976-77 figure. So one can say that there has been a substantial reduction in real terms in the level of funding by the Federal Government for the purposes provided for under this legislation between 1975-76 and the current financial year. The Whitlam Government provided the States with $26m over the triennium from 1974-75 to 1976-77 for transport research. The Fraser Government has provided $24m for the next triennium, maybe. I will return to that a little later in my remarks, in the analysis of the level of funds that may be provided in 1978-79 and 1979-80. A comparison of the amounts provided in this triennium with the amount provided by the Whitlam Government in the first three years that the legislation operated shows a fall in real terms of the order of 50 per cent.

The Bill essentially continues the arrangements provided in the Transport (Planning and Research) Act 1974. It also is designed to refine certain administrative aspects of the Act to take account of minor alterations which needed to be made following the successful first triennium of the Act. In introducing the 1974 legislation the

Minister for Transport at the time, the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones), said:

There is a major need for more sophisticated planning and research in Australia in regard to all transport modes. The provision of assistance under this Act will be directed towards developing in the States more comprehensive processes than hitherto existed.

The Whitlam Government's Transport (Planning and Research) Act was the first significant move by an Australian government towards assessing Australia's transport research potential, towards collecting and exchanging information between the authorities undertaking research and organisations involved in transport planning, and towards improving the coordination and efficiency of Australia s transport research and planning capabilities. Consequently, the Act recognised the range of transport resources existing in Australia at both State and Federal levels in government departments and authorities and in tertiary institutions. It also recognised the need not only to achieve co-ordination between these sources of information but also to identify the many areas of common interest and to establish objectives for future transport research.

The research and planning program allows transport planners to draw on the skills of a range of associated disciplines such as sociology economics and environmental science. The Act was aimed at encouraging and ensuring that Australia's transport is developed to take account of the technical and social changes taking place in the Australian community. The program's continued success and effectiveness are dependent on continued co-operation and coordination between the States and the Australian Government. On 24 August 1976 the Minister for Transport tabled the report on the first 18 months of the operation of the 1974 Act. The report detailed 500 projects covering a broad range of items, including traffic management, cycle safety and planning, motor vehicle design, transport provisions for handicapped travellers, school bus safety, and public transport noise, freight and management.

Under the Whitlam Labor Government's legislation, financial assistance was provided to the States for research into road safety. This allocation was in recognition of the important role the States had to play in this area. The Australian Labor Party Government established a road safety authority to foster research into this important area, to advance consumer protection in relation to motor vehicles, and to promote road safety issues. By contrast, in the first six months of the Fraser Government the authority was abolished and the Government undertook to establish an office of road safety. I understand that to the moment the office of road safety has not been established because of wrangling within the Department and wrangling between the Department and the Government over the manning of the office of road safety.

The substantial reduction in funds provided for in this legislation is a further indication of the low priority accorded to road safety issues by the present Government. One intention of the Labor Government's legislation was to broaden the scope of transport research so as to consider each transport mode in relation to other modes as a part of the entire transport task. To obtain the optimum results we need to achieve an optimum inter-modal mix of all transport modes, and particularly roads and urban public transport. To this end, Labor's transport research legislation ensured that urban public transport projects were considered in relation to road projects. The Bill before the House continues this approach and extends the provisions of the legislation so as to include planning and research into all land transport modes as well as the inter-relationship between land and other transport functions. In addition, the planning and research programs allows adequate consideration of options before a proposal requiring major public investment is undertaken. It also allows for reappraisal or modification of a program before its completion.

Research which will be funded under this Bill when it becomes an Act in areas such as urban public transport may produce projects which could be funded under the Urban Public Transport Agreement of 1974. It also may provide areas which could be funded under the Minor Traffic Engineering and Road Safety Improvements Program under a section of the States Grants (Roads) Act 1977. In assessing a program to be funded under this Act, continued emphasis needs to be given to projects which identify and assess the future allocation of transport resources in Australia and developments in policy that impinge on transport planning. This involves the continuing changes that are taking place in Australia's population, the changes that are taking place in the way Australians want to live and also where they want to live, the interdependence of transport modes, the declining sources of fossil fuels, the increasing need to seek out alternative sources of energy and alternative forms of transport, and the resource requirements of time, space, loss of life and damage caused by pollution. The research and planning program needs to continue to assist in overcoming the problems associated with harmonising State and Federal transport undertakings to give proper consideration to the difficulties arising in transport issues and to help to make adequate plans for future transport policymaking.

