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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 780


Mr NEHL(12.22) —It is with a great deal of pleasure that I rise to speak on the Australian National Railways Commission Amendment Bill and to support its provisions. The move to put an entertainment car on the Ghan, the train that runs between Alice Springs and Adelaide, is a most imaginative innovation and is to be commended. I congratulate the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) and the Australian National on taking these steps.


Mr Goodluck —Not too much praise.


Mr NEHL —Not too much praise, but just a little. The entertainment car will include video and sound booths, video games for children, eight poker machines, a souvenir shop, hair salon and tables for cards, chess and other board games. I hope that this is the start of a major change, a complete turnover in Australian railways. I hope that it is successful-I say this with all my heart-because the railways of Australia can do with a fillip, a boost and a lift. The potential for international tourism associated with Australian National Railways has not yet been tapped. I do not believe that we have even started to tap our local tourism potential, but there is an enormous potential in respect of overseas visitors. I shall speak in a little more detail about that later.

I was also pleased to note that the Minister in his second reading speech made the point that the cost recovery level on passenger services on AN in 1984-85 was 45 per cent. He set a target by 1988-89 to get that figure to 60 per cent. This is in line with a definite policy of making the Australian National Railways more commercially viable, and I certainly support that move. It is a pity that the other railways of Australia are not necessarily following the same commendable course.

The New South Wales State Rail Authority in 1976-77, the first year of the Wran Labor Government in New South Wales, ran up a loss of $274,627,392. That was a jump of 34 per cent on the previous year which was the last year of the Country Party-now the National Party-Liberal Party coalition. The Liberal-National party coalition in New South Wales will be back in government after the next State election, there is no doubt about that. Everybody in New South Wales knows it, and everybody in Australia knows it, just as the coalition will be back in power here as soon as the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) is game enough to call an election. If he wants to have a go, let him call an election tonight. I shall be happy to go along with him. That loss in the New South Wales State Rail Authority by 1985-86 was up to $330m, but to be fair it was down from a loss of $375m in 1984-85. The total accumulated loss for the New South Wales State Rail Authority for the 10 years of the Wran Government was $3.527 billion. That is not including interest, it is just the loss on operation costs. I wish briefly to refer to a statement in the Australian Financial Review of 20 May 1986 which was as follows:

NSW, it turns out, is shelling out more than $500m a year between SRA losses and interest payments on decades of accumulated debt.

That accumulated loss of $3.5 billion does not even include the interest. But in New South Wales the Labor Government has adopted a very special terminology. The railways there do not lose money any more, they are not losses. They have changed the name and called it a revenue supplement. What a delightful euphemism that is. The railways are losing millions and billions of taxpayers' dollars. They do not regard it as a loss of money but as a revenue supplement.

One way in which that revenue supplement could be reduced is by examining the number of sick days taken by rail employees in New South Wales. In 1985-86 41,000 employees on average took 11 1/2 days sick leave per employee. The private enterprise average-that is the fair dinkum, genuine private enterprise; I am not talking about the monolithic enterprises such as Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd-is only 1 1/2 days. That is 10 days less than the average taken by the 41,000 SRA employees in New South Wales. If one costs that at $10 an hour and they work only 7 hours a day, that is $70 a day. We are talking about a saving of $28m if the SRA employees took the same number of sick days as do employees in private enterprise. One may not think that $28m is a great deal of money, but to wheat growers in New South Wales who are facing disaster, with prices tumbling down, people committing suicide and families breaking up because of the stress and the strain, $28m off the cost of wheat freight charges in New South Wales is not an inconsiderable amount. On 23 January this year the Australian Financial Review in an article headed `Ambitious plan to cut NSW freight costs hang in balance', by Peter Le Gras, said:

Acceptance of the plan by the New South Wales State Rail Authority to cut rail freight costs by $30m a year hung in the balance yesterday as wheat farmers, local governments and railway workers continued negotiations in Moree.

That was an ambitious plan to cut rail costs by $30m, but if SRA employees took fewer sick days, those wheat growers would also have something to grasp on. I wish to mention an article by Peter Hemphill in Stock and Land of 19 June last year relating to the cost of rail freight, particularly for wheat. He made the point that for a 650-kilometre haul, the cost in Canada would be in Australian dollars-all these figures are in Australian dollars-$15.57 a tonne, of which $4.73 would be paid by the wheat grower and $10.83 by way of direct subsidy to the railways by the Canadian Government. Let us compare that with Australia's costs. As I said, the grower in Canada pays $4.73 a tonne, but here in the Labor State of New South Wales a grower pays $25.48 a tonne, in the Labor State of Victoria, $27.34 a tonne, up to $35.40 a tonne in the Labor State of Western Australia, and $22.50 a tonne in the Labor State of South Australia. In Queensland there is not a Labor Government, there is a National Party government, a good government, led by a great team of Ministers. What is the cost there? The grower pays $17.39 a tonne-the lowest rate of any State in Australia. That is fairly significant.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Order! The Chair would be derelict if it did not draw the honourable member's attention to the fact that this is rather a narrow gauge Bill and he has travelled a considerable distance off the rails of relevance. I invite him to bear that in mind when he proceeds.


Mr NEHL —I most definitely defer to the Chair. It would be far from my heart to see you, Mr Deputy Speaker, derelict in any circumstances.


Mr McGauran —What about the Minister at the table?


