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Monday, 8 May 1989
Page: 2016


Senator RICHARDSON (Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories)(8.38) —The contributions by various Opposition speakers in this debate on the Transport and Communications Legislation Amendment Bill suggests two things. The first is that, in line with the speeches that they make on so many other Bills in this place, they have a view that government outlays should be cut, slashed, right across the board. The difficulty is that wherever the opportunity arises they urge more to be spent. They can get away with it until an election campaign. They discovered in the last campaign that it simply was not possible, that ordinary people wake up to that pretty quickly. The acid was put on them: `Tell us where you will cut; tell us what you will spend'. When it was discovered that they could not add up what they would spend and that they could not tell us what they would cut, inevitably they went down in inglorious defeat. Judging from the contributions to this debate, no lesson whatsoever has been learned and they are heading for the same inglorious defeat at the next election.


Senator Crichton-Browne —I'll take a little wager on that.


Senator RICHARDSON —It is illegal to bet on election results, but the honourable senator should see me later. The other thing that is apparent from this debate is that Opposition senators, particularly those who were here during those awful days of the Fraser-Howard Government, simply forget what was done then. The performance of the Hawke Government far exceeds that of the Fraser-Howard Government on the question of road funding. I will elaborate on that for the benefit of the Senate, and Western Australian Opposition senators in particular.

Of course the Government recognises the significance of road funding to the economy generally. We do not need to be told that it is important, and our actions are testimony to the fact that we believe it is important. The Australian centennial roads development program specifically targets roads that will assist our export and import competing industries under the new national arterials category. The main thing to note is that there is no reason whatsoever for the Government to be ashamed of its record. If one compares the total level of road funding provided by the Hawke Government in the last six Budgets with that provided by the Fraser-Howard Government in a comparable period, the Hawke Government is 21 per cent better in real terms. That should answer all of this rot.


Senator Calvert —It is the lowest funding since the two world wars.


Senator RICHARDSON —Senator Calvert may be forgiven, as he was not here at the time and is just ignorant. Other honourable senators opposite who were here at the time know the facts and, I am sad to say, simply have not acknowledged them during this debate. The Hawke Government has provided an average of $250m a year more than the previous Fraser-Howard Government for road funding. The amount of fuel excise, which has obviously attracted some attention during this debate, that has been devoted to road spending will increase next financial year in line with the indexation arrangements provided for in the legislation. A matter of interest to be noted is the amount of petroleum taxes devoted to road spending in 1981-88. Senator Calvert will remember 1981-82 as the years when, under the Fraser-Howard Government, the economy was out of control. There was a trio of inflation, interest rates and unemployment, all over 10 per cent. It was an absolute mess when John Howard was Treasurer. In those days 16 per cent of petroleum taxes was devoted to road funding, and that has risen to 19 per cent in 1988-89 under the Hawke Government. It astounds me that these facts have not been acknowledged in any of the speeches from the other side. Obviously we would all like to spend more on road funding-even more than with the great job we have done-but, in line with our commitment to the economy generally, we have recognised the need to cut government outlays and, therefore, we have had to balance priorities. We do not have the luxury of making stupid promises that in the end cannot be kept. Rather, we have tried to be honest with the Australian people and that honesty has been accepted.

I do not propose to go into any great detail about the second part of the Opposition's motion, which concerns the Federal Airports Corporation and the Civil Aviation Authority, and calls upon us to review their activities. The facts are that the Senate Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure is already undertaking that task. My understanding is that it is to report by October this year. Given that that review is already being done, one would imagine that at least that section of the Opposition's motion is irrelevant.

I turn to other points that have been raised during this debate. There has been criticism of the way the Government indexes its funds under its roads programs. Measured against the consumer price index, road funding has been rising faster in recent times, so it is hardly logical to suggest that in some way that is a penalty on the users of roads. In the long term obviously the difference between the two will go up and down. I doubt very much whether anyone can predict with stunning accuracy exactly what will occur in the future. Having said that, I doubt very much whether there will be any real difference. At the moment the non-farm deflator is rising at a slightly faster rate than the CPI. It is not a criticism which I would either accept or be prepared to debate at any length. It is just too silly.

