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Wednesday, 17 November 1993
Page: 3059

Senator PANIZZA (6.12 p.m.) —I rise to speak on the appropriation bills before the Senate today. I would like to direct my opening remarks towards Appropriation Bill (No.1) 1993-94, and the Department of Transport and Communications, particularly with regard to road transport. This appropriation bill deals with road funding, shipping, waterfront, rail and transport. In the continuation of this government's ever decreasing allocation of money to roads, the government has really gone overboard this time. When the Fraser government went out of power, some 7c per litre of the road fuel levy received was going back into roads. Approximately $1.3 billion was allocated to roads by the federal government in one financial year.

  A little bit at a time this government allowed it to go to about $1.6 billion, but that was only last year with the black spot program. An extra amount was added on for that program, which I will come back to later. But generally this government did not increase road funding in real terms from the day it came to government. It was locked in for the first year of government by the budget at the time and agreements that existed with the states, but within 18 months it had gone back to cutting road funding right around Australia.

  So the $1.3 billion continued on for some time. All this time the state of the roads was deteriorating. The black spot program was introduced by the Hawke government, I believe as a political exercise at the time. I criticised it at the time. I always maintained that the black spots on the roads were not necessarily where the high unemployment was. Mr Hawke tried to relieve high unemployment with the black spot program. Fortunately, the minister for land transport at the time, Mr Brown, turned it into a worthwhile exercise and directed funding to the black spot program where it was really needed. I commend him for his work during the time he had control of the black spot program.

  In this budget, road funding has been reduced from $1.628 billion right down to $1,019.6 million in 12 months. For a government that prides itself on increasing exports to get greater export income, this is a total disgrace. It is worse when one reads in the forward estimates that in the next budget it is going to decline further to $813 million, which means that in the space of two years road funding by the federal government will have been cut exactly in half.  If one wants to see the results of the neglect of road funding in Australia one ought to get around the more remote areas of Australia. I travel the more remote areas of Western Australia and the rest of the country—

Senator Bolkus —Not as much as Bronwyn.

Senator PANIZZA —No, and I do not think one would ever accuse me of even trying to get those air miles up. If I were a commercial pilot and I got those air miles up, I would certainly be in the high bracket. But I am not condemning Senator Bishop because she is delivering a good message around Australia and listening to the needs of Australia regarding what has to be done to turn this country around.

Senator Bolkus —You support her.

Senator PANIZZA —I just said that I commend her. I explained my situation on that one yesterday, if Senator Bolkus happened to be in the chamber. If he wants me to get into detail about that, I am very happy to get into a debate with him at some other time. Getting back to the subject, the more remote areas of Australia is where the main exports come from. One would know from the Mabo debate that Western Australia produces 25 per cent of export income. That export income comes from the remote areas. You cannot mine in Kings Park. Even if you wanted to you would not be allowed, not that I recommend it. You cannot mine a river. You cannot grow wheat in St George's Terrace. It has to be grown in those remote areas, that I inhabit so very often. Unfortunately, with the hours and weeks we sit in this place the time I spend there is getting less and less. Anyhow, I volunteered for that when I went for preselection in 1986. The state of our roads is deteriorating. Bitumen generally—and I have a bit of experience in road making from my local government days—lasts for 40 years.

Senator Burns —It depends on the design and specifications.

Senator PANIZZA —Yes, it depends on the specifications. I am talking about bitumen on highways and main roads, which generally lasts about 40 years. Generally, it needs no maintenance for about 15 years. Someone will shoot me down for that statement. Of course, it depends on the amount of traffic on it and the weather. The weather has a lot to do with it, in particular rainfall. The optimum rainfall for road making, if I can remember my textbooks, is about 18 inches a year in the old terms. So, if there is a lot more or a lot less, that can affect it.

  We are looking at a period of 40 years. For 15 years nothing needs to be done. After 15 years, it is necessary to start spending money. When a road is 15 to 25 years old, a reasonable amount of money needs to be spent on it, and after that it goes up. This is especially so on the narrower roads because there is shoulder maintenance. If the roads are wide enough, if they are the normal highway specifications, vehicles do not go off the edges and the roads do not break down. That is basically where spending starts.

  Unfortunately, a lot of the bitumen roads in Australia today are in that 25 to 40 years phase. In fact, the bulk of them would be in the 35 to 40 year stage. A lot of money will need to be spent to maintain those roads. Of course, a lot are getting to the stage where they need to have the rippers put through them and started again. For a new road, it is not only a matter of putting a new black top on it; foundations have to be laid again. According to the fourth rule in the textbooks, without new foundations corrugations will go down to the base of the road and it will have to be built again. That is where the real cost comes from. I cannot understand why this government did not increase road funding from $1.3 billion. It funded a one-off black spot program, which I understand saved a lot of lives in certain areas. Then it cut back funding by $600 million this year, with a further cutback of $200 million next year. I just cannot see how the government hopes to maintain those roads.

  I know there is thinking, not so much from the government, but from the minor parties in this place, that more goods should go back on to rail. I myself am a great believer that more goods should go back to rail, but one has to be practical and sensible about this. I have said before in this place and I will say again that 70 per cent of all Australian goods have to go by road. There is not much choice about that. Seventy per cent of those goods then going by road travel less than 70 kilometres and are handled a minimum of twice. They are loaded on and loaded off. So we cannot get away from that road concept.

