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Friday, 9 July 1926

Senator CRAWFORD (QueenslandHonorary Minister) (Honorary Minister) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

It will be remembered that in 1924 a bill was passed providing for the building of a railway between Kyogle and South Brisbane and the strengthening of the existing railway between Grafton and Kyogle, which, when the bridge over the Clarence River - to be built by the State of New South Wales - is completed, will give a uniform gauge railway between Sydney and Brisbane. The history of the uniform gauge movement goes back quite a long way, but as it has already been placed before the Senate, it is not necessary for me to cover the whole of the ground again. It is sufficient for me to say that at a conference between the Prime Minister and the State Premiers in 1920, it was agreed that steps should be taken towards unifying the railway gauges of the mainland systems of Australia, and that the cost of the work should be borne in the proportion of onefifth by the Commonwealth, and fourfifths by the mainland States of Australia on a per capita basis. It was also agreed that the Commonwealth and States would abide by the decision of a royal commission comprising engineering experts, who were, by agreement, to be brought from England and America. These experts, after exhaustive investigations, submitted their report towards the close of 1921. They unanimously recommended 4 ft. 81/2 in. as the standard gauge, and, as the first stage, the linking of the capitals of Australia and the conversion of the broad gauge lines of Victoria and South Australia, at an estimated cost of £21,600,000. In this proposal was included the GraftonKyogleSouth Brisbane railway, estimated by the royal commissioners to cost £3,500,000, but now expected to cost approximately £4,000,000. The report of the royal commission was considered by the Prime Minister and the Premiers in conference in November, 1921,and again in January, 1922. It was unanimously agreed to adopt 4 ft. 81/2 in. as the standard gauge for the Australian railway systems. It was further agreed that -

The adoption of the uniform gauge was essential to the development and safety of the Commonwealth.

In May and June, 1923, shortly after the present Government came into power, a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers was held, but, as there was no possibility of arriving at agreement between the whole of the States concerned, a proposal was made to the States of New South Wales and Queensland, giving effect to a portion of the scheme recommended, which would link Sydney and Brisbane by -

(a)   The construction of a railway of standard gauge between Kyogle, in New South Wales, and South Brisbane, in Queensland, so as to connect Sydney and South Brisbane.

(b)   The regrading and relaying of the existing railway between Grafton and Kyogle, so as to bring that railway up to a prescribed standard.

The Commonwealth agreed to contribute one-fifth of the cost of the work, plus the amounts which Victoria, South Australia, and "Western Australia would have contributed if they had come into the scheme, subject to adjustment, as other similar works were undertaken later. New South Wales and Queensland respectively agreed to contribute towards four-fifths of the cost, in the proportion that the population of each of the two States bears to the total population of the five mainland States. The work agreed upon to be undertaken was the construction of 70 miles of railway in Queensland, and 27 miles in New South Wales, through heavy country, the cost naturally being high. The scheme included strengthening and relaying with 80-lb. rails the existing railway from North Grafton to Kyogle, a distance of 85 miles. This work is now well in hand. Between the South Grafton and the North Grafton railway stations . the Clarence River had to be bridged by the New South Wales Government. This is not part . of the uniform railway gauge scheme, but the work must be accomplished by the time the works comprised in the agreement are completed. The Grafton to South Brisbane Railway Act 1924 made the necessary financial provision, and, under section 4, the Commonwealth Treasurer was authorized to borrow moneys, not exceeding in the whole the sum of £3,500,000, together with such further sum as was necessary to meet discount and expenses of borrowing. Pending the borrowing of the money, the Commonwealth Treasurer was authorized,by section 6, to advance to the Uniform Railway Gauge Council, out of moneys in the Commonwealth public account sums not exceeding £3,500,000, which was the estimate submitted by the royal commission in 1921 of cost of providing the works referred to under the uniform gauge proposals necessary for giving a standard gauge connexion between Sydney and Brisbane. The agreement, ratified by Acts of Parliament in 1924, provided, amongst other matters, for the appointment of a council, consisting of the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, the Chief Railways Commissioner for New South Wales, and the Commissioner for Railways, Queensland, which council has entire control of the work. Shortly after the appointment of the council, surveys were put in hand, and all necessary data prepared to enable a proper estimate to be arrived at. The council now advises that the work estimated by the royal commissioners to cost £3,500,000 will cost approximately £4,000,000. The estimate submitted by the royal commissioners was prepared on data submitted by the States and checked by them, but no proper surveys of the sections had been undertaken, and the estimate could only be regarded as approximate. It must be borne in mind that since 1921 industrial conditions have changed, rates of wages have gone up, hours of labour have been reduced, and many lines of materials used in railway construction now cost much more. As I have said, after the council was appointed, accurate data was obtained from surveys made, and it was found that the work, which had been estimated at £3,500,000, would cost not less than £4,000,000. Broadly speaking, of the £500,000 increase, £150,000 represents increased wages and decreased hours, and the balance may be ascribed to additional earthworks, &c, found to be necessary as the result of the surveys. The council was only authorized to spend £3,500,000, and when it was found that £4,000,000 was required, it represented the whole matter to the

Prime Minister. The work may be divided into four sections: -

Section 1. - 'Relaying and regrading of existing line from Grafton to Kyogle. This work lias been in hand for some time under daylabour system 'by the New South Wales Railway Department.

Section 2. - New construction, from Kyogle to the border.

Section 3. - New construction, from the border to the point near Rocklea, in Queensland.

Section 4. - New construction from Rocklea into South Brisbane; being undertaken by the Queensland Railway Department under daylabour system.

