Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 20 October 1949

Mr TURNBULL (Wimmera) .- The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) was right when he said that I would support this bill. I do so most wholeheartedly because I believe that more and more money should be made available for expenditure upon roads in isolated areas. We must keep separate in our minds the two grants that are made by the Commonwealth to the States in respect of roads, although they are both financed from revenue derived from the petrol tax. Perhaps I should qualify that statement. The revenue derived from the petrol tax is paid into Consolidated Revenue, and the grants to the States are made from Consolidated Revenue, but must be regarded as portion of the petrol tax. It is merely a technical point, but I make that qualification lest it should he said later that I have misrepresented the position. A sum of £3,000,000 is to be made available by the Commonwealth for expenditure upon roads in sparsely populated areas. That sum should not be confused with the money that is made available to the States for other road services. The honorable member for Hindmarsh was incorrect when he said that the sum of £3,000,000 in respect of roads in isolated areas will be paid to the State governments, that the State governments will make a proportion of that sum available to municipal bodies, and that those bodies will be allowed to expend the money as they think fit. The fact is that any proposal to expend money upon a road in an isolated area must be approved by the Minister for Transport. That was stated clearly in an answer to a question upon notice that was asked by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann). The answer leads as follows: -

Under the conditions of the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Acts Nos. 17 of 1947 and 91 of 1948, the Commonwealth does not require t]ie States to submit details of how funds made available to them under section (i (3) are expended, hut does require the details of proposed expenditure of funds made available under section (i (4), namely, for roads in sparsely .populated areas.

The two grants are quite different.

It has been estimated that the total amount of money that will be made available to the States in respect of roads during this year will be approximately £8,500,000. Of that amount, £3,000,000 will be used on roads in sparselypopulated areas. That means that approximately £5,500,000 will he available for expenditure upon other roads. I do not think that sufficient funds are being made available for road construction, reconstruction and maintenance. From the time of my election as a- member of the Parliament, I have constantly attempted to persuade the Government to make more money available for that purpose, but my efforts have not been attended with any great success. I am pleased that, under this bill, an additional £1,000,000 is to be made available for roads in sparsely populated areas. Whenever the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) or the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) are asked whether they are in favour of making larger sums of money available for road maintenance and construction, they mix up the two grants. The Prime Minister, for instance, will say, " We made £1,000,000 available, and then another £1,000,000, and then a further £1,000,000 ", but the truth is that no substantial additional money has been made available for ordinary road construction and maintenance. It was stated in the answer to the question asked by the honorable member for Maranoa to which I. have referred that the total amount of money that was made available in 1946-47 for road construction under section 6 (3) of the acts was £4,S05,000 and that in 1948-49 it was £5,101,286. The increase was only a small one ; it did not amount to millions of pounds. Of course, additional money has been made available, but it has been made available only for sparsely populated areas and on the condition that the Minister for Transport shall be empowered to tell a shire council where it is to spend the money made available to it for roads. I believe that the members of shire councils are the best judges of where the money should be spent. I do not agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh that all the members of shire councils live in closely populated areas. I know of shire councillors who have to travel 20 or 30 miles to attend council meetings. When they attend those meetings, they have a voice in the decisions that are made. I think that honorable members on both sides of the House will pay a tribute to the marvellous work that has been done by shire councillors throughout Australia both in war and peace. I believe that the Government could entrust to them the task of spending money that is made available for the construction and maintenance of roads in sparsely populated areas, knowing that it will be used in the best interest, not only of the shires concerned, but also of Australia generally. It is reasonable to argue that the members of a council or of a shire that is situated a great distance from Canberra, or Sydney, where the Minister's electorate is located, and who have been sufficiently interested in local affairs to seek election to a shire council, with sufficient standing to have been elected by the people of that locality, will have a much better knowledge of the requirements of the area than has the Minister, who perhaps has never visited that part of the country and must act upon the advice of an official who may have paid only a hurried visit to it. In some instances application by shire councils to be allowed to expend money upon roads in certain districts must be accepted or rejected on the advice of officers who have no real knowledge of the situation.

Although the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) said that more money is required for road works, he expressed himself as being more or less in agreement with the bill and did not press that extra funds should be made available. On the 16th and 17th August, 1949, a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers was held in Canberra. Mr. Fagan, the Deputy Premier of Tasmania at the time, said -

The payments now being made by theCommonwealth to the States under the terms of the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act are quite insufficient to meet the State's requirements for road construction, reconstruction and maintenance purposes.

Mr. Faganis not a member of the Liberal party or the Australian Country party. He is a member of the Labour party.

Mr Edmonds - That is to his credit.

Mr TURNBULL - It appears, from what he said then, that he is quite a good man. He was right on the target. Another member of the Labour party who was present at that conference was Mr. McGirr, the Premier of New South Wales.

