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Thursday, 25 October 1956

Mr ANDERSON (Hume) .- 1 should like to support the remarks of both the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb), lt is, of course, quite extraordinary that I am able to agree with the honorable member for Stirling, but 1 am glad to say that this is a subject on which both sides of the House have been able to co-operate. It is a great pity that more co-operation of this kind cannot take place. After all, we are a national parliament and we must surely agree on some matters. The speech of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) was not very conducive to co-operation by honorable members on this side of the chamber, but on defence and foreign affairs, for example, we could surely speak with one voice.

The standardization of rail gauges is of the utmost importance. We are entering a world of seriously competitive trading and every addition to our costs of production decreases correspondingly our prospects of selling overseas. When that happens, those who can least afford it are hit the hardest, for employment and prosperity depend largely upon transport. Government supporters have produced a report which I, even though a member of the committee, strongly recommend that all should read. It is largely the result of the work, energy and extraordinary capacity of our chairman, who should have our fullest congratulations for his extraordinary grasp of railway affairs.

There is no question that break of gauge presents a very serious problem in this country. Newcomers to Australia naturally examine our progress, and the methods we adopt, and it is always a source of great embarrassment to me that there is no common rail gauge between Australian

States, though even unfriendly nations in Europe are linked in this fashion. It does not make sense. Again, one need only consider the tremendous cost of transferring goods at each break of gauge to realize that there can be no justification for retaining the present system. There is an enormous wastage of man-power, both in the transference of goods and the manning of trains, because crews must often stand by wasting their time. In locomotives and railway carriages, there is a tremendous' loss of earning capacity. Without question, it is an indictment of all previous governments that the problem of a break of gauge has not been attacked in a realistic manner.

Another important point is the unfair competition to which our railways are subjected, and the effects on trade of that unfair competition. Already unfair competition has had a most devastating effect on our coastal shipping trade. Australia is a great island where, it could be expected, shipping would play a very important part in long-distance and intermediate-distance transport. Yet our coastal shipping services have been allowed to be most deleteriously affected by conditions over which we could exercise some control. Coastal shipping services have been made more expensive and gradually killed by the competition of rail and road transport, and by the actions of people on the waterfront, which have added to the tremendous costs already associated with transport by sea.

Then, we have the unfair competition of air services with the railways. How many people realize that, in the last nine years, the Commonwealth has devoted some £40,000,000 to expenditure on capital works for the benefit of air services, including the construction of aerodromes? The current year's maintenance expenditure on that activity is to be about £4,000,000. The Government gets very little return for its expenditure of those huge sums on air facilities. The air services are competing against the railways for passengers and, to a certain degree, for freight. The railways of Australia have, indeed, been subjected to rather unfair treatment, and it is now time to rehabilitate them, putting them in a position to compete on a fair basis against other forms of transport. The country must, ultimately, benefit from a rehabilitation of our railways.

The defence aspect of our transport services is most important. Without doubt, our railway system will play a most important role in the event of war. The changeover in recent years to major use of oil-burning transport both by rail and road indicates that in a war our transport will have to rely to a great extent on oil supplies. Since only failure has so far met efforts to discover oil in commercial quantities in Australia, we shall have to rely for our oil supplies on overseas sources. The shipping lanes along which these supplies are carried will, in war, be subject to enemy attack. Any potential enemy that we have in the Pacific will have larger fleets of submarines preying on our shipping than any nation has ever before controlled. We aust, therefore, insure ourselves against the eventuality of serious interruption to our oil supplies by having available alternative fuel for use in major transport. For that reason, we should not turn completely away from the use of coal-burning railway locomotives, but keep such of these locomotives as are not in use in mothballs against the time when we may need them.

The report refers to the programme of dieselization of our railways. This underlines the importance to us of uninterrupted oil supplies. The statements in the report also lend support for the need to increase the use of diesel-electric locomotives, because they show that . the effective oil saving through the use of such locomotives as against other forms of transport which use petroleum products is in the ratio, speaking from memory, of four to one. From the defence aspect the maintenance of our railway transport system is of paramount importance.

The threat to our oil supplies in the event of war is a most potent consideration. Our air services and our Air Force are entirely dependent, so far, on petrol for motive power. In time of war, petrol supplies to air services would be severely rationed. Probably our civil airline services would be turned over for use for war purposes, and civilian air transport would cease. In any event, civilian air services and road transport services would probably be completely denied petrol, which would be necessary for war purposes. Therefore, our reliance for transport will shift to the railways.

That brings me back to the point that I mentioned earlier. Our railways still have a large number of coal-burning locomotives which will gradually go out of use with the progress of dieselization of the railways. As I have said, those locomotives should be kept in working order, and mothballed for use in the event of war, when we shall be forced to rely on forms of transport which will help us to conserve oil for war purposes. This is a proposition which, I think, the nation must take up, especially as the cost of making our railway systems efficient - £40,000,000 - does not seem very high by modern standards. As the honorable member for Mackellar has said, it is not necessary to spend all that money in the first year or two of the programme. It could be spent gradually over a period of up to seven years. I agree with the honorable member entirely that once the public realizes the strength of the logic of rehabilitating our railway systems, public opinion, including commercial opinion, will be so strong on the need to link our capital cities by a standard rail gauge that the Government will be forced to push on with that work.

The report also contains some figures, which were mentioned by the honorable member for Mackellar, which strongly support the action proposed.


Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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