Public tenders were invited for the works in sections Nos. 2 and 3, and closed on the 1st September, 1925. Simultaneously with the closing of the tenders, the Chief Railway Construction Engineers of New South Wales and Queensland submitted sealed estimates for the work in their respective States. After consideration of the tenders and the estimates referred to, the council, which under the agreement is responsible for the work, decided to have the work referred to in both New South Wales and Queensland carried out by the respective Chief Railway Construction Engineers; but, as the financial provision under the Grafton to South Brisbane Railway Act 1924 was for £3,500,000 only, and the work, was subsequently estimated to cost £4,000,000, the council necessarily had to submit the whole matter to the Prime Minister, and also to the Premiers of New South Wales and Queensland, the representatives of the other two parties to the agreement under which the works are being undertaken. The Commonwealth Government considered the representations of the Railway Council, and, on the 26th September, 1925, the Prime Minister wrote to the Premiers of New South Wales and Queensland as follows: -

With reference to the letter of the 17th instant addressed to you by the Chairman of the Uniform Railway Gauge Council, Grafton- Kyogle-South Brisbane Railway, I have to advise that this Government Was carefully considered the position which has now arisen in connexion with the tenders recently received for carrying out the work between Kyogle and a point near South Brisbane.

In addition to tenders from two contractors, the Uniform Gauge Council received sealed estimates prepared by the Chief Railway Construction Engineer of your State, which were opened at the same time and treated by the council as tenders.

Whilst the contractors in their tenders guarantee to carry out the work at the fixed prices named, no undertaking or guarantee- has been given so far as the sealed estimates are concerned, and this Government can only agree to the construction within your State being undertaken by your Government upon a guarantee being entered into by you that the sealed estimate put in by your Chief Railway Construction Engineer is to be treated as a tender binding upon your Government, in the same way as an ordinary contractor is bound by the terms o.l his contract

Under this' arrangement, your Government would be required to make good any excess amount due to the cost of the work being underestimated by your Chief Railway Construction Engineer. A correct comparison between departmental estimates and the public tenders would thus 'be effected) and the parties to the agreement would be in a better position to determine the ultimate cost of the work.

My Government views with alarm the largely increased total estimated cost of the work, and it will be necessary to approach Parliament for a sum greatly in excess of the original estimate of £3,500,000. The action now suggested would enable Parliament to be approached with some confidence that the additional sum required can be relied upon as being sufficient to cover the necessary expenditure.

I snail "be glad of early advice as to the views of your Government in regard to this matter.

After negotiation between the Commonwealth and the Governments of Queensland and New South Wales, the Railway Council, arrived at agreements with the two States for carrying out the work in their respective territories, and the bill now before the Senate is to ratify these agreements. The details as to prices and amounts are to be found in the documents which were laid on the table of the Senate on the 28th May last. Under these agreements the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland are in the same position as outside contractors. An extract from the agreements reads - " The Commonwealth agrees that it will take all steps necessary to have this contract ratified 'by the Parliament of the Commonwealth as early as possible, and the said State agrees that it will take all steps necessary to have this contract ratified by the Parliament of the said State h.s early as possible"

The Commonwealth is advancing thi moneys in the first instance, and, as I said, the arrangement is that one-fifth is borne by the Commonwealth, the remaining four-fifths by the States on a per capita basis. For the time being the Commonwealth is bearing the share which, had all the States been parties to the agreement, would have been borne by Victoria, South Australia, and 0 Western Australia. The allocation is as follows : -


Thus the Commonwealth is, for the time being, responsible for £2,243,299, whilst New South Wales and Queensland are responsible for £1,756,701. These figures are, of course, only approximate. To date there has been expended in New South Wales on the Grafton-Kyogle section approximately £320,000, and in Queensland approximately £325,000 - a large sum on the Queensland side representing expenditure for acquisition of lands. On the section Kyogle to the border there has been expended on surveys and other work about £26,000. The railway will save transhipment at Wallangarra, and a journey of over 223 miles over the 3-ft. 6-in. line from Wallangarra to Brisbane. It will provide a fast line of uniform gauge between Sydney and Brisbane; will shorten the distance by 100 miles, and save from six to seven hours on the journey between Sydney and Brisbane. It will avoid the heavy grades over the Liverpool and New England Ranges in New South' Wales, and the Great Dividing Range in Queensland. It will also greatly facilitate the transport of fruit and merchandise between the States. Last year 166,000 tons of goods were transhipped at Wallangarra, and over 110,000 interstate passengers had to change trains at the border. Special fruit trains now run daily from Brisbane to Wallangarra, and last year 40,000 tons of fruit wore transhipped at the border. In one year recently over 250,000 head of live stock were transhipped. The railway will be of great benefit to Australia. It will develop some of the richest of our territory, and will provide one of the uniform gauge works so urgently necessary for the development of our trade andcommerce.

Senator Thompson - Has the Minister any figures concerning the quantity of luggage lost in transhipment at Wallangarra ?

Senator CRAWFORD -I have not.

Senator Thompson - It is considerable.

Senator CRAWFORD - The railway, as I said, will open up very rich territory, and as it will also be the through railway from Sydney, it will carry a very heavy traffic. In the original agreement contained in the 1924 act, as passed by the Senate, provision is made for the moneys earned in excess of working expenses to be applied to the payment of interest; firstly, on the moneys advanced by the Commonwealth on behalf of the States; secondly, on the moneys for which New South Wales and Queensland are responsible; and thirdly, on the one-fifth share for which the Commonwealth is responsible. There will be a heavy revenue from the railway, a7id considerable sums should be available for meeting the interest charges.

Debate (on motion by Senator Needham) adjourned.

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