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Tuesday, 16 October 1956

Mr LESLIE (Moore) .- I want to pay a tribute to the Minister for Works (Mr. Fairhall) for making available details of the capital works programme so that honorable members may know what works it is intended to put in hand this financial year under the control of the Department of Works. These are the works for which we are asked to vote funds in these Estimates. It is as well for me to point out here that the capital works programme pre.sented to honorable members by the Minister includes only those works which will be undertaken by the Department of Works on behalf of other departments. It does not detail or even mention works which will be undertaken directly by other departments. I think it would be an excellent idea if all works which have been approved by the Government to be undertaken during the year, and which are not part of the capital works programme, were listed in an appendix attached to the capital works programme. Perhaps the Minister will confer with Treasury officials on this matter with a view to ascertaining whether something of this kind can be done.

At page 235 of the Estimates, under Division 8, Department of the Treasury, provision is made for the expenditure of £14.000 on buildings, works, fittings, and furniture, and £77,000 on buildings, works, fittings and furniture for the Taxation Branch- a total of £91,000 which will not cone o tt of the Department of Works vote. I am not debating whether this expenditure shou'l-J or should not be under the control of the Department of Works, but it would be valuable to honorable members to know exactly what it is for, and to be given this information in the same manner as they have been given the information which the Minister for Works was good enough to give about the works to be undertaken by the Department of Works on behalf of other departments.

I want to remind honorable members briefly that they are being requested to vote an appropriation of £109,000,000 under these Estimates - £8,000,000 more than that for last financial year - to meet the requirements of the Commonwealth for capital works and services. I emphasize that this money is to be obtained from taxation revenues. There is no question of loan money being raised to pay for these capital works and services. The whole of the Commonwealth's capital works programme is to be paid for out of taxation, whereas expenditure by the States on capital works and services is to be met out of loan funds guaranteed by the Commonwealth. I am firmly of the opinion that we should call a halt to this method of financing capital works out of taxation. It is grossly unfair, not only to the people on whom taxation is levied to obtain money now for capital works which should be a charge on the future, but also to subsequent administrations, which may not be able to obtain a true record of the investment of capital in this country in government works of this kind.

I know that difficulty has been experienced in raising money for Commonwealth loans. I repeat the suggestion I made earlier this year that we should change the term " Commonwealth loans " to " National loans ". I think that if we did this we should receive a patriotic response which would result in a bigger measure of support by the public for loans, because the people would then understand a little better that loans were raised not merely for State purposes, but for national purposes, although the money was being spent by the States. 1 suggest that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) should emphasize to those who are in a position to lend money that the best and quickest way to achieve a reduction of taxation, which we all want, is to make more money available for Commonwealth loans so that it will no longer be necessary to finance capital works and services out of taxation. If this were done, the £109,000,000 proposed to be spent in the current financial year, and the hundreds of millions of pounds that will be spent in subsequent years, would be provided out of loans, and the money would subsequently return to the people who lent it instead of being taken from them and lost to them forever.

I was most interested to hear the remarks of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) about the standardization of rail gauges and the present chaotic condition of Australia's transport system. I hope that the two committees that have been examining this problem will soon make their reports available to honorable members, who should study them very carefully. There is a tremendous amount of information which must be made available to members of the Parliament. This is a problem which has to be tackled quickly. Whether the committees actually got down to the fundamental difficulties which are associated with it in connexion with the State and Commonwealth relationships and the problems associated with the huge amount of money involved from a State point of view, is something I hope to discover from the reports. 1 was a member of the Parliament of Western Australia when the proposal for a standardized railway gauge throughout Australia was considered. I think that the scheme was submitted by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) when he was Minister for Transport, lt was most unfavorably received, because the Commonwealth was not prepared to enter into an agreement with Western Australia as favorable as the agreement between the Commonwealth and South Australia, which provides that seven-tenths of the cost of the scheme should be met by the Commonwealth and that three-tenths should be met by South Australia. The suggestion was not as generous as that. It meant that Western Australia, at that time, would have been called upon to provide between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000 towards the cost of a standard gauge railway system, a sum of money which would have met the cost of rehabilitating the whole of the Western Australian railway services. We were faced with this question: Were we to build a broad-gauge railway, contributing our available resources to that and let the rest of our services, which are pretty extensive in this big State, go to the pack; or were we to use the money that we had to rehabilitate our existing services? The answer that was given was obviously the sane and sensible one. We had to devote our resources to rehabilitating our own run-down railway system - a condition that occurred during the war. 1 point out to honorable members, as I pointed out to the transport committee, that under the proposed scheme Western Australia would have to make a very large contribution to the provision of a standard gauge in that State. I also point out that it would be very largely a one-way stream of traffic. I make that statement because the standardized line would benefit considerably the manufacturers who consigned goods from the eastern States to Western Australia, but the benefit to Western Australia would be comparatively negligible because of the huge disparity in the trade which occurs between Western Australia and the eastern States. That is a factor which has to be taken into consideration.

The construction of a standard-gauge line would result in the existence of two railway systems of different gauges in Western Australia, lt would be all right if both systems could be satisfactorily operated, but I point out that goods from the eastern States are distributed long before they reach the end of the line. At present, Western Australian railway trucks containing goods from the eastern States may be disconnected from the train at various railway junctions between Kalgoorlie and Fremantle, a distance of 380 or 400 miles, in order that the goods may be sent to towns on the branch lines. If the main line were replaced by a broad gauge, these goods would have to travel all the way to Fremantle, be unloaded and then be brought back on the narrow-gauge railway to inland places.

I agree, in every respect, that this problem must be looked at from a national point of view. It must be looked at from the point of view of national development and national defence. But because of the tremendous cost involved, it has also to be looked at from the point of view of those who might be called upon to carry an unjust burden.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What if the Commonwealth paid for the lot?

Mr LESLIE - I do not think that Western Australia was ever against the standardization of the railway gauges. It was certainly against contributing such a tremendous proportion of the cost - a proportion completely out of balance with the cost of rehabilitating its own railway system.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - All that stock is capable of conversion.

Mr LESLIE - The new stock could be converted but the old stock could not be converted. Were we to spend our available money on the standardization of gauges or were we to use it to rehabilitate our old system? We had to decide that our secondary rail system had to be put in order first. Then we could consider the construction of a broad-gauge system from a national point of view. I do not suggest that the Western Australian Government will refuse to contribute anything towards the cost of a standardized gauge, but the whole problem has to be considered from the point of view of the States, in discussing, the financial arrangements.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Would the honorable member agree to the scheme if the Commonwealth were to pay for the lot?

Mr LESLIE - I am not prepared to give an unqualified answer to the honorablemember for the simple reason that such a proposal might involve an additional cost with respect to our own system. The proposal would have to be carefully examined.. I would say that if the Commonwealth made such an offer, it would be attractive enough to warrant careful examination, f shall be very interested to read the report of the transport committees in order to find' out whether some of the problems associated with Western Australia are still in existence.

The final matter to which I wish to refer is that of Postal Department finance. Id the Estimates which we have before us, the Postal Department is seeking an amount of about £30,000,000 for capital works and services. I have suggested before, and I ask again, that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) propose to Cabinet that the Postal Department should consider itself to be a business undertaking in every possible way and raise its finances independently instead of being treated merely as a government department, subject to the economic changes which take place in this country. It is not right that when economic conditions are tough and restrict government expenditure, the expansion of the Postal Department should be limited. Services such as those which provide gas, water supply and electricity are able, successfully, to arrange finance for their own capita! development, and 1 believe that the Postal Department should be able to do that also.

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