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Thursday, 8 September 1949

Mr WARD (East Sydney) (Minister for Transport and Minister for External Territories) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the bill is to amend the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act 1947-1948, to provide for the granting of an additional £1,000,000 to the States for roads in sparsely populated areas, timber country and rural areas. The bill is further evidence of this Government's recognition of the conditions and difficulties faced by people who live away from the capital cities and big towns, and the amount now provided will bring the total assistance granted by this Government for this particular section of the community to £3,000,000 for the current financial year. I think it advisable to mention, however, that the Australian Government is not quite satisfied that the work for which it has provided the money is being carried out as expeditiously or effectively as it expected. As honorable members know, the bill, when passed, will bring the Commonwealth contribution for this purpose to £6,000,000 in the last three financial years. Under the grant for last year, I approved of funds being made available to no less than 581 local government areas. There has been some delay in receiving all returns of actual expenditure from the States, but those that are available indicate that there are grounds for some concern by the Government that the money so provided for people in the outback areas is not being spent by the State road authorities and the local government bodies as quickly as could be desired. 1 am aware, of course, that there are real difficulties, such as shortage of labour and materials and, in some States, the difficulty of obtaining road-making plant, but, taking everything into consideration, the cause for our concern still stands. Action is being taken by my .department to establish a. close liaison with the State road authorities to see that the intentions of this Parliament are carried into effect.

When speaking on the matter of general assistance by the Commonwealth to the States for road construction and maintenance, it is appropriate to review the history and current position of these grants. As honorable members are aware, the first Commonwealth grant for roads was made to the States in 1922-23, the grant at that time being £500,000. "By 1925-26 the amount had increased to £750,000 but was restricted to developmental projects. In 1926 the system of yearly grants was replaced by the Federal Aid Roads Act, under which the fixed sum of £2,000,000 per annum was made available. In 1931, however, this was amended to provide a different basis upon which allocations were made and this practice continued until 1937. At that time, the Federal Aid Roads and Works Act 1937, was introduced, and this operated for a period of ten years. In turn this was replaced by the current act which, as I have indicated, has been amended during the life of this Parliament, to provide additional funds.

The House and the public of Australia will be interested to know how sympathetically and practically this Government has assisted the States. In 1938-39 the money provided under the various sections of the Commonwealth act was approximately £4,250,000. In 1946-47, after the termination of the war, £4:800,000 was provided and' in 1947-48 this was again increased to approximately £6,000,000. In 1948-49 the aid was approximately £7,200,000 and, if the Parliament agrees to the present proposal, the current financial year should bring the Commonwealth aid to the States to approximately £8,500,000. This latter figure does not include the sum of £500,000 provided for roads of access to Commonwealth properties and for strategic roads under section 7 of the act. The provision of funds by this Government is a very real contribution towards solving the road problems of the Commonwealth. The States themselves, however, must have some regard to the precautions which are necessary to preserve the assets created or maintained to a large extent by the assist ance they receive from this Government. I am referring to the ever-increasing trend for heavier and unrestricted loads .to be carried by road transport. This is resulting in serious deterioration in the condition of the roads. As honorable members know, this is not a problem peculiar to Australia. It is common throughout the world, and in the United States of America it is a vital problem to-day. As an illustration of the damage that can be caused by lack of proper control over these matters, I cite only one case where recently in the United States of America a vehicle carrying a record overload of 87,000 lb. in one single trip caused road damage to the extent of 15,000 dollars. This problem has been receiving the attention of the various transport authorities for some time and, as the House is aware, the Australian Transport Advisory Council has set up an Australian Motor Vehicle Standards Committee of technical experts to prepare advice on the best methods of controlling and designing limits in vehicle construction, taking load factors into consideration. Every endeavour will be mad'e by the Government to ensure as far as possible that the recommendations of the Australian Motor Vehicle Standards Committee are adopted by the various States. There can be no argument against this Government requiring that assets thus created or maintained by Commonwealth assistance should be protected against deterioration or damage in the way I have described- I am sure that this measure of assistance to those people who have to forgo many amenities because of inadequate road facilities will receive the wholehearted support of this House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. McDonald) adjourned.

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