  Having got to that stage—and I do not think the government will argue that it is a fact that that 70 per cent of goods has to go on the roads; the minor parties argue that, but that is not the case—and having accepted that, I believe that the road funding has to be kept up. I will come to that a bit later on.

  There was an increase in the fuel levy in the last budget. We debated that at the time. For a while there were a couple of amendments supported by the Greens, but then, when the crunch came, they folded. I would have forgiven the government for that sort of increase, even though it will increase the cost of exports to Australia, if an extra allocation had gone to helping to maintain roads, to keep those exports moving. But, no, the government failed completely to do that.

  If we look at the humanitarian side of things, it is no secret that the worse the roads are, the more deaths there are on the roads. It is a simple fact. There has been great progress made on extending the Hume Highway all the way from Melbourne to Sydney. It can be seen that, per kilometre travelled per vehicle, road deaths are being cut down, and it is the same in Western Australia. There is a dual carriageway out of Perth to as far as Sawyers Valley. For years and years I went up and down that road. I used to see a lot of accidents. That road is only about 45 kilometres long or thereabouts. There were a lot of fatal accidents, let alone injury causing accidents. Now, because of the dual highway, those accidents do not occur as often. If there is an accident, it is usually a one-vehicle accident.

  In Northam in Western Australia, they have been trying to build a bypass probably for the last 10 or 12 years, but funding is never forthcoming. When I was still in local government, the first time that a bypass was looked at for that place, if I can remember rightly, the cost was $6 million or $7 million. The latest quote—and there are no funds available, so it is hardly worth while considering the quote—was $30 million. That is more than half, roughly half, if I have it right, of what Western Australia has been allocated for total road funding for the year. So we have the situation that the longer those roads are left, the more dangerous they become.

  Then there is another point. When the roads get into a bad condition, as I said, the numbers of road accidents build up and there are more deaths. One certain way to circumvent that is to drive a heavier or safer vehicle. I made a conscious decision last week about the four-wheel drive vehicle that I drive. I considered that I had seen too many of them in accidents, especially on rough roads. I thought it was time to get into something heavier. If I did that, there must be a lot of others, hundreds and thousands doing that. For that reason alone, the cost of safe transport in these remote areas is going up.

  I think I have given road funding a good going over, but it needs a good going over because I am afraid that this government has certainly neglected it and is continuing to neglect it. I say to the government again that, out of the extra fuel tax that it has raised out of this budget, it should look, even at this stage, at allocating some more money for safer and better roads to save lives and move our exports overseas.

  Of course, there are a lot of other nasties in this budget which we have debated at length already, but there is no harm in reminding the government and also reminding the minor parties which helped the government put them through. I refer, for example, to the sales tax on wine. I said at the time that I am not very interested in wine because I do not drink it, but I am certainly interested in the vine growers of Western Australia, and indeed all of Australia, who have been so badly affected.

  Then there was the extra sales tax on cars and heavy vehicles. I said at the time that that legislation dealing with wholesale sales tax on vehicles would raise an extra billion dollars in sales tax. I think that the wine levy accounted for something like $85 million. The rest came from increased sales tax on cars and every other thing, including heavy vehicles. I said at the time that the cost of a prime mover would go up by $2,000 in the first instance and another $2,000 next year, making all transport dearer, of course, which will lead to higher costs in the inland areas.

  But, all that aside, even if the government could not afford extra funding from the fuel levy, it could have done so from the revenue from increased sales tax. I have already spoken about the big slug on leaded fuel imposed by the fuel excise. Whose fault is it that we have not got out of leaded fuel faster in Australia? When there were good, unleaded fuelled cars coming in from Japan, what did the government do? That helped the changeover to occur a lot more quickly.

  Former Senator Button at the time insisted on putting $12,000 on to the price of an unleaded car. I understand now—do not get me to swear to this on the Bible—that the government is thinking of removing that excise. Former Senator Button has seen the folly of his ways. If we had allowed that excise to be removed, a lot more leaded fuelled cars would be off the road. But the government put a stop to that excise being removed, so it will have to take longer.

  I would say that all cars that use leaded fuel are driven by people on low incomes. I do not think there is any argument about that. And those people are slugged the most. There should have been other ways of helping them out. Even a bounty could have helped them out. That has been done before. Anyone as old as I am can remember when decimal currency and metric weights came in. We were given a hand to change over accounting machines and things like that; we had a subsidy. If something like that were done, it would take those cars off the road a lot quicker, but the government cut that one off. Anyhow, I could go on and on about that. But the point is that the government is going the wrong way about doing anything to help those people.

  When this side of politics attempted to move an amendment to cut that diesel fuel levy back, we had the help of the Greens for a time. Then the crunch came and they fell over, but I will not go into that. The Democrats were in it too. Senator Coulter accused us of supporting the pure greed of business for wanting to take 2c off the increased levy.

  As I pointed out at the time—and I will point it out again—road transporters have had the average cost of operating a truck increased from $1,000 to $1,200 a week. On attempting to reduce that increase, we were accused of supporting the greedy. At the time that was all the minor parties, especially the Democrats, could think of. But we were trying to help. We had the Greens' support for a while, until they folded, but we were trying to help keep costs down for those people who live in distant areas.

  My time is up. I have enough material in relation to where this government has gone wrong in this legislation for three 20-minute speeches, but I will keep the rest for another time.