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Thursday, 17 November 1927

Senator CRAWFORD (QueenslandHonorary Minister) . - I do not intend to deal at length with the merits of the line referred to in the motion moved by Senator Thomas. I wish rather to explain the attitude of the Commonwealth Government towards the general question of the unification of the gauges of the main lines of railway connecting the various State capitals. The Government has already taken practical steps to minimize the inconvenience and loss caused by the breaks of gauge on the main trunk lines. Senator Barwell referred to the report of a Royal Commission appointed by the Commonwealth Government in 1920. In 191S, prior to the appointment of that commission, a proposal to construct a railway from Port Augusta to Broken Hill was considered by the Government of the day. The then Prime Minister made it clear that while his Government was opposed to that line, it was prepared to consider the construction of a line from Port Augusta to Hay. In 1923. the present Government placed before a conference of State Premiers and others a proposal for the construction of a line between those two points, and also for a line from Kyogle to Brisbane. The proposal received little support, apart from that accorded to it by the representatives of

Nev South Wales and Queensland. Subsequently, an agreement was entered into between the Commonwealth Government and the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland for the construction of the Grafton to South Brisbane railway, which work is now in hand. Honorable senators "are probably aware that a bill to provide for the construction of a railway of 4 ft. Si in. gauge, from Port Augusta to Red Hill, and also for the laying of a third rail from Red Hill to Adelaide is now before another place. When the work now in hand has been completed there will be but one break of gauge between Brisbane aud Adelaide. During recent years several 5 ft. 3 in. gauge railways have been extended from Victoria across the border into New South Wales, aud are now serving some of the country which the proposed line from Port Augusta to Hay was expected ro serve. To build a line from Port Augusta now would be to duplicate, to some extent, the existing services. While the Commonwealth Government is prepared to consider any practical proposal for the unification of the gauges of the trunk line connecting the various State capitals, it must be remembered that its commitments in connexion with the unification of railway gauges and other railway expenditure are already very heavy. The following figures indicate the position : -


The Commonwealth is advancing the total amount in respect of the Grafton to South- Brisbane railway, and the capital cost is to be a definite charge on the line. That railway will pass through country altogether different from that which, according to Senator Barwell, would be traversed by the line suggested by Senator Thomas. It is expected that the passenger and freight traffic will be heavy, as the line will serve the rich northern rivers district in New South Wales. Under the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States of New South Wales and Queensland, the profits derived from the line will be applied first of all to payment of the interest which the Commonwealth has to find on behalf of the States of Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria, then to payment of the interest for which the States of Queensland and New South Wales are responsible, and finally, if the revenue is sufficient, to the payment of interest on one-fifth of the cost which the Commonwealth itself is providing. Senator Thomas did not indicate whether the expenditure to be incurred in constructing the line which he i3 advocating should, in his opinion, be shared by all the States, or whether it should be borne only by New South Wales and South Australia. I presume, however, that his idea is that it should be shared only by the two States mentioned, together with the Commonwealth, inasmuch as his motion proposes that the Commonwealth should convene a conference with representatives of those two States. For the reasons which I have given the Government cannot accept the motion, and I hope honorable senators will vote against it.

Debate (on motion by Senator Duncan) adjourned.

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