Mr Edmonds - A good man.

Mr TURNBULL - I shall not argue about whether he is good, bad or indifferent. I assume that, as Premier of New South Wales, he has knowledge of the requirements of that State. In the course of the conference, Mr. McGirr made the following statement in relation to the payments made to the States in respect of roads -

The basic amount is completely inadequate and there is a lag of one year in the adjustment of the grant.

Two members of the Labour party have expressed the opinion that the grant is inadequate.

The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod), who generally follows me and gives me a very rough passage, said that even if the whole of the revenue from the petrol tax were paid to the States it would not be sufficient to enable them to do the work that needs to be done on our roads, but the honorable gentleman did not go on to suggest that more money should be made available. Shire councillors and other persons in the Wimmera electorate have repeatedly asked me to do something to obtain for the States a greater proportion of the revenue from the petrol tax than is at present paid to them, and to explain the position at meetings. I know that the honorable member for Wannon has received similar requests. Finally, he said that he would bring the Minister for Transport with him to Hamilton in Victoria, but, as far as I know the Minister has not been there yet. I should like to know whether he intends to go there and to explain what the Government is doing with the £9,000,000 or £10,000,000 of the petrol tax revenue that it retains each year in Consolidated Revenue. The only justification for the petrol tax is that it should be used to construct roads and to repair the wear and tear on those already in existence. It is obvious that the greater the revenue from the tax, the greater is the wear on the roads. Therefore, the amount of money that is made available for the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of roads should be in keeping with the amount of money that is collected from the petrol tax. I was very pleased to read that Mr. Fagan did not refer only to road construction and maintenance but also to road reconstruction. That is a very important point. The traffic that is passing over our roads now and that passed over them during the war is much greater and heavier than was anticipated when they were constructed. Many of them require to be completely reconstructed. Unless that is done quickly, the opportunity to make good the deterioration that has occurred will be lost. I believe that any body that is entrusted with the care of public funds has a duty to maintain this asset. Between 1926, when the first Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Bill was passed and the present time, millions of pounds have been collected from the petrol tax. The construction of thousands of miles of roads in the Commonwealth has been financed with at first the whole and later with part of the receipts from the petrol tax. In view of the necessity to expend many millions of pounds on roads, is it fair for the Government to withhold approximately one-half of the money that hae been collected from the petrol tax? The roads are valuable national assets, but they are deteriorating rapidly. Every person who has travelled through country districts knows that that statement is correct. If a road is not kept in satisfactory order, or is not quickly sealed, the money that has been expended upon its construction will be wasted.

The Prime Minister has said that the States have not been able to expend all the money which has been available to them for the construction and maintenance of roads. That statement is true only of the grants which the Commonwealth has made for the construction of roads in sparsely populated areas. The amount of money that has been provided for building roads in the sparsely populated areas of New South Wales in the last two years is £564,000, of which only £280,000 has been expended. The amount that has been provided for the construction of roads in the remote districts of Victoria in the same period is £348,000, of which only £280,000 has been expended. I ask the Minister to inform the House whether he has approved of all the applications that have been made by local governing bodies to build roads in sparsely populated areas.

Mr FULLER (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course those applications have been approved.

Mr TURNBULL -I have asked the Minister to supply that information, and not the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller), who has interjected. I should also like to know how much money has been provided to finance the construction of roads contemplated in those applications. I make it clear that I am referring, not to the grant that the Commonwealth normally makes to the States for the maintenance and construction of roads, but to applications for assistance to build roads in the sparsely populated areas. The two matters are quite distinct. The amount of money that was made available in 1948-49 as the normal grant by the Commonwealth to the States for the construction and maintenance of roads was £5,101,286. I understand that the whole of that sum has been expended. The only grant that has not been exhausted is the money that the Commonwealth has made available to the States for the construction of roads in the sparsely populated areas. I shall explain the reason for that position.

The construction of a road in a sparsely populated area necessitates the transport of workmen and machinery for considerable distances. For a number of years, the shortage of petrol has been so acute that local authorities have been deterred from undertaking such work. Does any honorable member believe that in these times a shire council would transport workmen and machinery distances of 40 or 50 miles, or perhaps 200 or 300 miles, to build a road? The workmen would have to be transported to and from the job at least twice a week, and those journeys would require considerable quantities of petrol. That is one reason why the Commonwealth grant for the construction of roads in the sparsely populated areas has not been expended. However, there are other reasons. We do not have to travel very far in Australia before we come to bad roads. Mildura, in my electorate, is unable to obtain sufficient money to enable the local authority to maintain the back streets in proper order. Two or three miles from the town, but still in a fairly densely populated area, the roads are as bad as any that I have travelled on in Australia. More money is required for that necessary work. I shall not put the spotlight on any particular places, but I mention that many roads connecting two towns in a part of the country which cannot be considered a sparsely populated area, are in a frightful condition. What was at one time a good road has fallen into a condition of disrepair, and a considerable amount of money will be required to enable it to be restored to a satisfactory state. If that work is delayed much longer, the road will be swept away in a summer dust storm.

