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Friday, 12 September 1969

Mr CALDER (Northern Territory) - I commend the Minister for Shipping and Transport and the Government on the introduction of ships flying the Australian flag to the overseas shipping service. As the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) pointed out, this has not occurred for some 30 years and it is something of which we can be justly proud. We hope that such a move will bring benefit to all sections of the community in Australia.

In conjunction with the honourable member for Grey (Mr Jessop) I have continually demanded that the Government provide a permanent means of surface transport between Alice Springs and Port Augusta. The railway between the two centres has not been subjected to so many delays this year as it has in previous years mainly because the local rivers in the Oodnadatta-Finke area have not been carrying quite so much water this year. This has meant that the railway line has turned in a better performance. I urge the Government to take serious steps towards rehabilitating this line either by upgrading the Marree-Oodnadatta section - which mainly goes through low lying areas alongside Lake Eyre - or by building a new line on the higher country from Tarcoola to Alice Springs via Granite Downs.

While on the subject of the railway line, I should mention that I recently found that there is cause for complaint about the service between Alice Springs and Port Augusta. The service provided is of a container type to a great extent and the Commonwealth Railways states that there should be a 4-day turnround for the containers. I have found that the three local companies, which are the local shippers of containers, are complaining that the container service often takes as long as 3 to 7 days over and above the 4 days stated time for delivery. I have also found that the southern bound passenger train to Port Augusta from Alice Springs - the Ghan - is continually overbooked. I think one has to book 5 or 6 weeks ahead in order to get a seat on this train. Only the other day I found that this train tended to be overbooked at Christmas time. I know that the trains on this run carry 1,000 tons. I do not think that the trains can be lengthened. But I would suggest that there should be an increase in rolling stock or in the number of trains that use the line. There may be some answer to this, but it is an impossible situation when people are told that they have to wait 4 or 5 weeks before they can board this train. I know that this is a very good train. I travelled on it earlier in the year and the service and the actual running of the railway itself leave very little to be desired.

I would now like to refer to the North Australian railway. I note that as a result of the rehabilitation plan very few delays have occurred in the delivery of iron ore to Darwin from the Francis Creek or Pine Creek areas. However, I am assured that the number of tons handled by the railway are getting behind schedule. I think the reason for this is that the railway cannot attain the originally estimated speeds on the line. I notice also that new workshops are being erected in Darwin at the Two-mile Yard and that these workshops will be very well equipped. The repairs that will be carried out in them should make rail travel on the North Australian line faster and safer and should lead to a general upgrading of the service.

I now wish to say a few words about the southern end of the North Australian railway line. I speak of the part of the track that runs through Katherine and Mataranka to Larrimah. This is the part of the line that could possibly become redundant owing to road transports unloading in Katherine. I know that 100 miles of railway is a pretty expensive item, but the line I am referring to is reputed to be in very good order. Therefore, I say to the Minister: Please do not let this line fall into disrepair. I know that this section will be of great assistance to cattle truckers into the Katherine meatworks, which has reopened after the disastrous fire earlier in the year. The terminal facilities at Larrimah also should not be allowed to fall into disrepair.

I now turn to the subject of roads. I would like to say something about the Alice Springs-Port Augusta road which was recently cut by a little heavier than normal fall of rain in the Coober Pedy area. I have constantly asked the Government to upgrade this road because traffic is held up with every fall of rain in the area. The traffic on this road can be held up 200 or 300 miles out of town and for a lot of people the delay and inconvenience represent a major problem. Many people do not travel equipped to cope with those conditions. It is dangerous for motorists to be in this sort of pitfall. Also, when this road is flooded cargo and passenger schedules are thrown out of gear all over the country. So, I urge the Government to supply an all weather surface link from north to south. I believe that the Government should either upgrade the road or the railway line or both. I ask for a solid and practical answer to be given to this great transport problem.

I know that the South Australian Government has a responsibility with regard to this road, because two-thirds of it is situated in that State. From a recent trip which I made over the road, I must admit I found that the South Australian section of it was considerably worse than the section in the Northern Territory. Apart from the ordinary running surface of the road, which seems to be under better repair, the Commonwealth Government has opened an allweather cement crossing across the Hugh River, and it has built bridges over the Finke and Palmer Rivers, which are big rivers. I think that these two bridges are to be opened next weekend. This is a step by the Government towards building a reasonable all-weather road between the north and the south, and it is to be commended for that. But I urge the Government to continue its efforts to construct this all-weather link between Port Augusta and Alice Springs, which would connect the two capitals of Darwin and Adelaide. Not only would it mean tremendous savings in freight but it would also open up the country for the great number of tourists who are flocking to the Northern Territory more and more every year, because Australians are great motor travellers. This allweather link would be of great advantage to people not only in Darwin and in the Northern Territory generally but also in the rest of Australia.

Continuing on the question of road transport in the Northern Territory, I urge the Government to support the Northern Territory Legislative Council's decision not to limit the bogie weight on the semi-trailers or road trains which operate between Alice Springs and Darwin. Some of these vehicles have two or three trailers behind them. I ask the Government not to limit the bogie weight to 13 tons. The Northern Territory Legislative Council has recommended a bogie weight of 16 tons. I point out that this road, which was built many years ago and which has been maintained, has carried far greater loads than 16 tons. If the Government were to introduce a bogie limit of 13 tons the result will have to be that we will see light semi-trailers racing up and down the road at speeds far greater than we see at the present time - at 50 or 60 miles an hour - and there will be a considerable rise in freight costs because all the local transport operators will have to re-equip their fleets. The general result will not be in the best interests of the Territory.

Finally, I want to say a few words about the Darwin port facilities. When tI was down on the Darwin wharves last Friday speaking to the wharf labourers, I found, as I have always found, confusion on the wharves. They are overcrowded and there is a slow turnround of ships. There is confusion in getting goods away from the wharves. All of this tends to increase the cost of freight into the port of Darwin. So I urge the Government to implement the findings of the Maunsell report. I was asked on several occasions by the men working on the wharves to urge that this report be implemented because these men are there every day and they see the holdups which are occurring. They know the situation - we all know the situation. We see ships waiting to get alongside the wharves and be unloaded. So once again I urge the Minister to see whether the Government will implement the findings of the Maunsell report because the port of Darwin is strangling itself. Darwin is a very fast growing city. A lot of goods have to be imported through the port. Darwin is growing as the export trade is increasing. But cargo is stacked up along the wharves and it is almost impossible to clear ships. If the ships are unloaded quickly the wharves cannot handle the goods. I urge that the findings of the Maunsell report be implemented.

Sitting suspended from 12.46 to 2 p.m.

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