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Tuesday, 16 October 1956

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable member for Mackellar. I am praising the honorable gentleman for a very good speech which I am sure the honorable member for East Sydney would have enjoyed hearing had he been in the chamber. The honorable member for East Sydney was, without doubt, the most outstanding Minister for Transport that this country has ever had, and strangely enough, the views expressed by tha honorable member for Mackellar coincided with those so often expressed by the honorable member for East Sydney when he was Minister for Transport. Both honorable gentlemen are of the opinion, and I agree with them, that the time is long overdue for this country to have a uniform railway gauge, at least from Brisbane, on the eastern seaboard, to Fremantle in the west, and later to be followed - I suggest this as a South Australian - by the Commonwealth honouring the agreement which it made with South Australia to construct a railway from Adelaide to Darwin.

I wish to pay tribute, as did the honorable members for Mackellar and Blaxland, to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner. I can think of no person employed by the Commonwealth of Australia other than, perhaps. Sir William Hudson, who also is a very capable gentleman, who is deserving of greater praise than is the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner. He is the one person whom I should gladly leave in charge of any Commonwealth department, and I believe that he should be given what ever money he considers necessary to do the job in the way that he thinks it ought to be done. Money expended on a railway system would give a handsome return to the people of this country, so long as it was spent in the way in which the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner suggested it should be spent. I think it is a pity that few members of this Parliament take the trouble to read the annual reports of the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner and to see for themselves the great possibilities that would be open to this Parliament, to the Government and to the people of Australia, if only they paid more attention to railway affairs.

I am one of those people who believe tha: we can never call ourselves a great nation until we have a standard gauge double-track railway from Brisbane to Fremantle, so that it would not be necessary even to stop a train to pass another travelling in the opposite direction. I recollect another excellent speech by the honorable member for Mackellar - I think it was last year - in which he mentioned something that had not occurred to me before. He pointed out that, apart from a mere 40 or 50 miles of line, all the present railways of Australia were constructed by our grandfathers, and that we of this generation had done nothing at all to add to them.

I do not know which section of the railways should be standardized first. As a South Australian - and I hope that I am not being influenced by purely parochial views - I should like to see the FremantleKalgoorlie end of the present transAustralia railway system completed first, because it seems to me that the people of this continent who are entitled to expect first attention are the people of Western Australia. If any Australians have received a raw deal as a result of federation, I honestly think that they are the people of Western Australia. They are isolated geographically, and by continuing to treat them almost as residents of a foreign State, as we do by our failure to do such things as standardize railway gauges with a view to bringing them so much closer to us, we aggravate the that I think was responsible for them deciding by referendum, some years ago, in favour of secession. Although that, perhaps, could never be done constitutionally, it indicated their dissatisfaction.

I believe that this Commonwealth Parliament should be prepared to pay the total cost of standardizing the railway gauge from

Albury to Melbourne, from Port Pirie to Broken Hill and, as 1 said previously, from Kalgoorlie to Fremantle. If anything is a defence project, surely the provision of a standardized railway system from Brisbane to Fremantle is a defence project! I would rather the Commonwealth met the cost of standardizing the railway systems of Australia than anything else. The amount of £40,000,000, which would be the cost of standardization, is only a drop in the ocean when one recalls that over the last five years £1,068,000,000 has been spent on defence. If the railway gauge were standardized, we would have something to boast about in respect of our defence activities.

The Government should treat the standardization of the railway systems as a defence project. The outlay would be relatively small; after all, £40,000,000 is really a small sum. I understand that some sections could be completed within eighteen months from the time they were started. 1 do not know what the honorable member for Mackellar thinks of that estimate. I am told that the section from Port Pirie to Broken Hill could be completed in eighteen months from the day it was commenced. If that is so - and I assume that the same could be done with the section from Kalgoorlie to Fremantle - it seems to me a disgrace, perhaps to all of us on both sides, that it is only since the honorable member for Mackellar has drawn attention to this matter that any of us has given one moment's thought to the need for a more up-to-date railway system.

