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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 837


Mr COWAN(5.00) —I think a feature of the debate on the Australian National Railways Commission Amendment Bill 1987 is the fact that so many honourable members from both sides of the House have spoken. This legislation, which contains proposals of very great depth, indicates a change of thinking as far as the commercial side of railways in Australia is concerned. We have to appreciate the fact that the Commonwealth is responsible for only a certain part of the railway system generally throughout Australia-that is, in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. Whilst the area involved is large, the population and the passenger and freight services are small. The rest of the railway systems are administered by the various States.

I would like to compliment the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) on the legislation that is before the House. Although it is a step forward it has to be considered in the context of the transport needs of Australia. Whether one talks about railways, telephones, roads or shipping, Australia faces a great challenge so far as communications are concerned. It is interesting to look back and study the development of railways in Australia over the years. We appreciate the fact that in earlier days the States had the responsibility for establishing the means by which farmers in the outback or fellows in the towns could get to market the goods that they wanted to sell or export.

The fact is that it was accepted at that time that railways could not be a paying proposition. As a result railways have been supported by the taxpayer over the years gone by. I suppose that this principle behind the establishment of the railways has led to a transport monopoly. The same can be said so far as roads are concerned. Our roads must always be kept up to standard to cope with the growth of this great nation of ours. The honourable member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown) and I were both vitally involved in this area when we were members of the New South Wales Parliament. We accepted the fact that this attitude must be taken. But maybe we have grown up now.

As the Minister has pointed out, we have to look at the commercial side of this enterprise. It is of no use saying that the railways or any other area of communications should have a monopoly within Australia today. I was very pleased that only recently the New South Wales Government agreed to deregulate the transport system generally throughout the State. Private enterprise is now able to run the buses in competition with the railways. The railways themselves are using buses to take people from various parts of the State into the metropolitan areas. So we now have a system which is more open. Importantly, people are now able to travel on buses at a lower cost. People can travel by bus to Sydney from my home town of Taree for a much lesser fee than they paid previously. This is very important to the younger folk who are going to university or are searching for work. They can now travel to the metropolitan areas much more cheaply than they could if they had to fly or even go by train. I never thought that buses would be able to offer such a frequent service throughout Australia, and particularly in New South Wales, as they do today. The competition that we are seeing today within our transport system, particularly in New South Wales, is a breath of fresh air so far as we are concerned.

I know that for many years our rolling stock and railway engines and certainly the railway lines that carry that equipment were inadequate and could not provide a fast service. I travel the highways a lot within my own electorate and it sometimes hurts me to see those roads being used by large semi-trailers. One consistently passes semi-trailer after semi-trailer, and they are tearing up our roads. I know that truck operators pay a very large tax to use those roads but a lot of freight that is carried on our roads should be carried by the railways. We have railway lines to handle this traffic. We need to build up the service and make it more efficient. We need to develop a service which is capable of paying for itself. I do not see why, with proper planning, such a service could not pay its own way and compete with road transport. I am sure that the Minister is trying to set the scene, as I hope he does with the Australian National Line in respect of shipping, to enable the railways to compete. As I said, I am sure the Minister would like to see this happen. It is encouraging to see the Minister involving private enterprise a little in the legislation before us.

It has been said over and over again today that this move, small though it may be, is very important for the tourist industry in Australia. The fact is that there are tremendous possibilities for people to see geographical areas and unique countryside that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. If I were an American or a Japanese and I wanted to see what Australia was like, I would go to Sydney but I would also want to see the Dead Heart. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation program Great Railway Journeys of the World contains wonderful examples of seeing first hand the joy and possibilities of what good rail travel can bring to a continent. Admittedly, we are not part of the European scene. We do not have a population of 300 million. We have only a little more than 15 1/2 million people. We should be providing to average people a service based on luxury and comfort. This service should be provided to Australians first of all. We want to see our men, women and kids travelling in this way. We also want to welcome people from other countries.

