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Tuesday, 9 April 1957


Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I do not suppose that we have ever heard such a weak defence of a government that has fallen down on the major problems experienced by a young, growing nation as that offered by the Minister for Labour and Natonal Service (Mr. Harold Holt). He has given us all sorts of excuses and has, of course, claimed that in the last seven years the Government has done more, and spent more, than has any other government in history. If the future is to be judged by what this Government has done in the past this very opportune motion has been necessary, if only to stir the Government into action. I had hoped that the Minister would tell the nation something more than that his Government was to meet the Victorian Government, £1 for £1, in paying for a survey of the line between Wodonga and Melbourne. That is this Government's contribution to the solution of the Australian transport problem! The Minister should have -riven us an answer to the question, " Can Australia permit a situation to continue in which 17 per cent, of our work force is tied up in transport, and transport costs amount to 33 per cent, of total production costs? He said nothing about the real problem except that some other committee had been set up.

Not long ago it was my privilege to travel between Sydney and Penrith. There is a place in the sun for every section of our transport, but when I heard the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) speaking the other night about what was being done to protect Sydney in the event of attack I wondered whether any thought at all had been given to transport in Australia. The result of any attempt by the people to leave our major cities would be evident at the first big crossing, and would be to the everlasting disgrace of this and any other government that has ever played about with our transport problems. The time has arrived when we should speak, not about highways between Melbourne and Sydney, but about providing co-ordinated transport. We can then set about producing highways that will give free movement for 150 miles from the cities. One wonders how the Government could have stood by and allowed the present transport situation to develop. After all, the Clapp report was not handed down idly. It gave the Government an opportunity to do something for the future development of Australia. But the Government pigeonholed it as soon as it came into office. At Dubbo, last Friday, Mr. G. B. S. Falkiner, the owner of Haddon Rig, a famous grazing property, said that millions of pounds in rural wealth had gone down the drain because of the failure of the Government to provide a railway link between Bourke and Cunnamulla. And this at a time when this nation depends, almost entirely some Government supporters would say, on its rural industries to provide it with overseas balances to enable it to pay its way in the world! And what has the Government done? It has established a Cabinet sub-committee to inquire into the provision of a line between Melbourne and Wodonga.

The time is ripe when the people of this country should have a transport system more commensurate with modern requirements. I know the diesel-electrification of railway systems cannot be used to its best possible advantage on the haul between Melbourne and Sydney. The lines on which that system can give greatly needed relief are the long-distance lines into the country areas, because diesel-electrification eliminates the need for the haulage of water and coal. We have an illustration of that in the new Commonwealth line between Marree and Stirling North, where it is not necessary to haul water and coal to various points for locomotives.

Millions of pounds have been lost as the result of the inaction of this Government to carry on where the Labour government left off, and provide a line between Bourke and Cunnamulla. As Mr. Falkiner has said, millions of pounds have gone down the drain because of the failure to construct a mere 147 miles of rail. He has said that this could be constructed for about £5,000,000 in about eighteen months, and would give great relief to primary producers in the area. It would also save the cost of hauling water and coal. It is tremendously important to have this railway link; it is equally important to understand that this nation cannot develop along the lines at present being followed. We have had seven or eight good years in our primary industries, but I hate to think what would happen now if there were a serious drought in one or two States while things were reasonably good in other States. The result of a serious drought in this country to-day would be that we would have overstocked pastures in the State or States affected, whilst it would be impossible, because of the inadequacy of our railways system, to transfer starving stock to other areas where feed existed. I remember when the seasons were good and bad alternately. The organization that played the greatest part in those days in saving millions of sheep and cattle was the railway system. I remember when we had to bring stock from Queensland to Victoria for feed, because there was no feed in the south of Queensland although there was plenty in Victoria. If that situation arose again - and it is not improbable, because we have had seven good years - this Government will do down in history as a government which, as is said in the Bible story, lived on the fat of the land for the seven fat years and did nothing to provide for the seven lean years that might follow.

No longer can we afford to have 17 per cent, of our work force tied up in transport. No longer can we tolerate a situation in which 30 per cent, of our costs are caused by transport. No longer can we sit idly by while millions of pounds worth of live-stock are lost because of the lack of a railway system adequate to carry starving beasts to the places where there is abundant fodder.

All we have had from the Government so far is the appointment of a Cabinet subcommittee, which has already recommended that the Commonwealth pay half of the cost of the line from Melbourne to Wodonga. What we want is a full-blooded plan to deal with rail transport on an Australiawide basis. The people want transport developed in a way that can be achieved only by a fully co-ordinated effort.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Do not misunderstand the position. We have not limited our interest to the Wodonga-Melbourne strip.


Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Tt took seven years for the Government to do anything.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) has looked at every State in respect of this problem.


Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. but it took the Government seven years to get moving, and it moved then only as the result of pressure from members of the Opposition and from its own supporters. It was pressure from Government backbenchers and from the Opposition that spurred the Government into action. The Government's own back-benchers pushed it so far that it had to do something.

It is because of the failure of the Government to take action to put Australia's transport system in proper working order that the Opposition has raised this subject as a matter of urgency. We have done so in the belief that a government that is inactive in relation to transport is traitorous to Australia - not only to the breadwinners of Australia, but also to those who pay 30 per cent, of their costs in transport charges. The Government's conduct affects the whole nation. If we have a serious drought in any one State now, and the lack of an adequate railway system throughout the country prevents relief from being given to that State, then the Government, which has had more than seven years in which to put the nation's railway system in order, will bear the responsibility for the resultant tragedy. Let the Government be warned not to waste another day in getting on with the job it should be doing.







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