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Thursday, 17 November 1938

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports) . - I join with other honorable members in commending the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) for his persistency in advocating the standardization of the Australian railway gauges. The view expressed by experts in Australia and in other parts of the world is that the standardization of the railway systems in Australia is one of the most vital subjects which the Commonwealth Parliament could discuss.

There is a misunderstanding as to Victoria's attitude towards the standardization of the railway gauges. It has been suggested that Victoria holds back from guaranteeing its share of the cost, but it can be said truthfully that Victoria has been and is still anxious to play its part in the development of the project. The only obstacle so far as Victoria is concerned, is that it has never been able to obtain an assurance that the standardization, if re-started, would be carried to its conclusion. It fears that it would be left out of the scheme. The difficulty in the past has been that the standardization work has been done in dribs and drabs. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) suggests that it should be continued to be done in such a way, hut that is not the way in which a work of national importance should be undertaken. A definite guarantee should be given to the various State governments that the work will proceed on a long-range plan without interruption. If that assurance were given, not one State in Australia would hold back from guaranteeing its share of the cost. It is the absence of such an assurance that has made Victoria diffident about giving a definite promise that it would pay its share of the cost. Hitherto, it has been suggested that the standardization should be undertaken only in portions of South Australia and Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales not participating. The only way in which to achieve unanimity among the States on this question is by bringing them all within the project.

Most honorable members in this debate have stressed the defensive value of this standardization of our railway gauges. I agree with what they have said, but I take this opportunity to lay stress on another important aspect, namely, the good effect that standardization of the railway gauges would have on Australia's economic development in peace time. The breaks of gauge at the borders which entail double handing costs and two freight charges impose an enormous and unnecessary burden on industry, and, if they were eliminated, the saving to the people of Australia would amply repay the cost of their elimination.

The Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) said that the history of the advocacy of the elimination of the breaks of gauge went back to 1921. Actually it goes back to 50 years earlier than that, but conversion of the gauges first became practical politics in 1911-12 when, strange to say, in spite of the claim by the Minister for the Interior that Labour had done nothing towards solution of the breaks-of-gauge problem, the Fisher Labour Government caused the construction of 1,000 miles of standard gauge railway, whereas in the 37 years since then anti-Labour governments have authorized the construction of only 300 miles. It is regrettable that tho party political aspect of this matter should have entered the debate, but, as it was introduced by the Minister for the Interior, it is only fair that I should bring before honorable gentlemen that which he refrained from mentioning.

The construction of a standard gauge in Australia would be of enormous benefit in reducing the number of unemployed, because at least half of the work would be done by unskilled workers for whom there is great difficulty in finding employment and on whom the State governments for many years have had to expend millions of pounds annually. I cannot cite exact figures, but I have no fear in saying that the expenditure in recent years on the provision of relief work and sustenance in the States for the unemployed has been more than double what it would have cost to standardize the Australian railway systems.

It has been said that the locomotive is the greatest mechanical pioneer in the development of a country, and I believe that for many years to come, the locomotive will play an important part in the destiny of Australia. In the last fifteen years, as the result of road and sea competition, the Australian railways have slipped back. The breaks of gauge and the additional handling costs thereby involved have made it too costly for manufacturers to use railways for the transportation of heavy articles from one end of the country to the other. As the result, industries have been situated within comfortable reach of ports, so that they can benefit by the cheaper sea freight charges. The aeroplane factory at Fishermen's Bend is a case in point. Iron and steel works are similarly affected. They have been developed two or three hundred miles away from where the raw materials are mined in order that they may use the cheaper sea transport. Completion of the standardization of railway gauges would make it possible for the development of an iron and steel industry in "Western Australia at the site where the ore is mined.

With standardization making it possible to transport commodities which could be turned into the raw material for the manufacturing industries of Australia, there would be nothing to prevent the establishment of a large iron works with a rolling plant installed, right alongside the iron ore deposits of Western Australia, just as electricity is generated in close proximity to the brown coal deposits of Victoria. Leading captains of industry all over the world nowadays say that the most efficient, the only scientific, way, to commence new developmental processes, is to establish them at the point of production of the raw material. Western Australia would be a very necessary competitor of the only great iron works in this country.

I suggest that in peace time, as well as for purposes of defence, one of the most efficient works of this Government, even if it saddled itself with the greater portion of the cost - and I think that it ought to do so, because it controls the purse strings of this country - would be the completion of this scheme. If the plan suggested by the Minister this afternoon, which has given a lot of courage and hope to those who have advocated this scheme for so long, visualizes a complete plan which will bring all under an Australiawide scheme, no State would be hesitant; in paying its share of the cost. All of us can remember the visit to Australia of a great military expert from England to advise us as to the best methods to adopt in order to organize our forces generally. He made the remarkable statement that, in comparison with other countries, the Australian nation would be like the babes in the wood in war time, because of its complicated multiplication of railway gauges. Throughout Germany there is one mass of steel rails, every inch of which is of a standard gauge. {Leave Lo continue given.] I have seen the railways in some other countries. The reason for the adoption of standardization throughout is to minimize costs. I have seen in this country, at peak periods, in connexion with the handling of not only heavy commodities but also large numbers of people, half the rolling-stock out of use because it could not be shifted from one railway system to another. The same thing applies to our tramways systems. All over the world, experts in transport have, pointed out these anomalies, and have said that the aim should be to make possible the shunting of every piece of rolling-stock on to every line of railway in the country.

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