I spoke about the Dead Heart of Australia. That place is not dead-it is alive. I am sure that there would not be a member of this House or of the public who does not look forward to the day when we have a rail link between Ad- elaide and Darwin. It is important to the development of this nation that the Ghan continue from Alice Springs to Darwin. I do not want to go into all of the problems that exist and the discussions that have taken place on this matter. However, I want to go a little further and suggest that we need a railway that will run across the top of Australia-from east to west, from the Gulf Country right across the top of Queensland. We have to plan for a line which will be able to cart the natural resources of this nation. We need a line that will be able to transport our resources to our ports so that the resources can be dispatched around the world. Our thinking on these issues must not be small. Our thinking must be large enough for us to say that we are capable of doing the job. We need to have the foresight to be able to develop Australia.

I said earlier that the railways grew in Australia because of a responsibility to cart goods to market and people around this country. In many ways, our railways today are still in their infancy. That is why I mentioned the need to construct crosslines so that we can develop Australia in the years to come. The cost of such a task cannot be left to the taxpayer. It should not be a Commonwealth or State responsibility. Is it not time that we woke up in this respect? The same argument applies to airports. I have spoken to the Minister about the taxpayers having to pay for an extra runway at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport. I believe that private enterprise should build airport terminals. Private enterprise is capable of doing so. It can recoup the money that it spends. The people who use the services are the people who should pay.

The development of railway lines across Australia should be paid for by the people who are mining our resources. The people who want to live in those places should help to develop these services. The cost of paying for and maintaining the Sydney Harbour Bridge is being met by the people who use it. The proposed tunnel under Sydney Harbour will also be paid for by the people who will use it. I am basically talking about the need to adopt the user pays principle. Let our minds think of bigger things. Let our minds take us astray with these matters, but let us be positive in our thinking on what we can offer as far as tourism is concerned. I have never seen a nation with such a poor balance of payments position as we have today in Australia. Although our national debt has nothing directly to do with the Bill, we have to meet our balance of payments commitment and tourism can assist us tremendously in our long term and short term planning. The other night when I spoke in the House I said that Qantas Airways Ltd has predicted that, by the end of 1988, our income from the travel industry within Australia will double. Twice the number of people from overseas will be visiting this land of ours.

My wife and I have been to Perth by train a couple of times. There is nothing more enjoyable than a 65-hour or 67-hour trip across Australia in a comfortable train, where services are available, where the food is good, where one can just take one's time and where one sees something not only of the land that we have but also of the Aboriginals, the people, and the way in which Australia was pioneered. That is a lovely trip for people to take but it is costly and that is the important thing. Today it is a job to get on that train. I believe that one has to book months ahead if one wants to get on it. We need to publicise and to upgrade our railway system. The entertainment carriage that will be added as a result of this Bill, which the Minister for Transport has mentioned, will be a way to upgrade the Ghan and to provide a service that we need. But I stress that this service must be commercialised. From a Commonwealth point of view, we have to treat the railways of this country as being in competition with private enterprise. As far as we are concerned, we need competition to upgrade efficiency and to bring wealth. Some of us have had a fair bit to do with the railways. In fact, I have a guest in the Speaker's gallery at the moment who is married to a railwayman in my home town. The railway people in my home town are very important to me and to the community because they are hard working, decent citizens. They want to see the railway system upgraded because they want more work. They know that if the railway system is competitive the average man who works on the railways will have more work. We are pleased to see the progress that is being made. We are pleased to see the attitude that the Minister has to this. I think it is a very important and progressive attitude. I think the Minister is trying to adapt himself because he and I have talked about the Pacific Highway. I know that we would both like to see that highway upgraded because it is very important to a growing Australia. We want the railways to be able to compete with road services by providing services which might relieve the highways, in particular the Pacific Highway, of much of the traffic. This traffic could be carried by the railways of Australia. I am pleased that this legislation is before us. I think it will upgrade the Ghan and the services that are available. I hope that the thrust of this legislation will continue and we will see upgrading generally throughout Australia.