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Wednesday, 10 November 1971
Page: 3262

Mr BENNETT (Swan) - Here again estimates are presented to this Committee without any provision being made for the sealing of the east-west road link - the Eyre Highway. In answer to a question in which I asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Nixon) personally to inspect the highway by driving across it, he said that he would not do so, and he said that he was adequately informed on the condition of the road. If he is adequately informed on the condition and is aware of the human suffering and heartbreaks which face very many people who travel interstate in search of work, to visit relatives and friends, to enjoy a well earned rest on annual leave or long service leave, or a retirement trip, then he must be immune to human suffering.

On one of my many trips across Eyre Highway recently I assisted people who had lost their vehicle through fire. Another motorist had holed his sump when he struck a rock, and the motor of another car was overheating because the radiator had shaken adrift. All this happened within one hour. I can honestly say that in mv many crossings of the Eyre Highway there has not been an occasion when some unfortunate motorist has not required assistance. This is totally apart from the statistics relating to cost which were revealed in answer to my question on this matter.

Under questioning the Minister has admitted that a tremendous amount of Commonwealth money has been spent on maintaining the Eyre Highway and that more will be spent. Earlier this year the estimate given for sealing the 310 miles of the highway from Ceduna to the Western Australian border was 9m. The South Australian Government currently is sealing the section from Ceduna to Penong, leaving a section of 266 miles unsealed. However, the incredible refusal by the Commonwealth earlier this year to meet the South Australian Government's offer, whereby the South Australian Government would contribute S3m, or one-third of the cost of sealing this section of the highway, and the Commonwealth would contribute S6m, or two-thirds of the cost, is completely beyond comprehension. In this area of national responsibility it is not a question of the Commonwealth needing to reach into its pocket to supply the money immediately. The money could be provided on a definite programme over the next few years. It must also be remembered that questions have revealed that maintenance of this section of the highway in the past 5 years and in the next 5 years will have cost $1.6m and that damage caused to vehicles, for which claims could be made under insurance policies, will amount to a minimum of $200,000.

In February this year the South Australian Premier said that 8 people had been killed in the previous 16 months on the unsealed section of the Eyre Highway and that 6 of them had been killed as a result of head-on collisions because visibility was impaired by dust raised by other vehicles. The Minister for Shipping and Transport says that he is fully informed on the condition of the road, yet he does nothing. What is needed to stir him to action? How many deaths must occur or who needs to die before he will take the matter to the Cabinet and stop mouthing platitudes when speaking of road safety and blaming motor vehicle manufacturers for the problems on our highways? Let him put the Commonwealth's house in order first before asking the motorist and the manufacturer to spend millions of dollars on improving the safety of motor vehicles. Let him use some of the money which has been raised by the imposition of heavy taxation on the motoring public and provide proper roads for public use.

Recently a statement was made by the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) to the effect that the Government is to provide $4m for a road to the East Alligator River area of the Northern Territory to serve the new uranium province east of Darwin. Whilst not denying the benefits which will flow to Australia from the development of the north, this highlights the contempt with which the Government treats Western Australia. The West Australian' newspaper agrees that there is a need to seal the remaining section of the Eyre Highway. The editorial in that newspaper on Monday, 8th November 1971, which was subsequent to answers being provided to the question I had asked, stated:

The Commonwealth's attitude is not only imposing a heavy maintenance burden on South Australia, but for the sake of $6m, which could be spread over several years, it is putting too much of a drag on national road funds upkeep. This unsound practice is not made any better by the Commonwealth's getting revenue of SI. 3m in the past 5 years from private motorists who travelled across the desert by rail - most of them no doubt because they wanted to avoid the dust bowl. Canberra's aim should be to get the maximum value and safety out of the heavy South AustralianWestern Australian capital investment in the highway and to get maintenance costs down to the minimum.

It appears that the Commonwealth will continue to make a yearly contribution of $25,000 to South Australia for the maintenance of this road, which in itself is totally inadequate for the projected maintenance costs for the next 5 years. ft is estimated that the maintenance costs on the road will be Si 90.000 in 1971-72, $180,000 in 1972-73, SI 80.000 in 1973-74, $170,000 in 1974-75 and $ 1 60.000 in 1975-76. South Australia will have to provide a large part of the money in order to overcome a national problem. One becomes very suspicious that the Government has a vested interest in continuing to ensure that it receives revenue from the Commonwealth Railways, as many vehicles are forced to utilise the railways' pickapack system because of the road conditions. As a result, there will be a further swelling of the Commonwealth's coffers from railway revenue.

Again the Commonwealth is badly lacking in providing assistance for the development of rail links in the north-west of Western Australia. It has allowed to develop a situation in which all the north-west railways to iron ore developments are privately owned instead of being major revenue earners for the Australian railway system. The Pilbara region is still unconnected by rail to eastern or Western Australian centres of population. It has been mooted that the Pilbara region could be serviced by rail by upgrading the MullewaMeekatharra railway, building a new line to Mount Newman, joining the Mount Newman-Port Hedland line to the Mount Tom Price-Dampier line and providing general cargo terminals at Port Hedland and Karratha. To do this the Government would need to have access to two privately owned iron ore railways and would need to become involved in a capital outlay of between $S0m to $60m.

Here again, Commonwealth money would be needed to develop this rail link, and this country would be paying a type of rent for the use of a rail link which should be the property of the public and a revenue earner for the Government. Recently the Commonwealth approved an expenditure of some $70m for a line from Alice Springs to Tarcoola, a distance of about SOO miles. Whilst not decrying the benefits to flow from it, I think it would be pleasing to Western Australia if the Commonwealth were to investigate and subsequently propose a rail link between Alice Springs and the Pilbara rail system at Mount Whaleback, the terminus of the Mount Newman railway.

Mr Calder - I agree.

Mr BENNETT - Even the honourable member for the Northern Territory can see the value of this. We hear a lot of talk about this area being impenetrable desert country, but this is far from fact. This link has been traversed on occasions and in fact has been given the name of National Highway Code 121, as it links Route 1 on the west coast with Route 1 on the east coast, one to one. or as some would call it, the Capricorn Highway due to its proximity to the Tropic of Capricorn. It covers a distance of some 900 miles. One writer who surveyed the route indicated that the route from Mount Whaleback to Alice Springs has a 200 mile stretch of stabilised sand ridges, some up to SO miles long, then it is flat and smooth with sparse spinifex and in many parts gravel. The ballast for the critical 200 miles was available from the Runton Range and Baron Range. The benefits not only to the Pilbara but also to Alice Springs are too obvious to be mentioned.

One might compare Alice Springs with Salt Lake City, Utah in the United States of America where the railway line crosses the Great Salt Lakes. The city is the junction for the Denver, Rio Grande, Western Union Pacific and Western Pacific railroads, lt is the capital of Utah and is similarly situated to Alice Springs. It has meat packing, oil refining, smelting and other allied industries. Alice Springs could be the rail junction where east meets west and could have similar development. It could help to justify the huge expenditure of public moneys each year on the Northern Territory and could up and develop what is known as the 'dead heart' of Australia. But more importantly it could provide an imaginative link with Australia's most vital area for the future development of our economy if not already our most important area - the Pilbara region of the north west of Western Australia. The Commonwealth must demonstrate its interest in industrial development, defence development and tourist potential by taking action along the lines T have outlined.

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