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Wednesday, 27 October 1971
Page: 2619

Mr NIXON (Gippsland) (Minister for Shipping and Transport) - The first speaker on the Opposition side in this debate was the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) who spoke in general terms about railway problems in Australia. I would just like to make one or two comments on this before turning to the more local matters raised by other speakers. There is no question at all but that the railway systems of Australia as a whole face tremendous problems. This is known and understood by everybody in this Parliament. It has been debated at different times and various causes of and solutions to the problems have been put forward. The Commonwealth Government is fully aware of the problems of the State railway systems. It has in fact advanced a great deal of money to railway systems over the years, as was mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard), under the railway standardisation programme in particular. Some $240m has gone into the railway systems. The simple fact is that for the period of years that the railways have been getting themselves into difficulty some of the responsibility has to be sheeted home directly to the States. The States chose to run the railways as business undertakings, and if they do not set a high enough priority for their railway systems over a long period of time, of course their railway system will run down and inevitably end up in trouble.

The Australian Transport Advisory Council, of which I am chairman, has set up a special committee to study the problems of the railway systems of Australia. That is one positive step the Government has taken to try to overcome this long term problem faced by various States in their railway programmes. The ATAC sub-committee will have the use of the Bureau of Transport Economics, a part of my Department, and I am looking forward to seeing the results of the studies it presently has under way.

The Government has also set up the Transport Industry Advisory Council, a body which will make recommendations to me about not only railway problems but also the transport problems of Australia in general. The Transport Industry Advisory Council consists of representatives of the different modes of transport - railways, shipping lines and road operators. It has the users represented on it as well as the trade union movement. I hope it will produce for me some recommendations to assist the people involved in the field as well as the users of railways and the people in the railway unions by producing a separate and distinct study from the sort of studies that the Commonwealth and State departments under ATAC are undertaking. I hope that in the long haul we will get some possible solutions to the general problems now faced by the State railways. The honourable member spoke with faint praise in many respects. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition commenced his remarks by saying that this Bill was forced on a reluctant government and that the terms imposed are far from generous. He used one or two other terms of that nature. He was followed by the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) who described me as a Shylock sitting at the table. I do not take umbrage at the honourable member's description of me. I have been called many things at many times.

The facts are that there is a difference between the terms that we offered for the standardisation programme and the terms that have been offered for this particular programme. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was kind enough to pick out of the 2 papers he submitted for inclusion in Hansard the one programme that is in comparable terms with the Tasmanian programme. That is the Western Australian Railway Agreement. It is comparable because it is similar in the respect that the Western Australian programme and the Bell Bay programme are both developmental programmes that assist a particular State as distinct from a standardisation programme, which was given different terms because it was considered to be of national benefit. Different terms were struck for the 2 different types of programme. In all of the studies that have been undertaken the Bell Bay railway programme is seen to be a viable programme. The Commissioner for Railways in Tasmania would have welcomed the ability to finance it himself without Commonwealth intrusion, recognising its viability. But the State of Tasmania was unable to finance the commencement of this programme and so the Commonwealth has been generous in coming in to assist Tasmania to get the programme off the ground.

There is no doubt at all, as the honourable member for Wilmot said, that this will be of immense benefit to Tasmania and particularly to the northern part of Tasmania. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also raised the question of the problems facing the Tasmanian railway system. The Tasmanian Government is part of the ATAC sub-committee and is making its contribution to the work of that sub-committee. If anything comes of it I hope that it benefits along with the other State railway systems. As far as the Pak Poy report is concerned, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said-

Mr Barnard - I did not mention it. I would not have mentioned it in the way that my colleague did. We would have had some differences on it.

Mr NIXON - I made a note that the honourable member for Bass mentioned the Pak Poy report.

Mr Barnard - - lt was the honourable member for Braddon.

Mr NIXON - I beg your pardon. The Pak Poy report was commissioned by the Tasmanian Government, and the Premier was kind enough to send me a complimentary copy for my perusal and for the perusal of my Department. There has been no discussion on the Pak Poy report between the Commonwealth and the State governments. There have been no requests from the Tasmanian Government for any action relating in any shape or form to the Pak Poy report. I think that a lot of water would have to flow under the bridge before any of the problems that the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies) sees emerging in fact come to light. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition mentioned the possibility of further Commonwealth assistance in the provision of rolling stock. We have informed the Tasmanian Government of the assistance that we are prepared to grant at this moment. I think there has been an exchange of letters between the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and the Premier in which the Premier has raised the possibility of further Commonwealth assistance as the programme develops. This will be studied as the programme does develop. If it is found necessary or desirable the Commonwealth will no doubt consider further financial assistance. I thank honourable members for their contributions although, as I said to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I had hoped that they would be far more generous to the Commonwealth. Without the assistance that we have given to Tasmania in this programme there would have been no way in which the programme could have commenced.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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