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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr FROST (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) (Minister for Repatriation) - Oh!

Mr BOWDEN - The only threat to Australia is that Tasmania may attack the mainland. With the victorious allied armies astride our enemies, there is no possibility of them raising their heads for a long time. Yet the Minister described this project as a defence measure. I .agree that there are advantages in a uniform railway gauge, even for peace-time purposes. But. I shall be surprised if, within the nest ten years, a complete aerial transport system with road-feeder services is not operating in Australia. A few days ago, I read that the United States of America has a transport plane which carries 10 tons of produce - as much as a 10-ton railway truck. The produce. is brought to the airport by road transport. One aeroplane could do the same work as many railway trucks could do on a journey of 100 miles.

Despite the rapid development of air transport, the Government proposes to. expend' £220,000,000 on the standardization of railway gauges. It is futile for the Minister to say that the expenditure contemplated is £70,000,000. That is merely the first instalment, and the total cost will be in the vicinity of £220,000,000. How can the Minister claim that this bill is a measure to standardize railway gauges when Queensland and Western Australia, the two vital States from the standpoint of defence, refuse to be parties to the scheme? What assurance has the honorable gentleman that those States will come into the scheme, even after the railway gauges of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia are standardized? I remind the Minister that there is already a uniform, gauge between Melbourne and Adelaide. The amount of £70,000,000. will be expended on the standardization of the gauges of the middle States,- but there is no guarantee that Queensland and Western Australia will become parties to the scheme' later. Without that guarantee, the contention that defence demands that this project shall be undertaken has no basis. In my opinion, this expenditure, will be wasteful. The money could be more readily and usefully employed on hydro-electric and water conservation schemes and for the encouragement of migrants in order to increase .the population and development of Australia. Those projects will mean more in our national defence than the standardization of railway gauges. In my opinion, the Government and the Minister regard this scheme as a safeguard against an economic de pression. If people are thrown out of employment, this scheme will provide work for them. It may be of advantage to have such a project in readiness, but we should be honest and regard it from, that standpoint. As a. defence measure, it is completely useless, and the Minister knows it. In any war in the future, railways will be too slow. The conflict will be over before they can stoke up an engine. If the Government desires to provide a safeguard against unemployment, it can achieve that purpose by co-operation with the States in the development of hydro-electric power and water conservation schemes for the irrigation of inland districts. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) hopes to induce large numbers of migrants to settle in Australia. Unless water conservation and hydro-electric projects are undertaken, the Minister's efforts will be a waste of time. The reconstruction and rehabilitation of Australia require far more useful works than "the' standardization of railway gauges. During the last 70 or 80 years, our railway systems have done the job, perhaps somewhat ineffectively, and, in my opinion, they will not be used to a greater degree in the future than they have in the past. As I have shown, the taxpayers' money can be spent to considerably better advantage than in the manner that the bill proposes.

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