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Thursday, 21 May 1970


Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes (CHISHOLM, VICTORIA) - Some time ago, at the beginning of this session, the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) made a request to the Government for one of the diesel electric engines of the Commonwealth Railways to be named after the late Right Honourable J. B. Chifley. 1 support that request very strongly. I was staggered when I beard it to find that no engine had already been named after him, because it seems to have become a habit that these engines should be named after people who have been a Minister, Prime Minister or prominent in railway transport, matters. In my humble opinion the late Mr Chifley had more to to do with the diesel electric engines originally coming to Australia than anyone else, except perhaps the late Sir Harold Clapp.

About the middle of 1947 I became the Minister for Transport in Victoria. I remember walking down the rather long steps in front of Parliament House in Victoria with the late Sir Harold Clapp after a conference at Parliament House. He said to me: 'Why do we not buy diesel electric engines?' Having been away at the war for a long time, I did not know very much about diesel electric engines and I could not answer him. I went down to the Victorian Railway Commissioners and repeated the question. I asked: 'Why do we not buy diesel electric engines?' My Commissioners at that time had serious doubts as to whether the road beds were sufficiently strong and whether the curves were not too sharp to take the diesel electric engines. I said: 'Well, go away and investigate whether we should buy them or not'. After about 3 months they came back and said: 'We want to buy 19 diesel electric engines'. J immediately arranged to have an interview with the late Eddie Ward, the Commonwealth

Minister for Transport, and the late Right Honourable J. B. Chifley, who was then the Prime Minister. We discussed the matter of diesel electric engines. At that time, with post-war reconstruction, there was considerable difficulty in obtaining sufficient foreign exchange if we wanted to buy, as recommended at that time, the American diesel electric engine.

After a discussion I arranged with the late Mr Chifley that we should send Mr Oscar Meyer overseas. He was then one of the leaders of the backroom boys whom Sir Harold Clapp had working on the standardisation of railways. Mr Meyer had a very fine Army career in the Engineer Corps and he had a very high reputation as a railway engineer. As I said, we arranged that he should be sent overseas to make the investigations in both Britain and in America. The Commonwealth Government, through the late Mr Chifley, said that it would pay half the cost, and 1, on behalf of the Victorian Government, arranged to pay the other half. Mr Oscar Meyer went overseas, came back and said that he regretted that he could not recommend the British diesel electric engine at that time as, owing to difficulties during the war which were not encountered in America, they had not got what are popularly known as the 'bugs' out of the English diesel electric engines. The late Mr Chifley was a bit worried about this because we would require quite a large amount of foreign exchange if we were to buy the American engines in toto and import them into Australia. I then went overseas with the then Victorian Premier, the Honourable T. T. Hollway. While in Britain I had a long talk to the head of the firm that was manufacturing the English diesel electric engines. I went so far as to say: All right. We want to buy the English diesel electrics. If you are first in it will probably mean that the whole of the railways in Australia will buy the English machine. But because they are not really in complete working order you would have to establish a repair depot in Victoria until such times as the engines themselves have been brought up to a high stale of efficiency.' If I remember rightly, 1 was told that we were a primary producing country and they' had no intention of establishing a repair depot.

When I arrived back in Australia I had a further talk with the then Prime Minister, the late Mr Chifley. At that time an Australian company had arranged with an American company to build all of the diesel electric engines, except the necessary electricity machinery which would have to be imported. As a result the late Mr Chifley then gave me, as the Victorian Minister, authority to go ahead and order 18 of these diesel electric engines. I think about 3 months later the Commonwealth Railways, through the Chief Commissioner, asked whether it could include another 9 engines in that order. This made 28 engines in all. That is how diesel electric engines were introduced in the Australian railways system.

Sir HaroldClapp was the main instigator, but through the support of the late Mr Chifley we in the Victorian Government were able to get the foreign exchange that was necessary to go ahead with the ordering of these machines. For that reason I feel that the request of the honourable member for Chifley was a very correct one. The first diesel engine in Victoria to run on rails was named after Sir Harold Clapp. The first diesel engine to run in the Commonwealth Railways was named after a later Prime Minister who, as much as I respect him, had nothing to do with the diesel electric engines being introduced into Australia. Therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope that the Government will take note of the request of the honourable member for Chifley and rectify an omission which should have been rectified long ago, in my humble opinion.







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