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Tuesday, 16 October 1956


Mr WILSON (Sturt) .- lt has been most pleasing to listen this afternoon to this debate, which has been on a very high plane, and in the main, entirely free of party bias. Earlier we had a most able address by a Liberal supporter, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), on the vital problem of transport and the need for a uniform rail gauge. He was followed by a Labour speaker, who alsogave a most able address on the same subject.

Transport goes to the root of all our problems. It has been estimated that 75 per cent, of our costs is attributable to transport in one form or another. One has only to look, for example, at the way in which wheat is transported. It must be transported from the farm to the rail siding, from the siding to the store in the capital city, from the store to the miller who turns it into flour, from the miller to the bakehouse and, finally, to the housewife. Other commodities are transported even more. That is why transport is the factor which contributes most to costs. For that reason, suggestions for the reduction of costs by capital expenditure on uniform gauge railways should have the attention of every honorable member. I look forward to the presentation of the report on the subject by the committee of Government members, and also that of the Opposition's committee.

Last year 1 had an opportunity to visit Western Germany. I was amazed at the reconstruction that had taken place there since the war. There was plenty of evidence of the total destruction of cities and factories but, despite this utter devastation. West Germany is to-day competing with. and outselling, other countries. The West Germans can produce commodities of the same quality, but at a lower price. Upon examination, the reason is quite obvious. The Germans have transport down to a fine art. lt is not a question of rail, road, or canal transport predominating. Each of those systems has been brought to the highest pitch of efficiency.

I was staying on the Rhine, and every four minutes 1 saw diesel electric trains setting out with loads of a size that one never sees in Australia. Their competitors used the autobahns, on which huge capital sums have been spent. These roads carry a constant stream of the heaviest of transports. Along the canals barges proceed, stem to stern. German costs are below those of almost all their competitors simply because German transport costs are lower.

In a country such as Australia we must be prepared to spend our capital in order to bring our costs down. It is not a question of whether the railway should supplant the roads, or whether the roads should supplant the railway. Each of the two systems should be brought up to the highest degree of efficiency. Each would then be able to operate economically because, in certain respects, and for certain commodities, one is usually cheaper than the other.

I do not know how much longer we are to continue this crazy system of transhipping interstate goods at Albury, at Port Pirie and Kalgoorlie. One would imagine that the system had been designed to make transport as expensive as possible. Australia is a country of very great distances. Those great distances must lead us to a most careful and thorough consideration of the means whereby our transport costs can be reduced. The people of Australia would willingly contribute to a national fund for the development of our railways, roads and airways, so that we could have three competing services, each providing the cheapest possible transport in its own field.

We must satisfy the people that our objective is nol that the railways shall oust the road hauliers, or that the road hauliers shall oust the railways, or that they, together, shall oust the airways, or vice versa. We must satisfy the people that every system of transport will be encouraged, so that Australia will have the cheapest and finest transport in the world.

But it seems to me that, when the problems of transport are being considered, there is always rivalry between the heads of the various systems. The Commonwealth Commissioner of Railways, for instance, appears to take the view that we should not spend any money on roads, because, if we did so, the road hauliers would take traffic from the railways. Germany did not look at the problem in that way. Germany asked, " In what way can the railways carry goods at the lowest possible cost? " It asked the same question about road transport and water transport. Each system got down to the problem and reduced its costs. Today, each of three fiercely competing systems claims to be able to carry goods more cheaply than its competitors.

If we have free competition among efficient transport systems, 1 believe we shall solve most of our problems. One of our great problems at present is an adverse trade balance. Our export trade is not large enough to cover the cost of our imports, although the world is crying out for the very goods that we can produce. Our difficulty is not that we are unable to produce the goods or that there are no markets for them, but that the price of our goods is higher than the rest of the world is prepared to pay. Therefore, we must look at our transport costs, because one of the ways in which we can reduce the pi ice of our exports is to reduce transport costs. We have an internal problem. Every one in the community is worried by rising costs. One of the reasons why costs are rising is that transport charges are rising. There again, we must look at the whole problem of transport. 1 feel that we are most indebted to the honorable member for Mackellar and the other members of the committee, who have so studiously, for many months, gone into the problem of how to achieve uniformity of railway gauges. I look forward to the presentation of the report of the committee to the Parliament, and 1 hope that, in discussing it, we shall pool our ideas on the great problem of how to reduce transport costs.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Motion (by Mr. Fairhall) agreed to -

That the following resolution be reported to the House: -

That, including the sum already voted for such services, there be granted to Her Majesty a sum not exceeding £108,238,000 for the services of the year 1956-57, for Additions, New Works and other Services involving Capital Expenditure, viz.: -

 

Resolution reported.

Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.







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