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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1287


Mr REEVES(8.23) —I will speak about the Alice Springs to Darwin rail link and point to some of the hypocrisy which surrounds this new- found concern we have heard expressed by the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) this afternoon.


Mr Lusher —There is nothing new about it; I have been expressing it for six months.


Mr REEVES —I will tell the honourable member a little about the history of the Liberal-National Party coalition with regard to this issue and then he might like to reconsider that statement. The history of the Liberal-National Party coalition over this project is one of insincerity and dishonesty. The Liberal- National Party coalition has been in government for 31 1/2 of the last 35 years. In that time it did not initiate one inch of construction on the Adelaide to Darwin rail link. Instead, in 1976 the then Liberal-National Country Party Government, of which the honourable member for Hume was then a part, closed down 500 kilometres of the line between Adelaide and Darwin. In the process it put out of work hundreds of people in the Northern Territory. So in the last 35 years the Liberal-Country parties have not initiated one inch of construction of this line for which they now express so much concern. Indeed, in 1976 they closed down 500 kilometres of the line that then existed.

In 1972 the Whitlam Labor Government came to power and stopped the dilly- dallying by the Liberal-Country parties that had been going on for decades. The Whitlam Labor Government initiated the first construction on that line in many decades, namely the standard gauge link between Tarcoola and Alice Springs. Mr Whitlam, as Prime Minister, drove the first peg in that project in 1975. When the Liberal-Country parties came back into government in 1975 they had little option but to continue with the line. They completed the line in 1980. Then the dilly-dallying started again. They had the opportunity in 1980 to demonstrate their real concern-the concern and commitment they now express for this project. Instead, they decided that they would not continue the line then and there as they had the opportunity to do. They decided that a study should be made of the Alice Springs to Darwin section of the line. In late 1980 they announced that they were going to spend $10m on a route identification project. It is worth noting that an election was coming up at about the time they announced this study. By the time the Labor Party came to government in March 1983 the former Liberal-Country Party Government had spent only $4m of the $10m it said it would spend on this route identification study. However, in 1982, with another election coming up, the then Government said it would commit itself to building the railway line.

The history of the previous Government's commitment to and concern for this line is very closely related to elections. As I said earlier, I think that the real measure of its commitment is demonstrated by the fact that it has not initiated one inch of construction of that line in the last 3 1/2 decades. In May this year the Liberal-National parties had the opportunity through their colleagues in the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory to make a commitment to the joint development of the Alice Springs to Darwin section of the Adelaide to Darwin railway line. That proposal was initiated by the new Labor Government and was put to the Territory Government on the basis that the Territory Government was to make a contribution towards the construction. Instead of sitting down and rationally discussing the project and looking at all the pros and cons of a joint development, a joint construction of the railway line, the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory set about a campaign of politicking, abuse and stupidity such as has not been seen certainly in the Northern Territory's history. In the process it rejected out of hand the new Labor Government's proposal for a joint development of the railway line. Faced with that rejection, the new Labor Government has now proposed that a study be undertaken of this rail link and the whole of the Northern Territory's transport system to ensure that the Northern Territory ends up with an efficient, reasonably priced, all-weather transport system. This study will look not only at rail but also at air, sea and road transport.

The most amazing thing about the speech of the honourable member for Hume this afternoon was that he said that we should not spend the $5m that has been allocated in the 1983-84 Budget to complete the study. It appears to be his belief that we should leave it as it is and give up all hope of ever having the Alice Springs to Darwin railway link constructed. I am sure that his colleagues in the Northern Territory are shocked, as I certainly am, that he said that. He betrays his real position on this issue, and that is, that he and the Liberal- National parties, despite the fact that they now say that they would build the railway line, never intended to build it. They have never actually done anything to have it built and they will not build it if by some strange twist of fate they ever get back into government. If honourable members look at the Country Liberal Party at the Territory level they will find that it does not want the Alice Springs to Darwin railway link built because it wants to use the railway as an issue in the forthcoming Northern Territory elections. The only group that is really endeavouring, against long odds, to do anything about it is the Australian Labor Party.

I will run through what the Liberal Party has done about this issue. Firstly, in 1980 it was presented with a fait accompli. It did nothing further on the line-which it could have-to take it from Alice Springs to Darwin. The Country Liberal Party in the Territory stopped work in May-June 1983 by its intransigence and unwillingness to even discuss a joint development of the project. This afternoon the honourable member for Hume told us that he even wants to stop the study; he does not want to spend the $5m that the Labor Party has allocated for it in 1983-84.

I will also briefly go through some of the aspects of the budgets for the Department of Aviation and the Department of Transport that are great news for the Northern Territory. The first is one that has already been mentioned, and that is the $96m Darwin Airport project. The previous speaker, the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender), made great play of the fact that the previous Government had announced this back in 1981. Sure it had. I think it announced it about four times. It announced it every year for the last three or four years. The previous Government was very good at announcing things but not very good at constructing them. In six months this new Labor Government has allocated money to the project and over the next three or four years we will see it completed.

The second very significant matter that is contained in the 1983-84 aviation- transport budget is the 23.3 per cent increase in total road funding to the Northern Territory. That adds up to an additional $7.2m this year for the construction of roads in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory is, as anybody who has been there will know, a very sparsely populated area and our roads are essential for communication and trade. There are two other significant announcements in the Budget.


The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.