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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr BOWDEN (Gippsland) .- I have no desire to detain the House in debating a forlorn hope, because I realize that whatever is said the bill will be passed. I rise, however, because two peculiarities have developed in the debate that are worth recording. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Mountjoy) as a representative of Western Australia, one of the two States that refused to enter the agreement, spoke lengthily on a bill' providing for the standardization of railway gauges in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, which, with the Commonwealth, will incur the whole cost-of the project. The second peculiarity was the rather painful experience of listening to the Minister for Air labour-; ing valiantly, to justify the expenditure of £200,000,000, for a purpose which no longer exists except in the imagination of certain dreamers. I refer to the so-called defence value of the standardization of railway gauges. In my opinion, it has no place in the logic of realism. I am not the least concerned about the Clapp report. That document is the "how to do " rather than the " reason why it should be done ". The " reason why " is for the Government to determine. I do not say anything . derogatory of Sir Harold Clapp. I join with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), in paying this tribute to him, that as an organizer and administrator of a railwayssystem, he is one of the best. He wa* chairman of the Victorian Railways Commissioners for years, and there is no reason to doubt his ability in that capacity. However, I would not accept a report drawn up even by Sir Harold Clapp as a reason why we should incur this tremendous expenditure at this stag* of our national development. If this scheme had been submitted to the Parliament before the outbreak of World War II. and before we had discovered the effects of aerial bombing and the possibilities of atomic bombs, there would have been some merit in it. But what was the experience of Germany, which has a uniform railways system ? The factor which more than any other defeated Germany was British bombing from bases 600 miles away from the Nazi railway system. That bombing enabled the Russians to advance, because British bombs falling on the uniform railway system prevented the Nazi trains from supplying front-line German troops. The statement that the defence of Australia justifies the standardization of our railway gauges ' is farcical at present.

Mr Haylen - Would aerial bombs be ineffective on the railway system of a country which had a variety of gauges?

Mr BOWDEN -- The bombing would not be any more effective, as the honorable member must know. The only excuse for the introduction of this bill if to provide a safeguard against unemployment. If the Minister had admitted that. I would defend and support the bill. But his statement that the standardization of gauges is required in the interests of national defence is altogether wrong. We have just emerged from the most devastating war of all time, and there is no prospect of our enemies raising their heads in the next 25, 30, 40 or 50 years.

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