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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr CHIFLEY - I assume, in the first place, that no agreement can be made by the States without ratification by this Parliament. The Minister for Transport, with the consent of the Government, arranged for Sir Harold Clapp to present a report on the standardization of the railway gauges, and the report has only recently come to hand. It is a lengthy document, and I have not yet had an opportunity to' read it carefully. The Government is arranging for the report to be printed, so that honorable members may have an opportunity to study it. The report will be printed and circulated as soon as possible. I cannot say that that will be done at an early date, but the Government will provide honorable members with an opportunity to discuss the proposals.

No opportunity was afforded Parliament to discuss. the proposal before agreements were made with the State governments. I was not satisfied with the reply I hadreceived, and .on the 23rd November, 1944, I asked the Acting Prime Ministerthe following question : -

I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether, before any decision or agreement is arrived at regarding the standardization of railway gauges, Parliament will have the opportunity to consider the project side by side with national works of urgent and great public importance, such as water conservation and hydro-electric schemes?

To this his reply was " Yes ". In view of that reply, I expected that a proposal, estimated to cost so much money would, have received much more careful consideration. I certainly expected that thepromise of the Acting Prime Minister, would have been honoured," but that hasnot been done. Agreements have been made with three States, and now Government supporters are prepared to-night topass this bill which will inflict the schemeon the people of the Commonwealth. TheMinister cannot give any assurance that the standardization plan will be completed at a cost of even £200,000,000.

Like most other Australians, I realize the great importance of our railways, and the great task that they performed during the war. No 3-ft. 6-in. gauge railways anywhere in the world could have given better service than did the Queensland railways, nor could better service have been obtained from the staff, from' shunters to office workers. If the Commonwealth really wishes- to assist the State railway departments, it should advance money for the duplication' of . certain lines. If there was a defect in our railway system .during the war, it was the lack of double tracks over certain stretches, which led to delay in' the transport of goods. We should remember, that even under the present proposal, although standard gauge railways will be carried across State borders, they will not be carried the length and breadth of the States..

In his second:reading speech, the Minister said that, during the war, Germany had converted' 12,000 miles of railway from 5-ft. gauge to 4 ft. 8£ in., and that Russia, some time later, had converted them once more to 5-ft. gauge, in addition to altering another 18,000 miles of railway to 5 feet. I suggest that Russia's purpose was not to standardize gauges, but to create a, break of gauge between its territory and that of Germany. Should an enemy invade Queensland, the best way to help him to get into New South Wales would be to provide a railway of standard gauge from one State to the other. While there existed a break of gauge it would be impossible for an enemy to follow the railway system down from Queensland to New South Wales. This argument was, as a matter of fact, used by the Commissioner of Railways in Queensland in opposition to the proposal for standardization. There are advantages in a break of gauge, as Russia discovered. To-day, thu standard gauge in Russia is 5 feet, but the authorities -are contemplating broadening it to 6 feet -so as to permit the carriage of bigger loads. In view of -this trend, there seems to be no reason why the Victorian gauge should be reduced. The State Railways Commissioners will want to know why changes of the kind proposed are to be forced upon them. The first proposal was to construct certain lines in such a way as to drain all the wealth from western Queensland into Sydney. The Minister made it clear that a tremendous amount of material would be required for this proposed undertaking. He added that if members of the Opposition opposed this scheme .' they would show that they were working for big commercial interests. It seems to me that the greatest beneficiary under the Minister's proposal will be the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, which will supply the iron and . steel .required for bridges and rails. The proposal has found its way into literature, and, in an article published in Australian Bachground, it is referred to in the following terms : -

It will bring back a picturesque era of railroad con'ruction that will provide enough material for a dozen Hollywood films. Australian forests and plains, mountains and rivers, desert and lush sub-tropical country will provide fitting settings.

I do not know what the taxpayers willthink about it, but the scheme envisages the provision of 411 locomotives, 26,000 items of rolling-stock, 850,000 tons of steel for metal sleepers and rolling-stock, 12,000,000 superficial 'feet of timber for sleepers, and 26,000.000 superficial feet of sawn timber. This work will occupy the equivalent of 103 man-years. To-day the man on the land is in urgent need of galvanized and plain wire, wire netting, timber, galvanized iron and many other materials, without which he cannot continue in operation, yet when we ask what is being done to speed up the production of these commodities we are invariably faced with the reply that nothing can be done because of the shortage of ma:: lower. If there be such a shortage of man-power for the production of essential commodities, why should we undertake a scheme such as this, which will utilize sonic <>: the very material? which are so urgently needed by our primary producers and our homeless people? Timber is one of the commodities in respect of which there are the greatest shortages, yet we find tha1 this scheme will , utilize approximately 26,000,000 superficial feet. While the timber industry to-day is groaning under the weight of the ' load it is carrying, the Government proposes to place upon it this tremendous additional burden. Scarcely a city, town or village in Australia is not waiting from day to day for a small "hand-out" of commodities in short supply, yet, in order to give effect to the standardization proposals, we propose to expend millions of pounds of money and impose still' further strains on industries already depleted of man-power. The far-reaching proposals in this bill should be given much more mature consideration than time permits at this late hour in the final session of the Parliament. The problem of ll standardization of railway gauge should bfconsidered in conjunction with other means for the development of transport, not only to meet peace-time requirements, but also for our defence. 1 trust that the Government will be reasonable and defer further consideration of this matter until a more appropriate time. 1 appeal to other honorable members to express their disapproval of the action of their State governments in becoming parties to a proposal of such magnitude while our industries are still recovering from the effects of the war. South Australia and Victoria are the only States which have fully subscribed to the proposal. New South Wales has come into the scheme merely for the purpose of having a small railway built, and in order to bring about the standardization of s(,me relatively unimportant tram tracks. The South Australian Government endorsed the proposal in order that standardization of the railway lines in that

State might be brought about at a comparatively .cheap cost to the State. The cost to the people of Australia generally, however, will be. very high. By linking r.he existing rail-head at Orbost, Victoria, with the terminus at Bombala, in New South Wales, a second rail connexion would be provided between Melbourne and Sydney, which would improve the rail connexion with Canberra, and open up new and rich country. I trust that the Government will not use its numbers to-night to secure the passage of a measure which has proved to be unpopular in most of the States. We would render a greater service to Australia if we utilized the money proposed to be expended under this proposal on the conservation of water and the development of hydro-electric power.

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