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Wednesday, 21 May 1980
Page: 2986


Mr MORRIS (Shortland) -This Government has an abysmal record in relation to road funding since 1975. In that period revenue from road users in this country has quadrupled from just under $ 1,000m to an amount now of almost $4,000m. In that same period, from 1975 onwards, Federal expenditure on road construction and road maintenance, expressed in real terms, has been cut by 6 per cent. That cut has not been forced by financial necessity on the part of the Government. It has been the result of a deliberate change in financial priorities. The Government knows what it is about. As I will point out later, the object of the Government's financial strategy on roads is to continue to force the States into a financial position whereby they will be compelled to bring in a second income tax, or double taxation as it is more properly known. The provisions of this Bill are a grave disappointment to motorists, to road user organisations and to local government units and organisations throughout Australia. Because the Bill provides some Federal funds for road construction and maintenance throughout Australia, inadequate as they are, the Opposition will not be opposing the Bill. However at the conclusion of my remarks I will move an amendment which summarises our objections to and criticisms of the legislation.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide $628m to the States and the Northern Territory in the year 1980-81 for road construction and maintenance as detailed in Schedules 1 to 4 of the Bill. Schedule 5 of the Bill itemises the minimum quotas of expenditure to be incurred by each of the States and the Northern Territory in relation to roads to entitle them to the allocations which are set out in Schedules 1 to 4. 1 emphasise that these expenditure quotas are minima and are usually substantially exceeded by the respective States. The Bill reduces the number of road categories from eight to four. They become: National roads, rural arterial roads, urban arterial roads and local roads. The three former classifications of national highway construction, national highway maintenance and national commerce roads are to be consolidated into the one new classification of national roads, which will also include, as pointed out in the second reading speech of the Minister for Transport (Mr Hunt), a new road type titled 'developmental roads'. It should be noted that the currently declared national commerce roads will not be automatically eligible for treatment as developmental roads. The Minister for Transport pointed out in his second reading speech that national commerce roads would only be considered for declaration as developmental roads. I ask the Minister, now that he is present in the chamber, in his response to this debate to give some elaboration of the Government's intention in respect of currently declared national commerce roads- something that firms up the reference he made in his second reading speech.

The Bill also provides for the amalgamation of the existing rural local roads and urban local roads categories into a single category of local roads. This is a retrograde move, a turning back of the clock, which in effect is a capitulation to the demands of the conservative State Premiers.

It is opposed by the Australian Local Government Association. It means that local councils will be subjected further to the undesirable pork barrelling practices of conservative State governments, aided and abetted by the National Country Party Minister for Transport in this place. The Labor-initiated category of minor traffic engineering and road safety improvements, or MITERS as it was known, is to be abolished. This is a further retrograde step and reflects a continuing abandonment by the Federal Government of responsibility for road safety. Honourable members will recall that a few years ago the Fraser Government abolished the independent Road Safety and Standards Authority. Now, with the abolition of the MITERS program, the Government has retreated one major step further from responsibility for national issues and national matters related to road safety.

It is interesting to note the remarks made by the Minister for Transport a few weeks ago when he addressed the Australian Automobile Association in Canberra. One of the principal subjects discussed at that symposium was road funding for the ensuing triennium. Perhaps I may quote some parts of the Minister's address to that symposium. He said:

Indeed, I come from an area with some of the worst roads in New South Wales . . .

He went on to say:

There is no doubt that a well planned and maintained road system is a national asset.

That is something about which we would all agree with the Minister. He said:

A poorly planned, maintained road system or a no allweather road system such as some of those systems which exist in my home area is a liability.

He said:

An adequate road system is of vital importance to Australia 's future development.

