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Tuesday, 16 October 1956

Mr WENTWORTH (MACKELLAR, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. We rather suggest that the works should be undertaken one at a time, so that one will have been completed and be giving value in service to the community before another is begun, and so that there will not be a large amount of expended money lying idle and unremunerative.

Mr Chambers - Is £40,000,000 the total estimated cost of all the works that the honorable member has enumerated?

Mr WENTWORTH - Yes. It boils down roughly to something like £10,000,000 for the Albury-Melbourne section and ancillary works; about £14,000,000 for the South Australian work; and approximately £16,000,000 or £17,000,000 for the Western Australian work. The Western Australian section may be a little more expensive than that, but not very much more. We suggest that one work should be undertaken at a time, and completed, so that the amount of money outstanding will never be very great.

Mr Chambers - Where does the committee propose that the work shall begin?

Mr WENTWORTH - I will deal with that aspect later. I hope that honorable members will have an opportunity to discuss the matter. Although the capital cost may seem heavy, it is really a saving, because not only will the work be fully remunerative, and add to our defence potential, but what is more important in the short run from the point of view of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who is saving every penny he can, it will save a much greater amount, which would otherwise have to be expended on roads.

We know that the Hume Highway, between Sydney and Melbourne, is breaking down and that unless something is done to stop heavy trailers pounding it to pieces. £40,000,000, £50,000,000 or £60,000,000 must be found to repair it. The existing highway, with normal repairs, would carry light motor traffic pretty well indefinitely, but it was never built to carry heavy trailers. We believe that if these trailers continue to operate, and we are to have road communication between Sydney and Melbourne, this very large capital sum will have to be found immediately. If, however, we spend - and I am using this as one example only - a fifth of that sum on the railway we could put in a transport system which would be able, on its own merits, to outclass road transport, lt would not then be necessary to pass legislation in order to run the trailers off the roads. Instead, by natural economic forces, they would be competed off the roads.

Furthermore, we understand - and are prepared to produce supporting figures - that the short-term capital savings to the country resulting from this project would be many times more than its cost. We believe, therefore, that these works are urgent. We believe that they are works which a prudent Treasurer would immediately finance, because they would ease - not increase - the strain on the capital commitments of Australia. We believe that they are works which would add to the solvency of not only the Commonwealth budget, but also those of the various States concerned. We believe, also, that they are works which would help to combat the present inflation. They would reduce transport costs over some of our most vital routes, and, as honorable members know, transport costs are one of the heaviest inflationary forces in our economy.

I shall not endeavour to discuss this matter in detail at the moment. I hope that the House will permit this report, which we hope to complete before the Parliament rises, to be placed on the table, and will do us the honour of debating it. We have endeavoured to look at the problem objectively. With the help of the Commonwealth railway authorities, the State railway authorities and Ministers, and a number of private people, we have managed to disinter a number of relevant facts which have not, we think, previously been considered. We are of the opinion that the recent developments in road transport lend to this proposal a new urgency as a shortterm saver of capital funds. I believe that our proposals generally will commend themselves to honorable members and to the Treasury.

Mr Chambers - What section has the committee selected for a start?

Mr WENTWORTH - The report, which I hope will be debated, will deal with that. Tt is not an easy question to answer. At least two of the projects are of top priority, but it is not the opinion of the committee that they should overlap. The opinion of the committee is that we should select one project, endeavour to complete it as soon as possible, and then go on to the next. There would be some overlapping because, probably, we should be able to start on one of the projects before the other had been quite completed, but, in general the procedure should be to try to do one at a time. I shall not anticipate the report further. I want to go on record again as thanking all those who have assisted us in our deliberations.

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