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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (1:27 AM) . - This is not the first occasion on which I have signed on at 1.30 in the morning, and I have frequently seen sleepy people behind an engine, but I have never seen any more sleepy than some of the honorable members that I see before me to-night.

Mr Haworth - They will be sleepier after listening to the honorable member.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My friend says that honorable members will become sleepier, but I suggest that if this House had any regard for the economics of the transport industry in Australia it would take a special interest in this measure, because, first, it makes provision for the closing of a railway, which is something almost novel in the history of Australian railway operations. The proposal is even more novel when we consider that the line is being closed in order to make way for a new railway.

Mr Pearce - In Queensland, the railways are merely to be shut down.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is remarkable. If the same attitude were adopted towards the transport problems of Mount Isa as has been adopted towards the problems of Leigh Creek, the transport difficulties of Mount Isa and Townsville would be eliminated in the same way as those that affect Leigh Creek and the powerhouses in South Australia have been eliminated.

I want to make only one or two observations on this bill. The provision of the proposed 160 miles of standard-gauge railway gives point to some of the remarks made in this chamber during the past few weeks about the value of standardizing rail gauges in Australia. This 160 miles of railway provides a classic example of what rail services can do if properly administered. I believe that the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner and his staff stand high in the esteem of any of the Australian people who understand what is being done with regard to rail transport. It must be remembered that all the Commonwealth Railways lines start from small centres and finish at small centres. They run, for instance, from Port Augusta to. Kalgoorlie, or northwards through South Australia to Alice Springs. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth Railways is the only government transport system in Australia, with the exception of TransAustralia Airlines, that has shown a profit on its operations. For that reason we should examine this legislation closely and not lightly pass it, even though it is being considered in the early hours of the morning.

Mr Bowden - I am glad that the honorable member recognizes that fact.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I recognize it, but I think that every one of us should take these facts into account when we are considering a measure such as this.

Nearly 17 per cent, of the Australian work force is employed in transport industries, and about 30 per cent, of our total capital is invested in transport industries. Therefore, any honorable member who does not sit up and take some notice when transport costs are being discussed has no regard for the future of Australia. In the United States of America about 10 per ' cent, ot total capital invested is employed in the transport industry, and in Canada the figure is 9 per cent., but in Australia it is 30 per cent. Nearly 17 per cent, of our available man-power is used in transport services that cater for 9,000,000 people, more than half of whom are settled in five capital cities that are up to 3,000 miles apart.

This bill illustrates what can be done with an efficient railway service. The Commissioner's report reveals that when the 3-ft. 6-in. gauge line is replaced by a line of 4-ft. 8i-in. gauge, the loads that may be hauled on the line, by two diesel-electric locomotives, will increase from a maximum of 660 tons to 5,500 tons, although the same man-power will control the carriage of this extra tonnage.

The bill emphasizes the fact that we must adopt a more progressive approach to our transport problems. Between 1950 and 1954 the deficits on railway systems in Australia amounted to the huge sum of about £80,000.000. It is of no use to say that they are State railways, because it is obvious that no country can stand idly by and watch millions going down the drain in that way. For that reason we should seriously consider this measure and see what is to happen as the result of the replacement of the present railway by a line of standard gauge. The Commonwealth Railways organization is paying its way, and it is doing so in circumstances of which this House should take notice, because our Australian Constitution provides that no preference shall be given to any one State, or to any one particular operation in a

State, by any Commonwealth undertaking. Nevertheless, there is an agreement between the Commonwealth and South Australia to the effect that, although the normal haulage rate on the Commonwealth Railway lines is the lowest in Australia, being only about 2d. a ton-mile, the Commonwealth Railways are required to haul coal for 1 60 miles at 1 ls. 6d. a ton. I hesitate to use the word " collusion " in this connexion, but this low rate has been agreed upon. If the Commonwealth Railways are required to haul coal for the South Australian Electricity Trust over a distance of 160 miles for lis. 6d. a ton, although the trust should be required to pay 33s. a ton, there would appear to be no reason why the Commonwealth should not subsidize to the same degree every ton of coal hauled from the western coal-fields of New South Wales to the Bunnerong power station in Sydney. If the New South Wales Government were given the degree of consideration that is given to the South Australian Government, the charge made for electricity in New South Wales could be reduced. In Western Australia, coal is being hauled over a distance of approximately 160 miles for. 42s. a ton. Surely that State, too, should be treated as favorably by the Commonwealth as South Australia. I maintain that the Commonwealth Railways organization is just as entitled as is Trans-Australia Airlines or any other Commonwealth organization to be paid the full commercial rates for the work that it does.

The Commonwealth Railways, in accordance with a long-term plan that was adopted five or six years ago, indulged in what might have been regarded then as an elaborate change-over from steam locomotives to diesel-electric locomotives. The value of the new locomotives has been proved beyond doubt. A recent report of the Australian Transport Advisory Council reveals that labour accounts for 66$ per cent, of all rail transport costs in Australia - that is, 13s. 4d. in the £1. But the Commonwealth Railways, as a result of the changeover from steam locomotives to dieselelectric locomotives and the greater efficiency flowing therefrom, has reduced its labour cost to 8s. 8d. in the £1. This Commonwealth organization, using modern equipment and diesel-electric locomotives, has been able to reduce the labour component of its costs by one-half. This year, instead of making a loss, it made a profit of 6s. 8d. in the £1, which broadly speaking, represents the difference between the cost of steam operation and the cost of dieselelectric operation.

Therefore, I suggest to the Government that the time has arrived when it should assist the States to install modern railway equipment. Some honorable members opposite are yawning and saying that they would like to go home. If they are not interested in the debate, there is nothing to prevent them from going home now, but it is unfortunate that some members of the Government parties are not sufficiently interested in the national economy to pay, even at this hour, some attention to a debate which should direct the attention of the Parliament to the need to do something about transport costs. If this Government does not do something to reduce transport costs, which at present account for 30 per cent, of our domestic expenditure, another government will do so.

There is another point that I want to make. In 1949, the earnings of the Commonwealth Railways per train mile were 20s. 3id. and working expenses per train mile were 23s. 3d. In that year, the Commonwealth Railways were down to the extent of about 3s. a train mile. That was the year immediately preceding the introduction of diesel-electric locomotives, lt is interesting to note that the Commonwealth Railways organization is the only organization in Australia that has not increased its charges since 1951. Despite the fact that it has made no increases of charges since 1951, its costs per train mile rose only slightly between 1949 and 1956 - from 23s. 3d. to 27s. 10id. On the other side of the picture, earnings per train mile rose from 20s. 3±d. to 44s. Hd. In other words, this great service has doubled its income as the result of the modernization of its equipment.

If the States could be provided by this Government with the necessary capital to enable them to purchase modern railway equipment of the kind used by the Commonwealth Railways organization, the whole of the capital would be repaid in two and a half years. The results of the operations of American railways show that that is so.

Mr Hulme - But the railways in America are not run by State governments.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - This, is not a question of the States against the Commonwealth. It is a question of common sense applied to transport operations. I suggest to the Government that an analysis be made of the results of the dieselelectrification of the Commonwealth Railways system with a view to re-organizing railway systems throughout Australia on the same basis. If that were done, our expenditure on transport would be reduced from the. present level' of 30 per cent, of domestic expenditure and a worth-while contribution would' be made to the fight against inflation.

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