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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr ABBOTT (New England) . - I have known Sir Harold Clapp for many years, and join with the Leader of the Opposition .(Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) in paying tribute to his great skill and ability as a railway engineer and a planner of railways. The feature of this proposal which strikes me is that his plan for the . standardization of the railway gauges of Australia is to be completely emasculated under the agreement that has been made with three of the States. The failure of the Queensland Government to become a partner in the proposal will have the result that the' whole of the western .system envisaged in the report of Sir Harold Clapp, running from Bourke through Barringun and the western part of Queensland, and joining a line running across to Mr Isa, thence to Birdum and Darwin. and on the cross of the " T " back to Townsville, will be scrapped. One of the great merits which primary producers at least saw in that proposal was that it would be of tremendous assistance to New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland in times of drought. Its construction would have enabled cattle to be taken from the western slopes of Queensland, and the

Northern Territory, into the fattening country in New South Wales and Victoria, af ter which they could be taken to the great metropolitan markets of Sydney and Melbourne. Sir Harold Clapp has laid particular stress in his report on the evidence given by Mr. Tancred,. of Tancred Brothers, who treat a large number of stock at their Bourke meatworks, frequently sending motor lorries with trailers attached 200 miles from the works to collect sheep. Sir Harold said in' his report -

I have also had discussions with leading individual pastoralists with interests in central and western Queensland who favour the proposal for the reasons indicated. Mr. 0. E. Tancred, part proprietor of the Bourke meatworks, considers that the line, if constructed, would he a commercial proposition. He stated that if the facility were available to move stock by rail from central and western Queensland to New South Wales, he would truck to Bourke approximately 400,000 sheep and 40,000 head of cattle each year from areas north of Cunnamulla.

Mr. Tancredsaid that last year he trane ported 150 000 sheep by motor truck from the Cunnamulla, area of Queensland to Bourke, New South Wales, and the total road motor mileage run in that year by his fleet of ten live-stock trucks (each carrying 300 sheep) was 185,000 miles.

Under the agreement with New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, the railway will come to a dead-end at Barringun, oh the . border . of New South Wales and Queensland. It will be utterly useless unless it is continued farther to the north. That is one feature of Sir Harold Clapp's plan which has been emasculated. On to another portion of his scheme has been tacked a completely new proposal which he did not recommend. The Minister for Transport, in his second-reading speech, built up a great case for the standardization of the railway gauges of Australia in the interest of the defence of the Commonwealth. The honorable gentleman said: -

It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that the Minister for the Army, in response to a request for an opinion by Sir Harold Clapp, stated in regard to the proposal to standardize the railway gauges that the defence aspect of this problem is of vital importance, if, indeed, it does not of itself present real justification' for an undertaking of such magnitude in thefield of post-war construction.

Apparently, Sir Harold Clapp's plans were drawn in the interest of the defence of this country in collaboration with the defence chiefs, yet they did not envisage the proposal embodied in the Schedule, Part III., clause 10, paragraph e, which reads -

Conversion to standard gauge of the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge lines of the Commonwealth Railways from Port Augusta to Alice Springs, the conversion to standard gauge of existing locomotives and rolling stock suitable for conversion ..."

What Sir Harold Clapp said in regard to that proposal will be found at page 10 of his report. It .is in these terms-: -

That the conversion to standard gauge (4-ft.' 8i4n.) of the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge Central Australia railway (Port Augusta- Alice Springs) and the extension thereof beyond the -existing terminal at Alice Springs be deferred indefinitely.

Under the proposal of the Government, that railway is to be built. 'It is to go beyond Alice Springs, because the agreement provides for the construction of a new standard gauge railway from Alice Springs to Birdum, and the construction of the standard gauge locomotives and rolling stock necessary to operate this line. The line from Birdum to Darwin is to be converted to the standard gauge. But apparently the connecting line from the Queensland system, which was regarded as of supreme importance from the defence point of view, has been abandoned. Therefore, in future, troops being moved from Sydney to Darwin will have to be taken through Melbourne, Adelaide and the centre of Australia, unless they are flown there. It is strange that the Minister did not, in his second-reading speech, mention one word about this vital alteration of Sir Harold Clapp's plans, and the large additional expense that will be entailed, as well as the curtailment of the defence requirements of Australia. [ imagine that there must have been very difficult bargaining even with the three States whose representatives- the Minister managed to assemble at the conference, in order to secure approval of this railway from Port Augusta to Alice Springs, ;and the construction of a new line of standard gauge from Alice Springs to Birdum and thence to the north of Australia - a line that was not reported upon favorably by Sir Harold Clapp, or, so far as I can learn', by any of the other railway authorities in the. Common. wealth. This is a sop to South Australia, in order to gratify the Minister's vanity. It is a great pity that these lines were em, bodied in the scheme when Sir Harold Clapp was so strongly opposed to them, and, according to military .authorities, they have no defence value.

