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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr MOUNTJOY (SWAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - It is a shame that Tasmania is not connected with the mainland, because, if it were, we should not have continual complaints about its isola- tion and neglect. I understand that it baf 300 miles of railways with the appropriate number of locomotives and rollingstock. The modernization of Tasmanian railways will be given consideration. It ought not to be taken for granted that the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge is useless. Plenty of countries operate on the 3-ft. 6.-in. gauge, and if the rails are heavy and the bed well laid and kept in order, big loads can bp hauled by powerful engines at high speeds, and it should be possible for the Tasmanian railways to he brought uptodate without alteration of the gauge. On the mainland, however, the advantages of the standard gauge are manifold. A paramount reason for standardizing the gauges is that of defence. During the war, when Western- Australia appeared to be in imminent danger of invasion by the Japanese, it was defenceless. We did have the Voluntary Defence Corps armed with shot-guns and broomsticks. In spite, of the- severe handicaps presented by the breaks of gauge, however, the railways did a very good job in transporting an armoured division across the continent. The job would have been immeasurably easier, but for the fact that between Sydney and Perth we have breaks of gauge at Albury, Port Pirie and Kalgoorlie, where the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge begins. I do not claim, however, that defence needs are immediately pressing, because we are not likely to be at war again in the next two or three years. Japan has been vanquished, and I cannot conceive of any other nation, in the near future at any rate, attacking us. As a Western Australian, I see immense advantages in the standardization of the gauges. For instance, it would make possible the development of a greater market for our agricultural products in the eastern States. The State is preponderantly a primary producing State. I believe that Sydney and Melbourne are potentially great markets for our garden produce. The tomato crop at Geraldton, in the electorate of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) ripens early in the season. It is picked and carried on the line of the Midland Railway Company to Midland Junction, where it is transferred to the line to Kalgoorlie, where it has to be transferred once more to the East- West train, and eventually, it arrives in Melbourne after having been unloaded and reloaded at Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Adelaide. Even then the tomatoes are sold at a good profit. The Western Australian climate and soil are eminently suitable for the production of certain fruits that do not do so well in eastern Australia. Of course, other fruits that we grow can be grown equally well on this side of the continent; but, with a standard line, fruits and vegetables that the starved markets in the eastern States would readily absorb, could be transported across the continent in a couple of days and sold at a good profit to the producers more cheaply than they can be sold under present conditions. Therefore, from the agricultural viewpoint alone, Western Australia would greatly benefit from standardization. I hoped that the first lines converted to the standard gauge would be from Kalgoorlie to Perth and from Port Augusta to Broken Hill. That would provide Western Australia with a one-gauge link with Sydney. One of the main bottle-necks in the transport Of troops during the war was the Commonwealth's own line from Port Pirie to Kalgoorlie. It was a bottle-neck because the rolling-stock was only sufficient to meet peace-time needs. The line is absolutely isolated from other 4-ft.81/2-in. lines, with a 5-ft. 3-in. gauge commencing at the Port Pirie terminal and the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge at the Kalgoorlie terminal. Many complaints were voiced in this Parliament during the war about troopshaving toundergo the ordeal of crossing the Nullarbor Plain in cattle trucks. Any one who has made thejourney, either in the cold of winter or the heat of summer, knows how trying it is, even in comfortable carriages. However,, as rolling-stock was lacking, willy-nilly, owing to the imminent danger in which Western Australia stood, the troops had to undergo the ordeal. Had there been a link with the New South Wales railways system, the reservoir of rolling-stock in that State could have been drawn upon and. the troops saved discomfort. The agreement would, in my opinion, be improved if the Railways Standardization Board had on it not only those persons whose membership is provided for in the bill, but also a member of the wages staff. It is proposed that the board shall consist of a director-general, who shall be chairman, and the following other members: -

(a)   one person who is qualified in railway mechanical engineering;

(b)   one person who is qualified in railway civil engineering;

(c)   one person who is qualified in railway transportation and traffic; and

(d)   one person who is qualified in railway finance and accounting.