He concluded by saying that an enormous challenge remained and that it would be met only by proper planning and adequate finance. The Minister for Transport, only a few weeks ago having made that statement, a statement with which all Australians who operate a motor car would agree, has turned out to be a dismal failure within the Cabinet room because in effect what has happened is that in the Government allocation of funds for road construction and maintenance for the ensuing year the Minister has accepted, and now tries to market as acceptable, a reduction in real terms in the allocation for road funds to the States and the Territory for 1 980-8 1 .

The President of the Australian Road Federation spoke at the symposium. He said:

At the existing rate of funding the national highway system declared by the Labor Government in 1 974 -

Which this Government has endorsed-

Will not be completed to an acceptable standard until 1990.

I am sure that many motorists do not want to wait until then to be able to use that national highway system. We should remember that the Australian road network consists of something of the order of 866,000 kilometres of road, of which only one-quarter is sealed and half is of less than gravel standard. We should remember also that there has been a growth in motor vehicles use in Australia. In 1938 there were approximately 124 motor vehicles per 1,000 people in our population. In 1979 there were 480 motor vehicles per 1,000 members of the population. That represents an annual growth rate of some 3.4 per cent. In spite of the tremendous growth in the use of the motor vehicle we have a road system that in many areas is decrepit. We have a government whose financial priorities are such that it is more intent on forcing a second income tax upon Australians across the nation. It wants to try to force or manoeuvre the States into the position of having to bear the responsibility for funds that this Federal Government is ripping from road users but is not returning to the States for road construction and maintenance purposes. Let me again refer to what is entitled the 'bullock track' system in New South Wales. There are over 1,000 curve warnings on the Princes, Pacific and Great Western Highways alone. There were 14,000 crashes on six specified highways, and 57 per cent of the bridges on those highways are below minimum standard. That is the kind of decrepit situation on our roads in New South Wales alone that this Government endorses.

The Minister for Transport floated a couple of other ideas at the speech he gave to the AAA symposium. It is worth mentioning in this debate that those ideas have hot surfaced. So one must wonder, the Parliament must wonder, just where the Minister for Transport and this Government are really heading in respect of road funding. We have before us a Bill which will result in a reduction in the length of road construction and maintenance that can be carried out. The 1 1 per cent increase in funds provided in the Bill is substantially below the increases that have occurred in road construction costs. At the symposium the Minister also referred to a global funding for roads. He said:

Briefly what I envisage is a co-operative exercise which aims at having transport Ministers- as distinct from governments- arrive at an agreed collective assessment of road needs and funding requirements for the next five to ten years.

He said that each Minister would then go to his respective government.


Mr Hunt - A good idea, too.


Mr MORRIS -The Minister says it is a good idea. It is a pity that he did not make some mention of it in his second reading speech. This Bill deals with funding for the next year. There is no clear indication in the Bill of what the Government's intentions are in respect of the years 1981-82 and 1982-83-they are to be announced at the Premiers Conference next month- or of the level of funding. At the symposium the Minister also outlined a third possibility- a formula approach. Again, this was not mentioned in the Minister's second reading speech. However, it was promptly denounced by the State governments as a public relations exercise.


Mr Hunt - We made provision for that in the Bill.


Mr MORRIS -The Minister mentions that there is no provision. That is the point I am making. Having floated several ideas about how road construction ought to be funded, he then makes no mention of them in his second reading speech or gives no indication to the Parliament or to the Australian road users at large how the Government intends to provide in the future for road constuction or maintenance or when the Government intends to provide a fair return to road users of the money that is being stripped from them in petrol tax by this Government.

As a response to the Australian Council of Local Government Associations the Minister has tried to present the Bill and its provisions as being something that is beneficial to local government, State government and road users. It is interesting to note the response of that body to the announcement of $628m for 1980-81. Councillor Rogers, the President of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations, said that local authorities throughout Australia would be appalled at the Commonwealth's paltry allocation of $628m for roads in 1980-81. He also said:

The ACLGA has consistently argued what it believes to be a reasonable case for the Commonwealth to increase road funds but it appears to have had little effect.

