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Thursday, 20 October 1949

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) . - The Federal Aid Roads scheme, to which this bill refers, has been described by Mr. Kemp, Co-ordinator-General of "Works in Queensland, and previously Deputy Controller for the Allied Works Council, as the greatest national work ever attempted in Australia. Under this scheme, more money will be expended than under the Snowy Mountains scheme. Up to the present, £150,000,000 has been expended under the Federal Aid Roads Agreement, and it is expected that during the next twenty years, an additional £150,000,000 will be expended, making a total of £300,000,000.

Every one will agree that the money has been well spent, both in war-time and in peace-time. The organization evolved for carrying out the scheme was responsible for the construction of great highways from Birdum to Alice Springs, and from Western Australia to Queensland. It was also responsible for the construction of aerodromes in various parts of Australia, including those used by the aircraft that defeated the Japanese in the Coral Sea battle, and thus prevented the invasion of Australia. During the war the same organization supplied skilled executives and workmen for the construction of roads and other important public works and it has continued to do so since the cessation of hostilities.

The scheme has been in existence since 1926, when it was inaugurated by the Bruce-Page Government. The original period envisaged was ten years. In 1937, it was renewed for another ten years, and in 1946 it was again renewed for three years. Tremendous quantities of heavy machinery have been obtained for the making and maintenance of roads. It is not often that I am able to agree with the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward), but I am compelled to admit that he has proved himself an energetic and capable administrator. It is necessary for us to review the past in order to understand the situation that exists at present. The cost of labour and machinery to-day is such that the amount that was sufficient to handle the road problem ten or twenty years ago is not nearly sufficient to-day. The basic wage to-day is about £6 12s. compared with £3 19s. in 1939. The additional cost to the Nambucca Shire caused by the increase of .the 'basic wage is about £6,400. Extra labour or overtime needed because of the 40-hour week' has added about £1,000 to its costs. The shire's labour costs have risen by 75 per cent. That is typical of all shires, and what has happened to them has equally happened to the main roads authorities. Road traffic has increased enormously since before .the war. More motor trucks and motor cars are on the roads. The trucks are heavier and they carry vastly bigger loads. About 78,000 motor lorries were registered in New South Wales in 1939, compared with about 139,000 registered on the 30th June, 1949. That is an increase of about 80 per cent. With 80 per cent, more traffic on the roads and labour costs 11T 75 per cent, the cost of building roads has risen by 150 or 160 per cent. I have said that motor trucks to-day carry vastly greater loads. Timber trucks that, before the war, carried loads of only 5, 6 or 10 tons now carry 30 tons. The system of dealing with the products of the country has also greatly altered. Ten years ago, the great bulk of the milk produced in Australia, especially in the coastal areas, was converted into butter.

Cream was carried from the dairy farms to the putter factories three or four times a week in hot weather and about twice a week in the winter. Nowadays, nearly all the milk is picked up at the farms once or twice daily. That which is not drunk by the people is taken to factories for conversion into milk products. Two gallons of milk is needed to make 1 lb. of butter, and a gallon of milk weighs 10 lb. Milk waggons carry 20 lb. to-day for every 1 lb. they carried previously. The milk has to be picked up, wet or fine, because milk must be quickly refrigerated and pasteurized, whereas cream can be kept on the farm and does not need to bo picked up so often. So the position to-day differs in three ways from the position before the war. The cost of building and maintaining roads has greatly increased, traffic has tremendously increased and loads carried have increased. There has also been a great increase of revenue from the petrol tax, in the Commonwealth sphere, and from motor registration fees, in the State sphere. Some of the revenue from registration fees, of course, is spent on road work.

The problem that we have to face to-day is entirely new. Heavy .trucks are using roads and by-roads that they never used before. During the war, when timber was required urgently for war purposes, roads were .bulldozed into virgin forests. So great is the damage that has been caused to roads by heavy vehicles that practically every shire has become bankrupt in trying to meet the position. Offset against all that is the fact that, this year, an additional £1,000,000 is to be allocated for the construction and maintenance of roads in sparsely settled areas, making the total £3,000,000. I think that the Department of Transport should be entrusted with a substantial part of the War Damage Fund for distribution to local governing bodies to enable them to repair the roads that were damaged during the war. The heavy road machinery of the shires was impressed for military purposes during the war. That destroyed the possibility of keeping the roads in repair, and, at the same time, the roads were used much more heavily than was previously the case. The coastal cargo boats that used to carry timber and produce became mine-sweepers. Products that used to be shipped from the coastal ports had to be sent miles overland to the railways. Enormous loads were carried over the roads. Consequently roads that were good ten, or even five years ago, are now breaking up. Even main road surfaces are integrating. That applies not only to the shires but also to the municipalities. Casino is the centre of a huge timber industry and there are many timber mills in the neighbourhood. It is also an important railway junction. During the war, big military camps were established in the district, and all the petrol for the Evans Head aerodrome, from which flew the reconnaissance aircraft that kept track of enemy submarines and used millions of gallons of petrol, had to be carted from the town to the aerodrome. Members of the Casino Municipal Council have told the Government that the cost of repairing the war damage to their roads amounts to £2,575. Patriotically, they said to the Government, "If you find £1,000, we will get the other £1,575 from the ratepayers ". The military authorities recommended that the Commonwealth provide £980 in compensation. Now the Treasury wants the council to accept £248. The problem of war-time damage to roads should not be the subject of argument between the Prime Minister and the State governments. It should be handed to the Department of Transport for investigation and report. That department should establish exactly what should be made available for the repair of war-time damage to roads and distribute accordingly funds entrusted to it for the purpose. In addition to the allocation of money for main road purposes, from the proceeds of the petrol tax, a further allocation should be made to assist the shires to keep their roads in reasonable condition.

