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Tuesday, 9 April 1957

Mr COUTTS (Griffith) .- I am of the opinion that the matter brought before the House by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) is of the utmost importance. It embraces all forms of transport and refers to the anomalies that have arisen. The various forms of transport have been investigated by governments from time to time. At present, the shipping industry is under a close survey that has been going on for a considerable period of time. The airways of the Commonwealth are regarded as the most efficient in the world, and in respect of that form of transport all of us will agree that we have no rivals. To a great degree, the airways are controlled by private enterprise, and the shipping industry is almost completely controlled by private enterprise. So, too, is the road transport industry. The governments of Australia are vitally interested in the form of transport which they control, namely, the rail transport system.

Two committees have been appointed, one by the present Government parties and one by a Labour party government, to investigate this important matter, and they have produced reports which have been similar in their findings. That, of course, is not new. From the time of the founding of the Commonwealth, investigations have been proceeding regarding the need to improve the efficiency of the operations of the railways in the various States. We have had the Clapp report and a number of other reports which have dealt with the importance of this matter, but on all occasions the politicians of the day have said, "We agree with the report, but the time is not now ". lt seems to be one of the curses of political life in Australia that the leaders of governents are apt to say. " Yes.- but the time is not now ". I feel that now is the time to start trying to improve the efficiency of our railways. After all, the railways are the principal means of carryin " roods that are the backbone of the country the goods produced by primary producers Tn many cases, they are carried at considerable loss for the benefit of the pl-1 - 7 rv producers.

Transport involves a surcharge of 33J per cent, on the goods produced in the Common wealth. That is. the cost of transport represents a charge of one-third of our national income, a fantastic charge, as was stated by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) only a few moments ago. In the United States of America, transport charges represent 10 per cent, of the national income. We must do something about this if we are to cone with th<* problem of costs in Australia. We must reduce the cost of transport. Investigating authorities, particularly the two committees that have been appointed, have shown that an improved railway system in Australia would he a material factor in reducing the cost of movement of goods. Some little time ago. an agreement was reached between the Ministers tor I transport of New

South Wales and Victoria. I take it that their views represent the opinions of their governments regarding the construction of a standard-gauge railway from Albury to Melbourne at a cost of, I believe, £10,000,000. The principal industry in Albury is the trans-shipment of goods from the broad-gauge railway in Victoria to the standard-gauge railway in New South Wales. Competent authorities estimate that the actual cost of trans-shipping goods al Albury is £800,000 a year. That amount would cover an interest rate of 6 per cent, and a sinking fund of 2 per cent, on £10,000,000, which is the estimated cost of the construction of a standard-gauge railway from Wodonga or Albury to Melbourne. Economically, the proposition is extremely sound. When we consider the increased quantity of goods that would be moved by a standard-gauge line from the important manufacturing city of Melbourne to Sydney and Brisbane, and the increased traffic that would be carried by such a railway, we realize the great saving in cost that there would be to the nation and to the producers of goods in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

I know that standardizing railway lines involves various constitutional difficulties. The States are the masters of this situation. Without the approval of the State government, the Commonwealth cannot construct a railway line in the area of a State. But I believe that if the agreement which has been announced between the New South Wales and Victorian governments were implemented and a standard-gauge line were constructed from Albury to Melbourne, it would be so successful in reducing costs and in providing an efficient service to the producers of goods in Victoria and New South Wales, that all States, after witnessing its successful operation, would agree to the general principle of standardization and its immediate implementation by the Slates and the Commonwealth.

Big jobs can be done in a short space of time. We have the example of the St. Mary's munitions undertaking, where a factory costing £25.000.000 was completed in almost two years. As 1 have said, the cost of standardizing the railway line from Albury to Melbourne would be £10,000.000. But that is only one matter that has been mentioned bv the two committees concerning standardized railway lines, lt is desired that Adelaide be brought into the scheme and that, ultimately, the line be extended to Perth and Fremantle. The arrangements for the trans-shipment of goods at Kalgoorlie are primitive and. of course, primitive means always involve added costs to the nation. On 26th March. 1957, Dr. Harold Bell, economist to ihe Australian Mutual Provident Society, said -

From a recent study I made of this problem . . 1 was forced to the conclusion that transport represents one of the largest costs in Australian industry and, further, that it is the cost about which we seem to be doing least.

