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Tuesday, 16 October 1956

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - First, I congratulate the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) for - let us get down to tintacks - being game enough to say that the committee of which he is the chairman will present to the Parliament for discussion a report on transport in Australia. I suggest to the honorable member that when the report has been presented, he may find that it will be treated, finally, as a challenge to the Government. I hope that the committee's recommendations will be accepted by the Government in the forthright manner and in the spirit of Australianism in which I believe they have been prepared.

I know something about the preparation of the report, although I am not associated with the honorable member's committee. I have to thank the same people as the honorable member thanked for information that was put at the disposal of our committee. It is a shame that the work of the two committees was not co-ordinated. A long time ago, I suggested to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that there should be established to deal with transport problems a parliamentary committee, the members of which would be appointed regardless of political barriers, but the problems were shrugged off by the Government then. If the Government continues to shrug oil the problems of transport for much longer, it will bite the dust, because the economic difficulties with which we are face J as a result of oar failure to deal with those problems are becoming greater as time goes on.

Let us have a look at one or two of the problems. The honorable member for Mackellar said that he did not know which railway gauge unification project should bc tackled first. That is where the challenge to the Government may well arise. I believe that the first stretch of railway line to be converted to standard gauge should be that between Port Pirie and Broken Hill, for the reason that there is no obstacle to the work in the form either of physical ability or absence of necessary legislation. There is in force the Railway Standardization (South Australia) Agreement Act, which received the Royal Assent on 28th October. 1949. The agreement which forms the schedule to that act provides for the conversion to standard gauge, amongst others, of the railway line of which I am speaking. Clause 7 of the agreement states that betterments may be carried out in conjunction with the work specified in clause 5 and provides that the State may replace existing locomotives, rolling-stock or other assets by locomotives, rolling-stock or other assets of different kinds. Clause 14 states -

Seven-tenths of the cost of the standardization works set out in clause S of this agreement shall be borne by the Commonwealth and three-tenths of such cost shall be borne by the State.

Clause 23 provides that -

The Commonwealth shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that the Silverton tramway and the locomotives and rolling-stock thereon shall be acquired and vested in the South Australian Railways Commissioner.

V/hen I said that the problem of which project should be undertaken first might give rise to a challenge to the Government, I meant what I said. The Railway Standardization (South Australia) Agreement Act contains all the legislative provisions necessary to launch the first of the projects in the standardization programme. Once the project is in operation, the realization of its economic value will force any Commonwealth government - I do not care of what political complexion - to adopt the suggestions that have been made by the honorable member for Mackellar.

Let us look at the realities of the situation. In June, 1955, we had in Australia 525,742 miles of road, of which only 40,651 miles were of concrete or a higher standard, or were paved or sealed. So we have about 500,000 miles of rough, unsealed roads to contend with. Let me say here that 1 believe that the figure of £40,000,000 mentioned by the honorable member for Mackellar as the cost of the standardization of the three sections of railways that he spoke of was not far wrong. That figure corresponds fairly closely with our figure.

In 1954-55, we spent £84,000,000 on roads. Despite that expenditure, the Humehighway, one of our main arteries, is in a very bad condition. Even if, overnight, we could transform all of our 525,000 miles of road into roads of good quality, we could not, as a nation of only 9,030,000 people, afford the man-power necessary to keep them in a condition suitable for vehicles of the type that are using them now. It would take the services of one-tenth of the population to keep 525,000 miles of road in top condition.

But, even if we could spare the necessary man-power, the economic consequences would be disastrous. At present, our economy is staggering under the load imposed on it by the importation of petrol, motor vehicles and everything associated with road transport. The weight of transport charges is pulling the nation down. Recently, I cited a figure in this chamber which was queried by many honorable members opposite and by some of my friends on this side. I said that dieselelectrification had reduced the cost of long hauls by railway to id. a ton-mile. The only point on which 1 really disagree with the honorable member for Mackellar - he will have to consider this matter with his committee - is that I doubt whether we could derive the greatest possible economic benefit from gauge unification unless we could persuade the States to alter their outlook on the handling of their equipment.

Mr Wentworth - We agree with that entirely.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Let me give an instance which shows why this problem is urgent. About a fortnight ago, the Commonwealth Commissioner of Railways put into operation a plan for the railway to pick up at Port Pirie road transports that had been driven there from Melbourne and

Sydney and haul them to Kalgoorlie, where they would be driven from the railway trucks on to the road. We have reached the stage when, with diesel-electrification, the railways can carry a truck, its load and its driver for less than it would cost to run the truck on the road. For every hour that a truck is stacked on a railway wagon, capital and man-power are being wasted.

