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Wednesday, 21 May 1980
Page: 1223

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -The Roads Grants Bill 1980 is a very significant Bill because it involves some $620m. It provides for non-repayable grants to the States. I am in agreement with the wide range of opinion that has been expressed to the effect that the amount is inadequate. When one takes into account that in four years this Government has collected some $4,300m in oil taxes, the amount can be regarded as inadequate on that basis alone. Taking into account the fact that the average Australian family is now paying about $800 per annum in petrol tax, one can understand that the community at large seeks to get something back. When one realises that taxes through the petrol pump now exceed all the company tax collections in Australia- the revenue from all company taxation- one can see further justification for the claim for additional funds for roads. When one takes into account the fact that government income from oil alone has risen from $2 50m a year to $2,500m a year over a four-year period, one can stake a claim, quite justifiably, for more money for roads.

This Bill shows the low priority that this Government places on the national roads program. The funds provided will not keep abreast of rising costs. The Minister for Transport (Mr Hunt) asserted in his second reading speech that in real terms expenditure has been maintained. It is an assertion which the Government cannot really sustain. Just taking into account the rate of inflation as measured by the consumer price index alone, it is unlikely that inflation for the year 1980-81 will be contained to 1 1 per cent, which is the extent of the increase in road funds grants. The present policies of the Government have lifted the rate of inflation in the last year to 10.6 per cent. According to all the economic indicators, it seems that the increase in the rate of inflation for 1980-81 will be a lot more than the 0.4 per cent that is needed to bring the figure up to 11 per cent. The rate of inflation could well pass 1 5 per cent in 1 980-8 1 .

The Bill provides for only one year's appropriation, and I think that is a matter of concern. I know that there is a ministerial undertaking to continue triennial funding arrangements after discussions with the Premiers at the coming June Premiers Conference. But the signs are that the level of funding could well be reduced. If this Government should happen to be returned after the next election and it set a new scale of funds over a triennium, there is no doubt in the world that the amount which we now claim is inadequate would be reduced even further.

State and local government authorities are not in a position to set their programs on a three-year basis. They are unable to plan. Anybody who has anything at all to do with roads would understand the need for forward planning in acquisitions and matters of that kind in order to get on with a roads program. I, at least, as a former Minister for Housing and Construction and as one who has sat on roads inquiries of the Public Works Committee, have looked at the subject. But, unfortunately, that forward planning is not evident in this case. The States and local government just do not know what the amounts will be for the future. The inadequacy of the Commonwealth's funding arrangements can best be illustrated by the response of State Premiers, of local government spokesmen, of motoring organisations and of just about anybody who can be regarded as an authority on this kind of issue. I will make some mention of these comments.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr Les Johnson (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -Prior to the suspension of the sitting I instanced the widespread concern of spokesmen associated with the road construction industry, local government and motorists' organisations about the inadequacy of the funds to be provided under this Bill. In the Melbourne Age of 29 April reference was made to an Australian Transport Advisory Council meeting. The article states

State Transport Ministers yesterday asked the Federal Government for a 1 6. 1 per cent increase in road funds.

Not 11.1 per cent, which is the extent of the increase provided under the Bill. The article continues:

The Federal Transport Minister, Mr Hunt, at a meeting in Melbourne assured his State colleagues he would present their claims forcefully in Cabinet.

We now know that the Minister failed in those representations to Cabinet, so apparently he joins the disenchanted array of spokesmen from organisations and instrumentalities on this issue. Apparently he feels, as does the Opposition, that the amount should have been upgraded to a realistic level. The article states further:

Mr Hunt'spromise soothed the Ministers, who met in Melbourne for a special meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council in the hope of learning how much the Federal Government would give them.

We know now that it was all to no avail. The States based their request for an increase on the 16.1 per cent figure recommended by the Bureau of Transport Economics and on the huge rise in Federal revenue from fuel taxes, a matter to which I referred extensively in the earlier part of my address.

