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Wednesday, 4 June 1969

Senator CANT (Western Australia) - I hope not to delay the Senate for too long on this Bill. We are setting out to deal with an important Bill, which proposes to distribute to the States over the next 5 years an amount of $ 1,200m for road works, to which will be added a special grant of $52m which is to be distributed between the States of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. I think that the fact that this special grant is being made available to these three States - in particular the amount of $40m which is being made available to Western Australia - is a recognition that the new formula as set out in this legislation does an injustice to the State of Western Australia and, to a lesser extent does an injustice to the States of South Australia and Tasmania. I base that statement on the distribution of the special grant of $52m. Nevertheless, as I understand it, the Premier of my State of Western Australia has agreed to the distribution of the Commonwealth aid roads money, and as he has to administer the scheme, it is not for me to be so critical of it.

It is interesting to note that during the past 5-year Commonwealth aid roads programme an amount of $1,1 47m was collected from motor spirit and fuel taxes. During that period only $750m of this money was distributed to the States. So from the total which was collected in motor spirit and fuel taxes, an amount of $397m went to Consolidated Revenue. If we project over the next 5 years the collections of revenue from this source we see that there will be an 8% increase. I reject the assessment of the Bureau of Roads that the increase will be 5%, because in every statement that I have seen from the Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) relating to the increase in the use of motor spirit and such fuels in Australia the rate mentioned has been from 8% to 9%. I therefore take the figure of 8% as being the figure generally accepted, rather than that used by the Bureau of Roads.

On that basis, in the next 5 years the Commonwealth will collect $459m more than the $ 1,252m that is to be distributed in that period. If the estimate of the Bureau of Roads regarding the rate of increase is taken, the excess over the amounts being granted to the States will be $3 14. In either event, there will1 be a considerable increase of revenue from this source while we will be required to continue to use roads that are not suited to present day traffic. I believe that the Government should consider allocating for roads purposes all the revenue collected from the tax on fuels. We of the Opposition believe that the people who provide this revenue expect to have the total amount spent for their benefit. I may say in passing that the States are being starved of road funds. This is particularly so in the case of the larger States with small populations where roads have to be constructed over great distances. While the States are being starved of road funds, the Commonwealth is in effect compelling them to construct sub-standard roads. Such roads are not suitable for the traffic that has to use them, particularly the heavier vehicles which are using the roads in ever increasing numbers.

As honourable senators will be aware, most of the roads are constructed with a gravel base and a bitumen top. In wet weather the gravel becomes almost mobile and as soon as a heavy vehicle is driven on it the road is thrown out of balance and becomes a hazard for the driver of every vehicle that uses it. Until adequate revenues are allocated for road purposes we will not be able to reduce our road toll or our transport costs. It should be remembered that transport costs ultimately flow to the consumers. Those costs are not absorbed by industry. They become a charge upon the products that are produced and finally make their way to the wage earners and other consumers in the community, lt is those people who have to meet these additional costs. They could be saved at feast some of the burden if transport costs were reduced.

Can we allow the slaughter on our roads to continue? Should we not do all that we can - and I say that we are not doing sufficient - to reduce the road toll? The road toll in Austrafia is greater per 10,000 vehicles than in any comparable country in the world. As we all know, motor cars, which are the main sources of road accidents, are being built to travel faster. Bigger motor cars are being produced all the time. Yet we are not providing roads that are adequate for the use of such vehicles. The toll of the road is 8.1 for every 10,000 vehicles in Australia. That is a much higher rate than the rate in the United States of America where it is approximately 5 per 10,000 vehicles. The Americans have denser traffic but they have given attention to their road systems.

In 1967-68, 3,249 people were killed on our roads and 81,000 people were injured. We can imagine the loss that that occasioned in terms of production, even if we think only of the 81,000 people who were injured. If we take the average time off work as a result of road accidents as one week, we can imagine the extent of lost production that Australia suffers. In addition, of course, there is the loss which results from the deaths of 3,249 people on the roads. It can be seen, therefore, that hundreds of thousands of dollars must be spent in bringing migrants to this country to replace the people who have been injured or killed on the roads. There is no net gain in terms of migration until we have replaced those 3,249 people who have been killed.

Senator Scott - Is that annually?

