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Tuesday, 10 August 1926

Senator ANDREW - Also in provincial centres.

Senator NEEDHAM - Yes. At the moment, I am thinking more particularly of the road from Perth to. Fremantle through Claremont which is an important municipality in Western Australia. There is also Subiaco, and as these and other municipalities have to defray the cost of maintaining the main roads passing through them, some relief should be afforded. If the Government persists with its proposal to continue collecting an additional 2d. a gallon on petrol, fully 70 per cent, of the money will be provided by the users of roads in the metropolitan area. During the election campaign last year, the Prime Minister said that the Government would make available to the States £20,000,000 over a period of ten years, for the construction of roads, but it was understood that the money would be obtained from ordinary Customs revenue, which in 1925 was buoyant. It was thought that the cost of a main roads scheme would be paid .out of revenue without a special impost such a i is now being collected. The public works departments of the States should also be entrusted with the control of the construction of main roads without the intervention of the Commonwealth Minister for Works and Railways, as hitherto when the - Commonwealth Government undertook the construction of any Commonwealth work within a State, the Public Works Department of the State became the supervisor for the Commonwealth. Invariably, the advice of the State authorities is adopted by the Commonwealth. In this instance, however, the whole work is held ur> until the Commonwealth Minister for Works and Railways approves.

Senator CRAWFORD - Up to the present there has been no difficulty in that respect.

Senator NEEDHAM - About eighteen months ago a deputation which waited upon the present Vice-President of the

Executive Council (Senator Pearce), made representations concerning the difficulties experienced in Western Australia. Possibly the position has eased somewhat since then, but I can see the likelihood of trouble arising in connexion with the administration of the act. There is a possibility of work being held up pending the approval of the Commonwealth Minister for Works. I hope that will not- be so. We trust the State public works department in other matters, so we should trust them in this.

Senator Crawford - The bill provides for an agreement based upon a live years' programme.

Senator NEEDHAM - Exactly, and naturally the State engineers will advise their respective governments in the preparation of that programme. My purpose is to avoid any unnecessary delay that might be occasioned through waiting for the approval of the Commonwealth Public Works Department. I know that the officers of that department are highly efficient, but I am afraid that administrative delays might be responsible for holding up works in the reaped ive States.

Senator McLachlan - That has not been the experience in the past.

Senator NEEDHAM - Unfortunately , it was in connexion with the first Commonwealth grant- for the main roads.

Senator Pearce - There has been no delay in connexion with the later grants.

Senator NEEDHAM - I hope there will be no delay in future. But I am afraid that under this measure the State Governments may be prevented from spending money on roads which, in their opinion, are most urgently needed. As I said at the outset, I speak for myself only. Other honorable senators on this side will, no doubt, express their own views on this important subject.

Senator Duncan - This is a case of a leader who does not lead.

Senator NEEDHAM - I am afraid that Senator Duncan, not having learned to obey, will never learn to lead. I leave the matter there. I support the second reading. When the bill is in committee I sholl have something further to say with regard to these proposals.

Senator Sir HENRYBARWELL (South

Australia) [5.23]. - I listened carefully to the speech of the honorable the Minister (Senator Crawford) when introducing the bill, and also to the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) in support of it. I do not intend to traverse the whole of the ground covered by those honorable senators, because their -speeches dealt largely with the desirability of good roads in Australia. Every one will agree that the provision of good roads is of the utmost importance. But that is not by any means the whole question which we have to consider.- When I was speaking on the budget a few days ago I intimated that I would oppose the Government's roads proposals. My first reason for objecting to the bill' is that, in my opinion as. a lawyer, the proposals are unconstitutional. That is a matter about which I have no doubt whatever. I may add that my opinion is- endorsed by that of every other lawyer who has publicly expressed his views upon this subject, including even the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), as I shall show.

Senator Elliott - Are not good roads essential for defence?

Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - Yes, but these proposals are not introduced as part of a defence scheme. We are not asked to pass a measure for the construction of roads for strategic purposes. I have just said that my opinion as to the unconstitutionality of the proposals is shared by other legal gentlemen. The Victorian Crown Law authorities are with me. The Victorian State Government, not relying entirely upon the opinion of its legal advisers, also sought the opinion of two outside counsel.

Senator McLachlan - But the conclusions of one of those gentlemen were expressed very cautiously.

Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL.Not at all. His opinion as to the unconstitutionality of the measure was most emphatic.

Senator Guthrie - Is it not likely that a government would seek the advice of legal gentlemen whose opinions would be acceptable to it? Could not a Government pick its men, knowing what their opinion would be?

Senator Sir HENRYBARWELL.Does the honorable senator suggest that members of the legal profession would lend themselves to that sort of thing ? If he does, then I. as a member of that profession, resent the imputation very much indeed.

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