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Wednesday, 3 October 1956

Mr NELSON (Northern Territory) . - I wish to deal with some aspects of railway policy as it affects the development of the Northern Territory, but before doing so I refer to the statement made this evening by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck). He described the oft-repeated charge of bureaucratic control at Canberra as a fallacy. The Minister cited figures to show that the number of civil servants employed in the Northern Territory administration, as compared with the number employed in the Department of Territories in Canberra, was numerically in favour of the Northern Territory. The ratio was something like 500 odd to 200 odd.

Mr Hasluck - I said there were fewer than 200.

Mr NELSON - The Minister says that there are fewer than 200 in Canberra, but that does not illustrate the real position The few who control the purse-strings control the policy of Northern Territory administration, and it would not matter if there were a thousand civil servants in the Northern Territory, and only twenty in the Department of Territories at Canberra dealing with Northern Territory affairs, the result would be that the twenty in Canberra would have the right to veto recommendations from the Northern Territory, and it would be they who would control the destiny of the Northern Territory.

The only way that the people of the Northern Territory can gather to ternselves more power to administer their affairs is to widen the powers and functions of the Northern Territory Legislative Council. If power is placed in the hands of the people of the Territory they will direct its administration in the best and most practical manner. But so long as control of the purse-strings resides in Canberra, there is no denying the fact that the destiny and policy of the Northern Territory will be controlled from Canberra, also.

A great deal has been said about railways during this debate, and some useful information has been given and valuable suggestions have been made. I wish to direct the attention of the committee to the fend that is taking place in the operation of the

Commonwealth railways. This instrumentality is becoming more and more a profitearning institution, and consequently is not playing the role intended for it - a means of development. The budget papers show that the railways operating within the boundaries of the Northern Territory, which are under the control of the Commonwealth railways - the Central Australian Railway and me Northern Austraiian Railway - last year made an aggregate profit of £400,000. The Central Australia line showed a profit of about £500,000, but the Northern Australian line showed a loss of under £100,000 so that in the aggregate, the profit was something in excess of £400,000.

The railways were not meant to make profits, although this is not the first occasion on which it has happened. I do not blame the Commissioner for Railways for achieving this result. He is charged, under an act of this Parliament, to run the railway as a business concern, and J am not denying that it is his duty to make the greatest possible profit. However, the Government should instruct the commissioner on policy, as has been done in the past. 1 shall illustrate my argument by citing the subsidy that the Commonwealth Government is giving to the State of South Australia. During the last financial year more than £500,000 - I think the figure was £591,000 - was paid by this Government from Consolidated Revenue to South Australia as a subsidy to meet the cost of hauling coal from Leigh Creek to Port Augusta at a concessional rate. Now, that was quite all right. That means that the subsidy was paid direct from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, and the commissioner was reimbursed for the concession that he granted. But we find that the position is to be altered in a most amazing fashion. Henceforth the subsidy given to the South Australian Government for the carriage of coal over its railways will be borne, not by Consolidated Revenue, but by the people who use the railways north of that point, or the whole of the users of the Central Australian railway system. To illustrate that point. I should like to quote from the budget speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). The right honorable gentleman said -

The 1955-56 revenue figure includes a subsidy payment of 591.000 on the carriage of coal from Leigh Creek for the State Electricity Trust of South Australia. Recently a new rate for the carriage of this coal has been agreed between the Commonwealth and South Australian Governments, and the 1956-57 revenue includes no subsidy provision.

This means that this subsidy will, in fact, not be paid from Consolidated Revenue, but will be paid out of the trading funds of the Commonwealth Railways. When discussions were taking place between the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner and South Australia on the striking of the new rate for the carriage of this coal over the new standardized link between Port Augusta and Leigh Creek, the commissioner considered that the correct charge that should be made was in the vicinity of 30s. 5d. a ton - the figure cited by the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) in his speech earlier in the debate. But the South Australian Railways and the South Australian Premier were greatly concerned at this figure and sought to have it reduced. Pressure was brought to bear on the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner in this respect. There is no doubt about that factor, because the new rate was announced as lis. 6d. a ton, or approximately 19s. a ton below the economic rate that had been set by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner for the carriage of that freight. It is apparent that the Commonwealth Railways will lose, on the carriage of that coal, 19s. on every ton hauled over thai section - and the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has indicated that he expects the tonnage to rise from 500.000 tons, last year's figure, to somewhere in the vicinity of 1,500.000 tons when the operations are finally developed and proceeding at full capacity. This means that the Commonwealth Railways stand to lose somewhere in the neighbourhood of £1,250,000 a year in revenue. This is a subsidy which, the Treasurer tells us, the users of the Central Australian railway system have to bear, because it will be met from the trading funds of the railway. I say that this is a remarkable state of affairs. If the South Australian railways or the South Australian Government has to be subsidized, it should be subsidized directly out of the Commonwealth Consolidated Revenue Fund, and not out of the trading funds of the Commonwealth Railways. In that way, the users of the rail.way itself would be paving the rates they should justly pay. They should not be loaded with an additional amount of £1,250,000 in excess of the amount they now have to find. I repeat, if the South Australian Government has to be subsidized because of the peculiar position it finds itself in, the Consolidated Revenue Fund is the fund from which the subsidy should come. It should not come from the trading funds of the Commonwealth Railways.

The effect of this increase - and there must be an increase to consumers along the line, and the users of the line - will be a continued rise of the cost of living of every person in the Northern Territory, whether he be a wage-earner, a producer, a trader or anybody else. We know that because the Northern Territory is a Commonwealth territory wages there are pegged, and the margins that the wage-earner gets are frozen and are totally inadequate for his requirements. Here is a means that the Commonwealth has at its disposal to contribute to a lowering of the cost of living and a lengthening of the margins of the wage-earners in the Northern Territory - a direct contribution that can be made by this Government to the wage-earner of the Northern Territory. The Government can also help the development of the Northern Territory, and can help the people who go there to settle, or invest capital to assist its development. Freight charges could be lowered. Costs to the community in the Northern Territory could be lowered either in the shape of a reduction of the price to the consumer of every-day commodities, through a reduction of freights - a reduction of inward freights on material needed for development and on outward freights on the Territory's products. I say that the Government should effect this reduction as an immediate step towards helping in the development of the Territory.

The South Australian Government is not so remiss as to omit to give preferential treatment to the users of its own railways, and it is a fact, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that users of the Central Australian Railway - that is, the consignees beyond Port Pirie - have to bear a charge in respect of goods of a certain classification of £8 9s. 6d. for every ton shifted over the South Australian railways from Adelaide to Port Pirie, whilst consignees of goods carried within the State, and to Western Australia on the transcontinental line, pay for goods of the same classification a rate of only £2 12s. lOd. a ton - a difference in favour of South Australian and Western Australian consignees of something like £5 16s. 8d. a ton. That is a remarkable discrimination between the two types of consignees. On class C goods the charge to Central Australian consignees is £5 9s. 6d. a ton compared with the charge to South Australian consignees of £2 5s. 6d. a ton - a difference of £3 4s. a ton.

I think that the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), who is at the table, should confer with his colleague, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), with a view to having immediately taken up the matter of these freight differentials agreed on between the South Australian Government and the Commonwealth Railways. I say that, owing to its geographical position, the Northern Territory has to rely on transport facilities to a greater degree than have other parts of the Commonwealth.


Order! The honorable members' time has expired.

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