Senator CANT - That was the figure for 1967-68. I have not given the figures for other years because I do not want to prolong the debate, but I suggest that the 1967-68 figure illustrates the point I am making. That is an enormous number of people to be lost. I suggest that money spent to prevent accidents on the roads with the consequent death or injury of so many people, would not be wasted. It would be an effective means of reducing transport costs as well. As we know, it is estimated that transport costs account for approximately 25% of all industry costs today. That is a very high figure. If we wish to reduce costs for our export industries we must improve our transport. Whenever the workers apply for an increase in wages they are told: 'This will be a charge on the costs of production. We will be pricing ourselves out of the world's markets.' I contend that we are pricing ourselves out of the world's markets by not making valiant efforts to reduce transport costs in industry.

Australia is a large country with a small population. It lacks an adequate rail system. As everyone knows, there are few railways in the north of Australia other than those that have been constructed in Western Australia recently in connection with the minerals industry. In fact, there are relatively few railways in the southern part of Western Australia. The Western Australian State Shipping Service is being eased out of the transport industry. More and more of the trade is being taken over by road transport. If that trend continues we will need better roads and cheaper transport services in the outback areas. This points to the necessity for greater expenditure on the roads. The allocation of funds to Western Australia has been drastically reduced. That is recognised by the Commonwealth in these additional grants of $52m.

As the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Scott) knows, Western Australia is developing very fast. In fact its rate of development is so fast that the State cannot generate sufficient funds to cope with all the public services that are required. Yet we find legislation of this kind which stipulates that in addition to the funds that are being provided by the Commonwealth the States must increase their contribution for the construction and maintenance of roads. In that way the Commonwealth is restricting the States in the expenditure of funds for the benefit of the whole community. Having regard to the terms on which loans and grants are made by the Commonwealth to the States, the States are getting into a position where they will no longer be able to control their own budgets. Each grant te a State which provides for the provision of revenue by the State on a matching basis takes away from the State control of its own affairs to that extent and deprives it of the degree of flexibility which would enable it to meet emergencies or other situations that might arise.

Over the past 10 years Western Australia has brought into production about 8 million acres of land. This has meant a very big extension of our roads system. On this land we have been producing mainly export commodities and as a result have been able to improve our balance of payments. We think that the State should be given a greater sum and that we should be accorded more favourable terms than are being accorded lo us under this legislation.

The State governments have to impose certain obligations upon local government authorities, which have few avenues from which to raise funds to obtain matching grants from the States. The local authorities can raise funds only by borrowing, by grants from other authorities or by increasing their rates. When we note that almost 40c in every $1 collected by the local authorities are used to pay interest on loans that have been raised to carry out their functions, we realise that it is almost impossible for them to raise further loans in order to match State grants. Very soon all the money that they raise will be used to pay interest, because their debt is growing constantly.

Some of the local authorities in Western Australia say that unless they are soon afforded some relief there will have to be an increase of 20% in rates. This money will have to be spent on certain roads; no flexibility outside the terms of the legislation will be allowed. One can imagine what an increase of 20% in rates will mean to producers in country areas. Already the producers are troubled by the low prices received for wool and the quotas that are being placed on the production of wheat. They are not able to grow the quantity of wheat and other cereals that they would like to grow. An increase of 20% in rate3 will lead to a reduction in the standard of living of these people. These are matters that the Treasurer should look at when he meets the representatives of the States. I do not know whether the Premier of Western Australia has put this argument forcefully. I do not accuse him of not doing so, but it has been said that he has not and that he has been prepared to go along with the Commonwealth Government and take whatever it gives him. Unless these arguments are put forcefully, Western Australia will start to slip back.

I urge the Government to free the hands of the local government authorities. I did note a statement in the Press recently to the effect that the Western Australian Government had met representatives of the local authorities and that they had come to some arrangement, but I do not know what the arrangment was. 1 can speak only of conditions as I know them and repeat that information from the local authorities indicates that if this legislation is passed there will have to be a 20% increase in rates. I urge the Government to allocate for road purposes all the revenue that is collected from sales of motor spirit and automotive diesel fuel. I urge the Government to institute a national transport policy and to integrate all forms of transport in an effort to reduce the cost of transport. 1 move:

At the end of motion add: 'but regrets the Government's continuing refusal to plan expenditure of an amount at least equivalent to the proceeds of all the automotive fuel taxes on roads and associated facilities.'

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood) - Is the amendment seconded?

Senator Bishop - 1 second the amendment.

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