It is to me the gloomiest spot in an otherwise not altogether unhopeful outlook for costs in secondary industry development in this country and I think that secondary industry will be making a good investment if it uses all its influence to achieve a truly national policy on transport. There are. admittedly, enormous political and constitutional difficulties; but the magnitude of the task, in my opinion, is far out-matched by the rewards which a transformation of our transport system could bring.

All competent authorities agree that something could be done and that something should be done. The Government has ample revenues readily available. The green light can be given by the Government and it is entirely in its hands to do something immediately.

Mr.WENTWORTH (Mackellar) [4.251. - The debate this afternoon, to paraphrase a military training maxim, shows that time spent in discussion on transport is seldom wasted. Some valuable things have emerged this afternoon, particularly from the statement made by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt). It would be natural, from my association with the Rail Standardization Committee, for me to be thinking first of that aspect, but I realize, as the Minister has said, that that is by no means the only aspect. We need an over-all transport plan, and the attention to this matter given by the Government, and particularly by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) has not been without result. 1 for one do not feel that the roads problem can be set aside. Roads are a vital, perhaps the major, part of our transport system. But among the first things to be done - it is a matter of priority - is the standardization of our main trunk railway lines. That is in the interests of the roads as well as of the railways. The National Roads and Mo ovists Association and the Australian Automobile Association have poin ed out to their members in official publications the importance of rail standardization as a means of increasing road availability for motor transport. The Opposition - and I know that the Opposition always has to make political capital where it can - has been twitting the Government about delay in this matter. 1 am not altogether certain that that is a reasonable attitude at present. After all, the Opposition - I do not want to throw this in their teeth - introduced the Clapp Report in 1945 and was in power for four or five years afterwards without doing anything. I do not blame them for that; I know the difficulties with which they were faced.

We said that we hoped a start could be made in six months. Several months have yet to pass before that period expires and I am hopeful still that our time-table will be found to be not unreasonable. The Government has taken very welcome action in regard to survey. I am very pleased that the Minister was able to announce to-day his agreement with the Premier of Victoria on that matter. I hope that the survey will not finish in Victoria. An urgent survey needs to be made on the South Australian line from Broken Hill to Port Pirie. That is a somewhat more extensive survey than is necessary in Victoria. In Western Australia a survey investigation is still necessary to find out whether the line in its final stages should deviate northwards through the Avon Valley or southwards through Roleystone. That can be determined only by a detailed survey. But I think the Government has some things in view which merit the consideration it is giving. 1 was very glad to hear the statement by the Minister on the membership of trie Cabinet subcommittee and the extreme strength of the Ministers who are members of that subcommittee.

The Government has to consider the matter of priority. After all, even our own committee was unable to determine priority between the two lines from Broken Hill to Port Pirie and Melbourne to Albury. Both of them, we thought, were of top priority, and we were unable to decide which one should be started first. Doubtless, the Cabinet is investigating that matter, and naturally they will want time to do so. lt also has to be fitted into the overall priority. We are not afraid of the result of this examination by the Cabinet. All the problems which were raised by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) earlier in the debate were considered exhaustively by the committee. About one-third of the membership of the committee, three members out of ten, were members of the honorable member's own party, and the report was unanimously signed. We are not afraid of this priority examination, but we do not think it unreasonable that such an examination should be made. lt is also necessary to examine further the matter of finance. I believe that overseas finance would be available, if necessary, for these standardization projects. In fact, from my own personal contacts in the United States of America, to mention one country, I have very firm reason to believe that overseas finance would be available if the proposition were properly presented. It may be that the Cabinet at this moment is negotiating in that direction, or following up that aspect of the matter. It is an aspect that could be well followed up, and time spent in that way would not be wasted.

There is also the matter of negotiations with the States. I think it is only three or four weeks since the announcement was made of the agreement between Victoria and New South Wales. I do not know the result of the negotiations regarding the South Australian and Western Australian aspects of the matter. I know that both the Liberal Premier of South Australia and the Labour Premier of Western Australia have expressed some hesitation with regard to certain aspects. Such matters would have to be cleared up. But in regard to this aspect also 1 believe that our committee made a good recommendation when it suggested that if it is impossible to achieve agreement on certain lines, that fact should not delay a start on any line on which agreement has been reached. I do not for one moment think it necessary to try to hasten the Cabinet in its negotiations, because I am sure that it is conducting them with due expedition and diligence. The Cabinet must be given sufficient time to complete them.

Mr Webb - Your committee's report gave the Cabinet six months.

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