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Thursday, 11 November 1948

Mr CHIFLEY - It is true that the Queensland Government is anxious to improve the transport facilities of that State. Some time ago, the Minister for Transport made valiant efforts to induce the States to agree to a scheme for the standardization of railway gauges throughout Australia. The Queensland Government was requested to join. in. that general scheme; but, because it objected to the inclusion in the scheme of a linĀ«i intended to make possible the exploitation of the fertile areas of the Channel country, the Queensland Government refused to do so. I understand that, as the result of further negotiations, the Queensland Government is now prepared to waive its objection and to join in the general scheme. No formal agreement has yet been signed. It is true that all the State Railways Departments in Australia, with the exception of the Tasmanian Railway Department, have made requests for permission to import railway equipment from overseas. I do nor recall any request having been made in connexion with steel rails, but requests have certainly been made for permission to import locomotives and roiling-stock. The Governments of Victoria and South Australia sought permission to import diesel engines from America in order to relieve the strain on their railway transport systems. It has also been proposed that an American diesel locomotive manufacturing company should enter into an arrangement with the Clyde Engineering Company for the purpose of manufacturing American-type diesel locomotives in Australia. Because of the heavy drain on dollars involved by such importations. I took the responsibility of -refusing these requests. I have to pay some regard to the fact that the Chancellor of the British Treasury has always been prepared to accept my word on behalf of the Government as to the essential nature of all proposed imports from dollar and hard . currency areas. I was informed that it was possible for the States to obtain certain types of diesel locomotives from the United Kingdom. Some of the States have placed orders in the United Kingdom for railway equipment. The honorable member referred to importations from Belgium. Belgium is a very hard currency area. An agreement has been reached between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of Belgium in relation to balances of payments between Great Britain and Belgium and the export and import of goods to and from one country to the other. A heavy drain has been imposed on the British Treasury in meeting certain gold payments. That drain cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. As British resources could not be further weakened, any requests for the importation of goods from Belgium, Switzerland and Portugal, all of which are hard currency countries, must be looked at very carefully. They involve a drain on British resources, which we cannot justify except for absolutely essential requirements. I shall prepare a statement dealing with the subject for the information of the honorable member.

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