It has had little effect and obviously the Minister has had little effect inside the Cabinet, where it counts.

The Tasmanian Minister for Transport has pointed out that once again it is the Commonwealth Government that is dictating the real terms and that no credence has been given to the fact that Commonwealth funding for roads between 1974-75 and 1979-80 has increased by 36 per cent in cash terms but road costs have risen in that period by 85 per cent. So clearly the people of Tasmania have been done a great disservice and are being denied essential funds for road construction and maintenance and a level of funds that can be properly justified by any reasonable measure.

The Honourable Harry Jensen, the Minister for Roads in New South Wales, pointed out that the announcement of the proposal for New South Wales of $ 196.5m, an increase of 11.15 per cent above 1979-80, was well below the 38 per cent of warranted road construction in all States. He went on to point out that, like Tasmania, New South Wales was getting a far lesser increase than it should if proper account was taken of increased costs that had occurred in the road construction industry in the past year.

Across Australia there has been a highly organised campaign, and properly so, by road user organisations, by motorist organisations in each State as AAA, the National Roads and Motorists Association and the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria to focus attention on the disproportionate and unfair share of road users' funds being returned to State governments and the Territories for road construction and maintenance.

I would like to refer briefly to the condition of some of our major highways. The Bruce Highway is critical to the development of Queensland and its tourist industry. The condition of the road is critical in terms of saving lives. The highway is critical in terms of the saving of time and the efficient development of industry and commerce in that State. The realignment of the Marlborough-Sarina section of that national highway has been under construction for many years. At current rates of progress it will be at least three years before it is complete. Meanwhile, in the recent wet season the highway was closed for 33 out of a total of 45 consecutive days.

The Great Northern Highway in Western Australia is intended to connect Perth with the Pilbara and to serve as a link between the mines and ports of the Pilbara region. Work has not yet commenced and, based on current levels of funding, will take eight to 10 years to complete. Large sections of the vital Brisbane-Darwin national highway are unsealed and many major bridges require rebuilding or reconstruction. The highway is critical as a supply line to the Northern

Territory. The Stuart Highway in South Australia is properly titled 'the graveyard for vehicles'. It is one of Australia's most unreliable roads. At the current rate of progress completion could take some six to seven years. I will not repeat in this debate the gobbledegook, misrepresentation and repudiated promises made in respect of the Stuart Highway by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Nixon), the former Minister for Transport, at Alice Springs late in 1 977.

I return for a moment to the issue of double taxation and what this Government is really about with regard to road funding. A little earlier today we heard the Treasurer (Mr Howard) flay the proposal of hypothecation, a beautiful piece of economic jargon which means the pledging of a particular type of revenue to a particular purpose. He trotted out the traditional, classical and predictable Treasury argument that a particular type of revenue could not be pledged to a particular purpose. I do not know of any organisation which has advanced that proposal as a total approach to road funding. What is being said around Australia, justifiably so, is that road users, particularly those motorists who have to use their private cars to get to and from workthey comprise 62 per cent of employees today, according to the 1976 census- are entitled to and demand, through their organisations, a fair share of the revenue they pay for using the roads to be directed back not only to improving the roads but also to saving lives, in many cases their lives.

Having mentioned the classical and predictable argument and response of the Treasurer this afternoon, let me show a contradiction in that argument. This Government has prepared a number of reports on cost recovery in the transport industry and on its approach to air navigation charges on the basis that the revenue from that industry should equate the cost of the services provided in respect of it. The Government has less than 100 per cent recovery from the aviation industry, but is intent on achieving that rate of recovery. In another area, the maritime industry, the light dues imposed upon shippers and shipping operators for the provision of navigation services fully cover the cost of the services provided to the industry. So one arm of Government policy is based upon ensuring that revenue from the industry equates the cost of providing services to it. To turn that upside down, the Government is taking the opposite view with respect to roads and is saying: 'We are taking off you much more than we need to meet the cost of constructing and maintaining roads'. It cannot have it both ways. I reiterate again that the Government is saying just what the

Treasurer said very clearly this afternoon: If the States want to divert more funds to a particular purpose than the Federal Government has specified, it is up to the States to use the revenue from the general revenue grants from the Federal Government or from 'other purposes'. The Government expects those 'other purposes' funds to be raised from a second income tax or double taxation.