When we appeal to the Prime Minister to make more money available for the maintenance and repair of roads, he invariably replies that some shire councils have not the machinery that is required for the job. That statement is perfectly true. Some shire councils have the necessary machinery but lack the money, and other shire councils have the money but lack the necessary machinery. So that I shall not be accused of being parochial, I shall refer to the position of the Stawell Shire Council, which is not in my electorate. The name Stawell should be familiar to honorable members because the famous athletic event, the Stawell Gift, is conducted annually in that town. Stawell is situated comparatively near the Grampians. Road-making material is near existing roads and the shire council has the necessary machinery, but it is unable to finance road-making and repair work. The Prime Minister may be able to cite a shire council that is able to obtain the necessary finance but lacks roadmaking machinery. The Government should provide sufficient money to enable shire councils which have . road-making machinery, to construct and repair roads within their boundaries. The Prime Minister . is of opinion, as he is in regard to so many other matters, that the Government must average everything that comes to its notice. He takes the view that if one shire council has no road-making machinery, other shire councils should not be provided with money to enable them to use their road-making machinery. It has been definitely proved that the cost of travelling by motor car over a good road is equivalent to 1-Jd. a mile cheaper than the cost of travelling over a poor surface. Motor vehicles which are constantly bumping over bad roads, often require repairing and new parts. They also use more petrol, and every honorable member knows that, in these days of dollar shortages, we must make every reasonable effort to conserve petrol. Spare parts for older vehicles are almost unobtainable, and it is difficult to purchase new vehicles.

Every argument that can be adduced in favour of improving our roads has, as its base, the welfare of Australia. The Prime Minister contends that the petrol tax is not a direct charge on the motor user but is a charge on the community. I disagree with the right honorable gentleman, but I desire to be fair to him. He states that certain motor users pass the petrol tax on to the general public, and that statement is true of a. small percentage of cases. A big percentage of receipts from the petrol tax is a charge on the motor user, and a small percentage is a charge on the community. How better can the Government serve the community than by encouraging the States and local governing bodies to build good roads? The people who live in the great cities would derive advantage from good roads which lead to the country districts. Large quantities of perishable foods are transported by road very quickly from country districts to the cities, and improved roads would lower operating costs and thereby enable the prices of the goods to be reduced. During the recent disastrous coal strike, motor transport played a most important part in our economy. As time passes, and we fail to produce sufficient coal to meet our requirements, road transport will become an increasingly important mode of travel. Railway travel is not so popular as it was years ago, and only a small percentage of the population can travel by air.

I commend the Minister for introducing this bill. I believe that the legislation is good, but I hope that, in future, the Government will not confuse the Commonwealth grant for the construction and maintenance of roads generally with the special grant for the construction of roads in sparsely populated areas. I also hope thatwhen the Government is asked to provide more money for the construc tion of roads, we shall not be told the old story that the Commonwealth has provided an additional £3,000,000 for that purpose, because we shall know that that sum will be earmarked for expenditure in the remote areas and not in those parts where the traffic is very heavy. I agree that adequate provision should be made for the construction of roads in the outback districts, but one of our principal responsibilities at the present time is to maintain existing roads in a proper state of repair, in order that those great national assets shall be preserved. The petrol tax in the United States of America is approximately 4d. a gallon, of which only 11/2d. is diverted to Consolidated Revenue. The remaining 21/2d. is expended on roads. The United States of America has excellent highways. Where there are good roads, motor cars are numerous. We in Australia stand on the threshhold of a great motor age. The honorable member for Hindmarsh considers that we are still living in the horse-and-buggy age, hut I disagree with him. No one wants to go back to the bullock dray and the cabbage tree hat.

Mr Archie Cameron - We shall go back to the -bullock dray if the present petrol shortage continues.

Mr TURNBULL - As the result of the excellent work of the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden), Australia will have more petrol in the near future. In the last days of this Eighteenth Parliament, and probablyin the last months of the Government's existence, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Transport should recognize the wisdom of making appropriate grants direct to the States and local governing authorities for the construction and maintenance of roads. The local authorities should be permitted to determine how and where those grants shall be expended. Members of a shire council, as a rule, have lived in the district for many years, and are thoroughly familiar with local conditions. They should be permitted to make their own decisions in this matter. If we have bigger and better roads, we shall provide the basis for permanent prosperity in Australia.

Suggest corrections