I agree entirely with the honorable member for Mackellar when he says that we would be better advised to spend money on the standardization of the railway system from Albury to Melbourne than to worry about trying to re-build the Hume Highway and have it smashed again by callous drivers or owners of transports. They do not pay anything towards the cost of construction and maintenance of the roads and seem to have no regard whatever for the damage that they do to them. We would not have to worry about section 92 of the Constitution insofar as it deals with interstate road transport if we had a decent railway system.

As the two previous speakers have said, it is perfectly true that no road haulier could compete with an efficient railway system. It is for that reason that I believe that we should give full support to the proposition of the honorable member for Mackellar. I hope that when his report to the Parliament is tabled, the Government will allow a debate on it. What is more, 1 hope that the Government will allow a vote to be taken on it. Let everybody who claims to be an Australian and to have an interest in this country be counted, because the division would show who was prepared to do something effective, and who was prepared merely to go on talking! Whether the Government will do that remains to be seen. I hope that it will allow a vote to be taken. I hope that it will not treat the report, which the honorable member said he will bring down, in the same way as it has treated many resolutions and even bills that have come before the Parliament.

Mr Luchetti - We have our own committee working on the matter.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - 1 am obliged to the honorable member for his interjection. We on this side have a committee studying this problem. My regret is the same as that expressed by the honorable member for Blaxland. I regret that the two committees are not working together, as a joint parliamentary committee, without any thought of party politics. I regret that the two committees are not working in much the same way as the Public Accounts Committee is working. That committee has given wonderful service to this Commonwealth. Surely a committee such as the one we are now discussing could do an even greater service!

I hope that the time is not too late, even now, for that proposition to be given serious consideration by the Government, so that the report, when it is tabled, will be one upon which the Parliament can justifiably act. If we had plans ready and had the will to start a scheme now for the standardization of railway gauges, we would absorb immediately all the unemployed in Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria. The present shortage of work has affected mostly the unskilled men, and they are the men who would be needed for a job such as the one we are now discussing.

It is a pity that the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner was not given sufficient money to meet the cost of properly ballasting the whole of the north-south railway line. It may not be known that a great section of the Commonwealth railway line in the north is not ballasted and is resting on a bed of sand. It is no wonder that whenever there is a heavy downpour of rain, the railway track is washed away. That is not the fault of the Railways Commissioner; it is the fault of this Parliament. Liberal and Labour governments alike, which have held office during the last 20 or 30 years, should take, the responsibility. There need not be one washaway on the northern line, and there would not be, if the present Commissioner and those who preceded him had been given enough money to build a proper railway line. Money should be made available to enable him to provide proper married accommodation so that good fettlers, who have a stake in the country and who have their families to go home to at night, can be encouraged to go there and to put their heart and soul into the job, feeling that they are doing something not only for themselves but also for the country.

I believe that money should be made available to enable the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to operate dieselelectric locomotives on to the north-south line and to take every coal-burning engine off the line before the end of this year. It is a stupid waste of money for us to be using even one coal-burning engine now that diesel-electric locomotives can be obtained.

Mr Turnbull - What will the honorable member for Hunter say about that?

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I cannot help it. I admire the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) for supporting the coal industry. That is to his credit. By the same token, I believe that I am entitled to support what I think is in the best interests of Australia as a whole. It may be better for some of us to disregard some of the things that benefit our own electorates or States. We should try to be Australians and to remember that we are members of a National Parliament, not a State Parliament. That is why I have great pleasure indeed in supporting the remarks of the honorable member for Mackellar and the honorable member for Blaxland.

I more, except to pay tribute again to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner for a magnificent job well done. It is worthy of note that last year the railways, after meeting working expenses, made a profit of £1,565,000. I do not think that is generally known. The profits of the Commonwealth Railways system under the administration of Mr. P. J. Hannaberry should be contrasted with the shocking mess that has been made of all the State railway systems. If Mr. Hannaberry can do it, why cannot others?

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