The Bill also provides for the abolition of the MITERS program, as I mentioned earlier. This is not only a retrograde but also a very sad step because it will mean in the years ahead loss of lives and the maiming and injuring of people on our roads which should not occur if this Government adopts a responsible approach to the funding of road safety improvements and engineering advances. I mention briefly the cost of this. I will quote from Dr Falconer Grant of the Royal Brisbane Hospital. He said:

Motor vehicle accidents are responsible, to a large degree, for the high cost of hospitalisation and for an ever increasing requirement for more hospital beds. At the Royal Brisbane Hospital the average stay for this type of patient is 4 to 6 weeks. At most times of the year, in the same hospital, there are about ISO of these accident victims in orthopaedic beds; and each bed costs the taxpayer about $ 1 15 per day. In other words, about $ 1 7,250 per day, or more than $6m per year, in one hospital.

If we multiply that according to the range of hospitals in this nation we get some indication of the total cost of road traffic injuries. To that we must add sickness benefit, loss of work, ambulance costs, police work et cetera. If increased federal funding for our roads can reduce the annual death toll of more than 3,500 Australians, and if a few hundred million dollars can reduce the figure of more than 90,000 Australians being injured or maimed on our roads each year, I ask the Parliament: What choice do we have? The choice that this Government has taken is to turn its back on that high rate of loss of life and of injury. I would like to quote from the former Minister for Transport who approached the MITERS program in a different way. He sought to gain much political capital from the MITERS program. His Press release of 22 September 1977- just to pluck one at random- stated, in part:

Mr Nixonemphasised that correction of known hazardous locations was an effective and low-cost method of improving road safety. 'I believe the MITERS program will prevent some of the suffering and hardship caused by road accidents', Mr Nixon said.

I can cite to honourable members opposite no better authority than the former Minister for Transport speaking in defence and promotion of the MITERS program. It is a tragedy for many

Australians that that program has been abandoned by this Government. It is a tragedy that this Government has stepped back from responsibility in the road safety area generally.

The Minister has claimed, with regard to the overall state of road funding provided by this Bill, that the funds provided will rise by 1 1 per cent compared with last year and that this at least will keep pace with inflation. I have already pointed out that that rate is much below the increase in road construction and maintenance costs. I will take one set of figures, that for bitumen- the major component of road construction. From May 1979 to December 1979 the price of bitumen increased from $149 a tonne to $208 a tonne. I understand that the May 1979 figure has now doubled. The cost of aggregate has increased in 12 months from $14.50 to $20 a tonne. Clearly the cost of those two major components has risen by way above the 1 1 per cent which the Minister seeks to represent, in the increased road funds, as being adequate for the ensuing year, 1980-8 1. The Queensland Minister for Transport has indicated that a 14 per cent to 1 7 per cent increase is required to maintain work in Queensland alone.

What this all flows on to is that if the level of funds is restricted, as indicated in this legislation, people in the road construction and maintenance industry will lose their jobs. Not only will the rate of road construction slow, but also the number of people employed in the industry will diminish. If we look at the share of road funds provided by the Federal Government as a percentage of gross domestic product, we find that in the year 1975-76, 0.609 per cent of gross domestic product was devoted to road funds. That reduced year by year to an all-time low now of 0.474 per cent of gross domestic product being allocated to the States and the Northern Territory for road construction and maintenance.