The cost of constructing between Sydney and Melbourne a road that would carry the kind of vehicles using the present road would be about £50,000 a mile, but the cost of a railway track, following the route of the present track - the honorable member for Mackellar has been over it and knows as much about it as I do, except that he does not know the sleepers - would be £35,000 a mile. Leaving aside expense of upkeep and other problems, I point out that on construction costs there is a margin of £15,000 a mile in favour of the railway. I have no doubt that if there were a standardgauge line connecting Sydney and Melbourne, the railways would be able to compete effectively with road hauliers. That is something that the Government should welcome with open arms, because honorable members opposite say that they believe in competition. All right, let us give to the railways the power to compete, merely by expending on railways half the amount thai we spent on roads in 1954-55. If we did that, the cost of diesel haulage between Sydney and Melbourne would be less than id. a ton mile, because there would be no standing time for the diesels at Albury. Let us consider the service to Western Australia. Under the Commonwealth Railways system at present, the diesel locomotives, on reaching Kalgoorlie, are put away for the week-end. The goods are unloaded onto the ground, because the Commonwealth Railways will .:ot wait for trucks, and the Western Australian railways pick the goods up on Monday. Under a unified system, the same diesel-electric locomotives would be able to travel to Perth and be back at Kalgoorlie again with a full load before Monday morning. On the run between Sydney and Brisbane in the very near future there will be only two stops for the purpose of changing crews. The stages will be from Sydney to Taree, Taree to Grafton, and Grafton to Brisbane. Three crews will suffice on the run from Sydney to Melbourne, the stages being from Sydney to

Harden, Harden to Albury, and Albury to Melbourne, with changeovers taking ten minutes, or fifteen minutes at the outside. These locomotives, hauling 800 tons of goods, will provide a faster service than is at present being provided. If this is done, we will really be doing something worth while for the economics of Australia.

Mr DRUMMOND (NEW ENGLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is, if the permanent way is improved.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - M\ friend from New England, wanting a new State, would not want unification of railways, so he says that we would have to do something about the permanent way. 1 remind him that the loads of 800 tons to which 1 refer are already being hauled od bogie vehicles between Sydney and Alburv faster than the expresses are being run. That is the answer. The permanent way need not be improved beyond its present state to provide that kind of service. Let us devote to the railways one-quarter of what was spent last year on roads, £84,000,000, and we will put all the main line tracks into first-class order.

Mr Turnbull - Spent on all roads.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If ever there was an issue in respect of which members of the Australian Country party should be right behind the sponsors, it is this issue. The only chance we have of getting decent roads in this country is by spending money on roads remote from railways, instead of spending large amounts on roach which run parallel with railway lines.

Mr Turnbull - Do not try to indicate that I am against the proposition; I am not. The correct method is to improve country roads.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Looking at this amount of £400,000 for rail standardization in South Australia and Queensland, this year, I remind the chairman of the parliamentary committee that a tremendous national saving is involved. We know that, at this point, there must be co-ordination between the Commonwealth and the States. We cannot afford to have a situation in which a diesel-electric locomotive, upon reaching Port Pirie or Broken Hill, is taken off the train because it belongs to either a State or Commonwealth railways organization. The real secret of the success of diesel-electric locomotives is that the engines may be run through, and they are capable of almost unlimited mileage on a long single run. When we consider the original report prepared on the standardization of rail gauges, we must ignore its computations of costs of equipment and locomotives, because, to-day, these costs simply do not exist. In the Commonwealth railways, eleven dieselelectric locomotives have displaced 43 steam locomotives. If, in New South Wales, overnight we put on the stop blocks all of our 57 and 58 type heavy goods haulage locomotives, oil burners, Garratts, and the 36- class passenger type, and replaced them by diesel-electric locomotives, the New South Wales railways system, even allowing for its £10,000,000 interest bill, would show a profit as from the date of the change. When we consider expending £40,000,000 on the interlocking of capital cities, I go further than the honorable member for Mackellar and say that the Government would not only get back value for the £40,000,000, but, also, the nation would save the capital cost every two years after the new system was really under way, and the community would have a transport service the like of which we cannot obtain until we forget State borders in relation to transport and look at Australia as a whole. If the Government met the whole cost, instead ot 70 per cent., there would be a great saving at the end of the first year's operation after the services were opened.

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