I want to make some comments on the cost of .these proposals, though not in terms of finance. As I view the matter, Australia has not sufficient manpower to undertake this enormous conversion of railway gauges and the building of the necessary new stock, without sacrificing the requirements of the people in a hundred and one other ways that are more vitally, important at the present time. The cost of the scheme is estimated to be £70,000,000. On the basis of the basic wage, it would appear that for the next six years there will be from 33,000 to 34,000 men engaged on these- vast projects. But I do not propose to state the matter in that way, because many of the men employed in the scheme in a skilled capacity will receive higher than the basic wage. At page 83 pf his report, Sir Harold Clapp has estimated the additional man-power" that will be required each year by the railway departments in carrying out proposals "A", "B" and " C ", including the associated works referred to in Part III. Additional to those are the proposed railway from Alice Springs to Birdum and the conversion of the line from Port Augusta to Alice Springs, which Sir Harold Clapp did not envisage. It appears that the times which, it is estimated, will be required to complete the different items are, six and a quarter years for item 2, seven years for item 3, and six and a quarter years for item 4. No estimate is given in respect of the railway through Central Australia. It further appears that at least 10,130 men will be required from the beginning to the completion of the works in the next six years. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) recently cited figures showing that about four weeks ago there were 11,000 persons unemployed in the Commonwealth. Since then, -the number has decreased to 4,000. The Government's house-building programme has completely broken down, owing to the lack of man-power generally and of skilled tradesmen particularly. There is a failure to supply to the primary producers galvanized iron, wire and the farm implements that they need in order, to raise their properties to a high degree of productivity, and generally to place them in order after the neglect of the war years, when maintenance and improvements had to be deferred. There is an enormous shortage of man-power in Australia at the present time, even for the production of the consumer goods that are required by the people. There is a tremendous demand for- man-power in the building trades, and in all the ancillary trades which provide the requirements of housebuilders. The position will be accentuated by the demands that will be made on the available man-power resources by the scheme that has been brought forward by the Minister for Transport to-night. Let me enumerate some of the requirements in the way of steel, materials and skilled labour which- the plan envisages for Victoria alone. They are as follows-: - (

(6)   Construction of 250 cars and vans and 3,770 wagons, &c, 1,304 bogies, 24 car under.frames, 42 rail motors, trailers, &c.

(c)   Coupler conversion of all stock suitable for gauge conversion.'

(d)   Additional plant and equipment for work-shops generally.

(e)   New locomotive depot at South Kensington.

All this work must necessarily effect bousing. Hundreds of thousands of persons will not be able to get houses if this vast railway reconstruction scheme is proceeded with in the near future. We are faced with the need to provide for hydro-electric development in various parts of the country. Owing to the foresight of the 'Stevens-Bruxner Government, arrangements have been made for the construction of -five large dams in New England. The present Labour Premier, Mr. McKell, is about to turn the first sod of the Glentown dam on the upper Hunter, and the full scheme is expected, when completed, to irrigate 60,000 acres of land. On this land will be grown fodder that can be used to prevent the appalling losses among stock which occur when there are droughts in New South

Wales and western Queensland. How-, ever, those water schemes cannot be developed if the railway reconstruction scheme makes such a tremendous demand on materials and labour. Another irrigation proposal has been mapped out in the Namoi Valley, and the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) envisages the construction of a hydroelectric scheme on the Clarence' River. This hydro-electric scheme would eventually be linked up with the main coa and power resources of the eastern seaboard, including those at Brisbane and Newcastle, and at Bunnerong in Sydney. We have all heard of the Snowy River scheme, under which it is proposed to divert the Snowy River through a tunnel 15 miles long, into the Murrumbidgee River.

I believe that it is necessary to standardize our railway gauges, but the work should not be undertaken at the . cost of depriving the community of houses and consumer goods. We have been told that Australia is short of 250,000 houses. Even before the war, it was necessary to construct 40,000 houses a year to meet requirements, and at the present time, in order to overtake the demand, between 60,000 and 70,000 houses a year should be built. However, it will be impossible to carry out such a housing programme, and to develop water conservation and hydro-electric schemes, if the Governments' proposed railway standardization scheme is proceeded with immediately. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that there is no prospect that the scheme will be undertaken while people are without houses, and while rural areas lack hydro-electric services.

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