I have had prepared another table on the basis of the material supplied by the Bureau of Transport Economics. It is headed 'Road Grants to all States' and goes up to the year 1979-80. It is based on 1971-72 prices. The figures shown in the table give a comparison with funds provided in the base year of 1971-72. In 1971-72 the amount provided by the Federal Government for all types of road construction and maintenance was $255.464m. In the current year, 1979-80, federal funding for roads is $244.56m, in 1971-72 terms. We find that in every year from 1976-77 onwards federal funding for roads, in 1971-72 prices, was at a lower level than it was in 1971-72. 1 have not had a chance to show these tables to the Minister for Transport, but I seek his approval to incorporate in Hansard three tables, including the last table I mentioned and a table of road grants to all States for the years 1971-72 to 1979-80 in current prices.

Leave granted. The tables read as follows-

 

 

 


Mr MORRIS -I thank the Minister and the House. One of the major aspects of road construction and maintenance is its employment component. Some 64 per cent of direct and indirect expenditure on roads goes to the employment of labour. In cases of regional unemployment in particular, this Government ought to be returning a fairer share of road funds, road users ' revenues, to road construction and maintenance to increase employment, but in this area again the Government turns a blind eye. All sorts of statements have been made by the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) about employment generation proposals and job creation programs. Let me make a comparison between what he says with what has been said by the President of the Australian Road Federation, Mr Farrow. He stated that the estimates of road expenditure required to create one job in the road industry varies from $30,000 to $80,000 per annum. If we take a middle point of $50,000 additional expenditure, the $450m being sought by road user organisations and by the AAA would create employment in a direct way for 9,000 persons. If we apply to that the multiplier of the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs of 16 to one- that is the figure the Government's using; for every one direct job created there are 16 indirect jobs- it means the creation of 15 1,000 new jobs by the utilisation of the money that has been proposed by Mr Farrow on behalf of the Australian Road Federation.

When one compares those figures with the employment opportunities offered in the North West Shelf, one finds that an expenditure of $4.3m is required to create each direct permanent job; in the case of uranium mining it is $650,000 to $950,000 for each direct job created; and so on down to the case of CSR Ltd 's Hail Creek project of $740,000 for each direct job created. But in the case of road construction and maintenance this Government steadfastly refuses to return a fairer share of road users' revenue to road construction. The Government is more intent on continuing with its practice of ensuring that every petrol pump in this country carries the dual function of being a branch office of the Taxation Office. Half of the price being paid at the petrol pump is going straight to the Treasurer in Canberra. I mentioned that I would be moving an amendment. I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: 'whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that-

(   1 ) the Bill fails to provide adequate funds to the States and the Northern Territory for road construction and maintenance in 1980-81;

(2)   the amalgamation of the former categories of urban local roads and rural local roads into a single category of local roads will lead to an inequitable distribution of road funds to units of local government;

(3)   the abolition of the minor traffic engineering and road safety category is a further abandonment by the Fraser Government of responsibility for road safety related matters, and will result in greater delay in the construction of much needed road traffic and road safety improvements;

(4)   the Government has again failed to utilise the opportunities for job creation that an expanded road construction and maintenance program offers, and

(5)   the Government has refused to provide sufficient road funds to the States and the Northern Territory for 1980-81 for the implementation of a responsible multi-modal plan for transport energy conservation'.

I conclude by saying that an essential aspect of road construction and maintenance is the opportunity for energy conservation that it offers: Better roads, particularly in urban areas; better traffic management; more traffic signal systems; turning lanes; channelisation; climbing lanes; and passing lanes. These are all part of any responsible energy conservation program. They all come under the MITERS program which this Government is in the process of abolishing. So whichever way we approach the Government's financial priorities in respect of roads there is no justification for the decision that it has taken other than that road users, per medium of the petrol taxes of this Government, have become the most heavily taxed group in the Australian community. What is happening is happening under the guise of an energy policy. Money is being stripped from road users to be applied to other purposes within Government. A fairer share of road funding should be going back to the lifelines of Australia- our road system. I commend the amendment.







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