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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) . - The amount of money which it is proposed to expend on this railway standardization scheme varies in the estimate of every speaker from the Government side. The Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) mentioned £50,000,000, hut others have mentioned other amounts. This is one of the most important works proposals placed before Parliament for a long time, but I was unable ti> obtain a copy of the Minister's second-reading speech, although the practice is to make such copies available. Without a copy it is impossible for honorable members to follow, by merely listening to a speech, complicated details and involved groups of figures. Apparently, the proposal is to spend £50,000,000, although the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) mentioned £70,000,000. The standardization of the gauge of interstate railways has much to recommend it. The proposal has been considered by. various authorities for many years. Long before the recent war, i'; was considered essential for the defence of Australia that there should be a standardgauge railway between Brisbane andPerth, but the war came before anything was done about it. The only real progress towards achieving this end was the construction of a standard-gauge line between Kyogle and South Brisbane. At that time, Mr. S. M. Bruce was Prime Minister, and the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) was his deputy. The existence of this link was of great value during, the war in the movement of troops and supplies. Without it, much greater difficulty would have been experienced in sending our forces into northern areas.

However, since the termination of the recent war, there has been a shift of opinion on the subject of defence measures, due largely to the advent of the atomic bomb. Nations do not now think in terms of huge masses of infantry pitted against one another, but rather in terms of small, well-trained and well-equipped mechanical units, technical units, and chemical units which could wreak untold havoc on an enemy before he had time to bring masses of troops into position. Any one who has studied the recommendations of the American general staff to the Committee on Military Affairs must realize that, in a future war, it will he a case of a lightning assault by a power using "atomic bombs and other devastating weapons which will bo able to destroy whole cities overnight. They will destroy the war potential of their enemy in a short space of time, before his infantry, artillery and other arms can be brought into action. We must accordingly re-orient our thinking in respect of defence. I do not believe that any one in Australia, or for that matter, in the world, can predict what new methods of warfare will be adopted in the next decade. In pro claiming to the world that the proposal to standardize our railway gauges is primarily a defence measure, the Minister is giving expression to outmoded thinking. Our previously .accepted conceptions of defence have been relegated to the limbo pf forgotten things; they are as outofdate as is the common rifle as a weapon of offence and defence. Although I praise the Minister's energy and aggressiveness in endeavouring to give. effect to this proposal,. I cannot pay tribute to his farsightedness. A few years ago a proposal such as this might have had very much to commend it. I have no doubt that in his reply the Minister will say that nothing was done about this important matter by earlier governments supported by honorable members on this side of the House. That is a form of argument to which we have long become accustomed, but it gets us nowhere. I have examined the excellent report made on this subject by Sir Harold Clapp; it is so technical, however, that criticism by a layman is impossible. If we are to standardize our railway gauges, I have no doubt that the method by which that object is to be attained will be as easily reached by adopting the recommendations of Sir Harold Clapp as by any other means. . I do not, therefore, intend to criticize that aspect of the proposal. I do, however, criticize the proposal in general as having in some respects been made years too late and in others years too soon. As an effective defence measure it is completely outdated, because the war from which we have just emerged has altered our whole conception of defence. For years we had to fight for our very existence against an implacable enemy. Japan, which had been a constant menace to our safety from the" time -when I was a small boy, has now been laid so low that only by a miracle can it become a powerful nation again within the next 50 years. We certainly have nothing to fear from Japan for a considerable period of time. Thus we have breathing space to consider what shall be our future defence. I do not suggest that this country is secure against attack merely because it has emerged successfully from a war. Undoubtedly we shall be challenged again in the future, possibly by some new nation rising in the east, possibly by a resurgent Indonesia or by another nation which I shall not name. Accordingly we have to lay the foundations for our future defence carefully, completely and with the full knowledge of developments in modern warfare. I question whether the standardization of our railway gauges, a task that will extend over many years, and will cost more than £200,000,000, can be regarded as an effective defence measure by comparison with others which we might adopt. In order to defend this country adequately we must have an increased population. And we can sustain an increased population only by increasing facilities for its accommodation, enhancing the fertility of our soils, providing irrigation, electricity, and other amenities in country centres.

