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Thursday, 17 November 1938


Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) .- 1 welcome this opportunity to discuss this important national question, but I regret that the honorable gentleman who moved the adjournment of the House in order to initiate this discussion should - endeavour to make party political capital out of it. Many efforts have been made to right the wrong that was done in the development of our railways systems in the early days, but, in recent years, all of the efforts by the Commonwealth Government towards the standardization of the railway gauges have been hindered by some of the State governments, on which lies the responsibility for the failure to standardize the railway gauges. I have no doubt, and I am sure that every honorable gentleman shares my feelings, as to the 'urgent need to standardize the Australian railways systems, and I regret the lack of desire of some of the State governments to cooperate with the Commonwealth Government, which has caused the delay.


Mr Barnard - It would be hard to justify that statement.


Mr FRANCIS - The only efforts that have been made to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Standardization of Railway Gauges, which were made in 1921, have been made by the Bruce-Page Government and by the Lyons Government. The Bruce-Page Government constructed the standard 4-ft.81/2-in. gauge line from Kyogle to South Brisbane; the Lyons Government constructed the standard gauge line from Port Augusta to Port Pirie.


Mr Scullin - Does the honorable member ignore the trans-Australia line?


Mr FRANCIS - If the right honorable gentleman would listen he would know that I am referring to the efforts that have been made since 1921. Special Premiers conferences on this question were called by the Commonwealth Government in 1924 and again in 1934.

The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) interjected earlier in the debate that New South Wales should receive its share of any standardization work. I point out to the honorable gentleman that the responsibility for the tangle of railway gauges in Australia to-day lies with New South Wales.

In the year 1851 the adoption of a 4- ft. 81/2-in. gauge was proposed and strongly supported in the new colony of Victoria and in the province of South Australia, but the Government of New South Wales preferred a 5-ft. 3-in. gauge, and in July, 1852, an act of council was passed whereby the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge was made compulsory under heavy penalties in the colony of New South Wales. This gauge was then reluctantly adopted in Victoria and South Australia and the Melbourne to Hobsons Bay railway was built with a 5-ft. 3-in. gauge in June, 1853. In the following August, New South Wales passed an act revoking the 5- ft. 3-in. standard which it had forced on Victoria and South Australia, and adopted the 4-ft. 8-1/2-in. standard which had been preferred by Victoria and South Australia.

The Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) referred to the royal commission which was appointed in 1921. It was an independent commission, and it consisted of Mr. R. Blake, of England;

Mr. F.M. Whyte, of the United States of America; and Mr. J. J. Garvan, of Sydney. The Minister pointed out that the proposal placed before the royal commission for inquiry was the linking of Fremantle and Brisbane through the' capital cities with a uniform railway gauge of 4 ft. 81/2 in. At that time it was estimated that the cost wouldbe £21,600,000.

The amount to be expended within each State was allocated as follows: -

 

It was proposed that the work should be done by the expenditure over eight years of the amount of £2,700,000 a year. I submit that that amount of expenditure would not have been difficult in those days. It would not be excessive to-day, but as the result of the delay, the estimated cost has risen. In the case of Victoria alone it was estimated that the cost of altering the permanent way was- 1897, £350,000 ; 1913, £3,569,000 (ten times greater), and 1921, £5,240,000 (fifteen times greater). Every year of delay adds to the cost and adversely affects the development of Australia. Other nations have had to tackle this problem and as the result of their having clone so, they have made greater progress than is being made in Australia to-day. The United States of America started the conversion of its seven differentrailway gauges in 1886, and approximately 13,000 miles of railways were converted to a standard gauge. In consequence, the United States of America has reaped the benefit of enhanced prosperity. Australia's prosperity would increase if the breaks of gauge were eliminated. The royal commission of 1921 reported -

Any time or money spent on a thirdrail or mechanical device will bo wasted.

Experience has shown that that is so.

Earlier in my speech I referred to the fact that the Bruce-Page Government was responsible for the construction of the line from Kyogle to South Brisbane. Towards the cost of that standard gauge line the Governments of the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Queens- land contributed. Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia should have contributed but did not do so, the Commonwealth consequently paying not only its own share but also that of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. That alone indicates the enthusiasm and anxiety of the Commonwealth to convert the Australian railways systems on a standard gauge basis. The adoption of a uniform gauge is essential for Australia from economical and defence viewpoints. In times of drought or other trouble, if the gauges were standardized, rolling stock which was not needed in one State could be lent on an economic basis to other States. There could be a free interchange of rolling-stock. Because this exchange is not possible, every State has to construct sufficient rolling stock to be able to meet the peak period of production, and this is not economical.

It would require 100 trains to shift an army division. We have in Australia seven divisions, five infantry and two cavalry. It would be difficult enough to transport a division from one part of Australia across the continent on a standardized railway gauge, but it would be a colossal task to try to do so with breaks of gauge. A uniform gauge is therefore of great importance to assist in the development of the defence measures. lt has been said that the breaks of gauge aro of benefit to troops because they provide the means by which the troops can have a rest out of the carriages, but that rest could easily be provided in other ways. The standardization of the gauges should be started without delay in order to serve the interests of Australia from the point of view of defence and economic developmental needs.







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