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Friday, 10 December 1965

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) . - It was interesting to hear the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). It is important that we balance up the relative advantages of different forms of transport. In balancing them there is one point that is perhaps overlooked. I do not know to what extent it should be taken into account because I do not know its magnitude. The airways companies pay large amounts by way of excise on their aviation spirit, and the revenue from this source might well be hypothecated to help meet the cost of aerodromes as no doubt to some extent, though not fully, the revenue from taxes on other petrol products is hypothecated to road funds. So the position might not be quite as unbalanced as has been contended. But it is unbalanced, and I think some of the arguments that have been adduced this morning are worth following.

I look at this matter not from a State point of view, but from a national point of view. There is this to be considered: In regard to a competing form of transportthe railways - most of the costs are fixed and not marshalled. The cost of running an additional train is fairly small. Even if it involves the purchase of new carriages or other new rolling stock the cost is still fairly small, because most of the outlay on railways is in the form of the fixed work, the permanent way, and a great deal of the expenditure other than fixed charges is inelastic because it relates to the maintenance of traffic facilities over the lines - to shunting, signalling and so on - which is not entirely in proportion to the amount of traffic on the line. If an extra train is run on a line, from a national point of view there is very little extra expenditure. In the case of an aircraft quite a different situation emerges. An aircraft has a fairly limited life and we know, in point of fact, that we cannot extend our air services without increasing our air fleets. Our air fleets can use per passenger mile something like 15 or 20 times as much oil or fuel as a train would. With the aircraft industry, especially as it is in Australia at the moment, any increase in traffic requires an almost proportionate increase in national outlay.

It is perfectly true that a capital cost has to be met in respect of the traffic that uses aerodromes. At present we are contemplating major extensions to our aerodromes. So an increase in aircraft usage, from the national point of view will mean a great deal of increase in expenditure. I think that the points made by the honorable member for Chisholm were valid in regard to the States, but they are not the important points. The important points are the national points, and from the national point of view the expenditure involved in putting in e;;tra passenger mile on to a railway system is very much less than the expenditure involved in putting an extra passenger mile on to the airways system. This has nothing to do with the fares charged. It has regard to the overall national accounts - the full national interest - and it may well be that in the national interest we should be thinking of reducing our rail charges and carrying, perhaps, some more of the costs of railways in the form of some kind of subsidy, because this would decrease the national outlay and make the whole position of Australia's balance of accounts more solvent and more sensible.

The honorable member for Chisholm had a good point when he suggested that the Department of Shipping and Transport was not being sufficiently assiduous in regard to co-ordination. The House might consider the points that he raised not so much in the States context but in the national context. Looking at this matter in that way I think that the points raised in this debate are more relevant and important. Earlier today I had something to say about the use of our railway system for carrying fodder to starving stock, carrying stock for restocking purposes and for transporting primary products. We are not making proper use of our national advantages, and this is tied up with the coordination of our rail system, not only inside itself but interstate and intrastate and also as it relates to other forms of transport.

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