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Wednesday, 3 October 1956

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) . - I was interested in what the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) had to say about the amount of money he earned and the amount on which he was able to live. It made me think of some of the people who are now trying to live on the pension allowed to them by this Government. 1 repeat what I said last night. If some Government supporters, instead of being concerned about luxuries, would spend more time considering how pensioners try to exist, they would understand more clearly the difficulties that confront the stalwarts who now live in poverty, being dependent solely on the meagre social services benefits provided by this Government.

I did not rise, to-night, to speak on social services, but to discuss, briefly, the Department of Shipping and Transport, which, as it relates to our communications, is playing a tremendously important part in our economy and is also directly involved in the inflationary trend in this country. We have heard some talk in this chamber during the last few days of proposed improvements to our roads system, but we have heard nothing from this Government, since it came into office, that would indicate thru it is facing up to that problem and dealing effectively with transportation in Australia. Nor has it faced up to the problem of trans- port costs and their effect on the inflationary trend in our economy. I have paid some attention to what has been happening in respect of transport costs because I have had some experience of the great advantages that have resulted from the introduction of diesel-electric locomotion in Australian transport. Bearing in mind that feature, I thought we might expect some degree of understanding on the part of this Government. I thought the Australian Transport Advisory Council might have approached the problem of transport on a level, at any rate, in keeping with what was said this afternoon by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb). He said that if we were confronted with transport difficulties and high costs of transport we should try to solve those difficulties and lower those costs by dealing with the matter on a governmental level.

On 29th August, 1955, the Australian Transport Advisory Council held a meeting in Melbourne in order to obtain the views of certain persons and organizations about the state of our present and prospective national roads system, and about the need for better roads. I am sure that nobody will disagree with the necessity for that body to investigate the Australian transport system and the need for better roads, but in considering this matter I find myself mainly concerned at the ineptitude of this Government and its failure to approach the problem of our transport system in the way that this council dealt with matters before it. At the meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council a number of organizations were represented. They were the National Transport Council, the Australian Automobile Association, the Australian Road Federation Limited, the Australian Road Transport Federation, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and the Australian Hauliers Federation. I suggest that one would not need to be a keen student of psychology to know the manner in which the section of our community represented by those organizations would approach transport problems. I have no doubt that those organizations would urge the need for better roads, but certainly not for the same reason that I would urge that need, because they would be serving their own selfish interests in trying to obtain better roads in Australia and would have little regard for national development and the improvement of the economy of the nation.

In any discussion about our transport system the question of costs must loom very large. If we are to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on our transport system, then this Government and every other government in the country must expend that money in such a way that it will have the best possible effect on our national economy. The meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council to which I have referred decided to provide some general information about the road transport system to the people generally. Last night, the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) said that he believed that every surfaced mile of public road was one more step towards the removal of the inflationary tendencies in our economy. I disagree with that statement, and when we consider roads in relation to other forms of transport in Australia honorable members will understand why 1 disagree.

To the end of June, 1935, there were 525,000 miles of road in Australia, and of that total 40,651 miles of road were constructed of concrete or were paved and sealed. Therefore, as honorable members will perceive, almost 500,000 miles of road in this country are constructed of material other than concrete, and are not sealed. In view of those facts, how can it be said that our roads system is such that it will permit us to have economic road transport in this country? There was a time, not very long ago, when it was maintained that transport by sea was the cheapest method of carrying our goods, but to-day there is no doubt that the diesel-electrification of our railways will provide cheaper transport by rail than by sea, and will be the answer to all our transport problems. However, in order to reach that happy conclusion dieselelectrification must be properly dealt with by this Parliament.

In order to prove the point that 1 have just made, let us consider the money that has been expended on Australian roads since 1946-47. In that year £26,500,000 was expended on roads. In the succeeding years the amounts spent were as follows: -


Despite that vast expenditure, not one honorable member in this chamber will say that we have an up-to-date roads system in this country to-day. In the realms of sea transport costs are still rising, and the latest figure available to me in respect of general cargo carried between Melbourne and Sydney is 134s. a ton. However, with diesel-electrification, the railways can haul goods at a cost of id. a ton mile. If there were a standard rail gauge of 4-ft. 8i-in. between Albury and Melbourne, which would mean a standard gauge between Melbourne and Sydney, diesel-electric locomotives could haul goods between the two capital cities at a cost of about 25s. a ton.

