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Commonwealth responsibility for railways

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In one very important respect the Fathers of Federation shoved a greater breadth of vision than Federal and State . politicians who have operated the Constitution for the past generation. The Constitution expressly in section 51 (xxxiii)

gives the Commonwealth power to acquire with the consent of a State any railways of the State on terms arranged between them and in section 51 (xxxiv) to construct and extend railways in any State with the, consent of that State. Section 98 states : "The power of the Parliament to make laws with respect to trade and commerce extends to navigation and shipping, and to railways the property of any State". Suggestions that the Commonwealth should in fact acquire the State railways are a source of great distress to some State officials and politicians, although both Sir Robert Askin and Sir Henry Bolte have stated that they would be willing to hand ; their railways over to the Commonwealth. Ultimately Commonwealth

control of railways is inevitable. It could be implemented with ease in the 5 mainland States and the 2 mainland territories.

The best railways in the world are in Western Europe, where the 6 members of the European Economic Community together with Switzerland and Australia virtually operate an integrated service. The railways of Canada consist of one federal government

corporation and one nationwide company. The railways of Vest Germany are operated on a federal basis. The railways of the United States have been co-ordinated for generations by the Interstate Commerce Commission, and are now rapidly merging. The main trunk

passenger services are now provided by the Federal Government.

In Australia the Commonwealth has had to provide the funds to link, standardise and re-equip our disparate State railway systems. Clearly the next step is for the Commonwealth to unify their management. The Commonwealth already receives §7 million a . year from the States as payments for rail projects for which it has

made loans. South Australia and Western Australia are committed to repay the Commonwealth $115 million in the next 40 years under their respective Railway Agreements. The Commonwealth already is supplying or has supplied 56$ of the cost of rail standardisation between South Brisbane and South Grafton; 70$ of the cost of the new standard gauge railway between Melbourne and Vodonga; $10 million towards the cost of upgrading the standard gauge railway between . Parkes and Broken Hill; and 70$ of the cost of the new standard

gauge railways between Broken Hill and Port Pirie and 85$ of the cost between Kalgoorlie and Fremantle.


It is time for the Commonwealth to provide the same assistance for the upgrading of the rail systems in the capitals as it has for the systems between the capitals.


The U.S. Federal Government is providing $10 million over 12 years for the development of urban transport. The Federal Government of Vest Germany is sharing the cost of underground . railways in Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Essen, Dusseldorf, Ludwigshafen, Hanover and Bonn. It makes a grant of half the cost. The States meet 30fo and local government 20$£.

Ill Austria, the Federal Government is providing $84 million for the Vienna underground in the form of a loan repayable over 12 years.

The needs of our cities require that the Australian Federal Government should follow these other federal governments in helping; the urban rail systems.

The question of Commonwealth participation in railway, management as a step towards national integration of the systems is an entirely appropriate subject for the proposed Convention on the Constitution this year. ,

The Inter-State Commission, intended by the Constitution to stand with the Parliament, Executive Council and High Court as the fourth organ of the federal system, was allowed to expire in 1920. The Commission could put an end to the centralisation which is fostered by all State governments through their railway systems. It is anomalous and objectionable that it should cost so much less to transport goods between Kempsey and Sydney than between Kempscy and Brisbane, between Mildura and Melbourne than between Mildura and Adelaide, between Mount Gambier and Adelaide than between Mount Gambier and Melbourne. In each case the journeys are of equal distance, but the State in which the provincial centre is situated has seen that freight rates are very much lower to the capital of that State than to the capital of the neighbouring State. The Commission could provide for the transition to the time when railways are in fact run by the Commonwealth.