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Thursday, 17 November 1927

Connexion with New South Wales Railway System.

Debate resumed from 13th October (vide page 492), on motion by Senator Thomas.

That, in the opinion of this Senate, the Federal Government should enter into negotiations with the Governments of New South Wales and South Australia to link up the East-West Railway with the New South Wales railway system, via Broken Hill or Hay.

Senator SirHENRY BARWELL (South Australia) [8.0]. - I hope that honorable senators will not support this motion. A few weeks ago, when I waa speaking on a similar motion brought before the Senate by Senator Foll, asking us to express the opinion that a railway should be constructed for the purpose of linking up the Barkly Tableland with the railway systems of Queensland and New South Wales, I pointed out that it was not the proper procedure to ask the Senate to express approval of a proposition of that kind. I pointed out that the procedure to be followed in the caseof works costing more than £25,000 was laid down in the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act. Section 15 of that act provides that no public work, the estimated cost of which exceeds £25,000, can be commenced unless certain steps are taken. First of all, the proposition has to be submitted and explained by a Minister in the House of Representatives. In his explanation the Minister must give estimates of cost and probable revenue, and he must submit plans and specifications and reports of experts as to the probable cost of construction and maintenance. After that explanation has been given, not in the Senate, but in the House of Representatives, it is for the members of the House of Representatives to say whether, in their opinion, the proposition is one that should be submitted to the Public Works Committee for investigation. If they decide that it is, an inquiry is held by the' committee, and the committee furnishes both Houses with a report upon the project. Upon the presentation of that report, the House of Representatives, and not the Senate, decides either that it is expedient to carry out the work or that it is not expedient to do so. If it decides that it is expedient to carry out the work, the Government introduces in the House of Representatives a bill to authorize its construction, and when the bill passes the House of Representatives it comes to the Senate. That is the procedure to be followed before any section of Parliament is asked to express an opinion upon any proposed construction. But Senator Thomas is asking the Senate to express the definite opinion that a line to link up the East-West railway with the New South Wales system, via Broken Hill or Hay, is necessary, and should be built. It would be absolutely wrong for the Senate to express such an opinion without being given any particulars upon which to come to a decision. All we have before us is the speech of Senator Thomas, in which no reasons are advanced for the building of the line beyond the advantage to be gained by having a uniform gauge between Kalgoorlie and Brisbane.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is a very good reason for the building of such a line.

Senator Sir HENRYBARWELL.That is the honorable senator's whole case. It seems to be quite sufficient for him to ask the Senate to consent to the expenditure of millions of pounds to get a uniform gauge between the points I have mentioned. He has not even said whether either- of the routes he suggests is preferable to other routes that have been suggested. He has given us no particulars with regard to the probable cost or probable revenue. He has not told us whether the line is likely to pay interest on cost of construction or working expenses, or even a fraction of* them. He has not given us any particulars as to what the goods traffic is likely to be. He has not told us what goods traffic passes through Port Augusta or how many passengers would be benefited by the new line. He has given us no quotation from reports. We have simply his own statement that the line is desirable inasmuch as it will overcome the break of gauge difficulty by establishing a. uniform gauge between Kalgoorlie and Brisbane. If the honorable senator had any other reasons to advance in support of his proposal he would have given them. The Senate has nothing before it to show that there is any traffic or economic reason for the construction of this line.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Tell . us why it should not be built?

Senator Sir HENRYBARWELL.I shall give cogent reasons why the line should not be built. I can quote from the reports of the railway commissioners of Victoria and South Australia., men of high standing in the railway world. In both cases their reports are unconditionally condemnatory of the proposition of the honorable senator. There is a bill now before another place for the construction of a 4 ft. S-i in. gauge line from Port Augusta to Red Hill. That bill is the result of an agreement arrived at between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of South Australia. It provides for the construction of a 4 ft. 8'£ in. line from Port Augusta to Red Hill, and for the laying of a third rail from Red Hill to Adelaide, to enable the east-west train to run on the 4 ft. in. gauge right through from Kalgoorlie to Adelaide. It is, as a matter of a fact, part of a scheme for unifying the whole of the railway gauges; or at least minimising the existing break of gauge difficulties. The line proposed by the honorable senator would not pay a fraction of 1 per cent, interest on the cost of construction, or more than a small fraction of working expenses. It would not develop any country that is not served at the present time by existing facilities. It is true that it would go near the Murray A7" alley. But the Murray Valley settlers are already served by South Australian and Victorian railways, and partly "by the river itself. As time goes on there will be a deep-sea port at the mouth of the Murray to deal with all the traffic that comes down the river. For most of the way, the proposed railway would pass through very poor pastoral country with 'a. light rainfall. Last year 2,508 tons of goods passed through Port Augusta. The South Australian Railway Commissioner could shift the whole of that tonnage in two train loads. In a moment or two I shall quote from the commissioner's report the tonnage for other years, hut the average is about 2,500 tons. The average number of passengers passing through .Port Augusta on the cast-west railway for the past seven- years is 65 per train. There are three trains a week each way. On arriving at Port Augusta, the passengers have already been on the train for three days and three nights, and it is no hardship for them to transfer to another train.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - They get out of the east-west train at Port Augusta and get into a worse train.


