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Tuesday, 9 September 1958
Page: 979

Mr BIRD (Batman) .- I wish to refer to a matter which comes within the jurisdiction of the Department of Shipping and Transport. I once again express my very acute disappointment that the Government has not grasped the nettle with both hands and, in collaboration with the State governments, made a determined bid to evolve a national roads plan. The longer this matter is delayed, the more difficult it will be to arrive at an ultimate satisfactory solution. I realize that under present circumstances the constitutional power to deal with roads is vested in the State governments. Before the Constitution came into force in 1901, it was agreed that the States should continue to control roads. However, what was quite satisfactory in 1901 is certainly not satisfactory in 1958. An entirely different set of circumstances has evolved, particularly over the last ten years.

Before we can have a national roads plan, there must be an agreement under which both the Commonwealth and the States agree that the Commonwealth shall have jurisdiction over certain types of roads. I suppose thatmost honorable members will agree withme when I say that the people of Australia, generally speaking, are emphatic in expressing their opinion that the present roads position is nothing short of tragic. All sorts of bodies, political and non-political in their outlooks, agree that the present circumstances, if continued, can lead only to dislocation and chaos as far as Australia's road system is concerned.

The only body that is capable of suggesting a national roads plan at the moment is the Australian Transport Advisory Council. This body, whichwas set up some years ago, consists of the six State Ministers for Transport, presided over by the Federal Minister. It was set up for the purpose of discussing and solving, if possible, problems of transport, but I regret to say that on the level of road planning and development it has been a conspicuous failure. The faults certainly are not all on one side, because criticism can be levelled both at the State governments and at the Commonwealth Government for their inability to even suggest a framework for a contemplated plan.

On the side of the State governments, the greatest weakness of the structure of the Australian Transport Advisory Council is the almost complete absence of State roads Ministers and their departmental advisers, who are, of course, the commissioners or chairmen of the main roads authorities of the respective States. If we look at the gentlemen who represent the States on the Australian Transport Advisory Council we will glean some idea why the council has not got very far in finding a solution of the roads problem. The New South Wales representative on the council is Mr. Enticknap, who is the State Minister for Transport. He is, in effect, the State Minister for Railways. The Minister for Highways, Mr. Renshaw, who has made a very intelligent approach to a national roads plan as the Minister responsible for roads in the New South Wales Government, is not a member of the Australian Transport Advisory Council. In Victoria, Sir Arthur Warner, the State Minister for Transport and, in reality, the Minister for Railways, is a member of the council, but Sir Thomas Maltby, who is the Minister in charge of the Victorian Roads Board, is not a member. In Western Australia, Mr. Graham, the Minister for Transport or, in reality, the Minister for Railways, is the State's representative on the council, but Mr. Tonkin, the Minister in charge of the Main Roads Department, is not a member. When we come to the northern State, Queensland, we find that the State representative on the Australian Transport Advisory Council is Mr. Chalk, the State Minister for Transport or, in effect, the Minister for Railways, whilst Mr. Evans, who is the Minister in charge of the

Department of Main Roads, is not a member of the body of which I consider he should be a member. In Tasmania, the State representative on the council is Mr. Cashion, who is the Minister for Transport and Railways, while the Minister for Works, who is in charge of the Roads Department, is not a member. As a matter of fact, there is only one State in which the Minister in charge of roads is a member of the Australian Transport Advisory Council. In South Australia, Sir Norman Jude has the joint responsibility for roads and railways. He sits on the Australian Transport Advisory Council.

I submit that in this day and age, when roads have a place in the national transport system second to no other media, the absence of roads Ministers from five States is a glaring anomaly. Highly experienced and well-informed main roads chiefs are excluded from attendance at meetings of the Australian Transport Advisory Council because their Ministers are not members of it. This makes the position even more unrealistic. It is high time that the States recognized that their main roads departments should be represented, through the Ministers responsible for roads and the chairmen of the main roads departments, at conferences held on a CommonwealthState level to deal with transport problems.