The cost of laying a new 4-ft. 8i-in. gauge line at the present time is about £35,000 a mile. Therefore, it would cost between £7,000,000 and £7,500,000 to convert to standard gauge the line between Albury and Melbourne, and after it had been completed goods could be hauled between Melbourne and Sydney for 25s. a ton as against the other cheapest form of transport, sea transport, at 134s. a ton.

That illustration will show honorable members that diesel-electrification of our railways will revolutionize transport in Australia. This form of transport will lower haulage costs and will also afford a very quick turn-round of transport vehicles. It has been said in the past that with a standard gauge line between Albury and Melbourne the additional cost of equipment would be too great for economic transport, but the fact is that if such a line were constructed a train from Sydney, instead of stopping overnight at Albury, would be able to go straight through to Melbourne, which would leave an additional unit available immediately for other operations. With diesel-electrification, goods could be taken from Sydney to Melbourne in twelve hours at a cost of about 25s. a ton. That great improvement in our transport service could be effected by laying out between £7,000,000 and £8,000,000 on the standardization of gauges between Albury and Melbourne and the diesel-electrification of the railway.

This afternoon the honorable member for Stirling made a statement to the effect that road transports could be operated between Sydney and Melbourne, thence to Port Pirie, then the lorries could be driven on to flat-topped rail trucks and hauled across the Nullabor Plains by the Commonwealth Railways, and then go on to Perth and unload. Presumably the same process would operate for the return journey. I suggest that everybody should stand aghast at what is happening to our economy if that is the way our transport system is to be conducted. The capital invested in the vehicles, the man-power used to operate the vehicles, and the money expended on running costs are all being wasted simply because there is not a standard rail gauge between Broken Hill and Port Pirie. But honorable members should remember that such a uniform system would cost only about £12,000,000 and could be laid down in about eighteen months.

The report of the Australian Transport Advisory Council indicates that during the next ten years we must consider two systems of roads - primary roads and secondary roads. The capital cost of providing primary roads during that period would be £540,000,000 and of providing secondary roads £450,000,000. The report suggests that that vast sum of money must be expended to give us good roads in Australia, but it does not take into account the cost of maintenance of our roads over the next ten years. By spending one-tenth of the sum mentioned for roads, we could link the capital cities of Australia with standard gauge railways on which we could carry goods at a cost of id. a ton a mile. That would give the economy of the country the greatest fillip possible. I am surprised that the members of the Australian Country party have not come to the fore in this matter. Rather than spend millions of pounds on highways between, say, Melbourne and Sydney, we should spend the money on the standardization of railway gauges. If we did that, haulage costs would be reduced to id. a ton a mile. Any money available for roads should be spent in country areas on the construction of feeder roads to railheads.

I put it to the Government that the time has arrived when we can no longer afford to fiddle with the transport problem. When I speak of haulage at a cost of id. a ton a mile, I speak of a reality. That is the cost of hauling goods on the Commonwealth railways by diesel-electric locomotives. The Commonwealth Railways can more than compete with road transport across the Nullabor Plain. The railway could carry the road hauliers' trucks across the Nullabor Plain for less than it would cost the hauliers to run the trucks across under their own power. What can be done there can be done elsewhere in Australia.

We talk of spending £1,000,000,000 on roads over a period of ten years. The capital cost of railway gauge standardization in Australia would be less than £700,000,000. Spread over ten years, that would be £70,000,000 a year. With a unified gauge and diesel-electric locomotives, rail transport costs would be reduced to id. a ton a mile. Any government that fails to recognize the importance of transport does not understand the economic demands of a growing nation. Transport is essential to the development of the country. The transport of goods between the capital cities should depend, not upon road transport, the flow of which can be interrupted by floods, as occurred at Wagga recently, but upon an organized railway system, with dieselelectric locomotives hauling loads of 800 tons at speeds of not less than 50 miles an hour. Diesel-electric locomotives could haul goods from Melbourne to Sydney in less than twelve hours and from Sydney to Perth in 52 or 53 hours. Road transport could not compete with railways whose haulage costs were id. a ton a mile.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Adermann).Order! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

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