I note that a press release by the Australian Transport Advisory Council, following a meeting in Melbourne on 28 April, states:

State Ministers also supported the assessments by the Bureau of Transport economics which showed that a 16 per cent per annum real increase in total roads expenditure was warranted. They also pointed to the decrease in Commonwealth road allocations as compared with substantial increases in State and local government roads expenditure in recent years. State Ministers acknowledged the budgetary problem . . . . . . they stressed that additional roads expenditure was economically worth while and would contribute to growth and development in the national economy.

That is a quotation from an official news release after that very important conference. There are many articles on the subject. I have yet another. It is from the Sydney Morning Herald of 1 9 May. Usually I do not quote Press articles, but it is a good way of showing the widespread resentment at the Government's action in this matter. This article is headed 'Three-State attack on funds for roads' and mentions firstly that the President of the Australian Automobile Association, Mr Rodney Evans, had said: ... the $682m allocated for next financial year was totally unrealistic.

Then the article quotes Mr K. Bourke, the spokesman for the National Roads and Motorists Association, as stating that the 166,000 New South Wales motorists who had signed coupons demanding better roads would see the allocations as a shocking decision. Mr Bourke is reported as stating: 'Major upgrading of the road system is particularly necessary in New South Wales, which has worse roads and more vehicles than other States . . .' 'The benefits which will result from better roads are irrefutable. ' 'Inflation would be attacked because transport costs would be reduced. The toll of death and injury would be cut. Petrol would be conserved, pollution reduced. '

Those very forceful arguments are made by a man who speaks for the motoring public of New South Wales. In the political area a man called Mr Hinze the Minister for Local Government in Queensland, who is anything but a Labor supporter, is pretty critical of this whole matter. I cannot quote everything that he said, but in part the report continues:

Queensland needed at least $ 1,000m over the next three years to provide even basic facilities, Mr Hinze said.

Mr E.Drinkwater, the Chief General Manager of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, is reported to have said: . . . Victoria's grant was $ 12.6m more than the last one, but 1 6 per cent less in real terms because of inflation.

So it goes on and on. I have before me an article from the Sydney Daily Telegraph of 1 8 February headed 'Wran demands better roads deal'. It states:

New South Wales Premier Mr Wran has demanded that as 'a matter of priority' the Federal Government earmark part of the new petrol tax to improve country roads.

That is a fair proposition, and relates to what I said earlier. The report continues: 'In the past four years the State Government 's own contribution to road construction has risen by 80 per cent while Federal funds increased only 32 per cent, ' Mr Wran said. 'Allowing for inflation, the New South Wales contribution to road building has risen in real terms by 20 per cent during the past four years while the Commonwealth's contribution has fallen in real terms by 20 per cent.

If the Minister disputes that, he will have the opportunity to put both Mr Wran and me right at a later stage of the debate.

I notice that the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) is the sole representative in the chamber of the National Country Party, or whatever it is called these days. I think it is called that in his State and different names in other States. He would be interested to know the view of the National Farmers Federation, because I know he has upheld its view on many occasions. I have in my hand the Federation's Press release of 14 March 1980, No. 22-80, which states that Mr Whitelaw, the executive director and spokesman for the Federation, had said: . . . funding arrangements for road construction between Commonwealth and States and also between States and local authorities left much to be desired. ... the States were forced to apply inequitable tax raising measures to attract the necessary funding. . . . the root of the problem with regard to road financing arrangements rested with the Commonwealth Government which was 'too stingy ' with its allocations.

Mr Corbett - Who said that?

Mr Les Johnson (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -The spokesman for the National Farmers Federation. I wonder whether the honourable member will deny the truth of that assertion. I will be interested to hear his remarks in the Committee stage of this debate if he dares to participate in the debate. I am inclined to think he will be too embarrassed to do so. One could quote pages of Press statements. For instance, there are the remarks of Mr Field, the Tasmanian Minister for Roads, as reported in the Hobart Mercury of 19 April 1980. The article states: 'In view of the Federal election and in view of the end of the triennium agreement this year on road funding, I urge all road users to campaign to have something done about the increasing funding, ' Mr Field said.

