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Thursday, 17 November 1938

Mr HUTCHINSON (Deakin) . - One thing which emerges clearly from this debate, if indeed there were any need for it to emerge, is that honorable members on both sides- of the House believe that some effort should be made to standardize the railway gauges of Australia. This subject has been before the people of Australia for as long as I can remember, and it i3 a matter for regret that nothing concrete has been done towards the desired end. If ever the fallacy of the application of multiple control to big national subjects needed exemplification, it has been provided by Australia. The day is approaching when essential national services will have to be handed over to some supreme authority, and the sooner it arrives the better. The Commonwealth Government and every State government lost a golden opportunity to undertake a work of real value during the depression years, particularly, when they expended vast sums on the relief of unemployment in other directions, the great bulk of the money being wasted. Even to-day millions of pounds are being raised in Australia, particularly by State governments, for works for the relief of unemployment, and we know that a good deal of it is being wasted when it could be applied to the provision of employment, not only directly, but also indirectly, on this work, which would provide a cure for what is undoubtedly a national malady. One can travel the entire length of Europe on the one gauge of railway. I believe that one can join a train in London, bt transported across the channel without leaving it, and continue on to Romp, Vienna, Berlin, and as far north as Riga, before encountering a break of gauge. The break of gauge was a tremendous mistake made by Australia in the early days. From every aspect, but particularly for the relief of unemployment, this work should be pressed on with as early and as quickly as possible. Every endeavour should be made to bring the States into line. The difficulty of bringing the States into line and of securing a. real national view ou the problem of transport was made apparently only a short time ago, when the Commonwealth took a referendum on the subject of aerial transport, and found honorable members opposite advocating a policy which was :i direct contradiction of that which was placed before the country.

Mr Martens - That is not true.

Mr HUTCHINSON - That shortsightedness was without parallel in the history of Australia.

Mr Martens - It is not true.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) is out of order.

Mr Martens - On a point of order, I ask for the withdrawal of what I say is not true.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member cannot ask for a withdrawal of a statement merely because, in his opinion, it is not correct. He is out of order in saying it is untrue.

Mr HUTCHINSON - It cannot be denied that a considerable section of honorable members opposite was as responsible for as any other factor, or possibly was the predominant cause of, the failure of that referendum to achieve the object of the Government. From every aspect, this matter is of first-rate national importance. As a country man, I can speak of the vast amount which would be saved by obviating the present wastage of stock. Any one who has been to the border of the two States of New South Wales and Victoria must have seen the knocking about which stock receives in being un trucked, stood in the yards, and retrucked. There is enormous wastage because of this fact, particularly with fat lambs and fat sheep.

Although there is a good deal of disagreement in the matter, I believe that this has a. most vital bearing on defence.

The Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) has stressed the view that the break of gauge is not the first problem that should be tackled in Australia. He has informed the House that in the movement of troops a stopping place is needed; horses have to be watered, and so on. But there is another matter from, the defence aspect which he did not mention. I refer to the movement of munitions and guns. We must remember that a large number of our factories are in the south of Australia. The transport of these materials would be expedited if there were no break of gauge. I would go further than to deal with the matter merely from the economic' and defence points of view, and I suggest that some interstate control of the railway systems is definitely necessary, seeing that the Commonwealth Government has not the power, and is not able to obtain it, to assume control of transport throughout Australia. When one notes the hopeless confusion caused by carriages, rolling-stock and locomotives of different types, one can imagine the enormous additional cost that is thus imposed on transport in this country. A public servant who, I think, knows a good deal about this subject, has expressed the view that in this country there are hundreds of different types of rolling-stock, dozens of different types of locomotives, and machine and manufacturing shops scattered throughout the continent manufacturing along different lines, every State carrying up to millions of pounds worth of spares for its particular rolling-stock and locomotives.

Mr Beasley - In countries that have only the one gauge, there are locomotives of different types.

Mr HUTCHINSON - But not the multiplicity that we have. I believe that a greater distance of similar gauge would pave the way for more complete standardization in the building of rollingstock and locomotives, thus effecting a considerable saving to the people of this country. There are rewards, apart from the aspect of defence, to be gained from the settlement of the matter. I congratulate the Government on having again called the States together in an attempt to arrive at unanimity, and hope that before long we shall see a beginning made with a settlement of the matter in real earnest.

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