Mr Sheehy - And improving our railway systems. The honorable member does not suggest that we should scrap the railways

Mr ANTHONY - No. I agree that t lie improvement of our railways is also very important. In his report, Sir Harold Clapp lays stress not so much on the standardization as on the modernization of our railways, to make them capable of providing speedy transport and effective service. In several places in his report, he mentions that it would be useless for the Government to carry out a standardization policy unless it were accompanied by a very strong modernization policy. The Minister believes that this proposal will be beneficial to the nation, and contribute to its effective defence. I join issue with him on that point. World conceptions of defence measures have changed immeasurably since the first atomic bomb was dropped, on Hiroshima. It is to be noted that the Clapp report was made in March, 1945, five months before the first atomic bomb was released upon the world. The. advent' of atomic warfare has brought about a revolution in world thinking on matters relating to defence. I have no doubt that when Sir Harold and his officers, and the military advisers of the Government, reported upon the standardization of railway gauges they had in mind a system of warfare to which .we had up to that time been accustomed. As I have said, the most effective way to defend this country is so to- increase its population as to make possible the raising of adequate forces to defend it. At present we have a population of 7,000,000 to defend 3,000,000 square miles of territory. We are incapable of meeting a serious challenge by a powerful enemy unless we have the full aid and strength of co-operative allies such as the United States of America and Great Britain. The effectiveness of the aid which Great Britain could render us diminished very much as the war progressed. All the wealth which the Mother Country had hoarded during the past two or three centuries was liquidated in the short space of four cr five vears. Accordingly, we must combat any future challenge with our own strong right hand. The Government has a responsibility, therefore, to take such measures as will improve the living standards and amenities of this country and create continuity of productive employment, so that migrants may be attracted to our shores. I agree that the expenditure of £50,000,000 on the standardization of railway gauges will create employment for a large number of people for from eight to fifteen years. But what then? This project will not of itself bring us one new settler, or produce an extra bale of wool or a bushel of wheat. If the same amount of money and man-power, the same quantity of steel, iron, cement and timber, and all the other requisites which will be absorbed in the rebuilding of. our railways, were put into water conservation and irrigation .projects, Australia would be able to sustain an additional 1,000,000 people.

Mr Sheehy - With obsolete railway systems to cater for their needs.

Mr ANTHONY - I am not suggesting that the railways should not be given the attention they require; I agree that railway rolling-stock in many States requires renewal. This vast project will involve the expenditure of colossal sums of money. After the first £50,000,000 has been expended another £50,000,000 will be required, until we finally reach the staggering total of £209,000,000 Tor a complete scheme. Experience of government projects of this kind leads us to believe that even that tremendous amount of money will not be sufficient to meet the final cost of the scheme. I object to the

Government bringing this measure before us in the dying hours of this Parliament.. Since Tuesday we have been sitting in this chamber from. 10.30 a.m. until well into the following morning. Could we, in that way, secure calm and constructive criticism of any measure calling for the. validation of an act authorizing the expenditure of £50,000,000 ? Such pressure is not fair to the Parliament or the taxpayers. The Minister said, in his second-reading speech, that this is. not an urgent proposal, and that if other matters are more urgent they should receive priority. It must be admitted that the most urgent work in Australia to-day is the provision of housing for the people. The steel and timber that would be required for the standardization of railway gauges would be sufficient for the construction of many thousands of homes. An urgent matter which is second in order of priority is that of attracting large numbers of people away from the urban areas. When we speak of defence measures, we should have regard to the recent investigation by the Military Affairs Committee in the United States of America. The report of General Arnold, chief of the United States air force, states that in the next war it will be imperative for that country to distribute its industries so that they will not be concentrated in areas where they can be destroyed by atomic bombs.

Mr Drakeford - Does the honorable member know that the United States of America is now implementing a policy of expansion and modernization of its railways? -

Mr ANTHONY - I have said more than once that I favour the modernization of the railway systems of Australia, but that is a totally different matter from the expenditure of £50,000,000 for the standardization of gauges. Sir Harold Clapp pointed out that unless a vast sum of, money were expended in modernizing the railways, standardization of gauges would not be of much value. Therefore, I do not favour the proposal now submitted to the House.

It would be too much to. ask the ambitious Minister in charge of the bill to withdraw it. He has been working like a tiger upon it for a considerable time. He has not wheeled Western Australia into line although that State has a Labour government. He has not succeeded in bringing Queensland into the scheme, so the only parties to the agreement are the governments of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. In the latter State, not one mile of railway requires standardization. The money required for the scheme is to be raised, not from Consolidated Revenue, or by taxation, but from loan money, the .Commonwealth carrying the main part of the burden. Half of the expenditure will- be incurred by the Commonwealth and the balance by the States on a per capita basis. I am sorry that a measure showing so little imagination as this bill displays has been introduced at this juncture, in view of changing world conditions.. I sincerely hope that, if a new government conies into office after the 28t.h September, it will review this proposal. The most urgent requirement is hones for the people, and, next to them in- importance, we need irrigation schemes and the provision of electrical power for the people on the land.

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