The basis of the present modified system of assisting the States to maintain roads was laid by the Bruce-Page Government. Our experience, which is borne out by world experience, was that for every twopence spent on roads we got. f fourpence in return in the saving of wearandtear on tyres and motor vehicles. 1 was sent to the United States of America to investigate its main road system, so 1 know that what I say is true. An important aspect to be considered is the saving of wear-and-tear on human beings. The man who drives over good roads arrives home not half so irritable as does the man who is forced to drive over bad ones. More man-hours can be got out of people who have good roads to use. I do not like talking in terms of man-hours, because I regard people as human beings rather than as cogs in a machine. What I impress upon the Government is the need for a long-range plan. Under the present system, the roads grant is renewable, at the will of the Commonwealth Parliament, every year, but, when we instituted the system, we established a ten-year plan. Aware that they had an assured income from the Commonwealth for ten years, the road authorities were encouraged to buy heavy machines. More important than that is the fact that men who worked on main roads felt that they had almost a lifetime job and were encouraged accordingly. Ordinary workmen became skilled workmen who took a pleasure in their work. The Minister for Transport will agree that under a longrange plan the road authorities .and the workers know where they stand. The authorities can go ahead and buy heavy machinery. In fact, I think that the terms that they would get from the manufacturers of such machinery would be better if there was a scheme of this sort in existence than they would be otherwise. Therefore I shall vote for the allocation of £1,000,000, or as much more as the Government is willing to grant for work on roads, because I consider that roads are one of the most important methods of communication over long distances in this country.

A large section of the population lives adjacent to railways and is able to use that means of communication for the transport of products and for travelling in connexion with business or pleasure. Surely people who do not live near a railway line are just as entitled to rapid means of communication by the medium of good roads. Without railways we should not have achieved our present degree of settlement, and we shall not be able to increase settlement in country areas unless we increase road facilities. Only by the provision of good roads can we keep in rural areas the people who are already there and also attract more people to those areas. The lack of roads in many areas has an effect upon the cost of living, in that the difficulties of transporting primary products to market adds to the price that is charged to the public. By providing easier access to markets for primary products we shall assist to keep down prices, because there is no doubt that the disparity 'between the prices for primary products that are paid to the producer, and the prices that are paid by the public to the retailer, is to a large degree the result of high transport charges. Quite naturally if it costs two or three times as much as it would cost to transport goods to market the price to the consumer will rise commensurately. That is why I shall vote quite cheerfully for the increase by £1,000,000 of the allocation this year, and would vote even more cheerfully for an increase of £5,000,000, a sum which I think is absolutely indispensable at the present time for the purposes of road works. I consider that £5,000,000 for this purpose should come out of the War Damage Fund because, after all, the conditions that have developed are a result of the recent war. I also consider that our road maintenance and development policy should be based on a ten-year period and not on a period of one year.

Only recently there were very serious floods in the rivers in the northern part of New South Wales, and there are also frequently very bad floods in Queensland and in other States. At the present time in Kempsey, which was badly hit during the recent floods in New South Wales, one can see roads and gardens cluttered up with silt. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Davidson) who recently visited that area with a party that was investigating the conditions that resulted from the floods, said to me, " What is really needed is for the local authorities to be given a free loan of earth-moving machinery from the Army to deal with problems such as this ". We need some special organization which would have the technical men and the machinery available for the work of clearing away thu results of the floods and they should be given the opportunity to do that work. An area like the Macleay district .would quickly become reproductive again and would help to develop the nation instead of dragging it down if working capital were available for such tasks.

It is most necessary to increase the quantity of fish available to the people of this country. Fish provides a pleasant change of diet, and if more fish were available to the people we should consume less meat and should therefore be able .to export more meat to Britain and so enable the Mother Country to reduce its dollar commitments to Argentina for meat from that country. More fish would come on to the market if there .were more boat havens along our coasts as bases for fishing fleets. There are innumerable places such as Woolgoolga, Coffs Harbour and Jamba where an expenditure of £10,000 or £15,000 would enable an efficient boat haven to be constructed, but which, in fact, cannot now be used by fishing fleets because of the state of the river bars.

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