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Thursday, 25 October 1956

Mr CHANEY (Perth) .- I rise to add to the many remarks that have been made this morning about railways in Australia. Before I proceed, I should like to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn), who has suffered a serious accident. For some time prior to that accident he acted as secretary of the committee of members of the Government parties which inquired into the standardization of railway gauges, and in that capacity he did a tremendous amount of work. Members of the committee regretted very much that he was prevented from continuing in the position of secretary. I wish to make only one comment on the meetings of that committee. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) paid a tribute to the Ministers and commissioners for railways in various States, and various private organizations and citizens throughout Australia for the co-operation and assistance we received. I think that all of the members of the committee concluded their inquiries with a sense of deep sympathy for Ministers and commissioners for railways in every State.

Mr Whitlam - And the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, too.

Mr CHANEY - Yes, I include him, also, but at least he is in the fortunate position of being able to present a balance-sheet which shows a considerable profit and an increase in traffic whereas State commissioners for railways are in the unfortunate position of being faced with huge deficits and not knowing what to do for the future. lt is apparent that a complete transition to diesel-electric traction will assist towards making the railways pay. The various States face other major problems, the solution of which will take extreme courage on the part of Ministers for Railways, because many of the proposed solutions will meet with certain political disfavour. I think that the time has arrived when State governments must be bold and have extreme political courage, if the future of the State railway systems is to be assured.

In the few minutes remaining to me, I wish to mention that one private railway is operating in Western Australia, from Midland Junction to Geraldton, through the midlands area. This railway has been operated successfully for many years. There is a State railway line some 40 or 50 miles to the east, but the majority of the traffic through this rich agricultural area is carried by the private railway. During the war years it did a tremendous job, because a rather large Air Force training station, a service flying training school, was located at Geraldton, and the traffic involved by that station alone was immense. In addition, at one stage a very large force of Army personnel was stationed in the northern part of Western Australia, and all supplies and men for that force were carried on this line. At the conclusion of the war a very heavy rehabilitation programme was necessary, and since then the company has not paid a dividend, ali profits having been devoted to the rehabilitation of the line and the renewal of rolling-stock. Now the company is faced with the need to provide dieselelectric locomotives. The company's purchases of these locomotives is subject to sales tax, which is not payable by the State railways. Applications to the Commonwealth Government for exemption from sales tax in the purchase of diesel locomotives have met with refusals from the Treasurer. In recognition of the company's efforts to rehabilitate itself and to continue to give service to a large section of the State, it should be brought into line with the State railways and allowed to purchase diesel locomotives free of sales tax. The company competes with the State railways under adverse conditions in respect of taxes of all kinds, and puts up a creditable performance. Surely it could be allowed some small remission of sales tax to allow it to continue to operate this private railway system in the best interests of a large portion of Western Australia. I do not think that a great amount of money is involved.

Debate interrupted under Standing Order 291.

Question resolved in the negative.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

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