I should like to epitomize my suggestions very briefly. Honorable members on this side of the committee, as well as some honorable members on the other side, have for a number of years been advocating a national roads plan. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) and myself, on this side of the chamber, have been particularly active in advocating a national roads plan. We have said that the Commonwealth and the States should give very serious consideration to road problems. Our reasons can be epitomized in the following way. Firstly, the present roads problem adversely affects everybody throughout Australia, because of the transport cost structure. If by reason of the inferior roads system, transport costs are increased, it means that we have to pay more for the goods which are carried over that system. Secondly, because of the increase of all kinds of motor transport, roads have assumed within the national transport system an importance undreamt of ten or fifteen years ago. Thirdly, less than 10 per cent, of Australia's 500,000 miles of roads are both paved and sealed. Of the remaining 90 per cent., less than 25 per cent, are paved, and the rest are merely formed, cleared or in their natural state. Included in the 10 per cent, of roads which are paved and sealed are the main arterial roads between the State capitals. They are capable of great improvement. We should have at least two-way highways giving access to and from the State capitals, but we have an expanse of road barely wide enough in most cases for three cars abreast.

The fourth reason is that Australia already has 2,500,000 motor vehicles. This number is expected to grow to 4,000,000 before 1970. In the City of Melbourne the motor vehicle population - if I may use that expression in relation to that city - is expected to double within five years. Of course, the position is not so bad in the country areas. These figures show that we cannot expect our inadequate road system to cope with the demands of the rapidly increasing numbers of motor vehicles which will use it. Our present antiquated system results in a shocking national waste of both time and efficiency. It contributes to the inflated cost structure and to the stultification of the gains which accrue to industry as a result of greater technical and scientific knowledge. Though productivity in secondary industry has increased tenfold in the last ten or twenty years we have continued to use outmoded methods of road construction and have refused to deal with our transport problems as we have dealt with the problems of industry generally.

Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Government has shown a reluctance to campaign for an alteration in the status quo. I would have thought that, recognizing this as a national problem of importance and significance, it would have given a lead to the undoubtedly recalcitrant State governments. The majority opinion throughout Australia is that the accumulated arrears of road construction, plus immediate and future needs, present a problem beyond the financial resources of the States. This stark reality must be faced now, or in the very near future, if we are to keep pace with modern developments. We must, in short, initiate a national road plan. It follows that the Commonwealth Government must accept the need for great increases in road expenditure. It will, of course, need to have some say in how the money will be spent. I do not suggest that the Commonwealth Government should simply hand over larger and' larger amounts to the States and say to them, " Go ahead and spend it ".

I would suggest that any such plan should be based on the assumption that the Commonwealth should be responsible for the construction of main interstate roads and that the States should devote their resources to the development of internal roads. When all is said and done, interstate highways represent a relatively small percentage of Australian road mileage but, because of the vast amount of traffic which travels on them from day to day, they are extremely important. Under present circumstances the States, with their meagre financial resources, have a Herculean task in supplying and maintaining an internal road system. Secondary highways and developmental roads are in a shocking condition. Indeed, the only decent State roads are the main highways from provincial cities to State capitals such as Melbourne.

The Commonwealth Government should give special consideration to the national and defence importance of interstate roads. No one, either in this chamber or anywhere else in Australia, can claim that our road system has kept pace with the advances in every other sphere of trade and commerce. We have approached all our other national problems in a modern and progressive fashion but deal with the problem of the roads in a frame of mind more appropriate to the 'twenties. A new national conception of road planning is inevitable. It will be forced upon us by public opinion, despite the opposition of any government, State or Federal.

Recently honorable members had an opportunity of seeing a film showing the progress of the national roads plan which has been in operation in the United States of America for the last three or four years. I do not suggest that any Australian plan can ever be of the same dimensions, because that country has seventeen or eighteen times as many people in a comparable area, but I would suggest that we should take serious notice of the American scheme. The United States of America has a

Federal-States road system and, though we could not spend upon our roads anything like the same amount of money, we could at least begin on the same basis. If we did that we would ultimately produce a road system worthy of this great continent.

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