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Tuesday, 9 April 1957

Mr WEBB (Stirling) .- The Labour Opposition, in making this question of transport a matter of extreme urgency, feels that if the Government does not bestir itself in regard to Australia's transport problem this country will be faced with a crisis that could do irreparable harm to our economy. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that committees from each side of this chamber have already presented reports on this very vital matter to this chamber and that the recommendations contained in those reports on the standardization of certain main railway lines were similar. They provide, in effect, for the linking up of the capital cities of this Commonwealth by a standard-gauge line from Fremantle to Brisbane. Those reports and recommendations were tabled in this House nearly six months ago, but as far as we are aware the Government has not done anything about them. So important are they that I expected to see some reference to them in the Speech of His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, but there was no such reference.

It is true that in the last day or two, since notice of this urgency motion was handed in, we have seen reports suggesting that another committee of Cabinet has been appointed to deal with this subject and bring down a further report. What is the need of another committee? We already have two reports from committees which examined the findings of other transport inquiries, including those made in 1949 and 1921. Now, if the newspaper reports are true, the Government proposes to have another committee to handle this matter. Does that mean there will be another delay of six months before the next report is brought down, and another six months on top of that before the Government does anything further? The Government should cut the curtain of red tape th:it is preventing our . transport problems being tackled. If ever there was an opportunity to do that, that opportunity exists now.

Since the most recent reports were handed down, New South Wales and Victoria have indicated that they agree to the linking of Albury and Melbourne by the standard-gauge line, and they point out that this would save £800,000 a year in the handling of goods alone. The Premier of Western Australia has also indicated his acceptance of the proposed alteration of gauge between Kalgoorlie and Fremantle. The time to act on those reports is now. Men are available, particularly in Western Australia, where there are between 5,000 and 6,000 registered unemployed. Eightyfive per cent, of those men are unskilled workers. Approximately 85 per cent, of the work that is necessary to standardize a rail gauge is unskilled work. What more is wanted? If this work was done it would start the timber mills going in Western Australia again, and the repercussions would foster other industries, so getting Western Australia out of its employment difficulties. That applies also to projects in the other States, particularly in the other two States where the governments have indicated that they are prepared to get on to the job.

An ex-Transport Minister of the Victorian Government said only a short time ago that he believed that all members would agree that there is probably no problem more vital to the stability of the Australian economy than the transport problem. He went on to ask that action be taken to implement the recommendations for gauge standardization made by both of these committees. He did not want a further report He was satisfied with these reports, and the Government should be satisfied also. The Labour party committee's report does not represent the views only of the committee. It is a report which has been endorsed by all members on this side of the House. It represents the policy of honorable members on this side of the House. It represents the unanimous policy of members of the Labour party throughout the length and breadth of Australia, because it was adopted by the recent Brisbane conference. Consequently, it is binding on every State branch of the Labour party in the Commonwealth.

If we need any support for these recommendations, surely the decisions given in regard to section 92 of the Constitution indicate how important this project is at the present time. No government now has the power to tax or effectively control interstate transport. It has been argued that the interstate road transport operators pay petrol tax, but the damage that their vehicles do to the roads is out of all proportion to the amount of tax that they pay. Some people say that there is fair competition between road transport and rail transport. There is no such fair competition, because, whilst the railways have to construct and maintain their lines, stations, signals and the like, the interstate road hauliers use roads which are provided free by the community and, in the process of using them, destroy them, leaving the community to repair old roads and build new ones. Some reports have suggested that the cost of a heavy-duty road between Sydney and Melbourne would be about £50,000,000. The Government committee has suggested that the cost would be £25,000,000, but it has admitted that heavy maintenance costs would be involved and that the total cost would be prohibitive, having regard to the resources available for the construction of roads in Australia. After all, the Hume Highway is only one of many roads with which we are concerned. If expenditure of that magnitude were undertaken on that highway, it would mean that work on other highways, just as important, would have to be curtailed.

