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Thursday, 25 October 1956


Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) . - I hope, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that you will not rule me out of order when I say that I do not rise to grieve but to express a certain measure of satisfaction. I wish to comment on the matter of standardization of rail gauges that has been raised by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb), and which has been mentioned in this House on several occasions during the last few weeks. One aspect of the matter that causes me satisfaction is that some progress does seem to have been made, and I am glad that this subject is being treated on a non-party basis. I certainly feel that it will be helpful to the Government to have the support of Opposition members, and for that support I should like again to express gratitude and a certain degree of satisfaction.

The Government parties appointed a committee, of which I have the honour to be the chairman, to consider this question. We have completed our report, which is in process of being duplicated at the present moment. When the report is laid on the table of the House on Tuesday of next week, copies of it will be available for the use of honorable members. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) was kind enough to consent this morning to the report being laid on the table of the House, for which, as honorable members realize, leave is required.


Mr Whitlam - Will we be able to debate it?


Mr WENTWORTH - I hope that we will be able to debate it, but I do not know the time-table, lt will, at all events, be laid on the table of the House on Tuesday next, and honorable members will be able to study it. I am afraid it is a lengthy report, running to over 80 pages.

We have discussed in it the pros and cons of the various proposals and we have reached quite definite conclusions. Some of the conclusions are set out in detail, but in the case of others 'the details have still to be provided. Our conclusions are not very different from those that have been reached by a similar committee comprised of members of the Opposition. We believe that there are three missing links in the Australian railway system that should be provided without delay. They are a standardgauge line from Melbourne to Albury, a standard-gauge line from Broken Hill to Port Pirie and then on to Adelaide, and a standard-gauge line from Kalgoorlie to Fremantle. The committee, in passing, had a look at a number of cognate questions, including the extremely important proposed railway between Mount Isa and Townsville - which is, of course, of almost vital concern 10 the development, not only of Queensland, but of the whole of the Commonwealth.

We were able to make quite clear and definite recommendations with regard to the missing links. We thought that the full scheme would cost something in the vicinity of £41,500,000. Honorable members will know that one cannot give an exact figure, and my feeling is that substantial economies could be effected when the actual constructional work was proceeding which would bring the cost below that figure. However we have given what is, I think, a safe ana fairly conservative estimate.

We thought thai the work should bi* started within six months of the presentation of the report. 1 believe that it would not take more than six months - it could take less - to tee up the first proposal. We thought that, taking delays into account, the work might take up to seven and a half years. That, again, was an estimate that did not differ materially from that made by the Opposition. But we came even nearer to the Opposition when we said thai we regarded seven and a half years as the maximum, not the minimum period. 0U view was that as the work proceeded itibenefits would become so manifest thai on the completion of the first stage, there would be considerable economic and political pressure for the more speedy completion of the other stages. We said we believed that the work should be clone in stages, concentrating available resources on one project at a time, so that the first project could be in operation and paying ii\ way as soon as possible.

When we looked at the three projects we felt that the Kalgoorlie-Fremantle' link stood rather below the Broken Hill-Adelaide link in the order of priority. They formed a part of the same system, but we felt thai the Broken Hill-Port Pirie-Adelaide line would be of more value in the early stage> because it would do away with two break.of gauge, and also because, according to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner - this information rather surprised us - we could save nearly £1,000,000 a year by putting in a more efficient railway system foi the transport of ore from Broken Hill to Port Pirie. That sum of nearly £1,000,000 a year - the exact figure given was £860,000 - is a very substantial sweetener which gives that part of the line an additional priority

It was a much more difficult matter to decide whether priority should be given to the Albury-Melbourne line or the Broken Hill-Port Pirie-Adelaide line. Both line.seemed to the committee to be high priority jobs which, on any criterion, merited construction straight away. We thought thai the choice between the two lines should depend upon an administrative decision - that is. upon which of the States concerned was able first to come to terms with the Commonwealth and make the requisite arrangements to co-operate with the Commonwealth. Our conclusion was that as they both were high priority lines, the project that could be teed-up first should be the project to be put under way first. 1 think that when honorable members have read the report, they will agree with the committee that priorities should be allocated in accordance with that principle. We must get one work started at the earliest possible moment.


Mr Thompson - Did the committee get the governments of South Australia and Victoria to agree with it?


Mr WENTWORTH - I am glad that the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has asked that question. The members of the committee would like to express their gratitude to the Commissioners for Railways and the Ministers for Transport of the States concerned for their ready co-operation, lt would not be right to say that they committed themselves in any way. I do not want to give the House the impression that we got from any one of them a commitment, but we did get the most friendly co-operation, first, from the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner and his staff and from the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), and secondly, from the Commissioners of Railways and the Ministers for Transport of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. I do not think that the committee could have got as far as it did without the considerable measure of technical assistance that it received from those gentlemen. The committee also acknowledges gratefully the assistance that it received from many members of the public and representatives of public bodies, who made available facts that otherwise would not have been accessible to us. On behalf of the committee, I express our gratitude to all of those people.

Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lucock).- Order! The honorable member's time has expired.







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