Mr NEHL —Well, I will not be rude. I am seized with goodwill, even for the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe). If he could get rid of the assets test, I would be very nice to him. I was very pleased to see the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) in the chamber earlier during this debate because this Bill has a great deal of significance for tourism. The honourable member for Throsby (Mr Hollis), who was present earlier, is a self-confessed train buff. I did not realise that he had been overseas so many times, travelling on trains all around the world. I do envy him that opportunity. I travelled by train from Coffs Harbour to Sydney a fortnight ago tonight.


Mr Tim Fischer —Very brave!


Mr NEHL —It was very brave indeed because I had a very sleepless night. The honourable member for Throsby referred to the tourism value of a train in his electorate, the Moss Vale-Unanderra line. The honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer) also spoke about that line. I would like to see greater use of our railways in Australia for tourism. I wish to inform the House that before too long I hope that all honourable members will have the opportunity to travel on the Dorrigo line once again.


Mr Hicks —The who?


Mr NEHL —The honourable member for Riverina-Darling asks: `Who?' I know that he is a marvellous man and that he has in his electorate Broken Hill, Griffith and all the marvellous towns in the Riverina, but all I can say is that it is about time that the honourable member, who is the National Party Whip, came to the electorate of Cowper for a holiday. He would then know where Dorrigo is.


Mr McGauran —He never takes a holiday.


Mr NEHL —He is very hard working; that is why he never takes a holiday. But he really needs one now. The Glenreagh to Dorrigo railway is on the verge of being restored. It has been taken over by an organisation which was formerly the Hunter Valley Steam Museum and is now the Dorrigo Steam Rail Museum, which has the largest collection of railway rolling stock in the Southern Hemisphere. When that railway line really gets going it will be a great delight. I invite the honourable member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown) to come and ride on it. It passes through some marvellous mountain scenery and superb rainforests and by some beautiful, quietly running mountain streams. It will be a marvellous tourist attraction.

I had the good fortune to travel on the Ghan from Alice Springs to Adelaide in June 1985.


Mr Downer —A great train.


Mr NEHL —As the honourable member for Mayo says, it is a great train. Regrettably, I never had the opportunity to travel on the old Ghan. I think that would have been the experience of a lifetime, almost like going to Antarctica on the Ice Bird. Certainly, my trip on the Ghan was very interesting and enjoyable. That brings me back to the question of the potential for tourism. It has an enormous potential. The train itself was quite comfortable. The service from the staff was very good indeed. There was one waiter who consistently reminded me of a character out of the television program Fawlty Towers. Those honourable members who are television buffs as well as railway buffs will know about Fawlty Towers--


Mr Slipper —We haven't got time to watch television.


Mr NEHL —I used to watch it before I came into the Parliament. I have not had time since I have been a member, but perhaps that program has not been showing. I really do not know. Honourable members who saw the program when they were not working will recall the waiter called Manuel, who would go around saying `Que'. One of the waiters on the Ghan was very reminiscent of Manuel-just in his mannerisms, not in his service because the service was excellent. However, in my opinion there was one shortcoming-the times of service on the Ghan. The times of bar service, the times of showing the video on the one video machine and the meal times seemed to be set more for the convenience of the staff than the passengers. That was nearly two years ago and I hope that this new commercial attitude, the thrusting to make AN more commercially viable and give the Ghan a more forceful marketing attitude will mean there will be an improvement in this area. There were two meal sessions. The announcement would come and if one had to wash one's hands before going to the dining car one would find one's soup already on the table when one arrived. If one was 10 minutes late the soup had been not only delivered, but also taken away. I am not speaking about the present day service, because my experience was two years ago, but certainly at that time there was a great need to make the service more user-kind.

I believe that there is an enormous potential for overseas tourism. As an example I wish to tell the House about a service in Scotland. I do not know whether the honourable member for Throsby has ever travelled on this particular train, the Royal Scotsman. He told us how he went from Stockholm to London, so perhaps he went on the Royal Scotsman. If he did, his constituents might be slightly upset by his wealth, particularly as he is a good socialist. It is a train which travels for six days. It leaves Edinburgh at 2 p.m. on one day, is away for five nights and returns at 11 a.m. on the sixth day. This has to be the most luxurious train in the world. I would love to go on it but I would never have enough money. The state cabin costs #2,590 per person, or $A6,038. That means that for a couple it would cost $12,076 for six days and five nights. That is an incredible amount of money. Honourable members might think that there would not be many passengers at that price. The train has been booked out for five months. One cannot get a state cabin until June this year. A little less luxurious, a little cheaper-if cheap is the right word-is the luxury twin cabin, which is #2,320, or $A5,408 per person and $A10,816 per couple for five nights.


Mr Slipper —Australians could not afford that.


Mr NEHL —No, Australians could not afford it under this Government, as my honourable friend points out. They certainly could not afford it, not with our high interest rates and the inflation that is killing us. That amount that I have quoted includes meals, drinks and visits to country houses. I do not suggest for one moment that the Ghan should be turned into such a luxurious train or that other railways in Australia should go that way. However, it is an indicator that overseas tourists are, in many cases, big spenders. They have a great deal of money. If, by intelligent marketing and an innovative approach, such as this one being made by the Minister for Transport and Australian National Railways, we can bring a great deal more tourist money into this country, it will be effective in promoting jobs and improving our terms of trade. I commend the Bill to the House. I think, I hope and I trust that this is only the start, that there are much greater things to come for Australian National Railways.