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - I arn not attempting to justify the existing railway; it is a disgrace, and something ought to be done to improve it. I am merely drawing attention to the small quantity of goods that passes through in a year, and the comparatively small number of passengers who would be benefited in any way. Nobody realizes to a greater extent than I do the disadvantages that are attendant upon breaks of gauge. I have been closely connected with the consideration of the subject for a number of years, and nobody could be more strongly of opinion than I that everything possible should be clone to minimize those disadvantages. It is not possible to unify the railway gauges of Australia by the passage of one act of Parliament. In the year 1921 the commission that was appointed by the Right Honorable W. M. Hughes to report on the unification. of the gauges advanced two schemes. One proposed the unification of the whole of. the gauges, at a cost estimated by the commission at £57,200,000. That figure did not take into account a tremendous incidental cost which would fall partly upon the States, and also many other items of expenditure that the Commonwealth would be called upon to meet. The railways commissioners pointed out that the full cost of such a scheme would be well over £100,000,000. It would be greater to-day than it would have been at that time. The alternative scheme put forward by the commission was to link up the capitals at a cost which was estimated at £21,600,000. The railways commissioners decided that when all the incidental costs had been taken into consideration the total to Australia would be something between £40,000.000 and £50,000,000. Everything possible ought to be done to minimize the existing disabilities and disadvantages which in some places are very great. The question to be decided -is, what steps can be taken, within the limits of our spending power, to minimize them. Undoubtedly one means would be the extension by South Australia of the 5 ft. 3 in. line from Red Hill to Port Augusta, which would reduce considerably both the distance and the time occupied in traversing it.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why should it be 5 ft. 3 in. instead of 4 ft. S£ in.?


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - There has to be a break of gauge somewhere, and it is better that it should be at Port Augusta. If that were done, there would be a 5 ft. 3 in. gauge from Port Augusta to Albury. 1 have already shown how small is the tonnage of goods, and how few the number of passengers passing through Port Augusta. By far the biggest proportion of both go to Adelaide and Melbourne.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If one were going to Sydney one would go by boat.


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - That is so. We know, of course, that Sydney is the hub of the universe. But I am here to serve the interests cf Australia as a whole, not those of one State only.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is good to hear a South Australian talk like that.

Senator Sir HENRYBARWELL.This line would certainly reduce the time occupied in journeying between Perth and Sydney or Brisbane, but to what purpose if there are neither the goods nor the passengers for Sydney or Brisbane? It is said that it would bo a fine railway if we had 3,000 miles of a uniform gauge; but mere mileage does not make a great railway. The honorable senator who moved this motion gave us no information and did not quote from any reports; he contented himself with the bald statement that this scheme would provide for a line of uniform gauge. I shall state the points that have a direct bearing on the matter, and, for that purpose, quote from, reports that were made by the Chief Commissioner to the Minister of Railways in South Australia preparatory to the Premiers' Conference that was held in 1923. Reporting on the proposal that the Commonwealth Government should construct a line from Port Augusta to Hay, he said -

A careful study of the movement of traffic in South Australia aud Western Australia fails to disclose any commercial necessity, at the present time, for the construction of this railway, nor is it possible to imagine any development of business which will change the already well-established commercial channels. The present interstate movement, through Port Augusta, in both directions is infinitesimal : the figures for the past three years have been as follows -

 

Those were the latest figures then available. I am able to bring them up to date -

 

The report continues -

The passenger traffic interchanged at Port Augusta approximates 65 passengers per train, three days per week, in each direction, and this traffic can be reduced at any time at the pleasure of the steamship companies.

A report, which he furnished only the other day, showed that for the seven-year period the average was still 65 passengers per train. I again quote from the 1923 report -

Small as these actual returns are for goods and passengers, they are made possible by the frequent stoppages of the steamships by strikes and other causes. The new construction proposed has no power whatever to increase either the freight or passenger business, as above outlined. The routes proposed for the new construction through the State of South Australia will not open up any country that is not possible of development through the present activities of your State; there would be no local development within the State's limits.

