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Wednesday, 10 October 1973
Page: 1882

Mr LLOYD (Murray) - I will leave it to the Queenslanders to continue the battle between themselves which I have no doubt will continue. I intend to confine my remarks to the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement which will expire on 30 June next year. One of the most important tasks the Minister for Transport (Mr Jones) will have will be the renegotiation of that Agreement with the States. Decisions to be made will include the initial allocation the percentage increase to be allowed each year and the percentage allocation for the various categories of roads. The present scheme saw a significant departure from previous ones in that a more comprehensive road allocation grant was made to the States. I am told that the Minister did not completely accept the Bureau of Roads recommendation. I am sure the present Minister will not necessarily accept a recommendation either if he feels that other factors should be taken into account.

I understand that the recommendation to which I have referred was based solely on vehicle usage without regard to the types of vehicles in the sense of whether they were used for entertainment, ordinary traffic, heavy duty traffic, business purposes, the carriage of goods, fibre, food and so on. Because the then Minister did not adhere to the recommendation of the Bureau the allocation for country roads was much fairer than would otherwise have been the case. I ask the Minister to remember this in the event that a similar recommendation is made this time and I hope he will make a recommendation that will provide a fairer share for country roads in Australia.

Much has been said by the present Government - and rumours are floating around - in regard to expenditure on public transport as against expenditure on road maintenance or upgrading roads for use by private transport. This may be the correct policy for the major cities. I will not comment on this but I would remind the Minister and the Government that in country areas there is no substitute for adequate roads whether they be national highways, arterial roads or rural roads. If this Government is sincere in its wishes to hold down the price of food and the price of fibre it will have to continue with a rural road upgrading program, improvements to arterial roads and improvements to inter city highways because one of the unfortunate things that exist in Australia is that a higher percentage of the cost to the consumer is attributable to freight costs than just about any other country. One of the unfortunate burdens which the wheat grower of Australia has to bear is that on many occasions the rail freight on transporting wheat from the farm or the rail head to the port is higher - he may only be 200 or 300 miles away - than the cost of shipping that wheat several thousand miles to the export market. Freight charges on rural products is the only profit making business that the Australian railways have.

Returning to roads, I say that there is no substitute for an upgrading program involving adequate expenditure on country roads in Australia. The present scheme allowed for an inflation factor of 5 per cent, compounding each year, on the initial or base allocation. It has become obvious that this figure is insufficient for 2 reasons. The first is the rate of inflation. The cost of road building has increased at a very high rate and with the present rate of inflation the inflation factor will be nowhere near adequate. The other reason is the overall cost in upgrading roads to a reasonable standard according to modern transport requirements. I would hope that the Minister will allow in the new agreement for a higher percentage increase per annum than exists under the present scheme. We have heard of examples of other countries and the money that is being spent on public transport systems because of problems concerning private transport in the cities of those countries. I am not here to argue that point. But I just remind the Minister and the Government that on our standards those countries also have very adequate road systems particularly arterial roads, national highways and rural roads. It would be a tragedy for the economic development of this country and for social justice for the people who live outside the capital cities if, when this new Agreement comes into force late next year, the percentage of the allocation for country roads is not at least as high as it is now and also if the inflation factor is not considerably higher than it is now.

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