Mr Fieldsaid that since 1974, road funding had risen by 36 per cent, but road costs had gone up 86 per cent.

Are all of these people fools? It is perhaps fair for the Government to assail the Australian Labor Party and to seek to discredit it, but will the Government also discredit the spokesmen for the

States, for local government and for the automobile organisations throughout the length and breadth of this country? I have referred to the views of local government. A report in the Canberra Times of 2 May 1 980 stated:

The Australian Council of Local Government Associations called yesterday for a substantial increase in Commonwealth funds for roads in the 1 980-83 triennium.

The Council would probably be very disappointed to know that a forward-looking, rolling, ongoing program for the triennium is no longer in existence. That has been abolished too. The article went on to state:

The Commonwealth should spend at least $700m on roads in the 1980-81 financial year, compared with about $S58m it would spend in the current year.

I notice that a recent Press release by the Australian Automobile Association headed '250,000 Motorists Demand Better Roads ' states:

Failure to provide adequate Commonwealth funds to improve the nation's roads could cost the Federal Government significant electoral support . . .

It continues:

The benefits of good roads cannot be challenged. The road programme envisaged by the Bureau of Transport Economics would pay for itself in just three years and, over 20 years, would return benefits up to four times the amount invested.

It further states: ... the State motoring organisations have been campaigning for an increase of $3 5 4m in Commonwealth roads grants to $900m in 1 980-8 1 .

So it goes on. I will not have time to quote more, but many other similar reports are available for quotation. I hold in my hand a Bureau of Transport Economics report entitled 'An Assessment of the Australian Road System 1979'. It shows the percentage share of road funding by levels of government from 1974-75 to 1978-79. What is meant by levels of government, of course, is local government, State government and Federal government. The report is to the effect that in 1974-75 the Commonwealth's contribution was 32.2 per cent and that in 1978-79 it was 27.3 per cent. That is a very significant drop. I do not have the figure for 1979-80 but I am assured that it is in the vicinity of 28 per cent or maybe marginally under. It has fallen from 32.2 per cent in 1974-75. The Bureau of Transport Economics, in that report, states:

Trends in road funding by the three levels of government from their own sources is shown in Tables 4 and S.

I will not be able to give the figures but will use the Bureau's summary, as follows:

Table 4 shows that State Government funds allocated to roads grew at the greatest rate, averaging 18.3 per cent per annum over the period. Commonwealth funding (in both the

States and Territories) grew at the lowest rate (7.4 per cent per annum).

The figures are given but I do not have time to go through them. I am very concerned about the inadequacy of funds for roads, for a number of reasons. Foremost among them, of course, is the consideration of road safety. The withdrawal of the national Government from the Minor Traffic Engineering and Road Safety Improvements Program, known as the MITERS program, represents a major blow to the campaign to bring down the national death toll on the roads. The sums allocated to the program since 1974 total $74m. On each occasion last year that the then Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon, announced Commonwealth grants to the States he stressed the importance of the scheme. It is important indeed. Let us look at the road traffic accident fatality rate for Australia for 1979. Some 3,504 fatalities are record in the Commonwealth statistics. I also notice that the incidence of road accident fatalities was 4.762 per 10,000 registered motor vehicles.

It might help honourable members realise how alarming that situation is if they relate it to two other matters which the whole of Australia regards as important. The Army battle casualties in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War totalled 11,609 dead and 29,162 wounded, compared with 14,427 Australians killed and 360,261 injured on the roads between 1974 and 1977. We know that nationwide in 1980 more than 3,500 fellow citizens will be killed on the roads, and more than 90,000 will be injured, most of them requiring hospitalisation. The cost will be enormous. One would like to develop this theme. A serious mistake is being made by this Government. Not only will many people die or suffer injury, but also many people will suffer inconvenience and enormous costs which otherwise would have been avoided.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (MrMillarOrder! The honourable member's time has expired.

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