There is a simple method of taking the heavy loads off the roads and putting them on to the railways. The cost, if all the projects that have been recommended were put into operation, would be about £40.000.000. The expenditure on roads has been colossal over the years. The expenditure for the financial year 1954-55 was £84,000,000. From 1933 to 1954, the expenditure was over £600,000,000. The Australian Transport Advisory Council, as the Opposition committee mentioned in its report, suggested that a total of £1,000,000.000 is needed for expenditure on roads over the next ten years. But it went further than that in its latest report, which was published only the other day, and suggested that the minimum amount needed to bring our roads up to the required standard was £1,643,000,000. We shall have a terrific road-building job ahead of us if we do not take the heavy traffic off the roads. The present road building rate is approximately 10,000 miles per annum. It would take 37 years, at the present rate of roadbuilding, to hard-surface the existing road system. So we can see what a colossal job we have ahead of us. The cost of 1 mile of highway averages £50,000, and the cost of maintaining it averages £500 per mile. All these facts show how important it is to get on with the job of providing the missing links necessary to connect the capital cities with a standard-gauge railway.

I want to draw attention to transport costs in Australia, compared with other costs, and then relate them to the costs of transport in other countries. The Australian Transport Advisory Council stated in its 1952 report that transport costs represented 32 per cent, of Australia's gross domestic expenditure. In 1953-54 the figure was 29 per cent. The latest figure is 33 i. The United Nations Year-book for 1954 showed that in 1953 transport costs represented 10 per cent, of gross domestic expenditure in Canada and the United Kingdom. In the United States of America, they represented 9 per cent, of such expenditure. In 1952, transport costs represented 8 per cent, of gross domestic expenditure in Italy and Japan. In 1951, the figure was 8 per cent, in New Zealand. So it can be seen how important a factor the cost of transport is in Australia. Transport costs represent nearly one-third of all our costs. The cost of everything we do, of everything we wear, of the houses we build, is inflated by onethird by transport costs. The figures speak for themselves, and there is no need for me to go into them at any length. The Government members' committee suggested that with a standard-gauge line between Sydney and Melbourne the cost of hauling a full truck-load would be less than £5 a ton, and other estimates place the cost as low as £2 10s. a ton, but the present road haulage rate is £7 a ton.

I also want to emphasize how important it is, not only to standardize these lines, but to modernize them and use modern dieselelectric equipment. If the reports of the Commonwealth Railways are analysed, it will be seen how important it is to do that. For instance, in the year 1948-49 the earnings per train mile on the Commonwealth Railways were 20s. 3 id. and the working expenses totalled 23s. 3d. per train mile. In the year 1955-56, despite the doubling of the basic wage and substantially increased margins, the working expenses per train mile had risen only to 27s. 10id., whilst the earnings per train mile had soared to 44s. Hd. So it can be seen how important it is to have a modern railway system of standard gauge. A Tariff Board report dated 23rd August, 1955, states this -

What can be accomplished is shown in the report of the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner for the year 1953-54, the first complete year of the use of diesel locomotives only for haulage on the Trans-Australian Railway. The report showed that the cost of operating steam locomotives over the mileage run by diesels would have been £1,063,851, compared wi:h a cost of £230,925 for diesels or, on a mileage basis, 189.21 Id. compared with 41.187d. . . . The Commissioner stated - "The economies effected have more than repaid the capital cost of the locomotives in the last two years alone".

I emphasize that point so that honorable members will see how important it is that we should do something in this matter. The Tariff Board report of 1946 had this to say about rail transport -

Before the war, the Tariff Board found that costs of interstate transport were sometimes almost, if not quite, as high as costs of transporting competing goods to Australia from the United Kingdom or North America.

What a shocking thing it is to think that our transport costs are so high! The 1955 report states -

A perplexing item of cost in Australia is that of transport . . . now, in spite of the existence of four forms of transport, costs of removing raw materials and goods appear to have increased much more than have the costs of goods generally and of other services.

Because we suggest the standardization of the missing links between the capital cities, we do not say that rail transport is the beginning and end of transport. What we want is a co-ordinated transport system in which each form of transport will play its part - whether sea, road, rail or air. A national plan is wanted. It is the job of this Government to devise such a plan and pave the way for its implementation. Cut through the curtain of red tape and get on with the job! That is why 1 suggest to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), who is now at the table, that there is no sense in appointing another sub-committee to handle this job. Practically unanimous reports on this important matter have been made by committees appointed by the parties on both sides of the House. Many honorable members on both sides support this project, and the Government should get down to the job without any further waste of time. We do not want any more delay. The job is waiting to be done. The men are available to do it, and I am certain that the materials and the money can be found if the Government sets about doing it.

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