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Tuesday, 10 August 1926

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I have listened with a great deal of interest to the speech that has been made by the Minister.

Senator Duncan - It cannot be called a speech; the Minister merely read a statement.

Senator NEEDHAM - Senator Duncandid not exercise his powers of observation, or he would have realized that the Minister made a very effective speech. ' At the outset of my remarks, I admit the necessity for having good main roads. Although our opinions regarding the means that should be adopted for defraying the expenditure may be divided, I think I can say without fear of contradiction by any of my honorable friends opposite, that we are all agreed as to the necessity for having good main roads. The development and prosperity of the Commonwealth depend, to a large extent, upon that provision being made. I shall', therefore, support the second reading of this measure. It must not, however, be concluded that I speak for my party.. I have simply stated my own opinion. Doubtless other honorable senators who sit on this side hold different opinions, and will give expression to their views. There are one or two matters to which it might be as well if I called attention. The scheme embodies too many provisos, and there does not appear to be anything definite about it.

Senator Findley - That is characteristic of everything that the Government undertakes.

Senator NEEDHAM - With my colleague, I admit that this Government has been proceeding in a somewhat indefinite way, and hedging its proposals to such an extent that we scarcely know where we are; but I must be candid and say that, with such a huge area to develop, we must give our attention to the construction of good main roads. I realize that this measure will be of assistance to the State of Western Australia, which contains a vast territory that successive governments have had extreme difficulty in developing.

Senator Findley - That is the true federal spirit.

Senator NEEDHAM - I accept the rebuke of my colleague. I may have " slipped " as a Federalist, in the same way that my colleague, as a Himalayan protectionist, " slipped " on corsets when we were discussing the tariff recently. There are at least three phases of the question of main roads to which one may refer without having levelled against him the accusation of being a States-righter ; they are defence, transport, and the opening up of the country. It is well known that one of the planks in the platform of the Labour party is the provision of good main roads and railways for purposes of defence. I abhor the mention of war, but dealing with the proposal from a defence viewpoint, the rapid transport of. troops in the event of an invasion must be considered. Australia is essentially a primary producing country. Fully 95 per cent of our produce consists of primary products, and as our primary producers have to rely upon rapid and cheap transport to enable them to profitably market their commodities, good roads are essential. There are still large tracts of uncultivated land that could be opened up if good roads were constructed, and as development follows the building pf railways', increased settlement should follow the construction of good roads. I do not know if it is still proposed that townships with a population of over 5.000 should be excluded from the benefits provided under the bill. Clause 7 of the agreement reads: -

Where a road being constructed or reconstructed under this agreement passes through a town whose population (according to the latest statistics available at the time the work is being done) does not exceed 5,000 persons, such road may be constructed through the town, or reconstructed (as the case may be) as if the town did not exist. Provided that the width of any road constructed or reconstructed, or recommended through a town pursuant to this clause shall not, except with approval in writing of the Minister, exceed 20 feet.

In the first place a road of 20 feet in width is too narrow.

Senator CRAWFORD - It might be ample for the traffic.

Senator NEEDHAM - It might and it might not be. Main roads pass through many townships with a population of more than 5,000 persons.

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