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Friday, 22 May 1970

Mr McLEAY (Boothby) - I was pleased to hear the Opposition state that it supported the Port Augusta to Whyalla Railway Bill. 1 am pleased to support it also. I know that I speak for all honourable members on this side of the House, particularly those representing South Australian electorates, when I say that we are glad to see this action taken at last. This Bill seeks the approval of Parliament in respect of an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the South Australian Government to enable the construction, by the Commonwealth, of a new standard gauge railway between Port Augusta and Whyalla.

The original negotiations between the 2 governments were resolved on the initiative of the then Premier of South Australia, Sir Thomas Playford. I would like to see Sir Thomas receive due credit for his work in this regard because he successfully negotiated with the Commonwealth the standardisation agreement of 1949. South Australia was the only State to sign that agreement.

The result has been that South Australia has received substantial financial assistance - more than any other State - from the Commonwealth, first towards the TransAustralian Railway and secondly for the standard gauge line from Port Pirie to Broken Hill. This will be the third standard gauge line construction to be financed by the Commonwealth. Discussions are under way now to enable a link to be inaugurated from Tarcoola, on the trans-continental line, to Alice Springs. In addition, there is the standard gauge line from Port Augusta to Marree which links with the narrow gauge Central Australia Railway to Alice Springs.

Apart from the obvious need for the Australian States to establish a Federal government responsible for defence, external affairs, immigration and other matters, in which Commonwealth influence is becoming progressively greater, I believe that few problems could have influenced the founders of federation more than the hotchpotch of railway systems of that time, with various gauges in various States. It seems to mc that few things, even today, are retarding our national development more than this particular problem.

The general principle underlying thu distribution of Commonwealth assistance to State budgets is to enable each State to provide government services at a standard broadly similar to the standards in the other States, provided that the State makes similar efforts to raise revenue and control expenditure. Thus the wealthier States of Victoria and New South Wales receive lower amounts per head of population because, with higher levels of income, they have a greater capacity to raise revenue from their own residents and because they usually can achieve a similar standard of government services with lower per head expenditures than the other States. In spite of South Australia's enormous area and relatively small population - it respresents aabout 9% of Australia's total population - from its own resources and at its own initiative it has succeeded in establishing a very satisfactory internal railway system. I take this opportunity of impressing on the Government, through the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair), the serious disadvantage suffered by South Australia compared to those State now linked together by the standard gauge railway sys tem. Traditionally, South Australia always has been a low cost State. It has survived because the cost of producing goods and transporting them to other States has often been lower that the costs in those States.

Past Governments, particularly those under Sir Thomas Playford and other Liberal leaders, have been able to achieve a comparatively peaceful industrial situation and to supply industry with adequate services at cheaper cost than has been the case in other States. For example, South Australia has such organisations as the highly successful Electricity Trust which supplies power at very low rates, and a more than adequate flow of water through the pipeline system from the River Murray, a scheme criticised very strongly when first introduced by Sir Thomas Playford. Events have proved that both those projects were the fulfilment of more than forward looking for South Australia.

Unfortunately, however, South Australian industry is now seriously disadvantaged in regard to the transport of manufactured goods to markets in the eastern States. All South Australians, irrespective of their political affiliations, warmly welcome the announcement of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) of the construction of the fourth line which is to connect Adelaide to Port Pirie. This line should be initiated very soon and it will place South Australian industry on at least an equal footing with competitors in other States.

There has been criticism of the decision to proceed with the Port Pirie to Whyalla link before the Adelaide to Port Pirie link but it must be remembered that when the original discussions took place it was uneconomic to proceed with the Whyalla link. The position has now changed. Obviously the decision by the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd to transport steel to South Australia by road and rail instead of by sea has made the whole project economically possible. There will in future be a very great increase in the freight carried. Port Augusta and Whyalla will become major industrial complexes and the construction of the standard gauge railway link is absolutely essential. It is also highly desirable from a social point of view. It is expected that apart from the large amount of freight to be carried between the 2 cities, a modern passenger service will be established using Budd rail cars. This will be of particular benefit to people in Whyalla.

The Government has paid special attention to level crossings. As a result of negotiations with South Austraiian authorities, several important safety factors will be included in this project. There will be a road overpass approximately 5 miles south of Port Augusta and the South Australian Highways Department has agreed to divert the Port August-Whyalla road so that traffic can use it. The other level crossings at Lincoln Gap and Point Lowly will be protected by flashing lights. Honourable members on both sides of the House obviously strongly support this Bill. The criticism that it should have been introduced many years ago is not valid in view of the economic position at that time.

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