As I said, the Bill is in essence a continuation of the original Act, the Transport and Planning Research Act 1974, introduced by the Whitlam Government and by the then Minister for Transport, Mr Charles Jones. The amendments to it in terms of simplification of administrative arrangements and expansion to take in research into all land transport modes the Opposition believes are desirable and it does not oppose the Bill.

I do, however, want to offer criticism of the level of funding provided under the Bill. I refer to the second reading speech of the Minister for Transport. Unless one reads closely the concluding sentence of that speech, one is very apt to misunderstand the real meaning of the sentence. It reads:

We recognise that continuity of funding is very important in a program like this and we have already told the States that for 1978-79 and 1979-80 we are prepared to contribute our share on a dollar for dollar basis of a total program -

I emphasise the words 'total program'- maintained at the 1977-78 level in real terms.

One would think at first sight that that meant that since $8m has been provided this year, the subsequent vote under this Act, in each of the following two years, would be $8m in real terms at 1977 prices and expressed in whatever amount that equals in 1978-79 or 1979-80. But that is not the case. We need to remember that the Minister stated also that the funding for this year was on a $2 for $1 basis. So on a two for one basis this year, the Federal Government is providing $8m. The States ' share would be $4m. So the total program of funding for planning and research, State and Federal combined, in the current year is $12m. We recall that the Minister also mentioned in his speech- and it is mentioned in the Bill- that funding for the next two years will be on a dollar for dollar basis. This means then that since $ 12m is the total program for this year, the Federal Government's share of that total program- the maximum limit to it- will be $6m in each of the years 1978-79 and 1979-80. If we take those two years together, the total maximum commitment of $6m for each of those two years is $12m. Adding to that amount the $8m for this year, the total amount is $20m. So the triennium funding expressed in 1977 prices is $20m compared with the sum of $26m provided in the triennium 1974-77 under the Whitlam program. Quite clearly this is further evidence of the phasing out of safety aspects, and more particularly of research and planning.

The Bill is a major step in a phasing out of Federal Government commitment to transport and planning research. In the first instance there is the reduction of funding from a $2 for $1 basis to a $1 for $1 basis.

Mr Shipton - Do you really believe that?

Mr MORRIS -I am quite sure that I am right but if the honourable member can prove that I am wrong I will be happy to listen to him.

Mr Shipton - You are wrong most of the time.

Mr MORRIS -That is why you are so impressed. Secondly, there has been a limit of $6m in the years 1978-79 and 1979-80. So the limit of $ 12m for each of those two successive years and the $8m this year, amounting to $20m in total contrasts with the $26m provided under the Whitlam Government.

I should like to mention at the same time another area of activity in the Department of Transport that in a way relates to that, that is, the Bureau of Roads. Here again is an organisation carrying out research activities in many ways into Australia's road needs and recommending to government the level of financial assistance that ought to be given to the States for the construction, upgrading and maintenance of roads. Linked to that is the Government's decision, which I mentioned earlier, to abolish the independent authority known as the Road Safety and Standards Authority. Activities under the Transport and Planning Research Act, the Bureau of Roads and the Road Safety and Standards Authority are all related in that they deal in the main with roads, the use of roads, and the use of associated transport facilities, particularly passenger transport. In each of those three areas there has been a substantial downgrading by the present Government in terms of funding and of priority. I take this opportunity to assure the House that the next Labor Government would be acting quite promptly to restore to road safety and to road transport planning and research the proper financial priority to which safety measures, particularly roads, are entitled. The Opposition does not oppose the Bill.

Debate interrupted.

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