Later on he stated -

The construction of this line from the eastern border of your State to Renmark, through Renmark territory to a point near Morgan, thence in a general north-westerly direction to Crystal Brook, and on to Port Augusta, will create intersection points with a number of your lines of railways. The federal line would probably handle only a very small percentage of your total traffic, but they would have the power to reduce your rates almost at will, and to disturb the entire business structure of your State. It is difficult to understand what are the real motives of the advocates of this new line. There is nojustification for it to be found in the present or future traffic of the State or Commonwealth. There is no possible hope for its paying any part of the interest on its cost, and only an infinitesimal part of its working costs. These facts arc clearly apparent.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Has the honorable senator Mr. Eraser's report?


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - I have never seen a report that was madeby Mr. Fraser; and, so far as I know, it was not quoted at . the Premiers' Conference. A report by the Victorian Railways Commissioner was quoted, but, of course, that would not possess any value in the eyes of the honorable senator. In another report the South Australian Commissioner replied to statements that had been made by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner. That reply is applicable also to statements that havebeen made by Senator Thomas. He said -

The Commonwealth Government states "This would give a railway of uniform gauge between Brisbane and Fremantle, from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, a distance of 3,040 miles, and one entitled to rank with the greatest railway systems of the world."

The report continues -

It takes more than rails, sleepers and mileage to make a great railway system, and the large expenditure for the construction of a railway through a part of the country where local development can never support the railway, and between terminal points that can; never produce through business to support it, cannot be classed as a great constructiveundertaking, but could only be regarded as a colossal blunder and a profligate waste of thepublic's money.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Had Mr. Webb beenin Australia when the east-west railway was proposed he would have reported against it.


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - Not necessarily. He only says that if a through line is to be constructed it should follow the best route. That is not what the honorable senator proposes. He advocates the construction of a railway toserve only New South Wales. Mr. Webb's report continues -

It is impossible to find any economic necessity for the proposed railway, and the suggestion should be definitely and finally rejected. first, because there is no economic necessity; second, because there is no developmental feature possible in connexion with the construction; third, because there will probably never be developed any local or other business in sufficient volume to pay even a small part of the interest on the cost; fourth, because the proposal in no sense approaches the solution of the break in gauge problems.

Honorable senators must admit the soundness of Mr. Webb's reasoning. The proposed line cannot be built without the consent of the Government of South Australia. That consent will never be forthcoming. South Australia will not agree to the construction of a railway from Port Augusta to Renmark and thence to Hay. I agree with Mr. .Webb that the construction of such a line would be a profligate waste of public money.


Senator Cox - Does the honorable senator say that, all the land between Port Augusta and Hay is no good?


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - I say that all the land along the route of the proposed railway which is not already served by existing lines is poor pastoral country. The railway proposed by Senator Thomas would not open up any but poor pastoral country


Senator Reid - What is the honorable senator's opinion regarding the widening of the gauge of the railway from Broken Hill to Terowie?


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - I think that I should probably not be in order in discussing that now. The proposal before us is for the construction of a railway from Port Augusta to Broken Hill. A. line connecting those two places would not pass through Terowie.


Senator Foll - Does not the honorable senator believe in. building railways in light pastoral country?

Senator Sir HENRYBARWELL.Yes, if they serve a useful purpose; but I repeat that any good country through which the proposed railway would pass is already served by existing railways. For that reason there is no need for the line proposed by Senator Thomas. Certain sections of the press have stated that I am opposed to the unification of our railway gauges. That is not so. It is true that in 1921, when I was Premier of South A ustralia, a proposal to unify the railway gauges of Australia was rejected by the

State Premiers. That decision was justified, seeing that the work was estimated to cost £100,000,000. In what position would Australia be now had the State Premiers of that time agreed to the proposal? Honorable senators will agree that they did right in rejecting it. Nor should we be justified in spending now the large sum. of money which would be necessary to unify the gauges of our main trunk, lines. The most, that we can do in the present state of our finances is to minimize the disadvantages arising from our several gauges. So far as the line from Adelaide to Port Augusta is concerned, that can -be done with the expenditure of a comparatively small sum of money. I agree that something should be done to remove the disabilities caused by the break of gauge on the main line between Melbourne and Sydney. For the reasons that I have stated, I ask honorable senators not to support the motion.







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