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Thursday, 17 November 1938

Mr RANKIN (Bendigo) . - I support, the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) because I believe that the standardization of railway gauges is a question of national importance that the Government must be- prepared i.o face. It has been stated in the press on a number of occasions that military authorities say that it is not necessary for defence reasons to standardize railway gauges, but personally I cannot believe that any man with military experience would make such a statement.

Defence experts may say that there are other measures more necessary for defence than the standardisation of railway gauges, but they would not deny that standardization is absolutely vital to the effective defence of this country. Before the standard gauge line from Port Pirie to Port Augusta was constructed, I investigated the question of the time that would be taken to shift a military division from Sydney to Perth and estimated that it would occupy about five weeks. That is a crime against the defence of Australia.

The removal of the breaks of gauge, like the abolition of the extra impost on interstate telegrams, would help to develop a national spirit in Australia. The Commonwealth Government must face the fact that these steps are necessary to foster a better spirit in this country.

Victoria at present is suffering from a severe drought and is dependent for forage on the more favoured portions of New South Wales. The extra cost which would be saved in bringing forage from New South Wales to Victoria and the cost of transport of other goods over the two railways systems would go a long way towards meeting the cost of standardization of the gauges. These artificial barriers between the States are fundamentally wrong.

Mr Lane - Victoria wants everything.

Mr RANKIN - I assure the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) that New South Wales is the most vulnerable State in the Commonwealth and in the event of war against Australia would be the first to be attacked, and that residents of New South Wales would squeal like hades for Victorians to come to their assistance. Practically every honorable member agrees that this is a vital matter, which Australia as a nation must be prepared to face.

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