I advocate the appointment to the board of a representative of the workers, a trade unionist, because, although I recognize the need for men qualified in the the foregoing callings, I think a man with practical knowledge gained through years of active operation of railways, could bring to bear on problems that will confront the board a wealth of experience. I base that contention on personal experience. The yard of the railway depot at Northam was so hopelessly congested that the Western Australian Railways Department decided to re-organize it. There was a natural fall in the yard so that when the shunters took the rollingstock out of the sheds all they needed to do would be to give it a heave and it would run to where required. The engineers constructed the new yard in such a way that when the job was completed, the shunters found that they had to push the trucks uphill. Surveyors and engineers, at the cost of many thousands ofpounds to the railway department, built the yard the wrong way round! Had they had the advice of a shunter, who knows only two well that trucks run downhill but have to be pushed uphill, they would not have perpetrated that error. Therefore, the wages staff, who are most concerned in the success of the conversion, ought to be represented on the board.

In Part IV. of the agreement it is provided that the Commonwealth shall bear the whole cost of its own conversion operations. The States and the Commonwealth are to share on a fifty-fifty and per capita basis the other conversion costs. That would have been of great advantage to Western Australia and Queensland if they had agreed to enter the agreement. I believe that the populous State of New South Wales, since it already has the standard gauge, would have helped to pay the cost of the conversion of the 3-ft. 6-in. ' gauges in the thinly populated States of Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, and that the Commonwealth would have contributed more in contributions to the sinking fund on the State debts. What a glorious opportunity has been missed by Western Australia and Queensland ! The thickly populated States should, of course, assist in the development of the less fortunately placedStates like Western Australia. One of the reasons for the secession referendum taken in Western Australia a few years ago was the conviction -in that State that it did not receive from the eastern States the assistance to which it was entitled. Now, when we find the wealthy States and the wealthier Commonwealth coming forward with a gift to the less populous States, particularly Western Australia and Queensland, the gift is refused. That reasoning is hard to follow.

In considering the matter of modernizing and standardizing the railway gauges we should also- give consideration to the provision of amenities to the railway workers. Any one who has travelled

Across the continent to Western Australia could not fail to be depressed by the conditions in which the workers on the trans-Australian railway live. At Cook the houses are commodious and neat enough, but they are of weatherboard, and I do not think that any one who has to live on the Nullarbor Plain should be expected to live in a weatherboard house, even of a good type. I have lived in hot and cold conditions all over Western Australia, and I know that if one has to sleep in the day-time, as railway men have to, the only type of house that is suitable is one constructed of brick, concrete or stone. The railway workers should be provided with stone houses,' which ought to be equipped with refrigeration and other amenities. The dwellings of the permanent-way workers are of a lower standard still. We are apt not to think of the man who keeps the permanent way in order as a railway man. We think that because he appears to have a job that any one can do, he can. be fobbed off with any sort of conditions. Bad as the conditions of the permanent-way men are on the transAustralian line, they are infinitely worse on the railways of Western Australia, where at the little sidings in the midst of the mulga, hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement, one sees workmen in huts built by themselves with sleepers and with only earth floors. Men should not be expected to live under such' deplorable conditions. So, not only mus't the rolling-stock be improved, but also the conditions of the workers must be made considerably better. At the railway workshops the hands ought to be provided with better dining rooms.

There is an opportunity for us in the development of the railway standardization project to insist- upon cutting out the outmoded two-class system. I do not say that the existing first-class standards are good enough to meet modern requirements. On the " Spirit of Progress ", which is the only modern train in Australia, not a great deal of difference exists 'between the first and second class, and I do not think the Victorian Railways Commissioners would have incurred loss if they had constructed it as a one-class train. I am sure that the two-class system is uneconomic. I bolstered my opinion when I took out the figures relating to first and second-class traffic on the Perth suburban lines. There the trains consist of three second-class and two first-class carriages. Apart altogether from the fact that more secondclass than first-class tickets are sold, if only holders of first-class tickets travel in the first-class carriages, the first-class carriages would be only three-quarter filled and the second-class would be overcrowded. Whether the motive power be electricity of steam, the train carries an unnecessary dead- weight in providing first-class travel. The marshalling of the two different classes of carriages itself is au unnecessary extra burden on a railways system.

I commend the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) for having brought this bill down. No one can blame him for its late arrival, because no one worked harder than he to get all the States to agree to standardization of the gauges. He has not finally abandoned hope that Western Australia and Queensland "will eventually see the wisdom of the project,- and come into the agreement. He was however, driven by desperation, when they hedged so long, and finally, but I hope temporarily, withdrew to say, "Well, let us get the job started. Let us have an agreement between the Commonwealth and the other three -States ".

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