Much attention has been given during the debate to the Hume Highway and achieving four lanes. It is obvious, particularly to anyone who has driven on the highway recently, that considerable progress has been made. Already 500 kilometres of 815 have been converted to four lanes. That is 61 per cent of the total objective. Obviously the Federal Government's strategy has been the right one-to concentrate on those sections of the highway which have the heaviest traffic. As a result it is estimated now that 80 per cent of vehicle kilometres travelled on the Hume Highway are on four-lane sections.

Recently the Minister for Land Transport and Shipping Support (Mr Robert Brown) announced a long term strategy for national highways. In New South Wales he has advanced construction of the Cullerin Range deviation at a cost of $79m and the Yass bypass at a cost of $50m. Both of these projects and the Goulburn bypass will commence next year, 1989-90. Major expenditure will be directed initially to the Cullerin Range and the Goulburn bypass, with preconstruction activity on the Yass bypass. The Mittagong bypass, to which Senator Michael Baume was referring, as I recall, in quite hysterical terms on Friday when this was being debated, will be completed in 1991-92, not 1993-94, as he suggested for some strange reason. That is certainly not the case. In Victoria the Hume will be duplicated between Melbourne and Wodonga, and this work will include completion of the Wangaratta bypass at a cost of $93m and the Euroa bypass at a cost of $43m. That will leave the Albury bypass, which will be considered post-1993. If the Hume Highway is to be the centrepiece of any road funding debate, again the Government's record is commendable and I have no difficulty in defending it.

There have also been a number of references, including one by Senator Crichton-Browne, to road deaths. Obviously, concern for road deaths is not limited to any one section of the Parliament. I would hope it is a concern shared by us all. It is not good enough to lay all the blame for deaths on our roads at the feet of inadequate road funding. Obviously accidents are caused by the interaction of a number of things. The state of the road is one of them. The weather conditions applying at the time are another. One would imagine that perhaps the most important factor that would influence road deaths was the person behind the wheel. That, quite clearly, is a very big problem. No matter now much we spend on roads, if people choose to drive when they are not sober then road deaths will continue at a rate that none of us would like to see. If people continue to ignore the requirement to wear seat belts, death and injury will remain at rates higher than we would like to see. Obviously, what is going to be needed in those cases is a change in community attitude.

If honourable senators take the opportunity to look at the Government's road safety strategy they will see that that is where the effort is being directed. I think that they will have to acknowledge that the runs are on the board in terms of success. The fatality rate in Australia, compared to that in other countries, has shown a dramatic reduction since 1975, with the 1987 figures being the lowest for 24 years. Only this week the New South Wales Minister for Transport, Mr Baird, announced that his State's road toll this year was the lowest for 27 years. Obviously the number of fatalities has gone down, and hopefully that trend will continue. Of course, neither the State governments nor the Federal Government can be complacent about the trend. We will all have to work together to make sure that we change the attitudes of those who continue to place themselves and, unfortunately, innocent people at risk because of the attitude that they take when they get behind the wheel.

I turn now to some comments made by Senator Lewis. He suggested that when errors in Telecom Australia's by-law amendments were brought to its notice it chose not to act to correct those errors prospectively. This is simply not the case. The Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, which, I might say, includes as members Senator Stone, Senator Bishop and Senator Patterson-people with whom one would imagine Senator Lewis could manage some contact-picked up some errors in a number of Telecom by-law amendments in early 1988. I doubt very much if this Government needs to worry too much about that, given that the errors dated back to May 1980. The amendments were found to be void as they had not been before the Parliament for the requisite number of days.

Telecom moved to remake those by-laws that had become void as soon as the error was brought to its notice. Telecom was subsequently involved in a lengthy exchange of correspondence with the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances to establish that the remade by-laws were in fact prospective and not retrospective. The Committee allowed these by-law amendments to be made, and the former Minister for Telecommunications and Aviation Support gave a commitment to introduce validating legislation as soon as possible. The telecommunications part of the Transport and Communications Legislation Amendment Bill 1989 is in fact a fulfilment of that undertaking. The Bill enables Telecom to make by-laws to correct the errors. These by-laws will be subject to committee scrutiny once again.

Having covered those points, which I think were the main ones raised during the debate, may I say that the Government rejects the Opposition's amendment. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator Michael Baume's) be agreed to.