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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7903

Senator FERRIS (2:42 PM) —My question is to Senator Minchin, the Minister representing the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources. Will the minister advise the Senate of progress in constructing the Darwin-Alice Springs railway—so important to our home state of South Australia?

Senator Bolkus interjecting

Senator FERRIS —And yours too, I would have thought, Senator Bolkus. How is the railway's construction providing an economic boost in regional Australia, and is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —I thank Senator Ferris and acknowledge her very strong interest in this great railway project. Tomorrow Senator Nigel Scullion, the great representative of the Northern Territory, will be representing the Prime Minister at a major milestone in the construction of the Adelaide-Darwin railway—the meeting in the middle of the track being built south from Katherine and north from Tenant Creek. This ceremony will mark the completion of almost half of the 1,400 kilometres of track being laid. Following the start of construction in the year 2000, the railway is now four months ahead of schedule in its building program and it will be completed in less than 12 months time, in November of next year. The first trains will be running on this great new railway by early 2004. It is more than 100 years since politicians began talking about this railway, and it will have been built by early 2004. It was in fact in 1901, in the first speech by a Governor-General to this great parliament, that the Commonwealth government spoke about building this magnificent railway. Indeed, the Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910 committed the Commonwealth government to building this railway as the quid pro quo for South Australia giving up the Northern Territory.

The great state of South Australia actually gave up the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth in exchange for having a railway built, and wouldn't you know it: who was in office in 1910? It was the Labor Party. They were in government and what did they do? They tore up the promise and the act and threw them away—and it never got built. Of course it was not the first time that Labor failed to deliver on this promise. The bloke they stabbed in the back, Bob Hawke, proudly boasted in the 1983 election campaign:

I promise you that only the Labor government can be trusted to build the Alice Springs-Darwin railway.

Really! They had 13 years to act on Bob Hawke's `never a child in poverty' stuff and build a railway, and of course they never ever delivered in 13 years of government— never ever, Senator Sherry. Of course it has taken a coalition government to actually deliver on a promise made first by Prime Minister Fisher and then by Prime Minister Hawke. We have made this railway a reality by supporting it with a $191 million injection into the construction. We worked of course with two other conservative governments— in South Australia and the Northern Territory. This was a combined effort by three great non-Labor governments to make sure this vital piece of railway was actually built.

Senator Chris Evans —What happened to those governments?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans, you do not have to shout.

Senator MINCHIN —It is going to create a great trade route through to a market of 500 million people.

Senator Chris Evans —What happened to those great conservative governments?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans, shouting across the chamber is disorderly.

Senator MINCHIN —What the Labor Party are not interested in is the fact that this has generated over 7,000 jobs, including 2½ thousand jobs in my home state of South Australia. All up, it is a $1.3 billion infrastructure investment made possible by our government, and of course that is where the growth is coming from in this country. So it is a great project and it is one we are very proud to support. This is a great ceremony that is going to take place tomorrow and it again demonstrates our commitment to national infrastructure in this country.