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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr MOUNTJOY (Swan) .- The honorable member for Wide Bay (Br. Bernard Corser) never -ceases to amaze m.e. He spoke about the standardization of railway gauges from the viewpoint of a Queenslander, rather than that of an Australian. One wonders why he is in this Parliament at all ; he views all national matters from a purely parochial angle. He. spoke about the development of air transport as though the railways had served their useful purpose and were no longer required. We have only to look at other modern countries, such as the United States of America, to find that the railway companies are spending vast sums of money on keeping their railway systems up to date. That is a clear indi- ' cation that railway executives abroad do not believe that the day of the railway, as the most efficient method of transport, is past. But if railways are to hold their own against the competition of road and air transportation, they must be brought up to date, and standardization is the first step towards that end. All methods of transport should he developed side by side. If anything were needed to demonstrate the value of the railways, the splendid record of rail transportation over the difficult years of the war, despite the handicap of the breaks of gauge, should bc sufficient to convince the most sceptical. I do not know how this country could have successfully waged the war if it had had to depend upon road and air transport. Railways have played an important part in the development of this country; the building of new lines has opened up agricultural and pastoral areas and assisted greatly in their rapid development, particularly in Western Australia. It is true that some of .the lines operate at a loss, but their usefulness must not be considered solely from that angle. Many unprofitable lines contribute very greatly to the rural wealth of this country. This proposal to bring our railway systems up to date has everything to commend it. Road transportation can never operate as cheaply as the railways. Would members of the Australian Country party like to pay road freight charge? for the transport of superphosphates, wheat and other rural commodities fRecently in Western Australia the railways were in such a deplorable condition that they were unable to carry the wheat harvest to the seaboard, and road transport had to be resorted to. The cost for road transport was ls.' 3d. a bushel as against 5d. a bushel over the railways. The honorable member for Wide Bay spoke as though we all had dual personalities, with loyalties to the States on one hand and loyalty to the Commonwealth on the' other. We should regard ourselves not as members of the community of a State but as members of the community of Australia, and consider proposals such as that now before us with a broad national outlook. .The honorable member argued that the standardization of ' railway gauges should have been the subject of examination and report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works. The Government referred the matter to an expert committee which was best fitted to advise it on such a technical problem. If the proposal h'ad been referred to the Works Committee, that body would have had to summon before it as witnesses the very persons who constituted the expert committee. It is the task of experts to determine matters of this kind ; honorable members have not the requisite technical knowledge to do so. I do not accept the view that if we pass this bill to-night the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) will proceed to Albury to-morrow and drive the first dogspike in the conversion work.

Mr Holt - When is it expected that >he work will begin?

Mr MOUNTJOY - I do not believe there is such tremendous urgency about it that it will be begun to-morrow morning. I leave that question to be answered by the Minister for Transport. [ am not an authority on the condition of the railways in States other than my own. In Western Australia we are facing a transport breakdown because our railways are worn out. Because of the bad condition into which railways there have fallen, 'it is impossible to maintain schedules and time-tables; locomotives and rolling-stock are in an appalling state. If the railways in that State are not converted to the standard gauge in the near future the Western Australian Government will- be forced to face up to the expenditure of large sums of money to put its railways in working order. In 1929, Western Australia had a record harvest of 52,000,000 bushels, all of which was handled by the railways in addition to. the normal haulage to country centres of superphosphates, agricultural machinery and all the needs of the farming and pastoral community. To-day we find that the Western Australian railways have fallen to such a low level of efficiency that they are unable to handle a 13,000,000 bushel crop. The system has deteriorated so rapidly that the Government of that State will shortly be faced with the necessity to expend millions of pounds' in order to enable them to transport the ordinary goods required by the community.

The honorable member for Wide Bay also suggested double-tracking as a means of overcoming some aspects of the difficulty caused by the break of gauge. Undoubtedly, double-tracking would increase the capacity of individual lines, and would enable them to carry more r-han twice their present loading, but that would only add to the problem of standardization which eventually must be faced.

Mr Anthony - The Government of Western Australia is not a participant in this agreement.

Mr MOUNTJOY - I am well aware of that. I approach this bill with mixed feelings. On the one hand I am pleased that a start is to be made on this important project; on the other I am bitterly disappointed that the Western Australian Government has not agreed to participate in the scheme. In his second-reading speech the Minister for Transport said -

It is to' be regretted that Queensland and Western Australia are not included in thu ' plan, and it should be made clear that that if not the fault of the Commonwealth. The door ' is still open for further negotiations with both States.

Dame Enid Lyons - Is there any door open for Tasmania?-

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